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Cliffhanger Not To Be Or Not To Be album cover
3.35 | 41 ratings | 9 reviews | 10% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1996

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Innocent Victim (13:06)
2. Sewers (7:58)
3. The Artist (10:40)
4. Ragnarök (24:54)
5. Moon (4:16)

Total Time: 60:14

Line-up / Musicians

-Dick Heijboer / piano, keyboards, Moog synthesizer
-Gijs Koopman / bass, Moog Taurus, whistle
-Rinie Huigen / vocals, guitars
-Hans Boonk / drums, percussion

Releases information

CD Musea Records FGBG 4213.AR (1996)
CD MALS Records MALS 016 (Russia)

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CLIFFHANGER Not To Be Or Not To Be ratings distribution

(41 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(10%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(39%)
Good, but non-essential (44%)
Collectors/fans only (7%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

CLIFFHANGER Not To Be Or Not To Be reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by maani
3 stars Abolutely frustrating listening experience!

On the one hand, despite its largely derivative nature (the Genesis-laden "Innocent Victim," "The Artist," and "Ragnarok"; the Crimso-Yes instrumental "Sewers"; the pseudo-classical Moody Blues-ish "Moon"), there is some truly wonderful - even excellent - creativity, arrangement and musicianship going on here. On the other hand, this is almost without question the most poorly engineered, mixed and mastered prog-rock album I have heard: the vocals are way too far back in the mix, the bottom disappears when it is most needed (particularly the end of Ragnarok, which simply screams for booming Moog Taurus pedals); and the mix itself is all wrong. Blame for this can be shared by the engineer (who did a horrible job) and the band (whom one assumes "okayed" this mix).

The problems most seriously affect Ragnarok, a 25-minute epic that, with a bit of editing and the type of production the band was clearly reaching for (but missed by far too much), could easily have been mentioned in the same breath as Supper's Ready (or at very least Firth of Fifth, Cinema Show or any other Genesis epic). This stunning track is about two huge Nordic battles. Some of the sections are excellent, particularly the first pre-battle section (8:50-11:00), the first battle section (11:00-12:45) - which has one of the neatest, spookiest uses of mellotron I've ever heard - the second pre-battle section (12:45-14:00), and the second battle section (14:00-16:45). Also beautifully handled is the post-battle section (16:45 to about 21:00). The music for the battle sections is so appropriate that it really does conjure up images of sword-swinging warriors. The opening and closing sections are a tad self-indulgent, and could have benefitted from some trimming. But that is a minor quibble. Indeed, as noted, had the suite been just slightly more cohesive and well-edited, it would have qualified as a MAJOR prog-rock achievement. Even so, it is a valiant attempt, and largely successful.

The other compositions are good, with "The Artist" being the stand-out track, and, indeed, one of the best new prog compositions I've heard by anyone (despite the bad engineering). "Sewers" is a well-constructed instrumental, and arguably the most "successful" composition from a production point of view. "Moon" is a beautiful string synth-mellotron-piano piece that closes the album in a gorgeous, mellow way.

Even with the production problems, the album is a credible achievement for a neo-prog band. Indeed, had the production been as good as it might have been, and had the band done just a tad more editing, this album would certainly have rated four stars - perhaps 4.5. Still, it is worth a listen if only to be wistful about what it might have been.

Review by James Lee
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars First of all, this is the best band I've ever heard from the Netherlands. All kidding aside, this is classic-style progressive rock that should appeal especially to old-school fans; the instruments and tones used are almost exclusively the ones that were available in the early 70s, so no modern metal or electronica elements ever creep into the mix.

"Innocent Victim" does some fun u-turns from frantic prog craziness to an almost- pop-rock sound to the kind of carnival synth feel that ELP did so often; there are some nice moments in the middle sections...although I think either the guitar or synth is a bit out of tune (and yes, a synth can be out of tune...Moogs and other early analog synths were infamous for drifting during long performances). "Sewers" begins on a more low-key feel (you might say, a Mello feel) but the insane piano and ambient synth burbles lead us into the depths of the sewers, which apparently are home to odd- metered heavy instrumental workouts. And I though there were only alligators and C.H.U.Ds down there! "The Artist" and is much more of an epic structured composition, backing the uncharacteristically audible vocals. This piece also confirms that while the band can certainly handle more intricate uptempo sections, the slower parts are where they really hit their stride. My favorite track "Ragnarok" features Loki leading an army of giants to overthrow the gods of Asgard using warm analog synths and a classic lead guitar sound. This is a true progressive rock epic in the classic style, including the 'weird sounds' section that PINK FLOYD, among others, often utilized. The piano, synth, and guitar 'swell' section near the end reminds me of some of my favorite moments from "Trick of the Tail". "Moon" is a powerful, restrained and moody conclusion to the album...or is it? Eventually the band gets to display their humorous side, for better or worse.

I really can't help but like these guys. They are talented and creative enough to make their retro stance never seem like a pose; it's rather a dedication to the era that gave us the great music of the genre. The voice keeps getting buried in the mix- which is ok, since it's not the strongest element of the band. The guitar is very tastefully used- it sounds great, and he's a competent player. The bass player occasionally ventures into the spotlight, which is only fair as he is quite good- l especially love his buzzing fuzztone during parts of "The Artist" which reminds me of why I liked ELP's "The Barbarian". Hans Boonk (I love that name!) is also impressively precise and skillful on the drums. It's a triumph and testimony that something that sounds like a work from the 70s sounds less dated than a lot of 80s or 90s albums. Nothing groundbreaking here, but a solid and enjoyable album that will fit right in between GENESIS and ELP on a playlist.

Review by progaeopteryx
4 stars "Not to Be or Not to Be!" was the 2nd album released by Dutch prog rockers Cliffhanger in 1996. Cliffhanger is firmly in the neo-progressive subgenre, showing some symph prog tendencies and clearly influenced by 70's-era Genesis. There are also similarities with Fish-era Marillion and Citizen Cain.

The album starts off with "Innocent Victim," having a strong Trespass-era Genesis/Citizen Cain feel to it. It begins with a cool, awkward piano line, then evolves into lush keys, Hackett-like guitar solos, and merely adequate drumming. Vocalist Rinie Huigen sounds like a cross between Peter Gabriel and Cyrus, but more low-key. His vocals should be higher in the mix and seem to get drowned out from time to time by the band. Bassist Gijs Koopman sounds like a mix of Chris Squire and Dave Meros, although his playing skills are not in the same league. Although I find this to be a great song musically speaking, the mix could use a little more depth and warmth.

The second track is an instrumental called "Sewers." It starts off with a lot of random noise, ā la "Waiting Room." This evolves into a complex, awkward jam, sort of like Genesis meets King Crimson. Quite interesting and quite original."The Artist" has a strong Genesis/early Marillion/Citizen Cain feel to it. Similar, though not as good as the first track.

The fourth track, "Ragnarök," times in at almost 25 minutes. It is chiefly keyboard-dominated, spacey in parts, sometimes lush, and sometimes harsh. The vocals are occasionally enhanced electronically, but are often too low in the mix. Some of the transitions between the various parts are awkward. During some of the parts that seem too complicated to sing over, the vocals feel awkward and out of synch. The last 10 or so minutes are entirely instrumental, some of it beautiful, some of it unnecessary. Although I found this to be a great song and I understand it is about Nordic battles of some sort which is represented quite well by the musical themes, it seems like it goes on for too long to me.

The fifth track, "Moon," is a dreamy piano/synth instrumental. It's a nice song and a fitting ending. My copy of this album follows "Moon" with about 10 minutes of silence and then a crazy jam for a bit over 2 minutes at the end. A hidden track, I suppose.

Although I have made critical remarks about the mixes and perhaps the structures of this work, I am nevertheless quite impressed with Cliffhanger's delivery, originality, and performance. One of the better neo prog releases and well deserving of four stars. An excellent addition to any prog music collection.

Review by progrules
4 stars I waited a long time with this review even though Not to be or not to be is in my collection for over 10 years now. But it's a tough one to review, appears another mindbreaker for a 3 or 4 starrating. It's a pretty dark album for neo standards. The only other neoband that comes to mind in this respect is Italian ASGARD but the difference between the two is that Asgard plays a bit softer where Cliffhanger is a bit more energetic. But both bands create an atmosphere as if you're in some sort of cold damp dungeon. Interesting if you can create this through your musical sound and style.

Opening song Innocent Victim is immediately a perfect example of this feature. Despite the gloomy atmosphere there's also lots of great melodic moments in this song. Next one is the shortest track of the album (still clocking almost 8 minutes !) called Sewing. It's more quiet but at least as dark and somber as the opener. Cliffhanger plays an interesting mix all along of dark dissonances and yet surprisingly fine melodies. In that respect you could call them a mix between GENTLE GIANT and YES.

Rest of the songs are played in more or less this same style and the high level is continued all along. Despite my initial doubts for the rating in the end it's actually not too hard. It's simply strong and good enough for 4 stars. Don't play this if you want to be cheered up though.

Review by Cesar Inca
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Having started in a well-defined neoprog territory, a very common trend in the Netherland's prog circles in the 90s, Cliffhanger soon evolved into something more complex and challenging, even darker and denser, with more simmilarities to Van der Graaf Generator and King Crimson than to Genesis or camel (the most recurrent references for neoprog bands). And hat's exactly what we find in "Not To be or Not To Be!", Cliffhanger's sophomore opus. This albums shows the band clearly determined to experiment with the retro-prog sound, offering compositional ideas hat toy with contrasts, disturbing mood and energetic walls of sound. Perhaps the long duration of more than half the tracks can serve as an indication of his line of work. The dangers of inherent to patchwork-based writing are easy to notice as w ego listening to he repertoire, but the band has enough talent as to deal with this sort of danger successfully. The set of retro- prog references is quite wide, actually: the pompous energy of ELP, the relentless neurosis of 73-75 King Crimson and 75-76 Van der Graaf Generator, the somber textures of Anglagard and A Piedi Nudi, and of course, teh symphonic amalgamation of Gabriel-era Genesis, all of them are alternately summoned to forge a renewed approach beyond the confines of standard neo (which, all in all, hasn't disappeared completely from the band's spectrum). The heavy use of mellotron and the relevant presence of weird keyboard orchestrations and layers usually dominate the structure for the arrangements of all melodic motifs and mood/tempo shifts: and this structure is wrapped on recurrently tense and somber ambiences. Once you read this description, you'll know what to expect from the stimulating, intricate opener 'Innocent Victim': it really brings out neurosis in a full stylish guise. The instrumental 'Sewers' has an ethereal first section ('Above') and a powerful second section ('Inside'), which conveniently bears a slight cosmic aura in order to preserve some sort of unity for the whole. 'The Artist' increases the energy in a similar mode to the opener, although this time the melodic vibe is more prevalent: clearly, an emphasis has been laid on the main motif's hooks. The 25- minute suite 'Ragnarok' is the ultimate expression of the album's main features: abundant mellotron inputs, lead guitars than go from the Hackettian to the Frippian with equal proficiency, solid sets of contrasts, calmer passages that relief the general tension, all of them are placed to shock he listener (it also helps that the lyrics are too few). This suite is designed to be the album's definite manifesto. Last, the closing instrumental 'Moon' brings a chamber-meets-new age mood. Some minutes of silence after the final note are followed by a heavy, dissonant chaotic jam. Not a new trick, but certainly an interesting way to end what many of us regard as Cliffhanger's top achievement. It's a pity that neither the band nor this album got the recognition they deserved, since Not To Be or Not To Be! had the clear intention of setting a different pah for modern symphonic rock.
Review by Mellotron Storm
2 stars CLIFFHANGER are a Neo-Prog band out of The Netherlands who were fairly active in the nineties. Certainly GENESIS came to mind when listening to this album, there is mellotron although it may be sampled. Lots of moog though and the bass is prominant too.The negatives are the sound quality and for me just the music in general does little for me.

"Innocent Victim" opens with piano then it kicks in with vocals before settling back around 1 1/2 minutes. It does pick back up after 7 minutes with lots of synths.The bass stands out too but it calms down again before 8 minutes with vocals.The piano is back leading after 11 1/2 minutes then it turns intense. "Sewers" is an instrumental. Piano and mellotron early. A beat after 2 minutes then the guitar and bass come to the fore a minute later. It settles before 7 1/2 minutes to end it. "The Artist" opens with vocals, drums and a full sound. It settles back before 2 minutes with vocals and synths before kicking in again after 3 1/2 minutes. Another calm 5 1/2 minutes in then it gets fuller.

"Ragnarok" is the 25 minute epic. I like the way the mellotron comes and goes until 2 minutes in when the cymbals and synths come in. Guitar and drums take over before 4 minutes. Nice bass too. A strong GENESIS flavour arrives after 6 minutes. It calms right down before 9 minutes then kicks back in with the guitar out front before 11 1/2 minutes. Fast paced vocals 13 minutes in and it turns chaotic before 16 minutes. A calm a minute later. Piano and synths before 19 minutes.Mellotron too. It picks up some before 22 minutes. "Moon" opens in an orchestral manner then the piano joins in.This is a spacey soundscape that ends before 4 minutes. And while on my liner notes it says the track is just over 4 minutes, on my stereo it shows it at over 16 minutes.There is silence until after 14 minutes then we get some silly stuff before this heavy soundscape rolls in with avant piano.Where was this earlier ? It's way better. Oh well.

I can't give this 3 stars even though it's clear these guys have lots of talent. I just can't get into the music.

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The most cult among the Dutch Neo Prog bands had already entered their most creative and productive period after ''Cold steel''.They recorded,toured and played concerts in an exhausting basis around mid-90's and even had two live releases,the cassette ''Burning Alive!'' and the self-produced CD ''Live at De Boerderij '',both recorded in 1995.Among these commitments,Cliffhanger found time to enter the studio for their sophomore album ''Not to Be or Not to Be?'',originally released by Musea Records in 1996.

Apart from being an underground band,Cliffhanger were definitely the most complex among all Dutch Neo/Symphonic bands,a thing noticed already from ''Cold steel'',but being presented in an even higher degree on ''Not to Be or Not to Be?''.The album contains four long cuts,with ''Ragnarok'' clocking at 25 minutes, and all of them contains GENESIS-influenced Neo/Symphonic Prog with a high degree of complexity,with many complicated interplays and very dark passages of Classical-inspired material and expressive, somewhat theatrical vocals with a light GABRIEL-esque edge on them.Unlike the mass of Neo Prog bands,the sound lacks in melody and is filled with odd time signatures,sudden breaks,haunting vocals,plenty of dissonant passages and numerous guitar/keyboard battles with even some mellotron appearing here and there.The result is a work,that requires a fair amount of spins to be appreciated, far from the harmonic and melodic usual sound of the Neo majority.There is also a fifth short track at the end,the all instrumental ''Moon'', but anyone expecting a bit of melodic content for the end will be rather dissapointed,this is a piece played on grand piano with a very mysterious and haunting sound.The overall style is not fully conveincing,some parts of the album are really exciting with good connections,others are too excessive for the symphonic approach of the band and do not work really well.

Still,one wonders how a band hunted by numerous commitments managed to produce an album of such complicated,inspiring and ambitious musicianship in such a short time.These guys were really talented,maybe a bit too much for the style chosen,and ''Not to Be or Not to Be?'' ends up as an album of adventurous Neo/Symphonic Prog,which many will like but few will trully appreciate.Recommended.

Latest members reviews

3 stars This is the first album that I heard of Cliffhanger. Well made neo prog, with great emphasis on keyboards and vocals that reminds me Ring of Myth or even Pendargon sometimes. Songs such as "Innocent Victim" and "Ragnarok" are really interesting because they are very powerfull and symph prog bu ... (read more)

Report this review (#54544) | Posted by progadicto | Thursday, November 3, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Being from the Netherlands myself I found myself wonderfully surprised one day at my favourite record shop, a prog band from Holland I had never heard prior to that! (There have only been a few local prog bands in the late eighties / early 90's that didn't make it further than the demo tape s ... (read more)

Report this review (#1494) | Posted by | Monday, July 12, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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