Cosmosquad - Squadrophenia

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Marmaduke Records
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 59:42:00

In another review published along with this one (Final Tragedy - Greed) I write that every album that comes to me, by what ever means, has the potential to blow me away. This release, Cosmosquad's Squadrophenia, has done just that, ladies and gentlemen. The playing is absolutely fantastic! Jeff Kollman (Edwin Dare) on guitars, Shane Gaalaas (Glenn Hughes, Artension, Malmsteen, MSG, UJ Roth...) on drums and Barry Sparks (Dokken, Malmsteen, MSG, UJ Roth...) on bass -- this trio is serving up some tasty metal-jazz-fusion. And the production here is so clean... anyone who knows me, knows that I simply love great guitar playing, expressive playing... not necessarily of the Rothery variety, but of any variety. Yes, I'm practically drooling over this in the same manner I did Liquid Tension Experiment a few years back, perhaps more so. I can't help but think that maybe this trio would give that quartet a good run for their money. It would be hard to call a winner, though, as Cosmosquad lean more towards the jazz and LTE more towards the metal. And I'm not prepared to say that Sparks is a better bassist than Levin, but certainly his equal; if not, darn close to it. I will say I prefer Kollman as a guitarist to Petrucci, at least Petrucci in the LTE context. I'd say all around, Cosmosquad is the more solid trio. The playing here is tight and perfect throughout. Just track after track of excellence. And that each track sounds different shows great depth ... it makes the album exciting to listen to over and over again. New things to discover, a bass line there, a drum tattoo there, a bit of guitar over there... It's over before one knows it... except through the magic of "repeat all" - which I'll tell you is what I had set as I was listening to this at work.

Ferocious seems to be my word for this issue, as I think I've used in at least 2 other reviews... but it's only because it has been the right word to use. I'm using it again to describe some of the playing here. I'm just floored by Kollman's solo just before the end of "Creepy Spider" (the very first track) -- and again by the solos in "Jam For Jason." The trio is joined by Chris Poland and Vinnie Moore for "Jam For Jason," a piece that appeared on Warmth In The Wilderness: A Tribute To Jason Becker in a longer form. And though it is not mentioned in the bio here (but is on the Lion Music site, that label that released the tribute) the track also featured Steve Morse and Jeff Watson. They along with Kollman, Poland and Moore were dubbed the Wicked Guitar Quintet. This is a monster track.

Speaking of monsters, the "Godzilla's Revenge" interlude on the other hand will stomp all over you, with a vicious angularity that makes King Crimson look soft... And out of the happy pulp you've just become, comes the smoldering "Cauldron Of Evil," a gentle, acidic sonic swirl of distorted guitar, chiming percussion over sparse drumming, and growling bass. A bit of demonic vocalizations only add to the dark evil cooked up here.

But the album begins with "Creepy Spider" gives us an example of what Cosmosquad are about - searing guitar leads, punchy drumming and meaty bass. But it isn't all "hit 'em over the head," as the song begins in a laid back manner - some electronic-sounding drums (V-drums? Gaalaas mentions them), a sinewy, eerie guitar solo and quietly menacing bass -- and then it kicks in. No speedy pyrotechnics, just... well, searing guitar leads, solid, punchy drums, and chunky bass -- yes, I just said a few lines up. It does throttle back for a passage, becoming sparse and atmospheric... a mere lull with vague Middle Eastern overtones. "Creepy Spider Part II" which comes in at track 6 fades in nicely...the heavy percussion and bass give this another menacing feel. If one thinks of the darkness of Djam Karet's Devouring, I hear the same kind of darkness here. It not angular, but there are some sharp edges... and I swear the outro sounds very familiar.

The first part of "Road To Tanzania/Tribal Trance" is breezy, cool modern jazz-fusion. Here and in other places, John Scofield comes to mind. It's the upbeat, open way Kollman plays, I think. There may be a flurry of notices, but there's a pacing and spacing to them that just opens everything up. And that's how I think of Scofield as well. The other track that made think of Sco is "Winter In Innisfall," a groovy, bouncy, jazz piece. All of which makes me want to bring out those Scofield titles in my collection and make it a cool hot jazz day. I may yet, but I'm not through soaking up this yet. In fact, I don't even want to write this review, because once it's done, I'll have to move on to the next disc. Not a knock against what comes up next, mind you... but I'm not quite sure I want this to leave my player just yet. The second half of "Tribal Trance" is a percussive, rhythmic... tribal trance. I love the drums here, the "African drum jam" as Gaalaas describes it. "Sea Broth" is another massive track and yet sounds like nothing else on the CD. Moodwise, it's as dark as anything else on the album (with one exception)... it grinds and growls.

That exception is "In Loving Memory" is simply stunning... written for his mother, it is an emotional, mid-tempo piece with some sweet leads from Kollman. In fact, the emotion is enough to bring a tear to your eye -- not in any kind of over-the-top sappy way, but true, genuine emotion.

Well, that's 9 of the discs 12 tracks, the unmentioned ones are "Chinese Eyes," "Funk N' Eh," and "Tribal Trance (Reprise)," which I'll leave to discover on your own. Well, except to say that there's a bit of piano here, too, from Roger Burn, who guests on "Chinese Eyes" and "Road To Tanzania." And, I want to say that the only moment that didn't work for me is the bit of electronic drumming found in "Funk N' Eh," it's brief, but sounds a little too cold when compared to how warm the rest of the album feels. This goes into some unexpected directions, too. I like Gaalaas' description: "we dabbled with the 808 groove to kind of release some of the tension. Then's it's off to a mean Strat solo, some drum racket and fade you with a li'l 2 Pac..." Yes, there is that kind of rap groove right at the end... and it works. Oh, and I will also mention that the "Tribal Trance (Reprise)" gives the whole rhythm and down 'n dirty feel...ferocious, to use that word again... snarling... rumbling...

This is absolutely stellar stuff that's making me kick myself for not getting to his disc sooner. You shouldn't hesitate at all - seek this one out. Very, very, very recommended.

Rating: 6/5

Creepy Spider (5:36) / Jam For Jason (8:05) / Road To Tanzania/Tribal Trance (5:53) / Winter In Innisfail (4:57) / In Loving Memory (5:06) / Creepy Spider Part II (4:36) / Sea Broth (4:35) / Godzilla's Revenge (0:54) / Cauldron Of Evil (5:45) / Chinese Eyes (4:19) / Funk N' Eh (5:36) / Tribal Trance (Reprise) (4:16)

Jeff Kollman - guitars
Shane Gaalaas - drums
Barry Sparks - bass
Roger Burn - piano, Rhodes and synth (3, 10)

Cosmosquad (1997)
Squadrophenia (2002)
Live At The Baked Potato (2002)
The Best Of Cosmosquad (2003)
Acid Test (2007)

Lights...Camera...SQUAD! (DVD) (2008)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: August 25th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 935
Language: english


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