So, here we go with the first of Progradar’s ‘guest’ or ‘collaborative’ reviews and the first to step up to the plate is Emma Roebuck with a review of Caligula’s Horse and ‘Bloom’……….
The third album from Caligula’s Horse ‘Bloom’, and my first exposure to their brand of Rock/metal/prog, finds me smiling. It passes a few tests for me, one played it through several times in the car and I didn’t feel the need to change the album and my passengers, who are not prog fans, were nodding along to riff laden music. The second test is playing it in the solitude of unwinding after a working week.
I won’t do a track by track break-down just say Sam Vallen, Jim Grey and the rest of the guys are a fine addition to Aussie prog-rock. It has something for most fans of the harder side of prog music, loads of hard, powerful guitar riffing with layered musical texture underneath. I am drawn instinctively to the better, mid-period, Dream Theater and Opeth stuff as you would expect but, also, Anathema too, not as copyists but as fellow travellers.
There is also plenty for the casual listener too, the songs draw you in and are accessible from the first listen, with plenty of variety from the softer Undergrowth creeping up on you to the aural ‘smack in the teeth’ half way through the Title track Bloom. These guys can write songs with nuance and skill and are not formulaic by any stretch of the imagination.
The Stand out track for me is Dragonfly. Coming in at just short of 10 minutes, it has everything good that this album has to offer in one song. Trying to imagine this performed live, I see a great set closer in this one.
Jim Grey has a voice that has remarkable range and works in the quieter moments and higher registers too, but maintains a power when they rock out and they can rock out, Rust being a fine example of an outright technical track that Threshold would be proud to produce.
To finish, it’s a worthy piece of music that shows how good some of the technically minded progressive musicians can write at the harder edge of this thing we called ‘prog’.
I’ve never been a big fan of live albums, preferring the purity of the original studio release. To me, that is probably how the band intended the music to be heard in the first place, rather than in a live setting.
There are, actually, plenty of studio bands who have never performed live and this has been of no detriment to them progressing and evolving. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and there are some outstanding live releases out there.
A few that come to mind ( and not restricted to progressive artists) are Thin Lizzy – ‘Live and Dangerous’ from 1978, Neil Young and Crazy Horse – ‘Arc-Weld’ from 1991, Yes – ‘Yessongs’ from 1973, Peter Frampton – ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ from 1976 and Genesis – ‘Three Sides Live’ from 1982.
These albums perhaps show the artists at the height of their powers and include some of the most blistering and emotional versions of their greatest songs. However, overall, I’ve always been more of a fan of the studio albums.
So, when one of my favourite artists, Glass Hammer, approached me about reviewing their new, ‘live’, release, it was with no little trepidation that I awaited the arrival of the package at Progradar Towers…….
Glass Hammer are elder statesmen of the progressive rock scene now, having been around since 1992 and releasing many celebrated albums, including their latest long player ‘The Breaking of the World’ this last year.
Hailed as one of their best records yet, it cemented them at the forefront of the classic progressive rock scene and many saw their appearance at RosFest as being one of the highlights of that well established progressive rock festival.
Featuring the current line up of founder members Steve Babb (bass) and Fred Schendel (keyboards) along with vocalists Carl Groves and Susie Bogdanovic, Kamran Alan Shikoh (guitar) and Aaron Raulston (drums and percussion),that august publication, Prog Magazine went so far as to say:
“…the boldest set of the weekend. Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have always succeeded in creating an ensemble that fully complements their sense of musical grandeur.”
The band decided to release the whole set from RosFest as a Double CD/Single DVD deluxe package and I was lucky enough to receive this. Would it change my perception of live albums or would I still see it as something less than a studio release?
The performance opens with the catchy Nothing, Everything which is the closing track from ‘The Breaking of the World’ and I feel it is a great track to open a live set with as it bounces along with great joie de vivre. Initial thoughts are that these guys are a tight live unit and the recording quality of the release is top notch and you can hear each note from the individual instruments. You are drawn in immediately to the signature Glass Hammer sound with its melodic intricacies and subtle deviations. The vocals are also on top form and some apparent issues with the vocals being too low in the mix at the actual show appear to have been addressed in a satisfactory manner. Carl and Susie are front and centre and work perfectly well bouncing off each other. So a grand opening for the show as far as I’m concerned, let’s see if it holds up…..
Now, if I do have one minor gripe about live recordings then it is definitely the links between the tracks and Carl Groves’ somewhat corny efforts here do grate slightly, not enough to detract from any enjoyment but enough to make me cringe a tad. After Carl has got his intro out of the way, the band move smoothly into a track from ‘Shadowlands’, their seventh, 2004 studio release. So Close, So Far is, in my opinion, one of their classic releases and the current line up more than do it justice with the excellent guitar work of Shikoh and the jazzy drumming of Raulston providing the perfect back drop for Schendel’s superior keyboard work. Harking back to a time when the band had more than a little Tolkien influence going on, the lyrics are so wondrous in places they just make me smile. How Susie keeps a straight face singing the words, “Time spent fighting Dragons, is wasted now, I know…..”, I’ll never know but they give me a childlike glee and the whole song has this brilliant winsome feel in a live setting, it literally bounces along full of the energy of some unseen youth. Timeless in execution, it is near perfect and watching the band performing it on the DVD you just get the feeling that they are really enjoying it. Steve Babb’s ever present, dynamic bass drives the song along and he seems like he is almost overflowing with vigor such is his animation on the stage. Almost hidden behind a huge bank of keyboards, Fred Schendel seems to be giving the performance of his life as you watch a band at the height of their performing powers.
The first CD and first half of the performance closes out with the first two tracks from the latest album. Mythopoeia sees the band nodding their collective heads to the 70’s greats Yes. Too many people compare them unfavourably to that band but they are definitely equals on the strength of this performance. Groves vocal is heartfelt and literally alive and his counterplay with Susie Bogdanowicz gives the track a dramatic edge. Shikoh is giving a lively performance, his guitar full of vitality and the rhythm section are note perfect as the song flies along seemingly with a sentience and enthusiasm all of its own. Take a moment to watch and listen in the quieter moments where the vocalists pump increasing amounts of emotion into their performance, leaving you rapt in attention. Third Floor is a more tentative track, one that plays more on the vocal performance and uses the instruments to provide the balance and the backing to Carl’s edgy verse and Susie’s sentimental chorus. The whole band demand your attention on the stage, they are not merely musicians, they are performers in some engrossing drama that is unfolding before you. Fred’s harpsichord like instrumental section lightens things slightly, aided by some more impressive guitar work from Kamran Alan Shikoh. A free form instrumental section holds court through the centre of the song, technically excellent but still with a soul, the musicians give their all before the voice becomes the focal point once more. I think you can tell I’m really beginning to enjoy this can’t you? My smile breaks out again as a really intricate and yet easily accessible instrumental run takes the song to a profound close, I almost find myself applauding with the crowd.
So to CD 2 or the second part of the performance and another dip into the past and The Knight of the North from 2005’s ‘The Inconsolable Secret’. Carl does himself no favours here as the opening part of the track is an introduction of each member of the band but sung rather than spoken. Call it corny, call it cheesy, I just don’t like it. Thankfully it’s over with pretty quick and we can get onto what is quite a dark and serious track that loses some of the light-hearted feel of the previous songs. The music has a much more contemplative feel and is almost verging on a heavier progressive note. The performance is, once again, near faultless. You seem to lose yourself in the music as it winds its way around your psyche, leaving indelible marks wherever it touches. The keyboards have a definitive 70’s timbre to them and Schendel bounds around behind them like some mad professor at times. Babb is as energized as ever as his bass drives things along. Aaron Raulston sits behind his drum kit like an immovable force as he anchors the whole shebang in place. The twin voices of Groves and Bogdanowicz are in storyteller mode as they take you though the complexities in a precise and contemplative manner. Guiding it all, like a conductor, is Shikoh’s meticulous guitar playing, leading the complicated instrumental runs and firing off precise licks when required. Lost in a labyrinth from which you do not require rescue, this intelligent and fastidious song almost leaves you transfixed with the band’s superb musicianship.
2010’s ‘If’ saw the band turn to a more ‘symphonic-progressive rock’ sound and If the Stars was one of my favourite tracks from the album, the 2015 rendition certainly does the original justice, if not improving on it a little in a live setting. The gentle keyboards and soaring guitar open the track and your mind with their sincerity and honesty. A beautiful live version of the song flowers with the opening vocal lines. The emotive feel of the music hits you deep in your soul, it is when it is delivered like this that you see the lasting appeal of live music like this. You couldn’t feel the grace and beauty of Carl and Susie’s vocals from a studio recording, it literally does awaken in a live setting. The power and empathy of the music is almost tangible and you can see what it means to the band when they are performing it in front of an audience. Sat here watching it is really awe-inspiring and you can begin to see why music can be considered imperative and essential in people’s lives, healing the soul and delivering joy and inspiration. Damn, I’ve got something in my eye again……
Too soon the ninety minutes has come to a close and the first strains of the closing track can be heard. Time Marches On is from the band’s second ever studio album ‘Perelandra’, a concept album inspired by C.S.Lewis, released in 1995. Dynamic and vivacious, the introduction builds the song up in a quite unequivocable manner. Precise and deliberate, the guitar dominates the track with a mesmerising sway. Superb musicians are allowed to show their proficiency on this quite memorable song. There is an 80’s feel in parts to the track, especially the stylish keyboards and funky bass playing, this is Glass Hammer turning it up to 11 with no studio constraints and the ability to just enjoy themselves to the full. Just look at the band’s faces, you can see they are having a hell of a time and this is evident in the joy and delight that comes across in the performance. You just wouldn’t get this freedom in a studio release, this is the heart and soul of the band and the music given vent and freedom of expression, enjoy it while you can!
Putting it simply (don’t laugh) ‘Double Live’ has broken the mould for me. Never a big fan of live albums, this release is a joyous rendition of all that’s good about Glass Hammer. The intricacies, the intrigue and sheer emotion of the band’s music let loose in a live setting and it is damn near flawless. A purchase that I must recommend highly, in my opinion, you won’t regret it!
“I really don’t think in the past. I sit down with many friends at dinner, and they like to talk about the good old days. I’m respectful of the good old days, but I find myself spending very little time reminiscing. I’m really looking forward.” – David Bren.
Through numerous conversations, discussions and mild arguments on social media this last month, I have come to see this as indicative of my view on the music industry and, particularly, the progressive genre.
I wrote a few words about this, agreed, in the heat of the moment and, despite them mellowing somewhat over the last week or two, this was the gist of it:
“My dear friends if we always keep looking over our shoulders at what has gone before then there will be no future for the music. Yes, enjoy the greats of the past but please invest some of your precious time and hard-earned money in some of the smaller artists who are producing the here and the now and, more than that even, the future……”
True, some of these modern artists would not even be writing and performing their music if it wasn’t for the influence of the leviathans of the past and we should respect them for that and for what they are producing now but, we really need to concentrate on the present for this genre (and many others, I would imagine, but I’m concentrating on my favourite!) to flourish and not disappear into the musical ether.
I hope, in some little way, that by concentrating on the independent artists and small labels that I can contribute to widening the general music fan’s consciousness when it comes to the new music that they produce and release.
To that extent I, once again, delve into the musical treasure trove to find some wonderment for your delectation and, this time, it is Syracuse, NY band Unified Past who get ‘Progradared’ (so to speak!).
I have been a long time fan of this excellent group of musicians ever since reviewing their last release ‘Spots’ for Lady Obscure Music Magazine and I was very excited when, earlier this year, guitarist Stephen Speelman first informed me that they had a new album coming out, ‘Shifting the Equlibrium’, in the autumn.
Unified Past is a power progressive rock band from Syracuse, New York. ‘Shifting the Equilibrium’ is the band’s 7th release and their third for MelodicRevolution Records. The CD is a 6 panel digi pack containing a 12 page booklet of lyrics and photos, designed by international fantasy artist Ed Unitsky, who also designed “Spots” in 2013.
The band consists of Stephen Speelman (guitars, keys, vocals), Dave Mickelson (bass) and Victor Tassone (drums and percussion). For this new release they were joined by grammy award winning vocalist Phil Naro, showing that the band is continuing to grow and evolve and that they are a band that prog rock fans should really get to know.
Guitarist Stephen possesses a master’s degree in classical guitar performance, bass player Dave is currently a member of Joey Belladonna’s Chief Big Way and thunderous drummer Victor has appeared on several independent artist releases as well, including Corvus Stone and Andy John Bradford’s Oceans 5.
The album opens with Erasure Principle, a tentative percussion and keys based intro gives way to the thunderous guitar of Stephen Speelman and Victor Tassone’s powerful drumming. This is what you call ‘Power-Prog’ as the heavy riffage continues, surrounded by some rather nice technical elements. When Phil’s voice joins the throng, it gives it a very Rush-like feel, especially with the keyboards driving the song along. Some rather excellent instrumental interludes join together the vocal parts and it is immediately obvious that Naro’s distinctive vocals have added a further dimension to the band’s signature sound. Speelman goes into guitar shredding mode with an excellent solo in the middle of a more laid back interlude, giving a short break, before the flood gates are once again opened and the full force of Unified Past is thrust upon you. Upbeat, effervescent and assured, it opens the album with a purely positive vibe.
A really striking keyboard run, accompanied by another booming riff opens Smile (In the Face of Adversity), Phil repeats the title in a lazy repeated circle and the song seems to tread water before the blue touch paper is lit and off we go on a hectic riff-led journey once more. Excellent little squirreling guitar runs grab your attention and reel you in to join the effusive musical thrill ride. The dense production leading to a wall to wall block of intense sound, staccato, random keyboard parts and sinister guitar breaks give the whole song a moody aura and Phil’s vocal has a slight pleading note to it, appealing to your better side. The catchy chorus is underpinned by the chugging riff that drives the song along at a break-neck pace. The musical breaks haul everything back to a more sedate tempo as the atmosphere takes on an edgy feel. Naro’s intensive vocal delivery will not be to everyone’s taste but I feel that it works perfectly with the solid, forceful musical delivery. An intricate, restless guitar solo adds menace before the song breaks out with the dynamic keyboards and looms ominously above you. Quite a dark hued musical adventure that comes to an enigmatic close, I’ve paid the entrance fee and I am enjoying the ride….
Etched in Stone begins with a nicely subdued acoustic guitar followed by refined keyboards that add a note of distinction to the track. The vocals join in, quite heartfelt and earnest, adding a cultured note. The ‘Power-Prog’ takes a back seat initially but it isn’t long before Tassone’s drumming starts to resonate around the inside of your skull, purposeful and compelling. Speelman’s guitar adds its usual stylish flourishes and you really get to hear the majesty of Dave Mickelson’s fluent bass playing as it lays the foundations for the rest of this enjoyable musical jaunt. Another forceful and energetic riff adds the necessary chops to Phil Naro’s increasingly potent vocal delivery, add all this energizing melodic brilliance to the intricate progressive elements already in the melting pot and you get a wild smorgasbord of harmonious delights. There is no denying the technical artistry of these musicians but it is their ability to write a damn good song that always seems to come to the fore for me, adding the undoubted vocal drama of Phil Naro has really upped their game by quite a large leap.
A highly charged and volatile keyboard and guitar combination launches Peace Remains in This World, a really aggressive and magnetic opening and Phil’s dominant voice carries on the efficacious feel. Touches of Rush and Trevor Rabin era Yes abound to my ears. The lively, electrifying interplay between the keys and guitar that overly some more impressive bass work from Dave Mickelson is a definite highlight as this track takes definitively heavier progressive route. Intricacies and ‘noodly’ bits ramped up to eleven are at the core of the song, a darker and moodier track than those that have gone before. Once again, the superb bass playing anchors the whole sound as the song moves into what is almost a stylish jam session, I get the impression that this would be a killer track live, both for the band and the audience. A really dominant and dense musical experience that leaves its mark on your psyche as it comes to a strident conclusion.
Let’s go on a metaphysical journey, Deviation From a Theme (of Harmonic Origin) sounds very existential and begins with quite a thought provoking, if rather loud, introduction. It is a rather fine instrumental that gets your grey matter working as it careers from place to place with its own destination in mind. An exploration of the deeper parts of humankind’s inner being through music, the smooth segues from intricate and convoluted to smooth and calculated are pin sharp as these musicians deliver their ‘A’ game right on cue. Speelman’s guitar is animated in every sense and punches the song forcefully along with an intense depth of intuition. The polished rhythm section of Tassone and Mickelson seems inspired as they choreograph this great track at ground level. The Rush influences can be heard throughout, like a nod to the greats of the past but they are integrated into Unified Past’s own sound to create something dexterous, eye-opening and quite superb.
The final track on this discerning musical adventure is Today is the Day and sees the band deliver an uplifting close to the album. A euphoric opening dominated by Naro’s vocal leads you gently into the song as the classy music delivers a wonderful hopeful note. Musical sunshine runs across your mind as the track increases in expectancy and emotion. A song full of hope, longing and optimism and all that is inherent in the lyrics that Phil Naro espouses so fervently. This song is more about the spirit and meaning of the lyrics, the musicians seem happy to take a back seat and let the words do the talking, yet they never take their foot of the pedal. The demonstrative bass work and energising fervour of the drums give the verse that added lustre and Speelman’s admirable guitar could almost be singing itself as it comes to life in short virtuoso slots throughout the song. A contemplative, serious instrumental section adds a nice counterpoint to the lighter note of the early part of the track yet it soon sheds that steely eyed demeanor to flare brightly with expectation once more. All good things must come to an end, unfortunately and this auspicious song comes to a triumphant close.
Powerful, energising music that makes you sit up and listen, ‘Shifting the Equlibrium’ is most definitely Unified Past’s most impressive release to date. A group of exemplary musicians whose songwriting has reached a new peak, add in the dynamism of Phil Naro’s voice and you have near-perfect ‘Power-Prog’. Will it appeal to veryone? I doubt it but, those that do appreciate this band’s excellent music have really dropped lucky this time, well done chaps!
Better known recently as the voice behind Steve Hackett’s ‘Genesis Revisited’ live show, Nad has had a varied career as a solo musician and as part of the musical projects Unifaun and Agents Of Mercy. ‘Courting the Widow’ is his first solo effort since 2005 and was quite a revelation to me. It is full of traditional progressive rock pointers yet it is Nad’s voice that carries the album all the way through. A concept album about his stage persona, The Vampyre. Featuring a plethora of guest musicians including Steve Hackett, Nick Beggs, Roine STolt and NickD’Virgilio if you like well written, story driven music (and a touch of Genesis), you’ll love this.
Pink Floyd’s guitar maestro releases his first solo album since ‘On an Island’ and it is a good one. There’s been a lot of discussion about the prominence of the older, established artists recently and how they are perhaps taking the attention from the new and up and coming acts (I put my hand up to being one who is worried by it) but, surely, they can exist together. If these older, nostalgic acts weren’t around, what music would we have listened to in the first place? Nothing new or different but polished and comfortable, like your favourite shoes, I find myself returning to it quite frequently.
Canadian band Hillward started off as Southern Cross’ side project with three of its members, David Lizotte, Jean-François Boudreault and Antoine Guertin. The band became one of its own when Alexandre Lapierre joined as a second guitar player after the recording of the first album ‘Flies In Amber Stones’.
Progressive metal with alternative undertones, its powerful and dynamic sound is really quite addictive as it pulses and resounds with heavy riffs, potent drumming and aggressive vocals.
The eagerly awaited follow up to 2014’s eponymous debut album is a cornucopia of progressive, classical, experimental, ambient, jazz and pop influences that create the band’s unique style. Emotive and full of energy it is the fruit of 2014’s live performances and the way that playing live tightened up the band’s sound and evolved them into a tighter unit.
Perhaps a tad incohesive and self-indulgent in places, it is still, nevertheless, a great Prog-Rock release.
Australia’s Caligula’s Horse release their third album of raw, honest, and yet skillful, progressive, alternative rock. Vibrant and dynamic, the band are like a force of nature and their music is not for the faint hearted whilst being energetic, grand and forthright.
This is their most vivid, vibrant and emotional work to date and should see them break through and become one of the leading lights of the genre, full of colour and life.
Following my review of the band’s ‘Travelog’ album last week, I have the pleasure of introducing their first release from 2009. ‘Powered by Light’ follows in the tradition of the progressive rock giants of the 1970s, heavy with symphonic keyboards and virtuoso guitar work, Kinetic Element takes the listener on a lightspeed journey of the heart, full of great evocative passages.
“Sometimes in the great soundtrack of our lives there are no words, there are only emotions; I believe this is why God gave us classical music.”
I’d like to say that I came up with that quote myself but I would be telling a lie, it is an anonymous saying that, I believe, sums up classical music perfectly. I don’t have endless shelves full of classical recordings (in fact, I only have a handful of releases) but the fact that this music can hold people in rapt attention, sometimes hundreds of years after its composition, is testament to its enduring popularity.
Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by brass instruments and brass bands, ‘Trumpet Voluntary’ one of the first pieces I can actually remember hearing and it still raises the hairs on the nape of my neck today. Brass Bands were central to Yorkshire mining communities (and still are to this day) and I grew up with Colliery bands thanks to my Great Uncle who lived in Sheffield.
Listening to the amazing last few albums by Big Big Train, I was struck by the brilliant brass playing on tracks such as ‘Victorian Brickwork’ and ‘East Coast racer’ and it led me to investigate further into who the brass players were.
Dave Desmond led the Band of The Coldstream Guards who appeared on ‘The Underfall Yard’ and helped to make it such a memorable piece of music. One of the other musicians who played on the album, and the at the subsequent live gigs at Kings Place in London, was John Storey, celebrated euphonium player and well known in his own right.
John, previously the principle euphonium player with the Band of the Coldstream Guards, is now the euphonium and trombone player with The Band of the Royal Logistic Corps. After becoming a member of his first band at the age of 8, he joined The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain at 16.
John studied music at the University of Huddersfield and joined the James Shepherd Versatile Brass. After graduating in 1997, John joined The Band of the Coldstream Guards as principle euphonium and was privileged to play at many state occasions such as Trooping the Colour and the Festival of Remebrance. John has featured as soloist with the band in the UK, overseas and on a number of the band’s recordings.
In addition to his career with the Army, he has been very much in demand in the brass band world for many years performing with , amongst others, the Beaumaris Band.
in 2012 John Storey released an album with the simple title of Euphonium and it is that record that I have the pleasure of reviewing here….
Opening track O Waly Waly is John’s instrumental take on the Scottish folk song which harks back to the 1600’s, better known as ‘The Water is Wide’, it is the first track to feature the Seindorf Beaumaris Band. Gentle and uplifting, John’s euphonium is the definite centre of attention here taking the lead and guiding you through the story. With a real pastoral feel, it has touches of that famous soundtrack to a Hovis advert (ee, when I were a lad!) and has a wonderfully calming persona that just leaves you adrift in your own calm oasis. The beautiful playing just brings a lump to your throat as the backing musicians join in unison as it rises triumphantly before coming back down to the land where it belongs. The next track is The Flower Song from Carmen, the delicacy being added by the tender piano playing of Annette Parri. John’s playing is restrained and cultivated giving this well known and exquisite song a different perspective, as euphonium and piano combine to deliver a quite magical scene. Sat in a sunlit room with my head clear of everything but the music, it is quite a liberating and transfixing experience.
Joining John on Mozart’sConcerto for Euphonium and Woodwind Octet is The Inner-City Woodwind Ensemble, this jaunty classical masterpiece is played excellently by these musicians. A quite delicate piece of music is handled gracefully and with gravitas and you could just close your eyes and imagine you were transported to a stunning baroque music hall to hear it in the setting it deserves. An agile and refined aura surrounds the tune as it flows perfectly through and around your mind, at the same time enriching and inspiring your soul. The Beaumaris Band join John again on Variations on Rule Britannia, full of as much pomp and circumstance as any one person could ever need, it runs the rule over some different perspectives of the famous tune. Running in at over eight minutes I did wonder if it maybe a tad too long but you just seem to get lost in the complexity and delight of some utterly expressive musicianship. When the instantly recognisable notes ring out it is a metaphorical salute to our mother nation and the pride that comes with it. Utterly over the top in its ceremonial elegance but utterly fascinating and enjoyable too.
The next track is from the famous English composer of works for brass bands, JohnGolland, Peace features the ethereal Harp playing of Dylan Cenyw and is a sublimely emotive piece of music. Seemingly simple in its delivery, there is a subtle depth of artistry and passion running throughout. John plays his instrument with a gentle touch, matching the finesse of the harp and just leaving you struck dumb with admiration, as fine a piece of music as you will hear anywhere. The three movements of Rolf Wilhelm’s Concertino for Euphonium sees Annette’s piano return. Another wonderful melodic journey through your mind and soul, restful and relaxed, it leaves you with no cares in the world as they lightly skip through Allegro ma non troppo, a humble and unpretentious musical journey through a sun drenched, sepia tinged forest glade. Andante ma non troppo feels more melancholy and dispirited, the ability of the musicians to convey feelings is perfectly realised here, John’s wistful playing matches the slightly trite piano perfectly and leads your emotions along the same path, contemplative and with a sense of longing. That plaintive feeling lifts with the jaunty opening notes of Moderato con animo, the dancing piano and animated euphonium feel like they are talking to each other in a spirited conversation, captivating and absorbing. John plays his heart out here, every note is like a precise synaptic shock in your brain and across the three parts of this spellbinding piece of music.
John really gets to stand tall and shout from the rooftops on title track Euphoria, a celebrated work by Rodney Newton. Using the Big Big Train analogyit really has sense of animation to it, like a steam train on an express journey, full of the essence of life as it charges on like an engine with its own soul. With no other instrument to provide accompaniment or hide behind, it is here where the absolute skill and expertise of John Storey comes to the fore and he doesn’t hide behind anyone’s bushel, this guy has an abundance of talent. Now to perhaps the most accomplished and, in my mind, the most interesting track on this release, Concertino for euphonium and string quartet sees The Cassian Ensemble add their distinguished playing to Steven Rockey’s work. Ten minutes of magnificent interplay between John’s euphonium and some meticulously refined strings left me feeling wholly inadequate in the skill set that I have amounted through my life. An elaborate orchestral journey that takes you by the hand and takes you right into the core of it. The music is that intense that you cannot try to do anything else while you listen to it, to get every nuance and subtle gradation you need to stop, sit down and immerse yourself entirely in it, only then does it all come together and make complete sense. As you come to the end of the journey and open your eyes, the world seems to make a lot more sense.
The final track, ‘Neath Dublin Skies has John and the Beaumaris Band take you on a musical trip that has all the elements of a night in Dublin. A haunting air opens the piece and it moves into a fast paced jig where John delivers an intricate, foot tapping Irish reel. That low key opening returns, sombre, tender and hushed, you find your breathing becomes slow and shallow as a poignant horn takes up the reverie, sentimental, touching and nostalgic, yearning for yesteryear. A sustained repeat of the lively, energetic jig increases in tempo, getting faster and faster before all comes to a close with a spirited flourish.
I came upon this album by way of a quite obtuse route, I listen to the odd classical release but it is not really my forte. I absolutely love the brass playing on the Big Big Train albums and that led me to want to hear John Storey’s release. Well, am I glad I did, it is a fine piece of music that I keep returning to every now and again, like an old friend whose company you instantly know you will always enjoy. Should you take a leap of faith and listen to something you wouldn’t normally consider? In one word, yes!
Does humour have a place in music? I don’t mean wry, observational humour but slapstick silliness and side splitting fun. Sarcasm and self-deprecation abound around The Bob Lazar Story. I haven’t heard anything as ‘out-there’ as this musical project since I listened to Cheeto’s Magazine’s bonkers and brilliant ‘Boiling Foils’.
Let’s face, who doesn’t need a bit of light-hearted fun and japery in their everyday lives, it can make the doldrums palatable and keep you smiling from ear to ear. Yes, I love my serious, well intended and deeply meaningful music as much as the next man but I love a bit of playfulness and flippancy too.
To give you some idea about the wisecracking lunacy of this project, here is an excerpt from the website biography:
“The Bob Lazar Story is the musical brainchild of Matt Deacon. Matt was born and raised in Liverpool, UK. Matt happened across an acoustic guitar in 1982 and played the shit out of it until he became perfectly mediocre. A few years later he had to decide between two possible futures :
1. A life of potential musical obscurity. 2. Becoming a top, top football legend.
Luckily for you, he opted for number 1.”
Matt moved to New Zealand in 1998 and taught guitar for a few years before getting a ‘real’ job. As technology advanced and became more affordable, the musician in Matt get sneaking out, culminating in his first, eponymous, release in 2004.
Matt changed his musical moniker to The Bob Lazar Story (that’s a question for another day)and the rest, as they say, is history. 2006 saw the first proper album entitled ‘(sic)’ followed by an E.P. ‘The Silence of Perez de Cuellar’.
A mad four year journey followed (which included a crazy year driving taxis back in Liverpool) and this culminated in Matt’s first collaborative effort with his erstwhile rhythmical genius, Chris Jago. 2014 saw the release of ‘Ghost Of Foodstool’, a fifteen minute epic that spawned popular hits such as ‘Threadkiller’ and ‘Funniest Cat Video Ever II’.
It was also the first release where Chris played on all tracks, leading to a more cohesive sound across all songs. Jump to mid 2015 and we see the recent release of Self-Loathing Joe, a twenty minute ride into the heart of The Bob Lazar Story.
Harmonics is 16 seconds of setting the scene, a gentle meander through a field of acoustics which then blazes straight into the angst driven madness of Don Branch Venom, a vicious guitar riff playing off with some whimsical keyboards that dance around like some maniacal jester. Like a 21st century tongue in mouth homage to Van Der Graaf Generator and King Crimson it has technical prowess and follows no set route, abstract and perplexing. The increasing fervor of the staccato riffs and keyboard melodies gives the music an incessant nagging nature that never lets you settle as it comes to a short, sharp close.
A terse drumbeat opens No Wait, Yes Chips before it wanders off, in a slightly surreal seventies American sit-com fashion, well, one that may have been directed by David Lynch that is. It’s like the X-Files met Saturday Night Live and had a musical baby that grew up on a diet of sugary sweets and late night TV. Slightly psychotic but thoroughly enjoyable and definitely a few sandwiches short of a picnic, it runs off into the dark, maniacally shouting and grinning. The segue into Title track Self-Loathing Joe is seamless and this trackadds a real jazzy edge to the lunacy that abounds all around you, the mellow keyboards and chilled guitar playing leave you slap bang in the middle of a wide open imagined space, a desert where the only sustenance is the uber-sharp music and highly charged crazed atmosphere.
Unhinged and unsettled are two words I could use to describe this album and that doesn’t change with Foodstool Exacts Revenge Upon Gilchrist the Traitor (the title is mad enough on its own!). Another schizophrenic, flippant trip into the depths of someone’s musical depravity on a superbly kitsch 70’s influenced keyboard and guitar melody and a rhythm section that is more chilled than the whole of L.A. The longest track on the album and by some margin, the most serious in nature (although that doesn’t say much when you’re talking about these guys) Ezekiel II begins with a mysterious and methodical beat, those familiar with the 80’s arcade game Spy Hunter will know exactly where I’m coming from. Like a sound track from a Tarantino film, it is edgy and dangerous yet stylishly so with a veneer of cool that only someone like Sinatra could exude. Again there is a strong 70’s vibe to the whole thing as it marches on relentless. A rather disturbing u-turn then follows, one which is actually quite creepy, as some rather pained voices shout out as if trapped in Dante’s musical inferno. Some crazed hushed whispering follows which is almost as creepy as a scene from 1970’s Dr. Who (the ‘hide behind the sofa’ kind) and the hairs are definitely raised. It is enjoyably unnerving though and then the music becomes the star of the show with a sustained organ like vibrato with a repeated note underlying until the guitar takes over in quite a sombre, mournful fashion. Quite possibly the most ‘normal’ and meaningful part of the whole record, it really does hit home and leave you in some sort of dark reverie, although hope and sanity are never too far away. Scinomrah is what they call the final 15 seconds and it closes out this most interesting E.P. in much the same way as the first track opened it.
Utterly captivating and totally bonkers, we should all have a listen to ‘Self-loathing Joe’ whenever we get above ourselves and our self-importance gets too big for its own boots. It will bring you back down to earth with an abrupt and exceedingly entertaining bump. Don’t take life too seriously, just enjoy it, I can tell that Matt, Chris and the rest of The Bob Lazar Story live life for today, their music proves it!
I wonder where you stand on soundtracks, you know, the incidental music written specifically for movies and TV shows? Can it really stand separate from the film or TV show it was intended to accompany? And what about music that is not intentionally written for film or TV, music with a cinematic scope that feels like it could be used as a soundtrack?
I love cinematic, atmospheric music but some soundtracks really are just dull and boring if taken away from their natural habitat. What seemed a good idea at the time may look extremely different in the light of day and in retrospect. However, there are some superb albums that invoke thoughts and images as if they were taken from the silver screen.
These albums really tend to be full of thoughtful and intelligent music, tracks that are good for the mind as well as the soul. A few that come to mind are ‘Ra’ by Tony Patterson, ‘Atlantean Symphony’ by Dreamfire, ‘Fragile’ by Acke Hallgren and ‘The Dream Of The Whale’ by Enrico Pinna, releases that take the listener to another place or time and envelop you int heir narrative.
Another band that have been slightly under my radar is Karda Estra, noted for their spacey, sci-fi soundtrack nature and ability to deliver expansive concepts and theories. The band (the brainchild of Richard Wileman) have released eleven full length albums up to press and 2015 sees them release an E.P. ‘The Seas And The Stars’.
The band’s own description of the new release:
‘The Seas And The Stars’ chronicles the collision between the Andromeda galaxy and our own Milky Way, the eventual end of everything, a celestial intervention and a return to where everything began – viewed from an impossible, empty shoreline.
Sounds very deep and meaningful doesn’t it? Well, let’s have a listen and find out.
The first thing to note is that the E.P. has a running length of just twenty minutes, short and sweet? let’s see……
Tidal is a short opening track, a very enigmatic, mysterious and even creepy instrumental that succeeds in getting under your skin and grating on your psyche in a deliciously dark manner, it certainly left my skin crawling in a not entirely unpleasant way.
The suspense and cinematic atmosphere continues with Andromeda Approaches! Once again there is a slightly uneasy feeling to the music, this time, however, the introduction of some otherworldly, ethereal feminine vocals adds a flimsy coating of humanity to the otherwise alien feeling that the music generates. This really could be a soundtrack straight from an Art House picture or a seventies deeply convoluted sci-fi film, it really does grab you and reel you in, leaving you powerless to refuse and mildly bemused afterwards.
The intro to Lighthouse sheds some of the enigma and abstruseness of the previous tracks yet is still very cinematic in nature, but not for long. As it continues it loses the modicum of playfulness that was present to become increasingly enigmatic, like some sort of Victorian tale playing out in front of you. I can’t get The Woman In Black out of my mind, the music would suit that Gothic horror tale down to tee. Sepia tinged characters flit across your mind, leaving an indelible image burned into your mind. The sinister feel lifts in places, as if a dark shroud has been removed from your thoughts yet darkness is maybe only hidden round the corner.
Onto another short track, The Big Freeze is as foreboding as they come. Claustrophobic to a distraction, it holds you in its shadowy grasp and seems to invade your very being with an alien artistry. Clashing sounds bounce across your mind, leaving a mark wherever they land. This track is really quite intimidating in a strangely likeable way and you lament its passing while simultaneously giving thanks.
A really intricate, deep, dark song full of apprehension and portent, The Sleepers of Gliese is full of a cold and calculating intelligence that feels not of this world. The ‘chamber music’ style of delivery that the band use gives them lots of scope to express their music in many different ways and the sinuous nature of the woodwind instruments give this song a definite out of this world aura. The exquisite, filmy female vocals add a gossamer thin veneer of benevolence to the track but there is no getting away from the brooding heart of the music. I wouldn’t listen to this in a darkened room, it leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing up as the darkness in the shadows waits to unveil itself.
Twenty minutes flashes past in an instant as the final track Return To The Singularity opens with its feeling of portent and foreboding. Just over one minute of music that feels like it weighs more than the whole universe bearing down on you before coming to a truncated close.
Wow, do I need to feel the sun on my face after that. Twenty minutes of the most intense,darkly enticing music that you will ever have the pleasure to listen to. Not for the faint hearted but an allegorical musical journey that, if you enjoy cinematic, atmospheric releases with a cryptic and esoteric edge, will leave you feeling satiated.
Why do you listen to music? Think about it for a while, what are the main reasons you insert that CD and press play, or lower the needle onto the vinyl? (we’re going a bit more tactile than mp3 for this anology). There have to be a myriad reasons why different people will await a gentle introduction, a powerful, rip-roaring solo or the dulcet tones of their favourite vocalists.
Be it the angst, protest driven edginess of punk, the in-your-face violence of heavy metal or the gentle, ethereal grace of some progressive and folk tinged music, we all have our reasons. I find that fast driven, heavy rock and blues works brilliantly at the gym or if I’m in that nothing can stop me mood and the more relaxing music suits my more sombre moments.
Sometimes, though, I just like to listen to some music that has heart and soul and a lightness of being, a feel-good factor that brings light into your life and makes your day just go past a little bit easier, leaving a smile on your face and a glowing rightness in your soul. The music that tends to do that for me, more than any other, is what we may term ‘traditional progressive rock’.
Now the ‘P’ word is almost becoming persona-non-grata in certain musical circles and talking about it, or dropping an artist into that genre, can be detrimental to both your and their health, stupid as that may sound. The music that was inspired and influenced by the behemoths of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson et al is still going strong today and still matters to me in a big way.
I have been listening to an album recently that brings back waves of nostalgia about that style of music and which just washes over you with good feeling. Kinetic Element’s ‘Travelog’ album has been listened to regularly over the last couple of months and I felt it was about time I put my two-penneth in…..
Kinetic Element is a neo/symphonic progressive rock band from Richmond, Virginia that harbors musical roots in classic artists like Emerson, Lake & Palmer,Yes, Asia and Genesis and blends those influences with philosophical and spiritually powerful and uplifting lyrics.
Kinetic Element was formed to perform the music of Mike Visaggio’s solo CD, ‘Starship Universe’ which was released in 2006. The band is comprised of Mike (keyboards); Michael Murray (drums), Todd Russell (electric and acoustic guitar) and Mark Tupko (basses).
Unable to find a suitable vocalist in their hometown, Mike reached out to their musical friends Odin’s Court whose lead vocalist Dimetrius LaFavors agreed to perform the vocals for ‘Travelog’ while remaining with Odin’sCourt. However Dimetrius could only appear on three tracks due to Odin’s Court’s changing schedule. Riding in to KE’s rescue came Michelle Schrotz of prog icons Brave, and stellar CProg artist Mike Florio, to record the remaining two tracks.
Fred Schendel and Steve Babb of prog legends Glass Hammer became involved in the mixing of the album. The resulting collaboration produced the terrific sound you hear on ‘Travelog’. They also did the mastering at their studio Sound Resources in Chattanooga.
So, onto the music and the album opener War Song begins with an African drum style beat with Yes overtones and the delightful use of an atypical Keith Emerson type Hammond organgiving the song an immediate nostalgic note. The gradual intensifying instrumental introduction is quite complex and intricate and grabs your attention as it flows along stylistically, the ululating guitar note that scurries across your psyche is focused and intense. Just sit back, relax and enjoy as the initial stages of this 20 minute plus progressive epic dance across your mind like a musically inspired storyline. The keyboards, bass and drums providing the foundation for the impressive guitar work before the next chapter begins. Here the expressive vocals take up the story, dynamic and yet passionate and eloquent. Taking the influences that they hold dear and blending them into a distinctive style of their own, Kinetic Element give you an engaging musical cornucopia that, whilst occasionally glancing back over its shoulder, marches majestically onward to the future. A multitude of sophisticated rhythms and melodies surround you as this baroque song continues to surprise and delight, the vocals blending perfectly and adding a final sheen of finesse.
They don’t do short songs these guys, title track Travelog is the briefest and comes in just shy of ten minutes, that could be a stumbling bock if there was anything to dislike but all is looking good so far. A brilliantly pared back and minimalist acoustic guitar opens the song, it needs no back up as it tantalises and enchants, dancing across your mind and soul with beauty and grace. As the track opens up and the vocals begin, it doesn’t lose any of that ethereal quality and continues to leave you feeling relaxed and serene as if you are tip-toeing through a Utopian world of wonder. The fragile, frangible keyboards add an almost alien note, as if you have stumbled onto a vista of fantastical delights. There is an increase in tempo as the track comes to a triumphant close and you are left feeling quite fulfilled, calm and well, just right.
Into The Lair has a nicely judged bass driven opening with powerful keys and enigmatic drumming, a more serious note than what has gone before, dominant and influential, gripping and thoughtful but it soon opens up into a delightfully impish song, led by the superb, stylish vocals of Michelle Schrotz. It should come as no surprise, considering who mixed the album, but the Glass Hammer influence is greatest on this polished track. The smooth guitar note and elaborate keyboard notes lead into an involved and inventive instrumental section, playful in mood and execution. A return to the dominant introduction follows, like a counter to the lightness of the main section, I love the guitar on this part, Todd’s playing is precise and yet has a free-flowing life of its own. Michelle’s sweet-sounding voice returns to close out the song and leave you nodding appreciatively one more time.
A rather delightful piano introduction is the opening to Her and it keeps you entranced as the ivories are quite impressively tinkled, ebbing and flowing and chock full of earnest emotion. Like jewelled trinkets of sound they dance across your aural receptors leaving you suitably transfixed. The layers are stylishly increased as the drums join in, suitably classy and a warbling guitar adds substance. The track begins to take on a jazzy edge to it, staccato and edgy, the vocals join, with a note of pleading and desire. I even get a real feel of Christopher Cross in the song, not quite easy listening or chart music but with a real easy going nature. Like I have said before, it is feel good music that has subtle touches of classic progressive music, the guitar that runs through the middle section, backing the earnest vocal could have come from any 70’s Yes album. A compact, piercing solo fires straight at you and the guitar continues to worm its way around your mind, aided and abetted by the swirling keyboards and smooth rhythm section, the bass playing is particularly impressive. The cultured jazz feel to the song is its key though and we are treated to another great combination of influences as it comes to a high-class close.
Vision Of A New Dawn is perhaps the most thoughtful and contemplative track on the album and begins with another blistering, heavily jazz influenced opening. Driving piano and drums take on the first notes and then the bass joins in before some fuzzy, intricate guitar playing takes you off an an unknown journey into the more convoluted and mysterious side of the band. We turn first towards an instrumental section of free form progressive tinged jazz fusion, a thrill ride with many twists and turns, like a psychedelic explosion in your mind. A piquant piano note, nervous and tremulous at first, then leads you onto the next part, the vocals begin, heartfelt and poignant, as the wall of sound begins to build, guitars, drums and that elusive piano raising it higher and higher. Emotional and raw, the feeling is of renewal and rebirth, those that have once fallen will rise again. It is a gripping and musically intense story that is being written in front of you, this heart is open and it bleeds sentiment and fervor. A momentary pause, a slowing of time, the mountain has been surmounted, time for reflection perhaps. Take a seat and take stock of what is laid before you as the keyboards lead you on with a jaunty melody, uplifting yet with a note of reserve. There is almost a triumphal tone as we move into the next phase of this fascinating song, the keyboards leading the march before the captivating guitar takes lead duties again. A sombre moment, as if the light is fading and things are to become crucial and weighty, the piano leads the procession, solemn and sedate. The vocal joins, almost a lament, a pause, and then a gently strummed acoustic guitar begins, followed by forceful whistling and the final throws begin. An overture of voice, guitar, keys and piano takes this momentous track to a close, the silence that follows says more than words……
I am going to say it, this is an excellent ‘progressive rock’ album, no band should be scared of using that term and Kinetic Element wear it proudly in the middle of their collective chests and are rightly proud to do so. It’s obvious who their influences are and they take them and mould them into something that, whilst it is instantly recognisable, has a character and soul all of its own. It feels like a labour of love and the skill, energy, blood, sweat and tears that have been invested in this production can be felt by all who hear it.
Working for a living means it has been a while since the last Wallet Emptier so the ‘weekly’ moniker has had to go for this edition.
Twice Bitten – Late Cut
‘Late Cut’ is the CD album celebrating the 30th anniversary of legendary ‘heavy wood’ duo Twice Bitten’s ‘No Third Man’ album. Using only stringed instruments with no percussion or keyboards there is a simple, sparse beauty to the songs on the album. Pared back to its constituent parts, it has a stark and honest feel to it. Sepia tinged nostalgia abounds on these lovingly remastered songs. The addition of two new tracks is a huge bonus. Get ordering and , if your one of the lucky first 100 to do so, you get a bonus CD of sublime, mainly instrumental, music, ‘Kent Hill’.
Releases 2nd October 2015
Stand out tracks – the legendary ‘Crocus Point’ and ‘Ocean’.
The first album from the Syracuse,NY based progressive rock band Unified Past to feature new vocalist Phil Naro is undoubtedly their best yet. Powerful, melodic and intricate songs that have a whole new edge due to Phil’s excellent vocals. Founder and guitarist Stephen Speelman says it is a new chapter in the band’s evolution. A real rocker that will shake any cobwebs out of your hair.
As the title would suggest, this is the fourth part of an album series begun in 2004. I am not acquainted with the previous three instalments which may account for why this album took a while to resonate with me but, once you ‘get it’, it is a thing of musical delights and wonder. Brilliant songwriting and superb musicianship combine to deliver a totally immersive and overwhelming musical experience. Just one question for Casey, Track 11, why?, just….why?
I am new to this band and have maybe done this the wrong way round, their third release being the first I have listened to. What can I say, this mainly instrumental piece is mad as many boxes of amphibians, flawed in places but entirely and eccentrically wonderful. This unique band follow no path already trodden and may not appeal to everyone but the brilliant musicianship leads them up many blind alleys that they then extricate themselves magically from. Mad, bad and brilliantly dangerous….
With the great songwriting skills and the length of some of the tracks, these heavy metal behemoths definitely have one foot in the progressive arena and their latest release is their best of recent years. With powerful rockers, epic riffs and Bruce’s vocals gaining a gruff depth that adds a patina of aged brilliance, ‘The Book of Souls’ is a rip roaring yarn from start to finish and includes some rather intricate and intelligent songs that any fan of the genre would love. Some might say they never lost form but, to me, this is a triumphant return!
WARNING – LANGUAGE THAT MAY OFFEND (well, you have to put that don’t you….?)
“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.” – Dave Grohl
I was going to start this review by talking about guilty pleasures until I saw the above quote from everyone’s favourite hard rocker Dave Grohl and it did get me thinking and thinking enough to completely change the tac of this review….
Mr Grohl really has a point, maybe we stick too rigidly to our favourite genres and don’t look outside our safety cordon music wise? And, when we dare venture outside and find that there is something different that we really like, why should we feel guilty about it?
It is an old and oft spouted saying but it still rings entirely true, good music really is, just, good music, no matter what style it is and which artist performs it. We tend to make this differentiation a lot more when it comes to music than with anything else such as films, TV or the literary arts where we will dip in and out of many different genres without a care or a by your leave.
How many times have you seen somebody laughed at and dismissed out of hand for listening to a record that doesn’t fit into the cognoscenti or aficionado’s realm or current favourites list? It is just wrong and we should open our minds to other music that we may well actually really enjoy if we just lose the stigma.
Now, after getting off my soapbox (while admitting I can be as guilty as anyone else) let’s talk about what started this dissertation on opening up our closeted musical imagination……..
Lebanese maestro Amadeus Awad is a progressive metal guitarist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and music producer with an already impressive back catalogue behind him. August 2015 saw him release his latest and most complete album yet, a 47 minute, 6 track concept album called ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’.
Amadeus is always stretching the boundaries with his music and lyrics, and it’s no different with his new album. According to Amadeus:
“This album is the result of my personal experience with death, both the tragic loss of loved ones (Father, Brother and a Best Friend) as well as my own attempt of committing suicide, which I contemplated more than once at a certain stage in my life.”
To this end he has drawn together a stellar list of musicians, as well as Amadeus himself (Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars, Keyboards and Orchestration) this all star lineup includes vocalists Anneke Van Giersbergen, Arjen Lucassen, Elia Monsef, drummers Jimmy Keeganand Marco Minnemann, Nareg Nashanikian (cello), Rafi Nashanikian (clarinet) and the narration is splendidly realised by the impressive voice of Dan Harper.
The album opener Opia has feeling of lightness and an ethereal quality, the first word spoken is ‘Light’ and it is a song that gives hope. The keyboards are uplifting and fill your inner being with a luminosity only matched by the fluid, burnished guitar work. I can see why Dan Harper was used for the part of the narrator, his voice has a calming authority to it and a mellifluous timbre that dances across your psyche. Anneke Van Giersbergen’s delightfully lilting, heavenly voice takes the song to a close with a rarefied grace that is achingly beautiful.
There is no break as we shift up a gear and power into Sleep Paralysis with a dynamic keyboard and pulsating guitar taking up the reins on the powerful introduction. A progressive metal melting pot of great ideas that bounce of the metaphorical walls to give a primordial soup of musical delights. It takes on a more subdued, yet insistent feel before Anneke’s voice chimes in, this time much more dominant and authoritative, yet no less stunning. The melodies are the focus here, the chorus is especially compelling, backed by the superb musicianship, a symbiosis of near-perfect melodic enchantment. The way the track starts to wind down, becoming more subdued, as it reaches the close is expert and inventive, as the acoustic guitar finishes its last note you are left in a place of comparative calm.
The dulcet tones of the narrator return on Monday Morning, this time with a definite edge, a dissonance to them, as if all is not as it should be. There are subliminal questions being asked here and the answers are not all to your liking. The electronic notes that follow seem to be pulling you forward, in anticipation of something coming that could be either good or evil, depending on how you react to it. Potent and influential, you find yourself holding your breath as it seems to come ominously closer. The pace is steady and regular, like the outcome is inevitable so there is no need to rush. There is a deliciously dark rhythm to this song that I find rather disturbing yet can’t help enjoying it….
The dark journey into hopelessness seems to reach its zenith with Tomorrow Lies. A brooding, haunting tone is added to by the portentous drumming of Jimmy Keegan and it is with a seemingly heavy heart that you continue to listen to the rest of the bleakly appealing song. Elia Monsef’s definitively middle eastern intonation adds a serious gravitas to proceedings, he sings as if his heart is breaking with every word. There is a huge depth of humanity central to this track, a seriousness that leaves you in no illusion as to the outcome of this painful situation. The instrumentation is dazzlingly precise if somewhat subdued and is a testament to the songwriting skill of Amadeus, he can impose his musical brilliance yet take none of the pathos away. The soaring strings add a sheen of humility and respectfulness and the guitar solo leaves you open mouthed and grief-stricken as it winds around your mind. With a definite notion that a song should close just as well as it opens, the ending is once again quite superb as the beguiling strings and guitar bring it all to a close with a final feeling of hopefulness that belies the rest of the track.
Now onto the longest, and my favourite, track on the album. A sombre Cello opens Lonesome Clown adding a meditative and fretful note to the song. Portentous and mysterious with Anneke’s humming and a slightly off-kilter feel, it really does seem to take you out of any comfort zone you thought you were in and leave your senses reeling, open and raw. The vocal begins, earthy and direct, almost as if a spell is being cast. There is a sinister undertone to all that is happening here and you really feel as if you have been caught of guard and dumped in a musical version of Dante’sInferno. An all knowing presence seems to be at your side edging you on as the song builds, becoming more and more oppressive and yet addictive at the same time. Wickedly controlling it shows the slightly malevolent genius that resides in the mind of Amadeus Awad and is perhaps more progressive and definitely more metal than the other songs on the album. There is an odd, siren like build up that seems to break over a wash of mellifluous keyboards before the sinuous, vividly disturbing guitar solo takes you on a dark journey through your own soul. The outspoken and expressive vocal and acoustic section that follows seems to stand on its own adding another level of finesse before exploding outwards in a shower of inspiration. The song closes with Dan’s expressive voice-over, you take a breath and inwardly applaud, shaking your head in amazement, it is that good.
The final track on the album begins with a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, strings and expressive drums. Temporary sees Arjen Lucassen take vocal duties and his eloquent voice is perfectly matched to the instrumentation. Melancholy yet inspirational at the same time, it reminds me of American prog rockers Spock’s Beard and is a really involving, catchy song that seems to want to comfort you with its warmth and integrity yet there is always a sad note in the background. A soulful clarinet takes centre stage before the rest of the instruments join, adding layers of intense musical flavour and Arjen’s voice is always present adding a focal point on which you can hold on to. Marco Minneman takes on the drum duties with aplomb adding a wistful mood to the already mournful ambience imbued. Things are building up to something here and when Amadeus lets rip with an incredible, soul searching guitar solo, you are left flabbergasted. Is that moisture in your eyes? it was in mine as it totally blew me away, utterly magnificent. The song, and album, finally come to a close with a final narrated section, this time by Arjen himself, and you are left to reflect on what has just transpired before you.
Short by modern standards at 47 minutes, you feel like you can listen to this gem for hours and never get bored. Deliciously dark, it is music that takes you to the depths of your inner being and back again, there has been nothing quite like it in this year of musical zeniths. Amadeus Awad and his group of distinguished musicians have delivered not only a superb piece of music but, what to me is, a part of themselves that will live on forever as fantastic art. A triumph in every sense of the word. A guilty pleasure? No, just an intense one!
Released 20th August 2015 via Melodic Revolution Records