It’s a known scenario. One sits in their own studio in the lockdown and tinkers with ideas but has the mild impression of gradually losing it. After twenty years of full throttle, you’re feeling run down, yet the head is still racing. Well, it’s a known scenario if your name is Kalle Wallner at least. To take a break, however, that has never been an option. So the ideas, fragments and motifs piled up and on an indeterminate evening he took a step back and had to accept the fact that he had an instrumental album on his hands. That’s pretty much how ‘Voices’ came about, the now fourth solo album by the busy musician from Freising/Bavaria, perhaps better known as the guitarist in the perennial prog band RPWL.
Pragmatically numbered serially, the album is mainly an instrumental where the individual tracks are always related to and intertwined with each other. The one track out of the seven that contains vocals being Three, where Arno Menses of Subsignal lends his cultured vocal to proceedings.
Opulence has always been an integral part of Wallner’s solo work and that is ramped up to the max on this excellent work, thunderous riffing being another and that is present and correct in spades! There’s an energy infused in every note on the album, starting with the high-tempo momentum of One with Yogi’ Lang’s delicious keyboards lending some gravitas to Kalle’s powerful, monolithic sounding guitars. What you always get with this superb musician is tons of melody though, the often riotous and dynamic guitars giving every note an edge but a very tuneful one. Two is another plethora of monstrous riffs that combines with Marco Minnemann’s mighty drumming to deliver an all-encompassing, forceful track that has a definite thoughtful underbelly at times. The calming sections where Kalle’s guitar takes things back a notch are a touch of genius and lay a veil of refinement over things.
As already mentioned, Three is the one and only vocal track on the album but it opens with a stirring guitar from Kalle over Marco’s potent drumbeat. Arno Menses has a voice just made for tracks like this and he puts in a stellar performance on this pensive, slow burning song, especially on the electrifying chorus, it’s the emotionally intense guitar playing that is the highlight though. There’s a funky note to the opening of Four that gives it a vibe not unlike Faith No More, all staccato notes, fat grooves and a restless drumbeat. Kalle’s piercing guitar lends a contrast to that alt-metal feel, the guitar solo towards the end is inspired, it’s a clever and inventive piece of music.
Five basically sees all the musicians turn things up to 11 and is an incendiary four minutes of compelling and authoritative music where everyone just seems to be having an utter blast! I really like Six, Kalle Wallner has always been an excellent musician and songwriter but, here on ‘Voices’, he really seems to have gone up another level. The songwriting is superlative and his guitar playing just gets better and better. This piece of music is reflective and contemplative while also having the satisfyingly punchy foundation of guitar and drums when things start to get serious.
Seven.Out is a thoughtful almost melancholy eleven minutes of wistful serenity and closes ‘Voices’ perfectly. The most intimate and heartfelt piece of music on the album, Kalle gets to show his more softer and sensitive side on this track with piercing, fervent guitar lines that really touch your heart and soul. There’s a sombre and plaintive edge to his guitar work and the meditative drumbeat mirrors this, it really leaves you in a reflective and thoughtful mood as this exemplary record comes to a close.
‘Voices’ is fifty minutes of utterly immersive music that really gets under your skin, there is an immediate need to listen to this bewitching album again. At times mesmerising and at others thunderously magnetic, I’d say it’s possibly this enigmatic musician’s finest piece of work in his twenty-six year career, it really is that good!
The idea of a Supergroup is a funny thing. A gathering of very talented and creative musicians get together to pool their ideas to create something, they hope, that is absolutely amazing. Sometimes that happens, bands like Cream or The Travelling Wilburys spring to mid for a start; however, often what ends up being created is an album that is somewhat written almost by committee, something that inhibits the creative process because of the sheer amount of creativity that is thrown at the project. And unfortunately, for me, the new album from the collective known as The Sea Within, being released on the 22nd June 2018, falls into the latter category.
The roster of acts that the members of the band have worked with, including Steven Wilson, Yes, and SteveHackett, obviously shows that these guys are hugely talented and, indeed, this is proven by the playing on the album and accompanying 4 track E.P. There are some fantastically gorgeous moments recorded, the sub E.L.O. / Supertramp vibe on the first half of the 14 minute epic Broken Cord is sublime. But here also is the problem; this song would be a perfect six to seven minute progressive pop tune, it’s a shame they felt the need to include a huge swathe of jazz improv. showing off onto it.
This is a fault repeated on a few of the songs, it’s like someone in the band came to the studio with something they were desperate to have included with the production team including it where they could instead of asking the pertinent questions, does it add to the tune, does it fit, is it needed?
In 1832, JMW Turner, at The Royal Exhibition, upstaged his great rival John Constable, by adding to his great painting Helvoetsluys, a small smudge of orange paint. Just that, something very small and insignificant on the face of it, but hugely significant in the bigger picture. Turner understood the principle of less is more, he had the ability to recognise when something was finished. He didn’t need to keep on adding, he just knew that what he had created was good, brilliantly, jaw-droppingly amazing.
A little bit of this level of self-awareness would have been something which would have improved The Sea Within immensely. They have created a very, very good, maybe even great album here; it’s just that I don’t think they realised they had, they couldn’t stop; if they were Turner they wouldn’t have stopped at a little orange splash, they’d potentially have taken a spray can to the canvas and covered the painting in orange.
Ironically, though, the four track E.P. proves that The Sea Within have got that awareness; maybe because of the format it is recorded on helped, but these four tracks, The Roaring Silence, Where Are You Going, Time and Denise are focused, unfussy and spell-blindingly good – a really enjoyable 28 minutes or so of driving, clever and immense progressive pop rock.
For me, if I was the producer, I would have taken all the superfluous showy off bits out of the album, lost a couple of weaker tracks and included the E.P. in the album itself. Perhaps it’s a project one of the erstwhile musicians, Steven Wilson perhaps, could get their teeth into – turning this reasonable and worthy album by very talented musicians into the potentially great one that is hidden in it. For the listener it is a worthwhile listen, but I’m convinced it could be, and should be, so much more with a helluva a lot less on it.
The Sea Within – the new art-rock collective comprising of Roine Stolt(Transatlantic, The Flower Kings), Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), Jonas Reingold (Steve Hackett, The Flower Kings, Karmakanic, The Tangent), Tom Brislin (Yes Symphonic, Renaissance, Spiraling, Deborah Harry) & Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson, UK, Joe Satriani) – have announced that their debut self-titled album will be released on June 22nd, 2018.
Let’s get one thing straight from the start. The Sea Within is more of an amalgamation of some serious talents, than a regular “supergroup”. These musicians have come together to create a unique album. Guitarist/vocalist Roine Stolt, bassist Jonas Reingold, keyboard player/vocalist Tom Brislin, drummer/vocalist Marco Minnemann and vocalist/guitarist Daniel Gildenlöw have a vast reservoir of experience. Look at the portmanteau of artists with who they’ve worked: The Flower Kings, Transatlantic, Jon Anderson, Steven Wilson,The Aristocrats, Joe Satriani, Yes, Steve Hackett, Renaissance, Pain Of Salvation, Deborah Harry, Meatloaf, Karmakanic … that of itself tells you this is something very special.
“I suppose it all began to take shape in the autumn of 2016,”explains Stolt. “I had a chat with Thomas Waber, the boss at InsideOut Music, about the idea of putting together a new band. I wanted to move in a fresh direction with new collaborations. So Thomas gave me the ‘go ahead’ to seek musicians for a new project.”First on-board was The Flower Kings bass player Jonas Reingold.- “He is a long time bandmate and friend and we were also very keen to get keyboardist Tom (Brislin) involved – after seeing his synth pyrotechnics with legends Yes ‘Symphonic’ and with Camel. Then we have been a fans of ‘Aristocrats’ drummer Marco for a long time; I first heard of him 15 years ago and he is a brilliant drummer, unique energy. Then when we discussed ideas for singers, Daniel’s name came up, he has such a great range and dynamic voice and we’ve worked together on and off over the years.” Also added later to the bands line-up for live shows was vocalist & guitarist Casey McPherson of ‘Flying Colors’ & ‘Alpha Rev’, who also sings a couple of songs on the album.
Initially the band went to Livingston Studios in London last September to begin the process of assembling all the material and recording it for the debut album.“Most of the material you’ll hear are really band compositions. Of course, ideas were triggered by all of us. Sometimes Jonas would come up with a part, chord sequence or tune and then I or Tom would write melody & lyric and some new riff section and Marco enhancing with further musical metric twists and developments – then Daniel would add or rewrite some of the lyrics, change or add more melodies. Overall, the vast majority of the tracks have been worked on and developed by all of us in one way or another.”
The entire recording situation took about six months, and the band also have some very special guests featured on the album.“We have got Jordan Rudess from Dream Theater playing piano on one song. The legendary Jon Anderson sings on another track, while ‘wind ace’ Rob Townsend, who plays saxophone and flute with Steve Hackett, is also on the record. Each of them brings a different flavour to the music.”
“People have asked me how I would describe what we have done, and it is almost impossible. I would have to say it sounds like…us, ‘The Sea Within’. Our tastes are very eclectic – from prog to jazz to classical, to heavy rock, folk, punk, electronica and pop. We all come from a different background – so here everything goes.This has been about putting those diverse influences into the music. I feel you will hear all that’s good about pop – with great melodies and hooks – plus the rawness of metal, improvisations, symphonic and movie soundtracks. We also left room for each of us to take off on flights of instrumental jamming. That was the basic idea, anyway. But until we all got together, we had no idea where it would lead or if it would actually work.” The band have ended up recording close to two hours of music, and will be releasing it all in June on what will be a self-titled album.
The Sea Within as a music collective have plans to perform live, and will make their stage debut at ‘Night Of The Prog’ in Loreley, Germany which happens from July 13-15 and will bring special guests for that evening. “As far as I am concerned, we will try do as much touring as possible. We have a great band, great label and our agent Rob Palmen on-board. We have great artwork by Marcela Bolivar, all looks bright. However Daniel will not be able to join us for touring now, as he has commitments with main band Pain Of Salvation. With Casey taking the vocal spot, now with us live, we can go out on the road and play this album and beyond and grow as a band.We have so much to offer musically, on record and on stage and I am sure we will develop a lot over the next few years. But ‘The Sea Within’ album is a great start. I am excited for everyone to hear what we have done and am now thrilled to start working on the songs for the live show.”
The album will be available as a special edition 2CD digipak, gatefold 2LP vinyl + 2CD & as digital download. You can find the full track listing below: Disc 1:
1.Ashes of Dawn
2.They Know My Name
4.An Eye for an Eye for an Eye
8.The Hiding of the Truth
1.The Roaring Silence
2.Where Are You Going?
As mentioned, The Sea Within has recently announced their first confirmed live date, taking to the stage at Night of the Prog Festival 2018 at Loreley, Germany on the weekend of 13-15th July 2018. Tickets are available now here: http://www.nightoftheprogfestival.com/en/home-2/
One of the many benefits of living within “the era of Steven Wilson” is in addition to his seemingly bottomless pit of musical projects and his excellent remixing work he also has quite a knack for surrounding himself with top-drawer musicians.
The multi-talented Nick Beggs immediately made his presence felt in Steven’s solo band, not just with his bass and stick playing, but his excellent backing vocals. He provides the harmonic anchor in very much the same way that John Wesley did in Porcupine Tree. When I first heard about The Mute Gods project I was intrigued to hear him take on the main vocal duties himself and the results were even better than I anticipated.
To complete the lineup for The Mute Gods he brought along Marco Minneman, his rhythm section partner from Wilson’s band and also keyboardist/producer Roger King (Steve Hackett) as well as additional contributions from session drummers Nick D’Virgilio and Gary O’Toole.
“Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” isn’t an actual concept album, but it does have a loose thematic element to it. The topics include “hacktivists”, government surveillance, religious extremism, Internet trolls, general apathy and many other wonderful elements of life in the 21st century. But to his credit Beggs mostly wraps these heavy topics in wonderfully accessible, melodic pop/prog confections, allowing the messages to come across without beating you into submission with negativity.
On my first listen to this album I was really surprised by how infectious it was, a very accessible pop/rock sound delivered with the type of sophistication expected from the artists involved. It made me realize that it’s a shame “mainstream rock radio” doesn’t really exist any longer, because I think many of these tracks would sound great while cruising down the highway with the radio blaring.
The title track Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me sets the stage nicely. After an extended keyboard intro (that had me temporarily flashing back to the early 80s) the main driving rhythm kicks in, propelled forward by a muscular bass pulse. In an alternate reality I could see an arena full of people jumping up and down to this groove and singing along with the anthemic chorus. This track stuck in my head like glue from the very first listen. Is is prog? Well, I suppose that’s debatable, but I don’t hear very many “mainstream” rock acts that have the subtlety and musical chops displayed here.
Praying To A Mute God keeps the vibe upbeat with an even more pop-oriented approach but veers off for a little display of instrumental dexterity in the proggy mid-section. This approach is repeated elsewhere on the album, short moments of progressive stretching out used to punctuate otherwise fairly straightforward compositions. The song always remains the focus.
My favorite tracks on the album are a couple of progressive rock gems on the second half; the lovely and ethereal Strange Relationship and the exotic-tinged atmosphere of Swimming Horses. Two of the longer cuts they give the band a chance to stretch out both compositionally and instrumentally. Roger King’s tasteful keyboard choices are worth note on these songs; he uses a nice balance of vintage and modern sounds, always providing just the right tone the composition requires.
For contrast there are a few darker compositions on the album; Feed The Troll, Your Dark Ideas, the instrumental In The Crosshairs and Mavro Capelo. These tracks are a little heavier and a little more menacing, but are scattered throughout the tracklist so the mood never completely dominates. Of these the most successful is the deliciously dark and devious Feed The Troll, it’s menacing but playful at the same time, kind of like a cat toying with a mouse for a while before finishing it off. The only track that doesn’t quite work on the album is Your Dark Ideas; it comes off more silly than intense, but is partially redeemed by the instrumental mid-section and a particularly gonzo guitar solo.
Speaking of playful, there’s a track on here called Nightschool for Idiots (I’m pretty sure I was valedictorian). This song is the very definition of a grower. When I first heard the album I’ll admit it irritated me to no end, I just found it too sweet, too syrupy, too cute…but with each subsequent listen I liked it more and more and now it’s one of my favorites. This song and Father Daughter stand apart from the rest of the album and feel more self-contained. Father Daughter is exactly what it says it is, a duet between Beggs and his daughter Lula Beggs, the lyrics forming a dialogue. It’s a touching and unique track.
All in all The Mute Gods isn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was a very pleasant surprise nonetheless. I’m hoping we get a follow-up.
WARNING – LANGUAGE THAT MAY OFFEND (well, you have to put that don’t you….?)
“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.” – Dave Grohl
I was going to start this review by talking about guilty pleasures until I saw the above quote from everyone’s favourite hard rocker Dave Grohl and it did get me thinking and thinking enough to completely change the tac of this review….
Mr Grohl really has a point, maybe we stick too rigidly to our favourite genres and don’t look outside our safety cordon music wise? And, when we dare venture outside and find that there is something different that we really like, why should we feel guilty about it?
It is an old and oft spouted saying but it still rings entirely true, good music really is, just, good music, no matter what style it is and which artist performs it. We tend to make this differentiation a lot more when it comes to music than with anything else such as films, TV or the literary arts where we will dip in and out of many different genres without a care or a by your leave.
How many times have you seen somebody laughed at and dismissed out of hand for listening to a record that doesn’t fit into the cognoscenti or aficionado’s realm or current favourites list? It is just wrong and we should open our minds to other music that we may well actually really enjoy if we just lose the stigma.
Now, after getting off my soapbox (while admitting I can be as guilty as anyone else) let’s talk about what started this dissertation on opening up our closeted musical imagination……..
Lebanese maestro Amadeus Awad is a progressive metal guitarist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and music producer with an already impressive back catalogue behind him. August 2015 saw him release his latest and most complete album yet, a 47 minute, 6 track concept album called ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’.
Amadeus is always stretching the boundaries with his music and lyrics, and it’s no different with his new album. According to Amadeus:
“This album is the result of my personal experience with death, both the tragic loss of loved ones (Father, Brother and a Best Friend) as well as my own attempt of committing suicide, which I contemplated more than once at a certain stage in my life.”
To this end he has drawn together a stellar list of musicians, as well as Amadeus himself (Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars, Keyboards and Orchestration) this all star lineup includes vocalists Anneke Van Giersbergen, Arjen Lucassen, Elia Monsef, drummers Jimmy Keeganand Marco Minnemann, Nareg Nashanikian (cello), Rafi Nashanikian (clarinet) and the narration is splendidly realised by the impressive voice of Dan Harper.
The album opener Opia has feeling of lightness and an ethereal quality, the first word spoken is ‘Light’ and it is a song that gives hope. The keyboards are uplifting and fill your inner being with a luminosity only matched by the fluid, burnished guitar work. I can see why Dan Harper was used for the part of the narrator, his voice has a calming authority to it and a mellifluous timbre that dances across your psyche. Anneke Van Giersbergen’s delightfully lilting, heavenly voice takes the song to a close with a rarefied grace that is achingly beautiful.
There is no break as we shift up a gear and power into Sleep Paralysis with a dynamic keyboard and pulsating guitar taking up the reins on the powerful introduction. A progressive metal melting pot of great ideas that bounce of the metaphorical walls to give a primordial soup of musical delights. It takes on a more subdued, yet insistent feel before Anneke’s voice chimes in, this time much more dominant and authoritative, yet no less stunning. The melodies are the focus here, the chorus is especially compelling, backed by the superb musicianship, a symbiosis of near-perfect melodic enchantment. The way the track starts to wind down, becoming more subdued, as it reaches the close is expert and inventive, as the acoustic guitar finishes its last note you are left in a place of comparative calm.
The dulcet tones of the narrator return on Monday Morning, this time with a definite edge, a dissonance to them, as if all is not as it should be. There are subliminal questions being asked here and the answers are not all to your liking. The electronic notes that follow seem to be pulling you forward, in anticipation of something coming that could be either good or evil, depending on how you react to it. Potent and influential, you find yourself holding your breath as it seems to come ominously closer. The pace is steady and regular, like the outcome is inevitable so there is no need to rush. There is a deliciously dark rhythm to this song that I find rather disturbing yet can’t help enjoying it….
The dark journey into hopelessness seems to reach its zenith with Tomorrow Lies. A brooding, haunting tone is added to by the portentous drumming of Jimmy Keegan and it is with a seemingly heavy heart that you continue to listen to the rest of the bleakly appealing song. Elia Monsef’s definitively middle eastern intonation adds a serious gravitas to proceedings, he sings as if his heart is breaking with every word. There is a huge depth of humanity central to this track, a seriousness that leaves you in no illusion as to the outcome of this painful situation. The instrumentation is dazzlingly precise if somewhat subdued and is a testament to the songwriting skill of Amadeus, he can impose his musical brilliance yet take none of the pathos away. The soaring strings add a sheen of humility and respectfulness and the guitar solo leaves you open mouthed and grief-stricken as it winds around your mind. With a definite notion that a song should close just as well as it opens, the ending is once again quite superb as the beguiling strings and guitar bring it all to a close with a final feeling of hopefulness that belies the rest of the track.
Now onto the longest, and my favourite, track on the album. A sombre Cello opens Lonesome Clown adding a meditative and fretful note to the song. Portentous and mysterious with Anneke’s humming and a slightly off-kilter feel, it really does seem to take you out of any comfort zone you thought you were in and leave your senses reeling, open and raw. The vocal begins, earthy and direct, almost as if a spell is being cast. There is a sinister undertone to all that is happening here and you really feel as if you have been caught of guard and dumped in a musical version of Dante’sInferno. An all knowing presence seems to be at your side edging you on as the song builds, becoming more and more oppressive and yet addictive at the same time. Wickedly controlling it shows the slightly malevolent genius that resides in the mind of Amadeus Awad and is perhaps more progressive and definitely more metal than the other songs on the album. There is an odd, siren like build up that seems to break over a wash of mellifluous keyboards before the sinuous, vividly disturbing guitar solo takes you on a dark journey through your own soul. The outspoken and expressive vocal and acoustic section that follows seems to stand on its own adding another level of finesse before exploding outwards in a shower of inspiration. The song closes with Dan’s expressive voice-over, you take a breath and inwardly applaud, shaking your head in amazement, it is that good.
The final track on the album begins with a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, strings and expressive drums. Temporary sees Arjen Lucassen take vocal duties and his eloquent voice is perfectly matched to the instrumentation. Melancholy yet inspirational at the same time, it reminds me of American prog rockers Spock’s Beard and is a really involving, catchy song that seems to want to comfort you with its warmth and integrity yet there is always a sad note in the background. A soulful clarinet takes centre stage before the rest of the instruments join, adding layers of intense musical flavour and Arjen’s voice is always present adding a focal point on which you can hold on to. Marco Minneman takes on the drum duties with aplomb adding a wistful mood to the already mournful ambience imbued. Things are building up to something here and when Amadeus lets rip with an incredible, soul searching guitar solo, you are left flabbergasted. Is that moisture in your eyes? it was in mine as it totally blew me away, utterly magnificent. The song, and album, finally come to a close with a final narrated section, this time by Arjen himself, and you are left to reflect on what has just transpired before you.
Short by modern standards at 47 minutes, you feel like you can listen to this gem for hours and never get bored. Deliciously dark, it is music that takes you to the depths of your inner being and back again, there has been nothing quite like it in this year of musical zeniths. Amadeus Awad and his group of distinguished musicians have delivered not only a superb piece of music but, what to me is, a part of themselves that will live on forever as fantastic art. A triumph in every sense of the word. A guilty pleasure? No, just an intense one!
Released 20th August 2015 via Melodic Revolution Records