Brother ape happily portray their scintillating seventh studio album ‘Karma’ as being “the result of their current point of evolution”. It’s an astute comment which casts a revealing light on the ways in which the band have been developing across the four years since the release of the pulsating ‘Force Majeure’ in 2014.
‘Karma’ is, in many ways, a work of and in progress and clearly reflects the exciting and eager music of a working band who have spent the last few years playing festivals, clubs and gigs across their native Sweden. As a prelude to the creation of the new album they released three digital EP’s in 2015 (‘Worlds Waiting….’), early 2016 (‘Mandrill Anthem and Other Stories’) and again in late 2016 (‘First Class’). The best tracks from these releases became the ‘seeds’ which form the bedrock of ‘Karma’ alongside the composition of new songs and material.
The approach certainly pays clear dividends in giving us an album which is beautifully rich in the diversity of musical styles and moods it presents. The energy and vitality which naturally accrues from playing live on stage is effortlessly transferred to the ways the songs are written and performed. As you listen to the album you can both hear and feel the progression and the increasing refinement in the spirit and vibrancy of their playing.
There is an admirable openness to the influences they have heard and how these have become incorporated and creatively infused into the writing process. Much like dipping your toe into a flowing river again and again, each song is a carefully crafted and thoughtfully nuanced snap shot of a time, a place, a mood, a feeling. The album becomes a fascinating collection of musical ‘postcards’ assembled by a band who are intent on probing the boundaries of musical imagination.
This ever inquisitive openness creates a willingness to play, to experiment, to literally explore wherever the mood takes them. The band openly confess they are deeply committed to the idea of “always making music that trigger us at the moment independently of what musical orientation it has.” And in this respect, ‘Karma’ is an arresting showcase of the glorious spirit of innovation which is not afraid to traverse or find inspiration in impressively wide varieties of musical genres and techniques. Combined with the commanding sense of presence and energy acquired from live performing as well as the novel expressiveness they bring to the each song, the album really is a remarkable testament to their current point of evolution.
The album opens and closes with two blistering, signature Brother Ape tracks that are fiery statements of intent. Oblivion (Track 1) is a wonderful fusion of rock, jazz and mesmerising time signatures full of attitude and youthful defiance. The title track Karma(Track 8) begins with the same provocative and challenging power before giving way to tranquil orchestral interludes which in turn lead to a throbbing Amazonian passage of drumming overlayed with a triumphant vocal refrain.
But the mood instantly changes with the sublime If I Could (Track 2), the purity of the crystal clear vocal work, carrying a slight echo, riding an assured symphonic tide of cinematically light orchestral arrangements. The mood is picked up again in Don’t Stand At My Grave And Cry (Track 5), championed again by the most delightful vocal resonance but this time supported by an almost trance-style sampling with almost Beatles-esque echoes.
You Are (Track 7) is another change of pace and musical space; lilting, gentle, delicate guitar work and soothing vocals creating a serene, undulating musical landscape. Hina Saruwa (Track 4) and Let The Right One In (Track 6) switch again to more complex textures, emphatic rhythms, deliciously involved and intertwined elements from drums, keyboards, bass and vocals.
‘Karma’ is a refreshing and at times frenetic blur of passion and drama, a whirling musical dervish of ingenious and inventive styles, influences, moods and moments. Yet throughout it all the band remain faithful to the ‘sound’ they have pioneered since their debut album ‘On The Other Side’, released in 2005, and have been evolving across the course of seven truly impressive and striking albums.
Their website offers the tantalising promise that not all the material they created for ‘Karma’ found its way into the album. I sincerely and most earnestly hope that a new EP or even album may be in the offing in the not too distant future.
Only Echoes Remain are a London-based 4-piece that blend the classic ‘wall of guitar’ sound of This Will Destroy You with post-metal elements a la Russian Circles/If These Trees Could Talk, the atmospheric prog-y math of Karnivool with the emotions of Sigur Ros or Yndi Halda.
The band are set to release their debut album ’The Exigent’ on 16th June. Recorded at the Abbey Road Institute, ‘Of Stone and Stars’ is the second track that the band have shared from the record. The band comment:
‘‘Of Stone and Stars is the final song on the album, and where many of the previous tracks are fraught with danger, loneliness and loss, this last song suggests a degree of hope. Here big guitar riffs and high-energy sections, punctuated by moments of delicate reflection, tell the story of one lone explorer’s battle for survival. While he may well succeed in the short term, ultimately he finds himself stranded on a strange and unfamiliar world – how long can he really last?’
‘The Exigent’ is very much a concept record with a full narrative running throughout. The band add ‘being a concept album, ‘The Exigent’follows a cohesive narrative throughout, telling a story both physical and deeply emotional.’
Within their first year of forming Only Echoes Remain have already had the pleasure of sharing the stage with the Her Name is Calla, Totorro, Vasa, Poly-Math, Toska, Dialects, A-Sun Amissa and Waking Aida, to name but a few. UK tour dates will be announced soon but the band have confirmed they’ll be performing in London on Friday 23rd June at Brewhouse.
Alan Strawbridge – guitars, vocals, Dino Christodoulou – tenor and soprano saxophones, vocals, Duncan Gammon – keyboards, vocals, Holly Mcintosh – bass guitar, vocals and Jasper Williams – drums, vocals.
I decided to take a break from reviewing after a bit of a rough time life wise. I needed the break and wanted to just visit albums for the sheer joy of listening rather than through the critical ear of a reviewer. This meant that I approached this album with a tinge of trepidation. This trepidation was washed away by the end of the first track because it was obvious that the band have passion and a great joyous approach to making music.
I have only been aware of the band since listening to “Protein for Everyone” on the recommendation of a fellow DJ and I admit I was impressed by the feel of the band and their unique take on making music. It has taken them three years to bring out this new album but it has very much been worth the wait. They describe themselves as “a place where Canterbury prog, 60s psych and melodic pop gently collide.” I can understand and hear that as an influence in their writing but I hear Krautrock Grobschnitt, Amon Duul and The Bonzo Dog Do Dah Band (especially Viv Stanshall and Neil Innes solo stuff too) colliding with Knifeworld and Cardiacs. This is all bundled into some very sophisticated writing and recording and yet they are still incredibly accessible.
There are 11 tracks on this album with some seriously insanely eccentric off the wall songs but everything is filled with the common theme of things in the modern world that well and truly annoyed the faecal matter out of most of us. Call it a concept album if you must but it is more of a thematic exercise in reflecting the antithesis of Ian Dury’s“Reasons to be cheerful pt 1”.
Spielen mit Katzen, which opens the album, begins with a very Van Der Graaf Generator sax vs percussion race running all the way to the end of the stave. It even has a funk bass line drawn directly from 70s disco dropped in at an unexpected point. I can only assume that cat videos on social media annoy them as much as they do me. It immediately brightens the moment to this listener.
The album flows directly into Chinese Brainworm (Taeria Solium), it’s not every day you get a song about a parasitic worm that infest pigs but apparently this is the day we do. The use of brass is excellent, it counterpoints the vocals beautifully and adds a unique quality to the sound with a very soft tone and it’s not even vaguely harsh, as the use of sax can often be when ill used.
Rattle on through the album with songs that reflect on cold calling, PPI pests and scamming and you may find yourself singing “We’ve got PPI” as an ear worm randomly as you wander around the house listening to this album.
A real stand out track among an album of great observational songs is A New Atmosphere, by far and away the longest track and musically superior because the themes get better exploration and use. Their Bristol roots show here and it’s obviously a place they feel close to as they wander round the city and give a running commentary of what a bus trip around the city must feel like. The keyboards play a huge part and the vintage sounds that are used bring out the band’s obvious love of the psychedelic music of the 60s. It is a lament to the lost of the city and the pain they feel for the urban decay with large references to world war one.
On the whole this album has something for any lover of music that coaches you out of your comfort zone. It has a wry sense of humour running through it with a cynical view of the world we live in today. It is a bonkers album at times and deadly serious at other times with genuinely intelligent music that never becomes pretentious. Like Birdeatsbaby and other bands of a similar vintage, they represent some new music coming out right now that is breaking traditional definitions of genre and styles and all the more to them I say.
What is ‘Sehr Kosmisch, Ganz Progisch’? Roughly translating to ‘Very Cosmic, Entirely Proggy’, this debut album from Weserbergland is…well, exactly what its title claims. It’s a classically progressive take on Krautrock, masterminded by White Willow’s Ketil Vestrum Einarsen. Comprising four extended instrumental compositions, the album is layered, moody, musical, and intricate. The arrangements alternate between playful and austere as Einarsen and band dance around the motorik beat. ‘Sehr Kosmisch, Ganz Progisch’ is immediately enjoyable but reveals its true depth gradually over many listens, making it somewhat difficult to review, if easy to recommend. Let’s take it track by track.
Tanzen Und Springen: This album opener features tight drumming that moves around quite a bit such that the motorik never approaches monotony. There’s quite a bit of textured flute here w/punctuating fuzz bass and angular lead guitar. The overall impact is not unlike that of an extended modal jazz composition. Five minutes in the track switches gears for a dark interlude buoyed by that dependable motorik and coloured by a bit of synth prancing.
Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde: The album’s longest track, this composition executes a minimalist opening with the illusion of off-beat drumming and down-tuned synth before a more aggressive beat takes over. Over the course of the track’s more than 15 minutes, the drums say rock, the synths suggest ambient, the bass and guitar reference fusion, and the flute leads invoke world & new agey jazz. In the second half of the track, the arrangement seems to agree that, whatever else you might hear stylistically, bombastic prog is the underlying theme. The track’s closing minutes explore experimental territory somewhere between the opening moments of Close to the Edge and the sound of a cassette tape being eaten in the player. In other words, very cosmic, entirely proggy.
Die Kunst Der Fuge: Is this the soundtrack to a tropical sunrise? There’s a relaxed quietness to the beginning of this composition that again evolves gradually over its length. Despite sometimes frenetic guitar work, the mood remains laid-back in a groove featuring lyrical synths, flirty woodwinds, and the rare appearance of (programmed?) vocals. The band show incredible restraint as the track builds and builds, paradoxically sounding both jam-packed and minimalist at the same time, always taking two rounded left turns just when the proceedings seem about to arrive somewhere. It’s a lovely exercise in patience and the self-rewarding activity of virtuosity. Am I speaking in euphemisms for ‘noodly’? No, I don’t think I am.
Tristrant: Utilizing some tight reverbs and programming that would make Fripp-era Peter Gabriel turn his head, this track sounds the most mechanical and spacey of the album’s four movements. It also features more sustained, ecstatic energy, encapsulated in the almost combative dual soloing of flute and clarinet in the last few minutes. In this manner, the album closes on a more traditional jazz styling, albeit one outlasted by that motorik right to the end.
Unless (and even if) your record collection consists entirely of Can, ‘Sehr Kosmisch, Ganz Progisch’ will occupy a unique space on your shelf and in your headphones. A successful tribute to Krautrock, Weserbergland’s debut will also be accessible and attractively mysterious for fans of prog, ambient, electronica, and moody jazz. Don’t pass by this gem because you didn’t know to be looking.
Anathema, who are set to release their darkest and most challenging album to date, ‘The Optimist’ on 9th June via Kscope have announced an exclusive 5.1 playback session of the record will take place in London on Monday 5th June. Held at the Courtyard Threatre in Hoxton/Shoreditch in association with Classic Album Sundays the album will be played back in full through a KEF 5.1 system.
Limited to just 90 tickets the event will also include a live interview and Q & A session with Daniel and Vincent Cavanagh from the band hosted by Kerrang/Planet Rock journalist Amit Sharma, giving fans an opportunity to put their questions to them as well as hearing the album ahead of its release. Vincent adds:
‘We’re really looking forward to this. Listening to the album on a high end 5.1 audio system is a new experience even for us. The night isn’t just a preview of ‘The Optimist’ but it’s also a chance for people to gain a unique insight into what this album is all about. There’s a lot to take in, especially with all the artwork/visual side of the story. It’ll be cool to hang out and meet everyone.’
Anathema, led by brothers Daniel and Vincent Cavanagh, along with drummer John Douglas, singer Lee Douglas, bassist Jamie Cavanagh and drummer/keyboardist Daniel Cardoso recorded ‘The Optimist’ in the winter of 2016 at Castle Of Doom studios in Glasgow with producer Tony Doogan [Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian, Super Furry Animals] at the helm and was mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studios.
When first hearing about Valdez, a new band based in Philadephia, featuring Simon Godfrey (ex-Tinyfish and Shineback) and Echolyn bassist, Tom Hyatt, I made some initially lazy assumptions about it’s probable sound. I was wrong. Please check in your assumptions at the door because this is an album a long way away from Echolyn or Tinyfish. Simon Godfrey moved to America in 2014 when he married an American, and his personal journey has further stretched his musical horizons in an already wide ranging career encompassing Prog rock, acoustic songs and the electronically drenched unique rock of Shineback. When he met Tom Hyatt in Philadelphia they immediately hit it off and started jamming, then deciding to form Valdez (the name taken from a former band of keyboardist Joe Cardillo from the 1970’s.) Teaming up with the excellent electric keyboardist from Cool Blue, Cardillo, and drummer Scott Miller, Godfrey and Hyatt have produced with Valdez an eclectic and warm album, lovingly steeped in the sounds and textures of classic instruments.
The range of different styles is interesting but one thread that goes through them all is the sense of a solid, well written song. These are not sonic soundscapes of epic proportions, rather vignettes in engaging songs of sometimes wry observations of life around them. This is perhaps most acutely demonstrated in Thirteen, a song which opens with a subtle reference to the opening lines of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ in which in early April the clocks ‘struck thirteen’. The song gives us pithy observations about how our societies have come to be in their current political messes, and this is all served up in waves of ‘bubblegum pop’ as Godfrey has described it. There’s a real 70’s vibe to this catchy song with excellent electric piano, reminiscent of Billy Joel.
Godfrey has explained the thinking behind the band as having a real focus on the song, whether ‘it’s a short song, a long song or a mad, complex one. As long as it’s good we’ll grab it with both hands and spin it until we’re dizzy’, which very much comes over, especially in Thirteen. Similarly, opening song Black Eyed Susanschimes in with all the swagger and attitude of a Joe Jackson song, which is a GOOD thing!
The diversity and skill of Valdez is exemplified by the melancholic and evocative take on dementia in Sally Won’t Remember. This emotional but not mawkish song successfully conveys the debilitating slowness and sheer psychological effort associated with caring for someone with dementia. Like Godfrey this listener has experienced the sad decline of a parent with dementia, and this song echoes those feelings, but even in their dementia strangely our parents indirectly teach us about life and caring.
The stand out track on the album is the title track This, which apparently refers to ‘the world of wonder right in front of us which we forget, simply because we see it every day’. Opening intriguingly with the sound of a wurlitzer and a chiming piano, it then rises like a sun as acoustic guitar and percussion join in to then be filled out with bass and keyboards… and then it settles back in to the song with Godfrey’s distinctive and emotive voice leading us to a swelling killer chorus. This lovely song rolls along memorably and then takes a breath before a pulsing bass introduces us to a resonant final section with great multi-layered harmony vocals as it rises to a crescendo. In some ways this listener would have liked to hear a few more songs of this nature, but only because it was so bloody good!
No Stone Unturned is a more bluesy number, Godfrey sounds like George Michael vocally at times (which is no bad thing), but the real star of this number is the excellent keyboard work of Cardillo. Godfrey has shared that the whole band really thinks that the majority of the best music came out of the instruments made famous in the 60’s and 70’s. Consequently they have used a range of classic keyboards, such as the Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, upright pianos, classic acoustic and electric guitars, recorded through old amps, and this is particularly evident on the warm, lush, atmospheric sounds of No Stone Unturned and Little Keys. Not every song works for this reviewer (take a bow Spite House) but this is an engaging album that will draw you in.
On ‘This’, there is a real sense of looking back affectionately but not slavishly to the past, as evoked by Mark Buckingham’s striking artwork of a 1950’s style woman swinging on a balloon. This is an album of fairly stripped back but well played and constructed songs. Godfrey has also shared that this album, produced by Hyatt’s legendary band mate in Echolyn, Brett Kull, was recorded without sequencing and as miked up to make it as live as possible. Such loving attention to vintage recording techniques combined with classic equipment clearly influenced the whole atmosphere of the album, and it particularly pays off in the strong final duo of segued songs, Colorado and Smile for the Camera. Colorado, written by Cardillo, has an enchanting rolling and melodic intro and evokes the free open space of that state, with some beautiful bass by Hyatt. An ambient, feedbacking interlude connects us to the beguiling Smile for the Camera, which floats in with a delicately picked acoustic guitar, with echoes of classic Supertramp’s heyday. This extended song takes a jazzier turn with peculiar sounds and a twisting synth solo… it seems that Godfrey and Hyatt couldn’t quite contain all their ‘Proggier’ impulses for a whole album! However, this is a brief diversion before this piece takes another turn into the beautiful blissed out harmony vocals reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash, possibly with the help of Kull who added vocals and guitar alongside his production duties. Nevertheless, ultimately this is a Valdez song because the song then concludes eerily and possibly a little darkly with the last line ‘Smile for the Camera’ .
Valdez have created an interesting album, which crosses various genres and combines the myriad talents of the band in an engaging mix of sounds and songs. It’s not particularly ground-breaking or innovative, and was never intended to be so – but if you’re looking for some well written and well performed songs in classic style with warmth, with and spirit ‘This’ could be it!
So let’s face the elephant in the room straight away.
This is always going to be emotional on so many levels and affecting people to different degrees. The album was recorded in Dutch Club 013, Tilburg, in the autumn of 2015 and features Piotr Grudzinski who is sadly no longer with us. Not a subject I intend to dwell on and this should be seen as a glorious celebration of the man’s talent at the top of his game.
Every ten years Riverside add an exclusive release to their discography, and ‘Lost ‘n’ Found: Live in Tilburg’, is the latest. The double CD with graphics designed by Travis Smith was to be available only at this year’s shows on the “Towards the Blue Horizon Tour”. This raised an amount of consternation and unrest amongst those who would not be able to attend, no doubt fuelled further by enhanced emotions due to the sad loss of Piotr.
I was lucky enough to attend the concert at The Marble Factory in Bristol on May 20th, last Saturday in fact, and a copy was bought for me which has enabled me to write this review.
Closing the door on the above and opening the one saying ‘Backstage Only’ I stride down the corridor toward the stage where all the action is to take place on these discs. It would be the obvious thing to do, going through the tracks individually and commenting on them. But those who love Riverside’s music don’t need telling how good the songs are, or to be advised on the quality excellent musicianship of the individuals.
Better to look at this as a ‘Live’ experience. So what separates a poor live band from a great one and a quality ‘Live’ album from a dismal disc that ends up on your coffee table as a coaster? Every individual may differ in their opinion, but there are certain things that I like/dislike on ‘Live’ recordings.
It is a feeling, the ability to raise the hairs on the back of your neck with the electrical charge sparked between the band and their audience. It takes you back to that night if you were there, if not it transports you through the speakers to plant you, front row amidst the heaving throng of swaying bodies, as one in unison with the music pumping from the speakers.
A quality sound is imperative, too muddy or overproduced and it will be ruined. A fine line and delicately balanced it’s not easy to achieve the right mix and excellence whilst retaining the ‘Live’ atmosphere. The one that puts a smile on your face as you sit listening, a slave before your master, the sound system. The first applause introduces the arrival of the band on stage and the notes of the introductory track kick in, you close your eyes and raise your arms in supplication to the gods of your living room.
Your head nods and you mouth the lyrics to yourself, by now blissfully unaware that no one else is in the room (except the pets) and if the magic is taking a hold, then neither are you.
This brings me to another possible pitfall, the applause and running dialogue betwixt band and discerning crowd, or should I say, distinct lack of it on some so called ‘Live’ recordings. It saps the very energy from the atmosphere like a music hating succubus. The vampire intent on draining every last bloody drop of musical theatre from the sound. It has always puzzled me the urge to eradicate any and all components that allow a ‘Live’ recording to breathe naturally, nurturing the adoration and adulation blossoming from the performers and watchers alike.
It is the lifeblood which links the individual tracks, the pitfalls, dropped notes and reciprocal banter, in stilted attempts at the local dialect causing a warm felt humour. The band tune and retune whilst taking the opportunity to introduce the individual musicians, allowing you brief respite to settle back in your armchair whilst staying connected, before unleashing the next eagerly anticipated adrenaline injection of melody through the speakers.
By now the cat and dog have left the room, convinced you have lost a grip on reality and you don’t even notice the twitch of a whisker. You have no need to rise from your seat as the multi-disc player slides into the second CD, carrying you away on waves of euphoria, the bliss of release from day to day strife falling away as time slips by without a care in the world. All that matters is the here (or there) and now. Nothing can pull you from the crowd, eject you from your respectful reveries as your mind applauds an imaginary stage.
All too soon they reach the final song then leave the stage, the ecstatic crowd baying for more, clapping, stamping cheering and whistling. You are participating in the temporary auditorium created among the sofa and coffee table, with the closed curtains across the bay window shutting out the light, enhancing the illusion.
You, along with the attendant throng will the band to return for just a little while, play some more, don’t let go, not yet. Wetted appetites are slated as the members wander casually back into view, towels caressing well earned perspiration from weary but satisfied brows, in the knowledge that the final line is in sight and they will cross to the winner’s enclosure.
Every last drop of remaining emotion is wrung from the instruments, vocals accompanied by audience participated backing voices, from dry throats tortured to burning point by the smoke machines. Louder they get, to near hysteria levels, the ultimate note is struck and there is the briefest of silent pauses before realisation dawns that the band have played their last. Tumultuous waves of sound from suffering air-pipes erupt in fervent appreciation for the unforgettable evening that has been bestowed upon the dedicated listener. The band leave the stage throwing drumsticks and plectrums to the hands reaching out and they’re gone.
Animated and enthused the multitude filter into the cold night air, steam rising from the heated bodies, wisps fading like the the lights, into the night.
It’s done and you rise flicking on the light switch to bathe the room in a warm glow, time to make a cup of tea and let the pets out into the garden. But don’t be too despondent as you can relive the event when and as often as you like.
‘But he’s hardly mentioned Riverside‘, I hear you cry.
Look again dear reader, they are there in every good word, every sentence to raise plaudits, every vowel, noun and space, for this is Riverside ‘Live’ in Tilburg. They have realised the dream and created moments to remember, scenes that will live forever in the mind. If you want a true ‘Live’ album then look no further, for the fan a must buy, for those interested a great introduction to one of the foremost modern bands on the scene.
Out of the darkness comes light and Riverside are bathed in it. Catch them on tour, you never know, you might even be on the next ‘Live’ release.
Available exclusively from each date on Riverside’s ‘Towards The Blue Horizon’ tour.
I remember 1992 (yes I am that old!) and seminal Progressive Metallers Dream Theater releasing their incredible second album ‘Images and Words’. It was something of a groundbreaking release with the incredible musicianship and songwriting making a huge impact on my life.
I followed the band for many years with superb release after superb release, ‘Awake’, ‘Falling Into Infinity’ and themarvellous, innovative brilliance of ‘Metropolis Pt2 – Scenes From a Memory’. I first saw them live on the ‘Train of Thought’ tour in 2003 and was blown away by the majesty of their show. The last great album they released, in my opinion, was 2005’s ‘Octavarium’ and, sadly for a big fan like me, they seemed to peak then, both on record and as a live event.
I’ve been waiting for a long time for an album of pure progressive metal to come along and blow me away like ‘Images and Words’ did in 1992, one with some great songs and wonderful instrumentation, I like an extended guitar solo as much as the next man!
There have been some near misses but none have really come close. Funnily enough, it was one of my old fellow Dream Theater fans, Laura McCoy who put me on to Graham Keane and The Vicious Head Society, sharing a video of a track from the debut album ‘Abject Tomorrow’ and it piqued my interest more than enough to want to hear the whole thing.
Why? because the first thing that came into my head was, it’s like Dream Theater but the old Dream Theater when they were my favourite band in the world and that’s just got to be good…
The Vicious Head Society is the brainchild of Irish guitar virtuoso GrahamKeane.
Debut album ‘Abject Tomorrow’ initially started as a pet project around 2010 after returning to the Emerald Isle from music school in the UK. Keane was tutoring aspiring musicians when he decided to start writing original material purely as a self gratifying project. He figured that living in a remote area of Ireland with not many musicians interested in his style of music, metal, hard rock and prog, he would be best to forge ahead alone. As with many creative types Keane had a very laid back attitude about the whole thing and on many occasions just sat there noodling on his guitar while life passed him by. It wasn’t until his wives cancer diagnosis in 2013 that he started to take things a bit more seriously. The shock of realising his own mortality threw Keane into action.
Writing and recording became an asylum, from the emotional turmoil and with nothing to lose, the project began to grow in scope. Virtual instruments wouldn’t cut it anymore, as had been the norm to that point, and so Keane began to contact musicians worldwide to help bring it to life. Of course this brought with it several new challenges, not to mention the financial burden, the main reason it has taken this long to complete!
The vast majority of the album was recorded in Keane’s home studio with vocals, drums and other guest musicians being outsourced to their own recording facilities. Guests including Wilmer Waarbroek, Derek Sherinan, Nahuel Ramos, Pat Byrne, Klemen Markelj, Kevin Talley and Nathan Pickering. “It was a somewhat challenging process,” Keane comments. “Financing being one of the major difficulties. There were times when it seemed like releasing the album would be impossible but I’m delighted to have overcome these obstacles and with the help of some really amazingly talented people, it is now complete!”
As with most progressive records ‘Abject Tomorrow’ is no different in the sense that it is a concept album. The story is based in a dystopian future in which all humans are required to have emotion inhibiting implants implanted from birth. One man’s implant fails and it chronicles his journey of discovery and reconnection with his humanity. Musically, it draws from a huge range of influences; from classic prog acts that influenced Keane growing up, such as Yes, Genesis, ELP and Rush to metal acts such as Death, Meshuggah and Megadeth. Keane adds, “I hope it finds some kind of audience and that people enjoy it. For me, it’s a very emotive album. Even though it’s a concept album on the surface, there’s a lot of personal experience in it and there’s sure to be some people out there who can connect with it on an emotional level.”
An urgent keyboard note introduces you to The Sycophants before some powerful and edgy riffing, joined by dynamic drums takes over. A monstrous riff erupts from the depths of the earth to pound you with its ferocity and then the vocals kick in, hard-edged and forceful. This is no frills prog-metal, you get what you see and it is all the better for it. Throw in some brilliant guitar runs and the odd solo that burns like a solar flare and you couldn’t really ask for much more, actually you don’t need to because Graham gives it to you anyway. Well thought out songwriting and his emotive vocal give real class to the song, add in an cleverly intricate instrumental section (dare I say it, emulating Dream Theater themselves), a thunderous close-out and you’re left admiring a really good opening to the album. So, now onto the title track, Abject Tomorrow begins with a really skittish, staccato riff that has a feel of unease to it, the progressive drums pounding along in union. A coruscating guitar fires up into the heavens before things calm down, an uneasy silence broken by some rather dark and hushed vocals. I’m on the edge of my seat with anticipation before the powerful chorus erupts from the quietude, an emotional depth emanating from Graham’s vocals. The guitar note almost seems to be speaking to you when the darkness returns tenfold with some harsh vocals giving a proper demonic tone and an ominous counterpoint to the grim hope that the haunting chorus seems to give. Cue extended guitar solo and a bloody good one at that. This song really does seem to be clash between darkness and light and you find yourself caught up in the tumultuous conflict, like a musical version of Lord of the Rings, fantastical and nightmarish. A conflict that seems to span the ages, neverending and the stylish close to the track seems to echo that in eternity.
Downfall has a subdued opening, all swirling, sci-fi keyboards before the tension starts to build. Graham’s heartfelt vocal takes centre stage, a stirring delivery backed by some stylish bass playing and it gives real heart and soul to the song. A harsh vocal delivered over some elegant keyboards really gives an out of this world aura to the song. The juxtaposition between the earnest, fervent clean vocals and the alien feel of the harsh voice really works, one complementing another. As the song comes to a close a granite-like riff gives an elemental quality and the vocals soar into the distance almost like an out of body experience, a compelling and passionate track that really touches your emotions. I have to admit that I’ve been impressed so far and the next track just adds to that in spades, Agenda opens with yet another impressive and uber-heavy riff, one that could shatter mountains I’m sure! But it’s not all about the intensity, there’s intelligence right at the heart of this music too (got to say I love the riffs though!), the songwriting and musical ability is excellent and every note is there for a reason, even if it does strip paint at forty yards. The dynamism of the music and the addictive chorus work together perfectly to add lustre and vitality to the compelling songs. I am not a lover of the harsh, cookie monster vocal delivery but it really works on this album, Graham seems to have got the balance perfectly right. As for the guitar playing, well it is one of the most influential aspects of the album and what lifts it above the merely good and gives an almost cinematic scope to every track. As you get towards the end of the song it goes all intricately progressive on you before a calmness envelops all and then we are treated to a crescendo of an ending, a stirring and affectional guitar fading out to the close.
A hushed voice and keyboards open The 11th Hour, a feeling of treading water as if you’re waiting for something to happen. Falsetto vocals arrive along with another epic riff from the bowels of the Earth, everything has an anthemic feel to it, music for the ages, from the ages. There’s an uplifting delivery to the vocals yet one that has a pleading undertone, more mixing of the harsh with the clean, once again to good effect and then a more jazzy instrumental section where the bass takes on a funky tone and the guitars a more stripped back feel. A real melting pot of musical styles that deliver a vigorously immersive listening experience, Devin Townsend meets Queen in some strange parallel Universe and they join up with Faith No More and Metallica for a jam session. It’s hypnotically brilliant and quite mesmerising. Psychedelic Torture Trip is just under four minutes of fast paced, elaborate instrumental showboating and it’s thoroughly enjoyable. If you can play instruments as well as this then why shouldn’t you have a bit of fun while doing it? It brings back memories of tracks like Erotomania by Dream Theater and the like. Just sit back, press play and enjoy the virtuoso music laid before you.
Granite like riffs that feel as old as the earth and weight more than the planet we live on? check, that’s what you get at the start of God Of The New Age and it’s almost as if they are being played by celestial beings. This is a riotously compelling song where the heaviness of the music doesn’t detract, it is absolutely necessary and gives emphasis to the vibrant keyboards, energetic drums and Graham’s charismatic vocals. The thunderous guitars and crushing drums that close out the song along with some rather stylish keyboards are utterly compelling, just turn up the volume and enjoy this utter prog-metal fest! The epic nineteen minute album closer Analogue Spectre is a nod to the great progressive metal acts of the past, Graham channels his inner Symphony X, Dream Theater and Fates Warning and yet gives everything his own twist to make it uniquely The Vicious Head Society. A slow burning opening builds up the tension before a heartfelt guitar fires out of the gloom and the shackles are off, a more subtle riff and then Graham’s hushed vocal give an almost symphonic metal feel, this is rapidly blown away by the increasing intensity of the riffing and drums and the vocals taking on a more urgent tone. This is music that grabs your attention with its ebb and flow between the restrained and controlled and the potent and persuasive and it’s a fascinating counterpoint. You’ll get blind-sided by some utterly spellbinding and complex instrumental progressive sections that seem to find their way out of more blind alleys than is really possible. Note perfect and yet ferociously perplexing and convoluted, it’s all you can do to keep up. Follow this up with some laid back, chilled, calm and collected parts and you are being treated to a whole gamut of musical emotions that your mind is manically processing to try and keep up with. The uplifting, almost symphonic metal vocal that follows is utter class and gives a real gloss to the track. This song is like a tapestry that displays the whole range of musical emotions (including salsa, yes… salsa…) that Graham is capable of and leaves me speechless in appreciation.
It is 25 years since ‘Images and Words’ first graced us with its presence and we have been given a plethora of Progressive Metal albums since, some very good but most not so. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that ‘Abject Tomorrow’ is one of the best I’ve heard in that quarter of a century and deserves to be named in the same breath as ‘I&W’, it really is that good. A prog-metal masterpiece for the 21st Century, Graham Keane and The Vicious Head Society have only just begun their journey to the top of the genre but are already well on the way there.
A shift of late has seen many bands classed under ‘heavy’ and ‘post/math rock’, expand their horizons and feel the need to spread their musical wings of experimentation. I have mentioned in previous reviews how easy it is to get lost in the masses and the difficulty facing up and coming bands in finding their unique selling point. The sound that will see them cut through the dense undergrowth of bands to the road leading in the direction of success.
One such band are Valerian Swing.
Emerging from the historic town of Corregio in the valley of Po, Italy, this intriguing trio first set out on their quest in 2011. Describing themselves as ”Three Italian lunatics playing mathy, violent, anthemic, and largely-instrumental songs”, does not really cover the full scale of their work and may discourage some. But if you like music that keeps trying to find new ways to express itself then you may want to give this a listen, as isn’t that what Progressive music is all about?
With the departure of bass guitarist Alan Ferioli the band currently line up as:
Stefano Villani: guitars, electronics, vocals, David Ferretti: drumsand Francesco Giovanetti: baritone guitar, synths.
The introduction of Francesco to the fold has enabled them to expand and explore other musical areas and add to their previous sound.
At the dawning of first track ‘A Leaf’, it’s clear the band are willing to experiment as the clicking of a percussive ‘cricket’ beats his sticks together and synthesised insects buzz around the speakers building to a pounding drum beat and catchy guitars. Everything floats on a creative breeze building to a cacophony of sound, which tugs at the last leaf on the tree. Buffeting and pulling at the single stalk from which it hangs, the curled cuticle, pigmented colour draining from green to copper brown dangles perilously for most of the day, until a gust of guitars snatches it away and across the sky.
Rising on thermals of digital key-work, the leaf is carried from the noises of the wood behind it swooping and swerving. Dipping and looping over countryside on through the night, it is driven by the instrumentation across the land and above the sea, where the wind suddenly tails off briefly as daylight rises. The leaf floats down to the deck of one of ‘Two Ships’ the large sails tacking to find the rising wind. The sails on the one carrying the band catch, billowing out and straining at their ropes tied fast to the masts, as both clippers race toward the coast like white ghosts on horsetails spray, crossing the finish line to distorted cheers from the crowd lining the bay.
Cruising into dock the band leave the crew to moor up the winning vessel and disembark with their gear to the adulation of Stefano’s processed vocals and raise the trophy. ‘Three Keys’ are presented to them and it’s time to relax overnight, before mounting three of ‘Four Horses’ in the early hours (the fourth carrying their supplies) and riding from the port across the tracks stretched out before them. The keyboards set the rhythm with the thrum of Stefano and Francesco’s guitars on which they ride, the pounding drums from David raising dust beneath the hooves.
In a couple of days they reach a city with ‘Five Walls’ as dusk beckons. Riding through it’s gates they are blanketed by the cosmopolitan sounds of digitised voices going about their daily business in the crowded city streets. Arriving at a compound in the western corner of the city they dismount, open three stables with the keys they received and unsaddle the horses. They take rest and sustenance in preparation for the next passage, whilst in the cool of the evening, festivities bring relief to the citizens, from the drudgery and heat of the day.
At dawn the band leave the city, walking, the ascending sun caressing their necks as ‘Six Feet’ set a fast tempo. Time is pressing and the musical terrain needs to be fully covered, they cannot afford to stumble or trip over frets.
The guitars scream to a halt as they look upward in a haze of feedback at the ‘Seven Cliffs’ before them. Care is needed as gentle notes and syncopated drum patterns mark the uneven ascent, one wrong or dropped note could cause disaster. But sure-footed they move with confidence then gain pace, with the elated guitars, drums and keys gaining footholds to reach the summit, collapsing on a dying line of feedback.
Exhausted but exhilarated the band rest, gaze out at the sounds of a new day being born. Food is produced from backpacks and fine beer to wash it down as they regale each other with tales of the journey. A bloated blood red sun ventures from the horizon, bathing everything in hues of pink and red. They watch as vermilion ripples across the sea, ribbon towards the base of the cliffs and they are satisfied.
It has taken ‘Eight Dawns’ to reach the conclusion of this varied album, full of passion, riffs and sublime technique. Cinematic, energetically varied even flirting on the edges of pop with their experimentation, in ‘Nights’, Valerian Swing have created their most accessible album to date and paved the way to what could be a bright future.
All three of these gentlemen are excellent musicians and work seamlessly together. It is not my way to normally favour anyone but on this occasion, I feel I must praise the power house on drums that is David Ferretti and state quite simply that he is ‘formidabile’.
‘Land Animal’ Available June 23 via InsideOutMusic/Sony.
“It’s very rare that an artist or band comes along that changes your perspective on music and art…Bent Knee have done just that.” – Substream
“Mind boggling… the grandest and subtlest ideas are on the table” -NPR
“The silo-smashing Bent Knee’s unique mix is equal parts ingenuity and deliciousness” – The Wall Street Journal
“Bent Knee breaks new stylistic and temperamental ground” – The Boston Globe
Genre-bending art-rock band Bent Knee have revealed a gripping live video for their single “Holy Ghost”. The track is the second to be released from their forthcoming album, Land Animal, out June 23rd via InsideOutMusic/Sony. The collection combines myriad influences from across the rock, pop, minimalist, and avant-garde spectrums into a seamless, thrilling whole.
You can watch the video here:
Following a North American tour supporting Thank You Scientist, Bent Knee will embark on a select run of tour dates in June, beginning in Brooklyn, NY and making stops in Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago and more.