Review – The Dave Foster Band – Maybe They’ll Come Back For Us – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Maybe They’ll Come Back For Us’, the new album from The Dave Foster Band, lands at the end of May. Once again, Dave is joined by the talented Dutch vocalist Dinet Poortman, along with contributions from the likes of Steve Rothery (Marillion), Mark King (Level 42) and Carly Bryant (Big Big Train), among others. On This beautifully constructed album we have songs of great imagination yet also with genuine emotion and warmth.

This superb record opens with Sleep Spindles, which has a guitar sound that, to my ears, is very reminiscent of Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits. It is a stunning sound that Dave evokes and certainly fits the track very well indeed. It most definitely captures the attention with its atmospheric soundscape and palette, Dave’s guitar really soaring here with his fabulous tone and vibrancy. This is a stunning opener, along with it being a real statement of intent, I find myself really drawn to this mesmerising track with it shimmer of sound. It certainly evokes patterns of sleep and has a hugely impressive vocal from Dinet too. The epic guitar solo that concludes this great track is evidence of the great things that are to come. The uber-cool Talent To Failure features the unmistakable bass presence of Mark King who drives the track along in a powerfully upbeat manner, adding his trademark bass slap at certain points to give a real groove to the song. While Mark’s presence is felt here in  this busy track, Dave delivers another graceful solo as well and Dinet’s vocals are 100% on point. Overall this collaborative effort really pays off well and sounds great, one can only hope they do more together as the results could be really spectacular, only time will tell, I suppose. Pollyana has a very orchestral sweep to the sound, laid over a beautiful acoustic guitar, which is interspersed with electric guitar fills. This track sounds glorious with a warmth that is always evident, even when Dave’s solo comes in against the great background that really sounds glorious, another most satisfying song.

These Tendencies has Steve Rothery contributing, which makes it very interesting as both Steve and Dave perform regularly in the Steve Rothery Band. It’s good to hear them together here, Steve giving a beautifully melodic solo towards the end of this track. It is a short piece but where every note matters and it is wonderful to hear such excellence as is delivered on this stunning song. The Optimist has a touch of electronica amidst some strong power chords, very like The Who in places, and hugely effective. The song is very positive in tone as it calls for us live in hope, despite the world being as it is, and to realise that some days are better than others. Another blistering solo from Dave fires the song upwards, it’s a terrifically upbeat track. Queen Of Maybe is mostly piano driven with a stylish vocal from Dinet, who, once again, sounds wonderful here. Another good lyric impresses with it’s warmth and sensitivity, as Dave’s solo rises effortlessly from the melody lines, Dinet weaves a web with her expressive vocal. I love the positivity of this song, especially as it really connects with me.

With the penultimate track, Delicate Things, Dave gets to show his appreciation for Muse as he adds crashing power chords to great effect. The song talks about how we often neglect the small things in life and forget that everything worthwhile is usually free, which is a truth we probably all need to hear and employ in our own lives! The album closes with Whirling Of Whales, which is a briskly paced number with a thoughtful lyric that really appeals here. It’s cry of, “If we work it out, if we even this out” resonates vividly, it’s a great lyric and a strong chorus. A wonderfully vivid extended guitar solo break drives the song towards it’s close before a return to the chorus and another brief, but brilliant, guitar freak out fires the song to a climactic ending.

I didn’t think Dave Foster could top 2023’s excellent release ‘Glimmer’ but I have to concede that this album has grown on me significantly over the past few days and it’s star has risen accordingly. The truly great artwork by Japan based Tsuki Kitsune also really enhances the album and I really like the positive lyrics that really connect with the mess of a world that we live in today, they help these amazing songs shine out like nuggets of gold in a dark world.

Released 31st May, 2024.

UK/Europe order here:

English Electric Recordings (burningshed.com)

North America order here:

Dave Foster Band – The Band Wagon USA

Review – Rob Harrison – Explode My Head – by John Wenlock-Smith

One of the best things about writing reviews are the opportunities that I get, on a fairly regular basis, when an artist sends me an album that is not generally available for a few months yet. I consider such acts to be very satisfying and rewarding in that I feel that I am entrusted with their creation to listen to and, possibly, review. This is a honour I accept with sincere gratitude as it means that the artist feels secure enough of my opinion to offer me their creativity, as it were. Which is why I am pleased to be able to write a review for  Z Machine’s sax player Rob Harrison, whose solo album, ‘Explode My Head’ is due to emerge in June of this year.

This is a  very personal  album for Rob as he gets to play the music he wants to and on his own terms and, in addition, he gets to play the guitar (something he seldom gets to do with Z Machine). The album is mostly instrumental, although there are a few vocal tracks. In all it has just six tracks with the longest being just short of nine minutes long. Rob is joined by cello and violins on several tracks, alongside flute and bass clarinets. Rob himself plays all guitars, bass and saxophone, as well as supplying the vocals and sound effects and I suspect he plays the uncredited keyboard parts as well. The album is really rather good, although it is not always an easy listen as the sound is quite dense in places. It has touches of artists like King Crimson, Gong and many others of that ilk.

Opening track A Severe Lack Of Gravitas has some delicate Cello from Polina Faustova and violin from Julia Stein (Who Knows Sound), in between which is Rob’s bass and heavy saxophone parts. The song changes tempo constantly and has great guitar fills and runs along some great sax parts too. I especially like this track as it is very inventive and musically driven. A Bountiful Surplus Of Grace is an intriguing instrumental that also contains some spoken word parts to it. These tend to be a bit  low in the mix so it’s not always easy to hear what is being said. I detect that it is about Rob’s own struggles that are being talked about here. It is a very interesting and musically strong track which really impresses greatly.

A Profound Throb Of Dread is an odd tale of an old man. After the opening section, it moves more to be an instrumental piece, although the vocals are repeated at various points in the track, another compelling and thought provoking piece of music. An Absurd Case Of Iguanas is mostly instrumental with almost Middle Eastern sounding notes at the beginning, later superseded by a different tone and melody. There is some sumptuous bass on this track too, really strong, vibrant and funky at times. The pace increases as the track gains in tempo and intensity with some strong, fluid guitar lines emerging to deliver a quite captivating song indeed.

The penultimate track is An Acute Sense Of Being which sounds similar in style and tone to Starless by King Crimson but without that guitar line. However, it does have similarities to these ears, again, some engagingly fluid guitar lines run throughout and it is all rather impressive really. The record closes with A Fragile Harmony Of Desires, this is the track that possibly explains everything within it’s lyrics, which appear to be almost a stream of consciousness about the difficulties encountered in Rob’s life. The music is fairly jolly for such a deep song, Rob says that he is not good at expressing feeling and talking about things, preferring to let his music speak for him, as it were.

The cover art is brilliant as are the short stop/start Aardman Animation-like clay model videos that accompany the album. ‘Explode My Head’ is a really stimulating, complex and compelling album and one that repays repeated listens, Rob writes music for the mind that also stirs the soul and I highly recommend it.

Released 28th June, 2024.

Pre-order from bandcamp here:

Explode My Head | Rob Harrison (bandcamp.com)

Review – Storm Deva – s/t – by John Wenlock-Smith

Trawling the prog-rock related sites is always an interesting experience for me as I am friends with many of my fellow reviewers and their thoughts, opinions and recommendations are always worth taking note of. One such trawl led me to the band Storm Deva and their self-titled debut album as it was garnering some very positive comments indeed.

I got in touch through bandcamp and offered to write a review of the album as I liked what I had heard. Storm Deva replied in the affirmative and wheels were put in motion with a full download and a physical CD being sent to me. I was very grateful for this and for the kindness offered to me by the band. The album arrived mid-week and I sat down to really have a good listen at my leisure. Armed with the lyrics and the biography of the band, I was all set.

The album opens with Carpe Diem which has a fabulous guitar riff and strong keyboard textures, the riff is the chugging sort that propels the song along. Carolynn Eden’s vocals are a thing of real beauty and class, very operatic at times but with a noticeable hint of Kate Bush, amongst others. The dynamics between vocals, guitar and piano are exceptionally good, at times the guitar following the piano, interweaving and dancing all around the melodies. A fine, if short, guitar solo adds further dynamics to what is a very strong opening track indeed, a really great song and a fine opening statement of intent. Alchemy is next and this one has a very impressive video:

The track has a very nautical theme and good sound effects providing real atmosphere, as does the fine cello of Hannah Reeves that adds great colour to the piece. It is an excellent song with some fine acoustic guitar from Stuart Clark who captures the essence of the song wonderfully. I recommend that you watch the video for maximum impact. Title track Storm Deva is hinged on a strong bass line that is doubled with guitar, which then switches to some fluid arpeggio lines. I like the crunch of this track, it is so well delivered, powerful and yet well constrained and contains a fine fluid guitar solo alongside Carollyn’s excellent piano. Another well executed and delivered song with a theme of overcoming adversity (one that is repeated several times on this fine release) and hope.

Free opens with ambient birdsong sounds, the song is about a journey to wholeness, contentment and, ultimately, to freedom from the past and any hold it has on one’s current happiness. We are treated to more excellent vocals from Carolynn on this powerful track. Come Back To Me begins with a descending piano motif and solo vocal from Carolynn before the band all join in. The song has a fine acoustic guitar solo from Stuart, the song calling for a lovers return. A rather gentle, but no less powerful, song of lament. The Garden Of Wisdom has a longer running time giving opportunity for some extended parts to emerge. This is a really great track and the parts are both interesting and cohesive. There especially fine dynamics from the piano leading to an excellent guitar part from Stuart, who plays a blinder on the whole album, he is a player of both taste and brevity, as a second solo later in this track shows fully. This song has an epic feel and a very good build in its intensity, making it my favourite track thus far, it is about finding personal freedom through overcoming situations.

The Dance is a celebration of life, especially the new life that occurs in the spring time. There are references to the power of the sun and of connection, it’s a song calling for support to being stopped from falling. Believing is the album’s penultimate track and is a fairly gentle song about seeing things afresh with new eyes. It is a very hopeful track with another lovely cello part from Hannah Reeves that adds depth to this fine piece of music, another winner here. The final track is the album’s other epic, the almost eleven minute long Journey, which is a strong finishing track with more sound effects of nature to start before it both gains intensity and momentum, fairly charging along in a very spirited manner, some very fine guitar fills and exciting piano parts following, The song is about a journey into self-realisation and fulfilment, it is quite an emotionally charged and exhilarating ride too with some strong ensemble playing, a fiery guitar and a great rhythm section that certainly adds strength to this great track. Again, another excellent and succinct solo from Stuart leads us to the final closing sections of this song where the momentum and drive is revived to good effect. Strong orchestral elements adorn this track, in fact the entire album is tinged by classical chamber music, albeit with a rock edge. The album ends with the sound of the sea and surf and then the journey is complete on what has been a really fine song and album.

I must also point out the sheer beauty of the album’s artwork, possibly the best I’ve seen, apart from Roger Dean, it is simply sumptuous and very satisfying on the eye and shows Storm Deva to be a very accomplished and talented new group. In addition, they have great taste and style, the bookmark that came with the album is a lovely addition.

This is a really good and fine album, I really liked it and think that others will too. It will especially appeal to Big Big Train Passengers as various BBT alumni are thanked for their input and support.

Released 1st December, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here:

▶︎ Storm Deva | Storm Deva (bandcamp.com)

Review – PreHistoric Animals – Finding Love In Strange Places – by John Wenlock-Smith

Bad Dog Promotions are proving themselves to be a most worthy PR resource for modern prog bands and associated artists. Okay, not everything is to my liking, however, I find more to my liking that ones I don’t like. There definitely a lot more ‘hit’ than ‘miss’ for me. Take, for instance, ‘Finding Love In Strange Places’, this fourth album from Sweden’s PreHistoric Animals. It certainly mixes things up blending, as it does, a love of progressive rock, alternative rock and brilliant pop music, a concept that shouldn’t work but somehow here it manages to pull of fthis feat in style.

Quite frankly I’m most thankful to have heard this album, as it is an album of depth and great songwriting and performances in a very clever concept, delivered and realised to a very high standard indeed.

The band are: Stefan Altzar (guitar, lead vocal and keyboards), Samuel Granath (drums and keyboards), Noah Magnusson (bass and keyboards) and Daniel Magdic (guitar, vocals and keyboards).

The album begins with The City Of My Dreams which opens with a Blade Runner type sequencer before heavy guitar and soaring synthesisers join in. The singer sounds reminiscent of someone who I can’t quite identify but sounds really good to me, The song has a compelling narrative and strong musical sections, all very well produced. I like this track a lot, it has lots of elements that together work hugely in its favour. A Bad Day For The Neon Gods is a brief interlude before Living In A World Of Bliss storms along with a fiery pace and drive. It’s a strange story about a girl who is a killer and eventually falls to her death. Her death inspires a follower to continue her work with a different outcome. I feel it is quite a hopeful song really but definitely an interesting one and another quality track.

Unbreakable is a longer track, opening with sequenced keyboards before a soaring guitar line plays. This track is about a couple who meet in a bar and commit to each other, getting married and both taking an implant to their brains which makes them attain a higher state of realisation of life. They sign the rest of their lives away in exchange for this heightened state, it’s an interesting premise and story and great musically as it has a lot going on throughout. Strange Places is a portentous, looming interlude that just builds up the suspense before He Is Number Four, a story of how two employees fall in love in a factory environment and how that single act saves countless others as the this stops an act of terror from even happening. It is the start of love that warms the female protagonist’s heart so much and deters her from the act of violence she had planned. It is a remarkable track bout how the power of love can change us as individuals.

Come Home is a very brief acoustic song, it’s all rather good and pleasant and doesn’t outstay its  welcome. This followed by The Secret Of Goodness, which appears to be about being watched by aliens, I could be wrong as it is a little unclear, it is very strong musically again though and another compelling tale. The final track on the album, Nothing Has Changed But Everything Is Different  is also a fantastic track rich in imagery and invention. This is a plea that that we should be loved for who we are. An epic guitar solo helps complete this very fine track with its simple themes and request. It is an emotionally laden song with much meaning and concludes what is quite frankly most interesting and accomplished album.

I really appreciated the level of imagination that is contained within these songs and the theme of finding love in strange places as told here on a brilliantly realised concept album of great songs and strong musical performances from PreHistoric Animals. With the excellent cover art, ‘Finding Love In Strange Places’ is an album that both looks and sounds good with real substance and definitely one to look out for on end of year ‘best of’ lists.

Released 16th May, 2024.

Order from bandcamp here:

Finding Love In Strange Places | PreHistoric Animals (bandcamp.com)

Review – Nataraja – Spirit At Play – by John Wenlock-Smith

This album, Natajara’s Spirit At Play’, really appealed to me having a fondness for jazz fusion and knowing the Mahavishnu Orchestra catalogue pretty well, as I do. Guitarist Jack Jennings is new to me but here, on this rather splendid album, he combines his love of Jimi Hendrix with his passion for the Raja’s of northern India to fine effect.

This album may be a fairly challenging listen for the casual listener, however, bearing in mind that it was recorded live in just one day. The levels of skill on display here are really astonishing, you have the flamboyant guitar of Jennings anchored with the superb and sympathetic rhythm section of John Jowitt (bass) and Andy Edwards (Drums), the subtle analog synths of Richard Charles Boxley adding delicate textures over the top in a very sensitive way. It does help if you like Indian classical music, Ravi Shankar or John Mclaughlin’s ‘Shakti’, all of which have connections to this style of music. Overall, I would definitely recommend this to the more adventurous types who will find much to appreciate within this release. The album is produced by Phi Yaan Zek, which is a good enough reason to be even remotely interested in this music, as he is excellent in his own right.

Back to ‘Spirits At Play’, it has just five tracks, two relatively short, one medium and two very long tracks, both over ten minutes in length. The sound is crisp and punchy throughout with great separation between all of the instruments. I do especially like how fluid Jack Jennings playing is as he can really let rip on these tracks, he is most competent indeed and can play a blinder, as he does on title track Spirit At Play, where he plays an extended solo with great skill, flair and at lightning speed too! It is really remarkable playing, you really appreciate the strong support he gets from John and Andy ,both of who are really great on here. Raag Hansadwhani – Vinayaka is another excellent track being bathed in synths in its opening section These a bubble and are not overpowering at al,l leaving room for Jack to improvise freely, which sound really good here. He is a player of both taste and style and that shows clearly here.

As I say not an easy listen, in fact it can be rather intense and dense music at times. That said, it does sound very good, if not a little different to most modern music. Within the music you do get a sense of the measure of respect that Jack has for this form and of how he is seeking to honour and respect this by through his own interpretations of these Raja’s. I think that he should be both noted and applauded for bringing this fresh and vibrant translations and interpretations to this live arena as he does here.

Released 23rd March, 2024.

Order from bandcamp here:

Spirit At Play | Nataraja (bandcamp.com)

Review – Warhorse; The Recordings 1970-1972 – by John Wenlock-Smith

When I heard about this 2CD set, which contains both the albums Warhorse made for the Vertigo label in 1970 and 1972, I became rather excited and curious of how these albums would sound 50 years after their original release.

Warhorse were a short lived group but with an interesting history. Formed by bassist Nick Simper when he was replaced in Deep Purple by Roger Glover in 1970, they were originally formed as a backing group to singer Marsha Hunt and originally had in their ranks, a Pre-Strawbs/Yes Rick Wakeman, who sadly left before actually recording with the group. In addition, both vocalist Ashley Holt and drummer Barney Jones would leave the band in 1974 to join Wakeman in his band The English Rock Ensemble.

In the meantime Warhorse did manage to make two albums for Vertigo, these being ‘Warhorse’ (1970) and ‘Red Sea’ (1972), both of which are here along, with a further eleven tracks of demo’s and live versions of the songs.

So what does it sound like? you ask, well, to these ears it sounds like the era in which it was made. So, if you consider a mix of say Uriah Heep and Deep Purple then you wouldn’t be a million miles away from the sound the band made.

The ‘Warhorse’ album begins with the strong, Hammond organ driven, Vulture Blood which sets out the stall in a decent manner. You can definitely detect the Deep Purple connection in the sound. No Chance features some interesting bass runs before the keyboards commence, again it’s very intense sounding and very Uriah Heep in style, although a good guitar line cuts through well. I like this track as it has good vocals which are both confident and clear, proving Ashley to be a fine singer in a certain style. It’s one that works well here at least, I was less convinced by his performances with The English Rock Ensemble somehow. Burning opens in a very strident, almost marching style, tempo, most effective, before a swirl of keyboards and a chunky guitar riff are introduced, successfully too I will say. This song has interesting lyrics too making another very fine track.

Next we have a cover of a song from The Easybeats called St Louis that was intended as a single but, sadly, wasn’t a hit as such. The track has a sprightly riff and moves along at a cracking pace, it’s actually rather good and deserved far more than it achieved, unfortunately such is often the way of  things in music. The more lengthy Ritual features three time on this collection, one album and two live versions, all being of differing length. The song is pretty powerful but despite a stomping beat and great guitar work, it actually isn’t the finest moment really as it kind of meanders somewhat aimlessly or it seems that way to me at least. Far better is Solitude, which is the albums epic track at just shy of nine minutes in length, which gives a chance for the track to really evolve and show its progressive elements off fully in a strong manner. There’s nifty guitar work from Ged Peck who plays excellently throughout, he was definitely very underrated in his time.

This leads onto another longish song, Woman Of The Devil, which bristles with energy and has more Hammond and keys from Frank Wilson, who is all over this track in a most exciting manner. More great guitar from Ged really helps lift the track greatly. It has strong echoes of Uriah Heep’s Gypsy. This concludes the Warhorse album although this version is bolstered by four live tracks and a demo of Miss Jane, all of which are decent and very welcome. You can tell that they must have been an excellent live act in the day and one that could engage, interact and captivate an audience.

The sophomore album ‘Red Sea’ was released in 1972 and contains seven more tracks of excellent early 1970’s hard rock and prog songs beginning with short title track Red Sea, which is a busy little number with doubled guitar lines and an underpinned Hammond Organ. A great guitar runs through this track, although it should be noticed that Ged Peck had been replaced at this stage by Pete Parks, who was a soloist in a different style and really makes his mark on this second album. The longer and stronger Back In Time is really excellent, especially if you like organ driven tracks, as this one is, interlaced with short guitar fills and notes. This track shows the differences between the guitarists, Ged Peck being the more adventurous and fluid player. Pete Parks is a great player but not really in the same league somehow, although his solo section on this song is pretty exciting. Confident But Wrong has a good guitar riff that holds it all together along with more concise soloing from Pete. It’s a strong track underpinned by more Hammond from Frank Wilson, who again adds great depth and colour to the track.

Sybilla is another interesting track with a throbbing bass line and chunky guitar riffs and fills making another excellent track. Next is the album’s longest track Mouthpiece which has an extended drum solo woven into it. This piece has excellent dynamics and makes for a very different, but nonetheless exciting, instrumental track where each member gets their chance to shin in some fine ensemble playing and strong performances. This then leaves the bonus tracks which are a further live version of Ritual and five demos that were to form the basis of their third, unrealised, album that was to have been on Atlantic Records.

Despite the band being signed, the OPEC oil crisis of 1974 put those plans on permanent ice and that was then end of Warhorse. Ashley Holt and Barney James were invited to join Wakeman’s TheEnglish Rock Ensemble and they duly accepted, bringing to an end the short lived career of Warhorse. However, with this excellent re-release of these albums in the full glory and with the usual Esoteric care and attention, this fine group can be heard in their full glory once again. This is a release of note that I strongly recommend to all.

Released 26th April, 2024.

Order from Cherry Red here:

Warhorse: The Recordings 1970-1972, 2CD (cherryred.co.uk)

Review – Six By Six – Beyond Shadowland – by John Wenlock-Smith

Occasionally, and very rarely, I get an album that fails to captivate me fully. Whether this is my fault or a failing on behalf of the artist is very much open to debate. In this instance, I was anticipating and expecting far greater than what is on offer here, which is actually not that bad. However when your debut is stunning, as was the first self-titled SiX By SiX album, it is very disappointing when the follow up, ‘Beyond Shadowland’, falls a long way short of what had gone before, and is, to be blunt, definitely sub-standard quality wise in comparison.

To be fair, you do get more crunchy prog-rock crossover songs with some soaring guitar lines exciting riffs and excellent drumming. Yet, despite all this, it seems a little too safe and too pedestrian for these ears. I realise that coming up with another quality album as quickly as SiX By SiX have done is not an easy task. However, this sophomore album comes barely a year on from their debut album and I can’t help but think that they missed out in applying some crucial quality controls on this album, making it a step backwards for the band and not a progression in my view.

It has great cover art but its contents are relatively unrewarding thus giving us material that suffers highly in comparison to their excellent debut, which really captured the imagination first time around. There are some good tracks but there is way too much that lacks enough magic focus. This really saddens me for, as a trio, these are all seasoned, intelligent and articulate musicians who know their craft. However, here they seem to have forgotten that songs need more than a strong riff, they need some commitment and some thrust and drive, not just power for powers sake! Bluff and bluster is really not good enough from these veterans, rather more, they need a strong melody and a touch of polish, which several of these tracks seem to be missing.

I do like the longer track One Step that has time to actually go somewhere interesting and the tracks Arms of a Word and Can’t Live This do have their charms. Sadly, it’s not the case elsewhere on the album, no doubt I will still actually buy the album and really make my own mind up. However, at this moment in time I don’t find it a very appealing album unfortunately, which is a shame as, on paper, it is all there. You have the vibrant guitar work of Ian Crichton, the powerful drums of Nigel Glockner and the undeniable talent and production skills of bassist and vocalist Robert Berry. Here though, it simply fails to really ignite or to captivate in any significant manner. 

I hope this is a blip and doesn’t mean the end of what could be a very rewarding project. I really hope they regroup, refocus and return with the album that they really should have delivered rather than this mishmash of half realised ideas and incomplete songs. I really hope so guys but you fell far short here, you didn’t even reach the Shadowland, yet alone get beyond it…

Full track listing:

1.     Wren 

2.     The Arms of a Word  

3.     Can’t Live Like This  

4.     Obiliex

5.     Only You Can Decide  

6.     Titans 

7.     Outside Looking In  

8.     Spectre

9.     Sympathise  

10.  One Step

11.  The Mission

Released 26th April, 2024.

Order the album here:

Six By Six – The Mission (lnk.to)

Review – Colosseum: Elegy – The Recordings 1968-1971, 6CD Box Set – by John Wenlock-Smith

I received this splendid box set from Esoteric recently, containing the five albums released by the original version of Colosseum released in the early 1970’s. They were albums of great significance in the then emerging and developing area of progressive music, mixing, jazz, fusion, blues and rock in a distinctive amalgam of styles but never being less than interesting listening.

I myself came to Colosseum a lot later in my life, despite their albums being in abundance at my then favourite record shop in Birmingham where I lived at the time. Although I was a big fan of the latter, mid-1970’s incarnation of the band, called Colosseum 11, featuring Gary Moore on Guitar and Don Airey on keyboards, alongside Jon Hiseman on drums and the ever dependable Neil Murray on bass. This version was far heavier sound wise than the original Colosseum ever were and whilst I enjoyed the strange new album immensely, somehow I never went back to the original albums, my mistake of course. Call it the folly of youth but I was definitely blinkered in my sonic appreciation. In my teens I was a heavy metal man and dismissed lots of music that I have since come to appreciate more fully as I have aged, ironic really!

Colosseum came to my ear fully in the late 1990’s when I was buying music online from a well known website that has since ceased to be. I can’t even recall what it was called but it was very popular in the day and had great deals and offers. I spent a fortune on there over the years and, in the process, I acquired all the Colosseum remasters on the Sanctuary label, all of which are, in the main, included in this ‘Elegy’ box set; ‘Those Who Are About To Die Salute You’, ‘Valentyne Suite’, ‘The Grass Is Greener’, ‘Daughter Of Time’ and ‘Colosseum Live’, along with an additional twelve bonus tracks, a highly informative booklet of sleeve notes, recollections and photographs of the time.

There are differences, however, between the remasters I already possessed and this set, in that there a few omissions and a few hitherto unreleased cuts which makes for an interesting and rewarding listen. One thing I found interesting was that the name Colosseum was chosen by Jon Hiseman whilst sitting on Palatine Hill in Rome, overlooking the actual Colosseum with Barbara Thompson, who he later married of course. They were visiting her relatives in Italy at the time when Jon announced he was going to start a band and call it Colosseum, the rest, as they say, is history.

Jon was already friends with Dave Greenslade and Dick Heckstall-Smith, both of whom he knew from his schooldays and both of whom he had played with over the years. They found guitarist James Litherland and bass guitarist Tony Reeves from auditions in London and they were off. They hooked up with the Bron Agency and Gerry Bron who got them a deal with Phillips for the first album, ‘Those Who Are About To Die Salute You’. Released in 1969, this debut was very influential in progressive music circles as here were a group who were really pushing the boundaries and embracing varied influences into a distinctive melting pot, making vibrant and exciting music for the then modern world, it still sounds highly impressive now, over 55 years later.

However the best was yet to come, Colosseum were signed to new Phillips‘ label Vertigo, targeting the demand for progressive music. So it was that the band’s second album ‘Valentyne’ appeared as the first Vertigo Records release as Vertigo 001 in 1970. This introduced both the label and the band to a whole new audience, especially as the album fitted perfectly with the aspirations of the label and the music was highly suited, being an elaborate, almost conceptual, album of linked pieces, especially in the three part Valentyne Suite which occupied side two of the record. The album still sounds outstanding and ground-breaking today, that it was a young group, most of whom were barely in there early 20’s, yet who were creating some incredibly complex and extremely well conceived and competently delivered music, is all the more remarkable.

In the USA and Canada the album appeared in different form in 1970 as ‘The Grass is Greener’ remixed and featuring a series of songs unreleased in the UK.

‘Daughter Of Time’, released in 1970, brought a change of line up, in that both James  Litherland and Tony Reeves left. These were replaced by Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson and Louis Cennamo but Cennamo found Colosseum too heavy for his tastes and left. However, Clempson had seen Mark Clarke playing in Liverpool and felt he might be a good fit for the ban, so it was that Clarke joined the band. It was also felt that a vocalist would help the group and Dave Greenslade suggested Chris Farlowe.

The final discs of the set are the previously issued and expanded version of ‘Colosseum Live’, complete with a second disc of other live tracks from Manchester University and Brighton, recorded in 1971. These do repeat several songs, namely Rope Ladder To The Moon, Skellington and Stormy Monday Blues, but it’s great to hear them here. Also here are live versions of The Valentyne Suite tracks, which are always great to hear again.

So there you have it, a potted history of the original incarnation of Colosseum, who admittedly did reform in 1991 and then reappeared frequently in the next century. However, they were never quite able to reclaim the impact of the original, who were quite simply a band for the time of the late 60’s and early 70’s, as this excellent set captures in their full dazzling and powerfully impressive manner. Excellent packaging and superlative sleeve notes add to a most welcome release. It is highly recommended indeed, especially if you like any of the latter spin offs like Greenslade or ColosseumII. This set represents an extremely influential and significant chapter in the history of progressive rock.

Released – 29th March, 2024.

Order here:

Colosseum: Elegy – The Recordings 1968-1971, 6CD Box Set (cherryred.co.uk)

Review – The Raging Project – Future Days – by John Wenlock-Smith

This is a very strange album for me, mixing as it does elements of almost rap, progressive metal and ambient textures. ‘Future Days’ is the brainchild of French musician Ivan Jacquin who, along with Lionel Fevre, was in an electro metal act which developed into Project Rage in 2007. Joined by Jeannick Valleur, they released an EP in 2009 but their attempts to become a fully fledged band faltered and, eventually, Ivan worked on a different project called Foreign Rock Opera. Now, joined by a dozen talented and prestigious artists, Ivan decided to revisit some old, lost tracks and revive them afresh.

The result is The Raging Project and this collection of themed/linked songs and soundscapes. It is not always an easy listen as the concept is a little vague and obscure at times, what is without question is the quality of the material that is very well constructed and contains some stellar performances from all the musicians involved.

The album features the wonderful Amanda Lehman (Steve Hackett Band) on guitar and vocals on a couple of track where she gets to really let fly. I was especially impressed with Even if I Bleed and the french version of the same song, M​ê​me si je saigne but also highly noteworthy is a dance track I Wanna Dance, which does actually work within the album bringing some light relief to the more seriously themed tracks. Ambient also impresses with some solid guitar links and an interesting wall of sound making a strong impression. In fact, the more I became attuned to this album, the more my appreciation for it grew. The vocals are especially pleasing on this track, soaring over some fine guitar lines, it is all really strong and impressive stuff.

For me, at least, the piece de la resistance here is the epic track On Earth which features Derek Sherinian on keyboards and theremin. It is nearly ten and a half minutes of wonderfully evocative sounds and features a stunning performance from Derek commencing with growling synthetic and spacey synthetic lines to create an emotive soundscape over which there is a spoken word narration, The theremin offers a suitably mysterious sound on this song about climate change that is most impressive sounding. It really is a great track with the keyboards adding significantly to the overall effectiveness of the song as it continues to express its regret for how we have treated the earth. I will admit to being a tad biased here as I do especially appreciate the keyboards of Derek Sherinian as a member of the various projects that he has been a part of. His presence here is a delight for me and it’s a well delivered cameo appearance from the current keyboard player of note. That said, the supporting musicians all play equally as solidly and their performances are equally as strong.

Procession is another strong track. Sung in French, it is a brooding and moody piece with superb drums from Henri-Pierre Prudent and an excellent guitar track and solo from Amanda Lehmann that evokes echoes of David Gilmour in its tone and style. It is all most impressive really, I do like this track, one of the albums strongest in my opinion, it  is wonderfully fluid in sound. Wraith continues in a more muscular and metal style and adds a distinctive crunch to proceedings. gain strong vocals mix well with the powerful guitars and synths to make something memorable and strong

Final track M​ê​me si je saigne features Amanda’s epic guitar work again where she is able cut loose and shred a little. Apparently, it was a challenge that she welcomed and rose to in style. This is a lengthy track, rather intense but excellent nonetheless, there is some excellent fluid guitar on this track and Mr Hackett would be proud of her playing here as she really gets stuck into the groove.

So there you have it, a decidedly different album of moods and styles that may not always work but in the main it does. There is more than enough strong music here to at least warrant a listen so why not listen and make your own mind up? As for me, I certainly enjoyed it and feel that I will return to it, I’m just not sure how often.

Released February 6th, 2024.

Order from bandcamp here:

Future Days | THE RAGING PROJECT (bandcamp.com)

Review – Whom Gods Destroy – Insanium – by John Wenlock-Smith

Prog metal and I have an uneasy relationship really, I have never been a huge follower of listener of the form, preferring melody and subtlety over bombast and thrash. So, why does this album appeal to me? Well, the answer lies in the origins of the band, one that emerged from the discarded ashes of Sons Of Apollo that featured Mike Portnoy,  Billy Sheehan,  Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, Jeff Scott Soto and Derek Sherinian. Sons Of Apollo produced two studio albums and a live CD/DVD set but then fell apart when the pandemic derailed their touring activities. After that cleared, some of the members had chosen to resume earlier existing project, Portnoy with Transatlantic and the Neil Morse Band and Sheehan to his Winery Dogs project. All of this left Sherinian and Thal without anything on their immediate horizon so the two decided to start an new endeavour, with Dino Jelusick coming in on vocals and two new faces; Yas Nomura on bass and drummer Bruno Valverde .

The album promises to be a bit harder edged and more technically progressive in sound, which showcases the excellent musicianship of the players involved. For me, pretty much anything Derek Sherinian is involved with is at least worth hearing as he always plays interesting parts and Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal is also excellent to hear. The album, ‘Insanium’, is released on the 15th March by Inside Out/Sony Music and has 9 tracks, 10 if you get the 2CD version which has an instrumental version of the album and a bonus track (Requiem).

I’ve had this album for a while and I really like it. Yes, it is a heavy album but the playing is superb throughout and the vocals are clear and powerfully delivered by Dino. Let’s have a closer look shall we…

The album opens with In The Name Of War, an excellent introduction to what follows afterwards beginning with some very stylish piano runs before a powerful guitar line enters and the drums power through. The song is certainly powerful and asStatement of intent, this group means business and takes no prisoners here! It has very good keyboard textures and fine playing from all concerned, there is a fiery solo from Thal, but, for me it is the magical keyboards of Derek Sherinian that truly delight, the piece closes as it began with more stylish piano. Over Again is next and this has a very sludge like riff, it sounds quite brutal and the chorus is definitely a lesson in contrast to the main riff. Again, this has space for another fiery guitar solo from Ron Thal which is followed by some amazing Sherinian synth lines making this is a very strong track. The Decision’s longer running time gives space for the great dynamics that are at the heart of the song, a track is about persevering and deciding to carry on once again. It’s another excellent piece with lots of flashy keyboards that add to, but don’t dominate, the track. Also noteworthy is the solid bass playing of Yas Nomura and the powerhouse drumming of Bruno Valverde.

Crawl, again, has a fair degree of brutality to its sound, powerfully delivered by all parties. Strong riffing overlaid with keyboards and punchy bass make a good impression on this listener, as does another excellent guitar break from Thal that is again taken over by the dynamic keyboards of Derek Sherinian who really excels on this album. Find My Way Back is about returning home and finding that that is not a home anymore, things have changed and not especially for the better. The song opens with Hammond Organ and a gentle acoustic guitar part then, after the first verse, it switches to electric guitar and the vocals and overall sound have more than a touch of a Whitesnake power ballad to them. Another emotional guitar solo adds good colour to this actually rather sad tale which shows a different side to this band. Crucified is heavy right from the off with swirling keyboard lines and a solid rhythm section powering away. This song is really heavy and has strong echoes of Judas Priest in their ‘Sin After Sin’ era, except this track is heavier with more keyboards, a really strong and solid piece, all told.

Keeper Of The Gate treats us to another doom laden riff, this one has echoes of Dio’s ‘The last In Line’, it has that sort of touch to it somehow, not a bad thing in my opinion. Another excellent and fluid guitar solo enlivens this song greatly, as does the sympathetic keyboard support from Derek, another winner here

Hypernova 158 is pretty much a showcase for Derek Sherinian to do his stuff, backed by everyone else, as he delivers a very sinewy keyboard sound, admirably supported by some nice bass lines from Nomura and solid riffing from Thal, not to mention the drum dynamics that Valverde brings to the brief musical interlude, it’s a riveting performance. This is followed by the albums title, and final, track, Insanium. The song has three parts, Home For All, Abandoned and Reprise. Together these three parts complete the song along with a wild guitar solo before entering the Reprise section of the song, with more sludgy guitar riffs. It is an interesting conclusion to what is unquestionably a major new talent in the Progressive Metal field.

As to whether this is a one off project or a full time and focus project will depend on how it is received I guess but, for those who mourn the end of Sons Of Apollo, as I did, this do very nicely! I wish them success in their endeavours and eagerly await a second instalment and possible live activities before too long.

Released 15th March, 2024.

Order from Burning Shed here:

https://burningshed.com/whom-gods-destroy_insanium_cd