Pain of Salvation have been firmly at the forefront of the progressive rock and metal scenes for nearly three decades now. Led by mercurial multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gildenlöw, the Swedish band have consistently demonstrated a sincere passion for moving their own extraordinary music forward, while always remaining lyrically enlightened and ferociously intelligent.
The leaders in thoughtful, pained and poignant progressive-metal music, the band have had a stellar career that has produced ten studio albums and included such highlights as ‘Scarsick’, ‘Remedy Lane’, ‘Road Salt One’, ‘Road Salt Two’ and their brilliant previous release ‘In the Passing Light Of Day’. From elaborate and pointedly metal early classics through obtuse wizardry and genre-blurring mischief, Pain of Salvation’s all-encompassing musical vision has delivered some of contemporary prog’s most brave, bold and startling moments.
The band returned this year having deftly weathered the departure of guitarist Ragnar Zolberg, discovering a newfound enthusiasm for what happens next in the process.
“We did In The Passing Light Of Day and that ended with the departure of Ragnar from the band,” Gildenlöw recalls. “In the past, 10 or 20 years ago, that would probably have made me doubt the future of the band and all of that. I went through that a lot in the past with members leaving or things not turning out in a good way! It’s always difficult and it’s always something that makes you sad, when your little band family is disrupted, but I never came to the point where I doubted where to go or what to do. The other band members were pushing us on to continue, so I just kept writing music.”
The result of that sustained surge of creativity is ‘PANTHER’, the eleventh Pain of Salvation album and a very obvious landmark release in a career full of them. ‘PANTHER’ is a concept piece that delves into the conflicts and contradictions between so-called normal people and those who are wired entirely differently.
This is an album full of creativity and power, a simmering melting pot of brooding desire and thunderous riffs that creates a body of work leviathan in scope and content.
The edgy, almost funky opening track Accelerator gives a restless, tense feel to the music before opening into a sparse soundscape dominated by Daniel’s vocal before the stark, blasted landscape of Unfuture hoves into view, hewn from granite and taking no prisoners, “Welcome to the new world…”, indeed…
Gildenlöw has always been the master of simple, severe beauty and that is delivered in spades on the sublime Restless Boy, a song thats rawness is there for all to see. “This is not a test..”Pain of Salvation have a knack of producing songs that drip with bare emotion and Wait drops perfectly into that category with a simple piano note and acoustic guitar laying the foundations for a wistful and nostalgic piece of music that lives long in the memory. As graceful a song will be hard to find on any progressive-metal album.
So, who fancies a bit of electro-ambient progressive rock? Sounds an odd combination doesn’t it but PoS make it work brilliantly on Keen to A Fault, a fast paced, stylish track that works amazingly well. Fur is a short interlude that speaks to me of Eastern European 50’s film noire and segues into the title track. Well, what can I say about PANTHER? It’s superb, a complete melding of rap, oriental sounds and electronica that sounds like nothing else the band have ever done. It’s more akin to Linkin Park than anything else and, well, it’s just brilliant!
The final two tracks are Pain Of Salvation at their very, very best. The slow burning, monolithic power of Species has a simmering build up to a crescendo of crushing guitars and heartfelt vocals and then Icon closes the album out with humility and style in a similar vein to the title track from ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’. At once intense and dynamic, then calm and thoughtful, this is a song that contains all that is best about the band and showcases Daniel Gildenlöw’s consistent ability to write masterpieces of music.
One of the highlights of the year and an album that could become a seminal progressive-metal release, Pain Of Salvation have created a piece of music that could well be their finest yet.
Following the outstanding success of their 2019 American tour, YES are to release The Royal Affair Tour, Live From Las Vegas through BMG Records on 30th October. Eager fans will be able to get hold of the PHYSICAL formats from 2nd October if ordered exclusively through the YES Store. Formats are: CD digi sleeve with 12 page booklet; 2LP gatefold with 12” booklet and digital. Pre-Order the album here: https://YesBand.lnk.to/RoyalAffairPR
All YES concert tours are special events for their legions of fans and The Royal Affair Tour was no exception, conceived as a wonderful celebration of the best of British progressive music. Guests on the tour were Asia (with YES keyboardist Geoff Downes and a special appearance by Steve Howe), John Lodge of The Moody Blues and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy featuring Arthur Brown.
Of The Royal Affair Tour album, Alan White says: “The Royal Affair tour album, being released in October, is a welcome new chapter in the wide expanse of YES live recordings. I hope you enjoy it.”
Steve Howe adds: “Having the opportunity to bring together the band members in the development of a well refined set of songs that captures the bands true potential is simply an honour for me.”
The show features many classic tracks across the period 1970 – 1980. The set opened with No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed, the Richie Havens cover from YES’ second album Time And A Word (1970). Tempus Fugit was taken from Drama (1980), Geoff Downes’ first as a member of YES, while Going For The One, I’ve Seen All Good People and Siberian Khatru are from some of YES’ iconic mid-70s albums. The set included a rare live performance of YES’ cover of Paul Simon’s America and John Lodge shared vocals on YES’ cover of John Lennon’s Imagine. Soon-to-be YES drummer Alan White played on the original studio recording.
The Royal Affair Tour live set and album, recorded at the Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, in July 2019, reaches a climax with two of the best-loved YES tracks Roundabout and Starship Trooper, always a high note on which to close the set.
YES are Steve Howe (guitar) who joined in 1970, Alan White, drums since 1972, Geoff Downes (keyboards) who first joined in 1980, vocalist since 2011 Jon Davison, Billy Sherwood, who played guitar/keyboards in the 1990s and was the late Chris Squire’s choice to take over bass/vocals in 2015 also played with Asia on this tour. Jay Schellen played additional drums.
The Royal Affair Tour also featured an exhibition of original art by Roger Dean whose artwork is synonymous having designed the iconic YES logo and the band’s best-loved album covers. Roger Dean recently painted The Royal Affair Tour album artwork live on Facebook while also fielding questions from fans.
The 26-date The Royal Affair Tour and YES’ performances were critically acclaimed: “Yes proved again that they are, after all these years, still the kings of progressive rock.” (Vintage Rock)
“It was a unique night of rock music history that has endured for half a century.” (Grateful Web)
As always, YES put on a magical show and took the crowd on a journey through their hits (Music Connection Magazine)
The band sounded great and had brilliant visuals to accompany the songs. Sherwood’s bass playing is perfectly suited to capture the essence of the late Chris Squire while Geoff Downes and Steve Howe are still at the top of their games. Vocalist Jon Davison… looks extremely comfortable on stage, hitting each note with ease. (the progreport.com)
The Royal Affair Tour – Live in Las Vegas track listing: 1. No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed
2. Tempus Fugit
3. Going For The One
4. I’ve Seen All Good People
5. Siberian Khatru
10. Starship Trooper
Recorded live at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel, Friday 26th July 2019, The Royal Affair Tour, Live From Las Vegas was mixed by Billy Sherwood and is released by BMG Records. Customers who order via the YES Store will receive their albums on 2nd October with the album on general release from 30th October.
About Yes For half a century YES have been one of the most innovative, influential and best-loved bands in rock music history and consistently at the fore-front of the progressive rock movement. Formed in 1968 by Jon Anderson and the late, and much-missed, Chris Squire, their 1970s albums The Yes Album, Fragile, Close To The Edge, the triple live album set Yessongs, Tales From Topographic Oceans, Relayer and Going For The One were ground-breaking in musical style and content. Their music also became synonymous with artist Roger Dean whose distinctive YES logo design and artwork adorned the lavish gatefold presentation sleeves of many YES albums.
With sales of over 50 million records, the Grammy-award winning YES were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2017, where they performed Roundabout from the album Fragile and the FM radio-friendly Owner Of A Lonely Heart from the 1985 album 90125.
Blue Rose Code is Edinburgh-born songwriter Ross Wilson. At the edge of contemporary alt-folk, Wilson’s music evokes a meeting of Van Morrison and a young John Martyn, both shipwrecked with a bunch of Motown records.
The music of Blue Rose Code is not simply music to listen to… But music to engage with in an emotional transaction that will tear your heart out, dance on it, repair it, replace it and somehow leave you feeling richer for the experience. – Brian Doig.
I was introduced to the soul stirring and joyous experience that is Blue Rose Code by my good friend Iain Sloan and the album ‘…And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing’ and I have been eternally grateful ever since. Ross Wilson is an exceptional composer and musician, his songs invoke strong feelings of passion for home and the land, for loyalty and love.
Ross’ soft Scottish brogue combines with some of the most emotive music you are ever likely to hear, he doesn’t write songs, he creates moments of musical wonder and beauty. Ross Wilson has spent most of his musical life curating; he sculpts his band to every mood and temperament in order to create the perfect happening.
Nine songs, nine stories, nine perfect moments frozen in time, ‘With Healings Of The Deepest Kind’ is, perhaps, Ross’ greatest creation yet. Each track will take your heart and soul an a wondrous musical journey and lead you to place of peace, calm and love.
The highlights for me are the lilting, laid back charm of opener You’re Here And Then You’re Gone, the absolute grace of The Wild Atlantic Way and Starlit, the humble bare charms of Red Kites and the folk/blues/americana humble wonder of closing track Riverstown.
When it comes to music that salves the soul and gives joy to the heart, this album has few peers. An utter musical joy and one that everyone should listen to at least once, it has an honesty and innocence that is rare in the music industry these days.
Lunatic Soul’s, talented creator, singer and multi-instrumentalist, MariuszDuda, has been busy during this current lockdown period and is ready to reveal exciting news on a new Lunatic Soul album and the follow up to 2018’s highly praised Under The Fragmented Sky, that will be released later this year on Kscope.
I hope you are all safe and sound, and that you are taking a good care of yourselves, both physically and mentally. These are tough times, filled with fear of what the future might bring us, of how our lives will change, because they surely will. But I also believe that together we can cope with everything.
I’m thinking that Lunatic Soul fans who have patiently waited, deserve to finally receive some news! I haven’t posted anything for quite a while and I hope you can forgive me for that. Let me start by saying ‘thank you’ for supporting my new project, which is individual songs released under “Mariusz Duda”. But don’t be deceived by “The Song of the Dying Memory”, my “subcutaneous songs” will come in different shapes and forms 🙂
A month ago, I started up a new website, www.mariuszduda.md where I gathered and graphically organised all the musical endeavors I have taken part in, leaving free spaces for future plans. In the Lunatic Soul section, there are two empty slots. One of them is for this year’s album, which will be released in the autumn of 2020.
Many of you already know that I have been working on the seventh Lunatic Soul release. There have been occasional news from the studio, some short clips, pictures from a forest 😉 and bits of information in various interviews. I must say it wasn’t easy to find sufficient time during the intense “Wasteland tour” with Riverside, but, somehow, 75% of the new Lunatic Soul album is ready.
Currently, I’m finishing working on the lyrics. The final recordings, vocals and overdubs,will be planned in May and June, and the seventh Lunatic Soul album will be released in October.
Lunatic Soul has its cycle, and all the albums have their timeline (let me refer you again to www.mariuszduda.md ). The seventh album will be a musical continuation of the black and white albums, the third release “on the side of death”, and the “opposite” album to “Walking on a Flashlight Beam”, where there was a transition from life to death. Here, we will have a transition from death to life. I know it may all sound a little complicated and I promise to explain it all better one day, in a visual form 😉
What is important and what I can already share with you is that:
– it will be a dark folk, organic, Slavic-Scandinavian album. Exactly what you have always expected from Lunatic Soul 🙂
– the colour palette of the album and its cover will be connected with… a dark forest 🙂
– there will be 6 tracks on the album, about 40 minutes in total.
– there will also be a double disc edition with additional… 40 minutes of music, mainly instrumental, including a 26-minute suite called “Transition 2”. That gives us nearly 80 minutes of new material.
I think before the summer arrives, I will be able to reveal more information, both audio and visual, about this new release. It will be a melodious, dense and coherent album. Very close to nature and to my heart. I come from the Masurian land of forests and lakes, that’s where I was born, that’s where I grew up, and thus “sylvan and Slavic moods” have always been and will remain a part of my life.
I don’t know yet what will happen with this year’s concerts of Riverside but I can promise you now that in the autumn of this year you can expect the new Lunatic Soul release.
I hope that it will bring you a lot of intense emotions and perhaps make going through this incredibly difficult time at least a little bit more bearable.
In 2019, PATTERN-SEEKING ANIMALS, the California-based band featuring Ted Leonard (lead vocals & guitars), Jimmy Keegan (drums & vocals), Dave Meros (bass) and John Boegehold (keyboards), presented its much-lauded eponymous debut.
Just a year later, the group announces May 15th, 2020 as the release date for its newest opus, “Prehensile Tales”, which expands the stylistic niche carved out by the debut and adds additional twists and turns along the way.
For the six songs on the album (the longest clocking in at over 17 minutes), the band introduced violin, flute, trumpet, cello, sax and pedal steel to the sound palette that was once again recorded & mixed by Rich Mouser at The Mouse House.
The track-listing reads as follows: 1. Raining Hard In Heaven 2. Here In My Autumn 3. Elegant Vampires 4. Why Don’t We Run 5. Lifeboat 6. Soon But Not Today
“I started writing for the second album right as we were finishing up the first one” says Boegehold, who is again producing. “I wanted to change around some of the songwriting approaches I’d been using and draw from a few different musical influences while not straying too far from the overall vibe of the band.”
Ted Leonard adds: “This album is another collection of lush arrangements and infectious melodies. I mean REALLY infectious. There are certain lines that are the last thing going through my head at night and the first thing in the morning. I think it’s actually furthering my insanity.”
For the striking cover image, P-SA collaborated with Polish artist Mirek (https://www.facebook.com/mirekis7/), whose ‘An evolutionary broadcast’ design Boegehold immediately considered a perfect fit to the album’s peculiar title.
“Prehensile Tales is a play-on-words I came up with while writing lyrics and thought it would be a funny album title. As a bonus, it actually seems to mean something that fits the music.”
To coincide with the album’s release, the band is set to perform at RosFest 2020 in Sarasota, Florida on May 9th and is lining up more dates later in the year which will be announced soon.
“Prehensile Tales” will be released as Gatefold 2LP plus CD, Limited Edition CD, and as digital album on May 15th, 2020 on InsideOutMusic.
Afenginn, which means “intoxication and strength” in old norse, is Danish composer and musician, Kim Rafael Nyberg, one of the leading neo-folk, post-classical voices in Scandinavia.
Having toured all over Europe, Australia and the US and performed at numerous festivals, concert halls and venues, Nyberg’s deeply ambitious, orchestrated compositions are based on his seemingly mercurial creative impulses with a strong DIY underpinning, with each of his previous bodies of work being a clear departure from the last. Obvious comparisons would be Hauschka, Goldmund, Jonny Greenwood and Dustin O’Halloran.
“Klingra (circle in Faroese) is one of my more delicate and introspective pieces that leans one degree further into the neo-classical realm. I’ve been working with the theme of circles/cycles to inspire both the way the music is composed and the story within the poetry”, says Nyberg.
With a sound palette of two pianos, a string quartet (The Danish String Quartet), pedal steel guitar, synth bass and two drummers supporting the haunting vocals of Ólavur Jákupsson (Yann Tiersen), the music is incredibly intense, both emotionally and dynamically.
It speaks of stark landscapes, too big for the human mind to comprehend, almost pagan and primeval, of the land and with millennia of history coursing through every note and word. It is a powerful and cinematic soundscape on which Nyberg layers his palette of beautiful and ethereal pieces of music.
So exquisite is the music that it is almost painful to behold in its minimalistic glory, the norse melancholy drawing you into its intricate web of gradually building emotive tension. The highlights are many but Vitin (the lighthouse) leaves an emotional mark on you that lingers long after the mournful strings fade away to just be a lingering memory.
Any of these wondrous compositions could be used as a dark cinematic soundtrack, the fragility and contemplative feel leaves you thoughtful and almost overwhelmed by empathy, I have not heard anything quite like this in a very long while. Ólavur’s deeply moving vocals are the perfect foil for the wistful and winsome grace of the music and will move you to your very soul.
Music for long winter evenings in the company of someone you love, ‘Klingra’ will make time stand still as you listen to every nuance and subtlety, it is an incredibly involving experience that I believe everyone should enjoy at least once.
Rarely are new groups as exciting, talented or unique as EXPLORING BIRDSONG, the piano-led guitarless trio from Liverpool who have announced their signing to German independent label Long Branch Records.
Having recently graduated from Liverpool’s Institute of Performing Arts, the young group have already caught the eyes Prog Magazine, Kerrang! Magazine, Kerrang! Radio and Classic Rock Magazine as well as achieved two Progressive Music Awards nominations in 2019. Having only released two singles at this point, EXPLORING BIRDSONG have been hand-picked to support Sleep Token, toured with proggers Godsticks, caught the attention of Florence and the Machine, and performed at HRH Prog. Unplaceable for the most part, the band bring to mind elements of Steven Wilson, Kate Bush, Rush, Sleep Token, and Agent Fresco.
The young trio are comprised of drummer Matt Harrison, bassist and keyboardist Jonny Knight (capable of playing both instruments simultaneously), and topped by keyboardist and vocalist Lynsey Ward‘s stunning, otherworldly vocals.
“We are so excited to be signing with Long Branch Records. We’re extremely proud to be working with a label that is home to some of our favourite bands, and feel our music couldn’t be in better hands.” says Exploring Birdsong drummer Matt Harrison.
Long Branch Records label manager Manuel Schönfeld adds: “Exploring Birdsong are undoubtedly one of the most interesting new bands in the British progressive music scene. We’re super excited about the signing and are looking forward to a successful partnership.”
Exploring Birdsong’s new single “The River” will be released on October 2nd, 2019 followed by their debut EP release in Autumn 2019.
Watch the band live:
03.10. UK, London – Underworld /w Sleep Token (sold out) 04.10. UK, Manchester – Manchester Academy 3 /w Sleep Token (sold out)
As most of you will know, I’ve taken a back seat for the last six months when it has come to reviewing albums. Now, while I may occasionally step back into the ring and write a full review, going forward I will be recommending a few albums with , hopefully, a few well chosen and pithy words of description.
I am starting with a round dozen of albums new to me over the previous six months or so and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have…
Released on April 26th, Descender, the sophomore album from Puerto Rican prog-metallers Avandra, is an incredibly mature and complex record full of thunderous riffs, intelligent vocals and catchy hooks. In a genre well known for formality, this act with the most humble of beginnings have unleashed something truly different and special and with an impact similar to prog metal legends Dream Theater’s own career defining second album Images and Words.
A Tower Of Clocks is the long awaited second album from multi award-winning UK progressive rock band This Winter Machine. Almost 2 years in the making, this new release has the band tackling universal themes such as time, loss and identity within a loose conceptual framework.
With a feel of early Genesis and Fish era Marillion, the band haven’t strayed too far from the accepted progressive rock path but this album has been created flawlessly and with obvious affection and the musicianship on show is second to none. The impressive songwriting weaves captivating tales that draw the listener into the story and keep them there as willing companions on a spectacular musical journey.
I liked it that much that I bought the vinyl…
Released 24th June 2019
Our Destiny is the brainchild of Vikram Shankar (keyboardist of American progressive bands Redemption and Lux Terminus), whose piano playing on Awakening is paired with the angelic vocals of his partner Lauren Nolan. Awakening showcases the duo’s unique synthesis of genres and stylistic approaches, with emotive progressive rock married to pop, singer-songwriter, alternative and electronic flavors.
Vikram is a multi-talented musician of considerable skill and he shows his lighter side on this most graceful of recordings. A collection of ethereal, wistful songs that lend themselves to Lauren’s spectacular vocals perfectly. In a world full of chaos and anger, this wonderful record delivers some calm, elegance and decorum. An injection of peace into your soul, truly breathtaking.
Released 21st June 2019
None Other is a prog rock power trio from Volos, Greece who have released three albums since 2012. The brainchild of Spyros Charmanis, this eponymous third album is a sometimes brutal voyage that leaves no mountain unmoved and no stone unturned in its compelling forty minute running time.
Thunderous guitar and monstrous bass combine with the mighty drums and authoritarian vocals to deliver an addictive aural assault. Not for the faint of heart but a truly forceful piece of music that is definitely worth your time and attention.
Released 6th May 2019
“Jesus Christ – The Exorcist” is a monumental project in Neal Morse’s already impressive discography. A Progressive Rock Opera 10 years in the making, it was written and produced by Morse and includes performances by Neal and an all-star cast of vocalists and musicians. Featuring about two hours of music that encompass all the spectrums and genres Neal Morse is known for, the album will, of course, tell the Story of Stories.
Now I know Neal’s religious leanings do put a lot of people off but if you can get past that and just listen to the incredible music then you will be privy to an incredible musical journey full of wonderful pomposity, amazing songs and just incredible musicianship. Whatever you say about the man, he is one incredible musician and storyteller and this Rock Opera is a remarkable and thoroughly enjoyable roller coaster ride.
Released 14th June 2019
Yes, I know, it’s not exactly progressive rock but then that’s not all I listen to anyway. Western Stars is a wonderful album and one that everyone should have in their collection, it is that good! Forget the fact that it’s a Bruce Springsteen record, that really is irrelevant here, what it is is a truly memorable collection of beautiful songs that show a calm and reflective side to The Boss.
Take the title track, you will not hear a more captivating four and a half minutes of music this year, believe me. Chasing Wild Horses, Moonlight Motel, Stones and more, thirteen tracks of perfect Americana and country music that some are calling Springsteen’s best release in years. Now I can’t comment on that but I can tell you that it is currently my album of the year and it will take something incredible to move it from that spot, a truly special release.
Released 14th June 2019
Fragments of the 5th Element is Magic Pie’s long awaited 5th album, made up from 5 tracks showcasing the band’s very diverse influences. On this record, they have tried to steer clear of the sterile perfection which modern prog bands have a tendency to get caught up in – and have gone for a slightly more unpolished sound, a bit rough in the edges. A little more ‘bite’.
From the incredibly infectious and upbeat opening salvo of The Man Who Had It All to the mighty bombast of the epic twenty three minute album closer The HedonistMagic Pie have delivered joyous symphonic prog perfection. Epic, energetic melodic and sometimes heavy prog rock with splendid vocal harmonies and great musicianship, this album has it all!
Released 30th August 2019
Norrie McCulloch is a singer-songwriter and award-winning visual artist originally from Ayrshire he currently lives and works out of of Stirling, Scotland. McCulloch’s songs are a tangle up of folk, indie and country influences that manage to stay true to his Scottish roots, equating to a style that offers a welcome touch of originality.
Compass is this talented musician’s fourth full length album and builds on his unique blend of Caledonian Americana with exquisite songwriting, plaintive, heartfelt vocals and pared back instruments to deliver his most fulfilling and accomplished release yet. There’s a simple, stark beauty to these tracks, a feeling of a heart laid bare, a truly emotive collection of tunes that leave you emotionally spent.
Released 31st May 2019
“Oceans of Thought” was originally called “The Merchant of Eternal Youth” but during the time of the recordings Marcohad some personal problems and was a little depressed. So the songs, the cover but above all the lyrics, have undergone a change because the music comes from what he has inside his mind and soul.
“So this album talks about the difficulties that life sometimes brings us, but also talks about how to try to overcome them. It’s a record that I care a lot about because it talks a lot about me.”
I’ve always been a big fan of this outrageously talented musician who delivers some intelligent and thought provoking progressive rock with an undertone of eastern promise. Care is lavished on every aspect of the recording and Marco enlists the help of some highly talented individuals to deliver his most intense and complete album yet, a thoroughly engrossing achievement that rewards your complete attention.
Check out Open My Arms with Norwegian guitar maestro Bjørn Riis, a contender for song of the year.
Released 21st June 2019
Living Dangerously is the band’s second release, coming six years after the first and is described as a “Sonic cocktail on the rocks blending equal parts classic, progressive jazz and blues and cheekily spiking with whatever they found lurking at the back of the cupboard…”
There’s bits of King Crimson, bits of Van Der Graff Generator and a whole lot of intelligent, sharp-suited songwriting that has gone into this album and its stays just on right side of being too clever for itself. Broken Parachute craft some impressive tunes on this release and its another album that requires a lot of you time and attention to completely reward but, trust me, it is worth the effort. The blues soaked guitar and jazz infused keyboards are utter works of art and are worth the entry prize alone.
Released 31st May 2019
How do you follow the monumental three disc wonder that was Gandalf’s Fist’s 2016 epic The Clockwork Fable? With a two disc prologue, that’s how!
The Clockwork Prologue is the first release for Gandalf’s Fist as a six-piece and returns the listener once more to the dark and steamy city of Cogtopolis, a city beneath the surface, the once safe shelter for post-apocalyptic mankind, now a microcosmos following its own crude laws, rules and religions.
I called The Clockwork Fable, “A mesmerising musical masterpiece epic in scope and utterly breathtaking in its delivery” and this companion piece takes what the first release gave us and adds to it with the bands’ singular flair for drama, theatre and the spectacular. The stellar cast of voice actors, including Mark Benton and Bill Fellows, return to give a familiar feel to proceedings but its the musical talents of the band and the ever impressive vocals of Keri Farish that are the real draw.
The Clockwork Prologue isn’t meant to reinvent the wheel, it is meant to add to the wonderment of the original album and Gandalf’s Fist have delivered that in spades.
Released 1st July 2019
A Sky Full of Stars For A Roof is Djam Karet’s 19th album. The group was formed back in 1984, and this is a celebration of the band’s 35 years together.
Combining analog and modular synthesizers with numerous acoustic instruments from around the world, Djam Karet is exploring new territory on this psychedelic journey of discovery. Harmonium, dilruba, mbira, udu and other exotic instruments, help bring a warm vibe to this highly melodic and visionary work. Swirling electronic soundscapes expand to reveal new acoustic environments of exotic goodness.
With an almost spiritual feel to the intricate music, this collection of tunes has a raw feel, almost primeval, literally music that has come from the Earth. This band always produce thought provoking pieces that take the listener out of any comfort zone and take them on an intensely melodic musical crusade and A Sky Full of Stars For A Roof is surely the pinnacle of what Djam Karet have been producing together over all of their 35 years as a band.
Released 15th April 2019
So, there you have it. The first in a relatively regular feature on my recommendations. See you soon for the next Progradar Recommends!!
Antenna, the diverse fourth album from The Gift signals a significant change in direction and style for this London based band, driven by a fresh and accessible impetus. In a recent interview Mike Morton of The Gift summarised their new album as focusing on the ‘Difficulty of being Human’, and added that it was about ‘communication missing the mark’ which he encapsulated in the metaphor ‘Broken Plugs and Sockets’.
This is an ambitious and brave project, leaving behind their
previous leanings towards more ornate ‘prog’ sounds so one has to ask did they
succeed in the communication hitting the mark and connecting?
What is very clear right from the start is that this is a band that has chosen not to stand still or remain in a comfort zone. We are Connected is a striking opening song, with slight echoes of INXS, riding on an insistent guitar riff and threaded throughout with a popping synth backing, indicative of the subject of electronic obsession with social media. Mike Morton sounds angry as he spits out:
A myriad of souls, We
have abandoned all controls,
Naked to the core,
exposing our emotion
We are connected – we
are one – we are connected
The songwriter, David Lloyd, explained in the same TPA interview :
‘It’s about the way in
which people have sold their soul to social media… the way people can be
damaged or manipulated without really realising it, just through participating
in it. It’s got a corrupting side to it.’
This opening is important as a cracking introduction to the album but also as a very clear marker that this is The Gift like you’ve never really heard them before, and they have moved a long way from the expansive and mythically influenced previous album ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. If that album’s lush oil painting like artwork by Mark Buckingham reflected their epic musical canvasses of ornate, multi-layered passages, then Antenna’s more angular, ‘Metropolis’ film graphic based artwork by Brian Mitchell is indicative of the new album’s more direct but carefully constructed contemporary songs. For instance, there is an impressively flowing but understated guitar solo by David Lloyd in We are Connected, but whereas previously it may have been more lengthy and elaborate, on Antenna it is brief but consequently stands out all the more on a song filled with memorable hooks and straightforward lyrics.
The Gift are blessed with a combination of four songwriters in Mike Morton, David Lloyd, Gabriele Baldocci and Leroy James, who all bring something different to the table. Long Time Dead is a song which has appeared occasionally in The Gift’s live set in recent times and this ‘road testing’ has probably helped hone it into an outstanding song. Song writer Leroy James evokes a Wild West atmosphere with a Spaghetti Western type harmonica intro and then we are transported by atmospheric distorted wah wah guitar sounds. Evocatively played ensemble playing conveys a swagger befitting the feel of the song. Gabriele Baldocci even struts into the musical saloon with a dash of bar room piano. Morton carries the ‘carpe diem’ no regrets message of the song perfectly:
So come now raise your
head – you’re a long time dead
Love the life you’ve
led – you’re a long time dead
In contrast the following song Snowfall exemplifies the differing aspects that characterise The Gift. Over a delicate piano backing which brings to mind images of softly falling snow Morton touchingly sings about a lost relationship. Lyrically and melodically this is simply heart-breaking, and it is imbued with pure emotion and truth. Similarly, the instrumental piece Hand in Hand, the title of which echoes a Snowfall lyric, is also a thing of lovely subtlety, featuring guitarist Lloyd alongside bassist Stef Dickers, showing his versatility on acoustic guitar.
Snowfall and Hand in Hand bookend the far more angular piece Far Stranger, with a staccato, robotic feel appropriate for its subject matter of synthetic humans, with references to ‘Rachel and Roy’ (of the film ‘Bladerunner’) and ‘Pinocchio’. This song does not fully connect for this reviewer – it feels like a song which The Gift would have expanded upon in previous albums to convey the full story, but to me here it sounds like rather a lot of ideas and narrative squeezed in to a shorter piece. This is disappointing as it’s a fascinating theme, possibly fitting an earlier abandoned idea for the album title about being ‘Almost Human but not quite’, and the song and theme may have benefited from a more ambitious, expansive setting. On Far Stranger it is almost as if The Gift were caught between two stools in their transition from their previous ‘proggier’ style into a more succinct approach.
As if to underline that thought the extended piece Changeling is altogether more successful in conveying a narrative as it tells the story of the rise and fall of a politician corrupted by power in three distinct phases, which could easily be separate songs in themselves. This treatment gives the music and narrative time to develop and breath… but this is no extravagant, lush 70’s style ‘prog’ extravaganza. The sparse synth and programmed percussion of opening section A Saviour’s Shoes echoes 80’s era Japan (surely a good thing) with a finely judged vocal from Morton introducing a politician starting out with sincere intentions. This fascinating opening descends in to much darker territory on the much more ‘rock’ oriented The Shadow Behind part with Neil Hayman in spectacular form on powerful and precise drumming alongside Dickers’ deft use of bass in the driving sections or more contemplative passages. Baldocci throws in a great twisting synth solo to convey the insidious effect ambition has upon the politician’s initial integrity. This outstanding piece then takes a definite ‘left turn’ in the closing Finest Hour section which is a pure glam rock stomp with Morton, acting out the fall of the politician in to total corruption, at his most dramatically camp on vocals and Lloyd and James on great form on guitars. The Gift premiered this section as a stand-alone song at the Fusion Festival in March and it went down a storm with the crowd, getting them to their feet. Curiously, it could be argued that this nearly ten minute piece demonstrates that The Gift remain very much in the mainstream ‘Prog’ world, but trust me, you won’t think that when you hear it. It’s an interesting melding of different musical styles not normally associated with classic rock tropes, skilfully moulded in to a song cycle conveying the changes of the main character.
Perhaps as a ‘palate cleanser’ after such an extended and thematically dark piece The Gift follow it up with the optimistic rock/pop of Back to Eden, which rolls along brightly. This is in stark contrast to When you are old, with words by poet W.B Yeats. This slow and sombre piece of reminiscence and regret has hints of ‘Low’ era Bowie – some may love it’s melancholic atmosphere, some may find it a rather depressing drone… but one has to wonder about it’s sequencing directly after the remarkably rocking Wild Roses.
The highlight of Antenna for this reviewer is definitely Wild Roses, which announces itself with ‘Art of Noise’ like synth effects and percussion before plunging straight in to pure Thin Lizzy territory. Leroy James and David Lloyd really rock out on the guitars and Dickers and Hayman thunder along brilliantly in the rhythm section, whilst Baldocci throws in occasional keyboard stabs and synth runs… but the real surprise is Mike Morton’s vocals – he really throws himself in to a powerful ‘Rock’ vocal, with more than a little resemblance to Phil Lynott! The Gift truly excel in a live setting and one can only imagine just how much they will rock the audiences when they pull that one out of the drawer.
Antenna concludes appropriately with Closer about relationships, which commences with bright jangling guitars over a cool bass line and Hayman in almost funky form on drums in the Where all Roads Divide section. However, for this reviewer curiously for an album which focuses so much on connection this is a song which does feel a little disconnected as that opening section quite suddenly jars in to the rocking instrumental Out of Reach section with synth and guitar soloing. It almost feels like The Gift felt compelled to pull out some ‘Prog Stops’ before the end of the album. As a section alone it sounds fine, but it did not flow naturally from the first part. Similarly, after a significant pause the emotional Closer finale does not flow on from the previous passage. Nevertheless, as a piece in itself Closer impressively builds and builds with delicately picked, almost bluegrass guitar, organ and then a lovely fluid piano. A lyrical soaring guitar solo elevates the piece to even greater heights as Morton proclaims:
If our journeys ever
synchronize, Let’s be thankful for whatever, Brings our Universe together
We can be Closer….
Closer…. We can be Closer
On this album Closer feels ironically a little disjointed but as a live piece it may mature, and the excellent closing section will certainly stir the soul.
Well, as asked earlier, did The Gift succeed in communicating and connecting?
For this reviewer the answer is a qualified ‘Yes’.
There are some truly outstanding pieces on this album, but for me some songs did not quite hit the mark or fully connect. In essence some of the ‘plugs’ did not seem to quite fit some of the ‘plugs’. In truth The Gift were never a ‘full-on’ ornate ‘Prog’ band, and each album had more accessible, less musically ambitious and unashamedly ‘catchy’ pieces alongside their epic forays. However, the clear main direction was down well-trodden progressive rock paths, and with classic songs like The Willows they really did it so well. In contrast Antenna feels like a band trying to break out of what may have started to feel like a pigeon-holing musical straightjacket. There may also be a sense of liberation for the wide range of song writing talent within the band, which has added a wholly different and fascinating range of musical colours to their spectrum. The great qualities that marked out The Gift previously are still there in the DNA of their material but maybe inevitably this album does have the feel of a ‘Transition’ album. Sometimes in a transition process older ways of doing things do not always sit comfortably together with new paths. However, that is not a bad thing – transition means growth and ‘progression’ in the true sense of the word. The Gift should be commended for having had the balls to significantly change their sound – as Morton said in a recent interview that change may ‘piss some people off and disappoint’ but ‘that’s just the way it is…’ It will be fascinating to see where they go from here.
The hope is that their previous fans remember the core of what made The Gift worth following before and remain on board, whilst the undoubted high quality of the different range of largely more accessible songs on this album also justifiably attracts other new fans who like … well just rock music, whatever the label.
Antenna sends out a strong signal from The Gift – they do not stand still so leave your preconceptions at the door, open your minds and explore their changing world.
Blimey, as we hurtle towards the season finale of 2018, with 2019 ready and waiting in the wings, it’s that time of year for an arbitrary jog through some of the albums that have made my year. Lists being lists these, of course, are totally personal. My Christmas list, for instance, looks nothing like Lord Progradar’s (being mostly filled with 5.1 box sets and socks, whilst Lord Progradar probably wants more vinyl and lycra shorts).
There have been plenty of albums that were close to getting into this list and, of course, the top ten could easily become a top twenty or thirty and before you know it I’d have run out of space and, indeed, time. I am also, of course, unable to include any BEM albums in here, as that would be a big old conflict of interest, and we don’t want that to colour any perception you may have.
Instead here’s my top ten, albums that have resonated withme this year, and albums that have made the commute so much better.
I have seen these fine chaps, led by the brilliant Bruce Soord, a couple of times here at Bristol, having really got into them with their ‘Magnolia’ album. For their last album ‘Your Wilderness’, they were joined by an up and coming drummer, a chap called Gavin Harrison, you might have heard of him?
Luckily he decided to hang around and join the band for ‘Dissolution’, which, as I said earlier in the year, is the sound of a band reborn and energised and whilst the album has its dark moments and bleak lyrics, musically it is one of the best they have made, and like all the best albums, flows perfectly.
No dipping in and out of tracks here, this is a journey, musically and lyrically and Bruce again has shown why The Pineapple Thief are one of the finest bands out there, and one who you must see live.
Matt Stevens pointed me in the direction of Bristol multi-instrumentalist and performer Laura Kidd, who I’ve been lucky enough to see perform at Bristol’s legendary Harbour fest, as well as at iconic venues like the Louisiana and the Thekla, and she always knows how to put on a show.
This, like her last album ‘Direction of Travel’ was funded by Laura’s fan family on pledge music and is, simply, her finest album yet.
Laura has no big label backing and everything she does is pushing the boundaries of DIY music making for the better. It’s a testament to her creativity and focused vision that she inspires so many fans to join heron her musical journey.
From the autobiographical rock of London Bites to the haunting beauty of Then The Quiet Came, Laura as a songwriter, evolves with each album she makes. The opening single, the crunching rock of Devastate Me being a statement of intent, as well as a fantastic album opener.
If you haven’t heard She Makes War then I suggest you bookmark this article here, nip off to her Bandcamp page where she still has copies of the ‘Brace for Impact’ vinyl available, have a listen, and if you like what you hear (and I guarantee you will), you can amend your Christmas list!
There has been some fantastic instrumental music released this year, with Irish post prog band Zombie Picnic being one of the names at the forefront of this ever expanding genre.
From mixing science fiction with dystopia and big meatyriffs and then adding technically adept and quirky art rock stylings, this 4 piece (JimGriffin and Dave Tobin on guitar, Brendan Miller (drums) & Brian Fitzgerald(Bass)) really know how to build intricate and intelligent rock pieces.
From the opening 9 minute Democracy Cannot Survive (oh how prescient that title is) to the closing three minute Anger in Storage(Denial Will Follow), this is intelligent, progressive instrumental rock at it’s finest and one that would sit happily in any collection that includes such bands as The Fierce and the Dead.
OK, so this is niche, in fact you could dive deeper and say it’s certainly beyond niche but, bear with me. It’s a brilliant record and concept.
Named after a tribe in the 1977 Tom Baker Dr Who serial The Face of the Evil, The Sevateem are Christian Erickson and Janey Winterbauer and this album was influenced by the 1984 Peter Davison regeneration story The Caves of Androzani (arguably the highpoint of 1980’s Dr Who – but I’ll leave that for another place, or another time) and is a fantastic space opera, mixing rock, ballads, electronica and musical tropes that could easily have fallen off the back of a radiophonic workshop.
Taking exquisite care not to breach copyright, this is pitched perfectly with the right balance of nods to our intrepid time travelling hero, big musical numbers, and a fantastic reinterpretation of aclassic story.
Available online from The Sevateem Bandcamp site, all proceeds from this go to the charity Doctors Without Frontiers as well.
From being curious about what it sounded like to getting absorbed in the sheer musical skill and smart song writing and performances on here, this has ended up as one of my albums of the year. I absolutely love it.
The latest release from post rock trio North Atlantic Oscillation, sees the band continue to build on their well honed mix of rock and electronica. Opening with the wonderful Low Earth Orbit, this see’s more crossover from Sam Healy’sSand project into the NAO sound, which is no bad thing. Healy’s vocals are superb and are part of the hypnotic mix.
Stand out tracks for me are the closing trio of Sequoia, Fernweh (a mesmerising 7 minutes of haunting beauty) and the closing Kcenrebbur where, like so much of NAO’s work, the music teases and builds.
This is an album that gets better with each listen as you get more and more from the music and it draws you in with it’s hypnotic and cyclical sound. There’s no band out there sounding like NAO, it’s always a delight to get a new album from these guys.
Prior to reviewing this album, I had never heard any Jet Black Sea, however I am now an absolute convert, this record has been on constant rotation since I first got it.
Bold, epic and not afraid to push their musical boundaries, this album’s title track ebbs and flows, builds and climbs, crossing multiple genres and sounds, from ambient soundscapes to works that would nestle in any record collection alongside No-Man or even Mike Oldfield. I am reminded of Mike’s early 90’s ambient electronica albums, like ‘Songs of Distant Earth’, in approach if not in sound.
The two musicians here are immensely talented individuals and they bounce ideas off each other to create a vast, beautiful and all-encompassing sound, one that is the musical equivalent of a big hug.
This is the sort of music that the album format was invented for, big and yet surprisingly intimate, not afraid to push big ideas in a beautiful way. The track builds and builds, with some sublime vocals from O’Shaughnessy, whilst the musicians weave intricate musical webs that pull you in and keep you hooked.
With only three tracks on here to play with, this is asprogressive as anything out there, and is well worth your time and money.
Reviewed elsewhere on this site by the esteemed Lord Progradar, this is one of the warmest and most beautiful albums I have had the pleasure to hear this year. I got the album on a download to review, landing in my inbox with nary a Bing.
I always think that albums of this magnificence when they arrive should come with a bang, like We Are Kin’s Pandora a few years ago,which had the same effect.
This new album from someone I’d never heard of, blew me away.
Listening to this album was a revelation and took me back to the mid 90’s. As a bit of history, I loved, and still love, music with bags of guitar and filled with testosterone, nowt wrong with that but then I discovered Tori Amos, who opened my ears to a new kind of music.
That feeling runs rife through this amazing album, as Jo-Beth is one of the finest songwriter’s I have come across in the last few years, from songs like the wonderful Lifeboat or the nearest we get to a title track, the atmospheric and haunting Orchid House, with its wonderful violin counterpoint to Jo-Beth’s vocals, which define the word ethereal.
This is musical beauty operating on another level, and her innate sense of music, and her wonderfully evocative lyrics, on tracks like Hungry Ghost or Bloodfox, are ripe in imagery and the sonic tapestry weaved around her words is a joy to behold.
My stand out track on an album full of beauty is the amazing River which, with its wonderful chorus and driving rhythm, encapsulates the beauty in this album.The lyrical beauty married with the musical accompaniment makes this one of the songs of the years, and Jo-Beth’s vocals are the icing on this musical cake.
This one that I keep returning to, time after time, and let me tell you, albums don’t get much better than this.
I love Jarrod Gosling’s work, from his artwork for Tim Bowness, his Cobalt Chapel project, I, Monster and Regal Worm he covers more bases musically and artistically than many other artists can manage. He is a 21stcentury renaissance man and, on ‘Pig Views’, the third Regal Worm album he’s made a masterpiece.
This new addition to the family, with its stunning artwork and availability as a pink double vinyl set, looks very smart indeed, art work, of course, is by the man himself.
Among Jarrod’s musical arsenal are items like Mellotrons, Hammond Organs, Rickenbacker basses, Mandolins, Lap steel guitars and many others. This mix of instrumentation, particularly the sax and flute, give this a very English sound, reminiscent of Canterbury scene bands. Throw in Jarrod’s love of jazz and psych, and his rock sensibilities, all of this combines to create a unique musical delight.
As a musician Jarrod has always done something different and interesting with every release and this is no different, whilst there are hints of the styles that dominate Cobalt Chapel and I, Monster, Regal Worm is its own different musical entity, one that draws you in with some of the most innovative and eclectic sounds I have heard on record all year.
This one is getting into a lot of these lists, absolutely no doubt of the fact that Southern Empire have toured the pants off it in the UK, making new friends and winning converts to the cause. Their spellbinding and stage stealing set at HRH Prog in November brought them to my attention, having never heard them before.
This is their second album and starts with the wonderfully progtatstically titled Goliath’s Moon, a song I know that polarises opinion. However, having seen them perform it live, with frontman Danny Lopresto in fine form, it’s a fab opener to an album filled with wonderful music.
These 4 tracks, yup 4 tracks, are the finest sound of contemporary progressive music lasting over 70 minutes. There’s plenty to love about this album from the wonderful epic tracks Cries for the Lonely and Crossroads and the keyboard and vocal work of Sean Timms,who formed this band after Unitopia folded. The guitars of Danny and Cam Blokland work so well together and the sound is fleshed out by the sterling Brody Green on drums and Jez Martin on bass and vocals.
The harmony vocals are a core part of their unique sound and they mix rock, metal and prog into an amazing sound and, in Danny they have an irrepressible and charming frontman.
The guys put on a show and have made a belter of an album and, if it wasn’t for seeing them at HRH, this album would probably have completely passed me by. So well done chaps, a late entry into my top ten, but well worth it.
After a long hiatus, Thumpermonkey released their latest album this year, an epic eclectic album about the upcoming apocalypse.
Now Thumpermonkey cannot be filed under easy listening and that suits me fine, they fit into a nice niche of the musical world where Gong collide with The Cardiacs and Knifeworld (or at least in my head they should do) and create something new out of the explosion.
As a reviewer who gets quite a lot of stuff sent to me from various places to listen to, I would rather receive one album like this than half a dozen generic middle of the road, let’s make an album that sounds like 1974 Yes or 1976 Genesis because we’re prog and it’s what we do (if I want Yes circa ’74, I will go put ‘Relayer’ on).
This stuck out so much this year from the crop of albums by its sheer otherness, it’s innate musical skills and of course the fact it’s bloody good. Thumpermonkey successfully mix widescreen cinemascope sounds with big riffs, piano sound to die for and an overarching concept that never feels forced or shoehorned into.
Very much like the best films and plays, the narrative drives and unfolds across these 7 tracks, and it is an album that rewards, nay demands, repeat listening (luckily, I’ve been enjoying it on the commute to work through my headphones, so I am there, immersed in their world and sound).
It is still an exciting and eclectic album, and whilst it’s not one you can listen to in the background, it’s an album that is (rightfully so) demanding of your time and attention, time and attention well spent.
All that’s left for me to do now is wish you a Happy Christmas, glorious New Year and hope that I’ve not got this up too late to influence your Christmas lists (mind you, if you get Christmas money – head over to Bandcamp on Xmas day, buy direct from the artists and have excitin music to listen to over the Chrimbo Limbo). I would like to wish all of you loyal Progradar readers a Happy New Year as well, and I will see you on the other side.