maandag 6 mei 2013

Quadruple Review: Rank 1 - Floorlifter / Under The Gun & LWBIAA (Rank 1 Remixes) / ASOT #600 Compilation CD4 [May 2013]

Razormane Blogpost #15 | April 22nd 2013 - May 6th 2013 |

The past six months have been good for anyone considering themselves a fan of Rank 1's music, especially for myself. They released three brand new singles, two brand new remixes as well as a new mix compilation for the ASOT #600 celebration. Truly a huge contrast with 2011 which was a pretty "empty" year bar the mix compilation Piet put together for Trance Nation and the various gigs he had in the Netherlands that year. Considering how the Rank 1 Remixes for Fire Wire and My Enemy were already revealed in late 2010, the only remotely "new" production we got to enjoy from them in 2011 was Witness in October and that didn't get an official release until March 2012! Compared to that whole year, the past six months have been one continuous Christmas-present for fans like me with so much new (brilliant) material coming out! As such I decided to devote this blogpost to their newest releases in the past few weeks. Rather than one review for one single, I've made four reviews for their newest single, two new remixes and their mix compilation. It's gonna be a long read so if you got the time, kick-back and relax. Here we go:

I. Rank 1 - Floorlifter (Original Mix)
Premiered at Piet's A State Of Trance #600 set in Mumbai and followed by the world premier on Radio Rush #036 (and not on ASOT #605, as mr. van Buuren wrongly claimed :P) one week later.  After two remarkably nostalgic "new oldskool" Trancers, Rank 1 returns to High Contrast in Bigroom Mode. As the title suggests, this track was made to rock the dancefloors. It kicks of with a minor swelling synth when a short-loud snare-roll
introduces that loaded, electric, power-bassline: it seems this track will honor its title perfectly! A few gentle background pitches accompany the pounding bassline as we are guided into a dual six-tone melody in the breakdown. This melody swells on and on as a single pitch gradually rises faster and faster, parallell to the incoming climax. Snares join this climatic cocktail until that monstrous bassline is released once again, this time playing the break's melody (have to say this part kind of reminded me of Sandro Silva & Quintino - Epic). Said melody returns to guide the killer bassline as a mini-climax follows. The bassline then continues on its own before the track builds down. With Floorlifter, the Rank 1 gents deliver a very energetic, modern bigroom record which has seen the support of the scene's biggest names so far. Fanwise I am not sure the track has had the initial same impact to 7 Instead Of 8 or Elements Of Nature though in the last few weeks I've seen quite some twitter support for Floorlifter and the track currently sits at #5 in the Beatport Trance chart: the previous two singles made it that far too so it can't be denied this track is doing well.Following after those two nostalgic Trancers, I dare say some must have felt Rank 1 pulled a new Beats At Rank-1 Dotcom on them: said track shocked the hordes of fans they had back in the day as the Techy Trance Energy anthem was completely different to the euphoric supersaw Trance these people started following Rank 1 for. I believe Floorlifter might have caused a similar shock, though nowhere near as big. Furthermore, anyone calling themselves a fan of the "modern" Rank 1 should know by now that every once in a while they completely change their sound. Keeps things fun and fresh for them, and depending on what you expect from them, keeps it fun and fresh for us fans too. Personally I must add that I don't find Floorlifter as brilliant as the previous two nostalgic Trancers. That said, I do like the track a lot and have yet to hear it in the one setting it was created for: the dancefloor. Until that happens, I won't be able to properly judge it. I personally feel that despite that, the track lacks something: Top Gear for instance was 100% dancefloor material too but it was so inherently unique, it made it loveable outside the dancefloors for me as well. Floorlifter kinda lacks the usual "Rank 1 sophistication" I think. The breakdown is rather simple and straightforward, I personally think that a more complex, more melodic breakdown would have caused an even greater contrast with the post-climax part which in turn would have made that bassline come in even phatter! The way it is now it sounds more like something Benno and Jochen (Miller) would have made back in late 2010, in the Classified/uPad period: those Benno-Miller tracks used to have the same sort of effective simplicity to it... I also think it's a shame the track is so short! But I guess it's a matter of personal preference really. The guys did what they feel they should have done to make a modern day club banger and for me this is a nice club banger alright! Mindblowing in the right setting and set to do what its title promises!

II. Conjure One feat. Leigh Nash - Under The Gun (Rank 1 Remix)
Premiered on that very same A State Of Trance #600 set in Mumbai, is the first Rank 1 Remix in more than two(!) years, after My Enemy (Rank 1 Remix) was officially released in mid-January 2011... Has it been worth the wait, you ask? Hell yes, I say! A non-comprising, piercing, bouncy typical Rank 1 bassline opens the track right of the bat after it swells to full force. They mean business this time. A gentle melody line swiftly joins the fray with a mysterious subtle background pad to contrast with the raw bassline. The melody line extends whilst the bassline keeps on bending in the mean time when all of a sudden, it fades. Then Leigh Nash starts singing, backed by a simple yet gorgeous string and very subtle piano guidance, with her voice being echoed here and there. Then the acoustic guitar kicks in and Leigh raises her voice, wondering "what if we die, what if we dieeeeeeeeee". This part of the track sounds like something you'd sooner expect in a pop song and despite me not being too big on pop tracks/parts like that, this remix somehow manages to turn the usually annoyance into an infectious euphoria. A standard forum/chatbox post by me whenever this part of the track comes on during a radioshow goes something like this:
*holds candle*
*sings along*
*waves candle*
And I write it with a big-ass smile everytime, haha! Anyhow.  After Leigh's "Under the guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun" slowly fades and then stutters in the background, dat trademark warm Rank 1 synth kicks in. I discussed this track with a fellow fan two weeks ago and he said the synthwork reminds him of some of Rank 1's 2002-2003 work: if you take some of their remixes from 2002, I'd definitely agree. But personally this part reminds me most of This Way (Rank 1 Remix): it utilized an equal warm simple-yet-effective synth melody like this one. One of the highlights of the track for me: that mini-climax bit at 04:05 when the synth temporarily fades and Leigh returns to sing "Under the guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun" before that synth returns with full force! The bassline continues whilst slowly tuning down as it is backed by the melody line from the initial build-up. Six minutes and nine seconds are over already?! That was fast! To conclude: this short but powerful remix was way overdue but well worth the wait. In my opinion it's better than Floorlifter, though still a few steps away from 7IO8 & EON. Even so, I still rank it amongst the guys' finer works. Their fifth remix since 2010 continues their winning streak in that department and it does so flawlessly! Way to go guys, this is a definite winner!

III. Giuseppe Ottaviani feat. Eric Lumiere - Love Will Bring It All Around (Rank 1 Remix)
You should never judge a track based on names only, let alone if you haven't even heard it. But when I saw that Rank 1 had remixed this track, especially following some tweets in which they enthusiastically said that they couldn't get enough of "this vocal", I was... Not too pleased. Bar his remix for Y68, I've never liked Ottaviani's sound. Even as Nu NRG, I found him vastly overrated. Eric Lumiere made one of the cheesiest tracks I ever heard back in 2007. His "Anthem" with Filo and Peri was causing waves at the scene and AVB forum back in the day, but I never quite got the hype of it. Sugary sweet poppy track with Trance elements here and there, so what? When I heard the original Love Will Bring It All Around, I was yet again exposed to a type of track I can't stand. So it should come as no surprise that when the Rank 1 Remix was officially announced, I was worried. Considering how they created my Tune Of The Year 2012, followed by the brilliant EON, the solid Floorlifter and the great Under The Gun Remix, people will be quick to point out to me that I should have more faith. But exactly because they have been on a roll, I'd hate to see them lose form over a remix for two artists that don't get past the 2/5 (or more often 1/5) star ratings in the Razor books. Now... Was this remix the drama I feared it would be?

A drama might be exaggerated but I do have to say I found the world premier on Corsten's Countdown last Wednesday quite underwhelming. And get this: not so much because of the vocals! The build-up was nice enough, a bit of a deep and tuned down bassline this time with a stuttering synth stab here and there before the vocals kick in. The vocals are bearable until that "when I look baaaaaaaaack" part. From there they get too annoying. The track's base melody is revealed as we head into the breakdown. The melody-synth combination however is rather generic and to me doesn't sound like Rank 1 at all. Heck, it's as if I'm listening to some random modern day Anjuna "Trance 2.0" track with a poppy touch by the likes of Arty, Mat Zo or some producer of minor fame (fame shouldn't matter for enjoying a track but this is Rank 1 we're talking about! Needless to say I expect Rank 1 quality). This middle part instantly reminded me of Armin's latest single "This Is What It Feels Like": An "Electronic Pop Dance" track that sounds like all its mainstream counterparts out there (as such I don't quite get the reason why the likes of BT, Protoculture and others are hyping this track or even the whole Intense album so much). Now I don't really care much about Armin's music nowadays, but considering how Benno was involved in that Guthrie track and I can hear some faint resemblances in this remix, I am strongly hoping that those influences won't migrate to any future Rank 1 projects. My problem with this remix is that it lacks "Rank 1-ness" in its most crucial part: the middle. Regardless whether you like or dislike Floorlifter and the Under The Gun Remixes, you can't deny that the basslines and synths used in those productions are typical Rank 1 sounds. This LWBIAA Remix lacks that. The build-up has them to some degree but the rest of the track sounds like it could have been done by any average producer out there... For me this remix is definitely their weakest since the one they did for Ronald van Gelderen's Embrace Me (for me that main lead lacked the imagination so strongly present in their other 2008 productions), but at least that one did sound like Rank 1 to me. It's a shame this track doesn't do anything for me, but seeing how I expected the worst to begin with, I can't say I wasn't prepared. Though not the catastrophe I feared it would be, this is an incredibly mediocre production for the quality I've grown to love and expect from Rank 1.

Harsh as this final conclusion might sound, I want to point out that this doesn't mean the end of the world for me, nor for my R1 fandom for that matter. Heck, Piet and Benno themselves always said they hate to eat potatoes everyday and though I strongly doubt they meant that in terms of production quality, that mentality is very fitting for this situation nonetheless: the Rank 1 guys are human. Even a fanboy like me can see (or hear) that. This setback leaves their status as my number one artists unharmed. Just a shame their flawless Remix streak since Safe has come to a brief end... ;)

IV. A State Of Trance #600 - The Official Compilation - CD4 Mixed by Rank 1
Rank 1 was asked to join the third ASOT celebration compilation since the series began with #500. Here I will review their 17-track selection for the fourth CD of the compilation:

01. Rank 1 - 7 Instead Of 8 (Original Mix)
My Tune Of The Year 2012. Half a year has gone by since I heard the final version and my, my, my, it's still as magical as it was then. Still gives me goosebumps. There is no better way to start a mix! For a detailed review, go here: [].

02. Team Deep - Morning Light (Original Mix)

From late 2012 we go straight to the mid '90s with this oldskool Trancer from mr. Bervoets himself, alongside CJM van der Heiden. That rolling raw saw synth might remind you of "Carlos - The Silmarillia" or the track to finish this mix, "Jonah - Sssst… (Listen)". That's not too surprising since those were other projects in which Piet was involved. 1996 is a long way back but this track still sounds very good, typical oldskool feel-good Trance. Some people say you shouldn't live in the past but I say there is nothing wrong with opening up the memories of the good old days. Great pick! And nice transition into the next one!

03. Ramirez & Pizarro - Hablando (Acordeon Mix)

The oldskool flow continues! I recall having read in an interview that this track was Piet's favorite classic of all time (whereas for Benno it's Cygnus X - The Orange Theme) but I think he added something along the lines that he didn't know many people that liked it too. Let's hope this mix will change that then, Piet! Bought it myself last year, what I really like about the track is its pumping vibe and the Accordeon adds a unique touch. Very cool and lesser known oldskool track!

04. Rank 1 vs. M.I.K.E. - Elements Of Nature (Original Mix)
Back to 2013! As if the opening track of this mix wasn't a treat already, they also added that OTHER beauty of a "new oldskool" Trancer, the mammoth-collaboration with M.I.K.E.! Much like 7IO8, this one still takes me high and causes goosebumps when I hear it. Just a shame they didn't let that 2nd part play out, it's one of the essential anthemic-parts of the track for me... :( For a detailed review, go here: [].

05. Cerf, Mitiska & Jaren with Rank 1 - Witness (Edit)
Special memories are connected to this track, both nice and less nice ones. Though this one doesn't compare to the two Rank 1 singles mentioned above, I still enjoy it quite a bit, despite the vocals in the breakdown being a wee bit too sentimental for my taste. I've noticed that Piet has dropped a slightly enhanced version of the track from time to time but somehow this wasn't released as the final version? In this edited version, just at the top of the climax when that snare/flat kick is supposed hit, it sounds a lot softer as well as the guiding background elements fading much sooner and once the beat and melody kick in, they sound a lot "fuller" (slightly more beautiful too) than in the Original Club Mix they released. Jaren also sounds a lot more tuned down in the semi-final part... It's a shame they never released this version!

06. The Quest - C-Sharp (Original Mix)
Lovely transition there with the all-too-familar C-Sharp percussion! If memory serves me right, the first time I heard this one was at the end of ASOT #289 back in early 2007, which opened with that gorgeous gem of a Touch The Sun (Rank 1 Remix)! Though it also could have been the Classics opening hour of the magnificent ASOT #250 broadcast... Anyhow, this Dutch Anthem Trance at its Supersawest: feel-good vibes from the moment that percussion starts playing until the track fades away. I highly recommend those of you that like this one to check out the other two lesser-known The Quest tracks: Shaken Not Stirred and my personal favorite of the three: Solitude.

07. Rank 1 - Airwave (Original Mix) [Innercity Theme 1999]
Speaking of all-too-familiar percussion! The guys' most famous, most beloved and most praised track of all-time could not have been left out of course! One of the greatest Champions of the late '90s Dutch Anthem Trance is of course Airwave, and dropping it right after C-Sharp will no doubt sweep many Trance fans of their feet. For some it will be the discovery of genre's Glorious Past, for others it will be a trip down Memory Lane.

08. Push - Universal Nation (Original Mix)
To think that this track is on the very same compilation with 7 Instead Of 8 really put a smile on my face as the latter reminded me of this one when I first heard it. Great transition from Airwave into this one and gotta love how Piet decided to give this track the most space on the compilation compared to all the others. What can I say? I remember hearing a one-minute or so snippet of Universal Nation on one of the Sensation Mega Mixes back in either 2003, 2004 or 2005. And I was hooked. When my brother bought us the extended versions, I was in heaven. One of my all-time favorite tracks here, ladies and gentlemen! It's amazing how this track STILL stands after all those long years and how it puts legions of contemporary producers, artists and records to shame with its timeless melancholy... *deep sigh* What a gem.

09. The Thrillseekers - Synaesthesia (En-Motion Mix)
The Ferry Corsten Remix of this ranks amongst favorite Classics of all time, though let's be honest, any of the original/early versions/remixes of this track ROCK, because that melody is just Trance music at its very finest! That Corsten version was on my mp3 player back in 2005, from early Spring to late Summer and found its way back on it when my bro bought us the full version. The first version we had was a radio rip in which the first part had Armin's Serenity recorded before Synaesthesia came in. I recall having to spend extra time in school to work on my math and economy courses as both weren't progressing well at all. I'd be out as the last person of my class because barely anyone else needed those specific restoration courses. I had some great spacey moments whilst sitting in the tram and bus whilst this track played on and on. Eight years later, I still get goosebumps, regardless if this is an older/original version...

10. Dutch Force - Deadline (Original Mix)

From the UK Classic we go back to a Dutch Classic and probably one of my favorite solo Benno tracks from his old discography. Charming piano melody and Trance saws, what more does a Trance music addict need?? Though I loved this track ever since I discovered it back in 2007, at the end of ASOT #315, what made this track legendary for me was when it followed right after "The Great Escape" when Benno and Piet performed live at Dance Valley 2010. The sun had just broken through during TGE when Benno suddenly started playing that Deadline-piano melody on TGE's bassline. Mind was blown. When the guys performed live again at EDC Las Vegas in 2012 for the first time since then, they even opened their performance with Deadline. These experiences have made a great track even greater for me.

11. Ambassador - Fade (Original Mix)
The first unknown Classic for me on this compilation! Sadly, it's also the shortest being barely two minutes long. A bit of a shame since it's got this thumpin' beat going and that main lead has a nice ring to it as well... The transition into Endless Wave is sweet, but it really is a shame this track got little space.

12. Kamaya Painters - Endless Wave (Original Mix)

An oldie from Benno and Tiƫsto I discovered at the end of ASOT #299. This is probably my favorite of all the Kamaya Painters collaborations though I haven't played the others as much as I have played this one so that might be an unfair comparison... The main lead is so recognizable, so characteristic of the whole track, you'll recognize it any time it gets dropped. Truly a memorable Classic.

13. System F - Out Of The Blue (Original Mix)
Good old mr. Ferry Corsten! I first got acquainted with this one back in late 2005, when my brother bought a load of Ferry-related Classics for us. Another one of those defining Trance Classics that everybody knows (and of which some will complain that they are part of "the same old same"... Classics are Classics in the end!). Though the track has worn off on me over the years (through overplaying and a gazillion useless modern reworks) it fits well with the other ones here. Nice pick!

14. DJ Misjah & Groovehead - Trippin' Out (Original Mix)
The second unknown Classic to my ears. After a quick visit to it seems this one comes from 1995! I went to kindergarten back then, can you believe it?? Love those raw angry saws, they remind me of those typical Piet Classics! Bit of a more sinister track this one, such a shame that like Fade, it gets so little space in the mix, would have loved to hear more of it...

15. Cygnus X - Superstring (Rank 1 Remix) [Sensation The Anthem 2000]

Seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeensaaaaaaaation! One of Trance's most defining riffs and I'm guessing one of the guys' favorite melodies to perform live on stage as it will drive EVERYONE wild when they unleash that riff. Sensation's very first anthem stands as tall as ever some 13 years later. Though I kind of overplayed this one for myself too and I've heard it quite often on many radio shows/live streams, I can't deny this one makes me feel happy. In the end, that's all that matters to good music, right?

16. Oliver Lieb - Subraum Stimulation (Original Mix)
The third unknown and, in my humble opinion, best of the three surprises for me on this compilation! Thugging deep beat, thundering gated synthssaws and good melody. This track keeps pounding away with that groovy bass and before you know it, it's over. Booooooo! :( We want more! Luckily some of the loaded madness is kept intact with the nice transition into the mix's final track:

17. Jonah - Sssst… (Listen)
Sssst... Be quieeeeeeeeeeeeet... Listen. As the raw main lead swells from the background to the forefront and the pounding beat returns for a harder, angrier energetic Classic Trance treatment. No doubt that back in the day, this is how a typical club banger would sound! I wonder whether that experimental Hardstyle-ish track the guys revealed to Armin on ASOT #147 back in May 2004 was created in the same period as this Jonah track: both have some similarities and are of a harder nature then you'd expect from them... Anyhow, a very energetic and cool way to finish a journey through Classic Dutch Anthem Trance Supersaw Land!

Razor Verdict
Though I really enjoyed listening to this +1 hour mix through Classics and new material alike, there are a few sidenotes I'd like to add:

1) Despite liking Witness, I feel it could have been left out since style-wse it kinda falls out of the boat compared to the rest of the selection. Furthermore, Witness was given 5:31 minutes of space. That time could have been divided between some of the shorter tracks, like Fade. I prefer compilations to be 14 tracks long (unless there is an intro and outro like on the old Sensation White/Black compilations) so that's something I personally would have done different.

2) For the longer time fan this compilation might not be considered too exciting in the sense that there are few surprises on it: in particular, the C-Sharp/Airwave/Deadline/Endless Wave/Superstring combination could have been replaced with other Classics by either of the guys I think. For instance, one of the two other The Quest tracks to replace C-Sharp or perhaps "Hidden Sound System - Freeze", a full version of "The Citrus Juicer" or "Black Snow" instead of Airwave, one of their other 2000 remixes for Superstring, some old Piet projects like "C.P. One - Exifar (Modern Move Mix)", "PWB - Dark Desire" or one of my favorites "Carlos - The Silmarillia" and so on. Don't get me wrong, I love all five of the combination I mentioned above but I think Piet and Benno have done so many other great tracks throughout the years that always get overshadowed by these five... While we're on the replacement subject, I would have loved it if Cry (Rank 1 Remix) would have made it on instead of OOTB: simply because I kinda overplayed OOTB myself at one point and because that Cry-remix is so underrated yet so beautiful!

In the end, Classics are Classics though and when it comes to Trance Classics, there are few artists out there that have a discography to match Piet & Benno's. Ultimately a very nice CD, not much surprises if you've been into Trance for a long time but as a Rank 1 fan this mix definitely deserves a spot on your CD shelf or on your HD as a digital one hour mix from Beatport. I heavily recommend this CD to the Trance fans that haven't been into the genre that long yet (say three/four years) as it will help them form a picture of what Trance used to be about and why so many of us miss the Soul from those days. It will also help to understand why 7IO8 and EON got so much praise and support in the past half year. It's funny how a 2012 and 2013 production can fit so naturally amongst all these '90s Classics, no?

Well Piet & Benno, very nice selection you guys put together for us with some of your most popular/valued work! Plenty of Golden Oldies and some sweet transitions to boot! Well done :)

That will conclude this Quadruple Review by yours truly. Safe to say, we Rank 1 fans have been spoiled this past half year, especially this last month! We will probably be looking at a drought pretty soon (especially considering that the Armin Only tours will be starting in the second half of the year meaning Benno won't be spending much time in the Rank 1 studio I fear) but for now that seems irrelevant. These are some fine productions to get us through those times, in case they dawn upon us.

Piet & Benno: you guys are truly on a roll! Keep it up! 14 years since Black Snow and still going strong! I hope there is still plenty to come from the #1. :)

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