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

 

HAKEN – announce first ever live album – ‘L-1VE’ and work on next studio album

HAKEN are extremely pleased to announce the release of their first ever live album, titled ‘L-1VE’ and scheduled for release on June 22nd, 2018. Following the release of the bands much-acclaimed fourth studio album ‘Affinity’, they embarked upon their 10th anniversary tour across Europe & North America. Recorded and filmed on April 13th, 2017, at the legendary Melkweg venue on the Amsterdam stop of that tour, this represents the band’s first ever live document with tracks from across the bands discography.

“The release of official live material is a project that is long overdue and we know our existing fans have been crying out for this for some time now. Whilst we have filmed and recorded many shows in the past we have always felt there were elements of our shows that could be improved ‘visually’ before we documented and immortalised this for the world to see and that the timing for a live release  never felt right for us. This is just our nature as creative people to be so extremely self-critical and constantly strive for perfection. It is largely due to the will of the people that the idea of this project became a reality. Both the band and the label were inundated with emails requesting a live release in some shape or form, and it was actually rather flattering, so giving the people what they wanted just felt like the right thing to do.”

‘L-1VE’ will be released as a 2CD/2DVD Digipak package & as digital download. The DVD will include 4 bonus tracks filmed at ProgPower USA 2016 that also includes Mike Portnoy’s cameo appearance on gong, as well as all of the official videos from the ‘Affinity’ album. The main show and the bonus material on the DVD are also mixed in 5.1 surround sound.

You can find the full track-listing below and pre-order the album here:
https://Haken.lnk.to/L-1VE

1.affinity.exe/Initiate
2.In Memoriam
3.1985
4.Red Giant
5.Aquamedley
6.As Death Embraces
7.Atlas Stone
8.Cockroach King
9.The Architect
10.The Endless Knot
11.Visions

DVD Bonus Material

1.Falling Back to Earth
2.Earthrise
3.Pareidolia
4.Crystallised

Also includes music videos for Initiate, Earthrise & Lapse

Artwork was once again produced by long-time collaborators Blacklake, who continued the love of 80’s culture that they demonstrated on artwork for ‘Affinity’. The live audio was mixed by Neal Morse & Winery Dogs alumni Jerry Guidroz.

The band have also revealed they have started work on their fifth studio album. They comment: “We’re currently getting our teeth stuck into the writing process for Album 5 and great ideas are forming and evolving as we speak. It’s still early days but there is a sense among us that Haken may take a darker path with this one. However, the playing field is still wide open and the direction this record takes could alter at any point. One thing is certain: We will endeavour to stick to our mandate of strong melodies and Killer riffs! ”

Progradar Best Of 2016 – Shawn Dudley’s Top 10

Let’s face it, 2016 has not been the best year in human history, but it has been an exceptionally good year for music.  Seemingly every week something new would capture my imagination and become indispensible.  Due to the magnitude of choices putting together a year-end list became a daunting exercise.

What follows is not necessarily a traditional “top 10”, it’s a condensed selection of albums that made the most impact on me throughout the year.

Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts

The Fall of Hearts was the easiest selection for this list; its place has been secure for months.  Nobody was more surprised than me as I had previously been ambivalent about Katatonia but this gorgeous, immaculately crafted album completely won me over. It’s a subtle, layered album that bears repeated listening, something I did almost daily for several months. The Fall of Hearts is their most mature and fully realized work to date, a rare instance of a band in their second decade who continue to evolve and improve their already unique sound.
Favorite tracks:  Takeover, Last Song Before The Fade, Shifts

Opeth -Sorceress

While the various factions of Opeth fans of different eras clash online, fruitlessly fighting for supremacy…Mikael Akerfeldt continues to laugh and do whatever the hell he wants. Sorceress continues Opeth’s exploration of vintage instrumentation that began with the controversial Heritage in 2011 and the more straight-forward and polished Pale Communion in 2014.  Sorceress goes against expectations by going for a rawer, heavier and more experimental approach.  It’s a stylistically diverse collection of songs with gorgeous folk rockers, heavy Prog epics and 70s inspired jams co-existing harmoniously.

Favorite tracks:  A Fleeting Glance, The Wilde Flowers, The Ward (bonus track)

Messenger – Threnodies

This sadly under-appreciated gem was easily one of the most enjoyable albums I heard all year. Messenger had the ability to work within the sonic framework of classic Prog, the instrumentation and vibe, yet not become a slave to it. Threnodies may offer up flashes of the past via inspiration; Wishbone Ash, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, CSN&Y; yet it sounds simultaneously modern and wholly relevant in 2016. Sadly the band has prematurely called it a day, but despite that I wouldn’t want you to miss out on hearing what they’ve left behind.
Favorite tracks:  Oracles Of War, Balearic Blue, Celestial Spheres

Seven Impale – Contrapasso

This thoroughly and wonderfully insane sextet from Norway was my favorite discovery of the year. Contrapasso is the type of album it’s best to just experience because describing it accurately is an exercise in futility. You’ll find elements of King Crimson, jazz-fusion, early 70s heavy metal and a love of the absurd, but that still just gives you a vague impression. The mixture of wonderfully heavy guitar and bass riffs, improvisational saxophone excursions and entertainingly theatrical vocals I find completely addictive.
Favorite tracks: Languor, Heresy, Inertia

Gong – Rejoice! I’m Dead!

Guitarist/Vocalist Kavus Torabi makes the first of two appearances on my year-end list. On Rejoice! I’m Dead! he effortlessly carries on the eclectic and joyful Gong; simultaneously a love letter to the recently departed founder Daevid Allen and a thoroughly rewarding work on its own merits.  It’s a wonderful collection of brief, quirky rockers and stretched-out fusion jam bliss. I love the sound of this album so much; I can’t help smiling whenever I play it. Who says Prog can’t be fun?
Favorite tracks: Rejoice!, The Unspeakable Stands Revealed, Kapital 

Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden

Our second Kavus Torabi appearance is another blast of experimentally playful fun. Knifeworld sets the tone immediately with the thoroughly addictive High Aflame, an artfully arranged pop confection that is the perfect album opener. The horn section allows them to employ voicings that you don’t often here in progressive rock circles, not that this album really fits into the general guidelines of that term. In fact I’m not sure Knifeworld exists within the guidelines of anything but their own imagination.  I applaud them.

Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä

And now for something truly and beautifully frightening. This Finnish quintet has crafted an avant-garde treasure, a mixture of Space Rock, Jazz and caustic Black Metal that is supremely thrilling. The arrangements are incredibly dense, building layer upon layer of guitars, synths and scorched earth vocals that threaten to become atonal cacophony, but deftly remain right on the edge. It’s challenging, intense music, but also contains much beauty. If you’re feeling brave, I highly recommend it.
Favorite tracks:  Lahja, Havuluu, Vasemann Kaden Hierarkla

 

Haken – Affinity

I will admit that the technical end of Prog Metal is not my preferred style. I’ve never been inspired by the Dream Theater end of the spectrum, I can admire the craft, but it doesn’t generally speak to me. Haken is one of the few exceptions, a band whose audacious personality and jaw dropping musicianship manage to always remain entertaining. This is assisted by a welcome amount of dry humor that has a tendency to display itself on occasion. Affinity is their most complex and intricately constructed album yet, maybe not quite as accessible as The Mountain but just as artistically successful. The playfulness shows itself on the epic ‘1985’, a song built entirely on the instrumental sounds of the 80s that never devolves into parody and instead becomes poignant. Haken also continue to outgrow the limitations of Prog Metal, methodically expanding their musical vocabulary into new, unexpected areas. Affinity continues their winning streak of rewarding albums; I look forward to hearing where they go next.
Favorite tracks:  The Architect, Red Giant, 1985

Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre

D.M.T. is Rosalie Cunningham’s love letter to the late 60s psychedelic and early progressive rock scene and the substances that often inspired them. What keeps it from becoming just a curio is the conviction she brings to her songs and how skillfully she applies the vintage instrumental sounds to create the required effect. The influences are plentiful; Hendrix, The Doors, Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson, Curved Air; but Rosalie has taken that inspiration and applied it to her own organic and highly enjoyable compositions.  It’s a fun album that is worth investigating, with or without the accompanying substances.

Favorite tracks:  Electric Landlady, Pedigree Chums, The Bitter Suite

Khemmis – Hunted 

In addition to Progressive Rock and Jazz I’ve also been a Heavy Metal fan for over 30 years. I don’t listen to straight-ahead metal very often these days but occasionally I’ll hear something that reawakens that old love of chugging, galloping riffs and thunderous drums. Khemmis is a young band from Denver whose latest album Hunted kicked my ass right and proper. Their sound is a tasty mix of doomy Candlemass/Trouble riffs, dual harmony lead guitars and NWOBHM inspired attitude. Satisfyingly crushing yet consistently melodic and inspired, these guys nail all the metallic requirements with their muscular performances and above-average songwriting.  My neck hurts…
Favorite songs:  Above The Water, Candlelight, Hunted

 

 

 

 

 

Progradar – 2016 – Best of the First Six Months

David

(Yours truly and Prog Guru™ himself)

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the first official Progradar Reviewers and Friends ‘Best Of…’ feature.

I asked those who wished to contribute to cogitate over what great music they had heard, released 1st January to 30th June, in the first half of 2016 and come up with a list of their definitive five favourites.

Not an easy task, let me tell you but, here are the selections of nine (including me) erstwhile wordsmiths and friends, including a few words as to why these particular releases made the cut.

Emma

Emma Roebuck (Progradar reviewer)

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Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

This is Robin Armstrong on some amazing form.  I loved ‘Capacitor’ and I thought ‘Man Left in Space’ was a hard one to beat. I was clearly wrong and happy about it too. Robin is at his best when looking at the human condition when viewed through a less than regular lens. The mythology of Sisyphus and alien abduction combine to make such a lens.  I will treasure seeing his one and only live performance so far at Celebr8.3 fondly. The album is dark and melancholy which is the way I like my music to be honest.

This film might change your life and Relativity being high points in an album that is a mountain range of achievement.

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Preacher – Aftermath

Their second album, and independently released like the Cosmograf album (and another 2 in my, selection if I remember rightly.) Preacher craft both songs and albums exceedingly well. ‘Signals’, the previous album, shows signs (poor, but unintentional, pun) of a band with tons to offer. They draw their roots from 70s Floyd and the melodic side of the genre.  It could be said that this is the album that Floyd should have released instead of ‘The Endless River’, I could easily agree but this is not that Floyd this is a band that use melody, harmony and song in a way that could go beyond the genre.

Stand out Tracks

War/ War reprise and Vinyl show how we look to emotions and actions and make things or deeds of them as people.

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Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

I was too young to be really aware of the genuine impact of the classic period of Prog rock. I caught the periphery in my early teens but felt no ownership of Yes, Genesis, VDGG, Floyd, Gentle Giant, etc only a serious attraction to the music as a 14 year old in 1975. In the early 80s, having ridden the horror that was punk, I remember seeing Marillion, IQ and Pallas in small pubs and clubs in 82 and it was a pure emotional and intellectual epiphany. It felt like I was hit in the heart and the brain with a piece of 2 by 4. I found home and ownership of music.  I liked ‘Trip the Light Fantastic’ immensely and when I heard this album I felt all those emotions again. I was in the Sheffield Limit club again hearing something of very high quality and I connected immediately to this music. It is Neo Prog of a very high standard.  They sound like themselves with echoes of the last 40 years resounding through the music.

Standout Tracks Intruder and DesolationRetribution.

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Jump – Over The Top

I have been a fan of Jump for the best part of 21 years. It is the Classic rock society that I owe big style, not just for these but many others, in times of musical desolation.  I found my first sample of these by old school recognition and recommendation by word of mouth. Fast forward to many Jump gigs later, the new album ‘Over the Top’ comes out and it was ‘yes, get in!’. Some of the current live set had been used to fine tune some of the songs over the last 18 months or so and it shows. John Dexter Jones is a storyteller par excellence and the band are an excellent vehicle for those stories. The words are heartfelt and the music comes from the same place. If they lived in medieval times they would be the bards of old. The use of the past to illustrate the way of the world we live in now is the stock in trade here.

Stand out tracks, I want to say all of them but if I was to choose The Beach and the Wreck of the St Marie are those choices.

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Kiama – Sign of IV

Just when you think you have Rob Reed figured out, Sanctuary, Magenta and so on, he does something out of the blue and blows the socks of you. Take good old rock sensibilities from the 60s and 70s, put them in the hands of some very talented individuals and they become a band which sounds like they have been a unit for years. I recently saw them support Frost* and wow, just wow.

This is a hybrid, musically drawn from the past in a very real sense, and is a homage to how they used to work but it does not feel like a tribute band in anyway.  It results in a multifaceted album of light and shade with some fantastic songs and heartfelt lyrics. It is some of Luke Machin’s best work outside of Maschine & Rubidium.  Rob Reed has a blast playing with sound and tone to create things like ‘Muzzled’, which is a tribute to the Floyd Album ‘Animals’, using the tones from the period to reflect the music and the time it came out. Dylans voice is amazing, we need more Kiama …

Stand Out Tracks  Muzzled and Slip away.

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Leo Trimming – (Progradar and TPA reviewer)

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Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

This was my TPA’s review’s conclusion early in the year for this surprise package, and I’ve had no reason to change it since…

This is an excellent collaboration: Red Bazar have helped Peter Jones express more of his serious, darker side and also allowed him to display more vocal dexterity. In return Red Bazar have gained a talented and very fine rock vocalist who has added great lyrical skill and vocal feeling  to their own fine emotional musical palette…

This may be a bit of a dark horse, but Red Bazar may just have released one of the Prog albums of the year.

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Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays

A favourite on two levels – it’s a great album of subtle artistry and fine music, and on another level the artist & his music  touched me personally. My Progradar review concluded:

Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.’

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Nine Stones Close – Leaves

A darkly trippy and psychedelic album. Part dream, part nightmare – this is an album for which repeated listens gradually unpeal the layers, like all the best progressive releases. My Progradar review observed:

Nine Stones Close create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic… They do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!’

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Big Big Train – Folklore

A much anticipated release does not disappoint as the album describes modern folklore, ancient legend, elegies for lost love and epic stories of heroism and loss … plus bees (!) in a rich tapestry of folk tinged progressive rock. Lyrically intelligent and insightful, conveyed with integrity and emotion, and played with consummate skill and passion. Impossible to ignore – we all sort of knew it would be great. Of course it’s great!

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Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Simply stunning. Robin Armstrong has imagined a rich narrative of alien incursion (or paranoid breakdown?!) with sonic brilliance. The imaginative story is unnerving, whilst the music is captivating on a human level but cinematic in scope – ranging from crunching Purple riffs, through atmospheric acoustic passages to sweeping Floydian soundscapes. Undoubtedly, major contender for Album of the Year already from one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation.

Gary

Gary Morley – (Progradar reviewer)

HAWKWIND The Machine Stops

Hawkwind – The Machine Stops

Everything that Hawkwind evoke distilled into one disc. Great musicianship, tunes and tons of atmosphere make this the top of the pops for me. It’s been a long time since a Hawkwind album had such a buzz about it. Biggest regret – that I missed the live shows. Biggest hope – a proper live blu-ray & CD set is coming.

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Preacher – Aftermath

Prog at it’s best for me needs a driver. Preacher use guitars. Proper guitars like your dad waffles on about when he talks about Pink Floyd, Steve Hillage, Jimmy Page and that time he watched Rory Gallagher play for 3 hours at the Hexagon Theatre and your mum was drinking pints and ended up paralytic, singing along to “Wayward Child” sat on his boss’s shoulders…

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I Am The Manic Whale – Everything Beautiful In Time

Local boy’s debut embraces everything that is good about music. It has great tunes, off the wall lyrics and subjects that place it head and shoulders above most of what passes for modern music from the under 30’s. I’m looking forward to their next offering, be it a live gig in Reading or more music.

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Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

‘The Clockwork Fable’ is a Steam punk opera, like a space opera or a soap opera but without the bad romance and dodgy backdrops.

I loved the variety of musical genres used to tell a totally bonkers tale of clockwork suns and steam powered boys looking for missing cogs in a giant machine all played out in a cavernous underground city. There are rock tracks, some great drumming, some “epic” prog , some plaintive melodies and a host of guest vocalists and musicians, all of which add to the mix without overegging the lily.

The first time you listen you get sucked into the world presented here. It’s a Post apocalyptic, dark dystopian world but there are flashes of humour and the absurdity does not detract from the sheer brilliance of the effort here.

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Steven Wilson – 4 1/2

“left over’s” from ‘Hand .Cannot .Erase’ these track might have been, but as a snapshot of Mr Chuckletrousers ( © Angus Prune I Think) and his Zeus like stature in the modern Prog pantheon  this is sublime in its perfection. Hints of Zappa referencing impossible “stun guitar”, epic soundscape that demonstrate his skill as an arranger and bleak yet beautiful lyrics are all wrapped in a package that sticks 2 fingers up at the download and go generation. This is a quality production in every detail, lovingly constructed and presented for your pleasure.

Shawn Dudley

Shawn Dudley – (Progradar reviewer)

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Messenger – Threnodies

It took several spins for this album to truly work its magic on me, but once hooked it just won’t let me go.  A beautifully organic record, informed and powered by vintage sounds but not a slave to them.  The tastefully arranged guitar work on this album is a particular highlight.  Favorite tracks:  Balearic Blue, Celestial Spheres. 

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Haken – Affinity

Haken leaves the 1970s sounds of ‘The Mountain’ behind, makes a brief stop in the 1980s for the song 1985 and then ventures forward into the future on Affinity.  An endlessly inventive collection of intricately designed and passionately performed pieces it’s one of the most thrillingly forward-looking albums of 2016.  It’s time to drop the “Prog Metal” genre tag, these guys have transcended it.  Favorite tracks:  The Architect, Red Giant

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Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre

Purson’s follow-up to ‘The Circle And The Blue Door’ is essentially a solo album from Rosalie Cunningham who wrote, arranged, produced and performed the majority of D.M.T. herself.   A conceptual psychedelic journey influenced by her Father’s record collection and her own experimentation with mind-expanding substances.  Another case of an artist using the canvas of vintage instrumentation and production techniques to create very personal and unique modern music.   Favorite tracks:  The Sky Parade, The Bitter Suite.

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Big Big Train Folklore

Another beautiful collection of immaculately arranged and produced “pastoral prog” from this master collective of musicians.  I recommend going for the extended track-list available on the LP and High-Res download editions, I believe an even stronger collection than the shorter CD version.  Favorite tracks:  Salisbury Giant, London Plane

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out OF Eden

A wonderfully quirky concoction of pop sensibility, progressive experimentation and the harmonic sophistication of jazz all mixed together into a thoroughly accessible brew.  And it’s fun!  Favorite tracks:  I Am Lost, I Must Set Fire To Your Portrait.

Roger

Roger Trenwith – (TPA reviewer and Astounded by Sound blog)

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Bent Knee – Say So

An unparalleled triumph of invention, melody, and strangeitude, it will take some beating for album of the year.

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David Bowie – Blackstar

Hardly seems right relegating this poignant artistic statement and full stop on a career of a true visionary to No.2, but from a purely musical point of view, them’s the breaks.

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out OF Eden

A chronicle of loss leavened by hope, Knifeworld get better with each release. Criminally underrated.

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Body English – Stories of Earth

Is there a sub-genre called “prog-pop”? If not, this is it. A truly joyous record shining a light in this dark Year of Stupid.

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King Crimson – Live In Toronto – Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto, Canada, 20th November 2015

Whatever I put here means leaving out at least half a dozen albums equally as good, so this came out on top after a complicated mathematical randomisation process involving dice, incantations, dead frogs, toads, and copious amounts of single malt. The mighty Crim remake, remodel like no-one else. The version of Epitaph will make you shiver, unless you have no soul. Superb!

Kev

Kevin Thompson (LHS) – (Progradar reviewer)

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Big Big Train – Folklore

Does this really need a reason?, best of the Band’s excellent output so far and an album that will always be on my desert island disc list. As near to perfect as it gets…

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Long Distance Calling – Trips

There are so many bands in this area of music it’s hard to stand out, but, on this release, Long Distance Calling have…..

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Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

A tremendous 3 disc concept package of such quality. Never been better value for money and shames the bigger bands!!

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Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

A delicately beautiful album from this Russian duo added further poignancy with the heartfelt vocals from Mariusz Duda on the title track.

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Downriver Dead Men Go – Tides

Another band who came recommended and I’d not heard before buying. Slow, dark and emotional, this Dutch band surpassed my expectations.

David

David Elliott – (Prog Guru™, TEP, Bad Elephant)

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Lazuli – Nos Âmes Saoules

There is nothing else quite like them, and they keep on going from strength to strength….

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Bent Knee – Say So

My first exposure to this amazing American band…genuine innovators, and hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck exciting!!

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The Dowling Poole – One, Hyde Park

Unashamedly unoriginal, but huge fun, and immaculately crafted. Big smiley music.

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden

Banging tunes, a great groove, and more bassoon!!

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Frost* – Falling Satellites

A great return to the arena from the masters of modern progressive. Progressive rock with pop sensibilities – what’s not to like?

John Simms

John Simms – (Progradar reviewer, Rev Sky Pilot blog)

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Big Big train – Folklore

Consistently turning out excellent pastoral English progressive music, BBT have hit the motherlode again with this suite of songs celebrating the British folkloric tradition. From the sublime beauty of ‘Transit’ to the quirky tale of ‘Winkie’ the Pigeon, this is music of the highest calibre.

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Anderson/Stolt – Invention of Knowledge

This, for me, is simply the best music anyone connected with Yes has produced since ‘Awaken’. It draws on the bestaspects of Yes and Flower Kings and produces something sublime and beautiful. It was a very close call between my Top 2.

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Southern Empire – Southern Empire

One of the up sides to Unitopia folding a few years ago is that we now have both UPF and Southern Empire to carry on the legacy. This is a fine collection of melodic progressive rock music, exhibiting high levels of virtuosity and songmanship.

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out of Eden

Another band with a unique style and approach to music making. This is a wonderful follow-up to ‘The Unravelling’ and Kavus and his band of minstrels continue to delight.

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Mothertongue – Unsongs

The best music is that which stands out from the crowd, and Mothertongue certainly do that. Ecclectic, bizarre, unexpected and bonkers, this is a wonderful collection of (un)songs.

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And finally my thoughts, this selection of five albums was incredibly difficult to pick but I’m pretty certain that, at this moment in time, it is my definitive top five!!!

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Mothertongue – Unsongs

With its incisive, intelligent lyrics and first-class musicianship, Unsongs is unlike anything you will have heard in recent years. The music will lead you on a roller-coaster journey of acid jazz inventiveness that’s a big heap of noisy and light and also includes a lot of brass because everyone likes brass, right? A musical breath of fresh air that you will return to again and again, it’s just brilliant!

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Big Big Train – Folklore

The acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling return with a fresh collection of 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.

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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.

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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!

Tilt Album

Tilt – Hinterland

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. By the way, three of these guys are better known as Fish’s backing band but, oh my god, have they risen well above that soubriquet now….

So, there you have it, a small selection of our own, very subjective, opinions on what has been the best music of a highly impressive first six months of 2016. You may agree, you may not but, one thing that everything agrees on is that the music just keeps getting better, and long may it continue!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Haken – Affinity – by Shawn Dudley

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I’ve been living with this new Haken album for a couple of weeks now, attempting to wrap my head around it. Each time I think I’ve got it figured out some new detail jumps out at me that requires me to reevaluate. Like the band themselves,  ‘Affinity’ remains wonderfully elusive and that just makes me appreciate it more.

Haken have been an enjoyable enigma from the very beginning.  Over the course of four impressive full-length studio albums they have remained defiantly hard to categorize. The proverbial square peg. You can sit down and catalog all the elements, you can ascertain their stylistic influences, you can dissect and study their compositions but any attempt to accurately file them away into pre-existing little boxes? Futile. The only box they fit into is the one labeled, Haken.

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Opening single Initiate sways back and forth from driving and propulsive to ethereal and contemplative with the always-impressive voice of Ross Jennings guiding the way. The arrangement seems deceptively simple on the surface, but there is a wealth of detail here that becomes more apparent on repeated listens (this holds true for the entire album). The heavier guitars don’t make an appearance until over 2 minutes into the track and provide a visceral edge to what is otherwise a primarily keyboard-driven, clean-toned arrangement. This concise 4-minute track serves as the appetizer for the full-course buffet that follows.

At the center of  ‘Affinity’ are two equally impressive if stylistically diverse epics.

The first of these is the appropriately named 1985. On their prior album ‘The Mountain’ from 2013 a lot of discussion was spurred by their incorporation of “retro” instrumental sounds from the 70s, particularly in the infectious single Cockroach King, which wore the influence of Gentle Giant proudly upon its sleeve. This time out we move forward a decade to the digital 1980s. 1985 conjures up memories of the birth of personal computers, 8-bit video games, boom boxes, MTV and just about every keyboard sound and 80s production element introduced during the first half of the decade. In the press release the band mentions their love of albums like ‘90125’, ‘Toto IV’ and ‘Three Of A Perfect Pair’ (and even though Rush isn’t specifically mentioned their early 80s albums are an obvious inspiration as well).

To their credit, Haken takes these elements and instead of creating a pastiche, they expertly incorporate them into their signature sound. They are just additional colors in an ever-expanding palette. Their ability to liberally borrow sounds from different eras and styles has been apparent since their debut album ‘Aquarius’, but with each successive release it has become more organic in structure and more assured in execution. This maturity has also carried over into the recording studio, ‘Affinity’ is a quantum leap forward in production and sound design, showing that Haken is just as adept at “playing the studio” as they are at their individual instruments. On most albums a track as impressive as 1985 would be the clear highlight…but ‘Affinity’ has more riches to offer……

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The second epic is the main course of our buffet and would also serve as an impressive introduction for the uninitiated. By far the heaviest track on the album The Architect is an absolute stunner, a 15-minute tour de force of the power and diversity this band can conjure.

Roughly split into separate movements it begins in muscular technical prog-metal territory, but this isn’t your typical paint-by-numbers variety, this is exciting, driving, heavy music played with passion. The mid-section is absolutely gorgeous, an ambient pad of voices and sound effects provide the backdrop for new bassist Connor Green to take a lyrical, fusion-inspired solo and then the guitars enter playing a gorgeous contrapuntal figure that harkens back to the sound of ‘Discipline’-era King Crimson. The following section increases the intensity with a side-trip into Opeth/Enslaved territory (the melody in this section is reminiscent of The Drapery Falls) and a guest appearance from Einar Solberg from Leprous providing a brief harsh-vocal contribution. It’s an immense arrangement and an impressive achievement.

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While these tracks demonstrate the further refinement of the Haken elements we’ve come to know, I think the most exciting aspects of ‘Affinity’ show the band moving forward and expanding their sound into uncharted territory. Tracks like the lovely Lapse and the outward-leaning experimentation of Red Giant are thrilling, thoroughly modern compositions that point the way toward exciting chapters yet to come. They show an increased interest in electronic sounds and atmospherics, yet never venture into cold/clinical territory, remaining warm and inviting throughout.

I have to throw out a special mention to the wonderful mix by Jens Bogren who first came to my attention because of his excellent work with Opeth. His mixes sound HUGE, incredibly powerful without sacrificing any of the intricate detail and that made him the perfect choice for ‘Affinity’.

Easily their most impressive album, ‘Affinity’ solidifies Haken as one of the best bands that modern Prog has to offer and their potential for the future appears limitless.

Released 29th April 2016

Pre-order ‘Affinity’ from Burning Shed

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