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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 30th June 2017

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

Buy ‘Absorption Lines’ from FREIA (Europe):

Jet Black Sea – ABSORPTION LINES

Review – Gentle Knife – Clock Unwound – by Emma Roebuck

Gentle Knife is a Norwegian Ensemble of 11 members:

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

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

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

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

(Photo by Vidar Jensen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 15th June 2017

Order ‘Clock Unwound’ via Caerllysi Music

(Featured image by Thomas Hysvær)

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arran Oakes
Craig McNaughton
Simon Christie
Alistair Dunlop

Gentlemen, we have lift off, Holy Smoly!

Released 16th June 2017

Buy ‘The Exigent’ from bandcamp

THRESHOLD announce new album ‘Legends Of The Shires’ & unveil artwork. Listen to epic first single ‘Lost In Translation’

British Progressive icons THRESHOLD have announced their new album ‘Legends Of The Shires’ will be released via Nuclear Blast on 8th September.
Today the band unveiled the first single from the release, the ultra-Prog epic ‘ Lost In Translation’ which has a song length of over ten minutes!
Commented Threshold’s Richard West “We’ve made a monster of an album so we thought we should release a monster of a single! This epic really showcases the many sides of our sound and is a great prelude to our album release”

‘Legends Of The Shires’ will be the band’s eleventh studio album and their first ever double album; it also features Glynn Morgan back on vocal duties for the first time since 1996.

Check out the ethereal album artwork above by Russian artist Elena Dudina. Speaking about the artwork Richard West commented “I love it when a cover tells you what sort of record you’re buying. This one really shouts “progressive” and reminds me of some of the classic prog albums from the 20th century.”

Pre-order the album here on the limited edition formats below:  
Limited Edition 2CD Digipack (inc signed insert) from Recordstore:
http://www.recordstore.co.uk/search.html?term=threshold
Limited Gatefold Double Vinyl (inc signed insert) from Recordstore:
http://www.recordstore.co.uk/search.html?term=threshold
Limited Edition Gatefold Double NB Anniversary Green Vinyl (inc signed insert) from NB UK:
http://www.nuclearblaststore.co.uk/shop/nuclearblast/products.php?cat=4233

Or pre-order the album digitally on iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/legends-of-the-shires/id1258208732

Tracklist for ‘Legends Of The Shires’:
CD 1:
1. The Shire (Part 1) 2:03
2.Small Dark Lines 5:24
3.The Man Who Saw Through Time 11:51
4.Trust The Process 8:44
5.Stars And Satellites 7:20
6.On The Edge 5:20

CD 2:
7. The Shire (Part 2) 5:24
8. Snowblind 7:03
9.Subliminal Freeways 4:51
10.State Of Independence 3:37
11. Superior Machine 5:01
12. The Shire (Part 3) 1:22
13. Lost In Translation 10:20
14. Swallowed 3:54

Threshold play HRH Prog in North Wales on 17th November – get your tickets here:
https://www.hrhprog.com/tickets.html 
The band also play a headline show at London’s o2 Islington Academy on 10th December – get your tickets here:
https://academymusicgroup.com/o2academyislington/events/924878/threshold-tickets  

More info:
www.thresh.net
www.facebook.com/threshold
http://nuclearblast.com/threshold-legends

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 26th May 2017

Buy ‘Quiet Life’ from Cheery Red here:

Quiet Life

 

Review – Cast – Power And Outcome – by James R Turner

Apparently there are two bands called Cast, I wasn’t aware of this, and like so many bands that have the same namesake (think English Nirvana and American Nirvana – about as far removed as is possible to be) the Mexican progressive band Cast are both sonically and geographically removed from their jaunty Britpop counterparts.

Formed in Mexico in the late 70’s this is their first album since 2015’s ‘Cast Vida’, and whilst it is very much traditional prog rock, and well produced and performed, there is a slight feeling of having heard it all before, and in some instances done slightly better.

The opening 11 minutes plus of Rules of the Desert features some great guitar and keyboard interplay from Alfonso Vidales and Claudio Cordero, however too many of the keyboard solo’s are very Wakeman-lite, and with too much power and not enough outcome, there are large musical portions that veer too closely to pastiche rather than plausibility.

The title track has some wonderful symphonic work, and a beautifully understated piano and guitar interlude, with fine violin work by Roberto Izzo, that builds into a great piece of music, whilst the lyrical performances are superb, and it’s when they do something a little different on this piece that is where the album works, it is almost soundtrack like in it’s scope and the vocal interplay between Bobby Vidales and Lupita Acuna is great.

However for every moments that soar like on Power and Outcome, unfortunately there’s also too many prog by numbers moments for my liking, there are plenty of bands out there who are doing exciting new things, and on this album Cast can play and perform with the best of them.

Details is split into two parts with a) Circle Spins being a big power ballad that would fit nicely into a musical, with it’s emphasis on the lyrics, while the musical accompaniment could have fallen from the West End, whilst it’s counterpart b) Start Again is all dramatic strings, mellotron, guitar and power and fury, however it’s all be done before with Jon Lord’s classic/rock crossovers in the 70’s and the real stand out is the violin solo.

I do feel that at points on this album they show flashes of brilliance, however they are dragged down by the weight of their own history and the genres history.

This viewpoint isn’t helped by tracks like Through a Stained Glass, that mix Yes, with Genesis, and some very traditional prog sounds, that makes it very cliché ridden unfortunately.

That’s the problem I have with this album, it is well made, well produced and the band are undoubtedly talented but for every thing fresh they throw in the pot, they also regurgitate prog clichés as well.

With tracks like Illusions and Tribulations clocking in at over 9 minutes, I do think that they could have trimmed some of these tracks down, as again there is guitar and keyboard interplay that brings Wakeman/Howe to mind, as well as some of Ricks solo albums, and whilst it might have been original back in the 1970’s, it’s lots a lot of it’s lustre, because if I want to hear Wakeman/Howe soloing I will put Yes on.

That is where I sit with this album sadly, I want to love it, as it has all the ingredients that make a great prog album, unfortunately all the ingredients make it a great prog album of the 1970’s, and time has moved on.

If I want 70’s prog I will listen to Yes, Genesis, VdGG et al, and unfortunately as the prog bar has been raised so high by so many in such recent years, doing what you always did will not get you the same results as it may have done five or ten years ago.

This will probably be fantastic live, however on record it’s not something I will be returning to.

If you’re a prog fan who moans that they don’t make them like they used to do, then this is your bag, for me it’s nice enough to listen to once or twice but it won’t be hitting the best of the year charts.

(Featured image by Rey Acuña)

Released 7th March 2017

Buy ‘Power and Outcome’ from Progressive Promotion Records

 

 

 

KYLVER – The Island – Vinyl/Cassette Release

First put out in October 2016 as a self released album both digitally and on CD; ‘The Island’ by North East Progressive Rock/Metal four piece Kylver is getting a re-release on 12” vinyl via Newcastle label ‘Inverted Grim-Mill’ and also on cassette through Colorado based label ‘Graven Earth’ on the 6th of July 2017.

Kylver is made up of guitarist Jonny Scott, Bassist James Bowmaker, Drummer Barry Micherson and Organist Neil Elliott. They have crafted their take on the progressive genre by mixing slow and heavy doom riffs, odd time signatures, atmospherics of post-rock and Hammond tones of the 70’s with a classic rock and metal sound.

Inverted Grim-Mill Recordings is a small independent label based in Newcastle upon Tyne, established in 2012. Acts working with the label are mostly gathered from the local and regional music scene, with releases and live events aimed at helping artists take the next logical step for their music.”

Graven Earth Records was born in the summer of 2016 in Denver, Colorado as a fiercely independent effort to support the best of the metal underground. The label has thus far worked with bands both local and abroad, issuing limited edition cassette releases with plans to expand to vinyl releases in the near future.

‘The Island’ is the follow up to their 2015 debut release ‘The Mountain Ghost’. ‘The Mountain Ghost’ is a forty-minute long concept album consisting of four tracks that follow the fictitious tale of a spirit who inflicts torment on the residents of a village that lies in the shadow of his mountainous home. The success of this first self released album lead the band to be nominated in the ‘Limelight’ (best newcomer) category of the 2016 Progressive Music Awards which was followed in the same year up by seeing ‘The Island’ listed in the Prog Magazine Critics Choice listings and Prog Magazine Readers Poll.

The Story of ‘The Island’ Goes…. “In November of 1703, a privateer ship and its crew set sail in search of a mythical island that was said to hold a portal to another dimension or another world in space and time. But from the outset, the journey was doomed to never reach its destination. After a day or two at sea the ship was wrecked in a great storm, losing all on board with the exception of one sole survivor. It was as if by fate that he was washed ashore on the very island that the expedition had been searching for, with nothing but a pendant around his neck which contained a strange undecipherable map. As the confused mariner made his way deeper into the heart of the island he was accompanied by an eerie feeling that he was not alone. It was a feeling that he was being ushered along the trails of the island by its shadows, shadows that lured him towards a cave inhabited by an unfamiliar yet familiar stranger. The sibyl of the island showed him the meaning of the pendant’s contents before showing him what and where he was searching. Upon his arrival at the ancient monoliths he found himself greeted by four hooded figures who were members of The Great Race. They proceeded to transport the weary traveller to an abyss where no man should venture. The sojourner begged that he be sent back to where he came from as the strange environment he found himself in was turning his mind into something he could not fathom. To this The Great Race agreed but not before they had removed all recollection of how and when this all happened from his mind. But The Great Race added a curse to protect their knowledge even further. He awoke in his world on the eve before the ship was due to set sail and from then on the rest of his life was a perpetual loop, with the same journey continuing to happen over and over again with no end…”

Review of ‘Black Science’ by Machines Dream – by Emma Roebuck

Not having the time pressures of a “proper music journalist” means that I have the opportunity to mull and digest an album I am given for review as I’m not on a specific dead line most times. Occasionally I am asked to get one done quickly but thankfully I am not on this album. I have played this one through a couple of times a night through headphones while reading since it was sent to me. You could call it a longevity test or the fact It makes great night time listening while immersed in a novel. Both are true in this case as the album will take repeated listening and doesn’t become tiresome in any way.

Most people who know me are aware I am fascinated by the human condition and people politics and this album ticks those boxes and then some. The band describe the album thus;

“Black Science is a musically powerful progressive rock album that thematically explores the dark side of humanity and technology.”

I would agree that it is thematic rather than a concept as the songs do connect and flow excellently and explore modern life and the challenges that are very prescient in the minds of many. Yet I would say it will not become dated in any way.

Opening with a short track Armistice Day, highly reminiscent of a Roger Waters’ vocal style, it’s a doom laden post apocalypse electronic minute and a half that drops straight into Weimar, with a truly ‘Prog’ keyboards, piano and guitar symphonic introduction followed by a very open vocal . It’s very odd as I read this as a narrative close to the series “Handmaidens Tale” currently unsettling the public on Channel 4. There are musical hints of a backward baroque Harpsichord in the vocal breaks then a huge rocking out of synths and general guitar indulgence. Time and key changes rip through this 10 minute mini-epic, a treatise on society’s misogyny and patriarchal dominance. One caveat with this is my reading of the song and I may be off the mark and seeing something that the band don’t.

Cannons Cry opens with a heavy riff and a martial theme that warns of the rise of fascism and the use of propaganda to drive towards an oncoming war of the destruction of common values and principles. These guys are fans of classic Waters/Gilmour Floyd and though this is obvious but not in any way that is derogatory, only complimentary, to the music.

Airfield on Sunwick is very very English despite these guys being Ontario based. Fans of Big Big Train will find solace in a track that is very spartan in structure with lots of space in the music. Guesting on vocals on this, Jakub Olejnik (of band Sound Of Maze) adds real authenticity. This is a song of tragic conscription and the loss of country by Polish refugees in the post 1939 invasion period. Referencing Wojtek, a bear adopted and given a rank of private in the forces in World War two. It has a beautiful tone and quality about it.

Black Science is a real homage to the 70s if ever I heard one. A warning of the darker side of the misuse of science, a very simple tune and the use of the saxophone solo at the end literally took straight back to 1973 as Josh Norling superbly channels the spirit of the use of the instrument so effectively, deliberately referencing our nostalgia for a supposedly better time.

Noise to Signal, the closer on the album, is a real standout track for me combining doom chords and huge sounds to scare the pants of you in a treatise on how social media has filled our lives with noise over substance. Not a second is wasted on this track and it’s as tight as you could possibly get in a studio recording.

The eight tracks on this, their third album, show huge maturity and discipline in writing and production. It is crafted excellently and thoughtfully and fans of music in general will find much to enjoy in this album. Fans of the progressive genre particularly should lap it up as it carries a sense of the past while being still relevant to the early 21st century. These Canadians have a touch and an ear for music that needs to be shared.

Machines Dream are:

Brian Holmes: Keyboards.
Craig West: Bass and vocals.
Jake Rendell: Acoustic and backing vocals.
Ken Coulter: Drums.
Rob Coleman: Lead guitar.

With contributions from saxophonist Josh Norling.

Released 12th June 2017

Buy ‘Black Science’ from Progressive Gears here