‘Chasing The Lesser Light’ was released a few weeks back, at the end of March, in advance of the inaugural UK live performance from Kinetic Element at the highly acclaimed Winter’s End Festival held in Chepstow. Which, by all accounts, was both well attended and also highly rewarding for the band, significantly increasing their level of popularity along with being financially satisfying.
It is not hard too see why the band were so warmly received, especially on the strength of this almost concept album (or at least thematically linked collection of songs) that is based on the theme of space exploration. The record has merely five tracks in lengths of between six and almost twenty minutes duration. The music is definitely Symphonic Prog which has nods to the likes of ELP, Yes, Asia and many others. The band say that their lyrics have a spiritual touch, however, don’t be alarmed by this it is only mild and is really more about being positive as opposed to the possibly more heavy handed preaching of say Neal Morse or similar.
The album begins with its shortest track, First Stage, which is about contemplating space travel and flight without wings, as it were. The song has a slightly eastern sounding riff in it’s initial section which then becomes more straightforward after a synth section. Once John Coleman’s vocals begin, the bass on this song is very good and fair gallops along leaving space for Mike Visaagio’s piano parts and semi-jazz guitar licks form Peter Matuchniak. I find this very interesting as it deals with the anticipation and expectations of space travel.
Title track Chasing The Lesser Light concerns itself with the moon expeditions already completed and the impact they had globally. Ok, it was over 50 years ago now but it was truly a huge step for mankind and, unlike certain theories tell us, we really did go there and also return safely. When you think that the tablet that this very review was written on has more processing power and capabilities then were available to NASA at the time, it makes the fact that it even happened all the more impressive! The song is another impressive and lengthy one at almost 20 minutes long. Again there is excellent bass from Mark Tupko and lots of atmospheric organ and synths, you definitely hear E.L.P in this track with the descending bass runs and the effusive Hammond organ stabs. Not unexpectedly, there is a lot going on in this track, strong vocals, classic organ sounds strong piano and all manner of synths and rhythm section support, especially from Michael Murray’s superb drums. The latter portion of the song talks of seeing the earth from the moon and the powerful effect that has on the astronauts when first witnessed along with the powerful impression actually walking on the moon had globally when those early television broadcasts were transmitted, capturing the moment for posterity. Those images still evoke awe and wonder today, a fact this song manages to convey very well. For me though even better is Radio Silence which deals with the families left behind and their mix of emotions from being proud but also being fearful for their safety, this gentle song is very heartfelt and very well executed .
The next track We Can’t Forget sees us looking beyond the moon to further destinations like Mars to see if life exists or could survive in such a climate. Already folks like Elon Musk are looking at these prospects seriously and planning ways to get there. This song looks at these possibilities and asks are they realistic or just a pipe dream,? Only time will tell I guess but we are right to be asking such questions and musings. Door To Forever closes the album by musing on reopening the door to space travel, and to become the Starman in the sky. A wistful opening on this lengthy track where keys and guitar combine to give an almost Bowie-like feel to the music. John’s emotive vocals grab your attention and lead you on the journey where Peter’s guitar has touches of Steve Howe at his pomp. It’s an enjoyable, fine way to close what has been a brilliant listen.
Overall, this is an exceptional release with lots of great music and musicianship a plenty, a pumping, driving rhythm section alongside solid guitar and excellent keyboard sounds and solos. This will be especially satisfying to fans of acts like ELP or Yes and, indeed, to anyone who likes vintage prog bands as Kinetic Element have that classic sound and bring their own modern take on prog. The results are very fine indeed and most definitely worth a listen, give it a go and help this long standing US band get wider acclaim, they’ll appreciate it I’m sure!
“Sisyphus” was originally released in Europe in early 2017 as a digital-only release by Ten Jinn, however, there has been a large demand for a CD release and even a vinyl release. The CD is set for an early spring (2018) release.
About The Album
Sisyphus is an eight-part programmatic work that tells the story of the founder and King of Corinth after whom it is named. Because of affronts to the gods while alive, Sisyphus was condemned in death to spend eternity in Hades rolling a boulder to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll back down each time he completed the task; this also speaks to the essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” by Albert Camus, who used the myth as a means to comment on the senseless, repetitive drudgery of modern life.
Originally written as a classical work (a symphonic poem for string orchestra and piano) the Ten Jinn production involved reworking the piece to include the addition of rock instrumentation. We got the idea to add vocals to make it more consistent with earlier Ten Jinn albums, and the plan was then to fill out the record with other new material; however, at one point during the process we decided to do an instrumental mix and use it as a “flip-side,” instead, because we wanted to include a version that was representative of the original idea, which had its own unique “flavor.”
John Paul Strauss: Lead and backing vocals, Keyboards
Mark Wickliffe: Drums, Bass & backing vocals
Ken Skoglund: Guitars & backing vocals
Mike Matier: Guitars
A Statement from John Strauss
I have known about Nick Katona of Melodic Revolution Records for a while now, having seen him at RosFest for several years in a row (donning his signature top hat with a classy presentation of product second to none). However, it was only during the 2017 iteration that I finally had a chance to speak with him at great length. What I found was a passionate, intelligent man; a kindred spirit in attitude towards life in general, and music in particular.
I went to his website and checked out a number of the artists on his label. What I found was an eclectic offering of artists all with one thing in common – superior musical talent. Along with a laid-back, yet serious, approach to getting this music heard, I thought that his label would be the perfect partner for Ten Jinn. So, I handed him a promo copy our new record Sisyphus, we spoke again a while later and decided to work together. I speak for myself, and rest of the band, when I say that I am very excited about our upcoming CD release of Sisyphus on MRR, and hope this will be the first of many more to come.
Power Metal band Wings of Destiny have signed with Melodic Revolution Records for their upcoming album Brave New World Due out late fall 2017.
Melodic Revolution Records is very excited to be working with Wings of Destiny for the release of “Brave New World.”
Wings of Destiny, previously called Destiny, is a Power Metal band from Costa Rica formed in late 2013 by vocalist Anton Darusso and bassist Bryan S. Molina, with strong influences from bands like Angra, Helloween and Rhapsody, among others. The band’s first release Time (2015) received an award for Best Metal Album in 2016 presented by ACAM: Association of Composers and Musical Authors of Costa Rica.
Artwork: Caio Caldas (Brazil)
Brave New World video and production credits
Recorded at Studios Bushido
Mastered at Drygvae Studios
Mix & Sound Engineering Destinty Juan Pablo Calvo (Costa Rica)
Mastering Aleksei Stetsyuk (Belorussia) Studios Bushido – Costa Rica & Drygvae Studios- Belorussia
Produced by: AntonDarusso, Alejandro Amador & Cristian Jimenez
Co-produced by: Juan Pablo Calvo
Orchestral arrangements: Anton Darusso
Song arrangements: Anton Darusso, Juan Pablo Calvo and Wings of Destiny
Wings of Destiny Is.
Anton Darusso – Vocals
Alejandro Amador – Keyboards
Dani Chaves – Guitar
Cristian Jiménez – Guitar
Emil Minott – Bass
Roberto Ulloa – Drums
“In the song Brave New World, humankind’s mistakes have finally destroyed the Earth. Only a few are saved and seek a brave new world to live in and start a new life”
Stratospheerius will release their fifth CD “Guilty of Innocence” through Melodic Revolution Records early Fall 2017. The new 10-track album will be available worldwide in both Physical and Digital formats. “Guilty of Innocence” features special appearances by Alex Skolnick (Testament), Rave Tesar (Renaissance) and Randy McStine (The Fringe).
“Guilty of Innocence” highlights include a reimagined cover of Muse’s “Hysteria,” a 12-minute prog epic titled “Soul Food” which features many of the guests mentioned above, plus “Dream Diary Cadenza,” a solo electric violin extravaganza lifted from Joe’s electric violin concerto.
The band is led by founding member, electric violinist & vocalist Joe Deninzon. Joe has been called the “Jimi Hendrix of the electric violin.”
GUILTY OF INNOCENCE features members: French guitarist Aurelien Budynek (Cindy Blackman, Vernon Reid), bassist Jamie Bishop (The Syn, Francis Dunnery), and drummer Lucianna Padmore, praised by Modern Drummer Magazine for her “Deep grooves and serious fusion chops.”
In a Statement from Joe:
“We are honored to be part of Melodic Revolution Records, and feel it will be a strong partnership, “We would love to expand our audience worldwide, especially in the prog community. We love Nick’s commitment to and enthusiasm about the artists on his label.”
In a Statement from Nick Katona President MRR:
“I’m a long time fan of the band and look forward to this journey of making music and magic through our collaboration.”
Melodic Revolution Records is more than just another independent record label: we are a family of individuals and musicians that work hard together like a well oiled machine, bringing the music listener, music that inspires, and makes us think, while cultivating memories – music that will stand the test of time. It is through this family atmosphere that new collaborations have evolved to create a rich blend of dynamic new music.
– “Music Is Our Voice”
More About Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius:
As a renowned violinist, Joe has recorded/performed with Ritchie Blackmore, Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Trans Siberian Orchestra, Peter Criss, Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC Ballet (electric violin soloist), Phoebe Snow, Les Paul, Renaissance, and Mark Wood to name a few. He is an active teacher/clinician and published his book, “Plugging In: A Guide to Gear and Technique for the 21st Century String Player” through Mel Bay in 2012. He also recently world-premiered his “Dream Diary: Concerto for Seven-String Electric Violin and Orchestra” with the Muncie Symphony in 2015.
Stratospheerius has showcased their “frenzied melange of progressive rock, jazz fusion and funkabilly” throughout the world at colleges, festivals, and clubs. They have opened for artists including Alex Skolnick, Martin Barre, Tim Reynolds, Mickey Hart, Mike Stern, and John Scofield. The band was a winner of the John Lennon International Songwriting Competition the Musicians Atlas Independent Music Awards. They have been featured in Progression, Relix, Downbeat, and Jazziz, among other publications.
Joe Deninzon : Electric Violin, Lead Vocals & Mandolin
Melodic Revolution Records is thrilled to announce that California Based Prog outfit FOREVER TWELVE has signed with the label for the bands new release.
Forever Twelve’s album is titled “HOME” and will be available worldwide in both CD and High Quality Digital formats, Home will feature 7 new songs clocking in just shy of 54 minutes.
Track Listing: The Seven Seas, Home, Daisy Chain, Kansas by the Sea, Karmageddon, Acoustic Rose, Fate Is In Our Hands.
Produced by Forever Twelve
Engineered by Tom Graham & John Baker
Mixed by Tom Graham
Mastered by John Baker at John Baker Audio.
About Forever Twelve:
Forever Twelve is a Los Angeles, California based progressive rock band which was founded in the early 90’s by Kenny Hundt, Steve Barberic. The band has had some personnel changes over the years with each new member helping to shape and redefine the sound of what Forever Twelve is today. The latest addition came to the band in 2012 with former Mars Hollow vocalist John Baker. With John on board, the band wrote and released their first new single Daisy Chain which was released as a video and was very well received by both fans and critics.
I suppose you could call it being a music nerd but I am sure many of my fellow music fans also have this innate ability, identifying musicians by their signature sound and, for the purposes of this review, it is particularly applicable to guitar players.
Be it the great blues players like B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy or, latterly, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Joe Bonamassa, the stellar guitarists of rock music, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Townsend and Yngwie Malmsteen or progressive rock’s great exponents along the lines of DavidGilmour, Steve Howe, JohnPetrucci, Alex Lifeson, Steve Hackett and the sadly departed Piotr Grudziński, they all brought a unique guitar sound to the music, one that most aficionados could instantly recognise.
This would add something different to the music, something to make it stand out from the sea of music that lapped around our metaphorical ankles and give you a reason to listen to, and purchase, it ahead of anything else. It also made it feel more personal, less generic, and gave you, the listener, a particular attachment to, and fondness for, that music.
Well, I’d like to add one more fantastic guitar player to that list, the incomparable Italian maestro MarcoRagni who also happens to have just released his latest solo album ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’.
Marco has been making music since the age of 17 when, in 1987, he released ‘Kaleido’ but it was his last album, ‘Mother From The Sun’ (released in 2014), that introduced me to this seminal guitar player. Influences including pysychedelic, folk, funk and pop abound throughout his singular brand of progressive rock and his playing is absolutely exemplary.
He says of his new album:
“I play and write songs to free myself from the constraints of life and to emphasize all the beauty that surrounds me. I’ve never done caged by drawings and I never wanted to replicate a sound or feel. I’ve always tried to rework all my putting influences what I have in my head, not as a musician, but as a person. I always imagined me like a volcano full of a thousand artistic references ready to erupts new reworking songs that I have heard, mostly using my sensitivity. I hope you can hear a “Marco Ragni” sound and not something that looks like a nostalgic operation.”
‘Land Of Blue Echoes’ is an ambitious work, in the name of prog-rock dropped from atmospheres and canonical issues, characterized instead by a crossroads influences ranging from psychedelia to the new international rock, through to Marco’s beloved Pink Floyd.
For ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’, Marco Ragni has brought together a band of illustrious collaborators including Durga McBroom (backing vocalist for PinkFloyd and David Gilmour since 1987).
Guitarists Peter Matuchniak (who plays a lot of the lead parts), Fernando Perdomo and Colin Tench, bassists Jeff Mack and Hamlet‘Transport Aerian’, drummer Jacopo Ghirardini and keyboard player Vance Gloster all add their considerable talents to this remarkable piece of work, backing up Marco and his multi-instrumental skills on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass, lap steel guitars, greek bouzuki and, of course, vocals.
The first thing that struck me about the album was the striking cover. Now those of you who have followed my writing over the last 3 or 4 years will know that album art is something that I really appreciate and can almost make or break a release for me. The cover to ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’ does everything right, simple yet compelling, it draws your eyes to the artwork like every great cover should. Now, onto the music….
Between Moon and Earth opens with a 60’s feel NASA voice over before a psychedelic off centre guitar note, courtesy of Colin Tench, starts the track proper. Insistent drums and bass add a slightly disconcerting note before the guitars play against each other with a slightly alien feel, it’s stylish and intriguing and that almost corrosive guitar that meanders though your mind is quite addictive. Quite a thought provoking instrumental start to the album. One of the two extended ‘epics’ on this release, Horizons begins with a delicate introduction that seems to tingle across all your synapses before opening up into a proper 70’s feeling progressive track with its complicated music and eerie flute like sound. It then picks up pace and turns into something that Public Service Broadcasting would have been proud to release. A distinctive sci-fi note runs though the music before the keyboards, drum and bass go all funky on you backing a slightly distanced voice over. It never gives you chance to settle and leaves you feeling as if your in the middle of an episode of Space:1999 with its retro feel. Marco is an expert at using music as a storytelling medium and he does it again here as his vocals open up, laid back and full of character. The music takes on a slightly medieval edge with the sound of a harpsichord and you just go along with the very impressive flow as it explores different avenues. A slightly disconcerting guitar solo adds an abrasive note but takes nothing away from the narrative. It’s a track that becomes quite obsessive as you follow its ever impressive journey through darkness and light, the elegant piano section preceding a guitar solo of incredible depth and scope and where the Hammond organ is given free rein to provide an admirable backdrop, music that just keeps on giving. A persistent piano note and flamenco guitar open title track Land Of Blue Echoes with a grave and serious tone which continues with the vocals, Marco delivering the words in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. Another spiky guitar run adds more feeling of discord that contrasts against the lighter Spanish influenced guitar to leave you feeling slightly disorientated, if only in a good way.
Who said Pink Floyd? Money Doesn’t Think begins with a stylish bass, drum and keyboard rhythm over which Fernando Perdomo’s guitar overlays a seriously impressive auditory exhibition. The vocals add a touch of gravitas with their earnest intonation but it is the rather catchy music that stands out here, the guitar playing just blows you away with its power, skill and dexterity and are backed up to the hilt by the notable rhythm section. This is one of those songs where you keep finding yourself pressing repeat. That medieval feel, with touch of eastern promise, returns on Canto D’Amore, Marco delivers a delightful vocal and bouzuki performance and the harmonised sections send shivers down your spine with their eclesiastical feel. A pared back innovative delight of a song that just cleanses your palate mid way through this intense album. Deep Night is a fantastic song whichever way you look at it but the addition of Durga McBroom’s distinctive and haunting vocals is the true highlight. A track that will leave you rapt, almost in limbo, as you let its many charms wash over you. She has a voice that expands to fill any room she may be occupying and, as well as being dynamic and potent, there is a subtlety to it as well. The music plays an admirable second fiddle here but is no less dramatic or imposing as the compelling guitar adds the finishing touches to a near perfect piece of musical theatre.
Beltane, to me, seems to be a song of two parts. The opening part is all complex and convoluted progressive rock where the gentle acoustic guitar, drums and casual bass leave you in some sort of fantasy world where Marco is the tour guide and his languid vocals just wash over you leaving you feeling slightly becalmed. The Hammond organ in the background gives an insistent edge that seems to be trying to wake you from your musical stupor. There’s a guitar part that seems slightly out of phase and focus, leaving you feeling a little spaced-out, fazed and nonplussed. Then, after a little calming interlude, it brings itself sharply back into focus as the guitar drives the song forward in a more traditional fashion, aided and abetted by the elegant rhythm section. The first couple of times you just don’t ‘get’ it but then it all falls into place with a knowing nod from the music. Intelligent and thought provoking music that requires some work from the listener too. Now onto the second, and longest, ‘epic’ on the album. Nucleus Parts 1-8 really does deserve that title, not only for its length (coming in at just under 23 minutes) but, also, for its inventive and involving composition. It even feels like an epic as it begins, a searching guitar fading in and laying the foundations, backed by the bass, an ominous undertone. Then a fiery guitar breaks from the fold demanding your attention as it drives the song on with a reverberating and chiming tone. Then, calmness, Durga’s distinctive vocal warblings, earnest and sincere and yet with a mournful edge to them, hold you spellbound as the musical convolutions conspire in the background. It is hypnotic and almost surreal, like the musical equivalent of a Hunter S.Thompson novel, ‘Fear and Loathing in The Land of Blue Echoes’ perhaps? The guitar then breaks free to deliver a fast flowing section of intricate brilliance that precedes Marco’s grave and determined vocals, backed by the haunting tones of Durga. These vocal interludes are punctuated by flashes of six string brilliance that just blow you away. A seamless move into a period of calm reflection then follows, gentle guitar, expressive bass and smooth drums hold in a their reflective embrace, Marco and Durga’s vocals, serene and tranquil, have a hypnotic grace and you relax and let the music flow over you. An embellished, slightly tortuous guitar then takes over, searching and asking questions of you before Durga’s vocal wanderings invite you on a journey of discovery. I said before that Marco was a musical storyteller and he reaches a pinnacle on this elaborately momentous, ambitious and complex musical tapestry. You can just lose yourself in the soundscape and enjoy every nuance and minutae of its melodic charm as each individual section delivers its singular tuneful aesthetics. This remarkable musical odyssey comes to a close with the blues-tinged Queen of Blue Fires, a wistful and nostalgic track enhanced by the addition of Hamlet ‘Transport Aerian’ on bass guitar. It begins with slightly somber feel to the music and vocals, almost like an emotional lament. The guitar then fills you with a feeling of hope as it seems to lift the cloud from over everything. Perhaps the end of one thing that should be mourned but also the beginning of something new that needs to be celebrated. Heartfelt and profoundly sincere, it seems to resonate with your very core and invites you on this new and uplifting journey where we can look at things that have passed with fond affection rather than a sense of grief. The Hammond solo is a thing of genius that just makes me smile and tip my metaphorical hat in acknowledgement and it is matched in sincerity and intensity by the burning guitar solo. A fitting end to a magical musical excursion.
Marco says that this is an international album and it should appeal to all nations with its intense brilliance. A deeply moving listen which shows Marco Ragni at the height of his power, it left me feeling free and unencumbered by the worries of life. This is not mere music, it is a life changing experience and is surely one of the highlights of 2016 so far from a musician who just gets better and better with every release and one who is backed by a stellar group of contemporaries.
Released 18th March 2016 on Melodic Revolution Records.
Some musicians have a discernible skill for balancing notes with the nuances and gaps between them to great effect, those who spring to mind readily, the eclectic talents of David Sylvian, Talk Talk and current exponents, the quite wonderful, iamthemorning. They also imbue a sense of melancholy but not misery, which I find are two quite independent entities, with a sweetness that lifts rather than lowers the mood. Though heart rending, at times it can make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and a tear well in the corner of your eye. The delicate beauty of it, whilst fragile, has the power to swell your heart.
Whilst probably not well known to some, multi-instrumentalist Kristoffer Gildenlöw may be better recognised for being a member of Pain of Salvation, along with his brother Daniel, and a string of other projects. There are further similarities with the haunting qualities of the respective vocals of the above artists, and they also sail down a similar musical stream.
His previous solo album ‘Rust’ met with some acclaim and paved the way for his latest solo effort, the sublime ‘The Rain’ which is a concept album portraying the struggles and life of a man with dementia – Alzheimer’s disease. Each song deals with different memories, emotions and ideas and, though he thankfully has no personal first hand experience, Kristoffer says he was intrigued and these songs reflect how he thinks he would feel if he one day had to fight dementia himself.
He is backed, as he was on Rust, by a talented group of guest musicians adding everything from string arrangements to accordion in creating this latest offering.
The mood is set from the off, by the sounds of rain falling and thunder rolling in the distance. After The Rain pt2 creates an atmosphere with Kristoffer’s hypnotic vocals as our protagonist tries to grasp what is happening to him whilst on Holding On pt.1 he clutches at fading memories of a love, knowing fate will wrench this affection from him but, in the hope it will revisit him before the end comes.
Piano encourages him to reminisce over summer days on Seeking The Sun pt.1 as further memories are washed away with rain like choral backing and sombre tones, buffered gently by Seeking The Sun pt.2 (Petrichor) as it dances one last waltz before fading.
Again delicate keys carry Worthy in a lullaby to the visions of approaching final moments, reconciling with past demons, and a hope for a peaceful passing.
Strings stroked and plucked, evoking shimmering showers as vocals harmonise with a singular line repeated for Holding On pt.2 only to be washed away again by the downpour.
A quiet urgency is created in the vocals of See It All. A yearning to see as much as he can and to hold on to those memories for as long as possible as the time slips away.
The storm grumbles in the background over the piano, soothed away by weaving strings as acoustic guitar lifts the Peripheral Memory, with whirling sound effects and swaying accordion coming to the fore on this instrumental passage.
Kristoffer’s rhythmic vocals on Breathe In, Breathe Out attempt to ease the pain and control a gaining panic as voices float in and out of consciousness, in a struggle of acceptance.
With a brief respite of recognition for a loved one, perhaps for a final time, In The Evening, the overwhelming emotions are tainted with the knowledge, despite all good intentions and promises, that you will lose them and not see the journey through together. Guitar tugs and piano ripples attempting some understanding and explanation as angelic vocals drift toward It Was Me, a stand against what is happening, a refusal to give in and go quietly, hanging on and fighting for every precious moment as the drums march out the track; a cut connection on a phone line signalling the close.
The clank of metaphorical chains and dragging weary footsteps enslave with oppressive despondency as Kristoffer attempts to shake the dark stormy mood hanging over him, steel and electric guitar baring themselves to the wild torment of Rain, and no hope of respite.
Acoustic chords as She comforts him in the final minutes of existence. Caring, loving, a fleeting last recognition the mind offers as synth like passages lead the way to a destination heralded by the waiting angelic voices.
Electric piano and echoing vocal All For You in this brief farewell.
A moment we will all inevitably reach as the finality of life in The Funeral pt.1, a prayer before a fond instrumental goodbye in The Funeral pt.2 and the door closes with finality.
If none of the above musicians and sweet melancholy are to your taste this may not quench your musical thirst, but for those who relish this sort of music it will be nectar. For myself, I could drink it in all day, it’s a beautiful album which rewards further with repeat listening.
After his great review of Seven Steps to the Green Door, this time Rob Fisher passes his practiced ears over ‘Reya of Titan’ by Gekko Projekt.
The art of good storytelling is notoriously difficult. Telling a story in, and through, music raises that bar even higher. And when the music is prog and the story is a work of science fiction it would appear the odds of success become almost impossible. Yet this is exactly what ‘Reya of Titan’, the second release from Californian based band Gekko Projekt, attempts to do – and does so with no small degree of style and panache.
The key is to understand exactly what this project is and consequently what it is you are listening to. Is it a concept album? Is it a rock and/or space opera? Actually, it really doesn’t matter, it’s a story and one which has been carefully considered, lovingly crafted and then beautifully expressed through a mesmerising array of diverse musical styles, changing rhythms and exciting musicianship.
This is dramatic storytelling at its very best where language and music come together to create a thoroughly enjoyable performance. If you want to call it anything, dramatic musical theatre would be perfect and certainly something you would want to go and hear from start to finish.
Indeed, this is exactly how you need to approach the album. The tale of ReyaJones requires a certain degree of concentration and, just like picking up a book, skipping a chapter here and there won’t work. There is important world-building taking place in each track and dipping in to odd tracks means you will literally lose the plot.
A careful glance at the 13 track titles confirms this: there is a well planned logical progression to the performance which drives the plot from Reya’s initial leaving earth behind and going on to do asteroid mining, the accident which forces her into a spacesuit and consequent abandonment for 24 years on Titan, the arrival of help and the promise of rescue,which she eventually rejects, and, in light of which, she stays and becomes Titan’s Queen.
Some tracks are even crossed referenced inside each other (for example, the Snow White reference reappears in North of Titan). The lyrics have been constructed with care and attention to detail so as to take us on the journey with Reya and, in the process, they make it easy for us to be fellow companions on the voyage.
However, the lyrics are only one element of the journey. The tremendously skilfull and, at times, deeply emotional music brings the story to life and envelops us in grand musical flourishes, changing tempo’s and alternating rhythms. The instruments playfully interweave with, and skilfully play off, each other, working in tandem with melodic and soulful vocals to paint vivid and provocative moments in Reya’s journey.
Each instrument gives off a bewildering range of tones and sounds, testament indeed to inventive and hugely talented musical accomplishment. Even more than this, each track itself is a unique musical style, giving you something different as it drives the story forward. It is a remarkable achievement and the band rightly deserve high praise for what they have achieved in creating this wonderful and insightful performance piece.
The absolutely beauty of ‘Reya of Titan’ is that, in the end, it gives you absolutely no choice but to get caught up in and carried away by the often scintillating musicianship on offer.
Peter Matuchniak (Mach One, Evolve IV) on guitars is a revelation throughout; 3 minutes into Snow White is the most delicious riff which will blow you away, unexpected as it is uplifting. Rick Meadows on bass (WZMG, Coot) is spellbinding; Frienda is an absolute joy, the jazzy lilting bass driving the music.
Vance Gloster (score for ‘The First Time’, WZMG, Coot) on keyboards lays down so many rich textures which permeate through each and every song. The synthesizer work soars above, and lends a clarion call, to the story whilst the Hammond growls away as the foundations which under-pin everything else.
Alan Smith on drums is the focal point of everything, orchestrating the movement and momentum of the story’s plot, astounding on Jovian Belt and 24 years of Solitude. And JoJo Razor (Jo Blackwood Martin – known for her work on The After Hours Electric Prog Jam on Cruise to the Edge 2014 and 2015) brings dramatic force and emotional depth to the vocals; Grains of Sand is a delight, her voice conveying the sense of being lost, the promise of redemption, of hope, of despair. What a performance!
‘Reya of Titan’ is not without weaknesses. The mix, in places, is unfortunately uneven with the drums, at points, being too prominent and the keyboards, at times, being a little too overwhelming and domineering. What would also have helped is some kind of insert which could have outlined the plot in advance of listening to it and a lyrics sheet so the story could be shared as we listened. But these, ultimately, cannot and must not be allowed to detract from what is a superbly creative, musically inventive and thoroughly enjoyable 50 minutes of excellent dramatic storytelling.
WARNING – LANGUAGE THAT MAY OFFEND (well, you have to put that don’t you….?)
“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.” – Dave Grohl
I was going to start this review by talking about guilty pleasures until I saw the above quote from everyone’s favourite hard rocker Dave Grohl and it did get me thinking and thinking enough to completely change the tac of this review….
Mr Grohl really has a point, maybe we stick too rigidly to our favourite genres and don’t look outside our safety cordon music wise? And, when we dare venture outside and find that there is something different that we really like, why should we feel guilty about it?
It is an old and oft spouted saying but it still rings entirely true, good music really is, just, good music, no matter what style it is and which artist performs it. We tend to make this differentiation a lot more when it comes to music than with anything else such as films, TV or the literary arts where we will dip in and out of many different genres without a care or a by your leave.
How many times have you seen somebody laughed at and dismissed out of hand for listening to a record that doesn’t fit into the cognoscenti or aficionado’s realm or current favourites list? It is just wrong and we should open our minds to other music that we may well actually really enjoy if we just lose the stigma.
Now, after getting off my soapbox (while admitting I can be as guilty as anyone else) let’s talk about what started this dissertation on opening up our closeted musical imagination……..
Lebanese maestro Amadeus Awad is a progressive metal guitarist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and music producer with an already impressive back catalogue behind him. August 2015 saw him release his latest and most complete album yet, a 47 minute, 6 track concept album called ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’.
Amadeus is always stretching the boundaries with his music and lyrics, and it’s no different with his new album. According to Amadeus:
“This album is the result of my personal experience with death, both the tragic loss of loved ones (Father, Brother and a Best Friend) as well as my own attempt of committing suicide, which I contemplated more than once at a certain stage in my life.”
To this end he has drawn together a stellar list of musicians, as well as Amadeus himself (Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars, Keyboards and Orchestration) this all star lineup includes vocalists Anneke Van Giersbergen, Arjen Lucassen, Elia Monsef, drummers Jimmy Keeganand Marco Minnemann, Nareg Nashanikian (cello), Rafi Nashanikian (clarinet) and the narration is splendidly realised by the impressive voice of Dan Harper.
The album opener Opia has feeling of lightness and an ethereal quality, the first word spoken is ‘Light’ and it is a song that gives hope. The keyboards are uplifting and fill your inner being with a luminosity only matched by the fluid, burnished guitar work. I can see why Dan Harper was used for the part of the narrator, his voice has a calming authority to it and a mellifluous timbre that dances across your psyche. Anneke Van Giersbergen’s delightfully lilting, heavenly voice takes the song to a close with a rarefied grace that is achingly beautiful.
There is no break as we shift up a gear and power into Sleep Paralysis with a dynamic keyboard and pulsating guitar taking up the reins on the powerful introduction. A progressive metal melting pot of great ideas that bounce of the metaphorical walls to give a primordial soup of musical delights. It takes on a more subdued, yet insistent feel before Anneke’s voice chimes in, this time much more dominant and authoritative, yet no less stunning. The melodies are the focus here, the chorus is especially compelling, backed by the superb musicianship, a symbiosis of near-perfect melodic enchantment. The way the track starts to wind down, becoming more subdued, as it reaches the close is expert and inventive, as the acoustic guitar finishes its last note you are left in a place of comparative calm.
The dulcet tones of the narrator return on Monday Morning, this time with a definite edge, a dissonance to them, as if all is not as it should be. There are subliminal questions being asked here and the answers are not all to your liking. The electronic notes that follow seem to be pulling you forward, in anticipation of something coming that could be either good or evil, depending on how you react to it. Potent and influential, you find yourself holding your breath as it seems to come ominously closer. The pace is steady and regular, like the outcome is inevitable so there is no need to rush. There is a deliciously dark rhythm to this song that I find rather disturbing yet can’t help enjoying it….
The dark journey into hopelessness seems to reach its zenith with Tomorrow Lies. A brooding, haunting tone is added to by the portentous drumming of Jimmy Keegan and it is with a seemingly heavy heart that you continue to listen to the rest of the bleakly appealing song. Elia Monsef’s definitively middle eastern intonation adds a serious gravitas to proceedings, he sings as if his heart is breaking with every word. There is a huge depth of humanity central to this track, a seriousness that leaves you in no illusion as to the outcome of this painful situation. The instrumentation is dazzlingly precise if somewhat subdued and is a testament to the songwriting skill of Amadeus, he can impose his musical brilliance yet take none of the pathos away. The soaring strings add a sheen of humility and respectfulness and the guitar solo leaves you open mouthed and grief-stricken as it winds around your mind. With a definite notion that a song should close just as well as it opens, the ending is once again quite superb as the beguiling strings and guitar bring it all to a close with a final feeling of hopefulness that belies the rest of the track.
Now onto the longest, and my favourite, track on the album. A sombre Cello opens Lonesome Clown adding a meditative and fretful note to the song. Portentous and mysterious with Anneke’s humming and a slightly off-kilter feel, it really does seem to take you out of any comfort zone you thought you were in and leave your senses reeling, open and raw. The vocal begins, earthy and direct, almost as if a spell is being cast. There is a sinister undertone to all that is happening here and you really feel as if you have been caught of guard and dumped in a musical version of Dante’sInferno. An all knowing presence seems to be at your side edging you on as the song builds, becoming more and more oppressive and yet addictive at the same time. Wickedly controlling it shows the slightly malevolent genius that resides in the mind of Amadeus Awad and is perhaps more progressive and definitely more metal than the other songs on the album. There is an odd, siren like build up that seems to break over a wash of mellifluous keyboards before the sinuous, vividly disturbing guitar solo takes you on a dark journey through your own soul. The outspoken and expressive vocal and acoustic section that follows seems to stand on its own adding another level of finesse before exploding outwards in a shower of inspiration. The song closes with Dan’s expressive voice-over, you take a breath and inwardly applaud, shaking your head in amazement, it is that good.
The final track on the album begins with a delicately strummed acoustic guitar, strings and expressive drums. Temporary sees Arjen Lucassen take vocal duties and his eloquent voice is perfectly matched to the instrumentation. Melancholy yet inspirational at the same time, it reminds me of American prog rockers Spock’s Beard and is a really involving, catchy song that seems to want to comfort you with its warmth and integrity yet there is always a sad note in the background. A soulful clarinet takes centre stage before the rest of the instruments join, adding layers of intense musical flavour and Arjen’s voice is always present adding a focal point on which you can hold on to. Marco Minneman takes on the drum duties with aplomb adding a wistful mood to the already mournful ambience imbued. Things are building up to something here and when Amadeus lets rip with an incredible, soul searching guitar solo, you are left flabbergasted. Is that moisture in your eyes? it was in mine as it totally blew me away, utterly magnificent. The song, and album, finally come to a close with a final narrated section, this time by Arjen himself, and you are left to reflect on what has just transpired before you.
Short by modern standards at 47 minutes, you feel like you can listen to this gem for hours and never get bored. Deliciously dark, it is music that takes you to the depths of your inner being and back again, there has been nothing quite like it in this year of musical zeniths. Amadeus Awad and his group of distinguished musicians have delivered not only a superb piece of music but, what to me is, a part of themselves that will live on forever as fantastic art. A triumph in every sense of the word. A guilty pleasure? No, just an intense one!
Released 20th August 2015 via Melodic Revolution Records
‘What a refreshing change….’ became the tagline for a well known brand of cider in a run of 1990’s adverts. Indicating that, every now and then, it was good to think out of the box and go for something that you wouldn’t usually choose or be associated with.
This can be pertinent to a lot of things in life including your musical tastes. We all have our favourite types of music and bands we listen to and there is nothing wrong with that. Every now and then, however, I like to step out of the box or even take a trip down memory lane to listen to something new or something from a genre that doesn’t resonate as much with me nowadays.
I used to be a huge fan of Progressive Metal and the likes of Dream Theater and Symphony X and have seen the former play live quite a few times but, in the latter years, my taste has gravitated away from this style of music. Not too far away that I don’t like to reminisce now and again though and, recently, a few releases have caught my attention. I’d like to start with Anuryzm……
Anuryzm is a progressive thrash metal band consisting of six members from different cultural backgrounds and is based in theUnited Arab Emirates (in the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai).
Originally started by founder and lead guitarist JohnBakhos, after many ups and downs and line up changes, the debut album ‘Worm’s Eye View’ was finally released in 2011.
The now-settled line up sees John joined by his old school band mate, vocalist Nadeem Bibby, Imad Dahleh on drums, bassist Rany Battikh and Jay Jahed on keys.
To date, the band has performed extensively in the local & regional musical scenes, including the Dubai Rock Fest and the Byblos International Festival. They have also shared the stage with artists such as Black Sabbath, AvengedSevenfold, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nightwish, Epica, Dark Tranquillity, and more.
Now signed to Melodic Revolution Records, their latest release ‘All is Not For All’ was released on 15th June 2015.
If you wondered about the album title, this is what the band say:
“The album title ‘All Is Not For All’ is a warning to those who claim that they can have their cake and eat it too. Not everything can be handled by everyone, whether it be money, fame, women or power.”
And the general themes of the album:
“The album’s songs span a variety of topics including humbleness, nanotechnology, illness, astral projection, extraterrestrial encounters, love, longing and remorse, third culture upbringing, displacement and Japanese warrior code (Bushido) to name a few.”
Time to see what ‘All is Not For All’ is, after all, for me…..
Opening track Mineral begins very low key with subdued vocals and keyboard leaving an air of suspense. The guitar that follows just adds to that atmosphere aided by some restrained drums and a delicate piano. It is all very civilised so far with Nadeem’s cultured vocal lending gravitas to the stylish calm that surrounds him. Definitely more ‘progressive’ than ‘metal at the outset of the album with the added intricacy of John’s classy guitar run. ‘Metal’ soon follows ‘progressive though as the track immediately segues in to Full Agonist as a bare-bones riff kicks in with some powerful, staccato drumming high tailing it along for the ride. There is a polished feel to the music, an early promise of what’s to come, Nadeem shows the other side to his voice with an in-your-face delivery that immediately grabs your attention and John enters the fray with some fiery guitar licks and interventions that just leaves you nodding your head in appreciation. Did I hear some growly vocals there? hmmm, never mind, they in no way detract from the enjoyment (it is not often you will hear me say that). A proper ‘metal’ song with some progressive elements interspersed between the riffage, this is fun so far, let’s see where it leads….
The next track is the first single released from the album Humanoid, a Sci-Fi epic about being watched by intelligent ETs who question whether they started us off on the right path to technological awakening or whether it was a mistake to give away knowledge. A crushing riff introduces the song, proper metal now, one that gets me wishing I had hair to mosh with! Superb flashes of guitar and intense rhythm work really add to the might of this track. Nadeem gives another monster vocal performance, really reminiscent of Russell Allen, to add a touch of those might prog-metal pioneers Symphony X, even the growling is catchy (yes, I did just say that). There is some consummate musicianship on show here with a blazing guitar run blowing you away. The eastern influenced mystic interlude just adds to the feeling of solemnity. A seriously addictive track that has you reaching for the repeat play button. Depolarized begins with a an almost blues bent to the intro. Here the guitar and bass lead the track along before vocals and drums join in. The muted voice has a yearning, straining feel to it, the elaborate guitar adding dynamism, building up to something profound. This track is perhaps the most balanced between the progressive and metal elements in its storytelling style, laid back instrumental sections and complex solo.
A pause for breath at the start of The Challenger before a thunderous riff knocks you out of the way with no apology. Heavier than a ten tonne heavy thing (thanks Queensrÿche) it pulverises you into submission with some mighty drums and that potent guitar note. The vocals (including the growling) just add to the feeling of barely hidden menace that is all around this deliciously dark song. It takes no prisoners in its execution and delivery and is pleasantly satisfying, coruscating guitar solo and all. Like a breath of fresh air Oceans Apart enters on the delightful tone of an acoustic guitar and gently whispers serenity in your ear after the bombast of the previous track. Emotive and calming, it is a sea of tranquility compared the energetic aggression that surrounds it and leaves your aural synapses suitably refreshed and ready for the next onslaught.
Title track All is Not For All walks confidently into the room accompanied by an echoing guitar and a synth-heavy back note. The drums are kept decidedly low key at this point of the song before the blue touch paper is lit and off we go!! The tempo and intensity rise as a measured riff sets the pace. Vocals join in, not quite a full growl but the intent is obvious, Nameed interjects clean vocals to add a feel of honesty and this compelling track strides on. A convoluted section follows with mysterious sounding guitars and repetitive drumming, the vocals more demanding and demonstrative and almost moving into thrash metal territory whilst walking the dividing line expertly. An intricate guitar run-out leads us to the close of this impressive song. A taut, funky riff drives 199x along from the start before an almost electronic grind kicks in, you know you are moving into serious territory here. Slightly off beat drums add a wild feel to things and an almost hard rock vibe seems to infuse the song. Deliberately intent vocals and some serious ass-whoopin’ guitar add a groove metal feel to the increasing smorgasbord of metal influences. The guitar solo leaves you temporarily blinded with its intensity before a swirling Hammond-like keyboard lends a sense of stoner rock induced psychedelia to complete the full set. Quite mad and incredibly interesting.
The mood is subdued at the beginning of Impermanence but it doesn’t take long for that signature guitar sound to erupt from the depths. A manic riff ensues with hushed vocals lending a demonic feel to the track. Furious and ferocious it claws at your damaged pysche in a huge wall of sound that envelops your whole being. The fiendish growling vocals are unleashed upon the unsuspecting and add a real intimidating feel to the song. Those of a weak heart and bladder should not enter for their own good but I love the diabolic sense of fun it imbues as the guitar fires off like a maniacal cackle. My first foray into Prog-Metal for a while comes to a close with the final track Perispirit. A meandering guitar line leads in a heartfelt and earnest vocal performance from Nameed. Some elaborate guitar trickery follows from John, all neat and precise before the song opens up with a commanding riff and weighty turn to the vocals. Seriously dense riffs abound with matching vocals yet the chorus is seriously addictive and adds a slight levity to the monstrous sound that surrounds you. John fires off yet another burning solo and then a light, acoustic interlude foxes you for a moment before the ferocity returns. Now I know what it is like to be run over by a truck, survive and enjoy it!
Well, my first foray back into the world of Progressive Metal was a thoroughly enjoyable one. Music like this is never going to break new ground or forge a new furrow but I never expected that. What I got was a really good album delivered by excellent musicians who obviously know their music inside out. The musical world may just have found itself some new Prog-Metal Titans and I will be keeping an eye on these talented guys.
Released through Melodic Revolution Records on 15th June 2015.