Better known recently as the voice behind Steve Hackett’s ‘Genesis Revisited’ live show, Nad has had a varied career as a solo musician and as part of the musical projects Unifaun and Agents Of Mercy. ‘Courting the Widow’ is his first solo effort since 2005 and was quite a revelation to me. It is full of traditional progressive rock pointers yet it is Nad’s voice that carries the album all the way through. A concept album about his stage persona, The Vampyre. Featuring a plethora of guest musicians including Steve Hackett, Nick Beggs, Roine STolt and NickD’Virgilio if you like well written, story driven music (and a touch of Genesis), you’ll love this.
Pink Floyd’s guitar maestro releases his first solo album since ‘On an Island’ and it is a good one. There’s been a lot of discussion about the prominence of the older, established artists recently and how they are perhaps taking the attention from the new and up and coming acts (I put my hand up to being one who is worried by it) but, surely, they can exist together. If these older, nostalgic acts weren’t around, what music would we have listened to in the first place? Nothing new or different but polished and comfortable, like your favourite shoes, I find myself returning to it quite frequently.
Canadian band Hillward started off as Southern Cross’ side project with three of its members, David Lizotte, Jean-François Boudreault and Antoine Guertin. The band became one of its own when Alexandre Lapierre joined as a second guitar player after the recording of the first album ‘Flies In Amber Stones’.
Progressive metal with alternative undertones, its powerful and dynamic sound is really quite addictive as it pulses and resounds with heavy riffs, potent drumming and aggressive vocals.
The eagerly awaited follow up to 2014’s eponymous debut album is a cornucopia of progressive, classical, experimental, ambient, jazz and pop influences that create the band’s unique style. Emotive and full of energy it is the fruit of 2014’s live performances and the way that playing live tightened up the band’s sound and evolved them into a tighter unit.
Perhaps a tad incohesive and self-indulgent in places, it is still, nevertheless, a great Prog-Rock release.
Australia’s Caligula’s Horse release their third album of raw, honest, and yet skillful, progressive, alternative rock. Vibrant and dynamic, the band are like a force of nature and their music is not for the faint hearted whilst being energetic, grand and forthright.
This is their most vivid, vibrant and emotional work to date and should see them break through and become one of the leading lights of the genre, full of colour and life.
Following my review of the band’s ‘Travelog’ album last week, I have the pleasure of introducing their first release from 2009. ‘Powered by Light’ follows in the tradition of the progressive rock giants of the 1970s, heavy with symphonic keyboards and virtuoso guitar work, Kinetic Element takes the listener on a lightspeed journey of the heart, full of great evocative passages.
“Sometimes in the great soundtrack of our lives there are no words, there are only emotions; I believe this is why God gave us classical music.”
I’d like to say that I came up with that quote myself but I would be telling a lie, it is an anonymous saying that, I believe, sums up classical music perfectly. I don’t have endless shelves full of classical recordings (in fact, I only have a handful of releases) but the fact that this music can hold people in rapt attention, sometimes hundreds of years after its composition, is testament to its enduring popularity.
Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by brass instruments and brass bands, ‘Trumpet Voluntary’ one of the first pieces I can actually remember hearing and it still raises the hairs on the nape of my neck today. Brass Bands were central to Yorkshire mining communities (and still are to this day) and I grew up with Colliery bands thanks to my Great Uncle who lived in Sheffield.
Listening to the amazing last few albums by Big Big Train, I was struck by the brilliant brass playing on tracks such as ‘Victorian Brickwork’ and ‘East Coast racer’ and it led me to investigate further into who the brass players were.
Dave Desmond led the Band of The Coldstream Guards who appeared on ‘The Underfall Yard’ and helped to make it such a memorable piece of music. One of the other musicians who played on the album, and the at the subsequent live gigs at Kings Place in London, was John Storey, celebrated euphonium player and well known in his own right.
John, previously the principle euphonium player with the Band of the Coldstream Guards, is now the euphonium and trombone player with The Band of the Royal Logistic Corps. After becoming a member of his first band at the age of 8, he joined The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain at 16.
John studied music at the University of Huddersfield and joined the James Shepherd Versatile Brass. After graduating in 1997, John joined The Band of the Coldstream Guards as principle euphonium and was privileged to play at many state occasions such as Trooping the Colour and the Festival of Remebrance. John has featured as soloist with the band in the UK, overseas and on a number of the band’s recordings.
In addition to his career with the Army, he has been very much in demand in the brass band world for many years performing with , amongst others, the Beaumaris Band.
in 2012 John Storey released an album with the simple title of Euphonium and it is that record that I have the pleasure of reviewing here….
Opening track O Waly Waly is John’s instrumental take on the Scottish folk song which harks back to the 1600’s, better known as ‘The Water is Wide’, it is the first track to feature the Seindorf Beaumaris Band. Gentle and uplifting, John’s euphonium is the definite centre of attention here taking the lead and guiding you through the story. With a real pastoral feel, it has touches of that famous soundtrack to a Hovis advert (ee, when I were a lad!) and has a wonderfully calming persona that just leaves you adrift in your own calm oasis. The beautiful playing just brings a lump to your throat as the backing musicians join in unison as it rises triumphantly before coming back down to the land where it belongs. The next track is The Flower Song from Carmen, the delicacy being added by the tender piano playing of Annette Parri. John’s playing is restrained and cultivated giving this well known and exquisite song a different perspective, as euphonium and piano combine to deliver a quite magical scene. Sat in a sunlit room with my head clear of everything but the music, it is quite a liberating and transfixing experience.
Joining John on Mozart’sConcerto for Euphonium and Woodwind Octet is The Inner-City Woodwind Ensemble, this jaunty classical masterpiece is played excellently by these musicians. A quite delicate piece of music is handled gracefully and with gravitas and you could just close your eyes and imagine you were transported to a stunning baroque music hall to hear it in the setting it deserves. An agile and refined aura surrounds the tune as it flows perfectly through and around your mind, at the same time enriching and inspiring your soul. The Beaumaris Band join John again on Variations on Rule Britannia, full of as much pomp and circumstance as any one person could ever need, it runs the rule over some different perspectives of the famous tune. Running in at over eight minutes I did wonder if it maybe a tad too long but you just seem to get lost in the complexity and delight of some utterly expressive musicianship. When the instantly recognisable notes ring out it is a metaphorical salute to our mother nation and the pride that comes with it. Utterly over the top in its ceremonial elegance but utterly fascinating and enjoyable too.
The next track is from the famous English composer of works for brass bands, JohnGolland, Peace features the ethereal Harp playing of Dylan Cenyw and is a sublimely emotive piece of music. Seemingly simple in its delivery, there is a subtle depth of artistry and passion running throughout. John plays his instrument with a gentle touch, matching the finesse of the harp and just leaving you struck dumb with admiration, as fine a piece of music as you will hear anywhere. The three movements of Rolf Wilhelm’s Concertino for Euphonium sees Annette’s piano return. Another wonderful melodic journey through your mind and soul, restful and relaxed, it leaves you with no cares in the world as they lightly skip through Allegro ma non troppo, a humble and unpretentious musical journey through a sun drenched, sepia tinged forest glade. Andante ma non troppo feels more melancholy and dispirited, the ability of the musicians to convey feelings is perfectly realised here, John’s wistful playing matches the slightly trite piano perfectly and leads your emotions along the same path, contemplative and with a sense of longing. That plaintive feeling lifts with the jaunty opening notes of Moderato con animo, the dancing piano and animated euphonium feel like they are talking to each other in a spirited conversation, captivating and absorbing. John plays his heart out here, every note is like a precise synaptic shock in your brain and across the three parts of this spellbinding piece of music.
John really gets to stand tall and shout from the rooftops on title track Euphoria, a celebrated work by Rodney Newton. Using the Big Big Train analogyit really has sense of animation to it, like a steam train on an express journey, full of the essence of life as it charges on like an engine with its own soul. With no other instrument to provide accompaniment or hide behind, it is here where the absolute skill and expertise of John Storey comes to the fore and he doesn’t hide behind anyone’s bushel, this guy has an abundance of talent. Now to perhaps the most accomplished and, in my mind, the most interesting track on this release, Concertino for euphonium and string quartet sees The Cassian Ensemble add their distinguished playing to Steven Rockey’s work. Ten minutes of magnificent interplay between John’s euphonium and some meticulously refined strings left me feeling wholly inadequate in the skill set that I have amounted through my life. An elaborate orchestral journey that takes you by the hand and takes you right into the core of it. The music is that intense that you cannot try to do anything else while you listen to it, to get every nuance and subtle gradation you need to stop, sit down and immerse yourself entirely in it, only then does it all come together and make complete sense. As you come to the end of the journey and open your eyes, the world seems to make a lot more sense.
The final track, ‘Neath Dublin Skies has John and the Beaumaris Band take you on a musical trip that has all the elements of a night in Dublin. A haunting air opens the piece and it moves into a fast paced jig where John delivers an intricate, foot tapping Irish reel. That low key opening returns, sombre, tender and hushed, you find your breathing becomes slow and shallow as a poignant horn takes up the reverie, sentimental, touching and nostalgic, yearning for yesteryear. A sustained repeat of the lively, energetic jig increases in tempo, getting faster and faster before all comes to a close with a spirited flourish.
I came upon this album by way of a quite obtuse route, I listen to the odd classical release but it is not really my forte. I absolutely love the brass playing on the Big Big Train albums and that led me to want to hear John Storey’s release. Well, am I glad I did, it is a fine piece of music that I keep returning to every now and again, like an old friend whose company you instantly know you will always enjoy. Should you take a leap of faith and listen to something you wouldn’t normally consider? In one word, yes!
Does humour have a place in music? I don’t mean wry, observational humour but slapstick silliness and side splitting fun. Sarcasm and self-deprecation abound around The Bob Lazar Story. I haven’t heard anything as ‘out-there’ as this musical project since I listened to Cheeto’s Magazine’s bonkers and brilliant ‘Boiling Foils’.
Let’s face, who doesn’t need a bit of light-hearted fun and japery in their everyday lives, it can make the doldrums palatable and keep you smiling from ear to ear. Yes, I love my serious, well intended and deeply meaningful music as much as the next man but I love a bit of playfulness and flippancy too.
To give you some idea about the wisecracking lunacy of this project, here is an excerpt from the website biography:
“The Bob Lazar Story is the musical brainchild of Matt Deacon. Matt was born and raised in Liverpool, UK. Matt happened across an acoustic guitar in 1982 and played the shit out of it until he became perfectly mediocre. A few years later he had to decide between two possible futures :
1. A life of potential musical obscurity. 2. Becoming a top, top football legend.
Luckily for you, he opted for number 1.”
Matt moved to New Zealand in 1998 and taught guitar for a few years before getting a ‘real’ job. As technology advanced and became more affordable, the musician in Matt get sneaking out, culminating in his first, eponymous, release in 2004.
Matt changed his musical moniker to The Bob Lazar Story (that’s a question for another day)and the rest, as they say, is history. 2006 saw the first proper album entitled ‘(sic)’ followed by an E.P. ‘The Silence of Perez de Cuellar’.
A mad four year journey followed (which included a crazy year driving taxis back in Liverpool) and this culminated in Matt’s first collaborative effort with his erstwhile rhythmical genius, Chris Jago. 2014 saw the release of ‘Ghost Of Foodstool’, a fifteen minute epic that spawned popular hits such as ‘Threadkiller’ and ‘Funniest Cat Video Ever II’.
It was also the first release where Chris played on all tracks, leading to a more cohesive sound across all songs. Jump to mid 2015 and we see the recent release of Self-Loathing Joe, a twenty minute ride into the heart of The Bob Lazar Story.
Harmonics is 16 seconds of setting the scene, a gentle meander through a field of acoustics which then blazes straight into the angst driven madness of Don Branch Venom, a vicious guitar riff playing off with some whimsical keyboards that dance around like some maniacal jester. Like a 21st century tongue in mouth homage to Van Der Graaf Generator and King Crimson it has technical prowess and follows no set route, abstract and perplexing. The increasing fervor of the staccato riffs and keyboard melodies gives the music an incessant nagging nature that never lets you settle as it comes to a short, sharp close.
A terse drumbeat opens No Wait, Yes Chips before it wanders off, in a slightly surreal seventies American sit-com fashion, well, one that may have been directed by David Lynch that is. It’s like the X-Files met Saturday Night Live and had a musical baby that grew up on a diet of sugary sweets and late night TV. Slightly psychotic but thoroughly enjoyable and definitely a few sandwiches short of a picnic, it runs off into the dark, maniacally shouting and grinning. The segue into Title track Self-Loathing Joe is seamless and this trackadds a real jazzy edge to the lunacy that abounds all around you, the mellow keyboards and chilled guitar playing leave you slap bang in the middle of a wide open imagined space, a desert where the only sustenance is the uber-sharp music and highly charged crazed atmosphere.
Unhinged and unsettled are two words I could use to describe this album and that doesn’t change with Foodstool Exacts Revenge Upon Gilchrist the Traitor (the title is mad enough on its own!). Another schizophrenic, flippant trip into the depths of someone’s musical depravity on a superbly kitsch 70’s influenced keyboard and guitar melody and a rhythm section that is more chilled than the whole of L.A. The longest track on the album and by some margin, the most serious in nature (although that doesn’t say much when you’re talking about these guys) Ezekiel II begins with a mysterious and methodical beat, those familiar with the 80’s arcade game Spy Hunter will know exactly where I’m coming from. Like a sound track from a Tarantino film, it is edgy and dangerous yet stylishly so with a veneer of cool that only someone like Sinatra could exude. Again there is a strong 70’s vibe to the whole thing as it marches on relentless. A rather disturbing u-turn then follows, one which is actually quite creepy, as some rather pained voices shout out as if trapped in Dante’s musical inferno. Some crazed hushed whispering follows which is almost as creepy as a scene from 1970’s Dr. Who (the ‘hide behind the sofa’ kind) and the hairs are definitely raised. It is enjoyably unnerving though and then the music becomes the star of the show with a sustained organ like vibrato with a repeated note underlying until the guitar takes over in quite a sombre, mournful fashion. Quite possibly the most ‘normal’ and meaningful part of the whole record, it really does hit home and leave you in some sort of dark reverie, although hope and sanity are never too far away. Scinomrah is what they call the final 15 seconds and it closes out this most interesting E.P. in much the same way as the first track opened it.
Utterly captivating and totally bonkers, we should all have a listen to ‘Self-loathing Joe’ whenever we get above ourselves and our self-importance gets too big for its own boots. It will bring you back down to earth with an abrupt and exceedingly entertaining bump. Don’t take life too seriously, just enjoy it, I can tell that Matt, Chris and the rest of The Bob Lazar Story live life for today, their music proves it!
I wonder where you stand on soundtracks, you know, the incidental music written specifically for movies and TV shows? Can it really stand separate from the film or TV show it was intended to accompany? And what about music that is not intentionally written for film or TV, music with a cinematic scope that feels like it could be used as a soundtrack?
I love cinematic, atmospheric music but some soundtracks really are just dull and boring if taken away from their natural habitat. What seemed a good idea at the time may look extremely different in the light of day and in retrospect. However, there are some superb albums that invoke thoughts and images as if they were taken from the silver screen.
These albums really tend to be full of thoughtful and intelligent music, tracks that are good for the mind as well as the soul. A few that come to mind are ‘Ra’ by Tony Patterson, ‘Atlantean Symphony’ by Dreamfire, ‘Fragile’ by Acke Hallgren and ‘The Dream Of The Whale’ by Enrico Pinna, releases that take the listener to another place or time and envelop you int heir narrative.
Another band that have been slightly under my radar is Karda Estra, noted for their spacey, sci-fi soundtrack nature and ability to deliver expansive concepts and theories. The band (the brainchild of Richard Wileman) have released eleven full length albums up to press and 2015 sees them release an E.P. ‘The Seas And The Stars’.
The band’s own description of the new release:
‘The Seas And The Stars’ chronicles the collision between the Andromeda galaxy and our own Milky Way, the eventual end of everything, a celestial intervention and a return to where everything began – viewed from an impossible, empty shoreline.
Sounds very deep and meaningful doesn’t it? Well, let’s have a listen and find out.
The first thing to note is that the E.P. has a running length of just twenty minutes, short and sweet? let’s see……
Tidal is a short opening track, a very enigmatic, mysterious and even creepy instrumental that succeeds in getting under your skin and grating on your psyche in a deliciously dark manner, it certainly left my skin crawling in a not entirely unpleasant way.
The suspense and cinematic atmosphere continues with Andromeda Approaches! Once again there is a slightly uneasy feeling to the music, this time, however, the introduction of some otherworldly, ethereal feminine vocals adds a flimsy coating of humanity to the otherwise alien feeling that the music generates. This really could be a soundtrack straight from an Art House picture or a seventies deeply convoluted sci-fi film, it really does grab you and reel you in, leaving you powerless to refuse and mildly bemused afterwards.
The intro to Lighthouse sheds some of the enigma and abstruseness of the previous tracks yet is still very cinematic in nature, but not for long. As it continues it loses the modicum of playfulness that was present to become increasingly enigmatic, like some sort of Victorian tale playing out in front of you. I can’t get The Woman In Black out of my mind, the music would suit that Gothic horror tale down to tee. Sepia tinged characters flit across your mind, leaving an indelible image burned into your mind. The sinister feel lifts in places, as if a dark shroud has been removed from your thoughts yet darkness is maybe only hidden round the corner.
Onto another short track, The Big Freeze is as foreboding as they come. Claustrophobic to a distraction, it holds you in its shadowy grasp and seems to invade your very being with an alien artistry. Clashing sounds bounce across your mind, leaving a mark wherever they land. This track is really quite intimidating in a strangely likeable way and you lament its passing while simultaneously giving thanks.
A really intricate, deep, dark song full of apprehension and portent, The Sleepers of Gliese is full of a cold and calculating intelligence that feels not of this world. The ‘chamber music’ style of delivery that the band use gives them lots of scope to express their music in many different ways and the sinuous nature of the woodwind instruments give this song a definite out of this world aura. The exquisite, filmy female vocals add a gossamer thin veneer of benevolence to the track but there is no getting away from the brooding heart of the music. I wouldn’t listen to this in a darkened room, it leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing up as the darkness in the shadows waits to unveil itself.
Twenty minutes flashes past in an instant as the final track Return To The Singularity opens with its feeling of portent and foreboding. Just over one minute of music that feels like it weighs more than the whole universe bearing down on you before coming to a truncated close.
Wow, do I need to feel the sun on my face after that. Twenty minutes of the most intense,darkly enticing music that you will ever have the pleasure to listen to. Not for the faint hearted but an allegorical musical journey that, if you enjoy cinematic, atmospheric releases with a cryptic and esoteric edge, will leave you feeling satiated.
Why do you listen to music? Think about it for a while, what are the main reasons you insert that CD and press play, or lower the needle onto the vinyl? (we’re going a bit more tactile than mp3 for this anology). There have to be a myriad reasons why different people will await a gentle introduction, a powerful, rip-roaring solo or the dulcet tones of their favourite vocalists.
Be it the angst, protest driven edginess of punk, the in-your-face violence of heavy metal or the gentle, ethereal grace of some progressive and folk tinged music, we all have our reasons. I find that fast driven, heavy rock and blues works brilliantly at the gym or if I’m in that nothing can stop me mood and the more relaxing music suits my more sombre moments.
Sometimes, though, I just like to listen to some music that has heart and soul and a lightness of being, a feel-good factor that brings light into your life and makes your day just go past a little bit easier, leaving a smile on your face and a glowing rightness in your soul. The music that tends to do that for me, more than any other, is what we may term ‘traditional progressive rock’.
Now the ‘P’ word is almost becoming persona-non-grata in certain musical circles and talking about it, or dropping an artist into that genre, can be detrimental to both your and their health, stupid as that may sound. The music that was inspired and influenced by the behemoths of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson et al is still going strong today and still matters to me in a big way.
I have been listening to an album recently that brings back waves of nostalgia about that style of music and which just washes over you with good feeling. Kinetic Element’s ‘Travelog’ album has been listened to regularly over the last couple of months and I felt it was about time I put my two-penneth in…..
Kinetic Element is a neo/symphonic progressive rock band from Richmond, Virginia that harbors musical roots in classic artists like Emerson, Lake & Palmer,Yes, Asia and Genesis and blends those influences with philosophical and spiritually powerful and uplifting lyrics.
Kinetic Element was formed to perform the music of Mike Visaggio’s solo CD, ‘Starship Universe’ which was released in 2006. The band is comprised of Mike (keyboards); Michael Murray (drums), Todd Russell (electric and acoustic guitar) and Mark Tupko (basses).
Unable to find a suitable vocalist in their hometown, Mike reached out to their musical friends Odin’s Court whose lead vocalist Dimetrius LaFavors agreed to perform the vocals for ‘Travelog’ while remaining with Odin’sCourt. However Dimetrius could only appear on three tracks due to Odin’s Court’s changing schedule. Riding in to KE’s rescue came Michelle Schrotz of prog icons Brave, and stellar CProg artist Mike Florio, to record the remaining two tracks.
Fred Schendel and Steve Babb of prog legends Glass Hammer became involved in the mixing of the album. The resulting collaboration produced the terrific sound you hear on ‘Travelog’. They also did the mastering at their studio Sound Resources in Chattanooga.
So, onto the music and the album opener War Song begins with an African drum style beat with Yes overtones and the delightful use of an atypical Keith Emerson type Hammond organgiving the song an immediate nostalgic note. The gradual intensifying instrumental introduction is quite complex and intricate and grabs your attention as it flows along stylistically, the ululating guitar note that scurries across your psyche is focused and intense. Just sit back, relax and enjoy as the initial stages of this 20 minute plus progressive epic dance across your mind like a musically inspired storyline. The keyboards, bass and drums providing the foundation for the impressive guitar work before the next chapter begins. Here the expressive vocals take up the story, dynamic and yet passionate and eloquent. Taking the influences that they hold dear and blending them into a distinctive style of their own, Kinetic Element give you an engaging musical cornucopia that, whilst occasionally glancing back over its shoulder, marches majestically onward to the future. A multitude of sophisticated rhythms and melodies surround you as this baroque song continues to surprise and delight, the vocals blending perfectly and adding a final sheen of finesse.
They don’t do short songs these guys, title track Travelog is the briefest and comes in just shy of ten minutes, that could be a stumbling bock if there was anything to dislike but all is looking good so far. A brilliantly pared back and minimalist acoustic guitar opens the song, it needs no back up as it tantalises and enchants, dancing across your mind and soul with beauty and grace. As the track opens up and the vocals begin, it doesn’t lose any of that ethereal quality and continues to leave you feeling relaxed and serene as if you are tip-toeing through a Utopian world of wonder. The fragile, frangible keyboards add an almost alien note, as if you have stumbled onto a vista of fantastical delights. There is an increase in tempo as the track comes to a triumphant close and you are left feeling quite fulfilled, calm and well, just right.
Into The Lair has a nicely judged bass driven opening with powerful keys and enigmatic drumming, a more serious note than what has gone before, dominant and influential, gripping and thoughtful but it soon opens up into a delightfully impish song, led by the superb, stylish vocals of Michelle Schrotz. It should come as no surprise, considering who mixed the album, but the Glass Hammer influence is greatest on this polished track. The smooth guitar note and elaborate keyboard notes lead into an involved and inventive instrumental section, playful in mood and execution. A return to the dominant introduction follows, like a counter to the lightness of the main section, I love the guitar on this part, Todd’s playing is precise and yet has a free-flowing life of its own. Michelle’s sweet-sounding voice returns to close out the song and leave you nodding appreciatively one more time.
A rather delightful piano introduction is the opening to Her and it keeps you entranced as the ivories are quite impressively tinkled, ebbing and flowing and chock full of earnest emotion. Like jewelled trinkets of sound they dance across your aural receptors leaving you suitably transfixed. The layers are stylishly increased as the drums join in, suitably classy and a warbling guitar adds substance. The track begins to take on a jazzy edge to it, staccato and edgy, the vocals join, with a note of pleading and desire. I even get a real feel of Christopher Cross in the song, not quite easy listening or chart music but with a real easy going nature. Like I have said before, it is feel good music that has subtle touches of classic progressive music, the guitar that runs through the middle section, backing the earnest vocal could have come from any 70’s Yes album. A compact, piercing solo fires straight at you and the guitar continues to worm its way around your mind, aided and abetted by the swirling keyboards and smooth rhythm section, the bass playing is particularly impressive. The cultured jazz feel to the song is its key though and we are treated to another great combination of influences as it comes to a high-class close.
Vision Of A New Dawn is perhaps the most thoughtful and contemplative track on the album and begins with another blistering, heavily jazz influenced opening. Driving piano and drums take on the first notes and then the bass joins in before some fuzzy, intricate guitar playing takes you off an an unknown journey into the more convoluted and mysterious side of the band. We turn first towards an instrumental section of free form progressive tinged jazz fusion, a thrill ride with many twists and turns, like a psychedelic explosion in your mind. A piquant piano note, nervous and tremulous at first, then leads you onto the next part, the vocals begin, heartfelt and poignant, as the wall of sound begins to build, guitars, drums and that elusive piano raising it higher and higher. Emotional and raw, the feeling is of renewal and rebirth, those that have once fallen will rise again. It is a gripping and musically intense story that is being written in front of you, this heart is open and it bleeds sentiment and fervor. A momentary pause, a slowing of time, the mountain has been surmounted, time for reflection perhaps. Take a seat and take stock of what is laid before you as the keyboards lead you on with a jaunty melody, uplifting yet with a note of reserve. There is almost a triumphal tone as we move into the next phase of this fascinating song, the keyboards leading the march before the captivating guitar takes lead duties again. A sombre moment, as if the light is fading and things are to become crucial and weighty, the piano leads the procession, solemn and sedate. The vocal joins, almost a lament, a pause, and then a gently strummed acoustic guitar begins, followed by forceful whistling and the final throws begin. An overture of voice, guitar, keys and piano takes this momentous track to a close, the silence that follows says more than words……
I am going to say it, this is an excellent ‘progressive rock’ album, no band should be scared of using that term and Kinetic Element wear it proudly in the middle of their collective chests and are rightly proud to do so. It’s obvious who their influences are and they take them and mould them into something that, whilst it is instantly recognisable, has a character and soul all of its own. It feels like a labour of love and the skill, energy, blood, sweat and tears that have been invested in this production can be felt by all who hear it.
Working for a living means it has been a while since the last Wallet Emptier so the ‘weekly’ moniker has had to go for this edition.
Twice Bitten – Late Cut
‘Late Cut’ is the CD album celebrating the 30th anniversary of legendary ‘heavy wood’ duo Twice Bitten’s ‘No Third Man’ album. Using only stringed instruments with no percussion or keyboards there is a simple, sparse beauty to the songs on the album. Pared back to its constituent parts, it has a stark and honest feel to it. Sepia tinged nostalgia abounds on these lovingly remastered songs. The addition of two new tracks is a huge bonus. Get ordering and , if your one of the lucky first 100 to do so, you get a bonus CD of sublime, mainly instrumental, music, ‘Kent Hill’.
Releases 2nd October 2015
Stand out tracks – the legendary ‘Crocus Point’ and ‘Ocean’.
The first album from the Syracuse,NY based progressive rock band Unified Past to feature new vocalist Phil Naro is undoubtedly their best yet. Powerful, melodic and intricate songs that have a whole new edge due to Phil’s excellent vocals. Founder and guitarist Stephen Speelman says it is a new chapter in the band’s evolution. A real rocker that will shake any cobwebs out of your hair.
As the title would suggest, this is the fourth part of an album series begun in 2004. I am not acquainted with the previous three instalments which may account for why this album took a while to resonate with me but, once you ‘get it’, it is a thing of musical delights and wonder. Brilliant songwriting and superb musicianship combine to deliver a totally immersive and overwhelming musical experience. Just one question for Casey, Track 11, why?, just….why?
I am new to this band and have maybe done this the wrong way round, their third release being the first I have listened to. What can I say, this mainly instrumental piece is mad as many boxes of amphibians, flawed in places but entirely and eccentrically wonderful. This unique band follow no path already trodden and may not appeal to everyone but the brilliant musicianship leads them up many blind alleys that they then extricate themselves magically from. Mad, bad and brilliantly dangerous….
With the great songwriting skills and the length of some of the tracks, these heavy metal behemoths definitely have one foot in the progressive arena and their latest release is their best of recent years. With powerful rockers, epic riffs and Bruce’s vocals gaining a gruff depth that adds a patina of aged brilliance, ‘The Book of Souls’ is a rip roaring yarn from start to finish and includes some rather intricate and intelligent songs that any fan of the genre would love. Some might say they never lost form but, to me, this is a triumphant return!
WARNING – LANGUAGE THAT MAY OFFEND (well, you have to put that don’t you….?)
“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.” – Dave Grohl
I was going to start this review by talking about guilty pleasures until I saw the above quote from everyone’s favourite hard rocker Dave Grohl and it did get me thinking and thinking enough to completely change the tac of this review….
Mr Grohl really has a point, maybe we stick too rigidly to our favourite genres and don’t look outside our safety cordon music wise? And, when we dare venture outside and find that there is something different that we really like, why should we feel guilty about it?
It is an old and oft spouted saying but it still rings entirely true, good music really is, just, good music, no matter what style it is and which artist performs it. We tend to make this differentiation a lot more when it comes to music than with anything else such as films, TV or the literary arts where we will dip in and out of many different genres without a care or a by your leave.
How many times have you seen somebody laughed at and dismissed out of hand for listening to a record that doesn’t fit into the cognoscenti or aficionado’s realm or current favourites list? It is just wrong and we should open our minds to other music that we may well actually really enjoy if we just lose the stigma.
Now, after getting off my soapbox (while admitting I can be as guilty as anyone else) let’s talk about what started this dissertation on opening up our closeted musical imagination……..
Lebanese maestro Amadeus Awad is a progressive metal guitarist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and music producer with an already impressive back catalogue behind him. August 2015 saw him release his latest and most complete album yet, a 47 minute, 6 track concept album called ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’.
Amadeus is always stretching the boundaries with his music and lyrics, and it’s no different with his new album. According to Amadeus:
“This album is the result of my personal experience with death, both the tragic loss of loved ones (Father, Brother and a Best Friend) as well as my own attempt of committing suicide, which I contemplated more than once at a certain stage in my life.”
To this end he has drawn together a stellar list of musicians, as well as Amadeus himself (Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars, Keyboards and Orchestration) this all star lineup includes vocalists Anneke Van Giersbergen, Arjen Lucassen, Elia Monsef, drummers Jimmy Keeganand Marco Minnemann, Nareg Nashanikian (cello), Rafi Nashanikian (clarinet) and the narration is splendidly realised by the impressive voice of Dan Harper.
The album opener Opia has feeling of lightness and an ethereal quality, the first word spoken is ‘Light’ and it is a song that gives hope. The keyboards are uplifting and fill your inner being with a luminosity only matched by the fluid, burnished guitar work. I can see why Dan Harper was used for the part of the narrator, his voice has a calming authority to it and a mellifluous timbre that dances across your psyche. Anneke Van Giersbergen’s delightfully lilting, heavenly voice takes the song to a close with a rarefied grace that is achingly beautiful.
There is no break as we shift up a gear and power into Sleep Paralysis with a dynamic keyboard and pulsating guitar taking up the reins on the powerful introduction. A progressive metal melting pot of great ideas that bounce of the metaphorical walls to give a primordial soup of musical delights. It takes on a more subdued, yet insistent feel before Anneke’s voice chimes in, this time much more dominant and authoritative, yet no less stunning. The melodies are the focus here, the chorus is especially compelling, backed by the superb musicianship, a symbiosis of near-perfect melodic enchantment. The way the track starts to wind down, becoming more subdued, as it reaches the close is expert and inventive, as the acoustic guitar finishes its last note you are left in a place of comparative calm.
The dulcet tones of the narrator return on Monday Morning, this time with a definite edge, a dissonance to them, as if all is not as it should be. There are subliminal questions being asked here and the answers are not all to your liking. The electronic notes that follow seem to be pulling you forward, in anticipation of something coming that could be either good or evil, depending on how you react to it. Potent and influential, you find yourself holding your breath as it seems to come ominously closer. The pace is steady and regular, like the outcome is inevitable so there is no need to rush. There is a deliciously dark rhythm to this song that I find rather disturbing yet can’t help enjoying it….
The dark journey into hopelessness seems to reach its zenith with Tomorrow Lies. A brooding, haunting tone is added to by the portentous drumming of Jimmy Keegan and it is with a seemingly heavy heart that you continue to listen to the rest of the bleakly appealing song. Elia Monsef’s definitively middle eastern intonation adds a serious gravitas to proceedings, he sings as if his heart is breaking with every word. There is a huge depth of humanity central to this track, a seriousness that leaves you in no illusion as to the outcome of this painful situation. The instrumentation is dazzlingly precise if somewhat subdued and is a testament to the songwriting skill of Amadeus, he can impose his musical brilliance yet take none of the pathos away. The soaring strings add a sheen of humility and respectfulness and the guitar solo leaves you open mouthed and grief-stricken as it winds around your mind. With a definite notion that a song should close just as well as it opens, the ending is once again quite superb as the beguiling strings and guitar bring it all to a close with a final feeling of hopefulness that belies the rest of the track.
Now onto the longest, and my favourite, track on the album. A sombre Cello opens Lonesome Clown adding a meditative and fretful note to the song. Portentous and mysterious with Anneke’s humming and a slightly off-kilter feel, it really does seem to take you out of any comfort zone you thought you were in and leave your senses reeling, open and raw. The vocal begins, earthy and direct, almost as if a spell is being cast. There is a sinister undertone to all that is happening here and you really feel as if you have been caught of guard and dumped in a musical version of Dante’sInferno. An all knowing presence seems to be at your side edging you on as the song builds, becoming more and more oppressive and yet addictive at the same time. Wickedly controlling it shows the slightly malevolent genius that resides in the mind of Amadeus Awad and is perhaps more progressive and definitely more metal than the other songs on the album. There is an odd, siren like build up that seems to break over a wash of mellifluous keyboards before the sinuous, vividly disturbing guitar solo takes you on a dark journey through your own soul. The outspoken and expressive vocal and acoustic section that follows seems to stand on its own adding another level of finesse before exploding outwards in a shower of inspiration. The song closes with Dan’s expressive voice-over, you take a breath and inwardly applaud, shaking your head in amazement, it is that good.
The final track on the album begins with a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, strings and expressive drums. Temporary sees Arjen Lucassen take vocal duties and his eloquent voice is perfectly matched to the instrumentation. Melancholy yet inspirational at the same time, it reminds me of American prog rockers Spock’s Beard and is a really involving, catchy song that seems to want to comfort you with its warmth and integrity yet there is always a sad note in the background. A soulful clarinet takes centre stage before the rest of the instruments join, adding layers of intense musical flavour and Arjen’s voice is always present adding a focal point on which you can hold on to. Marco Minneman takes on the drum duties with aplomb adding a wistful mood to the already mournful ambience imbued. Things are building up to something here and when Amadeus lets rip with an incredible, soul searching guitar solo, you are left flabbergasted. Is that moisture in your eyes? it was in mine as it totally blew me away, utterly magnificent. The song, and album, finally come to a close with a final narrated section, this time by Arjen himself, and you are left to reflect on what has just transpired before you.
Short by modern standards at 47 minutes, you feel like you can listen to this gem for hours and never get bored. Deliciously dark, it is music that takes you to the depths of your inner being and back again, there has been nothing quite like it in this year of musical zeniths. Amadeus Awad and his group of distinguished musicians have delivered not only a superb piece of music but, what to me is, a part of themselves that will live on forever as fantastic art. A triumph in every sense of the word. A guilty pleasure? No, just an intense one!
Released 20th August 2015 via Melodic Revolution Records
Sorry for my tardiness but holidays and work have got in the way……
Anyway, here we go with a few more delights for you to contemplate buying…
Amadeus Awad – Death is Just a Feeling
Lebanese musician Amadeus is one of those guys who really wears his heart on his sleeve. Deep, absorbing and dark and with guests of the calibre of Anneke Van Giersbergen, Arjen Lucassen and Jimmy Keegan to name just a few, it is his most cohesive and impressive work to date. One word, marvelous…..
Beautiful instrumental music from this Russian band. Really mesmerising and dreamlike and yet with a hard underbelly, it caught my attention in a big way. Richly orchestrated and with a knowing aged honesty at its core, it is one that will open your mind and leave you in a state of wonder. Epic and Floydian in places and mind bending all over.
Weird, wacky and quite wonderful, this album really does put a smile on your face. Not quite as ‘out-there’ as Cheeto’s Magazine but definitely slap bang in the middle of the ‘insane’ category it really has its tongue stuck right in its cheek. To quote the artist themselves…..
“Purveyor of tritonal wankery, The Bob Lazar Story hail from Christchurch, NZ and offer you an oasis of ProgMathsyFusion to soothe your weary earholes.”
Calm, collected and cinematic, this is music for the intellectual. Quite deep in meaning and execution it requires your complete attention and then delivers in quite a bewitching manner. Some times acoustically dissonant but, overall, thematically aesthetic and very pleasing on the ears. Big ideas realised in a big soundscape.
I have a soft spot for some classical music and, after the recent Big Big Train gigs, the music of the Band of the Coldstream Guards really caught my attention. John Storey is a celebrated euphonium player who has featured on the Big Big Train’s recent records and many other releases and I have had the pleasure of listening to his 2012 release ‘Euphonium’. It is an utter delight and really wonderful.