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Prog Rock: Franck Balestracci, Sebastian Lorefice, Nebelnest, Univers Zero

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FRANCK BALESTRACCI: Modified Reality (CD on Carbon 7 Records)

This release from 2006 features 77 minutes of scary tuneage.

Joining Balestracci on this release are: Marianne Denoia on violin, Reginald Trigaux (from Present) on guitar, and Guy Segers (also from Present) on bass and vocals.

Expect unnerving rhythms right from the onset, as the percussives achieve a haunting milieu which serves to set the stage for the edgy tuneage ahead. Eerie keyboards accent this dire disposition, providing dense chord sweeps and desperate riffs steeped in dark sentiments. The melodies are frequently nimble-fingered, conveying a frantic gravity. Bass tones rumble with dire implications, setting the hairs on the back of your neck trembling. Some sounds could be the screams of deadly dinosaurs raging from remote vistas. Strident violin passages lurk within the mix, while a throng of angry horns tatter the senses with their insistent cries.

Deconstructed voices provide further unsettling enhancement in the form of clouds of whispers and verbal fragments that defy identification as they seem to hint at clarification. One track features coherent vocals which resonate with strained angst from the thick of the song. Another piece has spoken lyrical content, harshly guttural amid a nest of chittering sample snippets.

Trigaux's guitar adds an unearthly blaze that burns a hole right through the rest of the music. Seger's bass exudes a molten vigor of volcanic scope. Other tracks do feature guitar and basslines buried in the claustrophobic mix.

These compositions are more than fearsome, they are superb examples of progressive rock taking gothic moods to extreme states of expression. The threats are not illusionary, they are real and vital and contagious. The melodies are vibrant and haunting, but at the same time endearing and passionate, destined to delve deep into the hearts of unwary listeners and leave a lasting impression of timeless grandeur.

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SEBASTIAN LOREFICE: Short Stories, Infinite Corridors (CD on Sansebastian Productions)

This release from 2006 features 55 minutes of entertaining music.

Joining multi-instrumentalist Lorefice on this record is Peter Pistevos who contributes guitar to two tracks.

Lavish keyboards generate seething drama with intricate riffs and gurgling pools of auspicious depth. Piano frequently surfaces to provide stately passages amid the jazzy fusion. Xylophonic streams lends a peppy flavor which is engaging. Meanwhile, a bevy of electronics contribute nicely to achieve a spacey edge to several tracks. Slippery stretches evoke an icy seasoning, as the keyboards reach for lofty altitudes.

Rhythms run the gamut from bouncy tempos to lazy cafe style percussives, for this music tends to serve a duality as it weaves from symphonic progrock to tranquil tuneage. One minute it might be snappy congas, the next the rhythms could be diving into a nest of demonstrative beats, complex and richly compelling.

Appearances by searing guitar and fuzzily rumbling bass bestow an enthralling roundness to the tuneage. There's even a tasty dose of horns, courtesy of the versatile keyboards.

These compositions are slick and satisfying, steeped in everything from Canturbury roots to modern jazz influences. Catchy melodies are keynote, along with diverse variations that explore dramatic moments to full proportion. The pace is one of high energy, infectious with numerous twists and entertaining turns.

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NEBELNEST: Zepto (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This release from 2006 features 46 minutes of urgent progrock.

Nebelnest is: Michael Anselmi on drums and percussion, Gregory Tejedor on bass, and Olivier Tejedor on keyboards, ocarina and violin, with guests: Sebastian Carmona and Cyril Malderez on guitar, and Vincent Boukefa on clarinet.

Dynamic keyboards flourish here, describing immense chords that resound with sky-splitting vigor. Dense percussion serves to escalate this frenzy with complex and unpredictable rhythms that seem impervious to fatigue. Thunderous basslines ooze with ominous vitality, achieving a subterranean rumble of earth-shattering proportion. The guitars squeal with scalding riffs capable of blistering paint from across great distances.

Often, the bass achieves a dominance that rivals a blazing pyre, growling with severe animosity and generating a presence of eerie resonance. All the while, the keyboards contribute a haunting realm of slithery melodies that oscillate and swoop like flocks of ravenous birds. The relentless nature of the drums cannot be avoided, as the rhythms weave captivating tempos that refuse to be suppressed.

The periodic presence of clarinet lends an insectoid flavor that can be unsettling, while violin injects a furious blaze of passion. Frankly, with titles like "The Old ones" and "The Thing in the Walls", it's not surprising that the music often pursues a perilous demeanor.

Emphatic energy abounds in this music. The compositions are tight and inventive, satisfying on numerous levels, and thoroughly thrilling.

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UNIVERS ZERO: Live (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This release from 2006 features 67 minutes of dark music recorded live at Les Halles de Schaerbeek in Belgium on June 24, 2005, with two tracks from a concert at Le Triton in France on June 18, 2005.

The band consists of: Michel Berckmans (on oboe, English horn, bassoon, and melodica), Kurt Bude (on clarinet and saxophone), Daniel Denis (on drums and percussion), Martin Lauwers (on violin), Eric Plantain (on bass), and Peter van der Berghe (on keyboards).

Horns and woodwinds provide a classical air of the type rarely heard in orchestra halls. The wailings and blarings are forceful and thick with passion, but steeped in shadow. Frantic violin enhances this desperation. While the subterranean demeanor of the bass fractures the stage with nimble-fingered thunder. Cohesion is rivaled only by the slithery disposition of the melodies.

The keyboards belong to a hyperactive variety, and it is frightening to believe that only ten fingers can trigger such complex and vigorous chords. The riffs sway and swoop with exhausting energy.

The percussion is equally dazzling, generating earth-shattering rhythms of monstrous intricacy and puissance. Fatigue does not seem to be a trait acknowledged by the drummer as he delivers enormous tempos of bewitching character.

Dark is somewhat of an understatement when describing Univers Zero's music. The band's fusion of gothic, chamber music, and rock in opposition produces a brand of prog rock that shambles about in the haunted forest like a revenant not born of earth. While the compositions are crisp and meticulous, the music pulsates with a strange vitality of arcane origins.

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