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Poor Genetic Material: Island Noises

Poor Genetic Material's new album on ProgRock Records is a double CD, concept album, "based on William Shakespeare's The Tempest". Island Noises includes the band line-up of "Philip Griffiths (vocals), Stefan Glomb (guitars), Philipp Jaehne (keyboards), Dennis Sturm (bass), and Dominik Steinbacher (drums)". The band also uses guest artists, including: "Martin Griffiths (the legendary Beggar's Opera singer), classical flutist Pia Darmstaedter and jazz singer Jutta Brandl". Martin Lengsfeld plays piano on "Brave New World", "Fountain of Innocence" and "Dreamstuff".

This is an epic double CD package, in the mold of Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. That being said, the thing that separates the two visions is that "The Lamb" was completely original and included great hooks and tracks that will be remembered forever. Now, only the "Genesis faithful" remember each track on "The Lamb", but there were so many memorable highlights. Island Noises on the other hand feels more like one long interpretation of a story from Shakespeare. The music and Griffiths', Michael Sadler like voice are fantastic, and will give many listeners a full epic prog experience. However, it doesn't have the catchy tracks that will lift it to the level of "The Lamb", or maybe IQ's Subterranea.

This is not a negative criticism, because I really enjoyed the entire album. It's just difficult to imagine many people sitting back and taking the time to enjoy it's fullness without some identifying tracks. I wish more people did have the time to take the album and really give it the time it deserves. Because it is a modern marvel. Hopefully I'm wrong and more people will enjoy both sides of this awesome banquet.

The first CD's almost symphonic opening with, "Roarers", full of drums, flashing guitars and keys will knock you back in your chair for a long good listen. The story opens with Griffiths on vocals, who sounds like a younger Michael Sadler, "This music crept by me upon the waters". Then the second part of the overture begins complete with what sounds like choirs, drums, guitar and majestic keys. That "Use your authority!" and the "Hush don't you cry", really brings back that "Hurry, don't be late" sound from Sadler. The story from the Tempest begins to unfold, in earnest. This epic is underway and set to rock opera proportions.

Soft and warm keys, bass and synth open "A Dance So Strange". The story continues to unfold with Griffiths, punctuating his vocals on "Kill the king, stab him dead" for effect. The drums are fantastic as are the guitars. But it's the synths and keys which really highlight this song. The extended instrumental section is an early highlight of the album. "Brave New World" opens with a fantastic jazz like acoustic guitar and that wonderful piano playing in the background. The soft patted drums and percussion provide a different feeling and sound to the mix. Pia Darmstaedter's flute is like the topping on a cake. One of the best songs on the album.

"Let Them Beware" opens with more of that classical style piano just rippling across the soundscape. But don't get too comfortable. The power is coming back in full force with scratching guitars synths and those pounding drums. One of the heaviest sections of this masterpiece after such a quiet opening. The mix is cool and the track lightens up in the middle, including a talking section supported by keyboards. But the stillness is temporary as the cranking and grinding begin again with "Knowledge is power and that's all it took. Let them beware".

"Caliban's Dream" opens with a reading from the text, before that beautiful piano returns with support from the keys and bass. "I sleep and dream of days back then". Griffiths really turns on the Sadler power with lines like, "And show riches ready to drop on me". Then another fantastic drum, keyboard, flute, and guitar instrumental roars to life. Darmstaedter's flute glides above the soundscape and locks on your ears in its wake.

Now the epic title track "Island Noises" begins. Great mellotron like organ sounds, guitars, and drums transport you back to England and some of the icons of early progressive rock, before spoken word from Shakespeare enters the soundscape. The keyboard rhythms and sounds mixed with Griffith's vocalizations to create a dreamlike atmosphere. This 19:55 minute epic is the best track on the album, bare none. The shimmering cymbals and keyboards will bring back many memories of prog from years gone by, without sounding like a copy. This is very original music full of new chords and sounds. The launching guitars and keys that take us out of the 'Echoes - like' tranquility which has permeated the environment, are excellent. They create this cool bass sound and overlay it with equally cool guitar as those pounding drums keep pace. Then that magic flute takes the lead with the piano accompanying.

The second CD opens with "Banquet of Illusions". The heavy drums, bass and windmill guitars get things started before the keys bounce through to help build the melody again. The piano and acoustic guitar join the sound as Griffith's reads more Shakespeare. There are some launching guitar sounds reminiscent of Pink Floyd before the marching drums, bass and keys re-enter. There is also another grand guitar solo supported with all other instruments. Part II of this epic has begun.

Beautiful acoustic guitar opens "Assassins and Sleepers". Then piano, electric and bass guitar join in to add to the sound. Griffith joins in on vocals to reopen the story. "Awake! Awake!" More deep guitar chords and solos. The song closes off with that wonderful acoustic guitar leading the way.

"In a State of Grace" opens with cool key effects and solo guitar. "Come out and embrace the night". Then grinding guitars and thumping drums. Then later more wonderful flute.

Echoing vocals, "Oh brave new world, which has such people in it", opens "Fountain of Innocence", before beautiful keys, piano and soft guitar take flight. The drums and piano begin to build steam while the guitar cuts its way through and the bass adds volume to the sound. Eight minutes, thirty seconds of wonderful instrumental work along with Griffiths vocals. "A spirit that is pure and kind, why must it be left behind?" That beautiful piano takes us out accompanied by guitar and keyboards.

"Sycorax" is a soft piano interlude which lasts for over four minutes with the flute breathing life through it. The keyboard adds wind like effects and sounds. Guitars join in during the middle section, but the piano takes over with Griffiths adding vocal sounds. "Ariel" is the shortest, but one of the best songs on the album. There is an almost Jethro Tull feel to the opening of this short song. That flute is magic again. The guitar joins in later for this jazzy sort of mix. Griffith's vocals are wonderful, "Voice of the air. Caught in a tree. That's what I used to be".

The epic, "Drowning the Book", for this second CD, opens with bold drums and keys joined with guitar. Then a Hackett like guitar solo brings back memories of Steve's "Narnia" romp, before wrapping back into an original sound with Griffith's vocals, "One night in the dead of darkness". Then the sound moves to deep piano keystrokes, more guitar and keyboard sounds as we move into the dreamscape. Memories take me back to some of the drifting in "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway". Another cool guitar solo opens, that turns into a band romp shortly thereafter.

We made it to the closer, "Dreamstuff". Griffith's opens with the spoken words, "Let your indulgence set me free!" Towering drums, organ, keys and guitar majestically blast open the soundscape before violin like strings and keys take over. "We are such stuff as dreams are made of". A beautiful acoustic guitar and keyboard interlude takes us beyond the halfway mark in this shorter 8:34 minute epic. "As you from crimes would pardon me. Let your indulgence set me free", set to piano and closing electric guitar. "Our life is rounded with a sleep".

Track Listing
1. Roarers 5:39
2. A Dance So Strange 4:44
3. Brave New World 3:56
4. Let Them Beware 5:52
5. Caliban's Dream 6:09
6. Island Noises 19:55
7. Banquet Of Illusions 5:49
8. Assassins And Sleepers 5:47
9. In A State Of Grace 6:22
10. Fountain Of Innocence 8:38
11. Sycorax 4:32
12. Ariel 2:42
13. Drowning The Book 9:04
14. Dreamstuff 8:33

Added: June 5th 2011
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 3573
Language: english

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Poor Genetic Material: Island Noises
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-06-04 18:59:08
My Score:

Unfortunately announcing that your album is a concept based round (not on) Shakespeare's The Tempest may make this album bit of a hard sell for some - although others like me may well be excited at the prospect. Then on top of that the seventh album from Poor Genetic Material is a lengthy double disc release that really takes a fair bit of time and patience to fully appreciate. Indeed it might just be fair to suggest that PGM may have been a little too clever for their own good here. That's not to suggest that the music isn't of a high standard, actually it is excellent, or that the concept which explores themes suggested by The Tempest rather than just retelling the story isn't well executed, it is just that for many this continual concept piece will be too deep, and intense to fully get to grips with before dismissing it as a bit so-so.

Well that's a long preamble, but considering I have been listening to this album on and off for four or so weeks before it finally "clicked", I do think it is a fair one. The music itself for much of the two discs remains restrained, traditionally progressive and reliant on atmosphere and scene setting to slowly ooze its message across. What that allows is for the music to breathe, grow and feel amazingly organic and almost alive as it crawls from theme to theme via beautiful keyboards, clean guitars and flute. Due to that slow, meandering delivery, the crashing riffs, clattering drums and clever time signatures which do punctuate this album have twice as much impact, and along with Philip Griffiths very Michael Sadler (Saga) like vocals offer a welcome change of focus from the introspective, instrumental themes. The other addition that helps the music and story move along are spoken word sections, courtesy of Martin Griffiths (singer with Beggars Opera and Philip's father) which add weight and interest to an already impressive musical and lyrical album.

There is an argument that a little pruning here and there could have seen Island Noises brought down to a single, easier to digest disc. However I would think that the band would feel that their artistic vision would be compromised by any such action and they would be quite right too.

This is an excellent and deeply involving release that uses textures and subtlety to make a remarkably effective impact. How many people invest the required time and effort to fully understand it I'm not sure, but those who do will be richly rewarded.

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