This is a complete transcript of an article featured in The Ferndale Friends, reproduced with the kind permission of the author, Jeff Milo.
All photos are by Graham Stead and Sam Holt.
Words by Jeff Milo…
There is a distinct relationship between artist and audience, bands and listeners. There is an opportunity to instill inspiration, to offer escape, to alter preconceptions. That power and that connection are the biggest reasons local singer/keyboardist/producer Matthew Parmenter has contnued to write, record and publish music for almost 30 years, now, as both a solo artist and, notably, as the frontman for the symphonic-prog band Discipline.
“Any musical offering is an act of faith”, said Parmenter. “It is always rewarding to hear fellow humans say they found something palliative or profound in the work.”
Back before the World Wide Web dominated the distribution, consumption and business mode of recorded musical art, Discipline formed in 1987 in a Royal Oak high school. The band features Jon Preston Bouda on guitar, Matthew Kennedy on bass, Paul Dzendzel on drums and Parmenter on vocals and keyboards.
“We dabbled a bit with Punk while in high school,” recalls Parmenter, “but it didn’t take.” They excavated treasures from Sam’s Jams (formerly where Rosie’s now operates) and Flipside (up in Clawson), including seminal prog-rock records that the late 80’s mainstream radio stations were ignoring, like Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson and more.
“Doing ‘art-rock’ in Detroit made us feel a bit like a lone-wolf around town,” recalls Parmenter. But they kept at it, developing a mailing list, with actual snail-mail and allying with comparable prog-stylists in the region like Hope Orchestra and Granfalloon. In fact, it was another local goup, Tiles, who showed Discipline a lot of support over the years. Tiles’ guitarist Chris Herin eventually took the spot of Jon Preston Bouda on guitar.
Discipline have evolved over the decades, through several records released through their own label Strung Out Records, a beautiful blend of operatic-pop, post-punk theatre and a baroque-tinged electronic ambience, primarily experimenting with a genre known as progressive-rock (or prog-rock). Some of their compositions spanned 15 minutes or longer, particularly on their dazzling 1997 odyssey ‘Unfolded Like Staircase’.
“As a songwriter,” Parmenter said, “I have become less inclined to embark on epics. I rarely write songs running more than 15 minutes any more, and 25 minutes is right out. I am still drawn to create a narrative space that exposes some particular observed tension and which, ideally, reaches an emotional summit.”
On stage, Discipline embody this captivating, Morpheus-ian grace in blending psychedelic performance art with elements of classical, jazz and Brit-pop. Parmenter points to The Beatles, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel as influences for the more rock and pop sides of Discipline, while also including jazz and classical icons like Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Igor Stravisnky and Béla Bartok. The experimental rock of Van der Graaf Generator was a notable influential touchstone.
“In live performance, we have learned to allow, and even to foster, a sort of intentional imperfection,” said Parmenter, “Not to say that we ever played perfectly. Rather, in the early days accuracy and being precise seemed more important. Later on, rough edges and spontaneity came to matter more. Then the performances started to breathe, get human, have soul. Too much polish…can become boring.”
Go online and you’ll find various zines, blogs and sites devoted to ‘prog’ music sending substantial love towards Detroit’s Discipline. There is truly a galaxy full of bands edging their own nuanced composites of this genre, with acknowledged pioneers such as Yes, King Crimson and Genesis.
“If progressive rock were an iceberg, most people would recognise it only by the tip they can see sticking out of the water,” Parmenter observes.
Discipline are finishing up a new album while Parmenter celebrates the release of his third solo album ‘All Our Yesterdays’ (through Bad Elephant Music) on March 11th.
These guys are prodigious in their output. Most bands produce an album roughly every year, the Geof Whitely Project (GWP) have set themselves the onerous task of releasing 3 albums by the summer of 2016.
‘Malice In Wonderland’ sounds nothing like the other three albums of the same name be it Paice Ashton Lord, Nazareth or, heaven forbid, Snoop Doggy Dogg.
This album has the hallmark that I recognise as the GWP ‘sound’: melancholy melody and structure. The heavy keyboard sound running throughout the album is reminiscent of the mid 80’s Alan Parson Project. The album opens with an instrumental, Who Are You, that deceives the listener into a false sense of security that it will be a pleasant listen with a drink of wine or beer with friends! This could be true but there is a deception here.
The second track Preflight, I guarantee you will think, “Where have I heard that before.” I will say one thing, there is a haunting reminder of the ‘Tales from the Unexpected’ theme in its feel. There is more variety in ‘Malice’ than ‘Circus of Horrors’, the last album by GWP which I reviewed. They have rocked out much more but also experimented with thematic electronic music. Caterpillahh has such electronic feel to it with a very melodic Jean Michel Jarre tone and spirit. The title track rocks out, stretching the performance but with some restraint, death metal it isn’t but there is a rocker in there kicking to get out!
The album, as you imagine, has Alice in Wonderland taken to the dark side as its concept. There is no journey through the looking glass or down a rabbit hole as such, but snippets from the Lewis Carroll classic remain. GWP have gone deeper and darker and are nearer a Tim Burton Movie in style rather than the Disney variation.
The last two tracks, Hungry Ghost and Remain the Same, could easily be singles for me and, with airplay, crossover into the mainstream. My favourite track though, Sleep Thief , is unlike the rest of the album. Its heart is really dark and sinister. Neil Gaimans’ Sandman could very easily have been the inspiration for this track.
I still think that GWP should let the shackles go and rip out a real rocker but the album is a GWP product and, to continue to produce this kind of consistency and standard, is no mean feat.
If you like your music melodic and structured Geof Whitely Project’s ‘Malice In Wonderland’ delivers. The diversity of music has room a-plenty for this kind of release.
I’m what you might call a music completist. You know the sort of person I mean, I begin to really appreciate a band or artist’s music so I have to seek out and devour all their output, be it studio or live albums or DVD/Blue-Rays of live performances, I have to listen to, and have, them all.
To me, it’s a worthy endeavor, whether you start with the first release and follow that particular artist all the way to the present day, like Dream Theater for me (the jury is out on ‘The Astonishing’ at the moment though..) or you hear a latest album and work your way back through their discography, this was how I got into Big Big Train (‘English Electric Full Power’).
Whichever way round, I get a certain satisfaction out of investigating all of a musician or band’s achievements and I will often unearth a gem I didn’t previously know about.
Bringing Big Big Train back into the discussion, it was an earlier solo album from lead vocalist David Longdon that was the next part of my musical education with this celebrated English pastoral progressive rock band.
I used my ‘musical treasure hunter’ skills and the ‘X’ marked the spot when I uncovered ‘Wild River’ by David Longdon and The Magic Club.
David initially played in a band with school friends Simon Withers and Ian White under the name Greenhouse. It was this experience that would be the inspiration for the Big Big Train song ‘Make Some Noise.’
Throughout his twenties David played in the Nottingham based band O’ Strange Passion and eventually The Gifthorse. The style of these bands included acoustic based music with art rock tendencies. He ended up being signed to Rondor Music UK (Publishing house for A&M records – The Police, Joe Jackson, The Carpenters, Supertramp) as a songwriter with a development deal.
David is also a long term member of the Louis Philippe band, playing on the Jackie Girl (1996) album, where he met both Danny Manners and also Dave Gregory who he would later introduce to Big Big Train.
It was in the final days of The Gifthorse that David was invited to audition as a potential replacement for Phil Collins as lead singer in Genesis. He survived the auditioning process and worked from May to November 1996 on recordings that would become the Calling All Stations album. They were also working with Stiltskin vocalist Ray Wilson at the same time. Eventually they decided which one out of the two would get the job.
David sings lead vocals on two tracks (‘Ray of Hope’ and ‘Endgame’) on Martin Orford’sThe Old Road album (2008) which led to David Meeting Rob Aubrey who in turn introduced David to Greg and Andy of Big Big Train and the rest, they say, is history!
‘Wild River’ was released in 2004 and I’m still struggling to believe I had never heard even one note up until about a month ago. It was recorded by David Longdon and an inpressive group of musicians collectively know as ‘The Magic Club’, too many here to list but a certain Dave Gregory does appear in the (very) small print…..
The album notes credit David with ‘Vocals, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, mandolin, keyboards, flute, percussion and wrist watch’ so, there you go, a man of many talents obviously.
The opening track Always begins with a delightful acoustic introduction before David’s vocals begin in a slightly wistful manner and Andy Lymn’s stylish drums seem to take a life on of their own. It is a decidedly upbeat song, even if you take into account the slight melancholy aftertaste, dictated by the excellent viola and violin of Beth Noble. Lee Horsley’s strident Hammond organ gives it an edge and David has voice like honey, it just seems to soothe any irritable bone in your body and it lifts this song above the merely good to become something memorable. One you will find yourself humming in the shower as the harmonies of the chorus imprint themselves permanently on your brain. Honey Trap is another track with an uplifting feel to it, almost modern folk in appeal. The musicians work together seamlessly to produce a musical tapestry across which the elegant vocals of David Longdon can paint a wonderful tune. The strings seem more potent and upfront on this song, providing the perfect counterpoint for the vocal harmonies, especially the dulcet tones of the harp. I just feel as if I’m being carried along an a mellifluous sound wave of pure joy. There’s a timeless feel to the music and feel of longevity and this is emphasised even more by the delightful mandolin that stands out in the intro to Mandy. David’s vocal takes on a more narrative tone in places and the whole song has a touch of traditional folk running through it. The Hammond seems to be in the background, almost as if it is directing proceedings. The softer edge of the first two tracks is replaced by a more definitive note and the occasional lapse into a near reggae beat just adds real colour to proceedings. A real foot-tapping, hand-clapping classic that would be at home in a traditional rural public house where much ale has been drunk and many tales have been sung.
(Photo courtesy of Angus Prune)
Beginning with a more apprehensive note, the guitar having a more aggressive feel and the violin a cutting note, About Time appears to be a more serious tune. David carries on with the more narrative vocal on the verse and the whole song has a more mature note to it. The chorus sees that reggae riff appear and the vocals deliver a heartfelt rendition. The flute, harp and mellotron all work overtime in the background to give the required gravitas and really add to the darker complexity of this interesting track. I like listening to music that demands your full attention and this is a song that is definitely of that ilk. Dim the lights and let it wash over you as you discover more and more sophisticated nuances. Mandolin, mandola and double bass kick off Vertigo with an unambiguous folk atmosphere and this is only emphasised by the use of the Irish bodhran. That softer timbre returns to David’s vocals, emotive and slightly mournful, it is a song that plucks at your heartstrings with its open and honest feel. Beth Noble’s backing vocals have a delicate fragility and the clashing guitar solo really does hit you hard on this darkest feeling track on the album so far. I really enjoyed the whole pared back feel that let’s the vocals shine through and I’ve always been a sucker for a great double bass. The next track is far and away the most impassioned and sentimental song on this release. Simple in composition yet beautifully ethereal in its delivery, Loving & Giving is a thing of uncomplicated beauty. David Longdon’s voice is the instrument that holds sway over your emotions, adorned simply with acoustic guitar, double bass and the exquisite strings that add a humble fragility. Jane Upton adds her alluring vocals to this most charming track, the harmonies are a thing of wonder. A tear of joy and hope may have been wiped away and I needed a moment to compose myself after it came to a natural close.
Wild River is a tribute to David’s father, Eric, who died in 1994 and, to me, is a real slow burning blues-rock track. It opens, already beginning to build an atmosphere, with a gentle guitar and David’s ominous sounding vocal. Powerful, expressive and soulful, it is almost a lament. The Hammond organ sits there, just in the background, orchestrating this compelling and touching song. The impassioned vocal delivery is asserted even more on the chorus. The Greasley Singers choir add another layer of finesse, it is an undoubted highlight of this most impressive album and when the intense violin solo is delivered, it is like a weighty presence on your soul, this whole track just bleeds sentiment and sorrow, the impassioned guitar solo (from MichaelBrown) and rousing drums are incredible, and you just feel emotionally spent when it comes to its dramatic close. Edgy guitar and fluent harmonica open up the defiantly rocky This House, bluesy, funky and jazz infused with equal measure, it really drives hard and fast. The staccato guitar playing and Les Eastham’s brilliant harmonica are the real highlights of this track and, with David adding a fervent, stirring vocal, it is literally on fire and uber-cool. There is a feeling of a sentient presence awakening at the beginning of In Essence, superb atmospheric guitar work from Michael Brown again, before things open up with dancing vocals and intricate instrumentation. A song that takes the soul route to your mind. Edgy guitar work, stylish bass play and elaborate drumming provide the backdrop on which David gives a sleek and polished vocal performance. A song for the discerning listener and another one that asks for your full and undivided attention.
It’s all about the strings and keeping it simple, Joely is a delightful little ode. It begins with some really fetching string work in combination with the precise vocal enunciation of Mr Longdon and needs nothing more to deliver a rather charming song that is beguiling because of its skillful simplicity. It almost moves into Americana and country territory in places before it closes with the sublime poem ‘The Heart of Winter’, written and recited by Jerry Hope. Powerfully delivered, it takes you into a heightened sense of consciousness that leaves the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. The simple introduction to Falling Down has an impatient feel imbued by the drums and bass before the strings join in and the vocals overlay everything with a velvet touch. Gentle and benign it continues until we reach the chorus where everything opens up into another well crafted piece of songwriting. I feel I’ve been led by the hand on a fantastic musical journey with a multitude of amazing musicians that come together as one rather than any of them standing above the others. The mellotron is there but you don’t notice it, the guitars add substance but without overpowering anything and , above all, is the stunning vocal performance of David Longdon. Sentimental and rousing, this song is another reason to make sure you listen to this album without daily life intruding. The final track on this stunning album is On To The Headland and it is a fitting close. This song sees David and his guitar in a reflective mood and it is this restrained and simple delivery that really seems to impact on you. I sit back and let this guileless track just touch my senses and leave me at ease and at one with the world.
It may be over ten years since ‘Wild River’ was released but it doesn’t seem to have aged a day and can stand comparison with any of contemporary music that has been released recently. There is an uncluttered and uncomplicated honesty at the core of the music and this is all brought into vivid focus by David Longdon’s utterly unique and incomparable voice. If, like I was, you have yet to experience it then please search this album out immediately!
One of the primary criticisms of the modern “Prog” movement is how few bands are truly experimenting and pushing boundaries and moving the music into uncharted waters. While I don’t personally subscribe to that (very subjective) viewpoint, I can understand how listeners that lean more toward experimental and avant-garde musical forms could be disappointed by the tendency to reverentially look backward instead of boldly reaching forward…and outward.
Those listeners should do themselves a favor and experience ‘The News’, the sophomore album from Italian prog/art rock collective N.y.X.. It’s a daring and inventive journey that takes a plethora of influences and combines them into a unique sonic experience that will surely delight (or utterly confound) depending on the listener.
Walter F. Nyx (vocals, guitar, bass, electronica), Danilo A. Pannico (drums, percussion, piano, organ, marimba, electronica) and Klod (guitar, vocals) have crafted a group that is unafraid to experiment, to push outward, to challenge perceptions. Assigning a genre label to their music seems counterintuitive; let’s just say it’s progressive in the literal definition.
‘The News’ begins with the instrumental Restless Slumber (At The Break Of Dawn), sounds of a city filtering thru the early morning, stirring the restless sleeper awake to face the day. The piece is built off an electronic foundation of loops and synth washes with Cuban jazz pianist Ivan Napoles Bridon adding some McCoy Tyner-influenced improvisation over the top. It has a dreamlike quality with the clear ringing sound of the acoustic piano creating a natural juxtaposition with the electronic underpinning, the piece builds to a crescendo and then tapers off before the sound of an alarm clock shatters that early morning calm and thrusts you headlong into the insanity of….
…Groundhog Day (Wakening, Dressing, Starting Up…). This piece captures that near-manic state of being where you’ve gotten up too late and are forced to rush around the apartment in a frenzy, amped on adrenaline but not fully awake enough to focus it effectively. Basically, every morning for me. The arrangement is just as chaotic as that experience implies, a near-cacophony of instrumental elements and stylistic influences layered together into a massive wall of sound with the vocal line more spoken than sung providing narration. If you’re looking for calm and soothing…look elsewhere. Musically there’s a discernable influence from the Discipline-era King Crimson band, which makes perfect sense considering the guest appearance on our next chapter….
…A Sarcastic Portrait (Editorial, Home and Foreign) continues the busy intensity; a driving and chaotic electronic drum track provides the underpinning for guest Adrian Belew (King Crimson) to paint his distinctive and playfully gonzo guitar over the top. The vocal line on this track simultaneously reminds me of the chaotic Indiscipline (from ‘Discipline’) and Devo. Yes, Devo. About the midway point a calm enters the proceedings, the arrangement slowly winds itself down and from the quiet the sounds of marimba, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and synth emerge. This ebb and flow is indicative of the entire album, the moments of intensity cooled down by more pastoral passages and then using that false sense of security to jolt the listener into the next movement. There’s an almost playful quality to it all.
Discord (Domestic Policies) is the most straight-ahead composition on the album. Primarily acoustic-guitar driven, it’s a charming art-rock number that gives a nod to the psychedelic while still retaining modernism thru the underlying rhythmic pulse. The guitar solo is a particular highlight, including a gorgeous harmony section that really caught my attention.
The Paper (Titles & Subtitles) is a minimalist instrumental piece in two movements. A simple single-note piano figure and orchestral pad provide the foundation for the first section and then a multitude of instrumental colorations are layered on top. The second section is sparser, the piano figure here replaced by a bass guitar line with washes of synth and barely audible narration bubbling just below the surface. There is a cinematic quality to this piece and it kept conjuring up images of a nighttime urban cityscape in my mind.
Keeping the soundtrack vibe going, Oscillations Du Chaos – Part III mixes in the sounds of an analog typewriter into the arrangement along with piano, tuned tympani, loops, snippets of dialogue and a variety of other elements to create the soundtrack for a virtual newspaper office. It also functions as the instrumental intro to the album-closing epic of…
…The Daily Dark Delerium. This nearly 13-minute piece is the summation of everything that has come before, a chaotic, turbulent storm of an arrangement that leaves you drained yet satiated at its conclusion. Guest Trey Gunn adds his distinctive Warr Guitar to the instrumental stew.
This album isn’t for everyone, it’s not easy-listening, it does require some patience and some effort to fully appreciate. I myself listened to the album for a month before I felt I had grasped it sufficiently to write about. It was worth the effort.
There’s a joyous feeling that comes from finding music that’s nearly impossible to describe, especially in a musical landscape that often seems more concerned with cataloging artists into neat little stylistic boxes instead of just listening and experiencing them. I applaud N.y.X for being difficult, for being challenging, for being unafraid to experiment…for being progressive.
I’ve seen the Chapman Stick mentioned quite a few times and always wondered what it was so, before we get into the nitty-gritty of the review, here is a description of this musical instrument.
The Chapman Stick (The Stick) is an electric musical instrument devised by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s. A member of the guitar family, the Chapman Stick usually has ten or twelve individually tuned strings and has been used on music recordings to play bass lines, melody lines, chords, or textures. Designed as a fully polyphonic chordal instrument, it can also cover several of these musical parts simultaneously.
So, there you go, my first introduction to The Stick was via fellow journalist (and stick player) Phil Lively who introduced me to a musician called Josh Goldberg, an experienced player of The Stick. Josh’s Afro Circus project released an album called ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, which I reviewed and came to this conclusion:
“I do like it when new music turns up unexpectedly. To be fair, there can as many duff releases as good ones but the anticipation is quite addictive. With nothing to prove and nothing expected of it, it can be quite refreshing and, when it is a sagacious as ‘Journey to the Centre of the Ear’, quite enlightening too. This record is innovative music for the mind and not for the faint hearted but, get to the core of what is on offer, and you will be well rewarded.”
Josh is also a member of the progressive jazz metal trio GEPH, who release their first, self-titled album, on 29th March 2016.
GEPH is an instrumental progressive jazz metal trio riding the very cutting edge of contemporary music. With Josh and John Tyler Kent on Chapman Stick, and Josh Merhar on drums, the three of them sound as big as a five-piece, and work to expand the modern conceptions of arranging and composing in a heavy, intense and still succinctly musical format.
There’s quite a sci-fi theme running through the album, overpopulation and colonising the stars feature heavily. To aide in this goal, scientists look to find the graviton, the hypothetical particle that mediates the behaviour of gravity. Miniturisation is the key apparently, it all sounds complicated and adventurous and you can read more at the bands bandcamp page (where you can also buy the album), the link can be found at the end of the article!
Album opener, The Trouble With Doorways takes the sci-fi theme and runs with it for the intro before opening up into a mad free for all acid jazz type musical blitz. It takes on another persona, quite atmospheric and on edge, dancing across your mind before turning into a seriously intricate type of jazz-metal fusion. Chaotic and rampageous, it doesn’t give you chance to settle. Things eventually calm down a bit with a holding pattern around Josh Merler’s maniacally clever drumming before the Stick guys deliver a cool piece of playing to take the track out to a close. Splinter begins quite sagacious and insightful, the elaborate playing runs along at quite a pace yet never loses its structure. Animated and spirited, it runs a repeated theme which sticks in your head and refuses to leave, the music just seems to trip along, all kept in check by Josh’s adept drum work. This is instrumental progressive music at its most highbrow, you really concentrate on what you are listening to and let it paint metaphorical pictures across your psyche, a kind of storytelling that doesn’t need words.
The sci-fi persona comes to the fore in the brief meanderings of Yocto with a repeated sound effect that nags at you before it turns into a gentle exploration of the mind, gently probing at your cerebral cortex, the three expert musicians working as one as it segues into the nervous energy of I Am The Lamp That Stomps with its frenetic opening. Things take on a more even temper and a edgy jazz touch with perplexingly quick interplay between the two Stick aficionados. This is some seriously enigmatic music and you just end up being drawn into its esoteric embrace, imagining fingers flying up and down these sophisticated instruments. The funky drums are always there, the glue holding everything in place, especially when the Chapman players go rogue and off up some byzantine alley with some utterly monstrous playing that your mind struggles to keep up with.
Mawhktarr Da’ario (Live at the Record Company) is the most overtly jazz influenced track on the album and really does give you the impression of being in some seriously trendy jazz club listening to jazz impresarios going hell for leather with their jazz/metal and prog infusion. It has elements of darkly delicious anticipation running through it, the band all combining to give an atmosphere of expectation and premonition with an almost alien edge to it. It’s ‘hide behind the sofa’ stuff as it takes on a grungy, industrial feel. Every now and again a lightness manages to bleed through and give it a more cherry feel. The playing on this track is really, really good and I found myself nodding in quiet appreciation of the skill of these young musicians. There is also a cerebral quality running throughout the album, this is not music for easy gratification, it asks for, and requires, intense listening to get every iota from it, take the plunge and you will not regret it. Plank is just under two minutes of fuzzy, unconventional music delivered with a metronomic accuracy. Uptight, it leaves you feeling uneasy and it builds to a critical conclusion. So we move straight into the final track on the album, the uber-cool Manifest Destiny’s Child. With a knowing superiority at its core it fires along at a precise lick. Distinctive in its ambiguity, it manifests a higher power and infinite intelligence as the musicians deliver ferocious likcs and riffs, melded with quieter moments of self-reflection. The quality of playing becomes almost ridiculously impressive and convoluted but still rewards your dedication.
The Chapman Stick is an instrument that is so flexible it can produce a multitude of sounds and, when utilised with the skill of these impressive musicians, is a mighty thing to behold. Aided and abetted by the excellent drums, you end up with a really intense and powerful listening experience that makes you think and it is all the better for it. GEPH is a band worth watching as they really should be going places!
Midlands based progressive-rock band Oktopus (formerly Progoctopus) have revealed their new, three-piece, line-up along with details of their upcoming exciting debut album and forthcoming live performances.
After the recent departure of singer Jane Gillard, the band have decided to forge ahead as a trio with guitarist Alistair Bell taking on lead vocal duties. Samuel C. Roberts (bass) and Tim Wilson (drums and vocals) complete the dynamic make-up of this distinctive act.
Tim Wilson – “Parting company with Jane was a difficult decision, but ultimately we felt a change in direction was important for the growth of the band. She played an important part in laying our foundations and we thank her for her valuable input.”
Later this month, the band will enter Rob Aubrey’s respected Aubitt Studios to begin work on their debut album, ‘Worlds Apart’, which will land in early Spring to coincide with their appearance at the HRH Prog Festival and a further three dates supporting District 97 and The Dave Kerzner Band.
The band marry the traditions of progressive music with stellar contemporary musicianship, superb live performance and tongue in cheek humour.
Oktopus UK Spring Tour 2016 (so far confirmed)
Thursday 17th March – HRH Prog, Pwllheli (w/Hammerhead, Third Quadrant and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown) Now Sold Out
Saturday 26th March – The Borderline, London (w/District 97 and The Dave Kerzner Band)
Sunday 27th March – The Musician, Leicester (w/District 97 and The Dave Kerzner Band)
Monday 28th March – The Robin 2, Bilston (w/District 97 and The Dave Kerzner Band)
There was a time, many moons ago, when bands spent days, weeks and even months together in a studio sweating over their latest collection of songs, honing the compositions together to produce the best sound they could with the available technology and their collective skills. In more recent years a new phenomenon has arisen of albums put together without the band having to be in the same room or even the same continent! Vly’s ‘I/ (Time)’ is such a product.
The brainchild of former Crippled Black Phoenix guitarist Karl Demata, the band is made up of his former band-mate Chris Heilmann on bass, Keith Gladysz on vocals, Elisa Montaldo on keys and Mattias Olsson on drums, making it a truly international ensemble, drawing from the UK, US, Italy & Sweden.
The music is deeply rooted in classic prog with more contemporary elements surfacing throughout the mix. The opener, ‘Circles’ has a strong Radiohead or Riverside vibe for me to begin with, with shades of Pink Floyd coming out in the guitar solo. That Floyd influence comes across in ‘Time’ – the title track, I suppose – but with a touch of Bowie and even The Beatles in there. This is a bigger sound, building to a stirring crescendo, before segueing into ‘Time Elapsed’, an electronic ambient interlude.
‘Headache’ begins with a jazzy bass, and the song itself puts me in mind of Hogarth-era Marillion. It is more of a ‘song’ in its structure than the earlier tracks to me. ‘Out of the Maze’ is darker tune, rockier and riff-driven: in contrast ‘Hypnotic’ is just that – slower, quite mesmeric with good overlapping counterpoint.
‘Time Remembered’ is a gentle solo piano interlude – quite beautiful in its simplicity. ‘Silver Beaches’ is the first of a trio of tunes in triple time, an acoustic song with staccato strings, airy vocals and Hammond organ that builds towards the end of the song. It puts me in mind of Steven Wilson, but more cheerful.
‘Message in Water’ begins heavier, but soon settles into a gentle 6/8 rhythm, with some nice bluesy slide guitar near the end. ‘Dark Days’ has a good riffy start, with vocals that evoke in turn Al Stewart, Tom Petty and David Bowie (to me anyhow).
‘Perfect Place’, the longest song of the set at 8:36, wears its Floyd influences clearly on its sleeve (in the way that the bands Freedom to Glide and Airbag do – there are clear similarities between the two here), even in its more ‘experimental’ passages in the final third of the track that are more ‘Meddle’ than ‘Division Bell’. ‘The album concludes with ‘Time Forgotten’, a gentle ambient piece that draws you in before letting you go.
If your preference is for music which evokes the classic era of Progressive rock, then there is much in this offering to satisfy, but you will also be challenged. The musicianship is exemplary throughout. Having heard very little of Demata’s work with CBP I can’t comment as to how it compares, but this is a very worthwhile project.
Calgary boys Diatessaron intend to put prog back on the map, but somehow I don’t think Calgary will get into Prog any time soon, or at all. There have been many great progressive bands reigning from Canada including the mighty Rush, not that I needed to tell you that, but they should be mentioned all the same.
Other bands such as FM, Bend Sinister and Saga also come from Canada but, in Calgary, prog bands are harder to come by. That is one reason why Diatessaron stand out from the crowd.
They’ve been on the scene since 2007 where guitarist Darren Young and vocalist Simon TJ initially formed the band at the time when they were still at the University of Calgary studying music. Through a previous jazz band that Darren was in, he recruited Carl Janzen as lead guitarist and Stephan Bots as drummer. Erik (bass) eventually got called in by Darren as they were colleagues in the University of Calgary orchestra.
All the members have a musical background which is a given, but what makes that even better is that they all have different experiences. All of the known styles that each member has contributes to a wild mix up of genres which is unique and downright odd sometimes but works fantastically.
Released in 2010, Diatessaron created their second album ‘Monument’ which they have now recorded live for tired moon Music at the Monnow Valley studios in Wales after their performance at Bloodstock in 2015.
As stated by the band themselves, “Diatessaron is like classical music, only a fuck of a lot louder.” I couldn’t agree more, their album ‘Monument’ is a rock symphony spanning over 40 minutes with 5 movements. It is electrified classical music. Yes, you may not have an orchestra, but a band is an orchestra in its own right and Diatessaron definitely have all the melodic elements of a symphony.
Being a live recording it is hard to identify where one song ends and another begins and this shows a good use of linking each ‘movement’ either lyrically, which could often be the case, or with similar riffs. Also, by being a concept album, linking each song is very important no matter how confusing the lyrics may seem.
“Sweet time to build an atom bomb from memory of an Openhiemer tree.” A phrase which keeps returning and ,yet, still makes no sense no matter how many times you’ve heard it. However it definitely sets the scene. Simon TJ is an eccentric story teller, spitting out words very rapidly,which almost sounds unstable because of the compound rhythm that is accompanying him, in other words the rhythm is just plain odd and difficult.
Simon reminds me of Ian Anderson in the way he portrays his story, he is just missing a flute and fails to do a flamingo impression. You can hear Simon take on different personas as the music progresses from heavily portraying different emotions and, with the use of falsetto, he can easily come across as different characters. He takes on a state of “strange duality” which is painted brilliantly in the music as lighter riffs change to becoming more forceful, the bass drum becomes more prominent and, in general, everything sounds more aggressive as Simon gains a harsher tone to his voice.
Of course, the lyrics are a very large part in telling a very dramatic story but, the instrumental work is also extraordinary. Looking at each part on a combined scale, each musician contributes equally so they sound as one unit, but they can also appear to be separate as well. To elaborate further, each instrument can be heard separately when they play their different rhythmic and melodic parts but, when they all have the same rhythm, the drive of the music increases, otherwise you become very lost.
To be able to achieve different rhythmic ideas simultaneously is very difficult, especially when you need to be back in time with each other at a later stage, however, they do a fantastic job. I’m surprised they don’t get lost themselves with the colossal amount of odd times signatures they use, 7, 11 who knows how many beats there are in a bar; yep, they’re prog alright.
On an individual scale, each and member offers great skill on their chosen instrument, a personal flair shining through. The influence of jazz is evident for lead guitarist Carl Janzen, from sublime soulful solos often with hints of bluesy ideas sliding from one note to the next making any dissonance seem gorgeous.
Bassist Erik and guitarist Darren provide strong rhythmic foundations and deliver some beautiful harmonies between them, even some brief bass solos are sneaked in for a moment of glory which Erik deserves. Darren gives some smooth jazz style chords, sweet like honey for the ears.
To tie it all together Stephen provides the backbone with strong, and at times dense, rhythms but can vary between styles seamlessly. An almost ‘hard rock come metal’ pulse with prominent bass drum and a focus on low toms can change instantly to a swung beat with an increased use of cymbals and a softer edge.
Hearing this colossal album live is a different experience and emphasises the musicianship each band member possesses.
“Life in the fast lane, surely make you lose your mind Life in the fast lane..”
Those words are taken from the Eagles’ track Life in the Fast Lane, particularly poignant due to the untimely recent death of Glen Frey, one of the original songwriters.
I was only saying to a friend the other day that January had literally flown by and that life in general was moving way too fast, the years seemingly flashing past in the blink of an eye.
We don’t take enough time to just relax and chill nowadays. It is almost illegal to just take time to yourself and enjoy the moment rather than be rushing around filling that time with something that appears to be important (and quite possibly isn’t).
Perhaps the late Sir Terry Pratchett put it best when he said, “This isn’t life in the fast lane, it’s life in the oncoming traffic.”
So, what can you do to move out of that ‘fast lane’ ? For me, my own retreat away from the rigors and, sometimes, horrors of modern life is music. Music can whisk me away to another place, a place of calm solitude where I can reflect on things and see life slow down to a much more manageable pace.
Don’t get me wrong, when I’m hitting the gym I want something fast paced and upbeat but, when I’m at home and in a reflective mood, I want something that will match that state of mind, preferably with a glass of something old and red and alcoholic to complement it……
I am here today to let you know if Tony Patterson’s latest solo effort, ‘Equations of Meaning’ fits the bill as an accompaniment to that contemplative atmosphere.
Tony Patterson is a solo artist/musician from the North East of England. Probably best known as the singer with the UK Genesis tribute act ReGenesis, he has also recorded four previous solo albums as well as working for TV and short film.
His most recent work, ‘Northlands’, is a collaboration with fellow North-East musician Brendan Eyre (Riversea) and features guests including Steve Hackett and Nick Magnus.
I reviewed ‘Northlands’ and had this to say about this sublime release, “A totally bewitching musical experience that transports you to another place, Northlands has touched my soul in such a way that I will never be the same again.
I am left with a feeling of solemnity and grace, as if I am in a place where all is well with the world and I can come to no harm.”
The first thing that grabs you about ‘Equations of Meaning’ is the superb artwork and photography, also a highlight of ‘Northlands’. This comes as no surprise as both were done by the talented Howard White and is featured throughout this review. I’ve often stated in the past that I am a sucker for excellent album art and this is no let-down.
The album opens with the elegant instrumental track Ghosts. A quite delightful piece of music that leaves you in mind of elysian fields with the gentle acoustic guitar and ethereal keyboards. A really pensive guitar note then takes up the reins, thoughtful, intent and precise as it dances across your mind. A really meditative opening to the record.
‘All alone, chilled to the bone
Still your warmth flows through me
All around, beckoning sound
Though your ears can’t hear me…’
Nick Magnus adds his programming skills to The Magdalene Fields, a track that opens with a really delicate introduction before Tony’s gentle vocal takes centre stage. A song that seems to meander along, there is no fast lane in operation here, time is taken to relax and the ghostly aura puts you in a state of grace. The heavenly chorus is quite sublime in its subtle delivery. My mind is an open book and is waiting for these celestial notes to leave their imprint, totally at ease. Fred Arlington’s sax is an utter delight, velvety smooth and relaxing.
‘Young Billy takes his life and he throws it
For a silly dream he has that would
somehow find a way…’
Each Day a Colour (A Dreamer’s Dream) sees Magnus take on occasional keyboard duties alongside Patterson and is another exquisite track. The opening section is dreamlike and graceful before an acoustic guitar lifts the musing aura and the vocals smoothly segue in and give a jaunty air to proceedings. There is a soothing and reassuring tone to Tony’s voice that gives it a really hypnotic air. Nick Magnus then delivers a superb slow burning, passionate guitar solo that is mesmeric and calmative at the same time, a real piece of magic to end the track with.
‘Ship sets out for sail today
Cast away, Cast away
Waking Dawn will show the way
Cast away, Cast away….’
Cast Away may be short but it is exceedingly sweet and gossamer like in its delivery. The tender guitar and haunting vocals give an almost surreal ambience, tranquil and soothing. It has a real calming effect, my heart rate dropping considerably. listen to this with headphones on and you will lose yourself in its benign embrace.
The Angel and The Dreamer
i) Vision ii) Journey iii) Reprise
This track is a more intricate instrumental with vocal embellishments provided by the luscious voice of Siobhan Magnus in addition to Tony Patterson. The first part, Vision, is full of eastern promise and a brooding longing hidden in the background, quite earnest in its delivery as the vocals are used as another instrument adding layers of intensity. Journey sees a return to the creamy, polished feel of the earlier tracks, Fred Arlington returning to lay down some jazzy horn to the track as it becomes effortlessly cool. Doug Melbourne adds the class of a the mopho synth as we move towards Reprise and a return the mysterious east.
‘Look to the sky
I’m not feeling this ground
See all the world
Something happening here..’
The intro to Beneath a Perfect Sky builds up steadily, becoming a methodical, repetitive backdrop to Tony’s melancholy vocal. The measured delivery of this track is extremely reassuring and relaxing as it washes over your psyche in its metronomic style. A beautiful lilting piano and choral voices leave you in blissful repose as this restrained piece of music continues to soothe your soul, the wonderful horn playing of Fred Arlington that closes out the song is just the icing on the metaphorical cake.
‘I saw your picture on your wall
Sent you a message, did you read it at all?
Just let me tell you, I like your style
Give me your attention, let me
stay for a while…’
I heard a clip of Sycophant when Tony put a teaser video up and, knowing he is a big fan, I asked him if it was his homage to James Bond, I’m sure John Barry would give a knowing nod as the introduction begins. It really is classy as the strings begin before it heads off in a more funky direction with the edgy keyboards. Tony delivers the vocals in his slick style and they really make this track the epitome of cool. The repeated use of the string and keyboard motif just adds to the feeling that you are in the middle of an EON Productions movie. Andy Gray’s fiery and yet cultured guitar solo adds another sheen of gloss to what is a rather excellent song and one that has one foot firmly in the mainstream. An homage to Bond? I’d like to think so and a song that could grace any of the movies.
And When the Sky Was Opened is another transcendental instrumental track that has a whimsical, almost insubstantial feel to it as it ghosts its way across your aural synapses, a musical Amuse-bouche perhaps.
‘There’s a fire that burns within my soul
And it drives me on towards my goal
There’s a burning fire that’s in my eyes
There’s a place that I don’t recognise…’
The rarefied air returns with Pilgrim, another urbane and congenial track that flows gently across the airwaves. Tony’s vocal is a bit more insistent but it reined back by the calming feel of the piano and keyboards. Fred Arlington’s horn makes a welcome return, just adding to the unhurried repose that this song engenders. Lay back, relax and let the harmonious charms of Fred’s sax free your mind and your soul.
Tony’s long time writing partner and friend Brendan Eyre co-wrote the piano based instrumental As The Lights Go Out and it is a little gem of a song. Brendan’s piano has an unseen depth to it that grabs your heart and soul and pulls you in, it is so beautiful it almost brings tears of joy, tinged with a small hint of nostalgic sadness.
‘Look at me
Time was never on my side
You and me
Survived the turning of the tides…’
All good things must come to an end and The Kindest Eyes is the final track on this wonderful album. A cultured acoustic guitar opens the song before Tony’s voice lifts your mind and takes you on a bewitching and whimsical musical journey. This track was written for Tony’s wife Angela and he admitted to me that it took a lot of courage to write. Well, I for one am glad he did, it is utterly stunning and just leaves a huge smile on your face. Nick Magnus, once again, provides the programming and the superb slide guitar and highly emotive guitar solo delivered by the outrageously talented Adrian Jones just lift it to another level. I would hate to pick one song above any of the others but this was the one that moved me most emotionally. The way the song closes out, fading to an enchanting acoustic guitar, just leaves you struck dumb.
Well I was utterly mesmerised by ‘Northlands’, Tony’s collaboration with Brendan Eyre and this album deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. To get the utmost from the album you must listen to it from start to finish, preferably with headphones on, in a darkened room and with your choice of relaxing alcohol. To me, ‘Equations of Meaning’ is not merely a great release, it is a state of mind that we should all aspire to when our Life in the Fast Lane gets too much for us. Superb and highly recommended.
“Meditation is a very slow and painful process. It is indeed the practice of death yet a celebration of life.” – Ronald P. Vincent, 1947
This quote is printed on the inside gatefold of “Nucleus” and is, essentially, the mission statement singer/guitarist/songwriter Magnus Pelander follows for the fifth Witchcraft album. It’s a heavy, hypnotic, trippy musical journey brimming with atmosphere and worship of the almighty guitar riff.
Pelander originally formed Witchcraft solely for the purpose of recording a Pentagram cover for a Bobby Leibling tribute album. That single track immediately caught the attention of Lee Dorian (Cathedral, Napalm Death) who signed them to his label Rise Above and whisked them off to record their debut full-length album.
That eponymous release, recorded in analog in a basement studio using only vintage gear was a glorious concoction. Sounding more like a long-lost album from 1972 than a current album from 2004 it captured my imagination immediately.
It sounded authentic; the songwriting having just the right flavor for that musical era and unlike many retro groups that pick a single point of influence it was obvious that Pelander had a wide and varied appreciation for music from the late 60s and early 70s.
They would record two more fine albums using the same analog template; “Firewood” from 2005 and the very proggy “The Alchemist” from 2007; both highly recommended. Then the band went dormant for 5 years, reappearing with “Legend” in 2012 with only Pelander and bassist Ola Henriksson remaining from the earlier lineup.
“Legend” was a departure from their prior albums as the vintage approach was dropped in favor of a very modern, punchy sound. In addition Magnus decided to put down the guitar to concentrate solely on vocals and hired a dual-guitar tandem. It was a very good album, but personally seemed to be lacking some of the atmosphere of the earlier Witchcraft releases and Magnus’ guitar playing was sorely missed.
Thankfully he decided to pick up the guitar again and has reconfigured Witchcraft as a power trio for the first time in their career with new members T. Anger (bass) and Rage Widerberg (drums) holding down the rhythm section chairs. (Anger and Rage, that can’t be a coincidence)
The opening track Malstroem begins with a cool little arrangement fake-out; a lovely acoustic guitar and flute introduction leads to a driving little staccato riff that gives the impression the song is going to increase in speed and intensity but, when the expected massive riff comes, the tempo drops in half. It’s a great little moment that feels like the floor just vanished below your feet and you have a split second to contemplate that prior to plummeting downward into the abyss.
The title of this track is apt, it’s a roiling concoction; Pelander’s grinding guitar (which would get Tony Iommi’s seal of approval I’m sure) intermingles with sci-fi tinged pipe organ and acoustic guitar stabs propelled by the lumbering brontosaurus groove of the rhythm section.
Pelander uses the simplicity of the arrangement to his advantage, the dirge-like gate providing the perfect foundation for his impassioned vocals. I sampled a lot of retro bands from Sweden during the late ‘00s and Witchcraft really stood out primarily because of his voice. You can hear echoes of Roky Erickson, Jim Morrison, Marc Bolan and the aforementioned Bobby Leibling in addition to the expected Ozzy references. “Nucleus” is his finest performance to date.
The punchy Theory Of Consequence is the shortest track here, clocking in at just under 3 minutes it’s a fun little rocker in the Uriah Heep mode. The advance single The Outcast is more reminiscent of the earlier Witchcraft albums, the first half of the song an uptempo flute-driven rocker and then settling into more of a Zeppelin-meets-Wishbone Ash laidback jam for the second half. These two songs add some variety in tempo to the proceedings, which for the most part is slow and deliberate.
My favorite track on the album is the bluesy Helpless, it has attitude to spare with Magnus building the intensity to full jet engine roar by the conclusion. The guitar solo on this song is killer, I just love the Gibson + Orange Amplifier sound.
The remainder of “Nucleus” consists of a balance of shorter mid-tempo doomy rockers like the excellent An Exorcism of Doubts (very much a Black Sabbath homage) and the extended progressive excursions of the title track and album-closer Breakdown.
These longer pieces will probably either delight or infuriate depending on the listener. There are certain musical styles that seem to reach their full potential through repetition; funk grooves get funkier the longer you ride them, psychedelia needs space to weave its spell and doom riffs seem to get heavier the longer you play them.
Pelander approaches these tracks like meditative mantras, allowing them to stretch and build slowly, combined they equal 30 minutes of the running time.
The title track is the most “prog” song on the album and the addition of cello and female backing vocals really enhance the atmosphere. The arrangement ebbs and flows going from the quiet and pastoral to the aggressive and edgy, it’s an enticing journey. The only real problem is it just goes on a little too long, a slow 30-second fadeout around the 10-minute mark would have worked in its favor.
Breakdown is the better of the two epics and is a great way to close out the album (although the addition of a bonus track tacked on the end kind of negates that a little bit). The song is a dirge constructed in two contrasting segments. The opening half is built on a single clean-toned guitar pattern that repeats and is reminiscent of the more recent albums from the Portland-based band Earth. The second half is pure menace, malevolent and crushing with the Magnus sounding particularly unhinged with his most extroverted vocal performance of the album. It’s an intense journey.
As a whole “Nucleus” is the most experimental and searching album Witchcraft has done to date. It’s quite the left turn from the rather straightforward approach of “Legend” and personally I applaud the decision to defy expectations. It’s an intense, ballsy record and one that I recommend to adventurous listeners…and worshippers of “the riff”.