r e g e n e r a t i o n   m o d e   r e v i e w s   - 2 -


Anybody expecting another Celestial Mechanics is likely to be in for something of a shock as the music presented here relies on cosmic, abstract and highly industrial elements more than the Teutonic style Chuck is well known for. Bearing in mind that three of the tracks are written by Peter Gulch, whose band the Nightcrawlers have always shown strong leanings toward this area, then many intriguing possibilities arise.

van Zyl's solo piece gets things underway with a sequential but mysterious opening which ends abruptly to let the abstract and spacey chords take centre stage for seven minutes or so. A simple bass sequence then ushers in a section that closely resembles his recent works with some distinctive pitch - bend soloing and solid percussion. Another spacey section follows which features some impressively ominous bass chords. Just as the listener is anticipating a quiet end to the track a strident military style electronic fanfare bursts forth for a minute before settling down to a quiet ending. This is one of Chuck's most accomplished pieces to date, being full of atmosphere and excitement.

Tracks two and three are written by Peter Gulch and are similar in structure with yet more spacey chords predominating, but with more melodic motifs featuring later on making for some fine, if slightly unnerving, late night listening. Peter's final solo track "The Automatons" looks to be repeating this formula until the more sequential second half arrives with its simple but effective lead evoking the Nightcrawlers circa Barriers. The two musicians pool their talents for the closing track which is another floating piece of the type that Chuck and Peter excel. Latterly a sequence appears further back in the mix, but this just adds to the atmosphere rather than being the focal point.

Overall this album is a very satisfying experience. Some may find portions of the music slightly disconcerting on first audition, however perseverance is rewarded as the depths hidden beneath the surface of these tracks reveal themselves. Recommended.

Carl Jenkinson -- ZENITH   March 1995

Whenever I receive a new Chuck van Zyl release, I despair. He's the sort of musician who robs a critic of his hard - won store of smart - ass lancets, double - entendres, smirking repartee, and nasty acidity, having long ago proven incapable of doing wrong. Whether in duo, group or solo configurations, everything he touches takes on authenticity to such a degree that detailing the many virtues of his work becomes almost an act of redundancy. What provides consolation, however is the fact that listening to his very extensive catalogue is similar to the prospect of a slowboat to the heart of the Milky Way: there's a hell of a lot of planets out there and ya wanna see each and every one of 'em close-up and in detail. van Zyl is the master cartographer of the void and sees to just that. He has a solid base of hard - core space - cases who never will get enough of The Vintage Era or its unfortunately few modernizations and will forever be haunting the more esoteric musical byways, searching for the next galactic fix. Well, besides their descoveries of Mike Garrison, Steve Roach, the Nightcrawlers and several others, these hungry souls and minds have settled nicely around van Zyl, who, to this critics mind, is the dean of the trans-stellar School of Unending Wonders.

For this release, he's teamed up with Nightcrawler and fellow Xisler Pete Gulch for a finely wrought quintet of ethereal portfolios slated for inclusion in the latest issue of Supra - National Geographic. The lead-off is the half - hour "Sector Zero Zero One", a cache of coolly realized glances into a quiety refined quadrant about 35 parsecs from Antares. The mood of this slow tour is almost corporate in attitude: stately, austere, blue - blooded and arrestingly articulate. van Zyl and Gulch prefer here to illustrate their points the way Ansel Adams treated photography: with a fine edge achievable only by the very few who can wed high art and technique to subtle perception and still speak to the whole audience.

You can almost hear the mannered applause at the close of the song, wherein the execs close up their briefcases, file quietly out of the boardroom, leave the building at a measured and and confident pace - and then recongregate at the Bull Pizzle Pub just off High Finance Boulevard, loosen the ties, dotf the pinstripe suitcoats, lubricate the epiglotti, and exclaim in loud unison "Man, was that f*ckin' awesome or what!?!"

And so it is with every song here. Like the intricate cyber - circuitry on the liner, each composition is a detailed and cold examination of various spatial and planetary fields. The heatedly menacing exhaltations of "Shield Failure" are not sufficient to stave off the chill imbued by freezing galactic depths, an arctic glaciation that invades all of Regeneration Mode and which even "The Automatons", probably the warmest cut, can't entirely shake. That particular song, "The Automatons", re - commences the pulsiness briefly explored in "Sector..." and is the most cadenced selection on the disc. But you're not going to get revivification of the celebrated Berlin Pulse. van Zyl's studiously provided alternatives to that for most of his output. I suspect this is due to the fact that it's much too easy an out to keep pumping new blood into that fondly regarded avenue and only half, if that much, of what would be required for solid forward - looking art. Where it's fitting and proper, it will emerge, as it does again at the close of the disc (the title cut), but van Zyl and Gulch paint us the entire corpus of the subject, not just the pulmonary systems. For that, they, and especially van Zyl, can be hung with the sobriquet that places their work at the forefront of the always - struggling progressive/art - rock music genre. Listen to the recentish German exponents (Schonwalder, Kistenmacher, etc.) for their incredible and frantic geometry, but melt into van Zyl for the subtler blisses.

Marc Tucker -- CAMERA OBSCURA   #

There are five tracks on Regeneration Mode - the Synkronos label's debut CD release - totalling 60+ minutes. The first, "Sector Zero Zero One" makes up the bulk of the album at 30:00. This van Zyl solo effort starts off with a blazing chorus of "resistance is futile." (It becomes apparent that the entire CD exists as a quasi - soundtrack for an un - written Star Trek: The Next Generation plot involving a confrontation with the Borg.) A bleepy sequencer patch soon follows, accompanied by FX of phaser gunfire and explosions. This soon mellows into a section befitting the ending time warp/wormhole scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The sci-fi ambience alternates with sequenced space rhythms until an ominous bass line and eerie FX emerge from the, by now, unsettling calm, warning of impending doom. Indeed, a powerful altercation replete with majestic horn and drum trills of battle soon rages, but quickly ends... the end is always quick, right? A minute to pray, a second to die. A sorrowful coda ends the piece, reminding us of the ultimate despair and futility of life now lost, human or otherwise.

The next three cuts are by Peter Gulch. "SubSpace Fields" is almost industrial in nature with all sorts of clinks and clangs. It is meant to be Peter's musical representation of the inside of the Borg ship. Typical Gulch darkambience weighs heavily on "Shield Failure," like a low dark cloud you swear you can reach right up and burst with your finger.

Odd industrial effects are eventually phased in and linger until one "missle" streaks in causing massive explosions... the cause and result of shield failure. As with the first track, a simple anguished coda ends the piece, leading right into "The Automatons." An almost morose beginning soon gives way to a sequencer and lead keyboard line, recalling the very best of Gulch's old band, the Nightcrawlers. The title track, a collaborative effort between Gulch and van Zyl, concludes the CD. Slow building, melancholy ambience takes up about half of the track's 10 minute length. Then, ever so slightly, the tone lightens, like a maddeningly slow sunrise. The subtle atmospherics soon dissipate. In its place come light sequencers, militaristic drum rolls, and a genteel melody, perhaps suggesting that after either brief respites of truce or elongated spans of peace - time, war continually lurks about, waiting for yet another opportunity to rear its ugly head.

Gulch and van Zyl have proved they can combine electronic, progressive, ambient, space, and sci - fi music together better than anyone else around today. Eno, TD, and Schulze wish they could come up with stuff as good as this.

Jason Marcewicz -- SYNTHESIS   Spring 1995


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