Review – Damanek – Making Shore

Damanek are a sort of Prog Rock supergroup formed by fellow
Yorkshireman Guy Manning (lead/backing vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar & instruments; loops; samples; percussion), Marek Arnold (saxes; seaboard; additional keyboards), and Sean Timms (keyboards; backing vocals; programming backing vocals & additional programming).

The talented trio are joined on ‘Making Shore’ by an impressive cast of musicians including Brody Green, Julie King, Cam Blokland, Kev Currie, Riley Nixon-Burns and Linda Pirie, to name a few!

‘Making Shore’ is the band’s third album and is another genre-defying collection of sophisticated songs that again manage to combine impressive technical proficiency with catchy hooks and vast soundscapes. I was a big fan of the band’s previous release, ‘In Flight’, saying, “A compelling, engaging and stimulating listening experience that leaves you high on music and life. Every absorbing minute of music is a minute that will bring a smile to your face.” So I was really looking forward to the new album and, thankfully, I was in no way disappointed.

‘Making Shore’ is music with morality, an object lesson in how to get your message across (over population, global warming etc.) without shoving it down people’s throats and alienating them. I’ve always felt that Damanek create music with the perfect blend of progressive rock and jazz and then the band introduce wonderful elements of world music into the mix (mandolin, bazouki etc.) and you won’t find a better use of the saxophone in modern prog than on one of their albums and Marek Arnold is on fine form here!

The album is split between seven ‘regular’ tracks and then ‘Oculus’, an epic gothic flight of fantasy that comprises an overture and four suites, when I see that written down it does sound a bit pretentious but it is actually superbly done. The regular tracks all have a socio-political or ecological theme and work really well, I’m especially a fan of opener A Mountain of Sky, a song literally about Everest and how the notion of conquering the mountain is ridiculous, it is, after all, aloof, majestic, beautiful and timeless and this track is a great tribute to one of the giants of nature. Upbeat, fast paced and monumental, the music breezes along and Guy’s elegant vocals just add real soul to the song, the keyboard breaks are properly 70’s prog, the sax is vibrant and dynamic and the guitar playing is, well, epic, just like the mountain. Back2Back is about over-population and how it could be aggravating global warming and pollution. It’s a more laid back piece, one where the keyboards are one of the main characters, supporting Guy’s soulful vocals. There’s an especially fiery break in the middle that adds a more serious overtone and Marek’s sax is always there in the background ready to erupt with class and spirit.

“If we do nothing at all, then we will watch as populations rise and resources decrease in a state of Global inequality…standing by as children die of hunger.” Noon Day Candles has a melancholy, wistful feel, not surprising considering the subject matter but it is quite a beautiful song. The mellowness imbued by the elegant music and Guy’s stirring vocals really hit home as Marek plays a tender sax in the background. It’s a really moving piece of music and shows what sensitive, mature people these musicians are. Americana is about a fictitious farmstead in the US Mid West where a traditional family struggles to keep their heritage farm going against a backdrop of increasing climate changes and poverty and brings to mind ‘So’ era Gabriel to my ears. Adding that signature Damanek soulful groove to an Americana inspired song is a really clever idea and the lyrics are particularly pertinent on this track. The outpouring of emotion on the chorus is particularly touching and, along with the superb piano, adds real gravitas to this impassioned tale.

“I wrote this piece for my youngest who has Aspergers and can find things challenging at times… On a holiday in Greece he decided (off his own bat) to try scuba diving…after the shock of the request settled in we of course said ‘Go for it!’…he went off by himself, signed up, faced his insecurities and did the dive…we were very proud of him and so I wrote this song all about it!”

That’s the story behind In Deep Blue (Sea Songs Pt.1) and the fact that this song is based on Guy’s own personal experiences really touches me, the love he has for his son and the pride he feels as he overcame his disability is there for all to see and it gives the track a whole different aura. A wonderfully flowing piece of music with elegant vocals, it has a real feel good factor running throughout its four minutes and brings a warm glow to my heart. Reflections On Copper is about as laid back a piece of jazz/prog you are going to hear and talks about how dementia affects the everyday lives of those who are afflicted. It treats the subject matter in a very sensitive way and the music has substance at its very core, a very intelligent piece of songwriting. The edgy, animated vitality of Crown of Thorns (Sea Songs Pt.2) has a coruscating beat to it, perhaps replicating the crown-of-thorns starfish about which it talks. In normal numbers on healthy coral reefs, COTs are an important part of the ecosystem, however, when the coral-eating starfish appear in outbreak proportions, the impact on coral reefs can be disastrous. A song with a very serious message but one that is put across with a sparkling vivacity.

Now for the mind warping, time spanning epic world of Oculus, a cautionary tale of a man who finds an alternative reality through a looking glass and how, after many trips back and forth, he nearly ends up trapped in the alternate world before, finally returning to really appreciate what he has at home. Now, let’s be honest, there’s something marvellously overblown and wonderfully pompous about a prog epic and, when they’re done right, I just absolutely love them. Well, Guy and the band perfectly nail it within the thirty one minutes of the gem of a piece of music. From the uplifting power of the overture, almost classical in nature, through Act I – Spot the Difference where there’s a childlike wonder of discovery that opens up into something more profound with an underlying medieval impishness and then Act II – The Corridor which could have come straight out of some 80’s stylish pop/rock album, the keyboard blasts and funky riff almost straying into Level 42 territory, theres a playful subtlety to the songwriting and a knowing nod to those epic multi-piece tracks of the 60’s and 70’s. Guy’s fine baritone is core to everything going on here, he really does have a great voice. Act III – Passive Ghost starts with a simple keyboard and piano overlaid with Guy’s heartfelt vocals. What seems an uncomplicated ballad then builds with layers of sophistication, musical and lyrical nods to The Animals, Joni Mitchell and even The Wizard of Oz, to become something all together more complex and delightful. Act IV – A Welcoming Hand is an inspirational, uplifting end to the saga and opens with some intricate sax play before Guy’s compelling voice takes centre stage. You can feel the hope and optimism throughout, the song really putting you in the right frame of mind and the funky sax and fiery guitar ensure that it’s a suitably joyous end to what has been a tremendously memorable experience.

Well 2023 has got off to a suitably auspicious start on the music front and this new album from Damanek has just raised the bar considerably. ‘Making Shore’ is a momentous achievement, full of sumptuous music and elegant vocals and yet the cautionary tale at its heart is never lost in the process, bravo gentlemen, bravo!

Released 13th, January, 2023.

Order from GEP here:

Damanek – Making Shore – GEP

Check out the Damanek website here:

DAMANEK – the official website (guymanning.com)

Review – The Tangent – Pyramids, Stars & More: The Tangent Live Recordings 2004-2017

Collecting together tracks from 3 line-ups of The Tangent, this 2CD & 3LP album collects together show recordings from 2004, 2011 & 2017. Band leader Andy Tillison comments: “A Triple Live LP is the stuff of Bucket Lists, dreamed of doing one of these since I was a kid”.

Included in its entirety is the 2004 ‘Pyramids And Stars’ concert in Germany featuring the “Roine Stolt” lineup of The Tangent playing its way through the majority of the debut ‘Music That Died Alone’ album along with (then) new material from their second album ‘The World That We Drive Through’.

Added to that, there are tracks from the ‘COMM’ era line-up of the band at a concert in the UK – plus music recorded in the USA in 2017 by the band’s current line-up. These originally appeared on the ‘Southend On Sea’ and ‘Hotel Cantaffordit’ fan releases respectively. 

All is presented inside a re-imagined Ed Unitsky sleeve, to create a package that fans are sure to love. 

“This is a real, proper, live album” says Tillison. “It’s candid, it’s spontaneous, it has mistakes and things that are a bit too loud and things that are a bit too quiet. It’s what happened on stage at three gigs at which “making a live album” never crossed our minds.”  

Right, that’s the PR blurb out of the way (it’s a good way of getting a background to the album actually) now let’s see what we make of ‘Pyramids, Stars & More: The Tangent Live Recordings 2004-2017’ from a reviewer’s perspective…

Let’s just think, when people first started to play music there were no mediums to record on, even wax cylinders were centuries away from being invented so you could say that live music is music in its purest form. To take that one step further, live music can’t be tinkered with like it’s recorded version, honed to perfection (sometimes too much, if I’m being honest!) and often sanitised because of this. Live music is in the moment, spontaneous, what you hear is definitely what you get and when it’s delivered well, it is one of the most natural and unadulterated forms of entertainment that you can get.

Also, some bands were just meant to be heard live and seem to thrive, their music comes alive and goes up another level or two and you can certainly include The Tangent in that group. It’s criminal that Andy and the guys have not played as much live as I’m sure Andy would like and I am one of the lucky ones to have seen them play in a live setting and I am so thankful that I did. Putting these concerts and live performances on record gives a lot more people the chance to hear what this iconic band sound like when they can play uninhibited. They are spontaneous, instinctive and free spirited and just bloody brilliant.

Virtuoso musicians doing what they do best gives us free-spirited (and high-spirited) versions of classics like The World We Drive Through and The Winning Game, songs that deserve the wider audience that this live release will give them. The musicianship on show is exemplary and impeccable with Andy Tillison’s keyboards and vocals the driving force throughout. Andy’s Yorkshire personality gets to shine through in a live setting and his vocals are superb. The rest of the band play in perfect accompaniment and the improvisation is just scintillating.

If you are a true fan of music than you cannot help but enjoy music this good when it’s played in a live setting. A truly incendiary version of The Music That Died Alone is one of many highlights and this fan favourite takes on a new life, becoming something deeper, more funky and, well, just gorgeous. It’s part of a triumphant triumvirate in the middle of the album along with a rather poignant version of ELP’s Lucky Man and a riotously incandescent version of my all time favourite short song by the band, A Spark in the Aether. Now, Andy knows I love this song as I’ve told him enough times and this live version is just the best one yet, just magnificent!

This wonderfully nostalgic live journey through some of The Tangent’s back catalogue continues to put a smile on your face, there’s a edgy and jazzy version of Perdu Dans Paris, a tumultuous romp through the fine instrumental Doctor Livingstone (I Presume) and the album comes to a close with an epic rendition of ‘COMM’ classic Titanic Calls Carpathia and one of my favourite songs from ‘The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery’, the wistfully nostalgic Two Rope Swings.

Ah, to reminisce is a joy we should always hold dear and this wonderful live release from one of the UK’s most venerated prog bands is a sentimental journey down memory lane and one that will remind you why The Tangent are held in such warm regard and also why live music is something worth cherishing and preserving. We, the fans, hold it in our hands to make sure music stays live so albums as brilliant as this can still get made!

Released 27th January, 2023.

Order the album here:

Pyramids, Stars & Other Stories: The Tangent Live Recordings 2004-2017 (burningshed.com)

Review – Echo Us – Inland Empire

“Exploring Echo US’ deep and ethereal past uncovers an ‘Inland Empire’…”

Echo Us is a musical concept project active since the turn of the century. Begun by American composer and multi-instrumentalist Ethan J. Matthews, “Echo Us” literally means “to answer”, or “to connect”. The current format of the project began in 2001. Echo Us would become a vehicle for Matthew’s forays into the world of metaphysics, as much as it was a continuation of his musical and creative world that had begun a decade earlier.

“I certainly believe in going within to find a connection with the outer world. To find the ‘child’ within where everything is open to speculation and wonder…it’s a sort of ‘psychic’ connection for me, and music is simply part of the process.”

‘Inland Empire’ is Echo Us’ seventh full length studio album, and 2023’s epilogue to the original trilogy that ran from 2009-2014. The music compiles almost everything that didn’t fit onto the trilogy – comprising material from ‘The Tide Decides’ (2009), ‘Tomorrow Will Tell The Story’ (2012) and ‘II:XII, A Prior Memoriae’ (2014).

If you’re a fan of ambient, flowing, introspective music along the lines of Mike Oldfield, David Sylvian, Brian Eno and Robert Fripp then Echo Us’ gorgeous ethereal soundscapes will delight you. Deep and meaningful with music that will touch your very soul, the ten tracks on this release all combine to deliver a compelling, cinematic musical journey that you must consume in one sitting. Like the parts of those infernal puzzles that must all be solved before enlightenment reveals itself, these delicate pieces fit together perfectly to give an hour of amazing peace and wistful solitude.

When I normally review an album I will take particular tracks and describe what they mean to me and how they make me feel but, if I tried that approach with this release, I would be doing it a huge disservice. Geddy Lee once sang on Rush’s track Prime Mover, “The point of the journey is not to arrive..” and I feel that is wholly pertinent to ‘Inland Empire’, it’s not where this album takes you, it is what happens to you while you are listening to it. I feel that I’m transported to another place, a wistful, alien land where all is calm, collected and we are one with nature.

Every note and every gossamer thin vocal has a place and they combine perfectly to give us something that is almost alive, sentient and aware of its own existence. I would go so far as to say that I actually stopped living for sixty minutes and just existed in my most natural form.

Echo Us create something that isn’t just music but also some sort of metaphysical experience and a shelter from the harsh realities of life. Yes, we will have to come out into the real world at some point but, until then, I couldn’t think of many better places to be.

Released 7th March, 2023.

Order from:

www.echous.net

Review – Glen Brielle – Still

“Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit and never dies.” – Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Music has always had the power to move me and the grace to touch my soul profoundly. Certain types of music can bring a calming influence and an ethereal tranquility to proceedings and also give you the ability to step aside from the hectic lives we lead and the turmoil going on around us.

The beautiful, wistful and charming ‘Still’ by Glen Brielle is most definitely one of those albums and this is probably due to it being a lengthy labour of love from the main person behind the music, Hugh Carter. Founder member of Scottish ‘prog’ legends Abel Ganz, Hugh writes from the heart and is inspired mostly by personal experiences and nature around him. ‘Still’ is the resulting album from his personal journey. 

If you ever want to listen to a record that really emphasises that which you cannot hear along with the perfect space between the notes then you can’t go wrong with the charming beauty of ‘Still’, an utterly wondrous collection of tracks, or should I call it Hugh’s lifelong musical journey?

The calm, beatific mood of Dawn, accentuated by the lovely birdsong, Thatcher with it’s elegant flute and sparse, pared back feel and Hugh’s beguiling, faltered vocal open the album with a wistful, almost melancholic note and immediately bring a contemplative feel of longing. The gently plucked strings that herald Mr Valentine and the jaunty fiddle solo from Fiona Cuthill that adds mischief and intrigue to the song both touch on your heartstrings with an almost spiritual note. Thankful is a wonderful, heartfelt song that shows the benefits of simplicity and gorgeous vocals. The violin on Crowsley Park Wood brings a folky nostalgia with amazing atmospheric harmonics from the delightful harpist Pippa Reid-Foster. Hugh’s halting vocals give the songs serious gravitas, his performance is brilliant and leaves you waiting for every word. The Hammond organ part delivered by ex Abel Ganz band mate Jack Webb is just stunning and Hugh says that Jack just strode into the studio one one Saturday afternoon and “just knocked it dead in no time at all!”. On Heart Lies Hugh wanted to take it back to it’s original feel of acoustic guitar and cello, rather than the synth based arrangement which ended up on the Abel Ganz ‘Shooting Albatros’ album. Unfortunately he couldn’t get hold of original cellist Wendy Wetherby but as luck would have it an old cricketing colleague Hugh Bell suggested his wife Ruth Rowlands, a professional cellist with The RSNO and Scottish Opera. Ruth’s cello playing is consummately outstanding as she weaves a sense of wonder through Hugh’s delicate acoustic guitar to give us another beuatiful song that’s all about innocence and integrity.

The Cat That Played With the Wind is an engaging , guileless instrumental that seems to dance across your senses leaving little notes of wonder and lead perfectly into the twelve minute spectacle of Slumber Sweetly with its almost far-east opening. The song came about during lockdown when Hugh’s daughter, Bee, suggested writing a song together for which she wrote all the lyrics and sang beautifully. There’s a feel of early Abel Ganz to my mind about this impressive piece and it draws you into its warm embrace and you become fully immersed in its spiritual enlightenment. Bee’s sister even joins her to create a heavenly choir accompaniment in what Hugh calls, “a fit of crazed creativity.” When he started recording Slumber Sweetly Hugh had numerous attempts to do it myself, but no matter how I tried it just didn’t sound right. So eventually I decided the only way to get it to flow and sound good was to get a band together. So one weekend the “power trio” of Malky McNiven, Deepak Bahl and Denis Smith convened at The Audio Lounge to tackle Hugh’s meandering 12 minute love song and all three are utterly amazing. That eastern wonder returns tenfold on the mysteriously seductive The Cat That Walked By Herself, another entrancing instrumental and the nostalgic, mournful violin and acoustic guitar of Moving On is emotionally touching and gives a thoughtful sincerity to the album. And so we come to the end of the album with the serene tranquility of Dusk, a perfect ending to a particularly intimate musical release.

There’s a lifetime of reflection, understanding and wisdom that has gone into ‘Still’ and it has been a privilege to be invited to join Hugh on this musical journey, one that has been an utterly compelling soul searching experience, dear listener please admit this music into your soul.

Released November 26th, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

Still | Glen Brielle (bandcamp.com)

Review – Riverside – ID.Entity

Who are you in these strange times? Are you still yourself or have you started playing the role of someone else? Or maybe you’re living a double life and HERE you are someone completely different than THERE? Certainly, the concept of “Identity” is multifaceted and it would be impossible to fit all of its aspects in a 53-minute-long story. On their new album ‘ID.Entity’, Riverside are trying to answer some of these questions beginning with the one about… their own identity.

“Before we started working on the new album, I asked myself a few questions,” says Mariusz Duda, the leader of the band. “Some personal ones, some about the current times, but most of all, questions about the band, for instance, ‘What is our strongest suit?’ There were two answers: ‘Melodies and… live performances!’ ‘What is the most comfortable setting for Riverside?’ Again, the answer was pretty obvious: ‘the stage’. Ironically, we haven’t really spoilt our fans with live releases, so I thought perhaps it was time to record a studio album which would musically reflect the character and dynamic of our live shows. Especially that we really wanted to say goodbye to the decade of sadness and melancholy, which dominated our recent releases.”

So, that’s the publicity blurb about this stunning new album from Poland’s premier prog-metal band Riverside and, after the ‘sadness and melancholy’ of their previous three releases, ‘ID.Entity’ hoves into view like a welcome dose of lightness and fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, there is no such thing as even an average Riverside release (and ‘Love, Fear and the Time Machine’ is still my favourite release from the band) but the darkness and heartache felt since the tragic loss of original guitarist Piotr Grudziński has finally cleared and enabled the band to return with one of their most uplifting albums. It is still a cutting diatribe about lack of trust, social divisions, uncertainty, lies, propaganda and invigilation and a world full of anger and helplessness but there’s an upbeat drama to the music.

The album consists of seven cleverly woven tracks that detail Mariusz opening up to social problems: Big Techs, populists,conspiracy theories, hatred, greedy corporations causing the planet and the human nature to die at an accelerated speed. The opening track Friend or Foe is dominated by the sublime keyboards of Michał Łapaj, who gives the song a real 80’s feel that combines with the grinding riffs of Maciej Meller and Mariusz’s Morten Harket-esque vocals to create a darkly contorted version of a-ha lost in a time warp. It’s a magnificent track full of vigour and vitriol and gives a flying start to this sublime record. Landmine Blast is a wonderfully dynamic song where the guitar is central to proceedings, fiery and compelling with a uniquely edgy feel thanks to the vibrant drumming of Piotr Kozieradzki. The staccato beat adds a real sense of urgency and mystery to things and Mariusz lends a flowing vocal to add ebullience and energy, this is classic Riverside in the vein of ‘Anno Domini High Definition’. I know a lot of people are not convinced by the artificial voice that opens Big Tech Brother and, yes, it is a bit corny but it doesn’t spoil what is another powerfully compelling piece of music. The funky keyboards and pounding drums add focus before some mountain sized riffs deliver a primeval dominance to the song. Mariusz interjects a sense of calm with his elegant vocal delivery but this track is a dark leviathan at heart.

The Riverside of the class of ‘Shrine Of New Generation Slaves’ then deliver an authoritative demonstration of intent with the all-powerful techno-metal of the catchy Post-Truth. Another finely crafted piece of music that I found rapidly became a quite addictive listening experience that ebbs and flows with a life force all of its own, Maciej’s guitar playing on this track is just sublime. This album will rapidly become part of your life and on constant replay and one of the reasons for that is the utterly brilliant The Place Where I Belong, the longest track on the album and one where Mariusz is at his songwriting best. Thirteen minutes of compelling, spellbinding music that fascinates and enthrals you in a irresistible manner. Perfectly constructed, both musically and lyrically and delivered by musicians at the height of their considerable powers, it is a landmark song in a stellar career and has something for every Riverside fan.

Anarchic and in your face, I’m Done With You is a metaphorical sucker punch to the gut that grabs your attention with its electronic edginess and in your face attitude. Vibrant keyboards, forceful drums and rabid riffs combine with Mariusz angry vocal to deliver the most incendiary track on the album and one that leaves you edgy and restless. The helter-skelter fast-paced intensity and magnetism of the fantastic Self-Aware is almost something new from Riverside, more reminiscent of 90’s hard rock and grunge than the intellectual prog-metal usually associated with the band and I absolutely love it. A sign that the band have shed any self-imposed shackles and feel free to do whatever they want with no fear of repercussions, it’s melodic, upbeat and just a little bit in your face and I’d love to hear more of it. A new direction? Why not when it’s this good!

Riverside are a band who have always gone their own way and been proud to defy convention and after the dark melancholy and sadness of recent releases, the band have returned with a brightly shining beacon of light. ‘ID.Entity’ is a generally uplifting album that puts a huge smile on my face every time I hear it and one that, I’m sure, will still be lighting up people’s lives for years to come.

Released 20th January, 2023.

Order ‘ID.Entity’ here:

Riverside – ID.Entity (lnk.to)

Review – Shadows On Mercury – The Silence/The Flood

Shadows On Mercury is a Prog Rock studio project, based in West Yorkshire with Scott Owens, Charlie Bramald & Tim Lofthouse.

It all began during the Summer of 2020 whilst the world was in lockdown, prior to the formation of Scott’s current band, Ghost Of The Machine.

Unable to rehearse or play live, Scott began work in his home studio, writing and recording an album of demo tracks, that had been weaving their way around his head for months. 

After laying down the guitar and bass tracks, basic synths and drum programming, he asked his good friend Tim, from The Lowells, if he would like to put the keyboards and synths down for the project. Tim was onboard immediately, and his ideas and keyboard wizardry carried these songs, to another level completely.

After a few months of fine tuning the tracks, Scott knew he needed a vocalist/lyricist to complete his vision for this project. Enter Charlie, lead singer, and Scott’s bandmate in Ghost Of The Machine. Charlie instantly gripped the direction Scott wanted to go with the music, and crafted stunning lyrics that brought both the music and concept of the project to life.

The two tracks, The Silence and The Flood, are the results. The plan is to release a few more songs throughout the year, but Scott’s main priority is getting the 2nd Ghost album completed.

Now, as most of you know, I’m not one for reviewing single tracks but the strength of these two songs, and the fact that they are from the core of one of my favourite new bands of recent years, made me change my mind for once…

Charlie had this to say about The Silence, “I wrote the lyrics to The Silence based around the idea that the human race is utterly complacent about the end of the world. Nobody wants to talk about it, think about it, deal with it… as a population we’re avoiding grappling with those big concepts and questions. It’s much more comfortable to keep our attentions trained on trivial and more immediate concerns. I imagined it staying that way right up to the point that the sky is falling in above us! No panic, just… silence. Will we get what we deserve?”

Wow, what a track, the music is a perfect accompaniment to Charlie’s meaningful lyrics, it’s a dark, brooding song full of a pensive and thoughtful quality. The vocals have a musing and contemplative touch and Tim’s elegant keys and synthesisers add a questioning feel. It’s totally different to what the guys deliver in Ghost Of The Machine, more an elegant rock vibe than the harder edge progressive rock of GOTM and the amazing interplay between Scott’s guitar and Tim’s keyboards that closes out the track has to be heard to be believed, an utter monster of a track!

The Flood is a reflection on struggling to process the guilt that led to a heartbreak, infused with bitterness and the destructive imagery of water – a recurring theme in this EP.”, says Charlie, “This person is succumbing to the flood of negative emotions but clearly they have played their own part in what happened. Perhaps with a degree more self-acceptance they’ll be able to tread water, or even reach dry land.”

The Flood is almost balladesque in its feel, a heartfelt piece of music with a wistful and sombre touch. The floating, ethereal synths work perfectly in unison with Charlie’s passionate and ardent vocal delivery. Tim’s brilliant keyboards blend some Neo-prog with Scott’s expressive & profound guitar playing. It’s a beautiful track that took me back to the heydays of sumptuous and insightful songwriting and music that actually had meaning.

On the strength of these two tracks, Shadows On Mercury have a very bright future in front of them, this is music of the very highest quality and I cannot wait to hear more!

You can pre-save The Silence here ahead of it’s 13th January, 2023 release:

The Silence by Shadows On Mercury – DistroKid

More information coming soon!

2022 Progradar’s Best Of The Year – John Wenlock-Smith’s Top 20

Yesterday saw the editor’s top twenty albums of 2022, today we see what made respected contributor John Wenlock-Smith’s list….

John says, “It’s been a great year for music, especially prog, with many fine releases from established and also newer acts. Here are twenty that really struck a chord with me, in no particular order but all worthy of inspection and consideration.”

D’VIRGILIO, MORSE, JENNINGS – TROIKA

In which well known prog aficionados beguile us with their inner CSN&Y. It’s all acoustically in the main but a very strong collection of songs that must warrant a second visit – here’s hoping so at least!

Hats of Gentlemen It’s Adequate – The Confidence Trick 

A wonderful and diverse set of songs around the concept that we are being led by arrogant fools whose overconfidence is actually severely dangerous, examples being Trump, Johnson and, more recently, Liz Truss whose overconfidence nearly destroyed any chance of economic growth.

Stuckfish – Days of Innocence 

A simply marvellous album that impressed many with its thoughtful lyrics and excellent music.

SiX By SiX – Self Titled

A bit of Saga, a bit of Saxon, add Robert Berry’s muscular bass and you have a blistering rock album with very progressive elements and leanings. Again this one impressed greatly.

Kaipa – Urskog

The long established Swedish folk-proggers delivered a truly graceful album with several epics and more than a touch of vintage Yes, a great set of songs.

Derek Sherinian – Vortex 

In which the ex-Dream Theater keyboard man delivers a captivating, electric set of tracks supported by several big name friends including Steve Stevens, Nuno Bettencourt, Bumblefoot and Joe Bonamassa, to name a few. Blistering in parts and excellent overall.

The Mighty Ra – All Secrets Known 

A new band of mainly Welsh prog musicians who began writing together with this rather fine album being the result. An excellent new album with great promise.

Verbal Delirium – Conundrum

This was new to me but what a find! A very classy album with a great vocalist, strong songs and great playing from all, definitely one to discover.

Arc Of Life – Don’t Look Down

The second album from Yes spin off Arc of Life. Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood delivering the album that Yes maybe should have. Epics like Real Time World and Arc of Life were standout tracks in an album of importance and strength.

The Bardic Depths – Promises Of Hope

Literature loving progressive band deliver a fine second album about suicide via a fictional tale of a suicidal queen whose death is prevented by the Gods. Enthralling and with many guests in tow.

Tribe of Names – Evolver 

Evolutionary album from ex-Tinyfish man Simon Godfrey & colleagues that sees them stretching their legs musically. There’s a welcome strong Rush influence throughout and its a superb album overall. 

Phi Yaan Zek – Interdimensional Garden Party

This very strange but satisfying album occupies a realm the sadly departed and much missed Frank Zappa would have graced with its blend of instrumentals and strong songs. Wonderful weirdness is obligatory with such stunning tracks as Wickety Wickety being enough to make anyone smile. A seriously good album that warrants investigation.

John Holden – Kintsugi 

John lives close to me and he delivers a strong fourth album of various pieces with a stellar assembly of guests, a highly varied and ultimately satisfying and enjoyable album.

Pattern Seeking Animals – Only Passing Through

This is the third album from Spock’s Beard writer and contributor John Boegehold. With excellent support from existing members of the band, strong songs and catchy hooks abound.

Red Bazar- Inverted Reality 

Another unexpected pleasure with a harder edged sound and excellent vocals from Peter Jones, this was very welcome indeed.

Dave Brons – Return to Arda 

Simply divine and beautifully melodic Celtic-tinged music from Dave Brons and friends with a concentration on melody with moments of shredding brilliance. Totally sublime and utterly captivating. 

Ghost Of The Machine – Scissorgames

A triumphant debut from ex-This Winter Machine men who, along with sublime vocalist Charlie Bramald, fuse melody and muscle in a devastating combination. Truly awesome, well received by many and rightly so too!

Clive Mitten – Tales From A Misspent Youth Volume 1

Entirely orchestral versions of songs that inspired Clive whilst growing up. His take on key songs from Pink Floyd, Genesis, Supertramp and Rush really are a must to hear. How he brings out hitherto hidden beauties to much loved pieces is gorgeous.

Evership – The Uncrowned King Act 2

The final part of the tale is a sobering statement of intent from fine US proggers Evership and the additional vocals from Saga’s Michael Sadler impress greatly.

David Longdon – Door One

Posthumously released after David’s unexpected death in 2021, this telling collection reveals his continued evolution as a writer and, whilst short, this bittersweet album reminds us of of the great man we lost last year.

So, there you have it, that’s it for 2022 from John and myself, see you on the other side…

2022 Progradar’s Best Of The Year – The Editor’s Top 20

Your intrepid editor running a 24 hour event earlier in 2022.

As most of you know I am a very committed runner so the above picture is really my personal running highlight of 2022 (a 24 hour running event) but below you will find my top 20 albums of the year for 2022.

The first fifteen are in no particular order, they are just brilliant albums that I really enjoyed throughout the year but the final five are my definitive favourites of the year. So, without further ado, here we go…

David Longdon – Door One

A wonderful collection of songs that made a fitting and poignant epitaph for an amazing songwriter, musician and, above all, a wonderful man. I was lucky enough to meet David a few times and he was the least likely ‘rock star’ you could ever meet but, boy, what a voice and this album was the culmination of his musical career. One that was tragically cut too short.

Gandalf’s Fist – Widdershins

The ‘Clockwork Saga’ will always be seen as a monumental piece of work but, as a stand-alone release, ‘Widdershins’ sees Gandalf’s Fist at their absolute vibrant and dynamic best, every musician giving 100% and, while I’ve always been a fan of this very distinctive band, this new release sees them hitting an entirely new level.

Avandra – Prodigal

AVANDRA have created a thrilling and compelling take on the progressive-metal genre and one that is delivered with not a little expertise and finesse. ‘Prodigal’ is one of those intricate and influential albums that takes some understanding at first but when you peel back the final layer of this epic behemoth, it is a wonder to behold.

The Opening Song – Hidden Walls

Imagine music written like a classic novel of the 20’s and 30’s, there’s a wide eyed and wistful innocence that you just don’t get anymore in the world but behind that innocence, there’s also a world weary knowledge that the world isn’t always what you think it is or what you want it to be. ‘Hidden Walls’ is achingly beautiful but also wistfully painful at the same time. It’s made me quite emotional and that’s a rare thing but, isn’t what what music should do?

Comedy of Errors – Time Machine

After a long five year absence, ‘Time Machine’ is a fine return from one of progressive rock’s premier artists and an album that I am constantly revisiting. Cementing Comedy of Errors‘ status as one of the foremost artists in the genre, it is sure to be one of 2022’s most welcome releases.

Esthesis – Watching Worlds Collide

An object lesson in combining the stylish sensibilities of smokey jazz grooves with an almost 50’s noir film score to deliver a slick musical experience, all wrapped up in a sharp suit. Overall, ‘Watching Worlds Collide’ is a seriously good album with tons of Gallic flair, intelligence and inventiveness, it is also the coolest thing you are going to hear this year and I love it!

The Round Window – self-titled

A high quality release with wonderfully emotive songs and superb musicianship, this self-titled album may be The Round Window’s debut release but it shows a group of musicians who are already playing at a very high level and have creativity to burn. I can’t recommend it highly enough, this should be in everyone’s music collection…

Oak – The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise

Oak have a unique, innovative sound and you can hear it mature and transform on every album they release. Their approach to music is refreshing and sees them deliver meaningful music that has heart and soul and, with ‘The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise’, these talented musicians have created their most accomplished and consummate work yet.

Glass Hammer – At The Gate

Melodic, symphonic and, at times, monumentally heavy, ‘At The Gate’ is a superb, majestic leviathan of an album that enhances the band’s legacy as masters of the genre. This final instalment in the impressive trilogy brings things to a triumphant and proudly pompous conclusion, this is Glass Hammer at their finest, hugely expressive and sonically brilliant.

Threshold – Dividing Lines

For fans of the band it’s been a long five years since ‘Legends Of The Shires’ but when they return with an album as strong as ‘Dividing Lines’, you could say it has been worth the wait. Threshold are one of the pre-eminent proponents of prog-metal performing today and this fantastic new release has cemented their position right at the top of this particular musical tree.

VLMV – Sing With Abandon

There are times when you hear a piece of music that leaves you open mouthed in appreciation and, when I first heard ‘Sing With Abandon’ I was utterly stunned. Albums like this are more than mere music, they pervade your very soul, take over your life and almost bring you to tears at their beauty. VLMV have created something so good that it almost becomes a state of mind and I thank Pete Lambrou from the bottom of my heart for doing so.

Dim Gray – Firmament

I was seriously impressed with Dim Gray’s debut release ‘Flown’ but the last forty five minutes has shown me that this band have elevated themselves to another level entirely. ‘Firmament’ is a magnificent achievement, twelve songs that ebb and flow superbly and sum up perfectly what music is truly about. These three truly inspiring musicians have created something that is prime and organic, their music can get under your skin and influence your very moods and my life would truly be a much sadder place without it!

Ghost Of The Machine – Scissorgames

This superb album was reviewed for Progradar by my good friend Leo Trimming and I have to agree with every single one of his words:

Scissor Games‘ is a remarkable debut album. It clearly owes so much to earlier eras of Prog Rock but when it is done with this sheer amount of brio and skill, allied with powerful, impactful lyrics, then it is entirely valid and worthy as a piece of music and art. Many Prog fans will absolutely fall in love the style and emotional content of ‘Scissor Games‘ which will very probably be rightfully be regarded as one of the best debut progressive rock albums of 2022.

Gustaf Ljunggren with Skúli Sverrisson – Floreana

Philosophical and meditative, ‘Floreana’ will leave you in place of utter calm and leave you ruminating on life, the universe and just about everything. It’s as much about the spaces between the notes as the notes themselves and the state of mind that your are left in. To me, it is one of the surprises of the year so far and an album that I implore you to listen to at least once, trust me, it will be worth it…

Omega Point – A Great Escape

Matt Cohen has brought together a stellar group of musicians and, in Omega Point, created a powerful musical statement, close-knit and cohesive. ‘A Great Escape’ is another fantastic addition to the ranks of accomplished new releases we have already been lucky enough to hear in 2022 and can proudly hold its head high along with the best of them. Let’s hope this is just the start of things to come!

So that’s fifteen of the best albums I’ve heard in 2022 and they all rightly deserve a place in this review but now for the top five…

In fifth place:

Bjørn Riis – Everything to Everyone

Music can make a world that seems to be falling into monochrome light up and be revitalised with blazes of colour and vitality and this wondrous new album from musical maestro Bjørn Riis brings all that and more. Power, soul and grace are infused throughout its six tracks and combine to make it one of the outstanding releases of 2022 so far.

Fourth place was taken by:

The Tangent – Songs From The Hard Shoulder

‘Songs From The Hard Shoulder’ is just a wonderful piece of work, The Tangent at their brilliant best. People need some cheer in the world and music has the power to lift people, after just one listen to this amazing album I was smiling again. Andy and the band could just have released their most important record yet…

Now on to the top three, starting with:

cosmograf – Heroic Materials

The sumptuous, questioning ‘Heroic Materials’ is undeniably brilliant. Robin has laid his heart and soul, his whole being in fact, down as music. Emotive, melancholy at times, this record is a story and history at the same time. A plea for the future of the planet it may be but, above all, it is an immersive artistic triumph and one of the best releases of recent years.

And, as hard as I tried,I couldn’t split the final two so we have joint winners of my album of the year and I’m listing them arbitrarily by release date:

Joint First Album of the YearMarillion – An Hour Before it’s Dark

I have been a fan of Marillion for over three decades and, in a career of superlatives, ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’ can truly be seen as one of their most accomplished albums. It is an outstanding piece of music that the band should be incredibly proud of and, even though we are only in February, it will take something amazing to knock it off the top of my album of the year list.

Joint First Album of the Year – Galahad – The Last Great Adventurer

When music is as good as this and touches you in a very personal manner, it can’t really get any better. In my opinion Galahad have returned with what can only be described as a modern progressive masterpiece and one that will stand the test of time and should be remembered as being one of the best albums of recent years. It’s my joint first album of the year and I really can’t give it any higher praise than that.

So, in a year of high quality releases, this is my definitive top twenty, a collection of superb albums that would grace anyone’s music collection, tomorrow will see Progradar’s respected contributor John Wenlock-Smith’s top 20 albums and I am already looking forward to what 2023 will bring…

Review – Gleb Kolyadin – the Outland

Russian virtuoso pianist, composer and arranger Gleb Kolyadin is perhaps more well know for being part of iamthemorning with Marjana Semkina but he has also released some impressive solo works and ‘the Outland’ is his latest.

Gleb describes the creation and themes of the album thus, “Its main outlines were formed during the covid isolation in 2020, but they are still relevant now. In all the madness that is happening on the planet, it is sometimes critically important to create your own world, to find the spirit of a hermit in yourself in order to look at what is happening from the outside with a different understanding. This is Outland – a world within a world, assembled from disparate fragments.”

The album is described as, “a six-movement symphonic suite (of course, in a prog/jazz-rock vein).” and Gavin Harrison (drums) and Vlad Avy (acoustic guitars, electric guitars) complete the ensemble, although there are some other very fine musicians who contribute, such as Tony Levin, Tim Lefebvre and Zoltan Renaldi.

This release is a fine collection of intricate musical pieces that all combine together to create a beautiful whole. There is a feeling of calm and sophistication that runs throughout the brief forty-one minute running time. Gleb’s elegant piano is key to everything here, although the stylish and refined drumming of Gavin Harrison is a huge contributor to the overall welcoming vibe of this album.

The ten minute wonder of opening track Voyager sets the scene perfectly, this is classical music for the those who appreciate something with more modern and experimental feel, which is exacerbated by the rather wonderful Ascension with its wistful and ethereal rise and fall created by the amazing clarinet. Cascades is a very moving solo piano piece that leaves a trail on your heartstrings and Mercurial is a more strident and direct track that builds and builds into something rather special that dances across the ether in a rather magical fashion. Apparatus has a proper 1980’s instrumental vibe to it, well to my ears anyway, it’s urgent, yet melodic, tone is captivating and draws you along as a willing participant. This all too short inspiring musical journey is brought to a close by the elegant notes of Hermitage, a charmingly bewitching way to bring things to a satisfying conclusion.

In a world where dark seems to be inexorably striving to push out the light, musical gems like ‘the Outland’ are a beacon of light in the darkness and show that music can heal that which is broken and, above all, music is life affirming.

Released 4th, November, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

the Outland | Gleb Kolyadin (bandcamp.com)




Review – Damanek – Making Shore – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Making Shore’ will lift your spirits from any post new year blues that you might be troubled with, for this album is simply glorious. Well, it’s been a long time in is its realisation and, finally, the third Damanek album is nearly upon us. It will physically be released on the 13th of January 2023 and I can envisage big success for the band with this fantastic collection of songs, eight in total, in two distinct sections. Part one has seven songs of middling length and with various themes, part two is one thirty minute epic, consisting of five parts, which is an exploration of alternative realities and time travel.

The band consists of a core unit of Guy Manning (lots of keys, lots of acoustic instruments (guitar, mandolin, bouzouki), percussion and vocals), Marek Arnold (saxophone, keyboard) along with Sean Timms (keyboards, vocals, percussion, mixing and production duties). They are aided by a veritable who’s who of modern Neo-Prog. These include half of Southern Empire, that’s Cam Blokland on guitar and Brody Green on drums, also present are Ralf Dietsch of Cyril, Jonathan Barrett (ex The Tangent bass player), Riley Nixon-Burns (trumpet) and Linda Pirie on flute and piccolo.

Together these folks make truly special and spacious music that has a familiar feel alongside new sounds and textures. The music is rich and lush with melody woven strongly throughout. It is an album that will draw you into its orbit and will give you a satisfying musical journey that will take you from Mount Everest through the Great Barrier Reef , an American heartland and finally on a journey into a world of memories, hopes and desires. All are to be discovered within it tracks so buckle up for the ride of the month if not the year, such is the strength and stature of this album.

The albums first track is A Mountain Of Sky, a song about that most famous of summits, Everest. The sound is very clever in that it captures and conveys Tibetan sounds and is very evocative of that area, the song has a driving beat and rhythm to it and is as epic as the mountain itself, with a strong chorus and some strong guitar lines woven within its running time. The soundscape is everything you could want from Damanek making this epic track a superb statement of intent and it bodes very well for the rest of the album. The ethnic feeling percussion, woven with the expressive sax work of Marek Arnold, is a joy to hear and means this song really has a swing and a groove to it, even the cod reggae section works well. There is so much to enjoy before the song ends on a graceful guitar break, simply a brilliant opening to the album, it’s fabulous stuff. Back2Back is about how humanity has pushed the world into a difficult situation regarding the climate of the earth and its repercussions for us. There are very thought provoking lyrics within this song and there is also a further fantastic guitar solo. Noon Day Candles is a plea for a fairer share for all and contrasts our scientific and technological achievements with our unwillingness and inability to feed the worlds children. This is a very fine song and whilst it’s words are earnest and challenging the music is well balanced with the questions and pleas the song asks and raises.

This album is proving to be challenging in its subject matter and lyrics, never a bad thing in my opinion, it is good to have to think about these issues. Americana is a song about a fictitious American farm in the heartlands that is struggling with the demands of the present age, climate Change and poverty. Farming is not easy as anyone who has watched Clarkson’s Farm can attest, the song is short and direct.

There are then two songs of the sea interrupted by a song about dementia, In Deep Blue (Sea Songs Pt.1) is a very personal one for Guy as it about his youngest son who, despite having Asperger’s, decided whilst on holiday in Greece to go scuba diving. This song is Guys musings on his bravery and determination to have a go at it. He managed to accomplish his goal and this made Guy very proud of his son’s achievements. Reflections On Copper is a more sobering song, focusing as it does on the increasing number of people who are being affected by, and living with, dementia. Dementia is a cruel illness and disease that can take many forms, I personally am affected by vascular dementia as the result of a stroke meaning my neural pathways have been damaged by the stroke and whilst that dementia is mild at the present time, it may not stay that way, only time will tell so the sentiments expressed are certainly relevant to my own life. Crown of Thorns (Sea Songs Pt.2) is about how the Great Barrier Reef is being affected and how, again, climate change is affecting the balance with an increase in the Crown Of Thorns starfish who normally eat that faster growing coral which gives slower growing species an opportunity to catch up. Climate change has affected this though as the coral eating starfish have increased in outbreak proportions. This song concludes the first half of the album

The second section is the multi part Oculus, split into an overture and four acts. This is a very interesting and somewhat difficult song to digest but is best heard as a complete track (about thirty minutes in total). The song is about alternate dimensions and realities. This is a most interesting concept and this piece reflects that curiosity in a very well balanced manner. It is also a cautionary tale in that we can hear a warning that we perhaps need to heed and to consider. Of the four acts One is the scene setting, Two is the adventure, Three is the consequences of the action and, finally, Four is the redemption and return to normality. The song is epic and the story is illuminating and yet cautionary at the same time. The music in all acts is subtle and exciting and the piece ends with urgent horns and a dazzling guitar solo that bring it all together in a gracefully and satisfying manner with a well executed door slam to conclude proceedings.

This album has so much to commend it, great subject matter, challenging & thoughtful lyrics and superb & inspired playing. It certainly is a winner to these ears, a sublime, intelligent and articulate work of art, I urge, nae demand, you to pay attention and add it to your listening pleasure.

Released 13th January, 2023.

Order from GEP here:

Damanek – Making Shore – Pre-Sale – GEP

Further information can be found at the band’s website here:

DAMANEK – the official website (guymanning.com)