Review – Cosmograf – Rattrapante – by Martin Hutchinson

I was talking to Robin Armstrong, the man behind Cosmograf, about how lockdown has really affected my writing. Barring a handful of reviews, my creative juices had dried up, I still loved listening to and appreciating the new music that was out there but I really found it hard to put my feelings into words.

Maybe it was happy coincidence, who knows, but the announcement of lockdown easing and a light at the end of the tunnel has seemed to get my mojo working again and it just happens to have occurred at the same time as Robin is about to release the latest instalment in the history of Cosmograf, happy days eh!?

Cosmograf was formed in 2008 when Robin produced his first home demo album, followed by the release of ‘End of Ecclesia‘ in 2009. The sound is rooted in 70’s classic rock with many contemporary influences from rock, progressive rock and metal. There is always a particular emphasis on concepts and atmospheric production leading to comparisons with artists such as Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson.

‘Rattrapante’ is Cosmograf’s eighth album and is a collection of 5 songs about our interaction with time; we measure it, but yet waste it more, it defines our existence and forms our memories. Some seek to beat it by being the first or the fastest and some can appear to outlive time itself through their achievements…

You may not know this but Robin is a rather fine expert in mechanical watches and goes on to say, “The idea for the album was inspired from from my work with mechanical watches. Rattrapante is a French word deriving from ‘rattraper’ meaning ‘to catch up or recapture. A Rattrapante chronograph can simultaneously time 2 events such a lap split time and a final race time, it was the perfect metaphor for our own interaction with time.

The press release speaks of comparisons with the likes of Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree but, in my opinion, Robin moved past those a very long time ago and, when I hear a new Cosmograf album, I think of it as being Cosmograf immediately. Like a lot of my favourite musicians and bands, as soon as you’ve heard the first few notes, you can recognise it is them. This is most definitely the case here as the slow burning intro to In 1985 builds into a powerful crescendo guided by Robin’s compellingly dominant guitar and Kyle’s intense drums. Robin’s vocals are as good as ever and give a feeling of melancholy nostalgia to this potent and commanding song. The magic here is the feeling that you are in 1985 and yet the music is very modern in its delivery and textures, drawing you deeper and deeper into the narrative, the sign of a brilliant storyteller and songwriter at the height of his powers. As the track comes to a close, like a live recording, I can’t help but smile and give a nod to a master.

Well, if you thought that was good, then you are in for another fantastic treat as title track Rattrapante hoves into view like rock leviathan, all primal and monolithic at its core. The edgy and agitated keyboards in the background give a chaotic nervousness to proceedings and Robin’s deliciously dark and impish guitar work adds a real sense of mischievousness to proceedings. This track flies along as if caught in a maelstrom and leaves you breathless. I’m only two tracks in and yet I am really loving this album already, it has an immediacy that grabs but is full of hidden depths like the wondrously fluid and hyperactive keyboards and guitar solo that corse through the centre of the track like liquid fire.

The brilliant Chrissy Mostyn of The Blackheart Orchestra joins Robin on the airy, ethereal joys of I Stick With You, a mythical tale of a man who is growing older, but seemingly has been cursed with immortality. He is somehow trapped in time and unable to connect to his loving partner that he will outlive. A wistfully moody track with its roots in shades of darkness and light but one that really strikes a chord deep in your soul.

Memories Lie is a classic Cosmograf track, intelligent songwriting, note perfect musicianship and an insightful storyline that makes you think while you enjoy the velvety smooth music. While there is no such thing as a bad album by the band, Robin seems to get better and better with age and his music is maturing like a fine red wine, in fact you could do worse to pour yourself a glass while listening to this exquisite song in a darkened room, oblivious to the world around you. Special note must be made of the stunningly bewitching guitar solo that actually made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!

Some cliches are actually 100% correct and, unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. ‘Rattrapante’ closes with Time Will Flow, another absorbing journey into the complex and wonderfully creative psyche of Mr Armstrong. I think Pink Floyd, Steven Wilson et al would be very happy indeed to put their names to this song, nearly thirteen minutes of progressive tinged rock of sublime perfection. A track that ebbs and flows with a fantastic voice over from Tommy McNally whose dulcet tones, full of a gorgeous, lilting Scottish brogue, fit perfectly. Guitar, keyboards and drums create a synergy of sound that creates a world in between your ears and Robin’s halting vocal performance is perfect.

There is no such thing as the perfect album as musicians are forever craving to create something more impressive than before but, every now and then, we should just stop and step off this ever evolving world and just enjoy the moment and what we have in front of us. At this moment in time there is nothing I would rather listen to than this incredible new album from Cosmograf, will Robin’s latest pièce de résistance still be up there at the end of the year? Most probably but, here and now, it just does not get any better than this!

Released 26th March 2021 (CD, vinyl will be later).

Order direct from Gravity Dream Music here:

Rattrapante CD (Pre-Order) – Gravity Dream Music

Rattrapante Vinyl (Pre-Order) – Gravity Dream Music

Review – Spirit – Son Of America Reissue – by John Wenlock-Smith

Last year I spent a lot of the time rediscovering and collecting music by the legendary Californian Band Spirit who had been very successful in their early days notching up a string of classic albums such as ‘Spirit’, ‘The Family That Plays Together’, ‘Clear’ and ‘Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus’. Their initial run of success on the Epic label preceded the inevitable split and loss of two of the founders who left to form Jo Jo Gunne. The remaining members soldiered on on the Mercury label releasing several more fine albums before a low period and the resumption of activities in 1979 with a live album, there then followed a period of Randy California solo releases.

Spirit sadly are no more as Randy California was drowned in a riptide in Hawaii while successfully saving his then 9-year-old son. Since that time, a series of releases of archival material has been released by various labels but now much of this has been acquired by Esoteric who, in conjunction with Mick Skidmore, are re-releasing these albums in newly remastered versions, often with extra material.

Now some may see this is as dreadful or shocking but I personally find these reissues worthy and of note, which bring us to this latest instalment – Spirit’s ‘Son of America’ in a 3CD set with a bonus live disc of a three-piece set recorded live at KPFK on 4th April 1993.

In my opinion, this reissue is worth it for this last disc alone which contains 16 hitherto unreleased pieces recorded live in the studio on an 8 track recorder and now transferred to a shiny new compact disc and it also includes a solo Randy California/John Locke live take of Animal Zoo from 1989.

The main album, ‘Son of America’, was originally issued in 2005 and has long been out of print so to have it in a remastered format is very fine indeed. The album has 25 songs on CD1 and 19 Songs on CD2, which makes this a value set of some sublime Spirit songs and instrumentals. Most of this is in the form of home recordings, mainly by Randy California on guitar and vocals, Ed Cassidy on drums and percussion and Scott Monahan on keyboards, with occasional appearances from Mark Andes, Steve “Liberty” Loria, John Locke, Matt Andes, Rachel Andes, Bruce Gary and Janet Wolfe.

Some of these songs have surfaced on earlier albums or are live Spirit staples like The Times They Are a Changing. Most of the songs come in around the three-minute mark but still shine with their creativity clearly apparent and, rather than do a deep review, I have chosen a few highlights that will hopefully show you why this is worthy of your listening.

The opening track Space Jam is exactly that, a loose sounding jam with some spacy guitar lines and a gentle melody. It is all very ambient sounding but certainly impressive as is the next track, Prophecy, which is a mid-tempo rocker with some lively guitar, prominent bass lines and a good strong vocal from Randy. Everything chugs along nicely with a slinky guitar line and a solo thereafter on which Randy gets to wail a bit towards the end of the song.

Thomas Q and Jennifer is also a good song with its piano backing and great ensemble playing which, along with a good use of dynamics, brings this song to life with these excellent performances. Much of this music is acoustic, embellished with keyboards and bass and this approach works very well as the songs are given chance to breathe and are not overproduced at, all a clear case of less is more.

The Times They Are A Changing is a shorter, spiritualised version of the Dylan classic, sung with feeling and much in the spirit of the original. It features Randy on acoustic guitar and harmonica along with some sympathetic keyboards and drums in tow. This is a fairly chilled and mellow take but with some great double tracked guitars on it that bring it to life. Also worthy of note is an excellent reading of Lennon and McCartney’s Let It Be that is beautifully rendered with a very appealing vocal from Randy and an unidentified male vocalist.

However, I guess for most that it will be the third Disc – ‘Spirit Live at KPFK in 1993’ that will be the big draw as it really is a unique record of a very obscure radio show and one that features great in-between-song chat and some dynamic performances of some old classic Spirit songs and material.   

Son of America, the title track, was penned for Vietnam veterans and is a protest song of sorts detailing how a son goes off to fight a war to defend America’s freedom. This has a fine guitar solo in support of the song as he talks of losing his friend last night. It is quite a sad and moving song, especially when you consider how America has treated those same veterans so badly over the years.    

All in all, a worthy collection for completists and fans alike.

Released 26th March 2021

Order from Cherry Red here:

Spirit: Son Of America, 3CD Remastered & Expanded Edition – Cherry Red Records

Review – John Holden – Circles In Time – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Circles in Time’ is the third, and latest, album from John Holden who has, over a period of just 4 years, written and created three quite different albums that are all rooted in his love of progressive music by the likes of Yes, Genesis and many others. John lives about 5 miles from me, on the border between Staffordshire and Cheshire, although I actually came to know him through Facebook and his recognising our shared love of music in reviews I had written for DPRP at the time.

His first album, ‘Capture Light’, came out in 2018, followed by ‘Rise and Fall’ in early 2020. Like the rest of us, John has been in lockdown and has wisely used his time to accelerate the release of his next album which has emerged as the already mentioned ‘Circles in Time’.

This new album marks a big change in how John has approached the music, in that he has delivered a truly epic piece in the last track, KV62, which sits comfortably alongside five other songs of varying length yet all bearing the same hallmark of quality. John has called on many of the musicians who graced his earlier albums, especially using the keyboard  and arrangement skills of Vikram Shanker more prominently than he did on ‘Rise and Fall’. Once again the cover and booklet are full of information and excellent pictures that both draw the eye and also unfold the mysteries contained in the songs.

The album opens with Avalanche and a fast and muscular riff section from Eric Potapenko and strong vocals from Jean Pageau of Mystery fame. The song is about social media and how folks use it to slander and undermine others. Liner notes say this song is a response to all the negativity and blaming and shaming that exists in the social media, the sun will rise in the morning and the world will keep on turning. It is a strong opener and a good statement of intent that sets you up for all that is to follow. In this case this is the song High Line. The High Line is a real place in New York and is in actuality an elevated greenway or linear park that cuts through the city’s west side. It was constructed along the setting of an old freight line that went through very rough neighbourhoods, in fact, it was so bad it they christened it ‘Death Alley’. The song has a very jazzy vibe to it with some lovely saxophone from Peter Jones, who also provides the smooth vocals for the song. This is a wonderfully evocative piece that nods its hat to Blue Note Jazz and also to Steely Dan.

The next song, The Secret of Chapel Field, is very much a grower and is based on a story John discovered whilst looking at gravestones in his village church graveyard. The song reworks the known facts that Mary Malpas, a 15-year-old girl, was murdered by Thomas Bagguley at Chapel Field in Hunterston. He later killed himself, thus avoiding justice. This sombre song is graced by vocals from Marc Atkinson (Riversea) and Sally Minnear (Celestial Fire) and the mournful violin lines of Frank Van Essen (Iona). It is a fine track and its words will stay with you long after the song has concluded.

Next John whisks us off to Andalucía in Spain for the track Dreams of Cadiz where we encounter the spirit of flamenco, imbued by the fluid guitar from the nimble hands and fingers of Oliver Day alongside a graceful piano. This song is an instrumental piece that captures the fire and passion of the dance and is duly accompanied with dramatic flourishes, handclaps and foot stomping that all add to the atmosphere of this piece.

The penultimate track is Circles which is a very personal song for the protagonist Libby who is an ovarian cancer survivor who has known, and continues to have, serious health issues. Here in this song, she encourages us to live in the moment and not to grieve but instead to be grateful for all that we are and all we have now in the present. The song also encourages us with the power that love brings to any situation. It is beautifully realised with the gracious voice of Sally Minnear and some gentle and subtle arrangements.

This leads us into the atmospheric world of KV62 and ancient Egypt and the discoveries made by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon during their archaeological expeditions of the 1920’s where they uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. This song has narration by Jeremy Irons and vocals from Joe Payne and Peter Jones. The song reveals the agony of the protagonists as they searched fruitlessly for the tomb and pushed themselves financially to do so until they finally succeeded. The music is suitably Arabian sounding with some great guitar from Zaid Crowe.

The Wonderful Things segment has some fabulously wild synthesizer passages from Vikram accompanied by fine piano and percussion from John. This section sees the death of Lord Carnarvon from Tutankhamun’s curse. It was actually an infection from a mosquito bite that killed him, however the curse of Tutankhamen sold more newspapers so the truth of his demise was sacrificed at the altar of the media and the fable then famously spread.

Lord Carnarvon had sold exclusive rights to the tale to The Times (Pre Murdoch, when it was a worthy paper and not the rag it is nowadays). The song is lifted by extended instrumental parts interspersed between the vocals that tell of the press and media frenzy about the discovery and how Carter came up against Egyptian Bureaucracy. A largely disillusioned Carter returned to London where, amongst the parties and media storm, he died impoverished, penniless and alone. The song is epic in its scope, however it is ultimately a sad tale of loss and missed opportunities.,

John had Seen the Tutankhamun exhibition in London in the 1972 at the British Museum and has been to the valley of the Kings on several occasions, KV62 being the name designated to the site of the tomb in the Valley of The Kings.

The whole album is simply fabulous, somewhat mellow in parts but with an astounding lyricism and magnificent musicianship. John Holden has done it again and pulled another blinder of an album out of his metaphorical hat. It is one that really impresses and I highly recommend this album full of modern-day prog and brilliant songs, here’s to album 4 John!

Released March 26th 2021.

Order the album direct from the artist here:

John Holden Music | Listen and buy the new album “Circles in Time”

Review – Sanguine Hum A Trace Of Memory – by John Wenlock-Smith

Oxford’s finest sons make a very welcome return after quite a lengthy absence. After 2018’s ‘Now We Have Power’ this new album is a little different to what has gone before, allow me to explain, if I may.

Firstly, ‘A Trace Of Memory’ was recorded during the first lockdown period in the UK. As a reaction to, and a step towards preventing further outbreaks of, the Coronavirus, this meant recording remotely and in a segregated manner. In fact that the album got completed is a wonder in itself! As a result of that difficult period, the music they offer this time around is a little less frantic and a lot more ambient in nature. Don’t worry, it still has lots of familiar sounds and the fine voice and guitar of Joff Winks and the elegant keyboards of Matt Baber although, this time around, the sound is more expansive and wide screen and possibly more open and uncluttered.

The album opens with New Light, a shorter ambient track full of keyboards interspersed with  guitar lines and runs. This is a very musical piece with a great feel and mood to it that certainly impresses and the wonderful guitar tones throughout set you up for what is to come, namely The Yellow Ship, the album’s longest track at 13:07. This impressive song opens with keyboards, shimmering cymbals and lightly strummed guitars. Joff’s vocals are measured and pleasant, Matt’s keyboards are highly effective, as is Wink’s guitar as he plays a lot of circular patterns here, albeit highly effectively. Some might feel that this song has lots of atmosphere but may lack a certain sense of direction or that could just be my interpretation of it. It is, however, all wrapped in a very lush sound that gets a bit more aggressive towards the end as the guitar starts to sound a bit more metallic sounding offset against the keyboards. Towards the close there is a return to a calmer sound and more of that strummed guitar that is exceptionally fine and effective.

Pyramids features field recordings of birdsong and other noises as it opens, this is followed by some tasty plucked acoustic guitar and more ethereal keyboard sounds and textures. These textures are interspersed with more distorted guitar chords and there is a nice touch of electronica in there too if you listen out for it. Thin Air is another lively soundscape track with more superb guitar lines woven throughout its short running time of 3:16. It also contains some strong bass parts to flavour the sound and the atmospherics of the album.

Unstable Ground has some delightful keyboards and short guitar runs that together create an atmosphere of longing for something lost or unavailable. This could well be a veiled reference to the lockdown period. Lyrically this is a darker composition, but the vocals add much to the power of the piece. Still As The Sea is next which is another somewhat whimsical song with echoes of the Canterbury sound of the likes of Caravan and early Soft Machine, again subtly effective guitar is employed to give the song its pace and setting making this a shorter song a highly effective one.

We then arrive at the final track on the album, Automaton, the albums second longest at 8:06. It opens with keyboards and electronic blips and pulses before gaining a slow burning momentum when the guitars segue in, playing more ascending chord patterns before a jazzy piano sound takes over. This piece is an instrumental song throughout but there is enough variation and imagination used to make this very strong sounding, the guitar being powerful and commanding  of attention. This is a good finale to what has been a very interesting album that may not resonate with everyone on first listen but is definitely worth persevering with.

One must be grateful that Sanguine Hum are still around and continuing their own brand of whimsical Canterbury influenced progressive music. They certainly are not afraid to take chances and they should be acknowledged for doing so on this album. If you like bands like Caravan or early Soft Machine and the whole Canterbury sound or scene, then I am certain that you will find this to your liking.

Released November 20th 2020.

Order on CD or vinyl from Bad Elephant Music here:

▶︎ A Trace Of Memory | Sanguine Hum (bandcamp.com)

Review – Stewart Clark – Let’s Go There – by John Wenlock-Smith

I first came across Stewart Clark via a link on his Facebook page on which he stated that he had recorded ‘Lets’ Go There’ during lockdown following his earlier album ‘And Then There Was Me…’ I contacted Stewart and he kindly offered to send me both CD’s for a possible review on Progradar, I then also found that the song How Much Fear? was included on the latest Prog Magazine CD.

I also discovered that Stewart’s wife Heather had taken an online painting course with Roger Dean and, as such, she had designed and painted the cover art on the new release, which has distinct nod’s to Roger’s own work. She was also given consent to use Dean’s font for the sleeve ,which certainly creates an impression.

However , it is the music that matters, right?, Well, I am very glad to report that this album, although brief at just shy of 37 minutes, is an absolute gem. I know I have made lots of comments about lockdown being an outlet for creation of new music, well this one is another excellent example of that and the results are compelling, to say the least. I don’t know Stewart’s influences but there is a hint of Rush, especially with the use of bass pedals and some of the guitar tones are very reminiscent of Alex Lifeson. Stewart’s own playing is very accomplished and adds much colour to the proceedings.

The album opens with Almost 20/20, we hear radio excerpts about the virus before Stewart starts singing his thoughts about 2020 and how it has affected us all. There are great keyboards on this track and the vocals are mirrored by the oboe of Alison Brown and the delicate piano of Tom Potten before the track then takes a heavier turn and becomes more powerful as it moves forward. This is a strong opener with much happening during its shorter running time and it ends with some very Rush like guitar chords and keyboards.   

What really stands out on this release is the quality of the song writing, this is really strong, giving us such great tunes as A Tree Has Fallen, which is utterly gorgeous. Stewart’s songs have good light and shade to them and his voice is well suited to these tracks. Stewart also plays acoustic and electric guitar on most of these tracks with some appearances from the likes of Oscar Fuentes Bills and Sepano Samzadeh (Days Between Stations), Dave Bandanna (Bardic Depths) and Charlie Mear (This Circus Life).

This album is a slow burner but its songs will stay in your head, given time. I have listened to this extensively in lots of different places, even in the bath via Amazon music, and I can say that it is one of the better albums that I have heard this year. The excellent guitar work of Sepano on How Much Fear? is one of many standouts.     

When I tell You I Care is another fabulous song with great use of whistle, oboe and violin to create a somewhat Gaelic sound. The final song, Almost Got Away With It, has a very Rush sounding progression to the opening, reminding me of Cygnus X-1 in its pacing and the bass pedals that propel the piece along.

Though for me, it is the tracks Let’s Go There (with Amanda Lehmann singing harmony vocals with Stewart) along with the Wistful A Tree Has Fallen are the absolute standout songs. However, it is all particularly good and makes for an enjoyable listen. I also like The Empty Page, in which Stewart documents his struggles in translating thoughts into words, a constant issue for any writer, I am sure.

This is a laid-back album but one that has many strengths, not least in the songs themselves, but also the sympathetic production by Stewart and John Hannon.

‘Let’s Go There’ is for sale on bandcamp for only £6.00 for a CD and, if you buy it, this will both support John at this strange period and enable him to make some more fabulous music. I heartily recommend this brief but most worthwhile album which, whilst not overtly progressive in nature, certainly has influences of prog on its excellent cover and sleeve art too making it a real under the radar winner.

Released January 6th 2021.

Order from bandcamp here:

Let’s Go There | Stewart Clark (bandcamp.com)

Q&A With Jon Davison of Arc of Life – by John Wenlock-Smith

John Wenlock-Smith partakes in a Q&A with Jon Davison about the new Arc of Life project for which Jon is the vocalist.

1/ Arc of Life is a new project, how did to come into existence?

While on the road with YES a few years back, Billy and I found a mutual inspiration to start writing during the long drives on the tour bus. Jay was soon involved, supplying his creative input and positive perspective. We then unanimously felt Jimmy was a natural fit.

2/ Who suggested Dave Kerzner for the keyboard role?

Again we unanimously agreed, as with Jimmy, that Dave would bring the perfect musical ingredients into the Arc fold. We were all thinking the same thing in a sort of collective consciousness, but to answer your question accurately, I believe it was Billy who first gave voice to the idea.

3/ What are the main themes to the album?

The most prominent theme is the evolution of mankind. The concept of an arc of life signifying the rise in man’s consciousness and eventually leading to a far greater understanding, passed all political power play and the greed and indifference which plague and sustain the inequalities of our world. Through this ascension of evolution, man’s intelligence will become highly developed, revealing technological advancements beyond our wildest imaginations.

4/ Were you tempted to get a named producer in for the album or Roger Dean for the cover? 

We did seriously consider both at one early point.  We discussed the idea of working with Hugh Padgham, but eventually agreed that producing ourselves, with Billy’s skills at the helm, meant ultimately having complete creative freedom.

By choosing to not work with Roger Dean we thought we might minimize the Yes comparisons. I suppose they are inevitable anyway, but we certainly didn’t want to add to them (lol.)

5/ Aside from Yes, what other influences are apparent?

Back to Padgham and The Police sound. Another influence was Peter Gabriel, particularly in a song like, Talking With Siri.

6/ Is this a one off project or can we expect to hear more new material and, if so, is there a time frame for this?

We actually have a lot more material already in the works that will eventually surface on the next record. We have no time frame as of yet for ARC II. More importantly for now, we have so much to look forward to with this record.

7/ This band could have great potential for the live arena, could there be live shows post covid? Could you tour with Yes for example?

We want to be out on the road, sharing our music with as many people as possible, worldwide. We are totally keen to the idea of opening for a bigger arena type band. The only way it would be right touring with Yes is if each member of Yes also performed in the context of their respective solo and side projects. An event highlighting the current day Yes family tree, if you will, followed by a headline performance by Yes.

8/ I think the overall response has been overwhelmingly positive?

That is great to hear. The album has been a long time coming and it’s rewarding to finally witness its coming to light and the enthusiastic reaction of so many.

9/ What’s happening with Yes, is there any progress on new material yet?

We’ve been creating and recording since the pandemic hit and have our sights set on a new album. The rest I’ll leave as a surprise.

10/ What’s the story behind the album cover?

The album cover is symbolic of the dawning of enlightenment just off in the horizon as mankind perceives its light at the end of the long and treacherous tunnel through which we have journeyed – to reach at last the exit of the deep cave of darkness and ignorance. What can I say… I’m an optimist (lol!)

‘Arc of Life’ was released on February 12th 2021.

Order the album here:

ARC OF LIFE – Arc Of Life – CD Jewelcase | Frontiers Music Official Shop

Review – Lifesigns – Altitude – by John Wenlock-Smith

Here it is then, after a long wait from 2018’s ‘Cardington’ comes this masterpiece, for there is no other word that can capture the magnificence of ‘Altitude’, Lifesigns’ third album, replete with another 8 pieces of sublime brilliance. Still entirely and fiercely independent, this recording has been realised by the faithful supporters of the band who have purchased this album en masse, before a note was even recorded.

That such a thing happens is well known with the crowd funding models set out and utilised by the likes of Marillion and many others. This album really is something incredibly special indeed, for Lifesigns have realised their potential with a recording that will elevate them and their standing in the progressive rock world to hitherto unknown heights and, hopefully, making them a far bigger draw than they have previously experienced.

‘Altitude’ is an album of top quality songs and fantastic musicianship from artists who, working together, have given us a bone fide classic to take us beyond the world of lockdown, into a whole new dimension and experience. Yes I know I am raving about this, however it is with good reason. Let’s  walk through the tracks and I’ll tell you just why these are such exceptionally fine songs.

We will start with the opener and title track of the album Altitude which this is the longest track at 15:17. All these minutes are used fully to craft and create a setting for the music to flex, progress and soar throughout the whole song. It contains some exceptionally fine soloing from both John Young on keyboards and Dave Bainbridge’s soulful guitar, both are exceptional on this song and, indeed, throughout the whole album. The song opens with airy keyboards, piano and bubbling sequencer type sounds before John’s vocals begin, “As far as the eye can see, clear as Daylight, spreads all in front of me now”, yearning for wide open spaces and for the open sky. This is followed by some fierce guitar chords that ripple across the soundscape giving rise to a faster paced section with a synth solo that takes the song rising up in the thermals before Dave lets rip with a fiery guitar break. As a statement of intent this opening salvo is highly effective and certainly captures the attention before we return, via John’s synth, to a slower pace and more cultured vocals accompanied by the glorious violin of Peter Knight. This then leads us back to the main vocals, combined with doubled synth and guitar lines, before Dave heads out on his own. Next we have some massed choir voices that are highly effective and lead to some great guitar lines from Dave, mention must also be made of Zoltán Csörsz whose powerful drums maintain a steady and distinct beat. Another brief solo follows from Dave that gives way to a final synth flourish from John and some cello from Juliet Woolf that bring this song to an atmospheric close. As an opener this is simply magnificent on every level and is very impressive stuff indeed.

Gregarious is a shorter, but equally as dynamic, song with a great backing and is very effective indeed. It contains a fine synth solo and some interesting syncopation between Zoltan and Jon Poole’s ever stylish bass. We are treated to another very fine solo from Dave who, it must be said, is really on form on this entire album. In my opinion, Lifesigns finally have a guitarist who can do their music justice and has brought something a little extra to the equation.

Third track Ivory Tower is a love song of sorts, very wistful and with some fabulous acoustic touches from Dave. It has a fabulous vocal from John as he sings of the perils of relationships, how he falls and wants to redeem himself and this is backed by some great little guitar fills from Dave. This is a fabulous song and a potential Lifesigns’ future classic. It is actually another old John Young song that has been reworked for this album and rightly so, as it is very fine.

Shoreline opens with lots of syncopated drums along with keyboard flourishes and makes it an impressive track before a word is sung. “Save me…” is the refrain as John is seeking salvation from emotions that are overwhelming him. This is another fabulous song with lots of moody sounds and effects that create a feeling of emptiness and sparseness.  Again, we have massed vocals in the background from Lynsey Ward whose voice is highly effective here, as are Dave’s soaring guitar lines combined with another fine synth solo from John and even more classy guitar breaks.

Fortitude is another Epic track that opens with keyboards, a steady drum backbeat from Zoltan, some decidedly strong bass lines from Jon and wonderfully fluid guitar from Dave, all floating over the velvety synths that John is laying down. This song has lots of space in it that allows each members contributions to be clearly heard and appreciated. Once again Lynsey’s backing vocals are essential to the whole sound of the song. I have to say the sound of this album is simply fabulous and is a real treat for the ears and there is so much more to listen to that is revealed the more you delve into it. We have a further sinuous synth solo and textures and more urgent bass from Jon before the sound opens out into a widescreen vista with some searing guitar lines offset against the excellent keys. A delightful guitar/ synth dynamic then plays out as the song fades, utterly magical!

I really think that Lifesigns have taken a massive step forward with this album, good as ‘Cardington’ was, this release is so very much better in my opinion.

A short and stylish keyboard and synth section called Arkhangelsk is then the precursor to another song that John has performed in an earlier incarnation (Quango) called Last One Home and in this track you can hear echoes of his former colleague John Wetton. Dave really makes his mark with a beautiful solo that just weeps with emotion and feeling. It is really impressive and will certainly be a favourite when performed live, hopefully soon! There are more impressive and impassioned vocals from John as he sings about the sea and the current therein.

The album finishes with a brief return to the title track Altitude in a reprise that re-emphasises just how good the opening track is.

Overall, I would say without any hesitation that this is an album you must hear and is really something very special indeed. It will be in my top 10 of the year and probably above the Transatlantic album that I loved. I am sure that ‘Altitude’ will be somewhere near the very top of my list even though it is only March and we have a long way to go yet.

Get it however you can but, preferably, purchase the album from the band themselves as you get a download of the album to enjoy right away. Simply fantastic, what more can I say, except get it for yourself right now!   

Released 8th March 2021 (CD), July 2021 (vinyl)

Order the album direct from the artist here:

Lifesigns – Lifesigns Merch (lifesignsmusic.co.uk)

Review – TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Tom De Wit may be one of those unique human beings who is a master of all trades and jack of none, being that he writes, produces and distributes all his own music as well as playing a plethora of instruments on each composition. Did I mention he performs the vocals on all these bombastic prog-metal creations too?

While I may delve more into the melodic side of progressive rock nowadays, especially those albums that have a more folk oriented hue, I do love myself a big old slab of powerful, majestic (and sometimes overblown) prog-metal and my old friend Tom certainly goes to 11 on all of those constituents parts!

Tom’s latest opus ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’ is an intensely personal concept album that details a dark trip through the human mind and body that he went through 11 years ago fighting a deadly bowel disease. This album details what it is like to be stuck inside your body and what that does to your psyche.

Next toTom writing the music and lyrics and helming the project, Tom was assisted by a host of guest musicians on this record ranging from big names and newcomers alike to bring his vision to life. Most notably, the inclusion of Aeon Zen/Annihilator’s Rich Gray as bass player, coproducer and mastering engineer cannot be understated. As well as the massive drum performance by Fabio Allesandrini (Annihilator) who raised the album’s intensity to the next level.

The album is a seriously intense musical experience and it goes a long way to conveying the pain, confusion and despair that Tom went through while fighting this horrible and invasive disease, never mind the fact that he almost died twice!

Thunderous drums and dynamic bass are at the core of everything and the ever forceful, potent guitar drives the story along, often at a breakneck pace, conveying the confusion and anxiety that he was going through at the time.

Crashscape, Clockstop – Insight X and Code of Conduct open the album with powerful assiduity before the monumental brilliance of Clockstop – Insight 2 threatens to blow you away with its heavy hitting majesty. One of the definitive highlights of the whole album is Tom’s exceptional vocal performance which is defined further by the ever so slightly less frantic (but no less impressive) Sleepless Angels, a lesson in how to write a sympathetic prog-metal track, if ever I heard one.

The bombast and grandiloquence returns in spades on the super-heavy roller coaster ride of The Pulse, one of the best prog-metal tracks you will hear in a long while. Thunderous guitars and drums imbued with a high level of pomposity combine with Rich’s elegant bass (with steel right at its core) and Tom’s sometimes thoughtful, sometimes violent vocal delivery to deliver possibly the finest track on the album.

Things take a more laid back approach on the classy Clockstop – Insight 3 with it’s intelligent orchestral tones before Rich’s bass gives an almost haunting opening to Death and Her Brother Greg before the track opens up into something much more direct and influential.

No Can Do is that thing that can make or break a prog-metal album, an exceedingly long epic and I won’t keep you in suspense, it is superb and the backbone to the story. Eighteen minutes of musical give and take, it has everything that makes such tracks great. A deliberate introduction gives way to suspense and a slow burning build up to the main course. Soaring vocals, interplay with a harmonised choir, intricate guitar playing, double pedal drums, a wonderfully calming piano-led middle section, this track has the lot and is another highlight of this ever more imposing album.

The album comes to a close with the heartfelt, conclusive musings of Clockstop – Insight 4 and its fine synth/guitar combination and then the beautiful closing track, Epilogue – A String of Repeats, an at times calming but ultimately uplifting end to what has been a deeply personal and intensive trip through one of the darkest times of Tom’s life but one that, ultimately had a positive outcome.

I know seventy-five minutes of bombastic, powerful and dynamic progressive-metal interjected with a few fleeting, thoughtful moments may not be everyone’s cup of tea but when it is done with skill and a hell of a lot of personal attachment, like it is here, you get a privileged insight right into the soul of a musician. Tom de Wit and his impressive cast of fellow musicians have given us a wonderful musical highlight in a world of chaos where the light at the end of the tunnel is only just starting to dawn.

Released December 4th 2020

Order from bandcamp here:

The Days The Clock Stopped | TDW (bandcamp.com)

Review – Arc of Life – S/T by John Wenlock-Smith

Lockdown in the UK, and indeed across the world, has brought significant change to all of us. It has also decimated musicians from being able to perform live and has cost them in funds they would have expected to earn from touring and the merchandise sold at shows around the globe. This has meant that many artists have had to adapt to new ways of maintaining contact and, in many cases, using the downtime to work on new or hitherto abandoned projects.

 The upside to this time is the growing number of releases that have emerged and are really something of worth, Steve Hackett’s ‘Mediterranean Skies’ album, Transatlantic ‘The Absolute Universe’ , Lifesigns’ ‘Altitude’ and now this new offshoot from the Yes stable, Arc of Life, featuring current Yes members, Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood, along with some talented friends.

Going under the banner of ‘Arc of Life’ this new album is of interest to most Yes fans and to lovers of the band’s current output. In the continued absence of the full group and any new music from them, this is a more than adequate consolation and has great potential, showing much promise for possibly another band in a similar vein to, and influenced by, Yes.

I say influenced by because this is not a ‘Yes by numbers’ trip, this is a new band making its own way. Admittedly it wears its influences clearly on its sleeve and shows similar characteristics at times, but it is most definitely not a new Yes album under a different name.

This album has ten tracks and each of them have something worthy of listening to, some bearing similarities to Billy’s earlier work with Chris Squire on ‘Conspiracy’ and with Tony Kaye on the ‘Live in Japan’ album, although the presence of Jon Davison does makes a huge difference. Also noteworthy are the other band members, Jimmy Haun, Jay Schellan and Dave Kerzner, who are all vastly experienced and talented musicians in their own right and have all floated around the edges of Yes circles.

The album is a mixture of some shorter radio friendly AOR type songs and three longer tracks that allow for some stretching out. The album opens strongly with Life Has A Way which has a strong chorus to it and lots of keyboard flourishes from Dave Kerzner. It has echoes of a Yes type of sound but it is also subtly different. One thing I will say is that it sounds awesome in the car played at a decent volume, it fair powers along with great bottom end and a very unlike Steve Howe guitar solo from Jimmy Haun. As to be expected, Jon Davison is in fine voice here too.

The next song is a bit more laid back. Talking with Siri is about communicating on an i-Phone, an interesting comment on how we communicate these days but, overall, it is a little bit throwaway in my opinion. You Make It Real is far better with a fine chugging rhythm to it. The song is about nervousness when meeting a potential significant other and about when we can resume meeting face to face again, the song ends on a sustained keyboard tone and is highly effective.

Just In Sight is the first of the longer songs at 6:15, this one has lots of keyboards and sound used throughout with some Chris Squire-like bass lines along with a recurring guitar line and tone to it. This track shows the talents that these guys possess clearly. Especially good is the interplay between Jay Schellan and Billy Sherwood which impresses as you listen and there is a good guitar section at the 3:30 mark that harks back to Steve Howe’s playing before returning to the main song at 4:42 mark. This is definitely one of the stronger songs on the album.

I Want to Know You Better reminds me, sound wise, of Love Will Find A Way from Yes’ ‘Big Generator’ album with its marriage of prog and AOR tones. This is rather a catchy little number, all told with a great keyboard motif in the middle, the chorus also being memorable all making this track ideal for a good radio cut.

Locked Down is the second longer track at 9:46 with compelling Lyrics and a superb bass section running alongside a great guitar solo from Jimmy. It has great vocals from Jon and Billy with fine harmonies too. In fact throughout the entire album the contrast between Jon and Billy is incredibly special and enticing. The song also has very strong and prominent bass lines from Billy, all adding up to what is a very good track indeed.

The penultimate song, Therefore We Are, is a real classic number and one which stamps class all over its 9:30 running time. The bass is again very prominent and, in this song, there are lots of processed and layered vocals in this song but don’t worry, it all sounds excellent and is not overly compressed. The musicianship on this song is epic with another brief guitar flurry from Jimmy and some call and response vocals between Jon and Billy. I think this might be the best track on the album, along with Just In Sight.

The closing number on the album is The End Game which opens with some really strong guitar chords and more of Billy’s cultured bass as Jon sings about the endgame. This is quite a muscular track to conclude the album with and it works well overall and finishes what has been an interesting and varied listen.

Certainly musically this one is a very strong album with lots of good songs, memorable and well recorded and produced. Only Time will tell if this is a one-off or just the first outing of a new band, we will have to wait and see I guess.

Released 12th February 2021.

Order the album here:

ARC OF LIFE – Arc Of Life – CD Jewelcase | Frontiers Music Official Shop

PORCUPINE TREE – OCTANE TWISTED – RECEIVES FIRST VINYL RELEASE AS 4LP BOX SET– FEATURING ‘THE INCIDENT’ LIVE IN CHICAGO

OUT ON TRANSMISSION ON 16TH APRIL

Regarded as one of the most impressive experimental/progressive/psychedelic rock bands to emerge from the UK since its inception in 1991, Porcupine Tree enjoyed a successful recording career spanning over 15 years. The release of The Incident in 2009 was followed with a lengthy tour before the band entered a hiatus, giving band members Steven Wilson, Richard Barbieri, Colin Edwin and Gavin Harrison time to work on their various solo careers and other collaborations.

The Incident went top 30 in both the UK and USA, and the world tour climaxed with sold out shows at Royal Albert Hall in London and Radio City Music Hall in New York. The album marked another step forward in the incredible journey of the band from a solo studio project created by Wilson in the late eighties, to a multi Grammy nominated act and one of the world’s most revered live bands, selling out arenas across the globe and wowing fans with incredible shows.

Octane Twisted features The Incident album in its entirety, recorded in Chicago. The end of the album contains 5 classic PT tracks also recorded in Chicago along with 3 highlights from the band’s landmark show at Royal Albert Hall.

Octane Twisted really captures the atmosphere and energy of a Porcupine Tree live concert experience. Recorded at a time when the band had the set well ‘played in’, you can hear the interaction between the band members as well as the audience as they navigate their way through The Incident and many other older songs too.” Gavin Harrison

Originally released on 2CD+DVD in 2012, this release sees Octane Twisted on vinyl for the first time across 7 sides in a 4LP box set with a new etching from long term designer Carl Glover.

Porcupine Tree – Octane Twisted 4 LP set is due to be released on 16th April and is available to PRE-ORDER HERE