Review – Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be – by Progradar

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller.

To a music mad amateur journalist like me, that statement applies to music just as much as anything else, if not more! When I hear an inspirational new piece of music for the first time, it can really hit me right in the heart and send it soaring with its beauty.

Let’s be honest, we reviewers listen to so much music that it is easy to become jaded and we could say that it would take something very special indeed to inspire us compared to the man (or woman) in the street. That could just be pretentious tosh but, recently, a new album landed in the inbox that really fits what I’m trying to say to a tee. Let me tell you more…

Lux Terminus (translated as “the light at the end”) was formed in 2016 by three musicians with a shared vision to create unique and powerful instrumental music. Their debut release ‘The Courage to Be’ is a powerful first statement from the progressive rock trio,which consists of keyboardist Vikram Shankar (Redemption), drummer Matthew Kerschner, and bass guitarist Brian Craft.

The album features guest performances from several acclaimed musicians: vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering, Devin Townsend Project, VUUR, et al.), guitarist Timo Somers (Delain, Vengeance), and cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Leprous, Musk Ox).

Put simply, ‘The Courage To Be’ is a groundbreaking instrumental release that takes themes of separation, hardship, hope and transcendence and turns them into an instrumental masterpiece. The incredible keyboard skills of Vikram Shankar are at the forefront of this superbly involving sixty-one minutes of pure musical theatre and that is not belittling the skilled contributions of Kerschner and Craft whose rhythm section adds pure virtuoso drive and impulse.

From the elegantly gentle Prologue: Departure (I), which is part one of a four part thematical musical suite, through the infectious driving grooves of Elctrocommunion, this skillful trio deliver unique and powerful instrumental tracks that just make your heart sing.

There’s intricate and convoluted (Aberration), jazz-funk at its best (Miles Away) and progressive metal, rock, jazz fusion, electronic, and cinematic influences galore, all of which contribute to a dominant first statement from these excellent musicians.

Every track is worthy of praise but the real stand out piece for me is the twenty-one minute orchestrally driven brilliance of the title track featuring Timo Somers. Described as ‘high octane jazz-fusion’, it will literally send your aural receptors into melt down as it ebbs and flows to a manically intense rhythm. I really feel that the band are having as much fun as you can legally have on this track and it’s worth the price of entry alone!

You want your keyboard based progressive instrumental with a more laid back and moody feel? Take Journey (II), Spectral Shapes or The Road Home (III) and the stylish piano and keyboard that adorn them, this album has it all.

To finish, the sultry vocals of Anneke Van Giersbergen grace the lovely Epilogue: Fly (IV), the closing part of our four part suite, a heartwrenchingly beautiful four minutes of pared back delight and a perfect way to close the album out and bring your heart rate back to normal.

Well, what can I say, it really does take something special to get me waxing lyrical about a new release nowadays but ‘Courage To Be’ is one of those rare albums that excites and inspires from the first listen but that will also have the longevity to keep you listening to it in many months to come. Virtuoso musicianship along with intelligent, involving songwriting, Lux Terminus have surely seen the light of the tunnel with this utterly captivating release.

Released 24th August 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

 

 

Review – Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome – by Kevin Thompson

It’s been an eventful year so far for Anathema.

Latest album, ‘The Optimist’, has been very favourably received by press and fans alike, winning “Album of the Year” at the 2017 Progressive Music Awards.

With a stunning performance at Be Prog 2017 from the Poble Espanyol in Barcelona on 1 July gathering rave reviews, they are currently promoting the album on tour in North America, with UK and European dates coming up. Life would appear to be very good for the band at the moment in an apparent period of blooming productivity.

Not content with this, founding member Danny Cavanagh is to release solo album ‘Monochrome’ in October 2017, which he says “has a late night, candlelit feeling, evoking the light of dusk as the summer sun sinks below the horizon, setting the scene for thoughts and meditations that many people will relate to.”

It features guest appearances from Anna Phoebe and Anneke van Giersbergen, with Cavanagh playing almost everything else himself. The result he describes as “a deeply reflective and personal offering, inspired by internal feelings of love and loss.”

So what to expect from an acclaimed musician on his individual foray, cut loose from the pack?

In all honesty, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, which is hardly surprising as Danny is heavily involved in writing the Anathema songs, but the material is more personal and introspective.

A video of first track The Exorcist has already been released, of which Danny says the band thought was so good that they wanted it as a central track on which to build another Anathema album. Danny resisted, wanting to include it on his solo release and whilst it was a difficult decision, says he is pleased he did. It’s a fabulous track with which to open the album full of emotion and trademark layers of  looping guitars and solos, carving a comfy position in the emotional heart of the album. A yearning for trust, the heartache of separation and a gratitude for salvation. For me it is every bit as impressive as stated and I can see why the band wanted it as a pivotal track on a new recording. Unreservedly the best track on this release, in my humble opinion.

So herein lies the problem for me initially, it is such a strong song that the others take time to absorb as I keep returning to this track.

A breathy rising introduction to This Music finds Danny in reflective mood, sharing the vocal duties with Anneke Van Giersbergen. Fine guitar soloing slides in and out of this fairly short track that drifts along nicely with delicious melodies but fades all too soon for me.

We are left to wander around Soho, with the gentle piano/vocals  from Danny (this lad can sing, why does he not do more with the band) and joined once more by the elegantly gilded vocals of the lovely Anneke in this second duet. It builds from a pulse to a full production of Anathema proportions, receding delicately to piano key tinkling like rain drops. Leading you along orange lit, rain glistening pavements, passing gaudy neon signs above smoke filled entrances as a gentle breeze ruffles the notes into the dark night.

Classical style piano unites with yearning violin strings from Anna Phoebe to take off on The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours, across cloud ridden, dampened skies, holding back the sunrise. Click tempo rises as bass and drums wheel around the air above, encouraging a clapping accompaniment I would imagine, if ever played live. They settle on warming thermals of synthesised sounds and murmured chants that lift and fall to a lone piano searching out faint strings of birdcall, then suddenly bursting into anguished torment like a slow wailing at a funeral cortege for the dying strands of the night, until we are left with only birdsong to herald…

Dawn. Danny breaks out looping acoustic chords and violin swoops in to herald the sun’s ascendancy into the glory of a new day, on this short instrumental glittering with a touch of Irish folk.

The penultimate track, finds Danny sailing lyrically across Oceans Of Time, with his trusty piano on board penning love letters to a distant soul , harmonies of separation lamented with Anneke at his outpourings. Emotions rise in the familiar guitar sounds we have come to recognise and love from Mr Cavanagh and the soloing tears at your heartstrings once more as we are washed upon a familiar shore, where…

Some Dreams Come True. The looping waves of guitar lap gently on the sand with horse spray tails of a beautiful violin solo from Anna Phoebe cast delicately toward the end of this instrumental piece, splashing at the feet of a child, causing unbound joyous laughter, as gulls circle overhead, on what could easily have been a prelude track to The Optimist.

I have listened to this album at various times of the day and in different situations, at night in the peace of my own home, in the car whilst driving, in the background at work and on the train whilst watching the scenery outside flow past. This produced varying aural experiences and revealed further nuances with each listen.

It is a lovely album filled with Danny’s impassioned musings on a fine solo outing from this accomplished artist assisted by a couple of very talented ladies, adorning the tracks they are on with loving care.

The perfect accompaniment for a glass of wine in the warmth of your lounge shut away from the cold winter’s evening, or just as readily a companion for your walk in the country with the sun on the back of your neck and the wind in your hair.

All artwork by Danny Branscombe.

Released 13th October 2017

Buy Monochrome from Burning Shed

 

BE PROG, MY FRIEND! 2016 part 2 (t-shirt wars) – by Kevin Thompson

KF_Amorphis_PosterA1.eps

Day two arose to bright sunshine and we ate an ample breakfast in the hotel before a morning in the wonderful Museum of Art, with so many treasures to see. But enough of that, I am not here to talk about the wonderful historic sites in Barcelona, the colonnades  lining the street to the museum, waterfalls and twin towers replicating the style of San Marco Campanile in Venice. Nor am I about to tell you of the excellent Spanish guitarist delighting a crowd in front of the museum, on his ‘silent guitar’. No, we shall leap forward to our much needed early afternoon siesta from which we woke abruptly, making haste to reach  the Pobel Espanyol and the beckoning sounds of day 2, at Be Prog My Friend.

Unfortunately the second day started an hour earlier and we joined the queue of latecomers as we fed into the square just in time to catch the last three songs from the ravishing Anneke Van Giersbergen and The Gentle Storm. This lady’s voice as those who have heard her will know, is a tour de force and her powerful vocals tore through the tracks with gusto engaging with the slowly swelling crowd in some grand Prog Metal. Her energy was infectious and warmed the audience up nicely as did the mid afternoon sun and we watched from floor level partaking of much needed liquid refreshment.

Anneke

Buoyant from the night before and with a rousing first act to start the day we were feeling rather pleasant and whilst we waited for the next band we wandered round and checked out the t-shirts. No contest as I have to say the lovely Sarah Ewing’s artwork conquered all comers. I thought I had done well in the t-shirt battle yesterday but Big Big Train’s ‘Grimspound’ drew so many admiring glances it felt like being on a catwalk.

Grimspound

We briefly met the gang from yesterday for a chat, but they wanted to go down the front and we decided we would hang back and find a seat somewhere with a decent view, if we were lucky.

And so to the second band, whilst I had only heard a couple of tracks from Between the Buried and Me which sounded promising. They appeared to be attracting favourable attention from the media recently and I was looking forward to being impressed as they had travelled over from the US of A. I’m still waiting I’m afraid. The sound wasn’t brilliant, louder than clearer and Konnie and I agreed it was like listening to an extended promo reel, with clips from songs cobbled together.

Konnie said she was unable to decipher when one track ended and another began as it sounded so disjointed. Despite an enthusiastic following nearer the stage and you may read differently elsewhere, we didn’t seem to be the only ones and for me the guttural vocals only added to my disappointment, sorry guys I’m sure there are many disagree with us including those at the front, but here’s a photo.

Between

I was a child of the 70’s it was the blossoming of my teenage musical years and the awakening of my eyes and ears to Prog. Now I’m sure many will agree, some records are timeless and transgress all era’s without ageing badly and some you raved about then, you find hard to reconcile why in the present day. I would not have bought the next band’s albums then and wouldn’t now as I will happily tell you, ‘it’s not my sort of thing’. So on an increasingly hot and sunny, Spanish afternoon surrounded by a sizeable crowd of MAGMA t-shirts, what happened?

Like a rabbit in headlights or with myxomatosis, I stood rooted to the spot as MAGMA took the stage. They seemed quite the perfectionists and had taken some time to set up which may have explained why they couldn’t play as long as they wished, but as they strode on to the stage and the music and chanting of the first song began I was transported to Summerisle. I was transfixed as if drugged and the tune grew like some creeping, Dario Argento film soundtrack as it swelled most disturbingly. I forced myself to look away from the stage and those around me seemed entranced and swayed to the the throbbing rhythms. I’m glad there was still daylight to bring me comfort.

Magma

As the music continued the young man in his twenties standing in front of us took up the song. A cherub faced middle aged man, with rosy cheeks and glasses, clad in walking gear with a backpack, wandered through the ranks of the audience singing the lyrics in a deep resonating tone, an angelic smile spread across his face, arms wide in subjugation. Had I stepped into a pagan festival? Konnie stood on my left enraptured and I glanced to my right and the terrace above. A boy of no more than twelve stood in front of his father, chanting in the knowledge of every word, his small hands air drumming without missing a beat.

And then they finished , disgruntled they could not extend their set, with a shorter tune (over 10 minutes) and the veil lifted from everyone’s eyes. Konnie talked enthusiastically and I tried to figure out what had just happened. Would I buy the music, no. Would I travel and pay to watch them, I don’t think so. Would I be able to resist the lure of their unique performance if they were on a festival bill again, probably not and they have a new disciple in Konnie. Strangely watchable, if you have never seen them and happen upon them, watch, you may be enchanted but rest in the knowing you don’t have to weave flowers in your hair and there are no human sacrifices required during the performance.

Opeth 1

It’s worth mentioning at this stage that the transitions between bands was not as smooth as the previous day. Whether the crew were different or more likely the bands on the second day were more demanding, either way the wheels were not as well oiled. This gave us more time for food and liquid sustenance and to soak up the atmosphere. A couple of large tattooed Scandinavian  bikers asked we take their photos and they kindly reciprocated snapping the ‘Grimspound’ shots of Konnie and I. They also gave some of their stone step space so we could sit for a while which was most welcome until we found seating a little further back with a better view.

Opeth 2

It was time for the main acts of the day, first came Opeth. I am a late convert and up until now only have ‘Pale Communion’ and still feel some of their older material may not be to my liking. But I have since ordered a couple of older CD’s to try and Lamentations DVD on the strength of their performance and what a show. The sun descended as the atmosphere grew, Michael Akerfeldt and the band striding the stage as giants of the prog metal genre, rousing the crowd who need little encouragement. With acknowledgement to the long faithful that the newer material has not always received favour, they pulled old favourites from their earlier albums to rapturous applause and drove them like giant machines crushing any doubters under the sound, loud and clear with the lighting matching the moods. It is well known Michael and Steven Wilson have become firm friends and you can catch elements of influence in the work, enhancing the massive production here.

Opeth 3

Revelation of the day was Konnie’s response, she has never taken interest in Opeth before and had neglected to listen on the occasions I have played ‘Pale Communion’, fearing they weren’t to her liking. By the end of the first song she was hooked, loving every minute, extolling the virtues of their live performance and on completion she was grinning like a kid at Christmas. Had they been the only head-liner, the day would have finished on a tremendous high. As it was, we were to be spoiled further…..

Opeth 4

We knew what to expect from Steven Wilson as we have seen him on his last three tours, but this did not lessen our excitement, merely settled us in the privy we bestowed upon our Spanish friends, eager to watch a man who verges on deity status in the genre and learn all they can about him. Mr Wilson has developed and perfected his style with such precision he holds all in his sway and has carefully honed his stage craft since we first saw him. Again I feel his friendship with Michael has influenced and benefited him especially in performing as he seems more at ease talking to and joking (yes, joking), with the crowd. His live sets are always louder these days, the tracks played are heavier and rockier than the album versions. We always pack our ear defenders, but that could be our age, yet he balances the delicate, ‘Lazarus/Routine’ finely, gently sprinkled like fairy dust on the sounds emanating from his current band.

Steven 1

All masters in their own fields, with none finer on the drums than Craig Blundell, as readily recognised by the work he has done as an international clinician for Paiste, Premier, and RolandAdam Holzman is a rare keyboardist, having moved from the jazz fusion field to his current position in the band, he consistently earns critical acclaim as one of the most daring and best contemporary keyboardists alive.

No one could have predicted back in the Kajagoogoo days that Nick  Beggs would go on to be such a luminary in Bass guitar and Chapman Stick, his mighty presence up front ably bookending Steve with current guitarist Dave Kilminster. Having spent the last few years as principal guitar player in the Roger Waters band, Dave brings his own, skillful style to the well renowned tracks and my only regret is that they didn’t play Drive Home, as I would like to have heard his take on the beautiful guitar solo.

steven 2

It’s a commanding show and a fitting end to a wonderful couple of days though the fuzzier lighting employed for the majority of the set prevented my getting many photos.

But not quite an end: it was by now 02:00, weariness took hold and with an early start the next morning we elected to leave with the majority and head for our hotel. Which leaves me to apologise to metalcore band Textures, who bravely came on after we left and played to a greatly reduced crowd, so I cannot comment on their performance.

It only remains to say ‘Gracias’ to the organisers of BPMF, everyone who helped make it possible the bands themselves and the Spanish people we met along the way. Watch for next year’s line up, take the leap, make the trip and revel in what Barcelona and Be Prog My Friend have to offer, you won’t be disappointed.

Adios, hasta pronto………

Review – Amadeus Awad – Death Is Just A Feeling

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WARNING – LANGUAGE THAT MAY OFFEND (well, you have to put that don’t you….?)

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.” – Dave Grohl

I was going to start this review by talking about guilty pleasures until I saw the above quote from everyone’s favourite hard rocker Dave Grohl and it did get me thinking and thinking enough to completely change the tac of this review….

Mr Grohl really has a point, maybe we stick too rigidly to our favourite genres and don’t look outside our safety cordon music wise? And, when we dare venture outside and find that there is something different that we really like, why should we feel guilty about it?

It is an old and oft spouted saying but it still rings entirely true, good music really is, just, good music, no matter what style it is and which artist performs it. We tend to make this differentiation a lot more when it comes to music than with anything else such as films, TV or the literary arts where we will dip in and out of many different genres without a care or a by your leave.

How many times have you seen somebody laughed at and dismissed out of hand for listening to a record that doesn’t fit into the cognoscenti or aficionado’s realm or current favourites list? It is just wrong and we should open our minds to other music that we may well actually really enjoy if we just lose the stigma.

Now, after getting off my soapbox (while admitting I can be as guilty as anyone else) let’s talk about what started this dissertation on opening up our closeted musical imagination……..

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Lebanese maestro Amadeus Awad is a progressive metal guitarist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and music producer with an already impressive back catalogue behind him. August 2015 saw him release his latest and most complete album yet, a 47 minute, 6 track concept album called ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’.

Amadeus is always stretching the boundaries with his music and lyrics, and it’s no different with his new album. According to Amadeus:

“This album is the result of my personal experience with death, both the tragic loss of loved ones (Father, Brother and a Best Friend) as well as my own attempt of committing suicide, which I contemplated more than once at a certain stage in my life.”

To this end he has drawn together a stellar list of musicians, as well as Amadeus himself (Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars, Keyboards and Orchestration) this all star lineup includes vocalists Anneke Van GiersbergenArjen LucassenElia Monsef, drummers Jimmy Keegan and Marco MinnemannNareg Nashanikian (cello), Rafi Nashanikian (clarinet) and the narration is splendidly realised by the impressive voice of Dan Harper.

anneke

The album opener Opia has feeling of lightness and an ethereal quality, the first word spoken is ‘Light’ and it is a song that gives hope. The keyboards are uplifting and fill your inner being with a luminosity only matched by the fluid, burnished guitar work. I can see why Dan Harper was used for the part of the narrator, his voice has a calming authority to it and a mellifluous timbre that dances across your psyche. Anneke Van Giersbergen’s delightfully lilting, heavenly voice takes the song to a close with a rarefied grace that is achingly beautiful.

There is no break as we shift up a gear and power into Sleep Paralysis with a dynamic keyboard and pulsating guitar taking up the reins on the powerful introduction. A progressive metal melting pot of great ideas that bounce of the metaphorical walls to give a primordial soup of musical delights. It takes on a more subdued, yet insistent feel before Anneke’s voice chimes in, this time much more dominant and authoritative, yet no less stunning. The melodies are the focus here, the chorus is especially compelling, backed by the superb musicianship, a symbiosis of near-perfect melodic enchantment. The way the track starts to wind down, becoming more subdued, as it reaches the close is expert and inventive, as the acoustic guitar finishes its last note you are left in a place of comparative calm.

The dulcet tones of the narrator return on Monday Morning, this time with a definite edge, a dissonance to them, as if all is not as it should be. There are subliminal questions being asked here and the answers are not all to your liking. The electronic notes that follow seem to be pulling you forward, in anticipation of something coming that could be either good or evil, depending on how you react to it. Potent and influential, you find yourself holding your breath as it seems to come ominously closer. The pace is steady and regular, like the outcome is inevitable so there is no need to rush. There is a deliciously dark rhythm to this song that I find rather disturbing yet can’t help enjoying it….

Elia

The dark journey into hopelessness seems to reach its zenith with Tomorrow Lies. A brooding, haunting tone is added to by the portentous drumming of Jimmy Keegan and it is with a seemingly heavy heart that you continue to listen to the rest of the bleakly appealing song. Elia Monsef’s definitively middle eastern intonation adds a serious gravitas to proceedings, he sings as if his heart is breaking with every word. There is a huge depth of humanity central to this track, a seriousness that leaves you in no illusion as to the outcome of this painful situation. The instrumentation is dazzlingly precise if somewhat subdued and is a testament to the songwriting skill of Amadeus, he can impose his musical brilliance yet take none of the pathos away. The soaring strings add a sheen of humility and respectfulness and the guitar solo leaves you open mouthed and grief-stricken as it winds around your mind. With a definite notion that a song should close just as well as it opens, the ending is once again quite superb as the beguiling strings and guitar bring it all to a close with a final feeling of hopefulness that belies the rest of the track.

Now onto the longest, and my favourite, track on the album. A sombre Cello opens Lonesome Clown adding a meditative and fretful note to the song. Portentous and mysterious with Anneke’s humming and a slightly off-kilter feel, it really does seem to take you out of any comfort zone you thought you were in and leave your senses reeling, open and raw. The vocal begins, earthy and direct, almost as if a spell is being cast. There is a sinister undertone to all that is happening here and you really feel as if you have been caught of guard and dumped in a musical version of Dante’s Inferno. An all knowing presence seems to be at your side edging you on as the song builds, becoming more and more oppressive and yet addictive at the same time. Wickedly controlling it shows the slightly malevolent genius that resides in the mind of Amadeus Awad and is perhaps more progressive and definitely more metal than the other songs on the album. There is an odd, siren like build up that seems to break over a wash of mellifluous keyboards before the sinuous, vividly disturbing guitar solo takes  you on a dark journey through your own soul. The outspoken and expressive vocal and acoustic section that follows seems to stand on its own adding another level of finesse before exploding outwards in a shower of inspiration. The song closes with Dan’s expressive voice-over, you take a breath and inwardly applaud, shaking your head in amazement, it is that good.

Arjen

 

The final track on the album begins with a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, strings and expressive drums. Temporary sees Arjen Lucassen take vocal duties and his eloquent voice is perfectly matched to the instrumentation. Melancholy yet inspirational at the same time, it reminds me of American prog rockers Spock’s Beard and is a really involving, catchy song that seems to want to comfort you with its warmth and integrity yet there is always a sad note in the background. A soulful clarinet takes centre stage before the rest of the instruments join, adding layers of intense musical flavour and Arjen’s voice is always present adding a focal point on which you can hold on to. Marco Minneman takes on the drum duties with aplomb adding a wistful mood to the already mournful ambience imbued. Things are building up to something here and when Amadeus lets rip with an incredible, soul searching guitar solo, you are left flabbergasted. Is that moisture in your eyes? it was in mine as it totally blew me away, utterly magnificent. The song, and album, finally come to a close with a final narrated section, this time by Arjen himself, and you are left to reflect on what has just transpired before you.

Short by modern standards at 47 minutes, you feel like you can listen to this gem for hours and never get bored. Deliciously dark, it is music that takes you to the depths of your inner being and back again, there has been nothing quite like it in this year of musical zeniths. Amadeus Awad and his group of distinguished musicians have delivered not only a superb piece of music but, what to me is, a part of themselves that will live on forever as fantastic art. A triumph in every sense of the word. A guilty pleasure? No, just an intense one!

Released 20th August 2015 via Melodic Revolution Records

Buy Death IS Just A Feeling from MRR on bandcamp