Review – Oak – False Memory Archive – by Progradar

“Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.”

A poignant quote from the great Tom Petty and one that surely rings true in today’s troubled times. I love the surprise of hearing new music that moves you and takes you to a better place, there truly is nothing better.

Featuring members of both Airbag and the Björn Riis touring bands, Oak is a Norwegian progressive pop/rock band that originally emerged from a folk-rock duo. The four members have a diverse background spanning from classical piano to electronica, prog- and hard-rock, with references to the alternative scene as well as progressive rock – something that has combined to make a distinguished and unique sound. Mixing this with great musical skills and a vision of being accessible to a wide audience resulted in their debut album ‘Lighthouse’ in 2013.

Five years later, they are back with the stunning follow-up ‘False Memory Archive’. A natural continuation from ‘Lighthouse’, to which it has several small nods and references. The album has been meticulously crafted, with more use of electronics and low bass frequencies. It is both darker and groovier than its predecessor, while still sounding familiarly like Oak.

The promo arrived, unassumingly, in my inbox a few weeks ago and it was only because the band’s name triggered some sought of recognition in my mind that I decided to give it an immediate listen.

‘False Memory Archive’ is an incredibly engrossing and memorable listening experience. The opening track We, The Drowned immediately draws you into their dark but satisfying musical world. Simen Valldal Johannessen’s heartfelt vocals drip empathy and pathos and the band’s music just bleeds emotion, I was hooked from the first note.

The album has a feel of the more melancholy side of progressive and alternative music and will inevitably draw comparisons with the likes of Steven Wilson and The Pineapple Thief but these impressive musicians can stand their own ground as can be seen on the wistfully sombre but utterly graceful Clare De Lune. The album is really beginning to strike a chord with me, a wonderfully affectional musical journey that touches your heart an soul.

The darker progressive feel of title track False Memory Archive is countered by the uplifting harmony of the elegant chorus then the sparse, hauntingly pensive Lost Causes just leaves you open mouthed and slack jawed in appreciation with its powerful and yet stark message. It’s an utterly magical piece of music that cements just how good this band truly is.

The delightfully playful classical interlude of Intermezzo is grace and class personified and works like a musical amuse-bouche before the tension is cranked up by the mesmerising dark delights of The Lights, a captivating ten minutes plus of cat and mouse where light and shade intertwine and leave the hairs on the back of your neck rising.

The highs just keep coming, These Are The Stars We’re Aiming For pulsates with energy punctuated by sincere passion and fervor, Transparent Eyes is a plaintive contemplative track that almost rests a comfort blanket over your emotional state and the closing track, Psalm 51, is achingly beautiful, an ethereal joy, a song of longing and of love that brings a tear to your eye and yet joy to your heart.

I have loved music for many years, it has been with me through the highs and the lows  and my life would not be complete without it. My life is now also complete with this incredible album from Oak. Albums like ‘False Memory Archive’ are the reason that music was created in the first place, they bring peace to your soul and joy and love to your heart and the world is a better place for them. I cannot give any higher praise than that.

Released 19th October 2018

Order from bandcamp here (I’ve ordered the vinyl)

 

 

Review – Mark Rowen – Radiance – by Progradar

“The album title ‘Radiance’ was inspired, not by something that sounds like it could be added to your bath, but by the brilliant and creative photography of my now good friend Leonardo Wöllart and by the idea that there’a light that burns inside us all.”

So says Mark Rowen, former lead guitarist with Mostly Autumn offshoot Breathing Space and ‘Radiance’ is his first solo album. Like many, he is not a full time musician, he just happens to play guitar and write a decent song or two, when he can find the time alongside his full time job at an electronics company!

I first heard Mark’s work as a guest guitarist on the seminal debut album from Riversea, the acclaimed ‘Out of an Ancient World’ and he has produced something of a guitar-rock gem with his debut.

Along with vocalist Lisa Box, drummer Barry Cassells, bassist Paul Teasdale, keyboardist Leigh Perkins and a whole host of well known guest musicians, Mark Rowen delivers music from the heart, music that has soul and not a little nostalgia seeping out from every pore.

There’s joy and light radiating from these songs and Lisa’s vocals (sounding a little like Stevie Nicks) give a real 70’s and 80’s Fleetwood Mac vibe to some of the tracks like My Shadow Walks Alone, Feel Like Letting Go, the beautiful The Reason Why and the elegantly sublime Time To Leave.

There’s the haunting and heart-achingly wistful On The Blue Horizon with its subtle Americana soul and the dramatic Carousel which would be befitting of a stage musical, all these songs show what a songwriting talent Mark Rowen is and how good his core band are behind him. Mark’s guitar playing is superb, take the Dire Straits/Fleetwood Mac infused Trick Of The Light which would have graced either of those bands 80’s heyday releases, but it’s the wonderfully complex, deep, dark and beguiling ten minutes plus of Lure Of The Siren where everything falls into place perfectly to give the highlight of this impressive album. A slow burning and slow building musical delight that takes you through a whole gamut of emotions, songs like this are why I love music so much.

The album closes with the harder rocking soulful blues of Love Is Like A Rock and the piano driven, heartfelt Shine.

‘Radiance’ lives up to its title, there is a light of joy, love and humanity that shines throughout this impressive album. The musicianship and songwriting are top notch and deliver an engrossing listening experience that gets better every time you hear it.

Released 1st September 2018

Order from bandcamp here

 

Review – Haken – Vector – by James R. Turner

I was a little torn when I read the press about this album and heard on the grapevine that it was a return to the heavier sound of the band, and a step away from the more electronic influences that permeated the marvellous ‘Affinity’ album. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it as much as ‘Affinity’ and its corresponding tour, I wondered if it would be a step backwards for the band and veer off into prog metal territory. My attitude to that genre (which seems such a misnomer, and lumps so many disparate and diverse bands together in such a narrow band to be almost meaningless) is indifferent at best. Bands like Dream Theater, Anathema and Opeth have drifted into my hearing but passed me by, and if I get a CD with ‘tramp shouting down a megaphone into a dustbin’ alleged vocals then off it goes and never gets listened to again.

Luckily for me, and you, I listened to the album and didn’t just take the blurb at face value. Yes whilst it’s heavier, it is a distinct evolution of the Haken sound, taking the best parts of their last albums and including more of the electronic elements to their sonic template, creating an album that sits on the right side of heavy. Of course, as any fule kno’, Haken have a wonderful vocalist in the form of Ross Jennings who can sing, and has a superb voice, perfect for the light and the soft that peppers their sound.

Another arsenal in their sound is the harmony vocals provided by all 5 of the other members, which is a rarity in many bands, especially bands operating in the heavier sector, and this also sets them apart. It also helps they are bloody good musicians, who manage to capture their live essence on record, and having seen them on the last tour they are amazing live, loud and complex, but amazing.

Again, on this record there is plenty of ability on show but it’s not one of those guitar wankery albums you get where it’s all skill and no soul. ‘Vector’ is chock full of emotion and soul, and is superb evolution of their sound from ‘Affinity’, true musical progression in the original dictionary definition of the word.

Across these seven tracks Haken wring out every ounce of emotion from their performance and put together a sublime album in doing so.

Tracks like The Good Doctor and, my personal favourite, Puzzle Box incorporate more of the electronic and keyboard sounds that hung over from Affinity whilst not losing any of their power. Diego Tejeda and Richard Henshall put together a formidable onslaught, whilst Henshall and Charles Griffiths on guitar remind me of that other fantastic musical duo of Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton from TFATD, both pairings are guitarists with plenty of skill and the intuitive ability to bounce off each other, but more, much more than that, they play with heart and soul. That is what so many technical shredders are missing, the best music has soul and emotion and without that you’ve got nothing.

Veil is the centrepiece to this album and it is epic, a real masterclass in how to mix light and shade. The way Haken go about things, with their sound anchored by bassist Conner Green and drummer Raymond Hearne, remind me very much of Iron Maiden in their ethos. A band who are not afraid to rock out and turn it up where necessary but how have both the skill and the ambition to tackle the big concepts and pull them off in style.

In fact, across this album there’s no bad track, some wonderful symphonic sounds on A Cell Divides, the opener Clear and the brilliantly enigmatic The Good Doctor, all of which set the pace and the tone of the album, and the overriding concept, which has elements of psychoanalysis and deeper meanings to the title.

The band themselves say there’s a concept, but the meanings are there to be deciphered by the fans, unwrapping the Puzzle box if you like. However you see it though, you cannot deny that Haken are one of the most interesting and exciting bands currently making music and, as for where they sit genre wise, who cares?

They have made a sublime album that takes the building blocks from their previous albums, with nods right back to the debut, and still manage to push their sound on and create something that is new, that is vibrant and that is nothing other than what it is.

What a joy to be able to write about bands like Haken on today’s scene.

Released 26th October 2018

Order the album from the link here

 

 

Review – Riverside – Wasteland – by Progradar

“The darkness of the ultimate light is better than the lights of the ultimate darkness.”
― Mohsin Ali Shaukat

One cannot truly appreciate the light unless one has first walked in the dark. We talk of the light at the end of the tunnel, you see this through the dark and it is the ultimate goal, you must, however, travel through the dark to reach the light.

The tragedy that befell in February 2016 called into question the very existence of Riverside. The co-founder and guitarist of the band, Piotr Grudziński, died suddenly just before his 41st birthday. The band cancelled all the concerts planned for that year and dedicated the album “Eye of the Soundscape”, released in September 2016, to their late friend.

To begin a new chapter of Riverside, they would have to record an album from the point of view of someone bereft, someone who has survived a tragedy. The fact that the album would be recorded without their guitarist might result in having to experiment musically a little more than usual but, most of all, it might translate into deeper symbolism and carry a more profound meaning. “I had a feeling we would be alright and we could make something beautiful and exceptional,” recalls vocalist and main composer Mariusz Duda.

In the spring of 2017, Riverside resumed playing live. During the “Towards the Blue Horizon” tour the band were joined on stage by Maciej Meller who officially joined RIVERSIDE as their live guitarist. Why has he not become the official fourth member of the band? “It’s not so simple,” Duda explains, “To catch up with 15 years takes time. I love Maciej but everything has to have its place and time. For now we are a quartet only live.”

So that band is coming back this year with their seventh studio album called “Wasteland”, recorded as a trio: Mariusz Duda – vocals, guitars and basses, Piotr Kozieradzki – drums and Michał Łapaj – keyboards and Hammond organ.

The band entered the recording studio in December 2017 and Duda assumed the duties of the band’s guitarist. “We recorded a demo. It turned out alright and we had come to the conclusion that I would manage to play all the rhythmic parts, all the melodies and some of the solos. Naturally, to enhance the sound of the album, we left some space for guests.”

And so on the new album, you can hear a few guitar solos by Maciej Meller, as well as one by Mateusz Owczarek, a young, talented guitarist, who played with the band during their Warsaw memorial concert for Piotr. For the first time in their music, there are also violins played by Michał Jelonek.

Touted by the band as the spiritual successor to ‘Second Life Syndrome’, the new album is a much heavier and emotive proposition than fan favourite ‘Love, Fear and the Time Machine’. From the opening strains of Duda’s a-cappella vocals on The Day After and the segue into the sparse, industrial riff of Acid Rain, this is immediately apparent. An underlying feel of apprehension and darkness takes over the first few tracks on the album, for an album whose theme is attempting to survive in a world after the Apocalypse this is, perhaps, quite understandable.

This opening may surprise long term fans but it is superbly well crafted and delivered music that seeks to find a way through an increasingly turbulent world full of new divisions and conflicts. The closing couple of minutes of Acid Rain seem to bring a feeling of light and hope but that is immediately dashed by the granite heavy, staccato riff that delivers Vale of Tears onto an unsuspecting world. A powerful and imposing track that is delivered in one serious and heavy manner. So far ‘Wasteland’ and its predecessor are proving to be polar opposites.

The symbolism of the album refers not only to the post-apocalyptic visions of the world, but also to the death of Piotr Grudziński, to the band’s attempt to find themselves in new circumstances. The wistfully heartbreaking Guardian Angel with its understated vocals and delicate piano and guitar is calmness personified among the dark, post-apocalyptic feel of the earlier tracks. There’s a melancholy feel and a longing at its heart that brings a lump to your throat, a sepia tinged look back in time perhaps?

The elegant acoustic guitar that opens Lament gives no indication of what is to follow, Duda’s keening vocal heralds the entrance of the heaviest riff on the album so far, one that Mikael Åkerfeldt would have been proud of. A song that will inevitably draw comparisons with Opeth (well, I’ve done it!!) with its spacious and melodious verse and thunderous chorus. It’s the song on the album that really hits home with me, emotionally and musically, and Mariusz Duda’s solo just bleeds passion.

There’s a slight change in feel on the album as we head into the ying and yang of the 9 minute-plus instrumental The Struggle For Survival, a feel of the fight to pull away from the hold of the darkness and fight to get to the light. An invigorating first half where Duda’s bass line orchestrates proceedings with a deftness of touch is replaced by the more frantic and chaotic guitar and keyboard heavy second part where Łapaj comes to the fore. The graceful River Down Below sees the seeker getting closer to the light but there’s still a slightly forlorn edge to the music and a fragility to the vocal, a touching and truly moving song that wears its heart on its sleeve.

Title track Wasteland has a world-weary aura, a feel of an ending to a journey of extreme hardship but also one of hard fought knowledge collected along the way. The song drifts along with a lightness of being that can only come from the triumph over adversity. There’s a break into a frenzied instrumental section that fights to overcome the calm before sanity finally regains control. This gives an epic and cinematic feel to the song, an allegory of the fight between darkness and light which has been at the crux of the whole album. For me, the best is saved till last, the wonderful The Night Before where the sparsity of just piano and vocals gives humanity and reality to the song. It’s sublime, almost intangible grace seeps into your very soul until the song finishes and all is left is the vacuum of total silence.

Simply put ‘Wasteland’ is two things, a triumph of the light over the dark and a fitting tribute to Piotr. A compelling and engrossing musical journey through darkness, grief and loss to emerge into the light. A spiritual catharsis that sees a new chapter in the life of Riverside and puts them back at the forefront where they truly belong.

Released 28th September 2018

Order the album from Burning Shed here

 

Review – ATME – State of Necessity – by Progradar

“If you want to experience a deep journey into sound, ATME is a band you are looking for.”

Well, that’s quite a strapline isn’t it? Definitely enough to get me intrigued but, first, more about Poland’s ATME from the Press Release:

ATME was founded in 2011 in Wrocław, Poland. The band consists of four friends and integrated personalities crafting their own musical language mostly by improvisation during rehearsals and concerts.

“We like to leave our comfort zones in search of our own unique sound and character, the best way is by putting ourselves in a state of being here and now and just letting the music flow through us” – states ATME’s guitarist Piotr Guliński.

The stories behind their songs are the result of observation of the world and people. Lyrics discuss issues concerning the existence, spiritual development and psychology of the human mind.

“Music needs to be alive, to interact with us, people and the world around us, it needs to breathe” – says vocalist Luke Pawełoszek.”

Along with Piotr and Luke, ATME’s  line up is completed by Adrian Nejman – bass and Paweł Zborowski – drums & percussion. ATME’s sound can be associated with some of the works from bands like Tool, Led Zeppelin, Budgie, Opeth, Mastodon, Perfect Circle or Faith No More, while still maintaining an identity of their own.

So, big shoes to step in but step into them they do. The band’s debut release ‘State of Necessity’ is a dark and powerful statement of intent shot through with some quite beautiful moments of light and lucidity. There is a touch of jazz to opening tracks Worthy of Pity and Pleasure Box that does give a feel of Faith No More to the music, if Faith No More had spent a few days locked in a dark dungeon with Satan himself that is.

For this is a very dark album in places, deliciously dark in fact, the guitar riffs feel like they have come from the darkest recesses of the Earth and the obsidian drumbeat is hewn out of solid rock. There’s no comfort zone here, just the stylish, raw musical sound of a band crafting their own musical language and forging their own unique sound. Be it the grunge-heavy groove of the fabulous Trickster or the hard-rock-fest of the riotous ten minutes of Interrupted Call, like Led Zep on some serious acid, this band have crafted some seriously impressive tracks.

Through it all Luke’s impressively world weary and gravelly vocal drives things along, accompanied by that superb sound from Piotr’s memorable guitar and the truly heavy rhythm section of Adrian and Pawel. There are rare moments of calm within this thunderous musical storm of an album, moments that concentrate your thoughts on what is coming next, Pecto Dril, which will rock you like the proverbial hurricane, or (un)cut Thoughts with its more cerebral moments, either is a force of nature.

The album closes with the monster Hotel of the Transfiguration, a near ten minute journey into the soul of the beast and one of the best prog metal/hard rock/grunge tracks you’ll hear this year, this truly is the primeval sound of the earth at its elemental core.

Well, if you want a complete heavy mind-f*ck of an album that will, literally, blow you away but one that is full of intelligence and incisive songwriting then you need look no further than ATME’s brilliant debut ‘State of Necessity’.

Released 16th December 2017

Order the album from bandcamp here

 

Review – Damanek – In Flight – by Progradar

“Who hears music, feels his solitude Peopled at once.”
― Robert Browning, The complete poetical works of Browning

Damn, 2018 has been a stellar year for some great new releases and another one has found its way to Progradar Towers!

Damanek are a sort of Prog Rock supergroup formed by fellow Yorkshireman Guy Manning (vocals, keyboards, percussion, guitars, bass), Marek Arnold (saxes and seaboard), Dan Mash (bass) and Sean Timms (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals & additional programming). This talented quarted is joined by a plethora of stellar musicians including Antonio Vittozzi, Luke Machin and Tzan Nico on guitar and Brody Thomas Green on drums.

Described as ‘a genre-defying collection of sophisticated songs..’, ‘In Flight’ is the follow up to 2017’s well received ‘On Track’. Once again Sean Timms’ sleek production adds to the overall sense of quality and class.

There’s a shiver of anticipation running through me as the opening notes of Ragusa break out, there’s already a feeling of class and quality shining through. Guy has one of those voices that speaks to you through and beyond the music, a familiar cultured tone that puts you at ease immediately. The music itself is impressively stylish and smooth and just adds to the feeling of sophistication. The guest guitarists add even more sparkle and inspiration, this is going to be one enjoyable journey. Oooh, jazzy piano and percussion, the opening to Skyboat is joyful and upbeat and, as the track opens up with gusto, we are sent on a rollocking musical ride. Funky guitar and edgy percussion, along with an ever so cool hammond organ, add to the feel-good factor and the grin spreading across your face. This is music at its inspiring best and music that brings joy to your soul.

The Crawler opens with a deliciously dark melody and feel, a mature and sophisticated aura permeates the song with Guy’s distinguished vocal adding layers of class. The captivating chorus with its elegant sax sends shivers down your spine. Sean’s production can be felt most here, giving us a stand out piece of music on what is becoming an evidently impressive album. There’s a levity to Moon Catcher, a lightness of soul and featherlight touch to the music. The sparsity of the production and laid back approach to the vocals, along with the meandering sax, leaves a whimsical feel, a really classy piece of music.

Catchy, addictive and upbeat from the first note, The Crossing is a jazz-infused delight, the carefree tinkling of the ivories a particular highlight. Add in some more of the impressive sax and Guy’s vocals and you are onto a winner. The 3 part epic Big Eastern closes the album, taking the listener on an emotive journey from East to West: from the poorest rural lands of China to the West Coast of the USA. Grand in conception, and inspired in execution, it’s a journey that you become deeply involved in and one that takes you across the whole galaxy of progressive music, visiting every nuance on its way. At just shy of thirty minutes it is a true epic but never outstays its welcome, every note and every word is there for a reason and that reason is to give the listener the best and most joyous experience ever when it comes to music.

‘In Flight’ is an album I haven’t remotely got bored of, even after multiple listens. 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. This year there have been some fantastic releases, releases that are finally bringing the joy back to music and Damanek’s ‘In Flight’ should be considered up there with the best of them.

Released 5th October 2018

Buy In Flight from GEP here

Listen to ‘Ragusa’ from ‘In Flight’ here

 

Review – Nosound – Allow Yourself – by Progradar

Nosound have come a long way since their humble beginnings as a solo project of main man Giancarlo Erra. Six studio albums along with the odd EP and live CD/DVD have seen them hailed as one of the most interesting up and coming alt/art rock bands in Europe. Nosound inventively combines influences from ’70s psychedelia, ’80s/’90s ambient and contemporary alternative and post rock.

The follow up to 2016’s ‘Scintilla’ sees the band forging a different sound. “Allow Yourself’ is a new phase for Nosound. Finding a new balance between organic and electronic sounds. stepping away from rock structures and ditching guitars to have more space for experimentation.”, says Giancarlo, “It is a stripping back of what we have known before, and its inspirations are in a different field altogether, finding the band in a new space once more, wholly embracing Alternative/Electronic influences.”

So is the new sound of Nosound (sorry, couldn’t resist that!) a step in the right direction. Well yes….and no…

There are times when you bemoan the absence of the lush chords and wonderful orchestrations of the previous albums, especially ‘Afterthoughts’ and ‘Scintilla’ and, to my ears, some tracks that just don’t work at all. However, at other times, it’s minimalist feel and heartrending simplicity is painstakingly beautiful.

The highlights of the album are the wonderful, ethereal sounding sheltermy drugthis night and saviour, four tracks where the band’s desire to take the stripped back route works just about perfectly, leaving you with a feeling of whimsical, melancholy delight. The slow burning desire of at peace works particularly well, all the pent up desire burning under the surface but never allowed to break free.

The less is more approach works less well on ego dripdon’t you dare and weights, all good songs but just lacking that spark I have come to expect from this band. I just cannot get into growing in me and defy at all, I’ll just leave it that they are not my cup of tea.

So, overall, I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the new album. I always applaud a band’s desire to progress and change, that is the lifeblood of music but, for me, there is just too much pared back minimalist style on the album. The good tracks are very, very good indeed but they don’t quite make up for the others. It is by no means a bad album but the change in direction just doesn’t fit with my musical ethos.

Released 21st September 2018

Order the album from Burning Shed here

 

 

 

 

Review – Lathe of Heaven – Now There’s No Room – by Progradar

“Lathe of Heaven sounds religious doesn’t it?  And it is, sort of.  Vaguely.  Well, almost entirely unlike religion as it turns out.  To explain…

A favourite novel of mine is The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula Le Guin.  While writing the book, she was apparently very taken by some Taoist verses by Chuang Tse XXIII, which she used here and there in the story.  The book title is from one in particular:

‘ To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment.  Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.’ 

Years after the book was published, Le Guin discovered that this is a terrible translation of the original writing, but it was way too late to do anything about it.  She still liked the sentiment though, and so do I.  I take it to mean something like, ‘To know that something is unknowable, but still struggle to understand it, is a path to madness.’

So why did I call this project Lathe of Heaven?  I’m not letting on, but if you think about it hard enough, perhaps one day you will understand.”

Songs about lust for power, mass extinction, chocolate, apathy and the Voyager spacecraft – Lathe of Heaven is a solo music project by Martin Giles from Hampshire, UK. Martin spent 30 years in the music industry, first as a recording engineer, and then mastering at CTS Studios and then Alchemy Shoho in London.

‘Now There’s No Room’ is a statement about the world we live in and how humanity is impacting on that world.

Martin quotes in his blog on the Lathe of Heaven website:

“So these days, I’m preoccupied with all the ways we’re screwing things up, and all the forces that conspire to maintain this catastrophic momentum. On the other hand, there are a few signs of hope, a few people who make a noticeable change for the good, and I write about them too.”

This is an album full of melodic, song-based tunes, a truly progressive album in the sense of the word. Martin Giles is a very accomplished musician and his obvious production and mastering skills are evident in every note. The Sibylline Books is a gentle and elegant piece of music that sets the tone for the whole record, the impressive vocals are measured and smooth and lend an authoritative hue to the track, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.’ Never a truer word…

Now There’s No Room is a melancholy and yet almost spiritual song, its pensive mood belying the graceful delivery of the vocals and ethereal music. As it comes to a close it leaves a burning emptiness inside you. How long until all the figures of speech we have that allude to animals are made permanently obsolete? Misunderstood takes the hard rock root with a stylish riff and gravel edged vocals that would have made Joe Cocker proud. It’s jaunty, devil-may-care feel is infectious, it’s all about how to avoid worrying about anything.

There’s a sparse, oriental feel to the minimalist beginnings of  Suit (some of the villains of the piece). It has a meandering, spacey jazz feel running throughout with the laid back drumming and stylish guitar. This is music for the mind, it encourages and instigates discussion and thinking. The Barefoot Chocolate Maker is, by way of contrast, a true story about a good man who really made a difference. To my ears there is a feel of ‘Wish You Were Here’ about the track. It’s simple delights bewitching, the story is all you need, no embellishments. The wonderful extra track Theme is a musical palate cleanser and enthralls with its childlike innocence and uncomplicated delights.

Marionettes has a slow buring beginning that blossoms into another effortless piece of music. I have to mention the vocals that, throughout this album, have been very impressive and lend a mature feel, an agelessness beyond our years, tot he music. The wonderful keyboards and acoustic guitar again giving a nod to Floyd, ‘The puppets refuse to return to the box’. This album just keeps getting better, Martin has proven himself as a very intelligent songwriter throughout and Panopticon/Rome Burns is no exception. Perhaps darker than the other songs with a very profound and influential feel to it, it showcases the subtle and discerning side to Martin’s skillset and asks the question ‘How much do we really know, and how should we respond?’

This thought provoking album comes to a close with The Last Song that subtly says, ‘We certainly won’t be around in a million years. Will there be anything at all to hint that we were ever here? Calmness personified with the delicate guitars and hushed vocal, it certainly leaves you in a very thoughtful frame of mind.

Intelligent, inventive and perfectly crafted, ‘Now There’s No Room’ is a captivating and utterly absorbing fifty-four minutes of intriguing and provocative music and an album that Martin Giles should be immensely proud of.

Released 8th September 2018

Order direct from the Lathe of Heaven website here

 

 

Review – The Pineapple Thief – Dissolution – by James R. Turner

I was relatively late to the Pineapple Party, first picking up on their ‘Someone Here Is Missing’ album, and since then I’ve enjoyed the journey through ‘Magnolia’, and ‘Your Wilderness’, their first album (&tour) with Gavin Harrison, the drummer’s drummer and the contemporary Bruford.

His performances on the tour (along with Darran Charles) on 2nd guitar gave frontman Bruce Soord room to breathe on stage and step up to be the frontman we always knew he was capable of being. Seeing them play in Bristol was sublime, the best I had ever seen them, those doubting this should seek out the ‘Where We Stood’ live documentary of this tour.

The best bands have the best drummers, (look at Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Yes, King Crimson and Gandalfs Fist) and it’s the interplay between the music and the skill of the drummer that raises it somewhere else.

Harrison, now on board for another album and tour, has been fundamental in pushing the band forward with getting more involved in collaborating with the song writing and main songwriter Bruce Soord has responded in kind, after all, if you have a Ferrari you don’t drive it two miles down the road to buy a loaf of bread do you?

Following on from ‘Your Wilderness’, this new album, again, is evolution rather than revolution, taking the trademark depth of the The Pineapple Thief and building on established motifs and sounds. ‘Dissolution’ is a darker album than its predecessor and that is reflected in the artwork and sound. There is only one song on here that could be considered an epic, although that shouldn’t put anyone off.

Bruce has the knack for putting plenty of hooks and sounds into the shorter songs and it’s his song writing that is so effective across the album and what makes it work. In fact, the opener Not Naming Any Names opens in an incredibly low key way for an album starter  and it sets the album’s stall out in it’s briefest 2 minute introduction. This is one of the darker and bleaker albums that Bruce has been involved in and the theme of Dissolution, from relationships, to the impact social media has on these things and the way it amplifies and polarises, them is evident throughout.

Try As I Might is a harder and darker track again, and the ever present Steve Kitch on keys and Jon Sykes on bass both pull together to create the pulsating dark undertow to the album. Threatening War is another fantastic track, one that I am sure will be fantastic live and, as throughout the album, Harrison’s drumming is peerless, while Bruce wrings every amount of emotion through the songs. Judging from the lyrics it would appear that he’s been through the mill a bit. The low key lo-fi mood continues with the short Pillar of Salt which leads into the 11 minute epic of White Mist, featuring guest guitar work from David Torn, it has an exciting experimental edge to it with some fantastic performances all round. This isn’t your typical prog epic, it builds and twists to its musical climax as guitars duel, electronics shimmer and ebb and flow and the beat of Harrison’s drums act as a counterpoint to Bruce’s vocals.

This is the sound of a band reborn and energised and, while the album has its dark moments and bleak lyrics, musically it is one of the best they have made and, like all the best albums, flows perfectly. No dipping in and out of tracks here, this is a journey, musically and lyrically and Bruce, again, has shown why The Pineapple Thief are one of the finest bands out there, and one who you must see live.

In fact, my only niggle with the whole ‘Dissolution’ album and tour is the fact that, on the first leg, they aren’t playing Bristol!

Released 31st August 2018

Order ‘Dissolution’ from Kscope here:

The Pineapple Thief

 

 

Review – Nova Cascade – Above All Else – by Scott Evans

Having formed in Spring 2017 Nova Cascade have done remarkable work to get themselves known in prog circles quite quickly. With their debut album ‘Above All Else’ they have hit the ground running. Nova Cascade are made up of musicians from 3 different countries, Dave Hilborne (Vocals, Synths) Dave Fick (Bass) , Alessio Proietti (Guitars) , Heather Leslie (Violin), Charles Bramald (Flute) and David Anania (Drums). The road to this album is a story in itself, with different recording methods,including a phone, some very credible guest appearances and the swapping of files to get to the finished product. The band blurb will tell you that this album was recorded on a budget and the production is very homemade, but this should not distract in anyway as what you get is good raw performances and feel.

Let’s start with the artwork, the rather fetching and beautiful cover artwork was designed and drawn by one of my favourite geniuses Paul Dews of How Far To Hitchin fameThis gets the ‘Above All Else’ experience off to a good start, the illustration matches the feel of the album well. This is then added to with some great photography from Brooke Smith.

So onto the album, at 37 minutes, this is perfect for the style and feel of the album. I am not sure if there is a genre of prog call ambient prog , but if there was not there is now! At the right time and moment this is a wonderful relaxed album to chill out to. Designed to be played as a whole, each track effortlessly blends with the next to form a dreamy mixture of music. Mainly instrumental the album is punctuated with vocals, and when they do arrive the best comparison I can give is Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis , which given the ambient feel of the album works well.

The title track Above All Else opens the album and a fine track it is one of the vocal tracks the track sets the scene for the ambient feel, the instruments blend and weave together for a very nice feel. Continuum follows and introduces the drums, this really is a nice track, again lots going on which can be appreciated more on headphones. The tracks are very short (in the prog world) which sometime leaves you wanting more but that is no bad thing, just hit play again. Prophecy has a Marillion type guitar led feel to the song, at the time of writing my favourite on the album. Hurtled brings back vocals and the Talk Talk reference would be appropriate for this track. LO-FI, Epiphany, One Hundred & Fourteen and Imago all continue the ambient feel very synth heavy and all pretty glorious again a listen on headphones does it justice as sounds work their way around your head, the piano on One Hundred & Fourteen deserves their own mention. This is a great section of the album that lets you drift off. Swept Away is the penultimate vocal track and is a more guitar drums and,in particular, bass guitar led track, probably the most upbeat track of the album but still fits in well with the overall feel of the album. The final instrumental is Icarus, maybe because the name of the track puts something in your head but the sweeping synths and melodies do feel like they would accompany flying. And finally we finish the album with one of the standout tracks Wiltedthe vocals arriving just at the end delivered just right to end the journey.

‘Above All Else’ is a great debut album that will put Nova Cascade on the prog map so to speak, yes there are times when the production could be better but it never distracts and to the majority they would neither notice or care as the music outweighs this. Very interesting to see/hear what comes next.

Released 10th September 2018 on download/8th October 2018 on CD.

Order the download from bandcamp here

Order the CD from eBay here