Here are reviews of six albums diverse in flavour and delivery but ones that have piqued my interest and resonated with me a lot recently. That’s the beauty of music, the variety of choice is never ending but the outcome is always the same!
The Oculist – Cautionary Tales
The Oculist is a boundary-pushing prog metal project that defies conventions. With their unique fusion of musical styles and genres, The Oculist is set to make a mark in the metal scene with their debut album ‘Cautionary Tales’.
The Oculist was formed by two longtime musical collaborators, Adam Dunn and Çağrı Tozluoğlu (aka Philamelian). The duo embarked on their journey for this release with instrumental recordings, drawing influences from the vast waters of metal, fusion, and prog. These demos evolved with the addition of further themes and developed arrangements.
The idea of adding vocals arose during one of the writing sessions when discussing common interests such as politics, true crime, and altered states of consciousness. Adam came up with the first lyrics for the project in the next session, and everything written up to that day took on a new form, transcending The Oculist to the next level.
‘Cautionary Tales’ is epitomised by the duo’s outstanding songwriting ability culminating in an eclectic musical playground with elements of heavy guitars, electronics, orchestra, ambient textures, and drones. The project’s rhythmical backbone features two extraordinary musicians: Simon Fitzpatrick on bass and James Wise on drums.
I’m a big fan of quality progressive metal and The Oculist do it with style and a flare not often seen in the genre. The whole album is a triumph but the highlights for me are the three singles released. The first single from the album, Swan Dive, is six minutes of a modern metal and electronic soundscape, ebbing and flowing as Adam’s precise vocals deliver a stentorian, primeval assault. Çağrı’s mellifluous keyboards fly around incessantly, it’s a full on musical onslaught with Adam’s thunderous, monumental guitars and James’ dynamic drums a superb driving force. The electronica and ambient textures blend perfectly giving a feel of a manic melding of Threshold and Machinae Supremacy to my ears, and that is definitely no bad thing! Following on from the dynamic prog-metal of Swan Dive, The Oculist show a more measured and thoughtful approach with the symphonic wonder of Lavender. A wonderful, near eight minutes, of musical drama where the amazing vocals of Kerry O’Dowd add an almost Celtic vibe to the song. Scintillating musicianship is a given, of course, and the whole track just leaves a feeling of immense wellbeing coursing through your very soul. There’s the more pragmatic prog-metal of opening track Twelve Step Sentence, which wouldn’t be out of place on an early Dream Theater or Haken album. Dynamic drumming and razor sharp guitar riffs adding real substance and Adam’s great vocals central to proceedings, his ability to move from clean to fierce vocals is just brilliant. All through this Çağrı’s keyboards guide the music on its searching journey.
‘Cautionary Tales’ is one of the freshest sounding albums you will hear this year, it is prog-metal for the thinking music fan and has real heart and soul at its core. I for one am intrigued to see what this talented duo come up with next.
Released 8th December, 2023.
Order from bandcamp here:
Jim Griffin – Marginalia Suburbia
James (Jim) Griffin is a musician who’s work I have reviewed (and admired) for a long time. While away in London recently, he sent me a link for a new album, released by the independent Australian label, Ramble Records.
Jim’s words about the album, “It’s a very different kind of thing – something acoustic and instrumental, designed for chilling out in a busy world. It’s a kind of “quiet” release I suppose. Not “Prog” at all really but I thought you might enjoy it. I recommend listening with a nice beer or perhaps a cup of tea!”, really intrigued me as I am open to listening to any kind of music and this sounded chilled, ambient and right up my street!
“This album occupies a place somewhere between the urban and the rural. In Ireland, it’s never too hard to get from one to the other. Dig a flowerbed, find an old horseshoe. Get chatting to a neighbour, find a connection to your Granny’s people. Drive for half an hour and visit the neolithic tombs of The Burren, then back home for a cup of tea in the back garden. Or around the kitchen table if the day is soft.“
I mean, who can resist a build up like that?
Eleven songs that just seem to blend regally into each other, forty-five minutes of music that requires no input from you and takes you to a place of serene calm and wistfulness. Music at its best sometimes just needs to be simple and uncomplicated and without a care in the world. There’s pain, suffering and tragedy in the world and I for one occasionally need to step out from all that, press pause and just have a moment of contemplation and calm and that’s what ‘Marginalia Suburbia’ gives you.
The songs relate to Jim’s day to day life in Ireland as he recounts here,
“And the days are often soft here in my hometown. A city actually (but only by Irish standards), Limerick sits wistfully at the mouth of the Shannon River. Her sinewy tidal estuary loops through our centre and gently blurs the edges between countryside, street, and suburb. It’s suburbia where you’ll find me, usually. Working a small garden as if it were the Bull McCabe’s field. Hoovering the house like a demon, cursing the tyranny of crackers. Feeding a cat who flatly refuses to love me like she should. Pretending we need milk so I can pop into town to walk by the waterfront.
And occasionally, sometimes stealthily, I retreat to the attic and noodle fragments of folky tunes on a loyal and sympathetic acoustic guitar. Birdsong bleeding onto the tape if it’s early morning. The neighbour’s dog barking at passers-by, creeping into the mix at night. Capturing the happy accidents that might get recorded from time to time, in the margins of the day.”
You feel like you are living that lazy, laid back Limerick life or certainly wish you were and that is the wonder and glory of this release that it transports you to another, simpler life.
Released 26th October, 2023.
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Kindred Spirit Band – Mechanophobia
I do like it when new music just blows me away unexpectedly. I was approached by Elaine Samuels, the power behind Kindred Spirit Band, as to whether I’d be interested in reviewing their new E.P. and, after just one listen to Morrigan, the lead track, I was hooked!
Exploring themes of greed and human exploitation by technology and the system, ‘Mechanophobia’ is performed by singer-songwriter and bandleader Elaine Samuels, with Piers Hogg’s lead guitar and Stevie Mitchell’s flute, saxophones, and cello weaving complementary melodies and supporting textures throughout, and co-produced by the band’s drummer Paul Austin and bassist Keith Buckman, the latter also writing one of the songs.
Boy, does that sound like music you can get your teeth into or what!?
There’s elements of rock, folk and prog all blended into a hyper addictive soundtrack. Opening track, The Machine is all darkly cool with its theme of modern technology. It’s a cautionary tale of humanity being lost to “the machine”. Elaine’s vocal demands your attention and the rhythm section of Paul and Keith take the track in the right direction, leaving Piers’ fiery guitar and Stevie’s epic sax and glorious flute to give substance to the tale. The Morrigan is a piece about the decimation of tribespeople and take over by the greedy modern societies, The Morrigan is actually a Celtic Goddess, whose task is to watch over and protect the land. She is said to shape change into a crow or raven as an omen to warn of danger. There is a definite Celtic feel to this elegant piece of music as Elaine’s husky vocals and the ever so sweet flute add a mysterious atmosphere. The gentle acoustic guitar adds the rhythm and the required gravitas and the occasional flashes of Piers’ guitar evokes the fierce patriotism of the Celtic tribes. It is a fine, moving and emotive song that really hit me hard.
Keith Buckman wrote Algorithm Paradise about the lure of the web software which promises us something wonderful but traps us and takes control with it’s algorithms. This uber-cool track has a reel feel of late 70’s/early 80’s Fleetwood Mac style rock to it with Elaine’s vocal, Piers’ fine guitar playing and the addition of Toby Gehring’s classy trumpet. In fact the trumpet and Stevie’s alto and baritone sax playing give a really jazzy edge to the song too. With All About The Money Elaine has written a song about how money separates us from the reality of what we are doing to our world. She talks about the rich and the poor and how money drives the greed in society and fuels the destruction of our planet. There’s a serious message to this song and it has a very serious demeanour at heart too, all delivered within the framework of one of the best modern blues-rock tracks I’ve heard. Piers’ really gets to let loose on this excellent track, his guitar playing is utterly sublime and Stevie’s sax adds another coat of blues grandeur too.
‘Mechanophobia’ is the best E.P. I have heard this year, a wonderfully absorbing and entertaining twenty minutes that just leaves you wanting more and, thankfully, Kindred Spirit Band have a new album in the pipeline, due for release in 2024. While we wait for that, I am going to have another listen to this sublime musical gem!
Released 27th October, 2023.
Order from bandcamp here:
Henrik Fevre – Quite Unusually Quiet
‘A man of many talents, Henrik Fevre has delivered a vocal masterpiece that is nearly flawless. When things get too much for you or you just want a moment of reflection, shut yourself away from the outside world, put this little gem on the stereo and press play, there is no better antidote.’
I wrote those words about Henrik Fevre’s 2015 release ‘A Summer Can Change Everything’. When Henrik contacted me a couple of months ago to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing his latest album, I didn’t actually realise it was eight years since I’d reviewed his work! How time flies! Well, I had a quick listen and went back to him with an emphatic yes…
“After yesteryears solo pop album ‘Cityzen’ and this year’s very critically acclaimed prog metal album ‘Interference’ with Anubis Gate I found myself diving into a genre that I have always been fascinated by, but only sporadically touched myself: Ambient Music – with hints of jazz improvisation and classical chamber music. Out of it came ‘Quite Unusually Quiet’, 70 minutes worth of instrumental music, grouped in 12 moods, which by titles and sound form a kind of death mass – the aging process that we all go through in life with death as the inevitable ending.”
Now, while some may think that death is a somber, disquieting subject for an ambient jazz album, this glorious release is also celebrating life and everything that we do and go through in our time on this planet. This absorbing, introspective musical creation is more like a work of art than just a mere collection of tracks. Imagine your whole life, from the day you are born up until the day your soul leaves your body and you leave this mortal coil, set to a gripping and absorbing musical soundtrack and you will have some idea of what wonder Henrik has created.
We can go to the cinema and lose ourselves in an epic movie that runs at over three hours and this album leaves me in mind of that, a spellbinding, wistful journey that we all must take and there is hope at the end as Henrik talks of the Afterlife, what happens to us when we die, are our atoms and molecules scattered into the cosmos or do we carry on, not just as memories but as beings of light and energy.
This incredible release is hugely thought provoking and gets you wondering, ruminating and thinking abut that age old old question of life, the universe and everything. Consume this powerful, emotive and atmospheric listening experience in one sitting, let it wash over you and lose yourself in the mysteries of life, death and whatever may come after…
Released 3rd November, 2023.
Available on Amazon Music:
Gayle Ellett and the Electromags – Friends
I just love it when I get an album to review that just oozes fun, joy and bonhomie and this latest album from Djam Karet mastermind Gayle Ellett and the Electromags does just that. Fifty-two minutes of feel good music, blues-rock, swamp rock, boogie woogie, southern rock, they are all there on this brilliant album.
“I wanted to capture that feeling of hanging out on your deck, playing music with your friends under the stars all night long”, says Ellett of his lockdown inspired desire to jam with pals. Only Ellett, the acclaimed Prog musician of Djam Karet, took the “Friends” concept one step further, inviting pals from all corners of the globe to make music together, virtually.“
Still based on the core group of Ellett (guitar), Craig Kahn (drums) and Mark Cook (bass), Friends features twenty-two guest musicians including members of BARAKA (Japan), Minimum Vital (France), Aisles (Chile), Electric Swan (Italy), Shylock (Germany), Edhels (Monaco), and California Guitar Trio (USA). The result is a late-night jam session full of fire and passion.
There’s nothing complicated about this music, it’s vibrant, hard rocking and just chock full of cool cuts and good time tunes. From the opening hard rock/blues edge of Viewer Discretion Advised (featuring Ted Price), with its swirling keyboards and fine guitar playing, through the stately, flowing, cinematic low down brilliance of Via Valencia (featuring Alfonso Rodenas) and the free flowing west coast grandeur of It’s All San Andreas Fault (with Marc Ceccotti, JoeeCorso), this sublime collection of brilliant songs never lets up in quality and delivery. Issei Takami and Shin Ichikawa, from the Japanese band BARAKA, are featured on the track TransPacific Highway and add power and authority to a piece that smacks of technical ability and virtuoso guitar playing.
On Splitting Hairs award winning Blues guitarist Dudley Taft adds some incredible guitar solos and pure blues power to Gayle’s towering Hammond organ and Maximum Connection just bounds along with pure abandon, aided and abetted by Thierry Payssan’s bouncing keyboards and includes tasty guitar licks and solos from high school friend Bill Polits and Topanga local Aquinas Magaña. The funky vibes and cool guitar playing on Guitar City are delivered by Paul Richards from the California Guitar Trio as he turns in his acoustic guitar for a rare chance to fire up his electric guitar and Sons Of Sebastien features the scorching hot (incandescent even!) guitar solos of the guys from Italy’s Electric Swan and Chile’s Aisles.
‘Friends’ is simply magnificent and a grin inducing musical masterpiece! I used to be a huge blues fan before I really got into Prog and I’ve never stopped smiling since I heard the first note!
Released 20th October, 2023.
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Lalu – The Fish Who Wanted To Be King
The brainchild of French composer/keyboardist/producer Vivien Lalu, Lalu was founded in 2004 and ‘The Fish Who Wanted To Be King’ is their fourth album, but the second released via Frontiers Music. A major step forward musically, it takes a contemporary approach to Progressive Rock and incorporates elements of Prog Metal.
The band’s line-up includes singer Damian Wilson, Joop Wolters on guitar and bass, Jelly Cardarelli on drums and keyboard duties shared between Matt Daniel and Lalu himself.
“I never make the same song twice, let alone the same album,” states Lalu. “For this new record, I wanted to approach things differently, adopting a process to more closely mirror the dynamics of a band. I began recording my ideas on synths and piano, which I then shared with my regular collaborator, Joop Wolters, who crafted the guitar and bass parts. We then gave the other group members the freedom to express their creativity, which fostered a sense of unity and cohesiveness. It was an opportunity for everyone to shine and bring their unique talents to the forefront.”
“The album concept draws inspiration from the spirit of the original pioneers of Dada, who vehemently opposed war and ridiculed the power structure of the time,” explains Wilson. “It challenges conventional notions and delves into the realms of hierarchy, accountability and adaptability and continues the narrative from the previous Lalu album, ‘Paint The Sky’.”
‘The Fish Who Wanted To be King’ is one of those albums that comes out of nowhere and just sends you flying with its brilliance. Combining intricate melodies and thought-provoking lyrics with awe-inspiring performances, this astounding record takes all that’s great about progressive rock and just turns it up a few notches to deliver a technically stunning album but one that is full of heart and soul and one that contains seven thought provoking tracks where the musicianship is of the highest quality. I’m a huge fan of Damian Wilson and his vocals are probably the best I have ever heard them on this release.
Forever Digital is a dynamic, thunderous opening where symphonic prog rules the roost and sets the stall for what is to come. Title track The Fish Who Wanted To be King is one of two suitably epic tracks on the album, coming in at over ten minutes, and combines some excellent songwriting and outstanding musicianship to deliver a powerful tale. There’s no weak link on this ever impressive album, Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA to you and me!) and Is That A London Number continue the intricate, captivating storytelling with Wilson’s instantly recognisable vocal the key. The music is elegant and wistful at times and, at others, monumental and mind-blowing.
Amnesia 1916 brings poignant melancholy and contemplative nostalgia within its fourteen minute running time. This is edgy, symphonic progressive rock at its best and is a contemporary approach to the genre. Always to the point, it is a powerful piece of music delivered with intent and skill. The album’s final two tracks carry on what has gone before, A Reversal of Fortune flows beautifully, the gorgeous keyboards delivering a soundscape for the rest of the song to be written on and everything comes to a close with The Wondering Kind, a stylishly handsome track with a funky vibe engendered by the classy music and Damian’s polished vocal.
There’s a joy in music that’s just waiting to be discovered and when it comes out of nowhere, like this superb album, I don’t think life can get much better. ‘The Fish Who Wanted To be King’ is one of THE musical surprises of 2023 and just leaves a huge smile on my face after every time I listen to it. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Released 20th October, 2023.
Order the album here: