John Wenlock-Smith’s ‘Best of 2023’

This is a list of the albums that have made a big impression on me this year. They are not in any order although several marked☆ are my favourites and I will nominate one as my album of the year.

Here is the list:

1.OrionThe End Of Suffering – This came out of nowhere and it is a testament to one man’s vision and willingness to create music that he wanted to.

The End of Suffering | Orion (

2. Tribe 3 – Self Titled- This recent release most definitely impresses with its progressive, inspired take on fusion.

CD ‘Tribe3’ | Tribe3

3. John Greenwood  – Dark Blue ☆☆ This arrived, again largely unnoticed, but what a brilliant release, thoughtful, emotional and an utterly captivating listen.

DARK BLUE | John Greenwood (

4. Material Eyes  – Inside Out excellent prog from the North East of England.

Inside Out | Materialeyes (

5. The Michael Dunn ProjectBridge Across The Years ☆ Canadian musicians superb debut release, 40 years in the making.

The Michael Dunn Project

6. The Drinking Club – Really??? ☆ Very Marillion like in places, another great release.

…really?!? | The Drinking Club (

7. Pryzme – Four Inches – Superb French band release excellent album with a fondness for Rush stylings.

Four Inches | Pryzme (

8. Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – The Light Of Ancient Mistakes ☆ Amazing next adventure for impressive North London duo.

The Light Of Ancient Mistakes | Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate (

9. Downes Braide AssociationCelestial Songs ☆ Excellent new album of epics from the DBA Team.

Downes Braide Association: Celestial Songs, CD Edition – Cherry Red Records

10. Nova Cascade – The Navigator – A musical tribute to Eric Bouilette after his passing, beautifully done.

The Navigator | NOVA CASCADE (

11. Southern Empire – Another World ☆ A strong return for Australian favourites.

Another World CD – GEP

12. Ruby Dawn Beyond Tomorrow ☆☆ A deeply emotional album from Wokingham’s finest.

Beyond Tomorrow | Ruby Dawn (

13. Tiger Moth TalesThe Turning Of The World ☆Deeply Personal album from Peter Jones, largely acoustic but very satisfying.

Tiger Moth Tales (

14. Nick FletcherQuadrivium ☆☆☆ My album of the year. Fusion for today, an album forging forward and beyond while embracing the past.Unbelievably fine music that is beautifully realised.

ONLINE STORE | Nick Fletcher Guitar (

15. Pattern Seeking AnimalsSpooky Action At A Distance – Fourth excursion from some-time Spock’s Beard men along with John Boegehold and a further step forward.

Spooky Action at a Distance (

16. CyanPictures From The Other Side – Second album from Rob Reed’s excellent young project, with Peter Jones and Luke Machin firing on all cylinders.

17. The Emerald Dawn  – In Time ☆ – Beautiful album themed around time and memories and how we perceive them.

In Time | The Emerald Dawn (

18. Dave Foster BandGlimmer ☆ The year’s ‘grower’ album that just gets better with every listen.

Glimmer | The Dave Foster Band (

19. DamanekMaking Shore – A splendidly exciting album from the early part of the year, epic, melodious and really strong.

Damanek – Making Shore – GEP

20. Swan ChorusAchilles and The Difference Engine – My favourite vocal led album of the year, especially the wonderfully poignant track Being There about Peter Sellers, a beautiful song.

Achilles and the Difference Engine | Swan Chorus (

It’s been a tremendously fine year for music. A post-covid boom has inspired some stalwart activities with some excellent and impressive releases, here’s to an even better 2024!

John Wenlock-Smith.

Review – Orion – Passing Through

Orion is the musical project of the hugely talented, and very humble, Ben Jones and John Wenlock-Smith reviewed Orion’s debut release, ‘The End Of Suffering’, earlier this year and was mightily impressed, closing his review with this paragraph;

“There is great musicianship and intelligence to this album, all in all ‘The End of Suffering’ is a most wonderful release, I highly commend it to all, especially those who like their prog harder and less symphonic.”

I had to heartily agree with John, the fact that it was totally self-financed by Ben and he wrote, performed and produced every single note was also worthy of much appreciation. Now, as Ben works on his second full length album, he has released a taster of the Orion’s musical direction with this new E.P. ‘Passing Through’. Ben gives us some background to this new release;

‘”Passing Through’ is a mini release, aimed at giving people an insight into where Orion will be headed next. It features three new songs, and hopefully breaks some new musical ground. There is also an extended version available, which also includes instrumental mixes of the three new tracks“, He goes on to say, With ‘Passing Through,’ I’ve been keen to implement different time signatures, more intricate playing, wider soundscapes, and generally take a bit more of an adventurous path with the music. Beyond expanding my synth library, I’ve also added some orchestral sample packs into my musical palette. I’m no Michael Kamen, but it’s been exciting to resurrect my music theory knowledge, and apply it to strings, woodwind and horn sections.  I’ve also added a seven-string guitar and a five-string bass to the mix, resulting in at least one track which is, I dare say, verging on heavy.

So, without further ado, let’s dig into these three new tracks…

The opening track The Tumult of My Heart was inspired by a book of the same name by Jason Spencer from The Prog Mind. The book is about trying to deal with religious trauma from the author’s past. The song itself tries to deal with these issues. There are many good elements to religion, and there are many bad elements. That’ simplifying it a tad, but you get the picture. As for the music, well, what can I say, an imposing wall of sound is created by the layered widescreen guitar sound and the powerful rhythm section but the vocals add some real heart and soul so it’s not just a metal track. There’s a searching passion and questioning mind at the heart of this powerfully emotive piece of music and a feeling of fragility and a soul laid bare. It’s very compelling and influential and a great start to the E.P.

My favourite song of the three is The Ghosts Among Us, it is a profound piece of music written about the gut wrenching experience of caring for someone with a profound disability. Whilst it’s not something Ben has had to do, it is something he’s witnessed first hand. And I myself have a real affinity with this track as I have some experience of this myself and which came all flooding back as I listened to this brilliantly written song.

Ultimately, it’s almost as if they’re no longer alive, other than physically. You can read their vital signs, but can you read them as a person? I can’t imagine having to make the decision to switch off the things that are keeping some people alive, but I also can’t imagine the horror of being trapped in an unresponsive body.

Genres go out of the window when there is a subject as deep as this, it is just beautifully enlightened and discerning music that treats the subject matter with the gravity it deserves, a hauntingly graceful guitar opens the song before the hushed vocal enters, adding an earnest, insightful quality, before the drums and superb bass lay down a dynamic rhythm and Ben’s vocal takes over. I can’t really describe how the music touches you and makes you feel, you’ll just have to listen to it yourself, suffice to say I felt enlightened by the sensitive way the subject is dealt with on this utterly captivating track, bravo to Ben for getting it perfect, much like the superb guitar solo…

After the emotional roller coaster of the previous track, the in-your-face metal infused prog of This Sickness and it’s diatribe on the negativity of social media is just about spot on.

“When I finally become the Supreme Ruler of Earth, Tik Tok will be burned to the ground… Vote for me. I’m not a fan of social media. It’s just terrible. I appreciate the irony of the fact that my entire following is based around Facebook and Bandcamp, but that’s different. I don’t do absurd dances to terrible music… I write my own terrible music. As with all things, there are good parts and bad parts. In my view, the bad parts of social media seem to outnumber the good.”

And, man, is this track angry! Crunching guitars in the style of ‘Train Of Thought’ era Dream Theater and drums that are hewn out of granite open this thunderously compelling track. The vocals are distinct and authoritarian and the whole song just bleeds a potent intent. This is ‘proper’ prog-metal that puts a smile on my face, and not just because of the subject matter. The musicianship is sublime and Ben just seems to be having a whale of a time, venting his frustration in the best way he knows how. It’s a riot from beginning to end and I seriously enjoyed it.

It’s not often I review E.P’s but, knowing it was the follow up to Orion’s stunning debut album and a glimpse into Ben’s future musical direction, I just had to review this one. I am so glad I did, ‘Passing Through’ shows a musician highly confident in his abilities and features songwriting of the highest calibre. It’s a monumental achievement in only three songs and I cannot wait for what comes next, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Released 1st December, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here;

Passing Through | Orion (

And, for the measly additional cost of £1, you can get the extended edition with the instrumentals here:

Passing Through – Extended Edition | Orion (

Review – Orion – The End Of Suffering – by John Wenlock-Smith

I seldom fail to be impressed with folks who take the huge step into the unknown and are prepared to present to the world the music they have created from thoughts or dreams they have held sometimes for many years. I know several who have done this to a great reception and widespread acclaim.

Obviously everyone would like that, which is why reviews can matter through helping to raise awareness and, hopefully, allow an artist to gain traction and, in their profile being raised, generate both interest and push sales forward. I certainly hope this is the case for this Orion album, ‘The End Of Suffering’, as it is most definitely worthy of attention.

A little background might help here, Orion is the name chosen for Ben Jones’s concept album that came about after he read Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power Of Now, which deals with how we address our own internal dialogue between the past and the present. It talks about a personal awakening and enlightenment which incorporates the Buddhist concept that enlightenment is the beginning of the end of suffering. Quite a lofty concept but one rooted in the aspect of how time controls us and makes us slaves to its demands as we struggle to get done what we need to in the time allotted to us. It’s a never ending game of cat and mouse and one that drains, frustrates and depresses on a daily basis. As we are forever chasing our own tails, all for the Mammon at the end of the day/month/year, it’s soul destroying really and this album addresses that cycle in its lyrics.

This album was 20 years in the making, with the book being a pivotal moment towards personal enlightenment and  acceptance. Furthermore, the album was entirely self financed, performed and recorded by Ben Jones, with no intent other than to get the album completed and out to a world and see what happened as a result. Ben also made the CD available on bandcamp at a most reasonable price to encourage folks to listen for themselves. All of which is very laudable but is it any good?

Well this reviewer finds it is a really good listen and, once you understand it’s concepts and ideas, it’s both satisfying and musically very rewarding indeed.

The album begins with a gentle piano motif that is recurrent at times throughout the whole record before a huge riff commences that really opens the sound vista wide. It’s a very impressive riff that really works well and fades to some frenzied fretwork before resuming and then quietening down a little, more power chords then play the track out. As an instrumental opener Now  is a very strong and gripping track, this fades to fast strummed acoustic guitar that opens the second track, In The Beginning. This is a pretty epic song with that great recurring acoustic guitar and a great bass part to it. There is a blistering middle section with lots of frantic bass and crunchy riffing guitar parts and a tidy but brief solo, it sounds double tracked and all the better for that too,

Tomorrow is about how what we do leaves its mark in time and that we should do all we can to make that impression a good one. Again, this has a lot going on throughout and also has a fine solo. It’s a very strong track taken at a pace that doesn’t let up and, with great vocals, it’s one of my favourites thus far. The Hurricane is about the the battles of middle life and keeping control during it. There is another monstrous riff running through it all, making it quite a hard number but a powerful one that leads into Yesterday and its melancholy for the middle years and the opportunities that now seem squandered, again this is a rather epic song of regrets and missed chances.

Out Of Time is about the realisation that it’s too late and time has gone for you, a rather sobering  song really as it faces that difficult reality. Myself and I is about the enlightenment and that time is an illusion of the mind and Out Of Time pt. 2 is the reality that time is a concept and how he is not constrained or beholden to it any longer. The End Of Suffering is the last track of the album and brings us back full circle as it has a similar opening as the beginning of the album and is an excellent closer to a most unusual and somewhat different album. This track has a wall of sound effect at times, similar to Devin Townsend’s dense sound. This track has everything happening at once it is manic and urgent despite being a mid tempo piece. It really is most impressive I really like it.

There is great musicianship and intelligence to this album, okay, it might help to have read the book to fully understand the concept, something I will do for myself in the coming weeks. All in all ‘The End of Suffering’ is a most wonderful release, I highly commend it to all, especially those who like their prog harder and less symphonic.

More info at:

Orion Music – Home (

Released 5th June, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here:

The End of Suffering | Orion (