So how does one of your favourite guitarists improve on his
previous excellent releases?
How about making it a concept album?
What if it’s all one track?
Hmm, let’s see shall we……
The haunting beep of a life support machine with mourning guitar introduces us to ‘Numb-Pt 1’. Wait…I thought this was all one track you cry! It is, just divided into the sum of it’s parts. Heavier guitar portents doom, the sound of traffic, impatient car horns as keyboards lead us to the crash and burn, sirens wail in desperation as the ambulance flies to save. The bright lights and guitar screams of tearing metal, the acrid smell and fumes from burning fuel.
I’m in a bed, white walls, connected to machines, whispered voices round me. I feel the sharp jab of a needle as it sinks into my arm and a cold numbness creeps through me, as ‘Realisation’ dawns on me, I’ve been in an accident. Same old routine, stuck in traffic, patience frayed around the edges. The voice in my head warned me, heedlessly, to slow down as I found the open road and pushed my foot to the metal. Bright lights, wet road surface and the ‘Twisted Metal’ foretold with the lyrics see me undone.
A feeling of detachment from reality probably due to the medication allows me to watch my body rise up towards a glow above my bed as I ‘Ascend The Sky’. Am I dying, is this my final journey accompanied by a chorus of angelic voices and uplifting chords? I never imagined the trip to be an upward one. A bell tolls though it doesn’t seem a death knell, more a calling as I float in the air, calm and relaxed in ‘The Sun’. I remember the days spent with you, laid in a field watching light clouds trace paths across the sky whilst we basked in the warmth and I reveled in your soft kisses.
Will I ever know those feelings again? I never meant this to happen, what wouldn’t I give to kiss you one more time. Elation dies and once again I am left feeling ‘Numb-Pt2’. Cruelly the music rips the memory from me and the sky blackens with clouds of drums and rumbles of bass gathering in a menacing armada, as I am tossed and turned by swirling keyboards and pummeled by driving guitar.
There is a stillness and I am surrounded by white, hot light, cloying and burning my throat. Am I nearing the end, is there no retribution as I reach in my mind for a chance of escape above the wailing guitar solo, whilst in reality I lay ‘Comatose’ and helpless to my fate .I can hear the wheezing, asthmatic rasp of the bellows on the breathing apparatus, accompanied by the dull beep of the monitors connected to me whilst a piano counts the beats of my fluttering heart. Does this mean I will survive and ‘Awaken’ from my nightmare to find you sat at my bedside holding my hand. A stirring guitar solo reaches for the heavens, am I saved? I stand detached once more, at the end of the bed looking at myself hope rising with the words from the voice in my head.
A dramatic finale as the music explodes to an end, at which
moment everything goes black and silent. No! What is happening, don’t leave me
here. Has my body woken and in doing so discarded my corporeal self to the
Does our protagonist survive, is he given a second chance at life with the opportunity to mend his ways and live as a better man? That decision is left up to the individual listener to decide.
So, how does Lee Abraham, from one of my favourite bands, improve on his quality back catalogue?
Firstly, inviting Marc Atkinson, one of the best vocalists around to sing on the album, a stroke of genius. Vastly underrated and oozing all the emotion required for such a story, Marc’s silky larynx matches all the challenges of being the storyteller here, an astute choice by Mr Abraham to present his wonderful lyrics.
Yet more enlightened choices regarding the musicians on board, bringing back the force de majeure on drums that is Gerald Mulligan and the wizard of the keys on piano, Mr Rob Arnold. Lee takes up the bass duties, as well as blessing our eardrums with some beautiful guitar work, that lingers long in your head, after the album closes.
I’m of a mind to leave the ending ambiguous as I like the idea this story could continue so I don’t want to know what happens to our subject. What I do know is that I consider ‘Comatose’ to be an excellent album, that holds the top spot in my listening catalogue at the moment fighting off all contenders.
Whilst I resist making lists of favourites, if I did, ‘Comatose’ would be among this years best releases for me and in my humble opinion is Lee’s finest release to date.
Oh, listen to me blathering on, it’s finished, where’s that replay button…
Time flies, this time last week I was home after a very pleasant trip to the launch party for Encircled’s new album ‘The Universal Mirth’, down in the deepest merging of the potteries’ ‘Five Towns’ so named by author Arnold Bennett (though it was actually six), in Stoke On Trent.
I had the great pleasure of reviewing their last outing, ‘The Monkey Jamboree’ and, if you have not heard it, treat yourself. May I recommend it is best listened to with the lights dimmed and a tipple of your choice in a cosy environment after a hard day at work.
A short balmy stroll from my less than salubrious lodgings and I found myself in front of a small shop (converted into a community project area) by the name of Pilgrims Pit. It hardly seemed big enough to swing a cat in but still managed to fit a plentifully stocked little bar in the corner, with welcome cool drinks.
Warmly met by bassist/keyboards (twiddly bits, errors and virtual drums) Scott Evans, I was introduced to the other band members; the genial Mark ‘Busby’ Burrows on vocals and favourite Fender plus acoustic and the ever cool Gareth ‘Gaz’ Evans playing a delicious custom guitar (I’m told he never smiles, but they lie). I was informed the place could actually take up to fifty people and though the band’s gear took up a fair area, around thirty to forty turned out for the night and it was good to meet some fellow passengers and some new faces.
Whilst the talent that is Peter Jones was unable to be there for his guest slots on some tracks, it was a lovely surprise to find they had support from the delightful Kym Hart who, whilst a very accomplished musician in her own right, had graciously given vocal assistance on the band’s new CD.
We were treated to a number of tracks from Kym’s two albums, the latest ‘A Way To Be’ (available at kymhart.bandcamp.com) and ‘Time in Mind’.
Kym also treated us to a track from the new album she is working on and cleverly slipped in a little Marillion passage from Lavender, to favourable response from the appreciative audience. I was surprised, whilst chatting to her, to find she has been doing this for over twenty years but, as so often is the case, she has never received the justified acclaim. Check her out, Kym deserves a wider audience.
Encircled then took the stage, or floor space at any rate. It’s amazing the amount of noise a small group of people can generate when encouraged by such a welcoming group of lads playing infectious music. The warmth for the band was palpable and every track on the set-list was greeted with expectant enthusiasm from the gathering before them, Busby observantly pointing out that, at one point, they were literally ‘encircled’ by the crowd.
Playing a set list made up from TMJ and TUM, they soon had everyone clapping and joining in, the music floating round the room, out of the open the door and down the street, serenading the revellers passing by, some glancing in curiosity or pausing for a while on the pavement outside to bask in the ambience. Inviting Kym up to swell the vocals on given tracks only enhanced the soothing sounds caressing our ears.
A great evening was had by all and it was a real privilege to finally meet the gentlemen behind these albums, you couldn’t meet a nicer bunch of lads who proved they can play it ‘live’. We need to see them in larger venues, come on promoters, don’t miss the opportunity.
A quick shout out to the lads who run the place and staunchly manned the bar for the evening with best wishes and success for future projects. Also a big thank you to Scott’s daughter Freya (the talent behind the cover design for TMJ) as she kindly manned the merch desk all evening.
And so to the new album ‘The Universal Mirth’.
If you read my review of TMJ, you will know how much I enjoyed it, a fine album that regularly takes a spin in our house and in the car:
For me TUM has a more assured footing and lifts the band to a higher podium.Exploring and expounding on the problems in modern society with technology, self image and perception, with the pressures modern living brings, temptations, dangers and the strains on individuals and relationships.
The first three tracks are loosely linked as are the last three, with two more ‘sandwiched’ between, bringing the total to eight meaty tracks which make up this aural feast.
From the hook laden chimes of the first bars, Log In: The Mystical Way whirls through your head warning the miracle is being taken away, demystifying the magic of life. The laid back keyboards and throbbing bass deceiving you, lulling you into a false sense of security whilst access to even your most personal secrets are slowly exposed.
Leading to The Obsession, with a heavier guitar intro, garnered from accessible systems and information available to anyone able to open and retrieve the details. Watched unknowingly, your every move scrutinised and followed, untraceable as the keyboards weep for your loss. Your weaknesses feeding the hidden admiration of those who see your fragilities caused by insecurities and the need to be loved and wanted. The desire to be more beautiful, the pressures of fame, leaving you vulnerable to prying eyes. You no longer have secrets, the information used to mould, persuade and control who you are and what you do.
But what if Past Timesare revealed, what do they unearth, what does it mean for your future? The acoustic guitar intro leads Mark to question if there is a sense of wonder left. Uncertainty, unsure of who to trust, darkest secrets revealed. Are you who you seem and will your past ever let you be who you would like to be, seeking to find someone who will accept you for who you are?
Can you hold down a relationship, what foundations are they built on? Does true love exist in today’s society, increasingly uneasy in the shallow pool of values, to form a bond between couples. If you can’t, you’ll find yourself saying This Is Goodbye. Empty promises, failure to live up to expectations as Gaz’s guitar riffs wave farewell, the laid back delivery wrong-footing you once more.
And once it’s over and gone, dare you trust again? Can you learn to love, have feelings, show your own? Or scarred by the experiences keep your emotions hidden, Smiling On The Inside, afraid to expose yourself for fear of rejection and disappointment. The prospect of being left alone as the keys drop notes like whispers behind your back. Can you face it and be strong enough to take on a relationship once more as the guitars gently mock you in the background?
The adulation craved, the need to be loved and wanted, enveloped in a Marillion and Genesis homage of guitars and keyboards on 22 Likes with the band’s influences rising to the surface. The restriction of being in the public eye, creation of a persona and the inability to be yourself around others.
This segues into track seven on a wave of Bill Nelson type guitar, drifting into a Floydian style passage as Kym’s extensive vocal range soars over the instruments to create a Fantastic Souvenir of breathtaking music.
A flute introduces the band finale as they reach to Log Out: The Universal Mirth, breaking away from it all, finding the strength to step out, moulding the lyrical and musical style of Fish era Marillion into their own sound, to tremendous effect. Peter Jones‘ guest keyboard solos burst like the petals of summer flowers opening to embrace the mood and flourish over Mark mourning they took the miracle away.
They haven’t, it’s just been recorded and presented in a digi-pak of sublime, melancholic wonder for us all to purchase, listen and revel in. Encircled have done it again, getting under my skin and sinking in to create a warming glow. This is another gem of an album from the band which sees them grow in musical stature and as soon as ‘The Universal Mirth’ finishes, I find myself wanting to play it again, as you may well do.
Time to cuddle on the sofa with the lights low, quality scotch in hand and press play/repeat.
The man called Gerrit rounded the corner, his earphones mingling the noises from the factory to his left with the music on his mp3 player, whilst the lost and lonesome dragged through another evening shift on minimum wage to keep the corporate wolf from the council house door. Under-appreciated he mused, he couldn’t, wouldn’t want to do their job.
His gait slowed as string like arrangements filtered into his ears, the pavement glistening, umber under the old street lamps and the damp air leaving a moist layer on the paving stones. The fog had crept in and choked the visibility down to a couple of hundred yards as he turned to stare across the cobbled street and the boarded up building opposite, hunched in the dark like a homeless giant huddled against the cold night air.
Gerrit Koekebakker pulled his sagging coat collar closer and his hat down in a futile attempt at shutting out the cold, then he stepped on to the cobbles and crossed to the old club. Fading, crinkled pictures in rusting frames, telling of faded stories from the past he had once been part of. He stared at them momentarily, reached into his coat pocket and removed his flat keys, pressing them firmly against the edge of one of the frames until it popped open fractionally and he could remove the photo. He stared at the curled edge photo for a second. She was in the picture serving at a table, his waitress.
Lamentation had been his only friend when he had lost her.
He took the key from his pocket, unlocked the door, stepped into the dank, dark entrance and secured the door behind him. Using the light from his phone he found and flicked the fuse box switch. The lights fluttered on and he pushed through the musty red velvet curtain to reveal the club interior. It was two years since the band had played here, the club closing shortly after the last gig. It hadn’t changed in here though the world outside had moved on. His memory ran footage of the band up on stage, familiar faces mingling with newer ones in the audience. Things had seemed on the up when they left that night, he’d bagged the girl he’d fancied for some time and the band were gaining interest from promoters and labels.
Funny how it can all turn in an instant, a strummed guitar picked up the story.
He’d seen the waitress home with a promise to call the next day, returning to the place he shared with his Mother only to find an ambulance outside, lights flashing.
What would he do without her, his Mother had always been there for him, he hadn’t pictured her leaving. Distraught he stumbled through his emotions over the following weeks, haunting melodies playing in his head. Shutting out the empathy and rejecting company, he remained in the house leafing through old photos, solace in a bottle as he tried to fill the emptiness inside, the sounds of sorrowful guitar and keys mixing with sombre bass and drums intensifying from the stereo’s speakers, trying to crush the misery. He shunned his band-mates and the waitress. The club manager left messages terminating their residency with regret due to closure, one thing after another. The band fractured without him, going their separate ways to try and earn a crust.
Dropping the curtain behind him, he wove his way through the booths toward the dance floor as the last few guitar chords faded. With the bar to his left he stood on the dusty wooden floor before stepping on to the stage and turning to look around the room.
The waitress. He never thought he was in with a chance, always some big-time money boys around handing out fat tips, expecting repayment with interest. He was a jobbing musician, living with his Mother, what could he offer. But slowly over the weeks he’d watched her long legs in silk hose strut paths through the smoke infested punters, dodging the groping hands and lewd offers, always smiling, her lips the colour of cherries, and blonde curls of hair bouncing and floating as she turned and shimmied the shuttles between bar and tables, navigating trays of drinks to arrive unspilled. She would flash the ruby smile and he was entranced with her laughing blue eyes, just one night would be enough.
The night he walked her home she told him how pleased she was that he had finally spoken to her and asked her out, she had been waiting. She had been there some days as they rehearsed, pausing to sway to the languid keyboards and echoing guitar creating ripples of notes through the air, sometimes she would seem miles away, her body slowly dancing, shut off from everything around her and lost in the music…….How could he take her from being so happy only to make her the Loneliest Of Creatures.
Thoughts of the waitress made him smile wistfully and he slowly shook his head as the track rose on his plaintive vocals, the music turning heavier and distorting into the final keys from Remco den Hollander.
The next track plunged from his pocket and into his ears with a burst of heavy fuzzed guitar-work from Michel Varkivesser and Remco’s keyboards, Manuel Renaud’s drums bouncing vigorously alongside the bass of Fernandez Burton, before swirling into an echoing key loop and his voice began to sing about the Prison Walls he had built around himself…
Surrounding himself with a blanket of darkness trapped behind bars of his own making, he’d existed, barely, not considering the future or making decisions. There has to come a point of balance from which you start to return, or disappear. He resolved then, no more misery, things would be like before. It wouldn’t be easy but as the music strode out in a vote of confidence, he opened the curtains allowing the light to flow like liquid gold over the interior of the room. He couldn’t keep this place in darkness like a mausoleum any longer, it was his Home.
There was a noise. He pulled out the earphones as thunder and lightening rolled overhead outside and he could hear rainfall on the roof, accompanied by slow dripping into the bucket across the room. That would be fixed. He pondered on the quiet in the room and pushed the phones back in his ears, dismissing the air of loneliness. The most deafening screams were those of silence.
He had been at the stage where he’d wished someone would take this life away from him, the times he lost control during his period of mourning.
A hopeful guitar solo rose from the ear-bud speakers.
There had been a lot of Uncertainty to deal with, at times it felt he was taking one step forwards and two back towards the place where he had longed for seclusion. The darker moments of music echoing his moods but glimmers of hope being punched through by the drumbeats and guitar soloing as the long rebuild of his life began to piece together.
He’d contacted the band members, understandably there were Departures,a couple having made their own paths, but some of the old gang were still interested and they could audition new members. Where there had been a void of black and a writhing kaleidoscope of shadows, the jigsaw of his shattered soul that had promised fear forever more, began to free itself like a bird released.
Gerrit reminisced how he and Fernandez had recruited Michel to flesh out the guitar sound giving it a heavier edge and to provide backing vocals. They brought Remco and Manuel into the fold and whilst retaining the core sound of the band, impressed their own bass and drum styles into the music, as rehearsals and recording began with new found zest.
As the album tracks formed, the addition of guests Steen Gees Christensen playing duduk, and backing vocals from Inge den Hollander added different flavours to the mix, with spoken words from Joanne Platts highlighting the passages.
Confidence rebuilding there was one more matter to take care of. He thought she would have found someone else, but those he asked advised she was still single. He needed to see the smiling eyes and laughing lips on that Familiar Face. With trepidation and sweaty palms he arrived at her house. He’d hurt her, would she turn the key and let him in?
He knocked on the door, it swung open and there stood the waitress just as he remembered, the sunshine to his rain. With no remonstration and the sparkle in those blue eyes re-ignited, she flung her arms around him and kissed him deeply, it was going to be ok.
And so it was, his smile broadened as he sat on the edge of the stage and thought of the upcoming wedding, To Have And To Hold. He hoped his parents were looking down on him and he was making them proud.
And then there was the club. He had bought it using the monies left by his wonderful Mum and the savings Dad had put away which she had never spent, saving it for him to help when she had gone.
He’d best get going or he would be late for band practice. One last look round the room as it was, the builders would start the refurbishment work in the morning. Within a few weeks all would be transformed, a new look interior and a familiar band in residence for the grand re-opening.
He made his way out on to the street and locked the door. The rain had stopped and there was an added spring to his step as he disappeared round the corner.
Whilst the line up has altered, the sound from the last album remains but with an added edge. I enthused about the first album ‘Tides’ and still love it, so it was a real pleasure reviewing this sophomore offering that more than matches it. What influenced me reviewing the last album has inspired me again and rather than a straight track by track review of ‘Departures’, I felt the best way to do this was extend the story.
Those with a keen ear will notice references to the lyrics woven throughout the review and the musicianship on ‘Departures’ is as fine a production as you could wish, oozing with slick, languid rhythms and blossoming crescendos. If you liked ‘Tides’ then ‘Departures’ is a must buy. I have still to see Downriver Dead Men Go live but who knows I may stumble into a hazily lit, down-town bar someday and find them on stage. I hope so.
There’s always the clamour to decide what has been album of the year every annum and the good and great are voted for. In conversation the other day it arose that what is voted best, may not always turn out to be the most played.
Some albums push their way into your play-list and you find yourself returning to them regularly to get your fix. Long Distance Calling’s “Trips”is one of those albums for me. I can’t count the number of journeys in the car, where it has been played, you just have to be careful one doesn’t drive too quickly to some of the tracks. It is a real energiser of an album and always picks me up.
I have all their albums and the addition of vocals on “Trips” seemed to give it an added edge. So I was surprised to find the latest Long Distance Calling (LDC) release “Boundless” sees them returning with an all instrumental album and no Petter Carlson on vocals, a brave or foolish move?
The suitably brooding cover and promotional photos accompanying the music would suggest the promise of something a little darker with plenty of atmosphere and strength in their musical belief.
A crash of cymbals and the heft of drums from Janosch Rathmer feed into a drone, building with a lashing of feedback from guitar duo Florian Juntmann and Dave Jordan to see them Out There. The growling guitars are suppressed to repetitive gentle chords, Jan Offman’s bass blowing across the brown grass and moss covered moors as LDC bend into the stiff breeze and push forward, the mud of sceptics sucking at their boots. Drums drift back into the mix and the music rises to a crescendo as they reach the foot of the mountain and assess the route.
The heavy climb is echoed in the pumping guitars as LDC begin Ascending the second track of the mountainous album, riffs jabbing at them like the bitter wind, scrabbling for hand and footholds, the escalating guitars puncturing the cloud-base as the band strive for the peak and throbbing percussion pushes upwards as looping chords announce the summit.
They are In The Clouds, disorientated with limited visibility as strange sounds and percussion echo around. Strummed chords bend like sirens’ cries and aggressive guitars pull at the fabric of the tune as LDC seek to gain purchase and not lose their way among the rocks and crevices of the atmospheric synths and loops. The instrumentation fluctuates, with the menace of the bass warning of one lost footfall and the subtle percussion tries to wrong foot across undulating, tuneful ground.
Through plucked strings and behind jangling guitars, a sound is heard Like A River, as this accomplished German quartet confidently navigate their way. At one point the sound morphs into something narrowly close to the theme from a spaghetti western, whilst violin and brass make brief dalliances. Pulled back by the whistling winds, the clouds of music are parted revealing unparalleled views of the cruelly beautiful landscapes around them,. LDC admire the aural view as the guitars float down the mountainside and away.
Pushing their way through the heavy waves of riffs that strike them, the band forge their way to The Far Sideof the mountain top, drums eddying as bass rolls of thunder meet overhead and the darkening, heavy clouds of guitar speed their way across the sky with determination.
Abruptly finding themselves On The Verge, piano calms the storm as harmonic guitar notes are picked to drift in the air. Looping guitars build and the band members attend to the backpacks they have been carrying and prepare for the descent. The music creates a determined urgency, to take advantage of the break in the weather, as the clouds drift away and pale watery skies are revealed.
Buddy checking they are ready, the band take a few steps back then all instruments rush forward together and leap from the edge………
The cold air moans around them as LDC dive from the precipice, sharpening the senses at the wonder of it all as they feel Weightless, drifting like birds on the thermals of the music as the building bass and drum rhythms quicken the heart. The pace of the descent increases, arms and legs splayed as the music spreads and the guitars fly with complete freedom. A tug of chords, the brief jerk upward as the ‘chutes open safely and they are nearly there.
The ground rushes towards them with all the energy the instruments can muster and percussive blood pumps in the ears. Knees bend as contact is made with terra firma and they roll before standing proud as the music swells their chests and hearts. Rising, the Skydiversacknowledge they have arrived unscathed and begin to draw in the ‘chutes as they congratulate each other in conquering the dramatic mountain of music; they have made it their own.
All gathered in, the band turn and with fading notes in the cooling breeze, LDC head back homeward with tales of their achievement bolstering their distinctive success.
So have Long Distance Calling pulled off the challenge of reinvention? For me it’s another resounding yes, to be shouted from the highest mountain and to echo in every valley. Their bravery has been rewarded and so shall yours if you have belief and buy the album.
Bands are criticised for drifting from their comfort zones at times or relying on tried and tested methods, this is no throwback but yet another push forward for Long Distance Calling whilst holding on to their distinctive sound, well done lads, keep up the good work.
A columnist from an upmarket daily mentioned recently, that this time of year isn’t good for new music. How do these people get employed?
Two weeks into the new year and the quality of releases out and arriving are breathtaking, in scope and variation. Anticipation is at fever pitch at the expectation of numerous releases from new artists and old hands and I for one am looking forward to what the year brings.
Galahad’s ‘Seas Of Change’ is one of my most eagerly awaited. Having been a fan of Stu and the band from the earliest days I have always admired that, whilst they have their trademark sound, they have never been afraid to experiment and push the boundaries. Having followed a heavier path of late (last year’s release, ‘Quiet Storms’, being an exception) ‘Seas Of Change‘ sees the band mixing their various musical guises to give us a veritable melting pot of all that was, is and now will be Galahad.
Though I was sad to hear of long term guitarist Roy Keyworth departing the fold, the return of the wonderfully talented Lee Abraham riding on the crest of his excellent solo album ‘Colours’ and formidably wielding the guitars here, adds a refreshing impetus to the band demographic.
Talking of sound, keyboardist Dean Baker should give himself a huge slap on the back for writing all the music and compositional arrangements on ‘Seas Of Change’. He has done a impressive job in creating an ‘epic feel’ of an album, a feast for the aural senses. A sweeping panorama of sound that crashes like a tidal wave through your sound system, drenching you in it’s thrall. That’s before we get to mention just how good he actually is as a keyboardist and conjurer of effects.
As for Mr Stu Nicholson’s vocals, they have to my ears never sounded or fitted the material better. Let us also not forget the valued contributions from the formidable engine room, Spencer Luckman on drums & percussion, combined with the return of Tim Ashton on bass guitar. The album also features long term Galahad honorarian, the lovely Sarah Bolter, sprinkling the album with fragrant flute, clarinet and soprano sax.
It takes someone of a certain quality to harness all this energy and polish it into a glistening diamond. No problem there as ‘Seas Of Change’ was mixed and mastered, most ably, at Thin Ice Studios in Surrey by the magician that is Karl Groom, producing a sound as clear and fresh as a crystal lake, all nicely wrapped in a wonderful album cover by the ever talented Paul Tippett.
“So what of the album itself?” I hear you cry, “the subject, content and the tracks?”
There is dear reader, only one ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ size track that comprises the whole album.
According to Stu it was intended to be all of seven minutes but grew into the force formidable to which it now stands. Galahad have never shied from difficult, thorny subjects and if you are looking for English, pastoral poetry, with hearts and flowers, look elsewhere.
Stabbing at the heart of the government, this merry band of men (and lady) take politics and politicians skilfully and tactfully to task over Brexit, the public debates surrounding and following it, as the politicians have circled like sharks with the British public as bait, causing much confusion.
With a wry nod and a wink Galahad deliberate through the music as it rises and falls, majestic one moment, reflective the next. The quality of the material, musicianship and sound is faultless. This album cannot be dipped in and out of, but must be consumed as a whole which if you do, you should find most satisfying, whether your palate be to a fine glass of merlot or a huge feast.
If you have sampled the band before and found them not to your taste I will not force feed you, but merely ask you try this album or you could miss out on one of the tastiest releases of 2018. Me? I’m off back for seconds…
Life, like glass, is a fragile thing. Blows to both cause them to crack and fracture, delicately hanging the shards together as fissures creep across the surface, threatening to shatter at any moment.
Sharp edges and words cut deep red like blood and run with the dark crimson of passion. The reflections distort and twist our outlook on life.
Glittering and glistening in the light like fond memories slipping between the cracks into darkness, as we try to grasp what we had but see it slipping away and out of reach, things will never be the same.
We pick up the pieces to try and fit them back how they were, but there will always be a difference. How we deal with the changes makes us who we are, the person we evolve to be in the aftermath.
Travis Smith’s album design for ‘Fractured’ captures the essence of this album perfectly, a good start.
Pain can weigh heavy as we seek ways to lighten the load, allowing us to move forward. Not to dwell on Mariusz Duda’s own dramas that have befallen him of late, but the theme of this album under the Lunatic Soul guise, by his own admission is about coming back to life after personal tragedy. It’s inspired by what happened in his life in 2016 and by everything that’s happening around us and what’s making us turn away from one another and divide into groups, for better or for worse.
This catharsis involves him spreading his talents further from the paths run by his previous albums and taking a leaf out of the musical parchments of such luminaries as 80’s electronic masters Depeche Mode and others.
Mixing synth and programmed beats with loops of Duda’s voice, and adding his distinctive complex bass grooves, he creates what is probably his most commercially accessible and varied solo output to date.
From the throbbing beats and looped voice samples, almost aboriginal in tone, with synths and piano building in layers on the first track, Blood on the Tightropemarks a route through the jagged edges of doubt and indecisiveness, a fine balance without falling and edging forward to end on a determined note.
Baring his soul so honestly on this album, the music sometimes reflects a little uncomfortably. As in second track Anymorewhere sounds and notes flit in and out over the rhythms, jerking as if to remove some of the painful crystals buried in the exposed heart. There are also traces of Peter Gabriel buried in there somewhere.
Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes may be the closest in sound to his Riverside roots on this album and is the first of two tracks on which the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra weave their magic nurturing the mood of the song. Mariusz’s struggles with his pain and the way he yearns for the age of childlike innocence to relieve him of this heartache, are hauntingly beautiful.
A darker feel as Red Light Escape scratches at anguish on track four. He explores the way people try to come to terms with tragedy. How some search for an emotional crutch to cling to rather than face their fears and slip back into dependency on things they find comforting, even if it is not necessarily a good thing and prevents them from dealing with the problem, so they can move on.
Title track Fracturedhas a sparser feel, with Mariusz’s signature bass pulsing as synth and other sounds inject like dark drugs into the grooves of unnerving beat pattern, that leaves you on edge and unsettled.
A hopeful ballad, A Thousand Shards Of Heaven is delicately ushered in with acoustic guitar and the emotional vocals from Mariusz then joined by the wonderful Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra once more. It offers glimmers of hope amongst the sadness, as the silky saxophone of Marcin Odyniec floats into the mix and gentle ripples, torn into submission by Wawrzyniec Dramowicz’s syncopatic percussion, a feeling of calm bringing it to a close.
Synth bubbles on Battlefield awash with digital waves and electronica, in this slow burner that builds with rolling, rhythmic percussion. A cautionary warning of the dangers of holding things inside and letting them destroy you and a reflection of the inner fight he has faced and stood strong echoed in the assertive ending.
Moving Onwith it’s Depeche Mode influences worn on it’s musical sleeve, could easily have been a single. Melodic and catchy, Mariusz bares himself one last time for the listener, to let us know he is not going to let what has hurt him stop him moving forward, climaxing with a few positive notes from the saxophone.
It’s an awkward review, as this is so personal to Mariusz. As you look deeper into it you can feel a little voyeuristic and that you may be prying. But the attitude and bravery he shows in releasing this material is a testament to the man and those around him. He has put a positive spin on everything that has happened and fully embraces the adage ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.
Clearly his best solo output to date, ‘Fractured’ is in some ways a huge departure from previous works, a progression and isn’t that what this album is all about. A tremendous album that I believe everyone should have a copy of, certainly one of the best releases of 2017. Fans may have been concerned for his welfare after what befell him, but Mariusz has reassured us all that he is stepping into the light and the future looks bright.
Released 6th October 2017
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There have been many claims from people saying they have discovered our sixth sense and what it is.
For me it’s the sense of wonder.
From the moment I was old enough to remember, I have been imbued with this sense, from the warmth of the sun on your face on a hot day, to the light reflecting on rippling water. The power of nature in all it’s structures, climbing high mountains, cloud formations, waterfalls, all drawing amazement in their natural beauty. Whether it’s exploring caves from which creatures never leave or will ever see the light of day, diving beneath the waters of our seas and oceans to find fantastical beasts or simply observing the colours on a butterfly’s wings, I will never cease to wonder.
If it could be given a chemical symbol on the periodic scale it would probably show as ‘Awe’ and a combination of all the elements from Alkali Metals to Noble Gases, with all the others in between.
Age does not wither this sense, in fact as I reach a more mature age I feel an intensification of the sensations, a heightening of the sensory perceptions. Man’s own achievements leaving you breathless at the daring bravery of such as astronauts and those who risk everything for the sake of others.
Perhaps that is why music holds such fascination and plays such a huge part in my life as it tries to encompass all that wonder and project it through instrumentation.
(Picture by Neal Grundy)
Nordic Giants formed in 2010 and are described as an instrumental post-rock duo and despite their misleading names I am led to believe they are from Brighton, and it’s said they include prominent cinematic aspects into the performances and videos. I find it difficult to come up with an explanation that fully captures the essence that is this duo but will do my best. Dressed in masks and feathers, duo Loki (Keys, Synth,Trumpet & Loops) and Rôka (Cymbals & Skins, Bowed Guitar, Samples) combine award-winning film footage and speeches with piano, bowed guitar, drums and brass alongside smoke/strobe effects and, when playing live, they create engulfing, emotional experiences of wondrous art.
Latest album ‘Amplify Human Vibration’ is a soundtrack, they say, to a documentary that explores the kindness of humanity, aiming to decipher what drives these people as a thought-provoking exploration into the human spirit. Consisting of seven tracks this is an ambitious and audacious attempt to push their music further.
The Taxonomy of Illusionsis a speech given by Terence McKenna at UC Berkeley in 1993 and forms the basis around which the Giants build the first track with the similar title. Piano led, featuring some great percussion from Rôka and Trumpet from Loki,this is a powerful track that has the ability to conjure up the images of McKenna giving his speech as they seek to use the music to describe what he is saying. Thoughtful and uplifting it sets us on course for track 2 and informs us of what’s to come.
There is no speech on First Light Of Dawn, it doesn’t need it as once again it paints a picture in the mind’s eye, this one of the sun creeping over the horizon to waken the day. It’s exquisite and I have promised myself, that one day I am going to sit and watch the sunrise listening to this hauntingly beautiful track, the equivalent of watching Turner paint the sunrise.
One of the greatest men to walk this planet as an inspiration was Martin Luther King Jr. His compassion for his fellow men and women and his tireless efforts in trying to seek justice against untruths in a hope that all mankind could live as one knows few equals. ‘Beyond Vietnam’ is a speech delivered by him, on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City. It is from this speech that Loki and Rôka draw inspiration for the third track of the album, with with a wave of bowed guitar lifting the Spirit and joined once again by haunting piano. You can’t really listen to this without feeling a profound effect on yourself, a reviewer’s words sometimes seem insufficient and it is often best with this music to listen as it forms it’s own description in your mind.
Featuring the allure of guest vocals from Frejya floating through your consciousness, Rewakeallies itself with “The Mystery of Change” which is a motivational speech by Alan Watts, a renowned British-born philosopher, writer, speaker and theologist. Having for a time been an Episcopal priest he eventually joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies, in California. Piano chords and percussive structures accentuate angelic singing, as Watts strives to spiritually inspire.
‘We are power’ is a speech given by John Trudell at the Survival Gathering in the Black Hills of South Dakota on July 18th, 1980. The speech talks of ourselves in terms of power, that we are energy and an extension of the Earth and should not abuse it. As Immortal Elementsthe music poetically illustrates the words and the speech returns the compliment.
Sat in the church of instrumentation, resting on the pews of chords and bars, we can embrace the blissful notes from the organ playing sweetly on Autonomous, the final track that will guide us into the light of understanding on a wave of musical euphoria. With bubbling energy the sound grows to a rousing, magnificent climax leaving us with a palatable silence of contentment.
Some people may find the speeches detract from the music on ‘Amplify Human Vibration’ but for me there is a symbiosis ’twixt the two and I feel neither would be better served without the other. Taken in isolation the album is a wonderful collection of instrumentals which when combined with the newly proposed stage performance for the upcoming tour could create a Force Majeure. But don’t just take my word for it, I am already a convert, listen for yourself and make up your own mind.
Latest album, ‘The Optimist’, has been very favourably received by press and fans alike, winning “Album of the Year” at the 2017 Progressive Music Awards.
With a stunning performance at Be Prog 2017 from the Poble Espanyol in Barcelona on 1 July gathering rave reviews, they are currently promoting the album on tour in North America, with UK and European dates coming up. Life would appear to be very good for the band at the moment in an apparent period of blooming productivity.
Not content with this, founding member Danny Cavanagh is to release solo album ‘Monochrome’ in October 2017, which he says “has a late night, candlelit feeling, evoking the light of dusk as the summer sun sinks below the horizon, setting the scene for thoughts and meditations that many people will relate to.”
It features guest appearances from Anna Phoebe and Anneke van Giersbergen, with Cavanagh playing almost everything else himself. The result he describes as “a deeply reflective and personal offering, inspired by internal feelings of love and loss.”
So what to expect from an acclaimed musician on his individual foray, cut loose from the pack?
In all honesty, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, which is hardly surprising as Danny is heavily involved in writing the Anathema songs, but the material is more personal and introspective.
A video of first track The Exorcist has already been released, of which Danny says the band thought was so good that they wanted it as a central track on which to build another Anathema album. Danny resisted, wanting to include it on his solo release and whilst it was a difficult decision, says he is pleased he did. It’s a fabulous track with which to open the album full of emotion and trademark layers of looping guitars and solos, carving a comfy position in the emotional heart of the album. A yearning for trust, the heartache of separation and a gratitude for salvation. For me it is every bit as impressive as stated and I can see why the band wanted it as a pivotal track on a new recording. Unreservedly the best track on this release, in my humble opinion.
So herein lies the problem for me initially, it is such a strong song that the others take time to absorb as I keep returning to this track.
A breathy rising introduction to This Music finds Danny in reflective mood, sharing the vocal duties with Anneke Van Giersbergen. Fine guitar soloing slides in and out of this fairly short track that drifts along nicely with delicious melodies but fades all too soon for me.
We are left to wander around Soho, with the gentle piano/vocals from Danny (this lad can sing, why does he not do more with the band) and joined once more by the elegantly gilded vocals of the lovely Anneke in this second duet. It builds from a pulse to a full production of Anathema proportions, receding delicately to piano key tinkling like rain drops. Leading you along orange lit, rain glistening pavements, passing gaudy neon signs above smoke filled entrances as a gentle breeze ruffles the notes into the dark night.
Classical style piano unites with yearning violin strings from Anna Phoebe to take off on The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours, across cloud ridden, dampened skies, holding back the sunrise. Click tempo rises as bass and drums wheel around the air above, encouraging a clapping accompaniment I would imagine, if ever played live. They settle on warming thermals of synthesised sounds and murmured chants that lift and fall to a lone piano searching out faint strings of birdcall, then suddenly bursting into anguished torment like a slow wailing at a funeral cortege for the dying strands of the night, until we are left with only birdsong to herald…
Dawn. Danny breaks out looping acoustic chords and violin swoops in to herald the sun’s ascendancy into the glory of a new day, on this short instrumental glittering with a touch of Irish folk.
The penultimate track, finds Danny sailing lyrically across Oceans Of Time, with his trusty piano on board penning love letters to a distant soul , harmonies of separation lamented with Anneke at his outpourings. Emotions rise in the familiar guitar sounds we have come to recognise and love from Mr Cavanagh and the soloing tears at your heartstrings once more as we are washed upon a familiar shore, where…
Some Dreams Come True. The looping waves of guitar lap gently on the sand with horse spray tails of a beautiful violin solo from Anna Phoebe cast delicately toward the end of this instrumental piece, splashing at the feet of a child, causing unbound joyous laughter, as gulls circle overhead, on what could easily have been a prelude track to The Optimist.
I have listened to this album at various times of the day and in different situations, at night in the peace of my own home, in the car whilst driving, in the background at work and on the train whilst watching the scenery outside flow past. This produced varying aural experiences and revealed further nuances with each listen.
It is a lovely album filled with Danny’s impassioned musings on a fine solo outing from this accomplished artist assisted by a couple of very talented ladies, adorning the tracks they are on with loving care.
The perfect accompaniment for a glass of wine in the warmth of your lounge shut away from the cold winter’s evening, or just as readily a companion for your walk in the country with the sun on the back of your neck and the wind in your hair.
Guy Andrews says he was drawn to write his latest album ‘Tåke’ (Norwegian for mist/fog), when his return flight from Norway was cancelled due to fog, leaving him with time to explore Bergen, the city where he was staying. He walked up a small mountain to the top revealing a stunning view of Norway’s fjords, in such stark contrast to where he was living at the time that it inspired ideas of layered textures, revealing aural landscapes.
With only two tracks on the album containing vocals, collaborations with renowned musician Alev Lenz, this mostly instrumental captures heavy atmospheres and layers of influences with ghost like rhythms that rise and fall like ripples in a stone struck pond.
The haunting violins and soft vocals from Alev toy with your emotions on The Clearing, synthesised sounds wrapping round you like a damp sea fret, a succubus to drag you into the depths of despair, until she disappears leaving you lost and disorientated.
A synthesised echo creeps out of the mist toward you from a John Carpenter lair, whilst looping guitars circle like dark minions waiting to do it’s bidding on Trails. Brief glimpses as they burst toward you and fade again enhancing the feeling of panic, guitars cutting in to hold them at bay and building in tempo. It all slows and drifts away like gossamer threads of a dissipating fog, burned off by the rising sun.
Heart pumping percussive notes and guitar chimes drive you up the Fjell (The modern Norwegian translation being ‘Mountain’), pulling you higher to survey the landscape before you. Taking in the municipality west of Bergen, (which has also adopted the name) of a group of small islands surrounded by fjords. Seguing into a modern dance beat that increases the impetus, there is a short breather with just guitar chords before the sound surrounds you again in a euphoric climax.
The online video available for the next track, It Cannot Surface, matches the music perfectly. The deep, dark rumbles of the menacing armada of clouds advancing across the fields, engulfing the landscape and swallowing the light in it’s pitch black maw. Seemingly unstoppable, the sheer terror of nature revealed in all it’s glory as they move toward a wind farm in the distance, the turbines dwarfed by the enormity of the approaching storm, vanes spinning furiously and appearing to lean into the battle, they are consumed like ants. Bolts of lightning pierce the landscape like javelins as the clouds roll furiously, clashing against the light. Hay bales like motionless sentries at their posts, are unable to join the fray against an unassailable foe. Fulgurations of lightning are buried in the dense nebulous blanket, trailing tendrils of rainstorms as they pass overhead unabated, the music fading on a hopeful band of light in the distance. I don’t think I have ever felt such intensity and drama all squeezed into a couple of minutes music, before. It’s epic in the enormity of it’s scope and my favourite track on the album.
Alev joins Guy again to display their Feelingsover the remnants of the receding storm, interspersed with bursts of kinetic energy and mourning strings, the petrichor infused ozone permeating the refreshed orchestration.
Surveying the damage and flooding from the storm leaves you with the helpless realisation that, There Was Nothing You Could Have Done, under the weight of droning notes and fluttering instrumentation.
In the aftermath, the turmoil of feelings Buried Within dissipate and the guitars issue in a renewed vigour to carry you through what needs to be done. A calmness oversees your actions and a determination of heavy riffs replaces the ferment.
The Clearing Reprise of piano refrain and washes of strings, shows you promise of a new dawn, free from turbulence, to end with renewed hope as the album is brought gently to a close.
Guy Andrews throws varying influences into this melting pot of an album, which plays like a soundtrack. Tåke is orchestral in it’s arrangement, veering from ambient to dance, even flashes of metal, which Guy works into a triumph of musical nature. This is a darkly beautiful album, with a recommendation you listen in an unlit room whilst in repose and undisturbed, letting it drift over you to wash the chaos of your day away.
I have no qualms in pushing bands that are new to my ears. The plethora of talent around at the moment is wonderful to behold. I don’t wish to detract from the older bands of my youth and still love and listen to the music I grew up with, but more and more I find myself checking out the new kids on the block (no, not the boy band) as they truly represent a progression in the genres. Everything can go in the musical blender and come out in the mix and though not all of it works and won’t appeal to everyone, there should be something you will find to your taste in there.
I personally feel this is the best time since the 70’s for new music and like an addict I devour neoteric tunes and the bands that make them, trying to sate my appetite. Whilst I am time poor, the chance to review some of these releases is an opportunity I relish and, with a couple of exceptions, have been lucky to like most of what I’ve heard.
So it came as a surprise to me when I agreed to review Amarok‘s album ‘Hunt’, that it is their fourth release and I have not heard them before. Mr Hutchinson sent me this after suggesting it could be in the running for album of the year, so high expectations. Essentially a project of the very talented Michal Wojtas, from Kielce in south central Poland, who sings on five of the tracks and plays a number of instruments (guitars, harmonium, keyboards, audio samples, percussions, electronic drums, theremin, low whistle), he also has other invited artists contributing on various tracks. Michal credits Jean Michel Jarre and Mike Oldfield as being particular musical influences on him and their inspiration can also be felt throughout.
Now there is something about Polish artists, the beautiful, melancholic melodies they create resonate with me and some people will find obvious comparisons to another very popular Polish act, but that would be to denigrate the talent here. The further into the album the more the music spreads and occupies different genre spaces. At the heart of the album the lyrics deal with trying to retain our individuality against the social media and powers that be, who try to conform us whilst distorting the truth to their own ends.
After giving this a number of listens I don’t think Michal will remain Anonymousfor long as the throbbing pulse of the first track ushers us into his musical world. Pawel Kowalski plays drums on this and most of the tracks on the album, adding to the rising rhythm, with Marta Wojtas filling the sound further on wavedrum as she does on a number of tracks on this album. I’m already hooked as the track mounts to a crescendo with driving guitars and relaxes again in Michal’s vocals to the close.
The incomparable Mariusz Duda lends his delicious vocals to second trackIdyll, ably backed by Konrad Pajek. I make no apologies for waxing lyrical on the magic Mariusz’s vocals bring to this or any tune, as it builds gently in mouthwatering layers and he gilds it to perfection. Guitars weep with joy and rippling keys sing, growing as a field of colourful blooms, resplendent in their gilding.
The echoing keys of Distorted Soulshaunt us gently, with skittering electronic distortion bouncing between the speakers and staccato drum beats jabbering away under the wistful vocals from Michal Wojtas with an earworm of a chorus. We are then caressed by a wonderful theremin passage midway which serves to accentuate the impactful ending of heart torn guitar strings and keys on what is yet another beautiful track.
We are only three tracks into this and I am sold.
The eerily stunning Two Sides, played mostly on the Duduk (an ancient double-reed woodwind flute made of apricot wood, indigenous to Armenia, for you fact lovers) by the gifted Sebastian Wieladek, blows gently through your ears like a warm Scirocco across a moonlit desert as you lay and watch the stars twinkle in an endless sky, the sound echoing away into the distance, leaving you entranced.
The twisting rhythm of Michal Wojtas’ harmonium breathes in and out on Winding Stairs, with sampled noises and Pawel Kowalski’s percussive beats dancing back and forth. Michal’s gentle voice soothes and muted guitar flurries strain in the distance gently pushing to the fore, contesting the harmonium on it’s last breaths.
An aggressive, distorted riff blasts you out of your reverie and tribal beats kick in, the guitar stuttering and lurching in and out, bouncing between speakers. Delicate swathes of keys wash on the pounding rhythms as they resonate In Closenesswith your increased heartbeat whilst Michal Wotja’s whispering vocals hold it all together.
I love emotional guitar solos and Unrealcries to my very soul as Michal Wojtas bends and slides the frets on mournful waves, underpinned by Michal Sciwiarski’s eddying keyboards. Quite simply bliss.
(Picture by Grzegorz Szklarek)
A different voice softly accompanies the keys and synths on Nuke, courtesy of Colin Bass guesting on vocals, harmonising seamlessly with Michal Wojtas. Steadily and subtly building the music expands, widening the sound to arena proportions with another sublime guitar solo slipping in before the end of this, the penultimate track.
The title tune plays us out starting with the lector narration from John England adding a conceptual feel to Hunt. At just under eighteen minutes this could be classed as an epic musical story, with splendid keyboard passages and samples emulating Michal Wojtas’ quoted influences. Once again there are some fine guitar solos that swoop and fly between Michal’s wonderful vocals. John reflects on questions we should be asking and if can we stay true to ourselves avoiding the pitfalls of a virtual world where hidden people covertly hunt out our personal details for their own benefit, before the album is dramatically brought to a close as a crying guitar collides with the sounds of hammered metal.
Those of you who have read any of my past reviews know I often try to string a storyline through an album in an attempt to illustrate the tunes and catch your attention. I can’t with ‘Hunt’as every time I listen I’m drawn in and have trouble concentrating as I become immersed in the glory of it all.
I apologise for not hearing of Michal Wojta before and I don’t want to gush, but Martin asked the question, ‘could this be a contender for album of the year?’ The answer is probably not. No reflection on the album but like myself, I am sure Amarok have not been heard by the majority of people.
So I feel a desperate need to redress this balance with what little influence I have, please listen to this album because if nothing else it is most definitely one of my contenders for album of the year.
Amarok are tremendous, let’s give Michal Wojta the recognition he deserves.