Review – Damanek – In Flight – by Progradar

“Who hears music, feels his solitude Peopled at once.”
― Robert Browning, The complete poetical works of Browning

Damn, 2018 has been a stellar year for some great new releases and another one has found its way to Progradar Towers!

Damanek are a sort of Prog Rock supergroup formed by fellow Yorkshireman Guy Manning (vocals, keyboards, percussion, guitars, bass), Marek Arnold (saxes and seaboard), Dan Mash (bass) and Sean Timms (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals & additional programming). This talented quarted is joined by a plethora of stellar musicians including Antonio Vittozzi, Luke Machin and Tzan Nico on guitar and Brody Thomas Green on drums.

Described as ‘a genre-defying collection of sophisticated songs..’, ‘In Flight’ is the follow up to 2017’s well received ‘On Track’. Once again Sean Timms’ sleek production adds to the overall sense of quality and class.

There’s a shiver of anticipation running through me as the opening notes of Ragusa break out, there’s already a feeling of class and quality shining through. Guy has one of those voices that speaks to you through and beyond the music, a familiar cultured tone that puts you at ease immediately. The music itself is impressively stylish and smooth and just adds to the feeling of sophistication. The guest guitarists add even more sparkle and inspiration, this is going to be one enjoyable journey. Oooh, jazzy piano and percussion, the opening to Skyboat is joyful and upbeat and, as the track opens up with gusto, we are sent on a rollocking musical ride. Funky guitar and edgy percussion, along with an ever so cool hammond organ, add to the feel-good factor and the grin spreading across your face. This is music at its inspiring best and music that brings joy to your soul.

The Crawler opens with a deliciously dark melody and feel, a mature and sophisticated aura permeates the song with Guy’s distinguished vocal adding layers of class. The captivating chorus with its elegant sax sends shivers down your spine. Sean’s production can be felt most here, giving us a stand out piece of music on what is becoming an evidently impressive album. There’s a levity to Moon Catcher, a lightness of soul and featherlight touch to the music. The sparsity of the production and laid back approach to the vocals, along with the meandering sax, leaves a whimsical feel, a really classy piece of music.

Catchy, addictive and upbeat from the first note, The Crossing is a jazz-infused delight, the carefree tinkling of the ivories a particular highlight. Add in some more of the impressive sax and Guy’s vocals and you are onto a winner. The 3 part epic Big Eastern closes the album, taking the listener on an emotive journey from East to West: from the poorest rural lands of China to the West Coast of the USA. Grand in conception, and inspired in execution, it’s a journey that you become deeply involved in and one that takes you across the whole galaxy of progressive music, visiting every nuance on its way. At just shy of thirty minutes it is a true epic but never outstays its welcome, every note and every word is there for a reason and that reason is to give the listener the best and most joyous experience ever when it comes to music.

‘In Flight’ is an album I haven’t remotely got bored of, even after multiple listens. A compelling, engaging and stimulating listening experience that leaves you high on music and life. Every absorbing minute of music is a minute that will bring a smile to your face. This year there have been some fantastic releases, releases that are finally bringing the joy back to music and Damanek’s ‘In Flight’ should be considered up there with the best of them.

Released 5th October 2018

Buy In Flight from GEP here

Listen to ‘Ragusa’ from ‘In Flight’ here

 

Review – Damanek – On Track – by Emma Roebuck

Damanek is DAn Mash, Guy MANing and MarEK Arnold (with Sean Timms coming to the party just a after the band name was decided, Guy tells me.)  A fairly stellar cast is joined by other heavenly bodies to guest on this, the debut album of this project.

Brody Thomas Green (‘Southern Empire’) – drums.
Tim Irrgang
 (‘UPF’) – percussion.
Antonio Vittozzi (‘Soul Secret’) – guitars.
Luke Machin
 (‘Maschine’/’Kiama’/’The Tangent’) – guitars.
Stephen Dundon
 (‘Molly Bloom’) – flute. 
Nick Magnus
 – keyboards.
Phideaux – vocals.
Ulf Reinhardt
 (‘Seven Steps to the Green Door’) – drums.

Their live debut at Summers End 2016 caused a stir and a buzz of excitement in the crowd and the Prog community as a whole. It is strong album from beginning to end and it is also, as you would expect from Guy, one with a message. If I am honest it has many messages all in the main told through the allegorical story telling of guys lyrics.

We have 8 tracks that have light and shade along with the complex use of instruments and layers to play parts in the sound. The production is outstanding and reminds of some of the classic albums of the 80’s (but without sounding like an 80’s Prog album.) Sean has done an excellent job in the mix and production of this truly global album.

The opener Nanabohzo and the Rainbow opens with a tribal rhythm and an insistent bass and drum riff throughout give an exotic feel to the track and a rather excellent ear worm quality. Marek has a big part to play with his Sax and, along with Sean on keyboards, is the flesh on the bones of the rhythm. Guy’s voice is on form all the way through the album, it slots so well in the sound as it shifts in form throughout the song.

Long Time, Shadow Falls, this has the most 80’s feel to me, drawing from the best of what Peter Gabriel in style and form did in the mid 80’s. I think it is the keyboard sound but the song is a commentary on poaching and the impact of man that is sung from the view of the victims, the Rhino, the Elephant and the Hippos. It is our gift to stop this but as a species we are doing a poor job.

Just pictures in a glossy magazine
Long time, a shadow falls and the Earth is lessened”

With the demise of the natural world we are lessened more than we realise.

The Cosmic Score is told on a much larger scale with the keyboards of Nick Magnus adding much to it. Imagine if you will the stars are notes on the score of the universe and the music of the universe is playing forever but how badly are we affecting that score on our little planet? It is massive in scope and symphonic in sound.

Believer – Redeemer could be a jazz-funk soul piece, in fact it is to these ears and a real pleasure to listen to as well. The music is a metaphor to the lyric, challenging the prog fan to step outside and listen to a world beyond the Prog bubble. The lyric does the same to the intolerant and unaccepting people of this world. I could honestly hear George Benson or Stanley Clarke doing a cover of this with little or no changes. Oh, by the way, this is a good thing!

Guy has a pixie like sense of humour and in The Big Parade it comes out in spades. The guys here write an anti-war song to a martial beat. The pomposity of marching music along with the beat of an Umpah band make the idiocy of war look like what it is – a playground for overgrown bullies. Reminiscent of Tom Waits “In the Neighbourhood”, with hints of ragtime and New Orleans jazz, here Marek gets to show off his skills to great effect.

The Finale on the album is Dark Sun, a 14 minute epic and  truly prog of ‘end of days’ proportions, it’s honestly scary and as ominous as its topic. The sun is getting darker and light gets dimmer as we kill the planet. Air gets thicker with pollution. The sight of our cities in the sunlight with unbreathable air and thick smog hanging like a veil over our lives. It utilises an excellent instrumental break and brilliant piece of guitar keyboard jamming with the brass synchronising beautifully.

I paint a picture of an album that is fundamentally depressing and dispiriting but it is actually very uplifting. The music is tight and full with the quality you would expect from the players but no one dominates in this and it feels like a complete piece of work. The malbum feels global with influences from across boundaries and geography. The messages may be a warning but each song offers hope rather than a sense of inevitable doom. It bears playing and playing again.

I sincerely hope that Damanek produce another album and take it out on the road. I won’t reference bands (as I usually do) but this is an album that has melody and song structure by the bucket load and is not frightened to go outside limiting parameters.

Released 15th May 2017

Buy ‘On Track’ from GEP

 

 

Review – Cyril – Paralyzed – by Rob Fisher

cover

Light, airy piano chords gradually emerge from the silence and gently come to a slow halt; moments later a barely perceptible layer of tingling keyboards fills the air, bass and drum announce a pointed yet restrained arrival and a light, breezy acoustic guitar plays a Mediterranean air. Husky, breathless vocals overlay the soundstage with a bewitching melody, building to an echoing vocal, offset against a muted single piano interlude before launching into a punchy, power rock driven chorus.

Scarlet Walking, the opening track to ‘Paralyzed’,  the second album by German based band Cyril, casts a mesmerising spell which softly, almost imperceptibly seeps into your soul and weaves an enchanting magic that both thoroughly enthrals and completely captivates. As the doorway through which you pass on your journey to the rest of the album, it effortlessly exerts a wonderfully alluring and seductive welcome.

‘Paralyzed’ is a heart-warming, elegant and thoroughly endearing album of graceful vignettes and beautifully reflective compositions which mesmerise and enchant in equal measure. Unlike ‘Gone Through Years’, released in 2013 as a concept album based around themes drawn from ‘The Time Machine’ by H. G. Wells, this follow up album places greater focus on the progression of the band’s music by crafting imaginative compositions that are bathed in a fertile and embracing atmosphere of creativity, in turn forming the cradle for the most wonderful melodic expressions.

mixing

Indeed, I think much of the beguiling charm of this album comes in no small measure from the careful and perceptive attention lavished on the layers within the songs, along with the context in which they stand and relate to each other. The tracks, individually and collectively, exude a permeating, enveloping atmosphere which significantly heightens and elevates the quality of the writing well above the ordinary. The soundstage is deep, expansive, full of resonance and an almost chilling clarity, capturing a moody, immersive mellowness and a refined, pervading, almost tender spirit and presence.

Within this are built a series of forced contrasts which either vigorously penetrate and stand out against the spacious openness of such an atmosphere or else gently fall back and dissipate into it time and time again. On some tracks, the growling, crunching animosity of the Hammond forms a solid bedrock and undercurrent but gives way to delicate pairings of piano and acoustic guitar, or a floating vocal like a wispy mist overlaying an isolated piano. On other tracks a smoky saxophone riff builds to an orchestral crescendo but then melts to an isolated single instrument enshrining an echoed vocal. The result is beautiful in both simplicity and finesse.

These energetic brushstrokes are in turn the vistas which give birth to soaring, melodic narratives which drive the music, giving life and voice to the plot of each song. Gravelly vocals are carried along on the back of waves of harmonic euphoria; reflective and introspective wistfulness muses over hushed symphonic arrangements. But these do not stand alone; the tone and structure is adorned, supplemented and enhanced by instrumental work designed to mirror, copy and reflect the central vocal stage. In particular, Rainbow (Track 4) is a curious delight, acoustic guitar and sprightly chord work supporting joyful, harmonies, with the occasional burst of Jamaican style reggae drums.

heiko-schoneberg

(Picture by Heiko Schoneberg)

The narratives themselves are testament, if any are needed, to the desire to craft and construct songs which can embody the spirit, the passion and the experiences of the story being told. Guy Manning’s lyrical inventiveness is the perfect match for the musical innovation of the compositions. He brings a sober, thoughtful and reflective tone to the stories being told, filled with a mixture of wistful bemusement, puzzled wonderment, weary resignation but also a powerful sense of surprised contentedness despite or even in spite of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

The framework within which these sentiments are shared are the outstanding feature of this release. Marek Arnold is, simply put, a phenomenon, a musical dynamo of breathtaking vision and originality. Band member of Toxic Smile, Seven Steps to the Green Door, Flaming Row, Manning, United Progressive Fraternity and Damanek, his resourceful construction and astute arrangements build songs that are delightfully intricate, constantly evolving and packed with unexpected, complex and satisfying transitions. In a nod to what is hopefully the promise of a third Cyril album, the final track, Secret Place (Part 1) is an 18 minute mosaic of absorbing segues, shifting rhythms and changing landscapes.

The combination of all these elements fashion an album which is riveting in scope, gripping in detail and an absolute pleasure to spend time with. There is an exciting sense of character and emotion from a band who are themselves evolving and transitioning and exploring a whole range of progressive avenues and pathways as they do so.

Released 27th May 2016

Buy ‘Paralyzed’ from Progressive Promotion Records