Progradar Recommends (Episode 2) – PENNA, Soul Enema, Jim Griffin & Obscura

Welcome to another edition of Progradar Recommends, today I’ll talk to you about music from PENNA, Soul Enema, Jim Griffin & Obscura in this selection of bite-size reviews…

PENNA – SubLevels

Multi-instrumentalist Dave Penna first came to notariety in the early 90’s as the drummer with Long Island tech-thrashers Kronin.  Since then he has worked with Spastic Ink, Ad Astra, Ronnie Spector, Planet Hate, and members of The Coasters and The Del Vikings.

Hailing from New York, his first solo EP was 2016’s ‘Chemical God’ but ‘SubLevels’ is more progressive and less dark and has a real hard rock vibe that reminds me of Foo Fighters and Nirvana with the fuzzy guitar and hard-edged rhythm section. In fact, the exemplary drums and bass are the real driving force behind the entire EP and a comparison to Craig Blundell and Nick Beggs would not be out of place.

The EP was written and performed entirely by Penna, recorded with assistance from producer Chris Fasulo (Ill Niño, Chico Hamilton) and will be mastered by Dave Roman (Birdthrower, Leroy Burgess).

Criminally short with only four tracks, it really only gives you taste of what this talented musician is about and I, for one, am hoping his next outing will be a full length album. Intricate and complicated in places yet there is still an instant accessibility at the core and a jazz/fusion subtext that keeps everything very interesting.

Released 4th November 2017

Order ‘SubLevels’ from bandcamp here

Soul Enema – Of Clans And Clones

Okay, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way, I’m not keen on the band name and all its connotations. Hopefully that won’t stop people from listening to the music because, boy, do you really get a listening experience that is intense and madder than Mad Jack McMad but utterly fulfilling as well.

Like a more intensified version of Bent Knee this band deliver cooky and in-your-face progressive rock/metal that is a bit off-putting at first but, once you get into the same frame of mind as these talented Israelis, you will not be disappointed.

Soul Enema’s bio has this gem of a sentence, “The band combines conventional melodic rock aspects with a different, occasionally more experimental way of writing.”

‘More Experimental’? You can say that again, the middle-eastern influences are obviously there but it is the free thinking unconventional music that really knocks you off your feet in a good way. Featuring a who’s-who of modern progressive metal including Yossi Sassi and Arjen Lucassen, this is one album that everyone should try at least once and i have a sneaking suspicion that quite a few will come back for more…

The Aral Sea Trilogy has to be heard to be believed:

Released June 23rd 2017.

Order Of ‘Clans and Clones’ from bandcamp here

Jim Griffin – To A Far City

Zombie Picnic’s guitarist (James to his friends) has a solo project that is far away from the psychedelic instrumental space rock that is their usual fare. A much more personal affair, there is a lush and nostalgic feel to the music, a feel of lazy, hazy days gone by. You could almost imagine that the trials and tribulations of this modern world never existed as the five tracks (plus bonus) take you on a spiritual journey of self discovery.

Did those near perfect worlds of Enid Blyton ever exist? I’m guessing James thinks so as it is that sepia tinged world that his music keeps depositing me in.

Do we believe too much in things as they are? Superstitious reverence for that which exists.

Take an hour out of your day, turn your phone off and listen to this delightful musical peregrination that was inspired by, ‘The Narrow Road to the Interior’ by Matsuo Bashō (Genroku 2), “The Quest of Iranon” by H.P. Lovecraft (February 28th, 1921) and a rainy Summer’s day at Derrigimlagh at half three in the afternoon.

Tender vocals and a plethora of verdant acoustic guitars are king on this wonderful release that had me feeling like I was intruding on James’ most private life and yet this accomplished musician is one of the most welcoming I know. A wonderfully fulfilling collection of songs that surely make the world a better place.

Released 15th November 2017

Order ‘To A Far City’ from bandcamp here

Ostura – The Room

Since the demise of Dream Theater into a pompous, self-obsessed shadow of their original selves, progressive metal has been searching for a new standard bearer. Some have come and tried and delivered some rather tasty albums but none have reached that pinnacle…yet…

However Lebanon based Middle-Eastern collective Ostura may yet lay claim to that mantle with their ambitious new concept album ‘The Room’ which has many movers and shakers in the genre lauding it as the next best thing and, as of now, you can count me in that group too. A grandiose cinematic storyline about a social recluse girl who takes refuge in a room. Locked in with her thoughts, fears, and ambitions, the girl’s imagination turns the room into an endless universe where she is the creator. The story tackles the notions of fear, perfection, social anxiety, ambitions, rage, power, and the struggle between the creator and the creation.

A massive production consisting of performers from 12 countries alongside the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the core band, ‘The Room’ is a stunning achievement which brings Ostura to the forefront of progressive and symphonic metal artists and will literally blow you away with its power, intensity and musical aplomb.

The storyline is captivating and engrossing as the two vocalists (Youmna Jreissati and Elia Monsef) adroitly guide you through the events as they unfold and the utterly impressive musical score provides perfect accompaniment to deliver symphonic/progressive metal opera that amazes and dumbfounds with equal measure.

It is nothing short of a musical triumph from the first note to the last and should see this thrilling band ascend to the top rung of the ladder.

Released 23rd February 2018

Buy/Stream ‘The Room’ at this link

So, there you have it, another four albums I think you should buy, keep your eyes out for the next edition of Progradar Recommends coming your way soon…



Review – Zombie Picnic – Rise of a New Ideology – by Progradar

Let’s get something straight from the off, there are no zombies and (unfortunately for the hungry ones out there) no sign of any picnic of any variety but, what this striking album cover does contain is a very intriguing and involving six tracks of mainly instrumental music.

There seems to be a real clamour for that instrumental album with ‘snippets of archival voice recordings’ at the moment. Take Public Service Broadcasting and Nordic Giants for starters, and I’m a fully paid up member of the appreciation society!

Now Northern Ireland’s Zombie Picnic return with their second album and this time around the post-rock progressive four-piece presents six connected instrumental tracks spanning the two sides of this new LP. Combining a vast array of progressive musical influences with snippets of archival voice recordings (there you go, told you!) from thinkers and futurists of past and present, ‘Rise of a New Ideology’ delves into some dark and ambiguous places.

What we get is six pieces of thoughtful, intelligent music that really get you involved in this album. Opener Democracy Cannot Survive, with its slow burning, dark and sombre feel, starts things as they mean to go on. The contemplative, methodical rhythm section really gives focus to this song and the wispy, spaced out guitars take you on a magical mystery tour. It is nine minutes of mesmerising, metronomic music that draws you in to its earnest embrace. They See Science As Dangerous has a real west coast feel to it with the more psychedelic guitars and edgy drumming, where the previous track was all softness and rounded edges there’s a sharper, more blunt feel to the music on this song. Pugnacious, punky and in your face, yet with a 70’s feel, it is a well thought out piece of music. DEFCON is as laid back and chilled as they come. Nostalgia is there in droves and it has a lazy and hazy summer feel to it, life is good! It opens up into quicker paced, more insistent track with some stylish guitar playing but it never loses that twinkle in its eye or that skip in its step.

There seems to be almost a sea-change as we come to track four where the spaced out, ambient sound takes a sharp ninety degree turn and becomes a lot more alt-rock and punky. Life-Support Systems sees an urgent, jangly guitar note take over and the rhythm section seems to press the fast forward button. It’s a clever contrast in styles and gives the album added impetus. There are a few lulls thrown in to give some context and the guitar playing really does go up a notch, they’re a really talented bunch these guys. See Beyond sees the band take another chill pill and give us another luscious and relaxed track where life seems to move at a much more easygoing pace and becomes nonchalant and spontaneous. The music takes on a breezy feel in places but there is always that feelgood undercurrent. Bang! That’s the hit to the auditory senses that the raging intro to Anger in Storage (Denial Will Follow) gives you, a violent mini-storm of angry music that blows you away. There is a calming of the storm but that uneasy, restless feel remains and you’re never far away from a Nirvana-like blast of guitars and drums to lull you out of any false sense of security you may have built up. An impassioned and cleverly indignant end to what has been an intense whirlwind thirty seven minutes of music.

I’m a big fan of music that takes me in a new direction and gives me a little something that I haven’t had before. The exemplary musicianship and well-crafted songs on ‘Rise of a New Ideology’ take an acknowledged genre and take it to the next level. Zombie Picnic are a band who are going places very quickly, just don’t expect rotting flesh and sausage rolls along the way… 

Released 9th March 2018

Order ‘Rise of a New Ideology’ from bandcamp here