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Cliffhanger, 'Cliffhanger Live'

Cliffhanger Live  (1994,  73.05)  **½

Oh Cloudy Cloudy Sky/Here Comes
  the Utopian
Truce
Kill Your Darlings
Good Things (Last Forever)
Escape
Hope & Despair
Colossus
Rainforest
4 Vessels
Hopeless
Cliffhanger, 'Cold Steel'

Cold Steel  (1995,  57.37)  ***

Views
Kill Your Darlings
4 Vessels
Six Minutes Closer to Death
Colossus
Remaining Rancour
Bad Dreams (Cruel Visions)
Cliffhanger, 'Burning Alive!'

Burning Alive!  (1995,  46.22)  ***

The Artist
Gratwanderung
Sewers (Above & Inside)
Ragnarök
Cliffhanger, 'Not to Be or Not to Be!'

Not to Be or Not to Be!  (1996,  73.08)  ***

Innocent Victim
Sewers
The Artist
Ragnarök
Moon
Cliffhanger, 'Mirror Live'

Mirror Live  (1997,  69.43/115.44)  **½

Views
Truce
Rainforest
Feels Like Flying
The Final Frontier
Mirror Site I
Mirror Site II
Mirror Site III
Sunday Afternoon
The Artist
Six Minutes Closer to Death
Sewers (Above & Inside)

Colossus
Ragnarök
Cliffhanger, 'Mirror Site'

Mirror Site  (1998,  57.11)  ***

Rainforest
The Final Frontier
Mirror Site I
Mirror Site II
Mirror Site III
Sunday Afternoon
Truce
The Undiscovered Country
Cliffhanger, 'Hope & Despair'

Hope & Despair  (1998,  69.02)  **½

Escape
Oh Cloudy, Cloudy Sky/Here Comes the Utopian
Hope & Despair
Good Things (Last Forever)
Feels Like Flying
Hopeless
Colossus
4 Vessels
Kill Your Darlings
Cliffhanger, 'Circle'

Circle  (2001,  55.45)  **½

Limits
Autumn
November
Port (Voyage of the Soul)
Gigolo
Moving in Circles
The Birthday Party
One-Track Mind
Chateau Jam
Cliffhanger, 'Dug Out Alive! 1993-2001'

Dug Out Alive! 1993-2001  (2011,  547.34)  ***

Cliffhanger Demo
Cliffhanger Live
Burning Alive!
Live at De Boerderij
Live at Chateau
Mirror Live

Burning
Live at De Tavenu

Current availability:

Cliffhanger were one of a plethora of neo-prog outfits to emerge in the Netherlands over the late '80s (associated, as were many others, with the awful S.I. label), although their first official album release came as late as 1995. I have to admit that I haven't actually played anything by them in quite some time, so it was only recently, when keys man Dick Heijboer wrote to me, that I realised the band used sampled Mellotron at all, precipitating a listening spree and, probably for the first (and only?) time on this site, an artists going from 'no site presence' to 'their own page' in one fell swoop.

Although their debut studio album (ignoring 1993's EP-length demo) was a year off, the band elected to release a lengthy live tape, er, Cliffhanger Live, in 1994. In retrospect, this might have been a mistake; not only could it have affected sales of their debut proper (actually, thinking about it, probably not, knowing the prog audience of the time), but much of its material is fairly poor, possibly prejudicing otherwise sympathetic listeners against them from the off. The best stuff here was re-recorded for the following year's Cold Steel, but AOR-ish stuff like Good Things (Last Forever) and Escape are rather unnecessary, frankly. Mellotron sample use in 1994 almost certainly means eMu's rather crummy Vintage Keys module, although it was the only way many bands could access the sounds at all back then. Anyway, Heijboer adds various combinations of choirs, strings and occasional flutes to Kill Your Darlings, Escape, Hope & Despair, Colossus and the overly lengthy Hopeless.

Cold Steel reaffirms my original belief that the band had more to offer than the average neo-prog horror, despite guitarist Rinie Huigen's terrible vocals. Gijs Koopman's Ricky bass and Dick Heijboer's keyboard work are more intricate than you might expect, although the band's propensity for defaulting to bland, unoriginal chord sequences does them no favours. Indeed they do use Mellotron samples: Heijboer adds them here and there, with choirs all over Six Minutes Closer To Death, strings on Colossus and both on 'side-long' closer Bad Dreams (Cruel Visions), although many of his sounds are generic.

1995's Burning Alive! (originally another cassette-only release) is, effectively, a live preview of the forthcoming Not to Be or Not to Be!, right down to utilising a variation on its sleeve art. The weakest track here is the one otherwise-unavailable effort, Gratwanderung, the three new pieces all being good, within their limitations, although probably better heard in their studio versions. Samplotron strings and choirs (variously) on all but Gratwanderung.

The following year's strangely-titled Not to Be or Not to Be!'s chief fault is its length: over seventy minutes makes for an exhausting listen, especially when the album could've been improved by slicing, ooh, at least fifteen minutes from that figure. How? By removing all the extraneous neo-proggisms, that's how. This, kiddies, is what happens when a post-'80s wannabe prog outfit listens to Marillion; however hard they try, that benighted outfit's pernicious influence always slips through. Saying that, the very lengthy Ragnarök is actually pretty damn' good, if a little overlong, while instrumental closer Moon is excellent, with no reservations. Loads of samplotron (how had I forgotten they'd used it?), with strings and choirs on Sewers, choirs on The Artist and Moon and choirs, strings and flutes on Ragnarök.

For some reason, 1997's live Mirror Live appeared some months before their next studio album, Mirror Site (is a pattern forming here?). The original release was a seventy-minute edit of a two-hour set, now available in full on 2011's posthumous Dug Out Alive! 1993-2001; to be honest, I'm not sure that two hours of this stuff is justifiable, other than to the most fanatic, er, fan. In fairness, that's at whom the set is aimed, but the more casual listener may just lose the will to live after a while. Unfortunately, there's something about hearing so much of this style in one sitting that actually diminishes the better material on board, turning the whole into a bucket of neo-prog slop that makes this listener, at least, wish to listen to something else and fast.

1998's Mirror Site (see what Cliffhanger did there? They went all contemporary on us, late '90s style) infuriates as much as it enervates, moments of genuine excellence, not least the point on Mirror Site II when things get properly weird, interspersed with acres of neo-prog-by-numbers, not least the Genesis-playing-The-Fountain-Of-Salmacis-via-Marillion of closer The Undiscovered Country. Er, The Final Frontier? The Undiscovered Country? Is there some kind of Star Trek fandom thing going on here? Not as bad as the horrible Chandelier's Ferengi Lover, I suppose... (I actually (accidentally) witnessed that band playing this rubbish many years back, complete with the singer wearing... a Ferengi mask, which is nothing to do with Cliffhanger). Less samplotron this time round, more notable parts including the strings and choirs all over The Final Frontier and the solo strings part that opens The Undiscovered Country.

The live Hope & Despair from later the same year is something of a disappointment; clearly intended as an official release for several previously-widely-unavailable songs, including material from their first demo in '93, much of the unheard stuff is dodgy neo-by-numbers and serves only to diminish their better material. It's not all bad, but far too much of it isn't good, either. Samplotron here and there, although, as Heijboer's limited to two instruments at any given time, several studio parts seem to be missing.

After a three-year gap, Cliffhanger released what turned out to be their last studio album, Circle. Having split and reformed in the intervening years, the band clearly took something of a left turn stylistically, making a more straightforward record, not so much 'more neo-prog' than a case of 'more mainstream rock', particularly noticeable on opener Limits and Moving In Circles, although The Birthday Party, amongst others, just about rescues their prog credentials. Again, not that much samplotron, notable use including the very un-Mellotronic string melody on Autumn and the choirs all over Gigolo and One-Track Mind.

As previously mentioned, 2011's Dug Out Alive! 1993-2001 DVD exists as a repository for the band's complete live recordings, although I'm not sure how many of their studio albums are still available. I haven't finished trawling through it yet, so expect a few more reviews next time round.

links

Official site

See: Knight Area


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