Review – The Enid – The Bridge

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To be still at the forefront of progressive rock over forty years since their inception in 1974 The Enid are the definition of ‘enduring’ as is their popularity with their fanbase of enthusiastic supporters.

Their unique and individualistic style of progressive rock does not appeal to all but, when you are hooked by the beauty, efficacy and intricacy of it all, you will become a lifelong follower.

The band use music as a saga teller, creating huge soundscapes and classical influences to lead you on an all encompassing musical journey that will captivate and enrapture your sensibilities.

An excerpt from the band history on the website goes on to say….

“Formed among friends in 1974 The Enid invented a school of intelligent powerful romantic popular music which is unique to them. It is now clear that over more than thirty years they have developed an exceptional approach to music creation in the sense that there are no generic limitations whatever placed on bands ability to create their music.

The Enid “school of art” for want of a better description, is free from constraints of template rock/pop where rhythm, harmony and melody are invariably dictated by the traditions, prejudices and limitations associated with style.

Under the tutelage of Robert John Godfrey, The Enid set out to avoid the obvious traps; the learned/received riff based music which distinguishes so much rock – the well trodden harmonic progressions – familiar melodic lines and stock-in-trade rhythms.

They were also the first band to be funded entirely by their fans which became the obvious way ahead after losing their recording contract with the now defunct PYE records.  This was a revolutionary concept when first deployed in the early 1980’s and led to the current situation with bands as diverse as Marillion, Radiohead and Hawkwind following this lead.”

There have been many changes to the band line-up over the years, the current being founder members Robert John Godfrey (pianist, composer and mastermind) and Dave Storey (drums) ,  vocalist and charismatic frontman Joe PayneJason Ducker (guitar and lots of other stuff), Max Read (bass, keyboards and loads of other stuff) and Dominic Tofield (drums and dab hand at design).

The Enid - Invicta - Artwork

There have been many albums down the years yet 2012’s ‘Invicta’ saw a relative resurgence for this niche, cult band. The Enid have followed this up with ‘The Bridge’, the first in a trilogy of albums which will focus on the development of members Joe PayneJason Ducker and Max Read.

On this release Robert and Joe wanted to further explore the classical elements of the band’s music in finer detail. The orchestral arrangements and vocals are accompanied by Jason’s symphonic guitar textures and Max’s choral arrangements. The stunning artwork is the exceptional work of drummer Dominic Tofield and gives this release an indicative gravitas as soon as you see it.

‘The Bridge’ is a collection of mainly re-imagined versions of songs from the vast back catalogue of the band and a bit of a risky one at that as it feature next to no percussive elements at all, only relying on the amazing piano skills of Robert and Joe’s impressive vocal skills to deliver the expected symphonic power.

Earthborn takes a delicate route to introduce the album with the vocals gradually increasing in force backed by the empathetic piano and wind instruments to deliver a romantically inspired opening that could have come straight out of London’s West End theatres. Gentle, humble and yet with a steely core, it captivates you with an uplifting grace. Atmospheric and almost operatic in its delivery ‘Til We’re Old is a brief but powerful piece where the voice and piano provide impressive counterpoints to each other with a slightly suspenseful and quizzical note. What it lacks in length it certainly makes up with substance.

Dark Corner of the Sky opens with a hushed piano and then Joe’s dulcet vocals join in what is a slightly sombre sounding beginning. Joe Payne’s heartfelt delivery is as seductive as it is powerful, almost beseeching you as it impacts on your psyche. Max Read’s sympathetic choral arrangement delivers an ethereal feeling, a seductive spell that you never want to break. Now to a track that seems to split opinion, Bad Men has a nervous jocularity to it with its simple (yet effective) lyrics and ever present hint of mild insanity. One reviewer who was less than impressed said: “it is a track that tries its hardest to be politically relevant to British politics, yet falls flat with lyrics.” I have to disagree, to me it has a hint of the a melodramatic Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera to it, slightly tongue in cheek. It flows majestically in places and, in others, hammers at you like a persistent and petulant child. Not my favourite track on the album but one that rises above the merely good with its sense of humour.

The introduction to My Gravity lifts you up and takes you away to a place of pomp and circumstance and classical beauty. For all you know, you could be at the Royal Albert Hall listening to some classical masterpiece before it segues into an engrossing cinematic style that would befit a 1950’s Hollywood blockbuster. There is a vivid melodrama at the heart of this affecting song. Joe’s voice has a tender catch to it and the choral arrangements once again impress. As impressive as it is on record, this would be an almighty piece of music in a live setting as Joe reaches the heights with his fervent and earnest voice and the whole track has you committed from the first note, a superb and enduring song. Adding lyrics to previous instrumentals is the USP of this latest album and that can be seen to the best and most striking effect on Wings (a reworking of the track ‘La Rage’ from 1988 release ‘The Seed and the Sower) where Joe’s deeply moving lyrics are undeniably the icing on the cake of a wondrous track. Deeply moving and emotional, it is the highlight of this arresting record. Starting from humble beginnings, the vocals dance around you and insinuate your every pore, like a sinuous vocal dance around your aural receptors. Ardent and profound, there is a sincerity deeply ingrained in this incredibly passionate and poignant song. The musical arrangements are precise and yet flow with a allure and artistry and help deliver a profoundly stirring and moving work of musical art.

First Light takes the sophisticated choral arrangements to another level. The voices intertwining and harmonising to brilliant effect. A slow and deliberate tempo holds you in sway as the music washes over you to leave you in a musical state of grace. The whole album is composed of music that demands your attention and makes you stop what you’re doing and concentrate on what is put before you and no more so than on this singular slice of wonderment. The segue into Autumn is seamless, your trance like state retained. This time the music is just as conducive to your utterly relaxed and calm state of mind, providing a perfect foil for the beguiling voice of Joe Payne. When the song opens up and releases its full potential you are knocked back by the power and the glory in its ultimate wisdom, the ending an uplifting culmination of all that has come before.

When you listen to ‘The Bridge’ the merely good is transformed into the sublime and exalted.The Enid have delivered a set of songs that enable you to take time away from your hectic life and give you a melodic treat of great magnitude, the closest thing to a legal high, an oasis of calm in a world of chaos. Yes, it will not appeal to all with its delicate sensibilities but, for me, it is something that, once I have heard, I cannot ever do without.

Released 10th July 2015

Buy The Bridge direct from The Enid

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeB3UmaVfaY

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – jh – Morning Sun

I must ad mit to a vested interest in this release as my alter-ego is PR Chief for Bad Elephant Music, the label that the album was released on but this is a fair review and not biased in any way (your Honour) so please sit back and enjoy.

jh

To me Music is more than a mere soundtrack, it has become a part of my life. Music is a treasure that I seek out at any given opportunity.

“A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.”  – Leopold Stokowski

That is one of my favourite quotes because I don’t like to live my life in silence, I fill every pause and every gap in my whole being with the joy of music and one of my favourite things is finding an artist whose work I have never had the pleasure of hearing before. It is like hidden treasure that is unearthed and unveiled in all its glory, to wash over you and become part of your life.

I have to ask the question of where this artist or musician has been all my life, why have I not heard their music before? But I cannot berate myself in any way, I just need to enjoy the fact that I now can appreciate that music in my life every day. The musician in question this time is the mercurial jh, a solo artist from London. jh is the nom de guerre of Jon Hunt, he writes, arranges, performs and mixes all his material himself, with the exception of some of the drums.

It is impossible to describe jh’s music in a nutshell, as the only ethos he has is to make exactly the music he wants with no regard to commercial thought. This makes him extremely difficult to market, but more importantly his integrity remains intact. His albums hearken back to the spirit of the ‘album’ as being an artform in itself, jh’s music is eclectic, honest, and quintessentially English. His recordings are startlingly honest pieces of work that reveal more and more on each listen.

There have been three previous albums, all of which have been self-released, 2008’s ‘Truth and Bullshit’, 2011’s ‘Wanderlust’ and 2013’s ‘So Much Promise’.

2015 has seen jh link up with the eclectic record label Bad Elephant Music to release a fourteen track compilation of his most iconic tracks to date. ‘Morning Sun’ will be released to an expectant public on March 16th and Jon took a minute to talk about the record and his link up with BEM.

“Morning Sun is a 14-track, 77-minute retrospective of my three albums to date (Truth & Bullshit (2008), Wanderlust (2011) and So Much Promise (2013)). I have tried to showcase all aspects and styles of my music, and sequence it all in a coherent way.

I have had some complaints and sarcastic comments regarding songs I have left off at the expense of some of those included, but this will always happen with compilations unless you burn yourself a personal CD!

I’m very happy with it, and I thank David Elliott of Bad Elephant Music for letting me have free rein to choose the tracks myself. It’s great to be working with BEM, as they have such an array of talent, and everyone involved with the label from the CEO to the acts absolutely lives and breathes music.

The fact that David and Co. enjoy and understand mine is a great feeling, as you don’t usually associate this kind of affinity with the term ‘Record Label’! I’m looking forward to a long and rewarding partnership.”

Enough talking, time to immerse myself in this labour of love……

jh3

The first song Next Time begins with a welcoming introduction that takes you straight into Jon’s distinctive vocals, like Billy Bragg with a personality transplant. This slightly lilting and melancholic track is definitive of that singer/ songwriter style song with expressive and clever lyrics and a velvety touch to the music. The earnest vocal delivery and classy guitar add a touch of elegance to the hometown feel. I Wanna Spend my Summer With a Rich Girl flies into view like The Beatles chased by Blur in a fiery coach and horses. It doesn’t just make your ears prick up as hit them with a taser! The jangly guitar note and wide boy vocals are instantly catchy and it runs along at a rollicking pace with a huge grin on its face. Jon takes some of the better elements of Britpop and melds them to his own recipe to produce a song that couldn’t come from anywhere but England, the chorus is a work of genius. Originally part of the 40 minute London Road Suite on ‘Wanderlust’ the next track London Road gives a hint of the more progressive and expressive side to jh. The song begins with a measured and meaningful introduction, a gentle piano and Jon’s wistful vocal invoking in you a nostalgic and pensive state of mind. When the strings join in it brings a lump up in my throat, I get the feeling it is a nod to sepia tinted past where life, whilst being hard, was much more simplistic. As the track builds up and gets into its stride your mind opens to the poetic vista that the music hints at. A painfully beautiful song that leaves you with a sense of loss as it comes to a close.

The off-beat ending to the previous song is a perfect introduction to Lucy’s Party and you are transported to the pop sensibilities of the 1980’s. More highbrow than some of the nonsensical fare from that decade, there is inventiveness to this track and it has more than a hint of mischief to it. The vocals are delivered in a style more akin to spoken word and the clever use of the drum machine adds that feel of big hair and bigger collars that the decade that taste forgot will always imbue. Wartime Spirit is a song that has an intimacy to its core, one man and his guitar playing to a rapt audience. The pared back acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals draw you in and, when it opens out and blossoms with the clever drum sound, you nod in silent appreciation, a serious yet approachable track with honesty deep at its heart. Quirky from the start Fort Dunlop has an off-kilter and slightly chaotic feel to it as it messes with your head. The initial instrumental seems to be deliberately obtuse and out there with a drum beat that seems set to random, it is a cacophony of noise that imparts a delicious agony to your eardrums. There is a feel of a David Lynch film soundtrack going on here as it moves into an electronic jazz vibe unlike any other track on the album, you are kept guessing at every turn with this song ,it is not for the faint hearted but you get out of it what you put in.

A nod to Pop-Punk with its grungy, reverb heavy guitar and antsy vocals In Ascension is raw and earthy and a short, sharp punch to the kidneys. Almost like a musical palate cleanser after the intensity of the previous two tracks, it holds nothing back and is a riotous alternative to the sophistication elsewhere. An ethereal track with a hint of discord hidden behind the beauteous exterior Angels begins with a subdue gentility and an apprehension that leaves you holding your breath, almost unable to move. The subtle use of a distorted guitar leaves a trail of dissonance to be followed on this intelligent and idiosyncratic piece of music. As the tension builds and the vocals take a digitised note the hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise. There is such expressionism deep at the coal face of this music, it is captivating and holds you rapt in attention as it plays with your sensibilities. After the haunting, fierce aura of the previous track I’ll See You Tomorrow in a Different Light has a delicate fragility and refinement to it. Subtle instrumentation and an earnest vocal with an emotional catch combine as the song glides in like a breath of fresh air. Another composition solidly in the singer/songwriter style, I love its underlying simplicity and modesty. Taking the social commentary of a Paul Weller and imbuing it with a guitar note reminiscent of 60’s pop, it takes you on a sun-kissed musical journey that leaves a touch of joy in your soul.

What comes next is simply jaw-dropping, taking the progressive-rock mantle and running with it full tilt, Making Tea is Freedom requires you to take eighteen minutes out of your day, sit down, put the headphones on and forget about everything else. When I first heard this multi-faceted track, I just played it straight back again, it’s that good, jh takes all of his influences and puts them into one big melting pot. There is the social commentary of Billy Bragg and Paul Weller, the alternative style of Talk Talk, the Britpop feel of Blur and the progressive tendencies of Porcupine Tree and Genesis but, that is all they are, influences, Jon takes them into himself and gives them some a part of his own soul to deliver a monumental musical epic that shakes you down to your roots. An acoustic guitar that seems more than three-dimensional takes the helm and drives the early part of the song on its fateful route. A hesitant and understated vocal provides the narration, leading you to a crossroads where you wonder what direction you will be taken in next. A flamenco hued guitar grabs your attention and roots you to the spot before your world is turned upside down. A guitar note that has a sinister undertone creeps into your psyche and makes your skin crawl a little, in an enjoyable manner. The middle part of the track is an instrumental smorgasbord of ideas all held together by that distinctive, raw-edged guitar note and transfixes you in its full on glare. The piquant musical onslaught continues unabated, running through your very soul before it breaks onto your aural receptors and you are left empty as the musical landscape turns bleaker. In your mind, an open, blasted vista appears before you, waiting to be populated by the music as you focus on that sound hailing from the distance. The drama comes full circle as Jon’s powerful vocal leads the final moments of euphoria and his superb guitar playing brings this monumental track to a close. A full on rock track as heavy as they come, like a wall of sound pressing you against your chair, The Sky is Breaking is BIG in every sense. A demonstrative vocal allied with a crunching guitar note and a huge drum sound fill every silence and shout from the rooftops on this enjoyable romp. Reminiscent of The Who at their pomp but with Jon’s distinctive touches, it is one of my favourite tracks on the album, especially that notable guitar sound that has an unending depth to it. Your ears are left with a not unpleasant ringing sound in them as it comes to a triumphal close. Collapse has an anecdotal feel to it, a tender, heartfelt vocal accompanying the ever present acoustic guitar that has rapidly become synonymous with this intriguing artist. With an integrity that comes deep from his heart, it is powerful and soul stirring.

Something’s Happening Here sees Jon take his guitar and enjoy himself again, another fast paced escapade that carries you in its wake, kicking and screaming as you try and rein it in. However, there is a seriousness deep down that surfaces now and again, an antidote to the frivolous feel, one that would be sure to be a live favourite with its sing-along chorus and high energy delivery. This superb collection of songs has to, unfortunately, come to a close at some point and the final track is aptly called The End. It does have feeling of finality to it, amongst the gentle fragility and sorrowful note of the vocals. The whole song is contemplative and forlorn and plucks at the heartstrings with the feelings of loss and yearning that it engenders in your heart and soul. A sublime and rarefied track that brings to mind 10CC and I’m Not in Love and leaves you glad to have listened to it but sad that it is over.

This is a compilation of songs that are thoughtful and thought provoking from a musician who is comfortable in his own skin and has found his own niche. Eclectic, quirky and off-beat jh may be but, overall, there is something rather clever and intelligent at the core of it all. Distinctly English and proud of it and one of the best singer/songwriters at play today, you could do hell of a lot worse than invest in this release.

Released 16th March 2015

Buy Morning Sun from bandcamp

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFbcxYIWYRQ

Review – Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar

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I have myself a dilemma. I have often said in the past that I am not a fan of growly vocals in the main. On the majority of albums where I have encountered them they have seemed to detract from the generally impressive music and clean vocals that they accompany. Occasionally they actually can compliment the rest of the music but, to my ears anyway, those occasions are very few and far between.

Recently I reviewed Anuryzm’s latest release ‘All is Not For All’ and I was impressed by the way the growls were integrated relatively seamlessly to deliver a very good album. Will lightening strike twice as I approach the review of another progressive metal album with the seminal ‘cookie monster’ vocals front and centre?

Subterranean Masquerade and their latest release ‘The Great Bazaar’ were brought to my attention by social media and their record company Taklit Music.

The PR tagline is:

“Welcome to the carnival of the dysfunctional and the disturbed”

Interesting start eh? Lets find out more….

The band were initially formed in 1997 by mastermind and guitarist Tomer Pink and came to the attention of the music world back in 2000 with a cover version of Peter Murphy’s ‘Cuts you Up but the first official band release was 2004’s two track E.P. ‘Temporary Psychotic State’.

This was followed by 2005’s full length release ‘Suspended Animation Dreams’ before Tomer departed the US to take a hiatus travelling the world. 8 years later he returned to the studio with a new line up to record the ‘Home’ E.P. which was released on Tomer’s own label, the already mentioned Taklit Music.

2015 sees the latest line up Tomer, Matan Shmuely (drums), Or Shalev (guitar), Golan Farhi (bass), Shai Yallin (keys) and new vocalist Kjetil Nordhus and the release of the band’s most ambitious album yet, ‘The Great Bazaar’.

Tomer adds:

“This is the first time I feel like we are a real band and not just a studio project.”

Let’s see what we have in store for us…….

The album starts with an Eastern orientated guitar heavy intro (worthy of Orphaned Land) to Early Morning Mantra that immediately grabs my attention with its catchy upbeat rhythm and addictive riffing. Almost melodic rock but with just enough pizzazz to lift it above the ordinary, the addition of string like keyboards is a clever touch. There is an enigmatic break into a vocal section that is staccato and edgy, slightly apprehensive before it opens up, with a snatch of a growl, into a flowering chorus. A technical progressive metal interlude, perhaps a tad over heavy with the growly vocals, provides a counterpoint as it segues into a sharp instrumental break complete with flute to really push the progressive buttons. An interesting start to the album and one that leaves me intrigued as to what will follow, the run out at the end is a really interesting juxtapose to the rest of the song. Relive the Feeling takes a more straightforward hard rock route with a pacy, fire breathing intro that lights the blue touch paper and lets all hell break loose. An edgy riff drives things along before the fulsome vocals begin, awash with passion and fervor. When the cookie monster voice begins it seems slightly at odds with the melodic background that it is delivered over, the jury is out this time, especially when you consider the clean vocal delivery of the chorus. Not to mind, a nice guitar break delivers an additional punch and an extended finish to an intriguing song.

That Eastern feel returns with Tour Diary, the introduction is all string effects before an earnest vocal, touched with a hint of darkness delivers a mysterious verse, slightly melancholy and sombre. There is a serious sense of regret at the heart of this song and the guitar solo is delivered in a wistful and mournful fashion. A song that has one foot firmly symphonic rock, it is quite an attractive proposition while it never moving any boundaries. Did someone mention wistful? The introduction to Nigen has ‘forlorn regret’ written large all over it and that feeling of longing runs throughout this short but tasteful instrumental. The perceptive saxophone adding real class to an already very likeable song. Perhaps the most mainstream track on the album Blanket of Longing is actually a very clever song. The intro is upbeat and inventive, all acoustic guitar and strings, before breaking into a neat riff and calming down before the vocals deliver an impassioned tale. This is proper hard rock with a touch of hair metal and showcase the versatility of Kjetil’s voice. A charismatic and engaging piece of music with just enough subtlety added in parts to make it interesting. This track also contains the best use of that growl type vocal and it works very well.

Specter begins with a lot of Eastern promise and follows with a crushing guitar riff that shakes you to your foundations. The drumming is precise and profound and the tale continues with the superb vocals. Heavy metal combined with Eastern tradition is quite an tempting combination when delivered with aplomb like this. There is a sense of mischief at the heart of the song, as if it has a metaphorical twinkle in its eye, as it bounds along. A mesmeric instrumental interlude adds a hint of pure showmanship and mystery to what is my favourite track on the album. An inventive and very gratifying track comes to a close with a return to that magical eastern note. This relatively short album comes to a close with the longest track Father and Son which begins with a gently strummed intro before the song begins properly with anguished and forlorn vocal delivery. This song is very much a lament, a heartbreaking ode and one that I am not sure benefits from the growling vocal. It does seem to grate a tad in places and, if I am being honest, takes some of the enjoyment away for me. The powerful and transcendent guitar playing soon makes me forget my slight disappointment though and, when the growl is subdued behind the imposing music, it does seem to add another layer of completeness. There is a subdued interlude in the middle of the track, quite meditative, before you are blind sided by a brilliant little off kilter progressive section that really makes you smile with its tongue in cheek technical efficiency and abundant joie de vivre. As the song comes to close clean and growling vocals are interlaced to good effect and the finale is an arresting combination of folk style instrumentation with choral style vocals before a sombre piano note brings everything to a satisfactory conclusion.

To be blunt this album does not solve my dilemma, in places the growls add considerably but, in others, they don’t work for me. What is true however is that it does not detract from what is overall a very enjoyable and impressive record that has delivered more than enough to leave me hoping there will soon be a follow up.

Released 13th January 2015

Buy The Great Bazaar from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Wolve – Sleepwalker

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If you are of my generation (born in the late 60’s/early 70’s) I’d like you to take a walk back in time with me. To a time when the internet was in its very infancy and discovering new music was not the simple task that it is now.

How did we find new bands and new albums that we had never heard of before? In fact, how did we find out information about our favourite bands regarding new releases and tours etc.?

For me it was ‘Q’ Magazine, I was an avid reader in the days before the world wide web and bought many a new record from the number of ‘Q’s it would receive and the relatively small write up that print media would allow.

But, you know, I bought as many dogs as I did diamonds and, in my old 800 plus CD collection, there would have been at least 150 albums that never got past the initial first play stage. It was a very costly mistake in the days of £13 CDs and word of mouth tended to be a rarity in those times, don’t ask me why, so I never seemed to get recommendations from friends.

Ever since the internet arrived big time, and especially in the last three or four years, it has been a hell of a lot easier to dig out new music thanks to social media and get solid advice from fellow music lovers. I say this for all genres, not just the relatively insular world of progressive music that is my fix.

The advent of free streaming and youtube means that it should be virtually impossible to make a duff choice now. The actual negative to this is that there is now so much more music that appeals to you out there than you actually have time to listen to but, let’s be thankful for small mercies eh?

A recent social media suggestion that popped up on the right hand side of my feed was French post/progressive rock band Wolve and clicking on the link took me to their bandcamp page where their latest album ‘Sleepwalker’ was streaming for free. The rest, as they say, is history 🙂

Band live

From the band’s own PR:

Julien Sournac’s artistic vision is an uncompromising quest for authenticity.
Unburdened by labels, he infuses his riffs in 90’s alt-rock, can unplug his amp and pick up an accoustic guitar when it is the best way to sincerely represent his feelings in the moment. It is thanks to this approach that ‘Sleepwalker’, WOLVE’s first album written by Julien Sournac and co-produced by Brice Chandler, has been lauded by the media.”

For live performances Julien (guitar and voice) is joined by Alexandre Aguilera (guitar), Hugues Lemaire (bass) and Simon Lemonnier (drums). The band have opened for Fish and Arena before being invited to the famous Prog’ Resiste festival in Belgium.

Dreams are voyages, from nothingness to a far away nowhere. ‘Sleepwalker’ is the chronicle of this voyage in three parts, at the limit of REM sleep.

The album starts with the tender The Tall Trees, just under two minutes of a delicate, heartfelt monologue that drips emotion and sincerity. The vocals exude an ennui ages old and the gentle acoustic guitar almost makes you weep with empathy. Brace yourselves for the earth shattering introduction of Cassiah which enters the fray like an gigantic tidal wave of musical force and focus. There is no pause as the monstrous riff kicks in accompanied by huge drums to blow any cobwebs away. It is a momentary shockwave as the gentle feel returns and the earnest, sincere vocals calm your beating heart. The atmosphere is relaxed, if a little tense, the nonchalant rhythm section lulling you into a possible false sense of security. Julien’s voice has a brooding quality to it, as if the weight of the world lies upon him, especially when the tension is ramped up with an increase in pace and dynamism. Fans of that other enigmatic French band Demians will feel at home here. The suspenseful feel increases as the guitar seems to edge along, leading to some sort of confrontation? The coruscating guitar solo feels like finger nails scraping across a blackboard but you cant turn away from the delicious agony. The depth of feeling and fervor ratches up another notch as a crunching guitar pounds your aural synapses. This track is like a life affirming journey through mysterious highs and lows and you are enraptured throughout.

A smooth bass and jazzy guitar introduce Ocean as the drums begin to ramp up the apprehensive atmosphere, a strident guitar wailing slightly in the background in an off key manner. The air becomes one of lightness though, losing that oppressive feel with an almost ethereal quality taking over. Hints of an early Porcupine Tree abound throughout yet given Wolve’s own stamp of authority as the track takes a more intricate bent. Intelligent and yet eminently accessible, I have found myself warming to the maturity and sincerity that this music has in abundance. Like a set of slightly different musical pieces all joined together by a common link, it is a fantastical dreamscape set to indulgent music. The instrumental sections are precise, inventive and involving, you dare not take your attention away in fear of missing something important. The dreamlike vocal parts, accompanied by a surreal sounding guitar and a smooth jazz bass beat leave you almost transfixed as this profound song comes to an enlightened conclusion. Coming in at around eighty seconds Countdown feels like a dividing line between the past and the previous, a subdued art of noise that leads you from one track to another.

The restrained, solemn introduction to Colors Collapse is becoming signature now. Edged with uncertainty and hesitancy before the acoustic guitar and laconic, curbed vocals add a beseeching note to the track. Once again there is a turn into left field with a grungy and dangerous guitar riff kicking in, it all feels slightly menacing to me, in an exciting way, as the instrumental section uses you as a buffer between it and the timorous vocals. You have to listen carefully to the music as there are little nuggets of brilliance thrown in everywhere. A Steve Howe-esque guitar noodle opens up into an extended uplifting section that builds, layer upon layer, increasing the excitement and spectacle. A seriously intense and dramatic guitar heavy instrumental section closes out what is perhaps the most focused song on the album. The album finishes with title track Sleepwalker, a mesmerising acoustic guitar leading you in slowly, accompanied by Julien’s undemanding yet touching vocal and it seems to amble along politely asking you to join it on this poignant trip through mind and soul. You find yourself caught in the euphoria of the moment as the song and album come to an affecting close.

An unexpected treasure thrown up by the good side of social media. You cannot help but be drawn into the captivating worlds that Julien Sournac and Wolve create. Epitomized by intuitive and visceral music and vocals that lay their heart before you, ‘Sleepwalker’ is a hidden gem that I feel privileged to have discovered.

Released 29th January 2014.

Buy Sleepwalker from bandcamp

Main featured image copyright Adrien Oumhani.

Band pic copyright Christian Arnaud.

 

 

 

Weekly Wallet Emptier – 7th July 2015 (A tad late)

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Camelias Garden – Kite

Something of a hidden gem, Italian band Camelias Garden  deliver a beauteous blend of folk rock and progressive rock to warm the soul and lift the heart. The delicate vocals and ethereal musicianship is a wonder to behold and in ‘Kite’, the E.P. follow up to the equally impressive ‘You Have a Chance’, they deliver an undoubted highlight of the year so far. Hopefully this will widen their audience considerably, in fact it is only 3 euros for the mp3, what are you waiting for???

Released 20th May 2015

Stand out track – Kite

Buy Kite from bandcamp

 

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District 97 – In Vaults

Hailing from Chicago, District 97 were formed in 2006 as an instrumental tour de force. Wanting to expand their sound with the addition of a practised vocal talent, they found ex American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt and the addition of her excellent vocals has produced a complex sound laced with brilliant harmonies. The musically adventurous style produced two releases, ‘Hybrid Child’ and ‘Trouble With Machines’ before they took another step forward with this latest release, one which is garnering praise across the whole progressive community.

released 23rd June 2015

Stand out track – Snow Country

Buy In Vaults direct from District 97 here

 

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Parzivals Eye – Defragments

German progressive rockers RPWL have been around since 2000 and produced a multitude of excellent mellow prog rock releases. Bass player Chris Postl formed his solo project Parzivals Eye and released the debut album ‘Fragments’ in 2009 and this year has seen the excellent follow up ‘Defragments’. Featuring the vocal talent of Christina Booth and the fiery guitar virtuosity of Ian Bairnson it is quite enigmatic. From straight laced progressive tracks to intricate wonders and an impressive acoustic cover of ‘Long Distance Runaround’, there seems to be something for everyone. Not an album for those who like their music more challenging but, at the right moment in time, it certainly hits the spot.

Released 15th April 2015

Stand out track – Long Distance

Buy Defragments here

 

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Tiger Moth Tales – Story Tellers Part One

I called the man behind Tiger Moth Tales, Peter Jones, ‘batshit crazy’ when I reviewed his previous release ‘Cocoon’ and he has gone on to prove me quite correct in my assumption. Challenged to write, record and release an album in 28 days he has come up with one of the year’s most fun filled records so far and not at the expense of any quality. With tracks based on childhood fairy tales, but giver Peter’s own inimitable spin, ‘Story Tellers Part One’ is a grin inducing journey through our early days steeped in remarkable music and intelligent lyrics. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that this man is one of the most talented song writers out there.

Released 1st July 2015

Stand out track – A Kids Tale

Buy Story Tellers Part One on CD here

Buy Story Tellers Part One on mp3

 

Blast from the past……

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Echolyn – Echolyn (2012)

Formed in 1989 and now with 11 full length albums behind them, Echolyn have become a connoisseurs progressive rock/alt-rock band. Not out there and in your face, however, you will often hear their name said in hushed and revered tones among those in the know. I am a late comer to their charms but having delved into their 2012 self-titled release quite a lot of late I now know what I have been missing. This beautifully melodic, mature homage to small town America is quite a revelation indeed and has an honesty rooted deep in its core. One band that, despite being relative;y new to me, I can heartily recommend and I am hoovering up their back catalogue with quite indecent haste.

Released June 19th 2015

Stand out track – When Sunday Spills

Buy Echolyn at bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

Album review – Anuryzm – All is Not For All

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‘What a refreshing change….’ became the tagline for a well known brand of cider in a run of 1990’s adverts. Indicating that, every now and then, it was good to think out of the box and go for something that you wouldn’t usually choose or be associated with.

This can be pertinent to a lot of things in life including your musical tastes. We all have our favourite types of music and bands we listen to and there is nothing wrong with that. Every now and then, however, I like to step out of the box or even take a trip down memory lane to listen to something new or something from a genre that doesn’t resonate as much with me nowadays.

I used to be a huge fan of Progressive Metal and the likes of Dream Theater and Symphony X and have seen the former play live quite a few times but, in the latter years, my taste has gravitated away from this style of music. Not too far away that I don’t like to reminisce now and again though and, recently, a few releases have caught my attention. I’d like to start with Anuryzm……

Anuryzm is a progressive thrash metal band consisting of six members from different cultural backgrounds and is based in the United Arab Emirates (in the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai).

Originally started by founder and lead guitarist John Bakhos, after many ups and downs and line up changes, the debut album ‘Worm’s Eye View’ was finally released in 2011.

The now-settled line up sees John joined by his old school band mate, vocalist Nadeem BibbyImad Dahleh on drums, bassist Rany Battikh and Jay Jahed on keys.

To date, the band has performed extensively in the local & regional musical scenes, including the Dubai Rock Fest and the Byblos International Festival. They have also shared the stage with artists such as Black Sabbath, Avenged Sevenfold, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nightwish, Epica, Dark Tranquillity, and more.

Now signed to Melodic Revolution Records, their latest release ‘All is Not For All’ was released on 15th June 2015.

If you wondered about the album title, this is what the band say:

“The album title ‘All Is Not For All’ is a warning to those who claim that they can have their cake and eat it too. Not everything can be handled by everyone, whether it be money, fame, women or power.”

And the general themes of the album:

“The album’s songs span a variety of topics including humbleness, nanotechnology, illness, astral projection, extraterrestrial encounters, love, longing and remorse, third culture upbringing, displacement and Japanese warrior code (Bushido) to name a few.”

Time to see what ‘All is Not For All’ is, after all, for me…..

Opening track Mineral begins very low key with subdued vocals and keyboard leaving an air of suspense. The guitar that follows just adds to that atmosphere aided by some restrained drums and a delicate piano. It is all very civilised so far with Nadeem’s cultured vocal lending gravitas to the stylish calm that surrounds him. Definitely more ‘progressive’ than ‘metal at the outset of the album with the added intricacy of John’s classy guitar run. ‘Metal’ soon follows ‘progressive though as the track immediately segues in to Full Agonist as a bare-bones riff kicks in with some powerful, staccato drumming high tailing it along for the ride. There is a polished feel to the music, an early promise of what’s to come, Nadeem shows the other side to his voice with an in-your-face delivery that immediately grabs your attention and John enters the fray with some fiery guitar licks and interventions that just leaves you nodding your head in appreciation. Did I hear some growly vocals there? hmmm, never mind, they in no way detract from the enjoyment (it is not often you will hear me say that). A proper ‘metal’ song with some progressive elements interspersed between the riffage, this is fun so far, let’s see where it leads….

The next track is the first single released from the album Humanoid, a Sci-Fi epic about being watched by intelligent ETs who question whether they started us off on the right path to technological awakening or whether it was a mistake to give away knowledge. A crushing riff introduces the song, proper metal now, one that gets me wishing I had hair to mosh with! Superb flashes of guitar and intense rhythm work really add to the might of this track. Nadeem gives another monster vocal performance, really reminiscent of Russell Allen, to add a touch of those might prog-metal pioneers Symphony X, even the growling is catchy (yes, I did just say that). There is some consummate musicianship on show here with a blazing guitar run blowing you away. The eastern influenced mystic interlude just adds to the feeling of solemnity. A seriously addictive track that has you reaching for the repeat play button. Depolarized begins with a an almost blues bent to the intro. Here the guitar and bass lead the track along before vocals and drums join in. The muted voice has a yearning, straining feel to it, the elaborate guitar adding dynamism, building up to something profound. This track is perhaps the most balanced between the progressive and metal elements in its storytelling style, laid back instrumental sections and complex solo.

A pause for breath at the start of The Challenger before a thunderous riff knocks you out of the way with no apology. Heavier than a ten tonne heavy thing (thanks Queensrÿche) it pulverises you into submission with some mighty drums and that potent guitar note. The vocals (including the growling) just add to the feeling of barely hidden menace that is all around this deliciously dark song. It takes no prisoners in its execution and delivery and is pleasantly satisfying, coruscating guitar solo and all. Like a breath of fresh air Oceans Apart enters on the delightful tone of an acoustic guitar and gently whispers serenity in your ear after the bombast of the previous track. Emotive and calming, it is a sea of tranquility compared the energetic aggression that surrounds it and leaves your aural synapses suitably refreshed and ready for the next onslaught.

Title track All is Not For All walks confidently into the room accompanied by an echoing guitar and a synth-heavy back note. The drums are kept decidedly low key at this point of the song before the blue touch paper is lit and off we go!! The tempo and intensity rise as a measured riff sets the pace. Vocals join in, not quite a full growl but the intent is obvious, Nameed interjects clean vocals to add a feel of honesty and this compelling track strides on. A convoluted section follows with mysterious sounding guitars and repetitive drumming, the vocals more demanding and demonstrative and almost moving into thrash metal territory whilst walking the dividing line expertly. An intricate guitar run-out leads us to the close of this impressive song. A taut, funky riff drives 199x along from the start before an almost electronic grind kicks in, you know you are moving into serious territory here. Slightly off beat drums add a wild feel to things and an almost hard rock vibe seems to infuse the song. Deliberately intent vocals and some serious ass-whoopin’ guitar add a groove metal feel to the increasing smorgasbord of metal influences. The guitar solo leaves you temporarily blinded with its intensity before a swirling Hammond-like keyboard lends a sense of stoner rock induced psychedelia to complete the full set. Quite mad and incredibly interesting.

The mood is subdued at the beginning of Impermanence but it doesn’t take long for that signature guitar sound to erupt from the depths. A manic riff ensues with hushed vocals lending a demonic feel to the track. Furious and ferocious it claws at your damaged pysche in a huge wall of sound that envelops your whole being. The fiendish growling vocals are unleashed upon the unsuspecting and add a real intimidating feel to the song. Those of a weak heart and bladder should not enter for their own good but I love the diabolic sense of fun it imbues as the guitar fires off like a maniacal cackle. My first foray into Prog-Metal for a while comes to a close with the final track Perispirit. A meandering guitar line leads in a heartfelt and earnest vocal performance from Nameed. Some elaborate guitar trickery follows from John, all neat and precise before the song opens up with a commanding riff and weighty turn to the vocals. Seriously dense riffs abound with matching vocals yet the chorus is seriously addictive and adds a slight levity to the monstrous sound that surrounds you. John fires off yet another burning solo and then a light, acoustic interlude foxes you for a moment before the ferocity returns. Now I know what it is like to be run over by a truck, survive and enjoy it!

Well, my first foray back into the world of Progressive Metal was a thoroughly enjoyable one. Music like this is never going to break new ground or forge a new furrow but I never expected that. What I got was a really good album delivered by excellent musicians who obviously know their music inside out. The musical world may just have found itself some new Prog-Metal Titans and I will be keeping an eye on these talented guys.

Released through Melodic Revolution Records on 15th June 2015.

Buy All is Not For All here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Geof Whitely Project – Supernatural Casualty and more……

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“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity…”  – Charles Mingus

Just take a minute to read that quote a couple of times and let it sink in…………

Right, are we ready now? Those words can be used to apply the meaning in many walks of life and, also, in music. Sometimes (and it seems especially in progressive music) we seem to be searching for the most intricate and complicated. Maybe this is to stand out from the crowd, maybe it is just one-upmanship? Who knows, if it is not convoluted enough, it can tend to be consigned to the metaphorical dustbin.

What is wrong with simplicity, if it is good enough being kept to the bare basics then why not run with it? I am as guilty as the next man for searching for twenty-four minute prog suites with meandering overtures and endless guitar and bass solos but, when you want a minute to yourself and your life to be a bit more uncluttered, there is some music out there that is perfectly suited, and perfectly good enough, for that mood.

I have oft spoken about how being a music journalist can elicit some very pleasant unexpected surprises and, as recent as last week, another one arrived unannounced at Progradar Towers.

I had never heard of the Geof Whitely Project before but, thanks to a fellow music loving friend on social media, Brasil Bond, I am now acutely aware of this intriguing musical outfit.

There is a bit of mystery surrounding this musical enigma, information is hard to come by so I did the digging so you, my friends, don’t have to…..

From the official website:

“The Geof Whitely Project was formed in 2011, it consists of Geof Whitely and special guest Musicians, the aim of the project is to put out original material in all types of musical formats from Prog Rock-Rock-Pop-Electronic-Instrumental.

All albums will contain a mix of such musical songs, there’s surely one that will appeal to everyone, thanks for visiting the site please feel free to email us, tell your friends…..!!!!”

It also appears that their biggest critic is Jasper the cat, being a cat owner myself, I can relate to that.

Well let’s cut through the shroud of mystery shall we because, having spoken to the musician behind the whole conundrum, I can reveal that there is no such person as Geof Whitely!!!

Geof is actually the alter-ego of prolific musician Arny Wheatley who hails from Stoke-on-Trent and basically does just about everything on all the Geof Whitely Project releases.

The story behind the moniker is that ‘Geof Whitely’ was the name on something that came through Arny’s letter box once addressed wrong and he thought that it would make a good name, simple really!

Having released around six full length albums already, Arny is not one to stand still, he already has another three new albums due out for release and that doesn’t include ‘Supernatural Casualty’ which releases on 3rd August 2015. As I said, prolific!!!

Before we get onto ‘Supernatural Casualty’ I’d like to take a short trip and delve into the Geof Whitely Project back catalogue and focus on two of the previous releases….

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Geof Whitely Project – Pathfinder

Released in March 2014 ‘Pathfinder’ has huge cinematic soundscape at it’s heart. Haunting guitars and expressive keyboards form the backbone on which this electronic rock inspired release can build. The vocals are precise and, despite being mainly monotone, extremely expressive. The opening track Ship to Shore gives a very promising initial impression and this carries on through the album.

Other highlights include the the jazz influenced Chinese Burn and title track Pathfinder. There is a simplistic design to the music that can only be admired, the 80’s influenced keyboards are particularly memorable, especially on At Times and The Riddle.

The guitar work throughout is exemplary and reaches an entertaining peak on The Real Me and closing track Keeper of the Light, enforcing the underlying darker tone of this release.

All in all, my first exposure to the Geof Whitely Project  has been a very enjoyable one.

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Geof Whitely Project – Outlaw of Our Time

Released in February 2015 ‘Outlaw of Our Time’ takes a lighter, more commercial route than ‘Pathfinder’. The overall feel to the album brings thoughts of Asia, Foreigner and other AOR bands, there is even a touch of E.L.O in the vocal style and semi-orchestral feel.

Opening track Fibreoptic is a delightfully reminiscent of the synth inspired rock of the 80’s with a Georgio Moroder inspired keyboard that morphs into a guitar driven verse that Jeff Lynne would be proud of. The album segues though heavy electronica influence with Souless Night Driver, a considered and melodramatic track, to the ambient dance feel of Ricochet and back through the melancholia of Outstretched Hands to the World.

I get a real feel of the cinematic, ethereal atmospherics of Fractal Mirror running through this album, it is there in the background on tracks like Mediation, How Can One and Slow Motion, especially with the organ styled keyboard playing which gives a sci-fi inspired note to the music.

The vocals also conjure up thoughts of my good friend Mike Kershaw, measured and monotone they may be but extremely expressive with it. This comparison is most evident on Siren of the Sea, which has to take the gong of being my favourite track on the album. With its oriental influences and downbeat rhythm, there is an aura of David Sylvian all over this song and the meandering, intense guitar playing is a highlight of the whole album.

The album runs out with three extended tracks that all run with a laconic mood, pensive and wistful. Blind Faith, Gate to the West and Transatlantic Ghosts take a deeper, more thoughtful route through your mind yet still retain a simplicity, a lack of over-complication at their core. It is perhaps more ‘music that seeps into your sub conscious’ than easy listening with the more serious tone that they have. They close out the album on a very sombre note, I found my self getting lost in the midst of the final track.

Now onto the main course……..

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Geof Whitely Project – Supernatural Casualty

The album that started my odyssey, ‘Supernatural Casualty is due to be released on August 3rd this year. All the Geof Whitely Project releases have interesting artwork and this is one of the best, I do tend to gravitate towards albums whose artwork I like and this was no exception.

Mixing Marillion with costume drama and theatricals, opening track Assassin is quite an addictive one with a dark edge to the guitar riff and moody keyboards. The vocals are neat and demonstrative and suit the music perfectly. The song has an apprehensive feel, as if you are waiting for something to happen and not necessarily something good! An intriguing opening track with its early 90’s feel. Healing has an unhurried rhythm to it, mournful and pensive with the delicate piano and trite vocal. Definitely not one for the depressed among us! There is stark beauty to its pared back and downcast delivery though. A heraldic keyboard note introduces The Secret, a track that wouldn’t be out of place on a film soundtrack. A nostalgic, gentle wistfulness plays out before you, the vocals heavy-hearted and imparting world weary experience to the proceedings. Interstellar, whilst not being full of joie de vivre, lifts the mood somewhat with its homage to a mix of early Ultravox with a smidgen of Steve Strange thrown in for good measure. As I’ve said before, there is nothing too complicated going on here but what you do have is transparent and honest and thoroughly enjoyable.

Piano is king at the start of House of the Holy, blended with the saxophone like keyboard, it leaves an entirely palatable taste in the mouth. One more turn of the knob of mood lightening and you can feel a measure of hope creeping into what was despondency before. This ambience runs through the vocals and the whole tone, this is one track where the Mike Kershaw comparison is at its height. The guitar at the end is a particular high point. Welcome to the Darkside (how many of you wanted to finish that sentence with ‘Luke’ ?) would indicate that we are going to regress but, no, not to my ears anyway. There is an inspirative timbre to the vocals that works counterpoint to the contemplative music in a very clever way. The beat leaps forward a couple of notches with F1, the lyrics in deference to that greatest of motorsports. A powerful riff runs in the background giving the whole song momentum and drive. I’d see this as a modern version of Kraftwerk’s ‘Tour de France dedicated to a different sport as the electronic beats vie with the sound of Formula 1 engines. I like the way that Hideaway invokes memories of bygone days, sepia tinged and rose tinted. Almost ballad like, it is a really nice song that leaves me feeling warm inside.

That glowing feeling continues with No Way of Knowing, the vibe seems to have gone across to ‘singer-songwriter’ with an electronic bent and I think it works really well. Again, pared back simplicity is key to how this works so well. Piano and sax inspired keyboard notes cover everything with a velvety layer of sophistication and that feeling of fulfillment remains. Apparition begins with a spooky, sci-fi inspired intro that opens up with a feeling of yearning into an aspirational song. Another track with an 80’s synthesiser inspired sound that resonates with me as a listener. Measured and metronomic in its timbre, it lulls you into a longed for sense of security. The flute like intro to Embargo is very catchy and the whole song really lifts you up as if the sun has started shining on a rainy day. It trips along gaily, dragging you along with its good humour and exhilaration. There is a childlike impishness to the song, guileless and trusting, fans of Tiger Moth Tales will know where I am coming from. Tide is Turning brings gravitas and maturity back and is a more mainstream rock track than some of the others on the album. There is a meditative and reflective quality to this piece and a respectful note to the vocals that adds a wealth and depth of experience to all aspects of the song.

No Time is another unadulterated piece of music that comes straight from the heart, weighty and serious. There is a depth of feeling apparent in the vocals and the powerful music that you can’t help but get involved with. An impassioned, heartfelt song that pulls at the heartstrings. The lament continues with Infront of Me, elementary passions pour out unheeded from the soul of the music and you find yourself in the middle of an emotional pull. Profound and sincere, there is an earnest plea at the heart of it all. Remembrance Day begins with the tolling of a bell and music that brings to mind the horrors of war. Doleful and dramatic it grabs your attention immediately, we will honour those that fought so we could have a better life. There is a solemn and weighty feel to the song yet one that commands and deserves respect. You find yourself engrossed in this philosophical and reflective track, rapt with the memories it invokes. The final track on this thoroughly enjoyable musical journey is Usurper, a gentle, meandering introduction leads into a graceful guitar that increases in tempo and vibrancy before the vocals kick in on perhaps the most commercial track on the album with its Floyd-like feel and tempo. The guitar flashes add style and substance to what is already a very good song and it leaves you on a high as it comes to a satisfying close.

I know Arny will have moved onto his next album by now but I found ‘Supernatural Casualty’ to be a box of delights. At sixteen tracks it is perhaps two or three songs too long but that doesn’t detract from what is a thoroughly satisfying piece of music and one that has introduced me to the Geof Whitely Project, an artist I will definitely be keeping my eye on going forward. Thoroughly recommended.

Release 3rd August 2015.

Buy Supernatural Casualty here

Check out the back catalogue here

 

 

 

 

 

Interview – Fedor Kivokurtsev of Echoes and Signals

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I like a bit of instrumental progressive rock and it was my pleasure to review Russian trio Echoes and Signals November 2014 release ‘V’ earlier this year.

Further to this excellent album the band have announced that they will be opening for their heroes Pain of Salvation on the two Russian dates that they are playing.

I caught up with guitarist Fedor Kivokurtsev to find out more about himself and the band…..

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Progradar: Fedor, how long have you been a musician, what started you on that path and who influenced in your early days as a musician?

Fedor: Well, it’s been a million years since my first attempt to play a guitar but, if we are to talk about something music-like, first band etc. it all started when I was 15. Now I’m 26, so…                  

To talk about main influences – it was a weird combination of some metal bands, sci-fi & fantasy books and, a bit later, another ton of classical books. Reading is still one of my favourite things to do on this planet.

Progradar: How did Echoes and Signals get together in the first place?

Fedor: I got together with my friend Alex, our bass player, and our first drummer Vladimir just to play some music. We decided that we wouldn’t have any plans, any style boundaries and would play anything we felt like at that moment. We were all going through period of certain changes in our lives and it was the starting point.

Progradar: Echoes and Signals are an instrumental rock band, why just instrumental and do you think you will ever write any songs with lyrics?

Fedor: It was not intentional but, suddenly, we found that, in 95% of cases, the instrumental form was perfect for what we wanted to express. This means that we will have some songs with lyrics in the future, but not so much. It should go naturally, sometimes words are useless, but sometimes they mean a lot. 

Progradar: Do you think it is easier writing tracks with no lyrics and how do you go about writing your songs, what inspires you guys as a band?

Fedor: No, it’s definitely not about “easier or harder”, it’s about the right feeling. All our songs are inspired by personal experience, particular situations and feelings. So, life itself is the main source of inspiration, but other forms of art – great music, books and films are always near.

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Progradar: Does being a musician in Russia differ from more recognised countries like the UK and USA? Do you have a big following in your home country?

Fedor: Well, one thing that is very different is distances, it’s okay to drive 10 hours from city to city when you tour Russia. By “okay” I don’t mean that it feels great though 🙂  

In all other aspects I guess we all face the same problems as musicians. I never thought that location can solve the problems of a man.  All our problems and difficulties live inside our heads. 

About the audience? – it’s not so big, but very dedicated.

Progradar: How do you feel about illegal downloading of your music?

Fedor: All our music is free (or pay what you want) at the moment, so it feels ok. I mean we cannot avoid downloading and everyone who uses torrents knows that.

There are some pros and some cons but I prefer to think about the good side. It’s good promotion at least.

Progradar: Do you think that, eventually, all music will be cloud based and even digital music files stored on a computer will become a thing of the past?

Fedor: This is where it is, subscription based streaming services etc. it’s not only about digital music, but also about any digital content, software etc. However the transition will not be that fast.

The bad thing here is that the value of each piece of art is decreasing. You don’t have to go to another town to buy CD in an exclusive shop or ask a friend who has a collection of rare music… all you have to do now is just type the relevant keywords in a search bar, with all the relevant consequences. 

Progradar: You have recently announced that you will be opening for Pain of Salvation on the two Russian dates of their tour, how did that come about?

Fedor: Seriously, we just wrote a big and touching letter to the concert agents who booked PoS in Russia. They then sent our videos and music to the headliner and we’ve been confirmed. 

It was a very impulsive act since I really love PoS as a band, I love their music, energy and message. I feel some kind of a resonance. Well, every fan feels the same, don’t they? 🙂

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Progradar: Knowing that you guys are big fans of the band, how do you feel about it?

Fedor: We feel awesome. No, haha. Words are just words, it’s hard to describe this emotional lift that we feel. I wish I had a chance to say all I think about this in person!.. After all, one of my dreams came true. That’s it! I wrote a big post on our facebook page trying to catch my thoughts.

Progradar: Do you prefer playing live to recording and why?

Fedor: Both, there was a moment in my life when I decided to be a studio nerd, because it’s perfect for composing, this isolated atmosphere… but, after some very important gigs, after this storm of emotions that I felt, I changed my mind.

So, both things are awesome, it’s all about the balance. Sometimes you have to spend some time alone, trying to understand what you want to express. But we should not forget that the most important thing in our life is to give something to someone. Gigs are perfect for this.

Progradar: Who inspires you musically and generally in this day and age?

Fedor: Oh, the hardest question for me!.. Right now I’m really into 70s singer-songwriter stuff, Joni Mitchell, Linda Perhacs etc. 

In general any good music inspires me!, any genre, any style. Talking about modern bands, I really love Icelandic and Japanese music, Agent Fresco and Mono for example.

Progradar: Where would you like to play live most of all in the world?

Fedor: It will be a long list! Everywhere 🙂 Portugal, France, UK, Iceland, Argentina, Japan. Why?.. Just a random selection. The world is so big and beautiful!!!

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Progradar: If you could give up the ‘day’ job and be a full time musician, would you?

Fedor: Well, a short answer will be ‘yes’ but, if we will dig and see what ‘full time musician’ means and how many sacrifices people who can call themselves so make, it can lead to a new thread of discussions. In this life we need to try, we need to make mistakes and we need to make the right decisions.

Progradar: What is next for Echoes and Signals and where do you see yourself and the band in five years time?

Fedor: The next big steps that we need to do are two tours. Russia first, as a complete tour and then Europe. We will work hard to make it happen. Also at the moment we are writing a lot of new music, a lot of ideas flying in the air… So it will definitely lead to the new release.

In five years I wish that we will still be together, strong, writing great music and touring. Life is about the simple things, right?

Progradar: Name 3 albums that you own that you think everybody else should have?

Fedor: 

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of The Moon

Pain of Salvation – Be

Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run

Progradar: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Fedor: Thanks everyone reading this!!!!!! And thanks Martin for the questions.

Don’t forget – if you like the music, support the artists. By support I don’t mean money, I mean sharing with friends, good words, friendly messages, facebook status updates, all these things are a perfect reward!

An excellent up and coming band, catch Echoes and Signals live and download the album here : Echoes and Signals – V

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Barock Project – Skyline

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“What if there was a prog version of the Eurovision Song Contest?”

So naff that you can’t avoid watching it, to most people (especially in the UK) Eurovision has become something of a pastiche and a parody, albeit an enjoyable one. The acts get more and more outlandish and the voting is more of a ‘jobs for the boys, you pat my back and I’ll pat yours’ affair.

It is kitsch and over the top and seems to have lost sight of the original values that saw artists such as Sandy Shaw and Abba produce memorable songs that still stand the test of time today. I mean Australia? come on!

When was the total shift in the tectonic plates that deposited our Antipodean cousins slap band in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and how in all that’s holy did I miss something of those seismic proportions going on under my nose?

The usual entertaining farce of this year’s competition got me thinking, what if Eurovision was populated entirely by progressive rock bands? As it happens, I was actually listening to the latest release from the young Italian prog band Barock Project when that particular inspiration particle hit my cerebral cortex.

Maybe it was inspired by their singular brand of pompous, over the top but utterly mesmerising progressive rock? The bar set extremely high for quality but with a singular tongue-in-cheek feeling of joyous expression.

Once I’d sobered up I realised that a prog inspired Eurovision Song Contest is a very silly idea. Barock Project, on the other hand, is a different story……

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The Barock Project idea comes from a desire to deliver the finest and perfect structure of classical music (mainly baroque music) with a rock-style and a little bit of jazz harmony, supported by a pop framework with the intention to revamp the appeal of ’70s progressive-rock.

The project founder, pianist and composer Luca Zabbini, states that his passion for the music of famous keyboardist Keith Emerson (ELP), has fueled his desire to compose and play a full range of styles, from classical to rock and jazz.

Luca Pancaldi joined as lead vocalist in 2002 and, in the summer of 2004, Giambattista”GB” Giorgi, a young bassist influenced by rock sounds with big passion for jazz, and drummer Giacomo Calabria joined the band.

In December 2007 the first album ‘Misteriose Voci’ was released to very good reviews and media coverage from all over the world. In the summer of 2009 the second album ‘Rebus’ followed and the third record, ‘Coffee In Neukölln’ was issued in 2012, the first with all lyrics in English

Eric Ombelli (replacing Giacomo Calabria on the drums)  and Marco Mazzuoccolo (guitar) joined in early 2014 and Barock Project began recording sessions for their 4th and most complex album. Towards the end of 2014 bass player Giambattista Giorgi left leaving Luca Zabbini to play and re-record the bass lines on the forthcoming album, ‘Skyline’.

So a quick potted history of the band, now onto ‘Skyline’, what do we have in store for us?

Well, if first track Gold is anything to go by, a headlong rush of infectious, inspirational music! The harmonised vocal intro is superseded by an uplifting piano and keyboard note before the vocals begin. Luca has a rich and creamy vocal delivery that immediately connects with you and on this inspiring, joy filled track it really comes to the fore. There is a love of life, a joie de vivre that runs right through the core of the song, the band even chuck in the odd time change here and there to give it some progressive chops and Marco’s fluid guitar playing adds real character, especially when dueling with the keyboards . All in all, an excellent start to the album. Overture is a baroque, classical inspired little instrumental that showcases the band member’s skills as musicians and is a funky, fast paced nod to the 70’s as is rattles along on a wave of nostalgic keyboards and dynamic drumming.

Title track Skyline is the first indication, well to my ears anyway, that we are onto something special with Barock Project. Special guest Vittorio De Scalzi is invited to the party on vocal and flute duties and the minstrel like qualities of the vocal introduction immediately makes your ears prick up. Lightly strumming a lute in the middle ages, you could quite imagine yourself being present at a court in medieval Italy as the delicate acoustic guitar provides a canvas for the graceful vocals. The dynamics change as the drums join in and a sense of anticipation takes over, the vocals harmonise perfectly and you are hooked. Keyboards flow and chime and the flute adds a classy sheen to the song. The curve ball is delivered by an aggressive guitar riff and the vocals become infused with a potent edge as the track enters the symphonic arena. Guitar licks that Brian May would be proud of are fired off in all directions and this energetic ‘pomp and circumstance’ filled romp gets truly into its stride. A fiery solo just the right side of hair metal puts a huge grin on your face, this song really has elements of everything blending perfectly. The next section is an off-kilter romp right from the heart of 70’s progressive rock standards as you are flung from pillar to post in a delightful fashion, the addition of the charismatic flute is genius. A mighty impressive track from some seriously impressive musicians. Turn down the frenetic pace a notch and fall into the graceful introduction of Roadkill. This has more of a traditional AOR feel to it as it builds momentum slowly, the occasional flashes of the guitar could be Journey or Toto and when the track lets loose, it does so with a powerful vocal uplift. A steady, potent riff then takes over guiding the song along, aided and abetted by a subtle rhythm section. The icing on the cake is those cultured yet compelling vocals which have an almost addictive quality to them. Luca fires off a coruscating solo, counterpointed by aggressive keyboards and punctuated by some  intricate flute playing. The ending is all theatrical and in your face yet you feel a baring of the soul at the heart of it.

Another ten minute plus track The Silence of Our Wake begins with a subdued, melancholy air as the restrained vocals are sung over a muted acoustic guitar. There is a solemn feel as Luca’s delivery has a halting feel to it and you feel yourself holding your breath. Things begin to stir into life as the keyboards and rums add substance, the guitar interjects and the melancholy air is lifted. I can almost feel a cinematic scope to this song as the preamble is dispensed and a lighter air gradually feeds in through the instrumental section. Straightforward storytelling and symphonic tinged rock combine with classical music influences to deliver a complex yet satisfying blend of music that hits all the right notes. As the piano led vocals drift off into superb harmonies you are put in mind of some of the great songwriters of the 20th Century, the sophistication and composure are of the highest quality. The Sound of Dreams is a graceful snippet of loveliness that takes you to a place of calm solitude for two minutes, let your worries and cares wash away as the tender vocals and ethereal piano and keys wash over you to leave you in a state of grace.

A funky, jazz infused track with a little edge to it, Spinning Away gets you on side from the off. Catchy vocals and a high powered rhythm section give this song some definitive oomph! The vocals have a slight staccato delivery, an inflection on every word and the whole piece feels like a sophisticated jam session where the musicians are allowed to have a little more fun and think outside of the box. Possibly the most experimental and interesting track on the album although it never loses the overall cultivated sense that is central to the musical ideas that define this release. A classical styled piano intro heralds another one of my favourite components of ‘Skyline’. Tired is a theatrical tour-de-force, full of energy and savoir vivre. The vocals are at their most impressive, forceful and persuasive and you could see this track central to a musical staged on a huge scale. The orchestration is polished and stylish and, I must admit, I found myself singing out loud on the vitalising chorus. A track based on simplicity but one that really leaves its mark on you, raising the hairs on the back of your neck as it builds to the imposing outpouring of the chorus. A captivating guitar solo just adds a touch of class before the song segues into something darker and more sinister with a chaotic and frenetic edge to it. The vocals have a hint of danger to them and the music just feels delightfully malicious as the band are given their head to go off and produce an instrumental section of manic glee before everything comes to a breathless finale.

A Winter’s Night begins with a whimsical piano that leads in Luca’s tentative vocal, slightly pensive as the guitar adds another layer of elegance to this beauteous track. A song that lingers in the memory with thoughts of yearning and solemnity. A sincere and contemplative song and another piece in this elaborate musical jigsaw that we have been presented with. Every good thing must come to an end and so, with The Longest Sigh, does ‘Skyline’. A punchy introduction introduces the song with soaring guitars and keyboards backed by the dynamic rhythm section before the piano and vocals take the lead. Luca injects an earnestness to the heart of his delivery, almost an impassioned plea to your musical heartstrings and your heart replies with positive intent. The piano and keyboards dance lightly across your soul as the sheer inspiring pleasure of the music takes hold. There are little nuances hidden, fragments of 80’s MOR guitar and synth that give a real sense of nostalgia as well, all painted on a huge musical canvas that is nearly all-encompassing and, as the album plays out its final notes, there is a little nod of appreciation, s light smile on the lips at a job very well done by this talented band.

An unexpected highlight of the year so far, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it and, with an apparent resurgence of the genre, progressive music  would be well represented by this exuberant and heartwarming group of musicians. They’d get my vote too!!

 

Released 13th June 2015.

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Review – Progoctopus – Transcendence

cover

What’s in a name? Do the emotions that a band’s name evoke influence your likelihood to like or dislike that particular artist’s music? And why am I even asking this question in the first place?

Progoctopus, that’s why. This new progressive band from Birmingham have just released their debut E.P. ‘Transcendence’ and, so far, it is garnering some great reviews. However the band’s choice of moniker seems to be engendering some less than positive comments.

I, for one, really like the name. There seem to be some rigid tenets in place for when you choose the sobriquet by which you wish to be known. Here we look at the three major ones.

1. Get a name that really stands out.

Make it so it is memorable and creates a vivid image or evokes a feeling in the mind of the listener. Well the guys have certainly ticked that box for definite!

2. Get an unused band-name.

Well have you heard of another band called Progoctopus? Exactly, point two     is in the affirmative.

3. Make it relevant to the genre.

Progressive rock? Progoctopus? I think we can agree that that one is a definite yes too!

On a more serious note, will the band name put you off the music, come on, of course not or, at least it shouldn’t. Aren’t we all open minded, won’t we give something a try before shunning it? I should bloody hope so.

There is a hint of tongue-in-cheek japery about Progoctopus and I know the band are amused by, and love, all the discussion about the merits of that controversial handle.

Enough dissection, it’s time for the usual history lesson because, if there isn’t one, it isn’t Progradar!

Band - Credit Dave Donelly

Formed in November 2014, Progoctopus are set to take the prog world by storm with their debut EP, ‘Transcendence’.

The band consists of Jane Gillard (vocals), Alistair Bell (guitars), Samuel C. Roberts (bass) and Tim Wilson (drums).

“We’ve only been together a short time, but the ideas never stop flowing. The guys jam relentlessly and are seldom in 4/4” chuckles lead vocalist, Jane .

With this debut EP, the band have married the traditions of progressive music with stellar contemporary musicianship and big production values in performance, song duration or tongue-in-cheek humour.

“We combine as much anarchy, order and cheese as we can, rather than should, do in a musical democracy” Tim jokes. “For us, it’s about a happy, will-do attitude, rather than the number of notes. We have a mischievous and fun-loving manner and are always trying to slip each other up with a crazy new beat or riff.”

Guitarist Alistair comments on this positive sense of musical adventure. “The interesting thing about writing music with these guys is that we rarely know what’s going to happen next. One minute we might be playing a fusionesque jam a la Holdsworth, the next we’re playing anthemic rock, then we’re straight in to some Opeth style death metal. It’s mad but we love it!”

CD

So onwards and upwards and time for the review of this four part E.P.

The first two tracks are actually part of the Transcendence Suite and, obviously, we begin with Part 1 and the winding of a clock before a funky, jazz style vocal introduction, heavy on the bass and with Tim’s drums providing a frenetic background accompaniment. A sort of Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s funktastic riff is provided by Alistair and off we go on this fun-filled maniacal free-flight through progdom. Things open up and become calmer with a really classy riff before Jane’s distinctive vocals take up the story. A powerful voice, full of clarity and soul, it is part of the lifeblood of this impressive start. The rhythm section is there just slightly hidden yet holding everything in place with a metronomic and precise beat. There is a joyful freedom deep at the heart of this music, the catchy chorus and funky music just have a definitive joi de vivre about them and you can’t help but be transfixed by it. A left turn into a more divisive and edgy feel fits in perfectly, there is even a hint of alt-country to Jane’s voice in places as the genre-swapping nearly loses you but you keep up, even if it leaves you breathless and in hysterics……

More of the same with Part 2? I hope so, there isn’t enough fun in music nowadays. A kind of mystical, trance-like piece of music holds you in sway as the second part takes on a more laid back feel at first. It isn’t long before the full-blooded chicanery and tomfoolery return in full force though and this time with a much heavier edge to it, Jane’s vocal taking on a feel of Ann Wilson from the early days of Heart before they went all soft-rock on us. A squirelling guitar run and repetitive return to the enigmatic riff of Part 1 keeps everything flowing smoothly. The dynamic chorus and persuasive, forceful melodies come to head as the track runs out to an energetically heavy conclusion.

A playful, more minimal aura surrounds the beginning of Like Stone. Acoustic guitar and chilled out drums play in the song before Jane joins the soiree with a gentle, nostalgic vocal that lifts you away on a gossamer thin cloud of celestial wonderment. Peaceful and refined it dances graciously along your synapses leaving you in a state of grace. A pleasant interlude from the prog chops of the first tracks.

Now onto the longest track on the E.P. Running in at just over 9 minutes long Carousel bounds into the arena with a hook ridden melody and boundless energy. The first verse is delivered in a slightly subdued manner but with a feeling of a pent up vitality hiding in the background. Unleashed and set free, Jane’s diva like voice commands the whole track and gives it a vivid life of its own. The intrepid rhythm section provides an all-authoritative backdrop for the vocals and guitar to engage in a bit of offbeat, funky and jazz infused interplay. The middle section of the track sees the three guys head off on a visit to virtuosity-ville and show their undoubted skill-sets but, it’s when the impressive melodies and harmonies kick in that you just kick back and let an indulgent smile creep across your face. As the track draws to its conclusion you just get the feeling that the band are having so much fun producing this music for us and I applaud them for it. The way the track runs out to its final notes is just another gratifying part of this satisfying new entrant into the progressive world.

One conclusion that you have to come to with Progoctopus is that there is a heartwarming love of life deep at the heart of this quirky English quartet and this comes across emphatically in the impish delivery of their music. Uplifting music for a sunny day that gives a rose tinted glow to anybody’s outlook on life. Come join the fun, you will never look back.

Released 25th May 2015

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www.progoctopus.com

Band photos credit Dave Donelly