Review – Dwiki Dharmawan – Rumah Batu – by Progradar

Following on from 2016’s groundbreaking, internationally acclaimed ‘Pasar Klewer’, Indonesian icon and keyboard legend Dwiki Dharmawan has considerably upped the ante with his new album ‘Rumah Batu’ (The Stone House). Drawing from both his extensive jazz influences and rich cultural heritage, he is augmented by a stellar cast of players to deliver a mind-bending piece of work brimming with intricate and adventurous compositions.

There’s free-from jazz that really blows you away, fantastic traditional arrangements, haunting Indonesian vocals and music that stretches envelopes and ignores boundaries. Dwiki is unparalleled as a player, arranger and songwriter and his genius is such that you find yourself literally transported into his idea of what the musical universe should be like.

In places it is definitely not for the faint-hearted and will only give up its delights as a reward to your intensive listening and understanding of the culture from which this exhilarating musician takes his influence. The album chronicles its creation at the already infamous La Casa Murada. Situated in the tranquil, picturesque setting of the Catalonian wine region of Penedès, Spain, the recordings take on a definite life of their own.

Rumah Batu’ can be said to chronicle the continuing evolution and progression of jazz in the 21st Century, there’s definite elements of King Crimson style progressive rock in there too, you only have to listen to the Rumah Batu Suite in its entirety to understand that.

All in all, Dwiki Dharmawan has produced one of the most groundbreaking, innovative, but certainly perplexing at times, releases of 2018. It gets under your skin as it eclipses both progressive jazz and world music to be a relentlessly revealing listen.

Released 15th May 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

 

Review – Gregory Page – A Wild Rose – by Progradar

Sometimes I just hanker for some music that lets me kick back, chill and let life move on around me while I take a rest from its trials and tribulations. Over the last couple of years it’s been roots and Americana music that’s provided my musical refuge the majority of the time and another release has arrived at Progradar Towers that could just fit the bill.

Gregory Page is a North London born Irish-Armenian performing songwriter. A third-generation musician, Page grew up surrounded by family members who performed and recorded traditional Irish music. His grandfather, Dave Page, was a master Uilleann piper whose early Parlophone recordings remain Gregory’s creative catalyst.

With its roots in Celtic and Americana music, some dry wit has described ‘A Wild Rose’ as aptly ‘Americeltic’ but he/she does have a point.

The promotional material goes on to say that ‘this album adds colour to a world that seems to have lost some of its shine…’ and ne’er has a truer word been said. There is darkness and light throughout the ten tracks that make up the album. The uplifting Americana of  I’m Alive contrasts perfectly with the melancholy and wistful lap steel infused I Say Adios.

Take the Celtic warmth of the uplifting title track and the fragility of Born With The Shakes Inside, a sharp look at the intangible truth of the human condition. This album wears its heart on its sleeve, the forlorn melancholy of Funny Trick and Goodnight Jack really hits home, taking you through the garden gate and back home again

Page has surrounded himself with an impressive cast of traditional musicians to deliver a truly flawless musical experience that leaves a warm feeling inside and hope where there maybe once was doubt and despair.

Released 6th August 2018

Check out the Gregory Page website here

 

 

 

Review – Circuline – Circulive: Majestik – by Progradar

“A deep well of musical wonderment is laid before you to drink from at will…”

That’s what I said about Circuline’s sophomore release ‘Counterpoint’ and this highly impressive progressive rock act went on to enhance that with what was by all accounts an outstanding performance at the 13th International Rites of Spring Festival (RoSfest). Captured live, this 2016 show has been released as the live DVD/CD, Blu-Ray/CD or just good old plain CD – ‘Circuline – Circulive: :Majestik’.

“What do you get when you take two theatrical lead vocalists, a keyboard player from Juilliard, a jazz-rock genius on guitar, a bass player from Monster Island and a drummer with progressive rock in his DNA? The modern cinematic ProgRock band Circuline.”

That’s the band’s tagline and describes them band down to a tee, for the RoSfest performance regular members Andrew Colyer (keyboards), Natalie Brown and Billy Spillane (those two ‘theatrical’ vocalists) and Darin Brannon (drums) were joined by new guitarist Beledo, guest bassist Harold Skeete and special guest Joe Deninzon on electric violin.

The setlist is taken majorly from ‘Counterpoint’ and opens with (DVD only) a subtly building version of New Day before particularly dramatic and powerful performances of Who I Am and Return. These dynamic tracks are followed by a bombastically brilliant version of personal fave Forbidden Planet, a performance that raises the hairs on the back of my neck.

The well shot DVD draws you in and makes you feel as if you are part of the whole experience, you feel every riff from Beledo’s expressive guitar work and the energy that Skeete puts into his bass playing. The two lead vocalists are at their theatrical and melodramatic best, the harmonies seemingly soaring to the heights of The Majestic’s roof.

They expertly run through the ten minute brilliance of HollowStereotypes and an especially vibrant version of Inception, including some seriously tasty guitar work. You can see why the performance was received enthusiastically, Skeete’s bass playing on America the Beautiful and Nautilus really gives added impetus and ‘snazz’ to the music and Colyer’s keyboards almost seem to have a life of their own as they drive everything on, all the musicians work together perfectly and seemlessly to deliver a polished and involving set.

Sat with my feet up watching the DVD at home gets me really absorbed in this spellbinding show, it’s not just a concert, it really is like going to the theatre to watch a musical extravaganza and Circuline really deliver that to the rapt audience. A mesmeric version of One Wish leads into a fantastic trio of closing tracks, the spellbinding Summit, a heartfelt rendition of Stay (Brown and Spillane virtually raise the roof on this one!) and this quite enthralling experience is brought to a close with the jazz/prog rock fusion inventiveness of Silence Revealed where Beledo is quite spectacularly let off the leash.

As live albums go this one has to be right up there with some of the recent best. Having excellent songs is a good start but to be able to translate those tracks into the live arena this well takes some real skill and Circuline have that in spades.

Released 18th May 2018

Order from CDBaby here

Review – Blackfield – Open Mind – The Best of Blackfield – by Progradar

It appears I may have dropped the ball big style when it comes to Blackfield and I’m big enough to admit my mistakes, no matter how bad they are!

I always dismissed this collaboration between the legend that is Steven Wilson and Israeli songwriter and musician Aviv Geffen as not for me (yes, pretentious on my part, I know!), considering it monotonous and well, boring! How wrong can you be eh? After listening to this compilation from their five albums it dawned on me that they are actually really rather good!

‘The collaboration, extending from their self-titled debut in 2004 to their superb return with album V produced with Alan Parsons in 2017, has proven to be a prolific partnership for creating striking and affecting music.’

Erm, yes, the promotional material hits the proverbial nail smack bang on the head, it is extremely striking and  very, very affecting. I could go on about all fifteen tracks on the album but I’ll just tell you the ones that really stand out for me. Opener Blackfield, the uber-smooth and emotive 1000 People, the energetic and dynamic Oxygen, my personal favourite How Was Your Ride with its surfeit of soul and oh so cool strings and vocals, From 44 to 48, the heartfelt Faking, the pared back brilliance of Dissolving With the Night, honestly, as collections go, it really doesn’t get much better than this.

‘Perhaps the debut album’s Lasse Hoile cover art—a bottled elixir lurking in the gloomy shadows of an apothecary—signifies that Blackfield is a dark medicine to be administered through the listener’s ear.’

I don’t know who writes this promo stuff but, damn, they’re good and so is the music, perhaps Steven Wilson himself puts it best:

“Blackfield appealed to me because it was a chance to focus firmly on the art of the classic pop song with concise songs and strong melodies, harmonies, orchestration, and a very lush ‘golden’ production.”

If, like me, you have never thought Blackfield worthy of your attention then please, please heed my advice, get your hands on this new collection and enjoy every single note!

Released 28th September 2018

Order the album, in all formats, from the link here

 

Review – Seasons of Time – Welcome to the Unknown – by Progradar

Formed in 1993 in Bremerhaven, Germany, Seasons of Time came together to make music influenced by their heroes: Pink Floyd, Marillion and Genesis. Through many band changes and two albums, 1997’s ‘Behind the Mirror’ and 2014’s ‘Closed Doors to Open Plains’, the group now consists of founding member Dirk Berger (vocals, bass, keyboards), Florian Wenzel (guitar) and  Julian Hielscher (drums).

2018 sees the release of ‘Welcome to the Unknown’, a concept album that ultimately tells us to look at the really important things in life like satisfaction, health, respect and friendship and that, in an ever faster moving and hectic society, we should be satisfied with what we have.

It’s always interesting to hear a vocalist sing in a language that is not his natural one and Dirk’s intonation and pronunciation of English gives a definite teutonic edge to the vocals, something akin to Kraftwerk or RPWL. I know not everyone will appreciate it but, for me, it works really well with the general feel and tone of this release.

‘Welcome to the Unknown’ consists of six tracks and there’s plenty in there for the listener to appreciate and admire. Central to everything is Florian’s fluid guitar playing, impressive in so many ways.

Album opener Toward The Horizon has a darkly dystopian futuristic atmosphere to its slow building introduction, with the eloquent and descriptive guitar playing guiding Dirk’s elegant keyboards into the fray. A neo-progressive track that has the 80’s written all over it in everything except the 80’s woeful production values. The album draws you in with its intelligent lyrics and excellent musicianship, just check out Julian’s dynamic drumming. I must admit that it didn’t completely grab me until after I’d listened to it three or four times but isn’t that true of all the better releases?

I particularly liked Dreams of a Madman’s early Marillion influences with Dirk’s keyboards and Florian’s guitar combining perfectly to deliver a great progressive rock track and the emotive Joana’s towering guitar solo. This trio know how to draw you into their thoroughly enjoyable musical world and special mention must go to the really rather impressive and incredibly haunting closing track The Last Ship, a song that really got under my skin, an incredibly soulful and powerful instrumental.

When it comes to progressive rock Seasons of Time haven’t reinvented the wheel with ‘Welcome to the Unknown’ but, as the old adage goes, ‘if it ain’t broke then why fix it?’ There’s plenty here for any fan of  the genre and the quality is such that you will not be disappointed.

Released 21st September 2018.

Check out the band’s website here for order details

 

Review – OH. – Metallia – by Progradar

“I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art.”  – W. Somerset Maugham

Think about that quote for a moment, it is telling us that all of the greatest things that have ever happened in art are not due to order, they are due to the beauty that can be created from and by disorder.

Greek multi-instrumentalist songwriter and musician Olivia Hadjiiannou (more commonly known, by her initials, as OH.) has created some quite intriguing and wonderful albums that stem from a certain disorder, if not completely but, with her new release ‘Metallia’ she has finally decided that there shall be no holding back!

Here is OH’s description of this mind-bending work:

‘Metallia’ is an epical prog-metal composition in six parts. A multi-layered sonic piece of ravishing solo electric guitars, time-bending tempo shifts, grooving bass lines and deranged drums. 

This instrumental progressive metal album will reveal its intricacies and hidden depths over time. It will extract from your mind pure visions, to mend your mental pictures, preen presumptions and to elicit an element of the unexpected….

I am sure that this album will not be to many people’s taste but from the first track, the sonic maelstrom of Red Lion, I was hooked by the immediacy and sheer power of the music. The turbulent anarchy of the angry, crushing guitar riffs and drums pounds you into submission but, after each further listen, you begin to recognise the subtleties as well. The high octane thrills continue with Bee although it’s traditional style intro throws you for a few seconds before the scatter gun guitars seek to pierce your soul.

I’m beginning to feel as if I’m trapped in a maniacal musical tornado from which there is no escape, slowly losing my grip on reality and not giving a care in the world that it’s happening. The crunching riffs and almost choral vocal overlays of Androgyny carry on the full throttle aural assault, it’s like being in a performance of Dante’s Inferno but one that is put to music. The thing is, I’m really starting to enjoy this, am I a masochist? no, it’s just that beneath the layer of lawlessness and disorder you can feel an intelligence at play, one that begins to reveal more of itself through the thunderous dynamism of Resurrection.

There’s tribal feel to Dragon’s Kiss as the tumultuous guitars shred the very semblance of your being, the rhythm swaying in time to the music and the hypnotic vocal overtones. This quite incredible musical experience comes to a close with the aptly named Triumph, a short, intense blast that finally removes any semblance of resistance from your soul as you willingly submit to the masterful chaos that surrounds you.

Phew! That is one highly intensive listening experience that, like all the best, gets better the more you are willing to listen to it and understand every nuance and subtle distinction. OH. has really given all of her musical being to us with ‘Metallia’, a powerful statement of intent from this impressive young woman, just don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Released 27th July 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

 

 

E.P. Review – Northern Soul Weekender (In Skegness) – by Sleeperman

I’m a bit late with my review of those musical marvels from East Yorkshire this time. July’s E.P offering from Sleeperman is called Northern Soul Weekender (In Skegness), the place in question between the parentheses giving the usual chortle inducing gentle humour that the band is well know for.

So what do we get this time? Well, my friends, something quite radically different and, to use the old Cuprinol analogy, you do get exactly what you see on the tin! That Motown inspired beat and rhythm you’d expect from a Northern Soul track is present in spades and instantly puts a grin on my face. Mr Skinner’s bass playing is tight and precise and drives the song on with gusto and glee, along with Phil Sharp’s energetic drumming.

John Hilton’s lyrics are as wry and pithy as ever and his unique vocal delivery works really well with that 60’s inspired music.

“She’s spent too long clearing up after everyone else, watched too much TV she’s not been interested in, she’s minded the fort when all the others deserted, punch drunk on disappointment she took on the chin…”

Another thing that really puts a smile on my face is Neil’s funky, soul infused guitar playing, this track really has everything you could want and, once again, proves that some of the best and most original songwriting is coming out of my little corner of the world and, you know what, that really makes me proud!

As usual there is a b-side to the single and this time it’s a rather sultry, blues inspired affair with a really laid back tempo and some rather elegant piano playing. John takes the low key approach on his vocals and, in doing so, see the band produce something even more different than has gone before.

Review – Semantic Saturation – Paradigms – by Progradar

Does anybody remember Infectious Grooves?  The funk metal supergroup led by Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir released a completely bonkers album in 1991 called ‘The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move…It’s The Infectious Grooves.’ It was so out there it made my CD collection and I’ve yet to hear anything come close to that infectious energy that the album contained.

Fast forward to 2013 Semantic Saturation (a progressive rock/progressive metal project founded by Canadian guitarist Shant Hagopian) release their debut album ‘Solipsistic’ featuring progressive metal gurus such as drummer Virgil Donati, bassist Ric Fierabracci and guests; keyboardist Derek Sherinian (ex. Dream Theater) and vocalist Andy Kuntz (Vanden Plas). A dizzying and complex release that has touches of the spirit of Infectious Grooves hidden in its convoluted depths.

After 5 years wait virtuoso guitarist Shant returns with the mind blowing ‘Paradigms’, this time aided and abetted by legendary musicians, drummer Craig Blundell and bassist Kristoffer Gildenlöw. The album also features guest musicians, some of the greatest names in metal, with Derek Sherinian returning to feature on the track Ulterior Harmony, Alex Argento on Carousel of Death and the lovely jazz vocalist Houry Dora Apartian on Empty Whisky Jar.

As instrumental albums go ‘Paradigms’ is an absolute monster featuring such amazing tracks as the powerfully funkadelic opener Mirrors of Confusion and it’s identical twin Carousel of Death which are a real echo of that Infectious Grooves monster of 27 years previous. On the former, edgy, thunderous guitar combine with Blundell’s cacophony of drumbeats and Gildenlöw’s stylish bass drives all before it. It’s a grin inducing roller coaster ride and one you don’t want to get off. The latter takes you on an insane, acid jazz trip through a really warped mind where Alex Argento stands tall like a crazed professor.

The infectious grooves (see what I did there?) of Pareidolia give a moments pause of foot tapping energy before calm is finally restored with the elegance of Empty Whiskey Jar where Houry Dora Apartian adds her sultry jazz vocals.

The riffs and grooves come thick and fast almost giving you no pause to really appreciate the mind blowing musical structures and spellbinding melodies. Personal favourites are the intelligently constructed charm of Until We Meet Again, the otherworldly experience of Disturbance Within and the calm and collected polish of classic rocker Universal.

This magical experience is completed by Where Dreams Have Died, a ten minute journey that becomes Shant’s grand paradigm of musical intrigue and astounding mastery. It is an elaborate, baroque composition that trades on each musician’s undoubted skill and dexterity to deliver a sublime listening experience.

As the last note fades out a small but knowing smile appears on my face as I reminisce back to 1991. ‘Paradigms’ is a wonderfully complex and accomplished piece of work but, deep at its core this album is full of incredibly infectious grooves. Shant Hagopian and your stellar cast of musicians please take a bow for this fantastic achievement.

Released 20th August 2018

Order the album in various formats direct from the band’s website

 

 

Review – Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be – by Progradar

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller.

To a music mad amateur journalist like me, that statement applies to music just as much as anything else, if not more! When I hear an inspirational new piece of music for the first time, it can really hit me right in the heart and send it soaring with its beauty.

Let’s be honest, we reviewers listen to so much music that it is easy to become jaded and we could say that it would take something very special indeed to inspire us compared to the man (or woman) in the street. That could just be pretentious tosh but, recently, a new album landed in the inbox that really fits what I’m trying to say to a tee. Let me tell you more…

Lux Terminus (translated as “the light at the end”) was formed in 2016 by three musicians with a shared vision to create unique and powerful instrumental music. Their debut release ‘The Courage to Be’ is a powerful first statement from the progressive rock trio,which consists of keyboardist Vikram Shankar (Redemption), drummer Matthew Kerschner, and bass guitarist Brian Craft.

The album features guest performances from several acclaimed musicians: vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering, Devin Townsend Project, VUUR, et al.), guitarist Timo Somers (Delain, Vengeance), and cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Leprous, Musk Ox).

Put simply, ‘The Courage To Be’ is a groundbreaking instrumental release that takes themes of separation, hardship, hope and transcendence and turns them into an instrumental masterpiece. The incredible keyboard skills of Vikram Shankar are at the forefront of this superbly involving sixty-one minutes of pure musical theatre and that is not belittling the skilled contributions of Kerschner and Craft whose rhythm section adds pure virtuoso drive and impulse.

From the elegantly gentle Prologue: Departure (I), which is part one of a four part thematical musical suite, through the infectious driving grooves of Elctrocommunion, this skillful trio deliver unique and powerful instrumental tracks that just make your heart sing.

There’s intricate and convoluted (Aberration), jazz-funk at its best (Miles Away) and progressive metal, rock, jazz fusion, electronic, and cinematic influences galore, all of which contribute to a dominant first statement from these excellent musicians.

Every track is worthy of praise but the real stand out piece for me is the twenty-one minute orchestrally driven brilliance of the title track featuring Timo Somers. Described as ‘high octane jazz-fusion’, it will literally send your aural receptors into melt down as it ebbs and flows to a manically intense rhythm. I really feel that the band are having as much fun as you can legally have on this track and it’s worth the price of entry alone!

You want your keyboard based progressive instrumental with a more laid back and moody feel? Take Journey (II), Spectral Shapes or The Road Home (III) and the stylish piano and keyboard that adorn them, this album has it all.

To finish, the sultry vocals of Anneke Van Giersbergen grace the lovely Epilogue: Fly (IV), the closing part of our four part suite, a heartwrenchingly beautiful four minutes of pared back delight and a perfect way to close the album out and bring your heart rate back to normal.

Well, what can I say, it really does take something special to get me waxing lyrical about a new release nowadays but ‘Courage To Be’ is one of those rare albums that excites and inspires from the first listen but that will also have the longevity to keep you listening to it in many months to come. Virtuoso musicianship along with intelligent, involving songwriting, Lux Terminus have surely seen the light of the tunnel with this utterly captivating release.

Released 24th August 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

 

 

Review – Alizarin – Cast Zenith – by Progradar

“Instrumental, unconventional rock music that leans on the progressive side, whatever that means…

Consider if King Crimson and Opeth had a baby but were forced to raise it outside the city, due to an overabundance of djentrification.”

Now there’s an introduction to a new band that makes you sit up and take notice! Alizarin is an instrumental instrumental progressive rock trio from Los Angeles consisting of guitarist Josh Kay, drummer Jon Damon and bass player Stephen Ostaszewski, three musicians who want to take the unconventional route and they released their debut album ‘Cast Zenith’ on July 20th.

It’s a collection of seven tracks that takes you on a whistle-stop tour of musical styles and tends to defy the usual conventions. Opening song Faint Home sees Josh’s compelling guitar deliver a serious overtone, quite a melodramatic piece of music that lingers in the mind long after. There’s precision, skill and style to these excellent musicians and that is delivered in spades on the explosive and captivating Anomaly, a track that wears it’s Satriani/Vai influences proudly on its multi-coloured and flared sleeves.

The Vast Enigma opens as almost a soundtrack to an 8-bit computer games from the 80’s before blossoming into a powerful and funky song that has a mysterious undertone to it. The contrast in style to the laid back and jazzy The Window Afar is very pronounced, lost in the lazy, hazy days of a hot summer without a care in the world, this elegant piece of music takes the relaxed route to your musical sensibilities.

The drama returns with title track Cast Zenith, dark and overtly dramatic in its delivery and with a nod to the intricacies of King Crimson as Josh, Jon and Stephen show us their musical chops. A headrushing eight minute musical adventure that never lets up and leaves you laughing at the sheer madness of it all. Like ying and yang, the calmness returns with the delicate and supremely elegant Gethsemane, an ode to Josh’s classical guitar skills.

Every good thing must come to an end and this entertaining debut album closes with the near ten minute splendour of Luminous ApparitionOpening with sombre, reverent and hushed tones that draw the listener in to what feels like a musical take on a dystopian tale.

‘Cast Zenith’ is music that has intelligence and depth, music that takes the listener on an involving journey. This is a great start from this impressive trio and one which promises much for the future, Alizarin are a band that we definitely need to keep an eye on.

Released 20th July 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here