Review – Melanie Mau & Martin Schnella – The Oblivion Tales by James R Turner

It was about the middle of the first decade of this century that I got a little bored and disillusioned with the whole ‘prog’ genre. Bear in mind by this time I had been reviewing prog, going to gigs, interviewing musicians and buying CD’s since about 1995, so I was in my mid 20’s (I started young) and needed something that wasn’t a constant retread of something that had been done before (& better) and by sheer fluke I discovered folk and folk rock.

This opened my eyes to a totally different musical discipline, an area where it wasn’t just about how many notes you knew, or how fast you could play them, being able to cover the entirety of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb (complete with note by note solo) wasn’t a defining factor as to how good you thought you were, instead it was a wide genre developed on ‘word of mouth’ music. Some songs were unaccompanied; some had minimal instrumentation and maximum vocals. Coming from the rockier end of the musical spectrum, listening to singers accompanied by minimal instrumentation and where the theory of ‘less is more’ was positively encouraging, it was like a breath of fresh air. These were real songs, about real people that had the impact to move you and draw you in. I’ve always loved narrative songs, and so the movement into folk where there was a heady mix of songs about witches, Noblemen, peasants, fools provided a wonderfully rich tapestry of characters (and it’s interesting once you start listening to the whole folk/folk-rock scene, how much of this stuff seeps through into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series) and some amazing musicians.

What’s even more exciting is that folk music and prog have always strolled together, crossing and entwining, you only need to listen to Fairport Convention’s ‘Full House’ or Shirley Collins and the Albion Band’s ‘No Roses’ to discover folk prog, whilst Jethro Tull’s ‘Songs From the Wood’, ‘Heavy Horses’ and ‘Stormwatch’ are widely considered their folk trilogy (although elements seep through later albums including ‘Broadsword and the Beast’) and bands like Comus, Trees, Dodson and Fogg and Big Big Train pull elements from cross genres to create contemporary folk songs.

Folk songs literally are the songs of the people, sung by the people, and when Martin in his Progradar Penthouse posted about this album being a great piece of folk prog, well I took one look at the album cover and Martin’s description, and knew once again that this one had to be listened to intently.

Now this duo is not a name I was familiar with, but I am always eager and ready to have a listen to anything new that takes my fancy, and diving into this I was very pleased with what I found.

The duo of Mau and Schnella wrote all the songs on this album, and are accompanied by a phalanx of friends who help enhance and round out the sounds on this album, but the driving force here is Mau’s fantastic voice, and Schnellas wonderfully dextrous guitar work.

From the opening The Spire and the Old Bridge, with it’s powerful narrative about flooding a town for a reservoir, one which is all too familiar for people who lived in areas of the peak district, and as I said earlier this is songs about people sung by people, and Melanie with her vocals draws you into the story.

The harmony vocals between them both are also sublime, which is as it should be on a record like this.

If you pare back the instrumentation and bring it down to the vocals and the guitars then there is no margin for error, and there is no error throughout this record, as both musically and lyrically it hits the spot.

Melanie and Martin are both experienced musicians and storytellers, and throughout this album (particularly the clever segue from The Spire and the Old Bridge to Treasured Memories) the songs flow like a fine wine, and I continue to be impressed by musicians who write songs in English when it isn’t their native tongue (particularly when the lyrics here have warmth, depth, emotion, and are better than some English lyrics I’ve heard recently) they go to their native Germany on the dramatic and fantastic Die Zwerg vom Iberg, (The Dwarfs of Iberg) which again flows into the The Dwarfs King.

Not only do they know how to write a tune, draw in some wonderfully heartfelt lyrics (My Dear Children, with it’s evocative imagery and lyrics that come straight from the heart) they also know how to structure an album.

This isn’t a dip in, dip out record, this is an album you put on the CD player (sorry Martin, doesn’t look like a vinyl is available) settle down in your favourite armchair and let the luxurious music immerses you as you get drawn into their world.

From drowning villages to cowboys (Wild West) sublime guitar playing and fantastic harmony vocals, then what’s not to love about this record?

As well as being musical partners Melanie & Martin are partners in life, and this record bristles with the emotion and warmth that couples making music can bring, and this can nestle comfortably alongside musical partnerships like Richard and Linda Thompson or John & Beverley Martyn, as it’s musical chops more than brings this up to being in that illustrious company.

This, as you can imagine is fantastic musical journey, a step away from the normal prog that I get to listen to, and draws me back into the folk side of things, which is where I go when I want some emotional power, and this album has it in spades.

An absolute essential purchase.

Released 27th November 2017

Buy the digital album from bandcamp


Guest review – Seven Steps to The Green Door – Fetish – by Rob Fisher

Here is the second guest review, this time by Rob Fisher.


I will make no secret of the fact that I am a long time admirer of the truly remarkable Seven Steps to the Green Door. From the double award winning debut album ‘The Puzzle’ (2006), to the tour de force of inspired musical excellence embodied in ‘Step in 2 My World (2008), to the beautifully crafted and lovingly composed journey that is               ‘The?Book‘ (2011: complete with painted nail in the CD release!), this seven-piece band from Germany always produce music which probes the boundaries of intelligence, passion and vision.

After a four year wait, they return with ‘Fetish’, a 78 minute musical tsunami which is simply breathtaking. The first listen, at times, can feel a little overwhelming. The music is alive, vibrant, full of energy, dynamism and joy. Full credit here must go to the superb arrangement and mixing by new guitarist Martin Schnella (guitar, bass, backing vocals) and excellent production values which allow the music to breathe in a revealing sound stage where each and every instrument is wonderfully transparent and quickly discloses the technical mastery and superb musicianship of the band.

Once you recover from the powerful initial impact, subsequent listens are a joyful revelation which repeatedly speak to something quite special being offered here in the perceptive and insightful writing of Marek Arnold (keyboards, sax) and Ulf Reinhardt (drums). There is a rich diversity of musical styles and creative segments that are thoughtfully sequenced and carefully fashioned to present an overall musical experience which is abundant in subtlety, nuance and finesse. Again and again you find yourself being engaged, being drawn in to so many different emotional journeys and captivated by the mesmerising ebb and flow of the   story which is unfolding in each track. As with previous albums, you are left in little doubt that this is a work of commitment, care and, ultimately, of love, it shines throughout the album and carries you along from start to finish.

What is, I think, noticeably different with ‘Fetish’ is the emerging (and quite rightful) confidence of the band to evolve their style where technical discipline flows hand in hand with joyful exuberance. The SSTTGD ‘sound’ from previous albums is alive, well and utterly unmistakable but this release gives it a new context in which to shine as a result of which, something new and much more profound emerges.


From the very beginning, two things are immediately noticeable. First, this is an album built around exquisite vocal work. The voice as instrument becomes the focal point for everything else and off which everything else finds its place. Anne Trautmann is sublime in the range and quality of expression she brings to the material. She is joined by Lars Köhler who brings just the right tonal counterbalance and, in a guest appearance, the unmistakable Arno Menses from Subsignal. Together they give us a staggering range of performances which are a joy to hear. From the almost monkish purity of the opening 34 second track Possible Delayed (reprised at the very end of Ordinary Maniac), the fine interplay and layered harmonies of Still Searching (track 3) and the haunting melodies of Inferior (track 4) this album excels because the voices take centre stage, not as a dominant tool which drowns out the others but one which takes its place alongside them and by doing so enables them to become so much more.

Indeed, this leads to the second noticeable feature of the album: the quite brilliant orchestration of the band to build complex and interweaving crescendos that are full of presence, depth and inventiveness. With guest contributions from Steve Unruh (UPF), the foundations are set by controlled, unswerving and menacing guitar work, occasionally unleashed to soar, sweep and ascend to new heights. This is underpinned by driving, ambitious and atmospheric bass work (Daniel Mash of Machine, UPF and ex The Tangent guests). The drums beat out an assured and masterful array of rhythms, full of authority (with additional percussion from Justo Suarez). Keyboards join and swell the building soundscape, enriching the atmosphere and lifting the mood whilst the vocals combine to bring poignancy and emotional bite.

This is a band at the very top of its game, giving us music of the very highest calibre. It is a remarkable album which will surprise, astonish, captivate and delight; spending time with it only increases your awareness of undiscovered depths and hidden treasures. Enjoy it: and let us fervently hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the next instalment on this band’s remarkable journey.

Released 11th September 2015 via Progressive Promotion Records

Buy direct from the band’s website

About the author – Rob Fisher


“Rob is a former academic and Head of Philosophy who is passionate about prog, scifi, wine and a curious array of US sports. He presently directs his own company which focuses on interdisciplinary events and publishing.”