Review – Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – Broken But Still Standing – By Progradar

A brooding, damaged cube, like something from The Borg of Star Trek fame, mysterious and enigmatic, a lone, shadowy figure walking towards it. I’ve long been a fan of great album art and the cover of the new album from UK Art/Prog rockers Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate is another one that really caught my eye.

Cryptic and original, like all the best album art, it really does invite you to wonder about the music behind it and knowing what this imaginative and inventive set of musicians are really capable of, I was very intrigued to find out more about ‘Broken But Still Standing’.

Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate are Malcolm Galloway, on his own, or with his colleagues Kathryn Thomas (flute), Mark Gatland (bass), Rudy Burrell (drums) and Ibon Bilboa (guitar). They are based in London, UK.

Malcolm and Mark have been playing together since they were at school. Malcolm and Kathryn are married. This album also includes spoken word and backing vocals from their children James and Ethan Galloway, and James co-wrote two of the tracks.

Their music combines progressive rock, classic rock, acoustic, blues, metal, folk, funk, minimalism, and electronica and often explores scientific and philosophical themes.

‘Broken But Still Standing’, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate’s third album, is a science/science-fiction themed concept album. It follows the story of human evolution, from LUCA, the last universal common ancestor of all current life on earth, via Lucy, one of the possible precursors of our species, to conflict and eventual symbiosis with artificial intelligences. The general theme of the album is that life has progressed by forming coalitions, whether between the primitive cells that engulfed each other to become the cell and the mitochondria (the power stations of the cell), between individuals to form communities, or between different forms of life in the future.

This band really know how to deliver a seriously complex and yet ultimately rewarding concept album, this is what I had to say about their previous release ‘When The Kill Code Fails’,

“I love it when new music lands on my desk with no fanfare or previous knowledge. Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate may have a brilliant name but they also produce excellent music. Sometimes progressive, sometimes more rock orientated but, overall, it is an enthralling listen.”

So, without any further ado, let’s dive in…

(Photo by Jaz Dhillon)

The opening instrumental Vent is dark and almost elemental in its low brooding delivery with the haunting flute making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and an apprehensive feeling seep into your mind. There’s a seamless segue into the deeply atmospheric Almost Familiar with its vocals that drip with passion and longing, ethereal flute and the achingly bluesy low-down guitar. Unashamedly progressive in its outlook, it’s a slow-burning piece of musical storytelling for dark nights and open fires. Kathryn’s emotive flute solo is a piece of genius and closes out the track to perfection. There’s an alien, science fiction tone to the next two tracks, Luca to Lucy opens with an uneasy, unerringly off-kilter soundscape before the music seems to creep in like an ancient dawning of time, all measured, deliberate and low-key. An exact and infallible life force that has only one motive, to exist. Lucy sees Kathryn’s flute take centre stage on this short piece, all mysterious and enigmatic with its late night jazz feel, asking questions of the listener.

There’s nostalgia in spades about Last Man On The Moon, a wistful, almost melancholy song that gets under your skin with its elegant music and heartfelt vocals, especially the excellent harmonies between the male and female voices on the captivating chorus. Thoughtful and yet somehow forlorn, it’s a great track with a wonderfully plaintive and meandering guitar solo that leads you on a reflective musical journey. Advancing On Snailback is a trance-like ambient instrumental that gets inside your head and mesmerises you with each well considered note, Serious, discerning and meditative, it leaves you lost in thought. That reverie is broken by the edgy, almost punky guitar, drums and bass of Anywhere, Malcolm’s vocal has an angsty tone to it and the whole song seems to have discordant, uneasy feel. A short, sharp shock after the more refined and gentle feel of the first few tracks. There’s a jazz lounge aura to the opening of One Day When before the vocals begin and the energy builds to another catchy chorus, to me there’s a real vibrancy and energy that has infiltrated the music now, an addictive and harder note more akin to modern punk and alternative rock.

I love the intoxicating ambience of I Fell In Love With A Mechanical Dragon, rock infused electronica with high octane keyboards and a vibrant guitar note that combine with the urgent vocals to give one of the grin inducing highlights of the album. It does feel slightly absurd singing the chorus out loud in the middle of Morrison’s but that’s what great music does to you! The most overtly heavy track on the album, Let Me Out is dark and deliciously dangerous in its outlook. The in-your-face riffs and impassioned vocals drive the song on towards the dissonant flute solo and special mention must go to the superb drums and funky bass that are the engine room of this song. More electronica that almost verges on drum and bass underpins Under The Skin with its clever use of female spoken vocals that almost break into rap. A really inventive piece of music that makes me nod in appreciation every time I listen to it. That electronic vibe really comes to the fore on the retro grooves of Lucid Assassin. A high energy song with some rather excellent synthesisers that work on a  hard working drum and bass foundation to give a special 80’s ‘laser show’ ambience.

Broken But Still Standing Till I Fall is another hard-edge, punk rock soaked track with a take no prisoners attitude. The vocals have attitude to them and the music just rocks, especially the dynamic and vivid guitar solo, another short sharp shock to the music system. The metaphorical lights are turned down low as we segue into the melodramatic All Alone Together, the heartfelt vocals give real poignance to the song and the music adds not a little tension to proceedings. Take some 70’s jazz funk, add some 90’s Happy Mondays Madchester vibe and you’ve got Host, one of the more upbeat songs on the album. The blues-rock imbued guitar solo is worth the price of entry on its own and the restless energy of the song soon finds itself manifested in your dancing feet. Transient Stars is an intelligent instrumental with a cinematic quality to it, you could imagine this as being part of the score for a high-brow, cerebral science fiction film. An enlightened piece of music that had me musing about all sorts of unfathomable things. Things come to a close with the astute progressive rock of Close My Eyes, dextrous musicians showcasing their skills and a contemplative vocal performance culminating in the simple but eminently memorable chorus. A cultured close to  what has been an engrossing musical experience.

‘Broken But Still Standing’ is a brilliantly perceptive and original work of art that enthralls with every listen. Taken as a whole it is an utterly immersive musical experience that will captivate and enlighten the listener, Hats Off Gentlemen Its Adequate has to be one of the most creative and innovative artists out there today.

Released 7th October 2017

Find links to order ‘Broken But Still Standing’ at the band’s website here:

 

 

 

Review – Playgrounded – In Time With Gravity – by Emma Roebuck

Playgrounded is a Greek band born and forged in the heart of the financial crash post 2007 and whose first album ‘Athens’ is a narrative of Greece and a Greek youth in crisis and ultimately the European Project. They moved to Rotterdam to explore their music more, in their own words “Heavy Rock meets Electronic”, this is of course is not happy joyous music.

‘In Time With Gravity’ is 8 tracks of music but, technically, only 6 as the final track is a long form piece subdivided into 3,  The Stranger, based on the Albert Camus book of the same name which can be summarised in Camus’s own words.

‘I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

I will let that dangle for a while as I explore the rest of the album and return to it later.

To begin properly at the beginning, The Crossing, the meaning of this song eludes me if I am honest. It could be a metaphor for their journey from Greece and learning to connect to a Northern European culture? It could also be a metaphor for the journey of the refugees making a similar journey or I could well off the mark. Musically it is very dark and electronic driven with an understated but definite slow grinding guitar work woven around the main themes.

Mute is a definite stand out track on this album for me. There’s big sounding and very powerful guitar work but not in a way that swamps the rest of the music. They manage to sound big and yet leave space in the music, it is a trick some of the other Prog metal bands could do with learning if I am honest. There’s an addictive guitar hook that repeats often enough to become an ear worm.

Waves, now this is to me where the band show their influences at their clearest. A song of a wasted generation lost in the turmoil of politics and chaos of the times. Playgrounded have played on the same bill as Anathema and Riverside and they are very comfortable musical bedfellows here.

In Time with Gravity is the title track and the most electronic based track on the album. I have not heard ‘Athens‘ so it could be a hangover from the past or a hint at the direction to come but it has a lighter tone and feel to it almost but not entirely optimistic in outlook. I suppose this is as close to a love song as this album has but a pop song it isn’t. Coming in at over 10 minutes long it has plenty of time to explore the themes and melody and give a few opportunities to have off-shoots and pathways to explore.

Rotterdam is obviously the band trying to express their first experiences of living in a new country and finding their feet, moving to be as close to the heart of Europe as they could to see where the music could take them. Musically the main driver here is the bass line and keyboard sequencing.

Finally we Return to The Stranger, I will be honest with you here, I only know of the book but  have never read it. Praise the internet and a cheat sheet to help me with cross referencing Camus’ book and the tracks that make up the whole piece based on that tome. In short man attends his mother’s funeral then kills someone and is then sentenced to death. The primary character, the Stranger of the piece is an outsider of the society that he inhabits and ultimately that society destroys him because he is an outsider.

Hence:

‘ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

The three parts “Funeral”, “Killing” and “Verdict” break down the story into its component parts. It expresses the film noir of the 50s French film scene very well and how the outcome of one who is outside the whole is doomed in one way or another, in this case execution by guillotine. The Cure’s ‘Killing an Arab’ is based on the same book.

I have avoided genres here as much as possible in this review as I honestly think that these guys sit apart in many ways from any specific genre or type. I have chatted with a couple of fellow DJs about it and they agree, they sit in an area of their own BUT I am going to make a few comparisons and references for people who have an interest.

Dark moody emotional and different are good words for these guys. If you have a liking for mid/ late period Anathema, NIN, some of the slow grinding Black Sabbath with added late Depeche Mode and Gary Numan for a little spice then this could be for you. If you want happy and lightness with lots of sparkling unicorns then i would suggest that you steer well clear!

I have a feeling that live these guys are far less restrained and rip it up good and proper.

Released 19th October 2017

Order ‘In Time With Gravity’ from bandcamp here

Review – Iconic Eye – Into the Light – by Progradar

“I was ten when I heard the music that ended the first phase of my life and cast me hurtling into a new horizon. Drenched to the skin, I stood on Dunoon’s pier peering seawards through diagonal rain, looking for the ferry that would take me home. There, on the everwet west coast of Scotland, I heard it: like sonic scalpels, the sounds of electric guitars sliced through the dreich weather. My body hairs pricked up, each one a willing receiver for the Thunder-God grooves. To my young ears, the sound of these amplified guitars was angelic (although, with hindsight, I don’t suppose angels play Gibson guitars at ear-bleeding volume). A voice that suggested vocal chords of polished silver soared alongside razor-sharp overdriven riffs. I knew that I was hearing the future.”
― Mark Rice, Metallic Dreams

Good rock music has always appealed to me, not that bland soft rock rubbish but music with drive and ambition that rocks into town, blows everyone away and then leaves in a blaze of glory, THAT sort of rock music! Vibrant, heavy riffs, a powerful and dynamic rhythm section and gilt-edge vocals all combine to give a listening experience that is like a shot in the arm or a musical kick up the arse.

I spend so much time listening to, and writing about progressive and alternative rock that I rarely have time to listen to good rock music apart from when I’m running and I use it as a motivational force through the headphones. However, my friend Jane Gould joined UK rock band Iconic Eye last year and they have a new album out so it would be remiss of me to not spend a bit longer with ‘Into the Light’

Iconic Eye burst onto the rock scene in 2015 when they self-released their debut album, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’. They leapt straight onto Jake’s Stage at that years Download festival, then on to support the Treatment at Rockingham’s Pre-party in the same year and then to Hard Rock Hell (HRH) in March 2016. A truly remarkable start! Since then the band has seen many changes and has also been struck by tragedy. However, the band refused to give up and made the bold move to become female fronted with the addition of the amazing Jane Gould. This change has lifted the existing songs and created the right environment for the band to start writing again.

The album title says it all. It contains 5 of the bands favourite songs from ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’; re-worked with Jane and Robin Mitchard (the bands new youthful lead guitarist) to the fore. Together with harder guitars from Greg Dean and a more aggressive mix, this is classic Iconic Eye, updated!

Added to these existing songs are 6 new songs, mainly written in partnership between Dean and Gould, but also with Mitchard adding to the songwriting credits on two of the songs. On the new recordings you also have ex Max Bacon and Dante Fox bassist, Michael Dagnall and on drums, Adrian Scattergood. This is Iconic Eye as it is now, and at its best.

(Jane Gould)

The album opens with two properly hard rocking tracks, Am I The One and You Make It are both edgy, fast paced and in your face, basically hard rock as it bloody well should be! Jane’s vocals are powerful and dynamic and lead the rest of the band in a merry roller coaster ride across these two energetic openers. The guitar playing is slick and dextrous with a couple of smoking hot solos from Robin Mitchard thrown in for good measure. I love the chorus on You Make It which rapidly becomes an addictive earworm and Greg Dean’s keyboard add a lush touch of AOR magic, I’m hooked already!

(Robin Mitchard)

Those Tears Won’t Last adds a huge dose of melodic melodrama to the music, soulful and full of passion with driving riffs and compelling drums. I’m detecting a touch of the legendary Anneke Van Giersbergen to Jane’s vocals, they really are that good, silky smooth but imbued with a deep seated power and fervor. The solos are coming thick and fast, each one iridescent and hard-edged and giving these tracks proper drive and direction. Jane and the band show us a sultry side with the heavily soul infused Let It Rain Down. A sensuous piano joins the vocals at the opening before the accelerator pedal is pressed and the intensity increases with a forceful riff and those all-powerful drums. Another chorus that is just asking for you to sing along with it and the emotions are just set free with the delicious guitar that closes out the track.

(Greg Dean)

Get the lighters (or mobile phones) out ready, Black Country Lady is a moving and hauntingly beautiful ballad come anthem and one that leaves a big lump in your throat. The elegant guitar and Jane’s elegantly melancholic vocals are stylish and wistful in equal measure. This is definitely going to be a live favourite and the band have the necessary chops to carry this off in any venue. It’s as good, if not better, as anything you’ll hear in the charts and is topped off with another stunning piece of guitar work from Robin and Greg, backed ably by Adrian’s drums. A funky, bluesy guitar opens Better Place, a high energy filled track that definitely treads the blues rock path and does it with aplomb. The vocals take on an Alannah Myles hue showing Jane’s versatility and downright potency. A catchy chorus and suitably fiery solo complete this punchy track.

(Michael Dagnall)

A fast paced hard rocker Black Heart has the requisite heavy riffing, influential rhythm section and in your face vocals that take you back to the height of the 80’s peak of the genre. Greg gets inventive on the keyboards and I’m kind of reminded of a female fronted Magnum around the ‘Wings of Heaven’ period. Damn these guys can write some serious hooks and songs that become downright habit forming! Bluesy, soulful, dynamic, powerful, I’m running out of words to describe this compelling and captivating group of musicians and All She Needed just carries on the superlative music experience. The riffing guitars drive the song on at a breathless pace, a really electric and intense piece of music with superb vocals that flies headlong to its guitar solo inspired close.

(Adrian Scattergood)

The pace is notched back a bit on the AOR classic Thanks For The Memories, a nostalgic track with its contemplative vocals and reflective guitar tone. Another memorable chorus and polished solo just leave me shaking my head in disbelief at how good Iconic Eye are at what they do. Jane’s tastefully emotive vocal being the final layer of class and style on this refined song. Don’t Stop Me From Leaving has a simple sadness at its core, another anthemic song that will be a sure fire live hit. Jane’s poignant voice sings of a sorrow and heartbreak that may come and the music fits the mood perfectly with the plaintive keyboards and the wishful and reflective guitar solo. The last song on the album is the enigmatic Never Get Through The Light, a proper hard rock track with a heavy touch of AOR in the guitar , drums and vocals. A compelling piece of music that never lets up, keeping you on the edge of your seat, another standout chorus and some simply superb guitar playing close the album out in suitable style.

Iconic Eye should soon be a name on everyone’s lips, a byword for sumptuous hard rock stamped with their own unique style. An outrageously talented group of musicians with one of the greatest female vocalists I’ve heard in a long time, in ‘Into the Light’ they’ve produced a rock album of rare quality from beginning to end.

Released 4th November 2017

Order ‘Into the Light’ direct from Iconic Eye here

(Featured image by Samantha Lloyd)

 

 

 

Review – Human Pyramids – Home – by James R. Turner

As ever our esteemed editor has an uncanny knack of being able to listen to the piles of albums he gets for review and then a few days later you’ll receive a message on Facebook with those immortal words ‘I reckon you’ll like this’ and, as I like a challenge and new music, I will always say ‘ping it over then’ and then usually ask for it to be re-sent as I forget to download it before the deadline runs out.

The latest of Martin’s picks that he thought would reach the parts that other records wouldn’t reach, is ‘Home’, the new album from Human Pyramids.

Brain child of Paul Russell, the Glasgow based composer from instrumental outfit Axes, this see’s him meld a chaotically brilliant fusion of orchestral arrangements, pop and electronic sensibilities, performed by a cross country collaboration 16 piece band.

Now I am a sucker for big ensemble sounds, and having heard the mighty sound that bands like the Polyphonic Spree or Bellowhead can make, that definitely got my spidey senses tingling, and with the band having performed at festivals like the End of the Road, 2000 Trees and Glastonbury, these guys have the chops to back up their ambitions, and ‘Home’ is their second release.

As an inquisitive teenager rifling through my parents record collection, and devouring anything they had that was slightly different (remember I grew up in the Britpop era where everyone sounded the same and there was nothing exciting musically happening) I discovered bands like ELO and Sky, who were using different compositional forms and sounds, and (certainly in the case of ELO) plenty of strings.

Thus I have always had a soft spot for ensembles that push beyond the four-piece sound and look to do something new and exciting.

The fact that Louise starts off with some wonderfully stirring strings and then develops into a fantastic string and brass off (again being from South Yorkshire the stirring sound of the brass band runs through my veins like Henderson’s Relish, and there is nothing more uplifting than the sound of a brass ensemble going some). So to hear the two meeting in a fantastically stirring piece that mixes a great riff and some superb musical duelling/duetting certainly drew me straight in.

Canned Thunder does exactly what it says on the tin, with an absolutely brilliant drumbeat and more of that amazing brass. Paul Russell has an amazing ear for a melody and a knack for putting the right instrumentation in the right place, he makes it sound so easy, which is why this is such a well made album.

Slush mixes piano led riffs, some subtle electronica bubbling under the surface, and slowly the rest of the ensemble seep in, those driving strings, the heart tugging brass, the wonderful countermelodies.

The press blurb describes this as a mix of punk energy fused with electronic elements and orchestral sounds. I would say this is the musical sound of humanity, there is so much depth and power behind each song, that even in the quietest moments there are little riffs and licks, subtle string tones, a small brass part here and there, from the almost dance like infusion that ripples through Crackle Pop (reminiscent of Rob Dougan’s work) and the driving strings and powerful brass.

There is a country tinged sound to Your Flag, with a mellow and relaxed vibe that just builds as song grows and counter melodies weave and intermingle as the sinuous drum beat helps hold it all together until the brass kicks in for the massive elegiac finish that is full of power and emotion, reminiscent of the closing part to one of Mike Oldfield’s opus’.

With the strong use of brass and shorter tunes it reminds me at times of the tunes of The Home Service or Bellowhead, and the intricate musical composition quality reminds me of Mike Oldfield in parts, but that is probably coincidental, as lets face it when you’re pulling music of this nature together with such a powerful ensemble you’re bound to get a touch of the Oldfield in there whether consciously or not.

This is no homage though, this is living breathing music, and the stuff that gets in your veins and into your soul, the driving power of Blast Off for instance is widescreen film music.

Nico is a wonderful uplifting piece of music full of life and light, whilst the closing Home rounds off a highly emotional and enjoyable album with some sublime piano work and another great brass section, bringing the album home.

I’d never heard of this ensemble before, and the description was vague enough to get me interested, and the music is sublime enough to keep me hooked and listening again and again.

This is one of those albums that ebbs and flows like life itself, and is full of emotional highs and lows, and above all the musicality, the sublime performances and the compositional chops on show here, this album is brimming full of heart and soul, and one you can’t help be swept away by as an aural emotional sucker punch.

This is what music is meant to be like, and this album deserves a place in everyone’s Home!

Released 10th November 2017

Order ‘Home’ from bandcamp

Review – Misto – Helios – by Progradar

One thing I really like about working with independent musicians is the fact that I get to see how their musical projects develop from start to finish, often being the first to hear the end product or asked for my input as to how I think it is developing.

Last year Italian multi-instrumentalist Mirko Viscuso contacted me to ask if I’d review the debut release from his project Misto, a one man band based in Genoa, Italy. After different experiences with several local bands, Mirko decided to compose, record and produce his first solo album, ‘Infinite Mirrors’, featuring instrumental music inspired by personal experiences.

I was suitably impressed saying that, “…ultimately I feel relaxed and as one with the world as I listen to this beauteous offering. Trust me, you should do yourselves a favour and listen to it too.”

Out of the blue Mirko contacted me again asking me if I would review his second album, ‘Helios’, due to be released in November. I was intrigued to see what musical direction he had taken on this new record so it was a bit of a no-brainer really!

Calling himself a ‘One-man post rock instrumental project’, that’s what you got from the first album, chilled-out, laid back and relaxed but ‘Helios’ sees him blend that original style with something a bit heavier and more aggressive at times.

Opening track Buried Under Remote Lands has a repeated, chilled out guitar line reminiscent of the sound of Sanguine Hum, an addictive melody that runs throughout the song. The dynamic rhythm section adds some stylish drama to everything and you get the feel of floating on a cloud of elegant music that takes you away from the stress and worry of life in the fast lane. That darker edge is first heard on the rather frenetic and energetic tones of Polemic Guy Wants To Fight with its crashing guitar riffs and superb drum and bass rhythms. A surprise from start to finish, Mirko has really extended his musical horizons with this track, I really like it, the spirited close is genius!

Daffodils Crashing Into The Water returns to the wistful and nostalgic tone with its chiming guitars and dreamy atmosphere. A gentle musical journey through a world of calm collection and reflection. It’s one of those pieces of music that really lifts your spirit. The addition of the delightful violin playing of Giulia Ermirio adds an ethereal grace to what is already a graceful and charming piece of music.

(Giulia Ermirio)

A pensive and sombre track, Set Your Firearms Against The Sun builds up from solemn beginnings with its absorbing guitar and keyboard note into something elemental and primeval. The sound turns ominous with the restless riff and the questioning guitar note, like a soundtrack to a sci-fi film about an apocalyptical future. It really gets under your skin with its deliciously dark and uneasy feel, Mirko is really stretching his musical boundaries here!

Mirko says that title track Helios is the most ‘proggy’ song on the album and, to a certain extent, I’d have to agree. It begins as all relaxed and laid-back post rock that draws you into its winsome and captivating world, relaxed, chilled and without a care in the world. Music for hot, hazy summer days that never end, looking back on the good times and forgetting the bad. A vibrant riff opens up, giving a more intense mood and atmosphere but still charismatic and engaging before a more subdued and thoughtful aura falls over the music, a nostalgic feel of looking back at how life used to be. The gossamer-like guitar notes landing randomly on your aural receptors, it’s actually a very cathartic and soul-cleansing piece of music that sees your pulse rate drop and your mind clear. Twelve minutes of music that could make all psychiatrists redundant..

The final track is Time To Destroy My Life Capsule and the opening takes the more ambient route again, harmonious melodies leaving an ambience of soothing tranquility in the air. There’s a short period of reflective silence before a more insistent tone takes over, never dark but questing, more demanding and with a slight touch of that new found aggression. Everything comes full circle once again though as the serenity returns to see this track and the album to a close.

Mirko told me he was worried about the fact that the few who loved ‘Infinite Mirrors’ might be in some way confused about this more aggressive sound. I can happily attest to the fact that this is not the case, that edgier and sometimes darker feel has added another level of innovation to Mirko’s music and produced an album of many sophisticated layers that intrigues and delights with every note. A superb return from Misto indeed!

Release date to be announcedon Misto’s Facebook page in the next few days, keep checking below:

https://www.facebook.com/mistoband/

You can listen to ‘Infinite Mirrors’ at bandcamp here

 

 

Review – Geof Whitely Project – Time – by Progradar

He’s a prolific fellow that Arny Wheatley, the creative mind behind the Geof Whitely releases an astounding amount of new albums, surely the quality will have to dip at some point? Well it hasn’t since I got involved with reviewing the releases and December will see the latest record from this musical project see the light of day.

In a break from the norm ‘Time’ will only be available in CD format and exclusively from the website only in CD format and a limited edition of 300. In a further change to the standard format, this album is shorter and features only 6 tracks.

We start with the dark and atmospheric Deadly Alliance. That signature base sound is present and correct but, carrying on from the slight deviation we heard in ‘The Blessed & The Damned’, Arny adds some subtle nuances. The keyboards and resonating guitar add a real sombre note and serious tone, it’s a great direction to take. A tasteful piano introduces Stay before the yearning vocal joins in. A wistful and slightly melancholy song of hope  and one that sees yet another sonic string added to this talented musicians bow. Within the loose strictures of the recognisable Geof Whitely Project sound are now thrown some really interesting variations and it works very well.

Title track Time has a seasonal, festive feel to it as it begins with its bells and horns and exudes a feelgood aura. Arny’s vocal adds some seriousness and authority along with the powerful guitar and dynamic drums to replace this almost pastoral tone with something a bit more rock influenced. An effective and compelling piece of music, it holds your attention as it takes its measured strides along a vibrant musical journey. Sometimes sees that contemplative and thoughtful feel return, the vocals have a pensive edge and the keyboards give a wintry sheen to everything. A polished and reflective song that certainly left me reflecting on my past, there’s a real maturity to Arny’s songwriting that is pretty evident on tracks like this.

An elegant guitar and reflective keyboard open Runaway Express before a heavier guitar stirs things up. The emotive vocals grab you straight away with their really meaningful delivery and give the song a thoughtful and determined mood. The occasional lighter feel of Geof Whitely Project albums has been replaced by a more serious and sober intent which is highly evident on this cultured and stylish track. All too soon we come to the album closer Out of Touch and Arny throws another little curveball in with its Floyd-esque intro, there’s intelligence and some not inconsiderable subtlety in the songwriting on this album and it manifests itself perfectly on this track. Measured and brooding in delivery, both the music and the vocals have an earnest honesty to them and make for a compelling listening experience.

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ but, as Arny keeps showing us, that doesn’t mean you can’t make little improvements to every release to keep on improving your music without losing its original identity. I personally think ‘Time’ sees the Geof Whitely Project at the zenith of their creativity so far and am intrigued to see where Arny will go next!

Released 4th December 2017

‘Time’ will be exclusively available from the Geof Whitely Project website here

Listen to ‘Deadly Alliance’ here

Review – Mother of Millions – Sigma – by Progradar

‘Sigma is the eighteenth letter of the Greek alphabet. It is the initial of the Greek word “Σιωπή”, meaning Silence. Sigma is also used as a symbol for the summation operator. “Silence has the sound of shame.” We are submissive to unspoken rules of obedience, which are sealed with a spiral of silence. Our chains are bound to break by speaking out as a mass, as a musical ensemble willing to sing out liberation.’

So says the PR information that came with the second album from the enigmatic Greek band Mother of Millions. I reviewed their debut release ‘Human’ back in 2004 and was impressed by  the complexity and diversity of their musical influences and the incredible talent on show. I summarised it as “An album that deserves the highest praise and leaves you slack-jawed in appreciation.”

So, unsurprisingly, I was very excited to get the promo of their sophomore album and see where this talented group of musicians had gone to next on their musical journey.

Mother of Millions is a five-piece progressive/alternative metal band from Athens, Greece, formed in 2008. Their sound of can be described as equally massive as cinematic. An intense experimentation involving elaborate rhythms, folk aesthetics and progressive rock tunes.

In 2014 the band released its first, critically acclaimed, concept album ‘Human’, during the spring of 2017, Mother of Millions finished the recording, mixing and mastering of their second concept album ‘Sigma’ which was released on 3rd November 2017.

Mother of Millions is George Prokopiou – Vocals, Kostas Konstantinidis – Guitars, Panos Priftis – Bass, Makis Tsamkosoglou – Keyboards, samples and George Boukaouris – Drums, percussion.

(Photo by  Panagiotis Tsalavrettas)

‘Sigma’ is, by today’s standards, a relatively short album, coming in at just under 42 minutes but at no time do you ever feel short-changed by what these guys have delivered. Mother of Millions jam so much incredible music into this release, there is absolutely no filler from the first note of Emerge until the final strains of Sigma drift away.

The slow burning introduction of Emerge sees the listener drawn into this deeply engaging story as the subdued voice-over grabs your attention. Haunting and full of tension, it is really setting the scene for what is to follow with its towering guitar, dynamic keyboards and dominant percussion. We segue straight into the vibrant and compelling riffs of Shine before everything calms down and Geroge’s passionate vocal makes its first appearance. Not progressive metal, nor alternative rock, these guys have forged their own sound to a certain extent and its one that demands your attention with its staccato riffs, vibrant keyboards, driving bass and edgy percussion. I have to say that this already seems a huge leap on from what was an impressive debut album, I’m not a fan of the so called growling or screaming vocals but the little bits that George delivers really catch my attention. I love the way that the next track flows seamlessly form the last, Silence is a towering edifice of music, eight minutes of sublime listening. The guitars have an elemental feel to them, powerful and compelling and the primordial drums seem add to the huge soundscape. The vocals are forceful and influential and all combine to give a monumental feel to this fine song, definitely one of the best tracks I’ve heard this year.

That funky, edgy riff returns on Rome, I don’t know if it’s really a technical term for music but there’s a density to the sound that these five fantastic musicians produce, almost a sonic viscosity and a feeling of permanency to every note and every word. A deliberate and measured piece of music with a memorable, captivating chorus, George’s voice once again stands out, if there’s a better hard/heavy rock vocalist out there I am yet to hear him this year. Fusing traditional and folk styles with hard rock Their Passage, The Light is a really mesmerising instrumental that intrigues and delights with its tasteful guitars and strings. A track to calm the mind and sooth the soul after the deeply affecting music that has gone before, it refreshes the musical palate ready for the next course. Another track that builds up from quiet beginnings, Collision simmers with intensity keeping you right on the edge before the enigmatic vocals introduce and increase in pace and emotion. This is music that seeps into your entire being and asks questions of you on every level as the vocals break out accompanied by the portentous music delivering quite a dark and potent tone to the end of the song. As the final notes ring out I’m left in an enigmatic silence.

The Rapture is a brooding and cryptic feeling instrumental that has a real dystopian aura that carries on over all its two minute length. Very haunting and quite disturbing. The introduction to Spiral is powerful and commanding before the song takes a step back to allow George’s stirring vocal to take centre stage, once again he delivers an authoritative performance aided and abetted superbly by the gifted musicians that surround him. Technically proficient but playing with heart and soul, the music is as much part of every brilliant track as the vocals and both combine to deliver an incredibly impressive experience. The subdued voice over returns to be followed by wonderful instrumental close out, one that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up with its incredible intensity. This exceptional musical spectacle closes out with the title track Sigma and the level of performance does not drop one iota. Another deeply engaging song that slowly draws you into its embrace with great vocals and music that stays just in the background adding a mysterious and esoteric ambience, it’s a track that delivers a perfect conclusion to this fine album.

It’s been three years since the last Mother of Millions album and that time has seen this superb band develop and improve on what was already a very impressive sound. Powerful and dark at times and yet incredibly illuminating at others, it is a piece of music that entraps the listener on an astonishingly immersive musical journey. ‘Sigma’ is one of those releases that stands out immediately and then gets even better with every listen. One of the releases of the year, please do yourselves a favour and get your hands on this incredible piece of music as soon as you can!

Released 3rd November 2017

Buy ‘Sigma’ on CD from Amazon

 

 

 

Review – Charlie Cawood – The Divine Abstract – by Emma Roebuck

This landed in my inbox and I will admit to anticipating this with a huge amount of glee. Knifeworld are a personal favourite (hint new album please), Mediaeval Baebes and the wonderful My Tricksy Spirit album released not long ago appeal to my love of the leftfield of music. The publicity from Pachyderm Central (a hidden cave on the coast of Yorkshire) leads with:

“A veteran of the London music scene for over a decade, Charlie is best known as bassist of critically acclaimed psychedelic octet Knifeworld, and instrumentalist/co-arranger for Emmy-nominated Classical choir Mediaeval Baebes. He also plays stringed instruments in Bad Elephant Music stable mates My Tricksy Spirit”

Charlie must feel great pressure to deliver something very special and on the more eccentric side of the esoteric. In truth I had no idea what to expect as all three of the projects that Charlie is involved in were so different and not really all him but more where he is a contributor or guest of the primary writers. The list of musicians he has on this album is massive and listed at the end of this review. There are instruments that I had no idea what they were let alone what they sounded like.

To the actual music, which is after all what folks really want to know about. Imagine a place in heaven or another world or plane of existence where you have access to living and dead masters of their instruments jamming in a space.  From Ravi Shankar, John Mclaughlin and George Harrison to Vangelis, Mike Oldfield and many others, I think this is what is in Charlie’s head in this album. He has sat and heard all these and has filtered what he has heard and made it The Devine/Divine Abstract ( both spellings are used on my copy).

Shringara, the opening track is a melee of Sitar and guitar instrumental music yet has clarity and lilting tone. I assume it Comes from the Rasa, meaning the love of art and beauty, because it does channel that feeling to me.

The Divine Abstract is next falling into 4 subsets –  Echolalia, an endless repetition of someone’s speech often associated with mental health issues is just that, a refrain shared with instruments with a sonorous cello linking the music.  The Earths Answer picks up the theme and carries it to an acoustic modern quartet classical piece, Fearful Symmetry carries on balancing the sonic journey but lifting the pace with a violin taking the lead and finally Western Lands is carried by a melodic drifting connection of the three previous pieces into a final whole to complete the journey. I don’t know a great deal about Charlie but it feels like he is channeling or commenting on the human condition with music, no words just the honesty of his composition.

Earth Dragon from the Chinese Zodiac is a three part piece using what sounds like a very classical Chinese music approach. There is nothing fiery about this dragon but a meditative repetition of musical themes using instruments true to the form. You are carried on the breeze of the music which is easy on the ears yet far from simple in its form.

The Garden of the Mind, this is a tranquil jazz fusion freeform piece that is the closest to Knifeworld in form but without the manic intensity of the band in free flow. I could drop this into a Weather Report or Miles Davis set and it would not be lost in the melee.

Skip two tracks because I like to leave a little mystery and we finish with Apotheosis. One meaning is to deify and raise to its peak. In this Charlie has drawn together the thematic musical strands of the album to create a piece that stands apart from the rest.

First the gripes, I want more exploration and testing of the limits of the music. Just as I get into a piece it ends and I feel there is more to hear.

This is an album that can be heard on multiple levels. Put it on in the background and let it wash around the room and a tonal pleasance will fill your senses and make whatever you are doing feel easier. Headphones on in a darkened room it is akin to musical meditation with layer upon layer of music to discover, clever sophisticated music that opens doors both spiritually and emotionally. Charlie has opened his musical heart in this album and it shows being very accessible and yet very varied in influence.

It will grow on you as you listen. I struggled looking how to get my feelings about it over but not because it is a hard album but the way it made me feel was complicated.

Released 3rd November 2017

Order ‘The Divine Abstract’ from bandcamp here

Charlie Cawood: acoustic, electric & classical guitars, Fender VI, acoustic & electric bass guitars, sitar, pipa

with

Katharine Blake: treble & sopranino recorders
Lucy Brown: French horn
Flora Curzon: violin
Hannah Davis: vibraphone, glockenspiel
Julie Groves: flute
Chlöe Herington: bassoon
Steve Holmes: piano, celeste, Minimoog, bass synth
James Larcombe: piano, dulcitone
Dennis Kwong Thye Lee: xiao
Nicki Maher: clarinet
Ben Marshall: oboe, cor anglais

Review – Glass Hammer – Untold Tales – by Progradar

There’s are some bands that have been with me since I first started really getting into progressive rock music and have stood the test of time because I like their music and how they have developed over the years. However, because I am what is classed as a relatively ‘late adopter’ to the genre it also means that there is a fair amount of back catalogue stuff and undiscovered gems that I have never heard.

When a band releases an album of ‘Previously unreleased tracks and more..’ it often only appeals to the completists among the fanbase and doesn’t tend to draw in new listeners or fans who have only started to like the artists later in their career. So, what would Glass Hammer’s ‘Untold Tales’ give us, I wonder? Starting with songs from 1993 and concluding with a live recording from 2017, it promised to be something a bit different from the usual archive offerings.

Comprising of 13 tracks in total, including instrumentals and the aforementioned live track, ‘Untold Tales’ offers the listener a sizeable chunk of never heard before Glass Hammer music. It opens with a couple of interesting instrumentals, Shadows Of The Past reworked in 2008, Fred Schendel reworking the opening track off ‘Journey Of The Dunadan’ using techniques unavailable on first release in 1993 and it has a suitable cinematic soundscape to its orchestral magnificence. Infusion is a piece of music originally released on the album ‘Love Changes – Featuring Glass Hammer’ by artist Tracy Cloud. There’s a pared back, ethereal wonder to the three minute instrumental with its haunting piano, flute and keyboards and stylish bass playing.

The heady Identity Principle is one of the standout tracks on the album and is pure Glass Hammer. Steve Babb literally found this song hiding on a backup drive. The band  were never quite satisfied with the mix on the ending. They recorded a new performance of the ending which matches up very well. Thus, this track was recorded in the early 90’s and just a while ago. A wonderfully involving track with great vocals from Walter Moore and an elegant guitar combining really well. It has that great Glass Hammer trait of taking you on a complex and involving musical journey, one that always holds you attention. The melodies entwine and the guitar takes on its own vocal note, to me this is one of THE great tracks from this enduring band and, as Steve himself says, it’s a crying shame it has lain hidden for so long. Glass Hammer appeared at Progscape ‘96 in Baltimore, Maryland and performed the classic Argent track Hold Your Head High. This studio version was certainly recorded around that time, probably in 1997 and is quite a bombastic version for a band noted for their Elfin lyrics and music. Steve’s bass is driving and dynamic and Fred seems to be having ball on the keyboards, add the stylish guitar of David Carter to a powerful vocal from Walter and you’ve got a rather excellent cover version.

I have to be honest, there are a couple of what I’d call ‘throwaway’ tracks on the record and we get both in quick succession. Actually they aren’t bad tracks but, compared to the prog-fest that’s going on around them, they do seem a little lacklustre. Babb’s Bach is Steve’s humble attempt to achieve something similar to tracks from ‘Switched On Bach’ by Walter Carlos and just feels throwaway. It is immediately followed by And Then She Sighed which feels like a pastiche of any medieval tune, admittedly with excellent vocals from Laura Lindstrom Davis and a Girls Choir of Allison Savard, Kaytie Mitchell and Kendra Roden. You are brought out of any stupor by the excellent 80’s synth-rock of Eiger Dreams, a charismatic and compelling track that bears comparison to Giorgio Moroder in my humble opinion. If you have seen the band’s ‘Live At The Tivoli’ DVD then you may recall this is the opening track. Included here is the never-before-released studio version recorded (or at least mixed) in 2008.

Now onto another favourite on the album,the band’s cover of the Beatles track It’s All Too Much is great slice of prog-rock infused AOR music that has you rocking in your seat with its energy, dynamism and hooks. Steve’s funky bass drives the track along, aided by swathes of Fred’s potent keyboards and the familiar vocals of the classy Susie Bogdanowicz. With a nod to a Steve Hillage’s version, the song was recorded during sessions for ‘Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted’ in 2009. It was used as an encore piece for a few live shows, but never released. Here Steve and Fred replaced a pipe organ with a Hammond organ and the bass line with something a little more fitting than Steve had originally done. A track that I can only really describe as ‘Glass Hammer do Sabbath’, Troll is dark and deliciously dangerous. Steve describes it as:

“Partly about recording a track with a super-fuzzed-out bass guitar. It was also partly about letting off some steam regarding the trolls who inhabited certain progressive rock internet forums…”

It features some incredibly angry guitar and keyboard playing and some amazing harmonica from Tim Starnes and is as far away from a typical Glass Hammer track as you could possibly get, I love it! Steve’s final words on the song:

“We have discussed recording more music in this vein, if only we thought our fans would let us get away with it!”

A Grain Of Sand brings you back down to earthy with its airy and laid back simplicity. Three minutes of delicate piano and Kamran Alan Shikoh’s graceful acoustic guitar layered with the minimalist hues of Fred’s keyboards. Recorded in 2010 as a possible track for ‘IF’, you can certainly hear strains of If The Stars if you are paying attention. Jon Davison’s vocal track was lifted straight from that song as a matter of fact. The next song is another powerful and dominant piece of progressive rock. Cool Air is an enigmatic and serious track which seems to have some real tension bubbling underneath. Steve explains:

“Ever the Lovecraft fan, I readily agreed to work on this track for its ultimate inclusion on a Colossus (Finland) Lovecraft-themed album. We chose the tale Cool Air, one of the more gruesome stories and one I thought we might easily set to music and lyric. Recorded in 2012, my son, who was only ten at the time, joined me in the studio for a sound effects session. Fred wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics, with much help from the original text of the story, of course!”

I wasn’t a big fan of the vocals when I first heard it but repeated listens have shown me that they fit this dark and eerie tale perfectly. Disturbing and sinister in parts, it creeps under your skin and becomes quite addictive, like a horror film that you can’t take your eyes off. Doctor Who for the more cerebral of us perhaps?

The Impulsive Type is a more straightforward rock infused track and reminds me of Frost* or even Rush with it’s catchy chorus, edgy, staccato guitars, stylish rhythm section and Carl Groves polished vocal performance. Was that Rush I said? well Steve explains all:

“In 2014 Dave Kerzner of Sonic Reality asked us to perform a track with Neal Peart. What’s that you say? Well, actually it was a request to write a song on top of Neal’s drum tracks that were recorded during the making of Sonic Reality’s “Neal Peart Drums” sample library. The tracks you hear are live drum tracks however, not the samples. Was it possible to write a song over Neal’s tracks without it sounding Rush-influenced? No. Enjoy!”

The album closes with a fantastic live rendition of No Mans Land (from the 2016 album ‘Valkyrie’) recorded at The Camp House in May 2017.  A fan favourite from its first release, it is utterly involving and enthralling as a live track and finishes this stellar collection on quite a high.

Another archive release for those completist fans then? Absolutely not!! ‘Untold Tales’ is an excellent collection of rarities that has lots of appeal, both to the dedicated Glass Hammer fan and those new to this exceptional outfit, a group of musicians who are definitely one of the best progressive rock bands around today.

Released 20th October 2017

Buy ‘Untold Tales’ direct from Glass Hammer’s website here

 

 

Review – starfish64 – An Altered State Of Joy – by James R. Turner

Martin dropped me an email, as is his wont, and asked me to have a listen to these guys and see what I thought. Instead of the massive introduction that I wrote and then deleted, I am going to go straight in, after all, this is about the band and not me, and at the end of the day all you want to know is what this sounds like and did I enjoy it?

Starfish64 is the musical project of German guitarist and vocalist Dieter Hoffman, who has been working with a musical collective since 2006 as Starfish64, and this is the band’s second full-length album. The collaboration has been fleshed out by Henrik Kropp on drums and Dominik Suhl on guitars and keyboards.

It snuck out towards the end of last year, and whilst the name and music is new to me, I will never say no to listening to something different and original.

There’s only 4 tracks on here, and musically this is very much at the melodic end of the music scene, reminiscent of the more chilled out parts of Gilmour era-Floyd, south coast Americana, ‘Summer Teeth’ era Wilco and if you’d like a more contemporary comparison, they occupy the same song focused area that Fractal Mirror sit in.

Here the album is all about the song, and the melodies, so if you’re expecting chaotic time signatures, prog metal, or something that sounded like it was recorded by Yes or Genesis back in 1974 then you’re in the wrong place.

If you’re looking for a more contemplative, chilled out, mellow vibe man, then this is the journey for you.

I have spent the past few days immersing myself in this album on my commute to work through the cold winter mornings, and it feels like a perfect autumnal album, one to be listened to inside the pub, with a roaring fire, a leather armchair and nice glass of something alcoholic and relaxing.

The opener is the longest track on the album, and is nearly the title track, Altered States ebbs and flows with some sublime guitar moments, musical breaks and Dieters impassioned vocals that bring the whole piece together, his warm vocals have a hint of Mike Scott (from the Waterboys) about them, and they match the music perfectly, and even though it’s a 20 minute plus piece with great musical peaks as it pulses and flows, the greatest knack is that it doesn’t feel like you’ve listened to 23 minutes of music, you feel like that no sooner has it started then it’s stopped, and listening on headphones, phone away, really immerses you in the music.

The album continues a pace with the brilliant and beguiling The Black Dot, with some suitably wistful and mournful trumpet from Christian Wahl, and the brass adds so much to the track, (I’m a Yorkshireman, the sound of brass stirs something primeval in our hearts) and the beautifully reflective and ominous lyrics about the mysterious ‘Black Dot’, I think its about one subject, but I’ll let you make up your mind, and it builds and finishes with a superb ending arranged by collaborator Jan Thiede (guitars/flutes).

So Is Life, with it’s wistful feel, pulls a Beautiful South trick of a melodically haunting track, with some fantastic keyboard work, and dark lyrics, that have more of an impact tied to a melodic tune, this is again a sign of the bands fantastic craft.

The closing track Dusk, with it’s melancholic feel, it’s 70’s style synth sounds and laid back guitar vibes is one of those brilliant happy/sad songs, you can feel the mournful regret seeping through the lyrics, whilst the music is uplifting and soars with a sublime beauty. This simple, but potent mix encapsulates the feeling of dusk for me, and is one of those songs that have anthemic quality, another blinding solo, and that touch of late 70’s FM rock, mixed with something more as it builds to it’s haunting climax.

This is one of those deceptive albums, one that feels shorter than it should be, and yet gives you a good 40 plus minutes of music, ideal for one side of a C90 tape to listen to, on your way to work. Yet you don’t feel musically short-changed. There is plenty going on here, and like a well written book or TV drama, it reveals more and more of it’s magic as you listen to it.

This is not a revolutionary album, and it’s not meant to be, instead it’s an evolution of intelligent melodic rock, that gives you songs you can sing along too, melodies you can hum, and a feeling of pleasure and emotion that lasts long after the album has finished, and after all, when it comes to evocative albums, who can ask for more than that?

Released 28th October 2016

Buy ‘An Altered State Of Joy’ from bandcamp