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.

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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

 

 

Riverside Live at Islington Assembly Hall – 20th October 2015 – by Aidan Campbell

Providing the first live guest review is Aidan Campbell. Not a bad gig either, Riverside live at the Islington Assembly Hall…..

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This will be the third time I have seen the Polish prog-rock band live and, for some reason, this will be the third time they are in playing in a venue in the North London borough of Islington.  I saw them in 2013 and 2014 at the Academy but this time they are at the Assembly Hall, a venue just up the road and about 10 minute walk from Angel tube station.

The band come on stage around 9pm and launch straight into Lost, the opening song from their new album ‘Love, Fear and The Time Machine’.

Consisting of vocalist and bassist Mariusz Duda, keyboardist Michal Lapaj and founder members Piotr Grudziński on guitar and Piotr Kozieradzki on drums, the quartet are on fine form tonight. The undoubted star of the show, however is Michal, using a Korg Kronos for piano, he creates some wonderful, delicate passages on We Got Used to Us and some mighty Hammond organ on songs such as Hyperactive and The Depth of Self-Delusion.

It is when he gets onto the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 that the real magic happens.  The pulsating arpeggios adding a futuristic element to the Riverside sound, a song like the superb 9 minute Egoist Hedonist would sound totally different without Michal doing what he does with that synth.

Song wise the highlight for me, probably, is Escalator Shrine. Divided into 3 parts with a mid-tempo first section, a fast heavy second section, with some excellent Hammond organ playing from Michal (he is a fan of the late Jon Lord), and a slow mellow third section.  As the 13 minute track finishes the crowd of 500 give it the biggest cheer of the evening.

Riverside only played 3 songs from the new album but that is not too much of an issue when you have so many great songs in their back catalogue and only 2 hours to play them!

The band end their set with Found, the closing song from the new album and a sister song to Lost, which, together, bookend a very fine album and one of my favourites of the year.  They finished at 10:50pm after playing for just short of 2 hours, everyone going home happy after a great show. I even managed to make it back to King’s Cross in time for the 11:30 train back to Peterborough!

Riverside Live 3

 

 

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…..

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“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’.

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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

 

Guest Review – Beardfish – +4626 – COMFORTZONE – by Shawn Dudley

Yet another hardy soul has taken the responsibility of writing a review for you goodly folk, this time we welcome Shawn Dudley with the pen (or should we say keyboard?).

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One recurring theme with my music purchases over the past 10 years has been a constant stream of bands from Sweden.  The country has provided a surfeit of riches and one of the most valuable is the wonderfully eclectic and enthralling Beardfish.

Their 8th studio album ‘+4626-Comfortzone’ is another meticulously arranged addition to an already impressive string of releases.

After a short thematic introduction Hold On wastes no time demonstrating the many traits that drew me to Beardfish in the first place.  The love of vintage instrumentation and production sounds, the knotty and complex arrangements that would make Gentle Giant proud, the occasional side trips into Zappa-esque absurdity, the uniquely personal songwriting of Rikard Sjöblom and, last but not least, their love of “the jam”. The joyous melding of progressive rock precision with the loose improvisational vibe of a late night jam session, they remind me of Nektar in this regard.

Thematically ‘Comfortzone’ is more dense and layered than the relatively straight-ahead approach of 2013’s ‘The Void’.  Thus it’s not quite as immediate an experience and takes a few spins to really process.  The narrative focuses on the apathy and complacency that can result from growing up in a small town, the feeling of being trapped yet not wanting to lose the comfort and security that familiarity provides.  As someone that grew up in a small rural community of under 500 residents the subject matter of this album holds special relevance.  A town populated by people watching the world pass by from their front porch…as if they were nailed there.

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While lyrically the album can be a little bleak, the music never is.  The playing is uniformly excellent and years of lineup stability has given them a rock solid cohesion.  The mix is well balanced and uses a wide stereo spread, it’s a little compressed but not overtly.

Individual track highlights include the aforementioned Hold On, the lovely title track (some great Robert Fripp inspired guitar work in the intro on that one), the viking-rock riffage of King and the album centerpiece If We Must Part (A Love Story Continued).  Special mention to the comic-relief provided by the hilarious Ode to A Rock ’N’ Roller, in a genre that primarily takes itself very seriously, the quirky humor of Beardfish is always a welcome change of pace.

While I’m thrilled that Rikard Sjöblom has been contributing to Big Big Train of late, I hope he still finds the time to continue the Beardfish journey.  The only thing more exciting than a new Beardfish album…is the prospect of what the next one will be like.

Released 12th January 2015

Buy direct from the band

About the author – Shawn Dudley

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Shawn Dudley, Los Angeles, CA.

Audio engineer, film buff, guitarist, lifelong music fanatic.

 

 

 

 

Guest review – Karl Schmaltz – The Shackleton Experience – by Gary Morley

Another guest reviewer to add his two penneth, Mr Gary Morley has taken the writer’s seat for this album, let’s see what he thinks…

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The initial brief was to listen to the one “typical “track on sound cloud…

I accepted the mission.

The track starts with the creaking of ice and an insistent double drum kick beat, then a glacial slab of guitar…

Voices then appear from out of the mix…

Is this an audiobook? Or a play?

Neither, it would seem that this is a cross between ‘War of the Worlds’ and Public Service Broadcast style infotainment, but without the charm of the latter or the tunes of the former. The dialogue is overblown, overacted and overpowers the musical accompaniment.

Talking of which, they are going for power and majesty, and although the guitar growls ominously, the sub metal drums and the unintentional humour of the accents and hammy acting detract from what should be an intense, gripping story. The guitar carries on, regardless of any notion of progression. Is this a metaphor for the ill-fated expedition?

Even the narrative declaration of “set the sails, full steam ahead “is more “Carry on Sailor” than “True Grit”. Sorry to say that this left me cold, and not in an involved in the narrative way. I’m sure that the whole thing is more cohesive and immersive, but this failed to take me on any sort of journey apart from the one that detoured around the repeat play button…

I Felt bad being so negative when I discovered that the creator is only 19 and I’m sure that the whole thing is better than the sample, but worried that this track was chosen as representative of the whole work. So Mr Editor in chief, Martin Hutchinson sent me a file containing the whole album. I sat down, burned it to disc, placed disc in the big Hi Fi, adjusted headphones and pressed play…

This is not an audiobook; it’s not a concept album either. As far as I can tell, it’s more of a stage show soundtrack, complete with dialogue and incidental music.

The subject is one that should hook the listener and take them to the depths of the Antarctic, but it sounds as if “Pirates of the Caribbean” played a big part in shaping the vocal performances as the South Atlantic whalers sound like pirates, overacting pirates too.

The crewman that “narrates” the story confused me with his opening salutation of “Boss…”, as I’m not sure that is exactly how a crew member would address a superior officer. As the story unfolds, it seems that the crew are trapped inside the bass bins of an Iron Maiden tribute band as they rehearse.

I know people argue about what is “Prog” and what isn’t, but this is not what I call Progressive. It’s a shame as the story is one that would benefit from a more versatile musical palette. The voice acting compounds the misery as the stilted speech and cheesy dialogue take away from the tragedy it describes.

The voices are not distinct, and I ended up unsure as to who was narrating, if it was even a narration or diary readings. The balance between the music and the speech is not wide enough. So the dramatic tension is lost under power chords and intrusive drumming. Shackleton’s plight, along with his crew is sympathetically portrayed but not the  bleak cold beauty of their surroundings.

The best mental picture I painted as I listened was Blackadder and his companions trapped in the trenches whilst being bombarded by enemy artillery… Bombarded is how I felt. Every crewman starts his speech with a querulous “Boss this” and “Boss that”, You’d think that a little variation could have been injected.

That’s the problem I have with this work, it’s all one pace and one dimensional. By the time Shackleton decides to try to travel to South Georgia by boat, I have been pummelled into a state of benign indifference. The constant fury of the open chording and the drumming did give me a feeling of how much the sailors were suffering, intentional or otherwise.

The narration is harrowing in its content, but I was unmoved by the acting and accents. Sadly, once you start looking for them, the issues become more glaring. At the height of the drama, the sailor declares something or other and in the course of his speech, his accent crosses the Atlantic and back again. If this was a normal concept album that would be cause of raised eyebrows, but to my ears, this is not such a beast and this emphasises the distance between intention and execution that I detect.

The climax of the album, the survivor’s desperate journey is portrayed with more guitars riffing and a sound effect that I think is supposed to be the skies, but the tension is ruined by the cheesy dialogue:-

Sailor #1 “how long have we been marching for?”

Sailor #2 “About 22 hours “

Sailor ~1 “can we take a break for a little bit”

Sailor #2 (sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger) “Yes, but only for a little while”

They sound as if the hardship was a minor inconvenience rather than the appalling march to survive. The narrator tells of how they slept in shifts, as if they all slept at once, they’d probably never wake.

The improbable continues with a discourse about a whistle that may or may not have been heard. I’m not surprised they couldn’t hear it – those bloody guitars drown everything out! The musical ebb and flow that I was expecting to enhance the story is sadly lacking

The final speech about Shackleton finding relief descends into cliché as he asks whether the war is over and the rescuer tells him that the world’s gone mad but he can borrow a ship…

The final episode when he returns to collect his crew stranded on Elephant Island should be emotional and uplifting, but the sailor insisting on addressing him as boss makes it sound like they’d merely missed the works bus.

The end piece talks about Shackleton’s legacy, his life after the rescue and sad death at an early age. All very inspirational but ultimately sterile as I failed to connect with the story, there is no feeling of closure here as the narrative seems to just peter out and the guitars continue for a few minutes then they too admit defeat and call it a day.

According to the website, the architect of all this is only 19, and in that respect then this is quite an achievement. However, although I could not have approached such a project and achieve anything like this, the end product is caught between worlds.

It doesn’t work (to me) as a piece of music as it lacks variety of both pace and invention. Equally, due to the cheesy dialogue and voice acting, it doesn’t work as a dramatic piece either.

It may be that I’m the wrong person to review this as I’m not that familiar with audio books or musical theatre which is what this seems to be a synthesis of. I’ll stick to reading books and listening to music, as this attempt to combine the two fell on deaf ears and blinkered eyes.

Released August 8th 2015

Buy direct from the artist

About the author – Gary Morley

Gary Morley

Trained Engineer, former Wrecka store manager, former dj,  ex retail manager , early love of music garnished via Stratton longheads taking him to see Led Zeppelin at Knebworth in 1979. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to have seen hundreds of bands from Acoustic Folk duos in pubs to multi platinum selling mega stars.
Best gig ever – Prince and Third Eye Girl at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Feb 2014.
Best musical experience – Attending a recording of a radio 4 program about the Waterboys, 80 fans sat feet away from Mike Scott, us on front row, then , as it was a 50th birthday treat for wifey, the whole room being led in a redition of “Happy Birthday” by her idol, Mr Scott. You can’t get better than that.
Claim to fame ( infamy more like) – Working for  NJF/ Marquee at the “Six of The Best ” Milton Keynes gig and having to convince fevered Italian Genesis fans that I was not Mike Rutherford!

Wallet Emptier – Sunday 18th October 2015

Welcome to a serious bumper edition of The Wallet Emptier, no less than nine albums in this latest round up of new releases and music that I feel may be of interest to you lot out there.

Keep your eyes peeled for forthcoming full sized reviews of some of these albums here at Progradar!

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Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals : Netherworld II

I still have a bit of  a soft spot for some tasty, classy progressive metal and Vanden Plas certainly fulfill that brief. The follow up to 2013’s ‘Chronicles of the Immortals : Netherworld carries on the concept  with aplomb. Excellent songwriting combines with some superb riffing and symphonic metal music. Having one of the best vocalists around in Andy Kuntz doesn’t hurt either. Pure theatre from start to finish, a brilliant release.

Releases 6th November 2015

Stand out track – Vision 11even – In My Universe

Pre-order from Amazon

 

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Vly – 1 / Time

A remote international collaboration between musicians from different backgrounds crystallized into a new band. A real conglomerate of musical might that throws in touches of progressive rock, classic rock, folk, post rock and epic riffs to deliver something quite uniquely brilliant. I expected nothing and the band delivered an exquisite release, really well worth buying, it should be in your collection.

Released 18th September 2015

Stand out track – Perfect Place

Buy the album from Amazon

 

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Yuka and Chronoship – The 3rd Planetary Chronicles

Trust the Japanese to come up with something out of the ordinary and downright extraordinary. Formed in 2009, a progressive band that majors on technical brilliance, thoughtful lyrics and a philosophical bent. There are lots of 70’s cues throughout the music but Yuka and Chronoship live in their own micro-climate and there isn’t anything else quite like it.

Released 25th September 2015

Stand out track – Age of Steam

Buy Yuka and Chronoship from Cherry Red Records

 

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IO Earth – New World

My first outing with this band and I didn’t know what I would be getting. The album cover screams symphonic progressive rock and the first couple of tracks on this double album did nothing to change my thoughts but, give this very long player time to work on you and you find some seriously intelligent and compelling music that knows no genre-defining bounds. The second disc is the best of the two but, overall, it is a very good listen.

Released 20th may 2015

Stand out track – The Rising

Buy New World direct from the band

 

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Thieves Kitchen – The Clockwork Universe

I was surprised to find that this great band have actually been around since 2000 and I’m only hearing about them now. One of the most intelligent and compelling groups to be part of the current progressive scene, they innovate and create dazzling music that seems to come alive before you. They call themselves ‘A Canterbury tinged Scandi/Brit progressive rock group with classical and folk influences’ and, even though it is a bit of a mouthful, it is a just about perfect description of their imaginative sound.

Released 23rd September 2015

Stand out track – The Scientists Wife

Buy The Clockwork Universe from The Merch Desk

 

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Gazpacho – Molok

Coming from the darkness of Scandinavia, it is no surprise that Norway’s Gazpacho release some of most intense and complicated music that inhabits this world. Their latest offering ‘Molok’ is no different, continuing their exploration of different concepts. The fact that they are as mad as a badger poked with a stick helps, I suppose and, this time,there are religious themes going head to head with modern day new science ideas and theories. Whatever the dense, macabre background, it is bloody good!

Released 23rd October 2015.

Stand out track – Know Your Time

Buy Molok from kscope

 

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Anderson Ponty Band – Better Late Than Never

After 30 years of talking about it these two musicians have finally got together. Not an album of totally new material, it presents some new musical compositions, rearrangements of classic Yes hits like Owner of a Lonely Heart and Wonderous Stories, as well as some of Jean-Luc Ponty’s compositions with lyrics penned by Jon Anderson. In parts it is very good, in others (especially the limp rearrangements of the Yes material) it flatters to deceive but, have a listen and see what you think?

Released 25th September 2015

Stand out track – One in the Rhythm of Hope

Buy Better Late Than Never from Amazon

 

CoE Spirit

Comedy of Errors – Spirit

The eagerly awaited new album from the well respected Scottish proggers Comedy of Errors sees the band progressing on their signature sound. Stylish music backed by Joe Cairney’s emotive vocals grabs your attention. Always a band who major on expressive and intelligent songwriting, this new release embellishes that even further. An intensive and reflective musical journey that sees each song crafted individually and lovingly. I think they might just have delivered another great piece of musical drama.

Released 20th October 2015

Stand out track – Spirit

Buy direct from the band’s shop

 

A look back to the recent past……

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Aisles – 4.45 A.M.

There is an emotional intensity to 4.45 AM that is delivered with aplomb, I feel drained of emotion after listening to this album and it touches you to the depths of your soul. Like a fine wine, you will not want to experience this album every day but, keep it in someplace special so that, when the mood arises, you can bring it out and enjoy it all over again. I applaud Aisles for producing something that is as unique as they are, long may it continue.s far beyond that while creating a very powerful and unique type of music and sound.

Released 29th October 2013

Stand out track – Melancholia

Buy direct from the band

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest review – John Hackett – Another Life – by John Simms

Stepping into the chair and taking a break from his Flight of the Skypilot blog is my good friend John Simms.

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When someone steps out of their usual musical genre and produces something different, it can often spark some interest. John Hackett is well known in musical circles as an accomplished flautist, and has contributed to ambient and dance music as well as classical and progressive recordings.

The majority of his recorded output in recent years, in his own name, has been classical works – often self-penned and usually with classical guitar accompaniment. Indeed one of his biggest selling albums was ‘Sketches of Satie’ recorded with brother Steve in 2000.

The new album ‘Another Life’ is different in that it is a rock album – even a progressive rock album! Only once before has John done anything similar, with 2005’s ‘Checking Out Of London’, and here again he has called on the talents of Nick Clabburn to provide the lyrics for the 13 songs.

This is an album of contrasts: light and shade; rock, some quite poppy moments, and more quiet, meditative tunes. John plays not only his trade-mark flute, but also guitars, bass and occasional keyboards. His main collaborator is Nick Magnus, and this – along with the frequent appearance of Steve on guitar – gives the album, for me, a feel reminiscent of some of Steve’s earlier solo work.

The vocals are strong (without being overpowering) expressive and varied, with a good use of harmonies, and I couldn’t help feeling that maybe Steve should have used him in this capacity on some of his own solo albums, particularly when he was beginning to sing his own material.

John’s guitar work is not to be sniffed at, but it is with flute in hand that he really excels. In the opening song, Another Life, there is some haunting, swooping flute work which brought to mind his work on Tigermoth on Steve’s ‘Spectral Mornings’ album, and Life in Reverse, one of the quieter songs, uses the flute where others would put in another guitar solo, and does so to great effect. This song, along with Poison Town, has a definite sound of Tim Bowness about it, and I would love to hear Tim’s take on either of these tracks.

Satellite deserves some special attention, featuring as it does not only Steve – but on harmonica rather than guitar – and Anthony Phillips on 12-string. It has a blues-y, Neil Young vibe with a tinge of early pastoral Genesis that can only come with Phillips’ signature style.

For those who enjoy their music a little on the soft side, this is a collection which repays repeated listening: good, though not great, but still a worthy addition to John’s canon and repertoire.

Released 25th September 2015 through Esoteric Antenna

Buy direct from the artists website

About the author – John Simms

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John Simms is a long term Prog fan in his mid-fifties from Yorkshire, currently living in exile in Cumbria. By day (and sometimes at night too) he works as a Methodist clergyman, and when not doing that he scours the outer reaches of the Progressive universe searching for musical nuggets. This latter endeavour is slowly bankrupting him.

John’s blog ‘Flight of the Skypilot’