HRH Prog 7 at Hafan y Môr Holiday Park in Pwllheli – by James R Turner with input from Progradar

This was my first HRH Prog, and I gleefully loaded up my car with the requisite supplies (Bottled water, Bottled Beer) and entertainment for the journey (the new Sheridan Smith album – it’s rather brilliant btw, the new Robyn CD, the latest Gryphon album and Chas n Dave the EMI years) and set off on the long trek from Bristol to North Wales.

I drove through some wonderfully evocative countryside, (which I saw on the way home, as it got dark for the last two hours of my journey) not to mention the frankly terrifying visions of cars honing past me on blind bends and narrow roads. They have no fear those Welsh drivers.

On arrival I was met by Lord Progradar himself, already priming me for the wallet emptying that was coming by raving about Southern Empire. Having seen the stage times and the final rearranged running order, I was pleased to see that Southern Empire and The Strawbs no longer clashed.

It was pretty much drop the bags off, have a beer at the apartment, and then off to see the music, the first night kicking off on Stage 1.

The venue itself was an actual original holiday camp and it’s been over 20 years since I last stayed in a Haven and, I have to say the accommodation was excellent, and a short (if bracing) walk to the main venue. Both the stages are next door to each other, separated by a pleasant plaza with a Burger King, Chippy, Starbucks and an open air bar.

This made ducking between stages for the sets incredibly easy and meant even if there was a slight overlap, then you didn’t miss much of the bands’ set. Of course, there were several clashes so some bands I was unable to see and apologise if I missed you out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be everywhere at once.

Joined by fellow prog scribe Leo Trimming and other friendly faces, the relaxed atmosphere (and probably the beer) made for a relaxed and friendly ambience. Of course, there was David and Nicola Robinson and Andy Faulkner offering to relieve us of the burden of heavy cash in our wallets in exchange for shiny discs of happiness (hell, it’s a prog festival – you will go home laden with CD’s. It’s as inevitable as death so don’t fight it).

It was a pretty packed schedule which we were launched into, I won’t say gently as they were anything but, by Maschine who ticked the event off on Thursday night on Stage 1.

My biggest gripe with the festival was that the areas in front of both the stages were seated, which really took away some of the ambience and energy of the audience. Whilst there was plenty of dancing and movement going on further back in the venue, it must have been disconcerting for the bands in full rock mode to look down to a sea of faces all sat down like they were at the theatre.

The audiences were very enthusiastic, and it was a good crowd, but as a punter I do like to stand as close to the stage as I can get for at least a couple of songs, and this vital aspect of a live gig was sadly denied to me in stage 1.

A highly acclaimed act to start the festival, Maschine are full of energy and presence. Formed by Luke Machin (who must be one of the hottest young guitar players on the scene currently) and Dan Mash (Damanek) on Bass.

This young band have really grown into their sound, with the second album ‘Naturalis’ really building on the sound of their debut ‘Rubidium’. This band environment allows Luke the space to stretch himself on stage, however the occasional shredding in the middle of what was a fantastically complex song is one that jars a little bit.

There is no denying that the band is chock full of talent, Elliott Fuller more than holds his own with Luke on guitar, Marie-Eve De Gaultier on keyboards and vocals, centre stage as if she’s keeping the boys under control, and James Stewart anchors the sound with his drumming.

Bringing the material from their two albums to life on stage, Maschine set the bar high for all the other bands that followed and with their energy and power opened HRH in style.

This festival is nothing if not eclectic and Stage 1 did gain the nickname the retro stage, due to the number of classic bands performing there, and there was none more classic than the current incarnation of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

Fronted by one of the most distinctive front-men in rock and roll, the band did not disappoint. Arthur, in his full on God of Hell Fire face paint, and celebrating 50 years since the band’s debut album. To commemorate this fact, they played the first half of the record before launching into some newer material.

Arthur, as ever, is the consummate showman and the bands blend of blues and psych was performed by the latest incarnation, including a fantastic female guitar and keyboard pairing. These younger musicians, overseen by musical director Jeavon Beaumont, really put some spark into the music.

It even takes you back to old school psych festivals when, during some of the longer spacier moments, the band building a real groove, a female dancer comes on. The only thing that looks a tad uncomfortable is Arthur (about my Dad’s age) dancing and gyrating around the younger female guitarists, looking like a creepy Uncle in a nightclub.

Other than that, his voice still has all the power that it ever had and with their psych lightshow and deep groove (and a taut band), they put on a great show.

(Picture by Gareth Cole)

Headline act for the night, and band of the night for me was The Martin Barre Band, putting on a barnstorming performance, mixing new material and classic Tull tracks, the band put on brilliant performance. Vocalist Dan Crisp bringing the early style of Ian Anderson to mind, without this being a tribute act style.

Progradar I have to echo Jame’s thoughts on The Martin Barre band, it was a powerful and consummate performance. The tracks from latest release ‘Roads Less Travelled’ were blended perfectly with the classic Tull material and others. Martin’s guitar playing was incredible and Dan Crisp’s vocals perfectly matched.

(Picture by Gareth Cole)

For me, the highlights were the title track from the new album and (This Is) My Driving Song, both fiery, blues infused and powerful tracks. There was an electric energy running throughout the set and it made for a great end to the first day.

Heading back to the apartment for beer and a wind down after a long journey, this was a perfect opening to this three day bender Festival.

Day 2 started at the civilised time of 13:20 over in Stage 1, so there was plenty of time for me to go for a nice walk along the cliff tops, admire the Northern Wales coastline scenery and meander along the beach, before rendezvousing with Martin, who had been for a run.

A full English (or should that be Welsh?) in Porthmadog with Leo, set us up nicely for an afternoon and evening of entertainment. As locations go, a Prog festival in picturesque North Wales is certainly one I would recommend if they ever come back here again, as they are moving to London for next year’s festival.

On Friday I spent a lot of my time over in Stage 1 but before that the first full set of Friday was kicked off by I Am The Manic Whale in Stage 2.

I know Martin is going to go into their set in more detail, but I had spent the whole morning defending my position as a Doctor Who but not a Whovian, and then what did I Am The Manic Whale play? A song about Doctor Who complete with a fully progged out version of the iconic theme tune which brought a smile to my face.

Their set was a great way to start the Friday with and I will be looking forward to seeing them again.

Progradar The first band on a Friday lunchtime have a real task to energise the audience but I Am The Manic Whale soon had a fairly sizeable crowd rocking along to their high tempo, feel good style of progressive rock. With a set list comprising tracks from both of their releases, ‘Everything Beautiful In Time’ and ‘Gathering The Waters’, this unassuming band garnered many new fans with their excellent performance.

Over in Stage 1, Haze, currently celebrating their 40th year in existence put a great show on.

Led by the McMahon brothers, Chris (on bass/keys/vocals) and Paul on guitar and vocals, it was a romp through old and new material covering the bands existence. It’s been 20 years since I saw them and, since then, they released their album ‘The Last Battle’ back in 2013which mixed their sound up. Joined by Paul’s son Danny on drums and Ceri Ashton on vocals and flutes, they put on a fantastic show. Chris has lost none of his energy and stage presence and Paul’s vocals and guitar work was as great as I remember it from the ‘World Turtle’ days.

Danny on the drums adds some real power to the band, and it’s great to see the band carrying on as a family affair. They put on a fantastic set and were one of the bands I’d wanted to reacquaint myself with this weekend, and I am glad I did.

Following Haze were Tir na nOg, one of the legendary Irish folk duos, comprising Sonny Condell and Leo O’Kelly who, after a long hiatus, are now back out there playing a mixture of classic tracks and more contemporary material. Considering they are just an acoustic duo, they managed to hold the audiences attention and, while there were occasional drifts into folk singer cliché, they utilised looping and percussive beats on other tracks to put on a fantastic set that kept the audience entertained.

Progradar Following I Am The Manic Whale on Stage 2 were The Amber Herd, a band I’d never heard of before but one who produced a rather flawless set of folk rock/prog with intelligence and humour. As James has already stated, it’s difficult to catch every band at a festival like this but I’m glad I caught this trio as they were on of my surprise highlights of day 2.

Over on Stage 2 I was able to catch some of Mother Black Caps’ set, they had their ‘team’ out in force the night before passing out fliers and drumming up support, and while I didn’t manage to stay very long, I found I enjoyed their blend of rock and would have liked to have seen a bit more. Unfortunately, with festivals like this, you do find there are clashes.

Back over to the Stage 1 arena I was in time to catch the whole set from Birmingham instrumental trio Axiom, who were last minute replacements, hot footing it down to North Wales from the Midlands, complete with their drummers’ dogs.

This instrumental power trio of Zaid Crowe on guitar, Josh Ainsworth on drums and Stuart Drinkwater on bass were a revelation and one of the star acts of the Friday. Pulling together an impressive musical arsenal, they blend riffs with beats and they sit very nicely in the same area as bands like The Fierce and the Dead and Zombie Picnic.

Clever, progressive instrumental rock that is very easy to get into and enjoy, they also proved they have a sense of humour and don’t take themselves too seriously by playing a track that included some of their favourite riffs, mixing Michael Jackson’s Beat It with some Thin Lizzy and then the Death Star March tune from Star Wars got a great reception, it was fantastic to see a new exciting band like these guys really bringing it to life on Stage 1. I rather suspect that we will be hearing a lot more from this talented trio in the future.

A quick nip back over to Stage 2 enjoy the rest of Final Conflict’s set, a band who I’ve not seen, like Haze in about 20 years, and it was good to see that they are as strong as ever, with their own brand of Floydian-esque rock they know how to put on a show, and the audience seemed attentive.

Following them was a band who were new to me, an act called GU-RU, another musical trio who, with Lee Spreadbury on keys and vocals, Malcolm D’Sa on drums and Naomi Perera on flute and vocals, created quite a unique sound.

The mixture of the drums, the flute and the keys created a fantastically eclectic musical mix going from old school prog to real psych sounds and heading into full on dance music, while Perera’s flute soared throughout. Spreadbury is a bona fide old school prog keyboard player, full of charm and stage presence and plenty of musical chops.

In fact, GU-RU had magnificent stage presence and a sense of how to entertain the audience, and I managed to catch nearly all their set. They were really entertaining with a unique and different sound to some of the other guitar heavy bands. That really captured my attention as I love artists who will mix things up and go down a different road to everyone else.

GU-RU are one of those bands and they really played a fantastic set.

(Editor – We have this strange image because, despite James saying Wishbone Ash are one of his favourite bands, he didn’t manage to provide a picture!)

It was back over to Stage 1 for the founder member of one of my favourite bands. I was chatting to someone about the mammoth Wishbone Ash box that came out earlier in the year, it really is a thing of beauty. I know it was expensive, but I have loved Wishbone Ash for over 20 years and it was a perfect opportunity to get everything all in one place for me, and that’s why I was really looking forward to Martin Turner’s set.

I have seen Martin Turner’s band before, and the Andy Powell version of Wishbone Ash and while I like the fact that these bands are still out there and playing the music, Martin’s band just edges it for me. The reason why is that he plays a lot of the deeper cuts and back catalogue stuff that Andy Powell doesn’t, throwing in a blinding version of Front Page News for instance, Persephone also got an airing as did the title track to the latest studio album, Written in the Stars.

Obviously sets like this are truncated so the band, which is currently touring the Wishbone Ash debut album in its entirety, cut that back and played a few numbers from there and rounded the set off with a blinding trio from ‘Argus’, Warrior, Throw Down the Sword and Blowin’ Free.

Martin was on top form with his between song banter and his bass work is asnifty as ever, the twin guitar work of Danny Wilson and Misha Nikolic replicates the sound of the original band but, as both men are incredibly talented guitarists, they aren’t merely copying. They put their own stamp on the sound and are clearly having fun playing together, while drummer Tim Brown anchors the sound.

This is clearly Martin Turner’s musical vision and he takes both the audience and the band with him as he plays the music he created. It’s no nostalgia fest either as he and his talented band make their own mark on these songs and breathe new life into them.

Headliners on Stage 1 on Friday were Neo-Prog legends Pendragon, celebrating their first 40 years with the tour of the same name.

Nick Barrett’s distinctive guitar and vocal work is, as ever, front and centre, while the core line up of Peter Gee on bass, Clive Nolan on keys and Jan-Vincent Valazco on drums were augmented by Verity White and Zoe Devenish, who help to flesh out the already mighty sound of Pendragon.

These guys have been touring and performing for a very long time, and Nick and Clive are both masters of their respective instruments. Though I have seen Pendragon live more times than I care to remember, this is the first time I’ve seen them with the additional female vocals, and this new dimension to the bands sound really makes a difference.

The auditorium was packed, and it was heartening to see several younger punters here (and by that, I mean people younger than me – at 41, according to Martin I brought the average age down!)

Performing a set covering all the classic Pendragon eras, after all 40 years is a hell of a lot of music to cover, Nick and the gang managed to mix the set up and include tracks like Green and Pleasant Land (with its slightly dubious lyrical content, I am not sure how tongue in cheek it is with some of the sentiments expressed) among others, which kept the crowd entertained.

Having enjoyed another full day of music and discovering new bands to go with my appreciation of some of the more vintage acts, HRH put on a good mix.

Progradar -I had, early evening, shot off to meet up with Sean Timms, Danny Lopresto and Brody Green of Southern Empire:

It was an impromptu interview which, unfortunately, I didn’t record (the official interview will be aired soon) but we talked about all things Empyrean and the music in general over (quite) a few beers. I did manage to get back in time to catch part of a wonderful set from Luna Rossa, their ethereal sound and waif like grace ever ceases to calm my heart rate and Anne-Marie Helder was on top form this night. 

Saturday, we had a lovely trip out to Criccieth Castle with those TPA boys Leo Trimming and David Glaves (there is no competition between the prog review websites, we’re a friendly bunch of guys), just up the coast from Pwllheli, before the music started. The view was stunning and, as the castle is part of the ring of castles in North Wales, it would be rude to not visit whilst we were up there. We then found a pleasant café where we enjoyed our full Welsh breakfast to set us up for the days progging.

Martin was busy doing interviewing things (Ed: it’s called ‘work’ James), so I spent plenty of time at the bar, drinking with Gareth Cole flitting between the two different arenas to see as many sets as I could.

I spoke to Al Winter, frontman for This Winter Machine, this time last year when their debut album, ‘The Man Who Never Was’, had just been released and was getting great reviews. Since then, the band has recorded their second album, and been making waves with their well-received live shows.

This was the first time I had seen them and, having really enjoyed their debut, I was looking forward to their set.

They did not disappoint, Al was on fine form, his vocals really superb, and he worked that stage (& the audience) like he owned it, the new material from the forthcoming album fitted in perfectly with the songs from ‘The Man Who Never Was’, a perfect evolution of the bands sound and approach, and when they finished their hour long set (4 or 5 songs I think, but hey this is Prog) they got a standing ovation (the first opening band, I Am The Manic Whale, also got one on Friday).

The band made a fare few new fans and friends, and I am sure that they sold plenty of CD’s (Al knowing how to push his product by reminding the audience exactly where the merch was). Sometimes opening a festival can be a thankless task, it’s not known as the graveyard slot for nothing, but, like I Am The Manic Whale  before them, This Winter Machine took full opportunity of this to get the day started in style. It followed the tone of the weekend, while the bigger names were on Stage 1, some of the more eclectic and exciting acts were on Stage 2.

There is a delicious irony in me typing that as bar Southern Empire and Gandalf’s Fist, I spent pretty much all Saturday in Stage 1 (& part of it enjoying the company of Gareth Cole, Chris Bembridge & Richard Thresh – splendid chaps, all of them).

I saw some of Goldray’s set, the new band from former Reef guitarist Kenwyn House, with vocals from Leah Rasmussen. This weekend certainly had an interesting mix of classic rock sounds and psych sounds and Goldray were certainly out there.

From their glittery stage presence, to the light show, and the hypnotic musical sound they are at the forefront of the psych revival and about as far from Reefs sound as is possible to get. Leah has a magnetic stage presence, and plenty of star quality whilst the guitar work of Kenwyn was sublime. A complete glittery contrast to the next band on Stage 1, Jump.

Now out of all the bands that play for the CRS and that I have seen, I reckon I have seen Jump nigh on 30 times and they have never played the same set twice.

Fronted by Celtic bard John Dexter Jones, still looking as lithe and nimble as when I first saw him, he is the reminder of the fact that the protest song is still as relevant as it ever was and why musicians must talk about politics and life.

I read a lot of guff online about people saying that musicians shouldn’t talk about politics in their music and they should keep their art separate. Why? Is always my stock answer, they are making their art and it is not up to us to dictate what anyone should sing about. I remember the Jump song Tower of Babel, inspired by someone telling John he shouldn’t swear so much. Politics is everywhere, it dictates house prices, it permeates out every being, everything that happens to us and society is dictated to by politics, so musicians should reflect that in what they do if they are being true to themselves and their art.

He is a passionate, articulate and intelligent frontman who comes from proud Welsh stock and his history is as important as our future. This was evident in this truly impassioned and powerful set, featuring as it did, several songs that still resonate and sadly, despite being written a while ago, are still as relevant as they ever were.

The scathing Moscow Circus (taken from my favourite Jump album ‘Matthew’) and the new poem to music The Station Parade segueing into The Sniper from ‘The Beachcomber’ album, were two personally poignant insights about the First World War in the 100th year since it finished and telling of the folly of war and the story of one of John’s Great Uncles.

However, the highlight and most powerful song of their set, nay the weekend, was their new number Breaking Point, the title taken from ‘that’ EU referendum poster. It is Johns most brutal and impassioned takedown of this whole Brexit clusterfuck and rise of the right, I doubt there was anyone in there who wasn’t moved and understood the message behind the song.

Jump as a band are peerless live and they just get so much better with age, like a fine wine, with the twin guitar sounds of Steve Hayes and Ronnie Rundle trading licks and rolling riffs from one side to the other, whilst Mo on keys adds a lot of texture to the sounds. Andy Barker on drums keeps the beat going while newest member, Mark Pittam on bass, fits in perfectly with the band ethos.

JDJ made a humorous comment from a previous review about him hectoring and haranguing an audience, and you know what, for the quality of the performance and the songs I would happily be hectored and harangued for another few hours thank you very much.

I saw very little of Stage 2 during this period, which upsets me slightly as I had the misfortune to see some of the band that followed Jumps set.

Davy O’List’s The Attack, now Davy has an impressive prog pedigree, and an interesting back story, however I watched about 10 minutes of The Attack, of which at least two were the band stood in silence on the stage after finishing one song and none of them quite knowing what was happening next. At one point it looked like the band were all playing different songs, very little audience interaction and not much entertainment.

Sorry chaps, it wasn’t for me and I think a bit more rehearsal could have gone into this!

Progradar: I got back from interviewing duties just in time to catch German progressive metallers Deafening Opera on Stage 2 and I’m glad I did, their blend of powerful prog metal along with great melodies went down a real storm with the growing crowd. These young musicians were not only technically excellent but played with a lot of verve and a lot of soul. The 80 minute set was a great success and set everybody up for the next act…

I have been a big fan of Aussie melodic proggers Southern Empire for a while. Their first, self-titled, album crept under the radar a bit but the sophomore release of ‘Civilisation’ has seen them rapidly come to a lot of people’s attention.

With the charismatic Danny Lopresto on vocals and guitar, Cam Blokland on lead guitar, Brody Green on drums, Jez Martin on bass and Sean Timms as erstwhile bandleader and keyboardist, the band delivered a flawless set of dynamic, powerful and downright soulful music. Saxophonist James Capatch added a layer of impressive sophistication and Southern Empire proceeded to literally blow the audience away with their incredible storytelling and joyous music.

Opening with Forest Fire from the debut album and then following up with two lengthy tracks, Cries For The Lonely and Crossroads, from ‘Civilisation’, these marvelous entertainers from Adelaide had everybody lost in the moment and in the palm of their hands. Cam and Danny’s guitar interplay was brilliant and added a real fun feel to what was the utter highlight of the weekend for me.

 A live performance that was one of the best I have ever seen and one which I later called a musical epiphany, if you ever get the chance to see these guys live then do not miss it for the world!

Back to James for his take on Southern Empire

Making their HRH debut meanwhile over on Stage 2 was Southern Empire, formed by Aussie keyboard player Sean Timms, recently recovering from a heart attack, the timings were adjusted so they didn’t clash with The Strawbsand boy was I glad about that.Wwith livewire frontman and guitarist Danny Lopresto in fine form, and the formidable musical attack by the rest of the guys, Southern Empire were the band of the weekend for me.

Every festival I have ever been to always has the ‘why the fuck haven’t I heard this before?’ moment, and for me this moment was watching Southern Empire.

They filled the Stage 2 arena, put on an hour and 15 minutes of blinding music and left having won the hearts and minds of the arena. Those people saying ‘You must see Southern Empire’ were right, and much as I loathe to admit it (as it’ll give him a big head) Lord Progradar himself was bang on the money by saying these guys would be band of the weekend.

To think, if they hadn’t adjusted the timings due to pressure from fans wanting to see both Southern Empire and The Strawbs, I’d have missed this show, and I would have been completely gutted.

(Yes, I did leave having bought both Southern Empire albums, and they made excellent companions on the 4 and half hour journey home).

Progradar: Next up on Stage 2 were the wonderful ‘progressive piano trio’ Exploring Birdsong. I’d interviewed this young trio earlier and they came across as very wise heads on young shoulders and their set proved this to be very true. Drummer Matt Harrison, bassist Jonny Knight and pianist/vocalist Lynsey Ward delivered music that was a powerful combination of pop sensibilities and progressive compositions, all topped off by Lynsey’s soulful vocals.

Their recently released track, The Dowpour, is a cut glass piece of songwriting that belies their relatively tender years and was delivered superbly to the rapt audience. These three have a bright future ahead of them if this performance is anything to go by.

Back to my spiritual home for the day, Stage 1, for a set celebrating 50 years of The Strawbs. David Cousins had been unwell recently and so to see him on stage, surrounded by mainstays Dave Lambert on guitar, Chas Cronk on bass, Tony Fernandez on drums and, relative new boy, Dave Bainbridge on keys, they really went to town and played an explosive set.

Having jumped across many genres and styles, The Strawbs complex and intelligent music weaves between folk, rock and softer sounds and , for HRH, they pulled out all the big guns and gave us an eclectic electric set.

Mixing material from new album ‘The Ferryman’s Curse’ (tracks like The Nails from the Hands of Christ fitted the setlist like it had always been there) with an astonishing version of Ghosts, an emotive and powerful New World and a truncated quartet from their ‘Hero and Heroine’ set (Autumn, Hero and Heroine, Out in the Cold and Lay a Little Light on Me), they rounded off a powerfully strong set with the ‘Bursting at the Seams’ favourites The River and Down By The Sea.

This was an intense show of power by The Strawbs and shows how much energy and power the band have, it also shows that, with the newer material and the addition of Dave Bainbridge on keys, even after 50 years, Dave Cousins and the band are relevant, important and still have so much more to say musically.

I am glad the concert was rejigged so these guys and Southern Empire didn’t clash, as both their sets were important parts of this festival jigsaw and I am so glad I got to see an all-electric full band The Strawbs set in their anniversary year.

Following on from The Strawbs, and in one of the contradictory and different pairings that HRH seems to relish was another classic band celebrating their 50th anniversary. The original psychedelic warlords and musical anarchists Hawkwind.

Astonishingly, despite having loved this band since I discovered ‘Warrior On The Edge Of Time’ back at Uni in 1995. This is the first time I have ever seen Hawkwind live and, again, like The Strawbs, Jump, Gandalf’s Fist and Martin Turner, was one of my ‘must see’ bands of the weekend.

My favourite Hawkwind album is Warrior and so it was with great delight that they opened the set with Assault and Battery and The Golden Void, Dave Brock on fine form with guitar and vocals, while the line-up, currently down to a four piece of long serving drummer Richard Chadwick whose been with the band for 20 years (and who my chiropractor used to rent a room from, randomly!), Niall Hone on bass and vocals and newest member Magnus Martin, were, in suitably psychedelic fashion,just mesmerising.

The set included an incredibly extended version of the classic Damnation Alley where the riffs and extended improvisations contained more ideas than some bands have on an album, an arresting and brain melting Sonic Attack and a metronomical version of Born To Go.

We did duck out before the end due to the closing band on Stage 2 getting ready to start, but Hawkwind demonstrated why they are the original, and best, psych band still treading the board, and it’s full testament to the vision and skill of Dave Brock to keep this band on the road, playing these amazing tracks to an audience who clearly idolised everything they did.

(Picture by Gareth Cole)

One of the bands I have wanted to see for aeons, ever since I reviewed the album ‘A Forest of Fey’ back in 2013 for the DPRP, was Gandalf’s Fist, their drummer Stefan Hepe is a fellow naughty pachyderm. The way the band has expanded organically is brilliant, and then they blew everyone else out of the water in 2016 with their triple disc epic ‘The Clockwork Fable’.

Founder members multi-instrumentalist Dean Marsh and lyricist and vocalist Luke Severn have created a band around them with Stefan on drums, Ben Bell (Patchwork Cacophony – whose albums you need in your life) on keys, Christopher Ewen on bass and Keri Farish on vocals, this 6 piece absolutely owned the stage,and they were the perfect band to end the festival.

Making a brave choice to kick off with the unreleased track Leader of Men, from the opening bar they got the whole of the second stage on side. After all, the Fisters have previous having already fisted an HRH to within an inch of its life.

Pulling together a set list covering all bases (and, of course, the merch desk had all their CD’s including ‘The Road to Darkness’ reissue, ‘A Day In The Life Of A Universal Wanderer’, ‘Forest of Fey’ and ‘Clockwork Fable’, which I definitely didn’t buy the lot of to play on my journey home – here’s a tip for free, if you write for a prog website and know beyond doubt that your beloved better half won’t read this review, when smuggling CD’s into the house and hiding how much you spent, the phrase ‘review copies’ is one that you can get a lot of mileage from!)

Of course, the buggers pulled out the epic Eve’s Song from ‘Clockwork Fable’, which brought a tear to my eye, either that or I was sobbing at how much I’d spent but, either way, the powerfully emotive vocals of Keri Farish really brought this to life live and, of course, the band were on fire throughout.

The witty intro to Emerald Eyes (careful with that plagiarism Eugene) hinted at where the inspiration for this song came from and the between song banter between Luke and Dean was hilarious.

Songs from ‘Forest of the Fey’ (do Gandalf’s Fist deliberately try to provoke proggers with these titles?!?) mixed with the wonderful pieces from ‘A Clockwork Fable’ (a bloody marvellous live rendition of The Capture, for instance) show how much passion and energy the band put into their music. Another new song, The Warden, formed an integral part of the set and I cannot wait to hear the album that becomes part of.

From being a studio project to a fully fledged live band is not the easiest journey for some artists but Dean and Luke have chosen the perfect travelling companions. Stefan and Chris on drums and bass provide the perfect anchor points to allow keyboard wizard (in a top hat instead of a cape) Ben to sprinkle his magic all over the songs (seriously, you need to buy his Patchwork Cacophony albums) and Keri is the perfect blend of star vocalist and frontwoman, adding some real heart and soul to her musical performance and looking like this band have been together for ever.

From a competition to find the maddest prog name, to being real contenders for one of the most innovative and exciting prog bands out there, Gandalf’s Fist have had a tremendous few years, this set confirming what we all knew.

They are the future of prog and it was brilliant to see them play to a room full of appreciative fans, who stayed up well past their bedtime, looking at the at the age of them. We were well and truly Fisted, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

(Picture by Gareth Cole)

ProgradarI can echo James’ sentiments completely here, Gandalf’s Fist really did deliver a performance worthy of the final headliners on Stage 2. The impressive musicianship was matched by the peerless songs. To be fair, they are a band you either get or you don’t but I’m a big fan of their steam punk fantasy lyrics and ideas and, in Keri Farish, they have a vocalist who can capture an audience and hold them in her spell.

Dean’s sometimes crushing riffs give a visceral quality to the fantastical music and the rest of the band are all superb musicians imbuing the whole set with style and verve. Being the final act there was almost party feel to the performance with the audience thoroughly enjoying every track and giving the band well deserved standing ovation at the end. A wonderful way to close out the weekend.

I am a great believer in the healing power of music, and music, brings us together and unites us under one common cause, if only other things in life were so easy.

The HRH Prog festival crams a lot into the three days on site and I am very sorry to the bands that I couldn’t get to see due to clashes but, in events like this, you’re never going to see everyone, and I am glad I saw the sets I did. While I was most looking forward to seeing Gandalf’s Fist, who did not disappoint in any way shape or form, Southern Empire with their empirical and dominating set, just edged it for me as band of the festival.

The next HRH Prog is down in that there London, whether it will retain the family feel of this one I am not sure but, if the line up is anywhere near as strong as this, then any attendees won’t be disappointed.

People talk about the diminishing returns and lack of punters for small local prog gigs, I do wonder if this model isn’t the future, it might cost a little more, and take out more of your time, but I loved the friendliness, the convenience, and the way of seeing a combination of bands I loved and new bands that I now love, all within a very small dash between two stages.

Hats off to all the folks involved in pulling this together, and a massive thanks for letting me tag along and be a small part of something much, much bigger.

Progradar: HRH Prog 2018 was a huge success for me, excellent bands spread across two excellent stages with all the support network (food, beer, water etc.) very close to hand. The location had a hell of lot to do with the brilliant atmosphere and time will tell if the Shepherds Bush Empire venue will be as accommodating next year.

The highlights were Martin Barre, I Am The Manic Whale, This Winter Machine and Gandalf’s Fist but the star band of the whole weekend were the incredible and magnificent Southern Empire.

Keep your eyes peeled for forthcoming interviews from HRH Prog 2018 with Southern Empire, Exploring Birdsong and Gandalf’s Fist.

Review – Viriditas – Red Mars – by Progradar

This hour long journey of dynamic and melodic music was inspired by the great sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson’s book of the same name. ‘Red Mars’ is loosely based on the adventures of the characters in the book, and the myriad of trials they face as they ultimately seek independence from their corporate overlords back on Earth.

Principal songwriter Mike Bridge says about the album “Red Mars started out as a collection of instrumental tunes written for a four piece still centred around events from Robinson’s book, but I was so inspired to further connect them up that I began extending the tunes and writing lyrics. There are moments of darkness and wonder alike as characters secretly share their feelings with the listener amid the turmoil of the events going on on Mars.”

The style of music has inspirations from not only the classic progressive acts that are obvious to a seasoned listener (Genesis, Magma and The Flower Kings to name a few), but more broadly from folky artists such as Loreena McKennit and the more traditional hard rock style of Magnum.

Well that press release has certainly set the bar high. My good friend Leo Koperdraat of Fractal Mirror pointed Viriditas my may and the rest, as they say, is history…

You can approach this album happy in the knowledge that you don’t have to have read the book that it is based on to thoroughly enjoy what is an involving and baroque musical adventure.

The three vocalists, Mike Waters, Julie Kvaerndrup and Hannah Bridge introduce a dramatic and theatrical feel that envelops everything from the opening title track Red Mars. The music is incredibly cinematic in scope and delivery, giving a real rock opera vibe. Listening to The Killing and Ares, fans of Bent Knee and Circuline will understand exactly where I’m coming from when I say it is progressive in the true sense of the word with Guitarists David Stanton and Thomas Williams adding proper pomp and circumstance to Khalia and Blood On The Airwaves and also a confidence that is well deserved.

Yes, there’s classic prog influences but the hard rocking guitars and driving rhythm section definitely add some hard rock kudos to the whole album. Mike Bridge’s stylish bass playing and John Wills dynamic drums power everything along with a high energy tempo that is really infectious, especially on the epic primeval force that is the twenty-minute prog-fest of We See RedThis is a song that will really put a smile on your face, the playing is tight and precise but there’s also a real high voltage intensity and vitality that runs throughout.

The album comes to a close with the mysterious tones of Beyond The Reach Of Fools, a track that could have come from a David Bowie led Genesis and Flower Kings collaboration (just stay with me, it would work, honest!). There’s some might fine guitar work and a spaced out, chilled and almost psychedelic edginess to the song and it just works brilliantly.

What a thoroughly enjoyable nostalgic sci-fi blast that was, an album that wears its heart on its sleeve and a group of musicians that fit together perfectly. The best thing about it is that Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a trilogy so you know there’s got to be two more instalments coming our way and I can’t wait!

Released 23rd August 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

 

 

 

Review – Dean Watson – Track of Days – by Progradar

Dean Watson is a multi-instrumentalist from Toronto in Canada and, until he reached out to me, I have to confess that I had not heard any of his music before.

I am now exceedingly grateful that he did!

‘Track of Days’ is Dean’s fifth album of prog-fusion music and contains the 51 minute epic title track. To be fair apart from the short introductory track Updown Waltz, the whole album is the title track.

And what a track it is, sumptuous progressive rock fused with some extremely stylish jazz, a complete instrumental tour-de-force that takes you on a wonderfully involving musical journey with nods to the likes of Keith EmersonHappy The Man, Pat Metheny, UK, Bruford, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant and a whole gamut of others.

All instruments, programming, writing, mixing and mastering are done by Dean and he is an incredibly talented individual. It’s often said that you should listen to an album in one sitting and with ‘Track of Days’, that is a must, it is meant to be treated as one long piece and you will get the most from it if you do follow that advice.

It flows and segues from one act to the next, the musical ingenuity and complexity fusing and melding to create an intoxicating musical tapestry. For me it is the keyboards and synthesisers that are Dean’s piece-de-resistance and the comparisons with Emerson are earned. They come alive in his hands and give an energy and life force to the music that gives it a vibrancy all of its own.

The best compliment I can give to an album new to me is if I immediately press play again as soon as I have listened to it for the first time and with this album I did that not once but at least three times, it really is that good.

I’ll certainly be seeing where this accomplished musician goes next, with inventiveness like this then the sky is surely the limit!

Released 8th September 2018.

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – Sleeperman – Cheddar Baguette – by Progradar

Those perfect proponents of incisive social comment coated with a liberal dose of whimsical nostalgia, Sleeperman, return with September’s single (okay, I know, check the date but life gets in the way you know!), the imaginatively titled Cheddar Baguette.

Damn, these guys are good, this gentle meandering track really does get hold of you heart with its sepia tinged memories. Neil’s elegant guitar has just the right touch of thoughtful longing and the harmonised chorus is a delight.

“You had on your green canvas jeans and you were eating a cheddar baguette, I was wearing suede boots and a beret, they’re are things we’d all rather forget, but straight from the off we had things in common, you’re Dad drove a Ford Escort and so did mine…”

There’s only Sleeperman that can turn such simple lyrics into something so moving. This song is a sentimental daydream down memory lane and, for those of us of a certain age, a love song that will surely touch an emotional chord.

“I fell for you, I’ve fallen for for, I’ll fall for you as long as I breathe air…”

Utterly wonderful and, for me, the best single yet!

This time, the ‘B’ side is an, erm, alternative version…

Available from all the usual digital suspects and retro CD from the band contactable at their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/sleepermanband/

 

Review – Kalin Tonev – Machine Years – by Progradar

I love a powerful instrumental album but they have to work harder than your normal release due to there being no words to elucidate the songwriter’s thoughts and ideas.

The best ones are chock full of brilliant instrumental phases and phrases and tend to not let each track follow the same musical path.

Hailing from Sofia, Bulgaria, Kalin Tonev was previously known as the heart and the leader/composer/keyboardist of the prog rock project TravelHouse. Tonev released just a single album (‘Mind Mapping’– 2008) under this moniker, but it gained some favorable reviews in the main prog rock sites. Kalin began working on his debut solo effort, ‘Machine Years’, spanning the whole gamut of prog signatures.

Spread over thirteen tracks and covering sixty-five minutes, ‘Machine Years’ is a thoroughly involving musical experience. Massively injected with the classic 70’s lines, modern electronic scapes with occasional dark and heavy riffs, it is a theatrical journey awash with catchy melodies and intelligent moments intertwined with a more industrial, dystopian edge in places.

Kalin’s signature synth sound is dynamic and edgy with a real feel to it and he is joined on this impressively involving soundscape by three talented guitarists, Nenko Milev, Daniel Eliseev and Biser Ivanov. Their frenetic, energetic and compelling playing adds force and vigour to an already compelling mix.

There are moments of wonderful clarity when Kalin’s vintage keyboards soar to the heavens and these are countered by the somber, skittish feel when the music takes a more chaotic route. It’s a record full of memorable tunes but the highlights for me are Short Story About TanksBeingsMad DancerNews From Nowhere and the hypnotic This Empty Space.

Complex industrial, instrumental progressive rock with a lush and thoughful side, ‘Machine Years’ is an impressive debut and should see this talented musician really forge a name for himself.

Released 27th January 2017

Order the album from bandcamp here

 

 

Review – The Tangent – Proxy – by Progradar

2018 has been a rather excellent year for new music. It seems like no sooner has one great album come along then another arrives into the inbox at Progradar Towers. Music of all sorts of genres and description but the overriding feeling I have got this year is that there is joy back in music. The majority of new releases I’m hearing have enforced my faith in the restorative abilities of music and the fact that music can simply put a smile on your face and make the world a happier place to be in.

The latest album to get me buzzing and happy to get out of bed on a wet and miserable October morning is the new release, and 10th studio release, from progressive rock stalwarts The Tangent:

“Entitled “Proxy” it’s a single CD and Vinyl – a riot of juxtopposing styles, presented in a really direct manner and despite being firmly rooted in the stylistic traits of the Progressive Rock Genre takes some unexpected turnoffs and a major swerve.

Recorded during the band’s tour with Karmakanic in 2017/18 – there were more chances than normal to work together on the record – hotel writing sessions, van discussions, soundcheck ideas – all of which have allowed the band to make an album that is organic and as close to being that band, as has happened to the group of far flung members since they began their career 15 years ago.”

Thank you press release, main man Andy Tillison goes on to say, “I often think of good progressive albums as being like the Bayeux Tapestry, an account of the times the band lives in, using all the history that got us to that point, commenting on the Now with the experience of the past.”

Andy agreed with me that ‘Proxy’ is a lighter album than ‘The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery’, the band’s previous studio release but it does start with the obligatory protest song, title track Proxy. A track about the continuing wars that share their name with the song. The Tangent have always brought politics into progressive rock and this song carries on that connection, Prog always being born from counterculture. It’s a complete prog reference journey with Tillison’s swirling hammonds and synths, Jonas Reingold’s signature punchy bass, Steve Roberts’ dynamic drums and Luke Machin’s stylistic guitar work. Take yourself on a sisteen minute nostalgic road trip punctuated by the ever so elegant sax and flute of Theo Travis, this is what the band have always been good at, delivering a potent message with lashings of fantastic music to ease it home. The guitar and vocal motif at the end puts a particularly large smile on my face, tipping a nod to the 70’s in the process, The Tangent are back!

Now the album takes a wander over into left-field territory with the jazz-fusion instrumental The Melting Andalusian Skies, a piece of music as laid back as they come, sit back, enjoy the warm, sunny feel and let the ever so smooth sounds flow over you. Luke and Andy trade guitar and synth like the best jazz pros and Theo gives the whole shebang the necessary chuzpah. Luke throws in some Gordon Giltrap guitar and even acid jazz to give a psychedelic overtone, this is music for the hell of it, these guys are having a seriously good time, it’s patently obvious.  Described by the band as an attempt to find the missing link between Porcupine Tree and JamiroquaiA Case Of Misplaced Optimism is more funk than any man should have to handle! This track will get you digging the groove and saying ‘yeah man’ every five seconds, it is seriously infectious piece of music that put a huge grin on my face, yep, the joy is here for everyone to hear.

Rapidly becoming one of my all time favourite songs by the band, The Adulthood Lie is my stand out track on what is becoming a seriously good album. The Tangent do electronic dance music (yes you read that right, EDM!) and it works brilliantly. I know Andy wasn’t sure how the fans would take this homage to Ibiza, Fatboy Slim, Sophie Ellis Bextor and the rest but, to me, it’s a fantastic track. It’s chock full of catchy moments and a seriously infectious vibe that gets you up and dragging your dancing boots out of the cupboard before you even know what you’re doing. You know what, this is what progressive music should be about, you’re hearing a true progression and maturation of The Tangent’s sound and it’s bloody brilliant. As Andy says,

“Our belief is that Progressive Rock music is still a valid and viable musical form in 2018 and will continue to be so. Our band has always sought to take on board things from the present and add them to that magical mix. We don’t claim to be offering the FUTURE. We just claim to be offering one set of possibilities. Ours. Now.”

There’s a repeated vocal line that runs through the song that starts, “When I was young, I fell in love…”, trust me, that will rapidly become a glorious earworm! Andy admitted the band had gone a bit mad on this track but was really glad that they had.

“The whole of Supper’s Off came from a daft thing I said about “Cooking The Books Of Revelation” in a rather boring meeting at college…”

Being a fellow Yorkshireman, Andy has a particular sense of humour, Supper’s Off was a recording made at the time of (Tangent album) ‘Le Sacre Du Travail’. It wasn’t properly recorded until this album but it’s another iteration of The Tangent’s so called Fast Song. GPS Culture, Evening TV, Uphill From Here and Spark In The Aether could be said to be the others. My friend, and Bad Elephant Music boss, David Elliott has called it “an anthem for the modern progressive rock band” and he’s not wrong. A captivating and utterly addictive track with the funkiest keyboard hook and guitar riff going, it’s blasts into your mind at a mind-blowing rate of knots and takes everybody on a fun-fuelled musical roller coaster ride before tipping its hat and firing off into the distance.

Normality is resumed with the ten minute bonus of Excerpt From “Excerpt From “Exo-Oceans”, a little dip into Andy’s Kalman Filter material which is edgy, spaced out and best listened to in the dark with something addictive (legally, obviously!! you know, like Whiskey!) and this brings the heart rate down nicely so you can actually process what you’ve just listened to.

‘Proxy’ is a joyous celebration of music, done in The Tangent’s inimitable style. It’s an album that truly bears repeated listens, I’m sure Andy has left little chestnuts and references in there for people to pick up on. What we’re hearing is a true progression of the band’s sound that, while keeping what has always made them who they are, now resonates even more clearly with the world we live in. Music to make you think and music to lift your soul, what more can you ask for?

Released 16th November 2018

Check out the band’s website for pre-order details

 

Review – Oak – False Memory Archive – by Progradar

“Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.”

A poignant quote from the great Tom Petty and one that surely rings true in today’s troubled times. I love the surprise of hearing new music that moves you and takes you to a better place, there truly is nothing better.

Featuring members of both Airbag and the Björn Riis touring bands, Oak is a Norwegian progressive pop/rock band that originally emerged from a folk-rock duo. The four members have a diverse background spanning from classical piano to electronica, prog- and hard-rock, with references to the alternative scene as well as progressive rock – something that has combined to make a distinguished and unique sound. Mixing this with great musical skills and a vision of being accessible to a wide audience resulted in their debut album ‘Lighthouse’ in 2013.

Five years later, they are back with the stunning follow-up ‘False Memory Archive’. A natural continuation from ‘Lighthouse’, to which it has several small nods and references. The album has been meticulously crafted, with more use of electronics and low bass frequencies. It is both darker and groovier than its predecessor, while still sounding familiarly like Oak.

The promo arrived, unassumingly, in my inbox a few weeks ago and it was only because the band’s name triggered some sought of recognition in my mind that I decided to give it an immediate listen.

‘False Memory Archive’ is an incredibly engrossing and memorable listening experience. The opening track We, The Drowned immediately draws you into their dark but satisfying musical world. Simen Valldal Johannessen’s heartfelt vocals drip empathy and pathos and the band’s music just bleeds emotion, I was hooked from the first note.

The album has a feel of the more melancholy side of progressive and alternative music and will inevitably draw comparisons with the likes of Steven Wilson and The Pineapple Thief but these impressive musicians can stand their own ground as can be seen on the wistfully sombre but utterly graceful Clare De Lune. The album is really beginning to strike a chord with me, a wonderfully affectional musical journey that touches your heart an soul.

The darker progressive feel of title track False Memory Archive is countered by the uplifting harmony of the elegant chorus then the sparse, hauntingly pensive Lost Causes just leaves you open mouthed and slack jawed in appreciation with its powerful and yet stark message. It’s an utterly magical piece of music that cements just how good this band truly is.

The delightfully playful classical interlude of Intermezzo is grace and class personified and works like a musical amuse-bouche before the tension is cranked up by the mesmerising dark delights of The Lights, a captivating ten minutes plus of cat and mouse where light and shade intertwine and leave the hairs on the back of your neck rising.

The highs just keep coming, These Are The Stars We’re Aiming For pulsates with energy punctuated by sincere passion and fervor, Transparent Eyes is a plaintive contemplative track that almost rests a comfort blanket over your emotional state and the closing track, Psalm 51, is achingly beautiful, an ethereal joy, a song of longing and of love that brings a tear to your eye and yet joy to your heart.

I have loved music for many years, it has been with me through the highs and the lows  and my life would not be complete without it. My life is now also complete with this incredible album from Oak. Albums like ‘False Memory Archive’ are the reason that music was created in the first place, they bring peace to your soul and joy and love to your heart and the world is a better place for them. I cannot give any higher praise than that.

Released 19th October 2018

Order from bandcamp here (I’ve ordered the vinyl)

 

 

Review – Mark Rowen – Radiance – by Progradar

“The album title ‘Radiance’ was inspired, not by something that sounds like it could be added to your bath, but by the brilliant and creative photography of my now good friend Leonardo Wöllart and by the idea that there’a light that burns inside us all.”

So says Mark Rowen, former lead guitarist with Mostly Autumn offshoot Breathing Space and ‘Radiance’ is his first solo album. Like many, he is not a full time musician, he just happens to play guitar and write a decent song or two, when he can find the time alongside his full time job at an electronics company!

I first heard Mark’s work as a guest guitarist on the seminal debut album from Riversea, the acclaimed ‘Out of an Ancient World’ and he has produced something of a guitar-rock gem with his debut.

Along with vocalist Lisa Box, drummer Barry Cassells, bassist Paul Teasdale, keyboardist Leigh Perkins and a whole host of well known guest musicians, Mark Rowen delivers music from the heart, music that has soul and not a little nostalgia seeping out from every pore.

There’s joy and light radiating from these songs and Lisa’s vocals (sounding a little like Stevie Nicks) give a real 70’s and 80’s Fleetwood Mac vibe to some of the tracks like My Shadow Walks Alone, Feel Like Letting Go, the beautiful The Reason Why and the elegantly sublime Time To Leave.

There’s the haunting and heart-achingly wistful On The Blue Horizon with its subtle Americana soul and the dramatic Carousel which would be befitting of a stage musical, all these songs show what a songwriting talent Mark Rowen is and how good his core band are behind him. Mark’s guitar playing is superb, take the Dire Straits/Fleetwood Mac infused Trick Of The Light which would have graced either of those bands 80’s heyday releases, but it’s the wonderfully complex, deep, dark and beguiling ten minutes plus of Lure Of The Siren where everything falls into place perfectly to give the highlight of this impressive album. A slow burning and slow building musical delight that takes you through a whole gamut of emotions, songs like this are why I love music so much.

The album closes with the harder rocking soulful blues of Love Is Like A Rock and the piano driven, heartfelt Shine.

‘Radiance’ lives up to its title, there is a light of joy, love and humanity that shines throughout this impressive album. The musicianship and songwriting are top notch and deliver an engrossing listening experience that gets better every time you hear it.

Released 1st September 2018

Order from bandcamp here

 

Review – Riverside – Wasteland – by Progradar

“The darkness of the ultimate light is better than the lights of the ultimate darkness.”
― Mohsin Ali Shaukat

One cannot truly appreciate the light unless one has first walked in the dark. We talk of the light at the end of the tunnel, you see this through the dark and it is the ultimate goal, you must, however, travel through the dark to reach the light.

The tragedy that befell in February 2016 called into question the very existence of Riverside. The co-founder and guitarist of the band, Piotr Grudziński, died suddenly just before his 41st birthday. The band cancelled all the concerts planned for that year and dedicated the album “Eye of the Soundscape”, released in September 2016, to their late friend.

To begin a new chapter of Riverside, they would have to record an album from the point of view of someone bereft, someone who has survived a tragedy. The fact that the album would be recorded without their guitarist might result in having to experiment musically a little more than usual but, most of all, it might translate into deeper symbolism and carry a more profound meaning. “I had a feeling we would be alright and we could make something beautiful and exceptional,” recalls vocalist and main composer Mariusz Duda.

In the spring of 2017, Riverside resumed playing live. During the “Towards the Blue Horizon” tour the band were joined on stage by Maciej Meller who officially joined RIVERSIDE as their live guitarist. Why has he not become the official fourth member of the band? “It’s not so simple,” Duda explains, “To catch up with 15 years takes time. I love Maciej but everything has to have its place and time. For now we are a quartet only live.”

So that band is coming back this year with their seventh studio album called “Wasteland”, recorded as a trio: Mariusz Duda – vocals, guitars and basses, Piotr Kozieradzki – drums and Michał Łapaj – keyboards and Hammond organ.

The band entered the recording studio in December 2017 and Duda assumed the duties of the band’s guitarist. “We recorded a demo. It turned out alright and we had come to the conclusion that I would manage to play all the rhythmic parts, all the melodies and some of the solos. Naturally, to enhance the sound of the album, we left some space for guests.”

And so on the new album, you can hear a few guitar solos by Maciej Meller, as well as one by Mateusz Owczarek, a young, talented guitarist, who played with the band during their Warsaw memorial concert for Piotr. For the first time in their music, there are also violins played by Michał Jelonek.

Touted by the band as the spiritual successor to ‘Second Life Syndrome’, the new album is a much heavier and emotive proposition than fan favourite ‘Love, Fear and the Time Machine’. From the opening strains of Duda’s a-cappella vocals on The Day After and the segue into the sparse, industrial riff of Acid Rain, this is immediately apparent. An underlying feel of apprehension and darkness takes over the first few tracks on the album, for an album whose theme is attempting to survive in a world after the Apocalypse this is, perhaps, quite understandable.

This opening may surprise long term fans but it is superbly well crafted and delivered music that seeks to find a way through an increasingly turbulent world full of new divisions and conflicts. The closing couple of minutes of Acid Rain seem to bring a feeling of light and hope but that is immediately dashed by the granite heavy, staccato riff that delivers Vale of Tears onto an unsuspecting world. A powerful and imposing track that is delivered in one serious and heavy manner. So far ‘Wasteland’ and its predecessor are proving to be polar opposites.

The symbolism of the album refers not only to the post-apocalyptic visions of the world, but also to the death of Piotr Grudziński, to the band’s attempt to find themselves in new circumstances. The wistfully heartbreaking Guardian Angel with its understated vocals and delicate piano and guitar is calmness personified among the dark, post-apocalyptic feel of the earlier tracks. There’s a melancholy feel and a longing at its heart that brings a lump to your throat, a sepia tinged look back in time perhaps?

The elegant acoustic guitar that opens Lament gives no indication of what is to follow, Duda’s keening vocal heralds the entrance of the heaviest riff on the album so far, one that Mikael Åkerfeldt would have been proud of. A song that will inevitably draw comparisons with Opeth (well, I’ve done it!!) with its spacious and melodious verse and thunderous chorus. It’s the song on the album that really hits home with me, emotionally and musically, and Mariusz Duda’s solo just bleeds passion.

There’s a slight change in feel on the album as we head into the ying and yang of the 9 minute-plus instrumental The Struggle For Survival, a feel of the fight to pull away from the hold of the darkness and fight to get to the light. An invigorating first half where Duda’s bass line orchestrates proceedings with a deftness of touch is replaced by the more frantic and chaotic guitar and keyboard heavy second part where Łapaj comes to the fore. The graceful River Down Below sees the seeker getting closer to the light but there’s still a slightly forlorn edge to the music and a fragility to the vocal, a touching and truly moving song that wears its heart on its sleeve.

Title track Wasteland has a world-weary aura, a feel of an ending to a journey of extreme hardship but also one of hard fought knowledge collected along the way. The song drifts along with a lightness of being that can only come from the triumph over adversity. There’s a break into a frenzied instrumental section that fights to overcome the calm before sanity finally regains control. This gives an epic and cinematic feel to the song, an allegory of the fight between darkness and light which has been at the crux of the whole album. For me, the best is saved till last, the wonderful The Night Before where the sparsity of just piano and vocals gives humanity and reality to the song. It’s sublime, almost intangible grace seeps into your very soul until the song finishes and all is left is the vacuum of total silence.

Simply put ‘Wasteland’ is two things, a triumph of the light over the dark and a fitting tribute to Piotr. A compelling and engrossing musical journey through darkness, grief and loss to emerge into the light. A spiritual catharsis that sees a new chapter in the life of Riverside and puts them back at the forefront where they truly belong.

Released 28th September 2018

Order the album from Burning Shed here

 

Review – ATME – State of Necessity – by Progradar

“If you want to experience a deep journey into sound, ATME is a band you are looking for.”

Well, that’s quite a strapline isn’t it? Definitely enough to get me intrigued but, first, more about Poland’s ATME from the Press Release:

ATME was founded in 2011 in Wrocław, Poland. The band consists of four friends and integrated personalities crafting their own musical language mostly by improvisation during rehearsals and concerts.

“We like to leave our comfort zones in search of our own unique sound and character, the best way is by putting ourselves in a state of being here and now and just letting the music flow through us” – states ATME’s guitarist Piotr Guliński.

The stories behind their songs are the result of observation of the world and people. Lyrics discuss issues concerning the existence, spiritual development and psychology of the human mind.

“Music needs to be alive, to interact with us, people and the world around us, it needs to breathe” – says vocalist Luke Pawełoszek.”

Along with Piotr and Luke, ATME’s  line up is completed by Adrian Nejman – bass and Paweł Zborowski – drums & percussion. ATME’s sound can be associated with some of the works from bands like Tool, Led Zeppelin, Budgie, Opeth, Mastodon, Perfect Circle or Faith No More, while still maintaining an identity of their own.

So, big shoes to step in but step into them they do. The band’s debut release ‘State of Necessity’ is a dark and powerful statement of intent shot through with some quite beautiful moments of light and lucidity. There is a touch of jazz to opening tracks Worthy of Pity and Pleasure Box that does give a feel of Faith No More to the music, if Faith No More had spent a few days locked in a dark dungeon with Satan himself that is.

For this is a very dark album in places, deliciously dark in fact, the guitar riffs feel like they have come from the darkest recesses of the Earth and the obsidian drumbeat is hewn out of solid rock. There’s no comfort zone here, just the stylish, raw musical sound of a band crafting their own musical language and forging their own unique sound. Be it the grunge-heavy groove of the fabulous Trickster or the hard-rock-fest of the riotous ten minutes of Interrupted Call, like Led Zep on some serious acid, this band have crafted some seriously impressive tracks.

Through it all Luke’s impressively world weary and gravelly vocal drives things along, accompanied by that superb sound from Piotr’s memorable guitar and the truly heavy rhythm section of Adrian and Pawel. There are rare moments of calm within this thunderous musical storm of an album, moments that concentrate your thoughts on what is coming next, Pecto Dril, which will rock you like the proverbial hurricane, or (un)cut Thoughts with its more cerebral moments, either is a force of nature.

The album closes with the monster Hotel of the Transfiguration, a near ten minute journey into the soul of the beast and one of the best prog metal/hard rock/grunge tracks you’ll hear this year, this truly is the primeval sound of the earth at its elemental core.

Well, if you want a complete heavy mind-f*ck of an album that will, literally, blow you away but one that is full of intelligence and incisive songwriting then you need look no further than ATME’s brilliant debut ‘State of Necessity’.

Released 16th December 2017

Order the album from bandcamp here