Founded in 1993 by keyboardist Dick Heijboer, the now defunct Cliffhanger were a Dutch band that released three proper studio albums and a collection of rare tracks, between 1995 and 2000. One interesting footnote in the history of Cliffhanger is their connection to a current (and quite popular) Dutch neo-prog band, Knight Area. Turns out that Knight Area bassist Gijs Koopman got his start in Cliffhanger. He joined them just a few years after picking up his Rickenbacker bass for the first time, and quickly honing his craft by playing along with old prog and classic rock records. Cliffhanger's guitarist/vocalist Rinie Huigen also served some time with Knight Area, in their early seven-man configuration.
Although I had occasionally seen Cliffhanger's name pop up in prog-rock publications and CD catalogs during their eight year run, in the name of full-disclosure, I have to admit I had not actually heard any of their music until I received this new archival release for the purpose of this review. The band site Genesis, UK, Yes and Van Der Graaf Generator as their primary influences. Hints of those bands are certainly there, but Cliffhanger also seem like they could fit comfortably with best of the 80's UK neo-prog scene (i.e. Marillion, Pendragon, IQ). Also, given Koopman's busy and distinctive bass playing, it's hard not to hear a bit of the sound and style that Knight Area would take on (and help to perfect) some years later.
Now, as for "Dug Out Alive", I must say - it's a rather unusual package! Though released as a dual-layer DVD, it actually only contains one segment of video, a 47 minute multi-camera concert film titled "Live At Willem 2" (which predates the release of the debut album). The remaining nine hours or so (yes, you read that right - the official running time is 9 hours, 55 minutes, 33 seconds!) is made up of rare demos and some complete (and incomplete) concerts recorded either from a video camera mic or the front-of-house mix board. Given the way these shows were recorded, the sound quality is much, much better than one might expect, so hats off to Heijboer for all the hard work that obviously went into mixing, mastering and restoring these old archival tapes. Is the sound quality perfect? No. But it's still miles more listenable than similar "archive" recordings that have been released by major name bands. One thing that may annoy some people is that certain songs are repeated numerous times - for instance there are five different versions of "The Artist" and six of "Views". Perhaps the best recording of each could could have been chosen, given the sprawling running time of this compilation.
All in all, I would say that "Dug Out Alive" is probably the type of release that will be best appreciated by existing fans, but can also work as a reasonably good introduction to the world of Cliffhanger - though it's a rather long introduction at nine hours! Exploring the collection did inspire me to check out some of the band's proper studio releases in the near future, so perhaps that speaks well of the quality of the music found here. I would also recommend this to Knight Area fans who are curious to hear where Koopman and Huigen first made a name for themselves.
Reviewed by Jeff Matheus on December 31st, 2011