Review – Azure – Of Brine And Angel’s Beaks – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Of Brine And Angels Beaks’ is the second album from UK proggers Azure, who hail from Brighton and the South East of England. The album was Released in June 2021 after a period of lockdown and is the follow up to their debut ‘Wish For Spring’ that followed a few EP’s and singles like Redtail, a twenty minute progressive love song, and the shorter single Mistress that garnered wide acclaim for the band.

This album continues to mix hard edged progressive metal with fantasy elements (especially in the lyrics) and, over the course of its twelve songs and its sixty-three minute running time, many tales are told and worked upon. The music also includes lots of synthesizers, a modern clean production and lots of staggering guitar work from Galen Stapley, who can shred with the best of them, as eviced on his highly fluid and furious solo on the track Self-Crucifixion. The vocals of Christopher Sampson are very different and tend to verge wonderfully on the side of operatic, think Freddie Mercury on helium and you’d be in the right area. Thankfully they are highly listenable, no death metal growling here!

A Night Of Superlunary Gazing opens the album with one minute of almost psychedelic, fantastical music before Ameotoko 1 – The Curse drives in with some delicate arpeggio guitar lines and soft vocals, after about four minutes the song gains some traction and some pace, there are some strident keyboards runs in this section too. This is followed by the upbeat and excellent sounding The Jester Who Cheated Death and the fantastical Lustre – Siphon of Umbra, the former opening with what sounds like a marimba but isn’t. The song has great lyrics and lots happening musically, including some great guitar from Galen, along with some great dual harmonies. The song is a sorter one by Azure standards but certainly packs a punch. Lustre is a mellow, but hard edged, classic and one of the best songs on the album with great vocal harmonies and crunching, soaring guitars, it grabs your attention and holds on, a powerful piece of music.

Outrun God is next and, again, this starts gently but soon gains momentum. The song also has a highly impressive refrain that will stay with you long after it has finished, highly impressive Stuff. Mercy follows with very some very heavy guitar and epic synth work, along with driving beat that really gets under your skin in a positive way. 

Of Brine and Angels Beaks opens with strong keyboard textures and a low bass from Bella Lee and some kick from Sam Calder on the drums. The song is slower paced but very dramatic, with some excellent vocals from Chris in among the strident riffing from Galen. The middle section really rocks with lots of effects being used to process the sound effectively. Again, a very strong chorus and, indeed, song which strong metallic elements to the fore. The song is quite dark in nature, especially in the lyrics. It talks a lot about death and the passing of time, the bass is prominent here and sounds impressive too.

A Sailor Will Learn is next and starts softly, although the vocals are certainly impassioned, after which we enter a heavy section with Galen’s furious guitar riffs adding great dynamics to this song. There is yet another memorable chorus and some more dual guitars tracked that give the melody a lift, after the chorus there’s a furious section with some frantic guitar parts and great solo before thunderous drums lead to more riffing guitars. The keyboards take over before leading back into vocals, although taken at pace. This is one of the strongest and most imaginative tracks on the album, simply fabulous and with a great solo towards the end. The subject matter is dark again but what a song! Fabulously inventive and invigorating.

Cup Of Poison is another lengthy and epic piece, opening with some graceful guitar lines as the song builds its momentum. The track is epic in nature and tone, with lovely graceful, fluid guitar lines. It’s all highly impressive, musically diverse and bravely bold. Not afraid to be different, not for show but because the songs merit it. This song also contains elements of Celtic music touches which add to its magic and dynamics. In fact, the whole album is full of dynamic touches, you’re listening and then it all changes abruptly but in a positive direction. The Jellyfish is a shorter track with excellent keyboard programming and a definite 80’s touch to it. Lyrically, the song is simply weird, talking about living on a self-made raft and longing for a different life.

The album closes with Ameotoko II – Cloudburst, which is ferocious and hard hitting and, once again, has disturbingly dark lyrics about killing and death but fabulous music. There’s lots going on here and it’s never a dull moment, before you know it you’ve reached the end and are left wondering what the hell you’ve just listened to? Before you know it, you’ll be playing the album again, just to try and grasp it all a new. Such an impressive album that will stay with you long after it’s finished.

I’ve added a link to the lyrics as I feel following them will aid in understanding and appreciating this fine album, I know it certainly helped me get the gist of it all.

Released 11th June, 2021

Order the album here:

Of Brine And Angel’s Beaks | Azure (bandcamp.com)

Find the lyrics here:

Azure (prog rock) – Of Brine And Angel’s Beaks Lyrics and Tracklist | Genius

Review – Phenomena: Phenomena / Dream Runner / Innervision / Anthology – 4CD Box Set – by John Wenlock-Smith

Nostalgia is a thing of the past, or so one witty person once said. Although, reading progressive music websites could we have you thinking that prog fans are Living In The Past, as Jethro Tull once sang on their unorthodox album of the same name, released in 1972. A certain sector of prog fans tends to view with suspicion any album released after 1976 and, heaven forbid, anything from the eighties or beyond!

This is unfair and is not completely true, much as I love those classic albums from prog’s so called ‘golden era’, I am also open to newer music, as I am to reissues of classic, long lost, or under-appreciated albums, of which I have reviewed several on this very site.

Many of these lost gems come from the good people at Esoteric/Cherry Red, although some have come from the Rock Candy label whose remit is usually hard rock or AOR type offerings from US Bands who got lost in the mix of all that has happened in the last four decades.

This review features one of those lost gems, namely the Phenomena album from 1985. Phenomena was a project created and  by Tom Galley, the Cannock, Staffordshire younger brother of Mel Galley (the guitarist in the Midlands based band Trapeze). Mel was also heavily involved in the music behind this “concept” album, being able to call up, and recruit, his old band mate Glenn Hughes, who had been with Trapeze for their first three albums before jumping ship and taking over from Roger Glover in Deep Purple. In addition, both Cozy Powell and Neil Murray (who were both members of Mel’s then band Whitesnake) were recruited to the project, as was original Magnum keyboard player Richard Bailey and John Thomas of Budgie.

On paper, the project had the stamp of pedigree with some very well known and established musicians to carry the project forward. The album had interesting packaging with a deluxe booklet with the lyrics and the artwork of Ian Lowe’s interpretation of the songs (along with the lyrics and album credits). All this occurred on the then Bronze label home of Uriah Heep and another local hero Robin George, who also had Magnum connections. However, Bronze were in trouble financially, their golden days of Uriah Heep selling millions of albums were long past and they were struggling to make ends meet, As such, despite the huge promotional push for Phenomena, it sadly failed to make the sales expected, Robin George’s then album, ‘Dangerous Music’, suffering a similar fate.

Listening to the album again now ,nearly 40 years on, is fascinating and, yes, the music certainly stands up well and is rightly due for re-evaluation, This set comprises all three Phenomena albums, along with the ‘Anthology’ album that includes three tracks from the original album, three from the second album, ‘Dream Runner’, and four from the third, and final, Phenomena album, ‘Innervision’. In addition, there are three non-album tracks and two 12″ single mixes of Did It All For Love and Still The Night. Also, there is a booklet for each album that gives the lowdown, who plays what and the full lyrics to each album, all well presented in a sturdy clamshell box.

The music itself is prominently British heavy rock of the mid 1980’s so think Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy or Gary Moore and you’re in the right territory. What really lifts the album into something special though are the tremendous vocals of Glenn Hughes who is absolutely fabulous throughout and sings his lungs out on tracks like Still the Night and Phoenix Rising. Also very noteworthy is the demonic violin playing of Ric Sanders (latterly of Fairport Convention) on the track Dance With The Devil. It is utterly mesmerising and backed up with some muscular musical accompaniment. The last track on the album is a little different in that it is performed by a boys’ choir who wordlessly intone Latin, which gives a certain gothic nature to the track.

On listening to the album, I think I can spot where they went wrong in that the concept was not clear enough for listeners to fully grasp and so this was a factor in not really reaching the heights they had wanted to achieve. Also, there were a myriad of confusing releases from the album which, over time, diluted the album’s appeal and could be viewed as hype that was not fully realised. This was a pity as the original album had good material and performances throughout and really deserved far better than it received.

The next Phenomena album was released, again to much fanfare, in 1987, some two years after the original album. This time around they took a more Sci-Fi based storyline and plot, although, again, the concept got lost in the mix a little. This time they had, in addition to Glenn Hughes, John Wetton of Asia, Ray Gillen of Black Sabbath and members of Japanese band Bow Wow, whose guitarist and drummer came on board, as did Max Bacon of Bronz, another group whose success was limited by the collapse of the Bronze label.

The music was, again, very mid eighty’s hard rock, although John Wetton’s vocal on Did It All for Love gave the album a big boost in certain markets like Europe and South America, where it was a big hit, making the album even more successful than the first. It still stands as a fine piece of hard rock from that era, stand out tracks being Did It All For Love, Hearts On Fire, Jukebox  and No Retreat, No Surrender, on which Ray Gillen turns in a memorable performance. Again, the artwork is very suited to the album and the booklet details the saga of getting the album out. It was quite a struggle and the fact they managed it speaks volumes to the faith they had in the project, which was thankfully repaid upon release.

The third album in this set is the ‘Innervision’ album from 1993, this time the concept was far less ethereal or supernatural and was more like a gangster story. The music is more up to date, in that it sounded like a British Bon Jovi with big riffs and choruses and with a great, little known, vocalist, Keith Murrell (who had sung with Cliff Richard and Airrace, amongst others). The big star on this album was Brian May, who Scott Gorham knew and asked to play on two songs, What About Love? and A Whole Lot Of Love. The lineup may have been slimmed down but, even so, the music has fire and guts and still sounds good today, some 28 years on. I never bought this instalment as it was always expensive, so it’s good to have it in this set now. Again, the booklet tells the story behind the album and the difficulties they had in getting it released, 7 years after the second and 10 years after the first album.

Banzai sounds like a Foreigner song with some crunchy guitar riffs amidst the keyboards, the big song is What About Love, featuring the aforementioned Brian May on guitar, and this sounds truly epic with masses of backing vocals. They were trying to get Freddie Mercury to sing but, sadly, it never happened, imagine how that would have sounded! Yet again, the concept gets lost in the mix somehow but, the songs and music are exceptionally fine indeed and Keith Murrell is a fine singer who brings fire and passion to these songs, making this third instalment a real treat and an undiscovered classic album.

Having said all this, I do feel that these albums are worthy of far more appreciation than they received at the time and the additional tracks and excellent booklets provide information that makes this set very worthy of investigation. Of its time and era for certain but both marvellous and bold, in the face of many difficulties and with definite progressive moments and wonderful performances by all. In addition, the set features three previously unreleased tracks, Assassins Of The Night and Running With The Pack with Glenn Hughes and Stealing Heaven with Keith Murrell, and 12″ mixes of Did It All For Love and Still the Night.

Order the box set from Cherry Red here:

Phenomena: Phenomena / Dream Runner / Innervision / Anthology, 4CD – Cherry Red Records

THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY EXPANDED EDITION OF TIM BOWNESS AND GIANCARLO ERRA’S 2011 ALBUM WARM WINTER TO BE RELEASED AS MEMORIES OF MACHINES

An expanded and remixed, 10th Anniversary version of Tim Bowness and Giancarlo Erra’s 2011 album Warm Winter (now issued as Memories Of Machines, the original project name) will be released on 25th February through Kscope. 

Featuring contributions from Robert FrippPeter HammillJulianne ReganJim MatheosColin EdwinHuxflux NettermalmPeter ChilversAleksei Saks and members of Nosound and Tim Bowness’s live bands, the album contains 10 sweeping and majestic songs (culminating in the epic At The Centre Of It All). 

Available on CD/DVD-A/V – with hi-res stereo and 5.1 Surround mixes – and double vinyl, the reissue contains two 2020 recordings – an album outtake and a new version of the 2006 Nosound piece “Someone Starts To Fade Away” – created especially for this release. 

Featuring a 2021 remix from the original tapes by Giancarlo Erra, this new edition emphasises the textural nature of the music and restores the pieces to their original arrangements and track lengths (resulting in a very different listening experience). 

The artwork has also been enhanced and overhauled for the release by Giancarlo Erra and Caroline Traitler.

Memories Of Machines – 2 disc (CD/DVD), 2LP and digital album are all available to 

PRE-ORDER HERE (https://TBGE.lnk.to/MemoriesOfMachines )

1. New Memories Of Machines [01:25]

2. Before We Fall [05:10]

3. Beautiful Songs You Should Know [05:37]

4. Warm Winter [06:00]

5. Lucky You Lucky Me [04:26]

6. Change Me Once Again [05:46]

7. Something In Our Lives [04:08]

8. Lost And Found In The Digital World [05:25]

9. Schoolyard Ghosts [04:53]

10. At The Centre Of It All [09:49]

11. Dreamless Days (outtake) [04:31]

12. Someone Starts To Fade Away (2020 TBGE) (04:51)

Photography by Katherine Mager

The Flower Kings share new single “The Great Pretender” from upcoming album ‘By Royal Decree’

Prog icons The Flower Kings recently announced the release of their 15th studio album ‘By Royal Decree’, set for 4th March 2022.  Now, the band are pleased to share the first single from the album “The Great Pretender.” The album is now available for pre-order.

Check out the new track here: 

Roine Stolt on the new single: “In the 25 year history and 16 studio albums of ’The Flower Kings’ – being in the middle of it all means it is not always easy to try and take a look from the outside, but this track represent well both what is new and what is old – the melodic side and the sonic adventure.” 

‘By Royal Decree’ Tracklisting

1.The Great Pretender (6:55) 

2.World Gone Crazy (5:04) 

3.Blinded (7:45) 

4.A Million Stars (7:11) 

5.The Soldier (5:23) 

6.The Darkness In You (5:13) 

7.We Can Make It Work (2:48) 

8.Peacock On Parade (5:15) 

9.Revolution (5:59) 

10.Time The Great Healer (6:12) 

11.Letter (2:25) 

12.Evolution (4:47) 

13.Silent Ways (5:01) 

14.Moth (4:31) 

15.The Big Funk (4:39) 

16.Open Your Heart (5:17) 

17.Shrine (1:08) 

18.Funeral Pyres (7:14) 

‘By Royal Decree’ will be available as Ltd. 2CD Digipak, 

as Ltd. 180g 3LP+2CD Box Set as well as Digital Album. 

You can pre-order the album now here:

https://theflowerkings.lnk.to/ByRoyalDecree

The band are back at their most creative, flowery and playful – mirroring the 70’s melting pot of folk, symphonic, electronic, jazz, blues, funk & prog. On the new album they have looked for more organic and vintage sounds, still centered around the foundation of drums, bass, guitars and the iconic Hammond, grand piano, mellotron & Moog synthesizers. 

The album also sees the return of founding member Michael Stolt, who takes up bass guitar and vocals, alongside the line-up of Mirko DeMaio on drums, Zach Kamins on keyboards, Hasse Fröberg on vocal & guitar and Roine Stolt on vocal & guitars and Jonas Reingold on bass. The band convened in the middle of 2021 at Fenix Studios in Sweden to record through the fully analogue Rupert Neve mixing desk. The album also features beautiful cover art, once again created by Denver-based artist Kevin Sloan. 

Next year’s tour will also see the band revisiting their early years, performing tracks from ‘Retropolis’, ‘Stardust We Are’, ‘Flower Power’, ‘Space Revolver’ and ‘Back In The World Of Adventures’. This will coincide with the release of newly remastered editions of The Flower Kings albums on CD & Vinyl later in 2022. The first confirmed live dates are as follows: 

30th March 2022 – Katalin, Uppsala, Sweden

31st March 2022 – Musikens Hus, Gothenburg, Sweden

1st April 2022 – Södra Teatern, Stockholm, Sweden

1-7th May 2022 – Cruise To The Edge, USA

11th May 2022  – TBA, Quebec City, Canada

12th May 2022  – TBA, Montreal, Canada

14th July 2022  – Rootsfestival, Notodden, Norway

4th Sept 2022  –  HRH Festival , UK

Nick D’Virgilio, Neal Morse & Ross Jennings share first single and video for “Julia” from debut album

Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train, ex-Spock’s Beard), Neal Morse (Transatlantic, NMB, ex-Spock’s Beard), and Ross Jennings (Haken, Novena) are pleased to announce their debut album titled ‘Troika’ will be released on Feb 25th, 2022.

The album is now available for pre-order here:

D’Virgilio, Morse & Jennings – Julia (lnk.to)

Today, the band is also sharing the album’s first single “Julia”.  You can watch the video by Christian Rios here:

Ross had this to say about the track:

“With my original demo clocking in at around the 8-minute mark and possibly leaning too close to ‘prog epic’ than the singer/songwriter vibe we were attempting to present on this record, Neal arranged my lengthy ballad into something more concise, in-keeping with the album’s essence and writing in a powerful new chorus in the process!

“This one was all about the 3-part vocal harmony interplay and ‘pull-at-the-heartstring’ lyrics which deals with themes of regret and forgiveness in the context of a broken father-daughter relationship.”

– Ross Jennings

Tracklisting:

1.Everything I Am (5:43)

2. Julia (6:07) 

3. You Set My Soul On Fire (3:22) 

4. One Time Less (4:53)

5. Another Trip Around The Sun (4:39) 

6. A Change Is Gonna Come (4:24) 

7. If I Could (4:02) 

8. King For A Day (5:47)

9. Second Hand Sons (4:43)

10. My Guardian (3:43)

11. What You Leave Behind (4:16)

 ‘Troika’ will be available as Ltd. CD Edition / Gatefold 2LP+CD / Digital Album. Each format includes a bonus alternative version of the track ‘Julia’ and is available for pre-order here: https://dvirgiliomorsejennings.lnk.to/Troika

Recorded during lockdown, the process began with Neal Morse writing some acoustic songs that he thought would be enhanced by strong vocal harmonies. He already knew how well his voice blended with former Spock’s Beard band-mate and Big Big Train drummer/ vocalist, Nick D’Virgilio who came on board and, considering a third man, the Americans sought out Haken’s Ross Jennings from the UK to complete the trio. All three found they had songs that would benefit from the three part harmonic blend, and so they pooled their resources, inputting creatively into each others compositions. 

Neal comments: “What a great pleasure it’s been to work on this album with these amazing artists! It was kind of funny… We had been working on the songs remotely for several months before I finally heard all of us singing together at the same time. The first time I brought the faders up, I knew we had the magic!“ 

Nick adds: “I’ve known and worked with Neal for over 30 years and I’ve been a big fan of Ross and the music he makes for a long time. I felt confident right away that this would be a fun project to be a part of. I was so right.”

Ross comments: “Receiving ‘The Call’ from Neal to participate in this project was somewhat of a prayer answered… As a long time fan of their work, I’ve been singing along to Neal’s & Nick’s records for years, so it felt really natural for my voice to slot right in.”

The tracks took shape with the musicians recording all of the music and vocals separately, yet the eclectic performances burst with the energy and excitement of the collaboration. Acoustic anthems, charged rockers and sensitive ballads are all part of the mix, and the unique blend of Ross, Neal and Nick’s voices and styles have created an album in which you will encounter these musicians in a way you’ve never heard before.

Review – Drifting Sun – Forsaken Innocence

Drifting Sun are a UK-based Progressive Rock studio project. Their music has been described as dramatic, theatrical, and atmospheric, in the true style of Progressive Rock giants such as Dream Theater, Queensryche, Genesis and Jethro Tull, to name but a few of the bands that influenced their sound.

Or so says the PR material, well, with the addition of renowned greek solo artist and lead vocalist of Verbal Delirium, Jargon, I personally think you can add rock royalty Queen to that list!

I’ve long been a fan of this unique musical project, their amazing musicianship has touched areas of symphonic prog, progressive metal, hard rock and many others but this new album is truly the pinnacle of their work so far. It is pompous, ebullient and in your face at times but with a nod and a wink, and not a little humour, at times. Powerful vocals, soaring guitar lines and a monstrous rhythm section all contribute to a magical melting pot of musical brilliance.

There are no weak tracks on the album, opener King of the Country flies along at a breakneck pace with Pat Sander’s excellent keyboards leading the way. It’s when Jargon’s fine, distinctive vocals begin that I begin to feel we are being treated to something special here. In association with Pat’s keys, he gives me an impression of that great Queen track, Don’t Stop Me Now, but done with Drifting Sun’s own inimitable style and it gets me smiling immediately!.

Insidious is a more introspective track with a melancholy vibe engendered by the brooding vocals and dynamic keyboards, a dramatic and powerful piece of music. That melancholy feeling carries over into the melodramatic, theatrical inventiveness of Dementium, a pair of songs that take symphonic prog and elevate it to another level. New Dawn is a heartfelt, emotive track with a sincere vocal and Pat’s elegant piano giving an almost forlorn feel to the song, the emotion and passion are bared for all to hear, especially on the superb guitar solo.

Now things get really interesting with the two part title track. At over twenty five minutes in total, Forsaken Innocence Parts I & II is epic in every way and is some of the best music I have heard this year. A group of musicians at the height of their game and playing in perfect harmony, when that happens then music simply becomes a joy to listen to, every note resonating with you on a personal level. I suggest just sitting back and letting these impressive pieces of music just wash over you and marvel at the brilliance on show.

Time to Go is the final track on the album (not including the bonus track*) and brings things to a close with a clarity and calmness that just leaves you in a better place.

(*Bonus track Hand on Heart is a brief, but compelling, footnote to the album, authoritative vocals and energetic music delivering a short, sharp and effectual hit of Drifting Sun’s addictive music.)

‘Forsaken Innocence’ sees Drifting Sun step out of the shadows and cement their place at the top table of progressive acts in the UK. It’s an engaging, captivating and sensational listen every time you press play and is deservedly up there fighting for the honours of album of the year.

Released 27th October, 2021.

Order from bandcamp here:

Forsaken Innocence | Drifting Sun (bandcamp.com)

Review – ASIA – The Official Live Bootlegs – Volume 1 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Asia are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of their debut album next year, can you believe it has been 40 years since ‘Heat of the Moment’ first graced our airwaves! That album, of course, was a spectacular success and gave a new lease of life to a disgruntled Steve Howe who had been left in the cold by Yes as they had regrouped around Trever Rabin and Chris Squire. Steve was invited to join John Wetton, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes in his then latest venture that brought the worlds of progressive music and AOR together in spectacular musical and financial success.

This set consists of five double CD’s featuring hitherto unreleased recordings of Asia in 1982, 1983, 2007, 2008 and, finally, 2010, recorded in the USA, Brazil, Japan and London. These sets are quite different in that the sound is always good and most noticeable is the bass of John Wetton, being often prominent and the band are playing very tightly and obviously enjoying themselves Naturally, many of the tracks are repeated over the five shows, although Carl Palmer’s drum solo moves from track to track as these albums progress.

The first set was recorded on Asia’s first US tour and, obviously, their debut album is prominently featured, although a new track that would appear on ‘Alpha’ was unveiled, albeit in a quite different version to the one that ended up on the album, as this features all four members playing keyboards to a drum machine backing before morphing into a full band performance where Steve Howe gets to wail and Carl Palmer hits things loudly. A lively rendition of Only Time Will Tell stands out with Geoff’s keyboard being prominent and John in fined voice indeed. In fact, Asia have seldom sounded rawer than this and everyone sounds in good form, this performance is particularly feisty and energetic. The rest of this set is fuelled by the balance of songs from their debut, Carl Palmer’s Drum solo and the double whammy of Sole Survivor and Heat of The Moment.

The second set is from August 1983 in Worcester, Massachusetts and this is a mixture of the debut and ‘Alpha’ albums along with Steve Howe’s solo segment of Beginnings/Valley of Rocks/Clap and Carl Palmer’s drum solo in Here Comes the Feeling, culminating in Sole Survivor and Heat of the Moment again.

The third set  was recorded in Brazil shortly after the band reformed in 2007 and this set features tracks from their recently released album ‘Phoenix’, which stand up well to their earlier classics. Also Roundabout gets a dusting off here with John Wetton taking on the Jon Anderson parts. Well, he even gets a Chris Squire type sound and tone and his bass drives the song along nicely. It is great to hear these musicians really stretching themselves, though the sound is a bit crackly on this number, for some reason, but it doesn’t detract from what is an excellent version of a great song.

There is a version of Fanfare for the Common Man from Carl’s old band, ELP, and, again, we are in for a real treat here with Geoff Downes’ keyboards sounding not unlike a certain Mr. Emerson, and Steve’s guitar interjects and adds little flourishes throughout before he lets fly with a brief solo. It’s all highly effective stuff, as is the short bass solo from John Wetton. This set also includes a King Crimson track, In the Court of the Crimson King, and The Buggles’ song Video Killed the Radio Star.

Set four is from Tokyo in 2008, just before ‘Omega’ was released. The ‘Phoenix’ album is featured with An Extraordinary Life standing out. Again, solo tracks from each member are included and this is also the longest of these sets at nearly 2 hours in length. The sound is uniformly good throughout and it is great to hear .

The last set in this collection comes from London in 2010 and is a great return to form for the band. Featuring, as it does, lesser played tracks like Finger on The Trigger and Through My Veins from the ‘Omega’ album, along with a Steve Howe solo and the usual Carl Palmer drum solo during The Heat Goes On. The set concludes with Sole Survivor, Go (from ‘Astra’) and Heat of The Moment.

The collection features new art from Roger Dean and a brief, but informative, booklet detailing each of the shows, just a shame that John Wetton is no longer with  us to celebrate this significant anniversary. This box set is a wonderful way in which to both remember, and celebrate, a rather rawer and more ferocious Asia than their albums showed. It is a great collection, pricey but worthwhile as Christmas is soon with us!

Released 26th November, 2021.

Order the box set here:

Asia – The Official Live Bootlegs, Volume One – Horizons Music

Review – Fractal Mirror – Beyond Borders – by John Wenlock-Smith

This album is the fifth, and latest one, from the internet based & curated band, Fractal Mirror, which is comprised of  a couple of Dutch and US members, amongst others including British local Boy Gareth Cole on guitars. Brett Kull of Echolyn acts as both a backing vocalist and as a creative muse or foil to the members to the band, perhaps to stimulate and enhance their creativity?

The album also marks a return to the longer tracks in which their progressive leanings can be unleashed fully, an element perhaps missing from their last two albums. Well, this release rectifies that issue conclusively as this allows for two of the album’s six songs to come in at well over the ten-minute mark and it really works on this record. Ashes is over seventeen minutes long and Borders runs out at just under thirteen, both songs benefitting from this extended running time as they have chance to expand well, allowing various themes and sections to emerge that are embellished and reworked during the running of the track.

There are also some exceptionally fine musical segments to these songs, especially in the guitar lines of Gareth Cole and in the mellotron of Leo Koperdraat, which really adds to the mood of the piece. I find the track to be very evocative and with its fabulous guitar lines from Gareth Cole, to be something a bit special sounding really. Even the shorter songs do not lose the progressive elements entirely. This is especially the case on Shadow Man which twists wonderfully with a very serpentine guitar line that threads through the final sections of the track.

The album opens with the brief Instrumental, Beyond, as is often the way in prog albums. It starts with swathes of keyboard sounds and textures, also there are some graceful acoustic guitar lines at play and then, latterly, some smooth electric guitar. It is all very pleasant and sets the album up perfectly for what is to come.

Ashes, the first of the two epics, is one to really get yourself immersed in as, over its duration, you will be taken on a voyage of sorts. Lots of ominous sounds and effects and a strident tone emerge and, again, it is very pleasing to the ear. All the while the sound is underpinned by the sounds of the rhythm section and also the electric guitar of Gareth Cole The vocals commence and work well, they are certainly strong enough on this song which also has some nifty bass runs from Ed, Leo’s Mellotron showing itself to be in fine fettle here too. This song talks of ‘ashes all around me’, and I suppose the song is about a relationship and about making it right. Relationships can be hard going at times and, as I’m sure we all know and agree, the key is commitment and communication, both of which will give a stable footing to build upon.

The lyrics go on to speak of another day wishing you weren’t here, another day of living in fear so I guess there might be an element of abuse within this relationship. Very sad words really and, overall the song has a melancholy feel and its subject matter is dark but, the music is very strong, the final solo from Gareth being suitably epic in both tone and nature, in all, a really good track.

Kingdom Of the Lost is another shorter piece but one with great vocal harmonies. This piece sounds very much like a song of loss and, as such, it has traces of  slight melancholia at certain points. In contrast, it also has subtle slide guitar lines woven through its grooves, which work to create fine effect and impact.

Borders concludes the album in a lengthy workout, during which there are several great instrumental passages that unfold gracefully, as does the song itself. This track calls for holding the border one last time but what this really means is not clear. Even so, this sentiment is clearly expressed at various points in the track and with some power presence and influence.

When you add all this together what emerges is another fine album from this band for whom bigger things, audiences and shows must surely beckon and, with the power of Bad Elephant Music behind them, their future certainly looks very promising indeed. So hop on over to their bandcamp page to find this fabulous modern prog album and see what you think.

Released October 15th, 2021.

Order from bandcamp here:

Beyond Borders | Fractal Mirror (bandcamp.com)

The Flower Kings announce 15th studio album ‘By Royal Decree’ & Swedish live dates for 2022

Prog icons The Flower Kings are pleased to announce the release of their 15th studio album ‘By Royal Decree’, set for 4th March 2022. The band have also announced the first live dates in support of the album, taking place in Sweden beginning end of March 2022.

The band are back at their most creative, flowery and playful – mirroring the 70’s melting pot of folk, symphonic, electronic, jazz, blues, funk & prog. On the new album they have looked for more organic and vintage sounds, still centered around the foundation of drums, bass, guitars and the iconic Hammond, grand piano, mellotron & Moog synthesizers. 

The album also sees the return of founding member Michael Stolt, who takes up bass guitar and vocals, alongside the line-up of Mirko DeMaio on drums, Zach Kamins on keyboards, Hasse Fröberg on vocal & guitar and Roine Stolt on vocal & guitars. The band convened in the middle of 2021 at Fenix Studios in Sweden to record through the fully analogue Rupert Neve mixing desk. The album also features beautiful cover art, once again created by Denver-based artist Kevin Sloan.

Speaking about being reunited with his brother in the recording room, Roine adds, “It is great to reconnect with my brother as a bass player – yes we’re brothers in a familial sense – but we’re also ’brothers’ in our teenage years’ journey of exploring bands like Yes, Genesis, Zappa, King Crimson, Weather Report, etc., so the reference points are evident.  We both know each other’s musical path so well, which means we also know where we’re going.”

Next years tour will also see the band revisiting their early years, performing tracks from ‘Retropolis’, ‘Stardust We Are’, ‘Flower Power’, ‘Space Revolver’ and ‘Back In The World Of Adventures’. This will coincide with the release of newly remastered editions of The Flower Kings albums on CD & Vinyl later in 2022. The first confirmed live dates are as follows:

30th March 2022 – Katalin, Uppsala, Sweden

31st March 2022 – Musikens Hus, Gothenburg, Sweden

1st April 2022 – Södra Teatern, Stockholm, Sweden

Look out for more information on the new album, pre-orders and the first single on the 10th December.

Band photo by Lilian Forsberg

KARNIVOOL TO RELEASE BLU-RAY OF ‘THE DECADE OF SOUND AWAKE’; PRE-ORDERS AVAILABLE NOW

You asked for it, you got it. Karnivool have officially confirmed a Blu-ray release of their ‘Decade Of Sound Awake’ livestream performance on December 10, 2021.

Forced to cancel most of their Australian ‘Decade of Sound Awake’ tour, Karnivool took their full touring production into the Heath Ledger Theatre, Perth to perform their seminal, platinum selling second album ‘Sound Awake’ in its entirety for a special live streamed event.

Shot in a venue singled out for its incredible contemporary design and unique acoustic properties, the historic performance includes a full run through of the Sound Awake album, key songs from their other albums (including fan favourite ‘Fade’, captured on film properly for the first time), and some new material.

Within hours of the May 12, 2021 broadcast, they’d had an avalanche of requests from their global fanbase for a physical version of the visually stunning concert. Never intended for release but with online clamour hard to ignore the ‘Decade of Sound Awake’ Blu-ray will be available to buy from December 10.

Pre-order the Decade Of Sound Awake Blu-ray here: https://karnivool.lnk.to/TheDecadeOfSoundAwake

DECADE OF SOUND AWAKE Tracklisting

Simple Boy
Goliath
New Day
Set Fire To The Hive
Umbra
All I Know
The Medicine Wears Off
The Caudal Lure
Illumine
Deadman
Change
Fade
Roquefort
Aeons
All It Takes 

Watch the DECADE OF SOUND AWAKE video trailer here:

Karnivool acknowledges the Whadjuk Nyoongar people as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work, live and play. We pay respects to all Aboriginal elders and people, standing united towards a shared future. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Band images by Annie Harvey