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Freak Neil Inc. : Characters

Phew, this is yet another project from those ever-enterprising and gifted Dutch Sun Caged dudes Rob Van der Loo and Roel Van Helden. Gathering together an impressive and lengthy list of guest musicians (see details below) the boys slash through a stunning cornucopia of "characters" as each song is in fact a character sketch. Consummate musicianship and unique modern prog metal sound graces these grooves which range from funky jazz riffing thru full blown metal extravaganzas.

Van der Loo was in fact looking to record a concept piece with the bass guitar as the focal instrument. Once the guest performances were developed, the project blossomed into the full blown concept album it is. This one is a must for fans of quirky avant garde prog metal.

Rob van der Loo: Basses, Chapman Stick
Roel van Helden: Drums
Vocals:Irene Jansen (Star One/Ayreon) | André Vuurboom (Sphere of Souls, ex-Sun Caged) | Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Star One/Ayreon) | Nick Hameury (Engine of Pain)
Guest Musicians:Bass: Steve DiGiorgio (Death, Testament, Iced Earth, Artension), Sean Malone (Cynic, Gordian Knot)Chapman Stick: Ron Baggerman (Galaxy Gypsy)Guitar: Chris Godin (Gnö) | James Murphy (Death, Obituary, Testament) | Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged, Lemur Voice)Keys: Joost van den Broek (After Forever, Star One/Ayreon, ex-Sun Caged)

Track Listing

  1. Characters
  2. Talking Chair
  3. I'm The Hero
  4. I Understand
  5. Downtown
  6. Beyond The Garden
  7. Bulldozer Blues
  8. Café Supreme
  9. Jaba
  10. Absence

Added: October 6th 2005
Reviewer: Mike Blackburn
Related Link: Lion Music
Hits: 5393
Language: english

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Freak Neil Inc. : Characters
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-10-06 16:24:46
My Score:

I was terribly disappointed when I heard that three members of Sun Caged had left the band due to personal reasons. It was a real shame because the debut Sun Caged album was truly amazing and the fear that they may never work together just appalled me. Now after almost three years, all the members of the band have gone into different directions, formed new bands, and taken part in numerous projects, one of them being this album: Characters. Freak Neil Inc is Sun Caged bassist Rob van der Loo's first full-length release, with an impressive array of guests, including former Sun Caged members Andre Vuurboom on vocals and Joost van der Broek on keyboards, as well as other bass gods such as Sean Malone and Steve DiGiorgio.

You want more? How about James Murphy and Marcel Coenen on guitars? Irene Jansen, the amazing female singer of Ayreon and Star One fame? Arjen Lucassen, the man behind a million projects? Need I say more? Knowing these musicians and their abilities was enough proof that this release would rule. However, Characters has by far exceeded my expectations thanks to some unknown talents to me. French guitar virtuoso Chris Godin and Engine of Pain vocalist Nick Hameury also grace this album lending their invaluable talents along with Rob's partner in crime, drummer Roel van Helden. This guy is amazing. His timing, his tone, and his technique are incredible on each and every track, from the impressive drum fills and cymbal work in the intro of "Talking Chair" to the jazzified instrumental "Downtown". The former features Andre Vuurboom doing both clean and extreme vocals, a much different style than his operatic delivery in Sun Caged, and guitarist Chris Godin shredding it up, while our main man Rob van der Loo colours the piece using various bass and stick sounds. One of the heaviest tracks on the album, his bass, when combined with the precise drum work, reminds me of Meshuggah mostly. The instrumental piece, on the other hand, exhibits more jazz drums and guitars, highlighted by a fretless bass solo by Sean Malone of Gordian Knot, and finishes off with atmospheric keyboard textures delivering Middle Eastern elements.

Nick Hameury's brutal vocals and amazing voice control on "Bulldozer Blues" brings Devin Townsend to mind, and when this is combined with a brilliant solo by James Murphy, I am reminded of Murphy's first solo album Convergence for a moment. This is a different piece though, punctuated by a deft Hammond solo courtesy of Joost van den Broek and thick bass notes falling on it. Hameury sings both clean and growled vocals and should prove to be a great find for everyone. "I Understand", with processed vocals and a playful chorus by Arjen Lucassen, solidifies the experimental nature of the album. The song is filled with loop drums, weird electronic elements, and an ethereal stick solo. "Cafe Supreme" is another instrumental piece, marrying the powers of Chris Godin's guitars, Steve DiGiorgio's fretless bass, and the rhythmic intensity of Rob and his drummer. The album continues to surprise with its varied content, as it also holds a slow ballad, "Beyond the Garden", sung by Irene Jansen over Rob van der Loo's meticulous stick work. Jansen's ability to convert those whispered lines to staggering vocal melodies is beyond perfect. "Jaba" is one of the heaviest songs, again with Nick Hameury on lead vocals and Steve DiGiorgio on fretless solo. The song is brutally crushing and technically challenging, until Joost's beautiful 70's keys work themselves into the mix.

The album begins and closes in the same way, with lots of spoken voices which seem to come out of a mental institution from various 'characters', and they're flawlessly portrayed by the duets of Andre Vuurboom and Irene Jansen. While the opening track is wild with loads of distortion, a lot of chapman stick, effects, keyboard patches, and distorted vocals, the album finale "Absence" breaks the 13 minute mark and builds a tense atmosphere. The song is dark and brooding, with plenty of keyboards and a terrific solo by Marcel Coenen. Andre Vuurboom's vocal performance is nothing short of spellbinding here. I so look forward to his new band Sphere of Souls who will hopefully have their debut released this year, and you should check them out. The guy can go from a smooth Ray Alder-like tone to a maddening brutality it's simply unbelievable.

I've said little about Rob van der Loo, the most important man behind this project. This brilliant album is his creation, and in my opinion, with Characters, he has established himself as one of the most amazing bassists in prog metal. He plays so many different bass guitars on the album, opting for new sounds (including his 9-string instrument) and expressions, and has managed to meld all these wonderful talents together. I am overwhelmed by his work - this is the best album Lion Music has released in 2005, or even in years.

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