Progradar Recommends – Episode 5 – Frequency Drift, Hillmen, Deafening Opera & Weend’ô

Here we go again folks, another episode of my recommendations and have we got some pretty powerful and intense stuff for you this time so, without further ado…

Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro

Intense and complex cinematic art rock with a heavy progressive feel, that has been the core of German band Frequency Drift’s sound for a long time. Their previous album ‘Last’ (2016) is a case in point. With a penchant for the dramatic and sophisticated these impressive musicians have always delivered very emotive albums.

‘Letters to Maro’ takes that succesfull format and builds on it impressively with the addition of the soulful vocals of Irina Alexa to the core of Andreas Hack, Nerissa Schwarz and Wolfgang Ostermann. Irina also adds a subtle influence with her writing style and lyrical implementation.

Where ‘Last’ was underpinned by the heavy guitars, this new album is much more rounded sonically and there’s an inherent melancholy and lightness to the soulful and emotive music and it results in a vivid, melodramatic musical experience that will leave a long lasting impression on you.

‘Letters to Maro’ is more than just a collection of songs, it is a hugely involving, artful and immersive experience that everyone one should experience at least once.

Rating – 87/100

Released 13th April 2018

Order ‘Letters to Maro’ from bandcamp here

Hillmen – The Whiskey Mountain Sessions Vol. II

“Recorded in a smoke filled private studio high in the coastal mountains of Southern California, ‘The Whiskey Mountain Sessions Vol. II’ is forty minutes of contemporary instrumental music at its dynamic best. Hillmen features the talents of Peter Hillman (Kiss The Frog) on drums, Gayle Ellett (Djam Karet) on keyboards, Jeff Smith (Insects vs. Robots) on bass and Lito Magana Jr. (Mestizo Beat) on guitar.” – so says the press blurb for this intriguing album of so-called Free Improvisation music.

This is raw, unfiltered music written without even a score and recorded in one literal ‘jam’ session. Opener The Long Way Home is full of psychedelic guitar, dreamy Minimoog synth stylings and incredibly laid back jazz drumming. Whiskey soaked, smoke filled bar nights come to mind on this super laid back track. Rhodes electric piano, Minimoog, vintage guitars and amps are combined with state of the art recording technology to generate a warm, unique sound.

The vibrant feel continues throughout the rest of the album and leaves a permanent grin on your face, nostalgic and yet forward looking this release showcases the magic that can come from improvised music, music that can grow and evolve over time.

Get your hands on this exceptional and singular release, you won’t regret one minute of it!

Rating – 80/100 

Listen to an edit of The Long Way Home here

Released 16th march 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Deafening Opera – Let Silence Fall

I was a fan of the last Deafening Opera album ‘Blueprint’ which was a real progressive feeling record so I was very happy when this new release popped through my letterbox. ‘Let Silence Fall’ promised to be an evolution in every regard which did make me a bit nervous but after the first listen this excellent German band had delivered superb musical theatre once again.

With a more modern, even symphonic, delivery this concept album is a rich musical tapestry of passionate vocals and thunderous guitar riffs entwined with more delicate and emotive pieces to give an all-encompassing theatrical musical experience.

Showing a maturity and sheer complexity and depth, Deafening Opera not only prove themselves to be very proficient musicians but master storytellers as well as this involving dramatic piece of work ebbs and flows effortlessly. Showmanship as much suited to the stage as to a recorded work, it is a highlight of the year for those of a symphonic rock persuasion.

Rating – 81/100

Released 17th March 2018

Order the album direct from the band here

Weend’ô – Time of Awakening

There’s some really good music coming out of France. I’d heard of Weend’ô but it wasn’t until I’d made their acquaintance at last year’s Summer’s End Festival that I really got to see and hear how good they really were.

A group of talented and consummate musicians fronted by the amazing vocal talent of Laetitia, a singer heavily influenced by Anneke Van Giersbergen and one who has completely transcended any such comparisons now. The band’s sound has previously been described as falling somewhere between Pink Floyd’s more ambient moments and the modern riffs of Tool, a fair comparison although I feel they are ploughing their own unique musical furrow nowadays.

Atmospheric rock music with prog-tinged hues and a real under current of the blues to the fluent guitar playing, I find it totally addictive and fronted by Laetitia’s sultry rock voice it takes on a whole life of its own. ‘Time of Awakening’ is a call to humanity to keep faith and hope despite the appalling events currently afflicting the world. Discussed in the wistful and ethereal hymn Elea, nothing can stop the true evolution…

Seven songs, forty-three minutes long, this deeply engaging album will immerse you in Weend’ô’s singular musical world and it is a place you may find exceedingly difficult to leave. This wonderful album is definitely my unexpected find of the year so far for 2018.

Rating – 88/100

Released 30th March 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here




Review – Nerissa Schwarz – Playgrounds Lost – by Craig E. Bacon

The premise for Nerissa Schwarz’s (of Frequency Drift) debut solo album, ‘Playgrounds Lost’, immediately intrigues for two reasons. First, it is an instrumental concept album about innocence lost—perhaps through very sinister means, judging from the album cover and song titles. Second, the songs are performed entirely on mellotron and electric harp. Put the two together and you’ve got something that veers so far to the left of ‘prog’ that it comes back full circle as very progressive indeed.

The album opener, Play, begins with chiming, plucked strings later overlaid with ambling mellotron washes. Soon, a menacing bass note takes over as the chiming, plucked ‘harp riff’ continues. Immediately, the album is off to a very expressive and cinematic start; honestly, it’s quite surprising that this is not the soundtrack to some foreign language film consisting entirely of wordless vignettes. Imagine a secluded playground in a moderately forested area: it’s mid-autumn, some leaves are turning, some green remains, the warm sun and chill breeze play together nicely. We see a lone child on the swing, pumping and pulling at a relaxed pace, eyes fixed straight ahead. The action doesn’t change much from scene to scene; instead, the camera moves around the location—sometimes out of focus—lighting changes, slowly moving toward dusk; we get the sense that something is not right here.

Most of the songs move between pretty, bright uses of the electric harp and mellotron—more like the ‘hippie’ and folky-psychedelic sounds you probably associate with the instrument—and downright frightening brown notes that creep, circle, but never quite obscure the harp. Indeed, Schwarz has come up with some truly inventive uses for an instrument that often occupies a place of nostalgic filigree in many compositions. Here, the sounds range from meadowy to proggy to atmospheric to reminiscent of Taurus bass pedals.

Fireflying is perhaps the most thoroughly pleasant and reassuring track, but the songs tend to vacillate between golden hour, dusk, and menacing cloud cover. The album cover provides an excellent interpretive framework for listening, and I cannot separate images of a lone child in a secluded playground area from the musical experience. Thematically, ‘Playgrounds Lost’ is ambiguous but clearly dark. We may be listening to a metaphor for growing up, or possibly an experience far worse, but the closing trio of Something Behind Trees, No More Games, and Playgrounds Lost make it clear that we are dealing with something very serious and terribly unsettling.

And that is the great accomplishment of ‘Playgrounds Lost’: it takes the concept of a concept album, strips it down to bare instrumentation—strips even the instrumentation down to two—and pulls it off with clarity, virtuosity, and precision. It’s a niche album, to be sure. This is a film score without a moving picture. It’s too brooding and menacing for background music. Don’t try it as accompaniment for a workout or a long drive. However, need a bit of meditation, introspection, calibration for a pair of headphones? Love electric harp and/or mellotron and want to hear how far one can go in arranging for those instruments? Nerissa Schwarz has an album for you. And, given the expressiveness of these compositions, here’s hoping she gets the ear of some filmmakers looking for an original score.

Released 23rd September 2016

Buy the download from bandcamp

Buy the CD digipak from the webstore