The Wallet Emptier’s ‘Music You Should Have A Listen To’ Round-Up Pt2

The second installment in our ‘Round-Up’ series sees me take a look at albums from Vantomme, Fiona Kennedy, Blind Ego, When Mary, Special Providence and Ryan Yard

Vantomme – Vegir

Dominique Vantomme is a multi-talented instrumentalist, composer, band leader, educator and producer as well as being the jazz piano instructor at the Music Conservatory in Kortrijk, Belgium. ‘Vegir’ was born out of his nomadic adventures to see Stick Men and befriending Tony Levin.

What came out of the studio sessions is a spontaneous collection of fresh and vibrant instrumental tracks that defy current convention. The sizzling, electrifying playing shows seasoned musicians at the top of their game. There’s nothing traditional or even normal about these eight pieces of music that strut and stalk their way across the sonic soundscape, in fact some of them are downright evil!

Strap yourself in, press play and get ready for a wild ride into a chaotic realm of vivid and energetic music.

Rating – 70/100

Favourite Track – The sonic powerball that is Playing Chess With Barney Rubble.

Released 5th January 2018.

An Irish woman who married a Yorkshireman and lives in Cork, Fiona Kennedy really knows how to carry a tune and her blues/roots/country rock album ‘The Beach’ is chock full of killer tunes. Take the sizzling, passionate opening song Asking Around For You with its superb guitar and Fiona’s expressive vocal and you will not be disappointed.

This talented Irish lady has the ability to change mood at at the drop of the hat and that makes for a wonderfully eclectic and emotive selection of songs that you will never tire of but, to my ears, it’s the tracks where she has a musical twinkle in her eye and a cheeky skip in her step where she really excels.

Kick your shoes off and get your dancing feet on for this album that is full of infectious chorus after chorus and more earworms than you can cope with!

Rating – 75/100

Favourite Track – The burning blues of Asking Around For You.

Released May 2017.

Blind Ego’s ‘Liquid’ was one of the stand out releases of 2016 and a live recording of their show at the Loreley Amphitheater is surely going to be something rather fantastic? Well, to cut the suspense, it is! The powerful metal tinged progressive rock that these musical leviathans produce is mercilessly entertaining.

Scott Balaban’s voice dominates the recording and legendary guitar virtuoso Kalle Wallner provides the perfect foil. To hear tracks as dynamic and potent as What If and Never Escape The Storm in a live setting is quite elctric and the interaction with the lively crowd is a pleasure to hear.

This is a live recording of musicians at the height of their abilities but also five guys who are thoroughly enjoying themselves and it really raises the hair on the back of your neck.

Rating – 78/100

Favourite Track – The utter live bombast of What If.

Released 10th November 2017.

When Mary – Tainted

Norway’s dark electro-proggers When Mary are the first artist to have signed to Summers End Festival impresarios Huw Lloyd-Jones and Stephen Lambe’s  new record label Sonicbond Music. ‘Tainted’ is inspired by the classic tale of Faust, the man who drives himself to damnation in his search for true enlightenment.

It’s not an easy ride this album but persevere and dig deep and you will be well rewarded. A lot darker and more electronic than the acclaimed debut album 2013’s ‘7summers7winters’, this new release is quite a deep and emotive musical journey that bestrides many genres to give When Mary a unique appeal. Touches of progressive rock, industrial and ambient electronica and even blues give it a life all of its own.

Dominating proceedings is the enigmatic vocal of Trude Eidtang, former vocalist of the renowned Norwegian art rock band White Willow. ‘Tainted’ is a singular release that will hopefully lead this talented trio onto grater things.

Rating – 77/100

Favourite Track – The dark, serpentine electronic grooves of Wonderful Warning.

Released 10th November 2017.

Special Providence  – Will

Hungarian prog/jazz/metal fusion band Special Providence released their latest album ‘Will’ late in 2017 and it has taken a while to come to my attention and now I’m wondering how I missed it. These guys have toured with Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation and Steve Hackett which just shows the huge potential in their music.

Intricate musicianship combined with baroque, knife-sharp compositions and occasional soaring melodies makes for a very exciting combination where heavy guitar riffs and grooves and pyrotechnical keyboard skills forge a very unique, virtuoso but easily digestible musical style.

A hugely entertaining prospect live, it can sometimes be hard to carry that feel onto record but Special Providence have nailed it with aplomb.

Rating – 80/100

Favourite Track – The Insane musical grooves of A Magnetic Moment.

Released 23rd October 2017.

Ryan Yard – The Nature of Solitude

Ryan plays in Rob Reed’s Sanctuary band and his solo album is mastered by Tom Newman of ‘Tubular Bells’ fame so it comes as no surprise that this two track (plus an edited Rob Reed mix) is an instrumental album that will appeal to fans of Mike Oldfield and Robert Reed himself.

However, to give his album a USP, Ryan created it using just an Ipad and a variety of apps (and a keyboard, of course!). It gives the music an organic and natural feel and was crafted without using click track as well apparently.

It is music that is easy to listen to, without falling into the pit of despair that is easy listening music. Add in Justin Towell’s excellent guitar work and you find yourself comparing it to the master and his apprentice and coming to the conclusion that while it does walk a fine line, the USP makes just enough difference for it to be complimentary and not a pastiche.

Rating – 67/100

Favourite Track – Well it really should be consumed as one piece so, the whole thing!

Released 15th September 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Blind Ego – Liquid – By Rob Fisher

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I first came across Blind Ego courtesy of having originally discovered the delights of ‘World Through My Eyes (2005)’ by German based band RPWL. In the process of discovering more about them it emerged that lead guitarist Kalle Wallner was also running a solo project by the name of Blind Ego who, by pure coincidence, had just released a second album entitled ‘Numb (2007)’.

My interest was piqued by the superb musicians he had assembled to play with him. Paul Wrightson (ex Arena, replacing John Mitchell who sang on the first album), John Jowitt (ex IQ and Arena), Michael Schwager (ex Dreamscape) and Yogi Lang (fellow RPWL band member), with guest appearances by Sebastian Harnack (Sylvan) and Iggor Cavalera (Sepultura, Mix Hell).

Listening to ‘Numb’ was – and whenever I play it, still is – a happy revelation. Honest, fresh, atmospheric, it is full of punch and packed with energy and inventiveness. There is a steely drive and an exciting raw emotional power which resonates at all levels across the album. The intensity and the ever shifting flow of our emotions becomes the elemental force which powers and gives meaning to the music.

Wallner believes ‘Numb’ is all about the intensity of emotions, “snapshots of extreme feelings flooding one’s consciousness for a short time, siegeing the mind and letting nothing else reside next to them.” He emphasises this by using only one word for the title of each track: Lost, Guilt, Numb, Leave, Death, Change, Seek, Risk, Torn, Vow, Change. The music perfectly mirrors and captures this rollercoaster of emotions through solid rock-style drumming, crunching power riffing, all interspersed with acoustic arrangements and melodic solos which captivate and surprise.

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It has been a long seven years since then and I’ll confess that news of a third studio album from the Blind Ego stable certainly put me in a state of agitated excitement. Wallner’s choice to lead with another single word title, ‘Liquid’, certainly seems to signal a clear intention to carry on where the previous album left off.

The musicians he has gathered around him this time are equally impressive. Vocals are shared between Arno Menses (Subsignal), Erik Ez Blomkvist (Seven Thorns) and Aaron Brooks (Simeone Soul Charger), whilst the always impressive Sebastian Harnack (Sylvan) returns alongside appearances from Heiko Jung (Panzerballett) and Ralf Schwager (Subsignal) on bass. It is also wonderful to see the inimitable Michael Schwager remaining behind the drum kit for this third instalment.

‘Liquid’ is an album of profoundly stark and unexpected contrasts – lyrically, emotionally and musically. Where ‘Numb’ has a relentless and intensely focused momentum, ‘Liquid’ to some extent takes its foot off the pedal, gives itself some time to breathe, and offers a more varied, versatile and challenging range of music with which to grapple. There is a greater sense of maturity about this release, a more reflective and contemplative approach to the song writing which takes the edge off the direct rawness which characterised ‘Numb’ and in the process, opens wider possibilities for emotive expression in and through the music.

The passion, the intensity and the focus are all still present in abundance. But there is now a more deliberate and even meditative quality coming through. When passion is spent and the rage of emotion has run its course, reason quietly returns and adds its voice once more. Indeed, this is often how the album feels; torrents of sharp, powerful, aggressive passages are followed by calmer, soothing almost heightened moments of tranquility and clarity, the instrumental ferocity dialed right back to leave an airy, almost passive, healing aftermath.

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Kallner’s guitar work is blisteringly brilliant. Listening to the sheer precision of his playing, the eagerness and constrained passion he exudes and the forcefulness of his attack when he abandons controlled discipline and lets his virtuosity soar in some jaw dropping solo work belies the impression that this is something deeply personal. You get the feeling that he is working things through, maybe in his own mind, and riding the ebb and flow of shifting, troubled emotions as he goes along. Some people are good at expressing themselves through words; he lets his guitar do his thinking out loud.

To this extent, ‘Liquid’ becomes a fascinating insight into the turbulent thoughts and emotions which are swirling throughout the album, sometimes expressed in symphonic eddy’s churning just below the surface, at others gushing in anthemic, foot-stomping torrents before cascading into serene, harmonic waters. There is a natural momentum which carries you along from track to track and into the seamless, almost intuitive transitions between moods, thoughts and feelings.

Not everything on this album works. Just as you can become lost in your thoughts, so there are times when the music feels as if it has lost a little of its direction and focus. Some of the ideas don’t quite work as I suspect they were intended, upheavals in rhythmic timing perhaps too hasty and maybe one or two of the hooks not quite transiting to where the music wants to lead us. But then, thoughts are never complete, feelings are always on the way to somewhere else and the exuberance, fervour and excitement of the music is more than enough to carry us through the choppy waters to the next part of the river.

Wallner believes that ‘Liquid’ “completes a comprehensive artistic process that saw its beginnings years ago”. This new release certainly brings significant developments and unexpected progressions to the Blind Ego project. My sincere hope, however, is that rather than reaching the end and completing the journey, there are more bends yet to come in this particular musical river.

Released 21st October 2016

Buy ‘Liquid’ on CD or Vinyl from The Gentle Art Of Music