Review – Hawkwind – The Machine Stops – by Gary Morley

HAWKWIND The Machine Stops

Hawkwind. Ah, Hawkwind.

They have formed part of my musical DNA. An alien strand possibly, but a strand nevertheless.

I’ve been a technician on Space ship Hawkwind since hearing ‘In Search of Space’ back in time.

Whilst at college, we scoured second hand shops for copies of ‘Space Ritual’, fantasised about getting hold of a copy of ‘Captain Lockheed’, dreamed of seeing them live and snapped up bootleg cassettes at Record Fairs.

Over the years they remained a firm favourite; I bought albums on vinyl, saw them live (‘Chronicle of the Black Sword’ tour and at Reading Festival), upgraded the collection to CD and followed their musical journey as they ploughed their way through space and time.

That journey has now taken a trip into the universe of top 40 albums with ‘The Machine Stops’, based on a 100 year old dystopian fable written by EM Forster.

When  you are in the business of the future, 100 year old novellas seem counter intuitive  but the concept of humans living isolated from each other, communicating indirectly and having all their needs met by the ubiquitous machine is as relevant today as ever it was.

This relevance has struck a chord with the people that buy Hawkwind. Hard core fans (Hawknerds) have elevated the art of supporting the band to a new level, with communal weekends; events and building on the bands counter culture philosophies to construct their own world. A world that intersects with the “normal” one in the shape and fabric of this album.

And it’s a cracking piece of art. From the disturbing cover (David Lynch does Red Dwarf) you know that this is a serious concept album.

Luckily, the music is able to match the lofty concepts that the story evokes.

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If you’ve heard Hawkwind, you know what you’re going to hear. Synths burble, guitars and bass crackle and paint a vivid canvas for the lyrics to tell their story.

The album starts with a great little piece, All Hail The Machine that sets the bleak scene of the machine as benevolent dictator and god, satisfying all the protagonist’s needs. It evokes memories of the classic “sonic attack” piece from ‘Space Ritual’, with its angular narration and call and response coda.

We then rip into a Hugh Lloyd Langton style guitar riff and an up-tempo Hawk rock piece, simply titled The Machine

As with all dystopic tales, the status quo is soon in question, with the bleak reality being unveiled through the next hour.

The machine’s descent into erratic dysfunction and the effects on the people is told through the various tracks, using the entire musical palette that 40 years of invention can bring to bear.

You get post industrial percussive tracks that would give Test Dept a run for their money, those synths painting broad swaths of sound , crunchy guitars to please the Metal heads  , energy and attitude to satisfy the punks drawn to the anti establishment myth of Hawkwind.

They also were the forerunners of the Ambient and post rock movements , all of this goes in the mix , the end result is a fine album that sounds stunning, lyrics that were not scribbled on a fag packet  and a story worth the effort the band have spent in putting the package together.

The Hawkwind that made this album sits alongside the band that made ‘Levitation’, ‘Astounding Sounds’ and ‘Hawklords’ all of which still sound as good today as they did when first released.

The album is best consumed as a whole, either through a “real” hifi or good headphones. There are some fabulous details in this musical canvas that deserve the benefits of a good set of speakers, notably the gorgeous synth washes and chirrups in Katie, a nice little instrumental interlude that leads into King of The World, which utilises that great Eastern type vibe the Hawkwind developed with ‘Hassan’ / ‘Assassins of Allah’ on their legendary ‘Quark, Strangeness & Charm’ album, mixed with the driving mantra of ‘Psychedelic Warlords’.

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I’m referencing old Hawkwind in celebration of this new incarnation. It’s the band’s DNA reproducing itself down through the corridors of time. The echoes of great men departed are all over this album. Calvert, Lemmy, Dik Mik, Simon House, The Late Hugh Lloyd Langton all have helped shape this sound and it is more than the sum of its parts. In my Room shares a melodic opening with ‘Zarozinia from ‘Chronicles of The Black Sword’, another great Hawkwind literary album based on the ‘Elric Chronicles’ written by their long time fan / collaborator, Michael Moorcock.

As you may have picked up on, I’ m a bit of a SF fan and Hawkwind were always the most SF leaning of bands, followed by Blue Oyster Cult in my reckoning.

That post industrial percussive Test Dept feel is heard at the start of Thursday which also features founder and sole original member, Dave “The Captain” Brock steering Spaceship Hawkwind through this mid paced number splashed with artificial beats and hammerings echoing through the golden void.

In conclusion, this album sums up Hawkwind for the uninitiated without alienating the hard core Hawknerd fan. There are, as with all their recent albums, echoes of their past reverberating through the threads, but this adds to the feeling of “belonging” that it encourages.

The band has just completed a well received and visually spectacular UK tour with a stage show based around this album. The reviews have been great, I’m amazed at the love for a 40 year old institution that was always outside the norm and thrived in the space between.

Hawkwind, with this album have stopped being a shared secret cult and become an institution for all the right reasons.

Released 15th April 2016.

Buy ‘The Machine Stops’ from Cherry Red Records/Esoteric

 

 

Syndone announce new concept album – ‘Eros & Thanatos’ – featuring Ray Thomas and Steve Hackett

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The tireless rock band from Turin have announced a new concept album dedicated to the ‘Song of Songs’, with two great special guests: Steve Hackett and Ray Thomas! 

Eros & Thanatos: the “movierock” of Syndone!

“We make a very expressive and quite symphonic music, so that one day I began to define it movierock! “Sometimes it is really comparable with the “film scoring” composition’s style and founds itself on the idea of the concept album not on a more segmented speech of unrelated songs.”

Nik Comoglio is ready for a new season with Syndone and with the highly anticipated new album ‘Eros & Thanatos’, released by Altrock/Fading only two years after the excellent ‘Odysséas’.

Thanks to the success of 2014’s ‘Odysséas’, Syndone strengthened their six-piece line up with a string of well received live performances, combining the rhythmic power, the charisma and the energy of rock with the dynamism, the charm and nobility of classical music.

This time lead singer Riccardo Ruggeri has attemped  a re-envisioning of the Song of Songs:

“The human being’s journey through its tensions, passions and emotions is something deeply fascinating to me. When these elements join with Science, Research, the Ethnomusicology, the history of raped territories devasted by religious wars, the cocktail becomes lethal… and hit me. I’ve read the “Song of the Song” for a year collecting materials and information taken from internet and libraries; I  forfeited images, absorbed the point of view of Guido Ceronetti, lived my personal life experiences in the meantime… then I let this bag explode on Nik’s music. it was exciting, and it’s still a thrill for me to hear it.”

Skilled in uniting the stylistic continuity with the refinement and the addition of new elements, Eros & Thanatos has something more, as pointed Comoglio:

“The most important difference from Odysseas is now finally you can hear a real band. Thanks to the several gigs we played the line-up has now become so established to give an added value of unity and style to the new work, being more cohesive. Then the string orchestra, which opened a new, more powerful and interesting sound, the Arabic and Hebrew sung, which emphasizes the derivation from the ‘Song of Songs’.”

Syndone:

Nik Comoglio – all keyboards/pipe organ/orchestration
Riccardo Ruggeri – vocal/backing vocals/vocoder/12 string ac.guitar/lyrics
Marta Caldara – vibraphone/piano, mellotron
Gigi Rivetti – piano, hammond, moog, electric piano, clavinet
Maurino Dellacqua – bass/fretless/taurus bass
Martino Malacrida – drums/percussions

Special Guests:

Ray Thomas: flute in L’urlo nelle ossa

Steve Hackett: electric guitar in Cielo di fuoco

 

Also featuring:

Tony De Gruttola: acoustic guitars

Pino Russo: classic guitar/oud

Puntorec String Orchestra

Conductor: Fabio Gurian

Review – Alex Carpani – So Close. So Far. – by Shawn Dudley

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Alex Carpani – So Close, So Far

“Incommunicability increases distances between people, self-alienation increases the isolation of an individual from the rest of the world and technology can enable dramatic consequences to happen. However human beings have the power to avoid all these things by listening to their heart and living their real lives first. “

The above paragraph lays out the thematic concept at the heart of ‘So Close. So Far.’, the fourth album from Italian progressive rock artist Alex Carpani.  It’s a topic that seems to inspire a lot of musicians in our social media-fueled world of the 21st century.   A world more connected then ever (So Close), but really a facade, an illusion flickering from millions of handheld devices (So Far).  But unlike many albums that broach this topic, the mood flowing throughout these catchy, melodic songs is one of hope.

‘So Close. So Far.’ is a significant departure from the previous album ‘4 Destinies’.  Whereas that album was comprised of four epic-length compositions, this time out the focus has been tightened into brief (by progressive rock standards anyway) melodic rockers that should appeal to fans of IQ and mid-period Porcupine Tree.

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The album is beautifully produced by Alex Carpani with the mix by Marco Barusso, dynamic and spacious and a real treat for the ears in a time when far too many albums are compressed and abrasively harsh.   The performances are uniformly excellent; Alex Carpani (keyboards, programming and vocals), Ettore Salati (guitar), Joe Sal (vocals & additional guitar), Giambattista Giorgi (bass) and Martin Malacrida (drums).  The arrangements are tasteful, tightly reined in and tailored to highlight the consistently accessible songs.

The album is overflowing with earworms and several tracks would make excellent singles.  Man On Wire gets stuck in my head for hours, it’s a simple driving 4/4 with a killer chorus hook that just latches on and won’t let go.  Let My Drop Of Sweat Fall Down is a gorgeous pop song with a huge, lush chorus and Crystal Falls is a Neo-Prog gem that would actually work quite well on a dance floor.  The whole album flows together beautifully; it’s a concise 51 minutes that just breezes by.

My favorite song is Stay With Me which has an extended instrumental section in the middle (despite still clocking in at only 4 minutes) that really shows off Carpani’s tasteful layering of disparate keyboard sounds, it’s a lovely combination of synth, organ and piano.

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Overall this is a fairly straight-ahead melodic rock album, the ties to “Prog” are more textural, more about the sophistication of the arrangements and quality of musicianship.  Personally, I usually tend to lean more toward the experimental, bands that stretch out and improvise.  But ‘So Close. So Far.’ is so lovingly conceived, so well written and arranged that it’s a most pleasant exception.

Released 4th March 2016

Buy So Close. So Far. from Amazon

 

Review – Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable – by Progradar

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Cogtopolis – The city beneath the surface, no daylight has been seen by the inhabitants in living memory. The Sun: a whisper, a legend.

For two hundred years tales have been passed down from father to son. Tales of mankind’s folly and technical abominations. Tales of the day clouds engulfed the sun.

Tales of the twenty year winter and the slow, agonising death of “The Surface”. But the greatest tale of all was of mankind’s ultimate salvation within the warm, safe, belly of the earth……..

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“There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.”
Jonas Salk

Ambition is something that should be encouraged, lauded even, especially if what it produces is something quite remarkable and unique. However, there is a small proviso, ambition is no good if it isn’t backed up with the necessary skill and intelligence, for what is ambition without intelligence but a bird without wings ( I sort of borrowed that last bit from Walter H. Cottingham but, if you don’t tell him, neither will I…).

When Gandalf’s Fist announced that they were going to release a 3 CD Steampunk Concept album based in a world of their own creation I think quite a few people thought that they’d moved on from ambition into sheer madness and lunacy.

Would ‘The Clockwork Fable’ end up being a huge undertaking that could prove to be their undoing?, when I was sent this behemoth of musical enterprise I approached it with a lot of caution, not knowing what to expect and wondering if my friends had bitten off more than they could chew….

To be fair, three albums, thirty three tracks and over three hours long, it would tax even the most dedicated listener and, for me as a reviewer, would mean a complete sea change in how I would actually review this release. Normally, I do a track-by-track review which generally leads to something quite lengthy.

How would I write about this complex undertaking so as not to leave my readers comatose and in a world of TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read – you can thank David Elliott for that acronym) and yet be able to really encompass the whole musical endeavour and give people a flavour of what it is all about? That conundrum has taxed me for the last couple of weeks while I have spent the time to immerse myself completely in the wonders of Cogtopolis and its many and varied residents.

I think I’ve come up with an answer but, first, some background on Gandalf’s Fist and ‘The Clockwork Fable’

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Imagine, if you will, the parallel universe whereby Monty Python were commissioned to write a Doctor Who-style period drama which was subsequently scored by an imaginary supergroup formed by members of Maiden and ELP and you’d get somewhere close to what Gandalf’s Fist have created with “The Clockwork Fable”.

Originally formed in 2005 by Multi-Instrumentalist Dean Marsh and lyricist Luke SevernGandalf’s Fist draw on their mutual love for the ‘Golden Era’ of Progressive Rock, The New Wave of British Heavy Metal and even Renaissance Folk to create concept albums that are both nostalgically engaging and experimentally innovative in nature.

Following the addition of drummer Stefan Hepe and bassist Chris Ewen for their last album, the acclaimed ‘Forest of Fey’, ‘The Clockwork Fable’ is their second release as a four piece.

Cast

Let’s start with my thoughts about what ‘The Clockwork Fable’ actually is. It is a huge project to get your head around, in no way a mere CD or album, it is progressive rock as musical theatre. Imagine, if you will, the sinister, yet childlike, humour of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ set in steampunk universe that has come straight from the mind of ‘His Dark Materials’ author Philip Pullman and you are still only scratching the surface of this epic labour of love.

It almost feels like it was written for the stage or screen with a darkly humerous script provided by the likes of Neil Gaiman or the recently departed Sir Terry Pratchett and then delivered in a kind of ‘War Of The Worlds’ fashion.

The band’s imagination holds no bounds as they have meticulously created the world of Cogtopolis, its residents going about their daily business in the three huge, interconnecting caverns of this subterranean city, Ardel, Cartoe and Porfan with their unique cultures and denizens.

It is a world that has been conceived down to the minutest detail, hierarchy of the society, religions and even their own ‘alphabet of the underworld’. With Braille and Morse Code among the many strands of knowledge and learning lost amidst theobliterated libraries of the surface, the industrious scholars of Cogtopolis devised Cypheridia. A new, basic way of writing that could be scratched into metal surfaces with ease, or – for the brass-bound worker – etched into the mud of the cavern floor at the very least.

Cypher

From this detailed and precisely constructed world emerge a cast of characters brought to life by a fantastic cast including Mark Benton, Zach GalliganBill Fellows and Alicia Marsh, to name a few. In fact, it was Mark himself who put the effort in to get the majority of the crew together.

Between them they bring the richly envisioned world of Cogtopolis and its inhabitants to life. At its heart, it is a story of the age long struggle between light and the dark. An utterly spellbinding tale brought to life by the fantastic cast of voice actors.

A suppressed populace labouring under a misheld belief that they will never see the light again. My fellow scribe Phil Lively, correctly, pointed out that it is the fight of the heroic northerners against the evil cockneys and Mark Benton’s jolly lamplighter is the first character we encounter. Living a lifetime among the bowels of Cogtopolis, scurrying tirelessly amidst the endless streets of derelict machinery, he has, man and boy, lit every lamp in the city beneath the surface.

It is a tale that we have heard many times before but we never grow tired of and, in this incarnation, you find yourself rapt as the establishment refuse to believe that the sun has returned to the surface, wanting to keep their citizens subjugated.

The Tinker and his assistant Eve are the hero and heroine of the tale, trying to repair the mechanism that will return sunlight to Cogtopolis and hounded by The Primarch and his cronies at every turn.

Primarch

Woven perfectly between the voice acting is an incredible music backdrop that blends with the storyline to create an amazing musical experience. The talented Arjen Lucassen, Blaze Bayley and Matt Stevens all add their considerable musical weight to ‘The Clockwork Fable’ to create something fantastical.

Melissa Hollick returns for the third album in a row, this time as the singing voice of Eve and you can hear her dulcet tones lighting up Shadowborn with it’s ‘female-fronted metal’ feel. What you have here are accomplished musicians who can turn their skills to virtually any musical style with aplomb. On the three epic Lamplighter tracks (one for each disc) we get proper, intricate progressive rock delivered expertly, each track a musical journey in its own right.

Eve’s Song is a delicate track of ethereal beauty where Melissa gives a delightful vocal performance that just leaves you open mouthed with admiration. The acoustic guitar the is prevalent throughout Victims Of The Light gives it a real feel of Richie Blackmore in his folk mindset before exploding into something from Neal Morse era Spocks Beard.

A particular favourite is the brilliant Ditchwater Daisies, a complex and involving track that enthralls from beginning to end. There is a touch of Pink Floyd to this song, in my opinion, thoughtful and nostalgic. A touch of early Genesis? That will be The Bewildering Conscience Of A Clockwork Child and A Solemn Toast For The Steam Ranger Reborn.

What you do get is the thought that every note is there for a reason, to tell more of this extraordinary tale, none of it is superfluous or gratuitous. The music blends seamlessly with the voice acting to enhance the story and give it added layers of meaning.

The Climb is a song that mixes the intricate with the dreamlike leaving you hanging on every word and note. These guys have the ability to draw you into their tale and making you feel like you belong there and it is the incisive and intelligent songwriting and voice script that is primary in their ability to do this.

I’d been waiting for a bit of a metal track and Fight For The Light gives you that with its symphonic power and tasteful vocals. There is a guitar section in here which could come from an early Maiden album and it just put a huge grin on my face.

The final track that really stood out for me was the title track. The Clockwork Fable is a heartfelt, fervent and wistful song that just grabs at your heartstrings and leaves an indelible impression, just beautiful.

And, well, The Lens, is that a tear in my eye? I’m not saying – Oh Bugger!

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So, do the citizens of Cogtopolis escape the dark underworld, do The Tinker and Eve repair the cog mechanism of The Aperture, despite the attentions of The Primarch and his allies, to finally return sunlight to the murky lives that they are forced to live? Don’t ask me, buy the album and find out what happens in this utterly captivating story yourselves.

Gandalf’s Fist have delivered a mesmerising musical masterpiece epic in scope and utterly breathtaking in its delivery. It’s length may deter you from listening but, believe me, you are missing something quite exceptional and utterly marvelous. This is not just  piece of music, it is a wholly engrossing experience that will make your life richer for having taken part.

Released 1st May 2016

Get your hands on The Clockwork Fable direct from Gandalf’s Fist

 

 

Mothertongue release live video of Perfect Zero – recorded at The Castle Hotel launch gig

Following the succesful launch event for the release of their debut album ‘Unsongs’, Manchester band Mothertongue have released a video of them performing a track from the album – ‘Perfect Zero’ – recorded at the gig at The Castle Hotel in Manchester on the 8th of April. The video was filmed and produced by the band’s drummer John Simm.

‘Unsongs’ is 13 tracks that make up an inspirational, progressive-pop melting pot with touches of punk and ska thrown in for good measure. Along with drummer  Simm, the band consists of Louis Smith (guitar, vocals), Mark Wall (guitar), Phil Dixon (guitar), Will Holden (bass) and Andy Malbon (trumpet).

Phil Castle Ed Sprake

With its incisive, intelligent lyrics and first-class musicianship, ‘Unsongs’ is unlike anything you will have heard in recent years. The music will lead you on a roller-coaster journey of acid jazz inventiveness that’s a big heap of noisy and light and also includes a lot of brass because everyone likes brass, right?

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‘Unsongs’ was released through Bad Elephant Music 15th April 2016.

Buy ‘Unsongs’ from the Bad Elephant music store…

Band pictures by Ed Sprake Photography

Check out the rest of Ed’s great photos of the launch event, including support band We Are Kin

 

 

Review – Oktopus – Worlds Apart – by Progradar

Oktopus - Worlds Apart

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

– William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

So, there you have two different schools of thought, good old Bill Shakespeare was basically saying that it doesn’t matter what you CALL something, it is what that something ACTUALLY is that matters (well, that’s the way I interpret it anyway).

Yet the differing opinion is that the name can make a difference to how we interpret something and how we actually react to it. Names that give negative connotations can actually inhibit where names that give a positive vibe can add appeal.

I know what you’re thinking, “What is he waffling on about?”, but this very conundrum came up earlier this year for the band formerly known as Progoctopus. The band’s moniker was seen as being detrimental to their progress as if there was an unwritten law that any band should not have the word ‘prog’ anywhere within its title.

This wasn’t just the general public and listening audience, those that make up the mighty cognoscenti of Progressive music had said it was so.

So, what did the band do? well, here’s a clue…..

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So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the reborn Oktopus and the changes didn’t end there either.

Original singer Jane Gillard, who sang on the band’s well received debut (as Progoctopus) EP ‘Transcendence’ left the line-up and, to the surprise of many, was replaced (in an almost Genesis style) by guitarist Alistair Bell, making Oktopus a ‘power trio’ completed by drummer Tim Wilson and bass player Samuel C. Roberts.

The band have married the traditions of progressive music with stellar contemporary musicianship and big production values in performance, song duration or tongue-in-cheek humour.

Look, I’ll be honest here, I’m a big fan and friend of these talented musicians (hell, I even wrote the press release) but, as ever, this will be a very objective review and I won’t let my ties cloud my viewpoint, okay?

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Discord (Approach) is like a musical Amuse-bouche for the album, a little bit of music which is served before the rest of the album to stimulate the musical appetite. A slow burning, disturbing appetite stimulator at that too!

Now onto the main feature and the first track released from the album, Eyes Open. A frenetic and intricate opening of carefully choreographed disharmony between guitar, bass and Tim’s manic drumming paves the way for some tasty, punk infused, jazz-funk. The staccato riffs and stylish bass provide a counterpoint for Alistair’s actually rather impressive vocals, this lad can sing and sing well. The driving force behind the punchy music is the ever present drumming of Tim Wilson who has some metronomic skill behind the kit. There is an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek feel that runs throughout, especially on the rising chorus that becomes a real ear worm. Never a track to rest on its laurels though, the elaborate jazz/prog fusion section is quite an involved trip for your ears and mind and adds some cerebral gravitas, a great start to the album.

Title track Worlds Apart is a full-on jazz infused prog-fest from start to finish. Here the musicians get to show off their not inconsiderable prowess and you get flashes of Alistair’s Aeon Zen persona with his skilful guitar playing (albeit utterly jazzed up rather than ‘heavy metalled’). Stylish jazz lounge drumming from Tim (light cymbal tapping ahoy!) and some silky smooth bass from Samuel all add to the feeling of panache, the vocals having a touch of the laconic and ironic Ben Folds. Busy and energetic, this song takes you on an enjoyable series of twists and turns that leaves you with no idea of where you’ve been or where you are and not caring anyway. A labyrinthine guitar solo leaves a smile on your face as this jazz/prog fusion special closes out.

The Adventures of Jerry Troutmonto (Part 1) is a humour filled three minute instrumental homage to a (possibly) fictional character. A musical smorgasbord of wilful guitar wankery, frenzied drumming and maniacal bass playing. Alistair is having a field day with his fiery licks and unabashed noodling and his partners in crime give him the canvas to perform on.

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Haru, a mid-album break of oriental pipes and mysticism. Just over one minute where you can step off the world and take a break in its peaceful and ethereal atmosphere and come away emotionally cleansed before taking on all comers once more.

The Hand On Your Shoulder begins with real laid back and chilled vibe, gentle guitar and vocals being the artist’s utensils. But this is Oktopus so the calm and collected doesn’t last for long and we set off on another convoluted journey, this one with a decidedly darker shade of fun and games. The vocals have a more serious tone and the whole song has a much more grown-up and sober atmosphere. Shut the door and leave the kids outside, this is where it gets deadpan and no prisoners are taken. I like the contrast between the light and the dark that this track invokes, it’s clever and no-nonsense.

So the final part of this thirty four minutes of musical mayhem and japery, Minotaur, begins with another slice of the funktastic, restless prog/punk/jazz fusion as the guitar slaps you in the face with some pin sharp riffing, the drums do what the hell they like (as usual) and the bass tries to restore some semblance of order. Alistair gives another excellent vocal delivery, he has some lungs on him this lad, and you are sucked into a thoroughly enjoyable vortex of tomfoolery and horseplay from which you emerge laughing hysterically and with your eyes not quite focused. However, if you look below the thin veneer of humour, merriment and gaiety, you will find three musicians who really know their stuff and this prowess is on display for all to experience on the dextrous and inventive instrumental section running throughout the middle section of the track. The last part of the song is all about the ‘power’ in power-trio as the guitar hits you with some seriously heavy riffing, the drums mount a final attack and Sam’s bass acts as the conductor and hold on for the little surprise in the last sixty seconds or so….

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So, what’s changed with the moniker? Perhaps a more mature and concise feel to the reckless abandon and boisterous energy? Alistair steps up to his vocal duties with aplomb and these three musicians deliver an exciting, high strung and irascible thirty four minutes of near perfect jazz-infused prog that leaves you asking, “What happened to the rest of the album?”, it’s that good!

Released 1st April 2016.

Buy ‘Worlds Apart’ from bandcamp

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUw3wv9_KBg

 

 

 

 

Review – SDANG! – La malinconia delle fate – by Progradar

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“If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Music, we think, transcends mere language. A song sung in a tongue not our own can still mean as much whether you understand the words or not, in fact it can add something to the enjoyment due to the mystery of its meaning.

However, when it comes to instrumental music, it is all written in the same language….or is it?

I’m not saying that I’m a complete expert but I do like  a lot of instrumental music and, to my ears, you can sometimes tell where the artists call home. Maybe it’s just a knack or maybe there is something to be said for each country or region having its own signature iconic sound?

Well, as soon as I heard the first notes of SDANG!’s second release (and first full-length offering) ‘La malinconia delle fate’ I had this high energy duo pegged as Italian and found that I was subsequently, correct in my assumption.

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What gave the game away? The irrepressible, slightly madcap and frenetic playing by these two accomplished musicians resonated with me in a way I had felt before, usually when delivered by Italian musicians.

‘La malinconia delle fate’ is a record full of dreamy atmospheres, explosive dynamics and a concentrated energy that defies easy classification. It is a happy island of memories and hopes and of things getting hectic and yet, is full of sentimental complicity.

Nicola Panteghini (guitars) and Alessandro Pedretti (drums) are musicians who were involved in the national music scene for a long time. Sharing many thoughts and a common love of music, they have returned to the musical background of their youth: grunge, heavy metal, stoner rock, prog, post rock and math rock.

Working on their own original compositions, they released the debut EP ‘Il giorno delle altalene’ in April 2014 and, from October 2015, have been working with Marco Franzoni (Bluefemme Studio) on the much anticipated follow up.

It is not a question of gender, label, fashion or style, it is a matter of sensations, feelings and emotions. SDANG! want to tell stories through their music.

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‘La malinconia delle fate’ is thirty-six minutes of intense instrumental music that demands your attention throughout. The extended soundscape that these musicians create is quite remarkable considering that there are only two of them.

Delving into the six tracks, opener Primo Giorno Di Scuola has a subdued opening, lulling you into a false sense of security before the atmosphere builds and then these two musicians create a cacophonic wall of noise that just blows you backwards. Edgy, funky and full of angst, you ride along on wave of chaotic good humour, not caring where you will end up next. Alessandro’s drumming has an intensity that almost gives it a life of its own and Nicola seems to be able to sound like a whole band or one calming influence, seemingly at will. Full of laid back lulls and energetic turbulent highs, it is a instrumental thrill ride of immense proportions. Get your breath back and have a rest for a while as the elegant opening tones of Martina take over the narrative in your mind. Once again, these stylish refrains are brutally cast aside by the interjections of a monstrous wall of sound created by the crushing riffs of Nicola’s guitar and the colossal drum beat that Alessandro creates. The lovely, peaceful sections have a wistful note to them, calm and collected, a complete juxtapose to the deranged power that this duo can unleash and it is an addictive interplay.

Stevie Ray Vaughan met Eddie Van Halen and they recruited John Bonham on the kit, that’s the immediate thought that goes through my mind at the start of Astronomica with its 70’s blues-infused riffing and thunderous drumming. A real wild musical ride of prodigious proportions that is brought bang up to date by the spaced out, psychedelic interludes that are dropped in throughout. A real mind-bending track that takes you up some blind alleys before laughing in your face and buggering off to leave you utterly bemused at your predicament. Scrivimi Una Lettera Tra 9 Anni begins with low key staccato riff, edgy, tense and nervous that leaves you on the edge of your seat. It then opens up into a real bluesy early Led Zeppelin influenced piece of music where the booming guitars and thunderous drums create a massive musical mosaic before seamlessly transforming into something that could have come from the mind of Steve Vai or Joe Satriani. A musical journey through differing sonic landscapes with edgy riffs, extended guitar runs and frenetic drumming that takes no prisoners yet offers a deeply involving musical experience.

Buckle up, it’s time to put the pedal to the metal. To my ears, 100 Metri Al Traguardo is a shameless homage to the guitar greats. Vai and Satriani would be happily tapping their feet to the hard rock riffs while simultaneously reaching for the copyright infringement rule book. I jest really, this is a fun filled, no holds barred jaunt that powers along at a fair lick. There is a segue into a sombre, unhurried section that seems to be slightly at odds with the convivial feel of before but it eventually comes together in your mind and makes for a rather impressive track as it plays out. So we come to the close of the album and all too soon a ending it is too. The final, and title, track La Malinconia Delle Fate begins in an unhurried, pensive manner before someone lights the blue touch paper and Nicola’s guitar signals the off with a hard-edged and repetitive riff, ably backed by the blur of Alessandro’s drum sticks as they thrash the skins. There is a skittish, agitated feel to the music, interrupted by the occasional calm moments of candour and clarity. Its is the forceful and dynamic parts of the song that really grab you and demand your compliance that stand out for me though. A driving force of nature that brooks no argument and lays waste to all before it before its inexorable advance. As this compelling piece of music comes to a close it is the imposing power of this commanding duo that is left burnt into your psyche.

An aurally stimulating release that will impress all who hear it, ‘La malinconia delle fate’ is stimulating, thought provoking and, well, just damn good fun. You will struggle to hear a better thirty-six minutes of purely instrumental music this year.

On 2nd May 2016 “La Malinconia delle Fate” LP will be released by following labels: Acid Cosmonaut, La Fornace Dischi, Dreaminggorilla, Taxi Driver Records and Totem Schwan.

iamthemorning confirmed for the BE PROG! MY FRIEND festival in Barcelona

BE PROG! MY FRIEND FESTIVAL ANNOUNCE FINAL BAND IAMTHEMORNING 

CO-HEADLINERS STEVEN WILSON & OPETH

MAGMA, BETWEEN THE BURIED & ME, ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN, THE PINEAPPLE THIEF, TEXTURES, OBSIDIAN KINGDOM, EXXASENS 

1ST – 2ND JULY

KF_Amorphis_PosterA1.eps

Barcelona based festival Be Prog! My Friend have announced the final band for this year’s line-up. Russian progressive duo Iamthemorning who released their new album ‘Lighthouse’ earlier this month will join the likes of co-headliners Steven Wilson and Opeth as well as Magma, The Pineapple Thief, Between The Buried and Me and many more. Vocalist Marjana Semkina comments:

‘It’s a great pleasure for us to join the amazing line up of Be Prog! My Friend this year – such a lovely surprise at the very last moment. It’s a great pleasure, but also a great challenge. We’ll be playing the chamber set with our string duo (cello and violin) and some percussion, and you can’t get more different from other bands on the festival. So, we’ll see how the audience responds to such a huge contrast and our almost classical sound. It will be our first appearance in Spain and first big prog festival – wow, so many things for the first time. Very exciting.’

Since its inception in 2014 the Barcelona based festival Be Prog! My Friend has played host to the likes of Anathema, Devin Townsend, TesseracT, Camel, Meshuggah, Katatonia, Riverside, Isahn and Alcest.

Taking place in the beautiful open air surroundings of Poble Espanyol, the site is one of the most important landmarks of tourism in Barcelona. By day the Catalonian hotspot is an architectural museum and on the first weekend of July it will play host to some of the world’s finest progressive bands.

Sponsored by Metal Hammer and Prog Magazine, 2016 will see Be Prog! My Friend co-headlined by Steven Wilson and fellow progressive heavy weights Opeth.

Friday 1st July Is a free entry show only for those who have purchased tickets for the Saturday. This will also now take place at Poble Espanyol having been moved from the Sala Apolo concert hall to meet demand. The line-up features Steven Wilson’s label mates The Pineapple Thief who will be joined by the highly rated Icelandic band Agent Fresco and Barcelona’s very own Obsidian Kingdom and Exxasens as well as the newly added iamthemorning.

The line-up so far:

Friday 1st July, Poble Espanyol:

The Pineapple Thief, iamthemorning, Agent Fresco, Obsidian Kingdom, Exxasens

Saturday 2nd July, Poble Espanyol:

Steven Wilson, Opeth, Magma, Between The Buried & Me, Anneke Van Giersbergen, Textures

Tickets priced at 90 Euros are available here:

http://ticketmaster.es/es/entradas-musica/be-prog-my-friend/6279/

http://www.beprogmyfriend.com/

facebook.com/beprogmyfriend

Be Prog! My Friend takes place in the heart of Barcelona and with an airport only 12km away, regular, cheap flights make it an easy festival to get and from the UK. Bands will start playing from mid/late afternoon each day which will also mean visitors have plenty of time to explore the stunning city of Barcelona while they are there.

http://www.barcelonaturisme.com

 

Review – The Rube Goldberg Machine – Fragile Times – by Gary Morley

Fragile Times

Listening to The Rube Goldberg Machine and I’m transported back to the halcyon days of the Summer of ’77. The energy and fizz on their debut takes me back to that much quoted “year zero” of music.

Which, in my humble opinion,was not a year, or even  two , but a gradual realisation that “punk” was a gimmick and the talented musicians were those producing “new wave” or  “post punk”. After the initial media “sturm und drang” of those naughty Sex Pistols boys being sweary on National TV , “Punk” became a tabloid fad.

Post Punk – where Mancunians discovering sequencers, New York loft dwellers discovering duelling guitars and Trustafarians in waiting discovering reggae.We were all touched by the “punk” paint. I grew up in Swindon. We had XTC ,they embodied this brave new world, mixing Punk energy with New York brittle guitar and dub bass lines.

Band PR pic
The Rube Goldberg Machine would have slotted between XTC and Television in my small but tasteful collection back then.

There are also some very Floyd / Porcupine Tree sounds here too, the title track has a very PT vibe, all jazz bass and restrained vocal, Roger meets Steven and they put the world to rights over the course of the track, managing to fit in a tasteful piano and guitar interlude, a solo and a coda with a very acoustic refrain which added another band to the list that they link to in my head– The Decemberists. This track could be fitted into ‘The Crane’s Wife’ set without a seam.

The next piece, In Symmetry, continues in this Folk / Prog vein, mined so well by The Decemberists.

It’s not bucolic English Folk Prog from the books of Tull and Fairport, but the more widescreen Small Town American folk/ Roots world, all Decemberists literate and Big Head Todd Bluesy.

Music does this to me. My head joins the dots between bands. I still think like a DJ / producer. If you like this track, then listen to these people. Bought that? Then you should proceed to this point and listen here.

Television influence the swirling twin guitar sound, all sinuous leads attacking and counterattacking each other.

The introduction of track 7 (Times Square), an instrumental tour de force of guitar layers  definitely makes me want to go and dig out my ‘Marquee Moon’ album, or to be more precise, Richard Lloyd’s post Television masterpiece ‘Fields Of Fire’:

https://youtu.be/UkGc9sOvcM4

Sorry about that. If the Wallet Emptier allows that clip, then you get the idea of where my head went whilst listening to the album…..

I’d detail more tracks but this is an album that plays as a whole, the mood and structure of the sounds entice you into their world, a bit bleak, a bit miserable seeming, but never dull, always guiding you through their labyrinth with atmosphere and melody.

As well as this Post Punk vibe, there are excellent vocal harmonies, a sprinkling of electronics and all wrapped in a clean mix that allows their stories told here to capture the listener and take you into the machine.

In the machine there is a Captain sat nursing a drink playing a card game which he wants to lose so he can blast off into space, he seems ambivalent about the quest but more concerned about his cards!

Band Bio Pic

The last track is not a million miles from Mr Chuckle Trousers in feel, a gorgeous melody with layers of cymbal thrashing behind the mix, all about a man afraid of “my own shadow”, scared of heights and being haunted by life in general .This is very HCE territory, but  those guitars weave a spell of almost Crimson intrigue. The track builds to an “epic” climax with the guitar taking up the  mantle and swopping and soaring.

Did he fly? Did he crash? You decide.

All the tracks are short, sharp shocks, none of this twenty minute epic school of thought here. KISS song writing – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Hooks abound, the songs feel that they will come across well live, there they can flex their wings and let it all go.

In conclusion, it is another fine album from Bad Elephant.

At this rate I may just send David Elliot a standing order. Is there a loyalty card? Do we get stickers?  A Panini album of BEM artists with a special scratch’ n’ sniff page for Tom?

Released 1st April 2016.

Buy ‘Fragile Times’ from the Bad Elephant music site

 

 

Review – DANTE – When We Were Beautiful – by Progradar

Cover

Indulge me, if you will. Imagine a School of Rock but based around Progressive Rock and all its associated sub-genres. What classes would take part in there? Intricate guitar solos?, mind-bending keyboards?, fantastical lyrics about orcs and fairies?

And what artists would have attended this august establishment? Could Yes, King CrimsonPink Floyd and Genesis have been some of the star pupils and then prefects as the likes of Marillion, Pendragon and then Porcupine Tree became the next young minds, eager and willing to learn?

Well, if there was a class in the modern version of the school for ‘huge and extensive riffing’ then Augsburg’s DANTE could well be at the top of the class. Having listened to ‘When We Were Beautiful’, their follow up to the impressive ‘November Rain’, I cannot help but notice the huge, mountain sized guitar riffs that emanate from the majority of the songs.

It is not overpowering but it is definitely one of the main features of the record and this band, the other being the, possibly, controversial cover…

Is a half naked woman acceptable on the cover of a relatively mainstream record in this day and age or is it just not politically correct? Well, the cover to DANTE’s certainly stimulated some heated debate when it was shared on social media. To me, I feel it just about stays on the right side of being a bit sexist and, in reality, we should not let it detract from the main question, is this album any good……….?

stairs

DANTE are Alexander Göhs (vocals), Markus Maichal (keyboards), Christian Eichlinger (drums) and Julian Kellner (guitars).

‘When We Were Beautiful’ is their fourth album, following 2008’s self-released debut ‘The Inner Circle’, 2010’s ‘Saturnine’ (released through ProgRock Records and 2013’s Massacre Records released ‘November Red’.

The release of the last album was clouded by the death of co-founding member, and bass and guitar player, Markus Berger. That is how death not only became a topic of the new album but also the driving force of the creative process, expressed in songs like Finally, where the band bid farewell to their friend in a harrowingly beautiful way.

‘When We Were Beautiful’ is released through Gentle Art Of Music.

Gentle art of music

Right, onto the main course and the seven tracks that make up the album…

Rearrangement Of The Gods opens with an ominous note, a brooding tone before Christian’s drums herald the appearance of the first tasty riff. The guitar wails with a plaintive note, a slight dissonance or a cry for help that pierces your mind. A convoluted and intricate progressive section follows before overlaid voices take up the mysterious narrative. Alexander’s distinctive vocal joins the fray, backed by that insistent heavy riff. He has a voice that could divide opinion, it is harsh and straightforward but I feel it matches the music perfectly with its almost industrial tone. He shows he is no one trick pony on the impressive chorus where his voice opens up magnificently to harmonise with the others. It’s quite and insistent track on the verse, driving you back like a finger poked into the centre of your chest but opens up into a huge soundscape everytime the superb chorus makes a return. Throw in some excellent keyboards, especially on the vibrant and energetic solos, and some combustible guitar licks and an extended and rather fiery solo and you have a rather intense and powerful opening to the album. A rather catchy, addictive and heavy riff opens Ambitious with a wry smile and a wink, hard-edged drumming and a forceful bass line add a solidity and a burst of 70’s keyboards give it  a knowledgeable air. The vocals come in with that assertive and emphatic edge. A dark, dense and monumentally hefty song that somehow still seems light on its feet. It bludgeons its way into your affections with its direct heavy metal edge yet, the short, elaborate guitar and keyboard/piano runs and the chugging, industrial instrumental sections keep its progressive roots firmly on show.

band x 2

Monster riff? go on then, the opening to Beauftiful Again nearly knocks you off your feet with its ferocity. A labyrinthine and heaving metal maelstrom that feels like it carries the weight of the world on its broad shoulders. A real progressive melting pot that cools down slightly for Alexander’s vocals to take the lead. Earnest and pleading, he gives some real gravitas to the song. The harmonised chorus is really rather superb and gives an excellent counterpoint to the imposing might of the guitars and drums. It’s like a musical version of a scorched earth policy, removing any unnecessary detritus from its path as it fires through. DANTE show they are more than just some notable riffing as a delicate piano note descends upon the track, catching you unawares, before drifting away as the influential wall of sound returns. There is a heartfelt feel to the vocals and piano at the start of Until The Last Light Breaks In, giving you pause but, what’s that? yep, you guessed, another towering, hell for leather riff takes over, aided and abetted by some harsh keyboards and we are off on another riff-fueled musical white water ride. A fleet footed and convoluted instrumental section threatens to overwhelm you before things calm down a little. There’s a passion in Alexander’s voice that matches the fervency of the music and it rises and falls in both tempo and emotion. A seriously involved and emotional listening experience that includes some ferocious and potent guitar work from Julian (the solo is actually mind-bending) and leaves you feeling both sated and drained as it comes a to a close.

Christiaan

There’s a mysterious feel to the beginning of Let Me Down, it stutters slightly with an electronic and industrial resonance. A staccato riff powers in, along with some Hammond organ, to give it that hard edge again. This whole section has a feel of some virtuoso musicians having a rather exciting jam session and you nod your head in appreciation. The vocals have a profoundly heavy character to them as the song keeps moving off into distinctly prog-metal territory. Weighty guitar riffing and drums that could knock an elephant off its feet give the song a real density at its core, like both the immovable object and the irresistible force. Julian is given free rein and makes the most of it, his guitar playing is immense on this song and leaves you almost slack jawed and this is matched by Markus’ utterly absorbing and exuberant keyboards. I bet this track would be awesome live. Sad Today  is the shortest track on the album but, perhaps, the most profound. A gentle piano and tender, compassionate vocals give you a lump in your throat. A song like this could feel a little out of place among the heavy riffs and thunderous rhythms but the band carry it off perfectly. Wistful and serene, it leaves you rapt in a sad and nostalgic atmosphere.

live

Rather profoundly, the last track on the album is Finally. Electronic sounds open the song and then Julian hits you right in the solar plexus with a huge riff. The song erupts with the drums driving things along, adding a steely edge to the coruscating guitar work. A whirlpool of progressive tinged musical chops holds you in its sway, keyboards swirling around your head and the guitar seems like a barely tame wild animal seeking to escape its cage. The vocals seem to bring order tot he chaos, Alexander taking centre stage and dominating proceedings while that melting pot of musical virtuosity carries on behind him in a slightly subdued manner. Yes, it is still a heavy song but it has a aged feeling of experience and patient wisdom. The guitar fires at you, over laid by a jumble of spoken voices, the chorus is quite addictive in its emphatic delivery and you get a feeling that the whole album has been leading up to this final outpouring of emotion. You have to applaud the excellent musicianship going on between your ears, these guys can really play their instruments exceedingly well, emphasised every time they decide to go off on an absorbing progressive jam (which they do frequently). As this song (and album) come to a close, it is the farewell to their fallen friend that takes over and the passion, pride and grief are all too evident, especially on the solo that is full of fervor, remorse but also love and joy.

Slightly controversial cover aside, ‘When We Were Beautiful’ is a superb and fitting tribute. The music is not dominated by the plethora of riffs, rather it is accentuated and complimented, these guys are outstanding musicians and it is evident in every note that they play. If you like your progressive metal with a little something extra, you are going to love this album, I did.

Live photos by Jutte Leiske.

Promo photos by Christina Bulka.

Released 18th March 2016.

Buy ‘When We Were Beautiful’ direct from the band