Review – Messenger – Threnodies – by Shawn Dudley

Press_cover

What a difference 20 years makes. In the far distant past of the 1990s, “Prog” was still a dirty word; reviled, ridiculed and lampooned by the critical establishment and cynical music fans alike. You could count the number of bands playing the music on two hands and you’d still have fingers to spare.

Fast forward to 2016 and it’s the mirror image; Prog is seemingly everywhere.  The critics have thawed, the stigma has mostly dissipated, new generations are discovering it and the old guard fans have climbed out of the caves and fallout shelters they’ve been hiding in to proudly proclaim; “Told you so!” Hell, it’s almost respectable!

This has inspired a dizzying number of new bands and a blizzard of new Prog releases each month. There are so many that sometimes I fear I’m going to be buried under an avalanche of mellotrons, organs and shifting time signatures. Yet thankfully, despite the overabundance of choices there are still albums that really leap out from the multitude, grab me by the shoulders and demand I pay attention. ‘Threnodies’, the second full-length release from London-based quintet Messenger is one such album.

Their prior album ‘Illusory Blues was a dream-like affair, an intoxicating blend of folk rock intimacy and Pink Floyd-ish soundscapes. Primarily acoustic and beautifully restrained, it conjured up images of the flower-power past while still sounding firmly relevant to the 21st century.  The album did occasionally hint at a more powerful beast lurking beneath the surface. There were moments in songs like Midnight and The Return that briefly notched up the intensity, a teaser for possible future sonic explorations that ‘Threnodies’ gloriously fulfills.

Press_logo_01

Opening track Calyx demonstrates this newfound muscularity in an amusingly surreptitious way. Beginning in a stylistically similar fashion to their prior release, it’s a floating, ethereal arrangement with only the extroverted drumming of Jaime Gomez Arellano indicating what is to come. A little past the halfway point the song quietly fades out and then a pulsating synth riff fades in to introduce the explosive conclusion. And what a joyous sound it is! A swirling vortex of powerful drumming, acoustic piano, thunderous bass and a wall of warmly distorted guitar, it’s a thrilling introduction, a preface to even more visceral delights to come.

The appropriately titled Oracles of War was the “hallelujah moment” for me. A song that begins with a riff that had me instantly reaching for the volume control to add a few more decibels of heft. It’s a doom riff that would make Tony Iommi proud. Then the swirling organ comes in and we’re transported back to the wonderful sonic time where giants like Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple roamed the land, laying waste to eardrums with gleeful abandon. This track puts a big goofy grin on my face that just won’t go away. Please don’t call it “Prog Metal”, that would be a disservice. Progressive rock and heavy metal were born together, siblings with more in common than not, cruelly separated by record labels into more easily marketable factions. Oracles of War reunites them in spirit and it’s a most happy reunion. At the halfway point the intensity drops and a calm enters, I hear a definite influence from the LA folk-rock scene in this section, hints of CSN&Y and Buffalo Springfield. It made me ponder an alternate universe where Ken Hensley and Tony Iommi went to Stephen Stills’ house in Laurel Canyon for a jam session.

It’s a testament to how good Messenger really is that they don’t belabor the point and remain on that one sound. We then venture into the gorgeous Balearic Blue, a dip into crystalline musical waters, a refreshing cool-down from the prior intensity. A truly lovely song with a beautiful ringing guitar sound and understated electric piano, mellotron and organ, propelled by the nimble interplay of the rhythm section.  It’s a delight.

Press_Photo_01

Album highlight Celestial Spheres is up next, an infectious arrangement that blends the progressive rock sophistication with the loose jam band qualities that came so naturally to bands in the early 70s. Too often these days bands choose one path or the other, thankfully Messenger has the talent and the songwriters to meld them together seamlessly and organically. I also have to mention the inspired guitar interplay of Khaled Lowe and Barnaby Maddick, they complement each other so well and inspire memories of jamming Wishbone Ash and Allman Brothers records when I was a youngster. Speaking of guitars, the riff that comes in around the 4:20 mark and introduces the ending section is another gem on an album full of them. This is the type of song I’d like to hear them play live and stretch out on.

Nocturne begins in a darker more mournful vibe and features a thunderously heavy riff punctuated by the huge bass sound of James Leach. Then, in the last third, the dark clouds part and a lovely acoustic guitar section prepares us for the catchy folk & jam rock groove of Pareidolia. The ending section of that piece brings us back around to Pink Floyd territory, from the ‘Wish You Were Here/Animals’ era.

The album closer Crown of Ashes brings the Wishbone Ash influence back with a lovely lyrical guitar line and closes the album out on an uplifting, laid-back note.

Press_logo_02

All told I’m thoroughly impressed with Messenger, one of my favorite discoveries of the past couple years and a band that I predict even greater things from in the future.  ‘Threnodies’ is sure to be high on my best of 2016 list, I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

Released 22nd April 2016

Buy ‘Threnodies’ direct from the band

 

 

Review – Marco Ragni – Land Of Blue Echoes – by Progradar

land of blue echoes cover art

I suppose you could call it being a music nerd but I am sure many of my fellow music fans also have this innate ability, identifying musicians by their signature sound and, for the purposes of this review, it is particularly applicable to guitar players.

Be it the great blues players like B.B. KingStevie Ray VaughanBuddy Guy or, latterly, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Joe Bonamassa, the stellar guitarists of rock music, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Townsend and Yngwie Malmsteen or progressive rock’s great exponents along the lines of David Gilmour, Steve Howe, JohnPetrucci, Alex LifesonSteve Hackett and the sadly departed Piotr Grudziński, they all brought a unique guitar sound to the music, one that most aficionados could instantly recognise.

This would add something different to the music, something to make it stand out from the sea of music that lapped around our metaphorical ankles and give you a reason to listen to, and purchase, it ahead of anything else. It also made it feel more personal, less generic, and gave you, the listener, a particular attachment to, and fondness for, that music.

Well, I’d like to add one more fantastic guitar player to that list, the incomparable Italian maestro Marco Ragni who also happens to have just released his latest solo album ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’.

Marco Ragni_2

Marco has been making music since the age of 17 when, in 1987, he released ‘Kaleido’ but it was his last album, ‘Mother From The Sun’ (released in 2014), that introduced me to this seminal guitar player. Influences including pysychedelic, folk, funk and pop abound throughout his singular brand of progressive rock and his playing is absolutely exemplary.

He says of his new album:

“I play and write songs to free myself from the constraints of life and to emphasize all the beauty that surrounds me. I’ve never done caged by drawings and I never wanted to replicate a sound or feel. I’ve always tried to rework all my putting influences what I have in my head, not as a musician, but as a person. I always imagined me like a volcano full of a thousand artistic references ready to erupts new reworking songs that I have heard, mostly using my sensitivity. I hope you can hear a “Marco Ragni” sound and not something that looks like a nostalgic operation.”

‘Land Of Blue Echoes’ is an ambitious work, in the name of prog-rock dropped from atmospheres and canonical issues, characterized instead by a crossroads influences ranging from psychedelia to the new international rock, through to Marco’s beloved Pink Floyd.

Collaborators

For ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’, Marco Ragni has brought together a band of illustrious collaborators including Durga McBroom (backing vocalist for Pink Floyd and David Gilmour since 1987).

Guitarists Peter Matuchniak (who plays a lot of the lead parts), Fernando Perdomo  and Colin Tench, bassists Jeff Mack and Hamlet ‘Transport Aerian’, drummer Jacopo Ghirardini and keyboard player Vance Gloster all add their considerable talents to this remarkable piece of work, backing up Marco and his multi-instrumental skills on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass, lap steel guitars, greek bouzuki and, of course, vocals.

Marco Ragni Press Photo 3

The first thing that struck me about the album was the striking cover. Now those of you who have followed my writing over the last 3 or 4 years will know that album art is something that I really appreciate and can almost make or break a release for me. The cover to ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’ does everything right, simple yet compelling, it draws your eyes to the artwork like every great cover should. Now, onto the music….

Between Moon and Earth opens with a 60’s feel NASA voice over before a psychedelic off centre guitar note, courtesy of Colin Tench, starts the track proper. Insistent drums and bass add a slightly disconcerting note before the guitars play against each other with a slightly alien feel, it’s stylish and intriguing and that almost corrosive guitar that meanders though your mind is quite addictive. Quite a thought provoking instrumental start to the album. One of the two extended ‘epics’ on this release, Horizons begins with a delicate introduction that seems to tingle across all your synapses before opening up into a proper 70’s feeling progressive track with its complicated music and eerie flute like sound. It then picks up pace and turns into something that Public Service Broadcasting would have been proud to release. A distinctive sci-fi note runs though the music before the keyboards, drum and bass go all funky on you backing a slightly distanced voice over. It never gives you chance to settle and leaves you feeling as if your in the middle of an episode of Space:1999 with its retro feel. Marco is an expert at using music as a storytelling medium and he does it again here as his vocals open up, laid back and full of character. The music takes on a slightly medieval edge with the sound of a harpsichord and you just go along with the very impressive flow as it explores different avenues. A slightly disconcerting guitar solo adds an abrasive note but takes nothing away from the narrative. It’s a track that becomes quite obsessive as you follow its ever impressive journey through darkness and light, the elegant piano section preceding a guitar solo of incredible depth and scope and where the Hammond organ is given free rein to provide an admirable backdrop, music that just keeps on giving. A persistent piano note and flamenco guitar open title track Land Of Blue Echoes with a grave and serious tone which continues with the vocals, Marco delivering the words in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. Another spiky guitar run adds more feeling of discord that contrasts against the lighter Spanish influenced guitar to leave you feeling slightly disorientated, if only in a good way.

Montage

Who said Pink FloydMoney Doesn’t Think begins with a stylish bass, drum and keyboard rhythm over which Fernando Perdomo’s guitar overlays a seriously impressive auditory exhibition. The vocals add a touch of gravitas with their earnest intonation but it is the rather catchy music that stands out here, the guitar playing just blows you away with its power, skill and dexterity and are backed up to the hilt by the notable rhythm section. This is one of those songs where you keep finding yourself pressing repeat. That medieval feel, with touch of eastern promise, returns on Canto D’Amore, Marco delivers a delightful vocal and bouzuki performance and the harmonised sections send shivers down your spine with their eclesiastical feel. A pared back innovative delight of a song that just cleanses your palate mid way through this intense album. Deep Night is a fantastic song whichever way you look at it but the addition of Durga McBroom’s distinctive and haunting vocals is the true highlight. A track that will leave you rapt, almost in limbo, as you let its many charms wash over you. She has a voice that expands to fill any room she may be occupying and, as well as being dynamic and potent, there is a subtlety to it as well. The music plays an admirable second fiddle here but is no less dramatic or imposing as the compelling guitar adds the finishing touches to a near perfect piece of musical theatre.

windmill

Beltane, to me, seems to be a song of two parts. The opening part is all complex and convoluted progressive rock where the gentle acoustic guitar, drums and casual bass leave you in some sort of fantasy world where Marco is the tour guide and his languid vocals just wash over you leaving you feeling slightly becalmed. The Hammond organ in the background gives an insistent edge that seems to be trying to wake you from your musical stupor. There’s a guitar part that seems slightly out of phase and focus, leaving you feeling a little spaced-out, fazed and nonplussed. Then, after a little calming interlude, it brings itself sharply back into focus as the guitar drives the song forward in a more traditional fashion, aided and abetted by the elegant rhythm section. The first couple of times you just don’t ‘get’ it but then it all falls into place with a knowing nod from the music. Intelligent and thought provoking music that requires some work from the listener too. Now onto the second, and longest, ‘epic’ on the album. Nucleus Parts 1-8 really does deserve that title, not only for its length (coming in at just under 23 minutes) but, also, for its inventive and involving composition. It even feels like an epic as it begins, a searching guitar fading in and laying the foundations, backed by the bass, an ominous undertone. Then a fiery guitar breaks from the fold demanding your attention as it drives the song on with a reverberating and chiming tone. Then, calmness, Durga’s distinctive vocal warblings, earnest and sincere and yet with a mournful edge to them, hold you spellbound as the musical convolutions conspire in the background. It is hypnotic and almost surreal, like the musical equivalent of a Hunter S. Thompson novel, ‘Fear and Loathing in The Land of Blue Echoes’ perhaps? The guitar then breaks free to deliver a fast flowing section of intricate brilliance that precedes Marco’s grave and determined vocals, backed by the haunting tones of Durga. These vocal interludes are punctuated by flashes of six string brilliance that just blow you away. A seamless move into a period of calm reflection then follows, gentle guitar, expressive bass and smooth drums hold in a their reflective embrace, Marco and Durga’s vocals, serene and tranquil, have a hypnotic grace and you relax and let the music flow over you. An embellished, slightly tortuous guitar then takes over, searching and asking questions of you before Durga’s vocal wanderings invite you on a journey of discovery. I said before that Marco was a musical storyteller and he reaches a pinnacle on this elaborately momentous, ambitious and complex musical tapestry. You can just lose yourself in the soundscape and enjoy every nuance and minutae of its melodic charm as each individual section delivers its singular tuneful aesthetics. This remarkable musical odyssey comes to a close with the blues-tinged Queen of Blue Fires, a wistful and nostalgic track enhanced by the addition of Hamlet ‘Transport Aerian’ on bass guitar. It begins with slightly somber feel to the music and vocals, almost like an emotional lament. The guitar then fills you with a feeling of hope as it seems to lift the cloud from over everything. Perhaps the end of one thing that should be mourned but also the beginning of something new that needs to be celebrated. Heartfelt and profoundly sincere, it seems to resonate with your very core and invites you on this new and uplifting journey where we can look at things that have passed with fond affection rather than a sense of grief. The Hammond solo is a thing of genius that just makes me smile and tip my metaphorical hat in acknowledgement and it is matched in sincerity and intensity by the burning guitar solo. A fitting end to a magical musical excursion.

Marco says that this is an international album and it should appeal to all nations with its intense brilliance. A deeply moving listen which shows Marco Ragni at the height of his power, it left me feeling free and unencumbered by the worries of life. This is not mere music, it is a life changing experience and is surely one of the highlights of 2016 so far from a musician who just gets better and better with every release and one who is backed by a stellar group of contemporaries.

Released 18th March 2016 on Melodic Revolution Records.

Buy ‘Land of Blue Echoes’ from the MRR bandcamp page

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Sanguine Hum – What We Ask Is Where We Begin – The Songs For Days Sessions – by Rob Fisher

Cover

Good music is often unexpected. It piques your interest, takes you by surprise and gently lures you, slowly but surely, into the complex twists and intriguing turns of the journey that awaits. Sanguine Hum’s fourth studio album ‘What We Ask Is Where We Begin: The Songs for Days Sessions’ is precisely that kind of unexpected and quite delightful treasure trove of surprises which never fails to fascinate, captivate and enchant, all in equal measure.

What is perhaps striking about this release is not only the rich diversity of styles, textures and sounds which gently emerge across each track but also the enhanced and noticeable clarity of the recording itself. There is, without doubt, an inherent and quite focused understanding of the relationship between playing, recording, producing and presenting music which speaks volumes of the passion and commitment of the band to engaging the listener, on all levels, to the experience they wish to share.

Indeed, getting the mix right is supremely important given the subtle, complex and ever shifting combination of instruments and arrangements. Those familiar with the band’s excellent 2015 release ‘Now We Have Light’ will be well aware of the fluid and highly creative changes throughout each song in the balance and the relationship between the instruments which creates the wonderfully atmospheric feel and sound which has come to characterise their music.

Now We Have Light

‘What We Ask Is Where We Begin is a veritable’ smorgasbord of textures and compositions where the consistency and the character of the music is built on and maintained by the changing interactions between the musicians. This is not about individual virtuosity (though it is unquestionably evident) and there are none of the archetypal prog solos to dazzle and amaze. This is a virtuosity predicated on togetherness, on weaving musical patterns that emerge from the band having that instinctual understanding of each other’s style, skills and abilities and how these can work together.

The reward is an album which bristles with variety, celebrates the unexpected and leads you down musical pathways which are satisfyingly rewarding. Matt Barber’s keyboards are a fascinating study in how to combine technical discipline with creative adventurousness and, in the process, forms the focal point off which the other instruments play. Joff Winks on acoustic and electric guitars brings a distinctive and smoothly forceful character both to the manner of the playing as well as to the various guitar voices themselves. It is the perfect balance to the sensitively weighted and emotionally endowed vocal stories he weaves.

Brad Waissman brings scale, depth and resonance to the soundscape, his bass lines tight, crisp, never aggressive but always rounding out the sound whilst building playful patterns within it. Andrew Booker’s drumming is thoughtfully expressive, bringing playful intricacy one moment and assured reliability the next, rising and falling as the space in the sound stage warrants. Yet to single each band member out like this is perhaps unfair; they rise and fall, stand forward and fall back in balance with each other and it is this fluid and flexible relationship they share which creates the consistently intelligent music for which Sanguine Hum have become known and earned them recognition in the form of a nomination in the Progressive Music Awards in 2013.

Cafe

So what is therefore surprising is that although ‘What We Ask Is Where We Begin is, technically speaking, their fourth studio album it is, in reality, actually their very first!  ‘Songs for Days’ was originally recorded in 2006 before the band had settled on the name Sanguine Hum and released instead as The Joff Winks Band. The inability to find a record label willing to release the album led to it being available only as a download with the unfortunate result that its public reception was extremely limited.

The choice to release it again now, and in such proximity to ‘Now We Have Light’, is to be applauded. It is intriguing and instructive to observe the lines of continuity between the two, the development of styles and techniques, the recurrence of lyrical themes and ideas as well as the introduction and evolution of novelty into and within the band’s sound.

The care and attention which has been given to the release deserves commendation. Disc 1 contains an extended remaster of the original ‘Songs for Days’ release. Disc 2 contains an impressively wide ranging selection of previously unreleased music, material written specifically for this release, outtakes, remixed singles, B sides, a Steely Dan cover and a host of other fascinating bits and pieces.

As with the original composition, careful thought has clearly been given to why the band feel this is such an important part of the Sanguine Hum archive, what the best way of presenting that feeling is to both established as well as new fans, how to preserve the integrity of the music amidst the production values and what they hope to achieve by finally letting it loose in the public arena once again.

It does pique your interest, it does take you by surprise on so many fronts and it will, ever so gently, lead you down a set of thoroughly enjoyable musical pathways.

Released 29th January 2016

http://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/what-we-ask-is-where-we-begin-the-songs-for-days-sessions/

 

Review – Circus Maximus – Havoc – by Sabrina Beever

CIRCUS MAXIMUS havoc COVER

Circus Maximus is a very apt name when you hear their new album ‘Havoc’. I may be looking at this way to creatively but that’s what music does to you, the Norwegian band create melodic material with maximum strength and force; powerful riffs and intertwining melodic lines that are not always where you expect them to be.

Looking at the idea of a circus, not just somewhere to be scared by clowns but a mastery of your own art form, Circus Maximus have achieved this with a refinement of skill and the songwriting. Each instrument compliments the other superbly. So the maybe, far too in depth, analysis of their name. It isn’t just a name but part of their nature; playing music of great skill and refinement to a maximum level, which was probably never the intention of the band name but remains a cool band name whatever way you look at it.

live

Circus Maximus have now released their fourth studio album, ‘Havoc’, which has more sophisticated material to offer and is like honey to the ears, especially with Michael Eriksen on vocals. Eriksen possesses an unquestionable tone, clear as crystal with no rough edges, almost a hybrid of Dio and Steve Perry but smoother, whilst still keeping true to their metal style. Circus Maximus have also been described as a progressive metal band which personally wasn’t the style I heard when I first listened to this album.

Michael

When you hear the title track Havoc you’re instantly sold on a metal style with deep ambiguous guitar chords making it hard to figure out whether they are major or minor when combined with the punchy rocky bassline. It has the potential to shake the ground with the right speakers. Now for me this doesn’t speak ‘progressive’ when thinking of bands such as Yes and Rush, but then again, they don’t have a similar style to them but rather more hard riffs propelling you forward instead of becoming lost in an ambient soundscape, that’s not the type of progression that Circus Maximus hold.

The progression the band has comes from the technicality of their material. Highest Bitter opens with a single bassline and the vocals. This gives a chance for the bassist to shine for a change and creates a deeper and more unsettling atmosphere. A bass guitar is not usually a melodic instrument but a supporting one, so in just one way they are changing the boundaries.

live 2

The mood of the material isn’t always constant which clearly enhances the music more. like in Loved Ones. Commencing with a very ambient and tranquil opening with synth tones progressing into what you are expecting to be an 80’s ballad, one of the slower glam tracks that you might expect Foreigner to play. The band display more melodic expertise in this track with an extended melodic section that, along with the ambient synth sounds, puts you into a dream.

Circus Maximus have created a fantastic album with some surprises when the tone takes a step down from weighty riffs and an unforgiving drum beat. Definitely worth a listen and a band to look out for.

Released 18th March 2016.

Buy ‘Havoc’ from Amazon

Review – Hawkwind – The Machine Stops – by Gary Morley

HAWKWIND The Machine Stops

Hawkwind. Ah, Hawkwind.

They have formed part of my musical DNA. An alien strand possibly, but a strand nevertheless.

I’ve been a technician on Space ship Hawkwind since hearing ‘In Search of Space’ back in time.

Whilst at college, we scoured second hand shops for copies of ‘Space Ritual’, fantasised about getting hold of a copy of ‘Captain Lockheed’, dreamed of seeing them live and snapped up bootleg cassettes at Record Fairs.

Over the years they remained a firm favourite; I bought albums on vinyl, saw them live (‘Chronicle of the Black Sword’ tour and at Reading Festival), upgraded the collection to CD and followed their musical journey as they ploughed their way through space and time.

That journey has now taken a trip into the universe of top 40 albums with ‘The Machine Stops’, based on a 100 year old dystopian fable written by EM Forster.

When  you are in the business of the future, 100 year old novellas seem counter intuitive  but the concept of humans living isolated from each other, communicating indirectly and having all their needs met by the ubiquitous machine is as relevant today as ever it was.

This relevance has struck a chord with the people that buy Hawkwind. Hard core fans (Hawknerds) have elevated the art of supporting the band to a new level, with communal weekends; events and building on the bands counter culture philosophies to construct their own world. A world that intersects with the “normal” one in the shape and fabric of this album.

And it’s a cracking piece of art. From the disturbing cover (David Lynch does Red Dwarf) you know that this is a serious concept album.

Luckily, the music is able to match the lofty concepts that the story evokes.

Poster

If you’ve heard Hawkwind, you know what you’re going to hear. Synths burble, guitars and bass crackle and paint a vivid canvas for the lyrics to tell their story.

The album starts with a great little piece, All Hail The Machine that sets the bleak scene of the machine as benevolent dictator and god, satisfying all the protagonist’s needs. It evokes memories of the classic “sonic attack” piece from ‘Space Ritual’, with its angular narration and call and response coda.

We then rip into a Hugh Lloyd Langton style guitar riff and an up-tempo Hawk rock piece, simply titled The Machine

As with all dystopic tales, the status quo is soon in question, with the bleak reality being unveiled through the next hour.

The machine’s descent into erratic dysfunction and the effects on the people is told through the various tracks, using the entire musical palette that 40 years of invention can bring to bear.

You get post industrial percussive tracks that would give Test Dept a run for their money, those synths painting broad swaths of sound , crunchy guitars to please the Metal heads  , energy and attitude to satisfy the punks drawn to the anti establishment myth of Hawkwind.

They also were the forerunners of the Ambient and post rock movements , all of this goes in the mix , the end result is a fine album that sounds stunning, lyrics that were not scribbled on a fag packet  and a story worth the effort the band have spent in putting the package together.

The Hawkwind that made this album sits alongside the band that made ‘Levitation’, ‘Astounding Sounds’ and ‘Hawklords’ all of which still sound as good today as they did when first released.

The album is best consumed as a whole, either through a “real” hifi or good headphones. There are some fabulous details in this musical canvas that deserve the benefits of a good set of speakers, notably the gorgeous synth washes and chirrups in Katie, a nice little instrumental interlude that leads into King of The World, which utilises that great Eastern type vibe the Hawkwind developed with ‘Hassan’ / ‘Assassins of Allah’ on their legendary ‘Quark, Strangeness & Charm’ album, mixed with the driving mantra of ‘Psychedelic Warlords’.

SRL

I’m referencing old Hawkwind in celebration of this new incarnation. It’s the band’s DNA reproducing itself down through the corridors of time. The echoes of great men departed are all over this album. Calvert, Lemmy, Dik Mik, Simon House, The Late Hugh Lloyd Langton all have helped shape this sound and it is more than the sum of its parts. In my Room shares a melodic opening with ‘Zarozinia from ‘Chronicles of The Black Sword’, another great Hawkwind literary album based on the ‘Elric Chronicles’ written by their long time fan / collaborator, Michael Moorcock.

As you may have picked up on, I’ m a bit of a SF fan and Hawkwind were always the most SF leaning of bands, followed by Blue Oyster Cult in my reckoning.

That post industrial percussive Test Dept feel is heard at the start of Thursday which also features founder and sole original member, Dave “The Captain” Brock steering Spaceship Hawkwind through this mid paced number splashed with artificial beats and hammerings echoing through the golden void.

In conclusion, this album sums up Hawkwind for the uninitiated without alienating the hard core Hawknerd fan. There are, as with all their recent albums, echoes of their past reverberating through the threads, but this adds to the feeling of “belonging” that it encourages.

The band has just completed a well received and visually spectacular UK tour with a stage show based around this album. The reviews have been great, I’m amazed at the love for a 40 year old institution that was always outside the norm and thrived in the space between.

Hawkwind, with this album have stopped being a shared secret cult and become an institution for all the right reasons.

Released 15th April 2016.

Buy ‘The Machine Stops’ from Cherry Red Records/Esoteric

 

 

Review – Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable – by Progradar

cover-1

Cogtopolis – The city beneath the surface, no daylight has been seen by the inhabitants in living memory. The Sun: a whisper, a legend.

For two hundred years tales have been passed down from father to son. Tales of mankind’s folly and technical abominations. Tales of the day clouds engulfed the sun.

Tales of the twenty year winter and the slow, agonising death of “The Surface”. But the greatest tale of all was of mankind’s ultimate salvation within the warm, safe, belly of the earth……..

Cog

“There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.”
Jonas Salk

Ambition is something that should be encouraged, lauded even, especially if what it produces is something quite remarkable and unique. However, there is a small proviso, ambition is no good if it isn’t backed up with the necessary skill and intelligence, for what is ambition without intelligence but a bird without wings ( I sort of borrowed that last bit from Walter H. Cottingham but, if you don’t tell him, neither will I…).

When Gandalf’s Fist announced that they were going to release a 3 CD Steampunk Concept album based in a world of their own creation I think quite a few people thought that they’d moved on from ambition into sheer madness and lunacy.

Would ‘The Clockwork Fable’ end up being a huge undertaking that could prove to be their undoing?, when I was sent this behemoth of musical enterprise I approached it with a lot of caution, not knowing what to expect and wondering if my friends had bitten off more than they could chew….

To be fair, three albums, thirty three tracks and over three hours long, it would tax even the most dedicated listener and, for me as a reviewer, would mean a complete sea change in how I would actually review this release. Normally, I do a track-by-track review which generally leads to something quite lengthy.

How would I write about this complex undertaking so as not to leave my readers comatose and in a world of TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read – you can thank David Elliott for that acronym) and yet be able to really encompass the whole musical endeavour and give people a flavour of what it is all about? That conundrum has taxed me for the last couple of weeks while I have spent the time to immerse myself completely in the wonders of Cogtopolis and its many and varied residents.

I think I’ve come up with an answer but, first, some background on Gandalf’s Fist and ‘The Clockwork Fable’

Band

Imagine, if you will, the parallel universe whereby Monty Python were commissioned to write a Doctor Who-style period drama which was subsequently scored by an imaginary supergroup formed by members of Maiden and ELP and you’d get somewhere close to what Gandalf’s Fist have created with “The Clockwork Fable”.

Originally formed in 2005 by Multi-Instrumentalist Dean Marsh and lyricist Luke SevernGandalf’s Fist draw on their mutual love for the ‘Golden Era’ of Progressive Rock, The New Wave of British Heavy Metal and even Renaissance Folk to create concept albums that are both nostalgically engaging and experimentally innovative in nature.

Following the addition of drummer Stefan Hepe and bassist Chris Ewen for their last album, the acclaimed ‘Forest of Fey’, ‘The Clockwork Fable’ is their second release as a four piece.

Cast

Let’s start with my thoughts about what ‘The Clockwork Fable’ actually is. It is a huge project to get your head around, in no way a mere CD or album, it is progressive rock as musical theatre. Imagine, if you will, the sinister, yet childlike, humour of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ set in steampunk universe that has come straight from the mind of ‘His Dark Materials’ author Philip Pullman and you are still only scratching the surface of this epic labour of love.

It almost feels like it was written for the stage or screen with a darkly humerous script provided by the likes of Neil Gaiman or the recently departed Sir Terry Pratchett and then delivered in a kind of ‘War Of The Worlds’ fashion.

The band’s imagination holds no bounds as they have meticulously created the world of Cogtopolis, its residents going about their daily business in the three huge, interconnecting caverns of this subterranean city, Ardel, Cartoe and Porfan with their unique cultures and denizens.

It is a world that has been conceived down to the minutest detail, hierarchy of the society, religions and even their own ‘alphabet of the underworld’. With Braille and Morse Code among the many strands of knowledge and learning lost amidst theobliterated libraries of the surface, the industrious scholars of Cogtopolis devised Cypheridia. A new, basic way of writing that could be scratched into metal surfaces with ease, or – for the brass-bound worker – etched into the mud of the cavern floor at the very least.

Cypher

From this detailed and precisely constructed world emerge a cast of characters brought to life by a fantastic cast including Mark Benton, Zach GalliganBill Fellows and Alicia Marsh, to name a few. In fact, it was Mark himself who put the effort in to get the majority of the crew together.

Between them they bring the richly envisioned world of Cogtopolis and its inhabitants to life. At its heart, it is a story of the age long struggle between light and the dark. An utterly spellbinding tale brought to life by the fantastic cast of voice actors.

A suppressed populace labouring under a misheld belief that they will never see the light again. My fellow scribe Phil Lively, correctly, pointed out that it is the fight of the heroic northerners against the evil cockneys and Mark Benton’s jolly lamplighter is the first character we encounter. Living a lifetime among the bowels of Cogtopolis, scurrying tirelessly amidst the endless streets of derelict machinery, he has, man and boy, lit every lamp in the city beneath the surface.

It is a tale that we have heard many times before but we never grow tired of and, in this incarnation, you find yourself rapt as the establishment refuse to believe that the sun has returned to the surface, wanting to keep their citizens subjugated.

The Tinker and his assistant Eve are the hero and heroine of the tale, trying to repair the mechanism that will return sunlight to Cogtopolis and hounded by The Primarch and his cronies at every turn.

Primarch

Woven perfectly between the voice acting is an incredible music backdrop that blends with the storyline to create an amazing musical experience. The talented Arjen Lucassen, Blaze Bayley and Matt Stevens all add their considerable musical weight to ‘The Clockwork Fable’ to create something fantastical.

Melissa Hollick returns for the third album in a row, this time as the singing voice of Eve and you can hear her dulcet tones lighting up Shadowborn with it’s ‘female-fronted metal’ feel. What you have here are accomplished musicians who can turn their skills to virtually any musical style with aplomb. On the three epic Lamplighter tracks (one for each disc) we get proper, intricate progressive rock delivered expertly, each track a musical journey in its own right.

Eve’s Song is a delicate track of ethereal beauty where Melissa gives a delightful vocal performance that just leaves you open mouthed with admiration. The acoustic guitar the is prevalent throughout Victims Of The Light gives it a real feel of Richie Blackmore in his folk mindset before exploding into something from Neal Morse era Spocks Beard.

A particular favourite is the brilliant Ditchwater Daisies, a complex and involving track that enthralls from beginning to end. There is a touch of Pink Floyd to this song, in my opinion, thoughtful and nostalgic. A touch of early Genesis? That will be The Bewildering Conscience Of A Clockwork Child and A Solemn Toast For The Steam Ranger Reborn.

What you do get is the thought that every note is there for a reason, to tell more of this extraordinary tale, none of it is superfluous or gratuitous. The music blends seamlessly with the voice acting to enhance the story and give it added layers of meaning.

The Climb is a song that mixes the intricate with the dreamlike leaving you hanging on every word and note. These guys have the ability to draw you into their tale and making you feel like you belong there and it is the incisive and intelligent songwriting and voice script that is primary in their ability to do this.

I’d been waiting for a bit of a metal track and Fight For The Light gives you that with its symphonic power and tasteful vocals. There is a guitar section in here which could come from an early Maiden album and it just put a huge grin on my face.

The final track that really stood out for me was the title track. The Clockwork Fable is a heartfelt, fervent and wistful song that just grabs at your heartstrings and leaves an indelible impression, just beautiful.

And, well, The Lens, is that a tear in my eye? I’m not saying – Oh Bugger!

cover-1

So, do the citizens of Cogtopolis escape the dark underworld, do The Tinker and Eve repair the cog mechanism of The Aperture, despite the attentions of The Primarch and his allies, to finally return sunlight to the murky lives that they are forced to live? Don’t ask me, buy the album and find out what happens in this utterly captivating story yourselves.

Gandalf’s Fist have delivered a mesmerising musical masterpiece epic in scope and utterly breathtaking in its delivery. It’s length may deter you from listening but, believe me, you are missing something quite exceptional and utterly marvelous. This is not just  piece of music, it is a wholly engrossing experience that will make your life richer for having taken part.

Released 1st May 2016

Get your hands on The Clockwork Fable direct from Gandalf’s Fist

 

 

Review – Oktopus – Worlds Apart – by Progradar

Oktopus - Worlds Apart

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

– William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

So, there you have two different schools of thought, good old Bill Shakespeare was basically saying that it doesn’t matter what you CALL something, it is what that something ACTUALLY is that matters (well, that’s the way I interpret it anyway).

Yet the differing opinion is that the name can make a difference to how we interpret something and how we actually react to it. Names that give negative connotations can actually inhibit where names that give a positive vibe can add appeal.

I know what you’re thinking, “What is he waffling on about?”, but this very conundrum came up earlier this year for the band formerly known as Progoctopus. The band’s moniker was seen as being detrimental to their progress as if there was an unwritten law that any band should not have the word ‘prog’ anywhere within its title.

This wasn’t just the general public and listening audience, those that make up the mighty cognoscenti of Progressive music had said it was so.

So, what did the band do? well, here’s a clue…..

prog-01

So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the reborn Oktopus and the changes didn’t end there either.

Original singer Jane Gillard, who sang on the band’s well received debut (as Progoctopus) EP ‘Transcendence’ left the line-up and, to the surprise of many, was replaced (in an almost Genesis style) by guitarist Alistair Bell, making Oktopus a ‘power trio’ completed by drummer Tim Wilson and bass player Samuel C. Roberts.

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

Look, I’ll be honest here, I’m a big fan and friend of these talented musicians (hell, I even wrote the press release) but, as ever, this will be a very objective review and I won’t let my ties cloud my viewpoint, okay?

oktopus web size-51

Discord (Approach) is like a musical Amuse-bouche for the album, a little bit of music which is served before the rest of the album to stimulate the musical appetite. A slow burning, disturbing appetite stimulator at that too!

Now onto the main feature and the first track released from the album, Eyes Open. A frenetic and intricate opening of carefully choreographed disharmony between guitar, bass and Tim’s manic drumming paves the way for some tasty, punk infused, jazz-funk. The staccato riffs and stylish bass provide a counterpoint for Alistair’s actually rather impressive vocals, this lad can sing and sing well. The driving force behind the punchy music is the ever present drumming of Tim Wilson who has some metronomic skill behind the kit. There is an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek feel that runs throughout, especially on the rising chorus that becomes a real ear worm. Never a track to rest on its laurels though, the elaborate jazz/prog fusion section is quite an involved trip for your ears and mind and adds some cerebral gravitas, a great start to the album.

Title track Worlds Apart is a full-on jazz infused prog-fest from start to finish. Here the musicians get to show off their not inconsiderable prowess and you get flashes of Alistair’s Aeon Zen persona with his skilful guitar playing (albeit utterly jazzed up rather than ‘heavy metalled’). Stylish jazz lounge drumming from Tim (light cymbal tapping ahoy!) and some silky smooth bass from Samuel all add to the feeling of panache, the vocals having a touch of the laconic and ironic Ben Folds. Busy and energetic, this song takes you on an enjoyable series of twists and turns that leaves you with no idea of where you’ve been or where you are and not caring anyway. A labyrinthine guitar solo leaves a smile on your face as this jazz/prog fusion special closes out.

The Adventures of Jerry Troutmonto (Part 1) is a humour filled three minute instrumental homage to a (possibly) fictional character. A musical smorgasbord of wilful guitar wankery, frenzied drumming and maniacal bass playing. Alistair is having a field day with his fiery licks and unabashed noodling and his partners in crime give him the canvas to perform on.

oktopus-23 resize

Haru, a mid-album break of oriental pipes and mysticism. Just over one minute where you can step off the world and take a break in its peaceful and ethereal atmosphere and come away emotionally cleansed before taking on all comers once more.

The Hand On Your Shoulder begins with real laid back and chilled vibe, gentle guitar and vocals being the artist’s utensils. But this is Oktopus so the calm and collected doesn’t last for long and we set off on another convoluted journey, this one with a decidedly darker shade of fun and games. The vocals have a more serious tone and the whole song has a much more grown-up and sober atmosphere. Shut the door and leave the kids outside, this is where it gets deadpan and no prisoners are taken. I like the contrast between the light and the dark that this track invokes, it’s clever and no-nonsense.

So the final part of this thirty four minutes of musical mayhem and japery, Minotaur, begins with another slice of the funktastic, restless prog/punk/jazz fusion as the guitar slaps you in the face with some pin sharp riffing, the drums do what the hell they like (as usual) and the bass tries to restore some semblance of order. Alistair gives another excellent vocal delivery, he has some lungs on him this lad, and you are sucked into a thoroughly enjoyable vortex of tomfoolery and horseplay from which you emerge laughing hysterically and with your eyes not quite focused. However, if you look below the thin veneer of humour, merriment and gaiety, you will find three musicians who really know their stuff and this prowess is on display for all to experience on the dextrous and inventive instrumental section running throughout the middle section of the track. The last part of the song is all about the ‘power’ in power-trio as the guitar hits you with some seriously heavy riffing, the drums mount a final attack and Sam’s bass acts as the conductor and hold on for the little surprise in the last sixty seconds or so….

prog-02

So, what’s changed with the moniker? Perhaps a more mature and concise feel to the reckless abandon and boisterous energy? Alistair steps up to his vocal duties with aplomb and these three musicians deliver an exciting, high strung and irascible thirty four minutes of near perfect jazz-infused prog that leaves you asking, “What happened to the rest of the album?”, it’s that good!

Released 1st April 2016.

Buy ‘Worlds Apart’ from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

Review – SDANG! – La malinconia delle fate – by Progradar

Cover

 

“If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Music, we think, transcends mere language. A song sung in a tongue not our own can still mean as much whether you understand the words or not, in fact it can add something to the enjoyment due to the mystery of its meaning.

However, when it comes to instrumental music, it is all written in the same language….or is it?

I’m not saying that I’m a complete expert but I do like  a lot of instrumental music and, to my ears, you can sometimes tell where the artists call home. Maybe it’s just a knack or maybe there is something to be said for each country or region having its own signature iconic sound?

Well, as soon as I heard the first notes of SDANG!’s second release (and first full-length offering) ‘La malinconia delle fate’ I had this high energy duo pegged as Italian and found that I was subsequently, correct in my assumption.

SDANG2

What gave the game away? The irrepressible, slightly madcap and frenetic playing by these two accomplished musicians resonated with me in a way I had felt before, usually when delivered by Italian musicians.

‘La malinconia delle fate’ is a record full of dreamy atmospheres, explosive dynamics and a concentrated energy that defies easy classification. It is a happy island of memories and hopes and of things getting hectic and yet, is full of sentimental complicity.

Nicola Panteghini (guitars) and Alessandro Pedretti (drums) are musicians who were involved in the national music scene for a long time. Sharing many thoughts and a common love of music, they have returned to the musical background of their youth: grunge, heavy metal, stoner rock, prog, post rock and math rock.

Working on their own original compositions, they released the debut EP ‘Il giorno delle altalene’ in April 2014 and, from October 2015, have been working with Marco Franzoni (Bluefemme Studio) on the much anticipated follow up.

It is not a question of gender, label, fashion or style, it is a matter of sensations, feelings and emotions. SDANG! want to tell stories through their music.

SDANG1

‘La malinconia delle fate’ is thirty-six minutes of intense instrumental music that demands your attention throughout. The extended soundscape that these musicians create is quite remarkable considering that there are only two of them.

Delving into the six tracks, opener Primo Giorno Di Scuola has a subdued opening, lulling you into a false sense of security before the atmosphere builds and then these two musicians create a cacophonic wall of noise that just blows you backwards. Edgy, funky and full of angst, you ride along on wave of chaotic good humour, not caring where you will end up next. Alessandro’s drumming has an intensity that almost gives it a life of its own and Nicola seems to be able to sound like a whole band or one calming influence, seemingly at will. Full of laid back lulls and energetic turbulent highs, it is a instrumental thrill ride of immense proportions. Get your breath back and have a rest for a while as the elegant opening tones of Martina take over the narrative in your mind. Once again, these stylish refrains are brutally cast aside by the interjections of a monstrous wall of sound created by the crushing riffs of Nicola’s guitar and the colossal drum beat that Alessandro creates. The lovely, peaceful sections have a wistful note to them, calm and collected, a complete juxtapose to the deranged power that this duo can unleash and it is an addictive interplay.

Stevie Ray Vaughan met Eddie Van Halen and they recruited John Bonham on the kit, that’s the immediate thought that goes through my mind at the start of Astronomica with its 70’s blues-infused riffing and thunderous drumming. A real wild musical ride of prodigious proportions that is brought bang up to date by the spaced out, psychedelic interludes that are dropped in throughout. A real mind-bending track that takes you up some blind alleys before laughing in your face and buggering off to leave you utterly bemused at your predicament. Scrivimi Una Lettera Tra 9 Anni begins with low key staccato riff, edgy, tense and nervous that leaves you on the edge of your seat. It then opens up into a real bluesy early Led Zeppelin influenced piece of music where the booming guitars and thunderous drums create a massive musical mosaic before seamlessly transforming into something that could have come from the mind of Steve Vai or Joe Satriani. A musical journey through differing sonic landscapes with edgy riffs, extended guitar runs and frenetic drumming that takes no prisoners yet offers a deeply involving musical experience.

Buckle up, it’s time to put the pedal to the metal. To my ears, 100 Metri Al Traguardo is a shameless homage to the guitar greats. Vai and Satriani would be happily tapping their feet to the hard rock riffs while simultaneously reaching for the copyright infringement rule book. I jest really, this is a fun filled, no holds barred jaunt that powers along at a fair lick. There is a segue into a sombre, unhurried section that seems to be slightly at odds with the convivial feel of before but it eventually comes together in your mind and makes for a rather impressive track as it plays out. So we come to the close of the album and all too soon a ending it is too. The final, and title, track La Malinconia Delle Fate begins in an unhurried, pensive manner before someone lights the blue touch paper and Nicola’s guitar signals the off with a hard-edged and repetitive riff, ably backed by the blur of Alessandro’s drum sticks as they thrash the skins. There is a skittish, agitated feel to the music, interrupted by the occasional calm moments of candour and clarity. Its is the forceful and dynamic parts of the song that really grab you and demand your compliance that stand out for me though. A driving force of nature that brooks no argument and lays waste to all before it before its inexorable advance. As this compelling piece of music comes to a close it is the imposing power of this commanding duo that is left burnt into your psyche.

An aurally stimulating release that will impress all who hear it, ‘La malinconia delle fate’ is stimulating, thought provoking and, well, just damn good fun. You will struggle to hear a better thirty-six minutes of purely instrumental music this year.

On 2nd May 2016 “La Malinconia delle Fate” LP will be released by following labels: Acid Cosmonaut, La Fornace Dischi, Dreaminggorilla, Taxi Driver Records and Totem Schwan.

Review – The Rube Goldberg Machine – Fragile Times – by Gary Morley

Fragile Times

Listening to The Rube Goldberg Machine and I’m transported back to the halcyon days of the Summer of ’77. The energy and fizz on their debut takes me back to that much quoted “year zero” of music.

Which, in my humble opinion,was not a year, or even  two , but a gradual realisation that “punk” was a gimmick and the talented musicians were those producing “new wave” or  “post punk”. After the initial media “sturm und drang” of those naughty Sex Pistols boys being sweary on National TV , “Punk” became a tabloid fad.

Post Punk – where Mancunians discovering sequencers, New York loft dwellers discovering duelling guitars and Trustafarians in waiting discovering reggae.We were all touched by the “punk” paint. I grew up in Swindon. We had XTC ,they embodied this brave new world, mixing Punk energy with New York brittle guitar and dub bass lines.

Band PR pic
The Rube Goldberg Machine would have slotted between XTC and Television in my small but tasteful collection back then.

There are also some very Floyd / Porcupine Tree sounds here too, the title track has a very PT vibe, all jazz bass and restrained vocal, Roger meets Steven and they put the world to rights over the course of the track, managing to fit in a tasteful piano and guitar interlude, a solo and a coda with a very acoustic refrain which added another band to the list that they link to in my head– The Decemberists. This track could be fitted into ‘The Crane’s Wife’ set without a seam.

The next piece, In Symmetry, continues in this Folk / Prog vein, mined so well by The Decemberists.

It’s not bucolic English Folk Prog from the books of Tull and Fairport, but the more widescreen Small Town American folk/ Roots world, all Decemberists literate and Big Head Todd Bluesy.

Music does this to me. My head joins the dots between bands. I still think like a DJ / producer. If you like this track, then listen to these people. Bought that? Then you should proceed to this point and listen here.

Television influence the swirling twin guitar sound, all sinuous leads attacking and counterattacking each other.

The introduction of track 7 (Times Square), an instrumental tour de force of guitar layers  definitely makes me want to go and dig out my ‘Marquee Moon’ album, or to be more precise, Richard Lloyd’s post Television masterpiece ‘Fields Of Fire’:

Sorry about that. If the Wallet Emptier allows that clip, then you get the idea of where my head went whilst listening to the album…..

I’d detail more tracks but this is an album that plays as a whole, the mood and structure of the sounds entice you into their world, a bit bleak, a bit miserable seeming, but never dull, always guiding you through their labyrinth with atmosphere and melody.

As well as this Post Punk vibe, there are excellent vocal harmonies, a sprinkling of electronics and all wrapped in a clean mix that allows their stories told here to capture the listener and take you into the machine.

In the machine there is a Captain sat nursing a drink playing a card game which he wants to lose so he can blast off into space, he seems ambivalent about the quest but more concerned about his cards!

Band Bio Pic

The last track is not a million miles from Mr Chuckle Trousers in feel, a gorgeous melody with layers of cymbal thrashing behind the mix, all about a man afraid of “my own shadow”, scared of heights and being haunted by life in general .This is very HCE territory, but  those guitars weave a spell of almost Crimson intrigue. The track builds to an “epic” climax with the guitar taking up the  mantle and swopping and soaring.

Did he fly? Did he crash? You decide.

All the tracks are short, sharp shocks, none of this twenty minute epic school of thought here. KISS song writing – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Hooks abound, the songs feel that they will come across well live, there they can flex their wings and let it all go.

In conclusion, it is another fine album from Bad Elephant.

At this rate I may just send David Elliot a standing order. Is there a loyalty card? Do we get stickers?  A Panini album of BEM artists with a special scratch’ n’ sniff page for Tom?

Released 1st April 2016.

Buy ‘Fragile Times’ from the Bad Elephant music site

 

 

Review – DANTE – When We Were Beautiful – by Progradar

Cover

Indulge me, if you will. Imagine a School of Rock but based around Progressive Rock and all its associated sub-genres. What classes would take part in there? Intricate guitar solos?, mind-bending keyboards?, fantastical lyrics about orcs and fairies?

And what artists would have attended this august establishment? Could Yes, King CrimsonPink Floyd and Genesis have been some of the star pupils and then prefects as the likes of Marillion, Pendragon and then Porcupine Tree became the next young minds, eager and willing to learn?

Well, if there was a class in the modern version of the school for ‘huge and extensive riffing’ then Augsburg’s DANTE could well be at the top of the class. Having listened to ‘When We Were Beautiful’, their follow up to the impressive ‘November Rain’, I cannot help but notice the huge, mountain sized guitar riffs that emanate from the majority of the songs.

It is not overpowering but it is definitely one of the main features of the record and this band, the other being the, possibly, controversial cover…

Is a half naked woman acceptable on the cover of a relatively mainstream record in this day and age or is it just not politically correct? Well, the cover to DANTE’s certainly stimulated some heated debate when it was shared on social media. To me, I feel it just about stays on the right side of being a bit sexist and, in reality, we should not let it detract from the main question, is this album any good……….?

stairs

DANTE are Alexander Göhs (vocals), Markus Maichal (keyboards), Christian Eichlinger (drums) and Julian Kellner (guitars).

‘When We Were Beautiful’ is their fourth album, following 2008’s self-released debut ‘The Inner Circle’, 2010’s ‘Saturnine’ (released through ProgRock Records and 2013’s Massacre Records released ‘November Red’.

The release of the last album was clouded by the death of co-founding member, and bass and guitar player, Markus Berger. That is how death not only became a topic of the new album but also the driving force of the creative process, expressed in songs like Finally, where the band bid farewell to their friend in a harrowingly beautiful way.

‘When We Were Beautiful’ is released through Gentle Art Of Music.

Gentle art of music

Right, onto the main course and the seven tracks that make up the album…

Rearrangement Of The Gods opens with an ominous note, a brooding tone before Christian’s drums herald the appearance of the first tasty riff. The guitar wails with a plaintive note, a slight dissonance or a cry for help that pierces your mind. A convoluted and intricate progressive section follows before overlaid voices take up the mysterious narrative. Alexander’s distinctive vocal joins the fray, backed by that insistent heavy riff. He has a voice that could divide opinion, it is harsh and straightforward but I feel it matches the music perfectly with its almost industrial tone. He shows he is no one trick pony on the impressive chorus where his voice opens up magnificently to harmonise with the others. It’s quite and insistent track on the verse, driving you back like a finger poked into the centre of your chest but opens up into a huge soundscape everytime the superb chorus makes a return. Throw in some excellent keyboards, especially on the vibrant and energetic solos, and some combustible guitar licks and an extended and rather fiery solo and you have a rather intense and powerful opening to the album. A rather catchy, addictive and heavy riff opens Ambitious with a wry smile and a wink, hard-edged drumming and a forceful bass line add a solidity and a burst of 70’s keyboards give it  a knowledgeable air. The vocals come in with that assertive and emphatic edge. A dark, dense and monumentally hefty song that somehow still seems light on its feet. It bludgeons its way into your affections with its direct heavy metal edge yet, the short, elaborate guitar and keyboard/piano runs and the chugging, industrial instrumental sections keep its progressive roots firmly on show.

band x 2

Monster riff? go on then, the opening to Beauftiful Again nearly knocks you off your feet with its ferocity. A labyrinthine and heaving metal maelstrom that feels like it carries the weight of the world on its broad shoulders. A real progressive melting pot that cools down slightly for Alexander’s vocals to take the lead. Earnest and pleading, he gives some real gravitas to the song. The harmonised chorus is really rather superb and gives an excellent counterpoint to the imposing might of the guitars and drums. It’s like a musical version of a scorched earth policy, removing any unnecessary detritus from its path as it fires through. DANTE show they are more than just some notable riffing as a delicate piano note descends upon the track, catching you unawares, before drifting away as the influential wall of sound returns. There is a heartfelt feel to the vocals and piano at the start of Until The Last Light Breaks In, giving you pause but, what’s that? yep, you guessed, another towering, hell for leather riff takes over, aided and abetted by some harsh keyboards and we are off on another riff-fueled musical white water ride. A fleet footed and convoluted instrumental section threatens to overwhelm you before things calm down a little. There’s a passion in Alexander’s voice that matches the fervency of the music and it rises and falls in both tempo and emotion. A seriously involved and emotional listening experience that includes some ferocious and potent guitar work from Julian (the solo is actually mind-bending) and leaves you feeling both sated and drained as it comes a to a close.

Christiaan

There’s a mysterious feel to the beginning of Let Me Down, it stutters slightly with an electronic and industrial resonance. A staccato riff powers in, along with some Hammond organ, to give it that hard edge again. This whole section has a feel of some virtuoso musicians having a rather exciting jam session and you nod your head in appreciation. The vocals have a profoundly heavy character to them as the song keeps moving off into distinctly prog-metal territory. Weighty guitar riffing and drums that could knock an elephant off its feet give the song a real density at its core, like both the immovable object and the irresistible force. Julian is given free rein and makes the most of it, his guitar playing is immense on this song and leaves you almost slack jawed and this is matched by Markus’ utterly absorbing and exuberant keyboards. I bet this track would be awesome live. Sad Today  is the shortest track on the album but, perhaps, the most profound. A gentle piano and tender, compassionate vocals give you a lump in your throat. A song like this could feel a little out of place among the heavy riffs and thunderous rhythms but the band carry it off perfectly. Wistful and serene, it leaves you rapt in a sad and nostalgic atmosphere.

live

Rather profoundly, the last track on the album is Finally. Electronic sounds open the song and then Julian hits you right in the solar plexus with a huge riff. The song erupts with the drums driving things along, adding a steely edge to the coruscating guitar work. A whirlpool of progressive tinged musical chops holds you in its sway, keyboards swirling around your head and the guitar seems like a barely tame wild animal seeking to escape its cage. The vocals seem to bring order tot he chaos, Alexander taking centre stage and dominating proceedings while that melting pot of musical virtuosity carries on behind him in a slightly subdued manner. Yes, it is still a heavy song but it has a aged feeling of experience and patient wisdom. The guitar fires at you, over laid by a jumble of spoken voices, the chorus is quite addictive in its emphatic delivery and you get a feeling that the whole album has been leading up to this final outpouring of emotion. You have to applaud the excellent musicianship going on between your ears, these guys can really play their instruments exceedingly well, emphasised every time they decide to go off on an absorbing progressive jam (which they do frequently). As this song (and album) come to a close, it is the farewell to their fallen friend that takes over and the passion, pride and grief are all too evident, especially on the solo that is full of fervor, remorse but also love and joy.

Slightly controversial cover aside, ‘When We Were Beautiful’ is a superb and fitting tribute. The music is not dominated by the plethora of riffs, rather it is accentuated and complimented, these guys are outstanding musicians and it is evident in every note that they play. If you like your progressive metal with a little something extra, you are going to love this album, I did.

Live photos by Jutte Leiske.

Promo photos by Christina Bulka.

Released 18th March 2016.

Buy ‘When We Were Beautiful’ direct from the band