Progradar’s Review of 2021

I’ve had a little time to digest what was a rather wonderful year of music in 2021. Here is my review of the year with my favourite albums, in no particular order barring my number one!

Transatlantic – The Absolute Universe – Forevermore

A true return to form for the prog supergroup with melodies, tunes and overtures galore. Transatlantic gave us their best album since ‘Bridge Across Forever’.

Lifesigns – Altitude

I really think that Lifesigns have taken a massive step forward with this album, good as ‘Cardington’ was, this release is so very much better in my opinion.

Echoes & Signals – Mercurial

‘Mercurial’ trades some of Echoes & Signals’ signature post-rock sensibilities for a darker journey into the kind of prog-metal embraced by the likes of Tool and this new direction is one that I feel suits them perfectly. 

Cosmograf – Rattrapante

At the time, I said, “At this moment in time there is nothing I would rather listen to than this incredible new album from Cosmograf, will Robin’s latest pièce de résistance still be up there at the end of the year? Most probably but, here and now, it just does not get any better than this!” And here it is!

League of Lights – Dreamers Don’t Come Down

Not only a nod to the past but also a completely relevant piece of music in these present times, ‘Dreamers Don’t Come Down’ is a perfectly crafted collection of pop and electronica infused songs that really hit home.

Ana Patan – Spice, Gold and Tales Untold

Wearing her many influences proudly on her sleeve Ana Patan has just allowed the music and her excellent vocals to tell her many intriguing and involving stories and this has allowed them to breathe and come to life quite spectacularly. An album that has surprised me in its simple brilliance and one that, if you let it, will enrich your life in a myriad of ways.

The Vicious Head Society – Extinction Level Event

‘Extinction Level Event’ is shaping up to possibly be the best prog metal album of the last few years at least, I honestly don’t think I’ve had a prog metal album hit me so hard since Haken’s ‘The Mountain’

Catalyst*R – self-titled

When everything that is happening around you is making your life jaded, just press play on this bewitching collection of songs, light the spark and let the music start to take your cares away…

Michael Woodman – Psithurism

A hugely impressive and admirably different collection of songs that shows Woodman’s impish creativity at its best. A musical breath of fresh air that will leave a smile on your face and wonderment in your soul.

Vestamaran – Bungalow Rex

Get your hands on this album and, when the sun shines, get the barbecue lit, an ice cold beer in your hand, put the stereo on, turn it up to 11 and just enjoy this incredible album for, as the press release says, “Life is not just bungalow all day long, it also includes a lot of rex in the evenings.”

Tillison, Reingold, Tiranti – Allium – Una Storia

Simple but perfectly formed and harking back to the days when music just put a smile on your face, this is one album that deserves success just because of how it makes you feel and I love it for that.

Big Big Train – Common Ground

Vibrant and upbeat, thoughtful, wistful and even melancholy at times, it is a collection of amazing songs that will touch you on a basic level and move you on many others. ‘Common Ground’ is the album that will make you fall in love with the band all over again and I can’t give it any higher praise than that!

smalltape – The Hungry Heart

I’m a massive fan of music that makes me think, music that doesn’t give up its deepest delights easily and ‘The Hungry Heart’ has that in spades. HungerBurning House, Dissolution, the list goes on, cuts of pure musical brilliance that showcase this young German musician as a seriously precocious talent and one to follow closely.

Giancarlo Erra – Departure Tapes

If music could tell a story of a life lived, lost and, deep at its core, loved then ‘Departure Tapes’ is it. I am along term fan of this intelligent musician’s brilliant work and this new release is another entry into his very impressive discography.

Great North Star – self-titled

Step out of this confusing and hectic world that we live in, if only for the thirty nine minutes running time, and allow your mind and your soul to recharge. A wonderful and insightful masterpiece that will stay with you for a very long time.

Three Colours Dark – Love’s Lost Property

‘Love’s Lost Property’ is an exquisite creation, nine tracks of wondrously charming music with Rachel’s honeyed vocals lifting this release well above what you may have heard already this year. I suggest you get your hands on it as soon as you can, it is definitely worth seeking out.

The Holy Road – An Unshakeable Demon

Never be afraid to challenge yourself and listen to something different, I found the eclectic and evocative wonder of ‘An Unshakable Demon’ really hit home with me.

CYAN – For King And Country

A masterpiece of intricate melodies, mellifluous vocals and intelligent songwriting, ‘For King And Country’ delights on every level and makes you smile. You can’t really ask for much more than that, can you?

Glass Hammer – Skallagrim – Into The Breach

Epic in scope, majestic in scale and blurring the lines between progressive rock and progressive metal, Glass Hammer have given us their best album of recent years and possibly their best release ever and it should be another monster success for this evergreen band.

Findlay Napier – It Is What It Is

‘It Is What It Is’ sees this fine musician and songwriter on a higher plane and is a must buy for anyone who appreciates and treasures original music with heart and soul.

And the top gong for album of the year goes to….

HFMC – We Are The Truth

This superlative gem of release is worthy of all the praise that is being heaped upon it and finishes 2021 on an utter high for this reviewer, the finest of a wonderful crop of albums released this year!

So, there you have it, my selection of some of the great albums that graced 2021 and I am sure that 2022 is going to be just as good!

Review – Lifesigns – Altitude – by John Wenlock-Smith

Here it is then, after a long wait from 2018’s ‘Cardington’ comes this masterpiece, for there is no other word that can capture the magnificence of ‘Altitude’, Lifesigns’ third album, replete with another 8 pieces of sublime brilliance. Still entirely and fiercely independent, this recording has been realised by the faithful supporters of the band who have purchased this album en masse, before a note was even recorded.

That such a thing happens is well known with the crowd funding models set out and utilised by the likes of Marillion and many others. This album really is something incredibly special indeed, for Lifesigns have realised their potential with a recording that will elevate them and their standing in the progressive rock world to hitherto unknown heights and, hopefully, making them a far bigger draw than they have previously experienced.

‘Altitude’ is an album of top quality songs and fantastic musicianship from artists who, working together, have given us a bone fide classic to take us beyond the world of lockdown, into a whole new dimension and experience. Yes I know I am raving about this, however it is with good reason. Let’s  walk through the tracks and I’ll tell you just why these are such exceptionally fine songs.

We will start with the opener and title track of the album Altitude which this is the longest track at 15:17. All these minutes are used fully to craft and create a setting for the music to flex, progress and soar throughout the whole song. It contains some exceptionally fine soloing from both John Young on keyboards and Dave Bainbridge’s soulful guitar, both are exceptional on this song and, indeed, throughout the whole album. The song opens with airy keyboards, piano and bubbling sequencer type sounds before John’s vocals begin, “As far as the eye can see, clear as Daylight, spreads all in front of me now”, yearning for wide open spaces and for the open sky. This is followed by some fierce guitar chords that ripple across the soundscape giving rise to a faster paced section with a synth solo that takes the song rising up in the thermals before Dave lets rip with a fiery guitar break. As a statement of intent this opening salvo is highly effective and certainly captures the attention before we return, via John’s synth, to a slower pace and more cultured vocals accompanied by the glorious violin of Peter Knight. This then leads us back to the main vocals, combined with doubled synth and guitar lines, before Dave heads out on his own. Next we have some massed choir voices that are highly effective and lead to some great guitar lines from Dave, mention must also be made of Zoltán Csörsz whose powerful drums maintain a steady and distinct beat. Another brief solo follows from Dave that gives way to a final synth flourish from John and some cello from Juliet Woolf that bring this song to an atmospheric close. As an opener this is simply magnificent on every level and is very impressive stuff indeed.

Gregarious is a shorter, but equally as dynamic, song with a great backing and is very effective indeed. It contains a fine synth solo and some interesting syncopation between Zoltan and Jon Poole’s ever stylish bass. We are treated to another very fine solo from Dave who, it must be said, is really on form on this entire album. In my opinion, Lifesigns finally have a guitarist who can do their music justice and has brought something a little extra to the equation.

Third track Ivory Tower is a love song of sorts, very wistful and with some fabulous acoustic touches from Dave. It has a fabulous vocal from John as he sings of the perils of relationships, how he falls and wants to redeem himself and this is backed by some great little guitar fills from Dave. This is a fabulous song and a potential Lifesigns’ future classic. It is actually another old John Young song that has been reworked for this album and rightly so, as it is very fine.

Shoreline opens with lots of syncopated drums along with keyboard flourishes and makes it an impressive track before a word is sung. “Save me…” is the refrain as John is seeking salvation from emotions that are overwhelming him. This is another fabulous song with lots of moody sounds and effects that create a feeling of emptiness and sparseness.  Again, we have massed vocals in the background from Lynsey Ward whose voice is highly effective here, as are Dave’s soaring guitar lines combined with another fine synth solo from John and even more classy guitar breaks.

Fortitude is another Epic track that opens with keyboards, a steady drum backbeat from Zoltan, some decidedly strong bass lines from Jon and wonderfully fluid guitar from Dave, all floating over the velvety synths that John is laying down. This song has lots of space in it that allows each members contributions to be clearly heard and appreciated. Once again Lynsey’s backing vocals are essential to the whole sound of the song. I have to say the sound of this album is simply fabulous and is a real treat for the ears and there is so much more to listen to that is revealed the more you delve into it. We have a further sinuous synth solo and textures and more urgent bass from Jon before the sound opens out into a widescreen vista with some searing guitar lines offset against the excellent keys. A delightful guitar/ synth dynamic then plays out as the song fades, utterly magical!

I really think that Lifesigns have taken a massive step forward with this album, good as ‘Cardington’ was, this release is so very much better in my opinion.

A short and stylish keyboard and synth section called Arkhangelsk is then the precursor to another song that John has performed in an earlier incarnation (Quango) called Last One Home and in this track you can hear echoes of his former colleague John Wetton. Dave really makes his mark with a beautiful solo that just weeps with emotion and feeling. It is really impressive and will certainly be a favourite when performed live, hopefully soon! There are more impressive and impassioned vocals from John as he sings about the sea and the current therein.

The album finishes with a brief return to the title track Altitude in a reprise that re-emphasises just how good the opening track is.

Overall, I would say without any hesitation that this is an album you must hear and is really something very special indeed. It will be in my top 10 of the year and probably above the Transatlantic album that I loved. I am sure that ‘Altitude’ will be somewhere near the very top of my list even though it is only March and we have a long way to go yet.

Get it however you can but, preferably, purchase the album from the band themselves as you get a download of the album to enjoy right away. Simply fantastic, what more can I say, except get it for yourself right now!   

Released 8th March 2021 (CD), July 2021 (vinyl)

Order the album direct from the artist here:

Lifesigns – Lifesigns Merch (

Mike Morton Announces Dates And Line-up For Resonate, The Follow-up To 2014’s Resonance Festival

The Gift’s Mike Morton has announced the dates and the majority of the line-up for 2018’s 2-day Resonate, the follow up to the Resonance Festival, an ambitious but ultimately rewarding 4 day musical extravaganza staged in 2014.

Taking place at the O2 Academy Islington on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th September next years, Resonate will see some of the leading lights of the progressive music scene join forces with acts from wider musical genres to deliver an outstanding two days of live music.

About the festival Mike says:

Resonate (2018) will bring together a diverse group of acts, from progressive to hard rock with steampunk in between! Tickets will officially go on sale from October 31st, at which time the proper ticket link will be published. Also, our Sunday headliner had been confirmed…but they have asked us not to announce them until New Year’s Day!  Suffice to say they will be another jewel in the crown of this 2 day event. We’ll keep you updated.”

Saturdays Line-up will see Konchordat on stage at 1pm followed by Verbal Delirium, Comedy of ErrorsSon of ManThe Gift and headliners Lifesigns.

Sunday opens at the same time with the Tom Slatter BandHekzJumpCredo, the John Hackett Band and the mystery headline act, a world class progressive-metal act, to be confirmed.

Ticket prices are £25 per day advance or £30 on the door and £40 advance for the weekend or £45 on the door.

Tickets will be available, from October 31st, from: