Month: March 2016
Review – Fractal Mirror – Slow Burn 1- by Progradar
“For fast acting relief, try slowing down.” – Lily Tomlin.
Modern life can be likened to being on an express train that only runs between two stations, the one where you board and the one where you alight. The common complaints of ‘not enough hours in the day and too much to do to fill them’ arriving on a regular basis.
We really need to get off this never-ending stressful ride more often, for our own health and sanity, if nothing else. I know it’s easy enough for me to say it but, it certainly helps my well-being to be able to take a step back now and again.
My way of forgetting the intimidating rat race is just to listen to some calm and relaxing music, music that I can unwind to and that soothes my furrowed brow. One of the artists that have delivered this gentle, sedating relief to my busy life in the fast lane has always been Fractal Mirror and they have just released a new album, ‘Slow Burn 1’ so, when the promo arrived, I pressed play to see what wondrous, whimsical world they had conjured up for us this time…
Fractal Mirror is an international recording band. Leo Koperdraat (keys/guitars/vocals) and Ed van Haagen (bass/keys) have made music together since the 80’s in the Netherlands. They met Frank Urbaniak (drums/lyrics) online and compose and record their music via transatlantic data exchanges. While Ed has visited the US during mixing sessions, Leo and Frank have never formally met. The band’s name and compositions are a reflection of their passion for the wide variety of music that has influenced them and has provided the soundtracks for their personal lives.
The themes in ‘Slow Burn 1’ are a reflection of the disruption that technology is triggering in all phases of life, and the platform it provides for consent and dissension about the direction in which our world is heading.
There is a wide selection of guest artists helping the band on this release including Patric Farrell, Kenny Bissett Sr., Don Fast, Leopold Blue-Sky and Brett Kull (Echolyn) who, once again, mixed and produced the album. Brian Watson of Plan A Art provided the stunning artwork.
Prelude is a calming opening, lowering the heart rate and getting you ready for what is to come. The signature Fractal Mirror keyboard sound and Leo Koperdraat’s dulcet tones all present and correct. There is a real light and airy feel to Miracle as it opens up. The jangling guitar and Frank’s drums giving a dreamy feel, a deliberate note is in the vocal though, all serious for a moment. The guitar gravitates in earnest and the catchy chorus is really good. Some stylish bass playing adds a touch of class to proceedings. Immediately you feel that the band have matured and progressed in their songwriting, there are layers of complexity on show here, shown in the late 60’s psychedelic feel to the opening of Numbers. The swirling organ note and deliberate drumming add a thoughtful note to the song and Leo’s vocals have an earnest note. It is all cleverly whimsical and wistful, lulling you into a serene state of calm. I see a new found depth to the musicians and one that I am liking a lot so far.
Patric Farrell provides bass on V838 and lead guitar duties are taken on by Peter Swart. On the verse, the song has an upbeat feel, uplifting and light, the rhythm section bringing their ‘A’ game along. Leo delivers another reflective vocal performance. There’s a note of regret, even warning, on the meditative chorus. This track showcases the new, polished sound that is crystal clear and lush. A contemplative and plaintive note pervades Floods. This song has an almost melancholy and ethereal beauty to it, I listened to it with my headphones on and was lost in its sublime, calming grace. Charlotte Koperdraat and Kitty Diepstraten add serene backing vocals, there’s some heartfelt guitar playing and you are left with a blissful lightness of being.
That sanguine, optimistic note returns on Mist, positive drumming, quick-stepping keyboards and Leo’s buoyant vocal all come together to give the song a really upbeat note. Stopping just sort of becoming annoyingly twee, with Don Fast’s elegant 12-string, it left me feeling like I could take on the world, the sun was shining and everything was right with the world. Both Enemies and Embers have a determined and businesslike note to them. While at first resonating a little less with me, they are both still clever, involving pieces of music that did, at first, seem a tad one paced. Charlotte returns on backing vocals for the former, this time joined by Jason Himmelberger. Both songs initially seemed to lack the instant involvement of the rest of the songs on the album but, after repeated listens, they both proved to be slow burning diamonds. It is true that all comes to he who waits, apparently….
A delightful guitar note opens Fading before a tidy drum roll introduces the rest of this feel-good track. A jangling guitar riff and Leo’s expressive vocal add another layer of benevolence. A proper ‘foot-tapper’ it seems to fly along slightly out of grasp with its more AOR friendly feel. Throw in a Peter Gunn style riff and you have another song that lifts its head above the parapet of normality on this increasingly impressive release. Artifacts is another smoothly polished song that just drips panache and style and yet seems to suffer slightly against the inspiration of some of the other tracks on the album. It is a rather nice piece of music anyway, great vocals from Leo and Jason again, combine them with the superlative musicianship and you will never fall below rather good but, to me anyway, there just seems to be something lacking. However, the final track on this expressive musical world of wonder is every bit as good as, if not better than, the rest. Universal is Fractal Mirror doing what they do best, sumptuous music, intelligent songwriting and delightful vocals combine to give over eight minutes of intriguing and involving musical enchantment and it really does leave you on a high. On this final song, the majority of the musical guests make a final appearance with Patric Farrell, Kenny Bissett Sr., Leopold Blue-Sky, and Dan Fast all joining the exuberant gathering. The harmonised vocals are just one of the joys on show and the song runs out with a serious feel of the Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper.
A band that constantly strives to improve and progress, Fractal Mirror’s new album is testament to their devotion to this ethos. ‘Slow Burn 1’ is a multi-faceted delight and a joy to behold. I doff my cap to you gentlemen, after ‘Garden of Ghosts’ I expected something special from you and, boy, have you delivered!
Released 18th March 2016
Buy ‘Slow Burn 1’ direct from the band
Review – Haken – Affinity – by Shawn Dudley
I’ve been living with this new Haken album for a couple of weeks now, attempting to wrap my head around it. Each time I think I’ve got it figured out some new detail jumps out at me that requires me to reevaluate. Like the band themselves, ‘Affinity’ remains wonderfully elusive and that just makes me appreciate it more.
Haken have been an enjoyable enigma from the very beginning. Over the course of four impressive full-length studio albums they have remained defiantly hard to categorize. The proverbial square peg. You can sit down and catalog all the elements, you can ascertain their stylistic influences, you can dissect and study their compositions but any attempt to accurately file them away into pre-existing little boxes? Futile. The only box they fit into is the one labeled, Haken.
Opening single Initiate sways back and forth from driving and propulsive to ethereal and contemplative with the always-impressive voice of Ross Jennings guiding the way. The arrangement seems deceptively simple on the surface, but there is a wealth of detail here that becomes more apparent on repeated listens (this holds true for the entire album). The heavier guitars don’t make an appearance until over 2 minutes into the track and provide a visceral edge to what is otherwise a primarily keyboard-driven, clean-toned arrangement. This concise 4-minute track serves as the appetizer for the full-course buffet that follows.
At the center of ‘Affinity’ are two equally impressive if stylistically diverse epics.
The first of these is the appropriately named 1985. On their prior album ‘The Mountain’ from 2013 a lot of discussion was spurred by their incorporation of “retro” instrumental sounds from the 70s, particularly in the infectious single Cockroach King, which wore the influence of Gentle Giant proudly upon its sleeve. This time out we move forward a decade to the digital 1980s. 1985 conjures up memories of the birth of personal computers, 8-bit video games, boom boxes, MTV and just about every keyboard sound and 80s production element introduced during the first half of the decade. In the press release the band mentions their love of albums like ‘90125’, ‘Toto IV’ and ‘Three Of A Perfect Pair’ (and even though Rush isn’t specifically mentioned their early 80s albums are an obvious inspiration as well).
To their credit, Haken takes these elements and instead of creating a pastiche, they expertly incorporate them into their signature sound. They are just additional colors in an ever-expanding palette. Their ability to liberally borrow sounds from different eras and styles has been apparent since their debut album ‘Aquarius’, but with each successive release it has become more organic in structure and more assured in execution. This maturity has also carried over into the recording studio, ‘Affinity’ is a quantum leap forward in production and sound design, showing that Haken is just as adept at “playing the studio” as they are at their individual instruments. On most albums a track as impressive as 1985 would be the clear highlight…but ‘Affinity’ has more riches to offer……
The second epic is the main course of our buffet and would also serve as an impressive introduction for the uninitiated. By far the heaviest track on the album The Architect is an absolute stunner, a 15-minute tour de force of the power and diversity this band can conjure.
Roughly split into separate movements it begins in muscular technical prog-metal territory, but this isn’t your typical paint-by-numbers variety, this is exciting, driving, heavy music played with passion. The mid-section is absolutely gorgeous, an ambient pad of voices and sound effects provide the backdrop for new bassist Connor Green to take a lyrical, fusion-inspired solo and then the guitars enter playing a gorgeous contrapuntal figure that harkens back to the sound of ‘Discipline’-era King Crimson. The following section increases the intensity with a side-trip into Opeth/Enslaved territory (the melody in this section is reminiscent of The Drapery Falls) and a guest appearance from Einar Solberg from Leprous providing a brief harsh-vocal contribution. It’s an immense arrangement and an impressive achievement.
While these tracks demonstrate the further refinement of the Haken elements we’ve come to know, I think the most exciting aspects of ‘Affinity’ show the band moving forward and expanding their sound into uncharted territory. Tracks like the lovely Lapse and the outward-leaning experimentation of Red Giant are thrilling, thoroughly modern compositions that point the way toward exciting chapters yet to come. They show an increased interest in electronic sounds and atmospherics, yet never venture into cold/clinical territory, remaining warm and inviting throughout.
I have to throw out a special mention to the wonderful mix by Jens Bogren who first came to my attention because of his excellent work with Opeth. His mixes sound HUGE, incredibly powerful without sacrificing any of the intricate detail and that made him the perfect choice for ‘Affinity’.
Easily their most impressive album, ‘Affinity’ solidifies Haken as one of the best bands that modern Prog has to offer and their potential for the future appears limitless.
Released 29th April 2016
Pre-order ‘Affinity’ from Burning Shed
Review – Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays – by Leo Trimming
This review is dedicated to Jean Trimming R.I.P
Matthew Parmenter, the charismatic front man of Discipline, has released his impressive third solo album, imbued with emotion and narrative skill. This album marks his first release with Bad Elephant Music, following on from their ‘fire alarm meeting’ outside the Summer’s End Festival in 2015. The dramatic impact of Parmenter’s stunning show with Discipline at that event led to a great social media comment that the most memorable sound of the whole weekend was the sound of so many jaws hitting the floor in amazement at his performance. However, this solo album shows a very different side of Matthew Parmenter.
Scheherazade was the wife in ‘One Thousand and One Night’s’ who had to tell stories that would keep her husband on tenterhooks until the next night instead of executing her. It is appropriate that Parmenter opens the album with a fascinating song about this story teller, ‘weaving stories into stories’, grabbing one’s attention immediately with a high alto voice intro, akin to Antony Heggarty. Parmenter is filled with stories and poetry which he pours into this work. For the title track he uses probably one of the most famous soliloquies from the greatest story teller of them all, Shakespeare, drawn from Macbeth Act 5, scene 5:
‘… And all our Yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death, out, out brief candle’
Some may question the wisdom of tackling the Bard in this way but Parmenter has the poise and skill to capture the despair of this speech without overpowering it, and his voice is perfectly suited to conveying the presence of a Shakespearean tragic hero. Much of this work is pervaded with a sense of melancholy, particularly in the finale Hey for the Dance and, particularly, I am a Shadow, which perfectly frames Parmenter’s voice as a finely crafted instrument in itself, conveying Bowie-esque delicate agony. Favourable comparisons with Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator are inevitable, and this seems most clear in the vocal stylings and lyrical approach taken on Hey for the Dance and All for Nothing, accompanied with an appropriately bleak violin and organ. It is no coincidence that All Our Yesterdays with it’s the Shakespearean themes follows – we are clearly walking in the ominous presence of tragic heroes.
However, Parmenter shows he has a lighter almost jaunty side as Stuff in the Bag rolls along in fine style, ‘taking a holiday from consciousness’, reminiscent of the jaunty asides from King Lear’s Fool. This is not an album full of all pervading darkness as Parmenter’s punctuates the album with moments of relief, such as the short delightful instrumental Danse du Ventre, moving in to the fine song of conflict feelings evoked in Digital.
Previously in reviews I have tried to be ‘objective’, but that is all an illusion as ALL reviews are subjective, filtered through all of our individual thoughts, feelings and experiences. Some records will mean more for different reasons, and the feelings conveyed may affect us in unexpected ways. Similarly, the actions of the artist may impact upon us. With that in mind, the song, Inside, really connected with me, and I know that one small unheralded action by this artist had a positive effect upon me at a difficult time, which I think says a lot about him as a person as well as an artist. Please forgive the personal angle at this point but this is essential for me to convey the meaning of this song and album to me.
After seeing Discipline in October at Summers End 2015 I bought 2 Discipline albums at the festival. Later I found that a CD booklet was missing, and unfortunately the vendor could not help as they had sold out. I forgot about this for a while as other things of more importance were happening in my life. In December sadly my Mother passed away quite suddenly, which devastated me. In my grief I looked for slight distractions and recalled the missing CD booklet. I decided to e-mail the record company in America to explain the omission, and to my surprise I got a very swift reply back directly from Matthew Parmenter, promising to send the missing booklet. I replied that I was impressed with his speedy and helpful reply, remarking in passing that it was nice to have such a positive response as my mother had just died. Just after New Year’s Day a package arrived from America and not only was there the missing CD booklet, but also a complimentary copy of a Discipline album! There was no note but so much had been said by that thoughtful and compassionate action. I am also pretty certain Matthew would have had no idea I do occasional reviews – this was a simple moment of generosity, reaching out to someone in sadness.
Fast forward a few weeks to my first listening of Matthew’s new album and I get to hear the wonderful song Inside with the powerful refrain:
“You May Be Lonesome and Uncertain, I may be Feeling I’m Alone, We May Find Comfort in this Moment here – Inside…”
I probably do not need to tell you how that song hit me as I drove along listening to it for the first time. It’s a wonderfully understated song with sensitive vocals and atmospheric organ as the song builds in restrained power and emotion.
Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.
Released 11th March 2016
Buy ‘All Our Yesterdays’, on digital and CD, from Bad Elephant Music
All live photography thanks to Sam Holt.
All other photography, much thanks go to Graham Stead.
This review is dedicated to Jean Trimming R.I.P.
Review – Halo Tora – Omni/One – by Kevin Thompson
I have had this CD floating in and out of various players around the house for a few months seducing me, whilst the glorious cover artwork from Sandy Wilson calls to me like the outstretched siren in the picture, waiting to drag me into it’s depths and hold me in her cold, watery embrace.
Coming together in 2011, with influences ranging from such luminaries as Oceansize and fellow Scots, Mogwai and hailing from Auld Reekie, these Glaswegians made 2015 a very busy year in their drive to push themselves, tirelessly, with support slots for the likes of My Vitriol and a UK tour of their own as well as recording ‘OMNI\ONE’. There is no chance of finding heather growing under these lad’s feet as they strive to feed the demand of a rapidly growing fan-base.
Ian McCall and Chris Alexander share the deliciously melding vocals and substantially atmospheric, densely rich, guitar interplay. These are underpinned with eerily haunting piano refrains from the adept fingers of Ryan Connery and Chris McKeown’s thunderous drumbeats and rhythms matched by Mark Young’s vigorous bass work, cementing a solid band structure, built to last, with eyes fixed firmly on the course they take toward greater things.
They also have a little help on the album from additional musicians: Kene Wraight – Bass, Neil Slorance – Double Bass, and Sara Ann Dawodu – Violin.
Tranz/Zero – the instrumental introduction with desolate echoing guitar notes hammered from the fretboard, sets the scene of a gloomy mist drifting through the Glaswegian streets, the wind echoing through the dark alleys dispersing suddenly as it turns the corner… Leading seamlessly into..
Permanent Revolution – a tick-tock rhythm issues in the interlaced vocals from Ian and Chris for the first time, playing off each other, sailing together and drifting apart, with the sense of urgency growing, the guitar solo begging as the boys sing ‘take me away’. The beating drums from Chris and Mark’s bass builds a wall of sound as the guitars scream to a halt.
Echoing guitar push in the next track Ruins, drum and bass marching together as the desolation all around collides with the bitter vocals, slowing into a solo with a glimmer of hope. Could there be a chance of escape? The vocals rise and the instruments overrun into a dramatic finish, the mist floats in again, obscuring the bid for freedom and, when it clears….
A guitar warily ventures out into The Bones that Rock the Cradle, fearful of the piano striding forward. As the vocals search for a way out they are blocked by a wall of menacing six strings, reinforced by the bass, as the drums try to push their way through. Will there be a getaway down the shady back street, the guitars give chase as a defiant promise to return is thrown back at the pursuing six strings.
Catching a breath as the dreamy keyboards give respite on Tonight. The pursued appear to have given those tracking the slip for now. Simon and Garfunkel style harmonising eases troubled minds as emotions rise, whilst the guitars search in the distance and the drums berate them. The net closes in and suddenly the guitars emerge in front of the fugitive voices.
Acoustic, whispered regret and decisions not made. The guitars’ Hangman looms menacingly over the voices. Muttering, was it just that they did not get out when the piano afforded them chance or was it that they prevented themselves leaving?, cymbals ring dizzily around their heads and the fret drifts in again.
The vocal realisation that the chance may have passed as the guitars and drums cry triumph. Will the words sink Under the Surface with the weight of the music? Still refusing to do the guitars angry bidding, causes them to stop abruptly and tinkling keys ripple against the voices, before waves of guitar and drums hit and raise cries for a way out. A lull in the tide as the vocals drift, the acoustic guitar keeping them afloat until the waves come crashing in again and the voices rage against them. They fall away again and drums swim through the waters as the the guitars circle before plunging in, smashing against the metaphoric rocks, to silence.
Regaining consciousness, vocals sail lazily on a current of drums and low piano, the conscience is pricked with Needles of remorse as echoing, re-verb guitar notes suggest that something holds the songs there. On calm reflection another may be to blame, allowing a turmoil of guitars to enter the head, but drowned out and pushed aside by the verbal insistence that the fault lies elsewhere.
The guitars hunt with renewed vigour in this Age of Terror, charging forward, drums announcing the vocals as they do battle and stand their ground against the heavy chords and bass, harmonies. Forcing the instruments to retreat, before they attack with dark rhythms. Keyboards rise and replace the vocals against the guitars who, with a whine, fall from the edge.
The vocal,s accompanied by faithful acoustic guitar notes, warn they will be The Executioner to come as strings soothe the unsuspecting into slumber. “Run”, they warn, as ripples of piano and bended, distorted guitar strings toss and turn restlessly in dark dreams.
X is Mandatory, as the whistling wind and cold mist shrouds haunting piano, in this short instrumental, finding the acoustic beginning of the end, the last and title track….
Omni\One. Melancholy is relieved by the gentle vocals with promise of a change to better things. Hopeful acoustic guitar and piano take the lead as the guitars, vocals and all other instruments rise to a more peaceful resolution in release and then silence.
There is a Gothic type melodrama to the music on this album, a yearning and longing which may on the surface appear gloomy but, just as Anathema have accomplished, Halo Tora create beauty from these elements and carve them into something wondrous, that clings to you, won’t let go and you are happy it is there.
Look out for these boys crossing Hadrian’s Wall, they intend and deserve to be greater. Mark them as ‘one to watch’.
Released 3rd September 2015
Buy ‘Omni/One’ on digital from bandcamp
Buy ‘Omni/One’ on CD direct from Halo Tora
Review – Section IV – Superhuman – by Progradar
“With the aim to make progressive music accessible to the masses and not content to follow any musical trends, Section IV fuse melodic hooks, rich soundscapes and musical dexterity to create music that defies genres.”
So says the band’s bandcamp page anyway…..
To be honest, I’d never heard of Norwich based Section IV until a message arrived at Progradar from the band’s manager Dean Shepherd:
Section IV have released their début album “Superhuman” Should you want a physical copy of Superhuman I would be happy to send you one, if you could furnish me with an address to send it to.”
Dean also furnished a link to the band’s website which, while being sparsely populated with information, intrigued me enough, especially the striking artwork, to reply in the affirmative.
It was difficult to glean anything much from the band’s online presence but I figured out they’re from Norwich (yes, well done to me, I know!) and Section IV consist of Robben Harrop (guitar), Sam Linay (vocals), Stuart Robertson (drums), Richard Lockett (keyboards) and Nicko J Ruddock (bass).
Listening to the music is a whole different proposition, there’s a whole bundle of influences fighting for attention over the ever present rock base. Like most good albums, it takes two or three listens to unveil the inner delights so, after quite a few more plays, I’m ready to give you my considered opinion…
This album is book-ended by two longer tracks, the first being the title track Superhuman and this is one with full-on neo-prog tendencies. Like a leap back in time to the 80’s and early 90’s, all the pointers are present and correct. Sepia tinged keyboards and jangly guitars are the mainstay and everything is kept cohesive by the slightly metallic drum sound. Sam’s vocal is strong and powerful and, while everything is stylish and professional, it doesn’t quite put its head above the parapet as being something better than what you’ve heard before.
The next two tracks, Out Of The Dark and In Danger has a more definitive AOR feel to them and I get the feeling that this melodic and catchy style is where the band truly sit, they are masters at it. Wistful and endearing, the music is classy, polished and, basically, really good. The vocals fit perfectly with the sound and I find myself being drawn in, lulled by the quality on offer, Robben Harrop’s impressive guitar work really starting to shine as well. Inside is one of the stand out tracks with some polished acoustic guitar work and superbly harmonised vocals. It is a pared back little gem.
The bombast returns with the opening to So Far Away, all pounding drums and staccato guitar. A feeling of apprehension is created by the voices running underneath the music. This track actually sticks one toe firmly in the progressive pool and does it exceedingly well to give an almost post apocalyptic feel but doesn’t quite go the whole hog. The rather catchy chorus has its roots firmly in hard rock and AOR. Idwtstwt is an enjoyable anomaly in that it even treads the boards as a heavy metal track with its punishing opening riff before turning the flame down a bit to hover on the edge of hard rock heaven and heavy metal hell in quite an innovative manner, the interplay between the guitar and keyboards just manages to avoid being cheesy. That hard rock/AOR vibe returns with Guiding Light, another track that, while being entirely palatable, is also a bit generic. I even feel a hint of 80’s metal joining the fray on tracks such as Take You Down, if brought up to date for the twenty-first century. The keyboards are nicely done, the riffing is smart and perceptive and Sam has one of those unique and memorable voices that stays with you, especially on the uplifting chorus.
So, to the final track on the album and a return to the neo-prog feel of the equally extensive opener. Exile, however, does seem to take its progressiveness just that much further and, as such, makes itself the stand out track on the album. To me, it feels like the band have, basically, decided to forget any formulas and just lay down what they’re good at. The sweeping opening is full of grandeur before a lone piano takes over, quite heartfelt, to lead into the rest of this sixteen minute epic musical journey. Uplifting and dynamic, it is worth the entrance fee alone. It is quite cinematic in scale and stops you in your tracks, a heavyweight slice of pomp and circumstance.
So, to my ears, Section IV has delivered a highly competent and eminently likeable album in ‘Superhuman’. However, with tracks like Inside and, especially, Exile, they show they have the capability to produce something exciting and different to the norm and, to me, they should be exploring that side of their music further.
Released 31st March 2015
buy ‘Superhuman’ from bandcamp
Review – Sebas Honing – The Big Shift – by Progradar
There are lots of small, independent music labels around this great big planet we live on, I even work with one. It was a pleasure to meet Peter from Freia Records at the recent Bad Elephant evening. This Dutch imprint have been going for quite a long time and have built up a nice roster of artists. Peter is as enthusiastic about music as any of us who have it running through our blood.
I’ve reviewed some of Freia Music’s releases in the past so it was with anticipation that I downloaded the latest one as soon as it landed in my inbox.
Sebas Honing was better known to me as being a founder of Equisa with hs wife, Petra. Little did I know he also had a burgeoning solo career.
‘The Big Shift’ is his third (or is it his fifth?) solo album. His previous album met with critical acclaim both from the fans and the media. Sebas was even featured in the ‘Limelight’ section in Prog Magazine, issue 49 (September 2014). Sebas also took the criticism of his first album to heart and asked Christiaan Bruin to play the drums, his wife (a professional singing teacher) also helping him to strengthen his voice.
‘The Big Shift’ is, again, a concept album if, albeit, a loose one. It is about change and includes lyrics about leaving home, getting rid of fears and the birth of Sebas’ daughter.
There’s an eclectic mix of progressive and symphonic rock running throughout the album. Right from the thunderous opening salvo of instrumental title track Big Shift and Life pt.1 this is dynamic and compelling. Sebas is a seriously accomplished guitarist but he has a rather nice vocal too, vulnerable, yet with authority when required. Mrs Honing (Petra) provides classy lead vocals on a selection of tracks and her voice has a dreamlike elegance to it.
Sebas explores the more complex and progressive styles on tracks like Ditching Fear, Mercury Retrogade and OMG yet they still keep a more accessible feel to them. Stylish, concise and expressive, these are catchy tunes that, mixed with a certain degree of complexity, really appeal to the listener and, when Sebas lets rip on the guitar with his inimitable style, it’s a joy to behold. There’s even a touch of Metallica coming through on OMG, bringing a smile to my face.
Occasional lapses into a lighter, more fine-grained style do not hinder your listening enjoyment. Rather, tracks like All You Are, Freedom (a strong single contender if he wanted one) and Mild Smile give the middle part of the album a dose of humility and humanity. It is on tracks like these where Sebas adopts a cultivated edge to his music and vocals and rather stylish and urbane it is too.
Overall, the astute mix of styles blend together to deliver a distinctly cohesive whole and there is something for everyone to enjoy with nods to the more serious and then the light-hearted among us. Every now and then the added polish of Sebas’ brilliant guitar playing breaks out and everything lifts to an other plane altogether, the solo on Hometown being a case in point. Perhaps the most creative, serious and yet, elegant track on the album, Homeless sees Tessa Struijs join Petra on backing vocal duties to give us a symphonic-prog classic in the making.
It could be said that Sebas Honing leaves the best until last as the final two tracks, Life Pt. II and Lost close out proceedings with a bang. Sebas and Petra delivering a stellar vocal performance on the former, along with some rather intricate prog-metal shenanigans and the latter closes out the album with a touch of intimate class.
If you’re a fan of progressive rock with a little extra something, you’re going to really like this intelligently crafted record. Sebas Honing is definitely one to watch for the future, another highly recommended album from Freia Music.
Released 24th January 2016
Review – Headspace – All That Your Fear Is Gone – by Progradar
Crikey, the plethora of excellent new music arriving daily at Progradar Towers is definitely increasing in volume!
With this in mind, welcome to the first in an irregular series of shorter, more concise (yes, I know!) reviews to empty your wallet. You can thank me later….
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Damian Wilson has one of the more recognisable voices in Prog Rock/Metal and his band Threshold have, while not exactly being at the forefront of progressive-metal, certainly gained a cult following over the years.
Leaving the day job to one side, Damian, alongside keyboard player Adam Wakeman, bassist Lee Pomeroy, drummer Pete Brook and guitarist Pete Rinaldi, formed the so-called ‘Supergroup’ Headspace in 2006. It wasn’t until 2012 that they released their debut album ‘I Am Anonymous’ and, to be fair, I was left slightly underwhelmed by it.
Fast forward to 2016, the band have replaced Brook with Adam Falkner and released their sophomore effort ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’. Time for a rethink from this music hack? Let’s see….
The new album has a strong conceptual strand running throughout.
“The concept is mine,” says Wilson. “On the first album we were focussing on the individual trying to fit into the group. This time, we are looking at the group’s inability to control the individual. It’s about governments, big business and religion but also the smaller social groups we form. They exist as a method of ensuring conformity, always with a pecking order.”
This release has the signature dense and heavy sound employed, not only by Headspace but, also by Threshold. Thunderous riffs and dynamic drumming abound on tracks like the opening duo Road To Supremacy and Your Life Will Change and the Audio Plastik-a-like Kill You With Kindness. There is an intelligence running throughout though, the stylish bass and astute, polished keyboards laying an impressive infrastructure.
To be honest, what you have to decide is, whether you like Damian Wilson’s distinctive vocals or not as they are all pervasive on this release and are the foundation of Headspace’s sound and style.
Me? I love them, he has brilliant nuances in his voice that really come to the fore on the expressive blues style of Polluted Alcohol, a gem of a track where Rinaldi’s pared back delta blues guitar work is an absolute delight yet Wilson’s vocal is the real focus, and the epic The Science Within Us, a song that really showcases how far this impressive group of musicians have come since the debut release. A track of different parts and one where Wilson seems to vocalise different characters and his tender, heartfelt voice is at its supreme best. The way he sings the chorus will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. He hits the heights again on the superior closing track Secular Souls, an engrossing musical journey that enthralls and captivates from the first note to the last, powerful and bombastic and yet with a compassion and benevolence deep at its heart.
‘All That Fear Is Gone’ was produced by the band, and mixed by Jens Bogren, who also worked on ‘I Am Anonymous’.
To me, this record is a true cohesive whole but Damian wasn’t convinced at first,
“When all the separate parts for this were first put together, I thought it sounded crazy,” laughs Wilson. “In fact, I’d go so far as to call it unlistenable. But then Jens worked his magic in the studio, and has made it all settle down and make sense.”
I could try and pick out some stand out tracks but, you really need to take this album as a whole listening experience, there really are no weak moments at all. For me, at least, this is a huge improvement on the debut release and I highly recommend it.
‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ is the second part of a planned trilogy, and Wilson already has the blueprint for the final instalment in his mind. But that’s still in the future. Right now, the band are concentrating on touring in 2016.
“That will definitely happen. We are working on the dates right now.”
‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ was released on 26th February 2016
Buy from the band’s online store
Review – Driven Serious – Ballad of Bones EP – by Progradar
You may gather from the name of this website that it is aimed at reviewing, and talking about, Progressive Rock and, most of the time, that would be an entirely correct assumption to make.
However, I am not just a prog-rock fan, I am a music fan first and foremost and that means any type of music that catches my ear as being different and just bloody good to listen to.
I’ve written reviews of hard rock, heavy metal, folk, blues and even viking metal (no, me neither!), you name it, I’ll listen to it and write about it if I think it fits into my warped view of what makes good listening material.
Folk driven they may be but that’s about where the similarity to traditional folk begins and ends with the North-East’s Driven Serious, a band who I was introduced to by the excellent Hartlepool based photographic artist Howy White.
Howy put me in touch with the band’s main-man Rob Jones, who introduced me to their blend of punk, folk, steam-punk and general mayhem and I haven’t looked back yet….
Driven Serious formed in 2011 and has been gigging in the North
East and beyond since 2012 with its current lineup – charismatic
frontman and songwriter Rob Jones, award-winning Shetland
fiddler Cathy Geldard, bassist and multi-instrumentalist Tim
Packer and drummer and percussionist Johnnie Walker – to which
they now add the stunning voice and cello of Katie Hall.
‘Ballad of Bones’, follows up their 2013 album ‘The Importance of Being
Serious’ and showcases new fifth member, cellist and vocalist
This 4 track E.P. sees live favourite Ballad of Bones given a studio release alongside three tracks recorded live at headlining shows at Newcastle’s Cluny and Middlesborough’s Twisted Lip.
The title track is a really emotive five minutes of exquisite folk rock which only occasionally betrays the band’s punk undertones. The string biased opening frames Rob’s distinctive vocal as he begins to tell you his tale. The gentle folk heavy backing music is really well crafted and removes any rough edges. When the track picks up pace it becomes a real foot-tapper, the drums leading the rhythm section quite impressively. The harmonies on the melancholy chorus are just about perfect. When you go past the two-and-a-half minute mark there is a dramatic, short instrumental interlude that just makes you stop and think for a bit. This is really intelligent and, at times, uplifting folk music with a rocky edge to it and, I for one, really like it.
The three live tracks are utterly compelling and will make you want to go see these remarkable musicians play live as soon as you possibly can. Sinking Sand (recorded live at The Cluny) is dynamic and edgy with a really memorable and emotive chorus. The staccato violins are ably supported by the pumping bassline and Rob delivers some heartfelt vocals, again, the punk tendencies seem to be keeping a low profile on this song, the violin solo with bass accompaniment that close out the track is actually quite exuberantly spine-tingling. Crucifix Kiss (recorded at The Twisted Lip) is a more low key and gentle affair. Maybe not quite ‘get your lighters in the air’ but, you know where I’m coming from. On this song the stringed instrument is king, providing a really sombre and wistful backdrop to the pensive and emotive vocal. Everything changes about half-way through as that mournful air seems to dissipate somewhat and a feeling of the sun breaking through the dark clouds emerges. These extremely competent musicians lay a vivid backdrop of music that really appeals. Fasten your seat belts, the blue touch paper has been lit and off we go! World of Fear (again recorded live at The Cluny) definitely has that punky edge to it, edgy riffing and a superb electric violin power this strident track along at a breakneck speed. Rob takes on a bit of the wild man in his vocal delivery, a hot and sweaty cauldron of intensely theatrical music that assaults the senses to leave you battered, bruised and yet with an inane grin on your face as the animated violin continues to hit you from all sides.
An utterly irresistible force of nature, these self-styled ‘punk-folk’ exponents deliver on all fronts. It’s Folk music Jim, but not quite as you may know it (to paraphrase Gene Roddenberry), it’s a whirling vortex of energy and musical nous and one that I hope to revisit soon.
Released 5th March 2016
Buy ‘Ballad of Bones’ from bandcamp
Featured Image: Howy White. Ballad of Bones cover: John Chadwick, The Importance of Being Serious cover: Sara Borges. Live image: Paula Smart.
Review – Lazuli – Nos âmes saoules – by Kevin Thompson
Bonjour mes amis et bienvenue à un examen de la très merveilleuse bande la plus récente de libération de LAZULI. Il est si bon de vous de prendre le temps de lire cet éloge de leur nouvel album ‘Nos âmes saoules’.
Enough of my schoolboy French, I hope any misinterpretation doesn’t offend.
Hello my friends and welcome to a review of the quite marvelous band LAZULI’s latest release. It is so good of you to take the time to read this praisee of their new album ‘Nos âmes saoules’.
I’d like to start by ignoring the band and thank a couple of people without whom I might never have heard of our French import. Firstly the lovely Nellie Pitts (The Merch Desk), if not for her efforts in bringing the band to these shores, they may have passed me by. Secondly the big man that is Derek William Dick, for inviting these fine gentlemen to support him on his last tour.
I have to admit I saw them live before I bought any of the band’s output and what a revelation. The band did split in 2009, thankfully, some of the original members continued and recruited new musicians to form the current, extremely talented bunch who recorded this latest offering.
Mesdames et Messieurs puis-je vous présenter, sorry, Ladies and Gentlemen may I present to you:
Claude Leonetti (Leode), Gederic Byar (Guitar), Romain Thorel (Keyboards and French Horn), Vincent Barnavol (Drums and Marimba) and Dominique Leonetti (Vocals and Guitar).
Now to the meat of the matter, or tofu for any vegetarians among us, the album, ‘Our Souls Drunk’, sorry, ‘Nos âmes saoules’…….
Le Temps Est À La Rage: (Time is to rage)
Starting with slow, melancholy piano and Dominique’s distinctive vocals on this, the first and longest track of the album, may to newcomers, not seem the best way to start. But, keep faith you will be rewarded as the tone changes to a brighter key, picks up tempo into a swaying melody and the band’s familiar ‘musical box’ melodies drift in. Muted guitar throbs in the background then the rest join the fray as the track builds to finally burst out into some wonderful ‘Floyd’ style soloing..
Le lierre: (The Ivy)
Romain’s flourishing keyboards open proceedings and, for me, this is the track on which Dominique’s vocals really excel as he hits the highs from a whispering start. Now, it’s at this point I have to confess that, unless I am watching them, I sometime’s find it hard to distinguish who’s taking the lead between Claude and his wonderful Leode and the soaring guitar of Gederic, but, when a band plays this well who cares? I find this really uplifting and feel this would sit very well as part of a film soundtrack.
By now my pitiful knowledge of the French language is lost and in the emotion of the music I have somehow forgotten this is not being sung in English, this only seems to enhance the experience, and so on to track three…
Vita est circus: (Vita is circus)
Roll Up, Roll Up, listen to the show. A veritable ‘whirlwind’ of instruments, including acoustic guitar and vocals, as we waltz through the verses and a chorus vaguely reminiscent of Yes, round and round we go in circles to the circus style rhythms, Gederic’s rocket of a guitar solo spacing out, leave you pleasantly dizzy, as the tune echoes away from us.
Fanfare lente: (Slow wind)
A lovely musical interlude, the shortest track on the album, with Romain demonstrating his skills on the french horn (well it wouldn’t be an English tuba, would it?), is the band’s entry for the next Hovis advert. This wouldn’t be out of place on a Big Big Train release. It floats slowly past you, as a brass band would, and disappears toward the horizon, drifting into the distance.
Chaussures À Nos Pieds: (Shoes at our feet)
This is a slightly more serious sounding track, with Vincent’s marimba taking the lead in alongside the vocals. Again the rythms swirl, round and round, rising and dipping, in and out the track turns, tripping into a funky groove until guitar and leode cut in and speed up into a fine piece of shredding/soloing to climax abruptly as if the needle were lifted from the disk.
Le Mar Du Passé: (The march of the past)
Pulsing keyboards beep and fizzle, this could be mistaken for the start of a Riverside track. At times, there is a hint of Peter Gabriel in the composition, whispered vocal passages burst into passionate choruses with a doomish guitar. It all ends with just the vocals, pleading.
Le Labour D’un Surin: (Plowing a Superintendent)
Static, sound effects, a heartbeat rythm and background dialogue slither along in dark corners, finishing in an eerie scream on this creepy little instrumental passage that leads to…
Les sutures: (The sutures)
Breathless vocals and music which could have been used as the soundtrack to the current ‘Vikings’ TV series, drifting instrumentation woven with a sense of ambient dread, adding menacing guitar and a little middle eastern flavour, conjuring visions of a passing caravanerserie of the doomed, toward it’s finale.
Nos âmes saoules: (Our souls drunk)
Drifting, dreamy keyboards from Romain and ‘theramin’ type ribbons of music, (Mercury Rev anyone?), interlace with Dominique’s vocals, all of this in ambient patterns, until you find yourself sinking into the music and becalmed.
Which leads us along this journey to the last but by no means least track….
Un Oiel Jeté Par La Fenêtre: (A look thrown out the window)
Oh look! A balloon floating by on the gentle breeze, conjured by a wonderful piano refrain. It bobs, it weaves and dances gently away as we look wistfully on wishing we could follow.
And there we have it, not an album to be technically examined , but a wondrous tale of which you can be part. Lay back and revel in the versatile elegance of the wizards, LAZULI.
Released 20th January 2016
Buy ‘Nos âmes saoules’ from The Merch Desk