Review – Fluctus Quadratum – The First Wave – by John Wenlock-Smith

I first came across this band whilst browsing another prog website and reading a fellow reviewer’s comments about them. I went to the band’s website and downloaded the free track Portalis, a demo version. I was definitely taken with what I heard there, I contacted the band and asked if I could review the EP as well. Thankfully they agreed and sent me a download to work from with the promise of a physical copy to be sent to me. All of this whilst on holiday in the Canary Islands no less!

Oh the wonders of this modern technological age eh?

This EP consists of merely three tracks with the thirty six minutes of music introduced via Portalis, a song hinged on an really great guitar line with a great tone to it, strong bass lines from Mark Piercy and a syncopated drumbeat from Rick Burtonshaw that slithers around like a snake. There’s lots going on musically with great keyboards and that glorious guitar. A guitar and keyboard interplay section at the 4.05 mark catches the attention before Curtis Adamczyk’s vocals reconvene and a brief but soulful guitar solo leads to a strong keyboard section, all of this with very busy percussion syncopation happening simultaneously. The song, despite being nearly fifteen minutes in duration, moves through several different sections and parts and manages to impress throughout. There’s great performances from all involved, especially the fluid and supple guitar work of Alan Trower and Ben Ellis and sumptuous keys of Jopheus Burtonshaw (who also is responsible for acoustic guitars and writing the music, truly a man of many talents).

The shorter, seven minute, track Acquiescence II follows, which has many nods and throwbacks to 80’s music and also an element of electronic ambient soundscapes with some soaring guitar lines playing their part too. The song moves with a stately pace and with the hint of power and this all works together well, the track shimmering with suppressed energy. It’s a really strong track, the sort of thing Steven Wilson would offer. There is a particularly fine synth melody that takes the song forward and it all ends with strong organ sounds.

The EP closes with Convergence which, at nearly fourteen minutes in duration, is a bit of a monster of a track fuelled by a strong bass line and excellent piano, Curtis’ vocals also being very strong and interesting. The song has lots of keyboards and another fine guitar line with echoes of Pink Floyd, the guitar soaring over everything with great sustained notes and great fluidity. There is then a lute type stringed sound that impresses greatly before a return to the rippling piano lines and synths that dance across the track. I’d say that this track is possibly best heard on headphones or rather loud so you can pick up all the subtle touches and sounds contained within. The band deliver another really impressive track and I think anyone who is going to the Fusion festival in March are in for a real treat as I’m sure they will invariably be making a rather fine impact and impression. The keyboards really impress on this track, especially in the latter section, where an almost military drumbeat ushers in an exciting section where everyone is surging forward, the bass leading the charge strongly.

This is stirring stuff, simply fantastic and invigorating to hear such energy being played out in what is a really epic and strong rhythm. You can hear elements of Pink Floyd, Camel and Marillion here, Jopheous cites Mark Kelly as an influence, along with Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and Tony Banks, and it shows clearly here, although he puts his own stamp and style to the songs. The whole EP serves as a great introduction to what is a band of real promise and excitement and I personally can’t wait to hear their debut album when it emerges as, based on the promise of this EP, we can hope for something really fresh and inspired indeed.

Released 22nd November, 2022.

Order from the band’s website here:

Fluctus Quadratum – Store

Review – Unthank : Smith – Nowhere And Everywhere

Nowhere And Everywhere‘ is the debut album of Unthank : Smith, the collaboration of two former Mercury Music Prize nominees Rachel Unthank (The Unthanks) and Paul Smith (Maxïmo Park).

With ‘Nowhere And Everywhere‘ Unthank and Smith, both from England’s North East, and foremost talents in their respective fields, set out to collect songs and pen originals that claw at the beating heart of the region. Though Rachel Unthank has been immersed in the folk world from childhood, Paul Smith’s route towards folk began in his teens with a love of Martin Carthy, Karen Dalton, Nick Drake and Bert Jansch, especially their fingerstyle guitar-playing. Echoes of that approach can be heard throughout this album, albeit simplified and merged with a more direct sound akin to US avant-rock acolytes of the ‘60s folk revival like Gastr Del Sol and David Pajo.

The pair’s collaboration for the new project came about somewhat naturally as Rachel explains:

“Paul and I have discovered that we have so much in common. At the core of that is the genuine joy that singing brings us both. We also both have a deep-rooted connection to our native North East, as can be heard in our unfiltered accents, yet this rootedness gives us the appetite for outrospection. I can’t wait to get on the road and start singing together.”

Paul adds: “Rachel’s voice is a rare instrument, so to hear our voices blending together for the first time was a big moment for me. It hinted at new possibilities for me as a singer and musician.”

Co-produced by ‘David Brewis‘ of Field Music, Nowhere And Everywhere‘ features Faye MacCalman of emerging avant-jazz group Archipelago on clarinet, and exploratory drums by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy / Alasdair Roberts collaborator Alex Neilson, of Trembling Bells.

“There’s only three types of music, music I like, music I don’t like and music I haven’t heard yet…”

There is an almost irrational urge for all music to be separated into genres and then pigeon-holed as music that we won’t like because of the genre it is is in. A long time ago I realised that there is so much good music out there, brilliant music in fact, and it doesn’t matter what genre it takes, it’s either music I like or music I don’t like and, above all, this is all just my opinion and never, ever definitive. I will always listen to an album that I haven’t heard before once because, otherwise, how do I know if I like it or not?

Hence the name of this music blog is Progradar and the music I mainly review is progressive but it’s never only that, through friendships and recommendations I have been lucky enough to discover wonderful albums across all sorts of music genres and folk is one that I have a great fondness for. Folk music is like reading great historical novellas but reimagining them as songs, like the old bards and storytellers did in the years gone by and this new album from Unthank : Smith does just that and rather brilliantly too.

The opening, unaccompanied, Captain Bover just sends a tingle down your spine with its sparse grandeur, telling the story of feared Tyneside press gangs, the use of just vocals adds a dark reality to the song. Rachel and Paul have wonderfully distinctive voices that can carry a song with the need for any music and it works fantastically on this track. The Natural Urge, written by Paul Smith, was partly inspired by the bleak, gnarled landscapes depicted by Paul Nash in his role as an official WW1 artist. It’s a pared back masterpiece of a track, atmospheric, moody and haunting in its delivery. It is ultimately an anti-war song with a simple folk melody instilled by the uncomplicated guitar riff. Rachel wrote Seven Tears about the mythological ‘selkie’ creatures said to bob in Northumbrian waters. It builds elegantly with a brooding aura imbued by the music and Rachel and Paul’s almost spoken vocal delivery add a real mysterious, subdued feel.

Rachel said this about the track, “I have always loved the songs and ballads about selkies – a seal in the sea that takes off their sealskin and adopts human form on land. When doing some research about the selkie mythology, I read that if you cried seven tears into the sea, then your selkie lover would come back to you.

O’ Mary Will You Go is a more traditional affair with a truly humble vocal performance from the pair. The song addresses themes of economic migration that still ring true today and you can feel the loss and pain of parting and having to leave the land and the people that you love. It is a heartbreakingly wistful piece of music that will touch you to the core. I really enjoyed the love and pride that is at the core of What Maks Makems, derived from Tom Pickard’s poem in the ‘Land of Three Rivers’ anthology of North-East poetry, paying tribute to Wearside and its proud shipbuilding heritage, as well as Smith’s own “crick-neck welder” father. A reflective and wishful song, if all a bit brief. The unaccompanied brilliance returns with the gorgeous Red Wine Promises, the stunning folky harmonies are just exquisite. An impressive cover of a track that appeared on Lal and Mike Waterson’s brilliant ‘Bright Phoebus’ album, both Paul and Rachel have loved this song for many years and really do it justice here. Robert Kay is the melancholy, mournful story of a Stockton-On-Tees WW1 soldier who died days before his return from war. A solemn and yet tender treatment of a sad tale, Paul and Rachel’s vocals have real gravitas and the ghostly music leaves tendrils of sorrow in its wake.

Rachel brought Lord Bateman to the table after realising there weren’t any epic ballads in the duo’s fledgling repertoire and its Northumberland setting sealed the deal. A truly epic tale with touches of pastoral progressive rock in the vein of Big Big Train, it is my favourite track on the album and I find myself getting lost in its dark and ultimately tragic storyline. The vocals have a that medieval bard style to them and the untutored guitar-playing (Paul’s own words!) adds real authenticity. Horumarye conjures thoughts of the sound of the wind whistling over the moors and this earnest and solemn piece engenders a feel of isolation and wind blasted moorland and of weighty, overcast skies. The album closes with unaccompanied joy of The King, Rachel’s Dad was a founder member of Redcar Sword Dancers, who perform the revived Greatham Mummers play and longsword dance every year, and then head to the pub for a good sing. The King in the song is a wren, king of the birds on Saint Stephen’s Day, when the tradition was to hunt the tiny bird and take it house to house in a cage or box decorated in ribbons. It’s a simple and yet upbeat ending to what has been a truly magnificent album.

There’s too much instant gratification on offer nowadays, in all walks of life, including music but to completely enjoy this utterly compelling and masterful collection of stories, you have to delve deep into each song to understand its very soul. Anything truly worth having has to be worked for and when the reward is as truly joyous as ‘Nowhere And Everywhere’, it is completely worthwhile. A true music lover’s release and one that every music lover should own.

Released 17th February, 2023.

Order the album here:

Paul Smith Official Online Store : Merch, Music, Downloads & Clothing (

Review – Caravela Escarlate – III – by John Wenlock Smith

This album represents modern Brazilian progressive music that looks back to the halcyon days of the 1970’s and it also reminds you of, well, everyone to be honest. So you can go either through this album and play spot the influence or you could just sit back and enjoy this great new release that does wear its influences on its sleeve for sure. But don’t they say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery or something like that?

The band are a three piece trio comprising of keyboards, bass and drums (sound familiar?). The keyboard player Ronaldo Rodriguez  is joined by multi-instrumentalist Davia Paiva  on bass guitar and vocals along with Elcio Cáfaro on drums and together these three make a tremendous sound, all three being very talented musicians who can play up  a storm. Their name, Caravela Escarlate, translates as Crimson Ship, an alien being from Sidereal space than can transform into its own means of transport, in this instance a ship. The music is 70’s style prog but with touches of Brazilian music this means most tracks swing along nicely, it is very heavily reliant on keyboards.

There are 7 tracks on the album with all but two being over 7 minutes in duration. I can detect lost of recognisable influences, and some less obvious ones like Greenslade, as well as Genesis and Kayak, along with ELP. The bass playing throughout the album is magnificent with an almost virtuoso style that really propels the track along. In tandem with the dazzling keyboards on display really, this is all very impressive and of an excellent standard.

In the opening salvo of Bússola do Tempo you get a prime slice of Emerson, Lake and Palmer in the best song ELP never recorded. This track hurtles along with a driving rhythm and great bass alongside the busy drums of Elcio Cáfaro. Castelos do Céu ploughs a path well trodden by any Canterbury based band you could think of, it has that type of sound almost whimsical at times and reminds one of early Caravan. With the vocal being in Portuguese, it is quite difficult to comprehend what is all about but it certainly sounds good musically, although my research shows several tracks refer to historical eras and phases.

Fifth track Cruz Da Ordem is the longest at over ten minutes duration, this is hinged on a busy bass line and lashings of Hammond Organ and synths. It makes for a gloriously over the top track with stunning bass and sympathetic keyboard sounds. Synths, organs and mellotrons abound on this album, it’s mostly instrumental and with all but one song in Portuguese, makes for a strange and different sort of album but a very impressive and compelling one nonetheless. An unusual album to listen to but one that mines a very rich vein extremely effectively and for that we should all be glad. Standouts for me being the opener and the epic fifth track Cruz Da Ordem, both of which make for highly memorable and impressive music for you to enjoy.

Of special note is just how damned brilliant bassist David Paiva is, he is a real tour de force without whom this music would be less dynamic for sure. His blending in and bonding as the rhythm section is sheer joy to behold, a definite star in the making. When you couple this to the explosive excellence of keyboard player Ronaldo Rodriguez you can tell their 12 year existence is time well spent to hone their skills to this level and hopefully, with the support of the Karisma label, bodes well for a very bright future indeed.

This album is most definitely a  grower and I very much look forward to hearing how this band develop from here going forward. All in all this album has proved to be a very rewarding listening experience for the braver prog fan. Maybe a slot at a fusion type festival could be a way forward, time will tell I guess. Either way it will be interesting to see their next steps forward.

Released January 27th, 2023.

Order the album from bandcamp here:

III | Caravela Escarlate (

Review – Transatlantic – ‘The Final Flight: Live at L’Olympia’ – by John Wenlock Smith

This live album is a bit of a question mark in that it may be the final musical statement that the band make. Transatlantic feel that they may have reached the end of their own particular road and they also all have their own musical outlets and outputs to return to. The band has been in existence for over 24 years now so they owe us nothing really, do they?

This new live cut is taken from the final show of the short European tour taken in support of ‘The Absolute Universe’ album issued in 2021. This album offers another version of that album along with a synopsis of ‘The Whirlwind’, ‘We All Need Some Light’ and a final medley which all together gives a healthy running time of over three hours. For some this may be too much but folk who, like me, love overblown and extended works such as Transatlantic deliver, this is sheer heaven. Hopefully this won’t be their last ever effort but only time will tell on that, if it is then this is a very dignified manner in which to bow out.

The album is long so you’ll need to settle down and simply enjoy and appreciate the sheer quality and talent of these four musicians and of Ted Leonard whose vocals and guitar help complete a very fine sounding set of performances.

The album opens with The Absolute Universe intro that sets the scene for what is to come. Eerie keyboards, haunting guitar lines and a blast of symphonic sounds lead into the Overture proper, this has everyone really pushing the sound with over the top drums, bass and keyboard’s all surging like a tsunami, battering everything in their way. This is so gloriously overblown that it’s just sheer exhilaration and you know this will only get even more so on its journey, simply astonishing to hear this level of intensity and intent. This overture really lets everyone shine in their own parts but, taken together, is all the more amazing to behold. Yet, in all this, there is so much melody on offer, it’s gorgeous and  sumptuous fare indeed. The excellent guitar of Roine Stolt carries the piece to a glorious conclusion in tandem with Neal Morse’s keyboards, leading to the first real song, the symphonic Reaching For The Sky. This is an exuberant track and you can hear how happy the band are to be there, performing this album in this extended version, you can really hear this coming over strongly.

Higher Than The Morning sees Roine Stolt on vocals, although helped by all in the chorus, to good effect too! This is a blistering performance which really captures something special. This album may be long but if you like symphonic prog you will find so much to enjoy and savour herein. Sadly Paul Hanlon, one of their biggest fans is no longer with us to enjoy this and he would truly have loved this. The Darkness In The Light has another vocal from Roine, this one powers along nicely too with strong bass from Pete Trewavas and the never less than solid drums of Mike Portnoy pushing the track forward, a brief bass solo from Pete captures the moment as does a fiery guitar part from Roine. This is proving to be an excellent recording of what must have been a really magnificent evening of music. Take Now My Soul slows things down a little, they probably needed to as the opening salvo of songs couldn’t be maintained without injury surely! This more laid back track cools everyone down well this is followed by the shorter track Bully. This is only brief and leads to Rainbow Sky which has an element of the Beatles to it. It is a very fine song and has great performances throughout

This is only the first disc and already I’m sold on it, so much so that I’ve ordered the CD and Blu-Ray for myself, yes it really is that impressive! Looking For The Light continues the winning streak with growling bass from Pete and great music from all parties with a particularly great guitar line from Roine. We are then offered the lengthy epic The World We Used To Know which is the last track on disc one and yes, it’S rather good! It begins with thunderous drums from Mike Portnoy and some fine guitar from Roine but really Mike is all over this one, driving the track as only he can, he is an absolute powerhouse and his presence is definitely felt here. There follows another great guitar line that carries the song further along, it’s great to hear such beautiful melodies in this music, sheer bliss for symphonic prog nerds like me. Everything is so well orchestrated here, there is real depth and gravitas and it’s wonderful to hear this expressed so eloquently by this group of extremely talented musicians who are working at the top of their game.

Disc 2 opens with an introduction from Mike in which he outlines the evening’s entertainment and he tells how they aren’t sure of what happens after this, also he reveals this this is the fourth version of ‘The Absolute Universe’. We continue with an accapella opening to The Sun Comes Up Today which coalesces into the actual song via a fluid guitar line from Roine and some great organ from Neil before a prelude of Love Made A Way. Next up is Owl Howl which is a medium length track and one which features an extended keyboard vamp from Neil, it’s all rather worthy though and once again shows why this ensemble can be rightly called a ‘super group’. Solitude opens with rippling piano lines along with an earnest, questioning vocal from Neil, also included is a snippet of Love Made A Way again to good effect. This is an assured performance from the band, mixing delicate melodies with thunderous and lively recitals of very strong material.

Belong follows, another great version with keen guitar from Roine. There’s fabulous ensemble playing in this track too. Lonesome Rebel has some sumptuous acoustic guitar and another Roine vocal, this is a gentler song and the change of intensity works to their favour here, you cant go at it hammer and tongs for three hours, that’s not right or fair really and this measured approach is especially rewarding. Can You Feel It ups the energy level a little bit, again most effectively and includes lots of opportunities for solos from Neil and Pete. A reprise of Looking For The Light is an epic shorter track but one which really grabs the attention with its lumbering bass line over which hangs an angular organ sound and great harmonies. A commanding recital which leads into the rollicking romp of The Greatest Story Never Ends. This one is full of great keyboard textures and has lots of urgency as the band hurtle towards the finishing line which is presented with a great performance of Love Made A Way. The use of repeated motifs and refrains through the album helps cement the concept of the album and really works well here.

That concludes the album proper but the show isn’t over yet as the group continue for another hour by providing two amazing medleys, one of The Whirlwind and another called The FINAL Medley which includes Transatlantic classics such as Duel With The Devil, My New World, All Of The Above and Stranger In Your Soul. Also included is a beautiful version of We all Need Some Light, personally I’d like to have seen shine as a tribute to Paul who all the band knew very well but you can’t have it all. This selection of oldies works very well indeed and the medley of The Whirlwhind is especially enticing as a mammoth album is whittled down to a manageable duration without loosing its impact.

Overall this album is a resounding triumph for Transatlantic and one I would strongly urge you to consider as its an excellent package.

Released 17th February, 2023.

Order here:

Transatlantic – We All Need Some Light (Live in Paris 2022) (

Review – Heavy Metal Kids – The Albums 1974 to 1976 – by John Wenlock-Smith

The history of rock is strewn with endless tales of wild antics, excessive outrageous behaviours, substance & alcohol abuse and sheer unmitigated heartbreak and sadness. This was certainly the case with the Heavy Metal Kids who were a force while also being touted as the next big thing and the possible progression from the premier league of Pink Floyd, Yes and Led Zeppelin and the ilk to a rapidly changing musical scene, one with the emerging, inevitable and possibly much needed paradigm shift to a simpler, angrier and punk fuelled regime that shook the musical world significantly.

So it was into this maelstrom and vortex that Gary Holton and his crew set sail, emerging in 1973 and garnering the attentions of Dave Dee (yes, him of 60s pop idols Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich) after being spotted by his staff at a speakeasy in London’s West end. Holton having beenextricated from his previous group Biggles, who were a jazz rock outfit with connections to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, their drummer being Carl Palmer’s brother,

Holton was from Wembley and had been a member of the touring Hair ensemble and also has his sights on an acting career, he had been in theatre at the Old Vic and had done some Shakespeare along the way. Atlantic Records saw something in this lot and they were offered a contract with Dave Dee as producer, this resulted in their first two albums, ‘Heavy Metal Kids’ and ‘Anvil Chorus’.

Their name was, however, misleading as their music was not heavy metal at all but was in fact more a mixture of hard rock, glam and, unsurprisingly, vaudeville. This was a very different sound to what their name suggested, however the band live were certainly powerful and this is clearly shown on tracks like Rock ‘N’ Roll Man and It’s The Same, both of which have a definite swagger to  them. The album was critically acclaimed yet, as is often the case, this didn’t translate into record sales. The band set off on an ambitious touring schedule and were well received in America and Japan. The debut is a good album in parts and when they rock they do so convincingly with the added bonus of having a great keyboard player, Danny Peyronel, who’s honky tonk piano embellishments added much to the groups sound. That the album is largely overlooked and unknown by the masses is a tragedy as there is much to appreciate, the four bonus tracks here are being very good indeed.

For the second album, their name was shortened to The Kids , although there was a sticker that said ‘Featuring The Heavy Metal Kids’, the album is a little more consistent and is more rock oriented. You Got Me Rollin‘ is carried on a lumbering bass line that carries the song along wonderfully as does the following track On The Street, bass player Ronnie Thomas really shining on the tracks, indeed his prominent bass really impresses throughout. The songs are stronger and sound energised and inspired with great guitar fills and a solid rhythm section, all with the added colours of Danny’s keyboards to make a cohesive sound. This is sublime and worthy music, however, despite more US touring with the likes of Rush, Kiss and Alice Cooper, the album still failed to gain traction and had disappointing sales which led to them being dropped by Atlantic.

Help came from an unexpected quarter as Mickie Most of Hi Ho Silver Lining fame and teenyboppers Mud, Suzie Quatro and the RAK organisation offered to record their next album in France for his label. The resulting album appeared many months later in 1977 and again failed to really make an impact, even a Top of the Pops slot for She’s No Angel couldn’t save them and the band, despite touring with Uriah Heep on their high and mighty tour, had pretty much called it a day by 1978 when Holton quit for a short and ill feted solo career and also a more successful venture into TV & Film. A final gig at the Speakeasy with a difficult and unruly Holton brought things to a less than glittering close. The band decided to continue without Holton and went through a succession of singers, including a short return by Holton, and, thereafter, by the likes of Phil Lewis and John Altman.

Looking back to ‘Kitsch’ again, you can hear how new keyboard player John Sinclair changed the sound, making it more classical at times, and tighter than before. The album is more symphonic and more musical, this is certainly the case with the opening Overture and Chelsea Kids, in which the band marry punk aggression and rock sensibility to make an intriguing hybrid of styles. From Heaven To Hell And Back Again is another good track with the inclusion of other instruments to round out the sound further used to good effect, it really impacts well. Cry For Me has some superb guitar played to great effect along with tubular bells chiming.

The album was mixed and partly reconstructed by Mickie Most as his final statement and a kind of reaction to modern pop music, he wanted something grander and saw the Heavy Metal Kids as part of that statement and, to be honest it, it does have some very good moments and the 5 bonus tracks make interesting listening. All this is embellished with a very informative booklet that tells the whole story in fine detail. This set is really very good and an excellent reminder of the vagaries of life and that things that look good and sound good are sometimes beyond the ordinary person. Mass appeal music has its place but sometimes what is overlooked and undervalued can actually be of more worth and value.

Released 20th January, 2022.

Order from Cherry Red here:

Heavy Metal Kids: The Albums 1974-1976, 3CD Expanded Edition – Cherry Red Records

Review – Damanek – Making Shore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 13th, January, 2023.

Order from GEP here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 27th January, 2023.

Order the album here:

Pyramids, Stars & Other Stories: The Tangent Live Recordings 2004-2017 (

Review – Echo Us – Inland Empire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 7th March, 2023.

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Review – Glen Brielle – Still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released November 26th, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

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Review – Riverside – ID.Entity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 20th January, 2023.

Order ‘ID.Entity’ here:

Riverside – ID.Entity (