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Cliffhanger (Holland)
Overall View

Discography:

1995 - "Cold Steel" (58 min)
*****+

1996 - "No to Be Or Not to Be" (73 min, actually 60 min)
******

1998 - "Mirror Site" (57 min)
****

2001 - "Circle" (56 min)
****+

(All albums released by "Musea")


Line-up (still the same):



Gijs Koopman - bass, some keyboards

Dick Heijboer - analog & digital keyboards

                and acoustic piano

Rinie Huigen - guitars, vocals

Hans Boonk - drums & percussion


1995 - "Cold Steel"
*****+


Tracklist:



Views  7-15 (Huigen)

Kill Your Darlings  5-50 (Heijboer)

4 Vessels  7-34 (Heijboer)

Six Minutes Closer To Death  5-49 (Huigen)

Colossus  8-13 (Koopman)

Remaining Rancour  4-33 (Heijboer)

Bad Dreams  18-21 (Koopman) 

First the "Cold Steel" CD was produced by (bankrupted that year) famous Dutch "SI Music" label. That company then was actually the only relatively major Prog-label, but despite the fact that most of "SI Music" based bands played quality Neo that could potentially have a huge commercial success even in the mid 1990s, the label had to go bankrupt anyway. It looks even more strange since a very solid Japanese label "Zero" (among some others) purchased licenses from the label and most of the "SI Music" bands enjoyed a great commercial success (some of them still do) in the Land of the Rising Sun. So Cliffhanger has become a true discovery for the French Prog-label "Musea": In fact, Cliffhanger is a very nice relatively new Dutch band with their own originality within the framework of Classic Symphonic Progressive, sometimes with a faint stylistical (only) likeness to Genesis. "Cold Stel" consists of quite complex compositions with fresh and diverse arrangements. Although after a few listens to their second album it becomes clear the band are still in search of their own, completely firm sound on "Cold Steel", apparently Cliffhanger is a unique band in some ways since they present mature music, as well as a solid musicianship, already on the debut album. Doubtless, "Cold Steel" is one of the strongest debuts of the first half of the 1990s. The last track here - Koopman's "side-long" Bad Dream - is actually the album's centerpiece.


1996 - "No to Be Or Not to Be"
******


Tracklist:



Innocent Victim  13-06 (Koopman)

Sewers  7-59 (Heijboer, Koopman)

The Artist  10-40 (Huigen)

Ragnarok  24-54 (Koopman)

Moon  3:25* (Heijboer)           

(*This piece's playing time is exactly 3:25, but not 4:30 according to the CD booklet.)

A real present-day masterpiece of Classic Progressive Rock. You'll find it in the "Musea" catalogue. Don't save cash on this album: buy it and enjoy! "Not to Be Or Not to Be" is even more interesting and complex a work than their debut, with some raw, very original intricate music from start to finish. Although your CD display shows 73 minutes of album's total time, in reality it clocks in at 61st minutes. So there's no need to hear silence for the next 10 minutes just in order to listen to some random sounds that the guys elicit from their instruments, i.e. to hear what they probably do between the parts of their rehearsals by the end of the CD. But, as I said, a whole hour here is complete with wonderfully interesting music. Need I really add anything more to my own honest opinion (in other words, to the opinion of more than just quite an experienced Prog-lover) on "Not to Be Or Not to Be" a few lines above? I'd only say that although anything featured this album are high-quality stuff (including even a short instrumental "Moon"; let alone a real Prog-killer Sewers), the only "side-long" composition here (Ragnarok), as in case with the previous album, is a special treat anyway. For both cases here comes special thanks to the compositional talents of bassist Koopman.

Musea Records


1998 - "Mirror Site"
****


Tracklist:



Rainforest  7-16 (Heijboer)

The Final Frontier  4-57 (Huigen)

MirrorSite - I  11-35 (Koopman)

MirrorSite - II  9-51 (Heijboer)

MirrorSite - III  5-23 (Koopman)

Sunday Afternoon  4-27 (Koopman)

Truce  4-43 (Huigen)

The Undiscovered Country   8-54 (Koopman, Huigen)

Just now I understand why lots of Prog reviewers consider Cliffhanger the Neo band. Only the three songs (two of them are the longest ones), and one of instrumentals (also the longest one) on this album can remind you of that really tight and strong joint playing the compositions throughout which you used to hear on the first two albums. Particularly, these tracks are 3-4-5 & 7. This is actually the titletrack itself - the Mirror Site "suite" in three parts (two being composed by Koopman again, taken together, sound as an LP's side-long piece) and Truce. Back to the album's centerpiece, if I were the producer of this album I'd replace Mirror Site's second part with the third and, of course, rename both the parts accordingly. Then there wouldn't be such an unbalanced situation on the album when two instrumentals run one after another. All the rest songs, being on the whole arguably quite corresponding to the firm Cliffhanger sound, actually were created in such a simple way I didn't even expect from these guys. The majority of vocal parts here are as simple as by no means long-as-it-was-before arrangements. Though all vocal and instrumental parts on the whole are nice at least from the point of view of a Neo-lover, there's not too few of guitar and keyboards solos that sound especially primitive. While the 6th instrumental track is arguably good concerning Neo, I am especially disappointed with the last instrumental, especially since it's going right after one the best and the only interesting 'separate' songs here. Thus, from the point of view of an experienced Prog-lover "The Mirror Site" represents not just creative stagnation, but a very unexpected fall right into one of the lowest category of Prog called Neo. But, fallen into the Neo sub-genre, Cliffhanger with "The Mirror Site" has become one of the Top-20 bands there. It seems the band members, however, understood that with this album they've lost their esteem at least in the face of 'classic' Prog-heads, so they disbanded shortly after that album was released.

Musea Records


2001 - "Circle"
****+


Tracklist:



Limits  4-37 (Huigen)

Autumn  7-22 (Koopman)

November  2-56 (Heijboer)

Port-Voyage of the Soul  7-09 (Heijboer)

Gigolo  6-47 (Koopman)

Moving In Circles  5-21 (Huigen)

The Birthday Party  6-09 (Heijboer)

One-track Mind  6:40 (Huigen)

Chateau Jam  8-38 (Cliffhanger)

Cliffhanger was in the status of "disbanded" during a surprisingly short period of time - just about a year. For all I remember, these guys reunited already in the first half of 1999 and shortly after that event they announced the next Cliffhanger album saying of it that, being crafted in the vein of their debut album, it will be as strong as "Cold Steel". While I really consider the "Cold Steel" album almost a masterpiece, I still pick the second Cliffhanger album as their best in all senses. I think, the band members have been in a hurry to announce the following album as a proper part of their cliff-hanger-discography, as while this new one is slightly better than their more than three years standing previous album, both the first Cliffhanger albums surpass "Circle" in many respects. This time all the good-to-excellent tracks are concentrated in the middle of the album. More precisely, these are tracks 4 to 8 and at least three of them were composed and performed in Cliffhanger's best traditions. The weakest of these best (huh!) compositions is an instrumental one. Actually this is an excellent, totally keyboard-driven piece with cascades of variegated arrangements, speedy solos and tasteful passages - all done masterly to the accompaniment of a diverse and powerful, always tight rhythm-section. The major imperfection here is more than just the lack of guitar. The track sounds as if Cliffhanger are just a (wonderful keyboard) trio, but not a quartet. Now it's time to talk about the album's real weak points (i.e. compositions). First of all I am very disappointed by the leading track, on which Reine's singing is as simple as his own semi-acoustic rhythm guitar chords, to the accompaniment of which he mostly sings here, as the instrumental 'help' from the direction of his bandmates is too inert to improve it (is this a potential hit since the most accessible song with quite an obtrusive refrains opens the album?). The second song is, maybe, a bit better, though both of them were created the way Cliffhanger never did before. The third track is a very simple instrumental, and the closing ninth track, which is also instrumental, has a few more or less interesting episodes. (Hey, Gijs, where have you lost your wonderful "side-long", epic, thoughtful and complex compositions?) Please note: there are too many unvocal tracks on the two last Cliffhanger albums and each of them contain just one really decent instrumental, whereas all others were as if played to reach the usual time standards. Again, as if following "The Mirror Site" album's scheme of contents, almost a half of materials featured in "Circle" is nothing if not examples of Neo. Thus, presently the name of the band doesn't correspondent to the 'classic' sense of a cliff-hanger. Though, bearing in mind that the so called soap operas are the same cliff-hangers for lots of Earthly people, too, then Cliffhanger can be the cliff-hanger at least within Neo Progressive. But if the guys were brave enough to release a version of "Circle" that would be shorter than their traditional "56 to 60 min" (about 45 min without at least the three first tracks that are the weakest), then we could seriously talk on the theme "Cliffhanger are back to their roots" and give an excellent rating to "Circle". As for this album as it is, looking back at "Mirror Site" I would name it "The Fool Circle".

Musea Records
Cliffhnager

VM. June 15, 2001


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