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Mellotron Storm
4 stars 4.5 stars.It's been 8 long years since the last PRESENT album ("High Infidelity") so I was very anxious to get the new one. I received it about a week ago and have been giving it plenty of spins. Interesting that the core six of the lineup from "High Infidelity" are still here. Roger Trigaux and his son Reginald on guitars, Pierre Chevalier on piano and keyboards, Dave Kerman on drums and percussions, Keith Macksoud on bass, and Matthieu Safatly on cello. We also get Pierre Desassis on sax, and our own Udi Koomran is back to make sure this sounds perfect (and it does). This comes with a 3 hour DVD of live material as well. I'm going to focus on the studio album only. One of the first things I noticed is that this album has no vocals, it's an all-instrumental affair.The length of this cd is just over 44 minutes of music, which for me is really refreshing after all those 70 plus minute cds we seem to get these days. Three tracks including a cover of UNIVERS ZERO's "Jack The Ripper" from their "Heresie" album. Maybe it's just me but this new PRESENT album has more in common with their first two records then the ones inbetween.

"Vertiges" is a good example of this with the collage of sounds that fill the soundscape. It's just a joy to try to pick out all the different sounds that come and go. Some great piano then it settles with cello. Some huge bass comes and goes as well. This is great as the tempo continues to shift. Intense 6 1/2 minutes in. Sax 8 minutes in. A haunting calm before 10 minutes then it kicks back in after 11 minutes. Great section. Eerie sounds as it settles before 12 minutes. Lots of cello and abrupt outbursts. The tempo starts to pick back up before 14 minutes. Nice bass lines here with guitar. The piano that follows really impresses.

"A Last Drop" opens with piano then these prominant bass lines join in. So much going on though. Check out Kerman ! This builds to an intense climax then an eerie calm follows. A pleasant calm after 7 minutes then it kicks back in. It's building. This is amazing ! It settles once again after 8 1/2 minutes pretty much to the end. "Jack The Ripper" has this dark and haunting intro (surprise) as cello joins the sparse piano. More intense after 2 1/2 minutes as it builds. It then settles with guitar and cello 5 minutes in. It kicks back in with slicing cello and some fat bass. A dead calm 7 minutes in then strange sounds come in as it builds. So intense 10 minutes in then we get a calm. It's building again with piano this time and strange guitar sounds. Suspense until 14 1/2 minutes in. It then picks back up 15 minutes in to the end.

This has to be in my top three of favourite PRESENT albums although they all are so good.

Report this review (#248200)
Posted Wednesday, November 4, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Present is one of those bands that just keeps getting better with each release. They've released some amazing stuff since their comeback with Certitudes (if we don't count the C. O. D. Performance) and each release bested its predecessor. The last studio album came in 2001, so expectations were naturally very high for this one. Present didn't let us down, producing another masterpiece, which reminds us of their past glories, yet also focuses on the future with an even more intense, complex and better-sounding release.

Present's sound is hard to define. I suppose you could say their music is built around very dissonant motives and melodies (if you can call them that), which are intricately composed and arranged into what is sometimes considered as some of the most challenging music to have ever been recorded. Usually, I'm not a big fan of technical music just for the sake of it, but Present are able to put all their darkest fears and deepest emotions into their music to create otherworldly music, which is highly complex, but very emotional and involving as well.

Vertiges is a track co-written by father and son Trigaux. It's perhaps Present's most challenging work to date. The tempo is unrelenting and some of the parts are incredibly complex. I think this is where Present are best ? doing amazingly difficult segments that still contain so much anguish and other primal emotions. Occasionally (especially somewhere around the half of the composition), Vertiges reminds me of the Univers Zero piece Presage, which is peculiar since Trigaux was no longer a member on Uzed, but I suppose he kept track of the goings-on in Univers Zero, seeing as Daniel Denis was also a member of Present. Nevertheless, Vertiges is a tremendous achievement, showing off some of Present's trademark aspects, but the piece also seems to have a more modern feel to it. There is an amazing intensity and rawness throughout it that keeps you on your toes all the way through.

A Last Drop is a piece composed by Pierre Chevalier. It's his second contribution to the Present catalogue ? the first being Strychnine for Christmas from the High Infidelity album. Pierre's style is quite different to Roger's. His piece is not that hectic and wild, there are a few more peaceful moments to rest your ears. Some segments on the Mellotron remind me of early Crimson, while some guitar riffs remind me of Red. It is a nice contrast to the damage on the senses (positive, of course) that Vertiges inflicts on you.

The last title is familiar to most fans of the rock in opposition movement. Jack the Ripper (co-written by Daniel Denis and Roger Trigaux) was originally released on Univers Zero's Heresie and is one of the most recognisable Univers Zero works. Present still frequently play it at their shows. The version we hear here is the one from their live shows. It's as if an extra surge of adrenaline has been put into the piece and Jack has become even more brutal and manic. Besides the more aggressive nature of the composition, it stays fairly true to the original. There are some added Mellotron and synthesiser parts, which add to the suspense, some of the instruments are different and the introduction is played on the piano instead of the harmonium, but in terms of composition, this is pretty much the same version as on Heresie. I would have preferred to hear a new piece instead of this, seeing as this new version is also on the DVD, but beggars can't be choosers and I'm sure this will get a fair bit of mileage from my CD player as well.

The second part of the album is the DVD. You get almost three hours of Present performances, which is a lot by anyone's standards. We basically hear all the favourite Present pieces and all of Present's most memorable performances in the last few years. First, we get a look at the entire performances at the first Rock in Opposition festival held in 2009. These bring back some fond memories and show the band in all its glory performing some of their best pieces. The two pianos set is particularly interesting because the arrangements are slightly different than on the studio versions.

After that, we can see the band performing at the Gouveia 2006 festival, where they already presented the two new pieces we can hear on the studio CD. A Last Drop is more or less the same as on the CD, while only half of Vertiges is played (from the section that sounds a bit like Univers Zero's Presage).

A really excellent addition to the DVD is the archival footage. I enjoyed the two Trigaux men during the C.O.D. performance, where they played Alone, Le Poison (first part) and Ersatz on only two guitars, with a young Reginald Trigaux taking on lead guitar duties. The Present 94 show played at the Carmaux festival is also nice. Again, we see a line-up with no keyboards, but two guitars, bass and drums (Roger and Reginald Trigaux, Christian Genet and Daniel Denis). The band performed a very rocked-out version of Le Poison (Part 2). The next footage is Delusions performed at Orion. Dave Kerman and Pierre Chevalier had already joined the band at this point and the playing seems that much tighter thanks greatly to them as well. Reginald shows what a great improviser he is when he goes into a Jimmy Hendrix-like solo. The Wurzburg show also brings us something good ? a piece I hadn't heard before called Contre (also included on the Live album), which should have been recorded in the studio or even expanded by Trigaux because it sounds fantastic as it is, but with Trigaux's typical additions, it might sound even better (if that's possible). It actually reminds me of Art Zoyd slightly.

The sound of the performances seems slightly altered. The pieces sound more similar to the studio versions than when I heard them live at the RIO festival. I can't speak or the other shows, but I'm guessing it's the same. It sounds much better on the DVD than live, but that was to be expected, except for the archival releases, which sound exactly as archival releases should ? not great, but not bad.

The sound quality on both discs is great, as I've already said (apart from the archival segments), also due to the good work of Udi Koomran, but the picture quality isn't the best. The last CD/DVD combination I got before this was IQ's latest album and they did a much better job of the picture, while Present's DVD picture doesn't always seem to be in focus. This is a very minor annoyance to such nitpickers as myself, as the performances can still be seen very clearly and enjoyed thoroughly.

The performances on both discs clearly show that we're hearing some of the best and most dedicated musicians at work. Roger Trigaux's vision is clear and for that vision he needs the best in the business and ever since No. 6, he has had the best group of people to work with. The sound is so full that you feel like every millimetre of space has been used up. No note seems obsolete, everything is exactly where it's supposed to be. This kind of brilliance requires a great deal of dedication and belief ? and this is what Roger Trigaux certainly gets from this great group of musicians.

Barbaro (ma non troppo) is a fantastic piece of work. The only real criticism I have is that it gives us too little new music ? only 28 minutes. Sure, there's a new version of Jack the Ripper, but I'd rather listen to an entirely new piece than to a composition written 30 years ago. Other than that little complaint, this CD/DVD is a real treat. The DVD gave me a chance to remember the wonderful moments o the first RIO festival and see some performances I unfortunately missed (Gouveia 2006). There is also some very memorable archival footage, which adds a nice touch to the album.

My final assessment is that Barbaro serves us some of the best music Present have ever produced. For me, Vertiges is the best Present composition I have ever heard, or at least it seems like that at the moment, and one of the finest pieces of music ever written by anyone. A Last Drop isn't far behind, while Jack the Ripper offers a nice new insight into Present's new sound. This is a must-get album for any fan of Present (for the CD and DVD) and experimental music (particularly for the CD). The future looks bright for Present!

Report this review (#250035)
Posted Wednesday, November 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Six stars. Best music of all time. This is the definition of 21st century progressive music.

Summary: unequalled compositions and musicianship. After an intensive listen to Barbaro (ma non troppo), Close to the Edge or Thick as a Brick seems to have the musical appeal of a nursery rhyme or "twinkle twinkle little star".

The package contains a CD and a DVD. The CD is 44:22 minutes which is a perfect duration for this music. Being intense and complex, it demands from the listener focus and concentration. This is definitely not the kind of music you can play and enjoy while doing something else. It needs the same level of commitment as the musicians' exhibit during its creation.

The DVD is just under three hours long and has three segments: 2007 RiO festival in France, 2006 art rock festival in Portugal and archival videos. The recording quality and sound quality are very good.

Although at $36 it is an expensive acquisition (@ Wayside Music), it certainly is an unbeatable value.

This review will focus on the CD only.

The music differs from their more recent resent CDs such as No6, Certitudes etc. It reaches deeper into their history and draws from Heresy era Univers Zero. Compositions in Barbaro have the same "feel" as Heresy but all elements of the music are now brought forward to our current time. This is 21st century Heresy.

I recollect reading somewhere that Present's sound was described as "somewhere between Univers Zero and King Crimson". I am a great fan of King Crimson (KC) but I think if Mr. Fripp could write compositions of this caliber he would be doing back flips despite his bad back. I have no idea how they come up with such comparisons. Maybe what they were trying to convey was the fact that both Present's and KC's music have dark colors, at times ominous, and can even be scary. If KC and Present were compared on a scale to measure these particular characteristics then they will rate 4/10 and 9/10 respectively.

Present consists of nine excellent, brilliant unbelievable (can I find more adjectives) musicians playing wide verity of instruments ranging from standard rock instruments to cello, tube and various saxophones. The sound is full, has depth and intense of texture. Recording quality is excellent. I strongly recommend listening to this CD through a high quality sound system at high volume. If that does not alter your perception trust me nothing will.

The CD contains three compositions: Vertiges, A last drop and Jack the Ripper. Vertiges and A last drop are new compositions whereas Jack the Ripper is a new interpretation of a composition from Heresy.

Vertiges is without a doubt the best new progressive music composition of our time. Although the music is complex it is not complexity for its sake. This is hard hitting, dark music that pulsates between all out mayhem and quiet, pensive passages. It consists of two parts: The composition opens up like a soundtrack to a panic attack in progress and does not give up its intensity for about three minutes. Then we get a break. The attack ceases and we hear the reflection of our heart beat at the core of the music. This brief interlude does not last too long and we are pushed down head first into another rabbit hole that keeps getting deeper with every passing minute. As despair engulfs your being, brief melodies frequently pop up to somewhat relieve the anxiety and terror. But? you keep going down relentlessly. At about the 9 minute mark everything comes to a grinding halt. The second part starts with the solo cello, soon accompanied by the piano. Shortly after electric guitars come in with the intensity of habanero peppers and burn your neurons to smithereens. Music marches on with short-lived melodies floating on the dark clouds of cello, base, and drums. Hypnotic! Without a doubt this is one of the best if not the best composition ever written.

"A last drop" is a less intense composition, which provides a much needed break for the psyche. It still has the perfect sound textures carrying forward from Vestiges albeit slightly lighter color. We even get to hear harpsichord halfway through the composition. What a delight! The compositional structure is delicately complex, intricate, highly listenable and immensely enjoyable.

Well, those of you who read this far into this review are probably already familiar with Jack the Ripper. This composition was included in Univers Zero's Heresy. Present stays mostly true to this 31 year old composition. What they do with the new version is extremely subtle but highly significant. I listened both versions back to back several times and came to the conclusion that the 30 year old version was a bit like a smeared picture. You could see the picture but many details were washed out and not quite recognizable. The current version removes the fuzziness of the old and exposes the intensely scary picture behind. Superb! The emotions that ran through my brain while I was listening to the current version of the Jack the Ripper is how I would have felt with my finger on the "button" at the heat of the final battle.

Good luck.

Report this review (#271908)
Posted Sunday, March 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Barbaro got my attention on the list of 'TOP 100 Little Known But Highly Rated Studio Albums of All Time''. I did not hesitate to get the album since I am really interested in rock in opposition and Belgian progressive music at the same time.

Musicianship limits was really pushed hard in this album. The pioneer of the band, Roger Trigaux, managed an incredible job with the other members of the band. First of all, despite it is an instrumental album (I usually prefer music with vocals) it still gives a great point of view to the whole composition written by the composers. What do I mean with this? What I mean is; as soon as you get into the album, you can feel a certain topic is rolling between the musicians and with every note flows by, you can reach a clear imagination of the Present music. Maybe this is supplied by the great balance between the musicians. Especially in the first song called 'Vertiges' this feeling never goes away. Great bass guitar partitions, experimental contribituons of saxophone and incredible piano playing makes this album a masterpiece in the eyes of a rock in opposition fan.

Barbaro is a special album which can describe the modern progressive rock in an experimental way. One with an open ear can not miss this.

Report this review (#300681)
Posted Monday, September 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Present's latest features three extended compositions, one of which is a cover of a Univers Zero track. This album costs a pretty penny, partially because it comes packaged with a DVD of live material, and it might be hard to consider shelling over that much money for what is really just two new compositions.

Let me tell you that you won't feel like you wasted a cent.

The music on this album is absolutely superb. It is my first experience with the Belgian RIO scene but boy did it make me care a lot. From the first ten seconds of the opening track, "Vertiges", I was absolutely captivated and knew that my money had not gone to waste.

The sound of the album is dense, aggressive, dark, dangerous, and at times even a little frightening. This is not a band trying to win you over with catchy hooks or melodies. The music is incredibly well crafted dramatic darkness. The entire band is very talented, and the interplay between the instruments really works well.

I haven't listened to the original version of Jack The Ripper unfortunately (I've only recently begun my journey through the music of Univers Zero, starting with their most recent as well) but the version on this album is definitely an enjoyable listen. Whenever I play it, if my roommate happens to overhear, he always comments that it sounds like I am listening to "Serial Killer Music" (which I have since informed him means the band is probably doing their job right, given the subject matter).

So, musically satisfied from the CD, I moved on to the DVD, and it too was an excellent experience. My favorite clips are the three from their electric concert at RIOFest 2007. Their first track is Jack The Ripper, and it is amazing how well they are able to pull it off live. Each band member seems to get their own personality through the show too. The bassist always makes me think of what Malcolm Reynolds (from Firefly) would be like if he played bass. No idea why, maybe it's the haircut. Pierre Chevalier is like the Lex Luthor of keyboards. Bandleader Roger Trigaux is like the mad scientist of the group. (His presence conducting the last track, Proemanade... is somewhat terrifying). Drummer Dave Kerman just seems like he's having a good time, yet at the same time his skill with the instrument is apparent. And so forth.

There are also some surprising moments on the two tracks that aren't covered on the album - the ghoulish vocals of the Trigaux clan on Ceux d'en Bas really made an impression on me, as did the appearance of Laurent Van Gorp on tube at the end of Promenade... (watch the video, you'll see what I mean).

The other videos are all interesting as well - the grand piano version of Vertiges was pretty different from the album version for example, but still an interesting listen. (I do prefer the live version from the 2006 set though, I like the way it sounds with more instruments).

Ultimately - a great purchase from a great band, I mean if it weren't for the price tag, I'm pretty sure this album would have created a lot more buzz around here by now.

Report this review (#307723)
Posted Sunday, October 31, 2010 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars 4.5 stars really!!!

Intro: It had been a while since present had released a new studio album (Hi Indefidelity dated from the first part of the 00's), and the live album (of a 90's tour) only partly quenched our thirst for more of the same (Ma Non Troppo, if possible ;o)))) ?. And to say the least, our patience got only half-rewarded?. Only three tracks (rather long, though) for a rather short album (by today's standards), and one of them being a re-visitation of an UZ's early classic. But to make-up for that, the ReR label added a superb and much-awaited-for DVD containing almost all of the available live Present footage all era included. The two discs come in a Cd + DVD package that's become a bit Cuneiform's trademark (ReR is a close collaborator and most of Present's discography in on Feigelbaum's label) and thus making it an absolute must for fans. The modern (now) line-up is fairly much the same as it was when I'd last seen them in 04 at Studio Athanor (an evening spent first in a UZ concert played a mile away, then in the company of Guy Seghers for a gigantic amounts of laugh and chicks a-go-go >> I kid you not, at a Present concert!!!), and it's quite a joy to hear their communion in the studios, sort of an intergenerational paternal:child friendly and musical confrontation: Roger, Chevalier and Kerman "crossing blades" with Reginald, Safaty and Desassis

First the studio album: the two "new" tracks are your typical Present tracks, even if with the "new" expanded line-up, there is little possible confusion and you couldn't possibly confuse it with any other band in the world, UZ included. Even the Jack the Ripper (present ? so to speak - on UZ's Hérésie album) sounds like the typical Present tune, despite a DD compositional touch that (thankfully) couldn't be expunged and Udi Koomran's production is absolutely phenomenal, even if this is hardly an incident, given the man's usual talent. Vertiges is pure bliss, while Last Drop (the one that overflowed the teacup) drips suaveness with its classical influences. These "songs" have obviously existed for a while, since Last Drop was played live in 06 and Vertiges since 07.

Next come the DVD: the main attraction of this double-disc set, and also produced by the mega-fine Udi, even if he had to deal with the original sound quality of the historical footages. Starting oiut with the RIO 2007 set (Trigaux is one of the co-organizers), comprising of only three tracks, all of them from the old days, including UZ's Ripper, the classic Ceux D'En Bas (from their N°6) and the ultra-classic Promenade Au Fond d'Un Canal, the latter having an outstanding self-destructing finale, when some human beast dressed as a wild Scot/Pict savage ala Braveheart comes in the forefront and starts hitting binary-ly a metal bar with a hammer as the band's crescendos until they reach the point of no return when Roger destroys his guitar on the stage and on his keyboard, while Kerman is chaining his skin and the whole group goes bezerk. A sure way to get a standing ovation, which they'll get. The second part is the next day's acoustic concert involving two pianos (Chevalier and De Vleeshouwer) and tons of percussions, including two and a half drum sets (Kerman and as a surprise appearance Daniel Denis, while Roger bangs as he can ion a partial set) and other hitting instruments (I think they're seven on stage at one point), the whole thing on some visual effects (in the type UZ had developed for their Implosion tour in 04), thus giving an awesome unique experience concert to the first Carmeaux RIO festival. Just as much a treat as the next day's normal set, probably a tad more enjoyable due to its unique one-shot-only nature . more stuff on the DVD: the previous year, Present had participated to the Portuguese festival in Gouveia and had given a solid, but "normal" set (given the usual festival set length), providing a fairly different set than Carmeaux's (but filmed in 4/3 format), including the classic Limping Girl (again from N°6). Further down (and a bit accessorily), we get some excerpts of the Trigaux father and son COD (side-) project on two electric guitars. Another treat is the outdoors Carmeaux' prior-to-RIO festival's 94 edition excerpt, where Present played (with Daniel on drums), while other tidbits date from Wurzburg's 01 festival and an Orion appearance.

Conclusion: If you're anywhere close to a RIO-Zeuhl-Avant-prog fan, this double- disc package is an absolute must (in good part due to the DVD, but not just that) and one to treasure away, much the same way you would, once Daniel and Steve agree to release the much-awaited UZ future DVD to come (hint, hint, guys ;-)))). But let's leave the wishful thinking to the fantasy realm and head back to the Present reality. Definitely not a cheap artefact, but it's definitely worth the investment and it might even be adequate as best possible introduction to a newbie to Present's musical realm.

Report this review (#375077)
Posted Friday, January 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars I wasn't impressed by Present's comeback album Certitudes, which I thought fell far short of their first two great studio albums, but Barbaro has convinced me that I really need to take take another look at the albums that followed Certitudes, because there's some great stuff on here. Even if you set aside the fantastic DVD that comes with this set and is stuffed full of juicy live performances from the band, the CD comes with two great chamber rock spookfests as well as a fine performance of Jack the Ripper, one of Roger Trigaux' Univers Zero-era compositions which had pride of place on their classic Heresie. On the whole, because of the inclusion of this cover version I am inclined to consider this a DVD set which happens to have an EP attached, but the whole package is good enough to make me want to explore latter-day Present a bit more.
Report this review (#744065)
Posted Wednesday, April 25, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Impeccably performed and recorded compositions that are both intricate and complex in a way that is more similar to modern classical music than progressive rock music (like Änglagĺrd, Kotebel, All Traps on Earth, Yugen, and, of course, Univers Zero) the music contained here is remarkably engaging despite the angular rhythms and chromatic scales used. Still, there is enough of a lack of "grooves" and melodic "hooks" that I would have trouble recommending this for casual listening (less so for "A Last Drop" as there are some basic elements of groove and melodic hook throughout this one). I understand that "casual listening" has never been a signature of progressive rock, so perhaps I should lighten up my judgment, I just don't find myself interested in returning to this music (whereas I am so inclined with the works of the above-mentioned bands). Thus my lower than average rating for this album: it's based on accessibility and popularity over longevity

1. "Vertiges" (16:38) filled with a lot of nuanced and fast changing motifs, this is truly a masterpiece of composition and performance without being memorable or very likable; I appreciate it's brilliance without ever wanting to return to it. (26/30)

2. "A Last Drop" (11:26) the most engaging composition on the album due to its "groove" and melodic "hooks." And yet, it is long... (18/20)

3. "Jack The Ripper" (16:41) One of the more captivating musical renderings of the legend of and mood created by the White Hall murderer (especially the "slasher" work of the viola and electric guitar). But, is musical representationalism enough to merit high marks? Is this "perfection" of songwriting? (27/30)

Can an album be a masterpiece of modern Avant garde/RIO music without being a masterpiece of progressive rock? If it's possible, this is one of the albums one would use to make your case.

Report this review (#1525508)
Posted Thursday, February 4, 2016 | Review Permalink

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