Interview With Geoff Downes by John Wenlock-Smith

The release of the first new material from Yes since ‘Heaven and Earth’ has been a long time in coming. During that time there have been many changes to the world of Yes, most notably the sad death of Chris Squire in 2016. There has also been the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc with most people’s plans, a situation that Yes have also been affected by. Here’s what Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes had to say about this period.

John Wenlock-Smith (JWS): Good day Geoff, thanks fore making time to talk with me, how have you been keeping during this time?

Geoff Downes (GD): I’ve not been too bad, I’ve managed to keep myself active. We recorded this new album remotely with Alan (White) and Billy (Sherwood) in the US, Jon (Davidson) in the Caribbean and Steve (Howe) and myself here in the UK, it’s a nice way of working I find.

JWS: Results Seem to be positive, you seem to bring out the best in each other somehow?

GD: Yes, I think it does, it also gives you the chance to sit back and look at it all. We’ve had to do that with this Yes album and I think that we’ve learnt quite a lot by doing it that way. It’s a different approach but, at the same time, it can be creative as well.

JWS: It getting interesting reviews (the album), isn’t it?

GD: Yes, obviously the days of the band being in the studio for months locked away doesn’t really exist these days, as they did in the ’70’s. It’s been difficult with having the rhythm section in California, they were sending us files to review on a regular basis. But, of course, we’re not alone in that we were all locked down for months on end and we’ve had to adapt and respond to that as best as we could. Without the benefit of being able to play any live shows it has put people on a different route forward. It meant taking a more flexible approach to things really.

JWS: I spoke to Steve Hackett recently and he was saying a similar thing, he has had to adjust to a new approach to his music, but at least he is able to go out on tour again now.

GD: Yes, I had an email from Steve asking if I wanted to see him in Cardiff tThe nearest place to where I am in Chepstow) but he was saying I can’t see you though, we do the show and move the whole bubble onwards. So I didn’t get to see him this time, but I’ve seen his show many times at various stages. He always puts on a great show. He really puts a lot into his shows, not just him and his band but in the staging and the lighting and the whole experience and performance really. I’m looking forward to catching up with him again when he comes back round.

JWS: Touring will be happening for Yes again soon though?

GD: Well, yes, we’ve got a tour booked for next May and June in the UK and Europe.

JWS: This is the ‘Relayer’ Tour?

GD: Yes, it’s been postponed twice so we’re hoping it’s third time lucky for it to go ahead.

JWS: Well, the album is very interesting, I’ve heard it all, and the bonus tracks, one of which is obviously a tribute to the Beatles. But the whole album is interesting lyrically, you’re not afraid to tackle some important and controversial issues like ecology and conservation?

GD: I’m not involved with the lyrics per se, Jon was stuck in Barbados for 5 months and I think that’s reflected in his lyrics, global warming, obviously, and I think The Ice Bridge reflects those concerns. There’s nothing worse than musicians standing on a soapbox telling people what they should be doing but, by the same token, it’s true that the band are all getting older which brings its own challenges.

JWS: So what’s happening with the Downes Braides Association? I loved the ‘Halcyon Hymns’ album and wrote a glowing review of it, I thought it was excellent!

GD: Well, Chris has moved back here now from LA and I’m hopeful that we can get together and work on the next one more directly, as opposed to being two oceans apart. So we will have to see how that comes about in due course.

JWS: You also had the Asia albums re-released recently (‘The Reunion Albums 2007 to 2012’) on BMG.

GD: The 40th anniversary of the ‘Asia’ album is in 2022, so those albums are being re-promoted again to mark that event. Those first three albums were very significant and its important to mark those events again fully.

I’ve still got unworked material from a session I had with John (Wetton) before he sadly died so there is potential there to craft something new. I feel that Asia has not run its course and that there is still some life left in the band. Again, we’ll have to see what emerges from those sessions.

JWS: What about a new solo album for you? Surely you must be due for another one soon?

GD: Yes, I have been thinking about doing something, although quite what that will be is very open. I think I’d like to do something in a similar vein to ‘The Light Program’ from 1987, a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ album of its time but worth revisiting again I think.

JWS: I also read recently that you wanted the keyboards on this new album, ‘The Quest’ to be more analogue than digital, more like earlier Yes albums?

GD: When I was growing up, I was hugely influenced by the keyboard sounds that Tony Kaye used on those early Yes albums. He was a monster on the growling Hammond and when we did the ‘Yes 50’ tour, Tony was a guest on some dates. He still commands the Hammond organ and we became good friends, so that was a big factor for me. Plus, I think the music Steve was making on the guitar leant itself to that classic type of sound, so that’s what I did, and I think it worked okay.

JWS: Tony Has a new solo album out, ‘End of Innocence’, have you heard it yet?

GD: No, but I want to hear it, it’s all about the World Trade Centre and 9/11 isn’t it?

JWS: Yes, it’s a good album.

GD: Does he play lots of Hammond on it?

JWS: Yes, throughout.

GD: I’ll have to ask management to get me a copy then.

JWS: You won’t regret it Geoff, it’s a fine piece of work, very worthwhile. Anyway, my time has gone, I’m afraid, thanks for talking to me.

GD: No problem John, thanks for interesting questions and for knowing your stuff, I’ve enjoyed talking to you, thank you!

‘The Quest’ by Yes is released on 1st October, 2021 and you can order a copy here:

The Quest (lnk.to)

ProgJect – The Ultimate Prog Rock Experience

ProgJect is The Ultimate Prog Rock Experience featuring Michael Sadler, Ryo Okumoto, Jason Bieler, Matt Dorsey, and Jonathan Mover performing the classics and epics of Genesis, Yes, ELP, and King Crimson, along with some Pink Floyd, Rush, Jethro Tull, Peter Gabriel, Gentle Giant and more.

Michael Sadler (SAGA) – Lead Vocals, Keys, Bass & Percussion
Ryo Okumoto (Spock’s Beard, Asia, Chris Squire) – Keyboards & Vocals 
Jason Bieler (The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra, Saigon Kick) – Guitar & Vocals
Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, Beth Hart, Hannah Montana) – Bass, Pedals, Guitar, Keys & Vocals 
Jonathan Mover (GTR, Marillion, Joe Satriani, The Tubes) – Drums, Percussion, Samples & Vocals

The brainchild of Jonathan Mover, ProgJect came to fruition out of his love for and childhood dream of playing the ‘Prog’ he grew up listening to. “Prog Rock is the reason I play drums,” Mover explains.

After a last-minute call to tour with the premier Genesis tribute band The Musical Box, Mover returned home waxing nostalgic: “I haven’t had that much fun onstage in a long time and was reminded of the reason I began drumming in the first place–Prog Rock. Playing songs like ‘Robbery, Assault and Battery’, ‘Dance on A Volcano’, ‘Wot Gorilla’, ‘Watcher of The Skies’ and ‘Back In NYC’ had me feeling fifteen again and relit the very same fire I felt when I first picked up sticks.”

Next thought, “What if I put together ‘The Ultimate Prog Rock Experience’, with top players, and pay homage to our favorite Prog giants–Genesis, Yes, ELP and King Crimson, along with some Pink Floyd, Rush, Peter Gabriel, U.K., Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and more?” The seeds were sown.

With a two-plus hour set that includes Prog classics and epics such as, “Squonk”, “Cinema Show”, “Firth of Fifth’, “Karn Evil 9 – 1st Impression Pt. I & II”, “Siberian Khatru”, “Roundabout”, “Heart of the Sunrise”, “21st Century Schizoid Man”, “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic”, “Xanadu”, “La Villa Strangiato”, “Have A Cigar”, “Wish You Were Here”, “Solsbury Hill”, “Living In The Past” and more… ProgJect is going to drop your jaw and blow your mind.

ALEX CANION COINS THE TERM ‘SORROWTAR’ IN SOLO HYMN ABOUT DEPRESSION, TAKEN FROM HIS FORTHCOMING EP ‘BIRTHMARK’

ALEX CANION OF PERTH BASED PROG METAL ACT VOYAGER LAUNCHES SOLO MATERIAL 

‘BIRTHMARK’ – COMING OCTOBER 25TH [INDEPENDENT]

Best known for being the charismatic bass player & backing vocalist of the Australian progressive metal band VOYAGER, Perth based musician Alex Canion takes the helm to navigate through the murky waters of alternative/heavy rock with his debut solo release, ‘Birthmark’.

Recorded in a guitar shop after hours and over the course of  6 years, ‘Birthmark’ will release independently on 25th October 2021, Alex’s birthday. To celebrate the launch of the EP and finally having these songs release to the world, he has now released the music video for the song ‘Sorrowtar’, a term he coined during his throes with depression.

Alex says this about Sorrowtar

“What might be the best song I’ve written yet, Sorrowtar is an ode to my battle with depression. Sorrowtar is a word I made up to try and describe what I was feeling inside at that time. The way I visualised it was as if I had black tar stretched out like tree roots from the core of my being, spreading throughout my body and infecting my organs and bones like cancer. It literally impacted every aspect of who I was and how I thought about myself. The crazy thing is that there’s always that little bit of Sorrowtar deep inside, I just need to make sure it’s not being fed! From the outset, Nine Inch Nails always came to mind as a stylistic inspiration for this song, particularly The Downward Spiral album. I first heard it when I was 11 years old and it has an especially dark aura to me which was what I was trying to replicate in this song. When played on acoustic guitar there are some sickeningly dissonant guitar voicing, which I’m proud of. This song paired with the stunning video clip my oldest friend Matt Pitcher put together, I think it might be the standout track on the EP for me personally.”

For the music video, Alex hired the efforts of good friends and local Perth musicians including a drummer you might recognise as Ashley Doodkorte, also from Voyager. The other musicians are Ben Court on Bass and Ari Remund on Piano, with Alex at the helm on guitars and vocals.

Birthmark is Alex’s first foray into the world of solo artists and features not only bass parts composed and performed by Alex, but also sees him take on drums, guitar and lead vocal duties as well, resulting in an emotive and personal journey where Alex can showcase his multi instrumentalist talents.

The title of the EP was inspired by the birthmarks on Alex’s left side of his face, symbolising his first solo effort in the music world and celebrating that which makes us all unique in our own way.

‘Birthmark’ arrives on 25th October and you can pre-order digitally on Bandcamp:

Birthmark | Alex Canion (bandcamp.com)

Track List for ‘Birthmark’

To The Fore

Mote of Dust

Habitual

Sorrowtar

Dream A Dream

Review – Steve Hackett – Surrender of Silence – by John Wenlock-Smith

Steve Hackett may be able to draw his pension these days but, even so, he has lost none of his fire or passion for making music as this, his second album of this year, clearly shows. A man who knows his own identity and is secure with his history and pedigree.

This album is his latest electric rock album unlike his earlier classical guitar album, ‘Under a Mediterranean Sky’, that was released in February of this year. On this release, Steve continues to mine the rich creative seam that surfaced on ‘At the Edge of Night’, ‘The Night Siren’ and ‘Wolflight’ and it fits well alongside each of those previous albums.

The album features all the members of his current touring band along with various guests, including Phil Ehart of Kansas who appears on the epic Shanghai To Samarkand. Big Big Train’s Nick Di’Virgilio appears on two tracks as does Christine Townsend, whose graceful violin and viola appear throughout.

Steve says on the album’s rear sleeve, “This album is a journey when no journeys were possible.”, meaning the worldwide covid pandemic that affected just about everyone. On this release Steve invites us to travel the world with him from the Urals to the Roof of Africa and on to the Himalayas. An epic album then for an epic voyage, let’s take a trip shall we as the album plays on.

Most rock fans will know the piece Eruption that was on Van Halen’s debut album or I’m A Believer from Giant, whose incendiary guitar intro made big waves in the early 1990’s. Well This album opens with The Obliterati which sees Steve using his tapping skills and arpeggio sweeps to craft a similarly striking prelude to the song Natalia, Steve said that with the orchestrations of Natalia he felt he had to stamp the guitar onto the track as a real presence and he certainly succeeds here. In fact I think if the wider rock community heard this blistering intro, they’d be amazed that a pensioner could play with so much fire, skill and technique.

It really makes you go wow, even when Roger King’s orchestrations are introduced, this still sounds truly fabulous and it is a spectacular and fine way to open the album before the more mellow tones of Natalia begin. A very moving song about a Russian everywoman who suffered at many hands over the years. This song has great orchestrations to it and you can hear the Russian classical influences.

Relaxation Music for Sharks (Featuring Feeding Frenzy) is another instrumental from Steve. It is a highly atmospheric piece with lots of great sounds and a very rocky and hard-hitting middle section where everyone is playing fast. Roger’s synth lines match Steve’s wah-wah guitar, the piece returning to a calmer state at the end, signifying that the feeding is over, well for now at least. Next follows a very African sounding song, Wingbeats, with Amanda Lemann. The McBroom sisters chant African vocals and the song has a very good chorus that sounds authentically African. The track based on Steve’s own trip to Africa a few years ago. The Devil’s Cathedral has a very gothic sounding organ, all ominous and portentous.It’s a song about unbridled ambition sung by Nad Sylvan, who is in fine voice throughout the album. The track gallops along at a fast pace, with lots of dynamism to assist its passage, all very impressive stuff.

Held In The Shadows is a far softer and more gentle song entirely, written by Steve as a love song to his wife Jo. This is a powerful and emotional piece of music, inspired by a lovely woman who has made his life better and completed him wonderfully. The album’s epic, Shanghai To Samarkand follows. Taking the route of the old silk road from China to the middle east through Turkmenistan as it’s inspiration, this track sees Steve working once again with Phil Ehart of Kansas (with whom he recorded the ‘Please Don’t Touch’ album) and this song is another excellent sonic journey with subtle but effective use of authentic instruments like the Dutar and Oriental Zither. This piece has the exotic world music influences clearly shown and, with its almost Kashmir-type riff played throughout, really impresses. Another excellent track of great music, I think l,ive it would be a powerhouse we may find out on his ‘Seconds Out’ tour this year.     

Fox’s Tango is a more political piece as Steve compares the haves and the have nots and talks about the inequalities of life these days. It could also be his view of the Trump era, short but worthy of inclusion, as is Day Of The Dead, a very dark nod to Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, territory Steve has visited before with the ‘Darktown’ album. Scorched Earth is an ecological song as Steve tells us, “Tomorrow’s trees, tomorrow’s seas, Can you breathe tomorrow’s dream…” This song has lots of Steve’s fluid guitar playing. The album closes with the acoustically driven instrumental Esperanza (which is Spanish for hope), a brief ,delicate track that brings everything to a peaceful close and leaves you to ponder again the sonic journey that you have just undertaken.

As always, the music is fabulous as are the booklet and sleeve. This release is every bit as strong as his earlier albums and Steve has already been contemplating what is next for him once he has completed his tour of ‘Seconds Out’. I Guess time will tell but, for now, enjoy this fantastic new album from the man with the golden touch and fleet fingers.

Released 10th September, 2021

Order the album here:

Steve Hackett | Steve Hackett (hackettsongs.com)

Review – Glass Hammer – Skallagrim – Into The Breach

Glass Hammer return with ‘Skallagrim – Into The Breach’, Part Two of last year’s ‘Dreaming City’ which found lyricist, bassist and co-producer, Steve Babb, drawing inspiration from sword & sorcery novels of the seventies. Now the album has inspired an actual four-hundred page novel, “Skallagrim – In The Vales Of Pagarna”, which Babb plans to release in early 2022.

“Skallagrim is a thief who lost his memory and the girl he loves,” explains Babb. “He’s up against all sorts of wickedness to reclaim both, but finds an ally in a sentient, eldritch sword. Now his fate is bound to the sword as much as to the quest to find his love.”

Into The Breach finds our protagonist going to war, so the music absolutely has to reflect that.” Babb promises that fans will hear “a much heavier, angrier album than we’ve ever done before.”

Let’s cut to the chase, prepare to be blown away by this monster of an album! Brooding with an ancient, primeval power, this leviathan of a release sees the introduction of new vocalist Hannah Pryor who joins stalwarts Babb, Fred Schendel and Aaron Raulston, along with GH session guitarists Reese Boyd and Brian Brewer, for the band’s twenty-first studio album.

Album opener He’s Got A Girl begins our protagonist’s tale on a gentle note as Hannah’s ethereal vocal overlays a tender piano note. The peace is shattered as the monstrous behemoth that is Anthem To Andorath hoves into view. The guitar riffs are as heavy as a two ton heavy thing (thanks Queensrÿche!) that reverberates through your whole body. Accompanied by Babb’s stellar bass and Raulston’s thunderous drumming, you will not have heard anything quite like this from the band before. Pryor’s voice adds measured ferocity, matched by Steve Babb’s backing vocals. I feel like I’ve been run over by a prog powered train!

Sellsword carries on in a similar vein but with more of a grunge fuelled vibe, the reverberating guitar riff hammering against your psyche. The fiery guitar licks give a hard rock edginess and Hannah gets her head banging going with gusto. It’s like Black Sabbath and Nirvana got together for a jam session and let it all hang out, brutal and blisteringly rapacious. Now the band are really getting into their groove with the 70’s hard rock flourishes of the intro to Steel before Schendel’s artful keyboards and Hannah’s searching vocal bring us back to more regular Glass Hammer territory. The thing is, this is something that they know inside out and are masters off and it really shows, there’s almost a funkiness to the rhythm section and you can tell that Fred is on a roll and really enjoying himself.

There then follows a dark and mysterious triumvirate of instrumental tracks starting with the low key cryptic electronic meanderings of A Spell Upon His Mind which then bleeds into the more esoteric jazz fusion psychedelia of Moon Pool. The trio comes to a close with the deliciously enigmatic brooding tones of The Dark and it’s Hammer Horror-esque guitar and Hammond organ combination. Three tracks that really add a magical and secretive feel to the album, I really liked this middle section, it’s creative and imaginative and adds a lot to the overall story.

Hard rock returns with the forceful and mighty Led Zeppelin leanings of The Ogre Of Archon. The towering guitar work, edgy bass playing and lofty drums give a vast feel to the song, those riffs can really move musical mountains and Babb’s vocals add to the arcane atmosphere that the music engenders. Boy, do you really feel that these guys are having an absolute blast, these tracks are going to be immense live! There’s a real sense of urgency to Into The Breach, the intense and impassioned guitars adding a real groove to the music. Glass Hammer are moving into early Rush territory here as the album starts to feel like a loving homage to some of the great hard rock, metal and prog acts of the last four decades while never straying from the path or the passion of the story.

The Forlorn Hope carries on in a similar vein, what we have here is a group of musicians whose playing is as tight as can be but who are obviously enjoying every minute playing music that they are totally invested in. Hannah is a perfect foil, her voice resonates passion, fervour and intensity and draws you into the continued tale of sword and sorcery. The funky, repeated riff of The Writing On The Wall is incredibly catchy and reminds me of Lenny Kravitz, the whole song having something of a psychedelic aura as Hannah’s vocals glide smoothly along. This is superb, polished rock music with progressive leanings and I am more impressed with every listen.

One of the best songs on the album (in my opinion) is the wonderful Hyperborea that wears its Rush leanings squarely on its sleeve, even Hannah gets in on the act with her Geddy Lee influenced vocals. It’s a really enjoyable, smile inducing, ride from beginning to end and just oozes cool with its metaphorical Ray Bans in place. The final track, Bright Sword, is a potent, commanding reprise of A Desperate Man from the last album and closes things neatly.

With ‘Skallagrim – Into The Breach’, Glass Hammer have raised the (already heavy) bar to even greater heights. Epic in scope, majestic in scale and blurring the lines between progressive rock and progressive metal, GH have given us their best album of recent years and possibly their best release ever and it should be another monster success for this evergreen band.

Released 15th October, 2021

Order the album here:

Glass Hammer official website

All pictures credit Julie Babb Photography.

Review – Tony Kaye – End Of Innocence – by John Wenlock-Smith

Significant events in history are often remembered by thinking about where we were at the time. For instance, I was with a friend when I heard the sad news that Princess Diana had died in a car crash in Paris on the 31st August 1999.

The events of 9/11 were very memorable for me in that I was working in Liverpool at the time and some of our people were en-route to new York at the time and we didn’t know what flights they were on or whether or not they had got caught up in the whole sequence of events. It turned out that they hadn’t and were diverted to Canada as US airspace was closed down because of the attacks.

This meant that I had the news on my computer and kept it on all afternoon and watched the tragedy unfold in real time, via live feeds. I saw the second plane hit and saw the folks jumping to their deaths and watching with horror when the towers finally gave way.

I was appalled, shocked,horrified and angry at this senseless barbaric act. Especially as I had long wanted to visit New York and see the World Trade Center for myself. Now that was no longer possible thanks to these terrorists, well I had flown over the towers in 1989 on my way to Florida so I had at least seen them standing proud as a beacon of America before this tragedy happened. or have been conceived of by Osama and his merry madmen.

Tony Kaye was similarly moved by the dreadful events of that fateful day. So much so that he took his keyboards out of storage in his garage and began composing much that reflected his feelings about that day. Now his first solo album from emerges just shy of the 20th anniversary of those events, the album being largely instrumental in nature apart from the opening track and track 10 which features his wife.

Tony Kaye was the original Yes keyboard man who has been with the band on several different occasions, initially in their early days and prior to ‘Close to the Edge’, for which he was replaced by Rick Wakeman. When Tony left Yes he spent time in Flash with Peter Banks and thereafter with Badger who supported Yes at The Rainbow in 1972. They recorded the set and subsequently released it as the excellent ‘One Live Badger’ album, produced by Jon Anderson.

After this, he played with Badfinger and then joined Chris Squire and Alan White in the Cinema project that morphed into a new version of Yes along with Trevor Rabin. This, of course, yielded the mega hit Owner of a Lonely Heart and the ‘90125’ album and subsequent World Tour. Following on came ‘Big Generator’ and then somewhat unusual ‘Union’ project which merged a Trevor Rabin version of Yes with Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe in an 8 man conglomerate of Yes members with mixed results and a confused touring scenario.

After the ‘Union’ tour Tony had decided to retire as he was approaching 70 years of age. He slipped quietly into the background until the events of September 11th stirred the desire to remember the dreadful events in the only way he knew, i.e. musically. This album is a requiem and memorial to the near three thousand people who died that day as it explores the events as they unfolded.

It is possibly best heard in one sitting as Tony intended, the music will take you on a strange journey into those events and, yes, it may fill you with strong emotions as you listen. However, I would urge you to persevere with this as it is a remarkable journey, highly emotional and yet somehow triumphant. It works as a testament to the bravery shown on that day by the people of New York and its Police and Firefighters, many of whom are included in that death toll of 2997 people. It is also a reflection of the resilience of the American nation as they weathered this storm together in sorrow..

The album is really just all by Tony alone, although his wife Dani Torchia appears on track 10 – Sweetest Dreams – while fellow Yes man Jay Schellan also appears on Track 8 – Flight 11 – on which he plays a drum solo. The album doesn’t actually show any musicians credited other than Tony and Dani.

This is a hugely atmospheric album whose quiet dignity contains both malice and beauty. It certainly is very moving and obviously a labour of love and a dignified memorial to all of those affected by the events of that day. The artwork is by long time Yes collaborator Roger Dean who, instead of spatial visions, offers a rather more sombre view, invoking a vision of ungodly destruction and storm clouds that matches the remarkable sounding and fascinating music.

Whilst the events were dreadful and shocking, this album at least offers a degree of hope and optimism that they that the aims were totally in vain and that good things have emerged from those dark days. This is a musical experience that will require your patience to unravel and appreciate but it is a most worthy piece of work and highly impressive. The use of actual recordings from the day add great insight as to how the events unfolded and add much realism to the music. It makes for a very impressive album, highly recommended on a bold and wide screen, and is dignified and complete.

Released 10th September, 2021

Order the album here:

Tony Kaye: End Of Innocence – Cherry Red Records

US Proggers Glass Hammer release a two-song video to celebrate their October 15th release of Skallagrim – Into The Breach

Glass Hammer have just released a video of “He’s Got A Girl” and “Anthem To Andorath”, two tracks from their upcoming Skallagrim – Into The Breach album. 

Skallagrim – Into The Breach is Part Two of last year’s Dreaming City which found lyricist, bassist and co-producer, Steve Babb, drawing inspiration from sword & sorcery novels of the seventies. Now the album has inspired an actual four-hundred page novel, “Skallagrim – In The Vales Of Pagarna”, which Babb plans to release in early 2

“Skallagrim is a thief who lost his memory and the girl he loves,” explains Babb. “He’s up against all sorts of wickedness to reclaim both, but finds an ally in a sentient, eldritch sword. Now his fate is bound to the sword as much as to the quest to find his love.

Into The Breach finds our protagonist going to war, so the music absolutely has to reflect that.” Babb promises that fans will hear “a much heavier, angrier album than we’ve ever do

He goes on to explain the video. “He’s Got A Girl is a short intro piece meant to start the album and lead us into the heavier material. Anthem To Andorath follows, and lyrically sets up Skallagrim’s current predicament and what he’ll have to go through to survive it. Musically, it’s designed to hammer you into the ground! It’s not what you’d expect from us, but then fans never really know what’s coming next from Glass Hammer. It’s what, album number twenty-one? We have to expand our sound, and fortunately this heaver side of Glass Hammer is something we’re long overdue to explore.

New lead vocalist, Hannah Pryor, is joined by Steve Babb, Fred Schendel and Aaron Raulston. The band’s website is currently accepting pre-orders for autographed copies and downloads now. 

www.glasshammer.com

Review – The Holy Road – An Unshakable Demon

“Ordinary people are products of their environment and fit in. Artists transcend their environment and stand out.”Oliver Gaspirtz

When something is truly different to the norm (I use the phrase ‘the norm’ to mean what you are not normally used to) it tends to stand out and be noticed, whether for good or bad being for you to decide.

Jonathan Stolber came to my attention last year with his Nils Frahm curated Piano Day release in aid of tinychanges.com (to help raise mental health awareness) and I found his music difficult to pigeonhole (usually a good thing!) and it also got under my skin in a memorable way.

When Jonathan contacted me with regard to his soon to be released EP ‘An Unshakeable Demon’, my interest was immediately piqued. He spent the majority of our year of interminable and intermittent lockdowns locked in his studio putting the final touches to the record. Mixed by legendary engineer Steven Durose (Oceansize) & mastered at Abbey Road by the iconic Frank Arkwright (Mogwai), the EP was completed with the collaboration of some his favourite musicians including Chris Duffin (DrahlaVirginia Wing), James Saddington (EaststrikewestBridesmaid) and Ben Weedon (Maybeshewill).

From the electronica defining lo-fi shoegaze of opener Title Sequence through to the primal darkness of intriguing, mysterious instrumental closer Against / Social / Media, this beguiling collection of six tracks takes you on a brooding and dramatic musical journey to places your mind has never been before.

The industrial synth-heavy sinister beats of the iconic first single from the EP, Coming Up For Air, bring to mind echoes of a shadowy Radiohead where Jonathan’s vocals reflect Thom Yorke’s but with a hint of something more theatrical, like a symbiosis with Mark Almond. It is all deliciously enigmatic and murky and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This feeling bleeds into the teasing ambiguity of The Chauffer with its hushed, almost mumbled vocals and jazz infused drums. The slightly anarchic keyboards add a touch of the arcane and transcendental to another superbly cryptic piece of music.

The wistful, sepia tinged vibes of A Quiet Dedication reverberate delightfully before the calm solitude of Slow This Down (Epilogue) with its pensive and sombre tone, lays a forlorn, contemplative blanket across your soul.

Never be afraid to challenge yourself and listen to something different, I found the eclectic and evocative wonder of ‘An Unshakable Demon’ really hit home with me. There’s a knowing feel of contrast and distinction about this perceptive release and a pride of being different inherent in every note. One of this year’s most enlightening releases and one that still intrigues me after every listen.

Released 24th September, 2021

An Unshakable Demon by The Holy Road – DistroKid

IVAR BJØRNSON & EINAR SELVIK ANNOUNCE NEW 2-TRACK EP “HARDANGER” AND ACCLAIMED ALBUM SKUGGSJÁ RE-ISSUE VIA BY NORSE MUSIC – OUT NOVEMBER 5TH

Pre-orders available at the By Norse Online stores:
EU: 
bynorsestore.com
US: 
bynorsestore.net

Pre-save “Hardanger” EP on digital platforms

One of the places that made the strongest impression on Bjørnson & Selvik during the initial research and following performances that created their second collaborative piece «Hugsjá» was the area of Hardanger, a few hours from their base in Bergen, Norway. Hardanger is mysterious, pure and able to blow the minds of even the most experienced hikers and nature dwellers. It is also assumed to be the area in the Germanic tribe of the Harudes settled in ancient times, becoming the first Western Norwegians.

The title track celebrates the history of this land being populated from both the Harudes and other peoples migrating, meeting and melting together – thus creating what we now know as Norway. It is a percussion-heavy track, with ores of both traditional and exotic melody lines crossing and moving steadily through the sonic landscape of Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik. The song features guest appearances by Lindy-Fay Hella (Wardruna, Lindy-Fay Hella & Dei Farne), Grutle Kjellson and Iver Sandøy (the latter two both from Enslaved). 

The other song on the EP is «Heim til Yggdrasil», a re-imagination of Enslaved’s much loved song «Return to Yggdrasill» – selected by Einar Selvik for the «Hugsjá» live-tour. The song fitted so well into the IB & ES tapestry that they eventually decided to invite the entire live band (Silje Solberg on Hardanger fiddle, Iver Sandøy on drums/ vocals and Håkon Vinje on piano/ vocals) to record it with them for this release.

To complete the circle, the «remaining» two Enslaved-members joined in; Ice Dale joined on acoustic guitar while Grutle Kjellson added his signature spoken word-voice to Einar’s passionate vocals. The result is much more than a mere cover; it is a new piece that needs to be experienced!

Set for release on November 5th 2021, “Hardanger” will be available as: 

–        Black and Grey 12” vinyl with etched B-side

–        Limited White and Green 12” vinyl with etched B-side – Online stores exclusive

–        Digital

Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik’s “Skuggsjá” – By Norse Music re-issue, out on November 5th 2021! All formats feature a completely renewed artwork with the full lyrics and English translations (previously available only in long sold-out limited editions)!

‘Skuggsjá’ was originally conceived as a commissioned musical work written by Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik. The arrangement was performed by ENSLAVED and WARDRUNA as a concert piece in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution at the Eidsivablot festival in Eidsvoll, Norway on September 13th, 2014. 

By highlighting ideas, traditions and instruments of their Norse past, SKUGGSJÁ speak of the history of Norway and reflect relevant aspects from the past into our present day. Using metal instrumentation as well as some of Scandinavia’s oldest instruments and poetry in Norse and Norwegian, ‘Skuggsjá’ represents a fusion between past and present, both lyrically and musically.

The By Norse Music re-issues on CD and 2LP feature a completely renewed artwork with the full lyrics and English translations (previously available only in long sold-out limited editions)!

Set for release on November 5th 2021, “Skuggsjá” re-issue will be available as: 

–        Hard cover Digibook with 24-pages booklet  

–        2×12” Black vinyl in Gatefold

–        Limited color and splatter 2×12” vinyl editions in Gatefold – Online stores exclusivePre-orders are available at the By Norse Online stores:EU: bynorsestore.comUS: bynorsestore.net

Tracklist:

1. Intro: Ull Kjem

2. Skuggsjá

3. Makta Og Vanæra, For All Tid

4. Tore Hund

5. Rop Fra Røynda – Mælt Fra Minne

6. Skuggeslåtten (instrumental)

7. Kvervandi

8. Vitkispá

9. Bøn Om Ending, Bøn Om Byrjing

10. Outro: Ull Gjekk

https://www.facebook.com/IvarBjornsonEinarSelvik

Review – Michael Woodman – Psithurism

Thumpermonkey guitarist/vocalist Michael Woodman released ‘Psithurism’ on Friday, 6th August 2021, through Believers Roast. Named for the ancient Greek term for wind in the trees, ‘Psithurism’ moves away from Woodman’s maximalist sci-fi contributions to Thumpermonkey’s recent ‘Make Me Young Etc’, inhabiting instead the quiet interstices between mossy wet stones. 

‘Murder ballads with funny counting’, if you like – fusing 70s progressive influences with 80s Scott Walker and weird fiction – sinister narratives featuring backwoods criminality, cryptids hidden in the shin-tangle, recently burned buildings hissing in rain, and the warm, sad ochre of nostalgia.

A fine piece of press release journalism there as it really does cover what this album is all about. Five tracks of low key, low-fi pared back wonderment, ‘Psithurism’ takes Michael’s melancholy, plaintive falsetto vocal and marries it with music that is at times achingly beautiful and, at others, painfully sparse and deliciously dark and discordant.

From the ethereal and mercurial opening vocals of Sacramento, with its clever parcity of musical notes and definite feeling of less is more and austere restraint, this at times whimsical musical gem treads its own definitive path. I love the ethereal whimsy of Petrichor before the dissonant guitar and strident drums change the atmosphere, it is very intelligent songwriting that leaves you wondering what is really behind the glossy and wistful exterior.

There’s an almost anarchic feel to the guitar that bleeds into ‘Cloned In Error’, a pensive journey into melancholy that, at times, reminds me of Radiohead’s Karma Police. Thoughtful and somber, The Levitant continues to cement the impression that there is something very different from the norm at the heart of Woodman’s music, the gently echoing acoustic guitar is the perfect foil to his haunting and mesmerising vocals. This EP comes to an all too early conclusion with the wistfully dark soundscapes of Seachange, a track that ebbs and flows between capricious whimsy and nihilistic bombast.

A hugely impressive and admirably different collection of songs that shows Woodman’s impish creativity at its best. A musical breath of fresh air that will leave a smile on your face and wonderment in your soul.

Released 20th August, 2021

Psithurism | Michael Woodman (bandcamp.com)