Iron Saviors’ 9th studio album ‘Titancraft’ is packed with powerful forces of unforgiving riffs but first commences with an introduction that sets the scene for the whole album. Being set rather dramatically with what could be associated with a post-apocalyptic Gotham City as a desperate call for help, is heard in a low raspy voice. This exhilarating introduction joins smoothly into the following track with the guitar riff entering at a high impact which doesn’t ease off at all.
A great element of this album is the insane amount of energy used in pretty much every track. The only break you hear is in I Surrender, possessing beautiful tranquil melodies heard from the guitar which harmonises with the piano before dying away, leaving the piano as accompaniment as Piet Sielk Joins in with some painful but provocative lyrics.
Apart from this perfect break, the album is the definition of power metal. The drums alone lay down a ruthless tempo and some powerful fills like in Beyond The Horizonand the bass, equally, will not back down in Rebellious, with its very prominent riff and a rhythm that could resemble galloping. The guitar riffs are always unforgiving and, in combination with the other forces, provide a lot of forward momentum, which is a real strength of the album.
The majority of the tracks are very similar in characteristics such as tempo and structure, and even melodic line sometimes, so it can be hard to distinguish one song from another. However, Gunsmoke is one track where this is not the case, samples of the sound of horses and gun fire take you to a different time, especially when the sound of whistling is heard at the end taking you back to the old west. Perfectly accompanied by a guitar solo which combines shredding and classic bending notes which is highly effective.
Overall this album is a great example of what power metal is and why it exists. A great combination of instrumental skill at ridiculous rates with very strong vocals tying the final knot on this brilliant ensemble.
Circus Maximus is a very apt name when you hear their new album ‘Havoc’. I may be looking at this way to creatively but that’s what music does to you, the Norwegian band create melodic material with maximum strength and force; powerful riffs and intertwining melodic lines that are not always where you expect them to be.
Looking at the idea of a circus, not just somewhere to be scared by clowns but a mastery of your own art form, Circus Maximus have achieved this with a refinement of skill and the songwriting. Each instrument compliments the other superbly. So the maybe, far too in depth, analysis of their name. It isn’t just a name but part of their nature; playing music of great skill and refinement to a maximum level, which was probably never the intention of the band name but remains a cool band name whatever way you look at it.
Circus Maximus have now released their fourth studio album, ‘Havoc’, which has more sophisticated material to offer and is like honey to the ears, especially with Michael Eriksen on vocals. Eriksen possesses an unquestionable tone, clear as crystal with no rough edges, almost a hybrid of Dio and Steve Perry but smoother, whilst still keeping true to their metal style. Circus Maximus have also been described as a progressive metal band which personally wasn’t the style I heard when I first listened to this album.
When you hear the title track Havoc you’re instantly sold on a metal style with deep ambiguous guitar chords making it hard to figure out whether they are major or minor when combined with the punchy rocky bassline. It has the potential to shake the ground with the right speakers. Now for me this doesn’t speak ‘progressive’ when thinking of bands such as Yes and Rush, but then again, they don’t have a similar style to them but rather more hard riffs propelling you forward instead of becoming lost in an ambient soundscape, that’s not the type of progression that Circus Maximus hold.
The progression the band has comes from the technicality of their material. Highest Bitter opens with a single bassline and the vocals. This gives a chance for the bassist to shine for a change and creates a deeper and more unsettling atmosphere. A bass guitar is not usually a melodic instrument but a supporting one, so in just one way they are changing the boundaries.
The mood of the material isn’t always constant which clearly enhances the music more. like in Loved Ones. Commencing with a very ambient and tranquil opening with synth tones progressing into what you are expecting to be an 80’s ballad, one of the slower glam tracks that you might expect Foreigner to play. The band display more melodic expertise in this track with an extended melodic section that, along with the ambient synth sounds, puts you into a dream.
Circus Maximus have created a fantastic album with some surprises when the tone takes a step down from weighty riffs and an unforgiving drum beat. Definitely worth a listen and a band to look out for.
Calgary boys Diatessaron intend to put prog back on the map, but somehow I don’t think Calgary will get into Prog any time soon, or at all. There have been many great progressive bands reigning from Canada including the mighty Rush, not that I needed to tell you that, but they should be mentioned all the same.
Other bands such as FM, Bend Sinister and Saga also come from Canada but, in Calgary, prog bands are harder to come by. That is one reason why Diatessaron stand out from the crowd.
They’ve been on the scene since 2007 where guitarist Darren Young and vocalist Simon TJ initially formed the band at the time when they were still at the University of Calgary studying music. Through a previous jazz band that Darren was in, he recruited Carl Janzen as lead guitarist and Stephan Bots as drummer. Erik (bass) eventually got called in by Darren as they were colleagues in the University of Calgary orchestra.
All the members have a musical background which is a given, but what makes that even better is that they all have different experiences. All of the known styles that each member has contributes to a wild mix up of genres which is unique and downright odd sometimes but works fantastically.
Released in 2010, Diatessaron created their second album ‘Monument’ which they have now recorded live for tired moon Music at the Monnow Valley studios in Wales after their performance at Bloodstock in 2015.
As stated by the band themselves, “Diatessaron is like classical music, only a fuck of a lot louder.” I couldn’t agree more, their album ‘Monument’ is a rock symphony spanning over 40 minutes with 5 movements. It is electrified classical music. Yes, you may not have an orchestra, but a band is an orchestra in its own right and Diatessaron definitely have all the melodic elements of a symphony.
Being a live recording it is hard to identify where one song ends and another begins and this shows a good use of linking each ‘movement’ either lyrically, which could often be the case, or with similar riffs. Also, by being a concept album, linking each song is very important no matter how confusing the lyrics may seem.
“Sweet time to build an atom bomb from memory of an Openhiemer tree.” A phrase which keeps returning and ,yet, still makes no sense no matter how many times you’ve heard it. However it definitely sets the scene. Simon TJ is an eccentric story teller, spitting out words very rapidly,which almost sounds unstable because of the compound rhythm that is accompanying him, in other words the rhythm is just plain odd and difficult.
Simon reminds me of Ian Anderson in the way he portrays his story, he is just missing a flute and fails to do a flamingo impression. You can hear Simon take on different personas as the music progresses from heavily portraying different emotions and, with the use of falsetto, he can easily come across as different characters. He takes on a state of “strange duality” which is painted brilliantly in the music as lighter riffs change to becoming more forceful, the bass drum becomes more prominent and, in general, everything sounds more aggressive as Simon gains a harsher tone to his voice.
Of course, the lyrics are a very large part in telling a very dramatic story but, the instrumental work is also extraordinary. Looking at each part on a combined scale, each musician contributes equally so they sound as one unit, but they can also appear to be separate as well. To elaborate further, each instrument can be heard separately when they play their different rhythmic and melodic parts but, when they all have the same rhythm, the drive of the music increases, otherwise you become very lost.
To be able to achieve different rhythmic ideas simultaneously is very difficult, especially when you need to be back in time with each other at a later stage, however, they do a fantastic job. I’m surprised they don’t get lost themselves with the colossal amount of odd times signatures they use, 7, 11 who knows how many beats there are in a bar; yep, they’re prog alright.
On an individual scale, each and member offers great skill on their chosen instrument, a personal flair shining through. The influence of jazz is evident for lead guitarist Carl Janzen, from sublime soulful solos often with hints of bluesy ideas sliding from one note to the next making any dissonance seem gorgeous.
Bassist Erik and guitarist Darren provide strong rhythmic foundations and deliver some beautiful harmonies between them, even some brief bass solos are sneaked in for a moment of glory which Erik deserves. Darren gives some smooth jazz style chords, sweet like honey for the ears.
To tie it all together Stephen provides the backbone with strong, and at times dense, rhythms but can vary between styles seamlessly. An almost ‘hard rock come metal’ pulse with prominent bass drum and a focus on low toms can change instantly to a swung beat with an increased use of cymbals and a softer edge.
Hearing this colossal album live is a different experience and emphasises the musicianship each band member possesses.
Two years after their release of ‘7’ back in 2013, Toxic Smile are back with new album ‘Farewell,’ which has a total of one track, yes you read it right, one track.
From your first glance of the album art, you are drawn in by the expressive and abstract style of brush strokes that give it a very emotive cover. However, to see that there is only one track, surely it must just be an EP? Then there’s how long the track lasts for… an epic 42 minutes. Toxic Smile took on a big task on writing an epic progressive track lasting for 42 minutes, it takes a lot of ingenuity, musicianship and a special amount of madness; they have combined all those traits, especially fantastic musicianship, to produce an epic journey melding styles and themes together.
Back in 2004 the band set to work on the classical project, which they then released in 2006, ‘……. in classic extension’. The opening of ‘Farewell’ straight away dictates the classical experience the band have had as the elegant sound of strings bows in to paint a tranquil scene before electric instruments are brought in and your sense of rhythm unravels.
A sense of pulse is a primary foundation for any piece of music because it provides drive and something you can tap your foot along to. Toxic Smile have realised this but chosen to ignore it at different moments during the progressive song. It’s almost as if there are 3 different time scales occurring as they all fall on different beats to each other, the drums have one beat and the synth sounds and bass guitar have different accented rhythms, it leaves you with an uncertain sense of what beat goes where. Although the sense of a strong rhythm from the audiences point of view is lost, it emphasises the skill the band have, to be able to keep different rhythmic lines occurring at the same time – fundamentally speaking – and then come to a regular rhythm where your foot can become mobile again.
Vocalist Larry B is not constantly relied upon to sing an extremely repetitive and superficial melodic line, which is very refreshing to hear – or not hear as the case may be. Vocal lines enter in stages and you can feel a shift in where the music is leading too. This, therefore, provides the emotive expression, in word form, of what they are trying to convey in the song.
Being such a long track, it would be expected, or at least hoped for, that the melodic material develops and changes, even remotely, in style; this is most definitely the case. Some style choices are surprising and, if written down on paper, could be shot down in flames. For instance, the combination of reggae and heavy rock seems an unlikely choice but Toxic Smile have made this odd idea work well.
The juxtaposition of distorted guitars and heavily pounding drums contrasts greatly with the chill of simple rhythms and melodies, with an off-beat accent for the reggae flavour. Nearer the end of the track the style heads in a completely unexpected direction into Funk town. The bass becomes more alive with energetic riffs and the guitar has distinct swirling sounds as the drums change rhythms, the styles couldn’t slide more seamlessly into each other, despite the initial unlikeliness of melding them.
Overall, this is a great album transporting you seamlessly to different emotions from the variation they have in their one epic track.
On the 13th of February UK progressive rockers The Gift will be be re-releasing their seminal first album ‘Awake and Dreaming’ to mark its 10th anniversary. The re-issue will feature stunning artwork by Brian Mitchell, thereby giving the album a new lease of life with the striking imagery. Initially the re-issue will be limited to 100 copies with an elegantly illustrated lyric booklet.
Despite the album being 10 years old, it’s as though it could have been released yesterday, the sound remaining fresh and the meaning remainsing true no matter how many times you listen to it. Frequent melodic variation, ambiguous tonalities and thought provoking lyrics; The Gift give you a real gift.
The re-issue is not the only exciting news that the band have, they have also announced an extended band line-up, including the return of original guitarist Leroy James. This couldn’t have come at a better time considering Leroy and lead vocalist Mike Morton deliberated greatly together in the writing of ‘Awake and Dreaming’.
Not only do they welcome the return of Leroy, The Gift also look forward to welcoming 2 new members to the band. This includes drummer Neil Hayman of KONCHORDAT a fellow prog band who are also signed to Bad Elephant Music. The band also welcome Gabriele Baldocci from Italy on keys who is a renowned concert pianist as well as a conductor and Professor of Piano at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London.
For those who want to listen to the mellow, yet sometimes eerie, sounds of The Gift beyond the headphones, they will be performing at The Boston Music Room in London for “An Evening of Bad Elephant Music” on the 13th February, the first day that the band perform in their new line-up. jh, Tom Slatter and Twice Bitten complete the line up of Bad Elephant artists performing.
Pre-order ‘Awake & Dreaming’, buy event tickets or the combined bundle at the links below: