Something of a hidden gem, Italian band Camelias Garden deliver a beauteous blend of folk rock and progressive rock to warm the soul and lift the heart. The delicate vocals and ethereal musicianship is a wonder to behold and in ‘Kite’, the E.P. follow up to the equally impressive ‘You Have a Chance’, they deliver an undoubted highlight of the year so far. Hopefully this will widen their audience considerably, in fact it is only 3 euros for the mp3, what are you waiting for???
Hailing from Chicago, District 97 were formed in 2006 as an instrumental tour de force. Wanting to expand their sound with the addition of a practised vocal talent, they found ex American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt and the addition of her excellent vocals has produced a complex sound laced with brilliant harmonies. The musically adventurous style produced two releases, ‘Hybrid Child’ and ‘Trouble With Machines’ before they took another step forward with this latest release, one which is garnering praise across the whole progressive community.
German progressive rockers RPWL have been around since 2000 and produced a multitude of excellent mellow prog rock releases. Bass player Chris Postl formed his solo project Parzivals Eye and released the debut album ‘Fragments’ in 2009 and this year has seen the excellent follow up ‘Defragments’. Featuring the vocal talent of Christina Booth and the fiery guitar virtuosity of Ian Bairnson it is quite enigmatic. From straight laced progressive tracks to intricate wonders and an impressive acoustic cover of ‘Long Distance Runaround’, there seems to be something for everyone. Not an album for those who like their music more challenging but, at the right moment in time, it certainly hits the spot.
I called the man behind Tiger Moth Tales, Peter Jones, ‘batshit crazy’ when I reviewed his previous release ‘Cocoon’ and he has gone on to prove me quite correct in my assumption. Challenged to write, record and release an album in 28 days he has come up with one of the year’s most fun filled records so far and not at the expense of any quality. With tracks based on childhood fairy tales, but giver Peter’s own inimitable spin, ‘Story Tellers Part One’ is a grin inducing journey through our early days steeped in remarkable music and intelligent lyrics. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that this man is one of the most talented song writers out there.
Formed in 1989 and now with 11 full length albums behind them, Echolyn have become a connoisseurs progressive rock/alt-rock band. Not out there and in your face, however, you will often hear their name said in hushed and revered tones among those in the know. I am a late comer to their charms but having delved into their 2012 self-titled release quite a lot of late I now know what I have been missing. This beautifully melodic, mature homage to small town America is quite a revelation indeed and has an honesty rooted deep in its core. One band that, despite being relative;y new to me, I can heartily recommend and I am hoovering up their back catalogue with quite indecent haste.
‘What a refreshing change….’ became the tagline for a well known brand of cider in a run of 1990’s adverts. Indicating that, every now and then, it was good to think out of the box and go for something that you wouldn’t usually choose or be associated with.
This can be pertinent to a lot of things in life including your musical tastes. We all have our favourite types of music and bands we listen to and there is nothing wrong with that. Every now and then, however, I like to step out of the box or even take a trip down memory lane to listen to something new or something from a genre that doesn’t resonate as much with me nowadays.
I used to be a huge fan of Progressive Metal and the likes of Dream Theater and Symphony X and have seen the former play live quite a few times but, in the latter years, my taste has gravitated away from this style of music. Not too far away that I don’t like to reminisce now and again though and, recently, a few releases have caught my attention. I’d like to start with Anuryzm……
Anuryzm is a progressive thrash metal band consisting of six members from different cultural backgrounds and is based in theUnited Arab Emirates (in the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai).
Originally started by founder and lead guitarist JohnBakhos, after many ups and downs and line up changes, the debut album ‘Worm’s Eye View’ was finally released in 2011.
The now-settled line up sees John joined by his old school band mate, vocalist Nadeem Bibby, Imad Dahleh on drums, bassist Rany Battikh and Jay Jahed on keys.
To date, the band has performed extensively in the local & regional musical scenes, including the Dubai Rock Fest and the Byblos International Festival. They have also shared the stage with artists such as Black Sabbath, AvengedSevenfold, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nightwish, Epica, Dark Tranquillity, and more.
Now signed to Melodic Revolution Records, their latest release ‘All is Not For All’ was released on 15th June 2015.
If you wondered about the album title, this is what the band say:
“The album title ‘All Is Not For All’ is a warning to those who claim that they can have their cake and eat it too. Not everything can be handled by everyone, whether it be money, fame, women or power.”
And the general themes of the album:
“The album’s songs span a variety of topics including humbleness, nanotechnology, illness, astral projection, extraterrestrial encounters, love, longing and remorse, third culture upbringing, displacement and Japanese warrior code (Bushido) to name a few.”
Time to see what ‘All is Not For All’ is, after all, for me…..
Opening track Mineral begins very low key with subdued vocals and keyboard leaving an air of suspense. The guitar that follows just adds to that atmosphere aided by some restrained drums and a delicate piano. It is all very civilised so far with Nadeem’s cultured vocal lending gravitas to the stylish calm that surrounds him. Definitely more ‘progressive’ than ‘metal at the outset of the album with the added intricacy of John’s classy guitar run. ‘Metal’ soon follows ‘progressive though as the track immediately segues in to Full Agonist as a bare-bones riff kicks in with some powerful, staccato drumming high tailing it along for the ride. There is a polished feel to the music, an early promise of what’s to come, Nadeem shows the other side to his voice with an in-your-face delivery that immediately grabs your attention and John enters the fray with some fiery guitar licks and interventions that just leaves you nodding your head in appreciation. Did I hear some growly vocals there? hmmm, never mind, they in no way detract from the enjoyment (it is not often you will hear me say that). A proper ‘metal’ song with some progressive elements interspersed between the riffage, this is fun so far, let’s see where it leads….
The next track is the first single released from the album Humanoid, a Sci-Fi epic about being watched by intelligent ETs who question whether they started us off on the right path to technological awakening or whether it was a mistake to give away knowledge. A crushing riff introduces the song, proper metal now, one that gets me wishing I had hair to mosh with! Superb flashes of guitar and intense rhythm work really add to the might of this track. Nadeem gives another monster vocal performance, really reminiscent of Russell Allen, to add a touch of those might prog-metal pioneers Symphony X, even the growling is catchy (yes, I did just say that). There is some consummate musicianship on show here with a blazing guitar run blowing you away. The eastern influenced mystic interlude just adds to the feeling of solemnity. A seriously addictive track that has you reaching for the repeat play button. Depolarized begins with a an almost blues bent to the intro. Here the guitar and bass lead the track along before vocals and drums join in. The muted voice has a yearning, straining feel to it, the elaborate guitar adding dynamism, building up to something profound. This track is perhaps the most balanced between the progressive and metal elements in its storytelling style, laid back instrumental sections and complex solo.
A pause for breath at the start of The Challenger before a thunderous riff knocks you out of the way with no apology. Heavier than a ten tonne heavy thing (thanks Queensrÿche) it pulverises you into submission with some mighty drums and that potent guitar note. The vocals (including the growling) just add to the feeling of barely hidden menace that is all around this deliciously dark song. It takes no prisoners in its execution and delivery and is pleasantly satisfying, coruscating guitar solo and all. Like a breath of fresh air Oceans Apart enters on the delightful tone of an acoustic guitar and gently whispers serenity in your ear after the bombast of the previous track. Emotive and calming, it is a sea of tranquility compared the energetic aggression that surrounds it and leaves your aural synapses suitably refreshed and ready for the next onslaught.
Title track All is Not For All walks confidently into the room accompanied by an echoing guitar and a synth-heavy back note. The drums are kept decidedly low key at this point of the song before the blue touch paper is lit and off we go!! The tempo and intensity rise as a measured riff sets the pace. Vocals join in, not quite a full growl but the intent is obvious, Nameed interjects clean vocals to add a feel of honesty and this compelling track strides on. A convoluted section follows with mysterious sounding guitars and repetitive drumming, the vocals more demanding and demonstrative and almost moving into thrash metal territory whilst walking the dividing line expertly. An intricate guitar run-out leads us to the close of this impressive song. A taut, funky riff drives 199x along from the start before an almost electronic grind kicks in, you know you are moving into serious territory here. Slightly off beat drums add a wild feel to things and an almost hard rock vibe seems to infuse the song. Deliberately intent vocals and some serious ass-whoopin’ guitar add a groove metal feel to the increasing smorgasbord of metal influences. The guitar solo leaves you temporarily blinded with its intensity before a swirling Hammond-like keyboard lends a sense of stoner rock induced psychedelia to complete the full set. Quite mad and incredibly interesting.
The mood is subdued at the beginning of Impermanence but it doesn’t take long for that signature guitar sound to erupt from the depths. A manic riff ensues with hushed vocals lending a demonic feel to the track. Furious and ferocious it claws at your damaged pysche in a huge wall of sound that envelops your whole being. The fiendish growling vocals are unleashed upon the unsuspecting and add a real intimidating feel to the song. Those of a weak heart and bladder should not enter for their own good but I love the diabolic sense of fun it imbues as the guitar fires off like a maniacal cackle. My first foray into Prog-Metal for a while comes to a close with the final track Perispirit. A meandering guitar line leads in a heartfelt and earnest vocal performance from Nameed. Some elaborate guitar trickery follows from John, all neat and precise before the song opens up with a commanding riff and weighty turn to the vocals. Seriously dense riffs abound with matching vocals yet the chorus is seriously addictive and adds a slight levity to the monstrous sound that surrounds you. John fires off yet another burning solo and then a light, acoustic interlude foxes you for a moment before the ferocity returns. Now I know what it is like to be run over by a truck, survive and enjoy it!
Well, my first foray back into the world of Progressive Metal was a thoroughly enjoyable one. Music like this is never going to break new ground or forge a new furrow but I never expected that. What I got was a really good album delivered by excellent musicians who obviously know their music inside out. The musical world may just have found itself some new Prog-Metal Titans and I will be keeping an eye on these talented guys.
Released through Melodic Revolution Records on 15th June 2015.
Matt Stevens has confirmed 5 solo acoustic gigs for 2015, supporting Jon Gomm and Steven Rothery alongside shows in Belfast and Italy.
Stevens, who was recently named as one of the top guitarists in the Prog Magazine reader’s poll said,
“I’m not doing as many solo shows this year to allow time to work on the next The Fierce And The Dead record and to write new solo material, but I’m hugely excited to be playing my first solo show in Italy and to play with Jon Gomm and Steven Rothery”.
Matt’s band The Fierce And The Dead will play a run of festival shows including this summer, including Summers End, Arctangent and theRhythm Festival and they will release an EP later in the year.
Solo acoustic 14th June – Batteria Nomentana, Rome, Italy
4th July – Band On The Wall, Manchester UK with Steve Rothery
25th July – Belfast Guitar Festival, UK.
21st October – Jazz Cafe, London UK with Jon Gomm
7th Nov – The Stables, Milton Keynes UK with Steve Rothery
In addition Matt’s band The Fierce And The Dead play the following shows:
“Music is the art of thinking with sounds, it is philosophy…..
Every chord, every word tells a story. If you listen, you will know its meaning…..”
Take a minute to read that quote and let it sink in, understand its very meaning. Even some of the music that is on popular radio and in the charts has a narrative at its heart, it is not all bubblegum pop (well, the majority of it is to be fair).
In the musical world that I inhabit the writers of the songs are musical bards, they tell stories of love and happiness and of loss and sadness and these affect the listener deep to their core. It is a skill that few have but it can take over your world and move you to a different place where all that matters is the song.
It isn’t just the words either, the music itself can take on a life of its own and affect you in just the same manner. The beauty inherent in an amazing piece of music can make you laugh, smile or cry in much the same way that a well written novel or piece of prose can.
I have oft written about how a new piece of music can come from out of nowhere and really move me. I think that those that are least expected are quite often the best surprises and, like misfortunes, they seldom come alone…
It was due to my friendship with Linus Kåse of Swedish progressive giants Änglagård that I first heard about Methexis, the progressive rock project of Greek musician Nikitas Kissonas and discovered the two albums that have so far been released by this talented and eclectic musician. Who is he? I hear you ask well, let’s find out….
Nikitas Kissonas was born in 1980 and he is a graduated guitarist and composer. He works as a music teacher and has collaborated with many groups and in many and diverse performances. As well as the Methexisproject, in which he expresses his agony in the rock genre, he also composes contemporary acoustic music and he is hoping to succeed in marrying the two into something truly progressive.
The Methexis project was created by Nikitas in 2011 following his need to record material he had gathered throughout the years while being a member of alternative Greek bands such as Verbal Delirium andYianneis.
The debut album “The Fall Of Bliss” was released at the same year and Nikitas played most of the instruments except for the drums (Nikos Miras) and the piano on ‘Lines On A Bust’ (Jargon).
February 2015 saw the release of ‘Suiciety’, A concept album about the exterior influences a human gets from his childhood, the interior research for a guiding instrument, the exposition on a suicidal society that doesn’t listen to the clear warnings and the unavoidable collapse.
The album features members of The Enid, Änglagård, Birds & Buildings, Agentsof Mercy and Yianneis.
‘Fall of Bliss’ – the review
A laconic introduction starts Eradicated Will, a coruscating guitar note ambling along before a slightly laid back, sardonic vocal begins. Very much in the vein of traditional progressive rock, there is also a dramatic edge to the song. Nikitas has a powerful voice with a slight affectation that adds to the drama. The keyboards add a sinister note to the track as it meanders thoughtfully through your mind, the delicate acoustic guitar adding a subliminal note that is lighter than the rest of the track. When the chorus erupts it does so with a forceful edge that adds to the theatrics, an excellent start to the album. Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes has an introduction that is all Muse to my ears with harmonised vocals and a classical edge before a strong bass line drags it along. The vocal section that follows is different, almost sounding like a computerised harmony but it works really well. Keyboards and bass are key in this track that really does run like a storyline as it glides along with its graceful demeanour. The intricate instrumental bridge is very 70’s prog and adds precision to the finesse of this engaging song.
Those Howling Wolves sees Nikitas take on a more theatrical persona with the emphasised and enunciated vocals taking flight and becoming central to the performance. The music is more of a back up on this acoustical treat. Its benign and genial feel lulls you into a form of stasis as the keyboards run with a mysterious note in the background. You could quite imagine this being from a musical stage production with Nikitas central to the performance, almost musical method acting. As we get deeper into the track there is more substance added as the story fleshes out, the vocals become fuller and the music takes less of a back seat, joining as a fully paid up member of the cast. It becomes thought provoking with quite an intensive edge and the jazzy guitar solo is brilliant in its smoky meandering brilliance as it builds to the close. A seriously impressive track indeed. The piano introduction to Lines on a Bust is intricate and soulful, the vocals again giving the impression of musical theatre, Nikitas has a great vocal range and uses it notably here. You could imagine this being sung in a West-End show. It is full of fervor and zeal, having a rapturous appeal.
Drums and bass are the dominant forces at the beginning of Track the Saviours before an edgy guitar riff takes us into the heart of the heaviest track on the album. One that has a diversive, chaotic note at it’s heart. Running along like a gleeful mad man with the histrionic vocals that teeter on the edge of sanity with an aura of dark humour. I like the slightly off-centre feel of the song, as if it has been allowed to run its own course, good or bad. The corrosive instrumental section is clever and adds to the feeling of not knowing what the hell is happening. Like a mirror image The Aftermath is a slow motion track with an initial sombre, restrained note to the vocals, guitar and keyboards. The vocals take on a more compelling note on the chorus, if still a little mournful. It is a song that has a central forlorn and dolent edge to it, a fragility that still has a dark beauty to it.
The final track is the four part title track The Fall of Bliss which begins with the Intro which is a gentle acoustic guitar overlaying birdsong. Ethereal and gossamer like, it is charming and charismatic and leads you into Part I where the atmosphere darkens, pressing in to give a suspenseful feel. It erupts with a hard edged riff, powered along by the drums to give a turbulent edge before settling down into a more harmonised note. There is a slight supernatural ambience to the music, a semblance of the unknown as the vocals begin in a haunting fashion. Almost like a Gregorian Chant, they have a spiritual echo to them, enhanced by the disturbing organ note. The gloomy feel is all pervasive as we segue into Interlude, a low, slightly remote keyboard, reminiscent of a bassoon insinuates itself into your psyche. There is an organic nature to the music, it feels alive, as if it has its own intelligence and agenda. The guitar influenced passage that follows is vivid and forceful and that pseudo-bassoon runs into the final chapter, Part II. Demonstrative and profound, it is the crescendo that the whole track has been leading up to with heartfelt, passionate vocals and a wall of sound that washes over you leaving you numb in a profound manner. A discursive instrumental section follows, all distorted and erratic, like a lonely walk haunted by memories of the past. Almost painfully acute in parts it holds your attention as it runs on inexorably to the close.
So, Methexis’ first album really grabs you, it is enlightened in a weighty and thorough kind of way and asks questions that you may not be able to answer. Darkly exquisite in places, ‘Suiciety’ will have to go some to top this consummate release.
‘Suiciety’ – the review
After his brilliant multi-tasking performance with ‘Fall of Bliss’ Nikitas Kissonas turned to some of progressive music’s luminaries for the follow up ‘Suiciety’.
Whilst dealing with the music, lyrics and guitars himself he is joined by the enigmatic Joe Payne (The Enid) on vocals, Linus Kåse (Änglagård) on keyboards, Nikos Zades (Yianneis) sound design, Walle Wahlgren (Agents ofMercy) on drums and Brett d’Anon (Birds and Buildings) on bass.
Going the wrong way round, it was ‘Suiciety’ that I heard before ‘Fall of Bliss’ thanks to a heads up from Linus and that led me onto the debut album. You’ve read my thoughts on that, now it’s time for the latest release….
Chapter IV – Ruins opens the album with a transcendental feel of spaced out music, like wind chimes in a breeze, ambient yet with an intelligence at its core. It is an eerie beginning, as if you are in stasis waiting for something to happen. This opens up with a synth sound that washes over you in waves, almost hypnotic in its delivery. Joe’s breathy voice lies just under the surface, barely audible at first before its unmistakeable expressive quality builds into something more substantial. It stays just out of your conscious reach as the track comes to a close. The five parts of Chapter I (exterior) begin with Remember fear’s a relic, a briskly strummed acoustic guitar heralds an upbeat, jazz infused track that springs along at a brisk pace. A sharp electric guitar leading into some really funky keyboards from Linus before Joe lets lose with his inherent theatrical manner. Mr Payne has a persona that can dominate but here he holds back a tad, still the effusive, energetic front man we know from The Enid but moulding his performance to fit the music. I really like Joe’s expressive vocal work, he takes what is best of the theatrical world and blends it perfectly with progressive rock music. The rest of the band appear to be having a blast on this energetic,slightly manic piece of music, like a free-form jazz session with added absurdity.
The windows’ cracking sound is like a short interlude, a slightly off-kilter and disturbing piece of music which never lets you settle as it segues into Who can it be with its heraldic introduction which immediately grabs you. I love the feel it gives this song before it becomes all mysterious and dark. Joe’s vocal low down, is almost a whisper as he takes up the tale. There is a dark humour deep at the heart of this song, it leaves you with an itch you just can’t scratch. The flamenco style guitar section is neat and precise yet still sends a shiver down your spine, playing with forces unknown. Joe is giving a performance worthy of the stage, there is more than just a vocalist at work here, he is acting as well. It is a story to be told in music, in a dark disturbing, yet highly enjoyable way. That outspoken heraldic tone is at the heart of everything adding a lustre and wildness to this part as it comes to a slightly disturbing close.
The Origin of Blame is where all bets are off and the sluice gates are opened. Joe is at the centre of this delightfully manic song, aided and abetted by the simple piano notes delivered by Linus. This track could have been written for the stage and Joe Payne’s ebullient character. He delivers an excited display of eccentric brilliance and musical drama that just makes you smile. The segue into Prey’s Prayer is neat andprecise and the striking guitar work of Nikitas takes over with an undulating delivery that just bleeds emotion and remorse. The bass play is calm and collected and adds gravitas to this serious piece of music. A quite beguiling instrumental that seems to have a tender yet melancholic soul to it.
The three parts of Chapter II (interior) begin with Sunlight and its wild-west tinged introduction, all Duane Eddy guitars and atmosphere before the guitar takes on a classical note and Joe’s tender vocal interjects, waxing and waning in compliment to the gently played guitar. It has a lightness and airiness to it which is enhanced by the seductive strings. Around the middle of the track it takes on a pure 1970’s progressive feel with guitar and bass work that Steve Howe and Chris Squire would have been proud of. Linus adds in his inimitable skills with the ivories and you end up looking for the floor length capes and Mellotrons to arrive. It is quite a compelling piece of music, gripping and riveting that leaves you slightly non-plussed as it comes to a close. The next part, The Relic is, in my mind, the best track on the album, if not the best song that Nikitas has written full stop. A low key introduction of a subdued guitar leads in an emotional vocal backed by sumptuous strings that just left me mesmerised. The piano then adds a subtle grace to this imperious song. It builds, layer upon layer, becoming more intensely exquisite with each note that is played and each line that is sung. Joe gives his most polished performance yet one which is also his most restrained and it fits the guileless, sincere feel of the song perfectly. A crescendo like instrumental interlude threatens to break the calm before it is gently brought back by the simple charm of the acoustic guitar and piano. They are joined by a searching violin note that really fills you full of emotion and then leads you to the closure of this stunning song.
Chapter III – Suiciety is the final song on the album and begins like an industrial dance track, a song in the style of The Prodigy. To be honest it feels out of place at first after the charm of the previous track but, give it time, and you come to appreciate its intricate, complex rhythms, eventually breaking out into a darkly mysterious piece of music. The strings add that note of warning before the brass section delivers a really chilling yet exciting part of the song that has an icy determination to it. It becomes quite a spine-tingling piece of classical music that has you hanging on every note with its basic raw feel.
He pulls no punches does Nikitas Kissonas and he is an extremely talented musician. I thought it would take something special to improve on ‘Fall of Bliss’ and he has delivered something quite marvellous. Aided by some superb musicians and a vocalist who has the skill and inherent ability to deliver everything needed, what we actually have here is an outstanding musical release that is up there with the best of them…..
Pictures of Nikitas courtesy of Artemis Schubert.
Artwork for ‘Fall of Bliss’ by Dimitra Papadimitriou.
Artwork for ‘Suiciety’ by Artemis Schubert and Nikitas Kissonas.