Review – Abigail’s Ghost – Black Plastic Sun – by Shawn Dudley

Black Plastic Sun - Cover

The sheer amount of music being released under (or adjacent) to the “Prog” umbrella has become quite daunting to sift through of late. The positive side is there are real gems hidden out there; the negative is you have to dig through a lot of gravel to pry them loose.

While breaking rocks over at Progstreaming.com one Sunday morning I found myself starting to zone out, too much sampling can lead to a zombie-like state where you cease to really hear anything. But then suddenly I was transfixed by a lovely arrangement featuring acoustic piano, violin, acoustic guitar and strings that jolted me firmly back to awareness…

The gem I had discovered was the opening track Thereafter from ‘Black Plastic Sun’, the latest release from New Orleans-based act Abigail’s Ghost. The aforementioned arrangement, the catchy melodic line and very accessible vocals of Joshua Theriot drew me in immediately. As the song progresses different textures come into focus, the introductory melody builds into an effective “big chorus” with electric guitar coming into play.

After the chorus, a staccato guitar figure brings in a slightly darker vibe but then a sunny bridge parts the clouds again. The song continues this progression of slightly changing shifts in mood (including a playful little waltz time section) without ever losing sight of the introductory melodic idea. It’s an impressive arrangement because everything is handled with subtlety, the progressive elements are textural and the song remains the focus throughout.

This discipline and restraint permeates the entire record, while many moods are explored, the accessibility never falters. The influences can be heard; the pop tendencies of Porcupine Tree, The Pineapple Thief and Riverside, the melancholy of modern era Katatonia, the sunny atmosphere of recent Anathema and occasional moments of prog metal muscle (used to great dynamic effect without ever over-powering the mood).

There is also a hint of New Orleans atmosphere to the proceedings, something about the folk-tinged arrangements give me the impression of moss-covered trees dipping into the bayou. The excellent recording and inspired instrumental choices also remind me of the production aesthetic evident on the recent Steven Wilson solo albums.

Abigail's Ghost - Piano

The highlights are numerous; the unbelievably catchy momentum of violin & slide guitar-driven King of All (which should be a single), the muscular melodic rock of Silver and Widowmaker, the dreamy electric/acoustic vibe of Le Metteur, the darker metallic thrust of Smotherbox (which reminds me of ‘Deadwing’ era Porcupine Tree) and the playful melancholy of Rather Unorthodox, Sweet Serenity and For Damien. The latter also shows off a fondness for black humor because the subject of this deceptively beautiful ballad is the character from The Omen horror film series!

Joshua Theriot is a triple-threat as songwriter, lead vocalist and lead guitarist and I’m really excited to hear how he continues to develop from here. There are some fiery guitar solos on the album (as can be expected from a Berklee School of Music graduate) but it is tempered with restraint and musicality not always displayed by his peers (*cough* Dream Theater *cough*).

I’m very pleased to have discovered this album and it has grown on me with each successive listen. I’m confident it will be show up on my best of the year list for 2015. These guys deserve wider recognition; I highly recommend checking them out.

Released 1st August 2015

Buy direct from the Artist’s webstore

 

Review – Ghost – Meliora – by Gary Morley

This time, Gary Morley ventures across to the darker side…..

Ghost Meliora

‘Mr Wallet Emptier’ has thrown me a curve ball, as our colonial cousins allegedly say. He wants me to review something contemporary. Of my choice.

I tend to buy things on gut instinct. I will follow my nose and purchase something that sounds interesting, direct from the band – I recently purchased 3 Paul Garner Band CD’s from him via a link from another FB friend who’s CD’s grace my shelves (Thanks Robert Fleming from Crowd Company for that).

So if you like good funky blues from a guitar / Hammond /drum trio, then I recommend Paul , he will exceed your expectations, several times over. You can purchase his fine CD’s from his website:

www.paul-garner.com or download via bandcamp.

But this is not the artist I’ve chosen to write about.

Blue Oyster Cult: Imaginative, thought provoking lyrics combined with a Prog / Pop/ Heavy Rock base coupled with instrumental dexterity, were one of the bands that sound tracked my life.

I first heard Don’t Fear the Reaper whilst in the Sixth Form. The album ‘Fire Of Unknown Origin’ was a college favourite. ‘Imaginos’ was the noisiest, most “Heavy” album I possessed…

Time has taken me down a road away from their bombast and we now wave at each other as we travel. Earlier this year I heard a track Cirice from a band called Ghost. It was hook ridden, a real earworm. It starts with a simple guitar motif, then cymbals and a piano…

Then the bombastic riffing a la Cult…

The inner teenager was playing air guitar along with it. The vocals are not your typical metal screamer, but a baritone voice that was questioning , pleading with us to share their experiences. The dynamics and song structure –pure BOC, all that made them what they were, has been absorbed by this bunch of Scandinavian mystery men.

They have written a proper song, with a chorus, middle eight, simple, elegant guitar solo and a big, big drum sound. My musical interest was engaged. Time to utilise a tool my teenage self could only dream about – the internet. Several clicks and a bit of research later, I find that the band are a bit of a “cult”…

Ghost Live

They have surrounded themselves in a cloak of mystery in as much as no musicians are credited on the album, the band members are only referred to as the “faceless ones” and all wear masks on stage, except the singer, known as Papa Emeritus, of which there have already been 3. His image is that of a zombie cardinal, calling his followers to worship.

This is where the Progressive factor hits.

The band’s image is straight out of a horror fan’s psyche. The lyrics, to me are tongue in cheek, dark and ambiguous. They sing about their “Master”, and the underlying suggestion is that they are indeed talking about a fallen angel, a contrasting polar opposite to Neal Morse’s evangelical position.

Out of deference to those that take these things far more personally than me, the lyrical subject may not be to everyone’s tastes, but then “Hard Christian” rhetoric alienates as many as it delights, so approach with an open mind, this is a well crafted tuneful and accomplished collection of tunes. Yes, Tunes. That’s the thing. Beneath the imagery, the stage shows and the media baiting, it s the tunes that enable this to stand on its own merits.

Yes, their Hammer House of Horrors imagery paints a dark picture, but musically they are full of joy, bringing a guilty thrill as you listen in. Are they serious? Well, the old cliché about the Devil having all the best tunes could be wheeled out to explain the whole of this album. It’s no more likely to get me dancing around a wooded glade under a full moon than the film ‘An American Werewolf in London’ did when I was a student. It’s not scary, it’s not unpleasant, it’s just hook ridden, lyrically ambiguous rock music.

The album is chock full of songs that could have graced AOR radio in the late 70’s. There are soaring choirs layered on a rock back beat, skilful dual guitar harmony playing that reminds me of Wishbone Ash or Thin Lizzy.

Listening again, as I write this, it’s the hooks that get me, the juxtaposition of “angelic voices” as the coda of Deus In Absentia, the final track is pure Jim Steinman era Sisters of Mercy bombast.

Listen or watch the video for Circice, check them out on You Tube etc, but don’t reject them out of hand. Especially with Halloween just around the corner!

Released 21st August 2015

Buy Meliora from Kings Road

Or try this for a Halloween treat…….

New track Review – Shearwater – Quiet Americans – by Mike Sherman

Here Mike Sherman gives a quick precis of Quiet Americans, the first single from the new Shearwater album, ‘Jet Plane and Oxbow’.

Shearwater Album Cover

This first glimpse of original Shearwater for 3 years (save for the tuneful but unspectacular A Wake For The Minotaur from ‘Fellow Travellers’) is not before time. Shearwater have been established as a force to be reckoned with – able to pull off intelligent, considered and reflective yet also catchy and accessible folk-rock with tinges of something more progressive.

However, after building up some serious positive momentum, in 2013 they then took the baffling decision to tail off into the murky world of the cover version. ‘Fellow Travellers’ was by no means a poor album, and indeed, will have gained the band some new… ahem… fellow travellers, but a band so capable of songwriting as interesting and inspired as they are, should surely have enough good ideas to at least have a go at an original LP every couple of years?

The band’s career peak to-date of ‘The Golden Archipelago’ still strikes me to this day as one of the most shimmeringly beautiful and consistent albums of the last decade, possessing that most wonderful quality of being very much a stronger overall album than the sum of its parts. Its follow-up, ‘Animal Life’, conversely possessed some strong moments, but lacked a cohesiveness to drive it through to the overall heights of its predecessor.

What, then, might the next effort present to us?

Quiet Americans sparkles with typical Shearwater delicately-delivered production, all the mod cons in evidence complete with bleeps and 80s-style keyboard stabs. Yet, the beautiful beating heart and characteristic melodies of a very pleasant folk tune underpin everything. It excites enough to think that it will tie together well within an album setting.

At 3 mins 33 seconds, it’s a fairly typical track-length for Shearwater, and the band tends to sway towards the use of snappier, ephemeral pieces. That said, the thorough and detail-orientated production, and use of an early-arriving chorus line still gives the impression that the album may well boast some progressive sensibilities, such as those deployed midway through ‘Animal Life’ on the stand-out track from that album, Insolence.

A promising glimpse of what is to come in early 2016 on the new album, ‘Jet Plane and Oxbow’.

‘Jet Plane and Oxbow’ will be released through Sub-Pop records on 22nd January 2016.

Pre-order Jet Plane and Oxbow direct from Sub-Pop records

 

 

Review – Geof Whitely Project – Between 2 Worlds – by Progradar

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You have to be wary of repetition, it can become tedious and monotonous if there is no progression or marked difference between pieces of work, after all, familiarity is supposed to breed contempt, isn’t it?

One of the most intriguing artists I have had the pleasure to listen to this year is the Geof Whitely Project. Actually a one man band, Arny Wheatley, there can be no more prolific artist operating today as he releases new albums every couple of months.

There are obvious pros and cons to doing it this way and I was left slightly underwhelmed by the last release that I reviewed, ‘Circus of Horrors’, feeling that it was too similar to recent works. Now, ever one to take criticism on board, Arny has returned with ‘Between 2 Worlds’ and I shall give it the once over to see if he has rediscovered that creative spark.

The opening track Quest has that laid back style that is the Geof Whitely Project hallmark and retains the laconic vocal delivery. There does seems to be some added zest, a more intense delivery and a lot more of the ardent guitar work that gives extra lustre to the calm and collected keyboards. No need to go back to the drawing board, just minor alterations that add up to something more profound. Long Time Gone has a lighter note to it, a more refined introduction and a more moderate delivery that reminds me a bit of Fractal Mirror. It walks a tricky line and, thankfully, never strays into the mundane and bland, retaining a sunny disposition and platonic edge. The nicely judged percussion and keyboards take you on a gentle ride into Arny’s musical mind and it is a pleasant place, although there is a hint of melancholy hidden just below the surface.

That sugar coated tone runs throughout Never Really Know but always with a hint of caution. The clever lyrics betray a slightly darker side to the music and keep your attention focused on the story, the excellent instrumental break in the centre of the track is like a well knowing nod to the 80’s. I don’t know whether it is meant to, but I am left in mind of a snowy winter’s scene that could end in either happiness or sadness. The signature keyboard introduction opens Throwing Shadows, a song with a serious and slightly darker note as it strides purposefully into your psyche. The sweetness and light is replaced by something with an altogether sinister motive, this is the Geof Whitely Project showing  there is a dark side to its Moon and I think it is a clever change of direction. The slightly understated yet heavy riff adds to the mysterious air that pervades and gives added dramatic effect and gravitas.

Geof Whitely

On Reflection begins in a very subdued manner, laid back and open-hearted. A wistful, almost nostalgic note enters into the vocals, perhaps mindful of things or people lost and never recovered. Thoughtful, reflective and with a heavy dose of regret, this track really works its way under your skin and touches your heart in a forlorn manner. A really nice song but one that just leaves you feeling a little bit sad. 80’s style keyboards open Everyday my Heart  and it really does feel like you’ve been transported back over three decades to a time that you may have wished you’d forgotten. It’s really a quite hopeful track and lifts the slight melancholia that had persisted from the previous track. The songwriting on this latest album has really gone up a notch, leaving little nuggets for you to find.

The next song on the album is the longest track, Compendium weighs in at just over ten minutes and begins in quite an auspicious manner. There is a feeling of depth to the song, a deep seated sense of contemplation. There is a decision to make, a life changing scenario and the deliberate and contemplative atmosphere is transferred across perfectly by the music. A comprehensive and profound musical workout for your brain that makes you think, one of the best songs I have ever heard from the Geof Whitely Project. The change from the quiet and sombre to the excellent guitar solo is brilliant and really knocks you for six, the guitar playing is quite exemplary. Title track Between 2 Worlds leaves you deep in thought with its absorbing tone, seemingly musing on life the Universe and everything. Profound lyrics and an attentive melody leave you in a speculative mood. I really enjoyed the thoughtful feel that it engendered as it left me ruminating on my whole existence, another track that seemingly has some left-field influence.

The final track on the album is Living Your Life and it has an edgy note running through it from the beginning. A quicker paced riff gives you a feel of life lived in the fast lane but with a note of caution. No-nonsense and earnest with yet more layers of 80’s keyboards, it leaves more questions than answers and brings the album to a close on a meditative and reflective note.

‘Between 2 Worlds’ is a complex and extremely interesting musical journey that showcases where the Geof Whitely Project is going musically. The last album left me feeling ever so slightly short-changed but, with this new release, my faith has been completely restored.

Due for release on 29th February 2016

Pre-order Between 2 Worlds direct from the artist

 

Review – Klone – Here Comes The Sun – by Mike Sherman

With his first review for Progradar, here’s Mike Sherman…

PEL047_Klone_Here_Comes_The_Sun_cover_DIGI

This review is, in part, an homage to the many mixed playlists available on music streaming services, as this is how I discovered this band and this album. I’ll kick things off by saying that it’s one of my favourite LPs of 2015…..

I love discovering a band who are far beyond basic composition, performance and production competencies, yet still maintain a humble presence within the information stratosphere. “Where are Klone from?” I hear you cry. “They’re from Poitiers in France!” I answer…

…and then we get on with talking about the music.

The musical stylings of Klone are ‘a bit of a lot of things, all at once’. There’s some ambience; there’s some melody; some heaviness (dare I use the word “grunge”?!?) and – thank goodness – some tinges of prog. Mix these together, usually at the same time, and we’re not far off.

‘Here Comes The Sun’ harnesses the smooth mid-range vocals of Yann Ligner to create some beautiful pieces, and now 5 LPs and 2 Eps deep into their career, Klone have become a tight band who express themselves as a collective first and foremost. This is important for me, as I infinitely prefer a strong band dynamic to one or two show-offs backed by competent “others”. There is great collective creativity in the composition; the performance, and – as I will repeatedly mention below – the production is nothing short of oh so lovely to these ears.

So, in short, I bet they listen to a lot of Gojira, Tool, Anathema and Porcupine Tree. Not much like the Beatles, despite the obvious reference in the album’s name.

Klone live

The opening track Immersion brings us instant soulful melody with heaps of ambience, in the form of the kind of reverb-heavy multi-tracked lead guitars typically found in post-rock. After the intro, we’re back to the strong opening melody revisited, only this time with a tactful and pleasing use of “welcome, we are the band” drums and heavier guitar. There’s an element of “shoegazing classic” about this track, in that it has a strong melody throughout which is textured nicely with a good balance of the heavy and the ambient. This is all produced to create a finely-balanced sound that doesn’t overpower at any point, nor does it drift away into indulgent territory in its restrained 5 minutes 10 seconds length. Later riffs complement the earlier shenanigans well, and the band sound very much together in completing an interesting and dark-ambient sound. The more subtle brief saxophone burst and vocal textures are allowed to add nuance rather than to take the overall direction away from what is a solid opening track that suggests a lot of promise for the rest of the album.

Next we come to the track that presented me with my first leading impression via the medium of playlist, then. Fog is one of the more progressive numbers, and it invited me in on first listen with its relaxed and smooth 7/8 verses and melodic-but-gently-powerful chorus and slightly heavier second half which hosts some serious groove and the first bit of noticeable drumming flair. Again, there is good cohesiveness to the band, with all parties combining to make a strong whole, rather than any domination of a particular instrument. It’s becoming all really rather pleasant and it’s going to get even better.

Gone Up In Flames is a catchy, almost dance-worthy (?!?!?) alternative-radio-friendly number that grabbed me from the start. Based around four chords, the rhythm guitar can be played alongside with minimum effort by those able to, and should be played in dropped-D like any self-respecting 90s grungehead would. A few nice bits of drumming thrown into the straight-4/4 mix; a solid turn of events for the bridge, and a great half-time groove in the coda. Great stuff.

The Drifter sounds very progressive, more in the vein of Fog than anything else on the album. It’s a bit of a workout for the band in terms of time signatures and textures. The rhythm section really shines, and prog fans will be happy to hear that despite some 4/4, there are plenty of other meters intermittently featured, all very smoothly connected with no jarring whatsoever. It also features two of my favourite things – vocal lines that last just that bit longer than they should probably be allowed to, and lingering guitar lines that won’t quit easily. The production is again very well-executed, and the whole thing flows very well to help what could have been one of the more challenging tracks on the album to sound relaxed and very enjoyable.

The Drifter is perfectly placed in the track order to open the way for Nebulous, which is undoubtedly the (best French accent) pièce de résistance of the album. Melancholy, moody melody with active but tactful drumming and ambient post-rock guitar stylings leading to a powerful and beautiful chorus with a titanic guitar sound that is, once again, very well-controlled in the mix so as not to overshadow the more subtle elements of the sound and the angelic vocal line. Again,there is a smoothness to Klone’s work, and the 7/8 of Nebulous fits it like a glove – no pretentiousness here, it’s just a very strong ambient rock song that completes an utterly superb run of five tracks. I’d argue that this track could probably have made an excellent album-closer.

Klone Trash Bonbeck

Pic by Trash Bonbeck

Gleaming acts as a break, and to me represents where the fork in the road lay for Klone as they decided where to take the magnificence and consistency of the first five tracks and round things out. It doesn’t add a lot, but complements what went before, and acts as a distinct half-time break, as such.

The final three tracks take things in a slightly different direction, and one that I was unsure on for quite a while. Indeed, they represent the main reason I was hesitant to review the album until I’d had a good number of listens through the album. I’ve gotten used to it, but it still seems the weaker half of the album by far. The first thing that’s noticeable is that Grim Dance and album-closer The Last Experience have a slower 4/4 groove that gives the impression of something darker in atmosphere than the rest of the album.

Penultimate track Come Undone is probably my favourite of the three, and possesses an excellent intro and a livelier 6/8 swing. The Last Experience develops an increasingly tense atmosphere and ends with satisfyingly heavy riffs that punctuate that, despite this definitely being a “prog-rock” album, this band are also definitely metalheads. The repeating heavy guitar lines and descends with an almighty mess, which I like the symbolism of as it signals that the production team can now take a well-earned rest!

There’s a part of me that feels the first five (possibly six) tracks could have made a world-class EP or short LP, but the final three tracks have grown on me more with each listen, to the extent that my initial reservations have been largely quietened. It’s definitely an album split in two – that much is evident. However, the more I listen the more I find it all has its place.

I’m an album kinda guy first and foremost, but good on playlists for leading me to this discovery. Highly recommended – I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Released 6th April 2015

Buy Here Comes The Sun from Pelagic Records

About the Author – Mike Sherman

Mike Sherman

A Financial Adviser by day, a board game enthusiast and musician/composer by night. I grew up listening to a combination of Dire Straits and Steeleye Span while playing classical piano since the age of 5. After the “rebellious” stage of life as a grunge/metalhead I’m very much into a heady cocktail of prog-rock, folk and classical these days.

 

Review – Hillward – Flies In Amber Stones – by Stephen Bowden

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This Canadian trio (David Lizotte on guitars and vocals, Jean-François Boudreault on Bass and Antoine Guertin on drums) started life as a side project of Québecois progressive power metallers Southern Cross (no, me neither). ‘Flies Trapped in Amber Stones’ is their debut album.

Right from the crunching guitar chords that kick in near the start of the opening (title) track you know you’re listening to a band that can play their instruments more than competently, and who work together tightly. The sound is guitar driven, but the core sound is supplemented by keyboards at just the right moments to provide a richer sound palette. The short guitar solo in the second track, Alive, is placed just where you want it, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

So why am I not in raptures about this album? I think it may be that, in pursuit of the technical and musical competence that Hillward bring to their music, they have forgotten, or perhaps simply suppressed, their hearts and souls. The third track, One Goodbye is a quieter, more contemplative track, but it is so, so predictable. From the first listen I felt I could predict every move it made, and six or seven spins later it hasn’t yielded up any more depth or richness.

As song follows song, you realise that the band are ploughing a narrow musical furrow. Lizotte’s voice is clear and in tune, but has limited range, both in terms of octaves and emotions. I’m not sure what I should be feeling as I listen to The Missing Link, but I don’t think that the band’s intention was that I should feel that I’d heard this all already on this album, and was likely to hear it again in a few songs time.

And then there are the lyrics. The fifth track Entropy is absolved from criticism on this point, as it is a two minute instrumental which feels like some riffage that coudn’t be fitted into a proper song, but, elsewhere the lyrics are somewhat uninspiring; the songs don’t come across as being about anything important.

The longest song on the album, When it All Comes True (all six and a half minutes of it) might as well be The Missing Link or Alive all over again, here Lizotte asks “does life mean more than words do, silly words learned and repeated too? Does tragedy mean more than poetry?” Then, in Quiescence, another slower, moodier track he asks “what if we never cross the line, what if we never grow old on time, what is love if it keeps us apart?” The short instrumental that follows, Quantify the Abstract, does little to answer any of these questions, but I’m not sure that I ever cared.

Perhaps I am sounding too negative here. I certainly don’t dislike this album, and the penultimate track, Walls of Apathy, is really rather good, at least in part because it introduces another voice, that of Melanie Gagné from fellow Québecois band, Muted Screams. Gagné adds the layers of emotion and aural variety that have been lacking in the earlier tracks.

Yet Hillward are playing in the same musical territory as, say, Haken and Anekdoten, and not far from Riverside. ‘Flies in Amber Stones’, for all its undoubted strengths, offers me no reason to listen to it rather than ‘The Mountain’ or ‘Until All The Ghosts Are Gone’.

The album closes strongly with The End of Logic, and perhaps there is some good advice in the title. ‘Flies in Amber Stones’ sounds just too much as if it had been written to a formula. Hillward are technically excellent. Perhaps they just need to throw off the creative shackles they appear to be labouring under and find some ideas and emotions to invest in their song-writing and playing.

It’s not as if there isn’t precedent here. I can think of at least one other Canadian trio who followed a competent but routine debut with more than forty years of greatness…….

Released 25th September 2015

Buy Flies In amber Stones from bandcamp

About the Author – Stephen Bowden

Stephen Bowden

By day Stephen toils at the bureaucratic coalface, fashioning red tape into enabling and empowering frameworks of policy and compliance. At night he sleeps fitfully, dreaming of weasels and the Forest of Broceliande.

Review – La Curva Di Lesmo – La Curva Di Lesmo – by David Elliott

La Curva Di Lesmo

A unique project from Stefano Agnini  (La Coscienza Di Zeno) and Fabio Zuffanti (Finisterre, La Maschera Di Cera and others). This is a beautifully composed and produced, melodic, diverse and eclectic piece of art that consists of 3 tracks clocking in at 8:26, 17:14 & 26:24 and is as epic as you might expect.  I consider it a masterpiece that I would urge any open minded prog fan to explore.

I can compare this record to Steven Wilson – ‘Hand Cannot Erase’ as both have had such a strong emotional connection with me this year that almost immediately I have become more than a little consumed by them.

A heady mix of what is great about progressive music, this album is driven by analog keyboards and Italian vocals (male and female), interwoven with ingredients from rock, symphonic, folk, classical, electronic and traditional Italian pop and, dare I say it, a little Italian ‘easy listening’ music.

This is progressive with a capital P, mad as a box of frogs one minute, dramatic yet serene the next.  We have some great vocals including theatrical, but never operatic, delivery, short sections that are ‘shouty’  (sorry amateur writer here!) and at some points the sea nymphs turn up and the harpies join in – All a bit odd and eccentric at first listen.  However, in the traditions of the very best music, all these disparate parts come together on each subsequent play through to form a magnificent listening experience.

For points of reference, and I don’t want to do a track by track review or to describe the album in too much detail not wishing to spoil the experience for any prospective listener, I am reminded of the following bands:  Big Big Train, early IQ – Great analog keys and guitar solos, Quasar – melody, Montefeltro – Romantic Italian prog approach, The Snow Goose – The atmosphere, ACT – stylistically, not sound, and Vulgar Unicorn – The eclectic structures.

I don’t understand Italian enough (if at all) to do it any justice, and I have always considered music to have an ability to stir an emotional response regardless of lyrics; the voice is another ‘instrument’ after all.

For me ‘La Curva Di Lesmo’ is about passion, emotion and melody and it ticks all my boxes.  Language provides mystery and atmosphere and I am a little frightened to understand the meaning further in case it lessens the experience.

This is a passion play that I recommend all to embrace and hope you love it as much as I do – A current and future classic album.

Released 15th October 2015

Buy La Curva Di Lesmo from bandcamp

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About the Author – David Elliott

David Elliott

David Elliott is no relation to any other David Elliott, living or dead, and should not to be confused with any animals, journalists or other prog celebrities.

Having had his ears opened by Genesis when an impressionable youth, his musical journey has expanded to include modern jazz fusion and electronic music but especially progressive rock in all its forms.  Favourite artists are Jadis, Pat Metheny, Steven Wilson, Nemo and many, many others that are yet to be discovered – The next one is often the best!

Ambition:  Italian prog reviewer in residence.

Hobbies:  Needle work, welding, cat herding and beetle battling.

Occupation: Health and Safety Manager (see the above nonsense!!)

Review – Gekko Projekt – Reya of Titan – by Rob fisher

After his great review of Seven Steps to the Green Door, this time Rob Fisher passes his practiced ears over ‘Reya of Titan’ by Gekko Projekt.

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The art of good storytelling is notoriously difficult. Telling a story in, and through, music raises that bar even higher. And when the music is prog and the story is a work of science fiction it would appear the odds of success become almost impossible. Yet this is exactly what Reya of Titan’, the second release from Californian based band Gekko Projekt, attempts to do – and does so with no small degree of style and panache.

The key is to understand exactly what this project is and consequently what it is you are listening to. Is it a concept album? Is it a rock and/or space opera? Actually, it really doesn’t matter, it’s a story and one which has been carefully considered, lovingly crafted and then beautifully expressed through a mesmerising array of diverse musical styles, changing rhythms and exciting musicianship.

This is dramatic storytelling at its very best where language and music come together to create a thoroughly enjoyable performance. If you want to call it anything, dramatic musical theatre would be perfect and certainly something you would want to go and hear from start to finish.

Indeed, this is exactly how you need to approach the album. The tale of Reya Jones requires a certain degree of concentration and, just like picking up a book, skipping a chapter here and there won’t work. There is important world-building taking place in each track and dipping in to odd tracks means you will literally lose the plot.

A careful glance at the 13 track titles confirms this: there is a well planned logical progression to the performance which drives the plot from Reya’s initial leaving earth behind and going on to do asteroid mining, the accident which forces her into a spacesuit and consequent abandonment for 24 years on Titan, the arrival of help and the promise of rescue,which she eventually rejects, and, in light of which, she stays and becomes Titan’s Queen.

Some tracks are even crossed referenced inside each other (for example, the Snow White reference reappears in North of Titan). The lyrics have been constructed with care and attention to detail so as to take us on the journey with Reya and, in the process, they make it easy for us to be fellow companions on the voyage.

band 2

However, the lyrics are only one element of the journey. The tremendously skilfull and, at times, deeply emotional music brings the story to life and envelops us in grand musical flourishes, changing tempo’s and alternating rhythms. The instruments playfully interweave with, and skilfully play off, each other, working in tandem with melodic and soulful vocals to paint vivid and provocative moments in Reya’s journey.

Each instrument gives off a bewildering range of tones and sounds, testament indeed to inventive and hugely talented musical accomplishment. Even more than this, each track itself is a unique musical style, giving you something different as it drives the story forward. It is a remarkable achievement and the band rightly deserve high praise for what they have achieved in creating this wonderful and insightful performance piece.

The absolutely beauty of ‘Reya of Titan’ is that, in the end, it gives you absolutely no choice but to get caught up in and carried away by the often scintillating musicianship on offer.

Peter Matuchniak (Mach One, Evolve IV) on guitars is a revelation throughout; 3 minutes into Snow White is the most delicious riff which will blow you away, unexpected as it is uplifting. Rick Meadows on bass (WZMG, Coot) is spellbinding; Frienda is an absolute joy, the jazzy lilting bass driving the music.

Vance Gloster (score for ‘The First Time’, WZMG, Coot) on keyboards lays down so many rich textures which permeate through each and every song. The synthesizer work soars above, and lends a clarion call, to the story whilst the Hammond growls away as the foundations which under-pin everything else.

Alan Smith on drums is the focal point of everything, orchestrating the movement and momentum of the story’s plot, astounding on Jovian Belt and 24 years of Solitude. And JoJo Razor (Jo Blackwood Martin –  known for her work on The After Hours Electric Prog Jam on Cruise to the Edge 2014 and 2015) brings dramatic force and emotional depth to the vocals; Grains of Sand is a delight, her voice conveying the sense of being lost, the promise of redemption, of hope, of despair. What a performance!

‘Reya of Titan’ is not without weaknesses. The mix, in places, is unfortunately uneven with the drums, at points, being too prominent and the keyboards, at times, being a little too overwhelming and domineering. What would also have helped is some kind of insert which could have outlined the plot in advance of listening to it and a lyrics sheet so the story could be shared as we listened. But these, ultimately, cannot and must not be allowed to detract from what is a superbly creative, musically inventive and thoroughly enjoyable 50 minutes of excellent dramatic storytelling.

Released 20th June 2015

Buy Reya of Titan from Melodic Revolution Records

 

 

Review – Corvus Stone – Unscrewed – by Progradar

So I’ve let the lunatics take over the asylum for the last few reviews (I jest, they are all going to be worthy additions to the website) but it’s time I stopped shirking and took the Captain’s chair back…..

Corvus Stone Unscrewed600x600

“There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.” – Oscar Levant.

After listening to the latest release from multi-national conglomerate Corvus Stone, I wouldn’t be surprised is that was the band’s mantra!

This is music that makes you smile, yes you could say they have poked too many badgers with sharp sticks but, I appreciate the sheer unbridled joy that is at the heart of their flippant and humorous output.

That’s not to say that they do not produce some excellent music, these guys are all great musicians at heart but they don’t take themselves too seriously. The band understand that a touch of madness can make something much more rich and varied.

A bit of background from the band’s website…….

“A band comprised of individuals, all with their own unique styles and approaches. You want predictability & an obvious theme on an album, you will not find it here (Or will you?). If you enjoyed radio stations like the ones that existed in the good old days (anything and everything), you will enjoy what you find here! They really do mix it up.

If you want to like what you hear in the first 30 seconds, again… look elsewhere but if you want music to grow on you as you get to know it, Corvus Stone’s music does exactly that. There is melodic content 100% of the time in everything they do. Sometimes there is singing, sometimes not.

Read more at www.corvusstone.com

Colin

Colin Tench

The so called ‘hardcore’ members of the band are Colin Tench (guitars), Petri ‘Lemmy’ Lindström (bass), Pasi Koivu (keyboards) and Robert Wolff (drums and percussion) but they add a stellar list of guest vocalists to the mix including Sean Filkins, Blake Carpenter and Phil Naro, just to name a few.

These guys never planned to form a band when they met on the internet. Recordings were made for fun and  it became obvious to them that this was different and had all the magic and surprise that rarely comes from a plan. Corvus Stone step in and out of “prog” within the space of one song!

After releasing two albums, one in 2012 and the second in 2014, this year sees them release ‘Unscrewed’.  An album released as a free “Thank You” for fans and on sale to everybody else.

It started life as a combination of unplugged new music and remixed old music but it has become something much bigger. A full blown album in fact!

Pasi

Pasi Koivu

The opening track, Brand New Day, is one of the new compositions and is a full blown rock instrumental and fairly conventional, well for Corvus Stone anyway! Powerful rock guitar riffage and thumping bass steer the ship while Robert’s stellar drumming plays the anchoring role (see what I did there?). Uplifting keyboards add a really smooth gloss on things and it is a nice way to start the album. Early Morning Calls started it’s life as purely an instrumental on Corvus Stone II (as ‘Early Morning Call’), this modified version features both Sean Filkins and Phil Naro’s vocal talents, Phil adding ‘multi harmonies, doo wops and Di di di dum dums (yeah, me neither!). It almost sounds like a Beach Boys or Beatles track that’s had too many magic mushrooms, Colin also adding new and significant guitar work to the track. It is brilliantly nuts, keeps me smiling from ear to ear and really seems to sum up what this band are all about. A lot of the sense of humour is present in the track titles, take Joukahainen Without Chips for instance, bloody mental isn’t it? A new track that majors on organ and guitar, it is like and incessant earworm. It opens positively majestic in stature like the title character, a character from an epic Finnish poem but soon ebbs and flows between also being a lovely little unplugged delight. What drumming does feature is delivered by collaborator Paul Marshall. 

Just a limited amount of re-recording was deemed necessary for old favourite Horizon, a short but brilliantly bonkers instrumental that has my imagination working overtime and brings images of clowns at a fairground playing this song with a maniacal glee. See what I mean, it’s nuts! The keyboard goes off with a mind of its own, Colin’s guitar has slapstick written over it and the drums and bass bound along just having fun. You just can’t beat it! Landfill is one of the latest musical creations and, once more, features Paul Marshall. Laid back, carefree and playful, it has something of a medieval tone and is quite processional. A song that is, in the main, unplugged but with some well placed percussion where it will make the most impact. A tongue-in-cheek nod to Monty Python to my ears. An extensive remix for After Solstice has also seen changes in the drums. A track with delicate sensibilities and some intricate guitar playing and one that seemingly always verges on teetering over the edge into delirium. Once the blue touch paper is lit, there is no getting off as it heads off at break neck speed with dizzying keyboards and manic drumming, a song that stares at the abyss and laughs it off as inconsequential.

Robert

Robert Wolff

Another ‘lick of paint’ is all that JussiPussi required and there is a full on ‘box of frogs’ type of lunacy going on here. Darting and grabbing, you literally could be in a musical version of a Circus’ House of Fun. Off kilter and chaotic, it leaves you utterly wired. Scary Movie Too is a complete belt and braces, double in length reboot of Scary Movie from the first album. The band see it as a sort of ‘live’ version of the original track. Creepy and mysterious it almost crawls across your skin at the beginning in a Hammer House of Horrors fashion. Disturbing, it keeps you on edge as the musicians deliver a suspenseful tale through the ever expressive music. Crashing riffs and thunderous drumming make you almost jump out of your seat. Distorted squeals and sinister keyboards just add to the deliciously oppressive feel, I am just waiting for Vincent Price to come round the corner (if you’re under 35, you may need to look him up or ‘Google’ him, as the youth of today would say). Petrified in the Cinema Basement is a total reworking of the track Cinema and has a real Mariachi note to it as it bounds along at a jaunty pace, its metaphorical cap doffed to all and sundry. All knowing guitar and seventies sci-fi sound effects with a clear, starlit sky above.

Petri

Petri ‘Lemmy’ Lindström

Double the length, as Blake Carpenter had always wished it to be, Lost and Found Revisited has gained a lot of new vocals, a second drummer and a lead break. Bringing some semblance of normality to the party with it’s military style drums and tasteful vocals, it is thoughtful, meaningful and quite evocative. Colin’s guitar seems to verge on a Mike Oldfield impression without giving it the full ‘Tubular Bells’ and it is probably the only song that actually leaves you in a calm state of mind. Tighter and more dynamic than the original alternate version of Cinema that was a bonus track on the debut album, Cinema Finale is, in my opinion, the best track on the album. Methodical, deliberate and precise, it is sombre, sensible and resolute. Colin really lets loose with some superbly intense guitar playing that really seems to be telling a story, the polished delivery of the keyboards adds gravitas and the uncompromising rhythm section adds real substance and sensibility. Jazzy, laid back and ever so slightly stoned, Pack Up Your Truffles brings some of the playfulness back. Another great addition to the new tracks on display, you are left in such a laid back state that you could almost be horizontal and in a world of polo necks and bad haircuts. Returning us back to the crazy world of Corvus Stone (liberties taken, I know) Moustaches in Massachusetts is a helter-skelter ride through the mind of an insane musical genius. Included as a bonus track because it is essentially unchanged, apart from a remix, it needs to be played loud because, at some point, you will realise that you are just as mad as what you have been listening to!

This album is flawed in places but entirely and eccentrically wonderful. Corvus Stone follow no path already trodden. Mad bad and brilliantly dangerous, whether you’ll come out the other side with all your mental faculties is another matter entirely.

Released 28th July 2015

Buy Unscrewed from Melodic Revolution records

 

 

 

 

 

Contributor’s Review – IO Earth – New World – by Gary Morley

Gary Morley gives us his own inimitable take on IO Earth’s latest release ‘New World’.

Cover

This is the new age of ‘samizdat’ reviews. I get asked if I’m interested in writing a review, I express an interest, get “signed up” and bravely or foolishly agree to prise open, and expose, its core, rotten or golden as the case may be?

Martin “Wallet Emptier” H has suggested I review this album. It will be “blind” as I’ve not heard anything by them so it’s all new to me. Also, just to make it even more of a challenge, I have only mp3 files to go with. No album art, no track listing. No help!In the great spirit of British Olympic values, I won’t use Google, Wikipedia or any on line assistance. I’m going to listen to it and write as I go.

So after receiving the link, downloading the files and converting to a Jet Audio friendly format, we were ready to go…….

We start with rain? A storm blowing and a solitary female voice struggling against the storm. Haunting, operatic, pure, the voice gets stronger as the storm fades to be replaced with piano and then cello, a gentle lament concerning finding a new world.

The next track slams you awake, forces you ears to open as metal guitars crash through the pastoral construct of the opener. Big crunchy riffs counterpoint a sliding lead, undercut by a constant throbbing bass. Then the voice, this time riding on the strings above the riffing.

Buoyant, we are gathered onto a flying carpet, eastern classical orchestra and undulating voice. The mental picture I have now is one of us soaring above Desert Mountains, the storm battered hove left far behind as the guitar flurry lifts us higher.

There is a feeling of power here, restrained, muted even as the strings attack and a double bass drum flourish indicates that we have arrived at the fortress , our destination revealed through the clouds. In the space between the instruments, the voice reappears, chanting now, with a massed choir of Gregorian style voices unfurling, allowing more guitars to clear the way for the voice, now full bore and strident. Eastern images pervade as an oboe (or is it a synth?) takes on the voice, echoing and reflecting it.

Then it all stops… silence then acoustic guitar and piano with layered sound behind them. Sound effects under the mix lead us to a gentle keyboard melody over a drum pattern that is militaristic and menacing. Deep in the mix, TV voices refer to US events (9/11?).

I found the off kilter drumming disconcerting and the beauty of the string and vocal arrangement were bludgeoned by the percussion. The rhythm is almost that of drum and bass increasing in intensity then dropping. We are back with the female voice now, along with the piano and the big sound of a rock band and orchestra.

I’m not an expert in this genre, but it seems to verge onto the formulaic in places. Big drums, big sweeping orchestral arrangements and a female voice, I should like it but, it’s not quite clicked with me yet. The track has the feel of Iona or Nightwish, with a Celtic undercurrent to the arrangement and I prefer this to the full on Sturm und Drang of the previous track.

I’ve not said much about the lyrics, which are in English, but they flow over you with the musical tides. I’m sure that if (or when) I listen again the concepts and themes will manifest themselves, the album so far has been predominantly instrumental, the voice being, to my ears, another instrument.

Well, I’ve survived the journey so far, and now we are back in the semi-orchestral mountains, this time with percussion and cello working to generate an eerie aural scene. Then it’s all ripped apart by the guitar, drum and string attack that slams the door open and bursts in, we have a  standoff, eerie vs. full on instrumentation. The power of the music is less constrained now, with the separate parts combining, and then…

Silence, close mike, guitar and piano, ethereal female voices  ( plural) leading the orchestral army, one voice now buried in the mix, singing of things lost,  longing and regret ( or I think so). We then have a variation in instrumentation with a saxophone bustling in, before it’s chased off by the guitar , fully charged and slicing through the mix a la mode de Gilmour.

This song, Fade to Grey has been the highpoint of the album so far, building to a high point of a recognisable chorus, which the vocalist lets rip on, no more restraint, a full throated exclamation of the title bringing it to an end that isn’t. That’s because it cross fades to the next track, all menacing minor chords and cello again, creating atmosphere and mood quickly. Tubular bells are there, before the arrival of big guitars and big drums.

A big riff that opens out into lush symphonic orchestration, that choir evangelic rising and falling along the rolling melody then a martial drumbeat takes the music, turns it around and up. We are in a big music place now, an entire orchestra thrumming with throttled back energy, waiting for the signal to charge. A horn section adds a further layer to the tapestry. It sounds ready to explode as the layers are added one by one, but we have a coda of guitar and synthesiser leading to the next level…

Chanting voices, bass chords echoing about as keyboards lead us into another epic piece… slow; solemnly they announce the arrival of the vocals. Again, hidden in the mix, the drum almost hiding them.

The choir returns, it’s very Carmina Burana now, with a build up to a pause and the return of the mournful saxophonist, playing over a montage of city sounds and prayers before regrouping for the epic chorus, “Insomnia” being the motif and refrain.

Duelling guitars spiral and twist as the song builds to an explosion of fretwork dexterity and frantic drumming. This is a big number. Every track is a big number… The guitar solo fades back to a soundscape, suggesting that the protagonist was in fact on a train and possibly dreaming.

We are now back with percussion and the voice warning of some impending event. Then guitars slice through the mix, flanged, leading the orchestra on to the eye of the storm , where we have a fine homage to Gilmour . The whole piece continues with a second, more “shredding” guitar and ends with a sound collage and a voiceover that does relate to the tragic events of September 11th.

A much more spacious sound now: less is more, just guitar(s), bass, drums and keyboards. We are out there in Camel land now, the orchestral score underpinning the melody rather than dragging it out and trampling all over it.

I must confess that his is more like it, melodic and flowing. The first “proper” proggy style piece or one I can relate to as it’s a mix of Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd and Camel styles, but put together beautifully. The Rising is it’s name and it’s my favourite so far.

That  was then, this is now…

Day 2.

I decided that listening through my PC 5.1 speakers was possibly doing this album a disservice. So I (looks left and right) burnt the album to disc .Worry not, it’s a CD-R or 2, so I can erase upon request.

This act provided several discoveries:

1 The tracks I had listened to were in fact all of CD1 and part of CD2, for it is a double CD set!

2 They sound much more “whole” through the in house HiFi!

Anyway. As I had worked through CD 1 , scribbling away, I decided a different approach was needed for the second disc. So I sat down, and let it play.

Then played it again.

The harshness of the drums had gone. More instrumental details came to the front of the mix. New technology pah! The second disc seemed less angsty, more considered , with flashes of light and shade, a male voice appearing , driving track 6 on to a full on metal assault.

Maybe it was because I’d just listened to Ghost live at Reading and Leeds Festival, but there was a distinct BOC / Ghost vibe to this track. Without the orchestra , the band sound as if they were unshackled, free to rock it up, the sound painting was in full colour, and my ears appreciated the dynamics and harmonies of it.

Track 7 roles up, keen and eager like a puppy wanting to play. A variation on the sound, this is much more me. A simple drum pattern, a voice that reminds me of Love and Rockets  or Kid Loco ( go check out them and you get a feel for where my head is at when happy ). There’s a lovely brass solo ( trumpet I believe) ,the restraint shown here is in marked contrast to the rest of the album. In fact this track could be a David Sylvian tribute as it has much of his jazz/ ambient pop feel to it.

If the rest was like this, I would have  ordered a copy already.

The lead in to track 8 promises a climactic finish, with hushed voices behind a guitar motif and echoes of voice samples floating around it. A bit Floydian in the ambience, then a “Welcome to the New World” voice over and an explosion of sound… still the guitar motif , but on steroids..

The female voice struts in, welcoming us to this new world, which seems a brighter place as the menacing backing has been replaced by heavenly choirs and power chords…

The hooks have me, from disinterest to reappraisal, all in the space of 2 tracks. This is the beauty and magic of music. You listen, it washes over you, then a hook strikes…

I’m now going to listen to it from start to finish. I did, it’s a strange beast to be sure. The second half is much more to my liking, more varied and musically eclectic.

In conclusion, I didn’t know anything about the band, still have only heard this one album, but it is a rich and complex piece that slowly unfurls. It’s a throwback to albums of days gone by, where you sat there, reading along with the lyrics, fathoming out who plays what and where. This is not small town Prog / Metal, this is full on global rock music, deserving to be played loud .

The genre it fits into is a European one, that huge, semi –classical sound personified by Nightwish , who I am learning to like slowly, album by album . If you like them, are fond of  a celestial voiced female fronted rock band , Touchstone or Panic Room for example, then you will be ready to give this shelf space and ear time.

Oh bugger, I’m going to have to buy a copy now aren’t I?

Released 20th May 2015

Buy New World direct from the band