The sheer amount of music being released under (or adjacent) to the “Prog” umbrella has become quite daunting to sift through of late. The positive side is there are real gems hidden out there; the negative is you have to dig through a lot of gravel to pry them loose.
While breaking rocks over at Progstreaming.com one Sunday morning I found myself starting to zone out, too much sampling can lead to a zombie-like state where you cease to really hear anything. But then suddenly I was transfixed by a lovely arrangement featuring acoustic piano, violin, acoustic guitar and strings that jolted me firmly back to awareness…
The gem I had discovered was the opening track Thereafter from ‘Black Plastic Sun’, the latest release from New Orleans-based act Abigail’s Ghost. The aforementioned arrangement, the catchy melodic line and very accessible vocals of Joshua Theriot drew me in immediately. As the song progresses different textures come into focus, the introductory melody builds into an effective “big chorus” with electric guitar coming into play.
After the chorus, a staccato guitar figure brings in a slightly darker vibe but then a sunny bridge parts the clouds again. The song continues this progression of slightly changing shifts in mood (including a playful little waltz time section) without ever losing sight of the introductory melodic idea. It’s an impressive arrangement because everything is handled with subtlety, the progressive elements are textural and the song remains the focus throughout.
This discipline and restraint permeates the entire record, while many moods are explored, the accessibility never falters. The influences can be heard; the pop tendencies of Porcupine Tree, The Pineapple Thief and Riverside, the melancholy of modern era Katatonia, the sunny atmosphere of recent Anathema and occasional moments of prog metal muscle (used to great dynamic effect without ever over-powering the mood).
There is also a hint of New Orleans atmosphere to the proceedings, something about the folk-tinged arrangements give me the impression of moss-covered trees dipping into the bayou. The excellent recording and inspired instrumental choices also remind me of the production aesthetic evident on the recent Steven Wilson solo albums.
The highlights are numerous; the unbelievably catchy momentum of violin & slide guitar-driven King of All (which should be a single), the muscular melodic rock of Silver and Widowmaker, the dreamy electric/acoustic vibe of Le Metteur, the darker metallic thrust of Smotherbox (which reminds me of ‘Deadwing’ era Porcupine Tree) and the playful melancholy of Rather Unorthodox, Sweet Serenity and For Damien. The latter also shows off a fondness for black humor because the subject of this deceptively beautiful ballad is the character from The Omen horror film series!
Joshua Theriot is a triple-threat as songwriter, lead vocalist and lead guitarist and I’m really excited to hear how he continues to develop from here. There are some fiery guitar solos on the album (as can be expected from a Berklee School of Music graduate) but it is tempered with restraint and musicality not always displayed by his peers (*cough* Dream Theater *cough*).
I’m very pleased to have discovered this album and it has grown on me with each successive listen. I’m confident it will be show up on my best of the year list for 2015. These guys deserve wider recognition; I highly recommend checking them out.
This time, Gary Morley ventures across to the darker side…..
‘Mr Wallet Emptier’ has thrown me a curve ball, as our colonial cousins allegedly say. He wants me to review something contemporary. Of my choice.
I tend to buy things on gut instinct. I will follow my nose and purchase something that sounds interesting, direct from the band – I recently purchased 3 Paul Garner Band CD’s from him via a link from another FB friend who’s CD’s grace my shelves (Thanks Robert Fleming from Crowd Company for that).
So if you like good funky blues from a guitar / Hammond /drum trio, then I recommend Paul , he will exceed your expectations, several times over. You can purchase his fine CD’s from his website:
But this is not the artist I’ve chosen to write about.
Blue Oyster Cult: Imaginative, thought provoking lyrics combined with a Prog / Pop/ Heavy Rock base coupled with instrumental dexterity, were one of the bands that sound tracked my life.
I first heard Don’t Fear the Reaper whilst in the Sixth Form. The album ‘Fire Of Unknown Origin’ was a college favourite. ‘Imaginos’ was the noisiest, most “Heavy” album I possessed…
Time has taken me down a road away from their bombast and we now wave at each other as we travel. Earlier this year I heard a track Cirice from a band called Ghost. It was hook ridden, a real earworm. It starts with a simple guitar motif, then cymbals and a piano…
Then the bombastic riffing a la Cult…
The inner teenager was playing air guitar along with it. The vocals are not your typical metal screamer, but a baritone voice that was questioning , pleading with us to share their experiences. The dynamics and song structure –pure BOC, all that made them what they were, has been absorbed by this bunch of Scandinavian mystery men.
They have written a proper song, with a chorus, middle eight, simple, elegant guitar solo and a big, big drum sound. My musical interest was engaged. Time to utilise a tool my teenage self could only dream about – the internet. Several clicks and a bit of research later, I find that the band are a bit of a “cult”…
They have surrounded themselves in a cloak of mystery in as much as no musicians are credited on the album, the band members are only referred to as the “faceless ones” and all wear masks on stage, except the singer, known as Papa Emeritus, of which there have already been 3. His image is that of a zombie cardinal, calling his followers to worship.
This is where the Progressive factor hits.
The band’s image is straight out of a horror fan’s psyche. The lyrics, to me are tongue in cheek, dark and ambiguous. They sing about their “Master”, and the underlying suggestion is that they are indeed talking about a fallen angel, a contrasting polar opposite to Neal Morse’s evangelical position.
Out of deference to those that take these things far more personally than me, the lyrical subject may not be to everyone’s tastes, but then “Hard Christian” rhetoric alienates as many as it delights, so approach with an open mind, this is a well crafted tuneful and accomplished collection of tunes. Yes, Tunes. That’s the thing. Beneath the imagery, the stage shows and the media baiting, it s the tunes that enable this to stand on its own merits.
Yes, their Hammer House of Horrors imagery paints a dark picture, but musically they are full of joy, bringing a guilty thrill as you listen in. Are they serious? Well, the old cliché about the Devil having all the best tunes could be wheeled out to explain the whole of this album. It’s no more likely to get me dancing around a wooded glade under a full moon than the film ‘An American Werewolf in London’ did when I was a student. It’s not scary, it’s not unpleasant, it’s just hook ridden, lyrically ambiguous rock music.
The album is chock full of songs that could have graced AOR radio in the late 70’s. There are soaring choirs layered on a rock back beat, skilful dual guitar harmony playing that reminds me of Wishbone Ash or Thin Lizzy.
Listening again, as I write this, it’s the hooks that get me, the juxtaposition of “angelic voices” as the coda of Deus In Absentia, the final track is pure Jim Steinman era Sisters of Mercy bombast.
Listen or watch the video for Circice, check them out on You Tube etc, but don’t reject them out of hand. Especially with Halloween just around the corner!
Here Mike Sherman gives a quick precis of Quiet Americans, the first single from the new Shearwater album, ‘Jet Plane and Oxbow’.
This first glimpse of original Shearwater for 3 years (save for the tuneful but unspectacular A Wake For The Minotaur from ‘Fellow Travellers’) is not before time. Shearwater have been established as a force to be reckoned with – able to pull off intelligent, considered and reflective yet also catchy and accessible folk-rock with tinges of something more progressive.
However, after building up some serious positive momentum, in 2013 they then took the baffling decision to tail off into the murky world of the cover version. ‘Fellow Travellers’ was by no means a poor album, and indeed, will have gained the band some new… ahem… fellow travellers, but a band so capable of songwriting as interesting and inspired as they are, should surely have enough good ideas to at least have a go at an original LP every couple of years?
The band’s career peak to-date of ‘The Golden Archipelago’ still strikes me to this day as one of the most shimmeringly beautiful and consistent albums of the last decade, possessing that most wonderful quality of being very much a stronger overall album than the sum of its parts. Its follow-up, ‘Animal Life’, conversely possessed some strong moments, but lacked a cohesiveness to drive it through to the overall heights of its predecessor.
What, then, might the next effort present to us?
Quiet Americans sparkles with typical Shearwater delicately-delivered production, all the mod cons in evidence complete with bleeps and 80s-style keyboard stabs. Yet, the beautiful beating heart and characteristic melodies of a very pleasant folk tune underpin everything. It excites enough to think that it will tie together well within an album setting.
At 3 mins 33 seconds, it’s a fairly typical track-length for Shearwater, and the band tends to sway towards the use of snappier, ephemeral pieces. That said, the thorough and detail-orientated production, and use of an early-arriving chorus line still gives the impression that the album may well boast some progressive sensibilities, such as those deployed midway through ‘Animal Life’ on the stand-out track from that album, Insolence.
A promising glimpse of what is to come in early 2016 on the new album, ‘Jet Plane and Oxbow’.
‘Jet Plane and Oxbow’ will be released through Sub-Pop records on 22nd January 2016.
In a great exclusive for Progradar, the eclectic Dutch band Fractal Mirror are due to release their third album ‘Slow Burn 1’ in February 2016 and I was extremely lucky enough to catch up with band member Leo Koperdraat this morning and find out more details about this highly anticipated release.
Leo, Ed van Haagen and Frank L. Urbaniak have released two previous albums, 2013’s ‘Strange Attractors’ and last year’s ‘Garden of Ghosts’, of which I said:
“Not just an album of songs but a journey into a world of profound understanding, ‘Garden of Ghosts’ is not for the fickle of heart or soul. It requires commitment and intelligence to fully benefit from its deeper connotations, once smitten though, you will never want to leave. Fractal Mirror are currently working on their third album and I, for one, cannot wait.“
Fast forward nearly twelve months and the band are about to release ‘Slow Burn 1’, what’s the main differences between the two records?
Leo Koperdraat: “The songs are shorter and to the point but we paid a lot of attention to vocal arrangements this time. The Progressive Rock influences are still very much in place (Patrick Farrell of Built 4 the Future even plays Rickenbacker bass on one song and Leo Blu Sky really shines with his bass on the Beatles meets Tears For Fears 8 minute closing track), but we do hope that ‘Slow Burn 1’ will also offer new things to the listeners.”
The band could also be looking at a Crowd Funding option to finalise the album.
I was also lucky enough to listen to one of the new tracks from the album called Numbers and it showcased the evolution of the shorter tracks with great vocal arrangements, add in some rather intense guitar work on show and it all augurs well for the new album.
‘Slow Burn 1’ features Brett Kull (Echolyn) again on every track and there are guest appearances (so far) from; Don Fast (guitars), Charlotte Koperdraat (backing vocals), Patrick Farrell and Kenny Bissett Sr (from B4tF on BV and bass), Jason Himmelberger (from Jhimm on BV), Peter Swart (guitars) and Leopold Blu Sky (From Unto Us/Mike Kershaw on Bass).
Larry Fast will be mastering again. The expected release date is February 2016.
The striking artwork is provided, once again, by Brian Watson.
I was really impressed by the one track I heard and, if it is representative of what is to come, I am sure that Fractal Mirror will deliver another outstanding and immersive musical experience.
Shawn Dudley’s account of Opeth live at the Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles on the 24th October 2015.
Opeth concluded their month-long anniversary tour with a two city trek to the States for shows in New York and Los Angeles. Originally planned as one show, the tickets for the Los Angeles concert sold out so quickly that a second date was added for the following evening.
The elegant Orpheum Theatre (1926) is the perfect location for nearly 3 hours of Opeth, including a full performance of their classic ‘Ghost Reveries’ album, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
To deafening applause the band walks onto a simple stage adorned with only a backdrop and some candelabras and immediately storms into the first three progressive metal epics that begin the album; Ghost Of Perdition, The Baying Of The Hounds and Beneath The Mire. These songs demonstrate the peak of Opeth’s blend of beauty and brutality. They attain a perfect balance; the fusion of progressive rock sophistication and precise metallic brute force. Mikael is in fine voice this evening and the 50/50 split of clean & gruff vocals in these songs are handled with equal skill.
The lineup on stage is quite different than the one from 2005, only singer/guitarist/mastermind Mikael Akerfeldt and bass player Martin Mendez remain. The ridiculously talented drummer Martin “Axe” Axenrot joined in 2006, lead guitarist Fredrick Akesson joined in 2007 and keyboardist Joakim Svalberg joined the band prior to the ‘Heritage’ tour in 2011.
The new players color and enhance the studio arrangements, there have been numerous little tweaks made to these songs and that is most evident in the keyboard parts and the more fluid approach Axe has to the drums. The more improvisational approach to their recent albums has really taken their live performances to new heights.
The hypnotic Atonement marks the first major departure from the studio version as this modal vamp has been extended to twice the album length to accommodate keyboard and guitar features. I’m really hoping they recorded one of these shows, I would love to have this arrangement in my collection.
Other highlights of the first set included the ballads Hours of Wealth and Isolation Years, which had never been performed prior to this tour. Recent reports from the London date of the tour indicate an overly rowdy crowd but that was definitely not the case in L.A. last night. The audience was respectful during the quieter parts of songs; they applauded solos and saved the hollering to the breaks between songs. During the quiet vocal & piano segment of Hours Of Wealth you could hear a pin drop in the theatre.
After taking a 20-minute break the band returned for a second set tailor-made to please both their more recent progressive rock fans and their older (though often younger) metal contingent. I’m one of those that love both eras so I’m a happy camper no matter what. There was a wide age range at the show, I saw many gray-hairs like myself mixed in with the 20-somethings and it’s great to see all these people gathered together over their mutual admiration for this band.
The clean vocal selections featured excellent performances of Eternal Rains Will Come, Cusp Of Eternity and Voice Of Treason from ‘Pale Communion’, a fiery rendition of I Feel The Dark from ‘Heritage’ and the lovely melancholy of To Rid The Disease from ‘Damnation’. The heavier tracks consisted of crowd favorites The Leper Affinity (‘Blackwater Park’), Master’s Apprentices (‘Deliverance’) and encore The Lotus Eater (‘Watershed’).
The sound in the Orpheum Theatre was excellent and the mix was just about perfect. Loud enough to be forceful without ever becoming shrill or painful, each instrument clearly defined and the drum sound was amazing. There were a couple of technical glitches with the keyboard rig and while waiting for it to be fixed Mikael said to the crowd; “Things are breaking down. You almost never see that in this day and age. Usually when you go see a band these days they sound perfect, just like the record. Wanna know why? Because they’re playing the fucking record. We don’t.”
As usual for an Opeth concert Mikael had his sarcastic comedic cap on for the duration of the night. His playful back and forth with the audience has been a staple of their shows for years, there are youtube compilations dedicated to it. My favorite bit tonight was providing a play-by-play narration while tuning his guitar.
Hearing ‘Ghost Reveries’ performed by the current lineup really made me appreciate how significant that album was in their evolution and how much Mikael had grown as a singer and songwriter. It was the direct follow-up to the mellow progressive rock album ‘Damnation’ and I think Opeth responded by delivering both their heaviest but also their most varied and accomplished record to that point.
Mikael added a full-time keyboard player to the group (Steven Wilson played keyboards on the ‘Damnation’ album) and that immediately allowed him to start more fully embracing his love of 70s progressive rock. ‘Ghost Reveries’ started them on the path that would eventually lead to ‘Heritage’ and ‘Pale Communion’ and growing acceptance in progressive rock circles. Still, Mikael is proud of the earlier metal era of Opeth (deservedly so) and that was proven yet again by the passionate performance this evening.
Many bands celebrating their 25th anniversary are looking back at previous successes that have passed them by. In the case of Opeth, I think their peak has yet to be reached.
First Set: (Ghost Reveries)
Ghost Of Perdition
The Baying Of The Hounds
Beneath The Mire
Hours Of Wealth
The Grand Conjuration
Eternal Rains Will Come
Cusp Of Eternity
The Leper Affinity (followed by snippets of songs requested by the audience)
You have to be wary of repetition, it can become tedious and monotonous if there is no progression or marked difference between pieces of work, after all, familiarity is supposed to breed contempt, isn’t it?
One of the most intriguing artists I have had the pleasure to listen to this year is the Geof Whitely Project. Actually a one man band, Arny Wheatley, there can be no more prolific artist operating today as he releases new albums every couple of months.
There are obvious pros and cons to doing it this way and I was left slightly underwhelmed by the last release that I reviewed, ‘Circus of Horrors’, feeling that it was too similar to recent works. Now, ever one to take criticism on board, Arny has returned with ‘Between 2 Worlds’ and I shall give it the once over to see if he has rediscovered that creative spark.
The opening track Quest has that laid back style that is the Geof Whitely Project hallmark and retains the laconic vocal delivery. There does seems to be some added zest, a more intense delivery and a lot more of the ardent guitar work that gives extra lustre to the calm and collected keyboards. No need to go back to the drawing board, just minor alterations that add up to something more profound. Long Time Gone has a lighter note to it, a more refined introduction and a more moderate delivery that reminds me a bit of Fractal Mirror. It walks a tricky line and, thankfully, never strays into the mundane and bland, retaining a sunny disposition and platonic edge. The nicely judged percussion and keyboards take you on a gentle ride into Arny’s musical mind and it is a pleasant place, although there is a hint of melancholy hidden just below the surface.
That sugar coated tone runs throughout Never Really Know but always with a hint of caution. The clever lyrics betray a slightly darker side to the music and keep your attention focused on the story, the excellent instrumental break in the centre of the track is like a well knowing nod to the 80’s. I don’t know whether it is meant to, but I am left in mind of a snowy winter’s scene that could end in either happiness or sadness. The signature keyboard introduction opens Throwing Shadows, a song with a serious and slightly darker note as it strides purposefully into your psyche. The sweetness and light is replaced by something with an altogether sinister motive, this is the Geof Whitely Project showing there is a dark side to its Moon and I think it is a clever change of direction. The slightly understated yet heavy riff adds to the mysterious air that pervades and gives added dramatic effect and gravitas.
On Reflection begins in a very subdued manner, laid back and open-hearted. A wistful, almost nostalgic note enters into the vocals, perhaps mindful of things or people lost and never recovered. Thoughtful, reflective and with a heavy dose of regret, this track really works its way under your skin and touches your heart in a forlorn manner. A really nice song but one that just leaves you feeling a little bit sad. 80’s style keyboards open Everyday my Heart and it really does feel like you’ve been transported back over three decades to a time that you may have wished you’d forgotten. It’s really a quite hopeful track and lifts the slight melancholia that had persisted from the previous track. The songwriting on this latest album has really gone up a notch, leaving little nuggets for you to find.
The next song on the album is the longest track, Compendium weighs in at just over ten minutes and begins in quite an auspicious manner. There is a feeling of depth to the song, a deep seated sense of contemplation. There is a decision to make, a life changing scenario and the deliberate and contemplative atmosphere is transferred across perfectly by the music. A comprehensive and profound musical workout for your brain that makes you think, one of the best songs I have ever heard from the Geof Whitely Project. The change from the quiet and sombre to the excellent guitar solo is brilliant and really knocks you for six, the guitar playing is quite exemplary. Title track Between 2 Worlds leaves you deep in thought with its absorbing tone, seemingly musing on life the Universe and everything. Profound lyrics and an attentive melody leave you in a speculative mood. I really enjoyed the thoughtful feel that it engendered as it left me ruminating on my whole existence, another track that seemingly has some left-field influence.
The final track on the album is Living Your Life and it has an edgy note running through it from the beginning. A quicker paced riff gives you a feel of life lived in the fast lane but with a note of caution. No-nonsense and earnest with yet more layers of 80’s keyboards, it leaves more questions than answers and brings the album to a close on a meditative and reflective note.
‘Between 2 Worlds’ is a complex and extremely interesting musical journey that showcases where the Geof Whitely Project is going musically. The last album left me feeling ever so slightly short-changed but, with this new release, my faith has been completely restored.
With his first review for Progradar, here’s Mike Sherman…
This review is, in part, an homage to the many mixed playlists available on music streaming services, as this is how I discovered this band and this album. I’ll kick things off by saying that it’s one of my favourite LPs of 2015…..
I love discovering a band who are far beyond basic composition, performance and production competencies, yet still maintain a humble presence within the information stratosphere. “Where are Klone from?” I hear you cry. “They’re from Poitiers in France!” I answer…
…and then we get on with talking about the music.
The musical stylings of Klone are ‘a bit of a lot of things, all at once’. There’s some ambience; there’s some melody; some heaviness (dare I use the word “grunge”?!?) and – thank goodness – some tinges of prog. Mix these together, usually at the same time, and we’re not far off.
‘Here Comes The Sun’ harnesses the smooth mid-range vocals of Yann Ligner to create some beautiful pieces, and now 5 LPs and 2 Eps deep into their career, Klone have become a tight band who express themselves as a collective first and foremost. This is important for me, as I infinitely prefer a strong band dynamic to one or two show-offs backed by competent “others”. There is great collective creativity in the composition; the performance, and – as I will repeatedly mention below – the production is nothing short of oh so lovely to these ears.
So, in short, I bet they listen to a lot of Gojira, Tool, Anathema and PorcupineTree. Not much like the Beatles, despite the obvious reference in the album’s name.
The opening track Immersion brings us instant soulful melody with heaps of ambience, in the form of the kind of reverb-heavy multi-tracked lead guitars typically found in post-rock. After the intro, we’re back to the strong opening melody revisited, only this time with a tactful and pleasing use of “welcome, we are the band” drums and heavier guitar. There’s an element of “shoegazing classic” about this track, in that it has a strong melody throughout which is textured nicely with a good balance of the heavy and the ambient. This is all produced to create a finely-balanced sound that doesn’t overpower at any point, nor does it drift away into indulgent territory in its restrained 5 minutes 10 seconds length. Later riffs complement the earlier shenanigans well, and the band sound very much together in completing an interesting and dark-ambient sound. The more subtle brief saxophone burst and vocal textures are allowed to add nuance rather than to take the overall direction away from what is a solid opening track that suggests a lot of promise for the rest of the album.
Next we come to the track that presented me with my first leading impression via the medium of playlist, then. Fog is one of the more progressive numbers, and it invited me in on first listen with its relaxed and smooth 7/8 verses and melodic-but-gently-powerful chorus and slightly heavier second half which hosts some serious groove and the first bit of noticeable drumming flair. Again, there is good cohesiveness to the band, with all parties combining to make a strong whole, rather than any domination of a particular instrument. It’s becoming all really rather pleasant and it’s going to get even better.
Gone Up In Flames is a catchy, almost dance-worthy (?!?!?) alternative-radio-friendly number that grabbed me from the start. Based around four chords, the rhythm guitar can be played alongside with minimum effort by those able to, and should be played in dropped-D like any self-respecting 90s grungehead would. A few nice bits of drumming thrown into the straight-4/4 mix; a solid turn of events for the bridge, and a great half-time groove in the coda. Great stuff.
The Drifter sounds very progressive, more in the vein of Fog than anything else on the album. It’s a bit of a workout for the band in terms of time signatures and textures. The rhythm section really shines, and prog fans will be happy to hear that despite some 4/4, there are plenty of other meters intermittently featured, all very smoothly connected with no jarring whatsoever. It also features two of my favourite things – vocal lines that last just that bit longer than they should probably be allowed to, and lingering guitar lines that won’t quit easily. The production is again very well-executed, and the whole thing flows very well to help what could have been one of the more challenging tracks on the album to sound relaxed and very enjoyable.
The Drifter is perfectly placed in the track order to open the way for Nebulous, which is undoubtedly the (best French accent) pièce de résistance of the album. Melancholy, moody melody with active but tactful drumming and ambient post-rock guitar stylings leading to a powerful and beautiful chorus with a titanic guitar sound that is, once again, very well-controlled in the mix so as not to overshadow the more subtle elements of the sound and the angelic vocal line. Again,there is a smoothness to Klone’s work, and the 7/8 of Nebulous fits it like a glove – no pretentiousness here, it’s just a very strong ambient rock song that completes an utterly superb run of five tracks. I’d argue that this track could probably have made an excellent album-closer.
Pic by Trash Bonbeck
Gleaming acts as a break, and to me represents where the fork in the road lay for Klone as they decided where to take the magnificence and consistency of the first five tracks and round things out. It doesn’t add a lot, but complements what went before, and acts as a distinct half-time break, as such.
The final three tracks take things in a slightly different direction, and one that I was unsure on for quite a while. Indeed, they represent the main reason I was hesitant to review the album until I’d had a good number of listens through the album. I’ve gotten used to it, but it still seems the weaker half of the album by far. The first thing that’s noticeable is that Grim Dance and album-closer The Last Experience have a slower 4/4 groove that gives the impression of something darker in atmosphere than the rest of the album.
Penultimate track Come Undone is probably my favourite of the three, and possesses an excellent intro and a livelier 6/8 swing. The Last Experience develops an increasingly tense atmosphere and ends with satisfyingly heavy riffs that punctuate that, despite this definitely being a “prog-rock” album, this band are also definitely metalheads. The repeating heavy guitar lines and descends with an almighty mess, which I like the symbolism of as it signals that the production team can now take a well-earned rest!
There’s a part of me that feels the first five (possibly six) tracks could have made a world-class EP or short LP, but the final three tracks have grown on me more with each listen, to the extent that my initial reservations have been largely quietened. It’s definitely an album split in two – that much is evident. However, the more I listen the more I find it all has its place.
I’m an album kinda guy first and foremost, but good on playlists for leading me to this discovery. Highly recommended – I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
A Financial Adviser by day, a board game enthusiast and musician/composer by night. I grew up listening to a combination of Dire Straits and Steeleye Span while playing classical piano since the age of 5. After the “rebellious” stage of life as a grunge/metalhead I’m very much into a heady cocktail of prog-rock, folk and classical these days.
This Canadian trio (David Lizotte on guitars and vocals, Jean-FrançoisBoudreault on Bass and Antoine Guertin on drums) started life as a side project of Québecois progressive power metallers Southern Cross (no, me neither). ‘Flies Trapped in Amber Stones’ is their debut album.
Right from the crunching guitar chords that kick in near the start of the opening (title) track you know you’re listening to a band that can play their instruments more than competently, and who work together tightly. The sound is guitar driven, but the core sound is supplemented by keyboards at just the right moments to provide a richer sound palette. The short guitar solo in the second track, Alive, is placed just where you want it, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
So why am I not in raptures about this album? I think it may be that, in pursuit of the technical and musical competence that Hillward bring to their music, they have forgotten, or perhaps simply suppressed, their hearts and souls. The third track, One Goodbye is a quieter, more contemplative track, but it is so, so predictable. From the first listen I felt I could predict every move it made, and six or seven spins later it hasn’t yielded up any more depth or richness.
As song follows song, you realise that the band are ploughing a narrow musical furrow. Lizotte’s voice is clear and in tune, but has limited range, both in terms of octaves and emotions. I’m not sure what I should be feeling as I listen to The Missing Link, but I don’t think that the band’s intention was that I should feel that I’d heard this all already on this album, and was likely to hear it again in a few songs time.
And then there are the lyrics. The fifth track Entropy is absolved from criticism on this point, as it is a two minute instrumental which feels like some riffage that coudn’t be fitted into a proper song, but, elsewhere the lyrics are somewhat uninspiring; the songs don’t come across as being about anything important.
The longest song on the album, When it All Comes True (all six and a half minutes of it) might as well be The Missing Link or Alive all over again, here Lizotte asks “does life mean more than words do, silly words learned and repeated too? Does tragedy mean more than poetry?” Then, in Quiescence, another slower, moodier track he asks “what if we never cross the line, what if we never grow old on time, what is love if it keeps us apart?” The short instrumental that follows, Quantify the Abstract, does little to answer any of these questions, but I’m not sure that I ever cared.
Perhaps I am sounding too negative here. I certainly don’t dislike this album, and the penultimate track, Walls of Apathy, is really rather good, at least in part because it introduces another voice, that of Melanie Gagné from fellow Québecois band, Muted Screams. Gagné adds the layers of emotion and aural variety that have been lacking in the earlier tracks.
Yet Hillward are playing in the same musical territory as, say, Haken and Anekdoten, and not far from Riverside. ‘Flies in Amber Stones’, for all its undoubted strengths, offers me no reason to listen to it rather than ‘The Mountain’ or ‘Until All The Ghosts Are Gone’.
The album closes strongly with The End of Logic, and perhaps there is some good advice in the title. ‘Flies in Amber Stones’ sounds just too much as if it had been written to a formula. Hillward are technically excellent. Perhaps they just need to throw off the creative shackles they appear to be labouring under and find some ideas and emotions to invest in their song-writing and playing.
It’s not as if there isn’t precedent here. I can think of at least one other Canadian trio who followed a competent but routine debut with more than forty years of greatness…….
By day Stephen toils at the bureaucratic coalface, fashioning red tape into enabling and empowering frameworks of policy and compliance. At night he sleeps fitfully, dreaming of weasels and the Forest of Broceliande.
A unique project from Stefano Agnini (La Coscienza Di Zeno) and FabioZuffanti (Finisterre, La Maschera Di Cera and others). This is a beautifully composed and produced, melodic, diverse and eclectic piece of art that consists of 3 tracks clocking in at 8:26, 17:14 & 26:24 and is as epic as you might expect. I consider it a masterpiece that I would urge any open minded prog fan to explore.
I can compare this record to Steven Wilson – ‘Hand Cannot Erase’ as both have had such a strong emotional connection with me this year that almost immediately I have become more than a little consumed by them.
A heady mix of what is great about progressive music, this album is driven by analog keyboards and Italian vocals (male and female), interwoven with ingredients from rock, symphonic, folk, classical, electronic and traditional Italian pop and, dare I say it, a little Italian ‘easy listening’ music.
This is progressive with a capital P, mad as a box of frogs one minute, dramatic yet serene the next. We have some great vocals including theatrical, but never operatic, delivery, short sections that are ‘shouty’ (sorry amateur writer here!) and at some points the sea nymphs turn up and the harpies join in – All a bit odd and eccentric at first listen. However, in the traditions of the very best music, all these disparate parts come together on each subsequent play through to form a magnificent listening experience.
For points of reference, and I don’t want to do a track by track review or to describe the album in too much detail not wishing to spoil the experience for any prospective listener, I am reminded of the following bands: Big Big Train, early IQ – Great analog keys and guitar solos, Quasar – melody, Montefeltro – Romantic Italian prog approach, The Snow Goose – The atmosphere, ACT – stylistically, not sound, and Vulgar Unicorn – The eclectic structures.
I don’t understand Italian enough (if at all) to do it any justice, and I have always considered music to have an ability to stir an emotional response regardless of lyrics; the voice is another ‘instrument’ after all.
For me ‘La Curva Di Lesmo’ is about passion, emotion and melody and it ticks all my boxes. Language provides mystery and atmosphere and I am a little frightened to understand the meaning further in case it lessens the experience.
This is a passion play that I recommend all to embrace and hope you love it as much as I do – A current and future classic album.
David Elliott is no relation to any other David Elliott, living or dead, and should not to be confused with any animals, journalists or other prog celebrities.
Having had his ears opened by Genesis when an impressionable youth, his musical journey has expanded to include modern jazz fusion and electronic music but especially progressive rock in all its forms. Favourite artists are Jadis, Pat Metheny, Steven Wilson, Nemo and many, many others that are yet to be discovered – The next one is often the best!
Ambition: Italian prog reviewer in residence.
Hobbies: Needle work, welding, cat herding and beetle battling.
Occupation: Health and Safety Manager (see the above nonsense!!)
Due to be released on 20th November 2015 by Bad Elephant Music, the new album from The Room – ‘Beyond The Gates Of Bedlam’ is reviewed by our own Emma Roebuck.
The first thing I have to own up to is that I like The Room and am promoting one of the forthcoming tour dates.
I came late to these guys and bought ‘Open Fire’ on a whim, I immediately regretted not buying it earlier.
On first play, ‘Beyond The Gates Of Bedlam’ is the natural successor to ‘Open Fire’ in content, style and the music. It has all the hallmarks of song structure, melody and lyrics that made me like them in the first place.
The prog credentials are still there, 5 tracks coming in at over 6 minutes and this allows the musical ability of the band to come through in spades and the rest are not lacking for being shorter.
It has a better feel and production as well as being far more confident a product than ‘Open Fire’, there is a definite ‘levelling up’ on this album.
Although not a concept album there is a theme to it. Life, love, and power, and how it affects people. Martin Wilson’s vocals add to the distinctive sound, filling the songs with passion in his delivery. The guitar work from Steve Anderson is rich and varied but not overpowering, his ability shining through on such tracks as Masquerade and the Hunter.
Andy Rowe (bass) and Chris York (drums) provide a really solid foundation throughout the whole album, giving this very varied release a consistency worthy of the songs. Steve Checkley’s keyboards fill the music with light and shade, combining well with Anderson’s guitar on The Book, a song about the manipulation of faith by the powers that be for their own ends.
Even the more or less straight rockers on the album like Splinter are complex enough for the average prog fan. The high point for me is Bedlam, a ‘Post-apocalyptic view of life and how the fabric of life can easily break down when law and order is no longer effective’. This track is going to be a classic, 20 minutes of pure prog condensed down into 5.
Looking at this as an overall product, if you like a well contrasted songs with melodic variety at the progressive of the music market then, this is the album for you, if you want metal, dissonance or Canterbury, this is not it. For fans and listeners of Frost*, Jump or their ilk, I reckon your money would not be wasted .
Released 20th November 2015 through Bad Elephant Music.
Pre-orders opening very soon, please keep an eye out for details.