Review – Clive Mitten – Suite Cryptique: Recomposing Twelfth Night 1978 – 1983 – by John Wenlock Smith

This 2CD set is a revisitation and reimagining of music originally performed by the band Twelfth Night in their early 1980’s incarnation before Geoff Mann left the group. The albums reimagined are ‘Live at the Target’, ‘Live (and Let Live)’ and ‘Fact and Fiction’ along with reworkings of tracks The Collector and Creepshow.

This album is progressive but not necessarily in a manner that you would expect, let me elucidate…

This is a bold, brave (and possibly foolish) concept that could trash your love for those early albums as they sound significantly different and altered here. Some might see this as a vanity project or even conceited, however, I see this a very bold musical statement that has much depth and character, plus a lot of imagination at play, to make something totally new and absorbing, standing as a testament to those fabulous years and times.

This is not easy listening, as in ‘popped up’ orchestral classics, instead this is rather more studiously applied music that uses minimalism and classical flourishes to bring out the themes that were somewhat hidden in the early albums.

Clive has single-handily pulled all this together during lockdown and has had musical advice from Geoff Mann’s wife Jane and from former band colleagues Brian Devoil, Andy Revell and Mark Spencer. With the arrangements textures and sounds, this sounds very minimalist so, if you like Steve Reich or any modern minimalist composers, this may find favour with you.

This really has been a labour of love for Clive, keeping him busy and occupied during some very lonely and hard times.

Although I am not a long time follower of Twelfth night, I find this album deeply satisfying as it has some very gracious and fine music to it, along with fabulous performances. The sound is very expansive and yet, somehow, very open with equal room given to each instrument. This is somewhat surprising seeing as Clive has recorded all this electronically, manually playing each part via the computer which is both highly impressive and also aurally confusing, as you’d swear there was a real orchestra playing these parts but, no, it is Clive and his computer doing all the leg work.

The album will take several listens before you get the concept fully. This is a journey of discovery that you must be willing to undertake for yourself. As with any journey, the joy is not only in the destination but also in the completion the journey itself, and this is a most enjoyable one, in my opinion. The use of strings and oboes (and all manner of other artificial wind and string instruments) is both beguiling and confusing as you forget that this is all artificially created, lovingly crafted for sure but all bogus, artificial and man-made. The album has passages of great beauty, especially on the opening track Part One: Live at the Target which has an extremely dramatic violin section and some great percussion interludes, along with a vibrant violin and French horn passage that really grabs your attention.

Reimagining and recomposing means taking the music apart and remaking it again differently, yet keeping the same sentiments as the original. A difficult task to be sure, not only challenging but also very worthy as these pieces show clearly. This project has been in Clive’s mind for 40 years but it was only during the first lockdown that he was finally able to address the question of what if? and realise his ambitions. Personally, this album makes me want to go and explore those original albums and discover their magic for myself. Thankfully, a lot of this is available on bandcamp or from Twelfth Night directly so I can discover it for myself.

This project has not only inspired Clive to look at the early days of Twelfth Night but also to compose suites that include works by his favourite prog artists, like Yes, Supertramp, Genesis and Rush, amongst others, and he already has plans for at least two more albums of equally innovative re-compositions of classics, all of which are in the planning and creation stages. I, for one, am very much look forward to hearing those when they emerge.

For now, though, this remarkable album shows the fabulous imagination and talent that Clive Mitten has and which he lent to all this fabulous music that he was a major part of all those years ago. He has shown great skill and bravery in refashioning this music in such a unique and vibrant manner. This really is an amazing album of music, look out for the Mission Impossible theme that he weaves into Part Two: Live (and Let Live), which was apparently a favourite of Geoff Mann, Clive lovingly working this in to honour his departed colleague.  

Each part of this album addresses a different period of the band in a unique manner, listen with your ears open and find the beauty that is within these pieces. The use of melody and harmony, syncopation and dramatic dynamics all stand up clearly in these musical pieces, it is all fabulous stuff, challenging, absorbing and, above all, rewarding and dignified. Part Three: The Collector is simply magnificent, taking a live favourite and making it completely new is inspiring and fine testament to a great song.

The abstract album cover is actually a sketch by Geoff Mann, originally created for the ‘Fact and Fiction’ album but never actually used. Clive Mitten you, sir, are a genius and I applaud your commitment and efforts in making this fabulous music. Respect is well due.

Released 2nd April, 2021

Order direct from the Twelfth Night website here:

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Review – Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3 – by John Wenlock-Smith

This is the long awaited (and long time in coming!) third album from Dream Theater spin-off fusionists Liquid Tension Experiment. A band formed out of the prog metal legends and who recorded 2 albums with the nucleus of Mike Portnoy (drums) Jordan Rudess (keyboards) and John  Petrucci (guitar), aided by Tony Levin (bass and chapman stick). Although, to be honest, Jordan only actually joined Dream Theater after the second LTE album and then, as we all know, Mike left in 2010 and further LTE activity looked decidedly unlikely. Well that was the case but two things happened that led to the resumption of activities, these were the worldwide covid virus and the cessation of all touring activities and the other was Mike drumming for John’s latest solo album, ‘Terminal Velocity’. This led to a window of opportunity opening to reconvene LTE once again and cut some new music together. Same crew, same members, just 21 years later…

How wonderful to hear from these folks once again, welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, as ELP once sang.

There is one major change though, the album receives its release through Sony/InsideOut rather than Magna Carta, the label that hosted the first two Liquid Tension Experiment albums in 1998 and 1999 respectively. And, of course, Mike left Dream Theater in 2010, moving onto pastures new. The desire for all to reconvene and record together never really went away, these four musicians have exceedingly high regard for each other’s abilities and enjoy the freedom to make a different type of music together.

Well, that is the backstory to the album let us have a listen to what you can expect from this third instalment of LTE.

The album has a run time of just over 61 minutes, although there is another 50 odd minutes of music on the deluxe  CD version. I have not heard that yet, so I can comment, except to propose that this will probably be in a similar vein to the main album, just with longer tracks allowing even more musical virtuosity.

The album opens in rip roaring fashion with Hypersonic coming off the grid like a supercharged Bugatti Veyron firing on all cylinders. The band certainly show that they mean business with bass, drums and guitar spearheading a three pronged sonic attack. The track fair thunders along with barely room for breath, aside from a few keyboard interjections from Jordan, who layers his synths across the maelstrom the other three are creating. It really is an highly impressive opener indeed although you could say it’s a bit of a marmite piece, if you like it, you’ll want to stick around for the rest of the disc however, if it is not to your taste then that’s fine, go and listen to something else and leave the rest of us here in musical ecstasy. That said, after three minutes 15 seconds of this ultra-fast beat, they take a breath and slow things down intensity wise and allow John some room to play a solo passage along with some subtle bass from Tony and support from Mike, Jordan’s stabbing keyboards also providing some great dynamics to the piece. Jordan plays some flowery synth lines in the closing minutes before John and Tony play a dual passage line together preceding the resumption of the frenetic opening first passage. This piece is simply awesome and a great song to start with.

The second song is called Beating The Odds and opens with some furious riffing from John before Jordan lays down some fabulous synth lines. There is a very strong groove to this track which opens out with some very fluid guitar before a punishing riff is played over which Jordan solo’s wildly using his keyboards to stage his own aural assault on the senses. Everything is flawlessly backed by the inventive and impressive rhythm section yet, even in all the mayhem, there is still an extraordinarily strong melodic element here at play. This is all impressive stuff musically.

Liquid Evolution follows, which is basically a duet between bass and keyboards. This piece lays off the bombast and urgency of the earlier tracks to create a different, and more chilled, vibe to it. After the energy of the first two pieces you welcome the change of pace and the chance to both catch your breath and also to pick your jaw up from the floor where the opening salvo of the first two tracks have probably put it! It makes it far subtler in both pace and tone but still packs an impressive groove.

Then it is back to the overkill and surging power with fourth track The Passage of Time, with its sinewy riff snaking outwards. This one gives Mike some space to show off his impeccable timing and chops whilst Jordan adds some excellent piano parts. It really rocks out for sure, although its brutality is tempered by melodic sensibilities making it an impressive calling card, only made better by John’s atypical solo. That guitar riff is so brutal and powerful though that it almost melts your face off, were it not for Jordan’s interjections to anchor the track in melody. Again, the more I listen to this, the more I hear the interplay of the instruments and the overall melody that the track offers.

Track 5 sees the return of Chris and Kevin in Chris and Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey, a duet between Tony and Mike, giving a chance for Tony’s bass to take centre stage on par with the pounding drums of Mr. Portnoy once again. This is a shorter track but is still worthy of the space afforded to it, it is a joy to hear the fine bass playing of Tony Levin so lucidly.      

Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue is next, but probably not in a format that you are familiar with. Basically, it gets the full LTE kitchen sink experience and gives ‘over the top’ a new meaning. The track is shamelessly overblown and all the better for it too! there are some fantastic sections to this performance making it probably my favourite on the whole album. The song is long too at 13:16 however, there is not an ounce of excess fat on this piece, it is all killer no filler (as it were).It really belongs to Jordan whose keyboards glide effortlessly through the song, retaining its melody amidst all the grandiloquence of the track, utterly fabulous stuff.

Shades of Hope is totally different and far more chilled, opening with piano and a floating guitar line, played very fluidly here. This piece bleeds emotion for its complete duration, an exceptionally fine track indeed.

Key To The Imagination closes out the album, it has a recurrent heavy guitar riff running throughout against which Jordan is playing some great synth fills and orchestral voicings along with John’s sweet guitar lines. Tony holds down the bottom end in his usual eloquent manner whilst Mike’s drum hold this mix together. It really is really very good indeed and gives equal room for each player to shine in their respective field and brings things to a great end with its almost middle eastern sounding tone, it really impresses.           

Well, that 61 minutes went by fast and I was sure impressed by all that I heard. I urge you to give it space in your listening as here we have four maestros all playing at the very top of their game, taking chances and making some utterly fabulous music.

Miss this one at your peril!

Released 16th April, 2021.

Order from Burning Shed here:

LTE3 (burningshed.com)



Review – John Petrucci – Terminal Velocity – by John Wenlock-Smith

This is the second solo album from Dream Theater’s stalwart original member, and guitarist, John Petrucci. It arrived after a brief time delay of merely fifteen years or so after his first solo album, ‘Suspended Animation’, released way back in 2005.

Mind you, a lot has happened in John’s world since then, firstly a major change occurred when his buddy and drum legend Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater (the band he had formed with John in their Berklee College of Music days in the 1980’s).

This was a major upheaval and change, although it was one that all parties survived and consequently flourished. Mike got involved in Neal Morse’s musical career (after Neal himself left Spock’s Beard). He also joined Flying Colors, successfully created several albums and concert videos with the outfit. Latterly Mike formed a new band, Sons of Apollo, with whom he has recorded two studio albums and one live set.

Well, it has been nearly two decades since that initial split but this album sees John, and Mike reuniting, with Mike providing the thunderous drumming that accompanies this album. Mike reached out to John during lockdown and they convened at Dream Theater HQ to track and record this all-instrumental shred fest with John on guitars , Mike on drums and Dave La Rue of Flying Colors and G3 providing the bass support for the album.

So, what is it like you may reasonably ask? Firstly, it is all instrumental, playing out as a guitarist’s dream and the album is, as Jordan Rudess told me, all heavily focused on the tonal qualities of John’s guitar,

All the songs are succinct and brief apart from two tracks that are over 7 minutes in length and each piece of music balances John’s searing guitar work with some fine melody. Some of the tracks are rather heavy but melody is not forgotten, John can certainly play, and is not shy on that score either, the playing is showy when required but it the song that matters most here.

John is playing as well as I have ever heard him play, he bends, taps and plays flurries of notes at will on these pieces, all ably supported by the superior rhythm section of Mike and Dave who are revelling in this music that they are a part of. I think there is a good mix to the styles being used and a good use of dynamics, light and shade that really makes the guitar tones stand out clearly, as most of the tones used are clean with sporadic use of effects.

Happy Song, for instance, opens with a very joyous bounce to it, with John doubling guitar parts making this song very Satriani-esque at times but it echoes Joe’s use of styles well. This track is a total winner to these ears and is aptly named as it is a very happy piece of music indeed. It is possibly my favorite track on the album as it is so upbeat and excellently executed, John showing just how fluid he is as a player.

Gemini opens strongly as well with a flurry of notes dancing across the fretboard and great rhythm support in a harder edged piece that has some fine guitar with delay used to great effect. The song branches out with an acoustic Flamenco part in which Johns show some real skill before the electric guitar once again takes centre stage to deliver a blistering guitar solo. There are some strong techniques used that sound utterly fabulous.

The bluesy sounding Out of the Blue is superb, John getting the chance to lay back and play with some real feeling and tap into the blues to prove just how versatile he is in that arena too.  The first of the longer tracks is The Way Things Fall, which is, again, a rollicking little number that fair pulses along on a good bass line with John laying down a very melodic guitar line. Snake In My Boot has a great riff to it, all accompanied by some utterly mesmerising guitar playing.

The final track, Temple of Ciradia, has even more fine fiery playing at hand with some very Ritchie Blackmore like tones being used to great effect. The playing is fast and flawless towards the end of the piece and ends on an excellent drum beat from Mike.

This collaboration has been a winner all round, whether it leads to any further activities has yet to be seen but, it is a first step in restoring a relationship that was fractured if not fully broken. The fact that they used Lockdown and this virus to make it happen is remarkable. Much respect must be given to all parties for making it happen and for making such a great album of fine guitar led musical mayhem.

Released 28th August 2020

Order from Amazon here:

Terminal Velocity by John Petrucci: Amazon.co.uk: Music

Review – The Vicious Head Society – Extinction Level Event – by Martin Hutchinson

You’ve got to love a good ‘balls out’ Prog-Metal album, one that comes flying at you like a monumental behemoth and knocks you into tomorrow.

Irish guitar vistuoso Graham Keane’s project, The Vicious Head Society, did just that with 2017’s debut release ‘Abject Tomorrow’ and, after much soul searching and a difficult gestation, he returns with ‘Extinction Level Event’, an absolute leviathan of a release, full of music of maturity and a primeval brilliance.

This collection of nine epic tracks takes me back to the anticipation of new albums by Dream Theater and Haken in their early days and shows just how far Graham has come in four years.

Nathan Maxx returns on vocals. Graham adds that “his voice was the perfect fit for this more modern sound. He was able to deliver versatile and very emotive vocals for every song.” Likewise Klemen Markelj is back on drums along with Pat Byrne of Hedfuzy on bass. Nahuel Ramos is also back to offer some keyboard solos and there are guest appearances from Australian virtuoso Chris Brooks and violinist Shelley Weiss. In addition, Graham wanted to have a dedicated growler for this album and after hearing Andy Ennis’ work with Overoth, he reached out and asked him to jump on board.

Graham discusses his new album, “In very basic terms, Extinction Level Event is an album about the end of the world. This is a concept that has been explored in various other forms of media but on this album, I wanted to explore personal stories about how people might react to knowing their demise is imminent.”

“It tells the stories of 7 different people facing the end, how they process the event, what meaning or impact their lives have had. It asks what they cherish, what grudges or ill will they hold on to. Will they face the end with dignity? Essentially, the album asks the same question of us, the listener. Grief and loss are never far away… are we willing to carry bitterness, anger and resentment to our death or are we willing to let go? Conversely, are there people in our lives that are deserving of forgiveness?”

‘Extinction Level Event’ is most definitely a prog-metal album for modern times, taking all that was great about the genre in the early nineties and noughties and bringing it bang up to date with scalpel sharp guitar and potent vocals. The energetic and compelling rhythm section drives the album along, giving it an almost widescreen and visceral feel and scope.

It’s well known that I’m not generally a fan of growling, ‘cookie monster’, vocals but they work on this album and I actually like them, look, I’ve never said that before! When I mentioned this to Graham he told me that, “I only use them as part of a story telling device and, writing a song about a serial killer requires it!”

Each track is a perfectly crafted piece of music where every note and every word has its place but Graham never fails to let loose with some utterly amazing guitar work and Nahuel’s keyboards give everything a coat of pure class.

The album contains two superbly immersive instrumentals that give a bit of tangential musical exploration to the album but, generally, it is as in your face as you could ever want from a prog-metal release. Of the other tracks, it is difficult to pick favourites as they are all superb but, if you pressed me, I’d have to go with title track, and opener, Extinction Level Event, the sublime On a Silver Thread and Hymn of Creation, an utterly perfect way to close out the record.

The best music is always a journey that envelops the listener, gathers them up and takes them on a hell for leather adventure of the mind and soul and this album is no different. Graham’s songwriting abilities are top notch and he has gathered a stellar set of musicians around him to make his vision a reality, they are surely a creative force to be reckoned with.

‘Extinction Level Event’ is shaping up to possibly be the best prog metal album of the last few years at least, I honestly don’t think I’ve had a prog metal album hit me so hard since Haken’s ‘The Mountain’. It is a rare occurrence to get an album nowadays with not one track on it that I don’t love but Graham and the rest of The Vicious Head Society have absolutely nailed it with this release.

Released 28th May, 2021

Order direct from the artist here:

Home | The Vicious Head Society (bigcartel.com)

Review – The Emerald Dawn – To Touch The Sky – by John Wenlock-Smith

To Touch the Sky’ is the fourth and latest CD from The Emerald Dawn following on the heels of their earlier albums, ‘Nocturne’ (2019), ‘Visions’ (2017) and Searching for the Lost Key (2014). I have not heard these previous albums, which is something I really should rectify!

The Emerald Dawn are a four-piece group who play symphonic progressive music, their sound is full and lush, with enough space in the music to allow each member enough room to shine.

‘To Touch the Sky’ has just three tracks, all lengthy and complex. Their own words state that this album is, “A celebration of the voyage towards one’s goal, including the hardships and dangers faced en-route. Beginning with the night, the music depicts the process of walking up and coming to life, a moment of awareness or the experience of being awestruck, then provides the motivation for each traveller to pursue their quest. In the closing 22-minute epic, The Ascent, the metaphor of climbing a mountain can be interpreted as a psychological, spiritual, or physical attainment, just as the listener chooses”. All of which sounds very lofty and idealistic but, is it any good you may ask?

Well, the answer is not immediately clear and will require a degree of listener involvement, your time and possibly some headphones to get the best from this music. Oh, and possibly a glass of your favourite tipple might not go amiss either!

Our journey begins with The Awakening which opens with some strident piano notes and a prominent bass from David Greenaway matching the piano along with swathes of keyboards from Tree Stewart. There are then vocals from Tree, who also echoes the refrain herself. We then move into a very spacious section where keyboards have lots of room and space to evoke their magic before a meaty guitar riff from Ally Carter joins in and the drums of Tom Jackson complete the mix. This section has some rather vibrant and lively guitar and synth lines, sumptuous all around. This all sounds really fabulous and all the time the bass is making its own patterns in the sound while Ally solos away wildly. The song returns to the opening piano motif while Ally lays a guitar line over the top of it all, bringing the piece to an emphatic conclusion. This is a really strong, symphonic and epic piece of music.

The second Track is And I Stood Transfixed and it opens with a solid drumbeat before a gently strummed acoustic guitar segues into the mix. Ally Carter lays down some very Pink Floyd-like guitar lines before switching to sax to play a flurry of notes that are all very evocative and otherworldly sounding. The drums pick up the pace of the song before keyboards enter, laying out a dreamy soundscape with some great bass underpinning it all. Ethereal vocals are added to the mix along with delicate piano notes. This section relates to the Eureka moment in the process of making the journey as thoughts coalesce into tangible activity so that the journey can be started.

The journey from the mind to the heart may only be 18 inches but it is a process we all go through when we are on the cusp of change. This section leads into some ominous guitar chords and tones as the piece takes a heavier stance with more random sounding saxophone notes being played. Calm is then restored as we are rewarded by a synthesizer solo from Tree Stewart whilst the rhythm section continue their own journey. This is all very spacious sounding and everyone is really working together to move this song along. A lovely bass line is played throughout by David Greenaway before Ally’s guitar once again takes flight, playing another Floydian type break, while Greenaway plays on before this epic song is ended with delicate keyboards and then total silence.

The last, and longest track, is The Ascent in which we start to ascend the mountain that lies before us. Whether this is a literal or figurative mountain is up to the listener to determine for themselves. The song opens with keyboard generated soundscapes in which one can imagine the mountain with the sun shining and clouds at the top. A piano and flute are then heard and flute and it all sounds very open before we get a searing guitar solo from Ally, very Andy Latimer sounding in both style and tone, before the keyboards return once again and Tree’s vocal begins.

The lyrics in the booklet will guide us as the ascent of the mountain begins, they tell us of the dangers you may face on the way. This song really gets to grips with the concept and the music makes it own journey through peaks and troughs of expectations and disappointments on the way. Another guitar break from Ally represents an eagle soaring effortlessly on the thermals as we continue to climb, the wind and the clouds move in and we get engulfed in a blizzard as we take a steady, onwards step.

We are lost in a whiteout, snow everywhere, and we cannot find the right direction to go forward, the music continuing hesitantly as we continue searching for the right path, the one that will take us higher. We sense the need to keep going, to risk death, and we proceed, once again, to the last ascent.

Ally’s guitar takes us onwards and upwards as the winds die down. The clouds part and we can see it; the summit! We’ve made it, we have achieved our goal. There is a palpable sense of relief in this section although we still have the downward journey to take us back to where we started from. Although we are invigorated again with a sense of completion as we have overcome the mountain and succeeded in the challenge it posed to us. We then enter a quieter passage as we make our descent. This song makes sense with the lyrics at hand and is a remarkable audio journey that The Emerald Dawn offer you to take with them.

This album will require your concentration but the rewards are many and exceedingly plentiful. There is much fine music here with some great passages and really fine ensemble performances from. ‘To Touch the Sky’ is a real pleasure to listen to and you can really absorb this music for yourself, I highly recommend that you support their efforts.

Released 20th March, 2021

Order from bandcamp here:

To Touch the Sky | The Emerald Dawn (bandcamp.com)

Review – Ana Patan – Spice, Gold and Tales Untold – by Martin Hutchinson

“Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.” ― Frank Zappa

I know I’m not the only person who spends a large proportion of their time awake listening to music, music while I run or while I work or just for relaxation. It is true, music decorates our lives and makes the mundane acceptable and often accompanies us on the highest highs and lowest lows that life can give you.

The first time I listened to Ana Patan’s superb album ‘Spice, Gold and Tales Untold’ I felt that immediate connection that only wonderful music can give you. This is one of those releases that can take away the worries of a testing day and put you in a much calmer state of mind and we have all needed that over the last year!

Ana Patan

In her own words,

“I’m an independent German musician, of Romanian descent, living in Sweden for the moment. I’ve been travelling and making music in most corners of the planet, having had the chance to meet, and jam with, some really amazing musicians (where most of my experience comes from). At some point in 2009 my career nearly ended from a bad case of tendonitis, which woke me up to the necessity of making this album, if ever able to play music again. This motivated me to get well, and put all my finances, creativity, time and energy into making this record.

The drums have been put down by Zoltan Csörsz, most of the bass tracks by Jonas Hellborg, and Devin Townsend loved the stuff and also wanted to contribute! Strangely enough, he was in a bass-playing phase back then, so he showed up in the studio and did his part quite amazingly! I happened to play the guitar because I couldn’t find anyone who wouldn’t overplay – I had to do my best, whatever that might be for now… same with the vocals!”

Ana describes the album as organic, honest and uncompromising, recorded all analog on 2 inch tape in a simple formula (bass-drums-guitar, plus vocals). I have to say I was really intrigued.

The album is a superb mix of musical styles with basic, soulful music embellished by hints of the orient and a touch of Eastern European promise on many of the impressive songs. The bare yet intricate music is complemented superbly by Ana’s earnest vocals, sometimes fragile and at other times loud and proud. To my ears there is a touch of early Alanis Morissette to her voice but with a velvet smooth timbre.

The pared back musical arrangements on tracks like sultry opener Undeciphered and the soulful Trivialize Love have a real jazz lounge feel to them, a real feel of less is more and Ana’s beautifully flowing guitar adds even more class.

One of the stand out tracks for me is the wonderfully bluesy General Conspiracy, a song that just oozes cool sophistication. The guitar playing just makes you want to sway in time with the music and the solo is just superb.

Ana’s take on elegant world music infuses The Human with an almost southern African feel, a really enlightening piece of music that pairs really well with the smooth-jazz attributes of Pure and Plain, an ultimately uplifting track that makes your soul sing.

This incredibly eclectic mixture of musical tastes and experiences continues with Soarele Meu. Written in Ana’s native Romanian it has a really playful vibe and runs along with an impish glee and one where she seems at her most carefree. 21st Century Citizen is a proper blues-rock track and perhaps the most straightforward song on the album with seductive vocals and a staccato, edgy guitar tone and is a song that brooks no argument.

The darkly delicious tones of Ana’s voice and the refined notes emanating from her guitar give Hot Hot a truly graceful and chic quality that just leaves you utterly calm and relaxed before the folky How Could We Live Before breaks the spell with its upbeat tempo and foot-tapping drumbeat and things are brought to a close with Colors on Hormones, another uncomplicated jazz inspired piece of music that showcases this young women’s incredible array of talents.

‘Spice, Gold and Tales Untold’ is collection of culturally diverse songs that transcends the current trend to try and pigeon hole musicians. Wearing her many influences proudly on her sleeve Ana Patan has just allowed the music and her excellent vocals to tell her many intriguing and involving stories and this has allowed them to breathe and come to life quite spectacularly. An album that has surprised me in its simple brilliance and one that, if you let it, will enrich your life in a myriad of ways.

Released 10th February, 2021

Order the album from bandcamp here:

Spice, Gold and Tales Untold | Ana Patan (bandcamp.com)



Review – Nad Sylvan – Spiritus Mundi – by John Wenlock-Smith

When  I was growing up there was no internet, we used to have to use encyclopaedias and other forms of reference books to find out about things. Nowadays, of course, it is all there waiting to be delved into and discovered for yourself.

It is a whole different ball game now, although there was a time in the late 1980’s /early 1990’s that you could ring up the reference people at Birmingham City Library and they would find things out for you. This was especially useful, and was well before Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded what we now know as Google, this company that they founded as students at Stanford university is now one of the world’s premier search engines. Folk now often say ‘google it’ to find information.

I did that whilst listening to this album as it is largely music set to poems that were written by William Butler (W.B) Yeats (Born in 1885 Died January 1939). Yeats is widely acclaimed as one of Ireland’s most famous poets, dramatists, and prose writers, in fact, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

Spiritus Mundi’ sets those poems to gentle and orchestral sounding pieces with vocals from Nad Sylvan and guitars from Andrew Laitres, a US based composer and musician, who Nad had worked with previously on his last album, ‘The Regal Bastard’ – The final part of his Vampyrate trilogy.

Nad is joined by some famous guests on this album, namely Tony Levin and Jonas Reingold on bass and Marko DeMaio (The Flower Kings) on drums with Steve Hackett also featuring. The bulk of the lyrics are taken verbatim from Yeats’s poems, apart from the first bonus track, You Have Got To Find A Way, that has Sylvan’s own lyrics. This approach has left the music room to breath and allows the beauty of the words to shine through clearly with the music clearly supporting and enhancing the impact of the words. That intention has paid off excellently giving the album dignity and weight.

The tracks are mainly short and as they focus predominantly on the words the album will take several listens before it really begins to make sense. Having said that, the longer tracks, The Second Coming and Sailing To Byzantium, work the best for me as there are musical interludes within in them that work well. The instrumentation is supportive and sympathetic, you will not find long ego fuelled solos here, you fill find empathy and delicacy throughout. The whole album lasts about 52 minutes including the two bonus tracks.

I think this album is a great, intensive listening experience and will appeal to any who like Yeats’ poems or who are fans of Nad Sylvan’s earlier solo albums as he is certainly in fine voice on these songs. This project is certainly different and a brave, bold move by Nad, as an album this is certainly different and somehow the lyricism of Yeats’ poetry works well in this format and will hopefully bring it to a whole new audience of people. They may find much within the words of these pieces that speaks clearly to their hearts and minds and hopefully leads them discover more of Yeats’ works for themselves.    

The sound of the album is sparse and the space between the words and the music is wide and open allowing subtle nuances to be realised and appreciated with repeated listening. There is a fabulous slide guitar part contained on the last track on the album, The Fisherman, (performed by Neil Whitford) that really drives the piece along.

It is not an album that is immediately easy to access but I sincerely recommend that you persevere as it is truly worth it when you finally do click with it and its treasures and beauties are finally revealed to you. ‘Spiritus Mundi’ is a journey of discovery into a different world, but it is a journey that you need to decide to undertake. 

Released 9th April 2021

Order the album here:

Spiritus Mundi (lnk.to)

Review – Glass Hammer – A Matter Of Time – Volume 1 – by Martin Hutchinson

“The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.” – Kiran Desai.

‘A Matter Of Time – Volume 1’ sees Glass Hammer founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel reimagining the past as they pick their favourite songs from the band’s nineties catalog; reimagining and re-recording those songs from the ground up, totally updating them for the here and now.

These new recordings feature GH regular Aaron Raulston (drums) and guest appearances by Hannah Pryor (vocals), Reese Boyd (guitar – Lliusion & Song Of The Dunadan), Walter Moore (vocals: The Mayor Of Longview, Heaven – vocals & guitar: On To Evermore, Junkyard Angels), and Dave Bainbridge (guitar: Heaven).

If you’re a long time fan of this most ‘Prog’ of US progressive rock bands or a newcomer to their involving and dynamic music then you are in for an absolute treat.

I first got into Glass Hammer with 2010’s ‘If’ but the band is the epitome of prog rock longevity having released their first studio album, ‘Journey of the Dunadan’, in 1993. Suffice to say that Steve and Fred have an embarrassment of riches to choose from when it comes to their extensive back catalogue.

All of the tracks (barring Domain Walls) are taken from the band’s first three studio releases, the aforementioned ‘Journey of the Dunadan’, ‘Perelandra’ and ‘On to Evermore’, and deliver statuesque soundscapes across which the precise guitars, keyboards and vocals can weave their intricate stories of heroic deeds and the triumph of good over evil.

Opener Lliusion (‘Perelandra’) is a case in point, a fine piece of music, intense in flavour and rich in musicality, that immediately draws the listener into the tale that is laid before them. With the soaring vocals, stylish bass, majestic keyboards and charismatic guitars, I’m hooked after the first track!

Shadows Of The Past, Something’s Coming and Song Of The Dunadan form a three song suite that open ‘Journey of the Dunadan’, a concept album based on the story of Aragorn from Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’. The first track of the trio is literally a music score, containing all the pomp, circumstance and majesty that anyone could really need. This blends seamlessly into the sprightly second piece that has a hint of early Yes to it. Flourishing keyboards, urgent vocals and a powerful, insistent rhythm section drive the track along at breakneck speed before it ebbs and flows like a mystical river. We are truly in the realm of traditional 70’s progressive rock here but Steve and Fred have given it a gleaming new coat and it is wondrous to behold. The closing part of the triumvirate opens with an engaging piano line before becoming something altogether more regal and imposing, once again the rhythm section of Aaron’s drums and Steve’s bass give a solid canvas onto which the captivating tale can be painted in the listener’s mind. The highlight of the whole section has to be the brilliant interplay between Fred and Steve as they weave bass and keyboard lines ever more intricately into the track before Reese’s guitar gets to join the party, inspired!

Steve Babb Glass Hammer bassist

‘The Return of the King’ (‘Journey of the Dunadan’) is yet another superb track that opens full of instrumental wonder and just holds your attention as it takes you on an enthralling musical journey through the world of Middle Earth. As instrumentals go it is up there with some of the very best and special note must be given to Fred Schendel whose keyboards skills are certainly well on show throughout all of its near seven minute running time.

Domain Walls, taken from 1997’s ‘Live And Revived’ has an utterly carefree feel to it, like the band were just jamming, which, in essence, they were! Another instrumental but, this time, a hard edge, down and dirty, funky as hell one that really gets under your skin and I absolutely love it! Felix the Cat (‘Perelandra’) brings this instrumental section to a close and lives up to its name, graceful and mischievous just like any cat I know. It bounds and leaps along with Fred’s keys again at the core, artfully aided and abetted by Steve’s cool sounding bass.

The next three tracks take us ‘On to Evermore’, the band’s third studio release. The Mayor Of Longview is instantly recognisable as a Glass Hammer track and flows serenely, letting the music flow naturally, with Walter Moore’s dulcet vocal delivering a perfectly crafted storyline. Wistful and contemplative at times yet with an impishness just under the surface that always threatens to break out. On To Evermore is a song imbued with a graceful, stately grace, almost taking you back to an era of Knights, swords and sorcery. It holds itself with composure and class with Walter’s vocals again being key to the feel of the song. Junkyard Angel is a calm and collected gem of a song. The plaintive and thoughtful vocals are a perfect fit with the dreamy, ethereal music and the juxtaposition of Fred’s strident keyboard solo is a stroke of genius, a brilliant track.

The album closes with the yearning and reflective Heaven (the track that also closes out ‘Perelandra’). I love the feeling of understated strength that pervades the whole track, a slow burning intensity that is always there waiting to pour out and pour out it does when Dave Bainbridge’s guitar is allowed free rein. What a way to bring this excellent collection of songs to an end.

With A Matter Of Time – Volume 1′ Steve and Fred have given us a fantastic reimagining of some already sublime early Glass Hammer tracks. This release is full of superb songwriting and accomplished musicianship that has been artfully updated to fit perfectly into a modern world.

Released December 14th, 2020

Available exclusively from the band’s website here:

Glass Hammer official website

Review – Echoes and Signals – Mercurial – by Martin Hutchinson

Echoes and Signals are a progressive rock band from Tula, Russia, originally started by Fedor Kivokurtsev and Alexey Zaytsev as an instrumental project drawing inspiration from progressive rock and post/math rock genres.

After two conceptual EPs, they released their first full length album, ‘V’, in 2014. Fedor and Alexey followed this up with ‘Monodrama’ in 2017 and April 2021 will see the release of their third album, and the first to feature vocals on each track, ‘Mercurial’. Leo Margarit (Pain of Salvation) features on the album as the guest drummer.

‘Mercurial’ is a journey. A journey through the dark and chaotic space where everything is unstable like mercury by itself.

There’s a metaphorical version of the album’s narrative but Fedor shared this more ‘grounded’ version with me,

“So the story behind this album is based on my personal experience of going through psychotherapy or if to be exact, Jungian analysis. In general it’s based on the dark period of my life that started at the beginning of my 30s. It could be called a mid-age crisis from some angles, but it was followed by a lot of different and often unpredictable dreams , filled with rich symbols, and this path led me to discovering connections between those mythological symbols, alchemy and my own symptoms. So I started writing this music two years ago, just following the inner compass and those dreams, later the psychotherapy started and it helped a lot in different ways. 

There’s an archetypical scenario called ‘the dark sea journey’ or ‘nigredo’ in alchemical terms, the good example is Jonah story from the Bible, meaning that this kind of journey should occur anyway and it serves some purpose.”

I’ve been a long time fan of Echoes and Signals since the early days and have watched their progress with a lot of interest, seeing them improve and mature over the years and each successive release and, I know it’s not the norm to come to the conclusion first but, with ‘Mercurial’, I really feel they have hit their creative zenith.

THIS DARKNESS CALLS
AND COLD WIND BLOWS
I HEAR A SONG OF SIRENS
IT SOUNDS SO BEAUTIFUL

A fine collection of seven dark and often brutal tracks but songs that have a stark beauty at their core. The addition of Fedor’s cultured vocals really adds class and ambience to the already mighty impressive music. Mixing the pensive, sombre, thoughtful progressive rock of bands like early Porcupine Tree and Riverside with the hard rock sensibilities of bands like Queensrÿche and Caligula’s Horse and then throwing in something that sounds a bit like a more serious version of Foo Fighters, the album ebbs and flows deliciously.

Leo Margarit’s fine drums are an excellent foil for Alexey’s sophisticated bass and lay the perfect foundation for Fedor’s dynamic guitar playing, able to switch from aggressive to calm and collected in the blink of an eye.

The sophisticated brutality of tracks like the opening trio of Darkness, Tower and Broken Machine is an amazing assault on the senses and leaves the listener open mouthed with incredulity, simply blown asunder by the sheer power and vitality of the music. These songs seem to have a life and vivacity of their own, monolithic and primeval at their core.

CHILD, YOU’RE LOST IN TRANSITION

NOW TIME TO MAKE THINGS REAL

The haunting, melancholic grace of Lost In Transition is rooted in the amazing vocals, halting and heartfelt, backed by the urgent but delicate instrumentation, before a majestic force takes over, imbuing the track with more than a hint of menace. In my opinion, this is one of the best songs that Echoes and Signals have ever written. Chaos is a shimmering, eerie piece of music that nags at your thoughts and leaves a slightly disturbing sensation in your gut. A wonderfully mysterious and enigmatic track where Alexey’s keyboards create the disturbing mood that segues straight into Mirror, a sparse and halting song that reminds me of ‘Empire’ era Queensrÿche, simple but utterly satisfying in its composition and delivery.

Running in circles
We all start to pray Lord
Over and over
Again

The album closes with the wistful feeling Dust, another thought provoking song that opens softly with Fedor’s melancholic vocal being matched by the deliberate drums, bass and sinuous guitar. The music turns more widescreen and imposing with towering guitars, thunderous drums and a much more anguished vocal before entering into a musical tug-of-war with that initial place of calm reflection.

‘Mercurial’ trades some of the bands signature post-rock sensibilities for a darker journey into the kind of prog-metal embraced by the likes of Tool and this new direction is one that I feel suits them perfectly. The addition of vocals to every track is a brave change and one that elevates them to another level and opens them to a wider audience. Echoes and Signals have returned triumphant and with an album that hits the bullseye in every way!

Released April 9th, 2021

Order the album from bandcamp here:

Mercurial | Echoes and Signals (bandcamp.com)

Review – Fanfare For The Uncommon Man – The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert 2CD/2DVD – by John Wenlock-Smith

Keith Emerson needs little or no introduction, he was a monster keyboard player for Emerson, Lake and Palmer of course, though he was also successful in his own right as a composer. Sadly, as he grew older Keith lost some of his astounding dexterity and, despite operations to his hands, sadly felt that his abilities to perform had become diminished significantly. This resulted in him falling into in severe bouts of depression and even alcoholism, which all became too much for him and he took his own life by gunshot on 11th March 2016 in Santa Monica, California. The world was shocked that one of the finest keyboard players of recent times was no more.

Well, that was five years ago now and his life was celebrated in style in 2016 when an all-star band of LA’s finest musicians assembled at the El Ray Theatre in Los Angeles to play his music and remember and acknowledge the inspiration that he had been to many of them over the years. The upshot of this is a concert movie and 2CD set of the event being released this year by Cherry Red Records in a lavish package with simply amazing artwork and production values, along with interviews with the various band members and photo galleries of Keith and his life and times, all of which together chronicles this very special and memorable night for posterity.

The list of musicians featured is mighty impressive including members of Toto and Dream Theater along with Eddie Jobson (UK and Roxy Music), Jeff Baxter (Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan), Brian Auger, Rachel Flowers, C J Vanston and many others, like Marc Bonilla of Keith’s old band and his close friend who was a major mover in getting the show together. The event also featured Emerson’s son Aaron, and members of his solo band and his Three Fates Project group.

The CDs capture live recordings of all the songs featured in the movie although sometimes in a truncated version. The sound is excellent throughout and the material is largely drawn from the first Four ELP albums, with four songs from the self-titled debut, two from ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, three from ‘Tarkus’ and three from ‘Trilogy’ plus Karn Evil 9: First Impression – Part 2, Touch and Go (from ‘Emerson Lake and Powell’) and Fanfare For The Common Man in two versions, one with brass orchestration and the other with Blue Rondo A La Turk improvisation.

I have to say that, whilst this is a fabulous set, there are a few pieces that I would have liked to have seen covered, namely Jerusalem, Trilogy and Piano Concerto to name but three, also there is a marked lack of anything from the latter days’ reunion period, but this is most probably me just nit picking. What is here is perfectly fine and has some incredible musicians performing some extraordinarily complex pieces with skill, style and panache. Everything is played in a very sympathetic manner, with great respect to Keith, who was obviously a much loved, and now sadly missed character.

Marc Bonilla sings very well indeed throughout, as do the other vocalists, Marc also delivers some great guitar lines on here, mirroring and adding to what the various keyboard players are playing. The Performances are all exceptionally good indeed, those of C J Vanston and Rachel Flowers shine especially. Brian Augers interpretation and improvisation on Fanfare For The Common Blue Turkey is quite different and really captures one’s interest. Another highlight is the delight of seeing Eddie Jobson playing the modular Moog synthesizer on Lucky Man.

Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater delivers a powerful performance on the 20 minutes plus rendition of Tarkus, a track he gleefully states as a major influence on his playing. Here he revels in the performance of this in a suite of songs where Tarkus is the penultimate track before the encores are offered, namely Lucky Man/The Great Gates of Kiev and Fanfare For The Common Man, with Are You Ready Eddy? concluding the show.

I know in some quarters that ELP have become a dirty word full of excessive showmanship and not offering much for the listeners of today. However, I disagree completely and suggest that this music needs to be rediscovered again and given its rightful place in the annals of progressive rock. 

So, if you like the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Keith Emerson then this set offers you both two excellent CDs and a full length DVD (plus a second DVD of bonus features) that captures this magnificent concert in all is spectacle and power, just sit back, turn the volume up and let the Moogs fly again. Best played loud, just as Keith would have wanted, this certainly is a most enjoyable stroll down memory lane, if you have 3 hours or so to spare. Brilliantly filmed, well presented and produced, the music offered on these discs reminds us of just how great a keyboard player and composer Keith Emerson truly was, along with why he should be remembered as such. I applaud all who took part for the great music they made and are now are able to share with us, sit back relax and enjoy this again and again.

Released March 19th 2021

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

Fanfare For The Uncommon Man: The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert, 2CD/2DVD Edition – Cherry Red Records