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Prog Rock: Absolute Zero, Amber Asylum, Attention Deficit, Robert Berry, The Hosemobile

Through the years, Progressive Rock has gotten the reputation of being a generally candified genre. The following releases prove to dispel that assumption with their epic grandeur and powerful performances.

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ABSOLUTE ZERO: A Live in the Basement (CD EP on Absolute Zero)

This 19 minute release harks from 1990, delivering a two-song dose of agro prog rock.

With harsh drumming and thunder bass occupying centerstage, versatile keyboards melt through the mix like sticky honey. A flute presence fails to sedate the music, impelling the crashing harmonies to swell with revitalized declaration. High-end vocals achieve a mood somewhere between the Residents and Henry Cow.

The melodies are complex and anxious, demanding attention with innumerable sharp breaks and even quicker pick-ups. The second track applies more fluidity to the cacophony with the application of urgently lamenting bassoons, digging the music's roots even deeper into Canterbury soil.

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AMBER ASYLUM: The Supernatural Parlour Collection (CD on Release Records)

Amber Asylum is a musical project centering around Kris Force, known for her collaborations with Neurosis and Swans. Joining her on this 46 minute CD are: Wendy Farina, Cat Gratz, Jackie Gratz, Jayne Roderick, Erica Stoltz, and Melynda Jackson.

What seems at first to be dark zone chamber music soon evolves an even darker temperament with gloomy sensibilities and ominous sonic portends.

This music can be considered neo-classical experimental outings, peppered with violins, cellos, percussion, and haunting female vocals. Add guitar, oboes, and piano...and the sound grows more modern, but refuses to relinquish its gothic edge.

This music possesses rich poetic character, delivered in lyrics that equally touch the heart and mind with their lilting poignancy.

Consisting mainly of violin, percussion, and voice, the band's monumental take on Ozzie Osbourne's classic song "Black Sabbath" is literally spookier and more disturbing than the original.

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ATTENTION DEFICIT: The Idiot King (CD on Magna Carta Records)

Attention Deficit is: Michael Manring (from Michael Hedges) on bass, Tim Alexander (ex-Primus) on drums, and Alex Skolnick (from Testament) on guitar.

Among the influences utilized on this 53 minute CD (like Frank Zappa, King Crimson, John Coltrane, Pat Metheny, and more), the band tailored the instrumental music on "The Idiot King" around the events involving the 2000 election for President of the United States of America (and the resulting hoopla). As a result, a certain element of cynicism and resignation is present in the melodies. (But then, one of the nice aspects of purely instrumental music is its ability to mean totally different things to different ears, allowing the politically apathetic to enjoy this CD with equal satisfaction.)

Thunderous drums sweep the songs with intellectual rhythms, frequently injecting a jazzy purism into the mix. The basslines follow this jazz motif, but often carry their rumbling undertones into grittier territory...locking in tandem with the fusion guitar which repeatedly diverts into heavy metal with head-spinning results.

Nimble fingers collaborate with engaging compositions to produce complex melodies. Thrashing passion and cerebral stimulation transform fast, liquid riffs and tempos into thrilling tuneage.

It doesn't matter what genre you favor, you'll enjoy this remarkably tasty hybrid of metal and jazz, united in a prog rock realm.

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ROBERT BERRY: A Soundtrack for "The Wheel of Time" (CD on Magna Carta Records)

Since 1990, author Robert Jordan has entertained millions with his "Wheel of Time" series of fantasy novels. On this 53 minute CD, Robert Berry (who comes from Asia and "3" with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer) produces a soundtrack for this fantasy saga.

Despite its traditional instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards), this music possesses a cinematic flair, evoking grand landscapes and accompanying heroic adventures with powerful ease. Acoustic guitar strains blend with eerie synthesizers, while dramatic drumming lends tempo to desperate basslines and elfin keyboards.

The presence of mandolin and violin frequently gives this music the feel of a Celtic Pink Floyd.

Some songs feature vocals, giving the music more specific connections to the original novels, but on the whole, even the instrumental tunes deliver vivid imagery to the saga's loyal fans.

This CD features cover art by Darrell K. Sweet, whose paintings have graced the covers of all nine "Wheel of Time" books by Jordan.

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THE HOSEMOBILE: What Can & Can't Go On (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This release from 1999 contains 58 minutes of progressive rock with the emphasis on the rock.

The Hosemobile is: Jeremy Averitt, Cain Blanchard, Tige Casey, and Rob Ring.

Solid crash guitars, complex bass, and durable drums comprise the instruments. Some wobbly piano can be heard too, but the core belongs to the versatile guitars: attacking, swooping, strumming, and cascading in waves of weirdness. The sound produced is melodic, but artfully cacophonic. There are vocals in the form of whispered observations on only one track.

The music is a sort of avant garde modern rock. Imagine an intense, intellectual blend of the heavy metal sound with a sparse form of King Crimson. Or perhaps an agro version of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic.

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