January 22, 2014

Progressive Rock Review: Cliffhanger-Cold Steel

This album, Cold Steel, by the Dutch progressive band, Cliffhanger, is a re-mastered and expanded release of the debut album that first saw the light of day in 1995. Cliffhanger formed back in 1993 when the four band members came together, ultimately releasing 4 albums, 3 of which were released by 1998, Cold Steel (1995), Not To Be or Not To Be (1996) and Mirror Site (1997). At this point, the band went their separate ways, but re-formed a year later and recorded album No 4, Circles (2000), before finally calling it a day.

Cliffhanger was a four piece band comprising, Dick Heijboer (piano, keyboards and synths), Gijs Koopman (bass, bass pedals and additional keyboards), Rinie Huigen (guitar, vocals) and Hans Boonk (drums, percussion) and in 2012, Freia Music and the band agreed to re-release the debut album, Cold Steel, with Dick sorting out the tracks plus bonus material, and all members being involved in the extensive liner notes.

The sound of Cliffhanger on this debut/re-mastered disc is lush symphonic music encompassing passing nods to a variety of prog giants such as Yes, Genesis, Marillion (Fish era), King Crimson and even some hints of Van Der Graaf Generator.

Cold Steel is a 2 CD set, with disc 1 having 9 tracks and a playing time of around 68 minutes and disc 2, comprising 11 tracks with a running time of around 71 minutes. The shortest track on offer is on disc 2, “Oh Cloudy Cloudy Sky,” at a short 1:19 minutes and disc 1 contains the longest track, “Bad Dream (Cruel Vision), runs the clock on past 18 minutes. (18:22).

The first seven tracks on disc 1 form the original Cold Steel album release with both “Feels Like Flying” and ”Sinister Memories” being bonus additions, along with the material on disc 2.The opening track, “Views” (7:14) is stunning and shows exactly what Cliffhanger were capable of producing. There are examples of great time changes, sweeping keyboards, beautiful guitar melodies and the appealing, if slightly faltering, vocals. The vast range of melodies on show, together with the soaring and sweeping passages provided by the keyboards permeate through all the tracks and exudes a feeling of safety and security to prog followers. “Views” is a terrific example of what an opening track should be, grabbing the listener instantly and refusing to let go.

“Kill Your Darlings” (5:49), “Four Vessels” (7:33) and “6 Minutes Closer To Death” (5:52) all have that superb symphonic sound which can suddenly drop into a darker area, but seamlessly flows along carrying the listener with them.

The 8+ minutes of “Colossus” (8:10), is another superb track, starting in a very subdued manner which has a sort of narrated lyric at times. This is almost “stripped down” Cliffhanger with the vocals carrying the main spotlight. Around a third of the way into the track, those majestic, amazing keyboards have a passage which takes the breath away, before giving way to a simple piano behind the vocal. The keyboards are very prominent in phases and the track is memorable with several of the little keyboard flourishes. The ending sees the symphonic sound fading away in a slow spiraling outro.

The bonus tracks are a mixture of material that were recorded around the same time as Cold Steel was issued, with different versions of tracks on disc 1  and live tracks, culled , I would assume, from the concerts that Cliffhanger were doing at that time. The good thing about this selection of bonus items  is that they are worth possessing, which is something, unfortunately, that cannot be said for all “bonus items” that can appear on re-issues.

The closing track on disc 2, “Hopeless” (15:32),is another of the tracks where the overall sound is more subdued with the vocals almost being the main “instrument” on show for a large chunk of the tracks running time. There is some stunning piano work throughout the track and around the 7th minute, the synths “escape” and move the track up several notches. The guitar sets out some melodic passages and runs as the track progresses. The crowd is very appreciative and can be heard in the quiet phases, on what is a very well structured track allowing a full band workout, and considering that it is a live track, the sound is excellent.

The debut album by Cliffhanger, Cold Steel, is worth the purchase price for the original 7 track album from 1995, but in this instance, you also get another 80+ minutes of material that is worth having, with no poor quality sound or “early demo” written across the tracks. Pure symphonic rock from a band that certainly seems to have been overlooked, so this time, do yourself a huge favor and go out and get Cold Steel. It has a “One to Buy” sticker on it and I don’t think you will be disappointed in any way.

4.5/5 Stars

Key Tracks: Views, Colossus (disc 1), Hopeless

Jim “The Ancient One” Lawson

January 22, 2014

Release Date: 2nd July 2013
Label:  Freia Music

Disc 1:
Kill Your Darlings
Four Vessels
Six Minutes Closer To Death
Remaining Rancour
Bad Dreams (Cruel Visions)
Feels Like Flying
Sinister Melodies

Disc 2:
Oh Cloudy Cloudy Sky
Here Comes The Utopian
Kill Your Darlings
Good Things (last forever)
Hope and Despair
Four Vessels

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