Review – Unified Past – Shifting the Equlibrium

Unified Past - Shifting the Equilibrium - cover-art by Ed Unitsky

“I really don’t think in the past. I sit down with many friends at dinner, and they like to talk about the good old days. I’m respectful of the good old days, but I find myself spending very little time reminiscing. I’m really looking forward.” – David Bren.

Through numerous conversations, discussions and mild arguments on social media this last month, I have come to see this as indicative of my view on the music industry and, particularly, the progressive genre.

I wrote a few words about this, agreed, in the heat of the moment and, despite them mellowing somewhat over the last week or two, this was the gist of it:

“My dear friends if we always keep looking over our shoulders at what has gone before then there will be no future for the music.
Yes, enjoy the greats of the past but please invest some of your precious time and hard-earned money in some of the smaller artists who are producing the here and the now and, more than that even, the future……”

True, some of these modern artists would not even be writing and performing their music if it wasn’t for the influence of the leviathans of the past and we should respect them for that and for what they are producing now but, we really need to concentrate on the present for this genre (and many others, I would imagine, but I’m concentrating on my favourite!) to flourish and not disappear into the musical ether.

I hope, in some little way, that by concentrating on the independent artists and small labels that I can contribute to widening the general music fan’s consciousness when it comes to the new music that they produce and release.

To that extent I, once again, delve into the musical treasure trove to find some wonderment for your delectation and, this time, it is Syracuse, NY band Unified Past who get ‘Progradared’ (so to speak!).

I have been a long time fan of this excellent group of musicians ever since reviewing their last release ‘Spots’ for Lady Obscure Music Magazine and I was very excited when, earlier this year, guitarist Stephen Speelman first informed me that they had a new album coming out, ‘Shifting the Equlibrium’, in the autumn.

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Unified Past is a power progressive rock band from Syracuse, New York. ‘Shifting the Equilibrium’ is the band’s 7th release and their third for Melodic Revolution Records. The CD is a 6 panel digi pack containing a 12 page booklet of lyrics and photos, designed by international fantasy artist Ed Unitsky, who also designed “Spots” in 2013.

The band consists of Stephen Speelman (guitars, keys, vocals), Dave Mickelson (bass) and Victor Tassone (drums and percussion). For this new release they were joined by grammy award winning vocalist Phil Naro, showing that the band is continuing to grow and evolve and that they are a band that prog rock fans should really get to know.

Guitarist Stephen possesses a master’s degree in classical guitar performance, bass player Dave  is currently a member of Joey Belladonna’s Chief Big Way and thunderous drummer Victor  has appeared on several independent artist releases as well, including Corvus Stone and Andy John Bradford’s Oceans 5.

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The album opens with Erasure Principle, a tentative percussion and keys based intro gives way to the thunderous guitar of Stephen Speelman and Victor Tassone’s powerful drumming. This is what you call ‘Power-Prog’ as the heavy riffage continues, surrounded by some rather nice technical elements. When Phil’s voice joins the throng, it gives it a very Rush-like feel, especially with the keyboards driving the song along. Some rather excellent instrumental interludes join together the vocal parts and it is immediately obvious that Naro’s distinctive vocals have added a further dimension to the band’s signature sound. Speelman goes into guitar shredding mode with an excellent solo in the middle of a more laid back interlude, giving a short break, before the flood gates are once again opened and the full force of Unified Past is thrust upon you. Upbeat, effervescent and assured, it opens the album with a purely positive vibe.

A really striking keyboard run, accompanied by another booming riff opens Smile (In the Face of Adversity), Phil repeats the title in a lazy repeated circle and the song seems to tread water before the blue touch paper is lit and off we go on a hectic riff-led journey once more. Excellent little squirreling guitar runs grab your attention and reel you in to join the effusive musical thrill ride. The dense production leading to a wall to wall block of intense sound, staccato, random keyboard parts and sinister guitar breaks give the whole song a moody aura and Phil’s vocal has a slight pleading note to it, appealing to your better side. The catchy chorus is underpinned by the chugging riff that drives the song along at a break-neck pace. The musical breaks haul everything back to a more sedate tempo as the atmosphere takes on an edgy feel. Naro’s intensive vocal delivery will not be to everyone’s taste but I feel that it works perfectly with the solid, forceful musical delivery. An intricate, restless guitar solo adds menace before the song breaks out with the dynamic keyboards and looms ominously above you. Quite a dark hued musical adventure that comes to an enigmatic close, I’ve paid the entrance fee and I am enjoying the ride….

Etched in Stone begins with a nicely subdued acoustic guitar followed by refined keyboards that add a note of distinction to the track. The vocals join in, quite heartfelt and earnest, adding a cultured note. The ‘Power-Prog’ takes a back seat initially but it isn’t long before Tassone’s drumming starts to resonate around the inside of your skull, purposeful and compelling. Speelman’s guitar adds its usual stylish flourishes and you really get to hear the majesty of Dave Mickelson’s fluent bass playing as it lays the foundations for the rest of this enjoyable musical jaunt. Another forceful and energetic riff adds the necessary chops to Phil Naro’s increasingly potent vocal delivery, add all this energizing melodic brilliance to the intricate progressive elements already in the melting pot and you get a wild smorgasbord of harmonious delights. There is no denying the technical artistry of these musicians but it is their ability to write a damn good song that always seems to come to the fore for me, adding the undoubted vocal drama of Phil Naro has really upped their game by quite a large leap.

A highly charged and volatile keyboard and guitar combination launches Peace Remains in This World, a really aggressive and magnetic opening and Phil’s dominant voice carries on the efficacious feel. Touches of Rush and Trevor Rabin era Yes abound to my ears. The lively, electrifying interplay between the keys and guitar that overly some more impressive bass work from Dave Mickelson is a definite highlight as this track takes definitively heavier progressive route. Intricacies and ‘noodly’ bits ramped up to eleven are at the core of the song, a darker and moodier track than those that have gone before. Once again, the superb bass playing anchors the whole sound as the song moves into what is almost a stylish jam session, I get the impression that this would be a killer track live, both for the band and the audience. A really dominant and dense musical experience that leaves its mark on your psyche as it comes to a strident conclusion.

Let’s go on a metaphysical journey, Deviation From a Theme (of Harmonic Origin) sounds very existential and begins with quite a thought provoking, if rather loud, introduction. It is a rather fine instrumental that gets your grey matter working as it careers from place to place with its own destination in mind. An exploration of the deeper parts of humankind’s inner being through music, the smooth segues from intricate and convoluted to smooth and calculated are pin sharp as these musicians deliver their ‘A’ game right on cue. Speelman’s guitar is animated in every sense and punches the song forcefully along with an intense depth of intuition. The polished rhythm section of Tassone and Mickelson seems inspired as they choreograph this great track at ground level. The Rush influences can be heard throughout, like a nod to the greats of the past but they are integrated into Unified Past’s own sound to create something dexterous, eye-opening and quite superb.

The final track on this discerning musical adventure is Today is the Day and sees the band deliver an uplifting close to the album. A euphoric opening dominated by Naro’s vocal leads you gently into the song as the classy music delivers a wonderful hopeful note. Musical sunshine runs across your mind as the track increases in expectancy and emotion. A song full of hope, longing and optimism and all that is inherent in the lyrics that Phil Naro espouses so fervently. This song is more about the spirit and meaning of the lyrics, the musicians seem happy to take a back seat and let the words do the talking, yet they never take their foot of the pedal. The demonstrative bass work and energising fervour of the drums give the verse that added lustre and Speelman’s admirable guitar could almost be singing itself as it comes to life in short virtuoso slots throughout the song. A contemplative, serious instrumental section adds a nice counterpoint to the lighter note of the early part of the track yet it soon sheds that steely eyed demeanor to flare brightly with expectation once more. All good things must come to an end, unfortunately and this auspicious song comes to a triumphant close.

Powerful, energising music that makes you sit up and listen, ‘Shifting the Equlibrium’ is most definitely Unified Past’s most impressive release to date. A group of exemplary musicians whose songwriting has reached a new peak, add in the dynamism of Phil Naro’s voice and you have near-perfect ‘Power-Prog’. Will it appeal to veryone? I doubt it but, those that do appreciate this band’s excellent music have really dropped lucky this time, well done chaps!

Released 15th September 2015

Buy Shifting the Equlibrium from MRR

 

 

 

 

 

Review – John Storey – Euphonium

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“Sometimes in the great soundtrack of our lives there are no words, there are only emotions; I believe this is why God gave us classical music.”

I’d like to say that I came up with that quote myself but I would be telling a lie, it is an anonymous saying that, I believe, sums up classical music perfectly. I don’t have endless shelves full of classical recordings (in fact, I only have a handful of releases) but the fact that this music can hold people in rapt attention, sometimes hundreds of years after its composition, is testament to its enduring popularity.

Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by brass instruments and brass bands, ‘Trumpet Voluntary’ one of the first pieces I can actually remember hearing and it still raises the hairs on the nape of my neck today. Brass Bands were central to Yorkshire mining communities (and still are to this day) and I grew up with Colliery bands thanks to my Great Uncle who lived in Sheffield.

Listening to the amazing last few albums by Big Big Train, I was struck by the brilliant brass playing on tracks such as ‘Victorian Brickwork’ and ‘East Coast racer’ and it led me to investigate further into who the brass players were.

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Dave Desmond led the Band of The Coldstream Guards who appeared on ‘The Underfall Yard’ and helped to make it such a memorable piece of music. One of the other musicians who played on the album, and the at the subsequent live gigs at Kings Place in London, was John Storey, celebrated euphonium player and well known in his own right.

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John, previously the principle euphonium player with the Band of the Coldstream Guards, is now the euphonium and trombone player with The Band of the Royal Logistic Corps. After becoming a member of his first band at the age of 8, he joined The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain at 16.

John studied music at the University of Huddersfield and joined the James Shepherd Versatile Brass. After graduating in 1997, John joined The Band of the Coldstream Guards as principle euphonium and was privileged to play at many state occasions such as Trooping the Colour and the Festival of Remebrance. John has featured as soloist with the band in the UK, overseas and on a number of the band’s recordings.

In addition to his career with the Army, he has been very much in demand in the brass band world for many years performing with , amongst others, the Beaumaris Band.

in 2012 John Storey released an album with the simple title of Euphonium and it is that record that I have the pleasure of reviewing here….

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Opening track O Waly Waly is John’s instrumental take on the Scottish folk song which harks back to the 1600’s, better known as ‘The Water is Wide’, it is the first track to feature the Seindorf Beaumaris Band. Gentle and uplifting, John’s euphonium is the definite centre of attention here taking the lead and guiding you through the story. With a real pastoral feel, it has touches of that famous soundtrack to a Hovis advert (ee, when I were a lad!) and has a wonderfully calming persona that just leaves you adrift in your own calm oasis. The beautiful playing just brings a lump to your throat as the backing musicians join in unison as it rises triumphantly before coming back down to the land where it belongs. The next track is The Flower Song from Carmen, the delicacy being added by the tender piano playing of Annette Parri. John’s playing is restrained and cultivated giving this well known and exquisite song a different perspective, as euphonium and piano combine to deliver a quite magical scene. Sat in a sunlit room with my head clear of everything but the music, it is quite a liberating and transfixing experience.

Joining John on Mozart’s Concerto for Euphonium and Woodwind Octet is The Inner-City Woodwind Ensemble, this jaunty classical masterpiece is played excellently by these musicians. A quite delicate piece of music is handled gracefully and with gravitas and you could just close your eyes and imagine you were transported to a stunning baroque music hall to hear it in the setting it deserves. An agile and refined aura surrounds the tune as it flows perfectly through and around your mind, at the same time enriching and inspiring your soul. The Beaumaris Band join John again on Variations on Rule Britannia, full of as much pomp and circumstance as any one person could ever need, it runs the rule over some different perspectives of the famous tune. Running in at over eight minutes I did wonder if it maybe a tad too long but you just seem to get lost in the complexity and delight of some utterly expressive musicianship. When the instantly recognisable notes ring out it is a metaphorical salute to our mother nation and the pride that comes with it. Utterly over the top in its ceremonial elegance but utterly fascinating and enjoyable too.

The next track is from the famous English composer of works for brass bands, JohnGolland, Peace features the ethereal Harp playing of Dylan Cenyw and is a sublimely emotive piece of music. Seemingly simple in its delivery, there is a subtle depth of artistry and passion running throughout. John plays his instrument with a gentle touch, matching the finesse of the harp and just leaving you struck dumb with admiration, as fine a piece of music as you will hear anywhere. The three movements of Rolf Wilhelm’s Concertino for Euphonium sees Annette’s piano return. Another wonderful melodic journey through your mind and soul, restful and relaxed, it leaves you with no cares in the world as they lightly skip through Allegro ma non troppo, a humble and unpretentious musical journey through a sun drenched, sepia tinged forest glade. Andante ma non troppo feels  more melancholy and dispirited, the ability of the musicians to convey feelings is perfectly realised here, John’s wistful playing matches the slightly trite piano perfectly and leads your emotions along the same path, contemplative and with a sense of longing. That plaintive feeling lifts with the jaunty opening notes of Moderato con animo, the dancing piano and animated euphonium feel like they are talking to each other in a spirited conversation, captivating and absorbing. John plays his heart out here, every note is like a precise synaptic shock in your brain and across the three parts of this spellbinding piece of music.

John really gets to stand tall and shout from the rooftops on title track Euphoria, a celebrated work by Rodney Newton. Using the Big Big Train analogy it really has sense of animation to it, like a steam train on an express journey, full of the essence of life as it charges on like an engine with its own soul. With no other instrument to provide accompaniment or hide behind, it is here where the absolute skill and expertise of John Storey comes to the fore and he doesn’t hide behind anyone’s bushel, this guy has an abundance of talent. Now to perhaps the most accomplished and, in my mind, the most interesting track on this release, Concertino for euphonium and string quartet sees The Cassian Ensemble add their distinguished playing to Steven Rockey’s work. Ten minutes of magnificent interplay between John’s euphonium and some meticulously refined strings left me feeling wholly inadequate in the skill set that I have amounted through my life. An elaborate orchestral journey that takes you by the hand and takes you right into the core of it. The music is that intense that you cannot try to do anything else while you listen to it, to get every nuance and subtle gradation you need to stop, sit down and immerse yourself entirely in it, only then does it all come together and make complete sense. As you come to the end of the journey and open your eyes, the world seems to make a lot more sense.

The final track, ‘Neath Dublin Skies has John and the Beaumaris Band take you on a musical trip that has all the elements of a night in Dublin. A haunting air opens the piece and it moves into a fast paced jig where John delivers an intricate, foot tapping Irish reel. That low key opening returns, sombre, tender and hushed, you find your breathing becomes slow and shallow as a poignant horn takes up the reverie, sentimental, touching and nostalgic, yearning for yesteryear. A sustained repeat of the lively, energetic jig increases in tempo, getting faster and faster before all comes to a close with a spirited flourish.

I came upon this album by way of a quite obtuse route, I listen to the odd classical release but it is not really my forte. I absolutely love the brass playing on the Big Big Train albums and that led me to want to hear John Storey’s release. Well, am I glad I did, it is a fine piece of music that I keep returning to every now and again, like an old friend whose company you instantly know you will always enjoy. Should you take a leap of faith and listen to something you wouldn’t normally consider? In one word, yes!

The best way to get Euphonium is to contact John direct on facebook here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – The Bob Lazar Story – Self-Loathing Joe

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Does humour have a place in music? I don’t mean wry, observational humour but slapstick silliness and side splitting fun. Sarcasm and self-deprecation abound around The Bob Lazar Story. I haven’t heard anything as ‘out-there’ as this musical project since I listened to Cheeto’s Magazine’s bonkers and brilliant ‘Boiling Foils’.

Let’s face, who doesn’t need a bit of light-hearted fun and japery in their everyday lives, it can make the doldrums palatable and keep you smiling from ear to ear. Yes, I love my serious, well intended and deeply meaningful music as much as the next man but I love a bit of playfulness and flippancy too.

To give you some idea about the wisecracking lunacy of this project, here is an excerpt from the website biography:

“The Bob Lazar Story is the musical brainchild of Matt Deacon. Matt was born and raised in Liverpool, UK. Matt happened across an acoustic guitar in 1982 and played the shit out of it until he became perfectly mediocre. A few years later he had to decide between two possible futures :

1. A life of potential musical obscurity.
2. Becoming a top, top football legend.

 Luckily for you, he opted for number 1.”

Matt moved to New Zealand in 1998 and taught guitar for a few years before getting a ‘real’ job. As technology advanced and became more affordable, the musician in Matt get sneaking out, culminating in his first, eponymous, release in 2004.

Matt changed his musical moniker to The Bob Lazar Story (that’s a question for another day)and the rest, as they say, is history. 2006 saw the first proper album entitled ‘(sic)’ followed by an E.P. ‘The Silence of Perez de Cuellar’.

A mad four year journey followed (which included a crazy year driving taxis back in Liverpool) and this culminated in Matt’s first collaborative effort with his erstwhile rhythmical genius, Chris Jago. 2014 saw the release of ‘Ghost Of Foodstool’, a fifteen minute epic that spawned popular hits such as ‘Threadkiller’ and ‘Funniest Cat Video Ever II’.

It was also the first release where Chris played on all tracks, leading to a more cohesive sound across all songs. Jump to mid 2015 and we see the recent release of Self-Loathing Joe, a twenty minute ride into the heart of The Bob Lazar Story.

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Harmonics is 16 seconds of setting the scene, a gentle meander through a field of acoustics which then blazes straight into the angst driven madness of Don Branch Venom, a vicious guitar riff playing off with some whimsical keyboards that dance around like some maniacal jester. Like a 21st century tongue in mouth homage to Van Der Graaf Generator and King Crimson it has technical prowess and follows no set route, abstract and perplexing. The increasing fervor of the staccato riffs and keyboard melodies gives the music an incessant nagging nature that never lets you settle as it comes to a short, sharp close.

A terse drumbeat opens No Wait, Yes Chips before it wanders off, in a slightly surreal seventies American sit-com fashion, well, one that may have been directed by David Lynch that is. It’s like the X-Files met Saturday Night Live and had a musical baby that grew up on a diet of sugary sweets and late night TV. Slightly psychotic but thoroughly enjoyable and definitely a few sandwiches short of a picnic, it runs off into the dark, maniacally shouting and grinning. The segue into Title track Self-Loathing Joe is seamless and this track adds a real jazzy edge to the lunacy that abounds all around you, the mellow keyboards and chilled guitar playing leave you slap bang in the middle of a wide open imagined space, a desert where the only sustenance is the uber-sharp music and highly charged crazed atmosphere.

Unhinged and unsettled are two words I could use to describe this album and that doesn’t change with Foodstool Exacts Revenge Upon Gilchrist the Traitor (the title is mad enough on its own!). Another schizophrenic, flippant trip into the depths of someone’s musical depravity on a superbly kitsch 70’s influenced keyboard and guitar melody and a rhythm section that is more chilled than the whole of L.A. The longest track on the album and by some margin, the most serious in nature (although that doesn’t say much when you’re talking about these guys) Ezekiel II begins with a mysterious and methodical beat, those familiar with the 80’s arcade game Spy Hunter will know exactly where I’m coming from. Like a sound track from a Tarantino film, it is edgy and dangerous yet stylishly so with a veneer of cool that only someone like Sinatra could exude. Again there is a strong 70’s vibe to the whole thing as it marches on relentless. A rather disturbing u-turn then follows, one which is actually quite creepy, as some rather pained voices shout out as if trapped in Dante’s musical inferno. Some crazed hushed whispering follows which is almost as creepy as a scene from 1970’s Dr. Who (the ‘hide behind the sofa’ kind) and the hairs are definitely raised. It is enjoyably unnerving though and then the music becomes the star of the show with a sustained organ like vibrato with a repeated note underlying until the guitar takes over in quite a sombre, mournful fashion. Quite possibly the most ‘normal’ and meaningful part of the whole record, it really does hit home and leave you in some sort of dark reverie, although hope and sanity are never too far away. Scinomrah is what they call the final 15 seconds and it closes out this most interesting E.P. in much the same way as the first track opened it.

Utterly captivating and totally bonkers, we should all have a listen to ‘Self-loathing Joe’ whenever we get above ourselves and our self-importance gets too big for its own boots. It will bring you back down to earth with an abrupt and exceedingly entertaining bump. Don’t take life too seriously, just enjoy it, I can tell that Matt, Chris and the rest of The Bob Lazar Story live life for today, their music proves it!

Released 23rd August 2015

Buy ‘Self-Loathing Joe’ direct from The Bob Lazar Story

 

 

 

 

Review – Karda Estra – The Seas And The Stars

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I wonder where you stand on soundtracks, you know, the incidental music written specifically for movies and TV shows? Can it really stand separate from the film or TV show it was intended to accompany? And what about music that is not intentionally written for film or TV, music with a cinematic scope that feels like it could be used as a soundtrack?

I love cinematic, atmospheric music but some soundtracks really are just dull and boring if taken away from their natural habitat. What seemed a good idea at the time may look extremely different in the light of day and in retrospect. However, there are some superb albums that invoke thoughts and images as if they were taken from the silver screen.

These albums really tend to be full of thoughtful and intelligent music, tracks that are good for the mind as well as the soul. A few that come to mind are ‘Ra’ by Tony Patterson, ‘Atlantean Symphony’ by Dreamfire, ‘Fragile’ by Acke Hallgren and ‘The Dream Of The Whale’ by Enrico Pinna, releases that take the listener to another place or time and envelop you int heir narrative.

Another band that have been slightly under my radar is Karda Estra, noted for their spacey, sci-fi soundtrack nature and ability to deliver expansive concepts and theories. The band (the brainchild of Richard Wileman) have released eleven full length albums up to press and 2015 sees them release an E.P. ‘The Seas And The Stars’.

The band’s own description of the new release:

‘The Seas And The Stars’ chronicles the collision between the Andromeda galaxy and our own Milky Way, the eventual end of everything, a celestial intervention and a return to where everything began – viewed from an impossible, empty shoreline.

Sounds very deep and meaningful doesn’t it? Well, let’s have a listen and find out.

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The first thing to note is that the E.P. has a running length of just twenty minutes, short and sweet? let’s see……

Tidal is a short opening track, a very enigmatic, mysterious and even creepy instrumental that succeeds in getting under your skin and  grating on your psyche in a deliciously dark manner, it certainly left my skin crawling in a not entirely unpleasant way.

The suspense and cinematic atmosphere continues with Andromeda Approaches! Once again there is a slightly uneasy feeling to the music, this time, however, the introduction of some otherworldly, ethereal feminine vocals adds a flimsy coating of humanity to the otherwise alien feeling that the music generates. This really could be a soundtrack straight from an Art House picture or a seventies deeply convoluted sci-fi film, it really does grab you and reel you in, leaving you powerless to refuse and mildly bemused afterwards.

The intro to Lighthouse sheds some of the enigma and abstruseness of the previous tracks yet is still very cinematic in nature, but not for long. As it continues it loses the modicum of playfulness that was present to become increasingly enigmatic, like some sort of Victorian tale playing out in front of you. I can’t get The Woman In Black out of my mind, the music would suit that Gothic horror tale down to tee. Sepia tinged characters flit across your mind, leaving an indelible image burned into your mind. The sinister feel lifts in places, as if a dark shroud has been removed from your thoughts yet darkness is maybe only hidden round the corner.

Onto another short track, The Big Freeze is as foreboding as they come. Claustrophobic to a distraction, it holds you in its shadowy grasp and seems to invade your very being with an alien artistry. Clashing sounds bounce across your mind, leaving a mark wherever they land. This track is really quite intimidating in a strangely likeable way and you lament its passing while simultaneously giving thanks.

A really intricate, deep, dark song full of apprehension and portent, The Sleepers of Gliese is full of a cold and calculating intelligence that feels not of this world. The ‘chamber music’ style of delivery that the band use gives them lots of scope to express their music in many different ways and the sinuous nature of the woodwind instruments give this song a definite out of this world aura. The exquisite, filmy female vocals add a gossamer thin veneer of benevolence to the track but there is no getting away from the brooding heart of the music. I wouldn’t listen to this in a darkened room, it leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing up as the darkness in the shadows waits to unveil itself.

Twenty minutes flashes past in an instant as the final track Return To The Singularity opens with its feeling of portent and foreboding. Just over one minute of music that feels like it weighs more than the whole universe bearing down on you before coming to a truncated close.

Wow, do I need to feel the sun on my face after that. Twenty minutes of the most intense,darkly enticing music that you will ever have the pleasure to listen to. Not for the faint hearted but an allegorical musical journey that, if you enjoy cinematic, atmospheric releases with a cryptic and esoteric edge, will leave you feeling satiated.

Released 4th August 2015

Buy The Seas And The Stars from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Amadeus Awad – Death Is Just A Feeling

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WARNING – LANGUAGE THAT MAY OFFEND (well, you have to put that don’t you….?)

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.” – Dave Grohl

I was going to start this review by talking about guilty pleasures until I saw the above quote from everyone’s favourite hard rocker Dave Grohl and it did get me thinking and thinking enough to completely change the tac of this review….

Mr Grohl really has a point, maybe we stick too rigidly to our favourite genres and don’t look outside our safety cordon music wise? And, when we dare venture outside and find that there is something different that we really like, why should we feel guilty about it?

It is an old and oft spouted saying but it still rings entirely true, good music really is, just, good music, no matter what style it is and which artist performs it. We tend to make this differentiation a lot more when it comes to music than with anything else such as films, TV or the literary arts where we will dip in and out of many different genres without a care or a by your leave.

How many times have you seen somebody laughed at and dismissed out of hand for listening to a record that doesn’t fit into the cognoscenti or aficionado’s realm or current favourites list? It is just wrong and we should open our minds to other music that we may well actually really enjoy if we just lose the stigma.

Now, after getting off my soapbox (while admitting I can be as guilty as anyone else) let’s talk about what started this dissertation on opening up our closeted musical imagination……..

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Lebanese maestro Amadeus Awad is a progressive metal guitarist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and music producer with an already impressive back catalogue behind him. August 2015 saw him release his latest and most complete album yet, a 47 minute, 6 track concept album called ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’.

Amadeus is always stretching the boundaries with his music and lyrics, and it’s no different with his new album. According to Amadeus:

“This album is the result of my personal experience with death, both the tragic loss of loved ones (Father, Brother and a Best Friend) as well as my own attempt of committing suicide, which I contemplated more than once at a certain stage in my life.”

To this end he has drawn together a stellar list of musicians, as well as Amadeus himself (Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars, Keyboards and Orchestration) this all star lineup includes vocalists Anneke Van GiersbergenArjen LucassenElia Monsef, drummers Jimmy Keegan and Marco MinnemannNareg Nashanikian (cello), Rafi Nashanikian (clarinet) and the narration is splendidly realised by the impressive voice of Dan Harper.

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The album opener Opia has feeling of lightness and an ethereal quality, the first word spoken is ‘Light’ and it is a song that gives hope. The keyboards are uplifting and fill your inner being with a luminosity only matched by the fluid, burnished guitar work. I can see why Dan Harper was used for the part of the narrator, his voice has a calming authority to it and a mellifluous timbre that dances across your psyche. Anneke Van Giersbergen’s delightfully lilting, heavenly voice takes the song to a close with a rarefied grace that is achingly beautiful.

There is no break as we shift up a gear and power into Sleep Paralysis with a dynamic keyboard and pulsating guitar taking up the reins on the powerful introduction. A progressive metal melting pot of great ideas that bounce of the metaphorical walls to give a primordial soup of musical delights. It takes on a more subdued, yet insistent feel before Anneke’s voice chimes in, this time much more dominant and authoritative, yet no less stunning. The melodies are the focus here, the chorus is especially compelling, backed by the superb musicianship, a symbiosis of near-perfect melodic enchantment. The way the track starts to wind down, becoming more subdued, as it reaches the close is expert and inventive, as the acoustic guitar finishes its last note you are left in a place of comparative calm.

The dulcet tones of the narrator return on Monday Morning, this time with a definite edge, a dissonance to them, as if all is not as it should be. There are subliminal questions being asked here and the answers are not all to your liking. The electronic notes that follow seem to be pulling you forward, in anticipation of something coming that could be either good or evil, depending on how you react to it. Potent and influential, you find yourself holding your breath as it seems to come ominously closer. The pace is steady and regular, like the outcome is inevitable so there is no need to rush. There is a deliciously dark rhythm to this song that I find rather disturbing yet can’t help enjoying it….

Elia

The dark journey into hopelessness seems to reach its zenith with Tomorrow Lies. A brooding, haunting tone is added to by the portentous drumming of Jimmy Keegan and it is with a seemingly heavy heart that you continue to listen to the rest of the bleakly appealing song. Elia Monsef’s definitively middle eastern intonation adds a serious gravitas to proceedings, he sings as if his heart is breaking with every word. There is a huge depth of humanity central to this track, a seriousness that leaves you in no illusion as to the outcome of this painful situation. The instrumentation is dazzlingly precise if somewhat subdued and is a testament to the songwriting skill of Amadeus, he can impose his musical brilliance yet take none of the pathos away. The soaring strings add a sheen of humility and respectfulness and the guitar solo leaves you open mouthed and grief-stricken as it winds around your mind. With a definite notion that a song should close just as well as it opens, the ending is once again quite superb as the beguiling strings and guitar bring it all to a close with a final feeling of hopefulness that belies the rest of the track.

Now onto the longest, and my favourite, track on the album. A sombre Cello opens Lonesome Clown adding a meditative and fretful note to the song. Portentous and mysterious with Anneke’s humming and a slightly off-kilter feel, it really does seem to take you out of any comfort zone you thought you were in and leave your senses reeling, open and raw. The vocal begins, earthy and direct, almost as if a spell is being cast. There is a sinister undertone to all that is happening here and you really feel as if you have been caught of guard and dumped in a musical version of Dante’s Inferno. An all knowing presence seems to be at your side edging you on as the song builds, becoming more and more oppressive and yet addictive at the same time. Wickedly controlling it shows the slightly malevolent genius that resides in the mind of Amadeus Awad and is perhaps more progressive and definitely more metal than the other songs on the album. There is an odd, siren like build up that seems to break over a wash of mellifluous keyboards before the sinuous, vividly disturbing guitar solo takes  you on a dark journey through your own soul. The outspoken and expressive vocal and acoustic section that follows seems to stand on its own adding another level of finesse before exploding outwards in a shower of inspiration. The song closes with Dan’s expressive voice-over, you take a breath and inwardly applaud, shaking your head in amazement, it is that good.

Arjen

 

The final track on the album begins with a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, strings and expressive drums. Temporary sees Arjen Lucassen take vocal duties and his eloquent voice is perfectly matched to the instrumentation. Melancholy yet inspirational at the same time, it reminds me of American prog rockers Spock’s Beard and is a really involving, catchy song that seems to want to comfort you with its warmth and integrity yet there is always a sad note in the background. A soulful clarinet takes centre stage before the rest of the instruments join, adding layers of intense musical flavour and Arjen’s voice is always present adding a focal point on which you can hold on to. Marco Minneman takes on the drum duties with aplomb adding a wistful mood to the already mournful ambience imbued. Things are building up to something here and when Amadeus lets rip with an incredible, soul searching guitar solo, you are left flabbergasted. Is that moisture in your eyes? it was in mine as it totally blew me away, utterly magnificent. The song, and album, finally come to a close with a final narrated section, this time by Arjen himself, and you are left to reflect on what has just transpired before you.

Short by modern standards at 47 minutes, you feel like you can listen to this gem for hours and never get bored. Deliciously dark, it is music that takes you to the depths of your inner being and back again, there has been nothing quite like it in this year of musical zeniths. Amadeus Awad and his group of distinguished musicians have delivered not only a superb piece of music but, what to me is, a part of themselves that will live on forever as fantastic art. A triumph in every sense of the word. A guilty pleasure? No, just an intense one!

Released 20th August 2015 via Melodic Revolution Records

Buy Death IS Just A Feeling from MRR on bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – 3RDegree – Ones and Zeros (Vol. 1)

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Being a music reviewer has its ups and downs and the amount of music that you get sent to review can be a bit of both. I get concerned that, because I have such a large amount of new music to listen to, I will miss out on a hidden gem. It may go under my radar or I may just not have the time to listen to it.

There are some albums though that, when you have heard them for the first time, you won’t forget. They can immediately grab your attention or, like some of the best music I’ve heard, they can pique your interest and make you want to investigate, these I call the ‘slow-burners’.

I had become aware of a small but very charismatic record label from the USA, 10T Records, due to reviewing two artists who are on the label, Heliopolis and Box of Shamans and this led to me dipping into the music of one of the other acts on the label, 3RDegree.

I was sent their 2012 release ‘The Long Division’ and was suitably impressed by their traditional progressive rock style with a nice twist to it. Informed that the new album ‘Ones and Zeros (Vol. 1.)’ would be along in the near future, I sat back to await its arrival.

A quick biography of a band never does any harm in setting the scene so, here we go with 3RDegree……

Founded at the tail-end of 1990, 3RDegree formed when Robert James Pashman (vocalist,bassist, and keyboardist) found drummer Robert Durham and, by the next summer, added guitarist Pat Kliesch to the fold. They released their first album (actually a cassette) ‘The World in Which We Live’  in summer 1993.

The writing and recording of the follow up continued until 1995 when the band recruited vocalist and keyboardist George Dobbs. The CD ‘Human Interest Story’ was released in April 1996, unfortunately, due to the unforeseen pressures of the music scene, the band disbanded in 1997.

The original power trio got back together in 2005  and got Dobbs back on the scene two. Reunion concerts were played which saw Eric Pseja (guitar and backing vocals) join the band. Aaron Noble replaced Durham on the drums and the band found themselves working on two albums at the same time.

The guys decided to go with the political/apolitical focused songs in light of the approaching American election year.  With its album cover and song list, the 2012 US election had a soundtrack, if anyone cared to listen to it, and its name was ‘The Long Division’.

2015 has seen the addition of Bryan Zeigler (lead guitar, backing vocals) to the band and the brand new album ‘Ones and Zeros (Vol. 1.)’ which is thematically linked around the issues of transhumanism, life extension, the singularity, and the ethics associated with the rapid progress of technology.

Time to get on with the review me thinks….

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Hello World is a quick sixteen second computer generated voice over to set the scene of a future, somewhat dystopian, world. The album really gets going with The Gravity which has a really jazzy, upbeat feel to the introduction, the harmonised vocals are rather nice and the chugging bass line in the background drives all along before it. There seems to be a bit of a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek feel to the song, an irreverent note that hangs over the tune. A spaced out, laid back section gives pause before we go on a full 70’s progressive journey with lilting keyboards, smooth bass and eclectic guitars all adding to the Michael Moorcock feel. You are wafted along on a cloud of futuristic nostalgia (if that makes sense) before that really tasty harmonised vocal returns and forges off into the distance, accompanied by the great melody. The track closes out with a slightly alien, futuristic atmosphere engendered by the off kilter beat and harsher vocals. Watch out, Big Brother is watching you…

A really heavy and dynamic riff kicks down your door and introduces you to This Is The Future, this soon calms down and that really positive and optimistic edge returns. There is a real American Prog undertone to the music, hints of Echolyn and The Aaron Clift Experiment abound and it matches the subject matter perfectly. The class act is the harmonised vocals which lift everything well above the norm. The A.I. style voice over at first jars for this listener, a contrast to the organic feel of the rest of the music but, listen to them and they are an essential part of the storyline. There is a stylish segue into the next track Life where an elegant acoustic guitar takes up the refrain backed by rain drop like keyboard notes. The vocal begins in an earnest and heartfelt fashion, adding a degree of pathos to the whole track. A subtle, ethereal song with a touch of real class, simple yet with more depth than we can really appreciate, almost touching on anthemic qualities with the repeated chorus and acapella ending, another voice over adding to the underlying narrative.

Another light and airy introduction brings The Best & Brightest into the fold. Nearly venturing into the knitted cardigan sensibilities of easy listening before a funky guitar cuts through the schmaltz and brings it back into the world of progression. The vocals are cultured and the rhythm section is neat and precise but it is when the song goes a bit left-field that it is at its best even throwing in some smoky jazz stuff for good measure. Circuit Court begins with a serious 80’s synth heavy introduction and I’m thinking big hair and shoulder pads with the super smooth vocals and feisty bass line that just puts a smile on my face. There is a real feel of the decade that taste forgot running throughout this song, it is like a time machine has taken Earth, Wind and Fire to the future to remind people of what they are missing. Intentionally satirical or not, it doffs its metaphorical cap to the past with the swirling keyboard runs and sharp, staccato riffs. The brief solo really does make me smile with a sepia tinged, nostalgic hue.

With an immediately more serious feel to it, Life at Any Cost has a much more progressive feel to it while still having a really heavy jazz smokiness to the underbelly. Meditative and contemplative with a knowing sensibility underlying everything, it is a real slice of sophisticated music, the chorus feels quite world wise and debonair. The instrumental sections are complex and multifaceted and give a deliberate and purposefully meticulous contrast to the more salacious tone of the rest of the song, leading up to a forcefully compelling guitar solo that hits all the right notes. The whole track then opens up and morphs into a progressive rock standard, grabbing your attention all the more. Whilst not re-inventing the wheel, 3RDegree put their own, not insubstantial, stamp on proceedings. What it Means to be Human has that cultured, multi-layered class of previous tracks on the album yet has a more emotional vibe running through it. The multitude of harmonies give a real feeling of Queen to the vocals then added to a progressive base to give something quite unique and unusual. Really inventive and intelligent songwriting full of humour and wit blends with the refined music to deliver something that really gels on all levels.

An edgy musical introduction overlays that by now well versed synthesised robotic voice-over to begin We Regret to Inform You. A dominant instrumental section then follows with thunderous drumming, potent guitar work and a stylish bass line being led by stylistic keyboards. It all has the feel of an impromptu (if impressive) but tightly played musical jam session. When the vocals begin they have a decidedly straight forward tone, gone is the lush harmonising of before, making you sit up and take notice. The more serious tone runs to the end of the song, bringing the album and the allegorical storyline closer to the end. The final song on the album More Life sheds the synthetic feel and has a much more human aura to it. The vocals have feeling and passion in fact the whole track has a feel of rebirth, love and compassion about it. The refrain of the fourth track runs throughout and invests the music with a cathartic effect. the upwelling and outpouring of emotion feels almost real as it washes over you. It is like a musical chrysalis opening up and new life erupting out.

This album is one that may not resonate highly with you on first listen but, like all the best releases, give it time and invest something of yourself in it and it will return that investment many times over. These guys know how to take progressive rock and get a little more out of it to deliver something familiar and yet, at the same time, intriguingly different. 2015 continues to deliver some very high quality releases and 3RDegree have muscled their way well up that list.

Released 18th August 2015

Buy Ones and Zeros (Vol. 1.) from 10T Records

 

 

 

 

Review – The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

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“You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.” – Terence McKenna

Let me ask you a question, where does great music come from? Well, for me, it starts with an idea, to quote Sir Terry Pratchett“a small inspiration particle”, that can then flower and grow into something more tangible. These ideas may take input from other people and morph slightly to be something similar and, yet at the same time, different.

Add layers to these ideas, music, lyrics etc. and you can then end up with a complete song. One song on its own does not a musical cornucopia make but, when a collection of songs can join together into one cohesive record, then you finally have something that people will love and will stand the test of time.

The skill is repeating this process more than once and coming up with something different every time. There doesn’t have to be a large divergence but enough to differentiate the works and show the listener that you have moved on and are using new and exciting concepts. Evolution here is key or musicians can stagnate and lose any momentum or goodwill.

So, to tie up my opening thoughts, recently I was asked if I’d like to listen to the new album from The Aaron Clift Experiment. I reviewed their first album, ‘Lonely Hills’ and said,

“Notable on first listen but, like all the best releases, delivering more and more on further plays, ‘Lonely Hills’ blooms into an album that should be in every music lovers collection.”

Have they taken that initial promise and built on it with new ideas and inspirations to deliver something new and exciting yet defined by their signature sound? First a quick band history….

Band 2

Aaron Clift (vocals, Keyboards) began writing the songs that would appear on ‘Lonely Hills’ back in 2008. In 2009 he met the band’s drummer, Joe Resnick and they cut the demo with just piano, drums and vocals. Originally Aaron was going to release the music under his own name but, after hearing the demo he decided the songs needed a rock edge so he recruited Jim Ragland on guitar (Jim left in 2013 to be replaced by Eric Gutierrez) and Joe Green on bass. Now he had decided to work with a full band, he gave the project the moniker The Aaron Clift Experiment. Joe Green left in 2014 and  Devin North now sits on bass duties.

I have to admit that I was expecting something special from these guys after the considerable promise shown in ‘Lonely Hills’ so the new album ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ would really have to shine.

Frontman Aaron Clift tells us about the concept behind the release,

“‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ is a concept album about duality: light vs. darkness, individual vs. group, hope vs. despair, etc. Songs in the first half of the album detail the conflict between these opposing forces, while the songs in second half of the album are a journey toward reconciling the extremes. The album culminates with ‘Bathed in Moonlight,’ a song about how humanity can learn to embrace its outer light and inner darkness and become one with both sides of its nature.”

Unlike the first album which was conceived and written solely by Aaron himself, ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ was mainly a collaborative project which the band believe has resulted in some of their strongest material yet.

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Well blow me down, the first track on the album Kissed by the Sun hoves into view like a particularly well intentioned chariot of fire with guitar and violin blazing a stylish trail to cut through all before them and you immediately sit up and take notice. A subtle bass line and drum beat then anchor the song as a diverse guitar winds melodies around your mind. Aaron’s vocal begins, sinuous and notable, backed by the eloquent violin before breaking out on the dynamic chorus. Energetic and full of good will, this track vitalises you, running a musical current right through your nervous system. The powerful guitar riff, spirited piano and passionate violin really give it enormous substance, add in a really impassioned guitar solo and a funky break in the middle of the song with some great harmonies and a super smooth bass run and you have a rather impressive opening to the album. I’m getting a pastoral note with some american rock vibes going on here, as if Ben Folds Five reformed with members of Echolyn and spent a whole summer listening to the Big Big Train back catalogue and that feeling is only enforced by Locked, the second track has a much more laid back, stylistic edge to the opening. The vocals have a note of impassioned emotion to them. The whole rhythm section takes on a stylish jazz feel with the piano front and centre and it all feels like a journey though someones wavering emotional state. Highs and lows abound, the guitar solo has a real raw centre and scrapes your raw nerves to the bone. As the track closes out, it seems to take a thoughtful, pensive note as if looking back in a rueful manner. An intelligent, deep song that leaves a lasting impression on you.

A more discordant note opens Fragments of Sleep, counterbalanced by a repeated one note piano melody over which Aaron’s recognisable voice delivers the story. It is almost like you are having an interrupted night’s sleep with the rhythm and sound having a fuzzy, jarred edge to it, all sharp edges and yet its distinctive feel really resonates with me. Emotive words and a gently strummed guitar give it some pathos and the delicate violin adds poignancy as it it all comes to a profound close. Sinister and with a darker note to the introduction, Your Arms Hold Them to the Dark takes you on a journey through a world of perpetual twilight. The pace is determined and slow, the guitar riff crashes around you like a dissipating storm clashing with the drums, jolting and rasping against your senses. Deliciously malevolent and mischievous, there is a perverse pleasure to be had listening to this deep and intricate track. The staccato riffing and haunting keyboards add a melodramatic aura and Aaron’s menacing vocal adds the final layer of foreboding to this notable song.

That full-on feel of the first song returns with the rather energetic and uplifting introduction to Aoide Goddess of Song. With the distortion seemingly turned up to maximum and and insistent piano note hammering the point home, it is one hell of a pleasure ride around your mind. Things calm down for a moment as the vocals kick in with a layered keyboard note and balanced drum beat setting the tone for the verse but it isn’t long before that oriental sounding guitar note flies off again. This interplay continues throughout the song occasionally moving aside for the heartfelt, rousing chorus. There is an earthy core to the track, something primal and direct that drives it on and this erupts into the coruscating solo that fires straight through you leaving a blazing trail behind. You are left feeling fired up and invigorated, ready for anything. In a stark contrast to the previous track, The Last Oasis begins all sweetness and light, like a boat becalmed out on the ocean. The gentle, meandering piano is underscored by a subtle bass note and the introduction of the graceful violin adds an ethereal tactility to the song. The classical undertones to the music of  The Aaron Clift Experiment are at their most evident here, the strings add a subtlety and grace that only orchestral instruments could. As the guitar and drums blend into the sound, the whole song takes on another persona and dimension, not losing that refined semblance but adding a dynamic backbone to the artful fare put before you. It is almost a surprise when the vocals begin, I was expecting this to be an instrumental but Aaron’s profoundly compassionate voice adds a further degree of gravitas to what is already a very sophisticated piece of music. The fundamental integrity and graciousness at the heart of the band’s music is at its zenith on this beautiful song.

At just over twelve minutes long Moonscape is the longest track on the album and begins with a military style drum beat at the back of Aaron’s vocal and a repeated keyboard note. You get a feeling of stasis as the repeated intro carries on in a pleasant manner but the anticipation is always rising. The drum beat carries on, overlaid by the sound of a child. This part of the song has a sun-kissed, hazy feel to it, like an early morning walk through a lush countryside. It ambles and meanders with no seeming destination in mind, lulling you along on a wave of good feeling. The guitar saunters on a journey of its own, nothing dictating where it must go next and you end up feeling like your are free of any earthly worries, any shackles are broken and your heart and soul are liberated from worry and strife. This is a track to kick back and relax too, one to listen to through headphones and with a long drink at your side as the delicately strummed guitar leads into an extended keyboard section with a slightly supernatural quality to it, almost an outer body experience. The repeated singing of the album title resonates within and without with a trance like feel and, as the song comes to a close with a harder edge guitar riff and Aaron’s vocalising, the trance is broken, leaving you peaceful and serene. The segue into Bathed in Moonlight is seamless and, once again, the band deliver an utterly serene experience. Aaron’s divine vocal, backed only by a refined, sublime keyboard has a moving quality to it. It lifts your soul and leaves you rapturous as the celestial music washes over you, the guitar bleeds emotion and fervour, leaving you in a sustained state of euphoria. There is nothing complicated happening here but, sometimes, the simplicity of music can be its greatest asset and the effortless musicianship on this track is a delight in itself. As the song, and the album as a whole, comes to a close, I feel a sense of closure, of something coming round full circle to a most satisfactory conclusion.

Ideas have blossomed and become something rather special on this album. That early promise of the music on ‘Lonely Hills’ has been expanded upon and ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ is a much more sophisticated and complete record as a result. Intricate and subtle yet with raw passion at its heart, it will cement The Aaron Clift Experiment as one of the most exciting and interesting bands currently writing and playing music today. I would advise you to go out and buy it as soon as it is released.

Releases 18th September 2015

Pre-order direct from the band at their website here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7vcMZNN_YE

 

 

Review resurrected – Gabriel – Unforgiven

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I have come to the conclusion that pigeon-holing bands into certain categories or genres can often be more detrimental than advantageous to their continued popularity and success.

Where, in some circumstances, it will mean that the music will appeal to smaller cross section of the music loving public, in others it can lead to a mass exodus (Prog seems to be attaining this level of notoriety at the moment, for whatever reason).

Unfortunately, music lovers and journalists as a whole (and I include myself in this too) seem unable to talk or write about bands without shoehorning them into a particular classification. This is okay if that actual artist portrays themselves as being unashamedly of that ilk, however, in most cases, we need to broaden our brush strokes.

Gabriel is a collaboration between singer/songwriter Sally Elsey from London and guitarist and recording engineer Albert Vinasco from Buenos Aires. Together, Sally and Albert combine their highly melodic approaches to create music that is both sweet and powerful.

I have often heard them called a ‘Female-fronted Metal’ band but this is to shower them with faint praise, their music contains a lot more influences and nuances. ‘Unforgiven’ is the fifth album from the duo and has rock, progressive and metal hints all over it, time to immerse myself further….

First, and title, track Unforgiven has a Celtic, Latin feel tot he introduction with a bit of Gregorian chant thrown in. Symphonic in feel with the string sound and our first meeting with Sally’s mercurial vocal talents. Her voice has an operatic undertone to it, add this to the ominous sounding rhythm section and scurrilous guitar solo and you feel that you are in a melodramatic soundscape, quite intriguing. Within the Circle takes on a Gothic-metals style that has hints of Within Temptation allied to the powerful and expressive voice that Sally Elsey owns. Delving deeper into the track, you feel a depth of quality to the music and Albert gets to rock out on the guitar with this one with a spirited riff and high-tempo percussion. Haunting and melodic but with a heavier feel to it, it is really addictive and catchy.

A crack of thunder followed by a proper heavy metal riff and married with a thunderous drumbeat sees Two Worlds Collide hove into view. This song puts a smile on my face as you get a proper beast of a rhythm section combined with Sally’s decorous, if slightly menacing, vocal. The guitar runs and solo are quite grin inducing too, just a real good rock-out track with a late 70’s metal vibe to it. Here in You begins with a delicate string and piano combo before the breathless and precise vocal adds a sheen of panache to proceedings. This patina of calm doesn’t last for long before Sally takes on a sort of mischievous Kate Bush persona and Albert moves into full-on rock hero mode. The coruscating guitars and hectic rhythm delivers a high energy ride that leaves your head spinning at times before the track returns to its chilled out roots and comes to a gentle close.

With an intro that smacks of mid 70’s classic rock and Americana, Do You Believe has a further sense of depth to it. Sally Elsey delivers her cultured, almost operatic vocal and the crunching guitar interjects at certain points to give a theatrical feel to the song. With toes fleetingly dipped into 80’s metal and modern symphonic power-metal, it is an interesting melting pot of styles that keeps you guessing. The coruscating guitar solo has me damning my lack of luscious locks and reminiscing about denim. Taking the soothing qualities of all that’s best of Karnataka and adding their own spin on it, Shelter From the Rain is a classically tinged pop-rock song with strong folk and Celtic ties. Superb vocals and more dynamic and expressive guitar work leave you with a particularly polished taste in your mouth, this track appeals to all musical palates.

Now to the ‘prog-epic’ on the album, well not necessarily progressive but it surely takes it cues from that genre. Time Train is twelve minutes of intriguing music that beguiles and fascinates. The 80’s synth-pop style introduction with Sally’s incessant repeat of the title gives way to a piano and vocal that drips sincerity and bonhomie. Like musical building blocks, the track heightens the tension as it continues, the complexity swelling and the music taking hold of your senses. The guitar, drums and programming are compelling and deliver an intricate musical mosaic as a backdrop to the vocals and keyboards that are narrating the story. The guitar work smolders and simmers, low key yet dominant and potent, it delivers a sombre and pensive feel to this eloquent and passionate song, one that lingers long in your memory. House of Shadows takes Gabriel down a more mainstream route with its slight nod to pop/rock sensibilities. The gentle and ethereal keyboards match the charming vocals perfectly and the whole song has a feeling of goodwill to it even venturing into Mike Oldfield territory with the distinctive guitar sound. A track that leaves you in a calm and contented state of mind.

Soul Taker begins all mercurial and mysterious with haunting vocals and a lilting piano before breaking into another rock/metal power track. Heavily symphonic with a hard hitting riff and pugnacious drumming, it has to be doing my poor relation’s version of a headbanger again. Sally’s vocal has an edge to it, imbibing the song with a carefree attitude that is pure rock n’ roll. That feel runs through into Stone Cold Redeemer which immediately puts me in mind of Heart and ‘Barracuda’, a really deep and dangerous 1980’s guitar riff married to Sally’s singular vocals. Simple with a clean delivery, it makes no bones about what it is, another pure hard rock delight. The slightly off-kilter guitar solo is a breezy delight that grabs your attention and really hits home on this enjoyable romp.

The final track on the album, Meant to Be, finishes things off in a symphonic metal style. Like a lament, it has an almost mournful feel to it, the vocals subtle yet effective. The guitar solo is full of feeling and pathos and has a heavy hue of 80’s British heavy metal deep at its core. Another fine slab of hard rock with a strong whiff of symphonic metal served up for your delectation.

A classy blend of hard rock, metal and symphonic rock with its own core identity, Gabriel a massive sound for just two people. Pigeon-hole them if you dare, there is more going on with this musical collaboration than you could fit into any one box. Sally Elsey’s vocals are worth the entry fee alone but, with the excellent musical talent of Alex Vinasco at her side, you have something a little bit different and special.

Released 2nd July 2014

Buy Unforgiven from Ravenheart music

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Maddison’s Thread – Maddison’s Thread

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“Better the rudest work that tells a story or records a fact, than the richest without meaning…..”  – John Ruskin.

At the heart of the music I love the most are storytellers and modern-day bards, musicians who can take all that life throws at them, good and bad, and put it in to song. Songs that can affect you deeply and stir up huge wellsprings of emotion. Joy, laughter, sadness and woe all hit deeply into our souls and take us on a journey into the world envisaged by these musical magicians.

Lightweight music has its place (maybe the gym or some other) but I prefer music that can teach me something or enhance a mood, even music that makes me feel sad or forlorn is still great music if that is what it intended. Maybe those of us who appreciate the finer music in life have a bigger capacity in our hearts, who knows?

One thing I do know is that there is no single style or genre of music that achieves this, it is a capacity of all music to move you deeply and leave a lasting impression on you. Certain types can have a higher propensity to musically enhance us just by their generic definition.

Folk music is all about telling stories and tales, generally local legends and characters are brought to life by these earthy musicians and the use of flues, violins and other instruments tends to lends it more originality. Folk and progressive rock tend to cross paths quite often and influences of both can be heard in the other (check out the Canterbury scene for an idea of what I mean).

In my role as a’musical treasure hunter’ I often unearth unexpected gems by the strangest means but, sometimes, just a recommendation from someone who I trust is enough to get me to listen to something new. This time it was Brendan Eyre (of Northlands and Riversea fame) who pointed me in the right direction.

Guitar

Lee Maddison is an acoustic folk rock musician from Hartlepool in the North East of England and is releasing a self titled album under the pseudonym of Maddison’s Thread. I was intrigued by the excellent artwork (I do like a nice album cover) designed by local artist Amanda White (check out her artist’s page www.mandascat.com) and Brendan’s nod in the right direction sealed the deal.

When playing live Lee’s line up has him playing acoustic guitar and performing vocals, Stewart Hardy on fiddle, Nigel Spaven on bass and Michael Kitching on drums & percussion.

Joining Lee and his regular players on the album were a stellar cast of many whose contribution, in Lee’s words “far outweighed my contribution to their bank accounts..”

These additional musicians were Bob Garrington (acoustic and electric guitars), Shayne Fontayne (drums), Sue Ferris (flute and sax), Shona Kipling (accordion), Rachel Robinson (cello), Tony Davis (keyboards) and John Day (trombone on ‘A Crooked Mile Home’). Backing vocals were provided by Suzy Crawford and Rachel Gaffney.

Wall

(Image copyright Howy White, featured image also copyright Howy White)

A gentle if determined acoustic guitar introduces us to The Viking’s Daughter before Lee’s magical vocals invite us to listen to the story at hand. There is a timbre to his vocals that give them a serious honesty and a gravelly note that has hints of Dylan to it (well if Bob had bothered to take singing lessons that is). I find myself entranced by the lilting air to the song, the intriguing lyrics and the definitive folk mood it induces, especially when the fiddle and gentle backing vocals join. The short, enchanting fiddle solos leave me imagining I’m in a crowded bar in a tiny fishing village on the North East coast, party to something secretive and  wonderful. As an opening track to entice you in further it is just about perfect. There is a more pensive feel to the guitar at the beginning of Where Eagles Fly, a more sombre atmosphere added to by Lee’s vocal that engenders a sparse beauty to all that is around it. When the chorus opens up with the stylish percussion and captivating backing vocals it adds a real feel of longing and hope, the flute is like a free spirit that eludes you, always out of reach. I feel a lump rising in my throat, a wistfulness pervading my thoughts as this enchanting song continues to entrance me. I really have the feeling we are listening to something special here.

Come the Springtime opens up with that hypnotic guitar note that has become signature now and then Lee starts singing and you really feel like spring is upon you. The vocals are more measured and precise, the chorus lively and addictive. This song is less weighty than what has preceded it but it feels in keeping with the whole premise of the track, flute and fiddle adding any necessary gravitas. It bumbles along as if it has not a care in the world, flitting and organic and really lightens the air and the mood, a short breath of fresh air that leaves your musical palate ready for what is to follow. Jaunty and immediately memorable, Making the Morning Last takes a small step away from the folk leanings and towards the mainstream. There is a breezy and carefree feel to the song, emphasised by Lee’s vocals and the percussion, which add a playful note to proceedings. The chorus is definitely a paid up member of the ‘sing-along’ society and the interjections of the stylish fiddle playing are quite sublime. A song that makes you want to jump up and dance, self-confident and dapper.

After the flippancy of the previous track things become slightly more serious again with Wonderful Day, the guitar has a fragility to it and Lee’s vocal begins with a purposefulness before opening up with an injection of levity. This track reminds me a bit of Seth Lakeman with a Northern contrast, it is pared back but the fiddle once again adds lustre and finesse and the counter-play with the accordion is just brilliant. I get the impression that Lee and his fellow musicians must put on quite a live experience, I will have to go find out for myself. The Country Song does exactly what it says on the tin, Lee’s vocal having an age-old timbre to it. This track has a touch of simple country rock to it but with a definite Britishness at its core, humorous and playful, it is like a serious version of The Wurzels with its metaphorical cap set at an impish angle.

Heading right back up mainstream road Don’t Care About Tomorrow is a catchy, high-tempo sing along that really gets under your skin and into your mind. The feel good factor is turned up to ten and smiles are obligatory. The backing vocals are stylish and harmonised and the piano and keyboards really add a grown up note. Folk takes an unapologetic back seat and the good times roll. Throw in a guitar solo and you can’t really ask for much more as Lee shows he is definitely not a one trick pony, Ed Sheeran eat your heart out! Hang on, what’s this? Have I just been transported to a smoke filled jazz joint? Night Circus is all Martin Taylor-esque guitars and funky rhythms as Lee swiftly shifts focus once again. The chorus and backing vocals have a real feel of original R&B to them, you know what? this guy has some real musical chops and, just to top it off, we have a smooth as caramel sax solo thrown in, outstanding! Intricate guitar work and super cool percussion just add to the effortless skill on show, the suave close to the track is just sublime.

On your first listen to Misty Morning Blues you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported across the Atlantic and into mid-town America. With a vocal style akin to John Denver and music that wouldn’t seem out of place on an Eagles album this is Americana inspired country rock that reminds me of Abel Ganz and that is no mean comparison. Enchanting yet heartfelt, there is a real depth of emotion at the heart of this genuinely sincere song, when the flute floats in it just adds the final part of this beguiling musical jigsaw. Honest to its core, One Day is a wistful, whimsical delight. The pared back to basics guitar is ethereal and bewitching and Lee’s vocal has a charming candor to it so you take everything at face value. Suave and sophisticated, when the percussion joins in, it has a real smooth jazz feel to it, a lightness of being that you feel is catching as your soul leaves your body to join the party. Without a worry in the world, you are just left to enjoy this unruffled delight.

Too soon we come to the final track on the album and a return to folk-focused beginnings, albeit with a country rock edge. The guitar and accordion focused introduction to A Crooked Mile Home has a solemn, melancholy note to it as if the subject is a weighty one. Lee gives his most grave vocal performance yet, all serious and mournful and you can’t help but become involved in the dignified and subdued atmosphere. The trombone and accordion add the required saturnine and sober edge to the yearning quality of the vocals. A starkly graceful song to close out this exquisite album.

Music often astounds me in the way that, when you think you’ve heard it all, something comes along to amaze and inspire you with its brilliance. I had never heard of Lee Maddison before that fateful day but this discovery is one of the best of recent years. Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

Releases on 4th August 2015

Buy Maddison’s Thread from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Tiger Moth Tales – Story Tellers Part One

2CD Wallet with Spine.pdf

For the majority of us our childhood was a place full of fond memories. They invoke sepia tinged images of innocence and happiness before the realities of the big bad world that is out there begin to sink in.

You know the saying, ‘regressed to their childhood’, when you no longer have a care in the world and the simplest things give you joy and bring a smile to your face.

I get that familiar warm glow begin to envelop me when I listen to certain albums or music, a feeling like a big hug, a freshly made bed or the smells of coffee and toast wafting across your nostrils. They may be simplistic ideals but they are the catalyst for complex emotions in your mind and soul.

There was one album recently that invoked these feelings intensely, Tiger Moth Tales’ debut release ‘Cocoon’. ‘Cocoon’ is a concept album on the subject of Childhood, and coming to terms with the loss of childhood. The journey goes through stages of Innocence, joy, imagination, stories, friendship, love, nature, nostalgia, grief, acceptance and rebirth.

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There is a very interesting story behind Tiger Moth Tales and it goes something like this…..

Tiger Moth Tales is essentially the brain child of Nottinghamshire based musician and writer Peter Jones, who has been involved in the music industry performing around the UK and recording his own material since the late 90s.

Pete Live

(photo copyright Martin Reijman)

Pete, (35) was born on October 6th 1980. At fifteen months he lost his sight due to Retinoblastoma. From an early age he was into all things musical and at the age of four had his first piano. Peter composed from an early age, usually in the form of improvisations which he would capture on his cassette recorder.

He studied music and music technology and performed in bands singing and playing jazz, swing, rock and classical pieces. On leaving school in 1999 he formed the successful duo 2 to Go with friend and vocalist Emma Paine.

Over the next ten years they became one of the most successful duos on the circuit performing at clubs and corporate events around the UK and abroad. During that time they were finalists in the BBC’s Star For A Night in 2001 and ITV’s ‘The X Factor’ in 2004. They went on to appear in the National Arena X Factor Tour which followed in 2005.

in 2010 Pete had his first official album release with ‘Look At Me Now’. This self penned and produced album was a collection of songs from the previous 10 years, including different Genres but with an overall adult contemporary feel. ‘Look At Me Now’ enjoyed good sales online and also on the road, and the plan was to start work on a follow up album in a similar vein.

At the beginning of 2013, Pete started work on a new project. This took the form of a concept album, and it was the first progressive music he had written since he was a teenager. Throughout 2013 he continued to write and record new progressive music and by October 2013 ‘Cocoon’, the new album, was complete.

(Excerpts from the website www.tigermothtales.com)

Pete

July 2015 sees the release of the much anticipated follow up to ‘Cocoon’, ‘Story Tellers Part One’……..

After seeing an internet challenge to conceive and record an album in the month of February 2015, Peter Jones was inspired to get back into the studio.

To record an album in 28 days was quite the challenge but armed with a vivid imagination and his childhood memories, Pete has written seven songs based on some of the classic children stories he listened to as a young boy.

He has put his unique twist to such classic tales as Sleeping Beauty, The Pied Piper of Hamelin and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and for those of you who like fantastic instrumentation and stunning vocal performances, look no further.

(taken from www.tigermothtales.com)

Capture

 

The introduction to Beauty Falls (Part one of Sleeping Beauty) is like a Disney trumpet overture played on keys and gives you an immediate impression of a playfulness and childish joy to the music before it opens up in a very similar vein to the opening credits of Red Dwarf (if you don’t believe me, go have another listen..), all low key pomp and circumstance. Then Peter’s intricate guitar playing leads you into the song along with some humorous keyboards. There is pantomime feel to this instrumental as it gallops along at a fair lick with all manner of amusing sound effects going off around you. Moments of clarity and fairy tale magic are interspersed among the jocularity and the intelligent songwriting of Peter Jones is already coming to the fore as everything comes to a more grown up, serious conclusion.

Maturity enters the fray with Story Tellers and the high jinks and fantasy are put on the back burner just for a short while. A subdued and sober piano note introduces the song before Peter’s earnest vocals begin, a voice that convey a real wide range of emotions, here it is thoughtful and intent. This song is all about the highs and lows of writing the stories and the lyrics convey those emotions perfectly. The music winds around your mind and your soul and envelops you in its embrace. There is a longevity to the story that will always outlive the writer and that adds a slight tone of sadness that can be felt in both the vocals and the music. The track then opens up with an extended keyboard run of increasing dexterity that lifts an melancholia and Peter adds a winsome tone to his vocals in a children’s TV style. This song is all about leaving an enduring legacy for those that follow and it closes having performed that task to a tee.

Beauty Sleeps (no surprise that this is part two of Sleeping Beauty) opens with a delicately strummed classical guitar full of grace and refinement. It has a finesse to it that befits a princess and her story and also shows off Peter Jones’ instrumental prowess, it may just be me but I  get ‘Cavatina’ (the theme from Deer Hunter for the Luddites out there) running through my mind everytime I hear certain instrumental sections of this song, not a bad comparison I’d have thought. It holds you in a trance-like state as the simple beauty of the music washes over you, seeming to cleanse your musical soul with the elegance of the guitar and the charming flute note. This is no merely simple piece though, there is a complexity at the heart, it is just delivered in such a genial manner that you can take it in so easily. Overall it is uplifting and inspiring and leaves your soul soaring.

Right, that’s enough of the inspirational, the whimsical and the charming, where is the ‘batshit crazy’ I remember from ‘Cocoon’? Ah, here it is and aren’t we in for a treat. A Kids Tale is based on the story of Billy Goat Gruff yet with the wacky humour turned up to 11, I challenge you to listen to this track and not be smiling like an inane lunatic by the end. Box of frogs? It’s as mad as whole container load from the bleating in the background of the introduction and the irreverent instrumental run in right through the Benny Hill Theme inspired section to Peter’s regional accent infused vocal. Just imagine if Disney had employed Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine to bring the story to film and you’ll have some idea of the off kilter humour that runs throughout it. The lyrics are inspired, “Hold on, you were about to bite my head off and now you’re lecturing me on morality….”, “Fair enough, on you go….”. Mad and touched with a kind of insane genius that could only be English, this guy has definitely been out in the midday sun. There is a touch of music hall to the playing that runs throughout, especially the dancing piano, it is one of the most mirth filled, tongue in cheek songs I have heard in quite a while, the joyful singing of the three goats that closes out the song being a perfect ending.

The Quest for Beauty (Sleeping Beauty part three) brings us back to the more contemplative feel of the earlier tracks with a triumphant note to the introduction and Peter’s deadpan vocals that open up into a delightful chorus, did I say that this guy can really sing? This is a down-to-earth, astute musical fairytale where the hero must overcome arduous tasks to save the heroine and the music is sympathetic to that more grown up feel whilst never losing the magic that is the core to the best of these stories. The vibrant feel builds up as we come to the close of the latest chapter in the tale, more to follow…….

There is a dark humour at the core of The Piper, the introduction has all the markings of a dangerously funny musical like Sweeney Todd and is delivered in a fashion akin to Gilbert and Sullivan with overblown, pompous characters you can tell are heading for an ignominious downfall. Peter does all the different voices with aplomb, investing the Mayor and townsfolk with a farcical side and giving the piper of the title a sinister, darker edge that makes your skin crawl just a tiny bit. The lyrics are full of slapstick, absurd humour that works perfectly with the feel of the track, “You need to take stock, there’s a rat in my sock….!”, “Oh God no, it’s running up me trousers….”. There is a conveyor belt of whipcrackingly comical phrases that keep you laughing out loud. You feel a mysterious thrall take over the song when the piper arrives and whenever he speaks, a dangerous man who you shouldn’t cross. The track grips you for all of its near thirteen minute length and, despite the fact we know how the tale unfolds, you feel yourself holding your breath wondering what is going to happen next. That is the measure of the skill of a songwriting storyteller like Peter Jones, he puts you right in the middle of the story as if you were really there. A deliciously menacing track with a touch of the macabre to it, just remember how the Child Catcher from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ used to make you hold your breath and hide (and you loved it!) and you’ll know exactly what i mean.

The final part to the Sleeping Beauty saga closes out this superb album, Beauty Awakes starts with a jubilant and exulted instrumental section topped with touches of magical fairy dust that skips lightly across your mind leaving hints of playful abandon where ever it has been. Peter Jones finishes the song and album with the expected happy ending, his lyrics touching on the fact that we know the outcomes of these fairytales but we just cannot get enough of them, “The story will never end….”, indeed it won’t Peter my friend, not with musical maestros like you around….

Well, Peter Jones has delivered what is, to my ears, an album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1’, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood. Peter is one of the pre-eminent songwriters out there today and has given us a little piece of wonder to enjoy, roll on Part Two.

Released 1st July 2015

Buy Story Tellers Part One from bandcamp on mp3

Buy Story Tellers Part One on CD from White Knight Records