Review – Haken L-1VE – by James R Turner

 

Haken released their rather special ‘Affinity’ album back in 2016 and followed it up with a celebratory 10th anniversary European tour which, unsurprisingly, focused on that electro inspired album and its predecessor, the album that made their name, ‘The Mountain’.

Now, in the best tradition of all bands, they have decided to release their first live album, and what a package it is for fans.

Not only do we get a double disc live set taken from their gig in Amsterdam last year, but we also get the full set on DVD, complete with a 2nd DVD of their 4-song set at ProgPower USA in 2016 and the official music videos for Initiate, Earthrise and Lapse.

For anyone who was on that tour (and I was) this is a wonderful memento, and for those who weren’t lucky enough to be there, well, let me tell you more.

Its good to see Haken releasing their first live album as I get incredibly bored with bands getting on the album, tour, live album treadmill, especially where (particularly with the bigger bands) the set lists are written in tablets of stone and, much like dinosaur remains, are very much museum pieces. The key to a great live record (like ‘Wings Over America’, Wishbone Ash’s ‘Live Dates’ or ‘Field Recordings’ by The Fierce and the Dead) is its scarcity, and its immediacy. No-one wants to see a concert where the band duplicates their album sound live on stage with no spontaneity or the feeling that you are living in the moment, and no-one wants to buy a live album from a gig that sounds like the studio recordings, that’s the ultimate example of irrelevance. If you keep releasing live albums you lose your audience and Haken, wisely, have chosen a moment when they have a breadth and depth of songs to chose from and a moment in time when they are currently an energetic and enthusiastic live band with a lot of presence and charisma.

The current line-up of Ross Jennings (vocals) who works the stage like a frontman should which, added to the powerhouse drumming of Raymond Hearne and driving bass of Conner Green, puts that bedrock together to give Richard Henshall’s & Charles Griffiths guitars room to stretch. The keys of Diego Tejeida round it out and it’s the electronic sound that helps make the ‘Affinity’ material so strong on stage.

This taut and assured performance is reflected throughout this record. One of the treats for those of us who love the longer songs is Aquamedley, 22 minutes of the tracks from their debut album ‘Aquarius’, reworked and forming an integral part of the set.

That is what a live show, and album, should be all about, all eras are covered, with a rousing version of Visions closing the record. As previously stated, ‘The Mountain’ and ‘Affinity’ make up the bulk of the tracks, as songs like 1985, Affintiy.exe/Initiate and epic The Architect get a good work out, making their their mark on the bands set.

The only minor issue I have with Haken at this juncture of their career is that they seem to have their feet in a number of camps, neither being full blown prog, prog-metal or sitting in the electronic arena that ‘Affinity’ introduced to their sound. I would like to see them pick a direction (preferably the electronic sound) and move more cohesively towards it, but that’s my opinion, and it doesn’t detract from what is an excellently produced and sublimely performed live show.

With the superb bonus material on the second DVD, and the videos from their excellent Affinity album, this is a fantastic snapshot of where Haken are now, and of what a powerful and confident band they have become.

If they continue down this road, and hone their sound following the electronic influences of ‘Affinity’ they could be well positioned to be one of the defining bands of the new era.

Released 22nd June 2018

Order the album from Burning Shed here

 

Review – Galasphere 347 – s/t – by Roy Hunter

I’m old enough to remember that way back in
the 1960’s I loved a children’s program called
“Space Patrol”… The main characters flew
around the Solar System in a craft called the
Galasphere 347… And there ends any
similarity with this grand musical offering
from a new Anglo-Scandinavian band!!

The combined members of MotorpsychoWhite Willow and Änglagård (Ketil Vestrum Einarsen, Jacob Holm-Lupo & Mattias Olsson), along with Stephen
Bennett, have come up with a trio of super-melodic tracks here…

Track #1 – The Voice of Beauty Drowned (10:43) kicks us off quietly and
builds into a tour de force of symphonic prog beauty!! The “beauty”
here was never drowned… The mixture of harmonic vocals, guitars and
keyboards I find very uplifting – all held together with a melodic bass
line and measured drumming. KVE’s flute soars and searches out
tuneful heights, together with the “prog” ingredients of key-changes,
time changes, we have a special piece of music that I’m sure will be a
benchmark others will seek to emulate!

Track #2 – The Fallen Angel (15:35) Perfection!! A relaxed beginning with
an overlay of chiming guitars and soothing keys… The lyrics narrate a
tale of loss and woe but aren’t depressing in any way… “Reach out”
they urge us and yes, the proggy formula of guitar and keys do just
that!! The inclusion of a sublime piece of brass sets the tune off to a tee!
More virtuoso key work interspersed with harmonies from this talented
gathering of musicians brings this longest track to a fantastic finish!

Track #3 – Barbarella’s Lover (15:18) A ballad of heartbreak and elation
together? “Passion always gets us in the end…” The tried, tested and
perfected combination of excellent musicianship, song-writing, and
delivery leave us wanting more!

I hope this is only the first of many more recordings to come from
Galasphere 347

This album, only in my possession for a few hours, has already
become a contender for my album of the year!!!

Released 20th July 2018

Pre-order the album from Karisma Records here:

Galasphere 347

Also available from bandcamp here

Review – Stone Angel Syndrome – Discovery – by Progradar

“Discovery is a conceptual piece, a journey through time and space, but also a journey through our own lives. The music is progressive with moments of heaviness,ambient elements and gentle, emotional soundscapes fused with electronic drums.”

And so says the PR information for Stone Angel Syndrome’s debut release, one I’ve had the pleasure of seeing come to fruition for Kevin Burlison who, along with Dave Blackburn, is the driving force behind this interesting project. The album was written while Kevin was going through some difficult experiences in his life (I’ll say no more as that is not my story to tell) and you can tell he has put his heart and soul into it.

Kevin provides keyboards, synths, piano, harpsichord and hammered dulcimer, Dave all the electric and acoustic guitars. Martyn Leckenby is now the full time bassist and also helping on this release were Andy Plemper (sitar) and Chris Davison with vocals on the title track and who also provided mixing duties.

‘Discovery’ is a challenging release, intelligent music that takes some digesting and understanding. The ambient arrangements are reminiscent of Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre (just check out (and the planets dance) in the Dark Eternal World and you’ll see where I’m coming from), floating in a vacuum with the whole Universe in front of you, your mind an open book.

The band have thrown in a bit of a curveball on the first two tracks, A shadow over sunrise & Trans-lunar express, where the lush textures and atmosphere segue into something a lot harsher and darker, like a jam session involving Edgar Froese and an early iteration of King Crimson. The music jars and crashes creating a stark and demanding soundscape that really asks questions of the listener. To my ears it works incredibly well but, to be fair, it is not for the faint of heart and your heart rate does come back to normal when the wistful scenic music returns.

The only vocal track on the album is the title track, Discovery, which closes this intriguing and soul-searching musical journey out with something more akin to classical neo-progressive rock. It’s a calming and contemplative piece of music that lends an almost spiritual feel to the album and left me in an incredibly thoughtful and reflective frame of mind.

A collection of songs written from an intensively personal point of view that leaves a raw and honest feel to an album that requires more from the listener than you would normally expect. Ultimately it is an incredibly rewarding experience if you’re prepared to go beyond your usual boundaries and I highly recommend it.

Released 11th May 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – Mike O’Donovan – No Time Like The Present – by Progradar

FOUND – Somewhere in Limerick – The Spiritual Successor to Van Morrison!

Yep, after listening to the debut release from highly regarded Irish singer songwriter Mike O’Donovan, I really could see that as a headline in a mythical Irish entertainment rag.

‘No Time Like The Present’ was recorded in Limerick, where he was born and raised, and spans many of the styles that have influenced Mike down the years, including the aforementioned Mr Morrison. Just listen to the opening track Underground and you cannot help but hear the legendary Irish musician and that sound and influence is at the heart of this involving, warm and nostalgic collection of songs.

Mike’s voice also has that halting character that infused Johnny Cash’s vocals in his later years, no more so than on Ghosts and If There’s A Time. The stellar supporting cast of musicians add some real class and polish to the songs too with some wonderful guitar work, brass and harmonica giving a real roots music feel.

There really is something for everyone on this album, the Mariachi hued It Was On A Night Like This, the 50’s smooth jazz rhythms of The Dancer and the elegant Santana guitar that highlights Distant Conversation but, for me, it’s Mike’s soulful vocal that makes this record such a good listen.

A debut that has been a long, long time coming, ‘No Time Like The Present’ is a wonderful collection of songs that shows a songwriter hitting his peak and you can hear the joy and love in every note.

Released 1st December 2017

Download album from cdbaby here

Order CD from the Irish Baha’i bookshop here:

CD – No Time like the Present, by Mike O’ Donovan

 

 

Review – Raging Twilight – s/t – by Progradar

The 1970’s in the US was a real melting pot of influences that produced some incredible music and defined the sound for the decade.Take your Neil Young, Eagles, Stephen Stills, Willie Nelson and the like and the blend of country, blues, gospel, folk and rock that melded into the sound of Americana that is still loved to this day.

Transplant that sound into the thriving live music scene in Glasgow and you have the possibility of some seriously impressive music. The competitiveness that this creates gives a spin-off where only the very best rise up through the ranks in true ‘spirit of survival’ fashion. Raging Twilight have demanded attention due to finely honing their sound and the playing pedigree of the musicians involved. This has given them the due respect and respect that has been properly won.

Their self-titled album is full of impressive tracks that take their cues from that pivotal 70’s sound mainly due to the extensive travels through Canada and the southwest USA of founder member Jack Law, who formed the band with Dougie Harrison.

The influences come flooding in from the first notes, Don’t Want A Lover channeling Neil Young, the bluegrass simplicity of Old Glass Jar  and Hope Sails The River with it’s Celtic hues and hints of The Pogues. The whole album is a wonderful musical journey through music that has influenced a generation of listeners and is an enthralling ride.

I’ve recently got into the solo work of Stephen Stills and can hear subtle hints of that amazing musician throughout, intentional or not. Dust Bowl Rust Belt Blues, Chemical Jayne, The Still with their elegant guitar and haunting vocals, it’s a nostalgic look into the past that leaves you in a wistful frame of mind.

Then there’s Nothing’s There, a superb tune full of English eccentricity that reminds me of The Travelling Wilburys, a real grin inducing song!

If you’re a fan of superbly constructed songs that take their influence from those greats of the past but are given an up-to-date flavour then you have opened the right door. Come on in and enjoy the ride!

Released 16th April 2016.

RAGING TWILIGHT – Raging Twilight (aRTee Records)

 

Review – Matt Baber – Suite For Piano And Electronics – by Jez Denton

Whenever I get a new album through to review from the great guys at Progradar and Bad Elephant Music I tend to download it onto my phone and put the headphones on to listen whilst I walk my dog in the morning. It’s a time, as the world around us comes to life, for reflection and to empty troubles and worries from the previous days and prepare for whatever is going to be thrown at us. And it’s a time when I can drift off to wherever the music I’m listening takes me, thinking about the images and feelings that are inspired and where I draft, in my head, these reviews I write.

This morning’s walk with Mungo was an enriching experience as the debut solo release, ‘Suite for Piano and Electronics’ by Matt Baber created an ambience that complemented our early morning enjoyment of the countryside around our home in North Oxfordshire. Baber, with reference to his influences such as Steve Reich and Keith Emerson, is a pianist and keyboard player of some sublime skill; the music he creates has a simple beauty and flow that is evocative and moving. It is not easy to categorise this music, as Baber himself says in Bad Elephant Music’s press release, but it’s all the better for that, this is music that gives the listener the scope with which to enjoy it how they wish.

When I was a kid I used to be inflicted, by my dad on Sunday morning’s, with easy listening piano ‘lift’ muzak from the likes of Richard Clayderman and that gave me a distrust of anything piano based. However, in recent years, I have found a new love for this instrument through the work of the likes of Rick Wakeman and Tony Turrell who have both released fabulous albums of piano playing. Baber’s album fits neatly into that new love I have.

As I walked across the fields in the early morning with my dog, two contrasting pieces of music came to my mind. Firstly, the work of the likes of Vaughan Williams and Elgar, pieces of work very much inspired by the environment around them with Baber’s suite having the feel, if not necessarily the style, of something quintessentially English in its backbone. The second point of reference for me, and which is the highest compliment I can pay Baber, is that, once I finished this album, the piece of music I needed to listen too was the theme from the film, Merry Christmas Mr.Lawrence, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s hauntingly beautiful piece. The lifts and drops in style and tempo on this album create that same beautifully evocative wonder as Sakamoto’s masterpiece, it truly is that good.

Matt Baber has created here an album that is, as Bad Elephant’s David Elliott says, ‘…intelligent and melodic stuff, easy to fall in love with.’ I certainly did, I’m sure people who take the time to listen to this will do too. Put it on your headphones, take yourself and your dog, if you have one, for a long, long walk in the fields and countryside and immerse yourself in the beauty around you and in your ears.

Released 15th June 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – GEPH – Apophenia – by Progradar

“Apophenia is he experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data, the term was coined by the German neurologist, Klaus Conrad.”

Now we’ve got the lesson out of the way, ‘Apophenia’ is also the second album from cutting edge Boston based instrumental progressive jazz metal trio GEPH. The group consisting of Josh Goldberg and John Tyler Kent on Chapman stick and Josh Merhar on drums released their debut self-titled album in March of 2016.

Let’s get one thing clear, I’m a big fan of the first release going so far as to say,

“…you end up with a really intense and powerful listening experience that makes you think and it is all the better for it. GEPH is a band worth watching as they really should be going places!”

So this new collection of tunes has a lot to live up to. I won’t ramp up the tension too much but, suffice to say, I was in no way disappointed…

The intense jazz/metal/prog fusion of opening track Macroaggressions gives a pointer to what is to come, the intricate stick work between Goldberg and Tyler Kent instantly mesmerises you and Merhar’s obvious skill on the drums adds an off-kilter counter balance. It’s a deliciously dark piece of music that leads on the path to temptation. Whole Body Headbangadds mystery and intrigue in a chilling fashion, there is definitely a sombre, even sinister, feel to the music on these first two tracks and I like the intrigue it conveys.

The haunting, simple grace of Little Guy is a wistful contrast tot he previous tracks, just lose yourself in the near three minutes of ambient music and let it wash over you, leaving a carefree atmosphere. It segues perfectly into the laid back grooves of Get Your Insignificance, to my ears a track that defines why I like this trio so much. The Chapman Sticks deliver a real cool and collected sound and the staccato style of the drums a perfect accompaniment as the tempo increases.

“We kept what we thought worked on the first album all the while trying out new sounds, directions and ideas. The results feel much more organic to me, and the whole album feels as though it really stays with you. This is the best collection of music I’ve been a part of yet.” – Josh Goldberg.

The stylish sounds keep on coming with the urgency of Mourningstar the next funktastic track for your ears to enjoy. There’s an edgy, almost free-form jazz beat to the music and the baroque style to the stick play enthralls from beginning to end. That earlier dark and labyrinthine vibe returns on the gloriously moody W.W.F.D, near nine minutes of mystic, arcane and almost dystopian sounds that really get under your skin and leave you with a very uneasy feeling indeed.

The album closes with the space jazz/metal grooves of Back From Space Earth and the guys really jam out on this elegantly psychedelic tune that has your toes tapping and your head nodding to the rhythm. It’s tripping music for the jazz/prog generation and has a nostalgic smile in every note.

To my ears GEPH have taken everything that was good about the first album and given a coat of polish and added sophistication to deliver a collection of songs that intrigue and impress on every level. They’ve lost that raw, brash edge and matured into a very fine group of musicians who certainly know which direction they are headed in.

Released 6th July 2018.

Check out the band’s website for news on pre-orders coming soon – here

 

 

Review – Glass Hammer – Mostly Live In Italy – by Progradar

“While it’s standard practice for bands to edit live material before releasing it, we knew going in that the guitar tracks would need replacing. We viewed that as an opportunity to do something really unique with this album, namely, adding some new ideas to the mix while preserving the integrity and energy of the live show.” – Glass Hammer co-founder Steve Babb.

That explains the album title then, glad that’s out of the way! ‘Mostly Live In Italy’ represents Glass Hammer’s first-ever concert in Italy at the 2 Days + 1 Prog Festival in Veruno and they were determined to create an incredible memento from that experience that their fans would love.

It features nearly all of the band’s amazing ‘Valkyrie’ album, a wonderful treatise on the horror, fear and eventual hope of World War 1 along with nearly twenty minutes of classic Glass Hammer material.

The symphonic introduction raises the hairs on the back of your neck and then the instantly recognisable duo of Steve Babb’s bass and Fred Schendel’s keys take over as we move into the smooth sounds of The Fields We Know and the energetic tones of Golden Days where the guys also get to show their instrumental chops, Susie Bogdanowicz’s elegant vocals stamp their authority on proceedings immediately. From the first note you know that this is going to be a cultured live album, taking all that’s great about the studio releases and adding that edgy, immediate feel that you can only get from a live setting. There’s a nice flow to the music and you feel you are being drawn into the actual performance.

One of my favourite tracks from ‘Valkyrie’ is No Mans Land and this domineering, dread inducing song is giving a haunting treatment on the live stage, a powerful statement that lives with you long after it comes to a close. Nexus Girl, Fog of WarDead And Gone – they all hold you in rapt attention, Susie’s stage presence coming across in her regal vocal delivery and the musicians just excel in front of a live audience. This is a band at the height of their powers and sure of their place in the pantheon of prog rock bands, just listen to Eucatastrophe and you’ll see what I mean.

A welcome addition to the tracklist is the wonderful The Glass Hammer Melody – Chronos Deliverer/If The Sun which had me grinning from ear to ear and picking out the parts of classic GH songs from the years gone by, the close out is just magical, the keyboards and Aaron Raulston’s drums bringing the piece to a crescendo and the vocals delivering the classic lines,

“When the morning comes, when at last the sun shines clear, I will hear you singing…”

It’s utterly spine tingling and then we finish off with a high-energy, up-tempo version of Hyperbole from 2009’s ‘Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted’. Here the band really sound like they are most definitely ‘on it’ and it is a vibrant end to what has been an utterly involving near seventy five minutes of ‘mostly’ live music.

Once again, the seminal US progressive rock band Glass Hammer have delivered on their promise, ‘Mostly Live in Italy’ is progressive rock at its majestic best in an incredible live setting, what more could you possibly want?

Released 18th May 2018

Order the live album from Glass Hammer’s webstore here

 

Review – Fates Warning – Live Over Europe – by Jez Denton

The reason for listening to live albums, for me, is one of two. Either it is listening to an album to remind you of an amazing gig you’ve been at such as Queen’s ‘Live Magic’ or the Marillion bootleg series or it is to get a different level of enjoyment of a band you wish you’d seen at their pomp, ‘Slade on Stage’ and Thin Lizzy – ‘Live and Dangerous’ being great examples. But listening to a live album from a band you don’t really know? It’s kind of a weird experience.

Such a band, pretty much unknown to me (despite a 30 odd year career) is Fates Warning, who are releasing their ‘Live Over Europe’ double CD (3 LP) live album on the 29th June. I didn’t really know what to expect and I must admit, seeing that there are 23 tracks on this release, I viewed it with quite some trepidation. It’s quite an epic amount of music to get through, especially if it’s new to you. Would I get through it? Would it hold my attention? Would it make me care enough to want to like it?

Thankfully, it answered all my worries right from the opening track, the masterful From The Rooftops. This is a loud, dynamic, symphonic and brutal heavy metal assault on the senses, a barrage of melodic noise, crunching guitars and a piercing rock vocal from singer Ray Alder. This is music designed to be noise terrorism, a building crescendo of discordant melodies voiced by an angelic voice; OK, a Hell’s Angel but still, what a combination they make.

It is Alder’s voice that truly makes this album for me. Like many more famous rock frontmen with great ranges, Alder isn’t drowned by the melodic noise behind him, he soars and rises above it, taking the various crowds with him, reaching heights that you feel can’t be surpassed until Alder surpasses them himself. The crowds are part of this show, the adulation and commitment add to the whole package of this album which has been fabulously mixed (Jens Borgen) and mastered (Tony Lindgren). The songs chosen are brilliantly paced, have moments of both introspection and crescendo; from the first tracks I genuinely couldn’t wait to see where the next song would go. It certainly has made me want to look up the studio recordings of this band.

In my opening paragraph I mentioned that one of the reasons for listening to live albums was, in a sense, nostalgia for gig memories the listener may have experienced. This album, in a weird way, taps into that idea too. Listening to the album I drifted back to a time when I saw bands like Iron Maiden in smaller theatre settings, or when I saw bands like Nuclear Assault and Suicidal Tendencies in club venues. It took me back to a time when I used to work doors and stage duties at rock clubs in the North East of England as security. It reminded me, in those days before health and safety and the wearing of ear defenders, why my hearing is completely fucked! If you know Fates Warning this is a must buy release and, if you don’t I’d suggest investing in it as you won’t regret it all.

Released June 29th 2018

Order the album from Burning Shed here

Review – Tumbletown – Never Too Late – by Jez Denton

I like a rock opera. There, I said it. If I’m in the right mood there is nothing more uplifting than a hugely bombastic, sub-classical, up its own arse (in a good way), melodramatic musical. I find enjoyment in some of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s most over the top moments; I’d really love to see the revival of Chess (other than the fact it stars Alexandria Burke – but that’s another story.) And this love of musical theatre passes into some of the rock music I enjoy. From seeing Queen and Marillion strut their stuff in the 1980’s right up to recent live extravagant shows by the likes of Muse, bands who rock up to stadiums with music and shows that fill these open spaces will always flick my switch.

Sometimes bands will try to create albums that have the feel of something theatrical. Sometimes they get the balance right and don’t fall into the trap of just creating something a bit naff. And sometimes they don’t. Starting up the first track off the new album, ‘Never Too Late’, by Dutch prog rockers Tumbletown, I had a fear that I was going to be investing time in something on the wrong side of pretentious; it’s a pet hate of mine – opening album tracks called Prelude (or Intro or something equally unadventurous. Give it a proper name guys!) But my fears were soon allayed as we entered the following songs which, on the whole, are marvellously evocative, clever and brilliant tracks.

Ok, lyrically there are some clunky moments; but this I can forgive most bands writing words in a second language. Mind you, it is no worse than some of the worst lyrical excesses of ‘try too hard’ poetry that finds its way into a lot of English prog rock bands too (you all know who I mean here – no need to say much more.) It doesn’t get in the way of the overall enjoyment; cut some slack for lines like ‘looking into my notebook’ and ‘lost muses’ and no harm is done and, to be fair, the stories and tales do flow, the third track, Avalon, being a particular highlight for me.

On first listen to the album I found myself a bit disconcerted as I heard a famous voice in the mix; not literally, but there was a spirit of somebody which I couldn’t put my finger on. What the album did do on subsequent listens was that it opened up doors and avenues to explore, each time you can pick up a new intricacy here, a nuance there. It was one of these nuances that finally allowed the mystery to click as I got the touchstone I was looking for that, being for me, huge similarity to the great Ian Anderson (25 years or so ago, not now he’s lost his range.) That realisation is what made the album for me, this is a kind of Jethro Tull album for the 21st century and that really does fit. After all, Tull and Anderson were always at the forefront of progressive music as a theatrical experience; something Tumbletown’s ‘Never Too Late’ has taken, developed and updated for today’s music.

Released 24th May 2018

Order the album in the UK here

Order the album in Europe here:

TumbleTown – NEVER TOO LATE [CD]