‘Circles in Time’ is the third, and latest, album fromJohn Holden who has, over a period of just 4 years, written and created three quite different albums that are all rooted in his love of progressive music by the likes of Yes, Genesis and many others. John lives about 5 miles from me, on the border between Staffordshire and Cheshire, although I actually came to know him through Facebook and his recognising our shared love of music in reviews I had written for DPRP at the time.
His first album, ‘Capture Light’, came out in 2018, followed by ‘Rise and Fall’ in early 2020. Like the rest of us, John has been in lockdown and has wisely used his time to accelerate the release of his next album which has emerged as the already mentioned ‘Circles in Time’.
This new album marks a big change in how John has approached the music, in that he has delivered a truly epic piece in the last track, KV62, which sits comfortably alongside five other songs of varying length yet all bearing the same hallmark of quality. John has called on many of the musicians who graced his earlier albums, especially using the keyboard and arrangement skills of Vikram Shanker more prominently than he did on ‘Rise and Fall’. Once again the cover and booklet are full of information and excellent pictures that both draw the eye and also unfold the mysteries contained in the songs.
The album opens with Avalanche and a fast and muscular riff section from Eric Potapenko and strong vocals from Jean Pageau of Mystery fame. The song is about social media and how folks use it to slander and undermine others. Liner notes say this song is a response to all the negativity and blaming and shaming that exists in the social media, the sun will rise in the morning and the world will keep on turning. It is a strong opener and a good statement of intent that sets you up for all that is to follow. In this case this is the song High Line. The High Line is a real place in New York and is in actuality an elevated greenway or linear park that cuts through the city’s west side. It was constructed along the setting of an old freight line that went through very rough neighbourhoods, in fact, it was so bad it they christened it ‘Death Alley’. The song has a very jazzy vibe to it with some lovely saxophone from Peter Jones, who also provides the smooth vocals for the song. This is a wonderfully evocative piece that nods its hat to Blue Note Jazz and also to Steely Dan.
The next song, The Secret of Chapel Field, is very much a grower and is based on a story John discovered whilst looking at gravestones in his village church graveyard. The song reworks the known facts that Mary Malpas, a 15-year-old girl, was murdered by Thomas Bagguley at Chapel Field in Hunterston. He later killed himself, thus avoiding justice. This sombre song is graced by vocals from Marc Atkinson (Riversea) and Sally Minnear (Celestial Fire) and the mournful violin lines of Frank Van Essen (Iona). It is a fine track and its words will stay with you long after the song has concluded.
Next John whisks us off to Andalucía in Spain for the track Dreams of Cadiz where we encounter the spirit of flamenco, imbued by the fluid guitar from the nimble hands and fingers of Oliver Day alongside a graceful piano. This song is an instrumental piece that captures the fire and passion of the dance and is duly accompanied with dramatic flourishes, handclaps and foot stomping that all add to the atmosphere of this piece.
The penultimate track is Circles which is a very personal song for the protagonist Libby who is an ovarian cancer survivor who has known, and continues to have, serious health issues. Here in this song, she encourages us to live in the moment and not to grieve but instead to be grateful for all that we are and all we have now in the present. The song also encourages us with the power that love brings to any situation. It is beautifully realised with the gracious voice of Sally Minnear and some gentle and subtle arrangements.
This leads us into the atmospheric world of KV62 and ancient Egypt and the discoveries made by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon during their archaeological expeditions of the 1920’s where they uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. This song has narration by Jeremy Irons and vocals from Joe Payne and Peter Jones. The song reveals the agony of the protagonists as they searched fruitlessly for the tomb and pushed themselves financially to do so until they finally succeeded. The music is suitably Arabian sounding with some great guitar from Zaid Crowe.
The Wonderful Things segment has some fabulously wild synthesizer passages from Vikram accompanied by fine piano and percussion from John. This section sees the death of Lord Carnarvon from Tutankhamun’s curse. It was actually an infection from a mosquito bite that killed him, however the curse of Tutankhamen sold more newspapers so the truth of his demise was sacrificed at the altar of the media and the fable then famously spread.
Lord Carnarvon had sold exclusive rights to the tale to The Times (Pre Murdoch, when it was a worthy paper and not the rag it is nowadays). The song is lifted by extended instrumental parts interspersed between the vocals that tell of the press and media frenzy about the discovery and how Carter came up against Egyptian Bureaucracy. A largely disillusioned Carter returned to London where, amongst the parties and media storm, he died impoverished, penniless and alone. The song is epic in its scope, however it is ultimately a sad tale of loss and missed opportunities.,
John had Seen the Tutankhamun exhibition in London in the 1972 at the British Museum and has been to the valley of the Kings on several occasions, KV62 being the name designated to the site of the tomb in the Valley of The Kings.
The whole album is simply fabulous, somewhat mellow in parts but with an astounding lyricism and magnificent musicianship. John Holden has done it again and pulled another blinder of an album out of his metaphorical hat. It is one that really impresses and I highly recommend this album full of modern-day prog and brilliant songs, here’s to album 4 John!
John Holden’s‘Rise and Fall’ has been in my possession for a while now and I was very gratified to be given access to this remarkable album some three months prior to its official release. I was also very pleased that I had been thanked in the album credits, that having been an ambition of mine for quite some time.
‘Rise and Fall’ is the second album from John Holden and features substantial input and assistance from several core musicians including Joe Payne, Oliver Day and Oliver Wakeman, Sally Minnear, Jean Pageau and Michel St Pere from Mystery, not forgetting the always remarkably impressive Peter Jones. If, like me, you enjoyed John’s debut release ‘Capture Light’ (still available from John via Bandcamp) then I’m sure you will love this one too.
The album consists of just seven pieces, they are, however, lengthy and
well written. It is also expertly recorded and produced by John himself while the
whole album was mastered by Robin Armstrong of Cosmograf fame.
The guest list of collaborators is impressive with each bringing their
own skills to bear. Especially worthy of note are the keyboard skills and
musical arrangements of Vikram Shankar, a
musician who is not very widely known yet. The album is a great place to
discover him for yourself, he certainly looks to be a musician with a bright
future awaiting him.
As a side note, the packaging on this release is again impeccable, as are
the extensive sleeve notes in the booklet which give a deeper insight into each
of these tracks.
So, without further ado, let’s dive right on in then shall we…
The opening track, Leap of Faith, features Peter Jones on vocals, recorder and whistles, in fact Peter
bookends the album with a further performance on the last track Ancestors and Satellites with both
tracks sharing a recurrent musical passage, albeit it in a different key.
Leap of Faith concerns
itself with the antics of Eilmer, A
Benedictine monk who lived at Malmesbury Abbey in the 11th century
and one who was fascinated by the flight of the birds and bats that lived around
the priory He had it in his mind to fly like they did so attempted (like Daedalus, the Father of Icarus of Greek
mythology fame) to fly using wings he had made attached to his back and arms. You
can read the story in the song lyrics but I can say that gravity prevailed! This
piece is very moving and very atmospheric with Peter Jones really
bringing the tale to life in his own inimitable way.
This is a fantastic opener that sets you up for all that follows, which, in this instance, is the superb Rise and Fall voiced by Jean Pageau of Mystery. This talented vocalist gives a very emotionally raw vocal delivery that makes you feel his anguish as he sings of the relationship that one has with both their addictions and the person they care about, who also suffers the brunt of this addiction. This is a very honest song and another classy piece of work.
The next track, The Golden Thread, I consider
a truly beautiful song, one that has extra depths to it as it is a requiem
written by John’s wife Elizabeth who is a cancer survivor. She wrote this to
express her deep love for John and also so that, if she were not around, the
song and her memory would live on as a musical legacy of her life and struggle.
This piece of music is very gentle with an almost classical tone to it and is
sung by the remarkable talents of John Payne and Lauren Nolan as a duet, not being written as such initially but
Lauren’s voice worked so well with Joe’s that adaptations were made to make it work
in this way. The sentiments that this song espouses and expresses are both very
warm, loving and deeply profound indeed with Oliver Wakeman and Vikram Shankar playing on the song to magnificent effect.
The music reaches a crescendo before fading away to the harder edged Dark Arts on which Billy Sherwood provides a bass part in the style of the late great Chris Squire, playing the sort of bass runs the great man would have done whilst alive. The track also features a spoken excerpt of Francis Urquhart of House of Cards fame, setting the tone for a politically charged song about the abuse of power by those in charge. Once again Joe Payne vocalises with real passion and power to deliver a truly remarkable track along with more fine keyboards from Oliver Wakeman. I heard this song in an unmixed state six months ago and was suitably impressed then, and still am, by its magnificent, powerful delivery and content that is right on point.
The next track is Hereticwhich speaks of how ISIS destroyed lots of priceless artefacts in Palmyra
in Iraq after killing the 82 year old custodian Khaled Al-Assad at the
site and smashing 3000 year old plus pieces in a show of cultural terrorism. He
was beheaded in front of his family and his body was then hung in the central
square. Again, whilst a dark song, there is hope that the displaced peoples
will one day return and, as John says, “Empires rise and fall, ideologies
are replaced but still the healing power of love endures.”Sally Minnear’s vocals are excellent on this too as she sings in
tandem with Joe Payne.
After the Storm is about a
journey one woman takes and utilises the weather outside as a metaphor for
storms in her life and the ultimate realisation that, eventually, the storms
both outside and inside her will pass leaving a calmer and clearer path ahead.
This is mostly an acoustic piece and that adds a good contrast for the album
with some fine playing from Oliver Day.
The final song, Ancestors and Satellites, returns
to the opening section of Leap of Faith as Eilmer
saw Haley’s comet twice in his lifetime with John using this comet theme again
to show how little we’ve learnt in the days gone past. This song has vocal
contributions from Peter Jones, Joe Payne, Sally Minnear and Lauren Nolan but mainly its Peter who sings this so delicately
and with real warmth and all set to suitably atmospheric keyboards from John,
and Vikram Shankar.
The song talks about cave paintings over 40,000 years ago and also of the Apollo mission that landed on the moon in July 1969 and of the footprints they left there for ever. There follows an ensemble of synthesizers playing a multi tracked passage to great effect and the massed vocals singing the chorus once again before the comet melody returns once again to bring the song towards its impressive finale. Another thing of note is the fantastic and powerful drum work from Nick D’Virgilio. On this track and throughout most of the album Nick adds his magic and his drive to power these pieces along in a most delightful and satisfying manner.
The vocals are impassioned and strong and Michael St Pere’s epic
guitar line is heard, along with a bank of synths, sounding very epic and majestic
to bring this fantastic album to a fine conclusion.
To think that this is only the work of John, Elizabeth and a few select friends funded from the sales of his earlier album and without and label support is remarkable. It shows John Holden to be a man with both vision and a purpose. I for one applaud him hugely for his fine efforts on this most excellent album. This is going to be one of the albums of the year for those who take notice.
ZIO, former Karnataka drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi’s new outfit featuring Hayley Griffiths and Joe Payne on vocals, have released a stunning new music video for first single ‘X-Ray’, directed and produced by Crystal Spotlight and the single is mixed by Marco Casaluce of MARC&CHEESE
The full length version of the new single will be released on all digital platforms on the 21st October.
ZIO also features Franck Carducci keyboad player Olivier Castan, guitarist Marc Fascia and New Device bassist Liz Hayes. The band made their live debut at France’s Crescendo Festival this year and are working on their debut album.
Ex-Enid frontman, Joe Payne relaunches as soloist “That Joe Payne”, announced direct from his website, published Friday 1st December 2017. He states, “After months of hard work, writing and recording, I am delighted to announce my return to music after a long and much needed rest.” Referencing to his updated name, Payne explains “If you’re wondering where “that” came from… It’s a reminder to myself never to allow my anxiety to break me again.”
Payne is best known for his work as frontman of progressive rock outfit, The Enid (2011-2016). In April 2016, shortly after the release of their last album, Dust, Payne fell ill with depression and anxiety. Unable to work, he officially announced his departure from The Enid in September 2016. His personal achievements include being voted Best Male Vocalist for two years running in the Prog Magazine Readers’ Poll (2014 & 2015) and three Progressive Music Award Nominations.
The singer songwriter has launched pre-sales for his debut single, ‘I Need a Change’ via his online shop. He describes the song as “the most heartfelt thing I’ve ever done” and “8 minutes and 23 seconds of pure unadulterated me.”
The music, written and arranged entirely by Payne, was brought to life in the studio with the help of three other recently retired Enid members; Max Read (singer and producer), Nic Willes (drums and bass) and Duncan McLaughlan (guitar). Artwork and typography have also been credited to Louis Sidis and Martin Kielty.
The record will be released in sync with the artist’s first live performance in almost 2 years. A re-launch show in his hometown of Northampton, at a converted cinema called The Picturedrome. Payne tells his followers he’ll be performing “the best of my back catalogue” for this one-off event, including songs from The Enid and other collaborations.
Tickets on sale now at www.seetickets.com.
I Need a Change (Single)
A: I Need a Change
B: Moonlit Love
Bonus Tracks (CD ONLY):
3. I Need a Change (45 Edit)
4. I Need a Change (Piano & Lead Vocals)
5. I Need a Change (String Quintet & Lead Vocals)
6. I Need a Change (Choir & Lead Vocals)
7. I Need a Change (Full Arrangement, no Lead Vocals)
Life never stands still, the world rotates on its axis at around 1000mph (it’s less as you get North but you get my drift!) and day becomes night. The years pass quicker, or so it seems, and the sheer volume of music that is released gets bigger and bigger all the time.
Because of this it is impossible for me to hear every new release that would perhaps pique my musical curiosity and it pains me to think that I will have missed some gems as the clock keeps ticking. However, I can console myself with the wonderful releases that I do get to hear and enjoy.
I’ve been talking to John Holden about his great musical collaboration ‘Capture Light’ for well over a year now and I was honoured to be one of the first to receive the completed article a couple of months ago. I have listened to it multiple times and now feel ready to write my review…
Over two years in the making, an immersive and evolving album opens with the Joe Payne sung track Tears From The Sun. A symphonic and operatic tour-de-force featuring Oliver Wakeman’s keyboards, it has a feel of where The Enid could be now if they hadn’t imploded. After a quelled opening the bombast begins with multi-layered instrumentation before Joe’s distinctive vocal gives the track life and shape. As opening tracks go, this really does take some beating with John’s great music being complimented by his and Elizabeth Buckley’s fine lyrical accomplishment. A complex musical mosaic that keeps your rapt attention all the way through, Joe is on fine form and gives the song a flamboyant drama.
Crimson Skytakes a more symphonic rock oriented route with Julie Gater’s vocal giving it a Celtic rock infused tone. Hard edged and heavier, there’s a feel of early Karnataka to my ears. The powerful music is complimented perfectly by Julie’s dulcet tones, especially on the catchy chorus. Listen out for the superb guitar solo from Billy Sherwood (yes, THE Billy Sherwood) which adds a real sheen of class to what is already a pretty impressive song. I’m already beginning to love the diversity that John has brought to this album and we’re only two tracks in!
John proves he can tell a great story with the excellent title track, full of drama and intrigue, you’ll have to buy the CD to get the whole story but the musical journey is an engrossing and compelling one that will hold your attention throughout and I had to read the credits twice to realise it was Joe Payne who was performing the fantastic vocals again, this guy is pure talent. Oliver Wakeman’s elegant piano playing once again graces the song and adds real pathos to what is already a dramatic and emotional piece of music and let’s not forget Oliver Day’s stylish guitar, lute and mandolin. Let’s be fair, music has forever been about telling stories and John Holden is already proving to be very adept at it.Capture Light will be one of the most enjoyable and absorbing history lessons you’ll ever have…
A choral mantra that could fit a Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical, Ancient of Days is an uplifting track that just seems to bring a ray of sunshine along with it with it’s tribal feeling music and the great vocals of Jean Pageau, ably backed by Lee-Anne Beecher and Marc Atkinson. I could quite imagine this song being part of something like Lion King or Joseph with its great theatrical feel. A real shout out must go to Emily Dolan Davies whose skill on the drum kit is utterly evident here.
A song all about Jesse Owens and THAT race in Berlin, One Race is possibly the most progressive track on the album while not being that progressive (if that makes sense?). Joe Payne delivers another consummate vocal performance and the harmonised parts with Max Read give a real Celtic overtone, in fact the whole track reminds me of Clannad or Enya in places. It’s another well crafted song with a great storyline that works brilliantly along with the rest of the tracks on the album and the guitar playing just gives added impetus to the sensation of running along with the narrative.
Now onto the one track that I didn’t click with straightaway, Dreamcatchingseemed a bit trite and twee to me on first listen, not quite gelling with the other songs on the album. Trying to explain the legend behind dreamcatchers using spoken word, song and music, this piece of music will either captivate or alienate in my opinion. Repeated listens have led me to appreciate it a lot more, while not actually loving it like I do the majority of the other songs. What does work very well though is the lovely flute and sax work from the ubiquitous Peter Jones who does a good job of adding whimsy and warmth as well as backing vocals along with Julie Gater.
London Grammar, that’s what I thought when I heard the first ultra-cool strains from No Man’s Land with it’s jazzy backdrop to Julie Gater’s silky smooth vocals. A song for lazy days in hazy summers, its chilled and easygoing vibe seems to seep into your very being. The feel good atmosphere seems to infuse every instrument, Gary O’Toole’s polished drum playing and Oliver Wakeman’s relaxed piano and keyboards are the height of sophistication.
A dreamy and contemplative song, Seaglass Hearts is full of longing and the vocals give pause with their elegant reminiscing. A nice interplay between the voices of Peter Jones and Julie Gater give a modern folk feel to the track, one full of wonder and playfulness along with Peter’s soulful sax playing. A sentimental ending to the album, enforced by the sparse piano that fades us out to a close.
A captivating journey through the mystical and historical, ‘Capture Light’ is an accessible, melodic tour-de-force that reveals more of its hidden depths with each listen. John Holden has collected an impressive group of musicians and given us a release that could well be a highlight of the year already.
To be still at the forefront of progressive rock over forty years since their inception in 1974 The Enid are the definition of ‘enduring’ as is their popularity with their fanbase of enthusiastic supporters.
Their unique and individualistic style of progressive rock does not appeal to all but, when you are hooked by the beauty, efficacy and intricacy of it all, you will become a lifelong follower.
The band use music as a saga teller, creating huge soundscapes and classical influences to lead you on an all encompassing musical journey that will captivate and enrapture your sensibilities.
An excerpt from the band history on the website goes on to say….
“Formed among friends in 1974 The Enid invented a school of intelligent powerful romantic popular music which is unique to them. It is now clear that over more than thirty years they have developed an exceptional approach to music creation in the sense that there are no generic limitations whatever placed on bands ability to create their music.
The Enid “school of art” for want of a better description, is free from constraints of template rock/pop where rhythm, harmony and melody are invariably dictated by the traditions, prejudices and limitations associated with style.
Under the tutelage of Robert John Godfrey, The Enid set out to avoid the obvious traps; the learned/received riff based music which distinguishes so much rock – the well trodden harmonic progressions – familiar melodic lines and stock-in-trade rhythms.
They were also the first band to be funded entirely by their fans which became the obvious way ahead after losing their recording contract with the now defunct PYE records. This was a revolutionary concept when first deployed in the early 1980’s and led to the current situation with bands as diverse as Marillion, Radiohead and Hawkwind following this lead.”
There have been many changes to the band line-up over the years, the current being founder members Robert John Godfrey (pianist, composer and mastermind) and Dave Storey (drums), vocalist and charismatic frontman Joe Payne, Jason Ducker (guitar and lots of other stuff), Max Read (bass, keyboards and loads of other stuff) and Dominic Tofield (drums and dab hand at design).
There have been many albums down the years yet 2012’s ‘Invicta’ saw a relative resurgence for this niche, cult band. The Enid have followed this up with ‘The Bridge’, the first in a trilogy of albums which will focus on the development of members Joe Payne, Jason Ducker and Max Read.
On this release Robert and Joe wanted to further explore the classical elements of the band’s music in finer detail. The orchestral arrangements and vocals are accompanied by Jason’s symphonic guitar textures and Max’s choral arrangements. The stunning artwork is the exceptional work of drummer Dominic Tofield and gives this release an indicative gravitas as soon as you see it.
‘The Bridge’ is a collection of mainly re-imagined versions of songs from the vast back catalogue of the band and a bit of a risky one at that as it feature next to no percussive elements at all, only relying on the amazing piano skills of Robert and Joe’s impressive vocal skills to deliver the expected symphonic power.
Earthborn takes a delicate route to introduce the album with the vocals gradually increasing in force backed by the empathetic piano and wind instruments to deliver a romantically inspired opening that could have come straight out of London’s West End theatres. Gentle, humble and yet with a steely core, it captivates you with an uplifting grace. Atmospheric and almost operatic in its delivery ‘Til We’re Old is a brief but powerful piece where the voice and piano provide impressive counterpoints to each other with a slightly suspenseful and quizzical note. What it lacks in length it certainly makes up with substance.
Dark Corner of the Sky opens with a hushed piano and then Joe’s dulcet vocals join in what is a slightly sombre sounding beginning. Joe Payne’s heartfelt delivery is as seductive as it is powerful, almost beseeching you as it impacts on your psyche. Max Read’s sympathetic choral arrangement delivers an ethereal feeling, a seductive spell that you never want to break. Now to a track that seems to split opinion, Bad Men has a nervous jocularity to it with its simple (yet effective) lyrics and ever present hint of mild insanity. One reviewer who was less than impressed said: “it is a track that tries its hardest to be politically relevant to British politics, yet falls flat with lyrics.” I have to disagree, to me it has a hint of the a melodramatic Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera to it, slightly tongue in cheek. It flows majestically in places and, in others, hammers at you like a persistent and petulant child. Not my favourite track on the album but one that rises above the merely good with its sense of humour.
The introduction to My Gravity lifts you up and takes you away to a place of pomp and circumstance and classical beauty. For all you know, you could be at the Royal Albert Hall listening to some classical masterpiece before it segues into an engrossing cinematic style that would befit a 1950’s Hollywood blockbuster. There is a vivid melodrama at the heart of this affecting song. Joe’s voice has a tender catch to it and the choral arrangements once again impress. As impressive as it is on record, this would be an almighty piece of music in a live setting as Joe reaches the heights with his fervent and earnest voice and the whole track has you committed from the first note, a superb and enduring song. Adding lyrics to previous instrumentals is the USP of this latest album and that can be seen to the best and most striking effect on Wings (a reworking of the track ‘La Rage’ from 1988 release ‘The Seed and the Sower) where Joe’s deeply moving lyrics are undeniably the icing on the cake of a wondrous track. Deeply moving and emotional, it is the highlight of this arresting record. Starting from humble beginnings, the vocals dance around you and insinuate your every pore, like a sinuous vocal dance around your aural receptors. Ardent and profound, there is a sincerity deeply ingrained in this incredibly passionate and poignant song. The musical arrangements are precise and yet flow with a allure and artistry and help deliver a profoundly stirring and moving work of musical art.
First Light takes the sophisticated choral arrangements to another level. The voices intertwining and harmonising to brilliant effect. A slow and deliberate tempo holds you in sway as the music washes over you to leave you in a musical state of grace. The whole album is composed of music that demands your attention and makes you stop what you’re doing and concentrate on what is put before you and no more so than on this singular slice of wonderment. The segue into Autumn is seamless, your trance like state retained. This time the music is just as conducive to your utterly relaxed and calm state of mind, providing a perfect foil for the beguiling voice of Joe Payne. When the song opens up and releases its full potential you are knocked back by the power and the glory in its ultimate wisdom, the ending an uplifting culmination of all that has come before.
When you listen to ‘The Bridge’ the merely good is transformed into the sublime and exalted.The Enid have delivered a set of songs that enable you to take time away from your hectic life and give you a melodic treat of great magnitude, the closest thing to a legal high, an oasis of calm in a world of chaos. Yes, it will not appeal to all with its delicate sensibilities but, for me, it is something that, once I have heard, I cannot ever do without.
“Music is the art of thinking with sounds, it is philosophy…..
Every chord, every word tells a story. If you listen, you will know its meaning…..”
Take a minute to read that quote and let it sink in, understand its very meaning. Even some of the music that is on popular radio and in the charts has a narrative at its heart, it is not all bubblegum pop (well, the majority of it is to be fair).
In the musical world that I inhabit the writers of the songs are musical bards, they tell stories of love and happiness and of loss and sadness and these affect the listener deep to their core. It is a skill that few have but it can take over your world and move you to a different place where all that matters is the song.
It isn’t just the words either, the music itself can take on a life of its own and affect you in just the same manner. The beauty inherent in an amazing piece of music can make you laugh, smile or cry in much the same way that a well written novel or piece of prose can.
I have oft written about how a new piece of music can come from out of nowhere and really move me. I think that those that are least expected are quite often the best surprises and, like misfortunes, they seldom come alone…
It was due to my friendship with Linus Kåse of Swedish progressive giants Änglagård that I first heard about Methexis, the progressive rock project of Greek musician Nikitas Kissonas and discovered the two albums that have so far been released by this talented and eclectic musician. Who is he? I hear you ask well, let’s find out….
Nikitas Kissonas was born in 1980 and he is a graduated guitarist and composer. He works as a music teacher and has collaborated with many groups and in many and diverse performances. As well as the Methexisproject, in which he expresses his agony in the rock genre, he also composes contemporary acoustic music and he is hoping to succeed in marrying the two into something truly progressive.
The Methexis project was created by Nikitas in 2011 following his need to record material he had gathered throughout the years while being a member of alternative Greek bands such as Verbal Delirium andYianneis.
The debut album “The Fall Of Bliss” was released at the same year and Nikitas played most of the instruments except for the drums (Nikos Miras) and the piano on ‘Lines On A Bust’ (Jargon).
February 2015 saw the release of ‘Suiciety’, A concept album about the exterior influences a human gets from his childhood, the interior research for a guiding instrument, the exposition on a suicidal society that doesn’t listen to the clear warnings and the unavoidable collapse.
The album features members of The Enid, Änglagård, Birds & Buildings, Agentsof Mercy and Yianneis.
‘Fall of Bliss’ – the review
A laconic introduction starts Eradicated Will, a coruscating guitar note ambling along before a slightly laid back, sardonic vocal begins. Very much in the vein of traditional progressive rock, there is also a dramatic edge to the song. Nikitas has a powerful voice with a slight affectation that adds to the drama. The keyboards add a sinister note to the track as it meanders thoughtfully through your mind, the delicate acoustic guitar adding a subliminal note that is lighter than the rest of the track. When the chorus erupts it does so with a forceful edge that adds to the theatrics, an excellent start to the album. Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes has an introduction that is all Muse to my ears with harmonised vocals and a classical edge before a strong bass line drags it along. The vocal section that follows is different, almost sounding like a computerised harmony but it works really well. Keyboards and bass are key in this track that really does run like a storyline as it glides along with its graceful demeanour. The intricate instrumental bridge is very 70’s prog and adds precision to the finesse of this engaging song.
Those Howling Wolves sees Nikitas take on a more theatrical persona with the emphasised and enunciated vocals taking flight and becoming central to the performance. The music is more of a back up on this acoustical treat. Its benign and genial feel lulls you into a form of stasis as the keyboards run with a mysterious note in the background. You could quite imagine this being from a musical stage production with Nikitas central to the performance, almost musical method acting. As we get deeper into the track there is more substance added as the story fleshes out, the vocals become fuller and the music takes less of a back seat, joining as a fully paid up member of the cast. It becomes thought provoking with quite an intensive edge and the jazzy guitar solo is brilliant in its smoky meandering brilliance as it builds to the close. A seriously impressive track indeed. The piano introduction to Lines on a Bust is intricate and soulful, the vocals again giving the impression of musical theatre, Nikitas has a great vocal range and uses it notably here. You could imagine this being sung in a West-End show. It is full of fervor and zeal, having a rapturous appeal.
Drums and bass are the dominant forces at the beginning of Track the Saviours before an edgy guitar riff takes us into the heart of the heaviest track on the album. One that has a diversive, chaotic note at it’s heart. Running along like a gleeful mad man with the histrionic vocals that teeter on the edge of sanity with an aura of dark humour. I like the slightly off-centre feel of the song, as if it has been allowed to run its own course, good or bad. The corrosive instrumental section is clever and adds to the feeling of not knowing what the hell is happening. Like a mirror image The Aftermath is a slow motion track with an initial sombre, restrained note to the vocals, guitar and keyboards. The vocals take on a more compelling note on the chorus, if still a little mournful. It is a song that has a central forlorn and dolent edge to it, a fragility that still has a dark beauty to it.
The final track is the four part title track The Fall of Bliss which begins with the Intro which is a gentle acoustic guitar overlaying birdsong. Ethereal and gossamer like, it is charming and charismatic and leads you into Part I where the atmosphere darkens, pressing in to give a suspenseful feel. It erupts with a hard edged riff, powered along by the drums to give a turbulent edge before settling down into a more harmonised note. There is a slight supernatural ambience to the music, a semblance of the unknown as the vocals begin in a haunting fashion. Almost like a Gregorian Chant, they have a spiritual echo to them, enhanced by the disturbing organ note. The gloomy feel is all pervasive as we segue into Interlude, a low, slightly remote keyboard, reminiscent of a bassoon insinuates itself into your psyche. There is an organic nature to the music, it feels alive, as if it has its own intelligence and agenda. The guitar influenced passage that follows is vivid and forceful and that pseudo-bassoon runs into the final chapter, Part II. Demonstrative and profound, it is the crescendo that the whole track has been leading up to with heartfelt, passionate vocals and a wall of sound that washes over you leaving you numb in a profound manner. A discursive instrumental section follows, all distorted and erratic, like a lonely walk haunted by memories of the past. Almost painfully acute in parts it holds your attention as it runs on inexorably to the close.
So, Methexis’ first album really grabs you, it is enlightened in a weighty and thorough kind of way and asks questions that you may not be able to answer. Darkly exquisite in places, ‘Suiciety’ will have to go some to top this consummate release.
‘Suiciety’ – the review
After his brilliant multi-tasking performance with ‘Fall of Bliss’ Nikitas Kissonas turned to some of progressive music’s luminaries for the follow up ‘Suiciety’.
Whilst dealing with the music, lyrics and guitars himself he is joined by the enigmatic Joe Payne (The Enid) on vocals, Linus Kåse (Änglagård) on keyboards, Nikos Zades (Yianneis) sound design, Walle Wahlgren (Agents ofMercy) on drums and Brett d’Anon (Birds and Buildings) on bass.
Going the wrong way round, it was ‘Suiciety’ that I heard before ‘Fall of Bliss’ thanks to a heads up from Linus and that led me onto the debut album. You’ve read my thoughts on that, now it’s time for the latest release….
Chapter IV – Ruins opens the album with a transcendental feel of spaced out music, like wind chimes in a breeze, ambient yet with an intelligence at its core. It is an eerie beginning, as if you are in stasis waiting for something to happen. This opens up with a synth sound that washes over you in waves, almost hypnotic in its delivery. Joe’s breathy voice lies just under the surface, barely audible at first before its unmistakeable expressive quality builds into something more substantial. It stays just out of your conscious reach as the track comes to a close. The five parts of Chapter I (exterior) begin with Remember fear’s a relic, a briskly strummed acoustic guitar heralds an upbeat, jazz infused track that springs along at a brisk pace. A sharp electric guitar leading into some really funky keyboards from Linus before Joe lets lose with his inherent theatrical manner. Mr Payne has a persona that can dominate but here he holds back a tad, still the effusive, energetic front man we know from The Enid but moulding his performance to fit the music. I really like Joe’s expressive vocal work, he takes what is best of the theatrical world and blends it perfectly with progressive rock music. The rest of the band appear to be having a blast on this energetic,slightly manic piece of music, like a free-form jazz session with added absurdity.
The windows’ cracking sound is like a short interlude, a slightly off-kilter and disturbing piece of music which never lets you settle as it segues into Who can it be with its heraldic introduction which immediately grabs you. I love the feel it gives this song before it becomes all mysterious and dark. Joe’s vocal low down, is almost a whisper as he takes up the tale. There is a dark humour deep at the heart of this song, it leaves you with an itch you just can’t scratch. The flamenco style guitar section is neat and precise yet still sends a shiver down your spine, playing with forces unknown. Joe is giving a performance worthy of the stage, there is more than just a vocalist at work here, he is acting as well. It is a story to be told in music, in a dark disturbing, yet highly enjoyable way. That outspoken heraldic tone is at the heart of everything adding a lustre and wildness to this part as it comes to a slightly disturbing close.
The Origin of Blame is where all bets are off and the sluice gates are opened. Joe is at the centre of this delightfully manic song, aided and abetted by the simple piano notes delivered by Linus. This track could have been written for the stage and Joe Payne’s ebullient character. He delivers an excited display of eccentric brilliance and musical drama that just makes you smile. The segue into Prey’s Prayer is neat andprecise and the striking guitar work of Nikitas takes over with an undulating delivery that just bleeds emotion and remorse. The bass play is calm and collected and adds gravitas to this serious piece of music. A quite beguiling instrumental that seems to have a tender yet melancholic soul to it.
The three parts of Chapter II (interior) begin with Sunlight and its wild-west tinged introduction, all Duane Eddy guitars and atmosphere before the guitar takes on a classical note and Joe’s tender vocal interjects, waxing and waning in compliment to the gently played guitar. It has a lightness and airiness to it which is enhanced by the seductive strings. Around the middle of the track it takes on a pure 1970’s progressive feel with guitar and bass work that Steve Howe and Chris Squire would have been proud of. Linus adds in his inimitable skills with the ivories and you end up looking for the floor length capes and Mellotrons to arrive. It is quite a compelling piece of music, gripping and riveting that leaves you slightly non-plussed as it comes to a close. The next part, The Relic is, in my mind, the best track on the album, if not the best song that Nikitas has written full stop. A low key introduction of a subdued guitar leads in an emotional vocal backed by sumptuous strings that just left me mesmerised. The piano then adds a subtle grace to this imperious song. It builds, layer upon layer, becoming more intensely exquisite with each note that is played and each line that is sung. Joe gives his most polished performance yet one which is also his most restrained and it fits the guileless, sincere feel of the song perfectly. A crescendo like instrumental interlude threatens to break the calm before it is gently brought back by the simple charm of the acoustic guitar and piano. They are joined by a searching violin note that really fills you full of emotion and then leads you to the closure of this stunning song.
Chapter III – Suiciety is the final song on the album and begins like an industrial dance track, a song in the style of The Prodigy. To be honest it feels out of place at first after the charm of the previous track but, give it time, and you come to appreciate its intricate, complex rhythms, eventually breaking out into a darkly mysterious piece of music. The strings add that note of warning before the brass section delivers a really chilling yet exciting part of the song that has an icy determination to it. It becomes quite a spine-tingling piece of classical music that has you hanging on every note with its basic raw feel.
He pulls no punches does Nikitas Kissonas and he is an extremely talented musician. I thought it would take something special to improve on ‘Fall of Bliss’ and he has delivered something quite marvellous. Aided by some superb musicians and a vocalist who has the skill and inherent ability to deliver everything needed, what we actually have here is an outstanding musical release that is up there with the best of them…..
Pictures of Nikitas courtesy of Artemis Schubert.
Artwork for ‘Fall of Bliss’ by Dimitra Papadimitriou.
Artwork for ‘Suiciety’ by Artemis Schubert and Nikitas Kissonas.