Review – PreHistoric Animals – Finding Love In Strange Places – by John Wenlock-Smith

Bad Dog Promotions are proving themselves to be a most worthy PR resource for modern prog bands and associated artists. Okay, not everything is to my liking, however, I find more to my liking that ones I don’t like. There definitely a lot more ‘hit’ than ‘miss’ for me. Take, for instance, ‘Finding Love In Strange Places’, this fourth album from Sweden’s PreHistoric Animals. It certainly mixes things up blending, as it does, a love of progressive rock, alternative rock and brilliant pop music, a concept that shouldn’t work but somehow here it manages to pull of fthis feat in style.

Quite frankly I’m most thankful to have heard this album, as it is an album of depth and great songwriting and performances in a very clever concept, delivered and realised to a very high standard indeed.

The band are: Stefan Altzar (guitar, lead vocal and keyboards), Samuel Granath (drums and keyboards), Noah Magnusson (bass and keyboards) and Daniel Magdic (guitar, vocals and keyboards).

The album begins with The City Of My Dreams which opens with a Blade Runner type sequencer before heavy guitar and soaring synthesisers join in. The singer sounds reminiscent of someone who I can’t quite identify but sounds really good to me, The song has a compelling narrative and strong musical sections, all very well produced. I like this track a lot, it has lots of elements that together work hugely in its favour. A Bad Day For The Neon Gods is a brief interlude before Living In A World Of Bliss storms along with a fiery pace and drive. It’s a strange story about a girl who is a killer and eventually falls to her death. Her death inspires a follower to continue her work with a different outcome. I feel it is quite a hopeful song really but definitely an interesting one and another quality track.

Unbreakable is a longer track, opening with sequenced keyboards before a soaring guitar line plays. This track is about a couple who meet in a bar and commit to each other, getting married and both taking an implant to their brains which makes them attain a higher state of realisation of life. They sign the rest of their lives away in exchange for this heightened state, it’s an interesting premise and story and great musically as it has a lot going on throughout. Strange Places is a portentous, looming interlude that just builds up the suspense before He Is Number Four, a story of how two employees fall in love in a factory environment and how that single act saves countless others as the this stops an act of terror from even happening. It is the start of love that warms the female protagonist’s heart so much and deters her from the act of violence she had planned. It is a remarkable track bout how the power of love can change us as individuals.

Come Home is a very brief acoustic song, it’s all rather good and pleasant and doesn’t outstay its  welcome. This followed by The Secret Of Goodness, which appears to be about being watched by aliens, I could be wrong as it is a little unclear, it is very strong musically again though and another compelling tale. The final track on the album, Nothing Has Changed But Everything Is Different  is also a fantastic track rich in imagery and invention. This is a plea that that we should be loved for who we are. An epic guitar solo helps complete this very fine track with its simple themes and request. It is an emotionally laden song with much meaning and concludes what is quite frankly most interesting and accomplished album.

I really appreciated the level of imagination that is contained within these songs and the theme of finding love in strange places as told here on a brilliantly realised concept album of great songs and strong musical performances from PreHistoric Animals. With the excellent cover art, ‘Finding Love In Strange Places’ is an album that both looks and sounds good with real substance and definitely one to look out for on end of year ‘best of’ lists.

Released 16th May, 2024.

Order from bandcamp here:

Finding Love In Strange Places | PreHistoric Animals (bandcamp.com)

Review – Blue Rose Code – Bright Circumstance

“Lord, you have called my brother home, will you guide him gently, Lord, you have called my brother home to that sacred rest. Jesus, you’ve called my brother home would you give him shelter, now the big man has gone on…”

Ross Wilson (Blue Rose Code) is, at once, one of Edinburgh’s favourite sons and still one of Scotland’s best kept secrets. A decade-long career has seen Wilson work with the great Danny Thompson, Eddi Reader, and most recently, co-write with English folk royalty – Steve Knightley.

Unusually, four years since Blue Rose Code’s last record, the songs on ‘Bright Circumstance’ were written between Galson in the North of Lewis and the Whitstable sea-front in Kent. Four years has seen new fatherhood, a dropping anchor in Liverpool, and (once the pandemic allowed) extensive national and international touring with Wilson’s seven-piece band.

Last Summer saw BRC play mainstages at Cambridge Folk Festival, Shrewsbury festival, Tonder in Denmark, and Black Deer. The experience of playing to the big crowds with the big band has developed the Blue Rose Code sound into an unmissable live show and that energy has been taken into the studio for the new record ‘Bright Circumstance’.

I feel that Ross has reached a creative nirvana with this new album. A completely wonderful melding of folk, roots, soul, country and Americana that touches your very soul and is reflective, uplifting and just a musical breath of fresh air but, before we delve into the review, Ross explains more about the new album:

How do you go about creating/writing the songs for a new album? Do you have a bank of songs or are they new experiences that you use to help with the idea behind the songs?

For me I always give time, that’s where the songs begin. In a space where there is no pressure, no expectations. Deadlines are great for work or otherwise but I think music ought not to be held to an artificial timeline. It walks its own path. Often songs will come in twos or threes for me, when I feel creative I’ll pick up the guitar or sit at the piano and they fall out in their own good time but mostly as a team. It’s always happened that, over the course of writing an album, at least one song will be written that is a last minute edition. This time it was ‘Now The Big Man Has Gone On’. Written for my dear pal Gordon’s funeral. 

I spend most of my life away from ‘being an artist’, it’s the only way that I’ve found to garner experiences honest and authentic enough to write about. I forget that I’m a musician and, when we’re out on a sustained run of shows I’m all of a sudden like, ‘oh, yeah, *this* is what it’s all about’, because that connection when I’m performing, between myself and the band and the audience, that flow is the greatest sensation I’ve ever experienced.

Do you have a cohesive idea/concept behind the album or is it a collection of random tracks?

Any concept would be post-rationalisation and, while some people may like to be seduced by their musicians talking shite about what they’ve done, that’s not really my gig. Having written and recorded this record, and now with a bit of distance from it, the biggest theme that’s emerged (by accident) is one of Faith with a capital F. 

Faith is very unsexy nowadays, you’re either naive, stupid and/or very likely bigoted. Since becoming a father again and coming out of the dread and desolation of the Pandemic, I’ve realised the need for communion and connection in my life, nay, all of us are inherently interdependent, the Lockdowns convinced me of that utterly. God, gods, Yahweh, Allah, Yoda, Mother Nature, whatever you want to call (insert pronoun here), I’m pretty relaxed about the notion that there is a power greater than me that binds us. 

I think this is your best album to date and, while it is most definitively a BRC album, it feels slightly different than the ones that have preceded it, is that intentional?

Thank you! I made a conscious effort to take the band out to festivals and grow a bigger, more muscular, soulful sound. We’ve had a riot around the country, a lot of fun, lots of dancing and smiling and I was so determined to bring some of that raucousness into the studio. I wanted to grab, on record, what we sound like out there, with the counterpoint of some of what you’d expect from a BRC record. 

Now, let’s see just exactly what ‘Bright Circumstance’ is all about…

Jericho opens the album with a high octane injection of soul, a fast paced thrill ride where Paul Harrison’s piano and Paul Towndrow’s horn section drive the track along with a grin inducing energy, the kind of live energy that has wowed festivals and theatres throughout 2023. Ross’ vocals are dynamic and uplifting and give the record a rather enticing opening and a blistering statement of intent. The mood is turned completely on its head with Sadie, a heartfelt lament written from a very personal perspective, a song about generational trauma and addiction. A melancholic strummed guitar is matched my Ross’ sombre and wistful vocals but the star of the show here is Conor Smith and his elegantly played, respectful pedal steel guitar which just bleeds emotion, it is simply heartbreaking and plaintive, every note touching and beautifully delivered. The mood turns again with the wonderfully triumphant horn arrangement by Paul Harrison that opens Never Know Why, a song about Grace, about experience over knowledge. Soulful with an almost reggae feel to it, the funky trombone from Liam Shortall and Harrison’s dancing piano just add to the inspirational vibe and general feeling of good will, a song that just makes you smile!

The subdued atmosphere returns with the elegant and stately Thirteen Years, this song is about Tory Britain, about kids going to sleep hungry and waking up hungry, going to school hungry. It’s a powerful message delivered with passion and pride but in a most dignified manner which is only enhanced by the gorgeous, haunting violin of Greg Lawson. A powerful piece of music that makes you stop and think. Next comes a full-on Gospel version of Amazing Grace where Ross makes the song his own, a personal and jubilant reworking of the classic hymn, featuring a chorus of Eddi Readers in the background. The music is almost bluesy with a brilliant Hammond organ leading the refrain and Paul Towndrow’s soulful sax adding some real verve, it’s simply irresistible. My favourite song of the year so far from any artist, Peace In Your Heart was written coming out of the pandemic and in light of the mental health crisis that came about through lack of connection. A gentle, wistful piece of music that just gets under your skin and seeps into your soul with its love and compassion, bringing tears of joy and a feeling of hope welling up,“May this next year go easier on your soul, I love you and I wish you peace in your heart.”

“Take my hand my love, hold me in your arms. Love me like you do, easy as we go…”. A song of hope, of renewal, about the coming spring, Easy As We Go blends Scottish country and Americana perfectly, the yearning and longing for something new, something better is uplifting and optimistic, imbuing an aura of faith and brotherhood into the music and Ross’ words. A comforting song that speaks of a brighter future, Donald Shaw’s accordion and Lyle Watt’s mandolin adding a real authenticity to proceedings. Sultry and brooding with haunting vocals to match, Don’t Be Afraid speaks of faith and devotion. The bible features the phrase ‘don’t be afraid’ 365 times. One day at a time. The dark and light of Jungian thought, ‘the devil is fear by another name’, a song with a questioning nature at its heart, pure creativity and originality and a showcase for the songwriting brilliance of Ross Wilson. The song segues brilliantly into the stark McDonald’s Lament, a Gaelic preamble to Now The Big Man Has Gone, written for a close friend of Ross’ who died suddenly while the record was being finished in Glasgow. Written for the Big man’s funeral, it is Ross with his heart laid bare, inviting us in to his own personal mourning. Pared back, it is just Ross’ perfectly judged vocal with a gentle mandolin and his faith holding strong as he bids farewell to a loved one and asks that he be welcomed into heaven with open arms. A tender and beautiful piece of music that has all of this spiritual musicians heart and soul at its very core, the recording of the Big man’s voice a very poignant way to close the album.

Music can reflect life and accompany us on our very personal journeys and we should be honoured that Ross Wilson has invited us to join him on his own poignant and introspective pilgrimage through his faith. What he has given us is one of the most intense and intimate records released this year, with faith and devotion as its central themes. ‘Bright Circumstance’ is an utterly captivating triumph and should propel Blue Rose Code onto further and better things, it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Released 10th May, 2024.

Order the album here:

Bright Circumstance (lnk.to)

Blue Rose Code is Ross Wilson

Drums – Stuart Brown, Trumpet & Flugel – Matt Gough, Keys – Paul Harrison, Violin – Greg Lawson, Vocals – Eddi Reader, Accordion – Donald Shaw, Trombone – Liam Shortall, Pedal Steel – Conor Smith, Bass – Gus Stirrat, Vocals – Naomi Stirrat, Saxophone – Paul Towndrow, Guitars & Mandolin – Lyle Watt.

Review – Nataraja – Spirit At Play – by John Wenlock-Smith

This album, Natajara’s Spirit At Play’, really appealed to me having a fondness for jazz fusion and knowing the Mahavishnu Orchestra catalogue pretty well, as I do. Guitarist Jack Jennings is new to me but here, on this rather splendid album, he combines his love of Jimi Hendrix with his passion for the Raja’s of northern India to fine effect.

This album may be a fairly challenging listen for the casual listener, however, bearing in mind that it was recorded live in just one day. The levels of skill on display here are really astonishing, you have the flamboyant guitar of Jennings anchored with the superb and sympathetic rhythm section of John Jowitt (bass) and Andy Edwards (Drums), the subtle analog synths of Richard Charles Boxley adding delicate textures over the top in a very sensitive way. It does help if you like Indian classical music, Ravi Shankar or John Mclaughlin’s ‘Shakti’, all of which have connections to this style of music. Overall, I would definitely recommend this to the more adventurous types who will find much to appreciate within this release. The album is produced by Phi Yaan Zek, which is a good enough reason to be even remotely interested in this music, as he is excellent in his own right.

Back to ‘Spirits At Play’, it has just five tracks, two relatively short, one medium and two very long tracks, both over ten minutes in length. The sound is crisp and punchy throughout with great separation between all of the instruments. I do especially like how fluid Jack Jennings playing is as he can really let rip on these tracks, he is most competent indeed and can play a blinder, as he does on title track Spirit At Play, where he plays an extended solo with great skill, flair and at lightning speed too! It is really remarkable playing, you really appreciate the strong support he gets from John and Andy ,both of who are really great on here. Raag Hansadwhani – Vinayaka is another excellent track being bathed in synths in its opening section These a bubble and are not overpowering at al,l leaving room for Jack to improvise freely, which sound really good here. He is a player of both taste and style and that shows clearly here.

As I say not an easy listen, in fact it can be rather intense and dense music at times. That said, it does sound very good, if not a little different to most modern music. Within the music you do get a sense of the measure of respect that Jack has for this form and of how he is seeking to honour and respect this by through his own interpretations of these Raja’s. I think that he should be both noted and applauded for bringing this fresh and vibrant translations and interpretations to this live arena as he does here.

Released 23rd March, 2024.

Order from bandcamp here:

Spirit At Play | Nataraja (bandcamp.com)

Review – Warhorse; The Recordings 1970-1972 – by John Wenlock-Smith

When I heard about this 2CD set, which contains both the albums Warhorse made for the Vertigo label in 1970 and 1972, I became rather excited and curious of how these albums would sound 50 years after their original release.

Warhorse were a short lived group but with an interesting history. Formed by bassist Nick Simper when he was replaced in Deep Purple by Roger Glover in 1970, they were originally formed as a backing group to singer Marsha Hunt and originally had in their ranks, a Pre-Strawbs/Yes Rick Wakeman, who sadly left before actually recording with the group. In addition, both vocalist Ashley Holt and drummer Barney Jones would leave the band in 1974 to join Wakeman in his band The English Rock Ensemble.

In the meantime Warhorse did manage to make two albums for Vertigo, these being ‘Warhorse’ (1970) and ‘Red Sea’ (1972), both of which are here along, with a further eleven tracks of demo’s and live versions of the songs.

So what does it sound like? you ask, well, to these ears it sounds like the era in which it was made. So, if you consider a mix of say Uriah Heep and Deep Purple then you wouldn’t be a million miles away from the sound the band made.

The ‘Warhorse’ album begins with the strong, Hammond organ driven, Vulture Blood which sets out the stall in a decent manner. You can definitely detect the Deep Purple connection in the sound. No Chance features some interesting bass runs before the keyboards commence, again it’s very intense sounding and very Uriah Heep in style, although a good guitar line cuts through well. I like this track as it has good vocals which are both confident and clear, proving Ashley to be a fine singer in a certain style. It’s one that works well here at least, I was less convinced by his performances with The English Rock Ensemble somehow. Burning opens in a very strident, almost marching style, tempo, most effective, before a swirl of keyboards and a chunky guitar riff are introduced, successfully too I will say. This song has interesting lyrics too making another very fine track.

Next we have a cover of a song from The Easybeats called St Louis that was intended as a single but, sadly, wasn’t a hit as such. The track has a sprightly riff and moves along at a cracking pace, it’s actually rather good and deserved far more than it achieved, unfortunately such is often the way of  things in music. The more lengthy Ritual features three time on this collection, one album and two live versions, all being of differing length. The song is pretty powerful but despite a stomping beat and great guitar work, it actually isn’t the finest moment really as it kind of meanders somewhat aimlessly or it seems that way to me at least. Far better is Solitude, which is the albums epic track at just shy of nine minutes in length, which gives a chance for the track to really evolve and show its progressive elements off fully in a strong manner. There’s nifty guitar work from Ged Peck who plays excellently throughout, he was definitely very underrated in his time.

This leads onto another longish song, Woman Of The Devil, which bristles with energy and has more Hammond and keys from Frank Wilson, who is all over this track in a most exciting manner. More great guitar from Ged really helps lift the track greatly. It has strong echoes of Uriah Heep’s Gypsy. This concludes the Warhorse album although this version is bolstered by four live tracks and a demo of Miss Jane, all of which are decent and very welcome. You can tell that they must have been an excellent live act in the day and one that could engage, interact and captivate an audience.

The sophomore album ‘Red Sea’ was released in 1972 and contains seven more tracks of excellent early 1970’s hard rock and prog songs beginning with short title track Red Sea, which is a busy little number with doubled guitar lines and an underpinned Hammond Organ. A great guitar runs through this track, although it should be noticed that Ged Peck had been replaced at this stage by Pete Parks, who was a soloist in a different style and really makes his mark on this second album. The longer and stronger Back In Time is really excellent, especially if you like organ driven tracks, as this one is, interlaced with short guitar fills and notes. This track shows the differences between the guitarists, Ged Peck being the more adventurous and fluid player. Pete Parks is a great player but not really in the same league somehow, although his solo section on this song is pretty exciting. Confident But Wrong has a good guitar riff that holds it all together along with more concise soloing from Pete. It’s a strong track underpinned by more Hammond from Frank Wilson, who again adds great depth and colour to the track.

Sybilla is another interesting track with a throbbing bass line and chunky guitar riffs and fills making another excellent track. Next is the album’s longest track Mouthpiece which has an extended drum solo woven into it. This piece has excellent dynamics and makes for a very different, but nonetheless exciting, instrumental track where each member gets their chance to shin in some fine ensemble playing and strong performances. This then leaves the bonus tracks which are a further live version of Ritual and five demos that were to form the basis of their third, unrealised, album that was to have been on Atlantic Records.

Despite the band being signed, the OPEC oil crisis of 1974 put those plans on permanent ice and that was then end of Warhorse. Ashley Holt and Barney James were invited to join Wakeman’s TheEnglish Rock Ensemble and they duly accepted, bringing to an end the short lived career of Warhorse. However, with this excellent re-release of these albums in the full glory and with the usual Esoteric care and attention, this fine group can be heard in their full glory once again. This is a release of note that I strongly recommend to all.

Released 26th April, 2024.

Order from Cherry Red here:

Warhorse: The Recordings 1970-1972, 2CD (cherryred.co.uk)

Review – Six By Six – Beyond Shadowland – by John Wenlock-Smith

Occasionally, and very rarely, I get an album that fails to captivate me fully. Whether this is my fault or a failing on behalf of the artist is very much open to debate. In this instance, I was anticipating and expecting far greater than what is on offer here, which is actually not that bad. However when your debut is stunning, as was the first self-titled SiX By SiX album, it is very disappointing when the follow up, ‘Beyond Shadowland’, falls a long way short of what had gone before, and is, to be blunt, definitely sub-standard quality wise in comparison.

To be fair, you do get more crunchy prog-rock crossover songs with some soaring guitar lines exciting riffs and excellent drumming. Yet, despite all this, it seems a little too safe and too pedestrian for these ears. I realise that coming up with another quality album as quickly as SiX By SiX have done is not an easy task. However, this sophomore album comes barely a year on from their debut album and I can’t help but think that they missed out in applying some crucial quality controls on this album, making it a step backwards for the band and not a progression in my view.

It has great cover art but its contents are relatively unrewarding thus giving us material that suffers highly in comparison to their excellent debut, which really captured the imagination first time around. There are some good tracks but there is way too much that lacks enough magic focus. This really saddens me for, as a trio, these are all seasoned, intelligent and articulate musicians who know their craft. However, here they seem to have forgotten that songs need more than a strong riff, they need some commitment and some thrust and drive, not just power for powers sake! Bluff and bluster is really not good enough from these veterans, rather more, they need a strong melody and a touch of polish, which several of these tracks seem to be missing.

I do like the longer track One Step that has time to actually go somewhere interesting and the tracks Arms of a Word and Can’t Live This do have their charms. Sadly, it’s not the case elsewhere on the album, no doubt I will still actually buy the album and really make my own mind up. However, at this moment in time I don’t find it a very appealing album unfortunately, which is a shame as, on paper, it is all there. You have the vibrant guitar work of Ian Crichton, the powerful drums of Nigel Glockner and the undeniable talent and production skills of bassist and vocalist Robert Berry. Here though, it simply fails to really ignite or to captivate in any significant manner. 

I hope this is a blip and doesn’t mean the end of what could be a very rewarding project. I really hope they regroup, refocus and return with the album that they really should have delivered rather than this mishmash of half realised ideas and incomplete songs. I really hope so guys but you fell far short here, you didn’t even reach the Shadowland, yet alone get beyond it…

Full track listing:

1.     Wren 

2.     The Arms of a Word  

3.     Can’t Live Like This  

4.     Obiliex

5.     Only You Can Decide  

6.     Titans 

7.     Outside Looking In  

8.     Spectre

9.     Sympathise  

10.  One Step

11.  The Mission

Released 26th April, 2024.

Order the album here:

Six By Six – The Mission (lnk.to)

Review – Colosseum: Elegy – The Recordings 1968-1971, 6CD Box Set – by John Wenlock-Smith

I received this splendid box set from Esoteric recently, containing the five albums released by the original version of Colosseum released in the early 1970’s. They were albums of great significance in the then emerging and developing area of progressive music, mixing, jazz, fusion, blues and rock in a distinctive amalgam of styles but never being less than interesting listening.

I myself came to Colosseum a lot later in my life, despite their albums being in abundance at my then favourite record shop in Birmingham where I lived at the time. Although I was a big fan of the latter, mid-1970’s incarnation of the band, called Colosseum 11, featuring Gary Moore on Guitar and Don Airey on keyboards, alongside Jon Hiseman on drums and the ever dependable Neil Murray on bass. This version was far heavier sound wise than the original Colosseum ever were and whilst I enjoyed the strange new album immensely, somehow I never went back to the original albums, my mistake of course. Call it the folly of youth but I was definitely blinkered in my sonic appreciation. In my teens I was a heavy metal man and dismissed lots of music that I have since come to appreciate more fully as I have aged, ironic really!

Colosseum came to my ear fully in the late 1990’s when I was buying music online from a well known website that has since ceased to be. I can’t even recall what it was called but it was very popular in the day and had great deals and offers. I spent a fortune on there over the years and, in the process, I acquired all the Colosseum remasters on the Sanctuary label, all of which are, in the main, included in this ‘Elegy’ box set; ‘Those Who Are About To Die Salute You’, ‘Valentyne Suite’, ‘The Grass Is Greener’, ‘Daughter Of Time’ and ‘Colosseum Live’, along with an additional twelve bonus tracks, a highly informative booklet of sleeve notes, recollections and photographs of the time.

There are differences, however, between the remasters I already possessed and this set, in that there a few omissions and a few hitherto unreleased cuts which makes for an interesting and rewarding listen. One thing I found interesting was that the name Colosseum was chosen by Jon Hiseman whilst sitting on Palatine Hill in Rome, overlooking the actual Colosseum with Barbara Thompson, who he later married of course. They were visiting her relatives in Italy at the time when Jon announced he was going to start a band and call it Colosseum, the rest, as they say, is history.

Jon was already friends with Dave Greenslade and Dick Heckstall-Smith, both of whom he knew from his schooldays and both of whom he had played with over the years. They found guitarist James Litherland and bass guitarist Tony Reeves from auditions in London and they were off. They hooked up with the Bron Agency and Gerry Bron who got them a deal with Phillips for the first album, ‘Those Who Are About To Die Salute You’. Released in 1969, this debut was very influential in progressive music circles as here were a group who were really pushing the boundaries and embracing varied influences into a distinctive melting pot, making vibrant and exciting music for the then modern world, it still sounds highly impressive now, over 55 years later.

However the best was yet to come, Colosseum were signed to new Phillips‘ label Vertigo, targeting the demand for progressive music. So it was that the band’s second album ‘Valentyne’ appeared as the first Vertigo Records release as Vertigo 001 in 1970. This introduced both the label and the band to a whole new audience, especially as the album fitted perfectly with the aspirations of the label and the music was highly suited, being an elaborate, almost conceptual, album of linked pieces, especially in the three part Valentyne Suite which occupied side two of the record. The album still sounds outstanding and ground-breaking today, that it was a young group, most of whom were barely in there early 20’s, yet who were creating some incredibly complex and extremely well conceived and competently delivered music, is all the more remarkable.

In the USA and Canada the album appeared in different form in 1970 as ‘The Grass is Greener’ remixed and featuring a series of songs unreleased in the UK.

‘Daughter Of Time’, released in 1970, brought a change of line up, in that both James  Litherland and Tony Reeves left. These were replaced by Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson and Louis Cennamo but Cennamo found Colosseum too heavy for his tastes and left. However, Clempson had seen Mark Clarke playing in Liverpool and felt he might be a good fit for the ban, so it was that Clarke joined the band. It was also felt that a vocalist would help the group and Dave Greenslade suggested Chris Farlowe.

The final discs of the set are the previously issued and expanded version of ‘Colosseum Live’, complete with a second disc of other live tracks from Manchester University and Brighton, recorded in 1971. These do repeat several songs, namely Rope Ladder To The Moon, Skellington and Stormy Monday Blues, but it’s great to hear them here. Also here are live versions of The Valentyne Suite tracks, which are always great to hear again.

So there you have it, a potted history of the original incarnation of Colosseum, who admittedly did reform in 1991 and then reappeared frequently in the next century. However, they were never quite able to reclaim the impact of the original, who were quite simply a band for the time of the late 60’s and early 70’s, as this excellent set captures in their full dazzling and powerfully impressive manner. Excellent packaging and superlative sleeve notes add to a most welcome release. It is highly recommended indeed, especially if you like any of the latter spin offs like Greenslade or ColosseumII. This set represents an extremely influential and significant chapter in the history of progressive rock.

Released – 29th March, 2024.

Order here:

Colosseum: Elegy – The Recordings 1968-1971, 6CD Box Set (cherryred.co.uk)

Review – Mayfire – Cloudscapes & Silhouettes – by Rob Fisher

Some albums have an uncanny ability to quickly etch themselves on your soul, delivering an adrenaline-fuelled rush of tingling elation which makes you truly glad to be alive. Alive is certainly how you will feel by the time you reach the end of Cloudscapes and Silhouettes, heart-rate elevated, blood coursing through your veins, wide-eyed with exhilaration, a surprised but passion-spent ‘bloody hell’ escaping from your lips as the final notes fade.

Mayfire have created a blistering debut album which throbs, pulses, confronts and caresses, teases and goads, yet through it all, holds you captivated, enthralled and transfixed. By the time it finishes, you will, even though pleasantly dazed and perhaps a smidge flustered, truly understand with an aching certainty the fullest, deepest and most encompassing meaning of ‘epic’.

Opening track The Fall (Track 1) sets the scene, a moody, brooding, unsettling prophetic lament giving us a glimpse of the expansive cinematic canvas to come. The atmospheric panorama makes you feel as if you are being confronted by a momentous quest, a chilling, portentous challenge:

Some say it was the overpopulation that started it all
Some say it’s just human nature.
The power. The Greed.
The never-ending reach for more.
It doesn’t matter much who was wrong or right
And the Earth was left broken
And it didn’t stop human nature
So if you ask me
The fall, it was just a matter of time

The foreboding crescendo which follows is a premonition of the journey that is to come. Silence descends. We wait with bated breath.

City of Ruins (Track 2) quickly sets the scene; a light, symphonic intro dissolves into a compelling musical full frontal, the guitar work oscillating between staccato, accentuated bursts which then flow into reverberating, extended chords; an insistent, demanding drum pulsates, driving the music forward. Above it all the vocal prowess of MJX is towering, glorious, peerless, lighting the way, leading us on, a light in the darkness.

Shadows (Track 3) confirms initial impressions. An impressive opening gambit, growling with unsettling menace eases into a beautiful oasis of melodic calm. But the power of the voice returns to pierce the illusion; a voice laden with anger, despair, lament calls across growling guitar foundations into the emptiness:

Trying to understand, Never to be the same.
Now that I have seen it, it all makes sense.
Saying you’re sorry won’t suffice this time,
Giving you another chance or never to be seen again
.   

Time signatures change and shift to match the mood and the pace of song; instrumental combinations weave, combine, dissipate, forming new combinations, driving the momentum forward. The magic of this album is precisely the ever-shifting textures in the soundscapes. Within the context of a song, you never hear the same thing twice. Mayfire are forging their own path, their own sound, in order to express emotional depth through the interplay of complex rhythms, sophisticated melodies, intricate changes of tempo and shuddering transitions.

The title track brings even greater contrasts. A discordant, jarring opening outburst gives way to the exquisitely nuanced and delicate melody. But it can’t last: the beauty is broken, disrupted back to discordant noise. But wait; beauty returns. That voice. Pleads. Begs. Dreams. Hopes. “Stay strong, carry on”. Vulnerability is writ large. But it can’t last, can’t withstand the onslaught which inevitably arrives. This time a soaring guitar solo replaces the voice amidst the mayhem, briefly taming the darkness.

Thicker Than Water (Track 5) is a welcome respite. Aiden’s bass carries the load and propels a reflective urge to reach tender depths as memories are recalled and the serenity of nostalgia calms the storm. For a while. Past and present conflict; the reverie breaks. Guitars leak into the musical canvas like water running down wallpaper heralding a coming flood.

A Sense of Purpose (Track 6) is a thundering, relentless assault, climactic vocals falling apart into guttural growls and screams. The melody reaches out to restore order but is quickly overwhelmed with the roar of brutal passion and raw emotion. Contrast this with Vinternatt (Track 7), a total shift of tone, mood and atmosphere. The growl remains present, but constrained, melody given an echoing, transparent musical backdrop. Like a scene change at a theatre, it’s replaced with dense, intense, busy-ness, only to shift again, and again until we reach the most glorious passage of almost shamanic chanting, unexpected and immersive in the way it mesmerises and stops you dead in your tracks.

Fearless (Track 8) brings us toward resolution. The melody is stronger, centre stage, not knocked off by competing instrumental contrasts. The song structure is almost ‘traditional’, paired back and simplified, allowing a lighter, brighter air. Closing track The Age of Kings (Track 9) brings us full circle to the feel of Track 1. Except, too much has happened, we have travelled so far, so long, so hard. It may be a return to where we started but it now feels very different. “Don’t let this moment ever be the end! / Been staring at these lights in the distance / Feeling kind of safe here / Alone.”

I found my way to prog via heavy metal and heavy rock. I retain a deep fondness for and strong affinity with both genres. In the burgeoning arena of progressive metal where so much mediocrity has unfortunately blunted its edge, what Mayfire have achieved with Cloudscapes and Silhouettes is, to my mind, remarkable. The vision of the album is both magnificent in its scope as well as monumental in its reach. Impressively ambitious. The innovative use of evolving layering to build creative shifting textures and create rich, resonant soundscapes is nothing short of triumphant. And in case I’ve not mentioned it before: that voice. Bloody hell. It gives you the world and everything in it.

Released November 17th, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here:

Cloudscapes & Silhouettes | Mayfire (bandcamp.com)

TRACK LISTING
1. The Fall 02:24
2. City Of Ruins 04:31
3. Shadows 06:33
4. Cloudscapes & Silhouettes 05:52
5. Thicker Than Water 03:51
6. A Sense Of Purpose 03:44
7. Vinternatt 05:35
8. Fearless 06:06
9. The Age Of Kings 05:24

MUSICIANS
Aiden – Bass
Eros – Drum
Locke – Guitar
MJX – Vocals
REX – Guitar

Haken guitarist Richard Henshall announces solo EP; releases first single/video 

Mu Vol. 1 EP set for release 7th June

First single/video ‘Mu’ streaming now

Progressive multi-instumentalist and celebrated guitarist Richard Henshall has announced the release of his new EP – the first in an a trilogy – Mu Vol. 1, on 7th June,. He has also unveiled the first single ‘Mu’, along with a multi-cam play-through video.

Watch the video here:

Preorder Mu Vol. 1 EP here:

Mu by Richard Henshall – DistroKid

During 2020 Henshall started work on his Mu collection, a trilogy of EPs that explore his love for jazz-infused, intricate instrumental music. The EPs will be released throughout 2024 and promise to be some of his most richly textured, adventurous music to date. Richard is joined by drummer Lang Zhao and saxophonist Adam Carillio, while he handles guitar, bass & keyboard duties.

On the Mu EP and launch single ‘Yang’ he comments: “I got the initial rhythmic idea for Mu on a flight home from a Haken tour just before the lockdown kicked off in the UK. Little did I know that it’d end up being the catalyst for a trilogy of jazz-tinged, instrumental EPs. The rhythmic powerhouse, Lang Zhao, is on the drums and his highly creative playing style has really elevated these arrangements to new levels. This new collection of songs has a strong focus on rhythm and explores some new ground for me as a writer and guitar player. I can’t to share what I’ve cooked up with everyone.”

Richard Henshall is a composer, guitarist and keyboardist hailing from London, England. He is acclaimed for his work as founding member of progressive metal juggernaut Haken, as well as his endeavours as a solo artist. Henshall has been named as Music Radar’s no. 11 ‘best prog guitarist’ and in Guitar World’s ‘top 15 best prog rock guitarist’. 

In 2014, Henshall joined forces with Between the Buried and Me’s Dan Briggs and formed Nova Collective. Together they wrote the critically acclaimed ‘The Further Side’, which draws influences from the likes of Chick Corea and Mahavishnu Orchestra. In 2017, Henshall, alongside his Haken bandmates, featured in Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress performing the songs of Dream Theater for a year of very special shows around the world.

In 2019, Henshall completed work on his ambitious debut solo album, entitled The Cocoon, which features Jordan Rudess as well as host of other guests. The music ranges from dense polyrhythmic passages to delicate minimalistic interludes and features Henshall’s trademark guitar and keyboard playing throughout along with his debut performance as a lead vocalist. Prog Radar described it as “a truly impressive release and one that shows Richard at the height of his creative powers.” 

The Oculist Release New Track, ‘Terminal’, and Video From Acclaimed Debut Album ‘Cautionary Tales’

After releasing the album ‘Cautionary Tales’ at the beginning of the year, The Oculist present their latest offering with a video for their song Terminal. This song explores the sinister tale of Robert Berdella and presents the bands stylistic versatility, featuring stellar musicianship, effortlessly weaving between prog and death metal styles with aplomb.

Watch the video here:

The Oculist is Adam Dunn and Çağrı Tozluoğlu. Track features the extraordinary talents of Simon Fitzpatrick on the bass and James Wise on drums. Terminal mixed at TimbreWorks London and mastered by legendary Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios Sweden. 

Order ‘Cautionary Tales’ from bandcamp here:

Cautionary Tales | The Oculist (bandcamp.com)

Review – The Raging Project – Future Days – by John Wenlock-Smith

This is a very strange album for me, mixing as it does elements of almost rap, progressive metal and ambient textures. ‘Future Days’ is the brainchild of French musician Ivan Jacquin who, along with Lionel Fevre, was in an electro metal act which developed into Project Rage in 2007. Joined by Jeannick Valleur, they released an EP in 2009 but their attempts to become a fully fledged band faltered and, eventually, Ivan worked on a different project called Foreign Rock Opera. Now, joined by a dozen talented and prestigious artists, Ivan decided to revisit some old, lost tracks and revive them afresh.

The result is The Raging Project and this collection of themed/linked songs and soundscapes. It is not always an easy listen as the concept is a little vague and obscure at times, what is without question is the quality of the material that is very well constructed and contains some stellar performances from all the musicians involved.

The album features the wonderful Amanda Lehman (Steve Hackett Band) on guitar and vocals on a couple of track where she gets to really let fly. I was especially impressed with Even if I Bleed and the french version of the same song, M​ê​me si je saigne but also highly noteworthy is a dance track I Wanna Dance, which does actually work within the album bringing some light relief to the more seriously themed tracks. Ambient also impresses with some solid guitar links and an interesting wall of sound making a strong impression. In fact, the more I became attuned to this album, the more my appreciation for it grew. The vocals are especially pleasing on this track, soaring over some fine guitar lines, it is all really strong and impressive stuff.

For me, at least, the piece de la resistance here is the epic track On Earth which features Derek Sherinian on keyboards and theremin. It is nearly ten and a half minutes of wonderfully evocative sounds and features a stunning performance from Derek commencing with growling synthetic and spacey synthetic lines to create an emotive soundscape over which there is a spoken word narration, The theremin offers a suitably mysterious sound on this song about climate change that is most impressive sounding. It really is a great track with the keyboards adding significantly to the overall effectiveness of the song as it continues to express its regret for how we have treated the earth. I will admit to being a tad biased here as I do especially appreciate the keyboards of Derek Sherinian as a member of the various projects that he has been a part of. His presence here is a delight for me and it’s a well delivered cameo appearance from the current keyboard player of note. That said, the supporting musicians all play equally as solidly and their performances are equally as strong.

Procession is another strong track. Sung in French, it is a brooding and moody piece with superb drums from Henri-Pierre Prudent and an excellent guitar track and solo from Amanda Lehmann that evokes echoes of David Gilmour in its tone and style. It is all most impressive really, I do like this track, one of the albums strongest in my opinion, it  is wonderfully fluid in sound. Wraith continues in a more muscular and metal style and adds a distinctive crunch to proceedings. gain strong vocals mix well with the powerful guitars and synths to make something memorable and strong

Final track M​ê​me si je saigne features Amanda’s epic guitar work again where she is able cut loose and shred a little. Apparently, it was a challenge that she welcomed and rose to in style. This is a lengthy track, rather intense but excellent nonetheless, there is some excellent fluid guitar on this track and Mr Hackett would be proud of her playing here as she really gets stuck into the groove.

So there you have it, a decidedly different album of moods and styles that may not always work but in the main it does. There is more than enough strong music here to at least warrant a listen so why not listen and make your own mind up? As for me, I certainly enjoyed it and feel that I will return to it, I’m just not sure how often.

Released February 6th, 2024.

Order from bandcamp here:

Future Days | THE RAGING PROJECT (bandcamp.com)