CHINAWHITE – CHALLENGES – Rock Company – 7,0
CHINAWHITE – CHALLENGES (B-) Rock Company, 2009
11 tracks, RT: 1:06:04
[ https://www.chinawhite.nl/ ]
[ http://www.myspace.com/chinawhitenl ]
[ http://www.rockcompany.nl/ ]
This one’s been out for about a year now (sorry fro the delay!). I first "found" Chinawhite back around the time of 2000’s BREATHE FIRE… and I was surprised to learn there weren’t any releases between it and CHALLENGES. The Dutch quintet — Don Feltges (Joe Stump) on lead vocals, Peter Cox on guitar and vocals, Sander Stappers (Sengaia) on bass, Rolf "Fuchs" Vossen on keyboards, and Hans in ‘t Zandt (Vengeance, Mad Max) on drums — plays a somewhat quirky type of Hammond B3-infused melodic/prog rock, with old Uriah Heep being a decent starting point for comparison’s sake. Or maybe a more AOR/ melodic version of early Dream Theater, with Jon Lord on keyboards?!
The sound is hard to pin down, and the album is a grower, so it took me a while to get my head wrapped around it. The disc’s clear highlight is Cox’s tasty guitar work; he can bolster a seemingly pedestrian track by pulling a nice solo out of thin air, and there are enough meaty riffs here to please air guitar enthusiasts. The B3 is overused at times, particularly in "I Am I" (not a Queensryche cover!) where it’s used to fill a lot of spaces in the music. I’ve got nothing against the B3, mind you — it is used perfectly over a dark, buzzy riff in "Stranger," and adds a nifty Deep Purple-meets-Black Sabbath air to "My Venus Rising’s" spooky intro — but too much is distracting. Fuchs can also tickle the ivories quite nicely, with "Dreams Of A Child" and the excellent "Better Than You" showing off his piano work. The latter, its riff-tastic follow-up "Inside," and driving closer "Wings Of The Wind" (minus the final four minutes of oceanfront sound effects…) are probably the album’s best tracks. If
a few of the lengthier songs were pared down (this feels more like a 50-minute album, not the 66-minute behemoth it is), and the mix was more level (in "Stranger" the cymbals practically scream at you and the vocals are too low) CHALLENGES would definitely rate a "B" or higher.
– Tim Wadzinski
China White – Challenges – Rock Company – Chinawhite’s album has been out a while too, but I still see it mentioned. unfortunately I cannot be so kind to this record as I have been some others. It just doesn’t stack up quality wise to what else is on the market. The production is horrible. Badly mixed for starters. The vocals are way down in the mix and the keyboards way up. The drums are pedestrian and the guitars too thin. Then there are the songs – there are four tracks here around the 8 minute mark and there simply isn’t the substance to make them work for that length of time. I guess the band is trying to add a progressive edge, but you have to have the songs and hooks in place first before you can go off any tangents. And for a vocal band, you don’t hear one word of singing until 7 minutes into the album after a horribly slow 4 minute intro piece. I’d like to comment more, but the mix is just so bad I can’t hear the melodies as they should be heard and the loud organ/keys are really annoying me. MR is thanked in the liner notes and guitarist Peter Cox is a terrific guy, but I simply can’t hear the album well enough to talk more favorably about it.
Andrew McNeice – 29%
Underground Empire, July 2010, Walter
Chinawhite´s album Challenges proves an extremely contentful piece of rock music, which stretches the sound of dominating 70’s hardrock, over innumerable ProgRock quotations, up to Metal in melodic and progressive design. CHINAWHITE use “historical” sounds, particularly the omnipresent Hammond, so I keep making comparisons with URIAH HEEP, and also DEEP PURPLE. One can also call RUSH (covered in early periods of the career) regarding the Prog accents as influence. The material animates however not only through this, but also invites to join in on the groove and occasionally also to really rock. The presented work is housed in one extremely tasteful Digipack, and is powerfully fun.
The origins of Chinawhite date back to 1989 and their first actual album, Breathe Fire, dates from the year 2000. The band also had quite an amount of demo-tapes recordings which surfaced on their follow up album A Dragon’s Birth in 2001 and which contained all previous released EP’s and demo’s. In 2007 they started with the recording of Challenges which was released in 2009.
The style of music is on the hard rock side of progressive rock, heavy riffs with Hammond organ and melodic guitar solos. Music for fans of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Threshold, Vanden Plas, Saga and Rush.
In The Beginning is an almost completely instrumental song with keyboard sounds, a mellow, ambient, slow build up to the start of the album. Challenges – Dreams Of A Child kicks in with a heavy riff with thick Hammond sounds and really Deep Purple like. They stick to that same riff for a bit too long but finally after three minutes the vocal parts start. That is also the place where my interest is heavily disturbed, the vocals are mixed in terribly. The vocals are not out of tune but they do not sound powerful and they are mixed in very softly. Sadly this situation stays throughout the whole album – the instruments sound heavy but in the back you can hear a voice desperately trying to be heard. When the solos start it is better, great guitar solo and the build up very good.
My Venus Rising is of the same length structure, more solo parts for the keyboard. Stranger is a rock song with more groove in it and that reminds me of another Dutch band, Splinter. How Many Miles sounds very like eighties AOR with an Iron Maiden like guitar solo, sadly it falls apart in the bad production. A Hammond opening, like Don Airey for and a galloping rhythm like Iron Maiden on Better Than You. Apart from The Storm Rages On the rest of the songs are pretty standard and not bad at all, apart from the bad production. The Storm Rages On reaches the eight minuter barrier again and has got some more strange structures and odd changes, Dream Theater like.
The style of music that is presented by Chinawhite is completely to my personal taste and the bands named as influences are all ranked high on my list. The songs and choice of instruments are also exactly what I normally listen to but this is one of those cases where the quality of the production ruins it all. As stated the vocals are mixed in terrible, the instrumental parts are not bad but the sound is very raw, almost demo in sound. When I heard Challenges – Dreams Of A Child kick in loud I loved it, but when the vocal part starts it all fell apart. I hope the next album will have a better production because then you can count me in.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Digital Steel, march 2010, ProgRalph, 67/100
The Dutch band China White was founded in 1989. Challenges is the second cd of the band; during the history of the band many demos were released. Most of them can be downloaded from their website (https://www.chinawhite.nl).
Now back to the present. The current lineup is Peter Cox (guitars/vocals); Don Feltges (lead vocals), Sander Stappers (bass), Rolf "Fuchs" Vossen (keyboards) and Hans in ‘t Zandt (drums/vocals). A negative point is the vocals and production. The vocals are the lesser part of the album because they sound like average hard rock vocals. In the production most of the times the vocals are mixed more to the background. Especially in the first half of the album the riffs, drums and keyboard often sound as loud as the vocals; sometimes they are even louder and the vocals are somewhere on the background. It becomes irritating. On the other hand the instrumental parts are produced well. These parts are the stronger parts of the album.
Chinawhite is very much influenced by bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Threshold. On the website the bands makes a comparison with Dream Theater; I can’t hear that comparison; it isn’t present on the album.
My Venus Rising is the best track; it begins with the typical Black Sabbath riffs, after an up tempo part it slows down and ends with a great instrumental progressive part (comparable with Threshold). Stranger starts with a bluesy riffs; they sound louder than the vocals. The drumming (cymbals) during the choruses are overdone; it gets irritating. Better then You starts like Purple with the typical John Lord Hammond sound with pushing riffs. Remarkable is the intro of Inside (Smoke on the Water). How Many Miles has the best vocals;
The Storm Rages On is a blues rock song; also in this song the instrumental parts are interesting, a great guitar solo on a carpet of psychedelic keyboards. The album starts as it begins; a large intro and outro of almost 4 minutes.
With Challenges Chinawhite made a bluesy hardrock cd. Due to the not so good production Chinawhite isn’t able to transcend the average level. Fans of bluesy hard rock might try to listen to the album; they might appreciate it. Hopefully the band performs the songs on stage better than on cd.
It’s a pity the album don’t have a well mixed production. With a better production Challenges would be rated higher absolutely.
Hardrock Haven, Justin Gaines, 5,5/10
Challenges is the third album from Dutch progressive rockers Chinawhite, and their first release in nearly a decade. The band cites Rush, Saga, Deep Purple, Kansas and Uriah Heep as their primary influences, and that quickly becomes apparent on Challenges.
Challenges is a tough album to get into. On paper it works. The band has been around for more than two decades, they play a melodic brand of progressive rock, and with their extensive use of the Hammond organ have a decidedly old school sound. Unfortunately the album never seems to come alive. Maybe it’s the production job that’s making the melodic guitar work, heavy Hammond action and the vocals all sound like they’re isolated and/or working against each other. Maybe the band’s intellectual approach and technical proficiency – and make no mistake, the musicianship is high-caliber – is emphasized at the expense of actual songwriting. Some of the guitar work in particular is absolutely dazzling (see the solo on “Inside” for example), but you’re reacting to the guitar playing, not the song itself.
Whatever the reason, aside from a few songs Challenges just fails to resonate. The harder rocking songs like “Stranger” and “Better Than You” are the album’s most effective tracks, reminiscent of Uriah Heep, Chariot and Nightingale. It’s probably no coincidence that those are the songs where Don Feltges’s vocals are most emphasized and where the “atmospheric” and needlessly technical elements are kept to a minimum.
You can’t help but root for a band that’s been around since 1987 and has remained true to their progressive rock influences, but that doesn’t change the fact that Challenges just isn’t up to par. Nearly every neo-progressive album released on the InsideOut label is going to sound more professional and have better songwriting and more importantly better production.
Perhaps you’ll get more out of Challenges if you’re a die-hard neo-progressive rock fan and adore everything about the genre. Chinawhite certainly has a lot to offer, but for casual fans or newcomers, Challenges is probably going to seem a little too boring and “not ready for prime time.”
Rock United, Wally Wallstrom, 4
The dutch Prog-Rockers of Chinawhite and their latest offering, "Challenges". I’ve been following this band since the late 90’s and I do and did enjoy some of their earlier work (see our archive for reviews of the 2000′ release ‘Breathe Fire’, plus some EP’s). However, I must say that I ended up quite disappointed with this one. It’s like an unfinished painting with mad barking children running around without their heads and tails on a meadow full of playing dogs. Huh?Ehem, not a pretty picture, I asure you.
The production is a mess where the vocals are buried way deep in the mix and have to struggle to make any sort of impact whatsoever. There’s a mad roaring Hammond right in your face and you wish it’d go away if only for a couple of minutes. It’s like listening to Uriah Heep on a bad acid trip or something. It’s simply just too much of a ‘good thing’, if you catch my drift? Plus, some of the tracks are very similar in structure and arrangements and it’s actually quite difficult to tell them apart.
Final Verdict: Their old ‘Saga’ inspired sound is no longer relevant and that darn hammond is merely a nuisance. It’s a shame really since we know what Chinawhite are capable of at their best.
Dutch proggers Chinawhite have been around since 2000, flying the flag for a genre that has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years. On Challenges, their latest full length album, they continu to leap with both feet into the mystcal stratosphere of prog. Hammond organ and all.
Second track "Challenges" rather bizarrely jolts from a classic rock pre-verse to frontman Don Feltges displaying his most dulcet of dulcet tones as Chinawhite go all easy listening on us.
The problem with having an album packed full of epic tracks is that each needs to maintain the listener’s attention. "Dreams of a Child" is a prime example of where Chinawhite fail down here, with a seemingly abundant opening section that is more akin to the band having a quick pre-song warm up rather than being a real part of the track. Once they do get into their stride, the boys pull some good stuff out of the bag. "My Venus Rising" is a slice of classic rock gold wrapped in prog clothing, while "Stranger" has a slight Journey vibe while maintaining the Dutch rocker’s distinctive own sound.
"Inside" meanwhile, sees the boys step into boogie territory, while the mark of Rush and Deep Purple become increasingly evident as the album goes on. Which is, of course, no bad thing at all.
Richard Chamberlain, 6 Powerpoints.
Progwereld (NL), february 2010