The long form review is becoming defunct in this day of instant gratification and bombardment of new musical exploits. Welcome to the new Progradar review section – ‘Progradar Recommends’ – where you’ll get more reviews (only with less words or some may say less twaddle!).
Starting this new feature will be Marco Ragni, M’Z, Siiilk and Wilson & Wakeman.
Marco Ragni – The Wandering Caravan
“The album is about revolution, about searching for oneself, about metaphysical travel, about memories, about love and suffering. It talks about life, of how we live this Era. It try to push us in search of ourselves, finding the best of us after having passed from the worst of us. It’s a journey into my life. It is passion. It is a desire for redemption. It is a dream and a reality.”
Italian musician Marco has always been one for complicated and involving music using different influences and this new album is no different. Using eastern influences and a lot of woodwind you are treated to an ululating and evolving musical work that rewards concentration and repeated listening. Tracks like Promised Land andKeep Dreaming have a wistful and laid back feel that instantly lulls you into a calm and serene frame of mind.
Marco is joined on this journey by Peter Matuchniak (Lead guitar), Dave Newhouse (Woodwind) and Jeff Mack (Bass) as well as a host of renowned guests included Luca Zabbini and Ian Beabout. What he delivers is eight tracks that are a personal musical revelation from this highly accomplished artist. Listen to songs like Waiting on the Threshold and you will be captivated and drawn into this impressive escape from the mundane boredom of real life.
Not your usual fare for this reviewer but I was intrigued by the album cover of Toulouse artist M’Z’s album ‘Prisme’ and so I decided to follow it up. It is presented as a fusion of rock, electro and jazz and, to be fair, it does exactly what is says on the tin.
To me, there’s just something exciting about the music and the structure of the tracks. Based around some pretty impressive guitar work the keyboards blend in with there elctro-pop vibe and the off-kilter feel is really of free-from jazz. To add even more polish and machination there are some highly energetic and powerful industrial electro vibes flying around all over the place with some punchy percussion.
To quote the artist:
“M is the guitar and Z is the machine, the idea is to also create a bridge between organic and electric/electronic music, a bridge between the code and its acceptance and the need to get out of the code.”
Don’t be put off by the description as, with repeated listens, this album really gets under your skin in a very positive manner. What you get is a thoroughly enjoyable 42 minutes of music with influences from all over the musical spectrum.
A band new to me until I happened to talk to member Richard Pick earlier this year, Siiilk (someone’s finger stuck on the keyboard?) hail from France and produce wonderful, ethereal progressive rock hewn from the genre’s traditional style but with added Gallic flair and grace.
The band was formed in 2010 and have gone from strength to strength, blending superb, intricate guitar work with the lush keyboards and the wistful vocals of Robert and Catherine Pick. The subtle rhythm section is a revelation throughout and especially prevalent on the title track.
The PR stuff – “Siiilk revives its creative power and takes us to the imaginary realms of the mysteries of the soul. Through sensitive and intense sounds, their songs speak about landscapes of emotion and melancholy.”
Listening to ‘Endless Mystery’ is like falling onto the most comfortable bed in the world and letting the sublime, heavenly music wash over you, absolving you of all your earthly sins. Musical catharsis if I have ever heard it, one I suggest you go out and purchase forthwith!
Damian Wilson & Adam Wakeman – The Sun Will Dance In Its Twilight Hour
The second collaboration from this uber-talented duo is another exquisitely created and performed selection of songs where Damian Wilson once again gets to show us his more gentle side for this is another album founded on the big man’s ever impressive vocal and Wakeman Junior’s sublime tinkling ivories just add lashings of polish and verve.
What we have here is another dedication to the art of songwriting and the song. Tracks like opener The Last American Hero, Always The Lonely One and the title track are perfectly crafted jewels of the songwriting art and don’t need any enhancement, you just enjoy them for what they are. Adam even gets to show us his vocal skills on On This Battlefield and their emotive, touching delivery will move you.
“Writing songs with Damian is always a great experience as we tend to start from scratch and follow where the writing takes us. We’re so pleased with how this album has come together. Having Gary Stevenson on board to mix thealbum and add an extra ear from a production background has been nothing but positive. He also has a killer coffee machine.” – Adam Wakeman
After the wonderful ‘Weir Keeper’s Tale’ Damian and Adam have once again proved there are a force to be reckoned with and song writers without peer. Just listen to the nigh on perfect Better Than That with its gentle, piano led opening that slowly builds into a wonderfully up beat, almost raucous, jazz/rock outpouring that just makes you smile, life really doesn’t get much better than this!
This year legendary British prog-metal stalwarts Threshold released their 11th album ‘Legends Of The Shires’ on the 8th September.
I interviewed founding member, songwriter and guitarist Karl Groom about the new release and a few other interesting questions came about…
Progradar – I think ‘Legends of the Shires’ is your best album yet but, as you wrote it, what are your thoughts?
Karl – All musicians think that their latest album is their greatest but, for me, it does have a real completeness in terms of both music and lyrics. It’s a concept album, not just lyrically (which is often the case) but musically and we tied the whole thing together. For me, that’s very satisfying, when you can listen from the first track on the album, The Shire 1, and got through to the last, Swallowed, and feel the music has the right dynamics to follow from one song to the other.
You just feel that there’s a completeness to that arrangement, and that, for me, is very satisfying. The only other album that came close to that was ‘Subsurface’. I can always find a good song or two that I really think are stand out songs on most albums but I want the whole thing to seem like a complete album, and that’s what stands out on this one.
P – I agree definitely. I’m 50 this year, ready for the pipe and slippers and it’s time to be a grumpy old man. What I think is a problem with a lot of the mainstream music nowadays is that it’s based around singles, they’re just picking one song. I want the album to be a journey.
K – Exactly, that’s the thing, it’s come back a little bit like it was back in the 80’s. Bands would front-load their album and say which are the best songs and just put them in that order. By the time you’re getting to the end of the album you’re thinking ‘oh my god!’ Even if they are all good songs, it sounds a bit jumbled and uncoordinated, you need that coordination and the album needs to be as important as the individual songs on it.
P – When you first started out, young and wide-eyed, in 1988 did you envisage releasing your 11th album over 20 years later?
K – We didn’t even set out to get signed to be honest. My wife was listening to some of the demos we made before we got signed and she wondered how the hell we managed to get signed! It was absolute tosh, it was dreadful. We were a covers band when we made those, learning to play guitar and so on, sort of bumming our way through a few Van Halen songs and Ratt and Whitesnake, whoever was in at the time. We made our way playing those and didn’t think about it at all, we just wrote a few songs, I think it was three, which were sort of within what we would call Threshold now.
Basically, because two of us loved metal and one love prog music, we accommodated everyone with that. A king of prog-metal as a meeting of the two musical styles rather than what you’d see as Prog-Metal now, which is a genre in its own right. We just mixed what our influences were and started writing songs. The guy from SI Music in Holland heard them and thought they were really good, he put one out on his compilation album through the magazine that he published at the time and said he was going to sign us the following year and we’d release an album. In the meantime, someone else heard it, which was Thomas Waber from InsideOut, he had another label in the UK called GEP and said we’ll sign you to that label.
So we signed to Giant Electric Pea and they didn’t expect us to sell any more than 500-1000 albums, so even at that stage we weren’t thinking about whether we’d made it or not. Within a month or so that first album had sold 15,000 so I think it was, at that stage, that we realised that things had taken off a bit more than we thought. We started thinking maybe we are a serious band and we’d better sort ourselves out and learn how to play live. We never, ever chased a deal, we naturally moved to InsideOut from GEP and when that contract came to an end Nuclear Blast approached us and said they’d like to offer us something. To be honest, we’re happy to stay there now and have signed the new contract to stay at Nuclear Blast for another three albums.
P – What do you put your longevity down to? Is it just luck or…
K – We were interested in playing music but we’re typical Brits who are very self-critical and don’t really think of ourselves too seriously. We just wanted to make music and hadn’t thought that someone else would want to hear it. Once that did come true we were thinking it was great, we can write albums and people will actually listen to them and we can release them, it was a gradual realisation. It gradually grew and now, I suppose, it feels normal. My greatest privilege is just to be able to communicate with people through the medium of music, it’s something that I always wanted, you know? If someone can take something from one of our albums or if it means something then it’s a real privilege to be able to do that.
P – The new album is described as ‘A colossal double concept album’, is there a quick way of telling us what the concept behind the album is?
K – It’s about how we find our place in the world, on a political or personal level, and how we relate to each other. To that end it’s really a dual concept album which is what gave us such inspiration to write the lyrics, or Richard anyway. As a political side you could take it as a country or a nation finding its way in the world and all the difficulties that come with that. England’s place in Europe was vaguely an inspiration, I suppose, from all that happened last year.
On a personal level, it’s much the same sort of thing but looking at your thoughts of things you wish you hadn’t done, just a journey through life, someone finding their way in the world. That was able to give us a lot of scope all the way through the album, in terms of finding the concept. You see that demonstrated in the Small Dark Lines video which we’ve done and which partly illustrates what the album’s about, painting the lines on the people with black paint which represented their regrets in this case.
The small dark lines in the song also represent the borders between countries and how those are a little bit blurred these days. Those are many subjects we can touch on and it was really great to be able to demonstrate that in the video and find a way of doing it, to which end we put out an appeal to fans who wanted to be in the video. We got people travelling from as far away as Sweden, it was really successful, there must have been at least nine people in the video.
The only thing I will say is that, originally, we didn’t plan on torturing them, it wasn’t the idea to give them cold showers but there was only cold water available! It was in a warehouse near Manchester, it was freezing cold and raining on that day and their faces tell the story when they get hit by the water!
P – To me, and to other people I’ve spoken to who’ve heard the album, there seems to be more focus on the songs. Was that your intention when you originally got together to write the album?
K – As I’ve mentioned before, ‘Subsurface’ was my favourite album until now and that was because of that complete nature of the composition from beginning to end. Richard and I got together and on the last albums we’d had contributions from other band members, we wanted that, everyone was always welcome to write. For this one, they didn’t really come forward with anything, apart from Steve who wrote On the Edge, so it was a lot easier to control the whole dynamic of the album, the sound of it.
We got together when we were both ready to start writing, we were inspired, and we got to about an hour’s worth of music. I make complete demos of music and send them to Richard who then adds melodies and lyrics. We got to this stage where we’d finished that, around sixty minutes and I’d said that I’ve still got plenty of ideas, I don’t feel like I’m finished. Richard said that was good because he was building this really interesting concept and needed more music for that.
We just let it go naturally until we had about an hour and eighteen minutes. We didn’t have The Shire Part 1 or 3 at the time and developed those later. We ended up with an hour and twenty-three minutes of music which came as a natural situation at which point Richard mentioned that the label had said that if we were going to make an album they wanted to split it onto four sides of vinyl. I said we could probably just do but I’d want the songs to be in the correct order because we’re thinking about a concept.
I don’t want to take what would be okay on a CD and jumble it up to make it fit on four sides of the vinyl because you can only do twenty two minutes per side. Luckily it fitted in the correct order and that was it for us, there was one other thing that happened at the end when we were doing the lyrics that really convinced us that this was 100% right. We discovered that each song begins with L, O, T or S which is an acronym of Legends Of The Shires and we were amazed by that, it’s just a confirmation that this album is falling into place.
I love it when an album is musically, as well as lyrically, a concept, it may be a bit old fashioned and people may have forgotten about concept albums since the 70’s but I really love it when there’s a whole story and your drawn into it and you can turn the lights out and listen to the music late at night. I still do that with my wife sometimes, like teenagers, with some wine or beer out and just concentrating on music instead of having it as this background effect.
That’s the most important thing, there are a couple of Mike Oldfield albums we listen through from beginning to end and think ‘wow, that feels great’ and I wanted that experience. You’re drawn completely into the music, you forget where you are and what you’re doing, it’s all about the music. You’re drawn into the story and the atmosphere, you feel one thing is happening after another and that’s what special about this kind of album for me.
P – I think Legends is much more progressive than your recent releases, harking back to Dead Reackoning, was it a conscious decision when you were writing it to get that more progressive sound & feel, especially as it was going to be a concept album?
K – I think there’s a natural leaning with Threshold, I don’t know if it’s exact, that seems to be that we do a more straight ahead album followed by a more progressive album, it seems to alternate. ‘Dead Reckoning’ was a little more straighter after ‘Subsurface’ and then ‘March of Progress’ was quite involved. The last one (‘Fro The Journey’) was a bit more stark sounding and now ‘Legends’ is very much warm and progressive.
I don’t know if it was intentional but we always just let songs go and build themselves, we don’t say that we need a ten minute song. In fact I think that Richard would tell you that The Man Who Saw Through Time was nowhere near ten minutes when we started with the first idea. It just developed as it went on and that’s always been the case, I do like the progressive elements. It was Nick and I who liked the metal side of music and Jon Jeary (the original bass player) that liked progressive.
He’s the one that got us into that music but, after I found out about it, I really did get to enjoy Genesis albums and, through that, the freedom to express myself in the way of arrangement so you’re not locked into verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus or whatever. They kind of go where the song needs to go and they don’t sit and worry about the details, they let the song lead itself. You don’t think and worry about the arrangement, it happens and if it happens to be a three minute song, that’s fair enough if it works that way and if it’s longer, it’s longer.
I suppose you get used to writing longer songs so you know what it takes but we do like to mix that up and, particularly once we’d got to 60 minutes and we were still writing, there was a feeling from Richard and I that we wanted this to be a more progressive album as we wanted it to be a concept. We did lean towards that, in some ways, without thinking about it too much. We already had The Man Who Saw Through Time and Lost In Translation at that stage, those songs were already there. If you’ve got 22 minutes on two songs then you’re already on your way to something progressive, aren’t you? You can’t avoid it.
P – You’ve still got some shorter, harder rocking tracks like Small Dark Lines on there, you get a really good mix between them all, it all seems to flow really nicely.
K – I think Snowblind is one of my favourites as well, it’s got harder moments and it’s almost like a microcosm of Threshold on this album. It involves the hard, the heavy, the delicate and the emotional sides of the music, all combined into one song and compressed into 7 minutes. It was really interesting to create that sort of thing all into one track, it just sort of came together in the right way. I’m really looking forward to trying to play that one live!
P –Who influenced your career at the start and who’s music would you spend your own money on now?
K – Before we were together, my wife really liked My Dying Bride and I’ve really got into them because of her. I’d never considered listening to it because doom metal’s kind of alright when it’s Candlemass or whatever but it just wasn’t my thing. When I heard them I completely got it the first time I listened to it, I just understood the atmosphere and the music and when I found out where they came from I thought you could feel it in the music. You can envisage the moors and the cold, dank nights and the misery and I loved the way that they painted the picture through their music and the way the sound sort of envelops you.
That’s been something I’ve really been into more recently and love Mike Oldfield because of the electronic side of the music and the way he’s able to build layers. I know it’s a different style of music to Threshold completely but it taught me how you could make music interesting instead of just coming back to a verse again. Why not have something different, maybe an extra layer or something, it’s the way he builds the songs so carefully. It sounds simple but there’s a huge amount involved in it and I learned from that electronic music what was so important about layering music and making it interesting in the arrangement.
From the beginning it was just metal, particularly Testament from the album ‘Low’ and beyond. I suppose if I listened to guitarists it was melodic guitarists, Dave Gilmour and Steve Lukather. I never liked those bands in the 80’s who would write a song where you’d be listening to it and then you’d fall off the edge of the song into a bunch of scales and the solo would have nothing to do with the song. You’d think why did he do that? I know people want to play fast but what’s the point? When I listen to ‘Toto IV’, even though it’s not a favourite Toto album of mine, I noticed that the guitar solos were so melodically driven, so brilliantly worked out and I thought that that’s what I want to do, I want to make a solo that’s got a relation to the song.
To that end I started writing guitar solos by putting the guitar down and taking the music out into the park on headphones and singing it onto a Dictaphone for either a keyboard or a guitar solo, whatever we want. I just start humming it or singing it and that would create the basis for the solo and you wouldn’t fall into the normal pattern where you start playing your guitar and you have certain patterns under your fingers that you always gravitate to, you can’t help it and that means all your solos ended up sounding the same. I now just ignore that and come back and add any technical bits later.
It’s about getting the basics right so someone who’s not a musician can enjoy your work as well. My little girl is only three and she listens to some of these albums we have on and when it comes to the solo she’ll go “advert! advert!” like the song has finished for her, she thinks it’s an advertisement in the middle of the song and then she’s waiting for the chorus to come back. I don’t want to be that, I want to be in a band where bits of the solo relate to the melody in the verses or the chorus and it’s a melody in its own right which keeps people interested, not some excuse for someone to go a bit crazy and play their fastest scales. That’s where that developed from, to keep that as a coherent part of the song and then you don’t feel like you’ve wasted maybe 10% of the album.
P – Just touching on progressive rock again, Steven Wilson has come out and said that being labelled ‘Prog’ has probably held his career back, do you think the ‘Prog-Metal’ label has affected Threshold in a negative way?
K – I don’t think that were so big that we could be held back by anything! How many times do you hear people talking about the revival of prog? Sometimes it’s a positive, sometimes it’s a negative. There are so many people willing to put down the prog fans and categorise them as anoraks that are in their 50’s or 60’s and have no interest in life. Why would you do that? I think they’re an incredibly loyal fanbase that are well-educated, which means you can actually write lyrics that mean something and they will understand them!
It’s a real bonus in my book to find those people and they tend to be there all the way through your career. You can have a pop band that will be gone in a year or two, I love having a fanbase that we can go to and they’re waiting to hear your next album. It’s a privilege, it shouldn’t be something you put down at all and I don’t think it’s held us back in any way.
P – That’s probably why you are onto your 11th album…
K – Threshold are good at what we do, if we tried to become commercial or try and follow some trend, we’re not going to as good as the other bands that do it. You’ve got to forge your own way, be creative and have your own sound, not somebody else’s. I think it’s great if someone hears the track Small Dark Lines on the radio and knows it’s Threshold, to me that’s a good thing. It’s like when I hear a Pink Floyd song and I know it’s them, it should be your own identifying stamp. I think it’s a brilliant thing and that’s what happens within prog.
P – Glynn Morgan has returned and replaced Damian Wilson on vocals, any particular reason why?
K – I can tell you what happened, we never wanted to make a statement because we’re not in the business of trying to put Damian down or anything, he’s a really valued member of the band and he did a fantastically good job. However, in October, after we’d played Prog Power Europe I was giving him a lift home to Oxford and he said to me “what sort of singer do you think would replace me?”, I didn’t really pay much attention and he gave me a few names and we left it at that and I said good night.
A couple of weeks later he turned up when I was working on something in the studio and said that he’d decided to leave the band and it was then that I realised that I’d missed that, I’d missed him telling me that he was leaving the band completely! He gave me names of these people that he thought might replace him and I never want to be in the position of chasing people to be in the band. As I’ve said, I feel privileged to be able to play music to the people who want to listen to it and I wouldn’t want to put him in a position where we’re chasing him.
Threshold is something that’s special to me and if he’d come to the point where he felt he’d got other things to do or you don’t want to be in the band then that’s great, he’s done a brilliant job and we’ll move on. When I spoke to Richard later, I said to him that Damian had decided he was moving on and I don’t really want to take on one of these people he’s suggested, what do you think if we ask Glynn again?
I know he wanted to rejoin the last time Damian had come back. He’d found out afterwards that Mac had left and he was interested but it was too late then. In 2008/2009 we did some work with him on our ‘Paradox’ singles boxset on a couple of the tracks and it was great. I’d always loved Glynn’s voice and the three singers we’ve had are the singers I’ve wanted so if Damian leaves and, unfortunately, Mac is no longer available, it would be brilliant if Glynn came back.
Richard had been in contact with him not long before that and when we spoke to him he was over the moon and, as he said in his statement, he really wanted to get involved again. I thought that his enthusiasm was something you just can’t turn down. As the story goes, Damian changed his mind a few weeks later and wanted to come back to the band. I never really got a satisfactory answer as to why he wanted to leave or come back, he rang Richard this time and said he wanted to come back.
He actually did come back to start recording the new album but he didn’t finish it and we didn’t have any dates from him to come back. We did a show in Switzerland and the atmosphere in the band was just different, we knew he’d wanted to go and then he sort of came back but didn’t want to do certain dates that we’d tried to book to finish the album, he wasn’t available for those. It just seemed like we were in competition with something else and I said to Richard we would have to find someone who wanted to do what the four of us wanted to do, the rest of the band.
We want to do things, we don’t want to be inactive, we’re not that young that we can be sitting around for years doing nothing. We told Damian we’d have to move on and I don’t know if he wanted to leave or not or whether he didn’t like the idea of looking bad on social media. I’m not sure whether he really wanted to come back or not, I don’t know what it was but it wasn’t really a good fit once he’d decided he wanted to leave and we just thought that, even though we don’t want to fall out with Damian we need to move on.
He still wants to meet up and chat again, we’re not on bad terms. I don’t know if he was expecting it or not but we said, in the light of what had happened, we’re going to move on and we’re going to find someone who wants to be in the band all the time and it worked out, it fits Glynn perfectly, with the extra power he has, on this new album and it works well.
P – Talking about people coming back, Jon (Jeary) makes an appearance on The Shire (Part 3), how did that come about?
K – I’m still in contact with Jon often, we meet as families, with his children and mine, and we’re still great friends. I know he loves Threshold because he bought some of the albums until he told me and I started giving him some, he still likes the music. He didn’t want to be involved in touring back then and I always wondered if I could drag him back in.
We’d demoed every other song on the album with female vocals, we got Richard’s wife to do it as she’s a really good singer and that stops us getting boxed in with any particular vocalist when we’re writing. When we did The Shire (Part 3)she wasn’t available to do the vocals so Richard did it himself and I thought it sounded a bit like Jon. I wondered if I could convince him to sing on it and Richard said good luck with that one so I contacted him and asked him if he’d consider doing this vocal for us and sing it how he feet.
I Think he was flattered as he was the original singer for Threshold when we were a pub band and coming back as a singer was very different to coming back as the bassist. He really enjoyed it, he came after work one night, put the vocals down and it went brilliantly, it was really good to be connected back with Jon. He was such an important formative part of Threshold, he wrote the majority of the lyrics for the first six albums, titled the albums and even came up with the band name.
Even though he didn’t like the touring and what that entailed, he always loved the music. The next step is, if we ever get to playing that track live, to maybe drag him up to London to sing on it, let’s see what he thinks about that one!
P – I really appreciate you talking to me Karl, the last question, what’s next for Threshold and yourself? Are you already thinking of the next album?
K – When I get back from the back of beyond (Serbia) I’ll be getting ready for our tour , planning things for Glynn such as what bits of guitar he might play on the tour in November and December. We’ve started arranging festivals for next year and then we’ll see what comes.
Richard and I have always left writing the music for a new album to the point when we’re actually ready to do it, rather than setting a date for it. It’s hard enough to make an album which works, you never feel fully in control of what’s happening, even with the best of intentions and being fully inspired, it might not go exactly as you want it to.
I always feel you have to be completely 100% ready and you’ve got to put everything into it to make it special otherwise why would you bother? We always wait until it’s a natural process, by the time we’ve finished the touring process for an album we’re ready to start thinking about a new one and you get inspired again.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
― Ernst F. Schumacher
In this ever increasingly complex life that we lead it is nice some times to have a bit of simplicity to allow us to take stock and have a little breather from our hectic and convoluted lives. For every million note Dream Theater solo from John Petrucci there is a counter balance in music that has an absence of complication, that can be enjoyed for it’s lack of elaboration and Chris Topham at Plane Groovy has sent me over a vinyl album that just captivates with it’s beauty, a beauty achieved through it’s ethereal sparseness.
Damian Wilson and Adam Wakeman got together in 2015/2016 to record 9 new acoustic songs that would become the album ‘Weir Keeper’s Tale’. This was released in 2016 and now Plane Groovy are releasing the vinyl version complete with wonderful album art by John Townshend.
Adam said that, “With this album, Damian and I both wanted to capture a real cohesive album of our songs outside of the writing we do with Headspace and other heavier bands. It gave us an opportunity to really focus on the songs as singer songwriters, and to concentrate on telling individual stories.”
And this collection of stories has been crafted into beautiful songs and given the home they deserve on this wonderful vinyl package.
(album art by John Townshend)
Once I’ve extracted the album from the shrink-wrap I get to admire the brilliant album art on both the sleeve and the inner liner, it truly is a thing of beauty and just oozes quality, what I’ve come to expect from a man as passionate about vinyl as Chris Topham is.
There’s satisfaction to be had from just handling the vinyl package and pouring over the liner notes after I’ve let the needle gently land on the record and the first notes ring out, the sound wonderfully rich and warm, not like the clinical music you get from CDs and digital.
Damian Wilson has a brilliant voice, powerful, deep and resonating but on this album we see the more humble and gentle side of him, as the graceful piano of Adam Wakeman opens Seek For Adventure you’re immediately put into a mood of repose and calm and then Damian’s voice joins in and it is just captivating. Together with the simple instrumentation it has a grace and charm and not a little wistfulness too. I was left open mouthed by the impact that this uncomplicated delivery could give. Adam’s backing vocals are unobtrusive but really add to the childlike innocence that the song conveys. Just sit back and enjoy this effortlessly classy music. The tempo increases with the title track Weir Keeper’s Tale, the piano has a bit more urgency and Damian’s vocal a touch more intensity but the wonderful warmth and bonhomie are still present and correct. It’s a humble and inelaborate little ditty that moves along at a jaunty pace and leaves such a feeling of goodwill in its wake. The choral backing is a lovely touch and adds even more elegance to this unembellished track, a short but exceedingly sweet piece of nostalgic artistry.
Adam Wakeman takes over vocal duties for the dreamy and thoughtful Catch You when You Fall with Damian providing the delicate acoustic guitar backing. Here the sparseness levels are at their highest, the music stripped back bare of any unnecessary trappings and it works brilliantly as a result. The guitar provides the opening bars allowing you to clear your mind of any frivolous thoughts and concentrate on what you are about to hear. Adam has quite a striking voice with an earnestness at its core and it really fits the song, a calm authority settling on proceedings. As I’ve said before, these songs really work on a vinyl release, the music is rounded and full of character, warmth and charm.
Damian himself said, “How we ever got convinced that the CD was a better medium than Vinyl, I will never understand. Cramming music onto a 16 bit CD loses a lot of information. The best way to hear what’s missing is to listen to the vinyl.”
With a feel of a singer/songwriter’s track Together Alone opens with that rich piano note that Adam conjurs up at will before Damian’s heartfelt vocal begins. There’s an almost melancholy tone but you can’t help but be caught up in the exquisitely delivered music. There’s a memorable chorus that I can’t help but sing along to and the whole track moves along at a fairly sharp clip. Actually making music this simple and yet so mesmerisng is an art in itself.
Murder In A Small Town is like a very short story (4 minutes and fifty-two second to be precise) that has been set to music, an American noir novel sung to you by Damian himself. The tender vocals and fragile acoustic guitar add an ethereal feel to the song and you soon get lost in its sublime and intangible ambience. I feel like I’m in a a shadowy half-world of calm serenity. The piano solo in the middle is a thing of heavenly refinement and adds even more gracefulness, it actually takes me a few seconds before I realise that I’m listening to silence as the needle comes to the close of side one.
Side two starts with the excellent Freedom Is Everything, the opening notes from the piano set up a rather engaging song that, again, has a feel of the great singer/songwriters to it, in fact I’d go as far to say that it actually reminds me a bit of early Simon and Garfunkel. Damian delivers another ardent and heartfelt vocal performance that comes straight from his heart, there’s passion and devotion dripping from every note and the simple but effective piano accompaniment is genius. When I’m sat back with a nice glass of red wine in my hand and listening to this beauteous creation, I’m in a very happy place indeed. There’s a somber feel as God Be My Judge begins, the acoustic guitar and Damian’s vocal give a contemplative and thoughtful edge to the song and the backing vocals in the background add a really wishful tone. A fragility runs throughout, a slight catch in Damian’s voice and the near intangibility of the guitar, a piece of music with its heart laid bare for all to see and judge. There’s a lump in my throat and moisture in my eye as it comes to a close.
That emotion stays with me as we come to the penultimate track and one of my favourites on the whole album. People Come And Go opens with a powerful, almost forlorn piano note and Damian has real pathos in his vocal, a subdued guitar in the background. The yearning feel disappears as the piano takes a harder tone and the tempo increases, Damian adds even more emotion and poignance to his voice leading into a hauntingly memorable chorus that has become a real ear worm for me. An incredible piece of music that touches my heart and really moves me on an emotional level. It’s a song that I keep returning to on a regular basis, maybe it’s the subject matter, I don’t know, I just love it and the part where everything goes quiet before bursting out into that brilliant chorus again is just inspired. So to the final track on the this release and what a way to bow out. Cold is the epitome of simplicity and grace, the beauty of a delicately strummed acoustic guitar matched with Damian Wilson’s exquisite and heartfelt vocal is near perfection. A song that takes wistfulness to a whole new level and one that takes you to a place of calm reflection, the fragile and tender guitar playing that closes out the song and the album is just divine and as the needle reaches the final grooves I just sit there in silent admiration.
This is one album that always seems to be on my record deck or playing in the car. A testimony to Damian Wilson and Adam Wakeman, it is an absolutely timeless record that takes music at its most simple and lifts it above the mere excellent and onto another level altogether. Nine incredible songs that deliver both emotionally and intellectually to give a listening experience like no other, I cannot recommend it highly enough but please buy the vinyl as that is what makes it so special.
THRESHOLD have parted ways with vocalist Damian Wilson. The band have chosen to start a new chapter without him and he has told them he respects their decision.
Wilson enjoyed three stints with THRESHOLD, performing on the band’s most recent records ‘For The Journey’ and ‘March Of Progress’ as well as their early releases ‘Wounded Land’ and ‘Extinct Instinct’ in the 1990’s. Damian Wilson has been a great frontman for THRESHOLD and the band would like to sincerely thank him and wish him every success in his future endeavours.
THRESHOLD‘s new frontman will be Glynn Morgan, the band’s former vocalist from 1994 to 1996. Morgan appeared on THRESHOLD‘s 1994 album ‘Psychedelicatessen’ and returned to work with the band in 2008 to record tracks for the singles box set ‘Paradox’.
Glynn Morgan commented: “I was over the moon when I got the phone call. To work with Karl and Richard and be a part of the mighty THRESHOLD story once more is a great honour. I can’t wait to start recording, the new material has me hooked already.”
You can watch Glynn Morgan in action with THRESHOLD in their 1994 video ‘Innocent’ here:
THRESHOLD are currently at Thin Ice Studios recording their 11th album ‘Legends Of The Shires’ due for release in the autumn. The band’s European tour kicks off in November with support from DAMNATION ANGELS and DAY SIX.
‘Legends Of The Shires’ Tour 2017 w/ DAMNATION ANGELS, DAY SIX Presented by: Rock Hard, Eclipsed, Rock It!, Blast!, Wacken Radio
28.11. NL Weert – De Bosuil
29.11. D Hamburg – Markthalle
30.11. D Berlin – Lido
01.12. D Aschaffenburg – Colos-Saal
02.12. D Munich – Feierwerk
03.12. CH Pratteln – Z7
05.12. D Stuttgart – Club Cann
06.12. D Hanover – Musikzentrum
07.12. B Kortrijk – De Kreun
08.12. D Essen – Turock
09.12. NL Zoetermeer – Boerderij 10.12. UK London – o2 Islington Academy
After ten successful years with the label Nuclear Blast, British progressive protagonists THRESHOLD have signed a new contract and extended their partnership with the label. Furthermore, they have also announced plans for their next release. THRESHOLD are currently recording their 11th masterpiece at Thin Ice Studios in England, a new concept album that will be called ‘Legends Of The Shires’. It is being produced by Karl Groom and Richard West and it’s scheduled to be released later this year. More information will be revealed soon.
Richard West comments: “It’s great to be announcing these tour dates so soon, we can’t wait to get on the road and perform for you. Our new album is coming together perfectly, we’ve got a lot of strong material so it might be our longest one yet.”
Catch THRESHOLD live here: Legends Of The Shires -Tour 2017 (presented by ‘Rock Hard’, ‘Eclipsed’, ‘Rock It!’, ‘Blast!’ and ‘Wacken Radio’) + Special Guests
28.11. NL Bosuil – Weert
29.11. GER Hamburg – Markthalle
30.11. GER Berlin – Lido
01.12. GER Aschaffenburg – Colos Saal
02.12. GER München – Feierwerk
03.12. CH Pratteln – Z7
05.12. GER Stuttgart – Club Cann
06.12. GER Hannover – Musikzentrum
07.12. BEL Kortrijk – De Kreun
08.12. GER Essen – Turock
09.12. NL Zoetermeer – Boerderij 10.12. UK London – O2 Islington Academy
The last record of the band was their live album ‘European Journey’, which was recorded during the November 2014 ‘For The Journey’ tour and consists of 15 live tracks.
So we have had a wonderful selection of Top 10 picks from some of my great collaborators and now it is my turn. I’m going to stray from the norm because mine is going to be a Top 20 to keep it in line with my TEP selection that I spoke with David Elliott about.
Yes, it is a bit of a cheat but it is my website so I don’t have to follow the rules. Anyway,without any further ado, here are my top albums of 2016,not in any particular order but they have all made a big impact on my life this year…
You will also notice that there are no Bad Elephant Music releases in my Top 20. The label I work with had another superb year but it would have been a bit unfair of me to include any releases from the artists on BEM.
Bad Dreams – Déjà vu
‘Déjà vu’ is an album that will stand the test of time and is a great achievement for Bad Dreams. I was impressed from the first note by the accomplished musicianship and the superb vocals, add in the exemplary songwriting and it was sure to be a winner in my book. What makes it stand out even more is the way the music becomes almost part of you and can make you stop what you are doing and just listen for the sake of it and that, my friends, is what truly great music can do to you.
Blue Mammoth – Stories Of A King
Proper seventies epic prog of massive proportions from these excellent Brazilians. The artwork alone is very striking but the music will literally knock your socks off, play it loud,VERY loud!
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.
Tony Patterson – Equations of Meaning
Well I was utterly mesmerised by ‘Northlands’, Tony’s collaboration with Brendan Eyre and this album deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. To get the utmost from the album you must listen to it from start to finish, preferably with headphones on, in a darkened room and with your choice of relaxing alcohol. To me, ‘Equations of Meaning’ is not merely a great release, it is a state of mind that we should all aspire to when our Life in the Fast Lane gets too much for us. Superb and highly recommended.
Big Big Train – Folklore
It was always going to be hard to follow ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums but the acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling have returned with a fresh collection of stories and tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life…
Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting
Funny how music fits in with your life isn’t it? I was listening to this album walking back home last night and it just struck me as to how much it was a soundtrack to how my life has turned out this year. Painful lows, beautiful highs and, ultimately, balance has been restored.Taking a break form his Prog-Metal roots, Damian delivers a solo release of sublime brilliance.
David Foster – Dreamless
The usually modest and self-effacing Dave Foster has stepped out of the shadows and onto centre stage to deliver his second solo opus and is to be applauded and admired for doing so. Such a variety of moods, styles and colours doesn’t always mix well but when it is done with consummate skill, like it is here, you are treated to a cornucopia of musical delights. While neither ground breaking or game changing, what it is is really rather good.
Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable
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!
Ghost Community – Cycle Of Life
‘Cycle of Life’ is a thought-provoking, beguiling and fulfilling musical journey that excites and satisfies at every turn. Ghost Community may have had to endure trials and tribulations while making this record but the experiences have enabled them to deliver something quite magical and rewarding that will stand the test of time, worthy of a place in anyone’s musical collection.
Glass Hammer – Valkyrie
With its insightful, thoughtful lyrics every bit as important as the mightily impressive music, ‘Valkrie’ is a concept album in the true sense of the word. With some delightful departures from what some would call their signature sound (The Beatles anyone?) Glass Hammer continue to evolve into one of the world’s foremost Progressive Rock bands. This iconic group of musicians lead you on a journey through the horrors of war with a totally immersive sixty-five minutes of music and you will come out the other side changed forever. I can’t recommend this album enough, one of the best albums of 2016? One of the best albums of recent years more like…
iamthemorning – Lighthouse
‘Lighthouse’ is an amazing musical journey from the first note to the last. It is bewitching and beguiling and removes you from your everyday life to a place of wonder. Darkly captivating, it is not all sweetness and light but is a musical legacy that iamthemorning can build on and the ‘Lighthouse’ can light the way. These two exceptional artists have now moved into the major leagues and it is well deserved, album of the year? why not!
Nerve Toy Trio – Accidental Bar-B-Que
A really impressive and ultimately satisfying release that really gets into your psyche and has you reaching for the repeat play button again and again. Nerve Toy Trio has given us one of the best instrumental releases of the year with ‘Accidental Bar-B-Que’ and one with which the music really does stand comparison to the excellent album art. Seems my gut feeling was right once again, a highly recommended release.
I Like Trains – A Divorce Before Marriage
A real late comer to the party, in fact I haven’t reviewed it fully yet! This sublime and haunting collection of instrumental marvelousness from these Yorkshire musicians is a soundtrack to the film of the same name. Ethereal and yet solidly powerful, I haven’t heard anything like it all year and it demanded to be in this selection of top releases.
Patchwork Cacophony – Five Of Cups
There is intelligence and a wry humour than runs throughout this remarkable album. Ben Bell has an immense talent and really knows how to put it to good use. Intelligently crafted songs that make you want to listen to them show him to be a great songwriter and what he delivers proves what a notable musician he is as well. In the world of progressive rock a new star is set to rise.
Blue Rose Code – …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing
Blue Rose Code is Edinburgh-born songwriter Ross Wilson. At the edge of contemporary alt-folk, Wilson’s music evokes a meeting of Van Morrison and a young John Martyn, both shipwrecked with a bunch of Motown records. A deep emotive well of stunning music that affects you at a core level, another late discovery of 2016 for me but a band I will be keeping my eye on now!
Of the new record, Wilson says, “It’s an album for music fans and musicians. A challenging record, I think, and it’s abundantly clear that the process has been undertaken away from the cynicism of any record company.”
Ray Wilson – Makes Me Think Of Home
Ray Wilson has taken us on a deeply personal musical journey full of hope, despair, pain and, ultimately, salvation and I was hooked on every word, every note. This is music at its very best, written from the heart and full of the passion and soul of the artist. This is an album that I will return to again and again, no matter how much new music crosses my path and is surely a collection of songs that can, and will, stand the test of time.
Thence – We Are Left With A Song
What Thence have delivered with ‘We Are Left With A Song’ is no mere album, it is a breathtaking, creative powerhouse of sonic delight that grows to fill any space that it occupies to take on a life of its own. It is a life that you will want to share until your dying breath, above mere superlatives, it is an utter triumph.
Tilt – Hinterland
What TILT have delivered is a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done!
Marc Atkinson – Home Grown
To me, this is what makes writing about music worth every single minute I take. I have been involved in this long musical journey in some small way from start to finish and when you hear the finished article, it is almost like welcoming a newborn into the world. Marc Atkinson will have agonised about every single word and note on this album and to my ears it has been worth every single second he has taken. This is music that takes over your mind and soul and which you can relate to on a very personal level. Fifteen songs that are extremely personal to this gracious man and we should be glad that he has released them for us to enjoy. A great album and one that I have no doubt is the complete pinnacle of Marc’s solo career to date, I am extremely proud to be able call him a friend.
Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum
Drifting Sun have delivered quite a work of art, one that touches on the past for influences but, also, has its own, confident vision of the future. Consume it in one listen to get the full effect of this great album, it is one that will live in the memory for a long time.
So, there you have it. 2016 was another brilliant year for music and I hope our End Of Year choices might make you go out and buy the music to support the artists involved. Please join me and my fellow authors at Progradar in 2017 for what I hope will be another stellar year for lovers of music.
We are going to end 2016 at Progradar with a selection of ‘Top 10’ picks. I have asked as many contributors as would like to join in the fun to give me their best 10 albums of the year. Here we start with Rob Fisher‘s selections.
Flux – Shadowlines
I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Flux perform at the Darbar Festival in London’s South Bank. They gave a superb and truly heart warming rendition of songs from their uplifting debut album ‘Shadowlines’. Since first hearing it earlier in the year I have been championing their music which is alive, fresh and above all joyful. There is an alluring blend of eclectic influences from around the world, stamped with a unique style and identity which exudes a passion for life through elegant melodies, exquisite playing and energetic rhythms.
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorious, sizzling, pulsating walls of sound. This is truly modern prog, aware of contemporary influences and absorbing modern ideas and sounds. It is a triumphant and shamelessly inventive experiment on how to do prog in the 21st Century, using sounds and techniques belonging to other musical contexts but making them your own. The result is a breathtaking adventure through expansive soundscapes, fascinating samplings and an album which stands as a shining beacon for genuinely creative and dynamic song writing.
Southern Empire – Southern Empire
Inspired, powerful song writing and intense levels of technical and musical virtuosity combine to create a debut album which does exemplary justice to both aspects of the term ‘progressive’ and ‘rock’. Sean Timms masterfully weaves intelligent lyrical insights with textured layers of expressive and compelling music which are psychologically perceptive, full of emotional insight and brimming with melodic creativity.
Thence – We Are Left With A Song
Thence have created what is, in effect, the soundtrack for life in the 21st century. It is an album which bristles with creativity, dynamism and enthusiasm, bringing together elements of orchestral and classical music, jazz, blues, rock and metal. The music ripples with stark contrasts, using sweeping and scintillating soundscapes to mirror the noisy backgrounds against which we live our lives. The vocals are buried in music which is humming with layers of distorted guitars, yet emerging into crystal clear oases of melodic calm and clarity. Enthralling.
Karibow – Holophinium You can understand why Oliver Rüsing needed a two-cd release for the latest instalment of musical excellence from Karibow. The vision which inspires the album is majestic and sweeping in scope, telling stories of poignant self-discovery through vivid symphonic landscapes which are an exhilarating journey in delightfully imaginative musical creativity. From the outset you are fully engaged both intellectually as well emotionally in music which is hauntingly textured and beautifully expressed.
Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting
What an unexpected revelation and delight this fourth studio release from Damian Wilson really is. Penetrating lyrical vignettes tell poignant and moving stories, sung in a voice that portrays simply staggering levels of expression, emotion and passion. At the heart of it is the conflict between our biological and physical make up suited for life as a perpetual battle for survival, on the other the recognition that there is a kinder and gentler way of living. A remarkable and heart-breaking release.
Kaipa Da Capo – Dårskapens Monotoni
As soon as you hear the opening bars of this elegant and imposing album you both know and you feel as if you are home. Reuniting the original members of Kaipa from the mid 70’s, lush musical landscapes are built around smouldering keyboards, breath-taking guitar work, powerful bass and intricate drumming. This is prog as it was always meant to be, lovingly crafted and exquisitely played in songs which capture a bluesy, symphonic and deeply satisfying mood.
Dec Burke – Book Of Secrets
A fiercely intelligent and highly perceptive hymn to the pendulum of life as it swings between joy and despair. The album is boundlessly energetic, infused with power, drive and focus. There is an infectious conviction to the music which is expressed in a diverse mixture of styles, moods and competing instrumental emphases. The songs are incisive, vigorous and dynamic, filled with a strong sense of character and purpose.
T – Epistrophobia
A late entry to the 2016 list of releases, T’s follow up album to the fiercely powerful Fragmentropy illustrates that all good things come to those who wait. Despite having a more symphonic and even melodic character, Epistrophobia is intellectually intense and emotionally provocative in equal measure. T’s music has always demanded your time and attention when listening in return for the rewards it eventually yields and this is no exception. Profoundly brilliant.
Oak – Lighthouse
A third debut album makes my top 10 for 2016. Lighthouse is wonderfully charming and, the more you hear it, affectionately endearing. The album is a fusion and mixture of all sorts of feelings, experiences, thoughts and emotions which is expressed in music which has a vitality and dynamism that lifts you up, carries you along and sets you down again as it explores the joys and the agonies of being alive. Upbeat instrumental work builds foundations for energetic landscapes and highly melodic harmonies.
I can’t help feeling there is something of an unfortunate disconnect between the expectations encouraged by the forceful and uncompromising visual imagery portrayed by the cover artwork and the reality of the music you find yourself hearing in light of those expectations. Whether this is something to do with a perception of Wilson’s image or persona because of his involvement with the heavier leaning music of Threshold or Headspace I’m not sure, but the overt portrayal of aggression and machismo is thoroughly unhelpful and actually serves to undermine what is an exquisitely compelling and unexpectedly beautiful album.
Wilson explains the rationale underpinning the album as giving voice to the daily experience of trying to carve out a meaningful, secure and even happy existence against all the factors and forces which are ranged against us. “Life is a fight. A never ending brawl and struggle to find a little peace.” The theme is certainly reflected in a lot of the tracks which appear on the album and goes some way to at least partially explaining both the image and the implied attitude which adorns the cover.
Yet you only have to listen to the elegant and graceful lyrics of the sublime Battlelines (Track 12) to understand that Wilson’s heart lies in an all together different direction. “It seems to me that through all this fighting that, mores’ achieved by words and writing than, any bullet fired through war and rage”. Or again: “I understand though I don’t like it that, we were made and built for fighting but, can’t we put those tanks and bullets away”. And then we reach the repeated refrain: “So what if we believe it’s all magical, If it was up to me, watch the mighty fall, we would all stand back and just laugh at war”.
Such an imploring and impassioned cry from the heart, reflected across so many of the songs on this staggeringly poignant album, gives voice to the crisis and the dilemma which shape and form the music and the lyrics. On the one hand the reality is that life is a battle, a fight, brutal, tough and unforgiving; on the other there is the recognition that actually all this is a senseless folly, meaningless posturing, a futile waste. There is a better, kinder, gentler and more human way of living. And it is the tension created from understanding that both these views hold true which lies at the heart of this remarkable and at times heart-breaking release.
Two things quickly and forcibly strike you when you spend time with this album. The first is just how dramatically expansive and passionately expressive Wilson’s voice really is. Superb recording values let you hear with crystal clarity the incredibly diverse range he brings to each song, from the gentle and emotionally nuanced ballads all the way through to the feisty, rugged and good old fashioned heavy rock anthems. The vocal performance elicited by and expressed through the music is simply magnificent, a joyful master class which is a delightful privilege to hear, appreciate and enjoy.
The second is the sheer lyrical brilliance which shines so brightly throughout the album. Initially it is difficult to appreciate the hugely perceptive levels of insight, acumen and plain common sense wisdom which are carefully crafted within each song because your attention is always diverted elsewhere by other things. But the more you listen, the more you begin to pick up phrases and notice sentences which in turn lead you to pay a lot more attention to the skill and care which has gone into the song-writing.
‘Built For Fighting’ is an extraordinary achievement on many levels, not least of which is that it is a gem which hides in plain sight and runs the risk of being ignored precisely because of that. It is fiercely honest, impressively direct yet for all that, expressed in and through music which is delicately sensitive, powerfully moving and strikingly touching. By the end it leaves you in little doubt that it is a labour of love which rightly and quite unapologetically wears its heart on its sleeve.
I will be honest and say that on first listen I was distinctly unmoved, primarily, I suspect, because the combination of the cover in tandem with my existing familiarity with Wilson’s other work means I came in with all sorts of preconceptions which just didn’t gel or match up with the music I was hearing. It was quite an unexpected jolt, that is for sure! Now, however, I find I have fallen for it hook, line and sinker to the extent that it definitely stands as a significant contender for album of the year. Let it charm you, let it lure and entice you; you certainly won’t regret it.
Damian Wilson: vocals
With: Lee Pomeroy – bass Bill Shanley – guitars Adam Wakeman – keyboards Brian Willoughby – guitars
All photos of Damian by Marleen Den Brock Photography.