New US progressive rock group, Ascher, release their debut album ‘Beginnings’ today, March 16th. The album, containing five instrumental pieces and four songs, clocks in at fifty-seven minutes. From the opening instrumental title track to the bonus track closer, “The Instrumental Divide,” the album flows seamlessly through a sonic landscape of guitar-driven rock, vintage keyboard wizardry, and a lofty hook-laden ballad. The instrumental pieces power through enough time signature and meter changes to keep the die-hard prog fan happy while the thought provoking songs reveal a more grounded down to earth feel.
The band features Doug Bowers (Guitars/Keys/Bass/Vocals), Blake Dickeson (Rhythm Guitars), Rob Perez (Lead Guitar), and Kyle Graves (Lead Vocals).
To coincide with the release of the album, Ascher has released video for the track, “What the World Can’t Give,” which you can see here:
The band released their first single, “The Great Divide,” in February accompanied by a video:
1. Beginnings (6:03) 2. In the Clear Distance (5:07)
3. The Great Divide (7:44) 4. Ransom For the Righteous (6:19) 5. De Profundis (7:58) 6. Nail Soup (5:27) 7. What the World Can’t Give (6:03) 8. Wheels Turning Now (4:12)
Doug Bowers (Ad Astra, KDB3, Vertical Alignment) and Rob Perez (Visual Cliff, Bluesyndrome) have been collaborating on one another’s projects for years. A short-lived band formed in 2021 and disbanded in early 2022 yielded many co-written instrumental pieces that never saw the light of day. Toward the end of 2022, Doug began collaborating with guitarist, Blake Dickeson, fleshing out some musical ideas that Blake had developed over the years, Rob was brought in to add tasty lead guitar to the effort. When Rob suggested that the trio revisit some of the unfinished instrumental pieces, it was decided that a band might be the best expression of their growing repertoire. Thus Ascher was born. It quickly became apparent that Doug was not up to singing the melodies he was writing for his lyrics and the search for a proper singer was soon underway. Rob suggested a singer that he had recently encountered. Kyle Graves was writing lyrics for an upcoming album for Rob and Rob felt he would be a perfect fit for Ascher. Rob was right and the band was complete.
MUSIC WRITTEN FOR AND INSPIRED BY THE HIT NETFLIX SERIES THE LAST KINGDOMAND UPCOMING FEATURE-LENGTH MOVIESEVEN KINGS MUST DIE – DUE APRIL 14 2023.
Faroese electronic artist/throat singer and double Icelandic Music Prize winner Eivør, Emmy winner & Ivor Novello/BAFTA nominee John Lunn and composer Danny Saul (Shetland, Jamestown) will release a new album ‘The Last Kingdom – Destiny Is All’, featuring music created for and inspired by hit Netflix show The Last Kingdom (produced by Carnival Films, and one of the Top 20 Most Globally Streamed Series – with 10.4 billion streams – whose soundtracks have also been streamed over 22 million times to date). The new album – due for a Record Store Day release on April 22, 2023 – is comprised of music created for the soundtracks of the fourth and fifth seasons of The Last Kingdom, as well as new material which will debut during Seven Kings Must Die, a feature-length movie (also produced by Carnival Films) which will air later this year.
When John Lunn and Eivør first began working together back in 2015, they quickly discovered the kind of chemistry that leads to rarefied magic. Chosen for the formidable task of creating the soundtrack to The Last Kingdom – a wildly popular series set in Viking-ravaged 9th century England – the two musicians soon dreamed up a darkly hypnotic sound that draws from their singular musical gifts: the vast imagination and sophisticated musicianship Lunn has brought to his scoring work, and the otherworldly vocals and genre-warping artistry Eivør has infused into her nine acclaimed albums and spellbinding live show. In a continuation of their musical partnership, Lunn and Eivør are now set to deliver their most elaborately realised output yet—a full-length project expanding on their work for The Last Kingdom, resulting in an immersive album that inhabits a strangely enchanted world all its own.
As heard throughout The Last Kingdom’s five-season run—and on The Last Kingdom (Original Television Soundtrack), a 2018 release featuring music from the show’s first three seasons—Lunn, Saul, and Eivør’s collaboration has continually defied sonic convention. “On the show there’s a lot of epic battles and other moments you’d normally associate with orchestral music, but I wanted to do something new and different and focus on electronic instruments,” says Lunn. “I was looking for something to accompany that and saw a video of Eivør and her extraordinary throat singing, and she completely captured the energy that The Last Kingdom required.” An artist who’s endlessly mined inspiration from the dramatic landscape of her Nordic homeland—and who’s earned comparison to the legendary Kate Bush in the pages of MOJO—Eivør felt an immediate affinity for the source material. “Growing up in the Faroe Islands, I was always fascinated with the Vikings, so the series feels very close to my heart,” says Eivør, who also recently featured in God of War Ragnarök score and on the soundtrack to the hit video game. “It felt so natural to fit my singing into what John had come up with, and many of the lyrics I ended up writing were inspired by the old Nordic sagas that imprinted on me as a child.”
This dynamic is captured on album-opener ‘The Beloveds’, a slow-building yet frenetic track that encapsulates the moody intensity of ‘Destiny Is All’. It soundtracks a highly charged opening scene in Season Five of The Last Kingdom in which rogue female Viking Brida issues a call to war—a scene in which Eivør and Saul make cameos, leading the chants with her famous Nordic drum. “Our initial idea was for all the actors to sing the chant along with me, which meant I had to teach everyone to sing in Faroese. It was so powerful to be there with everyone with warpaint on our faces—it really felt like we were in ancient times.” Saul adds: “Working on the show I think we tend to inhabit that world mentally for many months on end, so finally stepping onto the set was a surreal, larger-than-life experience.”
‘The Beloveds’ centres on Eivør’s ominously chanted vocals, an element informed by her roots in Faroese folk music. “Those chants are very much a big part of my culture; it’s something I remember hearing my grandfather doing when I was younger,” she says. Eivør’s modern electronica and throat singing has long been deeply informed by the brutal beauty of the Faroes, since growing up in Syðrugøta, a tiny community on one of the northerly Faroe Islands, surrounded by the windswept North Atlantic. She immersed herself in music from 13, fronting a trip-hop band after discovering albums by Massive Attack and Portishead. Gigs soon followed, held afloat in rowing boats, in the pitch-black of a huge cave on the island of Hestur.
The winner of the 2022 Nordic Council Music Prize (which has been previously won by Björk), Eivør is part of a new wave of Nordic artists (alongside the likes of Wardruna and Heilung) rapidly building passionate international fan bases with music that honours their ancient cultural & musical folklore. At last count, Eivør’s music has been streamed over 93 million times.
Although Lunn and Saul mostly worked with analog synths in sculpting the musical foundation to ‘Destiny Is All’, they also experimented with such instruments as the kantele (a zither-like object used in traditional Finnish music) and the double bass (an instrument Lunn processed with distortion pedals to generate a particularly ferocious sound). Over the course of its 11 riveting tracks—including all-new recordings and reimagined arrangements of two essential tracks, fan-favourite ‘Lívstræōrir’ and the theme title to The Last Kingdom (The Return 2023) – ‘The Last Kingdom – Destiny Is All’ radiates a raw emotionality that ultimately transcends the confines of television, a testament to Lunn, Saul, and Eivør’s depth of connection to the music. Throughout the creation of ‘The Last Kingdom – Destiny Is All’, Lunn, Saul, and Eivør have followed their most experimental impulses and adorned their songs with unexpected details, such as the jazz-like textures and gorgeously eerie beats of ‘Blues For Halig’.
“This project has changed my approach to my music, and reconnected me with certain parts of myself that I may have left behind at some point,” says Eivør, who’s also incorporated songs from Destiny Is All into her live set. “I hope that the album helps The Last Kingdom come even more alive in the minds of people who love the series. I hope that in its own way, it can become part of the soundtrack to their lives.” Lunn, meanwhile, adds; “The Last Kingdom score IS Eivør, without Eivør there would be no unique score”.
More Info on Eivør
At 16 Eivør quit school, moving alone to Reykjavik to release her debut album and pursue classical singing training. She has since won the Icelandic Music Prize, twice – the first non-Icelandic artist to do so. The approval of contemporaries including John Grant and Ásgeir (who featured alongside Wardruna on her latest album ‘Segl’, produced by Land Del Ray collaborator Dan Heath), a move from Iceland to Copenhagen, and numerous sync spots across TV and film are all testament to the crossover appeal of her music.
Eivør made her commercial UK debut in 2016 with the widely-praised ‘Slør’, an English-language version of her 2015 album, whose Faroese lyrics she spent an 8-month period translating into English, alongside fully re-worked music. That release triggered her debut appearance on Later…..With Jools Holland, and Eivør’s music has also featured on the soundtracks for Hunger Games, Deep Water Horizon, Silence and Metal Gear Solid. Further collaborations with doom metallers Hamferõ, a stint playing Marilyn Monroe in an operatic production and fronting symphony orchestras – peg Eivør as a restlessly dynamic artist.
Hard-hitting rock with a progressive flair, featuring a lineup of international talent.
What life gives with one hand, it can take away with the other. How do you keep your head, and your heart, when everything starts to crumble around you?
HeKz evoke these feelings of chaos and resilience with dramatic and intense performances on their new single ‘Mayday’ – the first release from the forthcoming double album ‘Terra Nova.’
An overdriven bass riff introduces the song and sets the tone for what will follow – the mesmerizing guitar work of Mark Bogert, the relentless drums of Moyano el Buffalo and the enchanting violin of special guest Lucia La Rezza, with the commanding voice of vocalist / bassist Matt Young leading the charge.
“‘Terra Nova’ is a concept album,” explains Young, “The elevator pitch for the story is along the lines of ‘running towards your ultimate goal won’t help you to outrun your demons, so find a different way.’ In the song ‘Mayday’ we find ourselves in a very challenging position. The song is about how we cope when our plans fail and, if everything is lost, you can go down fighting!”
On Lucia La Rezza’s contribution to the song, Young continues, “HeKz were invited to perform at the Hard Rock Hell festival in 2021. At the time, it wasn’t going to be possible for Irina [Markevich, violin] to join us for the concert, and Lucia came highly recommended. I was amazed to see her covers of Iron Maiden and Dragonforce songs, all played on the violin at full tilt!”
“Since the plan was to perform this music on stage together, we invited Lucia to contribute to a couple of the new songs. Unfortunately, the festival show was cancelled but I’m grateful we have this recorded collaboration. Lucia and Irina have very different approaches to the violin, and the music of ‘Terra Nova’ is all the richer for it.”
Written and recorded by the musicians in their home studios in the UK, Spain and the Netherlands, ‘Mayday’ was produced and mixed by Matt Young and mastered by Tom S. Ray (Audio Unity, Scotland). Artwork by Dmitris Tzortzis [Immensa Artis].
The history of rock is strewn with endless tales of wild antics, excessive outrageous behaviours, substance & alcohol abuse and sheer unmitigated heartbreak and sadness. This was certainly the case with the Heavy Metal Kids who were a force while also being touted as the next big thing and the possible progression from the premier league of Pink Floyd,Yes and Led Zeppelin and the ilk to a rapidly changing musical scene, one with the emerging, inevitable and possibly much needed paradigm shift to a simpler, angrier and punk fuelled regime that shook the musical world significantly.
So it was into this maelstrom and vortex that Gary Holton and his crew set sail, emerging in 1973 and garnering the attentions of Dave Dee (yes, him of 60s pop idols Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich) after being spotted by his staff at a speakeasy in London’s West end. Holton having beenextricated from his previous group Biggles, who were a jazz rock outfit with connections to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, their drummer being Carl Palmer’s brother,
Holton was from Wembley and had been a member of the touring Hair ensemble and also has his sights on an acting career, he had been in theatre at the Old Vic and had done some Shakespeare along the way. Atlantic Records saw something in this lot and they were offered a contract with Dave Dee as producer, this resulted in their first two albums, ‘Heavy Metal Kids’ and ‘Anvil Chorus’.
Their name was, however, misleading as their music was not heavy metal at all but was in fact more a mixture of hard rock, glam and, unsurprisingly, vaudeville. This was a very different sound to what their name suggested, however the band live were certainly powerful and this is clearly shown on tracks like Rock ‘N’ Roll Man and It’s The Same, both of which have a definite swagger to them. The album was critically acclaimed yet, as is often the case, this didn’t translate into record sales. The band set off on an ambitious touring schedule and were well received in America and Japan. The debut is a good album in parts and when they rock they do so convincingly with the added bonus of having a great keyboard player, DannyPeyronel, who’s honky tonk piano embellishments added much to the groups sound. That the album is largely overlooked and unknown by the masses is a tragedy as there is much to appreciate, the four bonus tracks here are being very good indeed.
For the second album, their name was shortened to The Kids , although there was a sticker that said ‘Featuring The Heavy Metal Kids’, the album is a little more consistent and is more rock oriented. You Got Me Rollin‘ is carried on a lumbering bass line that carries the song along wonderfully as does the following track On TheStreet, bass player Ronnie Thomas really shining on the tracks, indeed his prominent bass really impresses throughout. The songs are stronger and sound energised and inspired with great guitar fills and a solid rhythm section, all with the added colours of Danny’s keyboards to make a cohesive sound. This is sublime and worthy music, however, despite more US touring with the likes of Rush, Kiss and Alice Cooper, the album still failed to gain traction and had disappointing sales which led to them being dropped by Atlantic.
Help came from an unexpected quarter as Mickie Most of Hi Ho Silver Lining fame and teenyboppers Mud, Suzie Quatro and the RAK organisation offered to record their next album in France for his label. The resulting album appeared many months later in 1977 and again failed to really make an impact, even a Top of the Pops slot for She’s No Angel couldn’t save them and the band, despite touring with UriahHeep on their high and mighty tour, had pretty much called it a day by 1978 when Holton quit for a short and ill feted solo career and also a more successful venture into TV & Film. A final gig at the Speakeasy with a difficult and unruly Holton brought things to a less than glittering close. The band decided to continue without Holton and went through a succession of singers, including a short return by Holton, and, thereafter, by the likes of Phil Lewis and John Altman.
Looking back to ‘Kitsch’ again, you can hear how new keyboard player John Sinclair changed the sound, making it more classical at times, and tighter than before. The album is more symphonic and more musical, this is certainly the case with the opening Overture and Chelsea Kids, in which the band marry punk aggression and rock sensibility to make an intriguing hybrid of styles. From Heaven To Hell AndBack Again is another good track with the inclusion of other instruments to round out the sound further used to good effect, it really impacts well. Cry For Me has some superb guitar played to great effect along with tubular bells chiming.
The album was mixed and partly reconstructed by Mickie Most as his final statement and a kind of reaction to modern pop music, he wanted something grander and saw the Heavy Metal Kids as part of that statement and, to be honest it, it does have some very good moments and the 5 bonus tracks make interesting listening. All this is embellished with a very informative booklet that tells the whole story in fine detail. This set is really very good and an excellent reminder of the vagaries of life and that things that look good and sound good are sometimes beyond the ordinary person. Mass appeal music has its place but sometimes what is overlooked and undervalued can actually be of more worth and value.
TRANSATLANTIC – the Prog Supergroup of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt & Pete Trewavas – recently announced the release of a new concert set entitled ‘The Final Flight: Live At L’Olympia’ for the 17th February 2023. It was recorded and filmed in France on the last stop of a tour to promote the band’s fifth and most audacious album to date, ‘The Absolute Universe’. This was the multinational group’s first outing in eight years.
Today sees the launch of the live clip for ‘We All Need Some Light’, originally featured on the bands debut album. Watch it now here:
Released in February 2021 to unanimous praise, ‘The Absolute Universe’ came in two alternate formats; an abridged 64-minute record known as ‘The Breath Of Life’, and a companion piece entitled ‘Forevermore’ that added a further four songs, clocking in at an hour and a half. Though the foundations of both were shared, each format featured lyrics and music independent of the other.
However, when Transatlantic finally hit the road they opted to perform a third format of the album, a full-bells-and-whistles, 96-minute Blu-ray culmination of both takes known as ‘The Ultimate Edition’ that had been released in 5.1 surround sound. Following that segment of the show Transatlantic took a short intermission and returned to the stage for a rollercoaster trawl through the remainder of their lavish catalogue. From the first note of ‘Overture (The Absolute Universe)’ through to the medley based around the first two Transatlantic albums that closes the evening, the performance comprised 3 hours of music in total.
“Ever since the start of this band we have played for three hours, so that’s something we’re all used to,” states drummer Mike Portnoy, who grins whilst describing his own experience as “butt-numbing”. However, Roine Stolt is ready to admit that this time felt very slightly different.
“It was a great tour,” acknowledges the guitarist and multi-musician, “but when you include our spot at Morsefest [where besides performing ‘The Absolute Universe’ the band also revisited their 2009 album ‘The Whirlwind’ and revised a cover of Procol Harum’s ‘In Held (’Twas) In I’ that had featured on their debut from 2000, ‘SMPTe’] I felt the challenge of learning, or re-learning, three-and-a-half hours of music before leaving Sweden. Now that I am getting slightly older, I was a little worried about playing for that long – it requires a lot of concentration: ‘Is this one in 7/8 or 9/8? Maybe we’ll play it in 13/8 and in a different key?’ But of course, once we got out there onto the stage, those thoughts went straight out of the window.”
With a chuckle, vocalist and keyboard wizard Neal Morse reveals that as the tour found its feet Transatlantic threw an additional curveball. “We started playing songs slightly differently to the way you’ve heard them on ‘The Ultimate Edition”, he grins. “So what you get with this live album is similar, but essentially it’s a fourth version [of the record]. When you play live, from night to night it helps to keep things fresh by jamming a bit and changing things up as you go. There are a few examples of that, for instance, the beginning of the last section that starts with ‘Belong’ is quite different than the record – partly because we couldn’t remember it! So we made up a new structure.”
“We’re always as well prepared as we can be but in a way Transatlantic is kind of a show band” points out bassist Pete Trewavas. “Playing alongside Mike who is a powerhouse on the drums, there is this raw power. If he wants to raise the energy that’s what we do. We’re all taking solos here and there, though we get the songs across we’re all showing off as much as we can”.
Filmed by Paul Green (who also shot their ‘Whirld Tour 2010: Live in London release), and mixed by longtime collaborator Rich Mouser, this set will be available as a Special Edition 3CD+Blu-ray Digipak (incl. 5.1 surround sound) & as a Gatefold 180g 4LP release. Both feature artwork by Thomas Ewerhard & photos by Nidhal Marzouk. Pre-order now here: https://Transatlantic.lnk.to/TheFinalFlight-LiveAtLOlympia
1. The Absolute Universe Intro
3. Reaching For The Sky
4. Higher Than The Morning
5. The Darkness In The Light
6. Take Now My Soul
8. Rainbow Sky
9. Looking For The Light
10. The World We Used To Know
11. MP Intro
12. The Sun Comes Up Today
13. Love Made A Way (Prelude)
14. Owl Howl
17. Lonesome Rebel
18. Can You Feel It
19. Looking For The Light (Reprise)
20. The Greatest Story Never Ends
21. Love Made A Way
22. The Whirlwind Suite
23. NM & RS Intro
24. We All Need Some Light
25. The Final Medley
Line-Up (on this recording):
Neal Morse – Keyboards, Acoustic Guitar & Vocals
Mike Portnoy – Drums & Vocals
Roine Stolt – Guitar & Vocals
Pete Trewavas – Bass & Vocals
Ted Leonard – Guitar, Keyboards, Percussion & Vocals
“Exploring Echo US’ deep and ethereal past uncovers an ‘Inland Empire’…”
Echo Us is a musical concept project active since the turn of the century. Begun by American composer and multi-instrumentalist Ethan J. Matthews, “Echo Us” literally means “to answer”, or “to connect”. The current format of the project began in 2001. Echo Us would become a vehicle for Matthew’s forays into the world of metaphysics, as much as it was a continuation of his musical and creative world that had begun a decade earlier.
“I certainly believe in going within to find a connection with the outer world. To find the ‘child’ within where everything is open to speculation and wonder…it’s a sort of ‘psychic’ connection for me, and music is simply part of the process.”
‘Inland Empire’ is Echo Us’ seventh full length studio album, and 2023’s epilogue to the original trilogy that ran from 2009-2014. The music compiles almost everything that didn’t fit onto the trilogy – comprising material from ‘The Tide Decides’ (2009), ‘Tomorrow Will Tell The Story’ (2012) and ‘II:XII, A Prior Memoriae’ (2014).
If you’re a fan of ambient, flowing, introspective music along the lines of MikeOldfield, David Sylvian, Brian Eno and Robert Fripp then Echo Us’ gorgeous ethereal soundscapes will delight you. Deep and meaningful with music that will touch your very soul, the ten tracks on this release all combine to deliver a compelling, cinematic musical journey that you must consume in one sitting. Like the parts of those infernal puzzles that must all be solved before enlightenment reveals itself, these delicate pieces fit together perfectly to give an hour of amazing peace and wistful solitude.
When I normally review an album I will take particular tracks and describe what they mean to me and how they make me feel but, if I tried that approach with this release, I would be doing it a huge disservice. Geddy Lee once sang on Rush’s track Prime Mover, “The point of the journey is not to arrive..” and I feel that is wholly pertinent to ‘Inland Empire’, it’s not where this album takes you, it is what happens to you while you are listening to it. I feel that I’m transported to another place, a wistful, alien land where all is calm, collected and we are one with nature.
Every note and every gossamer thin vocal has a place and they combine perfectly to give us something that is almost alive, sentient and aware of its own existence. I would go so far as to say that I actually stopped living for sixty minutes and just existed in my most natural form.
Echo Us create something that isn’t just music but also some sort of metaphysical experience and a shelter from the harsh realities of life. Yes, we will have to come out into the real world at some point but, until then, I couldn’t think of many better places to be.
Multi-platinum selling English supergroup ASIA announce they are to release for the first time ever on vinyl ASIA ‘FANTASIA, LIVE IN TOKYO 2007’ as a 3LP set. Recorded on Asia’s 25th anniversary 2007 world tour, and featuring the reformed original line-up, FANTASIA, LIVE IN TOKYO 2007 is to be issued on vinyl as a 3LP set with booklet, including band photos, and sleeve notes through BMG Records on 24th February 2023.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of ASIA’s formation, this exciting 18-track live show from their 2007 world tour features the reformed original line-up pooling the talents of lead vocalist/bassist John Wetton (King Crimson), Steve Howe (guitars, Yes), Geoff Downes (keyboards, Yes and Buggles) and drummer Carl Palmer from Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
The setlist focusses on their globally successful 1982 debut album Asia and features key tracks Only Time Will Tell, Sole Survivor and their worldwide anthem Heat Of The Moment along with select tracks from their second LP Alpha and one song each from the band members’ previous bands – Video Killed The Radio Star,Roundabout, Fanfare For The Common Man and The Court Of The Crimson King.
Album artwork is by legendary designer Roger Dean, who produced all the ASIA original albums covers.
By simultaneously celebrating their debut album alongside the legacy of their foundational bands, the four band members crafted a standing testament to their collective impact on the world of music. Fantasia is a clear reminder of the majestic legacy of this incredible band and to the artistic pedigree of the four original members of ASIA.
For ASIA fans, this exciting live show is an indispensable set.
Pooling the talents of bassist/vocalist John Wetton, drummer Carl Palmer, keyboardist Geoff Downes and guitarist Steve Howe, ASIA immediately became the epitome of a supergroup of rock aristocracy and the natural heir to its members’ legendary bands of the 70s – King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Buggles and Yes.
Leaving behind their progressive roots, ASIA embraced the commercial FM rock sound that dominated US airwaves and took that, and the new MTV video channel, by storm. The single Heat Of The Moment was a world-wide monster smash and their eponymous 1982 debut album spent an incredible 9 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart as Asia became the biggest selling album of the year and world tour dates sold out.
A second album, Alpha, was released in 1983. The four original members reconvened in 2006 for a world tour, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that incredible success, and the album Phoenix followed.
While the members were still heavily involved in other projects, they came together again to record Omega in 2010 and XXX in 2012, both albums were acclaimed by their faithful fans and supported by more world tours.
Steve Howe stepped back from ASIA to concentrate on his work with YES and was absent for 2014’s Gravitas. Following this tour came the news of John Wetton’s treatment for cancer, a fight he sadly lost in 2017.
ASIA – FANTASIA LIVE IN TOKYO 2007 – 3 LP SET – out 24th February 2023
Yesterday saw the editor’s top twenty albums of 2022, today we see what made respected contributor John Wenlock-Smith’s list….
John says, “It’s been a great year for music, especially prog, with many fine releases from established and also newer acts. Here are twenty that really struck a chord with me, in no particular order but all worthy of inspection and consideration.”
D’VIRGILIO, MORSE, JENNINGS – TROIKA
In which well known prog aficionados beguile us with their inner CSN&Y. It’s all acoustically in the main but a very strong collection of songs that must warrant a second visit – here’s hoping so at least!
Hats of Gentlemen It’s Adequate – The Confidence Trick
A wonderful and diverse set of songs around the concept that we are being led by arrogant fools whose overconfidence is actually severely dangerous, examples being Trump, Johnson and, more recently, Liz Truss whose overconfidence nearly destroyed any chance of economic growth.
Stuckfish – Days of Innocence
A simply marvellous album that impressed many with its thoughtful lyrics and excellent music.
SiX By SiX – Self Titled
A bit of Saga, a bit of Saxon, add Robert Berry’s muscular bass and you have a blistering rock album with very progressive elements and leanings. Again this one impressed greatly.
Kaipa – Urskog
The long established Swedish folk-proggers delivered a truly graceful album with several epics and more than a touch of vintage Yes, a great set of songs.
Derek Sherinian – Vortex
In which the ex-Dream Theater keyboard man delivers a captivating, electric set of tracks supported by several big name friends including Steve Stevens, NunoBettencourt, Bumblefoot and Joe Bonamassa, to name a few. Blistering in parts and excellent overall.
The Mighty Ra – All Secrets Known
A new band of mainly Welsh prog musicians who began writing together with this rather fine album being the result. An excellent new album with great promise.
Verbal Delirium – Conundrum
This was new to me but what a find! A very classy album with a great vocalist, strong songs and great playing from all, definitely one to discover.
Arc Of Life – Don’t Look Down
The second album from Yes spin off Arc of Life. Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood delivering the album that Yes maybe should have. Epics like Real Time World and Arc of Life were standout tracks in an album of importance and strength.
The Bardic Depths – Promises Of Hope
Literature loving progressive band deliver a fine second album about suicide via a fictional tale of a suicidal queen whose death is prevented by the Gods. Enthralling and with many guests in tow.
Tribe of Names – Evolver
Evolutionary album from ex-Tinyfish man Simon Godfrey & colleagues that sees them stretching their legs musically. There’s a welcome strong Rush influence throughout and its a superb album overall.
Phi Yaan Zek – Interdimensional Garden Party
This very strange but satisfying album occupies a realm the sadly departed and much missed Frank Zappa would have graced with its blend of instrumentals and strong songs. Wonderful weirdness is obligatory with such stunning tracks as Wickety Wickety being enough to make anyone smile. A seriously good album that warrants investigation.
John Holden – Kintsugi
John lives close to me and he delivers a strong fourth album of various pieces with a stellar assembly of guests, a highly varied and ultimately satisfying and enjoyable album.
Pattern Seeking Animals – Only Passing Through
This is the third album from Spock’s Beard writer and contributor John Boegehold. With excellent support from existing members of the band, strong songs and catchy hooks abound.
Red Bazar- Inverted Reality
Another unexpected pleasure with a harder edged sound and excellent vocals from Peter Jones, this was very welcome indeed.
Dave Brons – Return to Arda
Simply divine and beautifully melodic Celtic-tinged music from Dave Brons and friends with a concentration on melody with moments of shredding brilliance. Totally sublime and utterly captivating.
Ghost Of The Machine – Scissorgames
A triumphant debut from ex-This Winter Machine men who, along with sublime vocalist Charlie Bramald, fuse melody and muscle in a devastating combination. Truly awesome, well received by many and rightly so too!
Clive Mitten – Tales From A Misspent Youth Volume 1
Entirely orchestral versions of songs that inspired Clive whilst growing up. His take on key songs from Pink Floyd, Genesis, Supertramp and Rush really are a must to hear. How he brings out hitherto hidden beauties to much loved pieces is gorgeous.
Evership – The Uncrowned King Act 2
The final part of the tale is a sobering statement of intent from fine US proggers Evership and the additional vocals from Saga’sMichael Sadler impress greatly.
David Longdon – Door One
Posthumously released after David’s unexpected death in 2021, this telling collection reveals his continued evolution as a writer and, whilst short, this bittersweet album reminds us of of the great man we lost last year.
So, there you have it, that’s it for 2022 from John and myself, see you on the other side…
Duncan Parsons is the drummer for the John Hackett Band and bizarrely the bassist for Joanne Harris’sStorytime band, ‘On Earth, As it is’ is his latest album of original material.
The album is not a concept as such, although it has songs that share a common central theme. Much of the music is performed by Duncan, although he has managed to get assistance from some very interesting guest musicians like John Helliwell of Supertramp, Dave Bainbridge of Iona and Lifesigns and his fellow John HackettBand members Nick Fletcher and John Hackett himself, who both add graceful parts to the lengthy opener Heaven, the album’s longest track at twenty three minutes. The song opens with seven minutes of instrumental music before Duncan’s vocals join in. This is intoned with a pulsating synth bass line which is very ethereal sounding, there is then a section of massed non-verbal vocalisations which add to the atmospheric nature of the track. Then follows an acoustic guitar section which which dissolves into deep keyboard bass and more vocalisations along with Lizz Lipscombe’s string playing. An urgent bass then picks up the pace and creates a strong platform for Nick Fletcher’s fusion guitar part in which he shreds wildly and, as always, immaculately with a great clear tone. This then gives way to synths that lead to another guitar outburst from Nick that takes the track towards its conclusion, the guitar playing on this section is breathtaking, very fiery and highly impressive. The song ends with synths and guitar lines playing, a really strong opener.
This Day follows and has plucked guitar harmonics from Duncan and bass from the legendary Leland Sklar, whose bottom end anchors everything together wonderfully. The track has Duncan playing a washboard and also John Helliwell elegant clarinet. This has a very satisfying jazz elements to it and the saxophone from John also impresses highly. Fissures of Men is a short, dynamic piece featuring violin, viola and cello all set against a sparse piano but it all sounds really good. This is followed by another shorter track, Finish Line, which alludes to a fractured and possibly broken relationship but, ultimately, the song is about how we choose to be.
Unnecessary Kindness opens with an acoustic guitar and is largely a solo guitar instrumental track and very accomplished it is too with plenty of shades of Anthony Phillips in evidence here, at least to these ears. Three Sixteen is more muscular in tone with some crunchy guitar and a simple, but effective, solo halfway through that is ended by the cello as the vocals begin again. This is followed with a mournful violin and some jolly flute as a contrast then a solid tap on what could be a cowbell leads to the last verse of the song. There’s not a little urgency and a comfortable yet easy guitar line leads to the song’s conclusion. This is a very good track indeed, a clear winner. Lead Us Not is another shorter track with the solid bass of Leland gracing proceedings again, along with the graceful flute of John Hackett. The song seems to be about temptation and how we battle with it and how it leads us to where we don’t wish to be.
There is reprise of the earlier Fissures of Men track but it is only very brief, this leads to the last and second longest track, Valediction (Power And Glory) which closes the album out. This song features John Steel on various guitars and is a very atmospheric piece of music with lots of good sounds and textures. It is all fairly free form in nature but very well assembled, with some fabulous acoustic guitar interjections and a great solo that moves over the sumptuous backing and it all sounds really impressive. Along with Heaven, these two epics bookmark what is a most impressive collection of tracks that certainly makes you think as you listen to this fine album. It is one that most folk will be largely unaware of and more’s the pity, as this is a highly intelligent and articulate album of music.
I first came across Phi Yaan-Zek as many others may have, through the pages and tracks on Prog Magazine, although at that time it didn’t really grab me. I was probably on a different musical phase ,as is often the way with me. However, I recently read a review of his latest album from a writer for The Progressive Aspect whose eloquent words piqued my interest, hence this review.
In all the years of my life I have never really been a big fan of Frank Zappa, although I can clearly see his influence in this music. I certainly like it here, for sure, and definitely in the humour contained within these tracks. Phi is certainly a very fine musician and can play a very mean guitar line when required. He also enlists an extraordinary cast of collaborators, like Andy Edwards and John Jowitt of Frost* and he also has a couple of Aristocrats in tow to give this music much flair and finesse.
It has strong touches of psychedelia along with certain hippyish elements, but these are woven into the overall sound of the album. I am certainly highly impressed by all of this excellent and exciting music, it is all wonderfully produced with excellent guitar skills on display. The music also has jazz elements at times, giving the sound a definite jazz/fusion blend.
An outstanding track is track Wickety Wickety, which is a cross between a rumbling song, something like Nelly The Elephant but with brass embellishments. It is rather a fun piece but utterly engrossing and captivating. This whole album is different, it is definitely a positive sounding album and will imbue feelings of well being and contentment. Above all, this music is good fun and we should all be glad of that, especially at this time. Also notable is Anomaly Temporal with an almost reggae swing and spoken vocal from , this also has a touch of Star Trek to it and rounds out with an excellent instrumental finale.
I really enjoy the instrumental flourishes that abound throughout this very imaginative album, it really is a fascinating and captivating listen. Phi is a very fluid guitarist, think of folks like Steve Vai and you won’t be far off the mark, but he is also very melodic in tone and, whilst he can shred with the best, he works for the track, not just to stun.
This is clearly shown on My Favourite UFO which combines his fine guitar virtuosity with a strong tune to fine effect. This track has a dreamy type of sound and reminds me of 10CC in parts, it also has great bass from Bryan Beller of TheAristocrats. The song speeds up towards its conclusion and this proves very effective, as is the vocal from Ellie Williams. The next track Floating gives room for some free reign musical improvisation which is taken by Phi with Mike Keneally in tow, along with the fabulous and dynamic Aristocrats rhythm team of Beller and Marco Minneman. With Phi’s guitar floating over the top most efficiently and effectively, it really is a sublime piece of intent delivered really well.
Final track The Puffball That Ate My Village is another monster track with a similar pace to Wickety Wickety but with fiery guitar interjections and interplay between Phi and Chanan Hanspal, who play off against each other in a six string orgy of soloing. It’s all highly effective, especially with Andy Edwards‘ drums and Steve Lawson’s majestic bass playing that anchor it all together seamlessly. The song also features lots of guests adding chant type vocals, which really sounds good. When this track end there is a brief pause of about 2 minutes before A reprise of opener The Interdimensional Garden Party plays, this is a fitting close to an exceptional album but wait, there’s more as there is a brief untitled track that is basically the words spoken backwards deliberately.
This is a truly entertaining album with fabulous music and performances throughout. Definitely one of my album of the year contenders, outstanding. In a year that has seen so many really good albums, this one can truly stand tall and proud and I recommend it without hesitation, especially for its weirdness and sense of fun.