The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness
Following on from 2012’s ‘Lonely Hills’ was always going to be a big thing for this Texan band but, no need to worry, The Aaron Clift Experiment have returned with a rather excellent new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you.
An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..
Releases September 18th 2015
Full review to follow.
Stand out track – Kissed by the Sun
Hell, it is that new that there are no clips or videos and you can’t even pre-order it yet but keep your eyes peeled for the news as it arrives!
Here is a video from ‘Lonely Hills’ to keep you sated in the mean time…..
3RDegree – Ones & Zeros Volume 1
A progressive rock concept album about the singularity, futurist issues, ability enhancements, life prolonging and the Ultra A.I., sounds a bit deep doesn’t it? Don’t worry, this fine progressive rock band from New Jersey infuse it with excellent songwriting, delightful musical interludes and some power playing to deliver rather a sophisticated brew.
Like all good music, you will only get what you put in but, invest some serious quality time with this release and you will be well rewarded.
Check out ‘You’re Fooling Yourselves’ from the album ‘The Long Division’ :
Kinetic Element – Travelog
This Richmond, Virginia band’s follow up to 2009’s ‘Powered By Light’ has been described as ‘opulent ear candy’ and features 5 tracks of classic progressive rock that harks back to the 70’s. Superb musicianship featuring everything from jazz basslines, intricate guitar work and soaring keyboards combine with delightful vocals to deliver something that every prog fan will like.
The debut album from this San Antonio, Texas band is quite a cornucopia of styles that works well across a diverse selection of songs. Classic progressive sounds combine with melodic songwriting to deliver music that really wants you to dig deeper and explore further.
Influenced by bands such as Spocks Beard, The Flower Kings and Porcupine Tree, the album ‘Chasing Light’ is the beginning a series of albums about a protaganist who is seeking to change life and worlds and find ‘light’.
This intriguing band from St. Albans release ‘Twilight Canvas’ in 2012. a collection of unique songs that emotionally engage, but extend beyond generic rock song-writing; they combine driving metal guitar riffs and leads with delicate classical and acoustic instrumentation, peruse wide-ranging rhythmic experiments and boast layered harmony vocals with memorable hooks – all set against otherworldly, evocative atmospheres. A rich mix, showcasing great musicianship, but without wandering into abstraction.
“Better the rudest work that tells a story or records a fact, than the richest without meaning…..” – John Ruskin.
At the heart of the music I love the most are storytellers and modern-day bards, musicians who can take all that life throws at them, good and bad, and put it in to song. Songs that can affect you deeply and stir up huge wellsprings of emotion. Joy, laughter, sadness and woe all hit deeply into our souls and take us on a journey into the world envisaged by these musical magicians.
Lightweight music has its place (maybe the gym or some other) but I prefer music that can teach me something or enhance a mood, even music that makes me feel sad or forlorn is still great music if that is what it intended. Maybe those of us who appreciate the finer music in life have a bigger capacity in our hearts, who knows?
One thing I do know is that there is no single style or genre of music that achieves this, it is a capacity of all music to move you deeply and leave a lasting impression on you. Certain types can have a higher propensity to musically enhance us just by their generic definition.
Folk music is all about telling stories and tales, generally local legends and characters are brought to life by these earthy musicians and the use of flues, violins and other instruments tends to lends it more originality. Folk and progressive rock tend to cross paths quite often and influences of both can be heard in the other (check out the Canterbury scene for an idea of what I mean).
In my role as a’musical treasure hunter’ I often unearth unexpected gems by the strangest means but, sometimes, just a recommendation from someone who I trust is enough to get me to listen to something new. This time it was Brendan Eyre (of Northlands and Riversea fame) who pointed me in the right direction.
Lee Maddison is an acoustic folk rock musician from Hartlepool in the North East of England and is releasing a self titled album under the pseudonym of Maddison’s Thread. I was intrigued by the excellent artwork (I do like a nice album cover) designed by local artist Amanda White (check out her artist’s page www.mandascat.com) and Brendan’s nod in the right direction sealed the deal.
When playing live Lee’s line up has him playing acoustic guitar and performing vocals, Stewart Hardy on fiddle, Nigel Spaven on bass and Michael Kitching on drums & percussion.
Joining Lee and his regular players on the album were a stellar cast of many whose contribution, in Lee’s words “far outweighed my contribution to their bank accounts..”
These additional musicians were Bob Garrington (acoustic and electric guitars), Shayne Fontayne (drums), Sue Ferris (flute and sax), Shona Kipling (accordion), Rachel Robinson (cello), Tony Davis (keyboards) and John Day (trombone on ‘A Crooked Mile Home’). Backing vocals were provided by Suzy Crawford and Rachel Gaffney.
(Image copyright Howy White, featured image also copyright Howy White)
A gentle if determined acoustic guitar introduces us to The Viking’s Daughter before Lee’s magical vocals invite us to listen to the story at hand. There is a timbre to his vocals that give them a serious honesty and a gravelly note that has hints of Dylan to it (well if Bob had bothered to take singing lessons that is). I find myself entranced by the lilting air to the song, the intriguing lyrics and the definitive folk mood it induces, especially when the fiddle and gentle backing vocals join. The short, enchanting fiddle solos leave me imagining I’m in a crowded bar in a tiny fishing village on the North East coast, party to something secretive and wonderful. As an opening track to entice you in further it is just about perfect. There is a more pensive feel to the guitar at the beginning of Where Eagles Fly, a more sombre atmosphere added to by Lee’s vocal that engenders a sparse beauty to all that is around it. When the chorus opens up with the stylish percussion and captivating backing vocals it adds a real feel of longing and hope, the flute is like a free spirit that eludes you, always out of reach. I feel a lump rising in my throat, a wistfulness pervading my thoughts as this enchanting song continues to entrance me. I really have the feeling we are listening to something special here.
Come the Springtime opens up with that hypnotic guitar note that has become signature now and then Lee starts singing and you really feel like spring is upon you. The vocals are more measured and precise, the chorus lively and addictive. This song is less weighty than what has preceded it but it feels in keeping with the whole premise of the track, flute and fiddle adding any necessary gravitas. It bumbles along as if it has not a care in the world, flitting and organic and really lightens the air and the mood, a short breath of fresh air that leaves your musical palate ready for what is to follow. Jaunty and immediately memorable, Making the Morning Last takes a small step away from the folk leanings and towards the mainstream. There is a breezy and carefree feel to the song, emphasised by Lee’s vocals and the percussion, which add a playful note to proceedings. The chorus is definitely a paid up member of the ‘sing-along’ society and the interjections of the stylish fiddle playing are quite sublime. A song that makes you want to jump up and dance, self-confident and dapper.
After the flippancy of the previous track things become slightly more serious again with Wonderful Day, the guitar has a fragility to it and Lee’s vocal begins with a purposefulness before opening up with an injection of levity. This track reminds me a bit of Seth Lakeman with a Northern contrast, it is pared back but the fiddle once again adds lustre and finesse and the counter-play with the accordion is just brilliant. I get the impression that Lee and his fellow musicians must put on quite a live experience, I will have to go find out for myself. The Country Song does exactly what it says on the tin, Lee’s vocal having an age-old timbre to it. This track has a touch of simple country rock to it but with a definite Britishness at its core, humorous and playful, it is like a serious version of The Wurzels with its metaphorical cap set at an impish angle.
Heading right back up mainstream road Don’t Care About Tomorrow is a catchy, high-tempo sing along that really gets under your skin and into your mind. The feel good factor is turned up to ten and smiles are obligatory. The backing vocals are stylish and harmonised and the piano and keyboards really add a grown up note. Folk takes an unapologetic back seat and the good times roll. Throw in a guitar solo and you can’t really ask for much more as Lee shows he is definitely not a one trick pony, Ed Sheeran eat your heart out! Hang on, what’s this? Have I just been transported to a smoke filled jazz joint? Night Circus is all Martin Taylor-esque guitars and funky rhythms as Lee swiftly shifts focus once again. The chorus and backing vocals have a real feel of original R&B to them, you know what? this guy has some real musical chops and, just to top it off, we have a smooth as caramel sax solo thrown in, outstanding! Intricate guitar work and super cool percussion just add to the effortless skill on show, the suave close to the track is just sublime.
On your first listen to Misty Morning Blues you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported across the Atlantic and into mid-town America. With a vocal style akin to John Denver and music that wouldn’t seem out of place on an Eagles album this is Americana inspired country rock that reminds me of Abel Ganz and that is no mean comparison. Enchanting yet heartfelt, there is a real depth of emotion at the heart of this genuinely sincere song, when the flute floats in it just adds the final part of this beguiling musical jigsaw. Honest to its core, One Day is a wistful, whimsical delight. The pared back to basics guitar is ethereal and bewitching and Lee’s vocal has a charming candor to it so you take everything at face value. Suave and sophisticated, when the percussion joins in, it has a real smooth jazz feel to it, a lightness of being that you feel is catching as your soul leaves your body to join the party. Without a worry in the world, you are just left to enjoy this unruffled delight.
Too soon we come to the final track on the album and a return to folk-focused beginnings, albeit with a country rock edge. The guitar and accordion focused introduction to A Crooked Mile Home has a solemn, melancholy note to it as if the subject is a weighty one. Lee gives his most grave vocal performance yet, all serious and mournful and you can’t help but become involved in the dignified and subdued atmosphere. The trombone and accordion add the required saturnine and sober edge to the yearning quality of the vocals. A starkly graceful song to close out this exquisite album.
Music often astounds me in the way that, when you think you’ve heard it all, something comes along to amaze and inspire you with its brilliance. I had never heard of Lee Maddison before that fateful day but this discovery is one of the best of recent years. Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.
To whet your appetite for the forthcoming new E.P. ‘Magnet’, here’s a live version of the first track from the E.P. – ‘Magnet in Your Face’ recorded during rehearsals at The New Empowering Church. Filmed by Ashley Jones for The Chaos Engineers.
‘Magnet’ is the cult North London instrumentalists The Fierce And The Dead’s first new material in two years and is released this August via Bad Elephant Music. The critically acclaimed band’s new EP features 6 songs including 3 new tracks, a re-recording of the song Flint from the band’s first album and 2 songs recorded live in rehearsal (one of these is a bonus on the CD). The EP is released on the 14th of August, the week before TFATD play the Arctangent festival alongside acts including Dillinger Escape Plan, 65daysofstatic and Deerhoof.
“I think this EP represents a different sound for us, it’s important to keep moving forward. It more joyous and intense with bigger riffs and more of an electronic feel.” says Dead guitarist Matt Stevens. Bassist & Producer Kevin Feazey continues “We’re doing what we want to do. Full circle. Back to sounding like the bands we grew up with, from Nuclear Assault to Boards of Canada. Every record we’ve put out has had it’s own character and story, with different sounds and a different reality for each”.
The band are currently in the process of recording their third studio album for release next year and are playing a few select live dates and festivals. Drummer Stuart Marshall describes the new material as “f****** terrifying”.
You can listen to the first song from the EP and pre-order it from the BEM sales page:
I must ad mit to a vested interest in this release as my alter-ego is PR Chief for Bad Elephant Music, the label that the album was released on but this is a fair review and not biased in any way (your Honour) so please sit back and enjoy.
To me Music is more than a mere soundtrack, it has become a part of my life. Music is a treasure that I seek out at any given opportunity.
“A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.” – Leopold Stokowski
That is one of my favourite quotes because I don’t like to live my life in silence, I fill every pause and every gap in my whole being with the joy of music and one of my favourite things is finding an artist whose work I have never had the pleasure of hearing before. It is like hidden treasure that is unearthed and unveiled in all its glory, to wash over you and become part of your life.
I have to ask the question of where this artist or musician has been all my life, why have I not heard their music before? But I cannot berate myself in any way, I just need to enjoy the fact that I now can appreciate that music in my life every day. The musician in question this time is the mercurial jh, a solo artist from London. jh is the nom de guerre of Jon Hunt, he writes, arranges, performs and mixes all his material himself, with the exception of some of the drums.
It is impossible to describe jh’s music in a nutshell, as the only ethos he has is to make exactly the music he wants with no regard to commercial thought. This makes him extremely difficult to market, but more importantly his integrity remains intact. His albums hearken back to the spirit of the ‘album’ as being an artform in itself, jh’s music is eclectic, honest, and quintessentially English. His recordings are startlingly honest pieces of work that reveal more and more on each listen.
There have been three previous albums, all of which have been self-released, 2008’s ‘Truth and Bullshit’, 2011’s ‘Wanderlust’ and 2013’s ‘So Much Promise’.
2015 has seen jh link up with the eclectic record label Bad Elephant Music to release a fourteen track compilation of his most iconic tracks to date. ‘Morning Sun’ will be released to an expectant public on March 16th and Jon took a minute to talk about the record and his link up with BEM.
“Morning Sun is a 14-track, 77-minute retrospective of my three albums to date (Truth & Bullshit (2008), Wanderlust (2011) and So Much Promise (2013)). I have tried to showcase all aspects and styles of my music, and sequence it all in a coherent way.
I have had some complaints and sarcastic comments regarding songs I have left off at the expense of some of those included, but this will always happen with compilations unless you burn yourself a personal CD!
I’m very happy with it, and I thank David Elliott of Bad Elephant Music for letting me have free rein to choose the tracks myself. It’s great to be working with BEM, as they have such an array of talent, and everyone involved with the label from the CEO to the acts absolutely lives and breathes music.
The fact that David and Co. enjoy and understand mine is a great feeling, as you don’t usually associate this kind of affinity with the term ‘Record Label’! I’m looking forward to a long and rewarding partnership.”
Enough talking, time to immerse myself in this labour of love……
The first song Next Time begins with a welcoming introduction that takes you straight into Jon’s distinctive vocals, like Billy Bragg with a personality transplant. This slightly lilting and melancholic track is definitive of that singer/ songwriter style song with expressive and clever lyrics and a velvety touch to the music. The earnest vocal delivery and classy guitar add a touch of elegance to the hometown feel. I Wanna Spend my Summer With a Rich Girl flies into view like The Beatles chased by Blur in a fiery coach and horses. It doesn’t just make your ears prick up as hit them with a taser! The jangly guitar note and wide boy vocals are instantly catchy and it runs along at a rollicking pace with a huge grin on its face. Jon takes some of the better elements of Britpop and melds them to his own recipe to produce a song that couldn’t come from anywhere but England, the chorus is a work of genius. Originally part of the 40 minute London Road Suite on ‘Wanderlust’ the next track London Road gives a hint of the more progressive and expressive side to jh. The song begins with a measured and meaningful introduction, a gentle piano and Jon’s wistful vocal invoking in you a nostalgic and pensive state of mind. When the strings join in it brings a lump up in my throat, I get the feeling it is a nod to sepia tinted past where life, whilst being hard, was much more simplistic. As the track builds up and gets into its stride your mind opens to the poetic vista that the music hints at. A painfully beautiful song that leaves you with a sense of loss as it comes to a close.
The off-beat ending to the previous song is a perfect introduction to Lucy’s Party and you are transported to the pop sensibilities of the 1980’s. More highbrow than some of the nonsensical fare from that decade, there is inventiveness to this track and it has more than a hint of mischief to it. The vocals are delivered in a style more akin to spoken word and the clever use of the drum machine adds that feel of big hair and bigger collars that the decade that taste forgot will always imbue. Wartime Spirit is a song that has an intimacy to its core, one man and his guitar playing to a rapt audience. The pared back acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals draw you in and, when it opens out and blossoms with the clever drum sound, you nod in silent appreciation, a serious yet approachable track with honesty deep at its heart. Quirky from the start Fort Dunlop has an off-kilter and slightly chaotic feel to it as it messes with your head. The initial instrumental seems to be deliberately obtuse and out there with a drum beat that seems set to random, it is a cacophony of noise that imparts a delicious agony to your eardrums. There is a feel of a David Lynch film soundtrack going on here as it moves into an electronic jazz vibe unlike any other track on the album, you are kept guessing at every turn with this song ,it is not for the faint hearted but you get out of it what you put in.
A nod to Pop-Punk with its grungy, reverb heavy guitar and antsy vocals In Ascension is raw and earthy and a short, sharp punch to the kidneys. Almost like a musical palate cleanser after the intensity of the previous two tracks, it holds nothing back and is a riotous alternative to the sophistication elsewhere. An ethereal track with a hint of discord hidden behind the beauteous exterior Angels begins with a subdue gentility and an apprehension that leaves you holding your breath, almost unable to move. The subtle use of a distorted guitar leaves a trail of dissonance to be followed on this intelligent and idiosyncratic piece of music. As the tension builds and the vocals take a digitised note the hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise. There is such expressionism deep at the coal face of this music, it is captivating and holds you rapt in attention as it plays with your sensibilities. After the haunting, fierce aura of the previous track I’ll See You Tomorrow in a Different Light has a delicate fragility and refinement to it. Subtle instrumentation and an earnest vocal with an emotional catch combine as the song glides in like a breath of fresh air. Another composition solidly in the singer/songwriter style, I love its underlying simplicity and modesty. Taking the social commentary of a Paul Weller and imbuing it with a guitar note reminiscent of 60’s pop, it takes you on a sun-kissed musical journey that leaves a touch of joy in your soul.
What comes next is simply jaw-dropping, taking the progressive-rock mantle and running with it full tilt, Making Tea is Freedom requires you to take eighteen minutes out of your day, sit down, put the headphones on and forget about everything else. When I first heard this multi-faceted track, I just played it straight back again, it’s that good, jh takes all of his influences and puts them into one big melting pot. There is the social commentary of Billy Bragg and Paul Weller, the alternative style of Talk Talk, the Britpop feel of Blur and the progressive tendencies of Porcupine Tree and Genesis but, that is all they are, influences, Jon takes them into himself and gives them some a part of his own soul to deliver a monumental musical epic that shakes you down to your roots. An acoustic guitar that seems more than three-dimensional takes the helm and drives the early part of the song on its fateful route. A hesitant and understated vocal provides the narration, leading you to a crossroads where you wonder what direction you will be taken in next. A flamenco hued guitar grabs your attention and roots you to the spot before your world is turned upside down. A guitar note that has a sinister undertone creeps into your psyche and makes your skin crawl a little, in an enjoyable manner. The middle part of the track is an instrumental smorgasbord of ideas all held together by that distinctive, raw-edged guitar note and transfixes you in its full on glare. The piquant musical onslaught continues unabated, running through your very soul before it breaks onto your aural receptors and you are left empty as the musical landscape turns bleaker. In your mind, an open, blasted vista appears before you, waiting to be populated by the music as you focus on that sound hailing from the distance. The drama comes full circle as Jon’s powerful vocal leads the final moments of euphoria and his superb guitar playing brings this monumental track to a close. A full on rock track as heavy as they come, like a wall of sound pressing you against your chair, The Sky is Breaking is BIG in every sense. A demonstrative vocal allied with a crunching guitar note and a huge drum sound fill every silence and shout from the rooftops on this enjoyable romp. Reminiscent of The Who at their pomp but with Jon’s distinctive touches, it is one of my favourite tracks on the album, especially that notable guitar sound that has an unending depth to it. Your ears are left with a not unpleasant ringing sound in them as it comes to a triumphal close. Collapse has an anecdotal feel to it, a tender, heartfelt vocal accompanying the ever present acoustic guitar that has rapidly become synonymous with this intriguing artist. With an integrity that comes deep from his heart, it is powerful and soul stirring.
Something’s Happening Here sees Jon take his guitar and enjoy himself again, another fast paced escapade that carries you in its wake, kicking and screaming as you try and rein it in. However, there is a seriousness deep down that surfaces now and again, an antidote to the frivolous feel, one that would be sure to be a live favourite with its sing-along chorus and high energy delivery. This superb collection of songs has to, unfortunately, come to a close at some point and the final track is aptly called The End. It does have feeling of finality to it, amongst the gentle fragility and sorrowful note of the vocals. The whole song is contemplative and forlorn and plucks at the heartstrings with the feelings of loss and yearning that it engenders in your heart and soul. A sublime and rarefied track that brings to mind 10CC and I’m Not in Love and leaves you glad to have listened to it but sad that it is over.
This is a compilation of songs that are thoughtful and thought provoking from a musician who is comfortable in his own skin and has found his own niche. Eclectic, quirky and off-beat jh may be but, overall, there is something rather clever and intelligent at the core of it all. Distinctly English and proud of it and one of the best singer/songwriters at play today, you could do hell of a lot worse than invest in this release.
I have myself a dilemma. I have often said in the past that I am not a fan of growly vocals in the main. On the majority of albums where I have encountered them they have seemed to detract from the generally impressive music and clean vocals that they accompany. Occasionally they actually can compliment the rest of the music but, to my ears anyway, those occasions are very few and far between.
Recently I reviewed Anuryzm’s latest release‘All is Not For All’ and I was impressed by the way the growls were integrated relatively seamlessly to deliver a very good album. Will lightening strike twice as I approach the review of another progressive metal album with the seminal ‘cookie monster’ vocals front and centre?
Subterranean Masquerade and their latest release ‘The Great Bazaar’ were brought to my attention by social media and their record company Taklit Music.
The PR tagline is:
“Welcome to the carnival of the dysfunctional and the disturbed”
Interesting start eh? Lets find out more….
The band were initially formed in 1997 by mastermind and guitarist Tomer Pink and came to the attention of the music world back in 2000 with a cover version of Peter Murphy’s ‘Cuts you Up but the first official band release was 2004’s two track E.P. ‘Temporary Psychotic State’.
This was followed by 2005’s full length release ‘Suspended Animation Dreams’ before Tomer departed the US to take a hiatus travelling the world. 8 years later he returned to the studio with a new line up to record the ‘Home’ E.P. which was released on Tomer’s own label, the already mentioned Taklit Music.
2015 sees the latest line up Tomer, Matan Shmuely (drums), Or Shalev (guitar), Golan Farhi (bass), Shai Yallin (keys) and new vocalist Kjetil Nordhus and the release of the band’s most ambitious album yet, ‘The Great Bazaar’.
“This is the first time I feel like we are a real band and not just a studio project.”
Let’s see what we have in store for us…….
The album starts with an Eastern orientated guitar heavy intro (worthy of OrphanedLand)to Early Morning Mantra that immediately grabs my attention with its catchy upbeat rhythm and addictive riffing. Almost melodic rock but with just enough pizzazz to lift it above the ordinary, the addition of string like keyboards is a clever touch. There is an enigmatic break into a vocal section that is staccato and edgy, slightly apprehensive before it opens up, with a snatch of a growl, into a flowering chorus. A technical progressive metal interlude, perhaps a tad over heavy with the growly vocals, provides a counterpoint as it segues into a sharp instrumental break complete with flute to really push the progressive buttons. An interesting start to the album and one that leaves me intrigued as to what will follow, the run out at the end is a really interesting juxtapose to the rest of the song. Relive the Feeling takes a more straightforward hard rock route with a pacy, fire breathing intro that lights the blue touch paper and lets all hell break loose. An edgy riff drives things along before the fulsome vocals begin, awash with passion and fervor. When the cookie monster voice begins it seems slightly at odds with the melodic background that it is delivered over, the jury is out this time, especially when you consider the clean vocal delivery of the chorus. Not to mind, a nice guitar break delivers an additional punch and an extended finish to an intriguing song.
That Eastern feel returns with Tour Diary, the introduction is all string effects before an earnest vocal, touched with a hint of darkness delivers a mysterious verse, slightly melancholy and sombre. There is a serious sense of regret at the heart of this song and the guitar solo is delivered in a wistful and mournful fashion. A song that has one foot firmly symphonic rock, it is quite an attractive proposition while it never moving any boundaries. Did someone mention wistful? The introduction to Nigen has ‘forlorn regret’ written large all over it and that feeling of longing runs throughout this short but tasteful instrumental. The perceptive saxophone adding real class to an already very likeable song. Perhaps the most mainstream track on the album Blanket of Longing is actually a very clever song. The intro is upbeat and inventive, all acoustic guitar and strings, before breaking into a neat riff and calming down before the vocals deliver an impassioned tale. This is proper hard rock with a touch of hair metal and showcase the versatility of Kjetil’s voice. A charismatic and engaging piece of music with just enough subtlety added in parts to make it interesting. This track also contains the best use of that growl type vocal and it works very well.
Specter begins with a lot of Eastern promise and follows with a crushing guitar riff that shakes you to your foundations. The drumming is precise and profound and the tale continues with the superb vocals. Heavy metal combined with Eastern tradition is quite an tempting combination when delivered with aplomb like this. There is a sense of mischief at the heart of the song, as if it has a metaphorical twinkle in its eye, as it bounds along. A mesmeric instrumental interlude adds a hint of pure showmanship and mystery to what is my favourite track on the album. An inventive and very gratifying track comes to a close with a return to that magical eastern note. This relatively short album comes to a close with the longest track Father and Son which begins with a gently strummed intro before the song begins properly with anguished and forlorn vocal delivery. This song is very much a lament, a heartbreaking ode and one that I am not sure benefits from the growling vocal. It does seem to grate a tad in places and, if I am being honest, takes some of the enjoyment away for me. The powerful and transcendent guitar playing soon makes me forget my slight disappointment though and, when the growl is subdued behind the imposing music, it does seem to add another layer of completeness. There is a subdued interlude in the middle of the track, quite meditative, before you are blind sided by a brilliant little off kilter progressive section that really makes you smile with its tongue in cheek technical efficiency and abundant joie de vivre. As the song comes to close clean and growling vocals are interlaced to good effect and the finale is an arresting combination of folk style instrumentation with choral style vocals before a sombre piano note brings everything to a satisfactory conclusion.
To be blunt this album does not solve my dilemma, in places the growls add considerably but, in others, they don’t work for me. What is true however is that it does not detract from what is overall a very enjoyable and impressive record that has delivered more than enough to leave me hoping there will soon be a follow up.
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.