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Jaugernaut (a. d.)

Contra - Mantra

Review by Gary Hill

It's a band, it's a solo album, it's a band, it's a solo album - well, actually it's kind of both. Apparently the band Jaugernaut was around in the 1970's and after having broken up achieved a cult following in Europe in recent years. Jim Johnston, one of the members of the band, eventually decided to release a new Jaugernaut album. However the rest of the members were not interested in being involved, so he went it (for the most part on his own - there are a few others credited in fairly small roles on the disc). The end result is this album.

The vocals on the CD are in the Rush/Triumph vein, and in fact Rush's music seems to have been a big influence on a lot of this disc. The music overall fits into a progressive rock vein, albeit a guitar dominated one. This music would certainly have been at home on AOR radio in the 1970's. It's a very good album, but has some room for improvement. I think that perhaps some input from other musicians would have added a bit of variety to the album. Still, you really do get a strong sense of familiarity when you pop this in. You feel like you are listening to one of those long lost 1970's prog unknowns - I know we all discover one from time to time.

I would say that one down point to the album is the production quality. While everything is crisp and clear, it just feels a little "flat." A strong point to the production, though, is a lot of "stereo effects," meaning that this one works well with headphones, as there is a lot of channel separation to the right and left. Overall, this album should appeal to fans of bands like Rush and Triumph (at least the more adventurous periods of those groups). For more info on this album, the original band or just to order the CD, stop by the project's website.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Anthem
Ambient sounds lead to a weird circus music type mode, then into some, not exceptionally loud, chaos. Eventually, though, after this odd intro the cut (a four part suite) shifts gear to a crunchy prog rock segment with some classic synth lines over top. This then moves through several varying progressions. After quite a time like this it drops to a ballad like mode that feels rather like the acoustic section of Crimson's "In The Court Of The Crimson King." This moves ever gradually in this form, working through the first vocal segments of the track. At times secondary vocal parts bring in a Starcastle or Yesish harmony. This segment is quite tasty, but stays around a bit long for my tastes. Eventually, though, a guitar solo takes it out from there. Then it is moved back into the ballad type segment, but a bit more powerful as it continues. This slows down (on the instrumentation, anyway) after a time, and the vocals crescendo. Then a screaming keyboard line gives way to a new fast paced movement that serves eventually to end the piece.
The Damage is Done
Strange ambient sounds start this, then it moves into a (mid era) Rush influenced progression that makes up the verse section. The chorus on this one is catchy, anthemic and very strong with an awesome vocal arrangement. The first true proggy moments on this one come when it shifts into an ELP-like instrumental break. This eventually gives way to a guitar solo, then a keyboard solo, then the two instruments work together in an energized take on the song's main themes until it drops back to the verse.
Better Living Through Anarchy
This one comes in with an understated, but oh so cool stripped down segment, then bursts into a sound that is more of the type of hard edged prog that makes up most of the CD. This one is quite accessible and one of the highlights of the disc. Other than the openings segment, this doesn't change much in terms of song structure, instead relying on changing overlayers for its variety.
Doing It the Hard Way
Starting with a processed sound that reminds me of someone snoring, an electronic rhythm comes in after a time, then keys and bass play in ambient ways around this until a cool guitar solo, still understated, begins to work around this structure. The ambience ultimately remains alone, eventually crescendoing. Then it breaks down to near silence. Sound effects and other weirdness take it quietly for a time until an acoustic guitar melody enters to carry it forward. This plays through for a while, then ends. From there a very A Farewell To Kings era Rushish sound takes the composition into its next phase, the firs vocal segment of the piece (another four parter). After a while in this format a great keyboard solo movement takes it. Eventually only the keys remain, moving through a highly dramatic and beautiful unaccompanied solo that eventually moves into ambience. Then Eastern tones begin to rise from this and give way to a stripped down keyboard backdrop that the next lines of vocals more over. This builds and changes ever slowly, eventually getting quite well develop and varying layers of vocals move around one another. Space keys wash over and then acoustic guitar returns, the arrangement here becoming very powerful and well populated. It drops to just keys to carry into the next hard rocking segment - a reprise of the earlier Rush one. This eventually ends the track.
Vanity
A tribal beat and some weirdness start this, then a sound like an elephant shows up. This switches to a hard edged, straightforward rock and roll song. This, while it does have a nice keyboard solo, doesn't really qualify as prog at all. It does, however, make for a nice change up - although some progressive rock purists might be unimpressed. The weird keyboard and rhythmic structures that started it take it later and vocals come over this. It eventually moves into a rhythmic funky groove that ends the cut.
A Different World
This one bursts in with a furious prog rock whirlwind serving as the intro. It drops to Rush-like textures to continue on. This gets both very energized and very powerful. I really like this one a lot. It drops to just keys for a vocal bridge later, then it ramps up from there into a very dramatic instrumental segment. Next a new riff, part Rush, part Maiden takes it before a new Rush oriented mode serves to unite to the main song structure. Xylophone like sounds take it later, then this is transformed to a new jam for a short time, but then only this tuned percussion remains until a short orchestral movement assumes command. A wash of keys ends this and segues it into the next one.
All I See Is Gray
This comes in as a pretty, understated acoustic guitar based ballad. There are spoken sound bits in the back at points and the occasional burst of keys punctuates sections of the song. Orchestral sounds come across this at points, and eventually this is ramped up towards the anthemic. This get very evocative at times, but doesn't wander beyond its roots. As such, while the growing layers are quite good at times, it becomes a bit overlong.
 
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