Two years after their release of ‘7’ back in 2013, Toxic Smile are back with new album ‘Farewell,’ which has a total of one track, yes you read it right, one track.
From your first glance of the album art, you are drawn in by the expressive and abstract style of brush strokes that give it a very emotive cover. However, to see that there is only one track, surely it must just be an EP? Then there’s how long the track lasts for… an epic 42 minutes. Toxic Smile took on a big task on writing an epic progressive track lasting for 42 minutes, it takes a lot of ingenuity, musicianship and a special amount of madness; they have combined all those traits, especially fantastic musicianship, to produce an epic journey melding styles and themes together.
Back in 2004 the band set to work on the classical project, which they then released in 2006, ‘……. in classic extension’. The opening of ‘Farewell’ straight away dictates the classical experience the band have had as the elegant sound of strings bows in to paint a tranquil scene before electric instruments are brought in and your sense of rhythm unravels.
A sense of pulse is a primary foundation for any piece of music because it provides drive and something you can tap your foot along to. Toxic Smile have realised this but chosen to ignore it at different moments during the progressive song. It’s almost as if there are 3 different time scales occurring as they all fall on different beats to each other, the drums have one beat and the synth sounds and bass guitar have different accented rhythms, it leaves you with an uncertain sense of what beat goes where. Although the sense of a strong rhythm from the audiences point of view is lost, it emphasises the skill the band have, to be able to keep different rhythmic lines occurring at the same time – fundamentally speaking – and then come to a regular rhythm where your foot can become mobile again.
Vocalist Larry B is not constantly relied upon to sing an extremely repetitive and superficial melodic line, which is very refreshing to hear – or not hear as the case may be. Vocal lines enter in stages and you can feel a shift in where the music is leading too. This, therefore, provides the emotive expression, in word form, of what they are trying to convey in the song.
Being such a long track, it would be expected, or at least hoped for, that the melodic material develops and changes, even remotely, in style; this is most definitely the case. Some style choices are surprising and, if written down on paper, could be shot down in flames. For instance, the combination of reggae and heavy rock seems an unlikely choice but Toxic Smile have made this odd idea work well.
The juxtaposition of distorted guitars and heavily pounding drums contrasts greatly with the chill of simple rhythms and melodies, with an off-beat accent for the reggae flavour. Nearer the end of the track the style heads in a completely unexpected direction into Funk town. The bass becomes more alive with energetic riffs and the guitar has distinct swirling sounds as the drums change rhythms, the styles couldn’t slide more seamlessly into each other, despite the initial unlikeliness of melding them.
Overall, this is a great album transporting you seamlessly to different emotions from the variation they have in their one epic track.
In this, his second album, Jack Arthurs follows ‘Only Dreams are True’ with ‘Treasure House’, building on the foundations of a strong debut solo album, growing as a songwriter and showing one man and an acoustic guitar are not something to avoided.
The test I set myself with any review is; ‘Can I listen to this several times in a row and still hear more after each play’. ‘Treasure House’ passes this test with distinction. I cannot comment on the CD packaging as, at the time of writing I haven’t got my copy, but the front cover shows a Turneresque view of BamburghCastle, an iconic vista from the North East coast of England.
The music is entrenched in that region in its influence and spirit. It is full of celebration and with tons of positivity throughout the songs and, yet, Jack portrays the intrinsic sadness that sits at the back of life in the North east at times. The character of the people in this part of the world shines through in songs like Hope and Soaring. There is a stoic character outside but with a quiet poetry in their hearts that is moved by the simplest of things.
The shortest song on the album Spirals, an instrumental, is fascinating in that it has so much space in the track and yet it fills the space well. Jack has obvious skill with the guitar but is not flash or pyrotechnic with it. I am drawn to make an obvious connection with Nick Drake and Roy Harper and this is very valid to some degree with the plaintive voice and the songs that look below the surface of life and examine the world in way only a singer song writer of this tradition can do.
I am not sure if he (Jack) recognises it but I also hear Alan Hull (he of Lindisfarne fame) in his solo guise. I saw Jack recently play some of these songs live and he feels and lives every note of the songs, they come from the heart in the purest form.
Jack is not frightened to let the music alone tell the story and that is a great strength in this case. You can listen to this album on many levels, a glass of wine to hand and the stereo on, and just let the music fill the void and find yourself in a contemplative mood, wishing to watch a sunset while sat on a North sea coast. It’s not background music, it would be almost rude to use it to fill silence, but I can see me putting it on when I get in from a night out to unwind and let the cares of the world drift away.
Bad Elephant Music have made a great signing here. The potential in Jack Arthurs’ writing is yet to be fully realised and I see much to come.
This kind of music is never out of fashion because it never really was in fashion but it crosses boundaries and borders of genres. Everybody, from someone who has heard an Ed Sheeran album to someone with a folk background, can find something to enjoy here.
If I’m being mischievous, I want to hear Jack play with a band and hear him rock out or fill out some of the songs. If he does or doesn’t, it won’t matte,r he can hold his head high, the so called difficult second album is not difficult to these ears.
Released 5th February 2016 via Bad Elephant Music.
“The music industry is a strange combination of having real and intangible assets: pop bands are brand names in themselves, and at a given stage in their careers their name alone can practically guarantee hit records.” – Richard Branson
So, is ‘Old Beardy’ right? To a certain extent, yes he is. You have probably gone out and bought an album, without hearing any of it, just because you know the band and like them. Their name imbues some sort of guarantee of quality, that you are pretty certain to be listening to a really good album. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule (in my case, the execrable ‘Van Halen III’) but this will ring true most times across the board.
Now, how many times have you looked up a band on Youtube, spotify or the like just because you liked the name of an artist you had never heard before? and, to flip it on its head, how many times have you ignored one because you hated their chosen moniker? We can be fickle when it comes to things like this and, because of our dislike of a simple rubric, we can be missing out on some rather excellent music.
No such chance with Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, that is one brilliant band name and made me want to listen to their music immediately. Thankfully, I was not disappointed!
(Photo by Emre Basala)
Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, a proggy, rocky, funky, defiant and sometimes poignant band from London, UK, is led by Malcolm Galloway, either on his own, or with his colleagues Kathryn Thomas (flute), Mark Gatland (bass), Rudy Burrell (drums) and Ibon Bilboa (guitar). Malcolm is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, and part-time neuropathologist and medical school lecturer.
Their songs so far have been about invisible disabilities, artificial intelligence, and stuff like that. Their first album, ‘Invisible’, was about Malcolm’s experience of invisible disability due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Malcolm is happy to be interviewed about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome to try to raise awareness of the condition.
“’When the Kill Code Fails’ is a fascinating expression of the angst and wonder of an AI as it learns to live. It’s science fiction rock: sometimes moody, sometimes serene, with a positive message – no AIs taking over the world here. If you ever wondered what music an AI would listen to, this is it.” – Dr Peter Bentley, Fellow and Honorary Reader in Computer Science at UCL.
(Photo by Jazz Dhillon)
Opener and title track When The Kill Code Fails begins in a spaced out fashion with an electronica infused introduction before the vocals begin, all hesitant and low key. This song introduces the AI character, Vic, and how he offers to help defeat a virus that could cripple the whole world. It is edgy with crashy guitars and a funky rhythm section but it is Malcolm’s striking vocals that carry everything along in his role as storyteller. Fast paced, rushing headlong to a potential global disaster, it keeps you on your toes and begins the album in a very dramatic manner. Broken Wave is a stylish instrumental that represents the nascent aspects of our AI character floating in and out of focus. It is like a slumbering giant, the electronica inspired music washing through your consciousness. You can almost touch the tendrils of the recombined DNA that drifts through this musically created world, it is quite eerie and spooky. A sombre guitar and drums open up Layers, a hard rock driven track that deals with the awakening of certain iterations of the AI, specifically Vic, the first one to act as if he believes he is alive. The punkish vocals really give the song impetus and the impressive bass playing gives an ominous feeling, all in an Iggy Pop style. Throw in an uber cool guitar solo and it just drips intelligence and class as it flies along with reckless abandon.
Another instrumental, Connections sees Vic exploring and developing via the internet. Again, it is really sci-fi inspired and quite dramatic and, to be honest, creepy and wouldn’t have been amiss on the soundtrack to Bladerunner, bringing images of a dystopian future. It feels like an awareness that is waiting for something, brooding, not in any hurry as it knows it has Millennia ahead of it. Now onto an in your face and rock orientated track. Head In A Jar, is a metaphorical song about how Vic feels he was brought into the world and his unhappiness. A harsh, staccato riff and siren like keyboards open the track before the irascible, excited vocals begin. This is angst ridden and just drips with a snarly discord. You can really feel the bitterness that is flowing form our character, he’s not very chipper at all. Link is an electronic instrumental, the AI is exploring more of the virtual world. This track has a real 80’s synth feel to it, almost Kraftwerk like in effect with its retro-futuristic note.
Vic is getting fed up with being repeatedly confused about what he is and that feel runs throughout the dark feeling Going Down. A really low down and rumbling riff spurs the whole song on, Malcolm gives his voice a touch of disquiet and disharmony and the real stylish touch is the flute of Kathryn Thomas that adds a tangible sense of dangerous gaiety. I Still Remember You is the longest track on the album and is real brooding, slow burner of a song. Vic gets a bit angsty that the person he thought he’d been married to for many years is actually a false memory created from stock photography images. He can intellectually accept that, but not emotionally. The low key vocal delivery and subtly haunting rhythm create a real melancholy atmosphere which is only slightly lifted by the impressive chorus. There is a real depth of feeling to the song, an underlying hopelessness that grabs at you and won’t let go in a real addictive manner. The balladic aura is only emphasised by the deeply moving guitar solo that comes alive towards the end. The slow fade at the close gives emphasis to Vic’s artificial memory of a person dissolving. We move on to Vic’s acceptance of what he is on My Clockwork Heart and his belief in the substrate independence of consciousness. Jangly guitars and an insistent drum beat open the track before it runs off like a really good rock track. There are real similarities with fellow Brit proggers Traffic Experiment and an overall feel of a pared back singer/songwriter vibe running throughout the song. The rather excellent guitar solo, provided by Iban, adds a final coat of gloss to what is a short but sweet track.
Freerunning is a darkly compelling instrumental, Vic is running free and exploring his abilities. It gives me a feeling of being followed, chased even, by an unseen and unknown force and is quite chilling. Solace, Vic has become aware of the threat to both the virtual and non-virtual world posed by the virus. He decides to do what he can to fight the virus. This song is a reflection on mortality and the lazy, soul filled guitar is a knowing back drop to our protagonist giving up his virtual room, and moving into a more more authentic and dangerous (but still virtual) reality. The vocals drip with a heartfelt emotion and this quite beautiful song leaves you just about drained. Powerfully stirring, it really does move you in many ways. GlassLithium, the final instrumental, Vic has had his virtual chains unlocked, and is out in the wider internet, dividing himself to attack the virus. He subdues the virus, although it can’t be completely destroyed everywhere and takes on the role of a protector, diffusely distributed across networks, watching out for a resurgent virus. This track could have been taken straight off the soundtrack to The Matrix and reminds me of Rob Dougan, sleek, smart and stylish. The undulating keyboards and swirls of sound emanating from the synths light up the way in your own imagination, beguling and mesmerising.
This inventive and intriguing musical release comes to a close with Alive, Vic has saved the real world from the effects of the virtual world being virus-ridden (hooray) and has come to terms with his identity. He is confident that he is both alive, and passionate about experiencing life. A jazzy and retro feeling song with a funky guitar riff and cheerful vocals it really does bring things full circle. The uplifting, fast-paced chorus takes you on an animated jaunt and the tight guitar work on the solo is a joy to behold. There are touches of early Who amid the classically elegant guitar work and it leaves you on quite a high as this charming record comes to a close.
I love it when new music lands on my desk with no fanfare or previous knowledge. Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate may have a brilliant name but they also produce excellent music. Sometimes progressive, sometimes more rock orientated but, overall, it is an enthralling listen.
Read the story behind Vic and The Kill Code at this link and it will add even more layers of enjoyment to your listening pleasure:
On the 13th of February UK progressive rockers The Gift will be be re-releasing their seminal first album ‘Awake and Dreaming’ to mark its 10th anniversary. The re-issue will feature stunning artwork by Brian Mitchell, thereby giving the album a new lease of life with the striking imagery. Initially the re-issue will be limited to 100 copies with an elegantly illustrated lyric booklet.
Despite the album being 10 years old, it’s as though it could have been released yesterday, the sound remaining fresh and the meaning remainsing true no matter how many times you listen to it. Frequent melodic variation, ambiguous tonalities and thought provoking lyrics; The Gift give you a real gift.
The re-issue is not the only exciting news that the band have, they have also announced an extended band line-up, including the return of original guitarist Leroy James. This couldn’t have come at a better time considering Leroy and lead vocalist Mike Morton deliberated greatly together in the writing of ‘Awake and Dreaming’.
Not only do they welcome the return of Leroy, The Gift also look forward to welcoming 2 new members to the band. This includes drummer Neil Hayman of KONCHORDAT a fellow prog band who are also signed to Bad Elephant Music. The band also welcome Gabriele Baldocci from Italy on keys who is a renowned concert pianist as well as a conductor and Professor of Piano at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London.
For those who want to listen to the mellow, yet sometimes eerie, sounds of The Gift beyond the headphones, they will be performing at The Boston Music Room in London for “An Evening of Bad Elephant Music” on the 13th February, the first day that the band perform in their new line-up. jh, Tom Slatter and Twice Bitten complete the line up of Bad Elephant artists performing.
Pre-order ‘Awake & Dreaming’, buy event tickets or the combined bundle at the links below:
One of the many benefits of living within “the era of Steven Wilson” is in addition to his seemingly bottomless pit of musical projects and his excellent remixing work he also has quite a knack for surrounding himself with top-drawer musicians.
The multi-talented Nick Beggs immediately made his presence felt in Steven’s solo band, not just with his bass and stick playing, but his excellent backing vocals. He provides the harmonic anchor in very much the same way that John Wesley did in Porcupine Tree. When I first heard about The Mute Gods project I was intrigued to hear him take on the main vocal duties himself and the results were even better than I anticipated.
To complete the lineup for The Mute Gods he brought along Marco Minneman, his rhythm section partner from Wilson’s band and also keyboardist/producer Roger King (Steve Hackett) as well as additional contributions from session drummers Nick D’Virgilio and Gary O’Toole.
“Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” isn’t an actual concept album, but it does have a loose thematic element to it. The topics include “hacktivists”, government surveillance, religious extremism, Internet trolls, general apathy and many other wonderful elements of life in the 21st century. But to his credit Beggs mostly wraps these heavy topics in wonderfully accessible, melodic pop/prog confections, allowing the messages to come across without beating you into submission with negativity.
On my first listen to this album I was really surprised by how infectious it was, a very accessible pop/rock sound delivered with the type of sophistication expected from the artists involved. It made me realize that it’s a shame “mainstream rock radio” doesn’t really exist any longer, because I think many of these tracks would sound great while cruising down the highway with the radio blaring.
The title track Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me sets the stage nicely. After an extended keyboard intro (that had me temporarily flashing back to the early 80s) the main driving rhythm kicks in, propelled forward by a muscular bass pulse. In an alternate reality I could see an arena full of people jumping up and down to this groove and singing along with the anthemic chorus. This track stuck in my head like glue from the very first listen. Is is prog? Well, I suppose that’s debatable, but I don’t hear very many “mainstream” rock acts that have the subtlety and musical chops displayed here.
Praying To A Mute God keeps the vibe upbeat with an even more pop-oriented approach but veers off for a little display of instrumental dexterity in the proggy mid-section. This approach is repeated elsewhere on the album, short moments of progressive stretching out used to punctuate otherwise fairly straightforward compositions. The song always remains the focus.
My favorite tracks on the album are a couple of progressive rock gems on the second half; the lovely and ethereal Strange Relationship and the exotic-tinged atmosphere of Swimming Horses. Two of the longer cuts they give the band a chance to stretch out both compositionally and instrumentally. Roger King’s tasteful keyboard choices are worth note on these songs; he uses a nice balance of vintage and modern sounds, always providing just the right tone the composition requires.
For contrast there are a few darker compositions on the album; Feed The Troll, Your Dark Ideas, the instrumental In The Crosshairs and Mavro Capelo. These tracks are a little heavier and a little more menacing, but are scattered throughout the tracklist so the mood never completely dominates. Of these the most successful is the deliciously dark and devious Feed The Troll, it’s menacing but playful at the same time, kind of like a cat toying with a mouse for a while before finishing it off. The only track that doesn’t quite work on the album is Your Dark Ideas; it comes off more silly than intense, but is partially redeemed by the instrumental mid-section and a particularly gonzo guitar solo.
Speaking of playful, there’s a track on here called Nightschool for Idiots (I’m pretty sure I was valedictorian). This song is the very definition of a grower. When I first heard the album I’ll admit it irritated me to no end, I just found it too sweet, too syrupy, too cute…but with each subsequent listen I liked it more and more and now it’s one of my favorites. This song and Father Daughter stand apart from the rest of the album and feel more self-contained. Father Daughter is exactly what it says it is, a duet between Beggs and his daughter Lula Beggs, the lyrics forming a dialogue. It’s a touching and unique track.
All in all The Mute Gods isn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was a very pleasant surprise nonetheless. I’m hoping we get a follow-up.
“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” – Martin Luther.
I have oft mentioned how I see myself as a modern day treasure hunter, searching the jewels of musical endeavor that would otherwise lay hidden due to the fickle nature of the modern music industry. However, I don’t do this alone, there are a lot of us Indiana Jones-a-likes out there and it is often thanks to these fellow musical pursuants that I will be introduced to another wonderful piece of music from a previously unheralded artist.
One fine and upstanding gentleman who I trade musical discoveries with is the Prog Guru™ himself David Elliott, founder of Bad Elephant Music and the Amazing Wilf of The European Perspective fame.
David pointed me in the direction of Berlin based progressive band Osta Love and their latest release ‘The Isle of Dogs’ and it was, yet another, excellent recommendation!
A quick visit to their website elicits the following information:
“Osta Love unite Rock with Jazz, Pop with Baroque, catchy hooks with complex rhythms and add just the right dose of melancholic dreamscape to form a unique sound that touches hearts and heads.
The band was founded by Tobias Geberth and Leon Ackermann as a studio project, after they left their hometown Heidelberg for Berlin in 2010. The two had met in school and had been playing music together since 2006. Soon the first songs were written, recorded and also performed with a live band. In 2013 they released their debut album ‘Good Morning Dystopia‘ that earned them some attention and many favourable reviews.
The line-up was completed when Oliver Nickel joined on bass and Marcel Sollorz on keys and vocals. Over the years Osta Love played live in almost every club in Berlin and played support shows for Boy & Bear and The Pineapple Thief.
Osta Love belief in the album as an artform and like to combine memorable songs with musical ambition and complexity, to form a cohesive listening experience that works on an emotional and on a cerebral level.”
For a progressive album ‘The Isle of Dogs’ is relatively short, coming in, as it does, at 43 minutes but it does have a 16 minute epic on there so that’s definitely heading in the right direction!
Album opener, and title track, The Isle of Dogs opens in a subdued manner before blossoming into a jaunty edged little number. The vocals have a haunting quality to them and the keyboards and drums give a real 70’s psychedelic edge at times. Throw in some rather excellent guitar work and it is a fine bit of nostalgia tinged progressive rock. There is a very finely worked sense of humour running throughout too, especially on the intricate instrumental session that would’nt be amiss on a Caravan album from the 60’s and 70’s. All in all a rather fine opening to the album. Down to the River has a more modern feel to it taking its pointers from Moon Safari, Mew and the like. Upbeat and cheery with cool and classy jazz infused keyboards making an appearance at regular intervals. Marcel’s vocals have a real feel of quality to them with an occasional halting tone and, once again, the guitar work is rather good.
The next track is one of my favourites, a really haunting little ditty that evokes so many different images in your mind. The Sea has an almost portentous opening before opening into a brilliant song that keeps you on edge with the eerie feeling harmony of the vocals and the persistent drumming and melancholy note of the keyboards and piano. A somber and wistful track from beginning to end, it has a bleak beauty deep in its heart, quite superb. Velvety smooth and super cool, Black Beacon Sound wouldn’t be out of place on any modern jazz album. It literally floats along with an air of nonchalance and aloofness and the Martin Taylor-esque guitar solo just oozes class. The vocals are subdued and sultry and the keyboards add another layer of sophistication to this elegantly refined and intelligent track.
A subtly building, haunting introduction heralds the prophetic Green Hills of Home. Marcel’s pensive vocal delivery adds a hushed reverence to the song and the gently undulating piano note gives it a strong gravitas. It grabs you and draws you into its sombre embrace. There is a stark grace that is the core of this humbling track, never more so than on the pleading guitar solo and the austere harmonies. Moonshine at Midnight begins with a low-key introduction before it breaks out into an upbeat track with a note of Franz Ferdinand. Inventive and knowing, it is a clever, complex song with a lively feel running throughout. The vocals are sometimes solemn and restrained and at other times buoyant and optimistic. The gifted keyboard playing is a particular highlight on this track.
Perhaps saving the best until last, the final track is the 16 minute majesty of Translucent Engineering. A delicate acoustic guitar introduces Marcel’s soft and fragile vocal, leaving you hanging on every word. There is a dreamlike feel to this opening part of the track, ethereal and rarefied. Gossamer like, it leaves you in hushed contemplation as it continues to play out before you, a ghostly synthesiser taking up the baton. There is a pause before things get a little more exciting and seriously progressive, a repeated note underlying a wandering guitar and laid back keyboards, quite a spaced out atmosphere in fact. The vocals join in again and lend an aura of 90’s neo-prog to proceedings, it’s all getting very interesting as the captivating guitar transfixes you. Onto the third part of the song and a subtle bass takes over, driving things along with an increased urgency before the guitar, once again, shoulders the burden and takes an uplifting route to your inner soul. Osta Love are extremely skilled in the construction of emotive music and they use every trick in the book on this epic track, the hairs on the back of your neck start to rise as it comes to a powerful conclusion with Marcel’s voice and the incredible guitar playing of Tobias Geberth adding that final layer of polish to a very impressive release.
It is discovering or being introduced to little gems of musical brilliance like this that really makes me smile. Music is one of the greatest treasures that our world possesses and, when it is as good as this, it is a treasure that the whole world should know about and have the chance to enjoy.
Mighty British melodic hard rock group Magnum are set to release their magnificent new studio album ‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’, on Steamhammer / SPV on February 26th, as a limited edition DigiPak CD (with bonus DVD), standard Jewel Case CD, double gatefold vinyl with printed inner sleeves + CD (in paper sleeve), and download.
‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’, a hugely stirring, uplifting opus, is a notably heavier, harder offering than its much acclaimed predecessor, ‘Escape From The Shadow Garden’, and is packed with even more of Magnum’s massive trademark rousing rock melodies. The band have also lined up a 15 concert headline UK tour in support of the album, from May 11th through to May 30th; dates are:-
11th May SOUTHAMPTON The Brook
12th May CARDIFF Tramshed
13th May LONDON Islington Assembly Hall
14th May OXFORD 02 Academy
16th May NORWICH Waterfront
17th May NOTTINGHAM Rock City
19th May BIRMINGHAM 02 Institute
20th May HOLMFIRTH Picturedome
21st May MANCHESTER Academy 2
22nd May NEWCASTLE 02 Academy
24th May ABERDEEN Garage
25th May GLASGOW Garage
27th May BELFAST Limelight 1
29th May BRISTOL 02 Academy
30th May LEAMINGTON SPA Assembly
Magnum mastermind Tony Clarkin started working on the resounding new album even before ‘Escape From The Shadow Garden’ crashed into the UK Album Chart at 38, (the band’s first top 40 album chart position for over 20 years), on release in March 2014.
“I usually start composing for our next album immediately after the release of the previous one,” Clarkin recalls, continuing “When ‘Escape…’ arrived at the stores in March 2014, my thoughts had already turned to our next recording.”
Clarkin was inspired to write 25 new songs during and after the subsequent triumphant European tour, the most outstanding 13 of which were selected for ‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’. Ten of the numbers made it onto the standard album CD and another three onto the DigiPak bonus DVD, which also contains videos for three of the brand new songs on the album.
The epicentre of this soundquake features, along with frontman Bob Catley’s charismatic voice, Clarkin’s awesome riffing and hard driving lead guitar licks, which provide the all-important substructure to each of the ten gems of songs on the album.
‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’ counts without a doubt among the group’s most dynamic releases; Clarkin states that “I’ve always been into rock numbers. But it isn’t necessarily that easy to write really good rock material. It’s much more simple to compose a ballad. But that dynamic pace suits Magnum perfectly.”
Nowhere is this more evident than on the title track and album opener; “I feel that Bob delivered it really well,” Clarkin praises his vocalist Bob Catley. “As far as I am concerned, ‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’ is definitely likely to join the ranks of great Magnum classics.” So it comes as no surprise that ‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’, with its significant message, became the album title.
Among the other multiple highlights on this thoroughly powerful recording, mention must be made of the anthemic ‘Gypsy Queen’, which Tony was inspired to write after a concert in St. Petersburg, a city which deeply impressed him with its unique atmosphere.
By no means less memorable is ‘Your Dreams Won’t Die’ which is based on a cascading piano chord sequence, reflecting the song’s poignant philosophical message. “To me, the title and lyrics have an almost religious depth,” says Clarkin. “There’s a saying that somebody is not forgotten if their name is remembered.” A successful rock group like Magnum should be entitled to eternal renown, shouldn’t it? Says Clarkin: “You want my honest opinion? I don’t think that far ahead, but of course it’s a nice notion that this band may always be remembered because so many people love our music.”
And last but not least: ‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’ closes with a song which surprised even Clarkin; “I liked the general sound of ‘Don’t Cry Baby’ from the start,” he remarks. “Although I initially didn’t have a lyric, the melody kept going through my head, as well as the chorus with acoustic and e-guitars plus piano. We even kept the drums from the demo version because our drummer Harry James liked them so much. He said: “I love it the way it is. We shouldn’t change a thing about it”.”
‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’, the cover of which has once again been designed by renowned fantasy artist Rodney Matthews (Nazareth, Asia), is a stupendous record, packed with soon-to-be-proclaimed-classic, majestic hard rock compositions.
“You can either be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It all depends on how you view your life.” – Paolo Cuelho
Well, to quote Mr Cuelho once more, “I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure”, and the treasure I seek is music, not any old music but music that can move you and stir your soul, music that can ask questions and then answer them with amazing clarity.
If I can take some liberty with the original quote, maybe you are a victim of the world if you have to listen to the dirge that is anodyne, bubblegum chart music. This is music that is only ever created for commercial gain and not for passion or just because it can be brought to life and it is anathema to me.
It can take a while to unearth a true gem and, on a recent short hospital stay, I had an interesting conversation that became somewhat an analogy of my musical treasure hunts.
While laid on the hospital bed I struck up a conversation with the gentleman opposite who just happened to be an avid metal detector devotee who would spend hours on a cold and frosty day criss-crossing fields searching for that elusive big find.
While never unearthing anything of large value himself he went on to avail me of the many great finds that his fellow detectorists had come across and, while having the interminable wait of any hospital visit, I came to see how it actually coincided with how I will listen to hundreds of albums to find that one peach of a listen.
Well, my friends, my travails of 2016 haven’t taken long to reveal an early musical gem, Profuna Ocean’s ‘In Vacuum’ and what a jewel it is!
“Profuna Ocean is a contemporary progressive rock band from the Netherlands, founded in 2008. With their sequences of thought out compositions, vivacious melodies and powerful rock sounds their music constantly takes the listener on a musical trip and introduces him of her to the musical world of Profuna Ocean.”
Or so says the PR material that came with the album, the band consists of Fred den Hartog (drums), Raoul Potters (vocals, guitars), Arjan Visser (bass guitar) and René Visser (keyboards) and they self released their first album ‘Watching the Closing Sky’ in 2009. ‘In Vacuum’ was released through Freia Music and sees the band refining and redefining their own unique sound.
To be fair, I was blown away on first listen as an imposing riff awash with heavy guitar and swirling keyboards introduces Thousand Yard Stare with no unnecessary frippery. This then breaks into a stylish melodic section with nicely harmonised vocals a la Steven Wilson before thundering into a dynamic chorus where the keys and flared out guitar take centre stage again. The music grabs you from the start and Raoul’s dulcet tones are perfectly matched, whether playing the melodious troubadour or hard-edged rocker. Throw in an aggressive, hard rock infused solo and some almost deviantly classy instrumental sub-sections and you are left mightily sated by this excellent album opener. The question is, can the rest of the album keep up the incredibly high standard? I find myself transported back to the grunge days of the early 1990’s with the fuzzy guitar and dynamic drums that open Awakening, a really upbeat and aggressive track where the vocal gives it an edgy feel. The melody is really catchy as it dances across your mind and the staccato riff that underpins the verse has you up on your metaphorical toes. I really enjoyed the nostalgic feel of Nirvana and Pearl Jam that emanates from every note, although this track has more smile and less frown at its core.
Hanging in the Balance has a feel of alternative rock to it, the pensive introduction is all guitars and keyboards before a halting vocal takes over, a touch of early Foo Fighters perhaps? Although the chorus seems to come straight from the 80’s with the harmonised vocal and elegant keyboards. There is an undercurrent of intensity running throughout as the drums drive this energetic track along. Raoul Potters shows he has an incredible variety to his vocal delivery, his voice perfectly matched to the individual feel of every song. There is a polished note to the delivery and the mix, mastering and production without it losing any emotion or feeling. The instrumental interlude in the middle of the track builds in intensity, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you await the next step, a trance-like section that evokes the feelsome progressive rock of bands like Riverside, Votum and Vly. The skill of these accomplished musicians has to be heard to be appreciated as they take you on a sonorous journey through your mind punctuated by perfect chords and notes. This track then seems to segue into yet another direction and style, one inhabited by the giants of progressive and symphonic metal, punctuated by soaring guitar runs and stuttering riffs before coming back full circle to finish on the sharp guitar and keyboard tones of the introduction. Losing Ground is sassy, sharp and smart from beginning to end with a funky guitar riff and polished drums leading the chase. This then opens up into a harder-edge chorus where the vocals, guitars and keyboards swell up and hit you hard before that snappy verse grabs your attention once again. These guys know how to take influences from all sorts of genres and mould them into a cohesive whole, one that is definitively Profuna Ocean and the surprises come thick and fast as they bounce around like a pinball machine. It never gets dull and always feels fresh and innovative, you need more than one listen to pick up every nuance and snippet that is included and you never stop smiling or nodding in acknowledgement at what the band have created and delivered for our delectation. Thunderous guitars, powerful drumming, swathes of elegant keyboards and the ever present bass combine to knock you over with a sonic boom of immense proportions, you just laugh, pick yourself up and return for another helping….
Turn down the intensity a few notches and enjoy the lush tones of Ghost. Earnest vocals and a delicate guitar note pluck at your heartstrings as this delightful track soothes your soul and allows a peaceful interlude from the high energy excitement of what has preceded it. I found myself rapt in attention as each note danced across my aural receptors. This track has a grace and tenderness deep at its heart and leaves you in a state of ethereal calm, quite beautiful. This release has impressed me at every turn but the highlight for me is the next track, the magnificent Beautiful Sunrise. It begins with a seriously compelling and dominant riff that rides roughshod over everything in its path, attention grabbing all the way, underscored by a mysterious feeling keyboard tone. Now you have taken notice it pulls back into an absorbing piece of music that wouldn’t be amiss on any of the classic Porcupine Tree albums. Slightly halting vocals on the verse, accompanied by intricate instrumentation, followed by a captivating chorus with lush harmonies and music, all intelligently produced and delivered. This is musical education, you feel that your whole life and being is enriched by every listen, I must have put this track on repeat for 4 or 5 plays deducing every slight insight and gradation as the brilliant keyboards take centre stage before the track graduates into an sophisticated and inventive instrumental section dominated by a dexterous guitar solo. This is where the band’s creativity really takes flight and leaves you slack jawed. I’m sure that Profuna Ocean will admit readily to their influences, as would most bands, but it’s what you do with them that counts. As the song comes to a close it goes a bit psychedelic on you for a minute before it confidently strides off into the distance, satisfied in a job well done.
The title track In Vacuum is a dramatic, cinematic instrumental that holds your attention as this great release moves into its final phase and track Clean Slate which opens with a seriously addictive toe-tapping riff and confident drums, Raoul’s vocals are precise and determinate though the verse before they deliver a heartfelt and compelling tone to the chorus. Grunge, alternative rock, progressive rock, hard rock, you name it, they are all thrown into the crucible and melted down to deliver Profuna Ocean’s signature sound. The influential guitar break and dreamlike synth section, once again, paint a precise picture in your mind as this innovative band continue to inventively mix their musical metaphors to perfection and with superb results. At times it wanders off into a more relaxed vista but it isn’t long before the hard-riffing guitars come and grab the track by the scruff of the neck and set it back on its obdurate trajectory once again. It’s like having four musical seasons in one song but ones that dovetail perfectly to deliver an experience that leads you to the water to drink time and time again. As the song and album come to a close there is another fantastic piece of guitar work that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up before everything starts to slow down and a plaintive piano note runs things out to the final note.
So we are only in January and I have had a proliferation of great music land at Progradar Towers already. There have been some absolutely dazzling releases but, for this music writer, the best of the lot has been Profuna Ocean. A more hard-edged and aggressive take on Progressive Rock but one with a beautiful fragility hidden below. A brilliant start to the year, this is one release that could possibly have been my album of the year if it had surfaced in 2015, as it is, it will take something rather fantastic to top it now!
Progressive Rock innovators Gandalf’s Fist are delighted to announce “The Clockwork Fable”, a Prog-Rock Mind Movie in three oscillations.
As a follow-up to the acclaimed “A Forest of Fey”, they’ve gone all-out, creating a truly epic *TRIPLE* concept album.
Set in the fictional world of “Cogtopolis”, each CD of the record serves as a different “act” of the story, with Dean Marsh and Luke Severn, along with to-be-announced guest vocalists, providing the singing voices of the inhabitants. However things don’t end there; the characters are also brought to life by a 50-page script that has been professionally recorded by a range of hugely talented actors.
A far cry from a musical, where characters burst into song at the drop of a proverbial hat, ‘The Clockwork Fable’ serves as a sprawling motion picture that will play out in your Neocortex with Gandalf’s Fist, of course, providing the soundtrack.
Aside from the depth of story and characters, the band have also fully developed the world of Cogtopolis. From geography, religious doctrines, even down to the fictional language of Cypheridia… the amount of work that’s been put into this conceptual piece is staggering.
Dean adds: “It’s a sprawling record with so many different styles. Conceptually it’s War of the Worlds meets Monty Python, but musically there’s everything from Van der Graaf Generator to Black Sabbath in there. We’re extremely excited for everyone to hear a suite of songs based around the character of “The Lamplighter”, the first of which is the longest song we’ve ever written… and that’s only part one!”
But that’s not the best of it.
Gandalf’s Fist truly believe that this is the finest musical work that they have ever created. There’s a mix of all of their influences and, were you to put all of the best bits of our discography into a huge melting pot, you’d end up with something quite close (but not as awesome) as what the guys have created! But don’t just take their word for it – head over to the pre-order store and have a listen to a whopping 10 minutes of audio previews!
Happy New Year my friends, after the bumper musical cornucopia of 2015, it is quite difficult to see how 2016 could top it but, you never know!
To get this year started with a bang, here’s a super-duper edition of Wallet Emptier featuring some great albums from last year that didn’t get to feature due to being released at the end of the year and some belters that are kicking off 2016 in fine fashion. Buckle up, it’s going to be an exciting ride…….
M!NDGAMES – Paradox of Choice
Belgian proggers M!NDGAMES returned in 2015 with this new release, which was my first exposure to their classy brand of Neo-Prog. Bombastic bursts of symphonic tinged rock combine with delicate moments of reflection and sadness to give a feel of early Marillion, all underscored by swooping keyboards. An album that definitely gets better as it it progresses and one that is worthy of your attention.
With ‘Treasure House’, Jack draws from a deep well of poignant and reflective experiences to deliver a delightful collection of acoustic tracks that come straight from his heart and are like a breath of fresh air. He is tremendously excited to bring these stripped back, uplifting songs to life. Just one man and his guitar, Jack has written ten insightful and moving tracks that, together with his haunting vocals, lead you on a captivating musical journey into the depths of his soul.
Released 5th February 2016 through Bad Elephant Music
I opened my email inbox this morning to find two new promotional releases, the first was for Profuna Ocean, a Dutch band I profess to having passed under my radar. Always open to new experiences I launched into ‘In Vacuum’ to be utterly stunned by what I was hearing. A more hard-edged, aggressive prog with intelligent lyrics, excellent vocals and excellent production. At 62 minutes long it never outstays its welcome and I found myself immediately pressing repeat play to be absorbed in its stylish aura once again, just WOW!
From the first note it was apparent that there is nothing quite like the highly original sound of N.y.X.They are at the forefront of avant-garde, experimental progressive rock, a real musical breath of fresh air. The multi-instrumental trio is joined by a number of impressive guest artists to build on the signature sound of a power trio enhanced by electronic percussions, synthesizers and effects.
Berlin based Osta Love are one of the bands to watch for 2015 and their follow up the dark concepts of ‘Good Morning Dystopia’ is a complete breath of fresh air. ‘Isle of Dogs’ is full of their signature sound that unites Rock with Jazz, Pop with Baroque and adds a dose of melancholic dreamscape to form a unique sound that touches hearts and heads. Even though it was released at the end of 2015, I have only just heard this jewel and it is rapidly becoming a highlight for me.
Another German band, this time hailing from Dresden, Toxic Smile have thrown out the rule book and produced an album that consists of just one 42 minute track and, guess what, it works! A soaring progressive rock and metal epic that takes you through a multitude of emotions in its relatively short running time. The distinctive vocals and superb musicianship are key elements to its instant attraction, a record that will surprise and delight on many levels. Another great release from Progressive Promotion Records.
Released 6th December 2015
Stand out track – well there’s only the one anyway…..
I had already decided to include this release before news of David Bowie’s death started to cross the web, while I have never been as big a fan as many, I have always recognised him as a great musical innovator and a true legend. ‘Blackstar’ was his 27th album and one of his recent best. Exploring new avenues using a jazz band he has produced a deep and sometimes dark release that, obviously, touched on his own mortality as he came to the end of his life. It now seems a brilliant, if poignant, testimony to his musical legacy.
Another ‘Prog Supergroup’, this time featuring Nick Beggs, Roger King and MarcoMinnemann, rears its head to deliver engaging, expansive rock for the thinking person, apparently. While not perhaps living up to those lofty expectations entirely, it is an enjoyable listen and, when not sounding generically like a lot of the so called supergroups, has a real depth and intelligence all of its own. Don’t take it on face value and give it more than one coat of listening to and you will find an album that is worthy of your collection, just not quite a contender for album of the year yet.
Originally released in 2014, this year sees the re-release of Devin Townsend’s rootsy country and North American folk music project as a 2CD and 1DVD package. Featuring the delightful vocals of Ché Aimee Dorval it is winsome and wistful in equal measure, evocative memories are brought to life on a battered old telecaster and fender amp in what is a complete change from the Canadian artist’s metal roots. Lay back on your lounger on the porch, sipping iced lemon tea in the sun, life’s easy really. Worth it for the 8 minute brilliance of ‘The Bridge’ alone….
Italian progressive rock that is incredibly intricate and engrossing. Lock yourself in a darkened room and let the endless combination of notes and distant rhythms create an amazing union of classical and rock music. A record where the language doesn’t matter, it is the intent of the words that is obvious and draws you deep into this incredible album.
Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – When The Kill Code Fails
The second promotional release that I found in my email inbox, ‘When The Kill Code Fails’ sounded very intriguing. A science fiction/artificial intelligence themed concept album, it is the second release from the London based rock band with a great name Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate and is described as proggy, funky and sometimes poignant. Expressive vocals and a pared back sound give it a real intensive feeling that immediately draws you in. Electronica, prog, bluesy rock and metal all get a look in during its very enjoyable and inventive 56 minute running time.
German band Martigan were formed in 1994 and deliver an almost pastoral brand of progressive rock with lilting vocals and a sunny aspect, think Lifesigns meets United Progressive Fraternity and you won’t be far wrong. An engrossing 75 minutes of easy listening progressive rock that just flies past leaving you in quite a relaxed state of mind.