Review – KingBathmat – Dark Days – by Progradar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 30th June 2017

Buy ‘Dark Days’ from bandcamp



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 14th July 2017

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

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











Review – The Vicious Head Society – Abject Tomorrow – by Progradar

I remember 1992 (yes I am that old!) and seminal Progressive Metallers Dream Theater releasing their incredible second album ‘Images and Words’. It was something of a groundbreaking release with the incredible musicianship and songwriting making a huge impact on my life.

I followed the band for many years with superb release after superb release, ‘Awake’, ‘Falling Into Infinity’ and the marvellous, innovative brilliance of ‘Metropolis Pt2 – Scenes From a Memory’. I first saw them live on the ‘Train of Thought’ tour in 2003 and was blown away by the majesty of their show. The last great album they released, in my opinion, was 2005’s ‘Octavarium’ and, sadly for a big fan like me, they seemed to peak then, both on record and as a live event.

I’ve been waiting for a long time for an album of pure progressive metal to come along and blow me away like ‘Images and Words’ did in 1992, one with some great songs and wonderful instrumentation, I like an extended guitar solo as much as the next man!

There have been some near misses but none have really come close. Funnily enough, it was one of my old fellow Dream Theater fans, Laura McCoy who put me on to Graham Keane and The Vicious Head Society, sharing a video of a track from the debut album ‘Abject Tomorrow’ and it piqued my interest more than enough to want to hear the whole thing.

Why? because the first thing that came into my head was, it’s like Dream Theater but the old Dream Theater when they were my favourite band in the world and that’s just got to be good…

The Vicious Head Society is the brainchild of Irish guitar virtuoso Graham Keane.

Debut album ‘Abject Tomorrow’ initially started as a pet project around 2010 after returning to the Emerald Isle from music school in the UK. Keane was tutoring aspiring musicians when he decided to start writing original material purely as a self gratifying project. He figured that living in a remote area of Ireland with not many musicians interested in his style of music, metal, hard rock and prog, he would be best to forge ahead alone. As with many creative types Keane had a very laid back attitude about the whole thing and on many occasions just sat there noodling on his guitar while life passed him by. It wasn’t until his wives cancer diagnosis in 2013 that he started to take things a bit more seriously. The shock of realising his own mortality threw Keane into action.

Writing and recording became an asylum, from the emotional turmoil and with nothing to lose, the project began to grow in scope. Virtual instruments wouldn’t cut it anymore, as had been the norm to that point, and so Keane began to contact musicians worldwide to help bring it to life. Of course this brought with it several new challenges, not to mention the financial burden, the main reason it has taken this long to complete!

The vast majority of the album was recorded in Keane’s home studio with vocals, drums and other guest musicians being outsourced to their own recording facilities. Guests including Wilmer Waarbroek, Derek Sherinan, Nahuel Ramos, Pat Byrne, Klemen Markelj, Kevin Talley and Nathan Pickering. “It was a somewhat challenging process,” Keane comments. “Financing being one of the major difficulties. There were times when it seemed like releasing the album would be impossible but I’m delighted to have overcome these obstacles and with the help of some really amazingly talented people, it is now complete!”

As with most progressive records ‘Abject Tomorrow’ is no different in the sense that it is a concept album. The story is based in a dystopian future in which all humans are required to have emotion inhibiting implants implanted from birth. One man’s implant fails and it chronicles his journey of discovery and reconnection with his humanity. Musically, it draws from a huge range of influences; from classic prog acts that influenced Keane growing up, such as Yes, Genesis, ELP and Rush to metal acts such as Death, Meshuggah and Megadeth. Keane adds, “I hope it finds some kind of audience and that people enjoy it. For me, it’s a very emotive album. Even though it’s a concept album on the surface, there’s a lot of personal experience in it and there’s sure to be some people out there who can connect with it on an emotional level.”

An urgent keyboard note introduces you to The Sycophants before some powerful and edgy riffing, joined by dynamic drums takes over. A monstrous riff erupts from the depths of the earth to pound you with its ferocity and then the vocals kick in, hard-edged and forceful. This is no frills prog-metal, you get what you see and it is all the better for it. Throw in some brilliant guitar runs and the odd solo that burns like a solar flare and you couldn’t really ask for much more, actually you don’t need to because Graham gives it to you anyway. Well thought out songwriting and his emotive vocal give real class to the song, add in an cleverly intricate instrumental section (dare I say it, emulating Dream Theater themselves), a thunderous close-out and you’re left admiring a really good opening to the album. So, now onto the title track, Abject Tomorrow begins with a really skittish, staccato riff that has a feel of unease to it, the progressive drums pounding along in union. A coruscating guitar fires up into the heavens before things calm down, an uneasy silence broken by some rather dark and hushed vocals. I’m on the edge of my seat with anticipation before the powerful chorus erupts from the quietude, an emotional depth emanating from Graham’s vocals. The guitar note almost seems to be speaking to you when the darkness returns tenfold with some harsh vocals giving a proper demonic tone and an ominous counterpoint to the grim hope that the haunting chorus seems to give. Cue extended guitar solo and a bloody good one at that. This song really does seem to be clash between darkness and light and you find yourself caught up in the tumultuous conflict, like a musical version of Lord of the Rings, fantastical and nightmarish. A conflict that seems to span the ages, neverending and the stylish close to the track seems to echo that in eternity.

Downfall has a subdued opening, all swirling, sci-fi keyboards before the tension starts to build. Graham’s heartfelt vocal takes centre stage, a stirring delivery backed by some stylish bass playing and it gives real heart and soul to the song. A harsh vocal delivered over some elegant keyboards really gives an out of this world aura to the song. The juxtaposition between the earnest, fervent clean vocals and the alien feel of the harsh voice really works, one complementing another. As the song comes to a close a granite-like riff gives an elemental quality and the vocals soar into the distance almost like an out of body experience, a compelling and passionate track that really touches your emotions. I have to admit that I’ve been impressed so far and the next track just adds to that in spades, Agenda opens with yet another impressive and uber-heavy riff, one that could shatter mountains I’m sure! But it’s not all about the intensity, there’s intelligence right at the heart of this music too (got to say I love the riffs though!), the songwriting and musical ability is excellent and every note is there for a reason, even if it does strip paint at forty yards. The dynamism of the music and the addictive chorus work together perfectly to add lustre and vitality to the compelling songs. I am not a lover of the harsh, cookie monster vocal delivery but it really works on this album, Graham seems to have got the balance perfectly right. As for the guitar playing, well it is one of the most influential aspects of the album and what lifts it above the merely good and gives an almost cinematic scope to every track. As you get towards the end of the song it goes all intricately progressive on you before a calmness envelops all and then we are treated to a crescendo of an ending, a stirring  and affectional guitar fading out to the close.

A hushed voice and keyboards open The 11th Hour, a feeling of treading water as if you’re waiting for something to happen. Falsetto vocals arrive along with another epic riff from the bowels of the Earth, everything has an anthemic feel to it, music for the ages, from the ages. There’s an uplifting delivery to the vocals yet one that has a pleading undertone, more mixing of the harsh with the clean, once again to good effect and then a more jazzy instrumental section where the bass takes on a funky tone and the guitars a more stripped back feel. A real melting pot of musical styles that deliver a vigorously immersive listening experience, Devin Townsend meets Queen in some strange parallel Universe and they join up with Faith No More and Metallica for a jam session. It’s hypnotically brilliant and quite mesmerising. Psychedelic Torture Trip is just under four minutes of fast paced, elaborate instrumental showboating and it’s thoroughly enjoyable. If you can play instruments as well as this then why shouldn’t you have a bit of fun while doing it? It brings back memories of tracks like Erotomania by Dream Theater and the like. Just sit back, press play and enjoy the virtuoso music laid before you.

Granite like riffs that feel as old as the earth and weight more than the planet we live on? check, that’s what you get at the start of God Of The New Age and it’s almost as if they are being played by celestial beings. This is a riotously compelling song where the heaviness of the music doesn’t detract, it is absolutely necessary and gives emphasis to the vibrant keyboards, energetic drums and Graham’s charismatic vocals. The thunderous guitars and crushing drums that close out the song along with some rather stylish keyboards are utterly compelling, just turn up the volume and enjoy this utter prog-metal fest! The epic nineteen minute album closer Analogue Spectre is a nod to the great progressive metal acts of the past, Graham channels his inner Symphony X, Dream Theater and Fates Warning and yet gives everything his own twist to make it uniquely The Vicious Head Society. A slow burning opening builds up the tension before a heartfelt guitar fires out of the gloom and the shackles are off, a more subtle riff and then Graham’s hushed vocal give an almost symphonic metal feel, this is rapidly blown away by the increasing intensity of the riffing and drums and the vocals taking on a more urgent tone. This is music that grabs your attention with its ebb and flow between the restrained and controlled and the potent and persuasive and it’s a fascinating counterpoint. You’ll get blind-sided by some utterly spellbinding and complex instrumental progressive sections that seem to find their way out of more blind alleys than is really possible. Note perfect and yet ferociously perplexing and convoluted, it’s all you can do to keep up. Follow this up with some laid back, chilled, calm and collected parts and you are being treated to a whole gamut of musical emotions that your mind is manically processing to try and keep up with. The uplifting, almost symphonic metal vocal that follows is utter class and gives a real gloss to the track. This song is like a tapestry that displays the whole range of musical emotions (including salsa, yes… salsa…) that Graham is capable of and leaves me speechless in appreciation.

It is 25 years since ‘Images and Words’ first graced us with its presence and we have been given a plethora of Progressive Metal albums since, some very good but most not so. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that ‘Abject Tomorrow’ is one of the best I’ve heard in that quarter of a century and deserves to be named in the same breath as ‘I&W’, it really is that good. A prog-metal masterpiece for the 21st Century, Graham Keane and The Vicious Head Society have only just begun their journey to the top of the genre but are already well on the way there.

Released 24th March 2017

Buy ‘Abject Tomorrow’ on CD from the band.



Review – Big Big Train – Grimspound – by Progradar

“No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away.”
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore.

Imagine, if you will, a deserted beach and a man in studious concentration, digging up the sand and then, like an artist who works in silica, crafting the most wonderful sandcastle. Like a medieval wonder it rises from the sand into a creation of unparalleled brilliance, a thing of spectacle for all to marvel at.

Fast forward twenty four hours to the same beach where the wondrous castle has disappeared, swallowed up by the unremitting tide, and the sand is pristine, not a single sign of the artist’s incredible work.

The artist may return to take up his labour of love once more but nature will always prevail, no matter what he does, and the sandcastles will always return to their constituent particles.

To me, this is something of an allegory of modern music. New records have such a short time-frame to impress the listener before the next big thing comes along. A lot of these albums will have been labours of love that the musicians have slaved over for months until they are as close to perfect as they can be. What do they do to make their achievements stand out enough for people to want to listen to and buy and to stay long in the memory to still be played in a years time or more?

British progressive rock stalwarts Big Big Train have long been known for their immersive musical productions with songs that tell stories from history and folklore and have been incredibly succesful. They are one of the bands that I turn to often for my musical fix and their pastoral progressive rock has been a big part of my life for the last four or five years.

April 2017 saw the release of their latest studio album ‘Grimspound’. On ‘Grimspound’, Big Big Train tell stories from the oceans and the skies, from the meadowland and the mead hall, tales of scientists and artists and poets and dreamers. Here can be found songs drawn from history and folklore, true-life tales of a flying ace, of Captain Cook’s ‘experimental gentlemen’ on his first voyage of discovery and the legend of a ghost waiting outside an ivy gate whilst the carriers of souls circle overhead.

Now, even though I liked the last year’s ‘Folklore’ (and still do!), I felt that, even though it had immediacy, it lacked the depth and endurance of albums like ‘The Underfall Yard’ and ‘English Electric’ and I don’t go back to it as often as I do the others.

Would ‘Grimspound’ be another engrossing tour-de-force that would take longer to really get into but, because of that, become a much loved classic? Let’s delve into the past and let the amazing story telling of Big Big Train do its magic…

“A statue of a young man
Defiantly stands
Glove held in left hand
With an Angel close by his shoulder…”

“The wonderfully atmospheric tale of Captain Albert Ball, a reluctant flying ace and hero of the Great War, “a young knight of gentle manner who learnt to fly and to kill at a time when all the world was killing … saddened by the great tragedy that had come into the world and made him a terrible instrument of Death”. DL

A haunting introduction paves the way for what is a classic Big Big Train track and really gives me the impression that the band have returned to their roots with this record. The build up is slow and measured before the guitars and drums herald the main part of the song and you are already rapt in attention. Lovely touches of flute and violin draw in David Longdon’s expressive and emotive vocal to tell the tale of this heroic airman. The music has a touch of pomp and circumstance in parts, befitting such a hero but also has gentle and subtle touches that would seem to mirror his compassionate soul. The build up to the chorus is spine-tingling and has you singing along with the words,

“I’ll be a brave captain of the sky.”

There’s a segue into a fast-paced instrumental section that has you on the edge of your seat, these consummate musicians once again showing their skill and class with guitar parts that are intricate and memorable and the mesmerising keyboards playing off against each other. Nick D’Virgilio’s drums and Greg Spawton’s bass are the glue that holds everything in place on this enduringly powerful piece of music before we are brought back down to ground and David’s voice over tells us more about Captain Ball and how he finally came to be shot down, aided perfectly by the stirring strings of Rachel Hall that almost seem to talk to you.

This amazing song closes out with another brilliant instrumental section interspersed by the repeated refrain,

“Brave Captain of the skies..”

Heart-wrenching guitars and that vibrant rhythm section hold your attention right to the suitably impressive end. Wow, what a start to the album!

On The Racing Line, this instrumental is a further piece about John Cobb, the racing driver, who was the subject of our song Brooklands on the ‘Folklore’ album.” GS

An immediate and expressive instrumental that seems to convey the impression of speed and racing from the first note. Just let the music wash over you and be transported back in history to a time of gentlemen racers who would drive their cars to the track before risking life and limb careering round at high speed. The drums, keyboard and piano seem to be the motive force of this song, the descriptive strings and compelling guitar painting the pictures in your mind, it is all really inventive and quite majestic in delivery. Not just a piece of music but one that recreates history right in the depths of your mind.

“Farewell, my friends,
taking leave of England
headed due south;
experimental gentlemen.”

In 1768, Captain Cook’s ship, HMS Endeavour, set sail from Plymouth. The voyage had been financed by the Royal Society and the Royal Navy and had a number of aims, including the observation of the 1769 Transit of Venus.

Along the way, the botanists aboard the ship were tasked with collecting specimens from all locations visited in the southern hemisphere. Cook called the scientists on the Endeavour, who included the astronomer Charles Green and the botanist Joseph Banks, his ‘experimental gentlemen’. GS

Experimental Gentlemen was the track that, upon first listen, made me realise that the band were reverting back to their older sound. The introduction is gentle and pastoral and lifts the soul, leaving you in some kind of reverie, flute and piano meandering around your mind before Nick’s drums direct everything into a more regimented sound. There’s a feel of ‘English Boy Wonders’ to the rhythm and vocals and the brilliantly evocative and descriptive guitar is a beautiful touch. Every time David Longdon sings the title line I find myself joining in  and a smile appearing on my lips, this is Big Big Train at their expressive and illuminating best. Rachel Hall’s violin takes centre stage half way through as a more serious note pervades the song, aided and abetted by some emotive keyboard playing to give a real affectional feel to the song. Her violin follows the motif of the chorus and we are off again on this jaunty journey into the wonder of it all. The climax begins with a brilliant, rising guitar solo that grabs your attention before calm and reflection settles over the track and it segues into a piano led section where Greg’s subtle bass playing joins Nick’s drums as the foundation on which a haunting guitar and ethereal strings raise the hairs on the back of your neck, quite clever and very touching as this superb song comes to a close, leaving you enjoying the silence and solitude.

“Here, with book in hand,
follow the hedgerow
to the meadowland.”

“One of the characters who featured on our ‘English Electric’ albums was David’s Uncle Jack. The Meadowland in this song is an idealised place where people gather together to share their thoughts about the things they love. You may bump into people when you are out and about and spend some time talking with them, creating your own such space. As the song is set in the countryside, I couldn’t resist a final appearance for Uncle Jack, who follows the hedgerows up to the meadowlands, as he did many times in his long life.” GS

A short song as Big Big Train ones go, coming in at under four minutes go, it opens with a wistfully delicate guitar and violin that immediately gets under your skin with its sentiment and warmth. This is an exquisitely graceful track that really plucks at your heartstrings, David’s vocal is heartfelt and just brings nostalgia flooding back. The interplay between the violin and guitar is genius, I don’t mind admitting that I had a tear of joy in my eye as it came to an elegant close.

“What shall be left of us?
Which artefacts will stay intact?
For nothing can last…”

Grimspound is a slightly older song than the others on the album. In fact, the drums were recorded by Nick at Real World back when we were making ‘Stone & Steel.’ Big Big Train music contains many historical and archaeological references, and this song is no different in that respect, because it is the name of a Bronze Age settlement on Dartmoor in Devon. When I came to write the lyrics for ‘Grimspound’, I decided that it would be a song about the folklore and myth that surround crows. It is specifically about life, from the perspective of Grimspound the crow.” DL

A slow building opening to the song, a gentle breeze blowing around your mind as the calming music settles upon your soul. There’s a touch of ‘Folklore’ to this track, a more folk edge to the music and the vocals and the repeated musical motif which has become a much loved instrumental earworm to me. Grimspound is a song that just epitomises Big Big Train and their wonderful brand of pastoral progressive rock with its unique Britishness that the fans can relate to. The music is catchy and grabs hold of you and won’t let go but in a gentle and jovial manner, it is music for long summer days in the meadows with meandering streams and for making lifelong memories. The delightful run out with the elegantly nomadic guitar line just adds to the class and charm.

“Upon nights this cold
So the story goes
Some folk say they see the ghost
of Thomas Fisher wait
Outside the Ivy Gate..”

“The origins of this dark song began when I was trying to write a piece called Folklore. This was way before we had decided to call our 2016 album by the same name. The Ivy Gate is a song about family and loss, the perils of childbirth, warfare and faith. It is also a supernatural tale concerning damnation. The Ivy Gate is set during a time of war and centres around the life and times of the ill-fated Fisher family. I met Judy Dyble when she attended the Saturday BBT show at Kings Place. We kept in touch and, as The Ivy Gate developed, I thought that it would make an interesting duet.” DL

The idea of The Ivy Gate being a duet between David and Judy Dyble of Fairport Convention fame borders on genius and gives an elegant fusion of traditional folk and the more pastoral, progressive rock tinged, version that Big Big Train produce. The deep and dark, banjo inspired opening gives real atmosphere and depth to the song right from the off. Judy’s voice adds drama and suspense to the song and a mysterious aura envelops the music, added to by the haunting strains of Rachel’s strings. I feel like I’m transported back in time to be in the middle of a supernatural Victorian spectacle and when David joins in it is almost spine tingling and dramatic. There’s a tense, nervous feel to the music, the violin and banjo adding real tension before the song erupts with Greg’s dynamic bass giving real drive and force to proceedings and progressive overtakes folk as the stimulus. Keyboards swirl, drums are pounded and we are back in the 70’s with a proper prog out instrumental section backing David and Judy’s vocal conjoinment, a powerful musical statement from the band.

“With an eye pressed to the spyglass
counting constellations.
On the shores of distant oceans
charting undiscovered lands;
the collectors and observers,
curators and explorers,
reflectors of light.”

A Mead Hall in Winter began life as a two-minute acoustic guitar and piano instrumental, which was originally intended for the ‘Folklore’ album. Somewhere along the way, Rikard developed his short instrumental into an epic progressive rock piece. Once we had received the initial demo from Rikard and had spent some time getting to grips with the complexities and twists and turns in the song, it was decided that, between the three of us, I would write the vocal melody and backing vocals and Greg would write the words. When I was developing the vocal melodies for A Mead Hall in Winter (which I demoed on the flute), I mentioned to Greg that the song reminded me a little of The Underfall Yard. DL

When David mentioned the connection to The Underfall Yard, I went back to that song and reminded myself of the words. The main theme of the lyrics is the concern that we are losing sight of the Enlightenment values which underlie much of the scientific and social progress that mankind has made in the last few centuries. I thought I would revisit that theme and explore it in greater detail on A Mead Hall in Winter.” GS

A proper ‘prog epic’ at over fifteen minutes, A Mead Hall in Winter is an early favourite of all the Big Big Train fans but, initially, it doesn’t grab me as I’m not a fan of the opening which I feel is a bit messy and almost sounds like an 8 bit Nintendo theme tune from the 80’s. Luckily, after 30 seconds or so, guitar and violin combine to good effect and, as far as I’m concerned, the blue touch paper is lit and we’re off. I love the way that the song seems to drop you slap bang in the middle of the Mead Hall, fire roaring, mead flowing and music playing, it’s really a rather immersive piece of music, one that asks the listener to get involved and become part off. David isn’t just the singer here, he’s a proper troubadour, a minstrel telling stories through the ages and his voice seems to go back in history to echo the early days of the band from ‘The Difference Machine’ and onwards. The captivating and addictive chorus will have you singing along with every word, the harmonised vocals are hauntingly memorable and the little snatches of violin and guitar are the glue that brilliantly hold it all together.

“Artists and dreamers and thinkers are right here by your side…”

Midway through the song we are treated to another entrancing and mesmeric instrumental section that leaves me open mouthed and slack jawed in appreciation. The vocals and instrumentals entwine and combine to deliver an intricate and yet amazingly accessible piece of music that demands to be listened to above all else, stop what you are doing and just concentrate on what is laid before you. The organ section that follows just leaves me transfixed as Rachel’s violin swoops in like Grimspound of the title and dances before your very eyes. Fifteen minutes of sonic delight come to a close with the beguiling vocals and enthralling music resounding in your ears, incredible stuff.

“All here is good,
still and quiet.”

“Sarah’s concept for the cover artwork of the ‘Grimspound’ album has always been that of a crow in flight. Amongst all of the pieces that we have written over the last few years about people and landscape and folk tales we have always featured some songs (or observations within songs) which are more personal in nature. This includes As the Crow Flies. One of the most profound experiences is caring for other people, whether that be for children or aged relatives or others who need support. As the Crow Flies is about the succession of moments of letting go as children prepare to take flight on their own.” GS

As The Crow Flies is perhaps the most personal and melancholy track on the album, when we talk of our children ‘flying the nest’ it is at once both a happy and sad time, it marks a big change in people’s lives and this song has a profound and yet and uncertain timbre to it, echoing perhaps the feelings when we must venture out on our own. The opening to the track has a very sombre tone to it, David’s vocal especially and the music feels like it is treading carefully, almost walking on metaphorical eggshells. The guitar work on this song is as exemplary as ever, almost as if the instrument is talking to you, an accompaniment to David and when Rachel Hall’s delicate voice joins in, it is a thing of ethereal grace and adds hope and longing to lift the feeling of loss that hung over everything. Ultimately our children are our hopes and our futures, we must let them out into the world to become what they are destined to be and to leave their own mark. The sentimental nature of the music and the vocals leaves its mark on my heart and soul and I’m left looking forward to the future, whatever it may bring.

‘Grimspound’ was a hugely anticipated album from one of Progressive Rock’s most revered bands and had to deliver on every front. And it has, many times over, songs like this are what have given Big Big Train the reputation they have today. They are not just music, they are historical tales that take that music and weave it around stories, factual and fictional, to deliver an deeply engaging and riveting spectacle that stays with you forever. This is one sandcastle that no tide will ever wash away…

Band photos by Simon Hogg.

Released 28th April 2017

Buy ‘Grimspound’ on CD from The Merch Desk

Buy ‘Grimspound’ on Vinyl from Burning Shed















The Fierce And The Dead’s Matt Stevens Talks RoSFest

The legend that is Matt Stevens took time this Sunday morning to talk to me about The Fierce And The Dead’s appearance at the recent RoSFest, North America’s premier progressive rock festival.

Among other things, we talk about the tedious process of getting an artist visa, what it’s like playing in a different country, American prog fans and beer, strong beer!

(Featured image of Matt by Jose Ramon Caamano)

An Interview With Rikard Sjöblom – by Progradar

On the early May Bank Holiday Monday Rikard Sjöblom of Gungfly, Big Big Train and (formerly) Beardfish took the time to have a chat with me about the new Gungfly album ‘On Her Journey To The Sun’ and we also discussed ‘Grimspound’, the new Big Big Train release, the demise of Beardfish and lorry driving.

Listen to the full audiofile here:

You can also read Kevin Thompson’s excellent review of (and find a link to order) the new album here:

Review – Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – On Her Journey To The Sun – by Kevin Thompson



Review – SΔCRED ΔPE – SΔCRED ΔPE – by Progradar

“I like a lot of the new synthwave music, the way they use the sounds from the 80s but with a modern production techniques such as sidechaining etc, also I like that you can use that retro setting to not be so afraid of using musical cliche’s, as with Arcade Messiah, I spend most of the time composing avoiding cliches, if you know what I mean?”

One man musical marvel John Bassett talking to me about his new  Synthwave/Synthpop side project SΔCRED ΔPE (I have no idea why we have the Delta sign instead on an ‘A’ either so don’t ask…).

John Bassett is a colossus of the music world, maybe best known as the front man of powerful psychedelic rockers KingBathmat, this talented musician, producer and engineer is also the man behind the instrumental behemoth that is Arcade Messiah. He has also found time to release some rather more chilled and laid back solo acoustic music as well.

Not content with this, John decided to explore his love of 80’s synth music and the more modern ‘Darkwave’ and ‘Synthwave’ genres. Why? well it appears it was just because he could!

When I told John it made me feel as if I was going back to the 80’s he replied:

“…cool, that’s the idea, its a weird one for me as its probably the most personal album I’ve made and covers quite a few problems of late, yet a lot of it has a happy feel to it…”

The album opens with the driving synth of Horn, a dynamic and powerful instrumental that brings to mind Kraftwerk with touches of Jean-Michel Jarre. A swirling synthesiser corrals the troops before we head off on a hell for leather ride. It’s grin inducing and has an utterly addictive and carefree feel to it. Like a melting pop of all the electronic influences from the 70’s, through the 80’s and 90’s and landing in the noughties, my 49-year old ears are picking up all sorts of nuggets of brilliance. Mr Bassett has, once again, brought his magic to another musical style.

Asleep At The Wheel (Part 1) is a much more dark and brooding affair with John’s monotone vocal delivery giving a very dystopian sci-fi feel to the track. The music has a real methodical and relentless tempo, giving an alien tone and the ominous and darkly atmospheric aura created by the Delphian keyboards envelops everything. A mystical and deeply enigmatic three minutes of music indeed.

A pure nod to the 1980’s with it’s synthesier and drum machine brilliance, Birds Fall From The Sky is upbeat and dynamic and John lends his vocals to the mix once again. The catchy synth lines and addictive tempo have me hooked. It’s nostalgic and up-to-date at the same time and leaves me reminiscing abut days down the disco when I was in my 20’s and had hair (no laughing), this man is a musical genius. I found myself transfixed just letting the sepia tinged musical memories come flooding back but feeling that they are also of this time and place as well and that’s a very clever trick.

An eerily laid back synth note opens I Want To Go Back To The Happy House and this unassuming yet delectable piece of music saunters into view, like a lazy, hazy summers day brought to life by music. The keyboard tones are all late 70’s in feel and mood, like early Ultravox or Simple Minds before they discovered fame. It’s a chilled, easy going and lighthearted piece of music where every note passes in an undemanding and mellow vibe.

Season Of The Damned takes some of the John Bassett solo music and blends it artfully with this more synth-heavy style. John’s vocal is heartfelt and earnest and there’s a guitar note dripping with sincerity, matched by the haunting keyboards. As opposed to the other songs on this release, this is instantly recognisable as being from John, it couldn’t be anyone else. This track still feels as if it belongs on the album though, there is no disparity in the musical feel and tone as there is also no 70’s or 80’s influence.

Walking On Ice is like Depeche Mode and Gary Numan did a collaboration and I love it. The forceful synthesiser tone and drums give it a compelling and forceful edge while the rest of music paints soundscapes in your mind. The chorus brings to mind Flock Of Seagulls to this refugee of the 80’s but with modern production techniques everything has a gloss and patina of class and panache. Another track that just puts a huge grin on my face, it’s almost as if John wrote this song for my younger self, the memories come flooding back and I’m just lost in the reverie.

Wonderfully nostalgic in feel and delicate in tone, Asleep At The Wheel (Part 2) makes your emotions well up with its beautiful simplicity and ethereal quality. John’s vocal is ghostly and sublime and the music has an otherworldly ambience to it, especially the haunting nature of the piano but then everything comes to a halt and the song segues into something much more enigmatic, dark and primal in its ambience. The music becomes a dominant force, John’s vocals assertive and commanding and you feel compelled to follow wherever it may lead, a great end to the song and the album.

John Bassett never stands still when it comes to the music he creates and he is never afraid to explore new avenues or take influences from the past or current musical scenes and he’s never let me down yet. With SΔCRED ΔPE John has done it again and created music that just hits the spot on every level. As nostalgia it works perfectly, taking you back through the decades on a wonderful sonic mystery tour and yet it is also bang up to date with the current synth inspired generation. I, for one, just wonder where this musical magicians mind is going to take us next and I can’t wait to find out!

Released 21st April 2017

Buy SΔCRED ΔPE from bandcamp




Review – Echoes and Signals – Monodrama – by Progradar

As some of you well know I do like  a bit of instrumental progressive rock. I find that without the words, the music takes on more meaning and you can lose yourself in a myriad soundscapes where it is you, the listener, that creates the story in your own mind.

One of the excellent instrumental bands I have the pleasure to know is the Russian trio Echoes and Signals. The band, consisting of Fedor Kivokurtsev (guitar), Alexey Zaytsev (bass) and Yaroslav Egorov (drums), were formed  in 2012 in Tula, The Russian Federation, as an instrumental trio. They play music influenced mainly by post-rock and progressive rock elements.

Originally Echoes and Signals was formed just as an improvisation playground for the founding members, but then it turned into a real project. Their first 4-song EP album called ‘Comma’ was released in July, 2012 and was followed by ‘Ouroboros’ in October 2013 and then the band’s first full-length release ‘V’ in November of 2014.

(All live photos by Pavel Chesalin)

2017 sees the band return with their second long player called ‘Monodrama’. The concept of the album goes like this:

“The songs of ‘Monodrama‘ are dedicated to insights, memories, unresolved situations, inner dramas, fantasies, and dreams expressed through music. It’s a collection of soliloquies ‘spoken’ aloud in order to build self-knowledge and awareness; the different dots of our inner mind-map connected together are creating a brand new system and a brand new motion.
We all travel through time guided by the inner light — and realizing that the motion itself is much more important than the destination is the key.”

The new album also features a guest vocal appearance from Marjana Semkina of fellow Russian progsters iamthemorning on the only vocal track Lead Astray.

The album opens with the enigmatic Saltwater, a chilled, laid back number that lets you join the ride at an easy point with a great bass line and dynamic drumming. The guitar guides you around the imaginary land that your mind is already concocting and the tempo increases with some added urgency. Stylish and with a decided touch of class about them, Echoes and Signals have matured rather well since their last outing. Ocean has a real lightness of being to it’s composure from the very first note. There is a real deftness to the guitar note, a delicate step as each note progresses to the next. You can detect a fluidity to this song as it segues from each section to the next. Once again Alexey and Yaroslav provide a superb rhythm section over which Fedor can lay his excellent guitar lines and you just end up letting the music flow over and around you, serenity in musical form.

There’s more of that feel-good atmosphere throughout Station Horizon, a track with powerful dynamics but with a real upbeat tone running at the core. You feel as if you are on a fats paced journey with the band’s collective feet hard on the gas pedal. A joyous tumult of musical ideas that are never less than excellent but always have a smile on their faces (if they had faces obviously!). There are some great, tight & frenetic instrumental runs that add further to the enjoyable ride and I’m left with a big grin on my face. Bring the excellent voice of Marjana Semkina into the equation and things get more dramatic and emotional. Her soulful and touching vocal adds a really serious overtone to Lead Astray and the musical takes on a different feel, this time as a backing to Marjana rather than being the lead. It’s a subtle distinction but it’s definitely there and it produces a brilliant ying and yang of the elfin like qualities of the vocalist and the powerful dynamism of the band. It’s a mesmerising track that draws you in with some superb instrumental passages as well as the stirring vocals and gives pause to where the band see their future.

A short and thoughtful sci-fi tinged track, Farewell Centauri is quite melancholy  and nostalgic in feel and left me feeling somewhat wistful and reflective as it came to a close. Veins opens in a pressing and compelling manner, the edgy guitar, bass and drums having a skittish tone. It then opens up into a funky, acid jazz jam from outer space and I wouldn’t be suprised if this track was a load of fun to play live. The bass and guitar play off against each other and the drums drive everything along with an obsessive beat. Fedor throws in some fiery, emotive soloing to complete what is a very inventive piece of music.

Ethereal and haunting, like a musical daydream, Magnolia is just a beautiful track that feels like a modern classical piece. The guitar almost speaks to you with its plaintive and thoughtful timbre and the subdued drums and stylish bass just add real pathos and emotion. The song opens up into something more powerful but never loses that contemplation, almost questing for more and searching for answers. Skymap carries on with the thoughtful, challenging feel that pervades the whole album and has a composed and laid back opening where the music just dances along, as you move further along this musical journey it begins to ask more questions with a pressing and very catchy guitar motif that I particularly liked. The inquiring mind carries on in intricate fashion with some convoluted sections, studious and introspective. It is, on the whole, a really intelligent and inventive piece of music.

The final track on the album is the nine-minute plus To The Lighthouse and is a superb ending to this excellent, mostly instrumental, musical tapestry. A sombre opening leaves you engrossed and contemplative, a more serious overtone then follows. It’s almost like an elemental force strides across the soundscape, not evil, just curious and not understanding of our world. The music has different shades of light running through it, from the light though to the resolute and you are a willing passenger on the quest, feeling each transition transfixing your soul. This song is an utterly mesmeric musical voyage into the unknown, who knows where you will arrive.

Once again I am entranced by a great instrumental album release. Echoes and Signals produced something impressive with ‘V’ and, to my ears, they have just raised the bar again. With a new found confidence and maturity to their music, there are no boundaries to where they can go and I for one will watch their journey with interest. ‘Monodrama’ is another great musical export from Russia and it is one that everyone should be listening to.

Released 30th March 2017

Buy ‘Monodrama’ from bandcamp




Review – Arkaen – Arkaen – by Progradar

Music that we review here comes from many different sources, be it record labels, public relations agencies, friends or even fellow music reviewers. If it comes from the latter two then you you can bet it is because the person who has tipped me off to the artist is a passionate supporter and wants recognition for these fledgling bands.

For Concord, CA. band Arkaen it was an old friend and colleague from my days as a reviewer at Lady Obscure Magazine, RJ Dunn who pointed me in their direction  and, boy, am I glad he did.

RJ describes them as: “… a hard rock/ Tool kind of band, very solid stuff…”, and that was definitely enough to pique my interest.

Coming from the same bay area in San Francisco as Lady Obscure Editor Emiritus RJ,  Arkaen are singer Oriol (Uri) Nieto, bassist Eli Remas, drummer Sean Henson, and guitarists Joey Nunez and Garey Rickher. Their first, eopnymous, release is a four track EP.

The EP opens with Innocence and a funky bass line that draws you in before the twin guitar leads hit you with an edgy riff and Uri’s emotive vocals begin. These guys are extremely tight and technically proficient. The music has a proper mountain moving heavy vibe to it without going too far in the thrash direction that I’m not particularly fond off. The song builds on its foundations creating a solid wall of sound along which Uri can weave his intensive vocal magic, as a taster for the rest of the EP it’s nigh on perfect.

Again that ever stylish bass of Eli is the opening for When We Fall and it is followed by a riff hewn from granite, properly heavy indeed. The guitars provide a backdrop for Uri to hit you with the full force of his vocals, he has a great dynamic range. I feel like I’m listening to Metallica when they bestrode the metal world, these guys definitely have something about them. There’s a funky, edgy chorus and some cookie monster vocals that are followed by a burning solo that scorches across the track like the Fifth Horseman. A really enjoyable track full of heavy and thrash metal cues and one that left a smile on my face.

The next two track are longer, both coming in at over seven minutes, and even touch on progressive metal tendencies. Bass line to introduce Just Another Lie? Yep, you got it! The song builds slowly with another leviathan crushing, monstrous riff and I can definitely hear the Tool influence on this track. Dark and dangerous, it takes no prisoners and brooks no arguments. The vocals are brilliant, Uri has touch of Bruce Dickinson about him in places and his voice appears to come from the very bowels of the earth. The driving force behind the song is the excellent rhythm section of Eli’s bass and the dynamic energy of Sean Henson behind the drum kit and they allow the thunderously expressive guitars free rein to provide an amazing sonic assault that knocks you flat before picking you up, dusting you off and then doing the same damn thing to you again. Are you complaining? are you hell!! There’s an anthemic glee to the song that is hugely addictive and it just flies by before coming to a slow burning close, epic!

The final track on the EP is Gleam and it opens with an almost pop music keyboard note that caused me to raise an eye brow before normal service was resumed with a tectonic plate shifting riff and uptight vocal, backed by some highly strung guitars. The riff that follows is as funky as hell, almost as if Chic decided they wanted to cover a Megadeth track and really worked for me. The earnest vocals on the verse are backed by the excellent musicians but its the earthy chorus that really impresses on this song for me. The twin guitar trade- offs between Joey and Garey are really addictive and the solos they play are scintillating and note perfect. Another impressive song from this quintet that shows they have a lot to offer in the future.

What you get from Arkaen is seriously professional musicianship backed by solid songwriting that grabs your attention, immerses you in the music and makes you want to listen to the whole EP over and over again. Heavy riffs, compelling vocals and rhythm section to die for, what more could you ask for from a debut release?

Released 24th January 2017

Order ‘Arkaen’ from bandcamp




Review – Drifting Sun – On The Rebound (2016 Remaster) – by Progradar

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…”

A common enough saying, if there’s nothing wrong with a certain thing then why change it? Yet in the music industry there seems to be a propensity of remixed and remastered versions of older releases, why is this?

I suppose the technology today means that the songs can be tinkered with to produce what the artists originally wanted and there might not have been enough money in the coffers originally to release the desired versions of the tracks?

For whatever reason there is a plethora of ‘breathed on’ new versions of old releases around at the moment and last October Drifting Sun gave us a new version of their 1999 release ‘On The Rebound’ and the band’s main man, Pat Sanders, has asked your intrepid music journalist to review it.

Here’s the artwork for the original release:

I asked Pat why the band decided to remix and remaster the album and here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth (so to speak):

“The album was originally recorded and mixed/mastered at a time when we didn’t have much experience in this sort of thing, and lack of a proper budget basically forced us to take care of the mix and mastering ourselves, which wasn’t handled as best as it could have been, and that has always been in the back of my mind all these years.

Therefore, I recently decided to give the album a new lease of life and have it remixed and remastered by our sound engineer Jon Huxtable. He has done a great job bringing the songs back to life, really this was more than just a simple remix… we literally pulled the tracks from the raw files and started from scratch there.

While we were working on the mix, I thought that another thing that wasn’t showing the record in its best light either, was the cover, and so I did brand new artwork for it, as well as redesigning the entire booklet too. So there you have it, ‘On the Rebound’, Circa 2016, brand new mix, brand new master, brand new artwork!”

The band’s line-up on the original album was Pat (keyboards), Chris Martini (vocals), John Spearman (guitars), Manu Michael (bass) and Tobin Bryant (drums).

There is a rich sound to the newly remastered songs and it doesn’t sound like an album from the end of the last century, there’s a real modern sound to the music which is evident from the opening bars of The Charade, a really up-tempo neo-progressive track with a multitude of twists and turns throughout its thirteen minute duration. The keyboards and up front and centre and the drums have a real vibrancy to them and Chris Martini has a very expressive and expansive vocal style, almost theatrical in its delivery. A nicely harmonised chorus adds to the stylish feel and there’s a really intricate keyboard solo that puts a big smile on your face. John’s guitar finally loses its cloak of subtlety and becomes more forceful as we move further into this impressive track, I have to admit it has really surprised me, I wasn’t expecting a 17 year old release to sound this vibrant and dynamic. Swan Song opens with a powerful guitar run and Chris’ almost operatic vocal, a much more serious and sober track with an emotive vibrancy. It ebbs and flows superbly and the keyboards and guitar have a real tete a tete, playing off each other brilliantly before there’s a cracking guitar solo full of fire and brimstone that will have you pulling out your air guitar and joining in. A cracking track that shows just how neo-prog should be done.

A sophisticated vocal and delicate acoustic guitar open Drifting Sun with style and panache and draw you into its cultured embrace. The vocal opens up more and the music adds verve and tenacity and, along with Pat’s 80’s sounding keyboards, give you a rather elegant piece of music. Once again John’s skill on the guitar comes to the fore with a tasty solo, it doesn’t get much better than this. There are hints of Marillion but this talented band have their own identity right at the core, sit back and enjoy the music. Another cultured introduction opens Long Nights and there is definitely and 80’s feel to this song with the chiming keyboard notes and elegant bass lines. The vocals are heartfelt and earnest and the track seems to glide elegantly across your aural synapses with its hypnotic beat. There’s a feel of treading water, a calmness and serenity to everything as this mesmerising song continues. About half way in things take a darker turn and an aura of unease covers everything. The guitar fires up and goes on an intricate, quick fire journey, aided and abetted by the slightly discordant keyboards and driven along by the dynamic drums and bass, a proper progressive intervention into the composure and harmony of what went before. The song ventures into a more elaborate form with mysterious undertones, asking questions that you don’t have answers too, it’s very clever and really piqued my curiosity, I just love the freshness of the free-form and free will guitar section towards the end.

Heaven’s Eyes is a more straightforward song with a beautiful piano opening and Chris delivers another warm, sincere vocal performance. Almost a ballad but one with more depth than your usual fare, it is stirring and touches your soul with its earnest emotion. It stirred thoughts and sentiments inside that I thought were long gone and left me thoughtful and musing on the world we live in today. Minstrel is an intriguing track, it has many layers of subtlety and, as you peel them back, you are gifted with little nuggets of wonder. There’s a fantastic vocal from Chris that reminds me of some of the great frontmen that progressive rock has seen, almost a cross between Peter’s Gabriel and Hammill with a little bit of Fish thrown in for good measure. A proper ‘progressive’ track in every sense of the word and one with a penchant for a bit of showmanship at times. It’s a song for late night, lights down low, headphones on and a glass of deep red wine in your hand. As the song title would suggest, there is a touch of the troubadour about Chris’ performance on this song and he is the main focus, backed up very ably by these talented musicians to add a patina of theatrical artistry to every note.

The final track, Mon Masque, is a fitting ending to the album, full of pomp and circumstance, emotion and sentiment, it has real fervor to it. I’ve used the word ‘theatrical’ in this review and you do get that feel that you could be in a West End musical, it is more than just music, there is a heart and soul to every word and every note and the band are really putting on a performance for their audience. To hear these songs played live would be pretty special I’m sure. I keep losing myself in the myriad twists and turns that envelop this song, like a musical maze that you’re quite happy to be lost in.

I loved Drifting Sun’s last release ‘Safe Asylum’ and the praise I gave that album is well justified by this remastered version of ‘On The Rebound’. An entrancing, theatrical musical experience that draws you in and leaves you sated with its dexterity and brilliant tracks. Whether it was broken or not, this ‘fix’ has produced something rather special.

Released 1st October 2016

Buy ‘On the Rebound – remastered and remixed’ from bandcamp