Review – White Willow – Future Hopes – by Emma Roebuck

I shall be brutally honest: I had forgotten that White Willow was still running as a functioning band. Maybe The Hedvig Mollestad project has made me think that way? The lack of any profile in the last few years or output had put them well in the back of my musical memory. I was at HRH V Prog talking to old friends about the forthcoming album when it occurred to me how important profile is in the Biz we call ‘show.’ Therefore, essentially, I have come to this as if it’s a fresh band out of the box.

Sporting a cover courtesy of Roger Dean himself, this is a product that has set its sights on being a truly prog album in the classical sense but it is also a real challenge for the band themselves to achieve the aspiration worthy of such a historically artistic cover. Have they achieved it? We shall see by the end of the review.

White Willow are Venke Knutson (vocals), Jacob Holm-Lupo (guitars, synthesizers, keyboards, backing vocals), Mattias Olsson )drums, percussion, e-bow, sounds & noises), Lars Fredrik Frøislie (synthesizers, keyboards), Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (wind controller, flute) and Ellen Andrea Wang (bass guitar), Hedvig Mollestad (guitar), David Krakauer (clarinet), Ole Øvstedal (guitar) and Kjersti Løken (trumpet).

(Band photos by Dagfinn Hobæk)

By producing a seven track album (including the two bonus tracks) the band have not fallen into the trap of needing to fill a CD’s worth of material for the sake of it but, instead, have focused on the quality of the product rather than blitzing it with a ton of excessive material that could swamp the real calibre of the music.

Future Hopes, the eponymous title track, opens with booming bass pedals and a lilting melody with a melancholic vocal. The guitar and keyboards come in and the whole thing has an analog feel to it, but decidedly not old fashioned. The music has a crisp clean sound, nothing muddy or thick here. Complex harmonies and rhythms wind through the track, twisting between the possibly positive or negative world that we have to look forward to right now. It’s a fine opener and sets the bar high for the rest of the album

Silver and Gold is very folk-like in style with an acoustic introduction and almost a duet between guitar and voice that has a poetry all of its own. There’s also a very Moogy keyboard subtly coming into the background followed by a doom laden drum instrumental middle 8 then back to the guitar and voice. This has hidden depths and would make an outstanding live track for atmosphere and melancholy.

In Dim Days jumps straight up a gear and has a sonic landscape that is the total opposite of the previous track. You get distorted guitar and phasing through and through, it has a real symphonic feel to it reminiscent of Floyd in the Division Bell period. There is an open fullness to the track, if that makes sense at all? It has an epicness to it that allows a really effective exploration of the theme musically and lyrically without having to fill every second up with a million notes that swamp the listener. It’s definitely a high point of the album and this alone makes it a worthwhile purchase.

Venke Knutson is the new vocalist on this album and a stable back line from Opium Cartel . She provides a great vehicle for the lyrics and slots well into the line up. Now these guys have evolved over the last 21 years from a very folk base line to a band that has mature song writing and looks at adult themes. White Willow have placed their colours very firmly in the Traditional Prog territory but have retained a definitive identity of their own. I often do a sounds-a-like for reference in my reviews but not for the sake of “do they do a good … insert band name…” but mainly so you can have a point of reference as to whether this is going to be my cup of tea or not.

White Willow have a very firm identity of their own but sit very firmly in the atmospheric open grouping of bands that allow the music to breath and express itself. If Pink Floyd merged with Yes and Steve Wilson then recruited a female vocalist and then listened to Steeleye Span for a month before going into the studio, you may be close but it sounds nothing like any of the component parts.

There is an interesting version of Animal Magnetism By The Scorpions as one of the bonus tracks that shows a great sense of musical history and humour.  Fans of the band won’t be disappointed by this album and it will also attract new listeners. It does not bring down the walls of innovation but it does a sterling job of improving on White Willow’s reputation.

Gig with this album guys and gals. Your classmates Anekdoten and Anglagard seem to have been far more in the fore-front recently. This album has amended that and set a line your turn to deliver!

Released 31st March 2017

Buy ‘Future Hopes’ from Laser’s Edge (US)

Buy ‘Future Hopes’ from cd-services (UK)

 

New music from ‘a strAnger’: “One Day” – by Progradar

Swedish music act a strAnger is truly independent, DIY to the bone. Fairly eclectic, but fundamentally a rock and alt music act and have been described as :

“Beck gone Soundgarden lite hardrock with the cheerful bastards of Radiohead playing lounge music in the background”.
– RockUnited

For Swedish singer-songwriter act a strAnger, music has always been an eclectic undertaking. Starting out playing in bands ranging from thrash, to heavy rock to grunge and punk-rock, while at the same time honing his acoustic skills on his own and appreciating a wide range of other musical styles; a strAnger does not worry much about genres.

In a change from the norm he has release his latest album ‘Insatiable’ on a track by track basis through 2016 and 2017 and on April 4th released the seventh track One Day. Lyrically it is a social commentary; staging the big brother – little brother relationship in a socially and criminally challenged environment.

The last couple of years have been a lot about finding a path for music in Sweden and the West, coming back from the dynamics of China. And finding a path in the changing landscape of music. Which in turn impacts the way to release music, as well as finding a balance between where and when. a strAnger is delighted to finally be sharing the fruit the last couple of years’ hard work with his new
collection of songs ‘Insatiable’.

You can buy the first seven tracks (including One Day) from bandcamp here

 

ANATHEMA PREMIERE FIRST TRACK FROM THE OPTIMIST -“SPRINGFIELD” Plus Album And Tour Details.

Anathema are premiering the first track from their forthcoming new studio album The Optimist entitled “Springfield”.

Daniel Cavanagh explains the song choice “Here we present the song ‘Springfield’, it’s actually the song that closed our unforgettable Wembley gig with Opeth and it seemed to be a track that just fell into place without much effort. It seemed to do itself. The song forms part of a narrative that runs through The Optimist album, it’s a narrative that begins where A Fine Day To Exit left off. The album is a journey. The songs are ambiguous. There is no right or wrong way to take them. Make of them what you will.”

LISTEN TO “SPRINGFIELD” HERE: http://www.anathema.ws/

Anathema’s eleventh full-length The Optimist is due for release on 9th June through Kscope, where the ambient rockers will reveal some of the darkest, most challenging and unexpected music the sextet have put their name to.

Anathema, led by brothers Daniel and Vincent Cavanagh, along with drummer John Douglas, singer Lee Douglas, bassist Jamie Cavanagh and drummer/keyboardist Daniel Cardoso began recording The Optimist in the winter of 2016 at Attica Audio in Donegal, Ireland and then finished at Castle Of Doom studios in Glasgow with producer Tony Doogan [Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian, Super Furry Animals] at the helm and was mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studios.

The Optimist will be released on the following formats and all are available to pre-ordered now here: http://found.ee/The_Optimist

Deluxe 12” hardbook featuring:

  • 40 page artwork book, with artwork from Travis Smith.
  • CD The Optimist  11 original album tracks 
  • CD featuring 6 bonus tracks – 3 demo versions and 3 live demo recordings from their November 2016 dates
  • DVD-V The Optimist  11 original album tracks 24/96 LPCM Stereo & 24/96 DTS 5.1 surround mix
  • Blu-Ray disc The Optimist  11 original album tracks 24/96 LPCM Stereo, 24/96 LPCM 5.1 lossless surround mix & 24/96 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround mix

2 Disc CD & DVD Mediabook

24 page booklet

  • CD The Optimist  11 original album tracks 
  • DVD-V The Optimist  11 original album tracks 24/96 LPCM Stereo & 24/96 DTS 5.1 surround mix

Blu-Ray featuring

·       The Optimist  11 original album tracks 24/96 LPCM Stereo, 24/96 LPCM 5.1 lossless surround mix & 24/96 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround mix

CD featuring:

·       The Optimist 11 original album tracks

Double gatefold 180g heavy weight LP featuring:

·       The Optimist  11 original album tracks (with MP3 download code) 

·       Limited Edition red vinyl LP version (with MP3 download code) available exclusively through the band’s webstore

Digital download featuring:

·       The Optimist 11 original album tracks with pre-orders receiving an instant download of “Springfield” 

Anathema are set to tour worldwide to celebrate the release of The Optimist and have now confirmed their headline shows in Europe.

They’ll be accompanied by French blackgaze pioneers Alcestwww.facebook.com/alcest.official ). Looking forward to the tour Daniel Cavanagh says “It’s really good to be touring with Alcest again, continuing our relationship that began in America in 2013. They are superb melodists and have a beautiful and unique voice.”

Tickets on sale from Monday 3rd April from 10am local time – see www.facebook.com/anathemamusic for details plus all other confirmed shows and festivals 

 More dates to be announced soon

facebook.com/anathemamusic  instagram.com/anathemamusic.com  www.anathema.ws   instagram.com/anathemamusic

Band Image Credit Scarlet Page

Review – Retrospective – RE:SEARCH – by Progradar

“Nobody who loved life and new experiences that much was ever going to get old, not really. Wiser and eventually dead, but not old…” – C.E.Murphy.

Don’t you find that sometimes you seem to stick to what you know, you are loath to try anything new or different because you may not like it or it may take you out of your comfort zone?

The problem with this way of life is that you can grow old and eventually die without having tried something that may well have enriched your life and changed it very much for the better. How can we truly say whether we like something or not unless we actually try it?

This can be applied to music just as much as anything else and even us music journalists can be guilty of this. We only listen to music we are comfortable with and will not go out of our comfort zone for anything. By doing this we then lose the right to criticise or critique music which we have only a passing interest in. We must embrace it, or at least try it, before we have the right to an opinion.

I have spent so much time recently listening to the pastoral and traditional progressive rock that I have neglected other music to a degree. I have redressed this recently with my delving in depth into Scottish folk and Americana and it was due to a good friend of mine, Aloys Martens, that my old love of a more metal approach to Progressive Rock has been rekindled.

Aloys introduced me to the Polish band Retrospective and their label Progressive Promotion Records, led by the uber-enthusiastic Oliver Wenzler, and a copy of the band’s new album ‘RE:SEARCH’ was soon winging its way to Progradar Towers for review.

Retrospective represents a young generation of Polish ProgressiveRock bands. Their music is inspired by different artists covering a broad spectrum of musical genres (Porcupine TreeTool, King Crimson). The band is not restricted to a particular music style either. They search for different kinds of rock, ranging from Art to Hard. Lush musical atmospheres, full of emotions, are complemented by thunderous riffs, to enthrall the listener and create asound that makes them stand out among their contemporaries.

They have released one previous album, ‘Lost In Perception’
which won the award as “Best Polish Progressive Album 2012”.

The band are: Jakub Roszak (Vocals), Beata Tagoda (Keys, Vocals), Maciej Klimek (Guitars), Tukasz Marszatek (Bass), Robert Kusik (Drums) and Alan Szczepaniak (Guitars).

I still get that same buzz every time I start playing this album (it must be 25 or 30 times now) and Rest Another Time once again opens with that thundering riff and dynamic drumming. The vocals are powerful but laced with pathos and the sound is as addictive as anything. Funky bass lines add some swagger but it’s that energetic guitar work allied with Jakub’s vocals that give this song efficacy and intensity. A really great central section to the song that just racks up the tension brings in mind Creed to my delicate ears, it’s a positive rock-fest of thunderous proportions and gets the album off to a very auspicious start. A great piano line opens Right Way with an almost hushed feel, matched by the stylish vocals that increase the anticipation. Beata adds her feminine wiles to the track and the tension just increases with a great keyboard heavy melody that gives the impression of flight and then Beata’s vocal opens up like a great bird opening its wings to be set free from its mortal coils, the vocal interplay is brilliant and gives an overwhelming symphonic prog overtone to proceedings. A passionate song that really tugs at the heartstrings and the musicianship is superb, these guys are at the top of their game here and there is a classy and stylish feel to every note that is played.

Crashing the scene like Lemmy on a Harley Davidson, bottle of JD in hand, The End Of Their World is a riff-heavy masterpiece of progressive metal. A sultry verse with husky vocals, underpinned by some delicate drumming, keys and bass, builds up to the huge, granite hard chorus dominated by the grooviest riff you’ll hear this year. Sit back and enjoy the ride and sing along to that addictive chorus, I know I did! There’s more serious mid section with mysterious overtones and wildly cackling voice overs that make you wonder if illegal substances may have been involved but, overall, it is a hugely enjoyable slice of heavy rock infused prog-metal. A nicely strummed guitar opens Rollercoaster before the plaintive vocals begin, Beata imparting poignancy and feeling and Jakub adding some urgency and steel to provide a perfect combination. You get a feeling of floating on air as this track seems to dance along your aural receptors but wait, the pace is lifted and the energy increases, mirrored by the insistence of Jakub’s voice. The softer edge has been replaced with some stylish metal and a cool melody runs right through the middle giving import and imperativeness to that harder feeling that now pervades all. A cleverly worked song of two halves that fit together well.

Time for a breather and the more laid back side of Retrospective. There’s a delicate aura to the opening of Heaven is Here, a chilled laid back nostalgic feel that gives lightness to your being. The vocals are smoother than silk and full of emotion and love and you find yourself losing yourself in the wistful atmosphere. The classy drumming and piquant guitar add dignity and style and layers of sophistication. I can feel a growing maturity in this band, a confidence to deliver what they want and what they know you will like and it is most evident in the swagger of the powerful chorus with the vocal harmonies that soar into the heavens, aided and abetted by the superb guitar playing. There’s a philosophical tone to the opening of Look in the Mirror, contemplative and thoughtful and this is reflected in the gravitas of Jakub’s opening vocal with his meaningful intonations. Beata joins him on the chorus sections to add even more class and sophistication to this intelligent track. I really like the purposeful beat and melody kept by the rhythm section and the resolute guitar work, it’s a single-minded and cultured song.

Compelling and energetic, Last Breath opens with an authoritarian riff that drives the song on at a demanding pace, influences abound all over and get drawn into a huge melting pot before firing out with what is becoming a signature sound for this impressive band. There’s almost a feeling of organised chaos to the song, anarchy barely held back but there is a primeval intelligence that is coordinating everything. Standby has a much more relaxed atmosphere to it, almost pop-rock but in a much more dynamic way. The vocals from Jakub and Beata are composed and easy going giving the song a laid-back and serene nature. There’s definitely a touch of Porcupine Tree and even The Pineapple Thief to this track as it goes a bit darker at the end with a fantastic riff and fiery solo adding real menace to it.

The longest and heaviest song on the album is also the final track and boy does it blow you away! The Wisest Man on Earth starts to crank up the tension with eerie keyboards and bass adding an ominous feel, very Tool like. Bass is really king at the start and Tukasz gives it his all, making the tension almost unbearable. Jakub’s demonic vocal just adds even more shade and darkness before a monstrous riff erupts from the bowels off the earth and nearly takes your head clean off. This is proper heavy rock with a touch of doom metal thrown in just because they can and I really like it. Never mind blowing the cobwebs away, this riff will eviscerate the spiders! Jakub shows the incredible versatility to his voice and I get the impression he really enjoys giving it large on this song. There’s a quieter section, Jaukb’s vocals still low down and brooding, before a superbly dark and delicious guitar solo fires from the dark pits of Hades and the song closes out in a sinister and portentous way, brilliant stuff!

Retrospective produce music that is aggressive and forceful and yet knowledgeable and perceptive in places, this is progressive rock at its heaviest and most intense. There is something for everybody and it is a release that will restore your faith in Progressive Metal. ‘RE:SEARCH’ is chock full of compelling and intelligent music that makes you feel alive again and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Released 10th February 2017

Buy ‘RE:SEARCH’ from Progressive Promotion Records

Featured image by Arek Kulasik Larido.

 

 

 

 

 

Danish tech-metallers GHOST IRIS release new single and video ‘Save Yourself’

Called ‘Denmark‘s next big thing’  by Metal HammerGHOST IRIS have released new single and video  ‘Save Yourself’ from their upcoming album ‘Blind World’.

Vocalist Jesper Vicencio Gün said “Save Yourself is the next level of Ghost Iris. We wanted to create almost a pop song but with metal instrumentals, which I think we achieved. The video is our bid for a “Euphoric State” pt. 2. We upgraded from the bicycle to a limo. We’re funny like that.”

Blind World will be released worldwide on 17 February via Long Branch Records. The album contains 10 brand new tracks from Denmark’s most streamed metal act in 2016, including the singles ‘Pinnacle’ and ‘Save Yourself’.

UK tour dates to be announced soon.

 

Interview With Tim Bowness by Progradar

After my review of Tim Bowness’ excellent latest release i got together with the man himself to ask him some probing, journalistic type questions…

1.    Your new album ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ is due to be released 17th February, how would you say this differs from your three previous solo releases?

I think the main difference is that I was working towards fully realising the story, rather than making a Tim Bowness (or No-Man) album.

‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ emerged out of demos I’d written and compiled for a follow-up to ‘Schoolyard Ghosts’.  Steven (Wilson) was too busy to commit to a No-Man album so he offered to mix what I came up with. I was forced to make a solo album (or my idea of what a No-Man album could sound like). The reaction to the album was very positive, so I embarked upon making an album that came out of ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’, but accentuated the extremes and what it was I thought was ‘Tim Bowness’. I see ADD and Stupid Things as strongly linked, whereas my debut solo album (‘My Hotel Year’ from 2004) always felt like a patchwork compromise as it comprised offcuts from several separate projects I was working on.

‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ is as much a themed and coherent album as ADD and Stupid Things are, but it sprung entirely from the concept and the music was written to enhance the lyrical themes. In some ways, it’s my version of a Moonshot album!

Because the album deals with someone who made classic ‘Progressive’ music, it gave me an excuse to take the bits of that music that I still love and integrate them into my own music.

2.    The album was mixed and mastered by Steven Wilson, how involved were you in the process and who makes the final call on when the album is considered finished?

I make the final call. Basically, I give Steven the material and some instructions and he weaves his audio magic. All creative decisions regarding arrangements and how the album should sound and flow are mine though. Steven’s great to work with in that he’s very quick, very good and knows what I like / want.

3.    We have both agreed that there is a definitive ‘Tim Bowness’ sound, would you say this has been there from the start or developed over the  years and the different releases?

I think that my ‘signature’ vocal approach and sound has been there since the early days of No-Man. It’s a blessing and a curse in that it’s an instant identifier, but one that’s strong in a way that people either love or hate.

I would say that vocally and lyrically I’ve subtly developed over the years, while the contexts I sing over have often frequently changed.

4.    Where did the ideas for the album come from and how do you go about writing the songs?

As I say in the Album Notes for the album, I’ve always been fascinated by the iron grip holds over fans and musicians alike, and how supposedly adolescent obsession can become a lifetime’s prison sentence for some of us.

It‘s a requiem for a type of music, a type of musician and a particular form of music production (the album).

I was interested to know how the fact that people don’t financially or culturally value music as much as they did in earlier eras impacts on musicians who grew out of the 1960s revolution (where music was vitally important on so many levels and in so many sectors of society). Also, I’m interested to know how playing to an older audience just wanting ‘the hits’ affects a musician who once believed they could change the world with their music. Of course, some of my own fears are wrapped up in the story.

5.    Do you have a personal favourite track on the album (mine is ‘Worlds of Yesterday’) or is that like asking a parent which of their children is the favourite?

In this case, it’s more difficult than most, because I think it works as a whole album as much as anything else. I suppose my favourites would be Worlds Of Yesterday because of the solos by Bruce Soord and Kit Watkins, and You Wanted To Be Seen because of its unpredictable shift. I also really like Bruce’s solo at the end of You’ll Be The Silence and Ian Anderson’s stunning contribution to Distant Summers.

6.    When you finish an album is it consigned to the past as you move on to the next project or are they more than just musical compositions to you?

They are more in that I’m completely obsessive and immersed in my albums when making them and some of those albums remain very close to me. That said, I do tend to immerse myself in a project, and once it’s out listen to the official release all the way through on headphones and then move on to the next obsession/album.

7.    Do you prefer the process of making a solo album to collaborations like No-Man?

I enjoy both. I really like seeing where I can take my music as a solo artist, but I also like the collaborative aspects of No-Man, Memories Of MachinesBowness/Chilvers and other projects. Alternating between both works because it means there’s a sense of constant movement, rather being stuck in the same groove.

8.    How did you come to sign with InsideOut for your solo releases?

I was really lucky that a few labels liked the album and wanted to release it. I went with Inside Out because the core people at the company were so enthusiastic. Kscope were very positive about the album, but admitted they wouldn’t do much with it in terms of promotion and that they’d just market it as a No-Man offshoot. By comparison, Inside Out (who have a slightly different audience from Kscope) said they’d put it out, do their best and see what happens. In other words, it was less predetermined. They’re really easy to work with as well as being proactive, so I don’t regret the decision.

9.    Your career started in the 1990’s, did you always want to be a musician, how did you get started and who were your early influences?

I was obsessed with music from my early teens onward. Along with books and films, it was a great escape from a pretty miserable adolescence.

I started singing at 18 with a band of friends and by 19 I’d moved on to a band of older musicians in Manchester and was making music of a more ambitious nature.

One of the most influential albums for me when I stated out was Peter Hammill’s Over. It gave me the belief that an audience could get something out of the music I wanted to make. For a couple of years, the Peter Hammill influence was strong, particularly on my singing style.

Outside of that I loved Kate Bush, Gabriel/Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, David Bowie, The Beatles, Roy Harper,10cc, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Gentle Giant, Yes, Al Stewart and some of the more fashionable bands of my youth such as Associates and Joy Division.

10. What’s different about being an artist now compared to then? Is it harder to get started in the music business nowadays?

Much, much harder (and it was never easy). When I started I could walk up to major DJs (Mark Radcliffe being one) and get my demos played on the likes of Piccadilly Radio. It did take a few years to get a decent deal and a foothold in the industry though.

11. What one piece of advice would you give to up and coming musicians?

Truthfully, I wouldn’t know where to begin as the industry has changed so much over the last two decades.

12. Which other musicians do you listen to now?

Too many to mention. I’m still an avid music listener and purchaser, so over the last few months even, I’d have listened to music old and new from George Gershwin to Arvo Part, Michael Chapman to Leonard Cohen, Opeth to Big Big Train, Elbow to Mark Eitzel, The Strawbs to Labi Siffre and so on.

13. The advent of the internet, streaming downloads etc. Do you think this is a good or a bad thing and why?

It’s both. I still buy physical items and love the intricacy and possibilities of album artwork, but I also use streams to discover music that I may want to buy.

I don’t feel streams encourage detailed listening or an engagement with music / ’the album’ as an art form. On a personal level, the move towards streams (and ‘single’ streams at that) pushes me even more towards making detailed artwork and sonically rich ‘album experiences’.

14. Your specialist online label/store Burning Shed that you run with Pete Morgan is considered a success story, how did you come to set it up?

It developed out of two things, No-Man’s Mail Order company (we sold exclusive releases to a mailing list and it operated from Steven’s and then my house), and an idea I had for a label (to make cost-effective, idealistic side project albums). It evolved into hosting No-Man’s and Porcupine Tree’s online stores and grew via word of mouth from there.

15. Is there one artist you would love to have on your label?

Lots! Elbow, Sigur Ros, Brian Eno, Lindsey Buckingham, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Mark Eitzel, Arvo Part, Camel and dozens of others.

16. Will there be a tour to support the new album?

So far, I have a support slot to Marillion at the UK Marillion Weekend, but nothing else planned . As it worked so well in 2016, I might do some more co-headlines with iamthemorning. Outside of that, it would be great to do a full theatrical production of ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ if there was interest in it.

17. Which do you prefer, making records or playing those records live?

I enjoy both experiences, but probably prefer the control of the studio environment and the thrill of coming up with something unexpected that inspires me.

18. Finally, what lies ahead for Tim Bowness?

There’s going to be a second Bowness/Chilvers album, which is a continuation of ‘California, Norfolk’ (from 2002) and quite different from ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’. There’ll also be an album with pre-No-Man band Plenty; an arty Electro Pop confection!

I’ve also written material with Kit Watkins and would very much like to follow on from ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ on a solo level and see if I can take some of the sounds and ideas on the album further.

You can order ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ here

 

Progradar’s Best of The Year For 2016 – Editor’s Choice

So we have had a wonderful selection of Top 10 picks from some of my great collaborators and now it is my turn. I’m going to stray from the norm because mine is going to be a Top 20 to keep it in line with my TEP selection that I spoke with David Elliott about.

Yes, it is a bit of a cheat but it is my website so I don’t have to follow the rules. Anyway,without any further ado, here are my top albums of 2016,not in any particular order but they have all made a big impact on my life this year…

You will also notice that there are no Bad Elephant Music releases in my Top 20. The label I work with had another superb year but it would have been a bit unfair of me to include any releases from the artists on BEM.

Bad Dreams – Déjà vu

‘Déjà vu’ is an album that will stand the test of time and is a great achievement for Bad Dreams. I was impressed from the first note by the accomplished musicianship and the superb vocals, add in the exemplary songwriting and it was sure to be a winner in my book. What makes it stand out even more is the way the music becomes almost part of you and can make you stop what you are doing and just listen for the sake of it and that, my friends, is what truly great music can do to you.

Blue Mammoth – Stories Of A King

Proper seventies epic prog of massive proportions from these excellent Brazilians. The artwork alone is very striking but the music will literally knock your socks off, play it loud,VERY loud!

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.

Tony Patterson – Equations of Meaning

Well I was utterly mesmerised by ‘Northlands’, Tony’s collaboration with Brendan Eyre and this album deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. To get the utmost from the album you must listen to it from start to finish, preferably with headphones on, in  a darkened room and with your choice of relaxing alcohol. To me, ‘Equations of Meaning’ is not merely a great release, it is a state of mind that we should all aspire to when our Life in the Fast Lane gets too much for us. Superb and highly recommended.

Big Big Train – Folklore

It was always going to be hard to follow ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums but the acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling have returned with a fresh collection of stories and tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life…

Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting

Funny how music fits in with your life isn’t it? I was listening to this album walking back home last night and it just struck me as to how much it was a soundtrack to how my life has turned out this year. Painful lows, beautiful highs and, ultimately, balance has been restored.Taking a break form his Prog-Metal roots, Damian delivers a solo release of sublime brilliance.

David Foster – Dreamless

The usually modest and self-effacing Dave Foster has stepped out of the shadows and onto centre stage to deliver his second solo opus and is to be applauded and admired for doing so. Such a variety of moods, styles and colours doesn’t always mix well but when it is done with consummate skill, like it is here, you are treated to a cornucopia of musical delights. While neither ground breaking or game changing, what it is is really rather good.

Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

Gandalf’s Fist truly believe that this is the finest musical work that they have ever created. There’s a mix of all of their influences and, were you to put all of the best bits of our discography into a huge melting pot, you’d end up with something quite close (but not as awesome) as what the guys have created! But don’t just take their word for it – head over to the pre-order store and have a listen to a whopping 10 minutes of audio previews!

Ghost Community – Cycle Of Life

‘Cycle of Life’ is a thought-provoking, beguiling and fulfilling musical journey that excites and satisfies at every turn. Ghost Community may have had to endure trials and tribulations while making this record but the experiences have enabled them to deliver something quite magical and rewarding that will stand the test of time, worthy of a place in anyone’s musical collection.

Glass Hammer – Valkyrie

With its insightful, thoughtful lyrics every bit as important as the mightily impressive music, ‘Valkrie’ is a concept album in the true sense of the word. With some delightful departures from what some would call their signature sound (The Beatles anyone?) Glass Hammer continue to evolve into one of the world’s foremost Progressive Rock bands. This iconic group of musicians lead you on a journey through the horrors of war with a totally immersive sixty-five minutes of music and you will come out the other side changed forever. I can’t recommend this album enough, one of the best albums of 2016? One of the best albums of recent years more like…

iamthemorning – Lighthouse

‘Lighthouse’ is an amazing musical journey from the first note to the last. It is bewitching and beguiling and removes you from your everyday life to a place of wonder. Darkly captivating, it is not all sweetness and light but is a musical legacy that iamthemorning can build on and the ‘Lighthouse’ can light the way. These two exceptional artists have now moved into the major leagues and it is well deserved, album of the year? why not!

Nerve Toy Trio – Accidental Bar-B-Que

A really impressive and ultimately satisfying release that really gets into your psyche and has you reaching for the repeat play button again and again. Nerve Toy Trio has given us one of the best instrumental releases of the year with ‘Accidental Bar-B-Que’ and one with which the music really does stand comparison to the excellent album art. Seems my gut feeling was right once again, a highly recommended release.

I Like Trains – A Divorce Before Marriage

A real late comer to the party, in fact I haven’t reviewed it fully yet! This sublime and haunting collection of instrumental marvelousness from these Yorkshire musicians is a soundtrack to the film of the same name. Ethereal and yet solidly powerful, I haven’t heard anything like it all year and it demanded to be in this selection of top releases.

Patchwork Cacophony – Five Of Cups

There is intelligence and a wry humour than runs throughout this remarkable album. Ben Bell has an immense talent and really knows how to put it to good use. Intelligently crafted songs that make you want to listen to them show him to be a great songwriter and what he delivers proves what a notable musician he is as well. In the world of progressive rock a new star is set to rise.

Blue Rose Code – …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing

Blue Rose Code is Edinburgh-born songwriter Ross Wilson. At the edge of contemporary alt-folk, Wilson’s music evokes a meeting of Van Morrison and a young John Martyn, both shipwrecked with a bunch of Motown records. A deep emotive well of stunning music that affects you at a core level, another late discovery of 2016 for me but a band I will be keeping my eye on now!

Of the new record, Wilson says, “It’s an album for music fans and musicians. A challenging record, I think, and it’s  abundantly clear that the process has been undertaken away from the cynicism of any record company.”

Ray Wilson – Makes Me Think Of Home

Ray Wilson has taken us on a deeply personal musical journey full of hope, despair, pain and, ultimately, salvation and I was hooked on every word, every note. This is music at its very best, written from the heart and full of the passion and soul of the artist. This is an album that I will return to again and again, no matter how much new music crosses my path and is surely a collection of songs that can, and will, stand the test of time.

Thence – We Are Left With A Song

What Thence have delivered with ‘We Are Left With A Song’ is no mere album, it is a breathtaking, creative powerhouse of sonic delight that grows to fill any space that it occupies to take on a life of its own. It is a life that you will want to share until your dying breath, above mere superlatives, it is an utter triumph.

Tilt – Hinterland

What TILT have delivered is a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done!

Marc Atkinson – Home Grown

To me, this is what makes writing about music worth every single minute I take. I have been involved in this long musical journey in some small way from start to finish and when you hear the finished article, it is almost like welcoming a newborn into the world. Marc Atkinson will have agonised about every single word and note on this album and to my ears it has been worth every single second he has taken. This is music that takes over your mind and soul and which you can relate to on a very personal level. Fifteen songs that are extremely personal to this gracious man and we should be glad that he has released them for us to enjoy. A great album and one that I have no doubt is the complete pinnacle of Marc’s solo career to date, I am extremely proud to be able call him a friend.

Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

Drifting Sun have delivered quite a work of art, one that touches on the past for influences but, also, has its own, confident vision of the future. Consume it in one listen to get the full effect of this great album, it is one that will live in the memory for a long time.

So, there you have it. 2016 was another brilliant year for music and I hope our End Of Year choices might make you go out and buy the music to support the artists involved. Please join me and my fellow authors at Progradar in 2017 for what I hope will be another stellar year for lovers of music.

 

Iconic Eye – New Line-Up Announcement

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Iconic Eye unveiled their new line up to the public at noon on Saturday, November 19th, 2016, via Facebook.

The band has replaced Tim Dawkes with Jane Gillard. The band wanted a singer who has a passion for their live performance. As the new front woman of the band, Jane will be leading all Iconic Eye interviews, which can be requested at http://www.iconiceyemusic.com/contact/

The band has also replaced Neil Fraser with Robin Mitchard. At only 22 years of age Robin brings bounce and youth to the band, together with a playing ability that belies his age. Both Jane and Robin will both be involved in song writing for the 2nd album, together with all existing members.

The band will have re-recorded “All she needed” and “Let it rain down” with the two new members and videos for both tracks can be seen below.

 

Beatrix Players Release Video of Debut Single ‘Lady Of The Lake’

Beatrix Players have released a video of their debut single Lady Of The Lake, released on November 25th and taken from their debut album ‘Magnified’, which is scheduled for release in 2017.

Lady of The Lake is the stunning first single to be taken from Beatrix Players debut album, with the single launch being held at the Green Note in Camden on Tuesday 22nd November. This first release tells a story of disconnect, difference of opinion and the demise of a relationship.

“In the video we used a mystical figure to portray how the male perceives the female in the relationship,” explains lead vocalist Amy Birks. “She is seen as seductive and somewhat dismissive in character, although the lyrics are written sympathetically towards her”. The powerful chorus tells of torment “although the man knows it’s over, he is still drawn to her qualities” explains pianist and co-writer Jess Kennedy. The listener is taken on a journey through the powerful & emotive expression of the music, whilst the delicate, almost hypnotic vocal counter melodies add to the unearthly and ethereal sound of the track.

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Through their enchantingly dark and evocative melodies, expansive
arrangements and empowered orchestral sound BEATRIX PLAYERS tell stories of real life and fantasy. Citing influences as diverse as Michael Nyman and Regina Spektor and drawing comparisons to the likes of Kate Bush and Einaudi Ludovico; this London-based, all female trio combine elements of Folk, Jazz, Progressive and Classical music. In 2015 the band (Amy Birks, Jess Kennedy and Amanda Alvarez) took their unique sound – a beautiful combination of vocals, piano and cello – into the studio to record their self-produced debut album, which has been mixed by two-time BBC Folk Award winner, Jim Moray.

www.beatrixplayers.co.uk

Review – Gabriel – Sacrifice – by Progradar

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I love revisiting an artist when they are releasing a new album. It is always great to see how they have progressed and if their sound has changed. I reviewed ‘Unforgiven’ by Gabriel last year and this was my conclusion:

“A classy blend of hard rock, metal and symphonic rock with its own core identity, Gabriel a massive sound for just two people. Pigeon-hole them if you dare, there is more going on with this musical collaboration than you could fit into any one box. Sally Elsey’s vocals are worth the entry fee alone but, with the excellent musical talent of Albert Vinasco at her side, you have something a little bit different and special.”

Gabriel is a collaboration between singer/songwriter Sally Elsey from London and guitarist and recording engineer Albert Vinasco from Buenos Aires. Together, Sally and Albert combine their highly melodic approaches to create music that is both sweet and powerful. Sally primarily composes her music around piano-based progressions and lyrics. The result is a soft, warm and melodic sound that is full of dimension and emotion.

Albert Vinasco: lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar, synthesizers, samplers, drums and drum programming, arrangements, engineering and final production. Albert is a guitarist and recording engineer whose compositions are inspired by the portrayal of emotional content through modern rock and metal guitar, Vinasco has composed a wide variety of music ranging from intense metal to soft classical.

Together, Sally and Albert combine their highly melodic approaches to create music that is both sweet and powerful. The result is Gabriel. All music is written, recorded and produced by Gabriel (Sally Elsey and Albert Vinasco).

I was approached by Sally earlier this year to give my impressions on their new release ‘Sacrifice’.

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The new album sees this talented duo mature and offer a hell of a lot more than what a stereotypical so-called ‘female fronted metal band’ would. You wouldn’t think this so much from the first two or three tracks. Running has the powerful riffing and energetic percussion that typified the previous album. Add in Sally’s distinctive vocals and you have what I would have previously called the definitive Gabriel sound, powerful but with a silken core, Albert’s guitar flwoing freely and giving the music its direction. Falling Down has the symphonic vocal opening again heard often on the last release. There is a dynamism beginning to make an appearance though, something less in evidence on ‘Unforgiven’. Sally’s voice has that gossamer feel that comes from an almost operatic delivery and then the music powers in and gives an edgy aura, almost Karnataka-esque. Both these songs are great tracks and carry on the Gabriel legacy, a sound that invites you in on the promise of more to come. There’s almost something spooky about the intro to Holy water, Fire and Ice before it bursts out in the a pastiche of overblown 70’s blues rock, a very enjoyable pastiche though. The riffing is hard-edge and tight and the drums have all the energy of a runaway locomotive. Sally’s vocals take on a more aggressive and energetic style and the whole track really rocks. A funky, blues tinged hard rocking solo keeps things flying along in a perfectly enjoyable manner and all seems to be in order.

Things take an interesting turn with the wistful opening to Rebecca, a song with an almost Celtic feel to it. The delicate piano note matches Sally’s ethereal vocals perfectly before this track opens up and blossoms into something more solid and visceral. Things ebb and flow with seeming intelligence all of their own, a keyboard that could have come straight from the 70’s adds a wicked aura and the flamenco style guitar picking gives another layer of sophistication. To me, this is where these two impressive musicians take things to another level and really improve their sound adding additional maturity. This carries on with the intensity of Broken, an intelligent song that really raises the heart rate with its heightened intro. Slow and brooding with a dark heart, I really liked the way it seems to creep into your psyche and take over. There’s something I can’t quite grasp going on, something clandestine that is enhanced by the short and calculating guitar solo. A song that really moves the game on for Gabriel. That feeling of unease, of being observed from afar carries on into The Watcher, another deliciously sombre and shadowy song that demands your attention. There are subtle nuances and ruminations at play hear, an heightened intellect that is always just out of reach. The music just seems to roll over you and subjugate you with its dark intentions. The music has moved up several notches in my opinion.

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I love the wistful beauty at the heart of Suddenly, a track that grabs at your heartstrings with its melancholy feeling. Sally’s voice has real touch of sadness and sorrow to it in places, it matches the sparse elegance of the music perfectly. The chorus lifts the gloom and sees shafts of sunlight appear fleetingly. This is a song that really plays on your emotions, the lows of the pensive verse in complete contrast to the highs of the appealing chorus. Now to perhaps my favourite track on the album, The Reveal opens in that symphonic style, a winsome and nostalgic feeling pervades everything, gentle piano and soulful vocals blending perfectly to engender a feelgood atmosphere and sanctuary before the guitar kicks in with a smooth riff that just takes me back to some of the great rocks riffs of the 80’s, think Clannad meets Whitesnake (pre-1987)and you won’t be far wrong. A real melting pot of influences and sounds that Gabriel blend together perfectly and a song that shows they have moved their game on considerably. Beyond The Highlands is another track showcasing the new direction that the band seem to be going in, not sticking to any one stricture but successfully opening up their palette of sounds to a number of new influences. It builds up wonderfully to give us something akin to a Mike Oldfield vocal track but with more density and substance. The light and airy guitars are a delight and Sally gives one of her best performances on the album, subduing the symphonic/operatic style for a more rock and folk friendly delivery. It is at this point that I actually went back to listen to ‘Unforgiven’ and it showed me how far that Gabriel had come, the increased sophistication and variety that their music has now.

True Believer is a proper ‘rock’ track in the true sense of the word, powerful and insistent riffing matched by the tireless percussion and the spirited vocals. A proper foot-tapping or even head-banging song that drives on relentlessly, you know exactly what is coming next and Albert doesn’t disappoint with his stellar guitar solo. A really enjoyable ‘balls-out’ rocker that put a big grin on my face. An aggressive riff opens title track Sacrifice and we have an intriguing song in front of us. A bit of low down mystery is added by the subdued music and vocals that follow but that in your face riff returns on the chorus with added attitude and belligerence. I can’t help but be put in mind of that great American band Heart and their break through hit ‘Barracuda‘ with the raw hostility at the core of this song, especially the coruscating and edgy solo, vintage stuff indeed! Benedictus closes out the album in a Latin choral style with the haunting chanting delivered perfectly by Sally at the start of the song delivering a sublimely ethereal and ghostly aura before Albert lets fly with a blistering guitar solo that smoulders with a searing energy. The beautiful vocals return and the guitar plays a vistuoso lament over the top before the song and the album come to a close with the graceful piano and Sally’s tender vocals.

‘Sacrifice’ is an excellent album and one that sees Sally and Albert seriously move their game on from the great ‘Unforgiven’. This release sees Gabriel mature into an exciting band that still hold onto their core values but one that is now happy to explore different musical avenues and incorporate them very successfully into their future direction.

Released July 8th 2016

Buy ‘Sacrifice’ from bandcamp