Review – Voivod – Lost Machine – Live

Very few bands survive for four decades. Even fewer are those that continue to reach new creative heights, long after legendary status has been achieved. Voivod were never like other bands: even as the thrash metal scene exploded in the early ‘80s, the Jonquière, Quebec crew stood apart, both as unique visionaries and as proud subverters of the metallic norm. From early prog-thrash classics like ‘Killing Technology‘ and ‘Dimension Hatröss‘ through to the psychedelic explorations of ‘The Outer Limits‘, Voivod have been standard-bearers for individuality and creative freedom for nearly 40 years.

I am a newcomer to the band and it was cult funny music pioneers The Fierce And The Dead’s guitarist Matt Stevens who first championed the band and brought them to my attention.

After many line up changes over the years, the band returned with 2018’s ‘The Wake‘ which was hailed as the finest Voivod album since the band’s late ‘80s heyday. An extraordinary, multi-faceted prog metal colossus, it confirmed that Voivod are currently enjoying a fresh surge of power and passion, even as they approach their 40th anniversary. Confirmation that the band’s return to peak form had struck a chord with fans old and new and, not surprisingly, Voivod duly hit the road to reaffirm their status as one of metal’s most unique and powerful live acts.

It was time for Voivod to unveil a brand new live album that deftly captures the kaleidoscopic, mutant adrenalin rush of the band’s shows. Following swiftly on from this year’s ‘The End Of Dormancy‘ EP, the new live set boasts a full Voivod show, bursting with old school classics and epic new material. ‘Lost Machine – Live‘ was captured at the esteemed Quebec City Summer Fest on July 13, 2019. Recorded and mixed by Francis Perron and mastered by Yannick St-Amand, it’s a vibrant and vivid snapshot of a band at the height of their powers.

As I have already said, I have little knowledge of the band’s material so decided to take this live release on it’s own merits and, let me say, it did not disappoint in any way, shape or form.

For me, live releases are generally either very good or very bad and ‘Lost Machine – Live‘ definitely falls into the first category, a thundering behemoth of an album that pulls no punches, kicks you in the balls and then runs off into the distance while laughing maniacally.

Audibly revelling in the shared chemistry that drives them forward, Voivod cover a huge amount of musical and historical ground during ‘Lost Machine – Live‘. From vociferously raw renditions of revered classics like Psychic Vacuum and Into My Hypercube through to the incendiary prog/punk metal insurgency of recent songs like Obsolete Beings, Post Society and Iconspiracy, it’s a monstrous and intoxicating and proof that Voivod are having more fun than ever right now. a massive highlight for me is the band’s legendary cover of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine which seems to be revitalised with a rousing energy and chaotic wonder.

These are obviously the greatest of times for Voivod.

“I think the fact that we get along so well helps tremendously,” Drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin notes. “With Chewy and Rocky’s virtuosity, and Snake and I bringing in the old school punk thrash elements, the recipe is just working perfectly. We now have played many, many shows with this formation, so we are like a machine, both live and in studio. You know, many young kids are into Voivod and other thrash metal bands nowadays, and they usually sing along to the old and new material, they seem to appreciate the whole catalogue. We still have our old friends coming to see us too, so the shows have been really packed for us around the globe the last few years.”

Holy cow, that is one manic, exhilarating thrill ride that is definitely not for the faint of heart! Imbued with a restless and chaotic energy that never lets up for a second, Voivod have released a live album that deserves to be held up there with some of the best, now does someone have a quiet, darkened room I can go and sit in for a while…

Released November 27th 2020

Order direct from the band here:

https://voivodmerch.com/en

Review – Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – Alone Together – by John Wenlock-Smith

Rikard Sjöblom is certainly an interesting and excellent musician, as his career thus far clearly demonstrates, coming to prominence first with Beardfish whose albums ‘Sleeping In Traffic Pt1’ (and Pt2) made big waves in progressive rock circles. The mix of often hard hitting jazz fusion and rock brought a smile to many faces but that all came to a natural finish.

Rikard then concentrated on his other project Gungfly who have a similarly eclectic approach to prog. This the eighth Gungfly album all told and, on this release, he works within a trio format playing both keyboards and guitar (both brilliantly I might add).

The opening song Traveler is simply magnificent with brilliant instrumentation along with several fine and fiery guitar solos and some strong keyboard textures. The track is fairly long but never outstays its welcome, going through several changes during its duration. Rikard reminds me of someone, I can’t put my finger on who exactly, but what a statement of intent it is as an opening song, highly impressive and a good portent for things to come.

Clean as a Whistle, the third track, is also a fine song with a strong acoustic guitar to open before a powerful bass line begins playing in harmony with Rikard’s acoustic skills. The vocals actually remind me of modern day Wishbone Ash in places, no bad thing in my view. This is a gentler song in the main with a delicate piano before synths start at the 3 minute mark, the pace then picks up a bit with some great electric guitar playing in the background before a gentle piano returns us to the acoustic guitar and bass section again, simply sublime and gorgeous.

Title track Alone Together supplies a great guitar line that just keeps on going, such a fluid guitar line really warrants your attention! A flourish of organ then comes in, heralding a more discordant harder edged guitar that plays in sync before Rikard’s vocals join the throng. This song goes all over the place but is certainly of interest (although I haven’t got a clue what he is on about and I don’t have the words to decipher the meaning behind the song). It is great music though, constantly changing throughout its running time with all sorts of things going on and with a return to that fabulous guitar line towards the end. It is a Magnificent piece of writing and music that really shows the talent and imagination that Rikard possesses in spades.

Penultimate track, From Afar, is a folksy, jaunty little number that talks about being viewed by persons unknown from afar. It may be short but it is certainly a great song.

The final track, On the Shoulder of Giants, begins with a clanging and strident riff with some funky sounding chords underneath before opening into a more expansive soundscape where the bass tracks the guitar riff superbly and Rikard unleashes a fiery brief break at the start of the main song. This is a very fine opening section detailing Rikard’s love of Frank Zappa’s music and how hearing it made him feel as a youth and his subsequent battle to work outside of the normal expectations, which is something that he has strived for and succeeded in doing. His love of classic progressive rock is evident and he is not ashamed or afraid to pay homage to his heroes. The piano part of this song is stately and sets a good tone for the middle part of the track which is a bit more subdued and is about how he determined to be free to follow his own route in music.

The next section picks up the pace with the piano taking a more urgent tempo and tone before a synth part sounding a bit discordant is played, sounding strange and unsettling but it leaves the way clear for some fluid guitar that resembles the playing of a certain Steve Howe in a very Yes sounding segment. Again, this is a great section of the piece, Rikard and the others are not averse to mixing their styles to really make the tracks stand out. This is terrific stuff really pushing boundaries as he unleashes another epic solo towards the end of the song with a subtle but delightful wah wah tone to it, double tracked to good effect, as he draws the song to a fine climax.

I’m not that au fait with Gungfly’s recorded history but ,certainly after enjoying this one, I will definitely be looking out for other albums of theirs to listen to and also be watching to see what they do next as this power trio really cook the music nicely with good syncopation, really letting their influences come to the fore. An album to revisit often and to embrace and enjoy again and again.

Released 4th September 2020

Order the album from Burning Shed here:

https://burningshed.com/rikard-sjobloms-gungfly_alone-together_cd

TRANSATLANTIC – launch video for ‘Overture / Reaching For The Sky’/ first single from ‘The Absolute Universe’

TRANSATLANTIC – the Prog Supergroup of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt & Pete Trewavas – are pleased to announce their fifth studio album ‘The Absolute Universe’, set for release on the 5th February 2021. Representing the band’s first new music since 2014’s ‘Kaleidoscope’, with ‘The Absolute Universe’ the band have done something unique and created two versions of the record: ‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’ & ‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’.

Today they have launched the video for ‘Overture / Reaching For The Sky’, taken from ‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’. 

Mike Portnoy comments: “’Reaching For The Sky’ is the first single off Transatlantic’s latest Magnum opus ‘The Absolute Universe’. It’s a great introduction to this epic album as it sets the tone in traditional TA style: proceeded on the album by an extended Instrumental Overture and then launching into this upbeat first song.

I love that it features one of my favorite qualities of the band in the sharing of the lead vocals…in this case: Neal singing lead on Verse 1, myself singing lead on Verse 2, Pete & Neal sharing the Chorus with myself and Roine on backups and Neal taking the glorious Bridge…all leading to Roine’s distinctive guitar solo. 

 Also interesting is that this version exclusively appears on the Abridged 1CD Version of TA5 (“The Breath Of Life”) while the Extended 2CD Version of TA5 (“Forevermore”) opens with the alternate version ‘Heart Like A Whirlwind’ which has different lead vocals and lyrics .”

Each album will be available on CD, LP & Digitally. But there will also be what has been called ‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’, which collects both versions together in one lavish package that includes 5LP’s, 3CD’s & a Blu-ray that includes a special mix that combines both versions into a third unique version in 5.1 surround sound with visuals and a behind the scenes documentary. All editions have artwork created by Thomas Ewerhard featuring the airship by Pavel Zhovba. 

As Mike Portnoy explains: “We’ve got two versions of this album. There is a two CD presentation, which is 90 minutes long, and a single one – that’s 60 minutes. However, the single CD is NOT merely an edited version of the double CD. They each contain alternate versions and even in some cases, new recordings. We wrote fresh lyrics and have different people singing on the single CD version tracks as compared to those on the double CD. Some of the song titles have also been changed, while others might remain the same, but compositionally what you’ll hear has been altered. You must appreciate that what we have done is unique. We revamped the songs to make the two versions different.” Pete Trewavas adds: “We did write some new music for the single CD, what’s more, there are also differences in the instruments used on some of the tracks across the two records.”

The full list of formats is below, and you can pre-order now here: https://transatlantic.lnk.to/TheAbsoluteUniverse

The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’

Available as:

Single CD Edition, Gatefold 2LP+CD, or Digital Album 

Track-listing:

1.     Overture

2.     Reaching For The Sky

3.     Higher Than The Morning

4.     The Darkness In The Light

5.     Take Now My Soul

6.     Looking For The Light

7.     Love Made  A Way (Prelude)

8.     Owl Howl

9.     Solitude

10.  Belong

11.  Can You Feel It

12.  Looking For The Light (Reprise)

13.  The Greatest Story Never Ends

14.  Love Made A Way

 ‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’

Available as:
2CD Edition, 3LP+2CD Boxset, or Digital Album

Track-listing:

Disc 1:

1.     Overture

2.     Heart Like A Whirlwind

3.     Higher Than The Morning

4.     The Darkness In The Light

5.     Swing High, Swing Low

6.     Bully

7.     Rainbow Sky

8.     Looking For The Light

9.     The World We Used To Know

Disc 2:

1.     The Sun Comes Up Today

2.     Love Made A Way (Prelude)

3.     Owl Howl

4.     Solitude

5.     Belong

6.     Lonesome Rebel

7.     Looking For The Light (Reprise)

8.     The Greatest Story Never Ends

9.     Love Made A Way

‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’

Limited Deluxe Clear 5LP+3CD+Blu-Ray Box-set – contained within a foil-finished lift-off box with extended 16-page LP booklet & 60x60cm poster. Includes both versions of the album over 5LP’s and 3CD’s, plus a Blu-Ray with 5.1 mix & documentary. 

Blu-Ray Track-listing:

1.     Overture (5.1 Surround Mix)

2.     Reaching For The Sky (5.1 Surround Mix)

3.     Higher Than The Morning (5.1 Surround Mix)

4.     The Darkness In The Light (5.1 Surround Mix)

5.     Take Now My Soul (5.1 Surround Mix)

6.     Bully (5.1 Surround Mix)

7.     Rainbow Sky (5.1 Surround Mix)

8.     Looking For The Light (5.1 Surround Mix)

9.     The World We Used To Know (5.1 Surround Mix)

10.  The Sun Comes Up Today (5.1 Surround Mix)

11.  Love Made A Way (Prelude) (5.1 Surround Mix)

12.  Owl Howl (5.1 Surround Mix)

13.  Solitude (5.1 Surround Mix)

14.  Belong (5.1 Surround Mix)

15.  Lonesome Rebel (5.1 Surround Mix)

16.  Can You Feel It (5.1 Surround Mix)

17.  Looking For The Light (Reprise) (5.1 Surround Mix)

18.  The Greatest Story Never Ends (5.1 Surround Mix)

19.  Love Made A Way (5.1 Surround Mix)

20.  The Making of The Absolute Universe (Documentary)

Initial tracking began in September 2019 when the band met up in Sweden to write and arrange the new material. As Portnoy explains: “Over a period of 10-14 days, we mapped out the songs. Then we all went back to our home studios and did the recording. That’s the way we always do it. At one point, though, it was suggested that instead of doing what was by that time going to be a double album, we should just be content to do a single CD.”

“What happened was that everything kept expanding and expanding,” recalls Stolt. “Therefore we decided it made sense to make it a double album. It was Pete and Neal who then came out and said they felt this would be too long, and we should reduce it to one…But we were already recording, and it didn’t seem feasible to cut it back. There were so many pieces that each of us loved in what we were planning and didn’t want to lose. That’s when we ended up in discussions over the best way forward.”

This album also marks a return to the concept album for Transatlantic. “Well, the idea of Transatlantic deciding to do a concept record this time around won’t shock anyone, right?” laughs Portnoy. “What we have is essentially one giant composition, split into chapters. The storyline is about the struggles facing everyone in society today.” “We didn’t start out with the idea of this being conceptual,” admits Stolt. “The way things work with us is that we have a load of ideas, and these are developed spontaneously when we meet up. Everything happens in the moment.”

So, how does this new ground-breaking album compare to Transatlantic’s previous four albums?

“I always try not to compare albums as much as possible,” insists Morse. “It’s very difficult when you’re trying to be creative, because your natural instinct is to constantly compare. But in order to create you have to kind of step away from that. Having said that, I would say this would have more in common with ‘The Whirlwind’ album  (the band’s third, from 2009) than others that we’ve created.” 

For Trewavas, ‘The Absolute Universe’ is a momentous project.“I think it is right up there with the very finest albums we’ve done. As the others have said, it compares very well to ‘The Whirlwind’, which I believe represents Transatlantic at our best. As on that album, we took our time to write and arrange everything, and that shines through. I am very excited for people to hear it.”

Transatlantic were originally formed in 1999, releasing their debut album ‘SMTPe’ the following year as well as its follow-up ‘Bridge Across Forever’ in 2001. Following a 7-year hiatus, the band reconvened to record and release the much-acclaimed epic 77-minute, single-track album ‘The Whirlwind’ followed by a world tour in 2010 which included an appearance at High Voltage Festival in London where they were joined by legendary Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. The band’s fourth album ‘Kaleidoscope’ arrived in 2014, going on to win ‘Album Of The Year’ at the Progressive Music Awards.

Review – Monkey Trial – Viking – by John Wenlock-Smith

It is not very often that your village holds a free prog rock show and, even if they do, the quality of the acts could at best be questionable.

So it was a real shock when I went to such an event at a local pub in Haslington near Crewe. I’d seen The Tangent in a local pub in the peak district some years before but Monkey Trial were unknown to me. They are actually a local band who, prior to this blasted virus, often played  locally in Stoke on Trent and have  also performed at HRH Prog in London and various other small space rock events like The Wingy Thing in Derbyshire.

Well, I grabbed a drink (diet coke I was driving) and took a seat for this two part gig. Initially it was a trio with guitar, drums and keyboards, although the drums were not a kit but more organic congas and the like. The music was all new to me but certainly held my attention. The show was sparsely attended and was outdoors so, as the night wore on and it got colder, soon there was merely a handful of people who were watching as the band carried on. I was certainly impressed by their efforts and a few weeks ago I was contacted by the keyboard player, Clive Mallart, asking if I would like to have a listen to their new album, recorded in lockdown, and possibly review it?

I am always interested in helping new bands find a platform for their music to be heard, so here are my thoughts on their new album ‘Viking’.

The album is available via Bandcamp and is a really good listen.It is mostly instrumental, although a few tracks have a muted voice over from Nick Raybould that could be improved by it sitting higher in the mix, as what Nick is saying is actually very interesting, adding to the overall ambience of the music, especially on the track one in vermilion.

The sound reminds me of Stratosfear by  Tangerine Dream with electronics being a platform for extended guitar solos. The guitarist Shaun Bailey is a well-rounded and tasteful player with a good tone, his guitar work supplementing the rest of the band and overall they make a cohesive and interesting sound. The pulse of the keyboards is full and expansive, Monkey Trial paint uncluttered aural landscapes always of interest.

I think one in vermilion is my favorite track as it is one where everything comes together well to create a strong impression. There is theremin on the opening track, a sense of…, but it seems to be a bit buried in the mix and plays alongside the guitar melody at the start and the end of the track. Track 5, things with wings, also impresses, with a strong piano melody that runs throughout and a driving rhythm that pulls the music along Also worthy of note is the strong bass work by Shaun Bailey, who consistently adds a good bottom end to anchor the music together. The analogue and organic percussion of Nick Raybould also adds colour and impetus to proceedings during gloesnowb.

The music the band creates is all about wide-screen and epic soundscapes with interesting tones alongside great melodies. It is all topped off with some searing guitar work that really adds to the effect, making this a band to enjoy and appreciate. Production is clear and crisp, but the album is even better on headphones at a decent volume as then all the subtleties can be heard and appreciated.

The final track, after viking, is a moody finale that recalls the Northumbrian Coast so evocatively displayed nn the album’s fabulous cover artwork. This is an album that rewards the diligent listener and I have no hesitation in recommending this fine little self-released lockdown produced gem.

Released 3rd August 2020

Order from bandcamp here:

https://monkeytrial.bandcamp.com/album/viking

Anneke van Giersbergen announces ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ – Brand new solo album: out February 26, 2020

Lyrically, and musically, the award-winning Dutch artist lays her soul bare with the most evocative record of her career – captivating song-stories told with acoustic guitars, strings, horns, percussion, and Anneke’s hypnotic vocal harmonies

The new album’s title, ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’, refers to the idea that, when facing personal challenges, we are forced to find answers to life’s biggest questions. But, at this point in her near-three-decade-long music career, this solo album – and, crucially, the heartbreak that inspired it – was not something Anneke van Giersbergen ever anticipated writing.

In 2018, Anneke began working on new material for her metal band, VUUR. Although their debut album, ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’, was met with a mixed reception, fans were warming up to their heavy, progressive sound. Therefore, a rapid follow-up album would surely establish Anneke’s return to fronting a metal band. However, behind the scenes, these were troubled times.

Anneke shares, ”My belief in VUUR saw me spend all my savings on recording VUUR’s debut album and taking the band on the road. After completing our first touring cycle, I realized that more VUUR would mean yet more, huge financial risks.”

To make matters worse, in 2018, her long-lasting marriage, which had always been wonderful, unexpectedly saw a storm approaching.
Anneke adds, “I instantly knew I needed to write music about fixing my life. This creative endeavour would be far too personal for a VUUR album. And it would also require solitude.”

With just her acoustic guitar and basic recording gear, Anneke retreated to a small house near the woods, just outside her hometown of Eindhoven. She let go of the pressures of what VUUR’s future might be, and fell into the meditative process of writing a solo album. In 2019, work continued on the new songs. In 2020, Anneke asked her friend and producer, Gijs Coolen, to help finish the album.

Throughout the completion of the album, Anneke’s fragile, acoustic song-stories were fused together with an alchemy of panoramic strings, horns, and percussion. The resulting 11-track record has all the intimacy of Anneke serenading an audience of one, combined with surprising departures into swampier, foot-stomping grooves.

The Japanese art of kintsugi has inspired Anneke to use a repaired heart as the album’s symbol. Kintsugi teaches that bringing together the pieces of a broken object – with the use of a precious metal – adds value and uniqueness to it. And, instead of giving up on their marriage, Anneke and her husband decided to take the time to mend their bond. They now cherish the repaired heartbreak as something profoundly valuable. 

Their journey through this personal storm, and the album that Anneke created in the eye of it, proves that the darkest skies truly are the brightest. 

The album will be available as CD Digipak, Gatefold 2LP + CD & as digital album.

01. Agape
02. Hurricane
03. My Promise
04. I Saw A Car
05. The Soul Knows
06. The End
07. Keep It Simple
08. Lo And Behold
09. Losing You
10. Survive
11. Love You Like I Love You

‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ is Anneke’s 23rd career album. It proves, once again, that the award-winning Dutch artist defies being pigeonholed by any genre. 

After thirteen years as the front woman for melancholic metallers, The Gathering, she struck out on her own in 2007. Since then, her creativity has known no bounds. Anneke quickly solidified a successful solo career (initially under the moniker Agua de Annique), and has recorded and performed with Canadian metal genius Devin Townsend multiple times. She has also lent her serene yet powerful voice to the likes of: Anathema, Icelandic folk group Árstíðir, Within Temptation, Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen, Amorphis, and prog legend John Wetton.

2012’s ‘Everything is Changing’ was something of a milestone in Anneke’s solo career. The album, which was the first to be released under her own name, received two Edison Award nominations – Holland’s most prestigious music prize – in the categories ‘Best Female Artist’ and ‘Best Album’.

In 2015, Anneke van Giersbergen and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) released their collaborative album ‘The Diary’ under the name The Gentle Storm.

In October 2017, Anneke’s progressive metal outfit VUUR released their much-anticipated debut album. ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’ entered the Dutch Album Top 100 at number 2, Anneke’s highest-ever chart position.

Forever the unpredictable artist, in late 2018, Anneke released ‘Symphonized’, an 11-track live orchestral album. It was recorded at two career-spanning concerts alongside Residentie Orkest The Hague, and features rearrangements of songs from her entire back catalogue.

2019 saw Dutch music copyright organisation Buma Cultuur honor Anneke with the Buma ROCKS! Export Award. This is their award for the Most Successful Dutch Artist Abroad in Heavy Music.

In 2021, the release of her new solo album ‘The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest’ will see Anneke surprise her fans all over again.

TRANSATLANTIC – invite you to enter ‘The Absolute Universe’ on fifth studio album

TRANSATLANTIC – the Prog Supergroup of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt & Pete Trewavas – are pleased to announce their fifth studio album ‘The Absolute Universe’, set for release on the 5th February 2021. Representing the band’s first new music since 2014’s ‘Kaleidoscope’, with ‘The Absolute Universe’ the band have done something unique and created two versions of the record: ‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’ & ‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’.

As Mike Portnoy explains: “We’ve got two versions of this album. There is a two CD presentation, which is 90 minutes long, and a single one – that’s 60 minutes. However, the single CD is NOT merely an edited version of the double CD. They each contain alternate versions and even in some cases, new recordings. We wrote fresh lyrics and have different people singing on the single CD version tracks as compared to those on the double CD. Some of the song titles have also been changed, while others might remain the same, but compositionally what you’ll hear has been altered. You must appreciate that what we have done is unique. We revamped the songs to make the two versions different.” Pete Trewavas adds: “We did write some new music for the single CD,” adds Trewavas. “What’s more, there are also differences in the instruments used on some of the tracks across the two records.”

Each album will be available on CD, LP & Digitally. But there will also be what has been called ‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’, which collects both versions together in one lavish package that includes 5LP’s, 3CD’s & a Blu-ray that contains a 5.1 surround sound mix with visuals & a behind the scenes documentary. All editions have unique artwork created by Thomas Ewerhard. The full list of formats is below, and pre-orders start on the 20th November:

‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’

Special Edition CD Digipak

Gatefold 2LP+CD

Digital Album

‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’

Special Edition 2CD Digipak

3LP+2CD Boxset

Digital Album

‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’

Limited Deluxe Clear 5LP+3CD+Blu-Ray Box-set – contained within a foil-finished lift-off box with extended 16-page LP booklet & 60x60cm poster

Initial tracking began in September 2019 when the band met up in Sweden to write and arrange the new material. As Portnoy explains: “Over a period of 10-14 days, we mapped out the songs. Then we all went back to our home studios and did the recording. That’s the way we always do it. At one point, though, it was suggested that instead of doing what was by that time going to be a double album, we should just be content to do a single CD.”

“What happened was that everything kept expanding and expanding,” recalls Stolt. “Therefore we decided it made sense to make it a double album. It was Pete and Neal who then came out and said they felt this would be too long, and we should reduce it to one…But we were already recording, and it didn’t seem feasible to cut it back. There were so many pieces that each of us loved in what we were planning and didn’t want to lose. That’s when we ended up in discussions over the best way forward.” 

This album also marks a return to the concept album for Transatlantic. “Well, the idea of Transatlantic deciding to do a concept record this time around won’t shock anyone, right?” laughs Portnoy. “What we have is essentially one giant composition, split into chapters. The storyline is about the struggles facing everyone in society today.” “We didn’t start out with the idea of this being conceptual,” admits Stolt. “The way things work with us is that we have a load of ideas, and these are developed spontaneously when we meet up. Everything happens in the moment.”

So, how does this new ground-breaking album compare to Transatlantic’s previous four albums?

“I always try not to compare albums as much as possible,” insists Morse. “It’s very difficult when you’re trying to be creative, because your natural instinct is to constantly compare. But in order to create you have to kind of step away from that. Having said that, I would say this would have more in common with ‘The Whirlwind’ album  (the band’s third, from 2009) than others that we’ve created.” For Trewavas, ‘The Absolute Universe’ is a momentous project.

“I think it is right up there with the very finest albums we’ve done. As the others have said, it compares very well to ‘The Whirlwind’, which I believe represents Transatlantic at our best. As on that album, we took our time to write and arrange everything, and that shines through. I am very excited for people to hear it.”

Transatlantic were originally formed in 1999, releasing their debut album ‘SMTPe’ the following year as well as its follow-up ‘Bridge Across Forever’ in 2001. Following a 7-year hiatus, the band reconvened to record and release the much-acclaimed epic 77-minute, single-track album ‘The Whirlwind’ followed by a world tour in 2010 which included an appearance at High Voltage Festival in London where they were joined by legendary Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. The band’s fourth album ‘Kaleidoscope’ arrived in 2014, going on to win ‘Album Of The Year’ at the Progressive Music Awards. 

Steve Hackett announces the release of a new acoustic album – Under A Mediterranean Sky on 22nd January.

Iconic guitarist Steve Hackett, releases his new acoustic album Under A Mediterranean Sky on 22nd January 2021 as a Limited CD Digipak, Gatefold 2LP + CD + LP-booklet and Digital Album via InsideOut MusicUnder A Mediterranean Sky is Steve Hackett’s first acoustic solo album since Tribute in 2008 and takes inspiration from Steve’s extensive travels around the Mediterranean with his wife Jo.

Working closely with long-time musical partner Roger King, Hackett has used his time during 2020’s lockdown to take us on an extraordinary musical journey around the Mediterranean, painting vivid images of stunning landscapes and celebrating the diverse cultures of the region. Famed for his rock roots with Genesis, and through his extensive solo catalogue, Hackett demonstrates the exquisite beauty of the nylon guitar at times venturing into the exotic ethnic and often supported by dazzling orchestral arrangements.

“A lot of acoustic ideas had been forming over the years, and it felt like the perfect time to create this album,” notes Hackett, “a time to contemplate the places we’ve visited around the Mediterranean with the kind of music which evolved from the world of imagination.

“Because we can’t really travel, substantially at the moment, I hope that the album will take people on that journey. Whether you sit down and listen to it or drift off to it with a glass of wine…”

Track Listing:
Mdina – The Walled City (Steve Hackett / Roger King)

Adriatic Blue (Steve Hackett)

Sirocco (Steve Hackett / Jo Hackett / Roger King)

Joie de Vivre (Steve Hackett / Jo Hackett)

The Memory of Myth (Steve Hackett / Jo Hackett / Roger King)

Scarlatti Sonata (Domenico Scarlatti)

Casa del Fauno (Steve Hackett / Roger King)

The Dervish and the Djin (Steve Hackett / Jo Hackett / Roger King)

Lorato (Steve Hackett)

Andalusian Heart (Steve Hackett / Jo Hackett / Roger King)

The Call of the Sea (Steve Hackett)

Our journey around the Med begins on the island of Malta, in Mdina – The Walled City. It’s imposing strength is portrayed by Roger King’s dramatic orchestration while Hackett’s guitar weaves through the atmospheric streets describing the creativity, love and strength that held Malta together between all the waves of conflict.

With Hackett’s delicate guitar work, Adriatic Blue paints an enchanting view of stunning scenery as tall cliffs of forested mountains plunge into the deep blue sea along the Croatian coastline. Sirocco is altogether more atmospheric, inspired by the winds playing through the imposing structures of Egypt.

The lively Joie de Vivre expresses the unique sense of joy the French have through their wine, food and folk music, with paintings reflecting family gatherings, spectacular vistas and the vibrant colours of their cities. The art of dreaming is embodied in their sensual love of life.

“At first hand, I’ve marvelled at the mystical whirling Dervishes,” says Hackett. Along with otherworldly beings such as the Djin (Genie) they sprang from Persia’s dreaming past. The Dervish And The Djin captures the extraordinary atmosphere of this most exotic of civilisations with the help of Hackett’s touring band regular – Rob Townsend’s soprano sax, the tar of Malik Mansurov (from Azerbaijan) and Armenian Arsen Petrosyan’s duduk. “Of course, those countries are virtually at war with each other,” Hackett adds, “and there has been something like a thousand casualties (at the time of writing) on both sides. Again, it’s a case of music being able to do things that politicians fail to do – something constructive.”

The Memory of Myth embodies the deep and rich history of Greece and features the violin of Christine Townsend (no relation) while Lorato – ‘love’ in the language of the African Tswana tribe – is a pretty folk tune. Love is the force that heals and links all disparate peoples of the Mediterranean.

Hackett and his wife Jo were enchanted by the little Faun statue in the House of the Faun, Pompeii. “The villas there seemed to come back to life as we walked through those wonderful atriums and gardens,” inspiring Casa del Fauno and featuring the light and airy flute of Hackett’s brother John and Rob Townsend on flute.

The only non-original piece is Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata. This embodies the Baroque music of Italy, a sensitive interpretation embellished with cross-string trills, a technique introduced to Hackett by the fine classical guitarist, the late Theo Cheng.

Hackett also expresses his admiration for the flamenco guitarists of Andalucía who are celebrated on Andalusian Heart“One of the flamenco guitarists was showing me the extraordinary things they are able to do,” Hackett explains. “Seeing the gypsies playing and dancing in caves there, you get the feeling that these people are dancing for their lives.”

Our journey comes to an end with The Call Of The Sea, a gentle and peaceful reflection of the vast body of water that unites the many civilisations both ancient and modern.

Under A Mediterranean Sky features Steve Hackett playing nylon, steel string and twelve string guitars, charango and Iraqi oud. Keyboards, programming and orchestral arrangements are by Roger King. Featured musicians are John Hackett and Rob Townsend, flute (Casa del Fauno); Malik Mansurov, tar and Arsen Petrosyan, duduk & Rob Townsend, Sax (The Dervish And The Djin); Christine Townsend, violin (The Memory of Myth and The Call Of The Sea). All tracks were produced by Steve Hackett and Roger King with all tracks recorded and mixed by Roger King at Siren.

“I had a great time doing this album, seeing it take shape, and I’m very pleased with the outcome. I’m very proud of it,” says Hackett. “The nylon guitar has a very individual sound but, within the compass of what the nylon-strung guitar can do, there are a lot of different tones. You can do the full-on attack, the kind of salvo that you expect from the flamenco players but, at the same time, it can also be very gentle, gentle as a harp. It’s shades of black and white. It’s also exciting to play alongside instruments from around the world, as well as a wide range of orchestral sounds.”

THE ANCHORESS CONFIRMS FOLLOW UP TO HER AWARD-WINNING, CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED DEBUT ALBUM

Photo credit: Isabella Charlesworth

ANNOUNCES NEW SINGLE ‘SHOW YOUR FACE’

New London Show: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London – July 10th 2021

‘The Art of Losing’, the second album from Welsh multi-instrumentalist The Anchoress (aka Catherine Anne Davies), will be released on March 5th 2021 (via Kscope). The first single ‘Show Your Face’ is available from today, following its radio premiere by Steve Lamacq on BBC 6 Music; a Depeche Mode flavoured retort to toxic masculinity that features guitar from Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield (who also sings a duet on the album) and drums from Sterling Campbell (David Bowie, Duran Duran). 

The new single weaves its dark synth magic following up on her sonically audacious debut, ‘Confessions of A Romance Novelist’, which was named amongst the Guardian critics’ Albums of the Year, nominated for the Welsh Music Prize, named HMV’s Welsh Album of the Year, and won Best Newcomer at the PROG awards. 

Written and produced by Davies, ‘The Art of Losing’ navigates the detritus of death. It’s a record made in the process of trying to climb out of grief about how we make something from the losses in our lives. Written in the aftermath of several years of huge personal loss, the album follows Dylan Thomas’ instruction to “rage against the dying of the light” – and there is nothing “gentle” about its enquiry. Despite the traumatic backdrop to its composition, it is a far from dour affair. Rather, all fourteen tracks create a technicolour eruption of emotions, firmly concerned with how to find purpose in the midst of grief: “Was there some purpose to losing my mind?”, she asks on the album’s title track: “What did you learn when life was unkind..?” 

The new album was written and recorded during an unfeasibly busy few years as Davies found solace and purpose in a range of projects whilst navigating her griefs. Most recently this came via the release of her collaborative album ‘In Memory of My Feelings’ with Bernard Butler (on Pete Paphides’ label Needle Mythology), duetting and touring with the Manic Street Preachers on their thirteenth album ‘Resistance Is Futile’ (which reached #2 in the UK charts), and being personally invited by The Cure’s Robert Smith to perform at his Meltdown Festival. She also brought a new generation of ears to legendary Scottish rock band Simple Minds, where she spent much of the last five years touring the world on keyboards, guitar and additional vocals. She joined the line-up in 2014, appearing on the Big Music (2015) and Walk Between Worlds (2018) albums before departing in 2019 after playing over 400 shows with the band.

Interview with Jakko Jakszyk by John Wenlock-Smith

Jakko Jakszyk, Secrets & Lies promo image. August 2020. Photo by Tina Korhonen, 2020. All rights reserved

In this piece I talk to the King Crimson guitarist and vocalist about his career and his new album ‘Secrets & Lies’, released 23rd October.

JWS: Hello Jakko, how are you doing?

JJ: I am ok thanks, doing as well as anyone can in this current virus situation I got a kicking In Mojo and what seemed to be an unnecessary sentence at the end of the review in Uncut.

JWS: What did the Uncut review say?

JJ: It said, “only occasionally does it slip into Marillionesque slickness”, whatever that may mean?       

JWS: Fair Enough.

JJ: Is It?

JWS: Well it is a reviewer’s view…

JJ: Of course.

JWS: They must listen to loads of stuff, often only cursorily, and most of that will be mediocre.

JJ: Well the artists view (i.e. mine) is that, of the reviews I’ve seen, 96% are great, fantastic even, but the one I can quote is the mediocre one. Also, he didn’t like “The Trouble with Angels”, he said it was like a mid 80’s advert for chocolate.

JWS: I have got a review to write for Progradar.

JJ: Well do not use either of those lines …

JWS: My first impressions, when I heard the album, were incredibly positive, although, and I do not want to offend you here, but it put me in mind of Nik Kershaw.

JJ: (Laughs), I will tell him as he is a friend of mine, an exceptionally good guitarist and a very musical man indeed, he will like that!

There is actually a clip of us playing together on YouTube:

JWS: I was listening to one of your earlier albums, ‘Are My Ears On Wrong’, it is in the nether land of the loft, I had a few of your 12-inch singles too if I remember correctly.

JJ: Best Place for them!

JWS: Well I quite like them, the album is good too, especially Dangerous Dreams, that was a really good song really. So, King Crimson; quite a move from those earlier days, obviously you have a lot of history with KC, seeing them as a teen in Hyde Park many many years ago.

JJ: It was the later Hyde Park show, I was too young for the first show. I saw them at Watford Town Hall in 1971 then later that year at Hyde Park, where Jack Bruce was headlining. It was an amazing time for music in the early 1970’s, I saw lots of great bands in those days.

JWS: I grew up in the 70’s listening to Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. I wasn’t really into the psychedelic stuff that was about, although I’ve gone backwards and discovered stuff like Spirit for myself. To be fair, I was never a big Crimson fan, although I did enjoy Starless and a few other bits and pieces. But not in the way that collectors are over these new box sets like the new ‘In The Court of…’ set that’s due imminently, although a friend of mine that you know, Sid Smith, is.

JJ: Yes I know Sid.

JWS: I read in an interview recently that you met Alan Holdsworth?

JJ: Yes, I’d heard about him from Robert Fripp and, at that time, Alan had joined a revamped Soft Machine who I went to see at The Rainbow Theatre in 1975.This would be the ‘Bundles’ album they were touring and his playing astonished me. He was totally different in his approach to any other guitarists that I’d seen.

I was working in a record shop at the time and I phoned up Virgin Records, I think I was about 16, and asked them for his number, pretending I was a fellow Bradfordian who knew him but had lost his number, and they actually gave me his phone number!

I rang him up and asked if he gave lessons He said, “No”, he was his usual dour self,“I don’t know what I’m doing man, I can’t teach anyone anything”, he then said, “but you can come round if you want.”

So, for a few weeks I would go around to his house where he was warm and friendly. I’d take my guitar and play chords that he would so over the top of. It was incredible to see him play in such proximity! He taught me about effects, he would play me an album and ask if I could spot the compression that had been applied to it. He was also not averse to getting his soldering iron out to attack pickups attempting to improve his guitar tone etc.

He taught me a lot about how he got his sound, amps and effects and such. So that is how I met him as a teenager, thereafter I would see him around and we would say Hello, then there was that weird time with Level 42

Alan played guitar with Level 42 after Phil Boon had left and he was great, playing all over everything, I think there are some live recordings around. Then, later on, Mark King had rung me up and offered me the job in Level 42 as guitarist. However, Mark had also rung Alan up the same day saying thanks, but you’re not what we want for the band, however brilliant Mark thought he was, he just didn’t think he was right for Level 42.

Alan wouldn’t play rhythm or open strings, Mark also wanted him stand at the back to play rather than the front and he was a bit annoyed with this. I found this out several years later. The next time I saw him he was a bit off with me and he asked me how is your new job? He said he knew why he did not get it; it is because he looked like Methuselah.

Then in 2014 Crimson did a string of dates at the Nokia Theatre in New York and on the last day Alan was doing a show at The Iridium (jazz club in NYC). Tony Levin, Gavin Harrison and I went to see the show to watch him play and afterwards he greeted me with a hug and talked like an old friend once again, Tony took some lovely pictures of us together that I still have and treasure. To this day. He was a remarkable musician and a unique voice on the guitar, so that’s my connection with Alan Holdsworth.

Photo by Tina Korhonen, 2020. All rights reserved

JWS: So did you record anything whilst in Level 42?

JJ: No, there is a box set that has some things I co-wrote on and there is some live stuff on there too.

JWS: You have a fluid guitar style, would you say that Alan was an influence?

JJ: Up to a point, yes, I do play like him, there are certain aspects of what I do that are inspired by him but obviously not in the same league at all. He was beyond all of us.

JWS: Sadly, I never saw him although I did see the second version of UK with Wetton, Jobson and Bozzio that was mind-blowing. Going back to your album, you have a great list of friends helping on it. I especially like that you have made notes about each of the tracks.

JJ: Well, I’m from the age that, when you bought an album you had the journey home before you could play it, and I liked that sort of thing. If the song has an interesting story behind it then a note about the song will be useful and interesting. I was keen to tie everything in together, all the artwork etc, I am not keen on making videos but the two animated ones are brilliant.

JWS: I also have your 21st Century Schizoid Band. I love the opening song on your album it has a lovely fluid guitar line to it. You are obviously a very melodic player?

JJ: Yes, I like to have melody in my playing, it’s not just showing off or technique displays, I want it to have some emotion as well.

JWS: Some of the songs are really interesting, The Rotters Club Is Closing Down for instance, the Pip Pyle character sounds like an intriguing chap?

JJ: He certainly was, left a trail of destruction in his wake! He always liked to go out and party, one of the free love generation, and left broken hearts all around, half the women he cheated on were at his funeral!  He was also a very good writer for Hatfield and The North. He wasn’t a singer, so when I had to sing his songs like Seven Sisters, I’d have to sing at both the top of my register and also the lowest point.

JWS: I also notice that your son plays on the album, on the track Uncertain Times.

JJ: He asked if he could play on a track, so I sent him the song and he just sailed through, it even with all the time changes. Both kids are talented, their grandfather (on their mother’s side) is Michael Giles (original King Crimson drummer). They both seem to have music in their DNA.

JWS: Uncertain Times is also remarkably interesting being as it is about the divisive politics of the referendum and Brexit.

JJ: It is all about the how such populist politics have made extremism acceptable. When the Brexit debate was over, I wrote a comment on Facebook and hundreds of sympathetic messages were followed by ten days of vitriol and attacks. I’m a London born adopted child of an Irish mother and a US Airman, there is nothing posh about me at all. But such is the nature of politics nowadays, with the like of Trump, that anything can be said, he behaves like an autocrat. When lockdown happened in the UK we bulk bought toilet rolls and pasta, in America they stockpiled guns and ammunition.

Touring will be a nightmare going forward, with carnets required for everything! We’ve made some merchandise that we were going to sell on tour available, with all the proceeds going to the crew. As artists, we’ll be ok for another year or so, but the crew are living hand to mouth and then Rishi Sunak says that we should retrain!

Well, I have spent 50 years training to do what I do, maybe I should retrain as Chancellor of the Exchequer, like a job share or similar, it’s sheer nonsense.  

JWS: Anyway Jakko, my time has gone so I will thank you for your time and wish you well with the album, nice talking to you

JJ: Thanks John, nice talking to you too. 

Mountain Caller Release Epic New Video For ‘I Remember Everything’

DEBUT ALBUM ‘CHRONICLE I: THE TRUTHSEEKER’ RELEASED 6TH NOVEMBER (NEW HEAVY SOUNDS)

‘a stunning example of the band’s complete presentation. While many make the claim to have a balance of sight and sound, Mountain Caller underscore the totality of their talent with the video for “I Remember Everything.’ – KNOTFEST

Heavy, progressive, instrumental three-piece Mountain Caller, who are ready to engage hyper-drive and launch their debut album into the riff time continuum on 6th November (New Heavy Sounds) have shared the epic new video for ‘I Remember Everything’. Guitarist Claire Simson comments, 

The video for “I Remember Everything” was directed and produced by ridiculously talented friend of the band Tom Le Bon. It tells fragments of the story written in tandem with the album and even features The Protagonist. It’s not a literal dramatisation but the scenes are symbolic parts of the story and the film team did an outstanding job bringing it to life. We are beyond stoked with how it turned out and can’t wait to share it with the world.’

Recorded in January of 2020 at No Studio in Manchester by producer Joe Clayton of Pijn, and mastered by Magnus Lindberg of ‘Cult Of Luna’. For the band, it’s a labour of love; the fruit of three years of jamming, crafting, and conceptualising; a collaborative piece, where each instrument takes centre stage, within a heady mix of chasmic riffs and panoramic, reflective soundscapes.

If one needs a sonic ballpark, think the infectious jamming of Elder and the dynamic cinema-scapes of Mogwai, underpinned by the mantric riffs of Sleep.

Chronicle I: The Truthseeker is a feminist allegory created in tandem with the music. As the band describe it …

‘In The Truthseeker, we join The Protagonist at the edge of the Twilight Desert, compelled by an indefinable but urgent need to set forth on an Odyssean journey to rediscover her memory and her voice. Over the course of 42 minutes, we travel from barren wastelands to mysterious cities, encountering trials of both body and spirit.’

It is indeed a 6 track instrumental journey. Full of winding roads, brooding valleys and strange encounters, all vividly evoked by a canny grasp of dynamics, melody and heavy, but hooky riffs, executed with peerless playing.

Chronicle I: The Truthseeker is the beginning of the Chronicle saga, and also one senses, the beginning of a high-reaching career.

Set for release on November 6th 2020, the vinyl version comes in a lavish gatefold sleeve, with a full colour printed inner housing a 2 colour red/purple galaxy disc, also available on cd and download.Pre order now: 
https://cargorecordsdirect.co.uk/products/mountain-caller-chronicle-i-the-truthseekerhttps://newheavysounds.bandcamp.com

Mountain Caller are

Claire Simson, guitar. El Reeve, bass. Max Maxwell, drums.