Review – Mayfire – Cloudscapes & Silhouettes – by Rob Fisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released November 17th, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here:

Cloudscapes & Silhouettes | Mayfire (

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

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

Review – Everything But The Girl – Fuse – by Dr. Rob Fisher

“Do you sing to heal the broken hearted?” wonders Tracey Thorn with a tone of whimsical curiosity, “Or do you sing to get the party started?” Emerging from the darkness, approaching the microphone, she confesses “I like the mic, and I like the dark, I like the mood, and it lights a spark.” (Karaoke, Track 10).

It has been 24 years since Everything But The Girl were last in the spotlight. An unexpected low-key announcement on Twitter in November 2022 lit a spark with news that work on an eleventh studio album was complete and ready to be released in April of this year. The result? Fuse. A remarkable album, infused with a staggering emotional depth and poignancy that resonates with the turbulent moods and experiences of the last few years. The deft lyrical incisiveness combined with crisp, laconic sketches of modern life bestows a haunting empathy and heartfelt compassion which is profoundly moving and, at times, overwhelming.

An almost painful rawness and vulnerability form a pervading presence across all the songs on this album. The heavy dubstep beat, the tremolo bass and the lyrical references of opening track Nothing Left to Lose (Track 1) provide a seamless connection with the spirit of previous albums. Yet the despondency and resignation of the space filled by Thorn’s vocal is unmistakable: “I need a thicker skin / This pain keeps getting in.” There is also abandonment and isolation: “Tell me what to do / ‘Cause nothing works without you.” The pressing need is to forget the hollowness and lose yourself, just for a while, in the warmth of the moment: “Kiss me while the world decays / Kiss me while the music plays.”

The fear of being alone and feelings of emptiness continue with Run The Red Light (Track 2). Our hopes, our dreams of ‘making it big’ are a show bravado to cover our vulnerability. The refrain points to the (false) comfort of losing ourselves and escaping in the moment: “Run a red light / Forget the morning / This is tonight.” The chorus is recycled with both Thorn and Watt singing, the latter’s voice Auto Tuned to add a robotoic texture. The theme continues in No One Knows We’re Dancing (Track 6), a hot, noisy afternoon underground nightclub, sweat dripping from the ceiling, while ‘normal’ life continues above. Amid the isolation, we crave company, companionship, just some sense of connection with others.

The noise, the desperation, the seeming heartless indifference of the things that happen to us, threaten to consume us. Emerging from the experience of lockdown, Lost (Track 7) is a recurring arpeggio accompanying a mundane litany of losing your place, your bags, your client, your job, and your friends until, at the lowest point of all, we encounter the three times repeated “I lost my mother / I lost my mother / I lost my mother’. Loss: the feeling of being lost, is consuming. At the very place, deep down, where things matter most. Where everything is supposed to make sense.

Don’t be fooled, however. This album, the music, the songs, are most certainly not an ode to depression or a wallowing in self-pity. Far from it. Inner Space (Track 9) filters and masters Thorn’s voice to sound like the inside of her head. We are lost even to ourselves, we do not know ourselves, we do not understand who we are. “The dark is an alien place / Interior space”. But there is also defiance. In what appears to be a swipe at the menopause, she sings “And no, I don’t bleed / And yes, I am freed / But what is that worth? / Are we all about birth?”

Despite everything, the album calls on us not to give in, not to give up, not to beat ourselves up for the mistakes we make. Lost itself is a call to carry on, to keep going, to not succumb to calling yourself a loser: “I just lost it / (Call yourself a loser and they will too) / (Don’t go down that road, don’t go down that road).” When You Mess Up (Track 4) is about all the uncertainties of being ourselves as we grow older and not punishing ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made. “In a world of micro-aggressions / Little human transgressions / Forgive yourself”. Do more than that: “Have a drink, talk too loud / Be a fool in the crowd / But forgive yourself / Forgive yourself.”

Forever (Track 8) brings this home, using a ‘four-on-the-floor beat’ to punch home the message. “Do away with cruelty / Do away with pain / Do away with playing games / For short term gain.” We need to work out what is important, what matters and whom we value most. “No more games / Start thinking what you’d save from the flames / What you’ll desire / When everything’s on fire / And who’ll be around / When everything’s burned down?”

These are the things that matter. The song fades away to “Give me something I can hold on to forever.” And that, in a nutshell, is the sheer majestic strength and triumph of this album. It finds us where we are. It befriends us. It resonates with our fears, our anxieties, our troubles. It puts an arm around us and says don’t worry, life is difficult, we all struggle, and that’s ok. Everyone is going through it. You’re not the only one. Don’t be too hard on yourself; stop beating yourself up. Keep going. Focus on what matters. Oh, and don’t forget – have fun!

Musically, the crystal-clear sound stage creates cavernous spaces within which Thorn’s voice can tell the stories which brought them back to the recording studio. In the time they’ve been away, Thorn and Watt have had two children, followed solo careers, experienced lockdown all the while struggling with the passing of the years. Thorn’s voice remains incomparable, breathtaking, even better than it was. Watts’ arrangements perfectly accompany, cradle and showcase not just the inherent beauty of her voice but an instinctive feel for how less is more and how space itself is all you need for the musical magic to emerge.

Let’s finish where we started. Emerging from the darkness, approaching the microphone, Thorn asks: “Do you sing to heal the broken hearted?” A firm answer comes back: “Oh, you know I do”. She asks again: “Or do you sing to get the party started?” The definitive response comes back: “And you know I love that too.” It’s never either/or. Music can and must be both/and. Fuse is precisely how music enables both/and to become possible. It is the perfect finish to what will be, without a doubt, my album of 2023.

Video for Website
Run a Red Light:

1. Nothing Left To Lose 3:46
2. Run A Red Light 3:39
3. Caution To The Wind 4:07
4. When You Mess Up 3:48
5. Time And Time Again 2:52
6. No One Knows We’re Dancing 4:09
7. Lost 3:25
8. Forever 3:41
9. Interior Space 2:24
10. Karaoke 3:54

Tracey Thorn – Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals
Ben Watt – Drum Programming, Programmed By [Sound Programming], Piano, Synthesizer, Electric Guitar, Backing Vocals, Recorded By [Additional iPhone Recordings]

Artwork –, John Gilsenan
Mastered By – Miles Showell
Producer, Arranged By – Everything But The Girl
Recorded By, Mixed By – Bruno Ellingham

Label: Buzzin Fly Records
Format: CD, Vinyl, Digital
21st April 2023



Review – Brother ape – Karma – by Rob Fisher

Brother ape happily portray their scintillating seventh studio album ‘Karma’ as being “the result of their current point of evolution”. It’s an astute comment which casts a revealing light on the ways in which the band have been developing across the four years since the release of the pulsating ‘Force Majeure’ in 2014.

‘Karma’ is, in many ways, a work of and in progress and clearly reflects the exciting and eager music of a working band who have spent the last few years playing festivals, clubs and gigs across their native Sweden. As a prelude to the creation of the new album they released three digital EP’s in 2015 (‘Worlds Waiting….’), early 2016 (‘Mandrill Anthem and Other Stories’) and again in late 2016 (‘First Class’). The best tracks from these releases became the ‘seeds’ which form the bedrock of ‘Karma’ alongside the composition of new songs and material.

The approach certainly pays clear dividends in giving us an album which is beautifully rich in the diversity of musical styles and moods it presents. The energy and vitality which naturally accrues from playing live on stage is effortlessly transferred to the ways the songs are written and performed. As you listen to the album you can both hear and feel the progression and the increasing refinement in the spirit and vibrancy of their playing.

There is an admirable openness to the influences they have heard and how these have become incorporated and creatively infused into the writing process. Much like dipping your toe into a flowing river again and again, each song is a carefully crafted and thoughtfully nuanced snap shot of a time, a place, a mood, a feeling. The album becomes a fascinating collection of musical ‘postcards’ assembled by a band who are intent on probing the boundaries of musical imagination.

This ever inquisitive openness creates a willingness to play, to experiment, to literally explore wherever the mood takes them. The band openly confess they are deeply committed to the idea of “always making music that trigger us at the moment independently of what musical orientation it has.” And in this respect, ‘Karma’ is an arresting showcase of the glorious spirit of innovation which is not afraid to traverse or find inspiration in impressively wide varieties of musical genres and techniques. Combined with the commanding sense of presence and energy acquired from live performing as well as the novel expressiveness they bring to the each song, the album really is a remarkable testament to their current point of evolution.

The album opens and closes with two blistering, signature Brother Ape tracks that are fiery statements of intent. Oblivion (Track 1) is a wonderful fusion of rock, jazz and mesmerising time signatures full of attitude and youthful defiance. The title track Karma (Track 8) begins with the same provocative and challenging power before giving way to tranquil orchestral interludes which in turn lead to a throbbing Amazonian passage of drumming overlayed with a triumphant vocal refrain.

But the mood instantly changes with the sublime If I Could (Track 2), the purity of the crystal clear vocal work, carrying a slight echo, riding an assured symphonic tide of cinematically light orchestral arrangements. The mood is picked up again in Don’t Stand At My Grave And Cry (Track 5), championed again by the most delightful vocal resonance but this time supported by an almost trance-style sampling with almost Beatles-esque echoes.

You Are (Track 7) is another change of pace and musical space; lilting, gentle, delicate guitar work and soothing vocals creating a serene, undulating musical landscape. Hina Saruwa (Track 4) and Let The Right One In (Track 6) switch again to more complex textures, emphatic rhythms, deliciously involved and intertwined elements from drums, keyboards, bass and vocals.

‘Karma’ is a refreshing and at times frenetic blur of passion and drama, a whirling musical dervish of ingenious and inventive styles, influences, moods and moments. Yet throughout it all the band remain faithful to the ‘sound’ they have pioneered since their debut album ‘On The Other Side’, released in 2005, and have been evolving across the course of seven truly impressive and striking albums.

Their website offers the tantalising promise that not all the material they created for ‘Karma’ found its way into the album. I sincerely and most earnestly hope that a new EP or even album may be in the offing in the not too distant future.

Released 5th May 2017

Order ‘Karma’ in Europe from Freia Music here:

Order ‘Karma’ in the UK from bandcamp here






Beatrix Players – Magnified Tour – Hoxton Hall , London, 12th May 2017 – by Rob Fisher

You would never know it was there. The automatic sliding doors give no hint of the majestic secret hidden within. Originally built in 1863, Hoxton Hall is a wonderful example of a good old fashioned saloon-style music hall, the modest central stage fronting a spacious ground floor, with impressive cast iron columns supporting two levels of galleries on all three sides. The overall effect creates a casual, relaxed and intimate atmosphere and the eager audience complete the perfect setting for tonight’s launch of the remarkable debut album ‘Magnified’ from the thrilling Beatrix Players.

The hushed murmur of voices give way to a polite ripple of applause as they take the stage and a happy silence descends as the opening notes of the haunting Rushlight gently fill the room. The insistent call of the piano gradually increases in emphasis and urgency, matched by a vocal harmony which is initially delicate but also grows with a matching power and intensity. The unwavering menace of the cello brings a grounding strength and depth as the song builds to a defiant, majestic crescendo before, passion spent, it falls away to the tranquil calm of the beginning once more.

The effect on the auditorium is spellbinding: not for the first time during the course of the evening, people are utterly enthralled and completely captivated by the graceful energy and compelling spirit of the performance. The confines of the stage enforce a close proximity between the three main musicians, which in turn accentuates and highlights the wonderfully intuitive interplay and understandings which exist between them. There is a dynamic and deeply creative relationship between keyboards, cello and voice which is delicately attuned to the shifting ebbs and flows of the rhythms of each song and which is absorbing to see unfold.

They are joined tonight by Robyn Hemmings on double bass, Jez Houghton on French horn, Maria Kroon on violin and Emanuela Monni on drums and percussion. The subtle alterations to the musical arrangements for some of the songs are breathtaking in the impact they bring. The integration of the French horn and violin in particular are absolutely inspired, creating a more open and expansive soundstage which provides greater emotional resonance and clarity of expression. Never Again and Walk Away possess a biting vitality which is not as readily apparent on the album, but with these additions is an absolute pleasure to experience live.

During the evening we are provided with some unexpected treats in the form of songs from their original EP and a beautifully moving cover of Hurt before an almost apologetic and low key introduction ushers in All That Thinking. A song about female infertility and the impact it has on relationships, the performance tonight is emotionally charged and profoundly moving. The sheer extent of the impact it has on the audience defies description and I know I was certainly not alone in being overcome and shedding a tear by the often unspoken heartbreak it creates.

One further surprise remains in store for us as the raised dias behind the main performers fills with the arrival of the SOUND choir for the final three songs. Their presence and influence is striking and uplifting, bringing new dimensions and insights to songs which, as a result, carry an embracing immediacy and sparkling warmth. The mesmerising Ophelia and the sizzling encore Roses spring to life with an astonishing and breathtaking vibrancy to mark the perfect end to a magnificent evening of stunning music.

A second concert has been announced for St Pancras Old Church on the 5th October 2017. Tickets are available now and I cannot recommend highly enough what a mesmerising, captivating and thoroughly enchanting experience awaits if you decide to go. Do not hesitate.


Never Again

Walk Away

Not for the first Time

Hurt (cover)



High Heel Shoes

All That Thinking

Obey Me

Lady of the Lake

What Do You Say

The Road To Gordes



Beatrix Players are:
Amanda Alvarez – Cello
Amy Birks – Lead & Backing Vocals
Jess Kennedy – Piano, Flute, Backing Vocals


Beatrix Players Play Hoxton Hall on 11th May 2017

Through their enchantingly dark and evocative melodies, expansive arrangements and empowered orchestral sound Beatrix Players tell stories of real life and fantasy. Citing influences as diverse as Michael Nyman and Regina Spektor and drawing comparisons to the likes of Kate Bush and Einaudi Ludovico, this London-based, all female trio combine elements of Folk, Jazz, Progressive and Classical music. In 2015 the band took their unique sound – a beautiful combination of vocals, piano and cello – into the studio to record their self-produced debut album, which has been mixed by two-time BBC Folk Award winner, Jim Moray. That album, titled Magnified, is now brought to you in an evening with musicians from the album with support from King of the Opera.

When purchasing tickets you have the option to buy the Beatrix Players Magnified Vinyl + Magnified CD for a discounted price of £10, available to pick up after the show where the Beatrix Players will be signing copies.

Progradar’s own Rob Fisher:

“With the release of ‘Magnified’, Beatrix Players have created a truly stunning and enchanting collection of musical experiences to delight the soul and feed the mind. Call it bewitching, call it sublime, I thoroughly recommend sharing time with it and succumbing to all the enchanting journeys on which it will take you.”

Tickets can be bought direct from Hoxton Hall here:

Review – Beatrix Players – Magnified – by Rob Fisher

There are few delicious pleasures in life as wonderfully satisfying than being so completely absorbed and utterly enthralled by the music to which you are listening that all sense of time, space and place are temporarily forgotten. ‘Magnified’ is exactly that kind of delightful surprise, effortlessly exerting a mesmerising and seductive captivation which renders this beautiful debut album from Beatrix Players a thoroughly enchanting experience.

The irresistible allure of the music is skilfully crafted around the thrilling and ever powerful presence of the piano, offset and complimented by the vivid and often dramatic strings of the cello and both are nurtured and encouraged by the melodic nuance and emotional poignancy of the vocals. The shifting ebb and flow between the three players creates an exciting and edgy dynamism, the fluid and continually evolving interactions forming sumptuous textures and compelling soundscapes that are happily spell-binding.

Yet there is also a foreboding sense of driving purpose diffused at all levels throughout the album, a strong and uncompromising spirit of determination which supplies a creative vision buried in the heart of what is being played. There is a willingness to dabble, to experiment, to pursue the meaning being conveyed in the music by blending differing styles and genres in order to capture and convey the unique sound which is so earnestly being sought.

Given the nature of the instruments involved there is no surprise to find elements of classical, baroque and even choral traditions but these have been delicately infused with rhythms and styles drawn from folk, prog, blues and jazz to craft an impressively expansive and hugely evocative sound which is as enthralling as it is consuming. It is a combination which forms the perfect cradle to tell the sometimes painful and all too human stories which inspire the songs with which we are being presented.

“The power of music”, Jess Kennedy (piano) believes, is its potent ability “to make people feel something”, to take hold of you and let you become lost in the moment. At heart, ‘Magnified’ is an intelligent series of narratives, stories and vignettes which speak with tremendous power and feeling to the day to day situations in which we find ourselves, the gamut of emotions we experience and the often agonizing and difficult problems with which we wrestle.

But this is music which is sensitively designed to make you think as well as feel. It works so well because it takes the rawness of everyday experience and fuses it with the mythology and the symbolism of age old stories which are familiar to us all. Real life mixes with fantasy to create sweeping, expressive melodies that are rich with empathy and compassion and form an enticing gateway through which we hardly notice ourselves enter.

What we find is the darkness which sometimes occupies the heart of beauty and often hidden within everyday life. This is not an album which shies away from or turns a blind eye to the more troubling aspects of human experience, despite the seeming elegance and charm of the music itself. Indeed, it is precisely the combination of the open vitality of the music with a biting realism of what life sometimes throws at us which allows the songs to communicate with such commanding potency and emotional authority.

“So I can’t write a love song” is the forlorn opening to Molehill (Track 5), thoroughly bewitching in terms of the music, heartbreaking in terms of the lyrics. Never Again (Track 3) positively makes your blood run cold with its plaintive “The walk of shame / In the middle of the day / The sun hits my tears / And blinds my thoughts / And in this moment I am numb / Another night and surely I’m done”; yet all we initially hear are the strains of piano and cello gently rippling and undulating in the background.

This is the standout achievement of what is without doubt a magical album. We are graced with music which opens the soul to the full catalogue of human experiences, without blinking and yet, without retreating either. There is strength and resolve in the darkness: “I’ll cut my hair / Become courageous / For I will live to outdate this / Take a risk and find strength” (Never Again). Forlorn does not necessarily or always mean despair and resignation. We can find, within ourselves and with the help of others, the strength to rise above what trouble us.

With the release of ‘Magnified’, Beatrix Players have created a truly stunning and enchanting collection of musical experiences to delight the soul and feed the mind. Call it bewitching, call it sublime, I thoroughly recommend sharing time with it and succumbing to all the enchanting journeys on which it will take you.

Released 31st March 2017

Buy ‘Magnified’ from bandcamp



Review – Steve Hackett – The Night Siren – by Rob Fisher

The bewitching call of the Sirens is reported to have been irresistible. Mesmerised by the enchanting beauty of their songs, sailors were lured to their inevitable destruction on the rocks surrounding Scylla and Charybdis. Only two people are recorded as having escaped the compelling singing of these beautiful hybrid creatures: Odysseus returning home from the Trojan War who ordered his men to fill their ears with wax whilst lashing himself to the mast of his ship and Jason, leading his Argonauts to find the Golden Fleece, who overcame their siren call with the equally enthralling playing of Orpheus.

The parallels between the mythological narratives of the Sirens and Steve Hackett’s 25th solo album ‘The Night Siren’, are as fascinating as they are disconcerting. The two rocks, starkly framed on the album cover against the captivating aurora of the northern lights, may well be a nod to Scylla and Charybdis but it is also a clarion call to the need in these present dark times to carefully steer our way between the rocks and the hard places which threaten to engulf us.

Hackett believes that “it seems the world has been plunged into darkness. Wherever you look, extremism and intolerance are dominant, and people are getting fed up with politicians. They are losing faith in the way they behave.” We live in a time of discord, animosity, fighting and bitter divisions. ‘The Night Siren’ is a wake-up call, an unsettling shaking of the foundations on which we stand designed to open our minds, rouse us from our complacency and heed the urgent call to empathy, unity and peace.

Photo by Tina Korhonen © 2016, all rights reserved.

To that end, much like the Sirens themselves, the album is a hybrid mosaic of songs featuring instruments, collaborators and musicians from around the world. Indeed, the graceful, elegant beauty of T’he Night Siren’ lies precisely in the delightful diversity of its songs as well as the endearing variety of the instruments and sounds heard within each song. The sound of the Indian sitar, the strings of a Peruvian charango, Celtic Uilleann pipes along with the tar and oud originating from the Middle East all contribute to the wonderful montage of musical voices which inspire hope and the desire for peace.

The album openly elevates, celebrates and embraces our unity within diversity. Unlike other recordings on which he has worked, ‘The Night Siren’ took Hackett well over a year to make.  Recording took place in multiple locations, in a variety of different countries, using studios, rooms, wherever they could get the musicians together. “What I wanted to do was show that we can all communicate through the universality of one language – and that is music. It brings us all together.”

Making the album in this way not only adds greater flexibility to the music but also brings people together – and sometimes people who are unnatural allies – to demonstrate in a simple fashion that the multi-cultural approach offers us light in the darkness. Hackett is adamant that the album “represents a bird’s eye view of the world of a musical migrant ignoring borders and celebrating our common ancestry with a unity of spirit”. Bringing together singers and musicians from Israel and Palestine, the USA and Iraq he firmly believes the spirit of cooperation, collegiality and the bonds of friendship which can be formed through music make this his best album yet.

Photo by Tina Korhonen © 2016, all rights reserved.

It is hard to disagree. If the Sirens of war, division, destruction, envy, spite and brutality are seducing the world in which we live, Hackett’s performance on ‘The Night Siren’ is no less akin to the enthralling musicianship of Orpheus leading us through these troubled waters. Music, he believes, “breaches all defences” and there is no doubting that his playing exudes an assured, masterful confidence and authority which is as infectious as it is inspiring.

There is an exhilarating sense of anticipation in hearing the way his guitar work interacts with and responds to the unique and dynamic combinations evolving within each song. Even with all the different styles, rhythms and tempos, he displays a blistering, stand-out musicianship which is wholly organic to, and of a natural piece with, the flow and momentum of the music. It feels right. Each and every time, it feels so right, so perfectly suited to the context of the other instruments and immaculately aligned with the way the song unfolds.

This has always been Hackett’s singular gift; a magical combination of exceptional talent and a nuanced insight which allows him to draw on the momentum present in the natural flow of the music and then rise above it with a passion and brilliance that often defies imagination. At times his playing is simply sublime. The space opens up for the guitar to speak and he fills it with riffs and solos that are beautifully refined, deftly played and charmingly sumptuous. He brings an understanding to the music which is movingly perceptive, poignant and evocative.

When you listen to music which is this articulate, played in ways which carry an unrivalled eloquence and charm by virtue not just of the central figure but also because of the virtuosity of those who surround him, the message he wants to convey cannot but be heard – and heard with a persuasiveness that only music can achieve. Forget about the boundaries, the walls, the frontiers, the borders. ‘The Night Siren’ will shake the ground on which you stand and make you feel the world anew through music because of the coming together of people from across the world who show the way to us all exactly what humanity can achieve when we come together in the name of unity and peace.

Released 24th march 2017

Pre-order ‘The Night Siren’ from Hackett Songs


Progradar Best of 2016 – Rob Fisher’s Top Ten

We are going to end 2016 at Progradar with a selection of ‘Top 10’ picks. I have asked as many contributors as would like to join in the fun to give me their best 10 albums of the year. Here we start with Rob Fisher‘s selections.

Flux – Shadowlines

I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Flux perform at the Darbar Festival in London’s South Bank. They gave a superb and truly heart warming rendition of songs from their uplifting debut album ‘Shadowlines’. Since first hearing it earlier in the year I have been championing their music which is alive, fresh and above all joyful. There is an alluring blend of eclectic influences from around the world, stamped with a unique style and identity which exudes a passion for life through elegant melodies, exquisite playing and energetic rhythms.

Frost* – Falling Satellites

Glorious, sizzling, pulsating walls of sound. This is truly modern prog, aware of contemporary influences and absorbing modern ideas and sounds. It is a triumphant and shamelessly inventive experiment on how to do prog in the 21st Century, using sounds and techniques belonging to other musical contexts but making them your own. The result is a breathtaking adventure through expansive soundscapes, fascinating samplings and an album which stands as a shining beacon for genuinely creative and dynamic song writing.

Southern Empire – Southern Empire

Inspired, powerful song writing and intense levels of technical and musical virtuosity combine to create a debut album which does exemplary justice to both aspects of the term ‘progressive’ and ‘rock’. Sean Timms masterfully weaves intelligent lyrical insights with textured layers of expressive and compelling music which are psychologically perceptive, full of emotional insight and brimming with melodic creativity.

Thence – We Are Left With A Song

Thence have created what is, in effect, the soundtrack for life in the 21st century. It is an album which bristles with creativity, dynamism and enthusiasm, bringing together elements of orchestral and classical music, jazz, blues, rock and metal. The music ripples with stark contrasts, using sweeping and scintillating soundscapes to mirror the noisy backgrounds against which we live our lives. The vocals are buried in music which is humming with layers of distorted guitars, yet emerging into crystal clear oases of melodic calm and clarity. Enthralling.

Karibow – Holophinium
You can understand why Oliver Rüsing needed a two-cd release for the latest instalment of musical excellence from Karibow. The vision which inspires the album is majestic and sweeping in scope, telling stories of poignant self-discovery through vivid symphonic landscapes which are an exhilarating journey in delightfully imaginative musical creativity. From the outset you are fully engaged both intellectually as well emotionally in music which is hauntingly textured and beautifully expressed.

Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting

What an unexpected revelation and delight this fourth studio release from Damian Wilson really is. Penetrating lyrical vignettes tell poignant and moving stories, sung in a voice that portrays simply staggering levels of expression, emotion and passion. At the heart of it is the conflict between our biological and physical make up suited for life as a perpetual battle for survival, on the other the recognition that there is a kinder and gentler way of living. A remarkable and heart-breaking release.

Kaipa Da Capo – Dårskapens Monotoni

As soon as you hear the opening bars of this elegant and imposing album you both know and you feel as if you are home. Reuniting the original members of Kaipa from the mid 70’s, lush musical landscapes are built around smouldering keyboards, breath-taking guitar work, powerful bass and intricate drumming. This is prog as it was always meant to be, lovingly crafted and exquisitely played in songs which capture a bluesy, symphonic and deeply satisfying mood.

Dec Burke – Book Of Secrets

A fiercely intelligent and highly perceptive hymn to the pendulum of life as it swings between joy and despair. The album is boundlessly energetic, infused with power, drive and focus. There is an infectious conviction to the music which is expressed in a diverse mixture of styles, moods and competing instrumental emphases. The songs are incisive, vigorous and dynamic, filled with a strong sense of character and purpose.

T – Epistrophobia

A late entry to the 2016 list of releases, T’s follow up album to the fiercely powerful Fragmentropy illustrates that all good things come to those who wait. Despite having a more symphonic and even melodic character, Epistrophobia is intellectually intense and emotionally provocative in equal measure. T’s music has always demanded your time and attention when listening in return for the rewards it eventually yields and this is no exception. Profoundly brilliant.

Oak – Lighthouse

A third debut album makes my top 10 for 2016. Lighthouse is wonderfully charming and, the more you hear it, affectionately endearing. The album is a fusion and mixture of all sorts of feelings, experiences, thoughts and emotions which is expressed in music which has a vitality and dynamism that lifts you up, carries you along and sets you down again as it explores the joys and the agonies of being alive.  Upbeat instrumental work builds foundations for energetic landscapes and highly melodic harmonies.




Review – Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting – by Rob Fisher


I can’t help feeling there is something of an unfortunate disconnect between the expectations encouraged by the forceful and uncompromising visual imagery portrayed by the cover artwork and the reality of the music you find yourself hearing in light of those expectations. Whether this is something to do with a perception of Wilson’s image or persona because of his involvement with the heavier leaning music of Threshold or Headspace I’m not sure, but the overt portrayal of aggression and machismo is thoroughly unhelpful and actually serves to undermine what is an exquisitely compelling and unexpectedly beautiful album.

Wilson explains the rationale underpinning the album as giving voice to the daily experience of trying to carve out a meaningful, secure and even happy existence against all the factors and forces which are ranged against us. “Life is a fight. A never ending brawl and struggle to find a little peace.” The theme is certainly reflected in a lot of the tracks which appear on the album and goes some way to at least partially explaining both the image and the implied attitude which adorns the cover.

Yet you only have to listen to the elegant and graceful lyrics of the sublime Battlelines (Track 12) to understand that Wilson’s heart lies in an all together different direction. “It seems to me that through all this fighting that, mores’ achieved by words and writing than, any bullet fired through war and rage”. Or again: “I understand though I don’t like it that, we were made and built for fighting but, can’t we put those tanks and bullets away”. And then we reach the repeated refrain: “So what if we believe it’s all magical, If it was up to me, watch the mighty fall, we would all stand back and just laugh at war”.

Such an imploring and impassioned cry from the heart, reflected across so many of the songs on this staggeringly poignant album, gives voice to the crisis and the dilemma which shape and form the music and the lyrics. On the one hand the reality is that life is a battle, a fight, brutal, tough and unforgiving; on the other there is the recognition that actually all this is a senseless folly, meaningless posturing, a futile waste. There is a better, kinder, gentler and more human way of living. And it is the tension created from understanding that both these views hold true which lies at the heart of this remarkable and at times heart-breaking release.


Two things quickly and forcibly strike you when you spend time with this album. The first is just how dramatically expansive and passionately expressive Wilson’s voice really is. Superb recording values let you hear with crystal clarity the incredibly diverse range he brings to each song, from the gentle and emotionally nuanced ballads all the way through to the feisty, rugged and good old fashioned heavy rock anthems. The vocal performance elicited by and expressed through the music is simply magnificent, a joyful master class which is a delightful privilege to hear, appreciate and enjoy.

The second is the sheer lyrical brilliance which shines so brightly throughout the album. Initially it is difficult to appreciate the hugely perceptive levels of insight, acumen and plain common sense wisdom which are carefully crafted within each song because your attention is always diverted elsewhere by other things. But the more you listen, the more you begin to pick up phrases and notice sentences which in turn lead you to pay a lot more attention to the skill and care which has gone into the song-writing.

‘Built For Fighting’ is an extraordinary achievement on many levels, not least of which is that it is a gem which hides in plain sight and runs the risk of being ignored precisely because of that. It is fiercely honest, impressively direct yet for all that, expressed in and through music which is delicately sensitive, powerfully moving and strikingly touching. By the end it leaves you in little doubt that it is a labour of love which rightly and quite unapologetically wears its heart on its sleeve.

I will be honest and say that on first listen I was distinctly unmoved, primarily, I suspect, because the combination of the cover in tandem with my existing familiarity with Wilson’s other work means I came in with all sorts of preconceptions which just didn’t gel or match up with the music I was hearing. It was quite an unexpected jolt, that is for sure! Now, however, I find I have fallen for it hook, line and sinker to the extent that it definitely stands as a significant contender for album of the year. Let it charm you, let it lure and entice you; you certainly won’t regret it.

Damian Wilson: vocals

Lee Pomeroy – bass
Bill Shanley – guitars
Adam Wakeman – keyboards
Brian Willoughby – guitars

All photos of Damian by Marleen Den Brock Photography.

Released 9th September 2016.

Buy ‘Built For Fighting’ direct from the artist

Band Website:





Review – Blind Ego – Liquid – By Rob Fisher


I first came across Blind Ego courtesy of having originally discovered the delights of ‘World Through My Eyes (2005)’ by German based band RPWL. In the process of discovering more about them it emerged that lead guitarist Kalle Wallner was also running a solo project by the name of Blind Ego who, by pure coincidence, had just released a second album entitled ‘Numb (2007)’.

My interest was piqued by the superb musicians he had assembled to play with him. Paul Wrightson (ex Arena, replacing John Mitchell who sang on the first album), John Jowitt (ex IQ and Arena), Michael Schwager (ex Dreamscape) and Yogi Lang (fellow RPWL band member), with guest appearances by Sebastian Harnack (Sylvan) and Iggor Cavalera (Sepultura, Mix Hell).

Listening to ‘Numb’ was – and whenever I play it, still is – a happy revelation. Honest, fresh, atmospheric, it is full of punch and packed with energy and inventiveness. There is a steely drive and an exciting raw emotional power which resonates at all levels across the album. The intensity and the ever shifting flow of our emotions becomes the elemental force which powers and gives meaning to the music.

Wallner believes ‘Numb’ is all about the intensity of emotions, “snapshots of extreme feelings flooding one’s consciousness for a short time, siegeing the mind and letting nothing else reside next to them.” He emphasises this by using only one word for the title of each track: Lost, Guilt, Numb, Leave, Death, Change, Seek, Risk, Torn, Vow, Change. The music perfectly mirrors and captures this rollercoaster of emotions through solid rock-style drumming, crunching power riffing, all interspersed with acoustic arrangements and melodic solos which captivate and surprise.


It has been a long seven years since then and I’ll confess that news of a third studio album from the Blind Ego stable certainly put me in a state of agitated excitement. Wallner’s choice to lead with another single word title, ‘Liquid’, certainly seems to signal a clear intention to carry on where the previous album left off.

The musicians he has gathered around him this time are equally impressive. Vocals are shared between Arno Menses (Subsignal), Erik Ez Blomkvist (Seven Thorns) and Aaron Brooks (Simeone Soul Charger), whilst the always impressive Sebastian Harnack (Sylvan) returns alongside appearances from Heiko Jung (Panzerballett) and Ralf Schwager (Subsignal) on bass. It is also wonderful to see the inimitable Michael Schwager remaining behind the drum kit for this third instalment.

‘Liquid’ is an album of profoundly stark and unexpected contrasts – lyrically, emotionally and musically. Where ‘Numb’ has a relentless and intensely focused momentum, ‘Liquid’ to some extent takes its foot off the pedal, gives itself some time to breathe, and offers a more varied, versatile and challenging range of music with which to grapple. There is a greater sense of maturity about this release, a more reflective and contemplative approach to the song writing which takes the edge off the direct rawness which characterised ‘Numb’ and in the process, opens wider possibilities for emotive expression in and through the music.

The passion, the intensity and the focus are all still present in abundance. But there is now a more deliberate and even meditative quality coming through. When passion is spent and the rage of emotion has run its course, reason quietly returns and adds its voice once more. Indeed, this is often how the album feels; torrents of sharp, powerful, aggressive passages are followed by calmer, soothing almost heightened moments of tranquility and clarity, the instrumental ferocity dialed right back to leave an airy, almost passive, healing aftermath.


Kallner’s guitar work is blisteringly brilliant. Listening to the sheer precision of his playing, the eagerness and constrained passion he exudes and the forcefulness of his attack when he abandons controlled discipline and lets his virtuosity soar in some jaw dropping solo work belies the impression that this is something deeply personal. You get the feeling that he is working things through, maybe in his own mind, and riding the ebb and flow of shifting, troubled emotions as he goes along. Some people are good at expressing themselves through words; he lets his guitar do his thinking out loud.

To this extent, ‘Liquid’ becomes a fascinating insight into the turbulent thoughts and emotions which are swirling throughout the album, sometimes expressed in symphonic eddy’s churning just below the surface, at others gushing in anthemic, foot-stomping torrents before cascading into serene, harmonic waters. There is a natural momentum which carries you along from track to track and into the seamless, almost intuitive transitions between moods, thoughts and feelings.

Not everything on this album works. Just as you can become lost in your thoughts, so there are times when the music feels as if it has lost a little of its direction and focus. Some of the ideas don’t quite work as I suspect they were intended, upheavals in rhythmic timing perhaps too hasty and maybe one or two of the hooks not quite transiting to where the music wants to lead us. But then, thoughts are never complete, feelings are always on the way to somewhere else and the exuberance, fervour and excitement of the music is more than enough to carry us through the choppy waters to the next part of the river.

Wallner believes that ‘Liquid’ “completes a comprehensive artistic process that saw its beginnings years ago”. This new release certainly brings significant developments and unexpected progressions to the Blind Ego project. My sincere hope, however, is that rather than reaching the end and completing the journey, there are more bends yet to come in this particular musical river.

Released 21st October 2016

Buy ‘Liquid’ on CD or Vinyl from The Gentle Art Of Music