Review – Van Der Graaf Generator – Do Not Disturb – by Emma Roebuck

I feel like I am playing catch up here to be honest. ‘Do Not Disturb’ has been on my ‘to purchase’ list for a while but something always conspired to prevent me.  I bought ‘Trisector’ the week it was released, like many in hope of a rebirth and a recharge of my passion for VDGG. I was disappointed, probably because expectation was too high, but I ashamedly did not rate it or give it the attention that VDGG’s music needs to have be appreciated.

Back to ‘Do Not Disturb’, though I have read other  reviews of it long before I knew I was going to look at it from my critic’s perspective. I will try not to let the views of others seep into my piece but parallels will be drawn.

Messrs  Hammill , Evans and Banton are past masters of Prog and Progression, ploughing their own furrow in a field of innovation and challenge. Peter Hammill famously being influential to the likes of Johnny Lydon and Fish, amongst others, in vocal style and lyrical content. They were the outsiders of the golden era of Prog even pushing the limits of rhythm and tone in an epic way.

The album comes out of the starting gate with a real shocker, Aloft, an ethereal and very open track that slowly bleeds into an urgent, intense examination of the avoidance of life by forever moving forward but never back. The fear that if you stop you will fall being the thematic key in this song, but fear not, the old intense rhythmic atonal VDGG kicks in from nowhere without missing a step, relieving any fear that they had given up on their identity.

Alfa Berlina comes straight from the past, Hugh Banton provides a silky Hammond backdrop that seems to speak of human frailty and what makes us human as a condition of the sum of our memories. I say seem as I am trying to interpret the lyrical content and I hesitate to second guess these guys. This is actually a sing-a-long VDGG with a discernible hook. A late 60s Psychedelia straight from the UFO club complete with oil slides, or maybe that’s just in my head?

Forever Falling is incredibly accessible with a chugging guitar riff carrying you along that could easily fit into an 80s King Crimson or Talking Heads bandwidth. It works because it’s not impersonation, it’s pure VDGG running with an idea to see what happens.

(Oh No! I must have said) Yes, What can I say about this track?  It’s a high point and stood out on the first play through. This is classic VDGG and stands next to the classic tracks of old. I ask how the hell do you write the organised chaos and drag it back through a jazz feel and back through entropy to tease the listener? It has been mooted that this is an exercise in Evans et al doing a VDGG history through one song but I kind of hope that it’s more like they found a groove and followed it to its natural end.

Go, the closing track, is the guys going down the route of old school Krautrock and putting a different spin on it. It’s all atmosphere with a stillness all its own.

The album has tonnes of light and shade and isn’t mired in the past or shackled by it. It has very tight production and, as you would expect, the musicianship is off the chart. I don’t think I heard a bar of 4/4 rhythm from Guy Evans or, conversely, any contrived attempts to be clever. It crosses genres from jazz to progressive and onto electronic.

If this is the end of studio music for Van Der Graaf Generator,as has been inferred by the band, then it is a fitting album to end on. Unlucky thirteenth studio album? Well I don’t think so at all.

Released 30th September 2016

Buy ‘Do Not Disturb’ from Cherry Red Records


Review – With Our Arms To The Sun – Orenda – By Progradar

(Featured image credit Merisa Lynne)

Orenda n. [aw-ren-duh]
1. A supernatural force believed by the Iroquois Indians to be present, in varying degrees, in all objects or persons, and to be the spiritual force by which human accomplishment is attained or accounted for.

“A dormant potential to create exists within all human beings. It unconsciously binds the species at large. Most people just never unlock it. With Our Arms To The Sun examine that precious and potent power on their 2016 full-length concept album, ‘Orenda’. Painting in hues of rock, alternative, and metal, their cinematic sound blankets a curious canvas of Arizona Desert, weaving together a sonic journey to self-actualization for the quartet – Josh Breckenridge (vocals, guitar), Joseph Leary (guitar, programming), Joseph Breckenridge (bass), and John McLucas (drums).” 

“Orenda is that hidden power inside all of us,” says Josh. “The character in the album is discovering it. You can’t really transcend your own ego, shadow, or bullshit unless you make a connection with what whatever that obstacle is inside of you, eliminate it, and move past it. That’s what the new music is about.”

One of the great joys of writing about music is following an artist from their early beginnings, fumbling around, learning how to make their music better and more involving and seeing how they progress album on album.

I get a real buzz and satisfaction from seeing some of these artists mature into incredibly talented bands and individuals who create some of the most impressive music to be heard today.

One such band is Arizona’s With Our Arms To The Sun, a quartet who create cinematic experimental music from the middle of nowhere in the Arizona desert. I have been a long time fan and supporter from their first album and have become friends with main man and guitarist Josh Breckenridge, enabling me to get early previews of any new music.

In early 2016, the group retreated to Los Angeles with a batch of demos and began pre-production on what would become ‘Orenda’ with legendary the Melvins founder Buzz Osborne. Josh and his bandmates holed up in a rental house “in the middle of nowhere Arizona” to track the music. They emerged with the 10 songs the comprise the new album.

This powerful band create epic soundscapes through the use of instrumental music but new album ‘Orenda’ sees them take a step into the unknown by adding vocals to the music. Could this be a step too far from what they have become known for or a logical evolution that sees them move to the next level of their career?

The opening track Disdain – Why I Am opens with a suspenseful gusting of wind before a humoungous riff crashes the party and blows any cobwebs from your psyche. Joshes anguished screams outlines the protagonists frustration. There is a real torment in the earnest vocal that follows, punctuated by that ever present riff, big enough to move mountains. The clever touch is the way the whole song just puts the breaks on with some really chilled out, mystical feeling guitar and bass, almost meditative in its delivery. There is a real feeling that this band made the step up to the big leagues with the quality of this song and, for a man who is no fan of growling vocals, I feel they add rather than distract to the whole experience. A pretty impressive opening it must be said.

A quite eerie guitar opens Memory – The Drift and the vocals have a dreamlike quality to them as they gently tread on your mental synapses and lull you into a quiet sense of security. It doesn’t last long as another riff hewn from solid granite blows away the mirage with its intensity. The vocals are more like a rhythmic chanting and give an aura of native mysticism to the song before a raw scream emerges from the depths. The track rolls along like an unstoppable force of nature, punctuated by periods of calm and reflection, allowing you to get your breath back. The vocals begin again, ardent and impassioned, backed by the incredibly powerful rhythm section and the arcane blasts of Josh’s intense guitar work, incredibly compelling music that demands your attention.

After the huge walls of sound that comprised the first two tracks, the mellow and reflective tones of Doorway to Clarity are a complete contrast, like a two minute break to get yourself together and contemplate how much the band have grown and developed with their new sound. It is deliberately thoughtful and a really chilled out piece of music.

First track released from the album Macrocosm – Prometheus relates to the character realising that he’s a piece of something bigger. It opens with a laid back feel as it begins to build. The guitar is expressive in its minimalism, an impression of a wide open space is conveyed by the vocals and music, an infinite blackness punctuated only by the stars. Hold that thought as the guitar takes on a harder, aggressive edge and the vocals become more like a chant, the hypnotic effect of the guitar takes over your mind and you begin to lose yourself in the vagaries of the intricate music. This is quite a demonstrative song, there is meaning and subtle definition in the music and it builds into a really brilliant song that leaves you nodding your head in appreciation. I especially like the way the song settles and closes out with the understated guitar at the core.

(Picture credit Melina Dellamarggio)

There is a real pathos and wistful note to Doorway to Realization, an emotive track and another two minute hiatus of composure. It has touch of 80’s electronica to my mind with the elegantly haunting piano that echoes in your mind, backed by Josh’s stirring vocals.

Considered and deliberate, Apex – 100 Year Dream opens at a leisurely pace. The vocals are low down and full of meaning before that immediately recognisable guitar sound takes over with another sonic powerhouse of a riff. I’ve tried to stay away from the ‘T’ word with this review but I really do get the feeling that these guys are channelling their inner Tool on this album and I say that because I honestly believe that they deserve comparison with bands of that calibre. The incredibly intense instrumental section that follows really does blow your mind and Josh’s vocals take on an angry edge. The elaborate and sophisticated music moves between the all encompassing dark heavy parts and the freedom of the lighter sections to create something totally immersive.

A native chant opens The War – Light The Shadows and leaves you feeling like you are in the middle of a sci-fi movie. There is a subtle build up as the song progresses, the hushed vocals combining with the understated music to create an air of mystery. This erupts into an authoritarian mantra with a potent riff driving it on. The music stops and the dominant chant continues to great effect before the all-powerful music takes over, the drums a particular highlight. This is a commanding and influential track that really delivers on the promise and just takes a step back into calmness and composure to close out stylishly.

The third quiet oasis ‘doorway’ is Doorway to Ascension a delicate instrumental that overlays spoken word to leave you ruminating on the whole theory of existence and life, the universe and everything in an introspective fashion.

Regret – Sailing Stones at the start is like an oasis of serenity and calmness, gentle guitars, subtle drums and Josh’s softly delivered vocal but it is only temporary before it erupts into a dynamic track full of raw aggression, screaming guitars and belligerent vocals as if the weight of the world is on its back. These two polar opposites survive in a musical world of juxtaposition challenging you to take sides in an urgent conflict. Another imposing song that feels like a force of eternal nature.

And so it comes to an end, the closing song Homebound – March of the Trees has an aura of finality to it, the conclusion to a journey of self-discovery and one that we have been privileged to bear witness to. Once again, a low key opening belies what is to follow, the forces of nature lead in an evolving guitar note that has an edge of suspense to it, only added to by the measured drumbeat. Josh’s chanting vocal has a world weary feel to it before it becomes an anguished cry full of a pensive melancholy. The whole track opens up into a huge panorama of sound occasionally allowing itself to become pared back before the pained aggression returns. This terrific sonic assault on the senses eventually closes out leaving you open mouthed and numb.

This is heavy and experimental progressive music from artists who are nearing the height of there already impressive powers. They create songs that ebb and flow between the intensely dark and the incredibly light and it is utterly addictive. With Our Arms To The  Sun are an elemental force of musical nature, unstoppable in its voracity and deserve to be mixing it with the big boys and, on the strength of this incredibly impressive new release, they will be supping at the top table very soon!

Due to be released April 2017

You can sign up to the pledge music campaign here:

With Our Arms To The Sun – Pledge Music Campaign – ‘Orenda’





Mew Announce New Album ‘Visuals’ and European Tour Dates

Danish band Mew have announced Pre-order details for their seventh album ‘Visuals’, due to be released on April 28th.

Frontman Jonas Bjerre has worked on the projections for the band’s live shows since their early days. Usually, the Danish trio finish an album and Bjerre gets to work on the visuals. For their seventh record, though, the singer decided to turn things upside down, working on the visuals first and seeing if they informed the music. The resultant record feels like a culmination for one of rock’s most ambitious and inventive groups: Visuals is where Bjerre and his bandmates, bassist Johan Wohlert and drummer Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen, join the dots of a career that has spanned over two decades. “We do everything on this album ourselves,” says Bjerre. “We produced it ourselves, I did the artwork, I’m doing the visuals. Visuals felt like a fitting title. I like the idea that each song has a visual aspect to it somehow.”

You can pre-order the album here:

Mew – ‘Visuals’ Pre-Order

Mew have a tradition of, as Bjerre puts it, hiding away in a cave for three or four years between albums. The tour that accompanied 2015’s +- album found the band reaching a creative peak that they felt was too exhilarating to be dampened by a period of extended cave-dwelling. They arrived home with demos that had been written on the road and the spark was lit. They wanted to break the cycle and make an album quickly. “We just felt like, “if we do it the normal way, it’s gonna be another three or four years before we get to do it again’,” says Bjerre. “If you keep doing it like that, ultimately you make a handful of albums and then you’re ready for retirement.” The trio wanted to make an album spontaneously, keeping the energy they’d generated on the road going.

Listen to their new song ‘Carry Me To Safety’ here:

They set to work in Copenhagen and started knocking the demos they’d written on tourbuses and in hotel rooms into shape. At the same time, new songs were emerging in reaction to what was going on around them. Mew aren’t a political band but couldn’t help but be affected by rolling news and the death of an icon. “It was pretty dark last year, so some of the darkness in the lyrics comes from that. You definitely get the feeling that things don’t last forever when someone like David Bowie dies.” Visuals was completed in just under a year – what Bjerre describes as an “incredible” feat for a band used to periods of prolonged tinkering. “Spending less time on it, you can still maintain the feeling you had when you first wrote it,” says Bjerre.

‘Visuals’ is Mew at their most compact, their chemistry at its most potent. With only one song over five minutes, it’s their most concise album. Bjerre says there was no need for a grand, overarching concept. Each song on ‘Visuals’ represents its own little chapter and story: nothing needed to be overly long. “Each album is like a collection of thoughts and ideas that fit the time we’re in,” he says. “They’re like little diary entries, except they’re a little bit more veiled perhaps. To me, albums are memories of times in my life.”

Recorded and self-produced in Copenhagen, ‘Visuals’ was completed in under a year and sees Mew at their most concise, each song representing its own little chapter and narrative. The first taste of the album comes in the shape of the mesmerising intricacies of the album’s finale Carry Me To Safety.

Meanwhile, the slow-build euphoria of album opener, Nothingness And No Regrets, and expansive 80’s-style pop of The Wake Of Your Life countered by the discordant stomp of the intriguingly titled Candy Pieces All Smeared Out and blissful glide of In A Better Place, compete across eleven tracks that convey an irrepressible ebullience of a band on their debut album.

Many of the newer tracks evolved in light of what was happening globally. “It was pretty dark last year on many levels, so lyrically that definitely came into play, it’s an important reminder to treasure the here and now,” says Bjerre. Visuals feels like the culmination for one of rock’s most ambitious and inventive groups.

 Twenty years into their career, Visuals is the distinctive sound of Mew seizing the moment…

New European tour dates have been announced for May 2017.

Tickets will be on pre-sale from 9am local time on Jan 25th, and on general-sale 9am local time on Jan 27th.

Get tickets here:

Mew Tour Tickets


May 17 – Paradiso, Amsterdam
May 19 – Point Ephemere, Paris
May 20 – Trix, Antwerp
May 21 – Trinity, Bristol
May 22 – Ritz, Manchester
May 23 – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
May 25 – Luxor – Köln
​May 26 – Knust – Hamburg
May 27 – Immergut Festival, Neustrelitz

More world-wide tour dates to be announced very soon.


Sweden’s musical alchemists, OPETH have debuted a new video for their song “Era” today. The video’s track is featured on the band’s critically praised, 12th studio album, Sorceress, which is available now via Nuclear Blast Entertainment.

The video for “Era” comes just ahead of the band’s return to the U.S for headline spring tour with support from Gojira and Devin Townsend Project. The tour will also include a special one-off show in Philadelphia on May 6th with Mastodon, Gojira, Eagles of Death Metal, Devin Townsend Project and Russian Circles.

Watch the video here:

The beautiful shot, cinematic video was directed by Markus Hofko ( and features stunning visuals that perfectly sync with the band’s dynamic music.

“I have to say our involvement in the making of the ”Era” video was so minimal we can’t take credit either for or against its brilliance. We did 3D scans of our bodies (clothed) in Munich during the last European tour. I remember everyone’s extremely tired and probably slightly hungover. The director just placed us in a ice-cold room and then scanned us with something that looked like a flashing hairdryer. Done! We’ve done our part for the video. Next! During the process of finishing the piece it got clear to me that it really works with the song. That’s something I was involved in actually, picking the song. It’s extremely difficult. Which song to choose? How do I know what works best for this format? Well, I don’t. I picked a song from the record that has a strong chorus. Slightly old school way of thinking I guess, but ultimately it didn’t matter all that much to me. The video is nice. I dig it. It’s slightly on the pretentious side, but hey, works for me! And like I said, it really works with the overall vibe of the song. Lyrically and musically and definitely emotionally.” – Mikael Akerfeldt

Order “Sorceress” now:
The record will be available in an array of formats and editions including CD, 2CD Digipak, 2LP Vinyl (in various colours at 180 gram) from the Nuclear Blast Store: and (orders come with signed inserts – whilst stocks last):

Order ‘Sorceress’ digitally:

OPETH Tour Dates:
May 4 – Nashville, TN – Nashville War Memorial (w/Gojira)
May 5 – Charlotte, NC – Carolina Rebellion Festival
May 6 – Philadelphia, PA – Electric Factory Outdoors (w/Mastodon, Gojira, Eagles of Death Metal, Devin Townsend Project, Russian Circles)
May 7 – Sayreville, NJ – Starland Ballroom (w/Gojira, Devin Townsend Project)
May 9 – Chicago, IL – The Vic Theatre (w/Gojira, Devin Townsend Project)
May 11 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre (w/Gojira, Devin Townsend Project)
May 12 – Kansas City, MO – Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland (w/Gojira, Devin Townsend Project)
May 13 – Indianapolis, IN – Egyptian Room at Old National Centre (w/Gojira, Devin Townsend Project)
May 14 – Somerset, WI – Northern Invasion Festival


Review – Mice On Stilts – Hope For A Mourning – by Kevin Thompson

I have to say this is the first band I have ever reviewed from New Zealand, with an intriguing name.

I had no preconceptions as I have not heard of Mice On Stilts previously so how would ‘Hope for a Mourning’ fare in my ears, will it stand above the general masses or will it wobble precariously and fall from the heights? What type of music will this six man collective from Auckland who have been together just over 4 years I believe, have to offer, the tags on their site seem to cover a varied scope of genres.

They line up as:

Guy Harrison – Piano/Trumpet
Tim Burrows – Bass/Producer
Rob Sanders – Drums
Sam Loveridge – Violin/Guitar
Charlie Isdale – Violin/Sax
Benjamin Morley – Guitars / Vocal

I have a healthy taste for sweet melancholia when the mood takes, as some of you may have deduced from previous reviews I have written for Progradar. I don’t usually find it depressing, on the contrary I can find it quite melodic, relaxing and sometimes uplifting. A release from the hustle and bustle of the working day as you drift on swathes of laid-back sometimes cheerless vocals partnering sombre echoing tunes, tenaciously resisting any temptation to increase tempo greatly and a master-class in masochistic restraint.

The haunting piano from Guy Harrison, ghost like around our aural receptors as mist across the grass, brushes the blades of our consciousness on first track Khandahlla, which just happens to be the name of a suburb of Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, located on hills overlooking Wellington Harbour. Its named after Khandela, which is in India and one of it’s meanings is ‘The resting place of God’, among a few other interpretations. Benjamin Morely’s plaintive vocals cling refreshingly to your skin. He has described this as “a happy song about happy things” and the swirling wisps of the other instruments and uplifting choir leave you wistfully cheerful.

Orca drifts through the waves of deviation, lapping at the shores of your mind as the first chorus leads to changes in style and an ambient passage floats out to return to the ripples of the chorus once more, only to lethargically swim away on an instrumental tide.

 Acoustic guitar takes the fore on The Hours to carry the harmonising vocals on a bed of lighter piano keys in one of the less complicated tracks, with an ear-worm chorus.

There’s a darker tone to the jazz style piano on And We Saw His Needs Through The Casket giving this track an eerie feel. The haunting vocals from the choir hang in the misty air as the guitar drifting through the damp avenues of this track unnervingly permeate your ears.

 The spectral feel flows into Yhwh turning more wistful before heavier guitars and instrumentation crash in like a monster from the fog only to disappear just as suddenly, leaving sparse jittery sounds and solo guitar before it dramatically lurches back into view, roaring foetid notes in your face before swamping you and carrying you away into the darkness.

Calm returns in waves of piano and male/female duetting interspersed with Guy’s Trumpet on title track, Hope For A Mourning, seguing into a sober instrumental passage for the second half of the track.

I have to say the rhythm section from Tim and Rob add a gently disturbing current on which the rest of the instruments ride most ably, like a ferryman taking passage across an expanse of murky water, serenaded on parts of the journey by the violins and sax from Sam and Charlie.

Plucked acoustic guitar leads you to the Funeral and Benjamin’s stark, emotionally melancholic lyrics on what is probably the saddest song here, as the rest of the band’s mournful cortège pick up the harrowing procession.

It’s easy to feel the music at times is quite sparse, until you listen intently to discover the complexity of the darkly rapturous arrangements. Both vocals and instruments flit like brief visions at times, in a hall of despondently melodious mirrors, no more so than on the final song, Monarch.  Saxophone slips between violins like serpents as they slither across the bleak body of this track in a chilling rapture of blackened souls.

You have to like this type of music, with scents of Nick Cave, Radiohead and the recently discovered Down The river Dead Men Go brought to mind. But if you do it is a beautiful melancholy in which to wallow and bide a little while, which I feel will stand the test of time.

(Band photo credit Nathan Smith)

Released 15th April 2016

Buy ‘Hope for a Mourning’ on bandcamp




Findlay Napier Announces Kickstarter Campaign for New Album – ‘Glasgow’

Scottish Singer-Songwriter Findlay Napier has announced details of his forthcoming new album ‘Glasgow’, which can be ordered now via his Kickstarter campaign.

Findlay describes the project:

“Just before my 18th birthday I moved from the banks of the River Spey to the 14th floor of the Red Road flats in Glasgow. I’d come to study Traditional Scottish Folk Music at what is now The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Twenty years later I want to make an album that reflects on the time I’ve spent in Glasgow making music, hanging out and growing up.

Boo Hewerdine is producing the album and we have already started recording the album in Motherlode Studio, Norfolk. We need your help to finish the recording and release the album.

Glasgow has a rich history of music and, of course, songwriting. From Adam MacNaughton‘s ‘Jeely Piece’ song to The Blue Nile‘s ‘Tinseltown in the Rain’ hundreds of songs have been written about this wonderful city. My new album will contain a mixture of some of my favourite songs, some that I’ve written especially for the project and some co-writes with Boo Hewerdine.

I’ll keep you informed all along the way either through short video blogs, blogs and sneaky listens to works in progress.

Why use Kickstarter? A few reasons for this 1) It is a simple way for you to pre-order the album. Kickstarter is a well known an trusted crowdfunding site. 2) Unless you are signed to a major label it makes more sense for a small independent act like myself to use a crowdfunding platform. 3) It’s fun to have fans involved album making process. 

What are you going to do with my money? All of the money you contribute will go straight into the project. The main areas of spending are: Recording (recording, mixing and mastering), design (Photographs & design) and promotion (Local, National and Online Press plugger and radio plugger… I do the social media stuff myself… as you may have noticed). The final major expense is duplication (‘pressing’ the CD, setting up download, liscensing fees, barcode)…. and then there’s all the little things (travel expenses, tea/coffee/food for the studio, guitar strings etc.) The more money you contribute the more I can do with the album. 


You can check out this this exciting project here:

There are many who find themselves described as stalwarts, some for the rugged determination to keep slogging away and others because they contribute so much to stay actively involved on a whole range of levels, keeping sharp artistically and selflessly championing others who deserve attention.

Findlay Napier is one of the most highly-regarded performers and creative forces on the Scottish music scene – thoroughly active and truly energised with a heart-warming zing.

His last album, ‘VIP: Very Interesting Persons’, contains ten songs about real life characters with interesting lives was co-written and produced by Boo Hewerdine.‘VIP’ was The Telegraph’s #2 Folk Album of the Year 2015 and was Album of the Week in The Daily Express received many excellent reviews. To coincide with his successful 2016 solo tour Napier released an EP containing 5 new VIP songs and a behind the lyrics book.

Findlay, an inaugural graduate of The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland‘s BA(Scottish Music) program, made his name touring and recording with multi-award winning traditional Scottish folk band Back of the Moon.  In his more recent projects “Queen Anne’s Revenge” and “The Bar Room Mountaineers” his song-writing took centre stage and was described by The Sunday Herald as “Genuine songcraft and wit following in the Difford & Tilbrook tradition”. Findlay is also well known as the host of Celtic Connections’ Late Night Sessions and for his Hazy Recollections concert series which showcases the very best in new roots music.

In Feb 2017 Findlay will be touring with ‘Shake the Chains’ a new touring commission of protest songs from Folk by The Oak with support from Arts Council England, Help Musicians UK and Folk Alliance International. The tour features Nancy Kerr, Hannah Martin and Tim Yates with musical director Greg Russell.

Aside from his touring commitments Findlay performs regular Stand-Up Comedy shows around Glasgow.In September he organised and sold out Glasgow Songwriting Festival.





Melodic prog outfit Slyde stream new track ahead of upcoming EP Back Again

Canadian melodic proggers SLYDE have streamed another track from their upcoming EP Back Again, due February 17.

Listen to the track of the same name here:

First premiered on Invisible Oranges, the track is another tantalising listen of the band’s talents ahead of their new release. For fans of Haken, Rush, Dream Theater and more, Slyde are back after a two-year hiatus and a new line-up. Driven by the clean vocals of frontman Nathan Da Silva and the powering keyboards of Sarah Westbrook, Back Again is a fitting return to form from this beguiling four-piece. 

Four tracks of virtuosic contrapuntal songwriting exploring the relationship between environmentalism and sci-fi, Back Again is a fantastically entertaining listen. Ear-catching for any fan of technically-minded melodic prog rock, Slyde are a band who before their hiatus played over 150 shows on the Eastern Canadian circuit, including shows with Protest the Hero and at Canadian Music Week (2013), IndieWeek (2011-2013), and Wacken Metal Battle (2013).

Review – John Bassett – Live From The Byre – by Progradar

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
― Steve Jobs

“The most complicated skill is to be simple.”
― Dejan Stojanovic

Imagine, if you will, a school of excellence for the mixing, mastering and production of music, Progwarts for the progressive music world maybe? (I’ll get my coat eh?), where engineers like the renowned Rob Aubrey, the revered Steven Wilson and the talented Daniel Bowles learned the dark arts and black magic that is stock in trade for such an establishment. I haven’t got a clue how they take the raw elements of music and wondrously turn them into the refined and polished product that us end users get to hear.

However, there is such a thing as an over-engineered piece of music and one where the engineer and/or recording artists just can’t help having that final tinker around to produce something with an almost unnatural sound.

So, taking things a step further, what if former star pupil John Bassett turned his back on the venerated establishment and went on a perilous journey into the deep, dark wilds of Ireland and recorded in a derelict Byre in County Sligo on December 29th 2016? Recorded in one take with three microphones, one for vocals, one for guitar and one for ambient sounds such as the birds nesting in the roof, the wind outside and the door continually creaking.

Well, you’d have ‘Live From The Byre’, the latest solo E.P. from this well respected English multi-instrumentalist and producer. It follows 2014’s full length ‘Unearth’ and the ‘Aperture’ E.P. released last year.

(Picture credit Tamsin Bassett)

The songs featured on this back-to-basics, pared back recording are:

1. Unearth (from John Bassett “Unearth”)
2. Nothing Sacred (from John Bassett “Unearth”)
3. Murder in a Small Town (from KingBathmat “Blue Sea, Black Heart”)
4. Brand New Crucifix (this song is about 20 years old and I don’t think its ever been available anywhere?)

John had this to say his latest recording:

“I hope you enjoy this release, I’ve always wanted to create something that has an intimate atmosphere and was created spontaneously, and this certainly wasn’t what I had planned on doing.”

Unearth opens with a really moody feel, subdued guitar and John’s hesitant, pared back vocal to give a really intimate atmosphere to the song. I can imagine myself in the byre listening to this earnest musician recording this track live. It may be a simple set up but that doesn’t mean you get less from the music. There are plenty of nuances and empty spaces for the sound to fill. It is almost edge-of-seat stuff, quite intense in the way it leaves you nervously apprehensive as the guitar builds up to quite a powerful close to the song. A dynamic track that proves less can always be more…

There is a jaunty repose to the opening of Nothing Sacred as the guitar strums along nicely and the vocals have a halting edge to them. The song builds up to the chorus, the guitar increasing pace and John’s voice becoming more influential. I listened to this song with headphones on for the first time and I really got the impression of being in an intimate acoustic gig in some small basement club somewhere, time and life forgotten in the moment. That is the essence of this E.P., it is music you can lose yourself in and gets right to the basics of why we listen to it in the first place.

Murder In A Small Town takes on a more melancholy note, a wistful sorrow in the vocals and the delicate guitar tone. This is a tale of sorrow and woe and has that almost pensive folk like feel to it. Stories from the backwoods brought to life by the brilliant musician in front of you. To my ears, the most pared back of all four of the songs and yet there is a real substance to it as John gives his heart and soul to the music. It is quite spellbinding in its own way and left me transfixed as it came to its sombre close.

There is a touch of old style 50’s Rock & Roll at the heart of Brand New Crucifix with the subdued guitar playing and its really deep resonance and John’s stylishly restrained vocal delivery. This could have been a Johnny Cash song in his heyday and it really resonates with its restrained and controlled feeling of fury. There is an increase in tempo towards the end, an intense and turbulent finish to the song that leaves you almost breathless.

Now I’ve been a fan of John Bassett through KingBathmat, Arcade Messiah and all his solo work and his incredible ‘Wall Of Sound’ has always blown me away but here he really shows that you can strip things all the way back to basics and deliver music that is true to his heart and soul and has a purity that you just won’t find anywhere else. Everybody should listen to this E.P. at least once and remember what music really is all about, this is a Brexit that actually did work.

Released 15th January 2017

Buy ‘Live From The Byre’ from the John Bassett bandcamp site




Review – Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light – by Progradar

“Look around you. Everything changes. Everything on this earth is in a continuous state of evolving, refining, improving, adapting, enhancing…changing. You were not put on this earth to remain stagnant.”
Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Yes, everything changes but, in music, sometimes that change either takes what seems like a lifetime or never happens at all. Some of the more established acts could be said to have congealed into their final selves. To be fair, they can often still produce great music but you always know what to expect and that means no more surprises and I for one like a few surprises in my musical journeys.

Tim Bowness has admitted to me himself that he does have a signature sound and it is one that can be heard as the foundation on his previous three solo releases ‘My Hotel Year’ (2004), ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ (2014) and  2015’s ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’. 2017 sees him return with a new album, ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’, and a new approach.

Here’s Tim’s thoughts:

“This new album, in some ways, it is quite a departure. There are lots of flutes on it and due to the nature of ‘the concept’, it’s definitely the most traditionally Progressive album I’ve made. It was very much a labour of love and like you say, it ‘felt’like a Tim Bowness album while taking the music into some uncharted places (for me).”

‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ is a concept album revolving around the onstage and backstage reflections of a fictional ‘classic’ Rock musician in the twilight of his career. It is a grand statement about a grand era of music making and an undoubted highlight of Bowness’s career.

Lyrically, the album addresses how the era of streaming and ageing audiences affects creativity, how a life devoted to music impacts on real / family life, and how idealistic beginnings can become compromised by complacency and the fear of being replaced by younger, more vital artists.

Though firmly focused on Bowness’s distinctive voice and musical approach, the album also draws inspiration from the period the concept covers and contains a notable 1970s Symphonic/Progressive Rock influence.

Mixed and mastered by Bowness’s No-Man partner Steven Wilson, ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ uses a core band comprising Stephen Bennett, Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief), Hux Nettermalm (Paatos) and Andrew Booker (Sanguine Hum), as well as guests including Kit Watkins (Happy The Man/Camel), Steve Bingham (No-Man) and the legendary Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull). Andrew Keeling (Robert Fripp/Hilliard Ensemble/Evelyn Glennie) arranges for string quartet and flute on three of the album’s

Jarrod Gosling (I Monster / Cobalt Chapel) provides the fantastically detailed artwork, which includes a visual history of the career of the concept’s subject. Mixed and mastered by Steven Wilson, the special cd/dvd edition also features a 5.1 mix by Bruce Soord.

Tim certainly knows how to start things off with a bang. Opener Worlds Of Yesterday is hypnotic, immersive and mesmerising from the first note, a song that draws you into its soporific embrace to deliver its undoubted charms. The gentle background music has a plaintive guitar note overlaid before Tim’s distinctive vocals begin. His voice is calming and spell-binding at the same time and the beautiful strings that back the chorus work in perfect harmony. The music is full of refined grace and yet the probing guitar that you can hear throughout gives it a questing edge as well. The sedate, ambling keyboards are a delight and the flute just adds another layer of undoubted class, You just have to listen to the run out of this elegant track, it is a brilliant way to close out a song. One for late nights, lights turned down low and something full bodied and red to drink…

Moonshot Manchild opens with a laconic feel, typical Tim Bowness, all laid back vocals and subdued music that gets under your skin in an addictive fashion. There’s a subtle incisiveness running underneath though as the mellow and unhurried music washer over you. Classic 70’s keyboards give a real feeling of wistful nostalgia and a melancholy undertone to the ongoing tale. Tim’s voice has never sounded so good and he really has one of the most serenely relaxed vocal deliveries around. There’s a great keyboard interlude in the middle of the track, pensive and thoughtful asking you to reflect for a moment before the song blossoms out again with a wonderfully carefree and composed instrumental section. Once again we are treated to another impressive lead out, something that seems to be coming stock in trade for this great musician, it ebbs and flows brilliantly, demanding you follow it right to the end of the musical journey.

Wow! The next track is a real departure for Tim. All full of angst and pent up rage, Kill The Pain That’s Killing You opens with frantic drum beat and a caustic guitar riff. There’s a real nervous energy about this song, a pleading uneasiness that has a real catchy note to it. Tim’s vocal seems more direct and urgent and that acerbic guitar note really does make you sit up and take notice. The staccato chorus only adds to the offbeat tone, this is something very different and enjoyably so and, coming in at under four minutes, this frenetic song never outstays its welcome.

After that unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable onslaught, Nowhere Good To Go sees us return to the refined, simple grace of the first two tracks but there is definitely something evolved about Tim’s sound on this album. Soothing and tranquil, the music seems to lull you into a becalmed state and then open up into something just a little different with the dulcet tones of a Hammond organ combining with the strings to add subtle sophistication to what is already quite an imposing sound. Again the vocals are delivered with silken finesse and the ethereal flute adds a winsome feeling to this lissome song.

There is one of the best openings to any recent progressive song on You’ll Be The Silence. All pastoral with a lovely piano sound and the delicate heavenly flute, it really did impress me on first listen and left me transfixed with its rarefied quality. Tim’s voice has a little catch to it, an almost sentimental regret at the heart of it and it gives the song a dreamlike atmosphere when combined with the simple charms of the wistful music. The longest track on the album at nine minutes long, you are enraptured throughout this unapologetically sentimental and yet slightly rueful piece of music. You have to take the time to listen to this song (and, indeed, the whole album) with a decent pair of headphones on and just become immersed in its spellbinding orchestral reverence. Music as good as this can take you to a place of calm reflection, where the world cannot harm you and everyone needs that now and again, an utterly captivating song that ends every bit as brilliantly as it begins, the guitar and flute leading you on a seductive voyage home…

Lost In The Ghost Light is quite a dark interlude with a menacing undertone. Tim delivers his vocal in a spoken word fashion and that adds even more suspense and uncertainty. The music is atmospheric and bleeds tension directly into your system.

That slight feeling of doubt can be felt at the start of You Wanted To Be Seen and adds to a cautionary tone to deliver a deliberately pensive and sombre tone to the song. Tim’s vocal is thoughtful and sad and the music has a plaintive and pensive edge to it. The violin that can be heard in the background is a fine touch and adds a longing, surreal edge to the track before things change tack with a restless and skittish air that adds tension and a disquieting unease. Another great song that has an imposing end with some great guitar playing.

Onto the final track of the album, Distant Summers, a mournful violin opens this mellow and cultured song and imbues it with a really plaintive plea for days gone by, Sepia tinged nostalgia drips from every wistful note and the exquisite flute playing is tempered by a trite ennui. The vocals have a touch of anguish at the core of them and the whole song has a fragile dignity deep at its core, one that is made up of beauty and remorse in equal quantities. Despite the forlorn mood that runs throughout the song, I still feel that there is hope emanating from Tim’s expressive voice and that is the overriding feeling that I will take away with me.

I’ve always been a fan of Tim Bowness and this new album has only exacerbated that. He has added something different and distinct to his music to evolve and progress it to something that, while recognisable as his work, has seen him mature into one of the best and most involving progressive artists that we have. There are added layers and nuances that just lift this album above similar fare on offer at the moment and I can see this being on my playlist for a long time to come.

Released 17th February 2017

Order ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ from Burning Shed



Review – Hibernal – The Dark Of The City – By Progradar

Those of you who have read my reviews will know that I like to drop in the odd quote or two so it will be of no surprise to you that I have found a couple that really relate to my feelings for the wonderful Mark R Healy‘s Hibernal project’s latest release ‘The Dark Of The City’.

“Storytellers are individuals who enjoy creating a holiday for the mind.”
Linda Daly 

The above quote really fits Mark perfectly, his utterly mesmerising and perfectly crafted series of musical graphic novels take you on a futuristic journey into his carefully constructed futuristic and sometimes post-apocalyptical worlds. You find yourself completely immersed in these sci-fi stories that combine with instrumental music to tell a compelling storyline that unfolds throughout the course of the album.

“Storytellers are the most powerful people on earth. They might not be the best paid– but they are the most powerful. Storytellers have the power to move the human heart– and there is no greater power on earth.”
Laurie H. Hutzler 

It goes without saying that stories give you the power to leave the everyday behind and use your own imagination to perceive the author’s intent. I always find myself amazed beguiled and enthralled after listening to any of Mark’s complex and fascinating releases.

Mark R Healy is an author and musician from Brisbane, Australia. From an early age he loved to create, and often assembled his own illustrated books with accompanying stories – and then forced his parents to buy them.

Unfortunately this model was not scalable and Mark now seeks to promote his works to a wider audience.

Mark has also combined his storytelling prowess with music, creating a project called Hibernal through which he interweaves original sci-fi stories with his own music to create an immersive theatrical experience for the listener.  Combined with a professional voice cast and sound effects, these “audio movies” are ‘The Machine’ (2013), ‘Replacements’ (2014), ‘After The Winter’ (2015) and ‘The Dark Of The City’, to be released January 12th 2017.

The Dark Of The City’ is based around the story of a cop who undertakes a relentless search for the creature that killed her partner.

Hibernal is:
Mark Healy
Rowan Salt

Script by Mark Healy. Edited by Rowan Salt.

Faleena Hopkins – Moreno
Scott Gentle – Trask

The opening title track, The Dark Of The City, has that dark dystopian ambience that we have come to expect from Hibernal and sets the scene perfectly with its understated sci-fi feel. As you’d expect from an ‘audio-movie’ the characters introduce the story within the voice over of the song and Faleena Hopkins is perfect as the heroine of the piece Moreno. The music bubbles under in the background as Moreno tells the tale of the cops hunting the monstrous creatures called ‘Necros’ and, in particular, the one that killed her partner.

You have to listen to this release in one hit, in a dark room with no distractions and preferably with headphones on! The instrumental sections immediately bring to mind the worlds Mark has created previously for ‘Replacements’ and ‘After The Winter’ and are a little different to what he served up on Hibernal‘s debut ‘The Machine’. The brooding guitar playing and pensive rhythm is almost like Nine Inch Nails but without the brutality and gives an apprehensive tone to everything. Atmospheric, it seems to expand to fill the space around your ears and envelops your whole being in an involving wall of sound.

The story continues with Night In Carson Bay as Moreno once again paints a picture of the scene. The music has a real hypnotic quality to it, Mark’s keyboard playing is elusive and yet mesmerising at the same time and then the somnolent guitar note leads you on. Deliberate and narcotic, the track continues to pervade your psyche and you find yourself immersed even more into the mood. The voice-over describes an underworld of any possibilities as our protagonist continues to search. You feel her every emotion as she battles her inner demons and the music takes on an angrier, demanding edge to mirror this.

Target 247 opens with a instrumental section that is as cinematic as they come and, to my ears, almost has a Sci-fi Western feel to it, the bass playing is phenomenal and really steals the show. I’ve always been impressed by Mark’s musicianship but he really seems to have extended himself even further on the new album and become even more accomplished. At this point, headphones on, I have become lost in the music when Moreno’s voice chimes in, introducing her partner Trask (voiced by the excellent Scott Gentle). There is an uneasiness between the two partners and Scott plays Trask as a gravel voiced old pro who you feel has seen it all before. Moreno’s obsession comes to the fore again, there is only one target she is after and the song closes with really edgy industrial guitar riff of immense proportions.

A low undertone opens up into a determined instrumental at the opening of How It Ended as the story continues and Moreno describes their actions. That dystopian feel hits home harder than ever as the partners talk and reveal their past chequered history. There’s a harsher guitar note playing out behind the vibrant drums, keys and bass giving a discordant overtone, perhaps matching the atmosphere between Moreno and Trask. Their quarry seems to be eluding them, intelligently hiding from any of Moreno’s tracking techniques as they move deeper into the dark underbelly of the futuristic society.

The atmosphere is charged even more at the opening of Black Blood, apprehensive and anxious as Moreno and Trask venture even deeper in to the dark underworld where the freaks and criminals hide away and go about their nefarious business. We learn more about the ‘Necros’ and what they could possibly be as the dialogue interplays between the two. The dark and introspective music gives the scene a really melancholy aura and keeps you on edge.

The sounds of waves washing up and a fog horn are the opening to The Pier and a feeling of calm initially pervades everything personified by the music. Lighter and more upbeat and is it washes over everything, the stylish drums a highlight. An edgy, funky riff gives a serious tone before the voice-over continues, have our duo finally found their quarry? A Pink Floyd sounding guitar takes up the narrative itself, full of style and character, is the net finally closing in on the prize?

A hushed tone is heard as Sand sees Moreno beneath the pier as the chase continues.You are totally on edge, wondering what is going to happen next as she talks us through her motions, what’s that in the shadows? The music gets tense, restless and skittish, the riff staccato and ill-at-ease, what is happening? You can’t help but feel excitable and, your nerves on edge, mirroring the guitar and drums. There is a confrontation, is Moreno okay, has she been shot? She fires back, her prey is down but is that the end? The track close with a funky, stylish soundtrack, almost triumphant in tone.

Loose Ends, what has occurred? Trask arrives on the scene amid utter confusion, who has been shot? Who is the monster? Oh my god, the twist in the tale is utterly brilliant and convincing and you sit open-mouthed as the rest of the story unfolds and we segue into Monster. The storytelling brilliance of Mark Healy left you toally open to that unexpected turn in the story. I’m not going to spoil it for you, honestly buy the album and enjoy that heart-in-the-mouth moment yourself. The rest of the track closes the story perfectly with the voice-over underpinned by poignant and reflective music full of emotion, some of the best music Mark has produced yet, mature, intelligent and it hits home perfectly with the unforeseen ending to the scene…

The story finally unfolds with the final track Survival, an astute monologue delivered to the rapt listener, still a little in shock from the outcome that was so unanticipated. You hang on every word, just as you would watching the final scene of a brilliant movie you’ve seen at the cinema. The music then takes over melancholy, mournful and a little disconsolate, I felt it in my own heart, a lament for an unknown future with little hope, wistful and forlorn.

I have never made it a secret that I am a fan of Mark Healy, not just his Hibernal project but also his sci-fi novels. His inventive and innovative mind never fails to surprise me to deliver an utterly immersive and vivid world which he fills with his utterly credible, world-weary characters and delivers deeply engaging and fascinating stories that draw you in completely. With ‘The Dark Of The City’ he has surpassed the previous wonderful ‘audio-movies’ and given us his best work yet, the way the story unfolds is real genius and I can’t wait to see what this ever imaginative and creative artist will come up with next.

Released 12th January 2017

Buy ‘The Dark Of The City’ direct from Hibernal