Review – Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze – by Gary Morley

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I have a love hate relationship with post rock. It depends on the weather I think.

Someday a gumbo mix of old Black Sabbath riffs, Bauhaus vocal growls and thundering Bonham influenced drums hits that spot. Other days the “everything louder than everything else” mantra grates and I want a simple clean palate of sound.

Crippled Black Phoenix (CBP) take pride of place in my collection as the only stoner/ Rock/ post rock band that I like. Their albums are dense, complex affairs, their live shows are powerful multimedia events and the band themselves look as if they’ve been auditioning  for the part of the  Swedish Biker gang in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” series. I will confess now, I loved their version of Echoes that came out last year, it was a deserving cover that took the original off into new directions whilst retaining the musical core. I liked it so much that I tracked down both versions, sad…

On their latest album, ‘Bronze’, CBP tick all the boxes for my Post Rock checklist. There are all of the above and one crucial factor often missing from albums today, a sense of theatre and dynamic.

We all know the quite / loud/ quiet / shouty formula for songs. Post rock goes for a calculus derivative of that with fractural loud / loud/ full throated roar.

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I described CBP as Pink Floyd’s Echoes played by Black Sabbath.

There is that underlying melodic core to their songs that Pink Floyd use, alongside the power and menace injected by the Heavy Rock Sabbath influenced riffs and drums.

Track 5, Champions of Disturbance (Pt 1&2) for example , at the 4 minute mark goes off on a boogie that is equal parts Run Like Hell and Paranoid. It shouldn’t work but it does. I want to turn the amp up to eleven and introduce the whole street to this glorious noise.

This is all things a great rock album should be: Loud, full of power and menace, but with glorious tunes and riffs that make you want to play air guitar to.

There are subtle touches hidden among the noise too, great little Rock n roll piano at the end of that track, some nice snatches of dialogue interspersed among the songs, even a brass section at one point.

There are thumping drums, great guitar parts that layer and build and build to a point of almost obscene climatic release.

Some bands make the most awesome racket and are let down by the singer. Too clean, too growly, too weak, too OTT. No such issues here, every track has a vocal that works, from quiet reflective musings to the powerful rockier numbers, Daniel Änghede and Belinda Kordic sing with passion and skill throughout.

I’m listening for the 4th time now and I’m enjoying the nuances unfolding.

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Some lovely drum and guitar on track 7, Turn To Stone, remind me of the middle of “stranglehold” by Ted Nugent, where he scrapes his plectrum down the strings before ripping a glorious solo, the superb guest vocals are supplied by Arvid Jonsson.

Nugent is a dick, politically as far as I am concerned, but that track is sublime. CBP tap into that feeling here, this is rock music, big rock music.

I don’t know what the tracks are called (Ed. – don’t worry, I’ve helped you there…), but it matters not as it’s the “feel” I meant to convey.

This album is progressive and retro in equal measures. CBP are determined to forge their own path, if that path needs a detour into a forest of gothic beauty, as in track 8, Scared and Alone, where celestial distorted sounds underpin Belinda Kordic’s vocal before a Big Country type guitar leads us out onto the path, then they go there without fear and we wander along with them, out into a clearing  where Justin Greave’s guitar makes with the Pink Floyd inspired playing  before we stare back into that gothic forest again , mournfully now as Robert Holm’s Brass Section appears, not to soothe but to twist and snipe alongside the angry and menacing vocal. The sweet forest is now a threatening black mass of trees blocking out the light, but hope is at hand as the celestial sounds returns and this gothic musical journey ends.

If you liked The Mission, the Sisters of Mercy, Classic Pink Floyd and a bit of good old Black Country riffage, then this is for you.

I’m sure that there are bands out there that are “heavier”, more technical in their approach to playing, but this is, to me, what a “Rock Band” should be doing.

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The dynamic of the album, even in preview mp3 quality, is impressive. Cranked up it sounds great. There are lovely little piano pieces before the drums explode and fill the spaces. The guitars are in places shoegazingly monotone, as the songs unfurl they gain in definition, the soundscape broadens to encompass keyboards and layers of drone , all mixed, all ebbing and flowing in the mix. The songs are allowed to stretch and run to over 5 or 6 minutes, but without getting dull.

My Grandfather would approve of this album as there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

My review file had 10 tracks, running for just over an hour. It’s an hour well spent.

There is a deluxe version of the album that has2 extra tracks. I have ordered it , although the  double clear vinyl album version looks tempting . Whichever version, it will be a thing of dark beauty, a proper “rock” album for the modern age.

Released 4th November 2016

Pre-Order ‘Bronze’ from Season of Mist

 

 

 

Review – The Gift – Why The Sea Is Salt – by Leo Trimming

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Let’s get straight to the point – ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ is a truly exceptional album, and deserves to propel The Gift in to the higher echelons of current British Progressive Rock Music. Simple as that – it really is that outstanding. Very few albums indeed have the potential to attain the status of a potential ‘classic’ album, which will live long in the memory like ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. This is a work which greatly appeals to the heart and mind in equal measures, and similarly beguiles and stimulates in its beauty and drama.

This album is a considerable step up in ambition and achievement by a band that has evolved very significantly over the last year. Commencing as a studio project by Mike Morton and Leroy James in 2006, The Gift released promising debut anti-war album ‘Awake and Dreaming’, then went to sleep for a few years due to other life commitments. Morton then teamed up with talented song writer David Lloyd to re-form The Gift and record the excellent album ‘Land of Shadows’ in 2014 as one eclectic label Bad Elephant’s first ever releases (The third to be precise). This hard working band has been playing live over the last couple of years to develop their sound, skills and audience at venues across the UK and even a first trip to Europe in 2014 to play in the Netherlands. Stalwart Stefan Dickers has been their rock on bass for that period. They successfully appeared at last year’s Summer’s End Festival in Wales, and it was clear then they were on an upward trajectory.

The Gift have wanted to take a different and more ambitious musical approach requiring some changes in personnel, with no disrespect to their able predecessors. They recruited new drummer Neil Hayman from BEM label mates progressive hard rockers, Konchordat. He definitely adds more experience, creativity and power to the band. Leroy James also ‘came home’, rejoining the band late in the writng process of this album and just before recording started, adding his deft guitar skills and a more rock oriented approach to David Lloyd’s subtle flowing guitar work. The last but possibly most significant piece in bringing The ‘New’  Gift Jigsaw puzzle together was the recruitment on keyboards of an Italian bona fide Classical Music star, Gabriele Baldocci, who performs piano recitals around the world, alongside teaching at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in Greenwich. Morton heard that Baldocci loved Genesis, Queen, Yes, Beatles, Crimson, Camel and Tull, and wanted to use his classical skills in a progressive rock band. The Gift were delighted to recruit him, and on the evidence of this album it is clear that his undoubted incredible keyboard skills, eminent classical background and love of great rock music adds something really special to the mix. He is a real gift to The Gift!

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‘Why the Sea is Salt’ is a rich presentation of musical styles and sounds, social commentary,  mythological references, and touching expressions of personal feelings of loss and mourning. This is an album with very strong and distinctive individual songs. However, ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ has even more impact if consumed as a whole with lyrical and musical themes threading through the tapestry of the album, producing a remarkably consistent and resonant piece of work. The focus is upon man’s sad disconnection from life’s real meaning, with the poetic sense that in human existence our collective tears ‘salt’ the sea. This description may make it sound like a ‘weighty’ piece of work, but crucially The Gift never forget that the Song is Key, and it is filled with memorable melodies and harmonies which make it accessible, entertaining and interesting for a wider audience. In fact, this album is notable for the balance between lyrics and music. They compliment each other, but crucially the lyrics allow enough space for the music alone at times to breathe and convey the spirit of the song.

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The song which may inevitably attract the most attention from some is The Tallest Tree, featuring contributions from Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett of Genesis fame, alongside the more recent emerging talent of Peter Jones from Tiger Moth Tales. Anthony Phillips provides characteristically beautiful and shimmering 12 string guitar with Peter Jones playing a touching Irish whistle to add suitable pathos to the intro. This is a heartfelt song of loss about the passing of vocalist Mike Morton’s father with deeply felt and succinct lyrics, based on a poem Mike Morton wrote for and recited at his father’s funeral. Towards the end Steve Hackett perfectly reflects the elegiac feeling with a tasteful and distinctive guitar solo, and then perhaps appropriately the song fades away wistfully into the distance. I do not mind sharing with you that the first hearing this song reduced me to tears as it touched on my own parallel loss of parents with Morton. Memories of holding my own mother’s hand as she passed away were reflected in similar images of Morton taking his father’s own hands towards the end:

‘I Take Your Hands… Now as Fragile as a sigh,

As through this Veil of Tears, We say our last Goodbye

 Now the Tallest Tree is Falling, Our Faces Feel the Rain,

As Darkness Turns to Morning, Love is What Remains’

It is unusual for this reviewer to share such a personal memory in a review, but it is done to show how The Gift’s lyrics and music can truly touch the listener. Such is the simple beauty of the music and honest expression of deep emotions, which will touch many listener’s hearts, that it seems clear this song could become regarded as a classic.

To go back to the album’s beginning, ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ commences aptly with the suitably nautical and mythical At Sea, premiered to great acclaim at the recent ‘Power of Three’ gig in London. Mainly written by David Lloyd, this acts like an overture for the album as Gabriele Baldocci shows his classical piano excellence with a softly undulating piano solo with hints of Ravel as we start our musical voyage, leading onto Lloyd’s gently floating guitar. Like a sudden storm rising, the tempo and power suddenly builds with Hayman pounding away and Baldocci running a sinuous synth line above the backing in a scintillating instrumental section. The guitars and keyboards intertwine to great effect, and then Dickers’ melodic bass line leads us into a short but expressive guitar solo, before we settle back into a piano section… and after six minutes a ‘Becalmed’ singer Mike Morton finally enters the fray. Quite an opening to an album.  This is Morton as Greek chorus with sonorous  but vulnerable vocals, setting the scene including some mythic images (… but have no worries, this album is no corny ‘sword and sorcery’ epic!) The finely judged concluding guitar solo completes the ‘overture’ and takes us on into the main body of the album.

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The Gift next take us into a horror story with Sweeper of Dreams, a baroque intro leading into a powerful song full of characterisation reminiscent of Alex Harvey.  This is a dramatic ‘story’ song with lyric writer Morton singing menacingly in character as ‘The Sweeper’. One can only imagine what Morton will do to portray this scary character in concert. Baldocci and Morton wrote the majority of the musical themes, Gabriele showing that he can really rock alongside his classical skills, as the song alternates between hard rock and scary ‘evil clown’ carousel sounding interludes. Writer Neil Gaiman was pleased to permit The Gift to use the theme and name of one of his short stories for this song. Fittingly, the images evoked by the memorable music and lines such as ‘Dispose of the Debris, Lying around in your Brain’ may well enter the dream worlds of many listeners.

The Gift take us in a very different direction with the touching and delightful Tuesday’s Child , based on a lyrical idea from Baldocci, shaped and developed by Mike Morton, telling a personal story of an older sad man woefully looking back to the beautiful but forsaken joy and innocence of childhood. The Road of Ashes instrumental opening draws us in beguilingly with keyboards creating a lovely soundscape for an emotionally delicate, floating guitar line. Acoustic guitar then takes us into a beautiful sung lyric in the First Flower section. This is subtle, intelligent and heart felt lyric writing, characteristic of Mike Morton, and for which he should become much more well-known. He makes the connection between emotions and the sea in touching but catchy choruses :

‘Someone’s been waiting for me, somewhere not quite light enough to see

Is this the one I used to be? Cast adrift amongst the Shadows and Salt Waters, That Flow from Me’

Alongside such insightful and emotive lyrics this song of redemption and self-realisation is also expressed perfectly with finely crafted music  as the bass and drums deftly back Lloyd’s flowing and sensitive concluding guitar solo – demonstrating the skill of The Gift in marrying words and music together with skill and insight in conveying the ‘feel’ and message of a song.

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The main inspiration for the album title ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ comes originally from a Norse legend in which a man finds a mill that grinds out anything he wants. However, he gets too greedy, and when he asks it to grind out salt for his food, the power behind it grinds endlessly, swamping him and everyone. The mill then falls into the sea, where it still churns, thus making the sea salty. This mythological source is re-interpreted by The Gift on this album as modern man’s  greed for ‘stuff’ which consumes and hurts us.  Nowhere is this better expressed than on the epic song cycle of All These Things, a piece largely written mainly by Lloyd and Morton. Apparently this song cycle was originally called Black Friday but that title was felt to be too specific as the piece had a wider perspective. Lloyd’s love of Jethro Tull and early Strawbs is demonstrated by the opening acoustic guitar and vocal harmony section in The Vow, portraying marriage as a transaction, a swapping of rings, underlining society’s pre-occupation with possessing things, including each other. Church organs resound as a slight dig at organized religion before we flow into the Harvest of Hollow. The use of understated flamenco guitar shows that The Gift are not afraid to stretch their boundaries. Indeed, it appears that this is a band who wanted to avoid simply repeating previous patterns as they used previously unexplored sounds and styles.

The Gift are not afraid to make political points of social commentary, with Morton particularly animated by his distaste for the current politics of the UK as a ‘crop of bitter weeds’. The Gift direct their focus on the futile emptiness of materialistic consumerism, leading to endless acquisition but never enough to satisfy:

‘So which of us is satisfied? Tell me, are you satisfied?

The Roulette spins in empty eyes, Our Hungerbeasts prowling and growling inside

It’s an unhealthy appetite, Take another bite… Having is Nothing, Hunting is All’

This song cycle takes an ever darker turn as we enter Feeding Time in which The Gift have never sounded so brutal and menacing with an angry and coruscating guitar duo between David Lloyd and Leroy James – the instruments cinematically telling the story as powerfully as any words. In contrast, the next lilting section The Jackdaw, Magpie and Me commences with bird sounds and a gentle acoustic guitar motif as Morton intones with such clarity about the selfishness and emptiness of collecting things trinkets like magpies.  Dickers and Hayman’s subtle bass and drums underline the piece with skill, showing that they are not all about power. The animal imagery is carried on into the gentle re-birth or turning point of the Swan and Butterfly section, with perhaps even a subtle or subconscious reference to previous album’s highlight The Willows.  The lyrics encourage the notion that if we reconnect with Nature, both its external aspects and our inner selves, we have no need to complete ourselves through ‘things’.  The gentle pastoral feel of this section with piano and flute sounds accentuate this as a more meditative section in which the song’s protagonist realises he is as free as creatures of both water and air if he chooses to free himself of the distractions of the media and possessions and reconnect with the earth he walks upon.

As this reviewer is rather melancholic at times I did have some initial reservations about the finale to this song section as Heartfire concludes this piece on a more celebratory almost hymnal note, an echo to the ecclesiastical hints in the opening part, The Vow. However, with repeated listenings it became clear that The Gift were right to conclude this remarkable song cycle with a more upbeat conclusion after the gentle pastoralism of the previous section. Morton urges us to ‘come to your senses’ , encouraging us to let the world outside fill our senses because there is enough joy and thrill in those experiences to keep us fulfilled all our lives. Cleverly, all five senses are lyrically engaged with the sight of ‘silver cloak of winter’, the touch of ‘summer heat’, the ‘taste of joyful tears’, the ‘scent of gardens’ and hearing ‘whispers in the dark’. These positive feelings are evoked by sun filled backing which skips along with a joyful synth line, and harmonic backing vocals, concluding ‘Take Heart’.

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The coda to this album is the haunting Ondine’s Song. Baldocci’s eerie synth soundscape backs Morton’s mournful vocals, bringing us full circle to the sea based and mythically imbued lyrics of the opening At Sea. Ondine is a legendary elemental being associated with water, whom has inspired an opera by Debussy, a ballet by Henze and even The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson… and now a song by The Gift! The story involves her marrying a human to gain immortality, but if the human is unfaithful they are fated to die. On a more fundamental level in this song Ondine stands for the essential nature of Water as Life itself, and a plea not to pollute the world – without water there is no life, leading to the elegaic fading refrain:

‘Every Mortal Breath, By Her Grace Alone…. By her Grace Alone…’

In the legend the man’s infidelity breaks Ondine’s heart, and in this song Ondine’s heart is broken by Man’s treatment of the world. Her sorrow and man’s sorrowful salt tears run into the oceans. Once again the music sensitively expresses the flowing almost wraith like feeling of this piece.

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The Gift have really stepped up a few levels with this remarkable album. They have not stretched the boundaries of music – very few artists truly do that. What they have undoubtedly done is skilfully and  beautifully draw upon a variety of influences, inspirations and ideas and artfully crafted them into an imaginative and enjoyable musical experience that touches the heart and stimulates the mind. What more could one want from an album?! Do yourselves a favour and just go and buy it!

Released 28th October 2016

Buy ‘Why The Sea Is Salt’ from Bad Elephant Music

 

 

 

 

Review – Kansas – The Prelude Implicit – by Gary Morley

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Confessions time this review is proving trickier than I thought.

I discussed writing it with a friend who’s far more erudite… a transcript follows:-

Me: Morning. Am still struggling with Kansas CD, are you an expert in them?

Learned Friend: in what sense?

Me: I have listened to this new one 6 or 7 times now and it just glides over me,it just seems to get going and then fades into the ether

Learned Friend: not heard it, so I can’t say, are you reviewing it?

Me: Yes, For Wallet Emptier. They seem to straddle a fence between rock and Prog, neither one nor the other..

I’ve written the review twice and it’s still not my thing.

Bits have grown on me

But mostly yawn….

Learned Friend: just copy and paste this conversation, review done

Me: Good Plan – wonder if Martin would let me get away with it?

Learned Friend: How long do your reviews have to be?

Me: no limit. Never word counted them!

Learned Friend: are they the sort that has to dissect each track or can you just give an overall opinion on the album as a whole

Me: I can do whichever I wish, mine tend to wander around the field a bit as the album is on stage, more o f a feeling rather than a dissection. I can’t do the time signatures / minor major chord bollocks, It either grabs me or it doesn’t

Learned Friend: I hate the ones that go through the track list telling me which each track is like (especially when the album isn’t even out for me to check) – I just want the “good for a rainy day, great in the car” “man this sucks” kind of review. No time signature stuff is excellent! That stuff is for nerds and I don’t like the “I’d better say it’s good otherwise they won’t send me any more free CD’s” reviews either.

So, In the cause of balance and “No Free CD’s for a bad review” Here’s what I thought about Kansas’ new album:

Caveat emptor

I wrote about his album yesterday. It was more of a rant: I had decided I didn’t like it for the following reasons:

For not sounding like an American Waterboys (both bands feature violins in case you didn’t realise the comparison)

For sounding like the bastard offspring of REO Speedwagon and ELO.

For the singer whining on and on about nothing in particular, being more of a karaoke singer than a rock singer, more musical Theater than Dream Theater

But my computer is obviously wiser than me as it has “lost” that piece.

Probably for the best as it was incoherent, rambled on and offered nothing new.

Bit like much of the album the devil on my shoulder whispers maliciously, whilst the angel on the other shoulder says that I should play nice and talk about the bits that sound like Spock’s Beard (Instrumental break in track 4 , Rhythm in the Spirit) the track that I will be adding to my MP3 player ( Section 60)  Or the song that sounds like “Dust In The Wind” (Refugee)

That last one is playing now, it should be a heart breaking paen to the plight of the disposed, but the vocals make it sound as traumatic as having to wait for the green man to appear before crossing an empty road.

The vocal harmonies are trying to be emotive, but I must be a callus twisted person as I remain immune. The instrumental break is almost Celtic with the minor chords of the keyboards floating along with the violin , painting a sound picture of an empty road , whether a road to hell or a road to nowhere I am not able to decide as the track just stops.

The atmosphere is sucked out as quickly as the potatoes in the Martian when the habitiat decompresses. The result is just as catastrophic.

I’m thrown back into AOR bland land, this singer is good, but in the wrong band. Either that or I am missing something.

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To me, great vocalists are individuals; you recognise them from the merest vocal hiccup or inflection. They are the living embodiment of the lyric. AS I mentioned before, this is more like an X Factor audition, all technique and no soul.

The band try hard , there are some nice interplays between violin, guitar and keyboard / orchestra on track 6, but it’s all very widescreen and a bit primary TV- pleasant, inoffensive and a wee bit formulaic.

Track 8, Summer, is a jaunt bouncy little tune, featuring another 3 way battle between guitar, violin and keyboards. Sadly, it lacks grit though, the singer again detracts from the feeling by sounding breathless and the lack of power in his voice let the side down.The lyric too is a bit wishy-washy. He warbles on about never regretting that summer. But doesn’t elaborate any further, so we can only speculate as to the trauma that caused him the regret – losing his paper round? Finding out that he would have to go back to school at the end of the holiday?

Once again, the track stops suddenly without warning, almost causing the following track to crash into it.

Another  3 minutes or so of vague pomp and we reach the only track that I think will get repeat plays – the rather strangely titled Section 60, starts as a middle paced power balled score, with the triple faced instrumental front line  swelling and building to a peak .

Here we have the big guitar moment, all dry ice and spot lit gurning, with the violin in counterpoint.

And this is the bit that gets me – as the music fades to a violin and a military snare drum cutting through and playing out to fade. No coda, no lyric, just this echoed drum pattern that fades into the night. It serves as a flicker of hope after the battle, poignant and powerful.

I get he image of the aftermath of a great battle, the drum and violin painting the silence after the bombast and fighting has ended, the smoke clears to show the dead, the dying and the small group of survivors banded together, walking off into the sunset.

Clichéd, yes, but then that’s this album through and through. It is anachronistic in that it could have been made in 1976 when the band were at the top of their game and  FM radio needed a steady supply of anthemic songs to power the great American dream.

Instead, here we are 40 years later and the rest of the world has moved on. I am sure that many will listen to this with the aural equivalent of rose tinted glasses, the music taking them back to that mythical summer of ’76.

If you liked Kansas then, you’ll probably love this – I sneaked a read at reviews on that tax dodging site – yes, the fans are claiming it as the second coming, so I’m going to annoy people again but it did nothing for me, failed to inspire . A C+ album if we graded such things.

Released 23rd September 2016

Buy ‘The Prelude Implicit’ direct from the band.

 

Review – Sphelm – These Roots Know No Boundaries – by Emma Roebuck

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Have you ever tried to categorise something and found it close to impossible because its fits some of them and yet none at the same time? I find myself there right now after over ten times around the album ‘These Roots Know No Boundaries’ by Sphelm and, having heard the Orenda EP from 2014, I find to be fascinating, challenging and yet still highly enjoyable. Mike McKnight and Tim Powell form the actual band but they have a great deal of help here with the Album from some excellent guest musicians.

They self-define as Acoustic Ambient Electronic yet I believe that is too limited a description. Sphelm were born out of  Post rock metal band Cyril Snear and were looking for the next step to follow after that band broke up.

Mike and Tim have written music that, if played in a full electric band, would come out at the cutting edge of Progressive but the ‘stripped back to basics’ style gives it a uniqueness and identity all of its own with no box to fit. Whether you’d call it a new branch of music or some guys following their noses and seeing where it goes either way, this is worthy of exploration.

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The music is complex and accessible with some outstanding songs that appear simple at first pass and then the detail surfaces on further hearing. Stillness is the simplest and yet it isn’t with its complex harmonies and harmonic on the acoustic guitar and keyboard backing.  A song that asks us to stop and be still and think without the noise we have around us constantly in the 21st century. After The Dopamine seems to refer to again to society and the bubble we exist in as people, consumerism being the Dopamine in question. Mainly with complex vocal harmonies but with atmospheric keyboards plugging the gaps, it stands out on the first few listens as one that has longevity.

Prince Rupert’s Drop has a folky feel to it at the start which then leads into a beautiful guitar lick. Is it a treatise on molten glass dropped into water or a metaphor for human resilience in our modern world? The title track really stands out too. A fine example of how the human voice can join in a harmony that is greater than the sum of the parts. The lilting Trumpet section is not intrusive but sneaks up on you and hypnotises you and, overall, the melancholy feel is achingly beautiful and emotive.

The whole album is not even close to the mainstream, it is ‘off piste’ even for the Progressive but not in any dissonant way but in a way that the likes of Sigur Ros and Steven Wilson travel their own path. In fact all you fans of Post Rock, Math Rock and those are partial to the ambience of Eno and Fripp and who have the desire to hear acoustic music, you should buy it. If you are adventurous in any way get your name on a copy of this album.

Released 21st October 2016

Pre-order from Bad Elephant Music on bandcamp

 

 

 

 

Review – Half Past Four – Land of the Blind – by Progradar

(Cover photo by Moth)

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“Welcome to Half Past Four – a band from Toronto that create new original art rock and prog. Come follow us!”

A short introduction on Half Past Four’s Facebook page that opens up a whole world of amazing musical mayhem, self-expression and Joie de vivre from this incredible Toronto band.

I’ve had a quite lengthy and intense period of writer’s block recently, I’m not going into the reasons but I was beginning to fear I wasn’t going to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As ever, my love of music (and a severe kick up the proverbials from some close friends) has finally got me out the other side.

I think Billy Joel put it best when he said,

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music…”

The new E.P. from Half Past Four‘Land of the Blind’, certainly fits in that category and has given a much need fillip to my wounded emotions. To be fair, until the promo arrived in my inbox, I’d never heard of this quintet before. Luckily there was a handy bio in the Press Kit too…

Half Past Four is one of the best progressive rock bands to have emerged from Canada. Over nearly two decades, they have developed a unique sound, employing traditional prog-rock music laiden with folk, country, jazz, heavy metal and classical genres, among others.

Each member of Half Past Four is a virtuoso in their own right. Together, they form somewhat of a familial gestalt. Each band member brings a proficiency, originality and respect for the whole that propels their combined efforts into a place beyond simple classification.

Constantin Necrasov (Guitar), Dmitry Lesov (Bass & Chapman Stick), Igor Kurtzman (Keyboards), Kyree Vibrant (Vocals) and Marcello Ciurleo (Drums) have been compared to early-80s King Crimson. Yet any comparisons can only truly function on a per-track basis. While one piece might sound reminiscent of late-70s Yes, listeners might feel the influence of early Pink Floyd in the next piece, followed by a piece that harkens Primus in the 1990s. Or Kate Bush in the mid-80s. Like the best of progressive rock music, the listener cannot predict where the band will take them next.

It is this shifting flow of sound and feeling that distinguishes Half Past Four. They are an aural tapestry, weaving 50+ years of musical influences into mellifluous melodies and rhythmic resonances that take their listeners on a journey to states that are both fresh and familiar.

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(Photo by Eska Urwen)

‘Land of the Blind’ is a five-track mini-LP and follows 2013’s ‘Good Things’ and 2008’s ‘Rabbit In The Vestibule’.

Opening track Mathematics brings to mind high-energy jazz-infused progressive rock with a little addition of impish fun. Kyree’s vocals are smooth and yet she seems to sing with a twinkle in her eye, they are the perfect foil for the brilliant musicianship on show, hugely influenced by the 70’s era of progressive rock and its ilk. You can see where the King Crimson influences come from with the edgy rhythm section and Constantin’s hugely expressive guitar playing. Throw in some epic Hammond from Igor and it is a brilliant exhibition of joy filled music played with an innate love and affection and you just can’t help smiling, left with a carefree happiness in your soul.

The funk-meter is turned up to ten with the superb Mood Elevator, a Van Der Graaf Generator-esque opening with some hushed and spooky vocals sets the scene for what turns into a super-smooth and laid back song that couldn’t be more cool if it tried. The funky keyboards and charming guitar open the way for Kyree’s sparkling vocal performance, an amalgamation of 70’s funk and jazz with an utterly indulgent feel. It’s got hints of West Coast surfer freedom with psychedelic prog running through the middle and just a hint of lunacy hiding in the background, all of which adds up to one jubilant gem of a track.

Fans of 70’s cult Canadian art-rockers Max Webster will be delighted by the cover of Toronto Tontos, a bold statement if there ever was one. Edgy, restless and skittish, it bounces around from riff to riff with some energetic drumming and seems to never want to stand still. The vocals are brash and direct and I found myself jumping around and grinning inanely at the anarchic feel of it all, enhanced by the french lyrics. All sharp with 90 degree angles, there isn’t a smooth edge to be found, especially on the caustic guitar solo which ends up giving the song a properly punk feel to it.

One Eyed Man seems to take a bit from the previous track with it’s almost crafty-cockney vibe (if that makes sense?), as if Kyree has had elocution lessons from Damon Albarn after he’s sung ‘Country House’. Another wildly inventive track that has no agenda and is just there for the fun of it. We are talking King Crimson meets VDGG and goes off to the pub for a bender. The irreverent guitar solo is a thing of mad genius and you just get the impression that this band have a definite hint of mild insanity to them and it is that that gives them their uniqueness and I, for one, love it.

The final track on this oh-too-short mini-LP is Mirror Eyes and this brings a hint of seriousness back into the equation. An intent and earnest intro is opened up by Kyree’s voice, this time with more passion than humour and the piano playing is stylish and suave. There is a hint of jazz lounge to the rhythm section, guitar and piano combination but always a little sense of mischief hiding in the back, it’s like a Ben Folds Five influence but with a more mature feel. I am captivated by Kyree Vibrant‘s wonderfully intense voice  and the prodigious musical talent that backs her up to the hilt, it is quite sublime.

As this absolutely jubilant and refreshing record comes to a close I just cannot help but smile. These are vistuoso musicians without a trace of smugness or superiority, they just play and sing for the love of the music and it shows, in spades. A joyous expression of love, hope and humour all rolled into an incredible package that you just can’t resist. I recommend plenty of albums but I’d prescribe this to everyone to save your sanity and give your life a boost of happiness and enjoyable irregularity.

Released 17th September

Buy ‘Land of the Blind’ from cdbaby

 

 

Review – Marillion – F.E.A.R – by Kevin Thompson

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Let’s get this out of the way first, I have been a Marillion fan, since ‘Market Square Heroes’, not as fanatical as some but have every album from both eras and solo projects. I have seen them many times live and they have seen me through the highs and lows of my adult life, always there to bring wonder, amazement and comfort. I refuse to choose which era I prefer as both are in their own right part of a greater whole that make this band not only one of the greats of Progressive music, but one of the best bands I have ever heard. Pioneers of crowd-funding they created a whole new ecosystem in which to survive and prosper, where others fell to the whims of the press when the genre stumbled to the fickle fancies of the general great unwashed.

If we are to believe that life is one big cycle, everything must come around again, as in fashion and also the popularity of music. The quality of Marillion’s output and personal symbiosis with their adoring fans have carried them over a 38 year career and eighteen albums, quite often against all odds, and shown the way for others to follow. Free from the shackles of large labels and self sufficient it has enabled them to create under their own rules a beautiful distinctive sound. They have never really ‘gone away’ or ‘made a comeback’, producing consistently strong material. It is to be expected then that a band who have always been able to make social comment, (‘Easter’, ‘Season’s End’, ‘Brave’….) and are not afraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects, should go all out on the new album to try and prick the conscience of the human race and open our eyes to the mess we are making of this wonderful planet on which we have the privilege to be born.

Why is it we, who consider ourselves the ‘superior’ race continually attempt to waste all before us with greed and want, when in reality there would be plenty for all if only we would look after the world we live in and work with and not against the planet and everyone on it. Such is the constitution of man, but there is no fantasy in the fact we are pushing ourselves to destruction and there will be no happy ending if we do not change our ways, Mother Nature will have her revenge on the pretentious, foolish notions that we can control her.

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Can the New Kings save us from ourselves through the message of music, it would be naïvely sweet to think so and the intention is sincere. Whether it does depends on you dear listener, but for myself the lyrics may serve to open my eyes, but the music opens my heart. Listening to Marillion makes me feel I want to be a better person and fills me with a warm glow. Previews and internet gossip may, erroneously lead you to believe this is decidedly different from previous albums, it’s not. What you will hear is the culmination of personal experience spread over four decades, condensed and poured like liquid gold into your ears, on what many may feel are some of the best tunes the band have ever written. All brought together on an album that dares to try and topple ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ from my ‘favourite’ spot.

Let me try and convince you a little further, are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin….

Our first story warns of  an impending dramatic change in the five piece El Dorado. The album title sung so sweet a chorus, you could almost be forgiven for mistaking the impact it aims to create. This is not flippant or irreverent comment meant to shock, rather to indicate the evil that men and women do and what it generates in humanitarian, ecological and financial terms. Ignorantly disregarding the warnings of disaster we are bringing on ourselves, the analogy of a devastating, approaching storm illustrating our shame exquisitely. What future are we creating and what legacy will we leave our children and future generations?

The next tale urges us to seek an end to wars and work to universal peace, no longer to be Living in Fear. You could be forgiven for thinking the band were trying to create a ‘Hippy’ utopia with the 60’s echoed sentiments, but in a world that that has grown increasingly bitter and violent, maybe those with flower power had something greater to offer us after all. Mocked, before their time, and over-dramatic with portents of an all too scary real life in which we now live. Who are we now to cast aspersions, seeing them as just a quirky trend in the past only makes fools of us now. An infectious chorus will dig into your consciousness, lodging there and carrying the new day message of hope, should we ignore it or join hands across the world in harmony?

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Almost an antithesis to Thankyou Whoever You Are from the album ‘Somewhere Else’, as a pentagonal prosopography, The Leavers is the narrative of a band and crew’s life from a behind the scenes perspective. The constraints of a life on the road, showing a more personal tale of the strain on all involved. Constantly on the move, setting up/packing up and repetitive routines. Hardly ever home and when you are, restless, never fully settled whilst something tugs at you, drawing you back to the nomadic world you have become accustomed to. The testing of relationships as you struggle to fit into the family dynamic and their daily rituals, the feeling of being an intruder. Each section of this extensive song segues into the next as the band smoothly slide between passages.

Steve Hogarth’s heartfelt vocals perfectly catch the requisite emotion for the rest of the band to feed from, creating layers of luscious strings at the fingers of Messrs Pete Trewavas  rhythmic bass and Steve Rothery’s soaring guitars, intertwining with the percussive symmetry of Ian Moseley’s drums, all laid on a quilted bed of  Mark Kelly’s delicious keys. The coherence of the the band’s music on this album has never been more tangible and a further fitting analogy as to what we could all achieve if we worked in harmony together for the common goal, in their case this beautiful thought provoking album.

The delicate piano and wistful vocals illustrate our ageing, which can creep up on us as the realisation dawns we can no longer mentally or physically do all we could or would like to. We all too soon become observers of The White Paper on which we have painted our lives. Visiting our past whilst we innocuously watch the world pass by. Bitter-sweet, verging on regretful reflection of what we lose, as the music builds  for the yearning of youth when everything was fresh and colourful, rapidly resigned to greyer shades of obscurity. Could we, should we have done more whilst we were capable?

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What have we not unearthed in dark depth from our tales so far? Ah, yes, greed and corruption. There is no ‘need’ for some but a ‘want’ to own, take control, hold dominion over those below and less fortunate at any cost. There is always someone whose avarice will override their common sense of decency in a corrupt corporate society where power matters to The New Kings above all else. Revelling in others’ misfortunes whilst building empty steel and glass castles to their vacuous domains, in which the echoes of the titled chorus ring. Any assumed pleasantries in previous tracks are disregarded on this epitaph of the evil that men do, dispensing with the subtleties to expose the core of this world’s impropriety.

This album resonates on every level of my senses, be it my own advancing years that force me into the realisation that in my humanity I too have been guilty, on however a small scale, to some of the above at some stages in my life. Before I put my soapbox away I would like to end on this. It is not someone else to blame, it is not someone else’s fault. We are all accountable. Wake up and smell the roses, whilst they still grow. Stand up and be counted. Do not live in F.E.A.R.

 Released 23rd September 2016

Order from Marillion.com

 

Review – Aisles – Hawaii – by Craig E. Bacon

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With their new album, ‘Hawaii,” Aisles have released their version of the obligatory conceptual prog double album. As such, it hits many of the prog checklist items: longer tracks, extended instrumental sections, some experimental choices, a loose concept that can be a little hard to follow at times, and gorgeous cover art that tells a story in its own right. However, ‘Hawaii’ never comes across as perfunctory, and the band’s eclectic mix of musical styles–leaning more heavily on jazz-fusion and world rhythms than on ‘classic prog’ or hard rock–brings some fresh air to the project.

The first LP opens with a two part reflection on The Poet whose art and message had gone largely unheard. This pair of tracks serve well as an opener, expressing both the lyrical themes (a warning about the destruction of the earth/loss of uniquely human experiences) and the musical pallette (big band drums and jazzy lead guitar that moves into Welcome to the Machine-esque sinister moodiness, then continues through several stylistic changes). The rest of this first disc continues with premonitions of coming tragedy. Upside Down is a highlight of the album, and one of the more condensed musical and thematic statements here. There are two opposing forces at work in the world–destruction and creation–both with their power to to turn the world upside down in their own ways. “Some only take and some just destroy, and others they create/Some give their hearts and some are so bold/That they can turn any world upside down.”

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The second LP focuses more on lament and longing for the good things that have passed away. The album’s many references to sun, rivers, walks, etc. develop the thought that the greatest loss in the earth’s destruction was not cultural or technological–these human inventions seem to have carried on in the settlement of the solar system–but in the destruction of the non-human beauty of the natural world that provides the conditions for fully a human experience. This is expressed in the mournful Terra and on the title track, Club Hawaii, which features a spoken intro explaining that the club’s five floors each contain wonders to tantalize all five senses, every floor more intense than the last. The patron’s question, “what’s on the top floor?” reveals the album’s theme of longing for the deepest, most thorough experience of human sensuality, especially in relation to the beauty of the natural world and humanity’s own natural, physical existence. Thus, we hear the club’s visitor implore “Turn my soul into flesh and soil/And blood, and waves and sand and rocks/And cliffs and sex and dogs/And apes and frogs and dirt and rust/And screams and lava, lava, lava, lava, lava.”

Throughout the album, there are nods to classic progressive music: some of the keys/synths are reminiscent of late 70’s Rush or mid-70’s Pink Floyd, while the jazzier leanings share some commonality with Caravan, but Aisles are clearly not interested in the more nostalgic-leaning approach to prog. The influences are there, but they remain influences rather than templates.

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Hawaii’ is a cohesive, moody incorporation of emotional rock vocals, jazz fusion instrumental sections, and jazzy world-music accents, especially in the rhythm section. There are a few shorter songs that act as segues (Nostalgia) or postludes to the preceding track (Year Zero, Falling, which is a nice hint at the kind of mournful ballad that Freddie Mercury sang so masterfully), but the narrative tends to be moved forward by longer, sprawling tracks. These avoid the prog-rock epic approach to composition, instead opening with quieter guitars and slowly unfolding. The album  is, on the whole, much more about the ‘progressive’ rather than the ‘rock’ as it is usually practiced in the contemporary milieu. That’s not to say the album doesn’t get loud or intense, but the mood suits contemplation more than consternation. This is an album for a late night, sitting alone in low lighting, with a favourite and suitably complex beverage in hand. And have some refills at the ready, because ‘Hawaii’ rewards repeated listens. The composition is too sprawling and the theme too subtle (as a nice counterpoint to some overbearing narrative albums) to be grasped immediately. It requires some commitment from the listener up front, before it will reveal the intricacies of its emotional core. With some careful attention, however, its beauty will shine through.

Released 29th July 2016

Buy ‘Hawaii’ direct from the band HERE

 

 

Review – Birdeatsbaby – Tanta Furia – by Emma Roebuck

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Much is being said about the fact that music isn’t progressing or progressive anymore, with a few notable exceptions. The audiences that buy the music are more likely to buy a 5.1 remix of a 1974 re-release over a new and unknown band. It makes me sad when I can come across so much new and exciting stuff to be discovered and that leads me on to this jewel.

‘Tanta Furia’ is the fourth album by Birdeatsbaby, a band new to me, and, to be honest, after hearing this I shall be visiting the back catalogue post haste. The music is dark, chaotic, manically varied and caustic but, most of all, it’s brilliant fun. Its genre busting, you won’t box this in anywhere. I was sent this by the band’s PR Company and I should really thank them. Mishkin Fitzgerald (Lead Vocal, Piano) Forbes Coleman (Drums), Gary Mitchell (Guitar, Bass Double Bass) & Hana Maria (Violin) are the four fine components that make up this excellent band.

The album bounces from some very solid pop/rock, Scars (in the mould of Kate Bush gone Goth), to the insane sounds of In Spite of You that is anthemic and maniacal, reflecting the post-abusive-relationship ‘screw you’ message. The beauty and poetry of Bones of God is aching plaintive and emotionally striking… Its sleazy dirty and pure all rolled into one delightful album.

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This record is not for everyone, it’s marmite in the same way that Knifeworld are but also a musical universe away, it would make for an amazing double header though. The band are obviously an eclectic bunch with no fear of writing music that they enjoy, drawing influences from as far afield as Lana Del Rey to Evanescence and from Muse to Ella FitzgeraldBirdeatsbaby are creating something that stands out head and shoulders above much of what is being recorded in the mainstream today. I am reminded in many ways of We Are Kin and their last album ‘…and i know…’

This quartet tell stories in music and words and they plunder a style to suit the song theme rather than make the theme fit one style.  I think it may be too late for the Prog scene to claim these but they are definitely Progressive with a capital P and their fans, or “The Flock”, are in for a treat when they get their hands on this gem!

Released 7th November 2016

‘Tanta Furia’ will be available to order from the official band shop

Video for No Mirror:

 

Review – Cyril – Paralyzed – by Rob Fisher

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Light, airy piano chords gradually emerge from the silence and gently come to a slow halt; moments later a barely perceptible layer of tingling keyboards fills the air, bass and drum announce a pointed yet restrained arrival and a light, breezy acoustic guitar plays a Mediterranean air. Husky, breathless vocals overlay the soundstage with a bewitching melody, building to an echoing vocal, offset against a muted single piano interlude before launching into a punchy, power rock driven chorus.

Scarlet Walking, the opening track to ‘Paralyzed’,  the second album by German based band Cyril, casts a mesmerising spell which softly, almost imperceptibly seeps into your soul and weaves an enchanting magic that both thoroughly enthrals and completely captivates. As the doorway through which you pass on your journey to the rest of the album, it effortlessly exerts a wonderfully alluring and seductive welcome.

‘Paralyzed’ is a heart-warming, elegant and thoroughly endearing album of graceful vignettes and beautifully reflective compositions which mesmerise and enchant in equal measure. Unlike ‘Gone Through Years’, released in 2013 as a concept album based around themes drawn from ‘The Time Machine’ by H. G. Wells, this follow up album places greater focus on the progression of the band’s music by crafting imaginative compositions that are bathed in a fertile and embracing atmosphere of creativity, in turn forming the cradle for the most wonderful melodic expressions.

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Indeed, I think much of the beguiling charm of this album comes in no small measure from the careful and perceptive attention lavished on the layers within the songs, along with the context in which they stand and relate to each other. The tracks, individually and collectively, exude a permeating, enveloping atmosphere which significantly heightens and elevates the quality of the writing well above the ordinary. The soundstage is deep, expansive, full of resonance and an almost chilling clarity, capturing a moody, immersive mellowness and a refined, pervading, almost tender spirit and presence.

Within this are built a series of forced contrasts which either vigorously penetrate and stand out against the spacious openness of such an atmosphere or else gently fall back and dissipate into it time and time again. On some tracks, the growling, crunching animosity of the Hammond forms a solid bedrock and undercurrent but gives way to delicate pairings of piano and acoustic guitar, or a floating vocal like a wispy mist overlaying an isolated piano. On other tracks a smoky saxophone riff builds to an orchestral crescendo but then melts to an isolated single instrument enshrining an echoed vocal. The result is beautiful in both simplicity and finesse.

These energetic brushstrokes are in turn the vistas which give birth to soaring, melodic narratives which drive the music, giving life and voice to the plot of each song. Gravelly vocals are carried along on the back of waves of harmonic euphoria; reflective and introspective wistfulness muses over hushed symphonic arrangements. But these do not stand alone; the tone and structure is adorned, supplemented and enhanced by instrumental work designed to mirror, copy and reflect the central vocal stage. In particular, Rainbow (Track 4) is a curious delight, acoustic guitar and sprightly chord work supporting joyful, harmonies, with the occasional burst of Jamaican style reggae drums.

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(Picture by Heiko Schoneberg)

The narratives themselves are testament, if any are needed, to the desire to craft and construct songs which can embody the spirit, the passion and the experiences of the story being told. Guy Manning’s lyrical inventiveness is the perfect match for the musical innovation of the compositions. He brings a sober, thoughtful and reflective tone to the stories being told, filled with a mixture of wistful bemusement, puzzled wonderment, weary resignation but also a powerful sense of surprised contentedness despite or even in spite of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

The framework within which these sentiments are shared are the outstanding feature of this release. Marek Arnold is, simply put, a phenomenon, a musical dynamo of breathtaking vision and originality. Band member of Toxic Smile, Seven Steps to the Green Door, Flaming Row, Manning, United Progressive Fraternity and Damanek, his resourceful construction and astute arrangements build songs that are delightfully intricate, constantly evolving and packed with unexpected, complex and satisfying transitions. In a nod to what is hopefully the promise of a third Cyril album, the final track, Secret Place (Part 1) is an 18 minute mosaic of absorbing segues, shifting rhythms and changing landscapes.

The combination of all these elements fashion an album which is riveting in scope, gripping in detail and an absolute pleasure to spend time with. There is an exciting sense of character and emotion from a band who are themselves evolving and transitioning and exploring a whole range of progressive avenues and pathways as they do so.

Released 27th May 2016

Buy ‘Paralyzed’ from Progressive Promotion Records

 

Review – Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts – by Shawn Dudley

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When 2016 draws to a close and I begin compiling my “best of the year list” one album that is definitely going to be near the top is ‘The Fall Of Hearts’, the quietly brilliant 10th album from Katatonia.  It’s the “sleeper hit” of the year in my opinion.  It’s not the most flamboyant release; it’s not aggressively pushing boundaries or showing off how technically proficient the band members are at every opportunity.  Instead it’s an album of subtle nuance and variation, the sound of a band perfectly comfortable in their own skin continuing to evolve and improve along their already distinctive path.

‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is the first album of new studio material in 4 years and also marks the debut of a couple new members to the fold; guitarist Roger Ojersson and drummer Daniel Moilanen (who really makes his presence felt in the arrangements).  In the intervening years since 2012’s ‘Dead End Kings’ the band has been focusing on stripping down their sound, first via the remix album ‘Dethroned & Uncrowned’ and secondly their live acoustic concert recording ‘Sanctitude’.  The lessons learned from this approach have carried over to the new album, adding subtlety and space to the arrangements and allowing the new compositions to really breathe and flow.  Katatonia’s compositions in the past were often more straight-ahead than others within the Prog Metal field, being primarily based off a standard verse-chorus-verse structure.   ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ offers a much more impressionistic approach, the more fluid nature of the arrangements really showing off Jonas Renkse’s gorgeous melodies to greater and more dramatic effect.

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(Photo by Alessandra Tolc)

Opening track Takeover is an excellent demonstration of how this new approach has been applied.  The song starts abruptly without an intro, immediately dropping you into its melancholic setting.  The rhythmic thrust of the song is understated, dreamlike; it creates the subtle impression of floating.  This feeling remains even once the heavier guitars come into play around the 1-minute mark.  There is something very “painterly” about the feel of this piece; it’s elusive, ethereal, like watercolors in varying shades of gray.  It’s simultaneously lovely and haunting, the metallic elements used effectively to create a subdued feeling of menace lurking just below the surface.  It’s a stunning beginning to the album and invites the listener to abandon their preconceived ideas and just let go, just experience it.

The unique feeling also presents itself on the more direct, mainstream songs on the album.  The singles Serein and Old Hearts Fall are deceptively accessible, the melodies so inviting that the listener might not even notice that the underlying arrangement is still quite complex and unexpected.  That is not an easy balance to strike for any band, especially in the Prog Metal genre, which is not exactly well renowned for subtlety.  Yet even the heavier compositions on the album never lapse into the expected clichés, they never get as militaristic or bombastic as you expect them to. The heavy riffs are applied with the same level of care and precision as the more melodic sections.

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(Photo by Sebastian Dominguez)

Katatonia is often mentioned along with Opeth when the discussion of Swedish Prog Metal comes up.  Jonas Renkse and Mikael Akerfeldt were roommates in the late 90s and remain best friends to this day.  Mikael also contributed the harsh vocals to their classic early death-doom album ‘Brave Murder Day’.  While there are similarities (especially in the approach to ballads) overall Opeth is a lot more extroverted in their approach and cover a lot more stylistic ground.   There is an undeniable kinship between them however, which presents itself in a few occasions on ‘The Fall Of Hearts’.  The beautiful acoustic-driven ballads Decima and Pale Flag show an affinity with Opeth’s ‘Damnation’ album and one of the albums heaviest tracks is Serac, which wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Watershed’.  But in reality the main thing these bands have in common is they both have very distinct, identifiable personalities and they are both led by very gifted singer/songwriters.

‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is a long album (67 minutes not counting bonus tracks) and thus takes a little while to fully reveal itself, but it’s such a rewarding experience that the effort is more than repaid.  I’m partial to the second half of the album, which gets a little darker, heavier and more complex yet never loses the melody and accessibility.  The light/heavy dynamic is used to great effect on tracks like Last Song Before The Fade (my personal favorite), The Night Subscriber and the uncharacteristically extroverted Passer, which allows new guitarist Roger Ojersson a turn in the spotlight.  It also features Shifts, one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I’ve heard this year in any genre.

While there are many albums from 2016 that have gotten more hype and publicity than ‘The Fall Of Hearts’, I’m not sure if many of them attain the artistic cohesiveness that Katatonia has achieved here.  This album took me completely by surprise, slowly worked its magic on me over the course of several months until it became indispensible.  Now hardly a day goes by where it doesn’t end up in my stereo at some point, still methodically revealing its charms, becoming ever more rewarding with each listen.  The very definition of a “sleeper hit”.

Released May 20th 2016

Buy The Fall Of Hearts direct from the band