Review – Barock Project – Skyline

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“What if there was a prog version of the Eurovision Song Contest?”

So naff that you can’t avoid watching it, to most people (especially in the UK) Eurovision has become something of a pastiche and a parody, albeit an enjoyable one. The acts get more and more outlandish and the voting is more of a ‘jobs for the boys, you pat my back and I’ll pat yours’ affair.

It is kitsch and over the top and seems to have lost sight of the original values that saw artists such as Sandy Shaw and Abba produce memorable songs that still stand the test of time today. I mean Australia? come on!

When was the total shift in the tectonic plates that deposited our Antipodean cousins slap band in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and how in all that’s holy did I miss something of those seismic proportions going on under my nose?

The usual entertaining farce of this year’s competition got me thinking, what if Eurovision was populated entirely by progressive rock bands? As it happens, I was actually listening to the latest release from the young Italian prog band Barock Project when that particular inspiration particle hit my cerebral cortex.

Maybe it was inspired by their singular brand of pompous, over the top but utterly mesmerising progressive rock? The bar set extremely high for quality but with a singular tongue-in-cheek feeling of joyous expression.

Once I’d sobered up I realised that a prog inspired Eurovision Song Contest is a very silly idea. Barock Project, on the other hand, is a different story……

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The Barock Project idea comes from a desire to deliver the finest and perfect structure of classical music (mainly baroque music) with a rock-style and a little bit of jazz harmony, supported by a pop framework with the intention to revamp the appeal of ’70s progressive-rock.

The project founder, pianist and composer Luca Zabbini, states that his passion for the music of famous keyboardist Keith Emerson (ELP), has fueled his desire to compose and play a full range of styles, from classical to rock and jazz.

Luca Pancaldi joined as lead vocalist in 2002 and, in the summer of 2004, Giambattista”GB” Giorgi, a young bassist influenced by rock sounds with big passion for jazz, and drummer Giacomo Calabria joined the band.

In December 2007 the first album ‘Misteriose Voci’ was released to very good reviews and media coverage from all over the world. In the summer of 2009 the second album ‘Rebus’ followed and the third record, ‘Coffee In Neukölln’ was issued in 2012, the first with all lyrics in English

Eric Ombelli (replacing Giacomo Calabria on the drums)  and Marco Mazzuoccolo (guitar) joined in early 2014 and Barock Project began recording sessions for their 4th and most complex album. Towards the end of 2014 bass player Giambattista Giorgi left leaving Luca Zabbini to play and re-record the bass lines on the forthcoming album, ‘Skyline’.

So a quick potted history of the band, now onto ‘Skyline’, what do we have in store for us?

Well, if first track Gold is anything to go by, a headlong rush of infectious, inspirational music! The harmonised vocal intro is superseded by an uplifting piano and keyboard note before the vocals begin. Luca has a rich and creamy vocal delivery that immediately connects with you and on this inspiring, joy filled track it really comes to the fore. There is a love of life, a joie de vivre that runs right through the core of the song, the band even chuck in the odd time change here and there to give it some progressive chops and Marco’s fluid guitar playing adds real character, especially when dueling with the keyboards . All in all, an excellent start to the album. Overture is a baroque, classical inspired little instrumental that showcases the band member’s skills as musicians and is a funky, fast paced nod to the 70’s as is rattles along on a wave of nostalgic keyboards and dynamic drumming.

Title track Skyline is the first indication, well to my ears anyway, that we are onto something special with Barock Project. Special guest Vittorio De Scalzi is invited to the party on vocal and flute duties and the minstrel like qualities of the vocal introduction immediately makes your ears prick up. Lightly strumming a lute in the middle ages, you could quite imagine yourself being present at a court in medieval Italy as the delicate acoustic guitar provides a canvas for the graceful vocals. The dynamics change as the drums join in and a sense of anticipation takes over, the vocals harmonise perfectly and you are hooked. Keyboards flow and chime and the flute adds a classy sheen to the song. The curve ball is delivered by an aggressive guitar riff and the vocals become infused with a potent edge as the track enters the symphonic arena. Guitar licks that Brian May would be proud of are fired off in all directions and this energetic ‘pomp and circumstance’ filled romp gets truly into its stride. A fiery solo just the right side of hair metal puts a huge grin on your face, this song really has elements of everything blending perfectly. The next section is an off-kilter romp right from the heart of 70’s progressive rock standards as you are flung from pillar to post in a delightful fashion, the addition of the charismatic flute is genius. A mighty impressive track from some seriously impressive musicians. Turn down the frenetic pace a notch and fall into the graceful introduction of Roadkill. This has more of a traditional AOR feel to it as it builds momentum slowly, the occasional flashes of the guitar could be Journey or Toto and when the track lets loose, it does so with a powerful vocal uplift. A steady, potent riff then takes over guiding the song along, aided and abetted by a subtle rhythm section. The icing on the cake is those cultured yet compelling vocals which have an almost addictive quality to them. Luca fires off a coruscating solo, counterpointed by aggressive keyboards and punctuated by some  intricate flute playing. The ending is all theatrical and in your face yet you feel a baring of the soul at the heart of it.

Another ten minute plus track The Silence of Our Wake begins with a subdued, melancholy air as the restrained vocals are sung over a muted acoustic guitar. There is a solemn feel as Luca’s delivery has a halting feel to it and you feel yourself holding your breath. Things begin to stir into life as the keyboards and rums add substance, the guitar interjects and the melancholy air is lifted. I can almost feel a cinematic scope to this song as the preamble is dispensed and a lighter air gradually feeds in through the instrumental section. Straightforward storytelling and symphonic tinged rock combine with classical music influences to deliver a complex yet satisfying blend of music that hits all the right notes. As the piano led vocals drift off into superb harmonies you are put in mind of some of the great songwriters of the 20th Century, the sophistication and composure are of the highest quality. The Sound of Dreams is a graceful snippet of loveliness that takes you to a place of calm solitude for two minutes, let your worries and cares wash away as the tender vocals and ethereal piano and keys wash over you to leave you in a state of grace.

A funky, jazz infused track with a little edge to it, Spinning Away gets you on side from the off. Catchy vocals and a high powered rhythm section give this song some definitive oomph! The vocals have a slight staccato delivery, an inflection on every word and the whole piece feels like a sophisticated jam session where the musicians are allowed to have a little more fun and think outside of the box. Possibly the most experimental and interesting track on the album although it never loses the overall cultivated sense that is central to the musical ideas that define this release. A classical styled piano intro heralds another one of my favourite components of ‘Skyline’. Tired is a theatrical tour-de-force, full of energy and savoir vivre. The vocals are at their most impressive, forceful and persuasive and you could see this track central to a musical staged on a huge scale. The orchestration is polished and stylish and, I must admit, I found myself singing out loud on the vitalising chorus. A track based on simplicity but one that really leaves its mark on you, raising the hairs on the back of your neck as it builds to the imposing outpouring of the chorus. A captivating guitar solo just adds a touch of class before the song segues into something darker and more sinister with a chaotic and frenetic edge to it. The vocals have a hint of danger to them and the music just feels delightfully malicious as the band are given their head to go off and produce an instrumental section of manic glee before everything comes to a breathless finale.

A Winter’s Night begins with a whimsical piano that leads in Luca’s tentative vocal, slightly pensive as the guitar adds another layer of elegance to this beauteous track. A song that lingers in the memory with thoughts of yearning and solemnity. A sincere and contemplative song and another piece in this elaborate musical jigsaw that we have been presented with. Every good thing must come to an end and so, with The Longest Sigh, does ‘Skyline’. A punchy introduction introduces the song with soaring guitars and keyboards backed by the dynamic rhythm section before the piano and vocals take the lead. Luca injects an earnestness to the heart of his delivery, almost an impassioned plea to your musical heartstrings and your heart replies with positive intent. The piano and keyboards dance lightly across your soul as the sheer inspiring pleasure of the music takes hold. There are little nuances hidden, fragments of 80’s MOR guitar and synth that give a real sense of nostalgia as well, all painted on a huge musical canvas that is nearly all-encompassing and, as the album plays out its final notes, there is a little nod of appreciation, s light smile on the lips at a job very well done by this talented band.

An unexpected highlight of the year so far, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it and, with an apparent resurgence of the genre, progressive music  would be well represented by this exuberant and heartwarming group of musicians. They’d get my vote too!!

 

Released 13th June 2015.

Buy Skyline from bandcamp

Buy Skyline from The Merch Desk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Wallet Emptier – 12th June 2015

Well, after last weekend’s shenanigans we are back. This week’s Wallet Emptier features 5 new albums and a glorious blast from the past (and a new empty wallet…). So, without any further ado, let’s crack on…..

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Breznev Fun Club – il misantropo felice

Incredibly intense progressive rock with a mad side to it. Not to everyone’s taste and not for the faint of heart but this is a thrill ride of immense proportions. ‘Instrumental avant-garde chamber rock’ is the name it goes by, bloody bonkers brilliance is what you get from this Italian collective. Another superb release from AltrOck Productions.

30th April 2015

Stand out track – il misantropo felice VIII – After the Last Silence

Buy il misantropo felice from bandcamp via AltrOck

 

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Muse – Drones

Muse have developed their own inimitable style of stadium filling symphonic rock with progressive tendencies but have gone a bit stale recently, in my opinion anyway. They return with a bang and at the head of an incredible riff-fest of mammoth proportions where Matt Bellamy & Co. are let off their virtual leash to deliver some hair (and eyebrow) raising monstrous rock. Smile inducing and seriously good played LOUD!

Released 5th June 2015

Stand out track – Reapers

Buy Drones from the official store

 

The Unthanks - Mount The Air

The Unthanks – Mount the Air

I have seen many recommendations for this band floating around so I thought it was about time I had a listen. The Unthanks sisters were brought up around Tyneside and introduced to the folk and jazz clubs in the area by their parents yet their music has an American alt-country/folk feel to it although, to try and pigeon-hole them is an exercise in futility. Lazy, calm & collected and with a simple beauty to the music, it is wistful and nostalgic and well worth a listen. One minor gripe, maybe they should cheer up a bit!

Released 9th Feb 2015

Stand out track – Foundling

Buy Mount the Air from the official site

 

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Wolve – Sleepwalker

I love surprises and nothing pleases me more than new music that comes straight out of left field. I was contacted by the man behind the musical project Wolve (no ‘s’) and asked if I’d be interested in hearing his music. Well, Julien Sournac, I can only thank you now. A brilliant blend of intense post-rock, alt-rock and progressive rock that hits you right in the solar plexus. Emotional, immersive and an unexpected delight.

Released 29th January 2014

Stand out track – Cassiah

Buy Sleepwalker from bandcamp

 

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The Enid – The Bridge

Dramatic, symphonic and theatrical, The Enid are on many people’s favourite lists and there is nothing quite like them.

From The Enid themselves

” ‘The Bridge’ is one of two new albums for 2015. Following the success of their 2012 studio album ‘Invicta‘, the band wished to explore the classical elements of the band’s music in more detail. The orchestral arrangements and vocals are accompanied by Jason Ducker’s symphonic guitar textures and Max Read’s choral arrangements.”

Beautiful music that just plucks at your heartstrings and emotions, this unique band have hit it out of the park again.

Released 10th July 2015

Stand out track – My Gravity

Pre-order The Bridge from the official website

Here is a video of The Enid playing live at the Holy Trinity Church in Leeds, a concert I was privileged to attend.

 

A blast from the past………

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Stephen Caudel – The Earth in Tourquoise

Imagine Mike Oldfield meeting up with the likes of Steve Hackett and jazz guitar virtuoso Martin Taylor and then releasing an album of instrumental 70’s progressive rock based on the Arthurian legends, are you still with me? Well Stephen Caudel did in 1996 and produced this beauty. Uplifting and just plain brilliant, I cannot believe I had never heard this until now. For my money, a must have album and that’s high praise from me indeed!

Released 9th April 1996

Stand out track – A Legend is Born

Buy (and stream) The Earth in Turquoise from the official site

This video is from ‘Wine Dark Sea (Outward Journey)’

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Karibow – Addicted

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Why do we pigeonhole and label an artist? It is a sure way of missing the important, the contradictory, the things that make them unique…

Most music fans feel that they have to assign an artist to a particular type of music. In our ordered lives, it is easier to do this. We don’t like things that don’t fit neatly into a particular stereotype. It is like an itch that you can never scratch.

I have said this before, the danger of classing something in this way is that it will alienate people who are not fans of that particular musical genre. So we may like to be ordered but, in doing so, you may be committing commercial suicide.

German band Karibow, despite winning Germany’s ‘Best Progressive Band’ award in December 2014, tend to be labelled as more of a pop/rock type of band and this has, no doubt, been detrimental to there efforts to stride forward into the progressive arena in a big way.

Their latest album ‘Addicted’, released in October 2014, tends to weave its way between pop, rock and neo-progressive rock and merge into a rather contemporary whole.

You guys know that I always give an album multiple listens before I commit any words to my reviews. Well, it was no different with ‘Addicted’ and I found my opinion and my review changing on almost a daily basis. It has taken a while but I now feel I am ready to write my review of this conundrum of an album.

Karibow was founded by Oliver Rusing in 1997. Numerous albums have, over the years, documented a long musical evolution that lies somewhere betwixt progressive rock and electronic pop/rock. Originally started as a studio project, Karibow has expanded into a five piece live band.

The line-up is now Markus Bergen (keyboards), Chris Thomas (guitar, vocals), Gerald Nahrgang (drums), Thomas Wischt (bass) and Oliver himself (vocals, guitar).

One thing Oliver doesn’t lack is ambition, 16 tracks play out over 78 minutes. The question is, should less be more of does each song have its place in the overall musical jigsaw puzzle that is ‘Addicted’?

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The album begins with Change which is a catchy, toe tapping track straight from pop/rock central. Immaculately polished and presented, it is a shining example of Oliver Rusing’s song writing prowess. Like an amalgam of Train, U2 and Maroon 5, it doesn’t try to be anything other than a well crafted tune with silken vocals, an excellent rhythm section and a gleaming guitar solo. There is an immediate segue into a more progressive style with the eight minute plus Primeval which has a sultry feel to it. Deep and thoughtful, I would maybe call it mellow-prog as it leads the listener into the track at a measured rate. Definite hints of later Marillion here yet it treads its own steadfast path. The guitar work is more intricate than on the previous track and the vocals are really starting to stand out with their breathy style. A nod must also go to the excellent production that seems just about spot on to my admittedly amateur ears. There is some classy stuff on show here. On Liquid Terrain and Believe have a real 80’s bass line like Mark King of Level 42 has joined the fun and that 80’s feel carries on throughout these two, funky songs. Like an amalgam of 80’s synth-pop and a touch of progressive rock, they waft through your conscience, almost insubstantial but held together by  great rhythm sections and superb choruses . Oliver can write excellent pop tunes and these two are indicative of that.

Now onto one of the stand out tracks on the album for me. Home of Cain begins with a cultured and elegant introduction that breaks out into the first chorus which is a thing of beauty. A gentle and amiable song that just leaves you with deep seated feeling of well being. The keyboards and vocals are at the heart of this track, graceful and refined, they add a fragile dignity that fans of 90’s UK band Lighthouse Family will be familiar with. Stella Nova and Shine On showcase that precise blend of pop/rock and progressive rock that seems to be becoming a hallmark of the band, the former majoring on progressive and the latter with a stronger hint of pop. An urgent staccato riff leads the verses and things get a bit more complex with the choruses. The accomplished vocals and well executed guitar work are signature on these two tracks and the uplifting feel of Shine On is quite addictive, leaving you with a smile on your face. Collaborator is a serious and complex track that is, in my opinion, criminally short. I love the darker feel that runs throughout the song, emphasised by the edgy bass and guitar and the strident keyboard note. The vocals have just enough mystery about them too.

Possibly the most commercial track on the album, The Cry is, perhaps, too flawless and loses some of the appeal of the rest of the songs. There is no doubting its skill and urbane suaveness but I prefer the flawed gems that make up the rest of the tracks. Now I’m guessing that the title of the next song may have something to do with the dark art of Chess but it is only a guess but, as for the track itself, F8 A1 Ba6, is one of those flawed jewels I was talking about. A really restless and skittish instrumental that grates at your nerve ends leaving them bloodied and worn, it is a clever little piece of music that makes you sit up and take notice. Running at a pace that never lets up and never allows you to gather your thoughts, I really like its nervous energy and off kilter feel. Like it was deliberately put there to soothe your raw edges after the previous song, Spark is a tender piano and vocal composition that gently tiptoes across your psyche and leaves you calm and collected. The intro to Place to Be builds up slowly and genially before the guitar and vocals kick in. Impressive drum work and a solid bassline lay the foundations for what is quite a distinct track, almost anthemic in flavour. I could see this becoming a live favourite, with its sing-a-long chorus and excellent guitar work, it just feels, well, right…..

A harder atmosphere pervades The Violent Plains and it gives the feel of another crowd pleaser. The guitar, drums and bass all exhibit a quality that you can perceive and you will find yourself singing along to the chorus. Unashamedly slap bang in the middle of the rock arena with pop leanings, who cares when it is this good? Moving on to Always There and that instant wow factor I got from House of Cain returns. Channeling their inner ‘Wilson’, Karibow have produced a superb song that really hits you right in the heart. Expressive, heartfelt vocals, a wonderful guitar and a piano that dances around your aural perceptions all combine to deliver a track that lingers long in the memory. There was always going to be a come down after the delights of the previous track and the fact it is only a minor one is testimony to the effusiveness of Something. Upbeat and decidedly cheerful with glorious keys at the heart, it really shines and radiates a warming glow. Now to the final track on this saga, 9/16 finishes things off with a song that has both feet firmly in the camp of Prog. A forceful intro leads into a track that has a sheen of seriousness hanging over it and one that is delivered with gravitas. The jangling guitars and upbeat chorus remind me a little of U2 but with a much more suave feel and the whole song drips with a personality that is eminently noticeable. As the closer on the album, it steps up to the plate and delivers emphatically.

So what have we got here? Well, to my ears this is decidedly a rock album but one with considerable progressive rock leanings however, at the heart of it, why pigeonhole it as one or the other? Can’t we just call it decidedly good music that’s worth listening to? When I first listened to it I did think there may have been one or two tracks too many but, having revisited it quite a few times, the album would be poorer if it was missing any of them.

Buy Addicted from Karibow’s webshop

Review – Progoctopus – Transcendence

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What’s in a name? Do the emotions that a band’s name evoke influence your likelihood to like or dislike that particular artist’s music? And why am I even asking this question in the first place?

Progoctopus, that’s why. This new progressive band from Birmingham have just released their debut E.P. ‘Transcendence’ and, so far, it is garnering some great reviews. However the band’s choice of moniker seems to be engendering some less than positive comments.

I, for one, really like the name. There seem to be some rigid tenets in place for when you choose the sobriquet by which you wish to be known. Here we look at the three major ones.

1. Get a name that really stands out.

Make it so it is memorable and creates a vivid image or evokes a feeling in the mind of the listener. Well the guys have certainly ticked that box for definite!

2. Get an unused band-name.

Well have you heard of another band called Progoctopus? Exactly, point two     is in the affirmative.

3. Make it relevant to the genre.

Progressive rock? Progoctopus? I think we can agree that that one is a definite yes too!

On a more serious note, will the band name put you off the music, come on, of course not or, at least it shouldn’t. Aren’t we all open minded, won’t we give something a try before shunning it? I should bloody hope so.

There is a hint of tongue-in-cheek japery about Progoctopus and I know the band are amused by, and love, all the discussion about the merits of that controversial handle.

Enough dissection, it’s time for the usual history lesson because, if there isn’t one, it isn’t Progradar!

Band - Credit Dave Donelly

Formed in November 2014, Progoctopus are set to take the prog world by storm with their debut EP, ‘Transcendence’.

The band consists of Jane Gillard (vocals), Alistair Bell (guitars), Samuel C. Roberts (bass) and Tim Wilson (drums).

“We’ve only been together a short time, but the ideas never stop flowing. The guys jam relentlessly and are seldom in 4/4” chuckles lead vocalist, Jane .

With this debut EP, the band have married the traditions of progressive music with stellar contemporary musicianship and big production values in performance, song duration or tongue-in-cheek humour.

“We combine as much anarchy, order and cheese as we can, rather than should, do in a musical democracy” Tim jokes. “For us, it’s about a happy, will-do attitude, rather than the number of notes. We have a mischievous and fun-loving manner and are always trying to slip each other up with a crazy new beat or riff.”

Guitarist Alistair comments on this positive sense of musical adventure. “The interesting thing about writing music with these guys is that we rarely know what’s going to happen next. One minute we might be playing a fusionesque jam a la Holdsworth, the next we’re playing anthemic rock, then we’re straight in to some Opeth style death metal. It’s mad but we love it!”

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So onwards and upwards and time for the review of this four part E.P.

The first two tracks are actually part of the Transcendence Suite and, obviously, we begin with Part 1 and the winding of a clock before a funky, jazz style vocal introduction, heavy on the bass and with Tim’s drums providing a frenetic background accompaniment. A sort of Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s funktastic riff is provided by Alistair and off we go on this fun-filled maniacal free-flight through progdom. Things open up and become calmer with a really classy riff before Jane’s distinctive vocals take up the story. A powerful voice, full of clarity and soul, it is part of the lifeblood of this impressive start. The rhythm section is there just slightly hidden yet holding everything in place with a metronomic and precise beat. There is a joyful freedom deep at the heart of this music, the catchy chorus and funky music just have a definitive joi de vivre about them and you can’t help but be transfixed by it. A left turn into a more divisive and edgy feel fits in perfectly, there is even a hint of alt-country to Jane’s voice in places as the genre-swapping nearly loses you but you keep up, even if it leaves you breathless and in hysterics……

More of the same with Part 2? I hope so, there isn’t enough fun in music nowadays. A kind of mystical, trance-like piece of music holds you in sway as the second part takes on a more laid back feel at first. It isn’t long before the full-blooded chicanery and tomfoolery return in full force though and this time with a much heavier edge to it, Jane’s vocal taking on a feel of Ann Wilson from the early days of Heart before they went all soft-rock on us. A squirelling guitar run and repetitive return to the enigmatic riff of Part 1 keeps everything flowing smoothly. The dynamic chorus and persuasive, forceful melodies come to head as the track runs out to an energetically heavy conclusion.

A playful, more minimal aura surrounds the beginning of Like Stone. Acoustic guitar and chilled out drums play in the song before Jane joins the soiree with a gentle, nostalgic vocal that lifts you away on a gossamer thin cloud of celestial wonderment. Peaceful and refined it dances graciously along your synapses leaving you in a state of grace. A pleasant interlude from the prog chops of the first tracks.

Now onto the longest track on the E.P. Running in at just over 9 minutes long Carousel bounds into the arena with a hook ridden melody and boundless energy. The first verse is delivered in a slightly subdued manner but with a feeling of a pent up vitality hiding in the background. Unleashed and set free, Jane’s diva like voice commands the whole track and gives it a vivid life of its own. The intrepid rhythm section provides an all-authoritative backdrop for the vocals and guitar to engage in a bit of offbeat, funky and jazz infused interplay. The middle section of the track sees the three guys head off on a visit to virtuosity-ville and show their undoubted skill-sets but, it’s when the impressive melodies and harmonies kick in that you just kick back and let an indulgent smile creep across your face. As the track draws to its conclusion you just get the feeling that the band are having so much fun producing this music for us and I applaud them for it. The way the track runs out to its final notes is just another gratifying part of this satisfying new entrant into the progressive world.

One conclusion that you have to come to with Progoctopus is that there is a heartwarming love of life deep at the heart of this quirky English quartet and this comes across emphatically in the impish delivery of their music. Uplifting music for a sunny day that gives a rose tinted glow to anybody’s outlook on life. Come join the fun, you will never look back.

Released 25th May 2015

buy Transcendence from bandcamp

www.progoctopus.com

Band photos credit Dave Donelly

Two for the price of one – Reviews – Methexis – Fall of Bliss and Suiciety

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“Music is the art of thinking with sounds, it is philosophy…..

Every chord, every word tells a story. If you listen, you will know its meaning…..”

Kamanda Ndama

Take a minute to read that quote and let it sink in, understand its very meaning. Even some of the music that is on popular radio and in the charts has a narrative at its heart, it is not all bubblegum pop (well, the majority of it is to be fair).

In the musical world that I inhabit the writers of the songs are musical bards, they tell stories of love and happiness and of loss and sadness and these affect the listener deep to their core. It is a skill that few have but it can take over your world and move you to a different place where all that matters is the song.

It isn’t just the words either, the music itself can take on a life of its own and affect you in just the same manner. The beauty inherent in an amazing piece of music can make you laugh, smile or cry in much the same way that a well written novel or piece of prose can.

I have oft written about how a new piece of music can come from out of nowhere and really move me. I think that those that are least expected are quite often the best surprises and, like misfortunes, they seldom come alone…

It was due to my friendship with ‎Linus Kåse of Swedish progressive giants Änglagård that I first heard about Methexis, the progressive rock project of Greek musician Nikitas Kissonas and discovered the two albums that have so far been released by this talented and eclectic musician. Who is he? I hear you ask well, let’s find out….

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Nikitas Kissonas was born in 1980 and he is a graduated guitarist and composer. He works as a music teacher and has collaborated with many groups and in many and diverse performances. As well as the Methexisproject, in which he expresses his agony in the rock genre, he also composes contemporary acoustic music and he is hoping to succeed in marrying the two into something truly progressive.
The Methexis project was created by Nikitas in 2011 following his need to record material he had gathered throughout the years while being a member of alternative Greek bands such as Verbal Delirium andYianneis.
The debut album “The Fall Of Bliss” was released at the same year and Nikitas played most of the instruments except for the drums (Nikos Miras) and the piano on ‘Lines On A Bust’ (Jargon).
February 2015 saw the release of ‘Suiciety’, A concept album about the exterior influences a human gets from his childhood, the interior research for a guiding instrument, the exposition on a suicidal society that doesn’t listen to the clear warnings and the unavoidable collapse.

The album features members of The Enid, Änglagård, Birds & Buildings, Agents of Mercy and Yianneis.

‘Fall of Bliss’ – the review

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A laconic introduction starts Eradicated Will, a coruscating guitar note ambling along before a slightly laid back, sardonic vocal begins. Very much in the vein of traditional progressive rock, there is also a dramatic edge to the song. Nikitas has a powerful voice with a slight affectation that adds to the drama. The keyboards add a sinister note to the track as it meanders thoughtfully through your mind, the delicate acoustic guitar adding a subliminal note that is lighter than the rest of the track. When the chorus erupts it does so with a forceful edge that adds to the theatrics, an excellent start to the album. Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes has an introduction that is all Muse to my ears with harmonised vocals and a classical edge before a strong bass line drags it along. The vocal section that follows is different, almost sounding like a computerised harmony but it works really well. Keyboards and bass are key in this track that really does run like a storyline as it glides along with its graceful demeanour. The intricate instrumental bridge is very 70’s prog and adds precision to the finesse of this engaging song.

Those Howling Wolves sees Nikitas take on a more theatrical persona with the emphasised and enunciated vocals taking flight and becoming central to the performance. The music is more of a back up on this acoustical treat. Its benign and genial feel lulls you into a form of stasis as the keyboards run with a mysterious note in the background. You could quite imagine this being from a musical stage production with Nikitas central to the performance, almost musical method acting. As we get deeper into the track there is more substance added as the story fleshes out, the vocals become fuller and the music takes less of a back seat, joining as a fully paid up member of the cast. It becomes thought provoking with quite an intensive edge and the jazzy guitar solo is brilliant in its smoky meandering brilliance as it builds to the close. A seriously impressive track indeed. The piano introduction to Lines on a Bust is intricate and soulful, the vocals again giving the impression of musical theatre, Nikitas has a great vocal range and uses it notably here. You could imagine this being sung in a West-End show. It is full of fervor and zeal, having a rapturous appeal.

Drums and bass are the dominant forces at the beginning of Track the Saviours before an edgy guitar riff takes us into the heart of the heaviest track on the album. One that has a diversive, chaotic note at it’s heart. Running along like a gleeful mad man with the histrionic vocals that teeter on the edge of sanity with an aura of dark humour. I like the slightly off-centre feel of the song, as if it has been allowed to run its own course, good or bad. The corrosive instrumental section is clever and adds to the feeling of not knowing what the hell is happening. Like a mirror image The Aftermath is a slow motion track with an initial sombre, restrained note to the vocals, guitar and keyboards. The vocals take on a more compelling note on the chorus, if still a little mournful. It is a song that has a central forlorn and dolent edge to it, a fragility that still has a dark beauty to it.

The final track is the four part title track The Fall of Bliss which begins with the Intro which is a gentle acoustic guitar overlaying birdsong. Ethereal and gossamer like, it is charming and charismatic and leads you into Part I where the atmosphere darkens, pressing in to give a suspenseful feel. It erupts with a hard edged riff, powered along by the drums to give a turbulent edge before settling down into a more harmonised note. There is a slight supernatural ambience to the music, a semblance of the unknown as the vocals begin in a haunting fashion. Almost like a Gregorian Chant, they have a spiritual echo to them, enhanced by the disturbing organ note. The gloomy feel is all pervasive as we segue into Interlude, a low, slightly remote keyboard, reminiscent of a bassoon insinuates itself into your psyche. There is an organic nature to the music, it feels alive, as if it has its own intelligence and agenda. The guitar influenced passage that follows is vivid and forceful and that pseudo-bassoon runs into the final chapter, Part II. Demonstrative and profound, it is the crescendo that the whole track has been leading up to with heartfelt, passionate vocals and a wall of sound that washes over you leaving you numb in a profound manner. A discursive instrumental section follows, all distorted and erratic, like a lonely walk haunted by memories of the past. Almost painfully acute in parts it holds your attention as it runs on inexorably to the close.

So, Methexis’ first album really grabs you, it is enlightened in a weighty and thorough kind of way and asks questions that you may not be able to answer. Darkly exquisite in places, ‘Suiciety’ will have to go some to top this consummate release.

‘Suiciety’ – the review

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After his brilliant multi-tasking performance with ‘Fall of Bliss’ Nikitas Kissonas turned to some of progressive music’s luminaries for the follow up ‘Suiciety’.

Whilst dealing with the music, lyrics and guitars himself he is joined by the enigmatic Joe Payne (The Enid) on vocals, Linus Kåse (Änglagård) on keyboards, Nikos Zades (Yianneis) sound design, Walle Wahlgren (Agents of Mercy) on drums and Brett d’Anon (Birds and Buildings) on bass.

Going the wrong way round, it was ‘Suiciety’ that I heard before ‘Fall of Bliss’ thanks to a heads up from Linus and that led me onto the debut album. You’ve read my thoughts on that, now it’s time for the latest release….

Chapter IV – Ruins opens the album with a transcendental feel of spaced out music, like wind chimes in a breeze, ambient yet with an intelligence at its core. It is an eerie beginning, as if you are in stasis waiting for something to happen. This opens up with a synth sound that washes over you in waves, almost hypnotic in its delivery. Joe’s breathy voice lies just under the surface, barely audible at first before its unmistakeable expressive quality builds into something more substantial. It stays just out of your conscious reach as the track comes to a close. The five parts of Chapter I (exterior) begin with Remember fear’s a relic, a briskly strummed acoustic guitar heralds an upbeat, jazz infused track that springs along at a brisk pace. A sharp electric guitar leading into some really funky keyboards from Linus before Joe lets lose with his inherent theatrical manner. Mr Payne has a persona that can dominate but here he holds back a tad, still the effusive, energetic front man we know from The Enid but moulding his performance to fit the music. I really like Joe’s expressive vocal work, he takes what is best of the theatrical world and blends it perfectly with progressive rock music. The rest of the band appear to be having a blast on this energetic,slightly manic piece of music, like a free-form jazz session with added absurdity.

The windows’ cracking sound is like a short interlude, a slightly off-kilter and disturbing piece of music which never lets you settle as it segues into Who can it be with its heraldic introduction which immediately grabs you. I love the feel it gives this song before it becomes all mysterious and dark. Joe’s vocal low down, is almost a whisper as he takes up the tale. There is a dark humour deep at the heart of this song, it leaves you with an itch you just can’t scratch. The flamenco style guitar section is neat and precise yet still sends a shiver down your spine, playing with forces unknown. Joe is giving a performance worthy of the stage, there is more than just a vocalist at work here, he is acting as well. It is a story to be told in music, in a dark disturbing, yet highly enjoyable way. That outspoken heraldic tone is at the heart of everything adding a lustre and wildness to this part as it comes to a slightly disturbing close.

The Origin of Blame is where all bets are off and the sluice gates are opened. Joe is at the centre of this delightfully manic song, aided and abetted by the simple piano notes delivered by Linus. This track could have been written for the stage and Joe Payne’s ebullient character. He delivers an excited display of eccentric brilliance and musical drama that just makes you smile. The segue into Prey’s Prayer is neat and precise and the striking guitar work of Nikitas takes over with an undulating delivery that just bleeds emotion and remorse. The bass play is calm and collected and adds gravitas to this serious piece of music. A quite beguiling instrumental that seems to have a tender yet melancholic soul to it.

The three parts of Chapter II (interior) begin with Sunlight and its wild-west tinged introduction, all Duane Eddy guitars and atmosphere before the guitar takes on a classical note and Joe’s tender vocal interjects, waxing and waning in compliment to the gently played guitar. It has a lightness and airiness to it which is enhanced by the seductive strings. Around the middle of the track it takes on a pure 1970’s progressive feel with guitar and bass work that Steve Howe and Chris Squire would have been proud of. Linus adds in his inimitable skills with the ivories and you end up looking for the floor length capes and Mellotrons to arrive. It is quite a compelling piece of music, gripping and riveting that leaves you slightly non-plussed as it comes to a close. The next part, The Relic is, in my mind, the best track on the album, if not the best song that Nikitas has written full stop. A low key introduction of a subdued guitar leads in an emotional vocal backed by sumptuous strings that just left me mesmerised. The piano then adds a subtle grace to this imperious song. It builds, layer upon layer, becoming more intensely exquisite with each note that is played and each line that is sung. Joe gives his most polished performance yet one which is also his most restrained and it fits the guileless, sincere feel of the song perfectly. A crescendo like instrumental interlude threatens to break the calm before it is gently brought back by the simple charm of the acoustic guitar and piano. They are joined by a searching violin note that really fills you full of emotion and then leads you to the closure of this stunning song.

Chapter III – Suiciety is the final song on the album and begins like an industrial dance track, a song in the style of The Prodigy. To be honest it feels out of place at first after the charm of the previous track but, give it time, and you come to appreciate its intricate, complex rhythms, eventually breaking out into a darkly mysterious piece of music. The strings add that note of warning before the brass section delivers a really chilling yet exciting part of the song that has an icy determination to it. It becomes quite a spine-tingling piece of classical music that has you hanging on every note with its basic raw feel.

He pulls no punches does Nikitas Kissonas and he is an extremely talented musician. I thought it would take something special to improve on ‘Fall of Bliss’ and he has delivered something quite marvellous. Aided by some superb musicians and a vocalist who has the skill and inherent ability to deliver everything needed, what we actually have here is an outstanding musical release that is up there with the best of them…..

Nikitas

Pictures of Nikitas courtesy of Artemis Schubert.

Artwork for ‘Fall of Bliss’ by Dimitra Papadimitriou.

Artwork for ‘Suiciety’ by  Artemis Schubert and Nikitas Kissonas.

www.methexisproject.com

Buy Fall of Bliss and Suiciety from bandcamp

Review – Big Big Train – Wassail

Wassail

“Next to love, Music is the best solution to any problem. Music feeds the heart with what it needs in the moment…

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

For those of us that feel music like we feel the blood in our veins, it is something we cannot live without. Music follows me on every journey I make, music accompanies my moods perfectly, be it happy, sad or just melancholy. I could not imagine my life without the joy of listening to music being core to it.

Like most people my life has been like a sine wave, peaks and troughs of highs and lows and I have learned to cope with the lows and appreciate the highs more and more because of the music that I listen to.

“I believe in music the way that some people believe in fairy tales.”

Four years ago I went through the darkest period in my life. I won’t go into it in any detail as that is not what I am writing about but, suffice to say, I looked deep into my own soul at times and didn’t like what I saw.

What kept me going through the sleepless nights, the broken heart and the soul searching was music, music to soothe my soul, music to lighten my mood and music to make my heart soar.

It was at this point that I took a real, deep seated interest in what has since become my favourite band, English progressive rock band Big Big Train. I had touched on ‘The Underfall Yard’ briefly before but it hadn’t immediately connected with me. By lucky happenstance I was listening to morow.com when they played ‘The First Rebreather’ from the band’s album ‘English Electric Pt1’ and the rest, as they say, is history!

Their unique take on traditional UK progressive rock, infused with historical traditions and a real heart of its own has always resonated with me since and the amazing ‘Curator of Butterflies’ from ‘English Electric Pt2’ picked me up when I was down and out so many times during that bitter and melancholy part of my life, it kept me sane.

Fast forward four years and the Progressive music scene is eagerly anticipating the release of the band’s new E.P. ‘Wassail’, yours truly maybe more than most…

We can’t have a Progradar review without some background to the band. Here I will make it short and sweet as, earlier this year, I did a potted history of the band.

BBTBand

Big Big Train were formed in 1990 by Andy Poole and Greg Spawton and have, up to date, released 9 full albums (if you include ‘English Electric – FullPower’) and, with the release of ‘Wassail’,three E.P.s. Over the last 25 years they have established a respected place on the UK progressive scene. They have honed their sound over the years to feature rich arrangements, a mix of electric and acoustic instruments and an amalgamation of influences from post-rock, folk, classical and pop.

After a few changes over the last quarter of a century, the band’s full line up now includes, in addition to Greg and Andy, David Longdon (vocals),Nick D’Virgilio (drums), Dave Gregory (guitar), Danny Manners (keyboards), Rikard Sjöblom (guitar,keyboards) and Rachel Hall (violin) and it will be this eight piece band which will play Big Big Train’s first live gigs in seventeen years at Kings Place in London in August this year.

In addition to ‘Wassail’, later this year, the band will be releasing a DVD/Blu-Ray of live performances filmed at Real World Studios last year entitled ‘Stone and Steel’ and have begun work on a new album called ‘Folklore’ which is scheduled for release in early 2016.

Talking about the new album ‘Folklore’, Greg Spawton said:

“We have written some songs with a London theme or setting. There are no plans for an album about London, but songs on the theme will appear on the next few releases. Folklore has a very broad definition and many of our new songs will include folklore elements (or will feature stories which we think may pass into folklore.) ‘Folklore’ doesn’t mean that we are embarking on a particularly folk-rock direction. We love folk music, and there will always be elements of folk in BBT music, but the title of the album is more about the subject of the songs, not so much the sound of them.”

Now onto ‘Wassail’……

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Wassail

“Apple tree, old apple tree. Bountiful we raise a glass to thee,
We sing our song, Stand fast, stand strong,
Bough and leaf bear fruit aplenty..”

Wassailing is a traditional ritual from the West of England, dating back to early medieval times, to wake the cider apple trees and scare away evil spirits by banging pots and pans and firing a shotgun overhead, thereby protecting the harvest later in the year. Much singing and drinking takes place as part of the ceremony……..

The first of the three new songs on the E.P. and the title track, Wassail begins with a dynamic guitar and flute combination, enhancing a feel of powerful folk infused progressive rock. When David Longdon’s eminently recognisable vocal kicks in it does so with that polished timbre that we have come to associate with this mercurial singer. The guitar, bass and drums are polished and immediately resonate with you. All the harmonies intertwine with Rachel’s charismatic violin and the mould is set for another exquisitely melodic and anthemic offering from this most iconically English of bands. The chorus and repeated chant of the title is powerful and catchy and I find myself singing it at the top of my voice as the keyboards swirl around catching your imagination. Yes, on this track, the band do seem to have definitively heavier folk leanings but temper it with a touch of the usual Big Big Train magic to deliver something that is recognisably an evolution of their trademark sound. The break in the middle of the track where the violin seems to plead with your senses and David’s voice holds a feel of longing and desire is as good as they come and heralds a superb instrumental section that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Potent, compelling and intense it should be an absolute winner in a live setting and the stylish close out to the track is quite sublime.

(Words and music by David Longdon)

Lost rivers of London small

Lost Rivers of London

“Lost rivers of London, long lost rivers of London
By the palace and the abbeys, by the lakes in the par
black waters rise from one hundred springs and wells.”

Beneath the streets and buildings of the capital, a number of ancient tributaries of the Thames have been buried. However, as writer Tom Bolton has said, it is hard to stop a river from flowing and the tributaries are still there running under the ground down to the Thames.

Another newly released track, Lost Rivers of London is an evolution of the band’s idyllic and singular ‘pastoral’ sound. The introduction is a collection of enchantingly played notes that dance lightly across your senses immediately invoking sepia tinged memories of unspoiled and picturesque days of yore. Immediately surrounding you in a protective cocoon, you are left to enjoy the musical delights to follow. The vocals are perfectly balanced, lilting and lulling, mesmerising you with their velvety smoothness, the harmonies quite bewitching in their brilliance. In places David’s voice soars up to the heights infused with a potent dynamism, it is the centre of this superb track around which everything else orbits. Just when you think the musical inventiveness has run its course, this talented band throw in another curve ball with some intricate guitar work and a jaunty medieval tinged flute note. I love the wah-wah pedal style of the guitar and the evocative keyboard notes, they add a real sense of fun to proceedings. For me, this is the best song on the E.P. and one of the best the band have done with superb musicianship and a vocalist at the height of his power, I am left open mouthed in admiration as it comes to its stylish close.

(Words and music by Greg Spawton)

Mudlarks

Mudlarks

Mudlarks were 19th century scavengers who eked a living from the sale of anything they could find in the mud of the River Thames at low tide. Modern-day mudlarks search the foreshores of the lost rivers that flow into the Thames, hoping to find traces of London’s history.

The third and final new track is an instrumental entitled Mudlarks which begins with a delicate piano and elegant keyboard, neatly joined by an articulate violin, the sound is very reminiscent of classic 70’s progressive rock with a modern touch as you catch little fillips of the flute dancing around in the background. There is a feel of something building as strident guitar, bass and drums join the throng, a quite jazz infused feel to the early parts of the track. It is here that Danny Manners’ talkative keyboards joust with Greg’s measured bass to add layers of sophistication. The whole song mesmerises and hypnotises as it rises higher and higher, the superb interaction between the two guitars of Dave and Rikard just roots you to the spot as they weave more and more complicated spirals around your psyche. Intricate yet immensely accessible and satisfying it comes to a rewarding conclusion that leaves you lost in thought.

(Music by Greg Spawton)

Wales - Castles - Flint Castle by William Turner

Master James of St. George

“Master James of St. George, of the fields and the sky.
He used to build castles of stone, steel and blood.
But lines get broken down.”

To finish the E.P. we are treated to a live version of Master James of St. George, first released in 2009 on the band’s 6th studio album ‘The Underfall Yard’. A firm favourite with fans from the start, this track is one that grows and grows from fairly humble beginnings before it takes over your whole being. That dainty little drum roll that has become instantly recognisable opens the track before the subtly meandering guitar entwines itself around the song. Enter Mr Longdon stage left with his lush vocal delivery raising and lowering as if wafted along on a cloud. There are subtle differences between this live version and the recorded track, as you’d expect. The strings are more pronounced and the vocal pairings have an added lustre to them. The soaring treatment of the verse is uplifting and takes your heart with it. I have always liked the way that this track seems to be founded on building blocks that have a real solidity yet it has an ethereal quality to the music in parts, especially on the elegant guitar runs. All in all just a delightful version of a song that was already well loved by the fans and this version just redefines its splendour.

This version of ‘Master James of St. George’ is a powerful performance recorded live at Real World Studios.

(Words and music by Greg Spawton)

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You can put your heroes on a pedestal to be knocked off when they don’t reach your lofty expectations but, with ‘Wassail’, Big Big Train have just enhanced their reputation as purveyors of unique and sublime progressive rock which is founded on the elemental history of this blessed isle. A history that is fundamental to the everlasting allure of this captivating group of musicians.

Order the CD version of the album and you get a brilliantly packaged CD with the striking artwork of Sarah Ewing which just adds to the whole experience.

Released on 1st June 2015

Buy Wassail CD from Burning Shed

Buy Wassail mp3 from bandcamp

Buy Wassail bundles at The Merch Desk