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Rebel Wheel, The: Diagramma (new edition)

This is the Wheel's second full album of dark heavy progressive music, interspersed with lighter freaky moments and full of interesting twists and turns. The Ottowa band has produced a very slick professional sound utilising modern studio techniques but with a keen eye on the development of playing skills.

A brash opening fades back to a stealthy organ and bass march with the original theme retuning at intervals in "Threads". Sparse vocals pepper the piece which consists of three main repeated themes and a degree of embellishment in synths and vocals. Oddly the short acoustic guitar piece which follows titled "Three Valley Gap" reminds me of the intros and interlude in Yes' famous Close to the Edge album.

The twenty minute epic title track starts with a complex guitar/bass/drum composition and adds keyboards in odd time signatures before David Campbell, the main man in the band, gets in his subdued vocal commentary. The track moves through several stages of development from reflective pastoral arrangements to heavy pounding rhythms and slow building menacing passages and occasionally departs into lighter almost tongue in cheek asides. There are touches of jazz in some of the guitar parts as well as psychedelic moments and many changes of tempo and metre throughout. A mellow middle section provides a brief respite before we get a waddling rhythm played on wah-wah guitar and drums with a lively dancing synth figure surrounding it. There are some Beatles influences displayed here as the track begins its resurgence toward the heavier sections of the composition again. This track really does go round the houses and back again, dragging you with it all the time and peering in all those 'windows' as the lyricist describes.

The vibrant hovering and diving guitar over a jerky bass and drum pattern provides a refreshing up-tempo ride in the introduction to "Tempra". When keyboard joins, the sound develops a jazz-fusion feel like Liquid Tension Experiment or some later Mastermind compositions. A short but very infectious track.

A languorous opening leads into the mysterious "Hiding in Waiting" which features angelic choruses, a creepy guitar, drum and bass figure, a spacey interlude and finishes on an emotional guitar solo. The slow tempo is continued into the equally creepy "Arachnophobia" which makes good use of semitones to build a fear element into the sound. A number of quick time changes in the track and the introduction of a lilting sax provide additional colour.

"Awakened" is the closer and at 10 minutes has plenty of time to spread its wings. Again the band show just how far they can develop a song in interesting directions. Starting with a laid back vocal section, there is a sudden contemplative instrumental break and further verses which then return to the original melody. A metal vamp with Angie MacIvor's wandering sax moves the mood in a completely different direction followed by a short but wild Campbell guitar solo. The rhythm section of Alain Bergeron and Gary Lauzon shine here. Another interlude follows when the vocal returns this time with Angie accompanying Campbell's whispered words. A soaring guitar lends a positive note before again falling back to the languid, slightly jazzy instrumental background with loops and synthesised percussion to take us out.

You can tell that a lot of care and attention to detail has gone into this work. It's adventurous without being opaque; loads of variety without losing too much stylistic cohesion. Fans of Porcupine Tree's heavier material from their more recent albums will enjoy this especially but most prog fans should be adding it to their buy lists.


Track Listing
1. Threads
2. Three valley gap
3. Diagramma
4. Tempra
5. Hiding in Waiting
6. Arachnophobia
7. Awakened

Added: October 14th 2007
Reviewer: Richard Barnes
Score:
Related Link: 10 T Records
Hits: 2562
Language: english

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Rebel Wheel, The: Diagramma (new edition)
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-10-14 09:37:38
My Score:

Canada's The Rebel Wheel has reissued their sophomore release, Diagramma, through 10TRecords, with a new packaging. My understanding is that their debut was housed in a jewel case; this one, on the other hand, comes in a neat digipack. However, the credits are somewhat vague; it is hard to determine who plays what on which track, so I'll just address the music in general.

Comprised of five members, The Rebel Wheel has been a great find for me. They play a darkened style of progressive rock that touches on a plethora of influences, but at the same time, the music has an urgency to it that lends itself to more modern arrangements, often evoking Porcupine Tree's recent material (especially Deadwing). Rather than following in the footsteps of bands like Genesis, Yes, and Pink Floyd, The Rebel Wheel leans more heavily towards a King Crimson-styled progressive rock, but they also sustain beautiful and complex compositions.

With all five members playing keyboards, it has to be noted that the music on this disc boasts all kinds of synth textures and notes, coming to the fore immediately on the opener "Threads", a perfectly composed piece that summarises the band's sound. Its intensely dark intro, heavily emphasized bass groove, and creepy keyboard work underline the vocals of multi-instrumentalist David Campbell, whose deep voice fits the flow seamlessly. There is lots of fusion-inspired guitar work present during the instrumental part, laden with plenty of wah effects and modern-day Porcupine Tree sound cosmos.

Of the three instrumental pieces, "Three Valley Gap" is built around a cold acoustic guitar base, with lofty synths wafting across the whole piece. It sounds like a very simple track, but the relentlessly cold vibe achieved within its two-minute length is testament to the band's keen sense of atmosphere. "Tempra" is a bit more fusion-inflected, recalling King Crimson's improvised stylings, with dense instrumentation and scintillating guitar elements. On "Arachnophobia", on the other hand, the use of drone-like synth waves and Alain Bergeron's phenomenal drumming lead the song into a more instrumentally challenging domain, adding in oddly tuned bass and a strangely memorable saxophone part by Angie Maclvor.

The title track is over twenty-one minutes, and one of the greatest epic compositions I've heard in a long time. The complex, shifting time signatures and odd-metered rhythm arrangement is not too unlike the earlier Echolyn albums (think Suffocating the Bloom) and even Spock's Beard's first two albums. The Rebel Wheel adopts a similar method in song arrangement, allowing carefully seized rhythms and melodies to overlap each other (in a strangely Beatles-like manner), while also sustaining a whirlwind of angular guitar riffs and very strange-sounding keyboards. As expected, the song moves from one section to another, touching on pastoral acoustic passages at one point and jagged free-form jazz experiments at another -- complete with a good amount of percussion elements. It is particularly this part that reminds me of the unmatched Echolyn. The song concludes with an extended instrumental part that relies on groovy soundscapes and wadding rhythms.

One of the most moving tracks on the album is "Hiding in Waiting", which boasts an emotionally draining guitar solo towards the end. The zenith of the song comes after an unorthodox mix of acoustic guitars and very creepy keyboards laying the foundation for a strong theme-based solo. Despite each member playing the keyboards, it would be wrong the say the album is more keyboard-driven than guitar. The Rebel Wheel utilises synths in order to build thicker soundscapes, but the songs are generally more guitar and bass-driven.

Angie Maclvor joins David Campbell on "Awakened", possibly the most Porcupine Tree-like piece in that it is structured by a similar sizzling electronic sound patch and atypical synth shuffling. Maclvor's vocals are simply fantastic, though very scarcely used. She also offers another saxophone lead during the heavier section of the song to further intensify the finale.

Diagramma is an essential piece of work that needs to find its fans of great bands such as Porcupine Tree, Rush, Gentle Giant as well as more obscure yet frighteningly gifted acts like Echolyn, Eyestrings, NIL, and Leger de Main.



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