Progradar’s ‘Best of 2015’ review – by Progradar

David

A scary picture to get things started, it’s that time of year again when everyone puts out their ‘Best of 2015’ album list and I’m no different to every other music journalist, budding or otherwise.

Lists like these are very subjective, after all, one man’s poison is another man’s wine but they’re fun to do and give a real retrospective of some of the great music that has been released over the past 12 months or so.

BEM logo

First off, the usual disclaimer, I won’t include any Bad Elephant Music releases as some people might say I’d be slightly biased. However, once again, this tiny independent label has given us some mighty impressive music from the likes of The Room, Tom Slatter, Simon Godfrey, The Fierce and the Dead and Twice Bitten, among others, all of which can be sampled at the link below:

Bad Elephant Music

I tried to get it down to a top 15, never mind a top ten, but that proved too difficult so, here it is, Progradar’s top 20 albums of 2015. Don’t see the position as being too indicative as, really, albums 20-6 could be in any given order on any given day, the quality is that close. The top 5, however, are my definitive top 5 albums for 2015.

Enough pre-amble, here we go……

20 – Transport Aerian – Dark Blue

A deeply dark, disturbing and highly original work of art from this talented, serious musician. Well worth a listen but, be afraid, very afraid!

19 – Steve Rothery – The Ghosts of Pripyat

Marillion’s guitarist is venturing further afield with his solo work and it’s simple, faraway beauty is quite inspiring. Put your feet up, get your headphones on, lay back and relax.

18 – Barock Project – Skyline

An unexpected highlight of the year, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it!

17 – The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

A new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you. An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..

16 – Mystery – Delusion Rain

2015 saw Canadian prog-rockers Mystery return with  a new album and a new lead singer and it was as if they’d never been away. Jean Pageau has a voice that fits perfectly with the melodic progressive rock that the band deliver with aplomb. The epic track The Willow Tree is a superb, intricate and emotional hit of passion and takes the album from merely good to very good indeed.

15 – Hibernal – After the Winter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdPh-mbJh0c

Mark Healy’s cinematic and evocative soundscapes waft over a post-apocalyptic spoken word storyline to deliver an immensely visceral listening experience.

14 – Built for the Future – Chasing Light

‘Chasing Light’ is one of those rare albums that grabs you immediately AND keeps on getting better with every listen. Built for the Future’s debut release is a thing of rare wonder that resonates with me on a personal level, their commitment to delivering music that connects deeply with the listener has produced a record that shines brightly.

13 – Sylvium – Waiting for the Noise

Superb progressive rock with tones of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A musical experience that emphasizes emotions rather than the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.

12 – The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age

Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.

11 – Echolyn – I Heard You Listening

Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America. A band I have heard little of in the past, this new album will definitely change that, a melting pot of sweet melodies and delicious harmonies.

10 – Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part One

An album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1′, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood.

9 – Comedy of Errors – Spirit

Do you believe music has soul? I do and, when it is as deeply involving and emotionally uplifting (and draining to be honest!) as this, it becomes life affirming in many ways. All the songs were written by Jim Johnston but I’m sure even he would agree that they are given life by the whole of Comedy of Errors.

8 – Glass Hammer – The Breaking of the World

It could have been this studio album or the equally impressive ‘Glass Hammer – Live’, recorded at this year’s RosFest but, first, let’s get the Yes comparison out of the way, these guys do traditional progressive rock so well they have transcended that to stand in their own circle of praise. A highly impressive effort once again.

7 – Karnataka – Secrets of Angels

The first album written specifically for vocalist Hayley Griffith’s voice, a symphonic prog- rock masterpiece with towering anthems and delicate ballads concluding with the epic twenty-minute plus title track.

6 – The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether

A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!

5 – Big Big Train – Wassail (yes, I know it’s only an E.P. but I like it!!)

You can put your heroes on a pedestal to be knocked off when they don’t reach your lofty expectations but, with ‘Wassail’, Big Big Train have just enhanced their reputation as purveyors of unique and sublime progressive rock which is founded on the elemental history of this blessed isle. A history that is fundamental to the everlasting allure of this captivating group of musicians.

4 – Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah II

‘Arcade Messiah II’ takes all that was good with the first album and enhances by taking the raw, coruscating energy of the first release and developing it into a superb sound that, while holding nothing back, is full of nuances and intelligence. A ‘Wall of Sound’ that makes Phil Spector’s look like a diminutive picket fence and it is quite possibly the best thing this highly talented musician has ever produced.

3 – Maddison’s Thread – Maddison’s Thread

Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

2- Subsignal – The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime

See, this is why these bloody lists are only subjective. I had mine all worked out and then I listened to the fourth album from German band Subsignal and it was blown out of the water. Arisen from the ashes of the great Sieges Even, the first three albums by the band failed to really hit the heights for me. Well, all is most definitely forgiven as ‘The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime’ has just hit me right on the correct spot and elevated them to a higher level. It has a real emotional depth to it and is one that is highly, highly recommended, nearly making it to the top spot…..

1 – Riverside – Love, fear and the Time Machine

So, after a tough fight it is Polish band Riverside that take the crown this year. I have always been a fan of this band without actually loving their work. All that changed with this years beautiful release. There is a depth and maturity to this release that resonates deep to the core. The fragile, breaking vocals and signature sound have taken the band to the forefront of the progressive rock genre and, in this album, they have left behind a musical legacy of which anyone can be proud.

 

 

 

Review – Mystery – Delusion Rain – by Rob Fisher

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After releasing the excellent ‘One Among the Many’ (2010) and the superlative ‘The World is a Game’ (2012), expectations are rightly high for ‘Delusion Rain’, the fifth studio album from Canadian band Mystery. In the intervening years, ex-Yes front man Benoît David, lead vocalist since 1999, made the difficult decision to step down and take a break from music after touring with the band in 2013 (captured on the wonderful live recording ‘Tales from the Netherlands’). His replacement for this new release, Jean Pageau, first joined the band on tour in 2014 before heading to the studio to work on the new album.

Pageau is an absolutely inspired replacement and instantly brings a voice which is more authoritative, pronounced and assured whilst capable of the same sweeping range and delicate nuanced subtleties. Indeed, it is precisely the sensitive responsiveness of his voice which makes him a perfect fit for the unmistakable Mystery ‘sound’, bringing extra depth and expressiveness whilst also pushing the boundaries further to create the most expansive vocal orchestrations and layered harmonies which swiftly become a trademark feature of this new release.

Pageau’s distinctive infusion seems to bring a new lease of life to band leader Michel St-Père who, supported on guitars by Sylvain Moineau, finds much greater freedom to mirror his vocalist’s assertiveness in providing a strong bedrock of power chords mixed with acoustic cadences whilst at the same time innovating through soaring and melancholic riffs which are as magical and as forceful as they are fleeting.

Yet ‘Delusion Rain’ also brings much more clarity and depth to the musicianship than is apparent in previous releases, due primarily to St-Père’s excellent production. Benoit Dupuis on keyboards is allowed to provide a rich and enhancing atmosphere within which both vocals and guitars are nested, the sound sumptuous, enveloping without ever becoming suffocating. François Fournier on bass is superb and for the very first time we can really hear a dynamism and a bite which supplies an extra and most welcome dimension to the recording. Jean-Sébastien Goyette on drums is a strong and driving heartbeat which pulses throughout each track, keeping things fresh with changing tempos and some lovely teasing cymbal work whilst always ensuring a disciplined and at times dramatic mastery that keeps the band true to the themes and the lyrics.

Band

The album also sees contributions from Antoine Michaud (Monochrome Seasons), touring guitarist with the band, and Sylvain Descoteaux (Huis) on piano. Add into the mix Pageau’s ephemeral flute playing on A Song for You (Track 6) and some occasional keyboards as well and you get the sense that ‘Delusion Rain’ marks quite a significant point in the history and development of the band where they finally have the pieces in place to be able to push on and really do full justice to the adventurous musical project that is Mystery.

As such this album excels in two respects. On the one the hand, it consolidates, tightens and defines the signature sound of the band, and does so with style and panache. The first three tracks, Delusion Rain, If You See Her and The Last Glass of Wine are beautifully refined statements of musical intent and it is easy to see these quickly becoming audience favourites on any set-list. The music is rich, lush, sweeping in scope and embracing in the way it engages the listener. There are anthemic choruses and soulful refrains combined with lyrical intensity.

On the other hand, the final three tracks show us the true promise of what Mystery can become. The band have always been at their very best when the focus is on extended song-writing, telling stories through their music and producing the kind of epic ballads which are a wonderful showcase for both their exceptional talents as well as their innovative creativity.

‘One Among the Living’ gave us the fabulous Through Different Eyes, weighing in at a spectacular 20+ minutes and pushing the boundaries of scintillating and adventurous musical creativity. ‘The World is a Game’ gave us Another Day, 19 minutes of complex and hugely enjoyable instrumental invention and inspiration.

‘Delusion Rain’ suddenly comes alive with The Willow Tree (Track 4), 20 minutes of utterly spectacular writing which transports you through changing musical landscapes and shifting emotional horizons to reach creative heights that are wonderful and exhausting. Wall Street King extends this incredible vision, increasing the intensity, adding layers of forcefulness but at around the 4.30 mark releasing it all in staggering waves of glorious guitar work. A Song For You brings the album to a pulsating close, the instrumental work fabulously delivering a rousing and climactic finale which leaves you wanting more and yearning with anticipation for what the next release will hopefully bring.

This album has certainly been well worth the wait. In particular, what Mystery have achieved here is something highly significant: they have simultaneously consolidated and confirmed their excellence in musical skill, virtuosity and lyrical brilliance whilst at the same time pushing much further than in any other previous release the scope and ambition of the band’s musical vision and reach.

‘Delusion Rain’ gives us a tantalising taste of genuinely cutting edge progressive music from a band who are willing to create, innovate and really push the boundaries of what they want to do and where they want to take us as a result. In the process, they may have created a rod for their own backs by setting the bar even higher for the next instalment on this wonderful journey.

Released 1st November 2015

Buy Delusion Rain direct from the band’s website