Review – Long Earth – The Source – by Progradar

Not sure if you’ve noticed but I like music, I like a whole gamut, a plethora even, of different musical styles and the bands that produce it but, being the man who actually runs this website, it also means I get sent a lot (and I mean A LOT) of new music on a weekly basis and sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with it all.

When I met Neil Mackie (vocals and guitar) of Long Earth at last year’s ‘A Prog Before Christmas’ gig we had a good chat about their forthcoming new album and, don’t ask me why, that seed stuck in my mind and grew when news of the impending release of ‘The Source’ broke.

So, while it may have taken me time to get round to it (due to real life pressures and earning a coin), I always intended to review the album and here is my take on it but, first, a little background…

Long Earth came together by a series of fortunate but unexpected coincidences. Born from an agenda of no agenda, the principal from the outset was to create a musical adventure with no preconceived plan of the final destination.

Mike Baxter (Keyboards) came from an exemplary background of having been at the forefront of the Glasgow music scene. It was during Mike’s tenure with Identity Crisis that, despite moving in converging circles, Mike played with Gordon.

Gordon Mackie (Bass) has a background in music spanning more than 40 years. Moving into the ’90’s, and a move east, saw Gordon hooking up with Mike in Identity Crisis.

Ken Weir (Drums & Percussion) was the foundation not only musical but also in terms of timeline of Abel Ganz. During his time with the mighty Ganzers, Ken was there from the early days of Milgavie Town Hall through to and beyond the Gullible’s Travels days – featuring a line up changed to Paul Kelly, Hew Montgomery, Gordon Mackie and himself.

Neil Mackie (Vocals & Guitar) is, surprisingly enough, Gordon’s brother. Due to Gordon’s influence, Neil learned bass and performed with a number of Central Scotland covers bands from the ’80’s onwards. 

As things progressed, the band agreed we needed an amazing and very particular type of lead guitarist to join the ranks – so the hunt began. Thankfully in September 16 we were joined by the insanely talented Renaldo McKim (ex Suicide Underground).

The final cog in the wheel is Hew Montgomery, Abel Ganz / Comedy Of Errors / Grand Tour who acts as a motivating factor in Long Earth. A semi silent partner almost…

Neo_prog started in the early 80’s and hit its heyday later in that decade with the likes of Marillion, Pendragon, IQPallas et al and it’s influences can still be felt today, just listen to the recent solo releases from Alan Reed (ex Pallas) and Paul Menel (ex IQ) and you’ll know what I mean.

You can hear the way that Neo-Prog has shaped Long Earth’s debut ‘The Source’ but the quality of the songwriting gives it something a little different. It’s made up of two song ‘suites’ and three other tracks and is an engrossing listen throughout. Title track The Source is made up of four constituent parts beginning with i -Through The Void, a stylish instrumental that takes me straight back to the 80’s with it’s simple keyboards and elegant basslines. To these ears it almost combines the era’s other stand out music, New Romantic, with some stylish prog overtones and is a great opening to the album. There’s a segue into ii – The Source which is another nostalgia soaked unpretentious piece of music but one that grows and morphs into something much more up-to-date. There’s a relaxed tone to the music and Neil’s vocals and when the tempo increases, it becomes something more vibrant. Up to now it’s been Mike’s keyboards that have been the overriding contributor to the music, aided and abetted by Gordon and Ken’s stylish rhythm section and there’s a nicely laid back keyboard solo in the centre of the track. To be fair, everything is nicely judged but it’s just missing that little extra, until it arrives in the shape of a classic guitar solo from Renaldo towards the close, powerful and compelling and making the circle complete.

iii – First Steps is a short, slow moving and brooding instrumental with a dreamlike quality to it, the music washing over you and putting you into some kind of relaxed stasis, calm and composed before iv – The Call begins, an intelligent song which gets me in a thoughtful frame of mind straight from the off. Haunting keyboards and jangling guitars give an alternative music vibe, like something out of 1990’s North West England. That dreamlike aura lingers among the smooth vocals and the effortless rhythm section. Below the unhurried surface the guitar adds some edge and body without spoiling the tranquil ambience. It’s a piece of music to lose yourself in and just enjoy the mesmerising music, let another quality guitar solo from Renaldo lift your spirits high and let them soar on the musical updrafts. and enjoy the serene ending to the song.

The second multi-part track is Ghosts and the first piece is i – Invisible, an eerie sounding keyboard precedes the haunting vocals as the track builds slowly with a slightly nervous and tense feel. It has a wistful sound to my ears, it’s almost like a song of longing and regret, of looking to the past with a heavy, melancholy heart. The subdued guitar solo is dignified and seems to be holding back the sea of emotion waiting to spill out. This is a song that is not in a hurry to get anywhere and its presence is felt deep in your soul, the contemplative voice over works very well and the whole track leaves you looking into your own mind in a sobering manner. ii – Above And Beyond is another short and pensive instrumental with an absorbing and reflective atmosphere, there’s an almost otherworldly sound to the keyboards but it is fleeting as it segues straight into the sombre tones of iii – Ghosts. The solemn vocals add to the absorbing music to leave the listener pondering life, the universe and everything. I love the echoing guitar note, it just adds layers and layers of pathos and sentiment and the whole song is a really poignant piece of music with a deep yearning and sentiment. Overall this is a melancholy song about loss and longing that stays with you long after it fades out.

The last part of these two multi-faceted tracks is iv – Her Ghost In The Fog and it opens with an almost euphoric keyboard note, a feeling of hope in the desolation of loss, much more upbeat than what has preceded it and the 80’s feeling repeated guitar motif is really catchy, you will find yourself humming this at the most inopportune moments. There’s almost a nostalgia overload with the keyboards slap bang in the 80’s but the great songwriting once again lifts this song above the ordinary. Neil’s voice has an emotive overtone, quite affective and touching and the keyboards and piano add real gloss. Once again that excellent rhythm section of Ken and Gordon provides the engine room that keeps things ticking over and Renaldo weaves his special brand of magic throughout.

Where Is The Laughter takes a slightly different route with a really engrossing introduction where Gordon’s bass is more front and centre before Neil’s plaintive vocal begins. There’s more of a mainstream feel to the song, although it is still rooted in the neo-progressive arena (dare I mention that well known & tall Scottish singer). I like the elegant music that seems to just glide over your synapses and leave an indelible mark as a layer of sophisticated calm falls over your shoulders. Music for lazy days and long drinks in the garden, a smooth jazz aura seems to emanate from the keyboards in the middle of the song, the bass and drums joining in the impromptu musical jam session. It is one of the best lead outs to a track I have heard this year, just so relaxed and uber cool, just stop what your doing, relax and enjoy it. Children Of War is a superb song that occasionally lets itself down, and that is by the verses being a tad too long. It starts with a feeling of suspense and trepidation, Neil’s moving vocals making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and all is well. It’s a haunting song about the unknown casualties of war, mainly the children, and it is a moving sentiment but it tends to meander too much for its own good and you get a feeling of treading water with no particular destination in mind. When the brilliant guitar breaks out that spell is broken and you sit, wide eyed, at Renaldo’s virtuosity, it really is quite superb. The verse begins its slow traverse and, once again, things become a bit static, only to be lifted by the rarefied harmonies, it’s a small criticism but a criticism nonetheless. Things come to a close with The Deafening Silence, an organ opening proceedings with Neil’s high pitched vocal adding a bit of theatre. Next, a smile breaks out on my face as a really catchy riff hits you full in the face and the powerful drums and keyboards drive things on. More of a hard rock song that your neo-prog, it works really well with some funky bass and edgy guitar thrown in the mix. It’s a pleasant surprise to have a short and relatively uncomplicated track closing an album out and I’m really enjoying it when Gordon goes all 70’s funk on us with his short but ever so sweet bass solo and, not to be outdone, Renaldo leaves us with another thunderous guitar solo. To me, it’s a great choice of song to close out what has been a thoroughly entertaining listening experience.

Taking what was great about classic 80’s Neo-Prog and adding some modern drama and pathos, Long Earth have given us a debut album that has been years in the making and all the better for it. Yes, it is not without some minor flaws but it certainly is an album that you will return to many a time and will be even more gratifying every time you do, bring on the next one guys!!

Released 9th May 2017

Buy ‘The Source’ from Grand Tour music:

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Review – TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation – by Progradar

“If you’re waiting until you feel talented enough to make it, you’ll never make it.”
― Criss Jami, Healology

There’s a very old and very wise saying that goes something along the lines of, “If you’re good enough then you’re old enough..”, don’t let other’s perceived conception of your youth hold back your talent. This can be applied in many walks of life and music is definitely one of them.

Tom De Wit may literally have just turned 30 years of age but this man already has a huge array of talents in creating and producing music and I’m always waiting with much anticipation to see what he comes up with next.

So when the CD & press release arrived for his latest project with TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. I couldn’t wait to immerse myself into it completely…

After three years of self-discovery and hard musical labour, the next chapter in the musical story of TDW has arrived. ‘The Antithetic Affiliation’ is here and it’s become an album of extremes.

After garnering success in the international (prog) metal scene for his 2014 album “Music To Stand Around And Feel Awkward To”, Tom de Wit (TDW’s main driving force) got back into writing mode. The original idea was to create a new release that would be different from his last album in stylistic sense but also lyrically and theme-wise. This album would become something of a sketchbook of emotional states of being that Tom had been witnessing the last few years.

The very first song that was written and completed was the 20 minute epic Lest We Forget which shows a new darker and more angry side of the TDW music. Combined with shorter songs like Dirge & Lovesong and the epics Monolith and The More We Remember, the album got into its final shape. With all these songs combined, the album had a structure and a flow that makes it one big experience that searches for the outer reaches of emotions and music in general.

The infinity symbol is crucial to the theme that lies in this album as the human life pattern never stops in terms of positive and negative experiences. As long as a person lives and feels, the cycle will continue.

With the ‘Cynic’ and the ‘Idealist’ playing the main roles in this album’s concept, one can see that these discs are both different in style and tone, but they form a unity as a whole. Forging the anithetic affiliation that is noted in the title. ‘The Idealist’ being a more melodic and symphonic orientated disc and ‘The Cynic’ being a more dark, brooding and metallic affair. This showcases both sides of the emotional spectrum within the music of TDW in a new way.

Once again joining Tom in this album, is a wide variety of guest musicians that all bring their flavour to the mix by adding solo’s and specific parts on the already existing music. But the most noticeable change is the inclusion of the brand new live-band Dreamwalkers Inc in the recording process. This band was formed to perform the TDW music live on stages and since their acoustic debut gig taking place at Progpower 2016, this band of people have worked with Tom to finish this TDW album and to put their own stamp on this material as well.”

The first song on The Idealist disc is the powerfully emotive epic The More We Remember which builds up from a low key start with some beautiful oboe from Nienke van der Kamp before a striking riff breaks out and gives the song more impetus in a symphonic metal style. This track ebbs and flows with some pretty impressive guitar playing and incredibly catchy riffs and the drums are pretty dynamic too. Tom’s stentorian voice provides a big vocal backdrop while he also takes things lower and more gentle too, showcasing his wide ranging voice. This is some stylish progressive metal with a fast paced tempo that interchanges with the moderate sections. There’s some virulent, mind bending guitar solos thrown in the mix by Bob Wijtsma that add a shot of musical caffeine among the dreamlike sections. It’s a song of many interesting juxtapositions, none more so than the addition of Radina Dimcheva’s vocals as a stylish counterpoint to Tom’s more aggressive, masculine intonation. I’m a big fan of Tom’s music and he has really crafted something exciting here, like a fantasy novel set to heavy progressive-metal music.

Anthem starts with a thunderous riff and dominant drums with some suitably swirling keyboards driving things along. A dark, gruff vocal precedes the energetic vocals which lead up to a suitably bombastic chorus, yes a true ‘anthem’ indeed. The female vocals that complement Tom’s give a true symphonic metal edge to the track, it’s nothing new but it is done extremely well and I just can’t get enough of that really memorable chorus. There’s a huge wall of sound being created by these impressive musicians using incredible technical skill and melodic brutality, the screaming guitar solos being just one example along with Sophie Zaaijer’s violins and viola, it’s one hell of a ride and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that!

There’s a whole lot more of a relaxed feeling to Lovesong, a stylishly chilled affair of restrained vocals and guitar that just seems to float across your synapses leaving a trail of relaxation as it passes by. A wistful, almost nostalgic song that shows the great variety inherent in Tom’s song writing. He can create huge, powerful soundscapes but also music that touches you in your heart and soul and it’s the subdued and tasteful side of his personality that is on show here.

We close The Idealist with Monolith -The Ascent, a brooding and intelligent track that gets you thinking. I really like the way it builds up the suspense with some really creative music and Tom’s questing vocal. It almost has a magical air to it before it begins to evolve into something much more dominant and compelling. The edgy riffs and precise drumming add structure to the organised chaos of this true progressive metal track that’s awash with a real sci-fi aura, this is what I’ve come to expect from Tom and the impressive group of musicians he always brings together.

So, on to the second disc, The Cynic and we open with Monolith – The Descent. It’s said that this disc is more dark, brooding and metallic and it most certainly is, this track opening with a monstrous riff and choral voices before powering on with a mixture of resounding drums and weighty guitars. The vocals are properly metallic with some gruff style shenanigans thrown in too but they work well with the feel of this forceful song. It’s verging on heavy metal with a progressive twist and could seriously crumble mountains into little bits of gravel with its all-encompassing soundscape. If ever you needed a musical hangover cure then put this track on at a high volume and it will blow any cobwebs away with its relentless sonorous attack. Don’t let the little interjection of a quieter section that closes out the song fool you into a false sense of security, this is monumental metal at its best.

The next track Aphrodisia opens with a thoughtful tone, laid back, heartfelt vocals giving real pathos to the song. A world weary timbre enters Tom’s vocals and Martine Mussies’ cello provides succour. That feeling doesn’t last though as the track blows apart into a thrashing metal monster with energetic speed guitars and tirelessly animated drums. There’s barely controlled chaos erupting among the chord sequences here and it’s utterly enthralling, add in the keyboards that almost have a life of their own and it’s almost as if the song has come to life all on its own. The coruscating guitar solos from Dave Mola add to that almost alien feel with their vehemence and individuality. It’s a peculiar kind of prog thrash metal in places but one that has a keen perception at its heart, evident in the quite haunting close out to what has been a literally breath taking piece of music.

The shortest track on the whole album at just over 5 minutes, Dirge lives up to its name. A slow, almost funereal tempo and Tom’s hushed vocal over a calm guitar note give it a respectful overtone and Cailyn Erlandsson’s beautiful vocal, added to more of Martine Mussies’ cello adds an ethereal overtone of otherworldliness. A sombre and reflective song that leaves you in a melancholy and thoughtful frame of mind.

We finish this immersive musical journey with the riotous prog-metal epic that is Lest We Forget, a track that is on the front foot from the off and never lets up. The staccato, aggressive riff gets right under your skin and is matched by the relentless pugnacity of the drums. Tom’s vocal is demanding and in your face, it’s almost like Metallica on steroids having a jam with Dream Theater turned up to 11, especially on the primeval riffing. Take your pick on the solos, they are all incandescent and rather excellent and provided by Tommy TalamancaMendel bij de Leij and Frank Schiphorst and add even more flare to what is already a huge behemoth of a metal song. I’m not a huge fan of demonic vocals but Sascha Blach actually adds something hair raising to the song with his. This song is massive rollercoaster of a musical experience and one which rarely lets you stand still and then not for long. Just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, Tom goes off in a different musical direction but it doesn’t take long to catch up again, just hold on for your life and enjoy the ride as you roll along lifted up by the ferocious riffing. This song is twenty minutes of pure musical theatre as Sacha’s growling character delivers another monologue punctuated by a savagely potent guitar solo and then the riff fest fires off into the distance again only to be held back by a calm and collected acoustic guitar accompanied by Tom’s composed vocal. The music never lets up in its brilliance and diversity, who’d expect Thomas Cochrane’s almost Mariachi like trumpet and trombone to appear in the middle of this rollicking metal beast? Not me but it works and it works really well. Anyway, I’m going kick back and just enjoy the last two minutes of the song as it closes out in a magnificently ebullient fashion.

I’ve always been a fan of Tom’s music and his endless desire to re-invent himself and create something new. ‘The Antithetic Affiliation’ is his most ambitious work to date and he certainly doesn’t hold anything back. Intelligent songwriting and superb musicianship delivered by a talented cast has made this a musical experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. To be fair, you need a few listens to really appreciate this lengthy musical work and, no, it’s not perfect but it’s as close to a progressive-metal masterpiece as you are likely to hear anytime soon.

Released 22nd May 2017

Buy ‘The Antithetic Affiliation’ from Layered Reality

 

 

Review – Karibow – From Here To The Impossible – by Rob Fisher

Through a clearing in the foliage a solitary figure is perched on top of a precarious pyramid of abandoned ageing tyres, silhouetted against a sweeping azure bay from which a coastline of derelict, crumbling buildings emerge in various states of skeletal incompleteness, adorned with vegetation as nature reclaims lost ground and framed against a shrouded horizon ill lit by a murky, misty sun.

Oliver Rüsing’s powerfully evocative cover, along with the gorgeous artwork which adorns the 20 page booklet accompanying the ninth Karibow release ‘From Here To The Impossible’, merits closer scrutiny and consideration before the CD even hits the platter. As a stark and almost brutal visual metaphor for what you are about to hear, the message it conveys is as compelling as it is poignant.

Despite the dreams we harbour and the careful plans we make, life rarely goes as we would wish. Everything changes; nothing remains the same. The energy and ambition of our youth crashes against and is washed up on the shorelines of the limitations we face. The burning desire to change the world, our passion, our dreams, our hopes are forged in the burning fires of experience and gradually extinguished by the realities of daily life, the fears which hold us back and the restrictions placed or forced upon us.

The consuming focus from ‘Holophinium’ (2016) carries over to the new album. Being human is a struggle. But Rüsing’s focus has evolved; the story is no longer about the vitality and the vulnerability of being alive but on the ways in which we plot the directions we can take, the plans we make and remake, crumble or are crushed, to be rebuilt again. Life is a glorious journey of vision and re-vision. We continually build and rebuild. Everything is in perpetual flux. And in the midst of it all, passion is regained and hope is reborn. We dare to dream once more: we aspire from here to the impossible.

What strikes you instantly as you listen to the music is the drumming. Imposing, incisive and deliciously complex, its slight elevation in the mix creates the driving, dynamic and fiercely creative momentum which underpins the album. The tone is set by the dramatic and powerful jungle-esque opening of Here (Track 1), a narrative heartbeat and a startling call to wake up, confront our fears and fight for what we want.

The energy and strength of both the music and the message carries over to My Time of Your Life (Track 2). The pensive defiance enshrined in the lyric “my generation has a right to fight”, both whispered and sung, is echoed in a glorious question-and-response passage of keyboard and piano. Time may well wash away what we once held close to our hearts, but there is “still a chance for us to change the world with love and passion” (Passion, Track 3).

Never Last (Track 4) brings us, literally, to the heart of the matter with a gloriously soulful and richly melodic change of pace. The opening sentiment is whispered in our ears: “My heart is not independent, but do you think I am less than the least of all”. A delightfully restless bass line gracefully carries us through to a scintillating sax riff which is a joy to lose yourself in, eventually bringing us to rest in a beautifully hypnotic and calming narration provided by Monique van der Kolk.

Throughout the album, the interplay of the various instruments with each other is captivating. The fluid interactions create lavish walls of sound comprised of elegant shifting textures and complex, innovative arrangements. Rüsing assembles a dazzling cast of superb musicians and perceptively weaves their distinctive contributions into the flow and direction of the story.

Daniel Lopresto’s vocals in System of a Dream (Track 9) provide a grittier edge that speaks of pain, weariness and raw emotion. Sean Timms unleashes an enthralling mosaic of keyboard solos which dance and sparkle with vitality and restrained discipline. Mark Trueack brings a change of texture again on The Impossible (Track 11), creating a wonderfully nuanced call-and-response passage with Rüsing himself, leading to a building crescendo and the glorious cry: “I understand what I know can set me free, set me free!”

‘From Here to the Impossible’ is an impressive, deeply ambitious album which captures the imagination and gracefully enfolds you within layers of melodic complexity and unexpected musical delights. It will not give itself up to easy or casual listening. You will need to spend time with it; you will need to listen, to absorb and even, in places, to wrestle with where the signposts, markers and arrangements are trying to take you. And by the end you will be ready to believe that we still have it within us to change the world. Our dreams and passions make a difference, despite and in spite of the limitations which surround us.

Released 15th July 2017

Buy ‘From Here To The Impossible’ from the band’s webshop

Review – Jet Black Sea – Absorption Lines – by Emma Roebuck

Jet Black Sea: when I got this through my inbox I admit as to being blind to who they were or what to expect, apart from a brief listen to the demos on the band’s Facebook page which was enough to pique my interest.

Adrian Jones’ name popped up and then the penny dropped and the fog cleared with a tinge of familiarity, Nine Stones Close. He is bit of a creative tornado and, like many musicians in the progressive field, prolific in guesting on many other albums. ‘Absorption Lines’ is the second with Michel Simons, the first being ‘The Path Of Least Existence’, released in November of 2013. I did some ferreting around after my first listen through of this one after a very oh my response. Normally the first time I play any album it is to purge out what I have listened to before and get a general feel of what I am listening to musically. I can then flood my mind with the music so all I have is what any musician has created. I never make a snap judgement, I just get a first impression. My first impression here was very much this is special and I immediately flipped back to the start.

Adrian Jones: talent, Michel Simons: cool dance moves”

To the music which is described as experimental, ambient and dark progressive by the guys themselves and that description ispretty much spot on for me. On paper this is an album of 7 pieces of music or songs with guests:

Pieter van Hoorn: drums on Wrong Turn, The Sixth Wheel & Cathedral
Brendan Eyre: keyboards on The Sixth Wheel & Cathedral
Paul van Zeeland: bass guitar on Cathedral
Adrian ‘Aio’ O’Shaughnessy: vocals on Cathedral
Tony Patterson: vocals on Hours Slip Into Days

I am going to say that this is actually one piece of consciousness flowing into the recording and divided up into digestible chunks. It is fluid and connected and thus really difficult to do any song by song break down. Musically the journey is rich, varied and textured with more influences than you can shake a stick at, from the ambient trance dance of The Wrong Turn flowing into the middle-eastern doom chording of The Sixth Wheel, Brendan providing the tonal variation drawing the ear to the Minarets and deserts of the Arab Peninsula and North Africa.

Suddenly we join the crew of Apollo 13 for Jumping to Conclusions and a short ambient Berlin School piece drifting in the vacuum of space with Absorption Lines, which flows into a classic Floydian jam session drifting of guitar, keyboards and vocals.

It continues pretty much in this vein through Cathedral until we have a “brass” song as such, with Adrian O’Shaughnessy on vocals and some very understated but powerful guitar work from Mr Jones. Without missing a beat we find ourselves in Hours Slip Into Days, Tony’s voice is silky soft and sits in the sweet spot at the centre of the melody, carrying you into the void beyond this world. We lapse to the end of 133 hours, the time the world held its breath while we waited for Apollo 13 to return home safely. This is a musical and thematic soundtrack to Houston and the Crew of Apollo 13 conversations. It is electronic music married with understated guitar that is built on pure atmospherics.

The album is a sonic experience and as a DJ I want people to hear this and hear what I hear. Playing a track won’t cut it for me as it misses the rest of the release. It is an album not a collection of songs, it flows and grows from one end to the other filling the listener and drawing them through and into it. I am a lover of the discipline of the album, maybe it is my love of classical and electronic long form music but this sits in the same place. Adrian and Michel are not frightened to go outside traditional structure and style and they understand their art and want to see how far it can go.

Fans of Cosmograf, Public Service Broadcasting, Autechre, Scanners, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Robert Fripp and Eno will find succour and pleasure in this album. It is individual in its style and is “Jet Black Sea “rather than a version of someone else. I would say this: when you buy this album switch the connections off to the world and spend 45 minutes just letting the music swallow you up, better still, take 90 minutes and go round twice.

Released 30th June 2017

Buy ‘Absorption Lines’ from FREIA Music UK (UK & Ireland)

Buy ‘Absorption Lines’ from FREIA (Europe):

Jet Black Sea – ABSORPTION LINES

Review – Gentle Knife – Clock Unwound – by Emma Roebuck

Gentle Knife is a Norwegian Ensemble of 11 members:

Astraea Antal – flutes, woodwinds and visuals
Pål Bjørseth – keyboards, vocals, trumpet
Odd Grønvold – basses
Thomas Hylland Eriksen – sax and woodwinds
Veronika Hørven Jensen – vocals
Håkon Kavli – vocals, guitars
Eivind Lorentzen – guitars and synths
Charlotte Valstad Nielsen – sax
Ove Christian Owe – guitars
Ole Martin Svendsen – drums, percussion
Brian M. Talgo – samples, words, vocals, visions and artwork

There is a saying that too many cooks spoil the broth and you would think that 11 chefs would create a truly chaotic spoiled broth. I am glad to say that this, the follow up to Gentle Knife’s eponymous debut in 2015, is one where the chaos is always under control and adds to the sum of the 11 parts and the very disciplined approach to the music that they make.

The relentless passage of time is the main theme of our 2nd album, Clock Unwound, which delves into lives overshadowed by longing and disappointment. Plans go askew, lovers betray and dreams fade. Yet, as a sense of resignation descends upon a dystopic inner landscape, moments of beauty remain. Songs are epic in format, and play across a broad spectrum of emotions.”

The promotional material tells us, and it is true to a point, but I hear more.  I have lived with this as an album for a few weeks and see many metaphors for the modern world here beyond the main theme of the album. It dances with a classic Progressive Rock feel with an end to end flow that, for this listener, is important for anyone planning on buying it does just that, listen to the completed album rather than piece meal track by track. The whole is far greater than the parts with themes carried over from track to track reflected and distorted by the huge range of instruments they have on call.

(Photo by Vidar Jensen)

Opening with Prelude Incipit, an overture to ease us into the album. A grand piano with ominous chords and a doom laden solitary Trumpet over the top hails the tragic end of times, plaintive and hollow. Dropping straight in to the title track via a lovely guitar life, Clock Unwound is straight from the Steven Wilson play book. Keyboards, guitars down-beat and a distorted vocal giving it a slightly steam punk feels then it veers off onto a remarkable musical journey swapping guitar and keyboard as they battle for supremacy. Veronika has a dissonant vocal line which then harmonises beautifully with the tale of regret and lost hope.  Failed love and life are thematically reflected both in the lyrics and musically. Fans of VDGG will find something here with the way the brass adds to the chaos of destruction and entropy. It is a 15 minute epic but your attention does not waiver and it passes by all too soon.

Fade Away will draw in the fans of Big Big Train, Moody Blues and BJH with its brass and Mellotron opening and is completely unhurried until a middle section of big Sax and Moogs show how carefully balanced the band is in the studio with an orchestral feel to the arrangements. Rapid and mixed time and key changes drop into 2 or three different styles in a 3 or four minute instrumental section. The poignant use of flute highlights the deep sense of looking for what is lost and will never  return. The way Veronika and Brian share and harmonise the lyrical conversation works very well to define the song.

This is a quick jump to Smother, a manic track that always feels close to chaos and a musical riot but then comes back from the edge, again it’s a perfect match for the lyrics, the idea of defeat and loss of all, close to achievement but missed despite all. The dream, highlighted by a jazz section of halcyon days, is all the more painful for the memory of its loss. The brass in this never intrudes but is always here in the right measure.

Plans Askew is the simplest track on the album by far and is almost a straight rock power ballad in form. The Acoustic guitar introduction in this is building on the continuing theme of chaotic loss but critiqued externally as a narrative rather than a first person perspective, it then becomes something else entirely.

Resignation, the joker in the pack and final track on the album, returns us to the primary theme of despair. We have a deceptively sparse track of the end of time for the person and the world as we know it. The song is narrated rather than sung and a weary soul speaks of giving up on all things in a universal expression of depression and loss. This track really picks out the way Ole Martin Svendsen (on drums) and Odd Grønvold (on bass) work to be the foundation that supports the every present mix of music so despite the potential chance of chaos, it never actually happens because they are solid as a rock throughout.

Overall the way this album works deserves praise for its maturity and skill in song writing but also the disciplined studio work. There is plenty for the classic Prog fan but it isn’t a mirror of the past, it actually feels like it belongs in 2017 not 1973. This is slick where it needs to be and raucous at other times. I review every song of an album but feel the variation on ‘Clock Unwound’ needed just such a treatment. That is like quite a few of the albums made in recent years and proves to me personally that good and intelligent music can be produced despite being ignored in the boardrooms of the big labels of the world.

Released 15th June 2017

Order ‘Clock Unwound’ via Caerllysi Music

(Featured image by Thomas Hysvær)

 

 

Review – Only Echoes Remain – The Exigent – by Kevin Thompson

Space, the final frontier… the vast overwhelming mind blowing epic that fascinates us all.

As a boy I sat transfixed every time there was a space-flight, marvelling at the monochromatic achievements on screen with a head full of wonder.

The feeling has never left me and as I grew fuelled my interests in Science Fiction, from reading and listening to radio shows, to watching early Doctor Who episodes from behind the sofa. It also eked into my film and music tastes and has inspired some of my artwork. Having permeated most aspects of my life, I still marvel at it all now and watch anything related on the news. Fortunately my lovely wife also has a similar interest, but more in a Brian Cox way than Dara O’Briain. It feels like all our lives are touched by it at some level.

From Hawkwind to Devin Townsend, Areyon to Lonely Robot and Public Service Broadcasting, the ideas are as limitless as the growing unknown space in which we reside, affording musicians vast opportunities to explore the outer limits in words and instrumentation.

London based 4-piece Only Echoes Remain, have chosen the subject for their first album release, ‘The Exigent’. This deeply personal concept of the human emotions this illicits, from joy to fear and panic of the great unknown, the band say drives a cohesive narrative throughout the album. The gloriously retro feeling, front cover of the album would not look out of place on an Asimov novel.

Time to fasten myself into my suit, and put my helmet on, ground control this is Major Thom(pson) preparing to open the airlock and bravely go where Only Echoes Remain.

The slightest piano Prelude as the door slides open with a hum and I glimpse the music of the stars for the first time as I push myself into vast nothingness, everlastingness (is that a word) and I float, fettered only by my oxygen and safety lines.

The piano chords build as drums roll myself to get a better view at the Dawn rising over the Earth whilst I listen to a conversation over the radio about a destroyed antenna. Suddenly guitars erupt like flares in the darkness witnessing the glory of the Sun’s light bathing the planet’s surface. I am in awe at the sheer majesty and raw energy which sets my pulse racing.

An Aurora of lights dance across my view to a gentle guitar refrain, the chords echoing away as I float toward the colours created and the music fills my ears as the other instruments join in. The pace increases as patterns swirl in the atmosphere dancing in a frenzy of guitars colliding and creating a wall of illuminated sound. A terrifying raw beauty beyond compare, only to disintegrate into a myriad of notes leaving me breathless and just a little afraid in the realisation this is all beyond my control.

Only Reflections remain in my visor as I float serenely, surveying the vortex created into which the lights and sound have been drawn, edged with strands of phosphorous white gossamer threads. A bead of perspiration runs down the back of my neck and I shudder at the great power created with a realisation and terror that I am merely a speck in this space. Thankfully we are too distant to be affected and I am soothed once more by the ambient sounds I hear.

Guitar chords, like Distant Echoes return to the sound like trapped creatures in the confined space of my helmet. I want to release them in a great crescendo to the universe and listen to them rejoice in a cacophony of celebration, but to do so would involve opening my visor. For a brief second the temptation arises and I raise a gloved hand only to drop it immediately at my foolishness. Instead I revel in the sound, bathed in strings then hit by a complex wave of instrumentation to lift my singing heart as I turn and make for the airlock, all too soon we must return to Terra Firma.

There is a brief Interlude as the desire to remain and a melancholy piano and synth mourn my  change in mood, but there is (No Turning Back) and I enter the lock.

We secure everything, complete our checks in conjunction with control on Earth to prepare for the Descent/Impact ahead. Initiating our return sequence we head for the atmosphere around our planet pulled through by the force of guitars and drums. The craft vibrates and the heat increases with the  crushing pressures and forces. Fear creeps in once more, will she hold?

Suddenly we burst out from blankets of folded clouds into blue skies and float toward the sea below, our parachute brakes deployed. All is calm once more as our transmitter buzzes and flutters into life allowing control to plot our location and we hit the water to a jubilant cheer from us all. We advise control we have landed, they congratulate us, confirm they will be with us shortly and End Transmission. We watch through the windows as we bob on the current and the recovery boat ploughs into view. The door is opened and we are helped on to the vessel and whisked away to waiting questions of which only we have the answers.

The capsule disappears into a speck on the horizon and a feeling of satisfaction wafts through us, we will be greeted as heroes but will we ever be the same after what we have witnessed.

Lauded by our peers we shall talk at great length to those who wish to listen of our great exploration of this cinematic album and the riches it gave forth with a yearning to go back there. We shall pontificate on tales of Stones and Stars, encouraging others to engage in the wonders of the intricately evolved tracks enclosed until our stars fade and we go from the celebrated, to the dust from which we came on sweet refrain.

There have been a number of splendid instrumental bands/albums of late and it is difficult to shine in a sky full of stars, so does ‘The Exigent’ from Only Echoes Remain glimmer brightly enough to be picked out? I think so

It will only take one small step from yourselves to encourage a giant leap of interest for mankind in this band who are:

Arran Oakes
Craig McNaughton
Simon Christie
Alistair Dunlop

Gentlemen, we have lift off, Holy Smoly!

Released 16th June 2017

Buy ‘The Exigent’ from bandcamp

Review – KingBathmat – Dark Days – by Progradar

KingBathmat, now there’s a name for a Prog band if ever I’ve heard one, except they’re not really Prog, more hard-edged pyshchedelic/alternative rock but, there’s no getting away from it, it is a name that starts discussion and really sticks in the mind.

I’ve been a big fan of the band and the brains behind it, John Bassett, for a very long time and it’s been four long years since the release of their last masterpiece ‘Overcoming The Monster’ and it’s incredible songs. John has focused on his solo work under his own name, the Arcade Messiah moniker and, more recently, his great synth-wave project Sacred Ape.

So the time is ripe for the return of the seminal KingBathmat, albeit a slimmed down version. The band now consists of just John and drummer Bernie Smirnoff and 6-track mini-album ‘Dark Days’ was released on 30th June.

KingBathmat now consists of only John Bassett & Drummer Bernie Smirnoff, tracks on the album were initially conceived in 2016 as a 2 piece side project, drums were recorded in Hastings Uk, and the rest of the music recorded and produced in Ireland over the last few months with John playing all the other instruments and fulfilling vocal duties.”

John Bassett says “It’s a darker, heavier album, but still with the melodic style that runs through most of the KingBathmat back catalogue. It wasn’t initially in my plans to make another KingBathmat record, but these songs just had that KingBathmat feel to them. Over the last few years I’ve had numerous messages asking for another KingBathmat album, so I thought why not. If the response is favourable this might be the start of a number of mini KingBathmat albums”

That’s a lot of KingBathmat but you won’t hear me complaining…

A special nod goes out to the excellent artwork which has always been a hallmark of KingBathmat albums.

The album opens with the short but meaningful title track. Dark Days has an insistent opening that is sparse and pared back before John’s distinctive vocal opens up. There’s a feeling of treading water, waiting for something importatnt to happen but, from the first note, it is undoubtedly KingBathmat and the years roll back. Bernie’s considered drums and an elegant guitar note then add real atmosphere and layers of intrigue. It’s a track that seems to effortlessly wend its way into your psyche with it’s air of mystery and suspense and an excellent opening to this new record.

Tis Pity She’s A Whore (nope, not the same title as a track from the last Bowie album but a reference to a play from the 17th century called ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ by John Ford) needs none of the previous tracks subtlety, it’s just a full on riff fest that starts with a piercing guitar note that could have come straight from ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and then hits you right where it hurts with a sonically powerful riff and drums that could topple mountains. There’s a slight lull (not that it really matters) in the verse and then the monster chorus just takes it to yet another level of ferocity. This is what I was looking forward to, the dynamism, energy and sheer brutality of the music just takes your breath away but it’s done with intelligence and perception, psychedelic metal for the highbrow listener. KingBathmat are back!

We take a little step back again with Magnet To Pain, Bernie’s drums have a real energy to them but almost in a jazzy way and the bass playing in the background is superb. John’s vocal has a keening tone and, when the fuzzy riff kicks in, I’m transported to another decade. The guitar plying is very intense and heavy and yet seems slightly muted and in the background so as not to overwhelm everything. It’s a foot tapping, head nodding type of funky, intelligent heavy rock with psychedelic overtones, imagine The Red Hot Chilli Peppers jamming with Mastodon and you won’t be far off. How two guys can make a sound this big and expansive is beyond me.

The wistfully elegant guitar strumming at the start of Feathers gives the song a melancholy overtone and John’s vocal has a passion and devotion to it that adds a serious tone. Quite a sombre and downbeat track but one that has an fragile grace to it as well, the pensive, keening guitar just adding to that feel. This song puts me in a nostalgic and thoughtful mood, the music having a reflective and contemplative aura that draws you in. This shows the captivating and introspective side to KingBathmat’s music and songwriting, it is nine minutes of self retrospection and consideration and a superb track too.

The last track on this mini-album is Nihilist which opens with a mariachi style guitar, laid back, unhurried and undemanding and the song takes it’s cue from this. The vocals seem to wander into the song without a care in the world and it is Bernie’s drumming that gives the track some substance to build on. I like the chilled out atmosphere, almost ethereal in feel and the wistful air that seems to settle all around you. It’s a stylish and classy piece of music that seems to just meander across you aural synapses and the guitar playing is refined and tasteful. Half way through the pace increases and an almost frenetic note begins to seep into the drums and guitar as John and Bernie go into what seems to be an extended jam session, a bloody good one actually. They play off each other almost to the end of the track when John’s plaintive vocal returns and takes us to a thoughtful close.

KingBathmat have returned with a glorious slab of psychedelic prog/metal that takes the sound that people have come to love and gives it a harder edge and incredible nuances to create something quite unique. A superb listening experience and one that leaves this reviewer wanting more, John Bassett is one of the most creative musicians we have and joining forces with his old partner in crime has given him something extra, highly recommended.

Released 30th June 2017

Buy ‘Dark Days’ from bandcamp

 

 

Review – The Tangent – The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery – by Craig E. Bacon

The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery’ by The Tangent succeeds at every level, from the incredible depth and texture of the colours in Mark Buckingham’s arresting album art to the pacing of the expansive musical compositions. Band leader Andy Tillison has talked about working to recover his ‘mojo’ after a long hospital stay, and ‘Slow Rust’ makes clear that he’s found it, perhaps in greater quantity even than before. In particular, the album comfortably engages an intriguing dialectic between global politics and individual relationships; broad social commentary and hyper-specific lyrical descriptions; fury and compassion; and the musical energies of seasoned and youthful collaborators. Along the way, Tillison & Co. play jazz, funk, punk, prog, techno, ambient, and heavy rock to great effect.

The album opens with the “pocket symphony” Two Rope Swings, which packs the musical and thematic expanse of a 20 minute epic into a mere 6.5 minutes. Each member of the band turn in lovely performances here, including newcomer Marie-Eve de Gaultier, whose vocals emphasize the mournful aspect of realizing our ignorance concerning those who live in a different skin from our own—whether human or otherwise. Tillison’s wonderfully detailed lyrics express the global import of the song through their very specificity:

And we think Africa is like some fairyland/Like in the picturebooks we read when we played on the swings/Lions and tigers and wildebeests and zebra…Kilimanjaro

What do we expect from each other, when we make our adult choices with the naivete of a child reading picture books on a rope swing? When we can’t even place an entire species of animals on the right continent, imagining African lions as living side by side with Asian tigers?

Doctor Livingstone (I Presume), besides possessing the perfect, playful title for a long instrumental, showcases the band’s seemingly limitless musical muscle. Leaping right over the gate with lithe bass, rolling organ, and a melodic synth lead, the track quickly sets the stage then shines the spotlight on guitarist Luke Machin’s searing but instantly accessible soloing. Theo Travis provides plenty of nuanced saxes and flutes along the way, while piano and acoustic guitar occasionally accent the trading off between bass, synth, guitar, and sax solos. What begins as a relatively mellow jazz exercise rolls to full boil midway with some heavier riffs and shredding from Machin; not content to climax at its most intense moment, the track slides into a more classically jazz section that highlights even further the god-level bass genius of Jonas Reingold. Taken all together, this instrumental melds early 70’s jazz-influenced prog with mid-60’s Impulse! Records jazz experimentation. It also succeeds as a test for a new addition to The Tangent’s line-up: if you want to prove the mettle of your new drummer, how better than with an extended jazz work-out? The spry young lad taking over drum controls makes a great showing here that matches but never overwhelms the contributions of his bandmates, and it’s quite the surprise that this talent has not been tapped by the band on previous outings.* Perhaps the snare could have been a bit punchier to better complement Reingold’s monster tone, or the crash treated with less decay, but those are minor differences of production opinion that don’t detract from a stellar debut performance.

On an album replete with highlights, title track Slow Rust is clearly the centrepiece. All the righteous indignation, cynical wisdom, and nimble musicality of the album are placed on full display for 22 intense minutes. On the face of it, this song is inspired by the same series of recent events that prompted A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road, namely, the horrendous slandering of “migrants” by the UK press in the wake of 2016’s Brexit vote. But Slow Rust is this and so much more. Rooting around behind the mere occurrence of such hateful news reporting, Tillison explores the contributing factors. How is it that celebrity gossip, local events, and national politics coexist on equal footing in the papers? We all know that this paper has this party bias and that one another, but how do the potentially myriad perspectives of numerous writers and editors fall out along such neat lines, and why must we find a ready group on which to place the blame for our perceived problems? When there’s profits to be had, and fear and hatred turn a profit, any story becomes about the insecurities of the reader; the actual story of another person’s hardship gets twisted into the story of how an influx of persecuted refugees affects my life:

Ah, when the helpless are a threat/What does that say about the rest of us?

Furthermore, when only binary choices are on offer, the rejection of one point of view becomes the ready adoption of another, and either way someone will be waiting to accept your payment. Even Education, the great salvation of the Enlightenment, is implicated. If schools are just an ideas factory for “Corporate automatons,” then the same principle of profit and binary choices will drive all learning:

Become a teacher and bow your head/To the passing fashions where you get led/Recite your mantras, but say your prayers/’Cause what else have you done? The future’s theirs/To sell textbooks/That’s all they’re here to do

Even for a Prog Epic, this is an incredibly expansive track, though it never feels stretched or repetitive. There’s no thesis, but it’s focused polemic more than angry rant. It also seriously rocks. Tillison turns in a number of noteworthy synth and vocal performances, especially in the funky and heavy “Binary Choices” section that includes effected spoken word vocals and a reference to President Biff. Reingold is, again, a force-beyond-nature on bass throughout the song, though de Gaultier is the key ingredient that lifts everything above the sum of its parts. Here and elsewhere on the album, the soft timbre of her voice pervades every open space, simultaneously smoothing, undergirding, and highlighting whatever else is happening musically. Depending on Tillison’s role at any moment, this includes supporting the more mournful notes in his voice or providing the comforting sweater counterpoint to his angry grandpa affectation.

De Gaultier’s vocals are also essential to the emotion of The Sad Story of Lead and Astatine, as she permeates the very pretty and hopeful chorus to an otherwise sad tale. Her reassuring suggestion for a repaired relationship sharpens the sadness of the song once you realize that of course, as per the song’s title, this advice will be ignored in favour of doubling down on prideful posturing. As such, this track provides the personal counterpoint to the album’s finale: in the microcosm, destructive pride and redirected fear can lead a person, as well as a country, a few steps down the wrong road. Musically, The Sad Story leaves plenty of room for jazzy solos, including some gorgeous flute work by Travis, a healthy dose of flittering piano, a classic drum solo, and more arresting guitar shredding from Machin.

The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery’ culminates in the Prog-Punk Theatre of A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road. The punk elements are noteworthy, but the spirits of Emerson and Lake are as strong here as that of Johnny Rotten, Tillison playing some particularly nice analogue synths to punctuate the story. Like Slow Rust, this song is about the post-Brexit rise of hatred toward those of ‘questionable origin’, but it’s also about the historical recurrence of inhumane attitudes, and serves as a cautionary tale of the dangers in not learning our history lessons already. Alternating between spoken word narration, explosive rock bombast, proggy excess, jazzy swagger, and punk aggression, this epic competes for “most quintessential Tangent track” as well as “most timely political commentary by a musical artist.” If ever a polemic needed pressing to a side of vinyl, it’s this one. When the album reaches its depressing conclusion, be sure to immediately start it over again. The opening strains of Two Rope Swings, with de Gualtier’s call of “halcyon days,” take on an elegiac character when placed immediately following A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road.

With ‘The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery (or, Where Do We Draw the Line Now?)The Tangent have progressed by retaining everything that made their previous work great while seamlessly integrating these elements with new musical contributions that hold up to the weighty subject matter. The album burns with all the conscience and compassion called for by our times. It simultaneously maintains a spirit of joy and playfulness in the performances. A clear contender for Album of the Year, ‘Slow Rust’ is wonderfully immediate while reserving unfathomable depths to be explored across repeated listens for years to come.

*This reviewer is simultaneously sincere and facetious: yes, I’m aware that the drummer is Andy Tillison himself. It is genuinely a surprise that Tillison’s drumming was not previously featured, because he’s quite good.

Released 21st July 2017

Buy ‘The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery’ From Burning Shed

 

 

 

 

Vinyl Review – Cosmograf – The Hay Man Dreams – by Progradar

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”
― Michael J. Fox

Surely every musician strives for perfection on every new record that they are working on but perfection cannot be attainable otherwise what else could they seek to achieve? When you follow an artist across their album releases you accompany them on this journey to a perceived nirvana of musical enlightenment, every release opening another door into their soul for clearly that is what every musician leaves with their music, a piece of themselves?

Robin Armstrong is the man behind the highly respected musical project Cosmograf, the Cosmograf sound is rooted in 70’s classic rock with a contemporary and progressive twist with obvious influences from classic progressive rock such as Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis, but with more contemporary flavours from bands such as Porcupine Tree, Muse, and Radiohead.

Cosmograf albums are built around concepts – Conceptual Progressive Rock allows the freedom to span genres, stop and start in different tempos, with the inclusion of relevant soundscapes and effects to build the story.  This creates a musical freedom far beyond the commercial rules and constraints of a disposable 3 minute pop song.

Robin’s musical odyssey began in 2008 with a rough demo called “Freed from the Anguish” and ‘End of Ecclesia’ which was self released in 2009. The break-through release that really brought Cosmograf to the music industry’s notice was ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’, released in 2011 and the quality and excellence never let up through 2013’s ‘The Man Left In Space’, 2014’s ‘Capacitor’ and last years superb ‘The Unreasonable Silence’, a release where many thought Robin had actually reached his musical zenith.

However, an artist with the talent and imagination of Robin Armstrong can’t sit on their hands and, despite health problems (thankfully resolved now), Robin has returned with another Cosmograf release ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ which, for the first time, will be released on vinyl through Chris Topham’s Plane Groovy label.

A retrospective album in both theme and style, ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ harks back to the sound and feel of the classic prog era fused with the raw energy and darkness of a rock behemoth. The 6 track album is measured at a single LP length and instrumentally delivers the vintage sound of guitar, bass and drums with a sprinkling of classic keyboards.

The theme presents as a mythical tale of a farm labourer meeting an early death, and leaving a loving wife and young family. His widow builds a scarecrow effigy as a shrine to her loss, and this ‘Hay-Man’ spends his weather beaten days in eternity, dreaming beyond his field.

The new album features guest performances from Rachael Hawnt (The Beautiful Secret), Kyle Fenton (These Septic Stars), Matt Stevens (The Fierce and the Dead), Rachel Hall (Big Big Train) and former BBC Voiceover artist David Allan.

It’s great to see an album that was conceived to be a vinyl release from the outset, the packaging is excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Plane Groovy, and you get that frisson of excitement as you remove it from the shrinkwrap and take the slipcase and liner notes out of the sleeve. The singular artwork is very impressive and really stands out. Time to take it out of the slipcase, put it on the record deck and lower the needle…

“I’m tethered and bound to the earth today
It’s hard to walk free when you’re made of hay
Tethered and bound to the earth I say
Nothing to fear but nothing to say…”

The ominous and suspenseful opening to the first track Tethered And Bound raises the hairs on the back of your neck and David Allan’s atmospheric voice-over just helps to build the tension. The eerie feeling continues before a powerful and methodical guitar riff breaks through the uneasiness and Robin’s distinctive vocal adds an authoritarian tone. This song is pure and definitive Cosmograf but turned up to 11 with emotive guitars and mountain moving percussion provided by Kyle Fenton. It’s like the best of progressive rock met math-core and morphed into something quite unique. I love the creeping tension that lies throughout the song, it’s almost like hiding behind the sofa watching Doctor Who when I was a kid but brought bang up to date for the 50-something adult I am now. A really powerful, imposing piece of music that dominates its surroundings with Rachael Hawnt’s vocal talents also put to good use to add even more theatre, a thunderous start to proceedings.

“These trees surround the field
The boundary marks the forest
It forms a perfect shield
Protects the summer harvest…”

Trouble In The Forest is a massive contrast with its wistful, gentle nostalgic opening that is full of the feeling of lazy, hazy sunny days and a forest with the dappled sun’s rays lighting up the forest floor. A wonderfully calm and collected track full of assured grace and composure. There’s a feeling of longing to the elegant, ethereal guitar and contemplative percussion that gives an otherworldly aura to the music. I can’t imagine a more laid back song that I’ve listened to this year as Robin’s voice finally joins in, all soothing and tranquil and with a meditative timbre to it. The tempo increases slightly, a note of urgency bleeding into the vocals before another voice over from Mr Allan sets the scene. The gentle meander and preamble takes on a slightly discordant edge as the immediately recognisable tone of Matt Stevens’ guitar opens up and he goes into Guthrie Govan mode with an intricate and convoluted guitar solo that only a guitarist of Matt’s talent could ever hope to deliver. The snaking, coruscating guitar work fits in perfectly with the almost spiritual ambience of this song and the ambient effects add even more mystery as this superb piece of music comes to a serene close.

“The motorway extends in grace, the shiny metal’s keeping pace
The engine’s calling out to me, rev it more and let it breath
Let it breath…”

A stylish acoustic guitar motif opens The Motorway with an assured note, another tell-tale Cosmograf sound that is instantly known to this reviewer. It lulls you into a false sense of security as it gently ambles on before Robin’s emotive vocal begins, backed by Kyle’s classy drums and a real 70’s sounding keyboard, Rachael’s carefully considered backing vocals adding lustre. Everything seems good natured and jaunty as the song moves along at a measured clip but the mood changes as Robin’s voice switches to a more ardent intonation and the whole song seems to transform into something altogether more serious, sombre and thoughtful. A thunderous riff emerges and the drums go all native on us as Robin turns into a seriously heavy rock vocalist, all dark and dangerous, it’s quite an about face, I’m thinking 70’s Deep Purple or Bad Company myself. A sultry break with more of that acoustic guitar calms things before Robin opens up with a superb guitar solo that literally pins your ears back to the side of your head and screams passion, fervor and feeling at you (yes, it’s air guitar time!) before the song comes to resounding close and so does side one of this utterly captivating and arresting vinyl release.

“Spoil the view
Do what you want to do
A greener field
Made from a muddy hue…”

A deliberate and pensive piano opens Cut The Corn, the first of two relatively shorter tracks, and this precedes Robin’s instrospective, absorbing vocal, full of sentiment and warmth and yet there’s a melancholy edge that runs throughout the song, a yearning and a longing for something out of reach and this adds a fragile beauty to the whole track. The tempo is deliberate and restrained and adds to the mournful sense that emanates, even more so when the reflective and thoughtful acoustic guitar is played to the captivated audience leaving you lost in thought as the track comes to a close.

“The colder air it hurts my throat
as I walk the stony roadway
There’s demons on the moonlit path
They plot to steal the break of dawn…”

The emotion, passion and fervor reach a climax on the wonderfully stirring and affectional Melancholy Death Of A Gamekeeper, a track where, if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought Robin had co-opted David Gilmour into appearing. The whole song is a complex blend of emotions from Robin’s sultry vocal, Kyle’s elegant drums and the flowing keyboards but it is the incredibly impressive guitar work that really stands out and makes this a song I keep returning to time and time again. I could sit and listen to the searing, powerful and ardent playing all day long, this is music that moves you on a primal level and stirs the soul, I can’t get that guitar note out of my head and I don’t want to either. Touches of Pink Floyd? Yes, but it’s an affectionate nod of the head, not a blatant copy and I think it works fantastically well.

“The rain comes
It soaks his worn out clothes
I follow everywhere he goes
Hay Man dreaming of the sun
Hay Man are you having fun?”

Well, it is going to take something really special to top that and, to Robin’s eternal credit, he just gets on with it and produces another instant classic with the title track The Hay Man Dreams. From the first exquisitely delivered word that Rachael Hawnt utters we are given a song that will stand the test of time and should be considered a classic of the genre. Rachel’s hypnotic vocal is utterly beguiling and enthralling and the guitar, bass, drums and keyboards ooze style and sophistication. A track for late nights, darkened rooms, powerful red wine and forgetting about the complexities that life throws at you. The longest song on the album at over twelve minutes, not a second or a note is wasted and Robin delivers possibly his best guitar work yet with playing that bewitches, dazzles and delights even the most seasoned hack, just sit back and enjoy. That’s not all though, it’s a song in three or more parts and the mood is broken by David Allan’s voice over one more time before things take a darker turn as the carefree jazz/blues guitar is overwritten by a more compelling and aggressive riff, the drums dominating and Rachel delivers an outpouring of passion and fervor as the atmosphere turns chaotic around her, as if a tornado has hit the Hay Man. All of a sudden an argent and incandescent guitar solo breaks loose irradiating the sky, a furious and dynamic piece of guitar playing that hits you right in the solar plexus. This thunderous refrain comes to a sudden halt to be replaced by the elegant strains of Rachel Hall’s violin and order is restored once more. The album closes out with a feeling of pastoral calm and relaxed repose as the needle comes to a stop and silence settles around you.

What an incredibly emotional roller coaster Robin Armstrong has taken us on. I have no qualms in saying I have always been huge fan of his music and on ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ the sheer scope of his songwriting and imagination is barely conceivable. Cosmograf albums are lovingly crafted nuggets of musical brilliance created not for commercial gain but for the enjoyment of the listener and, on this latest opus (especially as it is available on vinyl), Robin has delivered his most impressive work yet. Perfection? maybe not but it doesn’t get much closer than this.

Released 14th July 2017

Buy ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ on vinyl via Burning Shed

Buy ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ on CD and Download from Cosmograf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Fish on Friday – Quiet Life – by James R Turner

This is the fourth release from Belgian born prog band Fish on Friday, and see’s them stretching their musical wings even further, having coalesced around the founding members William Beckers & Frank Van Boagaert, the line up now includes one of prog’s hardest working bassists Nick Beggs, Californian guitarist Marty Townsend and Marcus Weymaere.

Following on from 2014s Godspeed (also released on Esoteric Antenna) it takes the musical sound of accessible prog (very much in the vein of the Alan Parsons Project, Big Big Train etc) further down their journey.

With the band being introduced to Alan Parsons, one track, the wonderfully haunting In the Key of Silence, was recorded by Alan at Abbey Road, and he even adds his vocals to the track, whilst another of prog’s hard working men, Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell, adds some of his wonderfully fluid guitar work to the track.

The key to the band’s success is their songwriting, as, whilst it’s obvious plenty of hard work goes into crafting such a well realised album of this, from the outside it is like the swan gliding across the lake, we can see the beauty and the majesty and can’t see all the kicking under water as it glides effortlessly into our ears.

This album is also a grower, it’s one of those records where after two or three listens the hooks work their way into your mind, and you find yourself humming tunes, or singing the lyrics, and each listen you get more and more out of it, like a well written novel or intricately crafted piece of art, it reveals more of it’s secrets the more you listen to it.

It also makes a massive contrast from Nick Beggs’ other album release this year, the far darker and angrier Mute Gods ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth’, and his work on here is the ying to that’s yang. Restrained, fluid, and intuitive, this is Beggs at calm, and just because it’s a calmer album it doesn’t mean there’s no power behind it.

With tracks as emotive as the powerful MH17 all about the downed Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down over the Ukraine, the lyrics mix the anger and grief, and with some truly beautiful work by both Theo Travis adding his unique sound to the song, and female vocals by Chantal Kashala and Nina Babet, this is remarkable track by anyone’s standards.

Unreal, has shades of Floyd in there with some truly wonderful lyrics and a blinding guitar finale, whilst Nick Beggs daughter Lula adds her superb voice to tracks Sweet Love and Quiet Life.

The female harmonies throughout this album are sublime and add so much to the tracks that they appear on, working so well with Frank Van Boagaert’s understated, yet powerful vocal range, and I’ve known a track that is so calm and chilled, bristling with so much anger in the vocals as You’ve Hurt Me, with it’s mighty chorus and emotive lyrics.

This album runs the whole gamut of human emotion and this is in part due to the finely observed vocals and the superbly sympathetic vocals, in fact it is an immersive album, one you need to listen to and lose yourself in for the whole hour.

Fish on Friday are steadily building themselves a strong following, and you can see why on records as uniformly strong as this, and the calibre of their guests shows the quality of the band.

This is a fine successor to a great album, and should push Fish on Friday up there to where they belong.

Released 26th May 2017

Buy ‘Quiet Life’ from Cheery Red here:

Quiet Life