Dreaming Madmen is a Progressive Rock duo formed by two Lebanese brothers Mathew & Christopher Aboujaoude in their home studio in their hometown Deir El Harf, Lebanon and based in Austin, TX.
They began their musical careers at the young ages of 7 and 9. Mathew starting out with keyboards, then picking up the electric guitar at the age 9, and playing bass guitar as well. Christopher starting out with saxophone at the age of 9, bass & drums at the age of 14, and moving on to keyboards as well, at a later stage.
They are greatly influenced by Pink Floyd, Rush, Yes, Porcupine Tree, King Crimson and the band’s sound revolves around the Progressive Rock/Progressive Metal/Art Rock milieu.
The band released its debut LP ‘Ashes of a Diary’ on September 14, 2019. It is a concept album that delves into the psyche of an elderly man, who discovers an old journal of his, filled with writings detailing a life of pain, obsession, love, hatred and regret.
If you like your progressive rock in a mesmerising and hypnotic style then you need look no further than these hugely talented brothers. Scintillating guitar work abounds throughout the album with solos reminiscent of the great David Gilmour but they are part of the structure of the music which is intelligent and thought provoking.
The wonderful, dreamlike music leaves tendrils of perception touching your mind as the elegant guitar and keyboard solos trace a creative path across your soul. There’s a pleading, plaintive quality to the soulful vocals that take you on this often harrowing journey.
Stand out tracks like Your Possessor and the gently drifting Lock Thyself have a surreal and hypnagogic quality that leaves a lasting impression on you even as they fade away. The heavier soul of Enigma drives along with irrepressible force, keyboards and guitar firing away in unison and the album closes with the best Porcupine Tree track that Steven Wilson never wrote. Final Page is utterly captivating, the vocals heart-wrenchingly beautiful in their delivery and epitomising the fantastic songwriting skills that Mathew and Christopher have. The guitar solo is delightfully exquisite and had me in raptures, as elegant and graceful as they come.
I can’t be effusive enough about how good this album really is, for a debut release it is pretty astounding. The highest praise I can give it is that I’m pretty sure that Mr Wilson himself would have been happy to have released it. Beguiling and enthralling, ‘Ashes Of A Diary’ sees Dreaming Madmen enter the scene on an absolute high.
‘Rarely are new groups as exciting, talented or unique as Exploring Birdsong, the piano-led guitarless trio from Liverpool who have announced their signing to German independent label Long Branch Records.
Having recently graduated from Liverpool’s Institute of Performing Arts, the young group have already caught the eyes Prog Magazine, Kerrang! Magazine, Kerrang! Radio and Classic Rock Magazine as well as achieved two Progressive Music Awards nominations in 2019. Having only released two singles at this point, Exploring Birdsong have been hand-picked to support Sleep Token, toured with proggers Godsticks, caught the attention of Florence and the Machine, and performed at HRH Prog. Unplaceable for the most part, the band bring to mind elements of Steven Wilson, Kate Bush, Rush, Sleep Token, and Agent Fresco.
The young trio are comprised of drummer Matt Harrison, bassist and keyboardist Jonny Knight (capable of playing both instruments simultaneously), and topped by keyboardist and vocalist Lynsey Ward‘s stunning, otherworldly vocals.’
Some mighty impressive PR writing there but, having seen and spoken to this talented trio at HRH Prog in 2018, I know there is some substance to the claims.
The EP is broadly speaking a concept release, centred on the Seamus Heaney poem ‘Bye Child’ and the story of Kevin Halfpenny, one of the most bizarre cases of child cruelty ever recorded. This is mirrored in the EP title and cover art, with broken backbones becoming broken wings. The title itself also references Emily Dickinson’s “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers” poem, which itself is a call-back to the music found within. Good and evil are never too far from each other and you may never really fully be able to have one without the other.
These three met at University and started writing some of the material on the EP not long after and a direct result of that is a massive feeling of maturity to the music, a profundity you hear running throughout tracks such as The River and The Baptism.
There is power and deep emotion in the music, given release by the expert playing of Matt and Jonny, the keyboards and drums syncing perfectly to produce a veritable wall of sound on the more compelling pieces and yet being exquisitely ethereal and sublime where needed.
Lynsey’s vocals are utterly captivating, she has a voice that is porcelain smooth and yet seems to have endless depths of emotion, passion and empathy, almost operatic in places. You can just lose yourself to the enveloping welcoming embrace and warmth of songs like the incredibly elegant The Downpour.
‘The Thing With Feathers‘ is an utterly absorbing twenty-one minutes of music and delivers an undoubted new talent onto the music scene. Serene and graceful yet with a deep intelligence running throughout, I haven’t been this excited about a new artist in a very, very long time.
“Music is life itself. What would this world be without good music? No matter what kind it is.” – Louis Armstrong.
Sage words from the great Satchmo himself, music is the most life affirming thing there is, it can console you when you are sad and lift you up to the heavens when you are happy, it compliments your moods and makes the world a better place to live in.
French musician Franck Carducci creates music that puts a huge smile on your face, it rocks and it rolls with passion, intensity and not a little humour and The Franck Carducci Band are one of the most incredible propositions in a live setting.
I got to know Franck from his second album, the fantastic Torn Apart, and have been eagerly awaiting the follow up for a few years now.
Finally, here is The Answer and I have been privileged to have this release as my musical companion for quite a while now so do feel I am duly qualified to give my impressions
The CD contains six tracks along with four bonus cuts and sets a fire up your derriere from the first song to the last…
The album opens with Franck in his classic rock persona on the lengthy (Love is) The Answer, like Led Zeppelin got lost in the studio and gatecrashed a Yes recording session. Eight minutes of swirling Hammond organ and mellotron from Olivier Castan combined with some dextrous guitar playing and even some Didgeridoo (yes you read that right!) to leave you with a big slice of pomp and circumstance done in the inimitable way that only Franck can do.
Slave To Rock and Roll is a fantastic hard rock track that puts a huge grin on your face, Christophe Obadia and Steve Marsala trading funky riffs around that ever so cool Hammond sound with Franck’s great vocals aided and abetted by Mary Reynaud’s silken backing. Everything is held together by the powerhouse drumming of Antonino Reina and the wonderful bass from the master himself, throw in a superb solo and it’s damn near perfect.
You, dear listener, then get treated to two songs that can only be described as progressive rock but prog rock that has that particular Carducci tinge to it. Superstar is as 70’s prog as they come, wondrous stories being weaved before your very eyes with Mary’s silken vocals adding an almost elfin feel to things. Wistful and yet with a knowing look as it opens up into something much more compelling and dynamic, an absolute aural treat. The After Effect is much more direct and vibrant, a ying to the previous track’s yang if you like, and feels like a hell for leather, breakneck ride at times (a hugely enjoyable one though!). I get the distinct feeling that the band are having an absolute blast while making this album, the energy and vitality are palpable.
A beautiful piano led composition, The Game of Life lets everyone take a breather after the brilliantly hectic start. Richard Vecchi‘s ivory tinkling and the elegant trumpet playing of Thierry Seneau add to the composed vocal performance that Franck delivers to give a song that oozes class and style.
This album is sounding like Franck has taken Led Zeppelin and Gentle Giant and thrown a bit of Genesis and Jimi Hendrix in the mix too and that is rubber stamped by the brilliant Asylum, a fantastic eleven minutes of progressive rock, hard rock, funk and soul that rocks like a b*tch from beginning to end with the excellent Jimmy Pallagrosi (drums) and Fabrice Dutour (guitar) adding their undoubted chops to the mix. It seriously doesn’t get better than this!
The four bonus track add to the already impressive six songs that make up the main body of this release. The Road to Nowhere is an acoustic sing-along that will undoubtedly become a live favourite and Beautiful Night is a wistful, nostalgic tune that will see the lighters (or mobile phones) come out at live shows. The album then closes out with radio cuts of the first two tracks that end everything rather nicely.
The Answer leaves a huge grin on my face, a highly enjoyable cornucopia of musical delights taking you on an amazing journey through 70’s progressive rock, hard rock, funk and pure rock and roll. Containing some utter Carducci gems, this album just keeps getting better and better with every listen and is by far Franck’s most cohesive and impressive work yet.
It’s not often that I am gobsmacked by a new release but the new album from no-man, the Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness project, left me quite a bit dumb-founded on first listen.
Like some strange symbiosis of 80’s pop, 90’s dance music and noughties prog, Love You To Bits wasn’t what I was expecting from prog’s standard bearer – Wilson – and the master of cool – Bowness…
The new album, the first studio release in eleven years consists of two connected five-part pieces (Love You To Bits and Love You To Pieces), was twenty-five years in the making and lyrically chronicles the aftermath of a relationship from different perspectives.
Adam Holzman, David Kollar, Ash Soan, Pete Morgan and the Dave Desmond Brass Quintet guest. Produced by no-man, the album was mixed by Bruno Ellingham and mastered by Matt Colton.
Steven Wilson has been very successful at re-inventing progressive rock over recent years and, with his long-term partner in crime Mr Bowness, it appears that they have decided to re-invent what would be considered ‘pop’ music to most ears.
And, to my utmost astonishment, it actually bloody works (I make no apologies for the expletive, I was that surprised!). Using the velvety, comforting tones of Tim’s excellent vocals over an EDM/electronica inspired back-beat is just genius. There’s a vibrancy that is absent from a lot of today’s music, be it pop, progressive or whatever, it just leaves a huge grin on my face.
This inventive and entertaining album never fails to surprise at every turn with elements of pulsating fusion and a wistful and poignant ambience interspersed with crashing guitars and edgy drumbeats.
I have no idea what Steven and Tim were on when they came up with the idea for this pulsating masterpiece but, by golly, can they please give some to the rest of what is becoming a very moribund music scene.
Love You To Bits is a utterly fascinating and overwhelmingly entertaining musical adventure with superb dynamism and a diversity rarely seen in the strictures of conventional music.
Just do yourselves a favour and go and buy it, you will not regret it!
What exactly is ‘A
Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’?
According to Wikipedia (and who could doubt that source of information!) ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ is a website created by John Koenig that defines neologisms (that’s new words and phrases to you and me) which are designed to define emotions for which we do not yet have a descriptive term. When you hear this new album by Nova Cascade you can sense why they might decide to use that phrase to name their album. Previously describing themselves as ‘Ambient Progressive Rock’, on their promising but minimalist debut album Above All Else, Nova Cascade have developed that blueprint further with more defined pieces. but there is still an overriding sense of fragility and dreamlike visions which are hard to define.
Nova Cascade have now moved on from their peculiar origins in an online gaming chatroom out of which artists shared musical ideas, and now present a more fully formed and mature album. The sparse, organic feel which characterised ‘Above All Else’ now gives way to a more lush and layered approach but at heart they retain their more ambient and impressionistic style, with some echoes of later Talk Talk. The gorgeous cover artwork by Charlie Bramald places us in a warm, shimmering and comfortable candle-lit library, and the music conveys a sense we are sat in the glow of candle light as we hear these lush sounds which contain contrasting stories of light and darkness.
Dave Hilborne appears to lead this project with his distinctive light, breathy vocalisation and subtle synth laden soundscapes, such as the opening instrumental Unwavering. There is also a slightly harder edge on some songs, such as the bitter Rabbit Hole (with echoes of later Peter Gabriel) which features quite a percussive programmed edge and pointed lines about deceit:
‘This illusion you expertly weave,
Let’s take a trip to the far side,
Descend in a rabbit hole of deceit.’
However, even such perspectives are coated in fairly lush production with no sharp edges. Echo and Narcissus flows languidly in on a bed of keyboards and softly programmed percussion. Hilborne’s delicate vocals reflect the disappearing fragility of the legendary Echo as she wasted away until only her voice remained. Once again rather tortured lyrics are conveyed in swathes of restrained, rather gentle instrumentation, particularly the evocative violin of Eric Bouillette. Such agony rarely sounded so delicate:
And, oh, that stench in the air is your hate
Just leave me be with what’s left of my fractured soul
Nova Cascade seem to like touching on sinister or negative subjects in rather pastoral ways, such as the instrumental Apophis, which may refer to an Egyptian Pharaoh or an ancient Egyptian ‘chaotic being’ until you read the sleeves and note one small line: ‘All Eyes to the Sky in 2029…’ a quick internet search reveals that Apophis is a sizeable ‘near Earth’ Asteroid that in 2004 was thought to have a distinct possibility of striking Earth catastrophically in 2029. Readers will be pleased to hear that after re-calculations this possibility has now been deemed Zero! Nevertheless, it gives Nova Cascade the excuse to compose a suitably spacey soundscape, enhanced by Charlie Bramald’s stellar flute, which is then transformed with some more ominous synth throbs before floating off in to space again.
In contrast the nostalgic Plasticine and Paint touchingly conjures up idyllic visions and memories of childhood with Bramald’s subtle flute underlining the sense of pastoral reminiscence in a rather beautiful piece. In their previous album ‘Above All Else’ there was a sense of it being a rather ‘home made’ or even a ‘demo’ type album, which it’s organic and intuitive approach to capturing sound enhanced. Nova Cascade seem to have moved on from that rather lo-fi or sparse feel but have not lost that essence of fragility and dream like quality.
The centrepiece to the whole album is the decidedly more ambitious extended instrumental ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ which features the Blue Man Group drummer David Anania (indeed the album sound overall would have benefited from more use of a live drummer than programmed percussion.) It is interesting that in the sleeve notes in relation to this song Dave Hilborne has quoted a few ‘neologisms’ for hard to describe feelings, presumably from the aforementioned Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, including:
‘Sonder’ – The realization that each random
passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own
‘Kenopsia’ – The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a
place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet
Not only are those great new words I will try to use in the right context in future, but somehow the music in this imaginative and evocative piece of work conveys those intangible and almost impossible to define feelings. Hilborne paints the main canvas on keyboards alongside the ever present deft bassist Dave Fick, especially in the second half when Anania’s drums have more impact. Eric Bouillette chimes in with a subtle Steve Rothery like guitar solo in the closing stages in the most ‘progressive’ track on the album.
Nova Cascade quote the now sadly deceased Mark Hollis of Talk Talk in their sleeve notes;:
‘Before you play two notes, learn how to play one note,
y’know? And don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it’.
Such a quote tells us where Nova Cascade are coming from, and conveys their philosophy in where they want to go. This album is certainly no ‘Spirit of Eden’ by Talk Talk (and to be fair what else is? – it’s an all time classic!) but you can tell that would have been an influence, especially in the vocals. Guitars, piano, bass and guitars weave together melodically. There are times when it is beguiling and beautiful – there are other times for this listener when I just want something a little more of substance to hold on to as you drift in an ocean of ethereal , vague subtlety. Nevertheless, ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ is certainly a very significant step up from ‘Above All Else’ . This album would appeal to lovers of delicate, ambient soundscapes and softly pastoral sounds and images, and I have a sense that the ethereal and talented Nova Cascade will show even more development of their distinctive sound and style in the future…
… now I just need to find a word that can convey that hard to define that feeling?
Afenginn, which means “intoxication and strength” in old norse, is Danish composer and musician, Kim Rafael Nyberg, one of the leading neo-folk, post-classical voices in Scandinavia.
Having toured all over Europe, Australia and the US and performed at numerous festivals, concert halls and venues, Nyberg’s deeply ambitious, orchestrated compositions are based on his seemingly mercurial creative impulses with a strong DIY underpinning, with each of his previous bodies of work being a clear departure from the last. Obvious comparisons would be Hauschka, Goldmund, Jonny Greenwood and Dustin O’Halloran.
“Klingra (circle in Faroese) is one of my more delicate and introspective pieces that leans one degree further into the neo-classical realm. I’ve been working with the theme of circles/cycles to inspire both the way the music is composed and the story within the poetry”, says Nyberg.
With a sound palette of two pianos, a string quartet (The Danish String Quartet), pedal steel guitar, synth bass and two drummers supporting the haunting vocals of Ólavur Jákupsson (Yann Tiersen), the music is incredibly intense, both emotionally and dynamically.
It speaks of stark landscapes, too big for the human mind to comprehend, almost pagan and primeval, of the land and with millennia of history coursing through every note and word. It is a powerful and cinematic soundscape on which Nyberg layers his palette of beautiful and ethereal pieces of music.
So exquisite is the music that it is almost painful to behold in its minimalistic glory, the norse melancholy drawing you into its intricate web of gradually building emotive tension. The highlights are many but Vitin (the lighthouse) leaves an emotional mark on you that lingers long after the mournful strings fade away to just be a lingering memory.
Any of these wondrous compositions could be used as a dark cinematic soundtrack, the fragility and contemplative feel leaves you thoughtful and almost overwhelmed by empathy, I have not heard anything quite like this in a very long while. Ólavur’s deeply moving vocals are the perfect foil for the wistful and winsome grace of the music and will move you to your very soul.
Music for long winter evenings in the company of someone you love, ‘Klingra’ will make time stand still as you listen to every nuance and subtlety, it is an incredibly involving experience that I believe everyone should enjoy at least once.
“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.” ― Alphonse de Lamartine
I love that quote and it expresses perfectly how I feel about music, music has been my saviour in times of need and my champion in times of triumph. An ethereal miracle that salves the soul and inspires the heart and the latest album by the Sussex-based (UK) singer/songwriter RISE (previously Talitha Rise) is the pure definition of ‘the literature of the heart.’
RISE’s (aka Jo Beth Young) new musical journey weaves together intimate and cinematic stories marrying reverberations from the past with the struggles of the present day.
Exploring themes of love, loss, rebirth and transformation, RISE says: “David Gray once wrote a line that has stuck with me – “and when we meet again, we will be strangers”. That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind this album. This album traverses the challenge of the personal ‘abyss’ and the emergence from the bleakness of loss and separation. This gives way to hope, wisdom and the taking of responsibility.
Each location adds another layer of meaning and context to the stories within each song. I wanted these songs to be a conversation with the land, the place, the history that I was in at the time but it is intertwined with some of my own intense personal experiences.”
‘Strangers‘ is a collection of 9 songs that explore human nature, relationships and the harsh realities of life but Jo Beth’s amazing vocals imbue everything with a dark and painful beauty and sepia tinged loneliness and despair.
These songs are more like stories, pieces of music that bring the characters to life and you are kept hanging on every note and every word, the inevitability and bittersweetness of change is apparent throughout.
Opening track Dark Cloud lays the foundations and sets the sombre atmosphere from the first stark note. There is a feel of a soul laid bare and a heart that has been broken time and time again and this runs throughout this phenomenal piece of music, through the classical tinged wonder of Temples and the harsh realities of title track Strangers, which speaks of a husband returning from war so changed that he is now unrecognisable. This is music that is utterly enigmatic, captivating and yet, in places, full of foreboding.
The simple, pared back allure of Cry Back Moon, the drama of Burnt Offerings and the mournful grace of the elegant Rabbit Eyes show a songwriter at one with her craft, weaving mesmerising stories that draw the listener in and when you have a voice as stunning as Jo Beth’s, it is an instrument in its own right and one which imbues every song with an aura of mystique.
The first track released from ‘Strangers’ was the wonderful Radio Silence and on the album it returns like an old friend, perhaps a little world weary and disheveled but a friend who you are happy to spend endless hours with trading nostalgic stories of a brighter past. Skysailing has that contemplative feel of a warm breeze on a hazy summers day, a thoughtful, slightly melancholy song that leaves traces in your memory long after it has finished.
The album closes with the utterly beguiling dark folk brilliance of The Old Sewing Woman’s Song, the story of a life lived unfulfilled and one which is told at Jo Beth’s enthralling best. Nine minutes of musical perfection that harks back to the old days of bards and storytellers as they regaled their audiences with tales of legend, often dark and forever fascinating.
Music truly is the literature of the heart when it comes to releases like ‘Strangers’, this album is truly a work of musical art created by one of the most avant-garde folk songwriters currently alive. Each track has layers of texture that are almost primeval in nature, each is a living and breathing entity that will take each listener on their own personal journey. I suggest you get your hands on a copy and see where this incredible record takes you.
Strangers Pre-order and Video on Indieogo https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/r-i-s-e-strangers/
So how does one of your favourite guitarists improve on his
previous excellent releases?
How about making it a concept album?
What if it’s all one track?
Hmm, let’s see shall we……
The haunting beep of a life support machine with mourning guitar introduces us to ‘Numb-Pt 1’. Wait…I thought this was all one track you cry! It is, just divided into the sum of it’s parts. Heavier guitar portents doom, the sound of traffic, impatient car horns as keyboards lead us to the crash and burn, sirens wail in desperation as the ambulance flies to save. The bright lights and guitar screams of tearing metal, the acrid smell and fumes from burning fuel.
I’m in a bed, white walls, connected to machines, whispered voices round me. I feel the sharp jab of a needle as it sinks into my arm and a cold numbness creeps through me, as ‘Realisation’ dawns on me, I’ve been in an accident. Same old routine, stuck in traffic, patience frayed around the edges. The voice in my head warned me, heedlessly, to slow down as I found the open road and pushed my foot to the metal. Bright lights, wet road surface and the ‘Twisted Metal’ foretold with the lyrics see me undone.
A feeling of detachment from reality probably due to the medication allows me to watch my body rise up towards a glow above my bed as I ‘Ascend The Sky’. Am I dying, is this my final journey accompanied by a chorus of angelic voices and uplifting chords? I never imagined the trip to be an upward one. A bell tolls though it doesn’t seem a death knell, more a calling as I float in the air, calm and relaxed in ‘The Sun’. I remember the days spent with you, laid in a field watching light clouds trace paths across the sky whilst we basked in the warmth and I reveled in your soft kisses.
Will I ever know those feelings again? I never meant this to happen, what wouldn’t I give to kiss you one more time. Elation dies and once again I am left feeling ‘Numb-Pt2’. Cruelly the music rips the memory from me and the sky blackens with clouds of drums and rumbles of bass gathering in a menacing armada, as I am tossed and turned by swirling keyboards and pummeled by driving guitar.
There is a stillness and I am surrounded by white, hot light, cloying and burning my throat. Am I nearing the end, is there no retribution as I reach in my mind for a chance of escape above the wailing guitar solo, whilst in reality I lay ‘Comatose’ and helpless to my fate .I can hear the wheezing, asthmatic rasp of the bellows on the breathing apparatus, accompanied by the dull beep of the monitors connected to me whilst a piano counts the beats of my fluttering heart. Does this mean I will survive and ‘Awaken’ from my nightmare to find you sat at my bedside holding my hand. A stirring guitar solo reaches for the heavens, am I saved? I stand detached once more, at the end of the bed looking at myself hope rising with the words from the voice in my head.
A dramatic finale as the music explodes to an end, at which
moment everything goes black and silent. No! What is happening, don’t leave me
here. Has my body woken and in doing so discarded my corporeal self to the
Does our protagonist survive, is he given a second chance at life with the opportunity to mend his ways and live as a better man? That decision is left up to the individual listener to decide.
So, how does Lee Abraham, from one of my favourite bands, improve on his quality back catalogue?
Firstly, inviting Marc Atkinson, one of the best vocalists around to sing on the album, a stroke of genius. Vastly underrated and oozing all the emotion required for such a story, Marc’s silky larynx matches all the challenges of being the storyteller here, an astute choice by Mr Abraham to present his wonderful lyrics.
Yet more enlightened choices regarding the musicians on board, bringing back the force de majeure on drums that is Gerald Mulligan and the wizard of the keys on piano, Mr Rob Arnold. Lee takes up the bass duties, as well as blessing our eardrums with some beautiful guitar work, that lingers long in your head, after the album closes.
I’m of a mind to leave the ending ambiguous as I like the idea this story could continue so I don’t want to know what happens to our subject. What I do know is that I consider ‘Comatose’ to be an excellent album, that holds the top spot in my listening catalogue at the moment fighting off all contenders.
Whilst I resist making lists of favourites, if I did, ‘Comatose’ would be among this years best releases for me and in my humble opinion is Lee’s finest release to date.
Oh, listen to me blathering on, it’s finished, where’s that replay button…
League of Lights – the electronic rock/synth pop duo featuring couple Farrah and Richard West.
Farrah and Richard met on the outskirts of London, crossing paths for the first time in the mid 1990’s. Many years later they assembled a stellar cast of luminaries comprising Dutch guitarist Ruud Jolie (Within Temptation), American drummer Mark Zonder (Fates Warning) and fellow Brit Jerry Meehan (Robbie Williams) to guest on their debut album in 2011. Simply entitled ‘League of Lights‘, the album fused elements of pop, rock and metal into their own unique blend.
“We come from very different musical backgrounds,” says Richard, “and League of Lights is all about where we meet in the middle. It couldn’t exist without both of us”.
The following year the duo teamed up with Glynn Morgan (Threshold) to record the single “Forever”. The three also performed together on stage for a unique concert backed by a 40-voice choir.
Now in 2019 Farrah and Richard are back with a new album ‘In the in Between’ that showcases Farrah’s sublime and enchanting vocals across 14 new original songs with a sound that makes room for electronic rock, synth pop, piano, cinematic soundscapes and everything in between.
“It’s been a long journey to get here,” says Farrah. “From the day we recorded our first song together we’ve been working towards creating something that combines the heart of who we are. We’re really proud to have reached this point on our journey “.
“It took us a little while, but I’m so proud to share our new League of Lights music with you.”, Richard goes on to say, “It’s just me and Farrah doing everything this time – in the past we’ve collaborated with such talented musicians and good friends, but this time we wanted to make something that was 100% ourselves. So we hope you love it as much as we do!”
Most of you will know Richard from being a co-founder of the legendary prog-metal group Threshold but he also released an album with Dec Burke and Simon Andersson in 2015 under the name AudioPlastik and, to these ears, League of Lights is definitely more comparable with the latter.
To be honest this album is chock full of catchy hooks, brilliant vocals from Farrah and Richard’s distinctive keyboard sounds. I have had it on repeat ever since I was sent the promo and it is rapidly becoming a favourite which, knowing what music usually floats my boat, has come as a little bit of a surprise.
Songs like Due Diligence and Spectrometer could easily grace the mainstream dance charts with their infectious rhythms and driving beats and the icing on the cake is Farrah’s honeyed, mellifluous vocals that harks back to the great synth-pop anthems of the 90’s.
Opener Shockwave has a more direct and harder edge and you can hear the rockier side of Richard’s keyboard playing, surely a track that will become a live favourite with the soaring chorus and sing-along verse.
The whole album is just one incredibly addictive hit of excellent songwriting and serious musical talent that continues to deliver track after track. The ethereal beauty of Scarlet Thread, the 80’s electronic grooves of Down Down and the ambient EDM vibe of Strong Enough, the quality just never dips.
The best is kept until last which, for a record of this sheer quality, is quite a thing to say. Hammer is an intense, powerful song where Farrah’s voice captivates and enthralls and Kings and Queens is, for me, the highlight of a stand out album. It hypnotises and mesmerises throughout its intriguing three and a half minute running time. The measured delivery of the stylish vocals and the brilliant guitar motif give the song some real gravity and depth, one of the best I’ve heard this year and that’s saying something.
The passion continues with the symphonic/synth prog influxed Roll and List, another elegant and exquisite piece of music and the album closes with Promises and Dreams, another track that would have graced the 90’s with its sublime grace.
What League of Lights have done is written a wonderful homage to the synth-pop highs of the late 80’s and early 90’s and brought it bang up to date for a modern musical world. For me it is chock full of nostalgia and is a wonderful and involving listening experience. Another highlight in a year that is beginning to produce quite a few but don’t take my word for it, go out and buy it and see for yourself!
We live in contentious and dark times so maybe it’s not surprising that IQ’s latest album ‘Resistance’ has a real sense of titanic struggles, whether they are internal conflicts or global issues, as the band create a tidal wave of dense and dramatic music. If you thought 2014’s brilliant ‘The Road of Bones’ was dark then prepare yourself for the stygian shades that colour this epic double album. IQ have not held back in this release immersing themselves deeply in to gothic depths with intense and yet captivating music.
‘A Missile’ plunges us almost literally right in to the album as a descending drone and falling electronic pulse thrusts us in to a thunderous maelstrom of drums, bass and keyboards – it just sounds absolutely MASSIVE!Pete Nicholls sings powerfully, riding this ballistic Missile of a song with great skill and feeling – this feels like someone expelling their soul in to the void:
‘What I thought could save me was artificial, Raking across my nerves
and taking possession…
…There is no Faith can be sustained,
No Original Sin to blame, Now I know…’
Neil Durant spices up the keyboards with weird, distorted synths. Paul Cook is simply outstanding on drums as he drives this absolute panzer of a song onwards.
What Peter Nicholls sings about exactly is always open to interpretation, but he has a tremendous ability to evoke images and feelings through poetic words and obscure phrases – you don’t know exactly but you can certainly draw a sense of the emotions that inspired his lyrics. When you listen to IQ each time a whole new line or phrase can just jump out and hit a nerve in ways you had not noticed the last time you listened. Such a thought also brings me to a conclusion I have drawn about IQ albums.
For this review I had to put up some ‘Resistance’ (yeah, I know, corny) to the Progradar editor who was gently suggesting I should try to complete the review in a few days prior to the album launch gig on September 7th. A listener needs to ‘live’ with an IQ album for a little while, and then they usually reveal their hidden gems. Some of my most favourite IQ songs and albums have not always ‘clicked’ with me initially, but with a little time I ‘get’ it and I appreciate the quality and depth of the material.
That has been the case with ‘Resistance’ for me, and it was well worth immersing myself in the album. The interlinked songs ‘Rise’ and ‘Stay Down’ did not hit me immediately but now I feel awed by their skilful blending of light and dark, Rise commencing with loud foreboding chords like some sort of epic sci-fi landscape, as depicted on the striking and rather beautiful cover by Tony Lythgoe. ‘Rise’ segues in to ‘Stay Down’ which echoes the previous throbbing chords and melody of ‘Rise’ with a simple piano line under Nicholls’ sorrowful voice. Pizzicato keyboard notes and cello sounds carry the song on gently but the tension rises with guitar and the sound of ticking clocks. This remarkable song then almost literally falls off a cliff with a massive landslide of keyboards, bass, drums and guitars as Nicholls appears to rail against a breakdown:
If I don’t make success out of real life, Nothing doing
Fall Back, break out, inside, can’t see, can drown
Shut up while I stay down, The less I can handle
The more I can blame on my breakdown
This is dark and very powerful stuff both musically and lyrically, and one has to wonder what Pete Nicholls and Mike Holmes were feeling when they wrote this album. It feels like this release may have been a cathartic expulsion of emotions.
‘Shallow Bay’ is a more straightforward rock piece with an elegiac feel and gives Michael Holmes a perfect showcase for a fluid, emotive guitar solo over a titanic organ for the conclusion. The intensity decreases significantly for the beautiful ‘If Anything’, demonstrating that IQ know that darkness needs to be contrasted with light and hope. With an opening slightly reminiscent of a song by The Cars, Nicholls’ warm vocals lays out lovely images over delicately picked Spanish guitar:
‘Not anyone could take my Heart, And send it soaring so high,
Far above the setting Sun we’d fly’
Tim Esau’s deftly played gentle bass and Paul Cook’s subtle drums and percussion perfectly underpin this gentle piece, demonstrating that it’s not all about power. However, just when we’re settling down in to a soft blanket of a song an ominous drone echoing The Beatles‘A Day in the Life’ presages the clanging chords heard previously in ‘Rise’ and a Hammer Horror like organ from Neil Durant segues us in to the weird carnival sounds of the outstanding epic ‘For Another Lifetime’. This peculiar opening evokes the feel of a Ghost Story, especially as the opening sequence eerily slows down and the vocals become distorted and then a classic IQ passage of guitars, drums, bass and keyboards, reminiscent of ‘Sacred Song’ from 2004’s ‘Dark Matter’, builds the tension ominously. This tension breaks with the sound of thunder and a wave of sound breaks over us like a storm breaking – it’s just bloody exciting and stirring stuff! I love IQ moments like this when they really let loose with keyboards and guitars intertwining perfectly whilst ‘Cookie’ and Tim Esau drive the Leviathan on powerfully. Nicholls seems to be screaming in to a Hurricane;
‘And if there’s no Resistance, What am I Fighting For?
An unsung renegade evading radar, And if there’s no existence to worship
A lethal chemistry invades, as dark as war’
The darkness seems to recede as Durant’s piano breaks through the clouds like sunshine, introducing a more optimistic sounding guitar line from Holmes, which soars upwards and Nicholls sings emotionally ‘And this is where I will stay, Holding on, Holding on, Holding on…’
For Another Lifetime is destined to become another much loved IQ classic epic song. No other band does it quite like them. Indeed, this album is unmistakably ‘IQ’ – they have a successful formula and they use it with great skill on this album. Sure they turn up the ‘Darkness’ button way up (and the ‘Mellotron’ effect… possibly a little too much at times?)… but the fundamental sound and feel is IQ all the way. They really do not need to experiment when they sound this good.
The second part of this double album is populated with two epic pieces, ‘The Great Spirit Way’ and ‘Fallout’. This review will not go into great detail about these pieces – some things the listener needs to explore with a largely blank page. The Great Spirit Way is an intense piece which hardly lets up for it’s whole 20 minute plus duration, and features Neil Durant’s enormous organ sounds in abundance. Michael Holmes has shared that what was largely inspiring his music writing for this album was his feelings about the climate emergency, and the complacency towards this global threat. He suggested that groups like ‘Extinction Rebellion’ were the ‘Resistance’ against this issue, and perhaps Nicholls’ lyrics in this piece echo those concerns (but who knows when it comes to Peter’s words?!):
‘All the misfits in the world sure to change it
Though they’ve tried rearranging, Good for Bad,
Still the Mad King Reigns’
Fire and Security is a track that follows the familiar IQ template. It’s fine but not outstanding on the album… it’s difficult to stand out on a disc with two 20 minute epics! However, the other shorter song on disc 2 Perfect Space does succeed in making it’s mark. It is interesting to note in the credits that this is the one song on which it appears Neil Durant took the lead role in writing the music. His keyboard sounds are remarkable on this piece, ranging from a gentle ambient opening to an almost dirty sounding organ which bubbles and spits like lava in an incendiary guitar / organ duel in the middle which returns in the dramatic closing sequence.
The epic Fallout draws this saga to an end… it’s full of light and shade, soft and loud, drama and emotion – it’s a classic piece of IQ imagining, almost impossible to convey in words. The piano does make a welcome longer appearance in this piece – it does feel a little bit like powerful organs and keyboards somewhat dominate at times in this album so a gentle piano is a welcome lightening of mood. But that’s the point – IQ wanted to conjure up atmospheres imbued with gothic darkness with dense soundscapes so they chose instruments more suited to that feel.
1993… 1997… 2000… 2004… 2009… 2014… and now 2019. IQ albums since the 1990’s only appear about every 4 to 5 years. In the world of Progressive Rock music they are truly special events as this is one of the truly great bands of the last 35+ years… does this one match up to that fine heritage? Having ‘lived’ with it a little while I feel that it can honourably take it’s place in their fine canon of music. It’s not perfect – it’s difficult fully sustaining a double album (and perhaps the organ / mellotron sounds can be a little dominant?) , but there’s no weak tracks… and let’s face it even a weak IQ track is better than many band’s best tracks – this is IQ after all – the Crème de la Crème of modern progressive rock.
IQ have produced another fine album of imaginative progressive rock with exemplary musicianship and poetic lyricism – it’s just what they do, and they do it so well. It could be another 4 or 5 years until the next one so immerse yourself in this dense, dark epic world and join the Resistance!