Review – Fire Garden – Far and Near – by Progradar

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“I’ll keep evolving and put that into my songs.”
Alanis Morissette

One of the great pleasures of being a music journalist/reviewer is watching an artist mature from their initial early steps and through their growing career. You see how the raw musical talent becomes focused and more mature to give ever impressive musical releases.

One such artist, for me, is Chicago native Zee Baig and his musical project Fire Garden. From hearing 2012’s debut E.P. ‘The Prelude’ (where I initially became friends with this engaging musician) through 2014’s first full length release ‘Sound Of Majestic Colours’ to this latest album ‘Far and Near’, you can see the increasing skill and artistry, not only in the music but in the songwriting too.

Zee is the mastermind, songwriter, guitarist, lyricist and a founding member of Fire Garden. He is self-taught musician. His main influences are the music of late 60s and early 70s and bands like Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson and classic bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and many more.

Zee has called on the undoubted drumming skills of Jimmy Keegan (Spock’s Beard) on the new release, which also features Jordan Rudess’ keyboard wizardry and is mixed by Bruce Soord. The spectacular artwork is from the feverish mind of the legendary Travis Smith.

Frank Lucas (piano, keyboards, synths), Marc Malitz (bass) and Barry Kleiber (bass) make up the rest of Fire Garden and each adds their own considerable expertise to the melting pot.

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The album opens with title track Far and Near which is a haunting two minute instrumental that drips with pathos, feeling and intense emotion. Dominated by a sentimental piano note, it really strikes a chord with me, leaving me feeling slightly melancholy, but in a good way. There’s Something begins with a delightful strummed guitar before the drums become the driving force. Zee’s vocals lull you into a state of grace with their lush tone before the riff gets a little heavier and the song takes on a more serious feel. The chorus has a great hook and you just seem to be carried along on the wave of sentiment that the track engenders. There’s a slight interlude in the middle of the song, an ominous feeling that we are working up to something as everything slows down to a meditative pace. It’s a laconic and laid back, if intricate, build up to a slow burning guitar solo that hits you in the solar plexus and holds you in place while stripping your soul bare. A nicely judged and intelligent song that shows just how far Zee has come as a songwriter. A thunderously powerful riff is the opening to A New Day, a song that has the feeling of U2 but as if it was played by Metallica, the imperative verse drives on with the urgent vocals and dynamic drums. There’s a mesmerising feel to the heavy riffing and eerie organ note that adds to the wall of sound that is being generated. The slow build to the solo really sets you on edge and then Zee’s coruscating guitar really burns bright. A really compelling and forceful track that holds your attention to the explosive end.

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Now to my favourite song on an album of great tracks, Life of a Drifter is a whimsical and nostalgic song that brings out feelings of hope and regret deep from your soul. The laid back chorus is gentle and touching breaking into a softly sung but heartfelt chorus. There is a sense of not wanting to look back at a sepia tinged past so that some sort of pain or less can remain hidden. Don’t look back, just focus on tomorrow, it really touched a nerve with me and I am moved every time I listen to it. The serenity is broken by clashing drums, guitar and keyboard, a maelstrom that leaves you breathless with its ferocity before a more focused and powerful rendition of the chorus is sung. This is all leading up to an absolute monster of a keyboard outro by the legendary Jordan Rudess, given free rein to let loose his mind-bending virtuosity. Turst me, you’ll be left slack jawed by the brilliance! The slow brooding A Thousand Lost Souls is a superb instrumental that seems to just be boiling under the surface, leaving the tension readily apparent. I love the way it makes the hairs on your arms stand up with its intensity and focus. Once you’ve heard the first note, you daren’t turn it off, it is like it is talking to you in a mystical musical code. War and Peace is a darkly powerful prog-metal track that feels like it has clawed its way up from the bowels of the earth, elemental and alive. The repeated, singular, words, are delivered in a menacing chant before the industrial riff and deliciously evil guitar threaten to take over your mind, leaving you a slave to the rhythm.

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Faint Shadows follows that seriously heavy prog-metal direction with a riff that could topple mountains, primordial and destructive. There’s a feeling of barely controlled chaos that is bubbling under the surface before the ever more potent drumming of Jimmy Keegan breaks free. The vocals begin, almost shamen-like in their delivery, as if they are speaking an incantation and one that draws you in close. You know that something is lurking in the shadows but know not if it is of the darkness or the light, however, you have to follow your instinct and find out. It is a really vivid and dominant song that brooks no argument. Heartfelt, sombre and slightly mournful, the opening notes to Whitelight just leave your heart in your mouth. This is a passionate plea of a song that seems to linger in your subconscious. Zee’s vocals are wistful and dreamlike and you just find yourself left in a trance, able neither to move forwards or back, your attention on every word that you hear. The delicate guitar and keyboards just add to the atmosphere, a song powerful in its contemplation. The mood is broken by a dark-edged riff and frenzied drumbeat before a hypnotic piano brings a feeling of tension and the close of the song. At nearly eleven minutes, Diary Of The Blood Moon is the lengthiest track on the album and hits you straight away as being the most progressive of the songs too with an intricate play off between the drums, guitar and keys. Driven along by Jimmy’s expansive style and Zee’s brooding guitar it is a hectic ride for the uninitiated. Interspersed with interludes of calm and reflection, it is an intense crucible of musical majesty that bestrides this album like a colossal behemoth. The last two minutes raise the bar even higher with a build up of momentum that intensifies with a fiery guitar solo and dominant rhythm section to just leaves you open mouthed in admiration.

So Zee and Fire Garden have raised the bar even higher with this latest release. ‘Far and Near’ is a magnificent album that never loses focus or intensity and, while it is great to see Jordan Rudess and Jimmy Keegan giving their considerable talents to this enterprise, it is very much the product of Zee Baig and Fire Garden’s consummate skill set. Trust me, as an all consuming listen from beginning to end, this is a definite must buy for your music collection.

Released 21st October 2016

Buy ‘Far and Near’ direct from Fire Garden

 

 

 

 

Review – Amadeus Awad – Death Is Just A Feeling

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WARNING – LANGUAGE THAT MAY OFFEND (well, you have to put that don’t you….?)

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.” – Dave Grohl

I was going to start this review by talking about guilty pleasures until I saw the above quote from everyone’s favourite hard rocker Dave Grohl and it did get me thinking and thinking enough to completely change the tac of this review….

Mr Grohl really has a point, maybe we stick too rigidly to our favourite genres and don’t look outside our safety cordon music wise? And, when we dare venture outside and find that there is something different that we really like, why should we feel guilty about it?

It is an old and oft spouted saying but it still rings entirely true, good music really is, just, good music, no matter what style it is and which artist performs it. We tend to make this differentiation a lot more when it comes to music than with anything else such as films, TV or the literary arts where we will dip in and out of many different genres without a care or a by your leave.

How many times have you seen somebody laughed at and dismissed out of hand for listening to a record that doesn’t fit into the cognoscenti or aficionado’s realm or current favourites list? It is just wrong and we should open our minds to other music that we may well actually really enjoy if we just lose the stigma.

Now, after getting off my soapbox (while admitting I can be as guilty as anyone else) let’s talk about what started this dissertation on opening up our closeted musical imagination……..

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Lebanese maestro Amadeus Awad is a progressive metal guitarist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and music producer with an already impressive back catalogue behind him. August 2015 saw him release his latest and most complete album yet, a 47 minute, 6 track concept album called ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’.

Amadeus is always stretching the boundaries with his music and lyrics, and it’s no different with his new album. According to Amadeus:

“This album is the result of my personal experience with death, both the tragic loss of loved ones (Father, Brother and a Best Friend) as well as my own attempt of committing suicide, which I contemplated more than once at a certain stage in my life.”

To this end he has drawn together a stellar list of musicians, as well as Amadeus himself (Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars, Keyboards and Orchestration) this all star lineup includes vocalists Anneke Van GiersbergenArjen LucassenElia Monsef, drummers Jimmy Keegan and Marco MinnemannNareg Nashanikian (cello), Rafi Nashanikian (clarinet) and the narration is splendidly realised by the impressive voice of Dan Harper.

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The album opener Opia has feeling of lightness and an ethereal quality, the first word spoken is ‘Light’ and it is a song that gives hope. The keyboards are uplifting and fill your inner being with a luminosity only matched by the fluid, burnished guitar work. I can see why Dan Harper was used for the part of the narrator, his voice has a calming authority to it and a mellifluous timbre that dances across your psyche. Anneke Van Giersbergen’s delightfully lilting, heavenly voice takes the song to a close with a rarefied grace that is achingly beautiful.

There is no break as we shift up a gear and power into Sleep Paralysis with a dynamic keyboard and pulsating guitar taking up the reins on the powerful introduction. A progressive metal melting pot of great ideas that bounce of the metaphorical walls to give a primordial soup of musical delights. It takes on a more subdued, yet insistent feel before Anneke’s voice chimes in, this time much more dominant and authoritative, yet no less stunning. The melodies are the focus here, the chorus is especially compelling, backed by the superb musicianship, a symbiosis of near-perfect melodic enchantment. The way the track starts to wind down, becoming more subdued, as it reaches the close is expert and inventive, as the acoustic guitar finishes its last note you are left in a place of comparative calm.

The dulcet tones of the narrator return on Monday Morning, this time with a definite edge, a dissonance to them, as if all is not as it should be. There are subliminal questions being asked here and the answers are not all to your liking. The electronic notes that follow seem to be pulling you forward, in anticipation of something coming that could be either good or evil, depending on how you react to it. Potent and influential, you find yourself holding your breath as it seems to come ominously closer. The pace is steady and regular, like the outcome is inevitable so there is no need to rush. There is a deliciously dark rhythm to this song that I find rather disturbing yet can’t help enjoying it….

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The dark journey into hopelessness seems to reach its zenith with Tomorrow Lies. A brooding, haunting tone is added to by the portentous drumming of Jimmy Keegan and it is with a seemingly heavy heart that you continue to listen to the rest of the bleakly appealing song. Elia Monsef’s definitively middle eastern intonation adds a serious gravitas to proceedings, he sings as if his heart is breaking with every word. There is a huge depth of humanity central to this track, a seriousness that leaves you in no illusion as to the outcome of this painful situation. The instrumentation is dazzlingly precise if somewhat subdued and is a testament to the songwriting skill of Amadeus, he can impose his musical brilliance yet take none of the pathos away. The soaring strings add a sheen of humility and respectfulness and the guitar solo leaves you open mouthed and grief-stricken as it winds around your mind. With a definite notion that a song should close just as well as it opens, the ending is once again quite superb as the beguiling strings and guitar bring it all to a close with a final feeling of hopefulness that belies the rest of the track.

Now onto the longest, and my favourite, track on the album. A sombre Cello opens Lonesome Clown adding a meditative and fretful note to the song. Portentous and mysterious with Anneke’s humming and a slightly off-kilter feel, it really does seem to take you out of any comfort zone you thought you were in and leave your senses reeling, open and raw. The vocal begins, earthy and direct, almost as if a spell is being cast. There is a sinister undertone to all that is happening here and you really feel as if you have been caught of guard and dumped in a musical version of Dante’s Inferno. An all knowing presence seems to be at your side edging you on as the song builds, becoming more and more oppressive and yet addictive at the same time. Wickedly controlling it shows the slightly malevolent genius that resides in the mind of Amadeus Awad and is perhaps more progressive and definitely more metal than the other songs on the album. There is an odd, siren like build up that seems to break over a wash of mellifluous keyboards before the sinuous, vividly disturbing guitar solo takes  you on a dark journey through your own soul. The outspoken and expressive vocal and acoustic section that follows seems to stand on its own adding another level of finesse before exploding outwards in a shower of inspiration. The song closes with Dan’s expressive voice-over, you take a breath and inwardly applaud, shaking your head in amazement, it is that good.

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The final track on the album begins with a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, strings and expressive drums. Temporary sees Arjen Lucassen take vocal duties and his eloquent voice is perfectly matched to the instrumentation. Melancholy yet inspirational at the same time, it reminds me of American prog rockers Spock’s Beard and is a really involving, catchy song that seems to want to comfort you with its warmth and integrity yet there is always a sad note in the background. A soulful clarinet takes centre stage before the rest of the instruments join, adding layers of intense musical flavour and Arjen’s voice is always present adding a focal point on which you can hold on to. Marco Minneman takes on the drum duties with aplomb adding a wistful mood to the already mournful ambience imbued. Things are building up to something here and when Amadeus lets rip with an incredible, soul searching guitar solo, you are left flabbergasted. Is that moisture in your eyes? it was in mine as it totally blew me away, utterly magnificent. The song, and album, finally come to a close with a final narrated section, this time by Arjen himself, and you are left to reflect on what has just transpired before you.

Short by modern standards at 47 minutes, you feel like you can listen to this gem for hours and never get bored. Deliciously dark, it is music that takes you to the depths of your inner being and back again, there has been nothing quite like it in this year of musical zeniths. Amadeus Awad and his group of distinguished musicians have delivered not only a superb piece of music but, what to me is, a part of themselves that will live on forever as fantastic art. A triumph in every sense of the word. A guilty pleasure? No, just an intense one!

Released 20th August 2015 via Melodic Revolution Records

Buy Death IS Just A Feeling from MRR on bandcamp