Episode 3 of Progradar Recommends – HeKz, Emperor Norton, Malady & Subsignal

Welcome to the third edition of my Progradar recommendations, this time around we have the new albums from HeKzEmperor NortonMalady and Subsignal

HeKz – Invicta

From the first notes of album opener Quetzlcoatl it is apparent that the rising stars of UK prog-metal, HeKz, have gone balls out on new album ‘Invicta’. This mighty powerful five piece from Bedford certainly know how to turn the amps up to 11. The Brian May-esque guitar and Matt Youngs flamboyant vocals that slot somewhere between Freddie Mercury and Justin Hawkins combine to take you on a thunderously wild ride of progressive metal pomp and circumstance.

For Our Lives is a adrenaline fueled rock anthem with totally excessive ( and utterly addictive) riffage and vocal harmonies aplenty, this band know how to give the audience what they want. There’s a couple of ballads and The Devil’s Coin is a properly progressive fifteen minute track to prove they have the chops but, overall, what you get is an thoroughly enjoyable blast that will blow the cobwebs out of your hair and leave a stupid, inane grin on your face for quite a long time.

I have a sneaking suspicion that HeKz will be an awesome proposition live and these dynamic and energetic tracks certainly deserve to be let out of the studio and onto an unsuspecting listening public, ‘Invicta’ is a musical tornado that will flatten everything that comes before it and leave you asking for more.

85/100

Released 20th April 2018

Pre-order ‘Invicta’ from the HeKz website here

Emperor Norton – Emperor Norton

Every now and again an album comes along that makes you reconsider your musical principles and stands out among a river of repetitive and formulaic releases and the eponymous debut from York’s Emperor Norton is proving itself to be one of those gems.

To quote the band’s website;

Emperor Norton promptly donned the musical cummerbund of “Prog” and added “Rock” to sound cutting edge. The very next day, the group discovered – to its astonishment – that it had unwittingly declared allegiance to an underground resistance movement of cape-laden keyboard wizards, fiery plectrum wranglers and lead singers who speaketh like Shakespeare. Emperor Norton felt right at home.”

They bring a freshness to the whole progressive rock genre and almost seem to be the missing link between the bombast of the 70’s leviathans with their overblown Hammonds and jangly guitars and the modern breed of progressive influenced rock artists like MuseCoheed and Cambria, Mandroid Echostar and Mars Volta.

Take the Steve Howe style guitar on Act I: Portents that along with the thumping bass line and swirling keys transports you back to tracks like Yours Is No Disgrace and the ilk and then segues into Act I: Petrichor with vocals that tip more than a hat to Matt Bellamy and you’ll begin to get my gist.

It’s an incredible piece of work especially considering that this is the band’s first release and, just when you think it can’t get any better, the fifteen minute joyful brilliance of the stunning Act III: Arrow comes along to prove that we really have some genre redefining musicians in front of us.

Do yourselves a favour, buy what is possibly the album of the year already and don’t just take my word for it, have a listen…

95/100

Released 17th March 2017

Buy ‘Emperor Norton’ from bandcamp

Malady – Toinen Toista

“Modern music consumption isn’t built for looking at trees or wandering through mazes. We live in a culture of straight lines and constant motion. Malady ask that you opt out, reclaim your time, and slow the f**k down for once. Trust me, it’s worth it.”

Sage advice from Finland’s Malady, hailing from Helsinki theirs is a sound rooted in the 70’s with fuzzy guitars and Hammond organs swirling like only a Hammond can. With their debut a deserved underground hit the band return with a polished follow up that invokes all of the best things that vintage Scandinavian prog can deliver.

Lush vocals and organic instrumentation abound on title track and opener Toinen Toista, a song that leads us into an album full of questions about being human and the transient nature of things but, don’t worry, this release isn’t asking you to take a PHD course in existentialism or the like, it has strings on it for God’s sake!

Lazy, hazy nostalgic days are invoked by the acid jazz heavy Teidon Kehtolaulu and the fact that the vocals are in Finnish doesn’t detract one bit, in fact they just add to the mystic feel (along with the superb flute playing, you’ve got to love flutes!).

The best is saved for last with the epic twenty-three minutes of Nurja Puoli, one of the best Prog ‘epics’ of recent years. To put this all into context I have actually ordered the vinyl of this superb release and I know it is going to get plenty of play…

85/100

Released 30th March 2018

Order the download of ‘Toinen Toista’ from bandcamp

Order on CD or LP from Svart Records:

Toinen toista

Subsignal – La Muerta

Germany’s purveyor’s of powerful and polished progressive rock, Subsignal, return with new album ‘La Muerta’ and (according to the press release), “…sends the listener on a proper voyage of discovery that is as complex as it is eventful. Subsignal have consciously designed the path to “La Muerta” a tad more accessible than was the case with the predecessor…”

Featuring Sieges Even luminaries Arno Menses and Markus Steffen, you get the signature involving songwriting but this time the band have decided not to hold the listener’s hand and, instead, let them make their own voyage of discovery through these eleven impressively crafted tunes. The expected superb harmonies are evident on the brilliant title track and the powerful guitar work of Markus drives the album on throughout.

I was a huge fan of the last Subsignal release ‘The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime’, each track had its place in the unfolding story that was laid before you and the band have tweaked their unique songwriting process to deliver an even more immersive and intoxicating musical journey.

Drowning sees the band baring their soul with a much more pared back approach, one that features the haunting vocals of Marjana Semkina. A beautifully stark piece of music, it will leave a mark on your soul that will stay for a very long time.

With the wonderfully lush production (courtesy of Yogi Lang and Kalle Wallner of RPWL) giving the songs enough air to breathe, ‘La Muerta’ sees the band full of self-confidence and delivering a collection of songs that, while easily able to stand on their own, are a collective force when dealt with as a whole.

80/100

Released 26th May 2018

Pre-orders will open soon at Gentle Art of Music:

Subsignal

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Progradar’s ‘Best of 2015’ review – by Progradar

David

A scary picture to get things started, it’s that time of year again when everyone puts out their ‘Best of 2015’ album list and I’m no different to every other music journalist, budding or otherwise.

Lists like these are very subjective, after all, one man’s poison is another man’s wine but they’re fun to do and give a real retrospective of some of the great music that has been released over the past 12 months or so.

BEM logo

First off, the usual disclaimer, I won’t include any Bad Elephant Music releases as some people might say I’d be slightly biased. However, once again, this tiny independent label has given us some mighty impressive music from the likes of The Room, Tom Slatter, Simon Godfrey, The Fierce and the Dead and Twice Bitten, among others, all of which can be sampled at the link below:

Bad Elephant Music

I tried to get it down to a top 15, never mind a top ten, but that proved too difficult so, here it is, Progradar’s top 20 albums of 2015. Don’t see the position as being too indicative as, really, albums 20-6 could be in any given order on any given day, the quality is that close. The top 5, however, are my definitive top 5 albums for 2015.

Enough pre-amble, here we go……

20 – Transport Aerian – Dark Blue

A deeply dark, disturbing and highly original work of art from this talented, serious musician. Well worth a listen but, be afraid, very afraid!

19 – Steve Rothery – The Ghosts of Pripyat

Marillion’s guitarist is venturing further afield with his solo work and it’s simple, faraway beauty is quite inspiring. Put your feet up, get your headphones on, lay back and relax.

18 – Barock Project – Skyline

An unexpected highlight of the year, 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!

17 – The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

A new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you. An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..

16 – Mystery – Delusion Rain

2015 saw Canadian prog-rockers Mystery return with  a new album and a new lead singer and it was as if they’d never been away. Jean Pageau has a voice that fits perfectly with the melodic progressive rock that the band deliver with aplomb. The epic track The Willow Tree is a superb, intricate and emotional hit of passion and takes the album from merely good to very good indeed.

15 – Hibernal – After the Winter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdPh-mbJh0c

Mark Healy’s cinematic and evocative soundscapes waft over a post-apocalyptic spoken word storyline to deliver an immensely visceral listening experience.

14 – Built for the Future – Chasing Light

‘Chasing Light’ is one of those rare albums that grabs you immediately AND keeps on getting better with every listen. Built for the Future’s debut release is a thing of rare wonder that resonates with me on a personal level, their commitment to delivering music that connects deeply with the listener has produced a record that shines brightly.

13 – Sylvium – Waiting for the Noise

Superb progressive rock with tones of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A musical experience that emphasizes emotions rather than the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.

12 – The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age

Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.

11 – Echolyn – I Heard You Listening

Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America. A band I have heard little of in the past, this new album will definitely change that, a melting pot of sweet melodies and delicious harmonies.

10 – Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part One

An album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1′, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood.

9 – Comedy of Errors – Spirit

Do you believe music has soul? I do and, when it is as deeply involving and emotionally uplifting (and draining to be honest!) as this, it becomes life affirming in many ways. All the songs were written by Jim Johnston but I’m sure even he would agree that they are given life by the whole of Comedy of Errors.

8 – Glass Hammer – The Breaking of the World

It could have been this studio album or the equally impressive ‘Glass Hammer – Live’, recorded at this year’s RosFest but, first, let’s get the Yes comparison out of the way, these guys do traditional progressive rock so well they have transcended that to stand in their own circle of praise. A highly impressive effort once again.

7 – Karnataka – Secrets of Angels

The first album written specifically for vocalist Hayley Griffith’s voice, a symphonic prog- rock masterpiece with towering anthems and delicate ballads concluding with the epic twenty-minute plus title track.

6 – The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether

A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!

5 – Big Big Train – Wassail (yes, I know it’s only an E.P. but I like it!!)

You can put your heroes on a pedestal to be knocked off when they don’t reach your lofty expectations but, with ‘Wassail’, Big Big Train have just enhanced their reputation as purveyors of unique and sublime progressive rock which is founded on the elemental history of this blessed isle. A history that is fundamental to the everlasting allure of this captivating group of musicians.

4 – Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah II

‘Arcade Messiah II’ takes all that was good with the first album and enhances by taking the raw, coruscating energy of the first release and developing it into a superb sound that, while holding nothing back, is full of nuances and intelligence. A ‘Wall of Sound’ that makes Phil Spector’s look like a diminutive picket fence and it is quite possibly the best thing this highly talented musician has ever produced.

3 – Maddison’s Thread – Maddison’s Thread

Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

2- Subsignal – The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime

See, this is why these bloody lists are only subjective. I had mine all worked out and then I listened to the fourth album from German band Subsignal and it was blown out of the water. Arisen from the ashes of the great Sieges Even, the first three albums by the band failed to really hit the heights for me. Well, all is most definitely forgiven as ‘The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime’ has just hit me right on the correct spot and elevated them to a higher level. It has a real emotional depth to it and is one that is highly, highly recommended, nearly making it to the top spot…..

1 – Riverside – Love, fear and the Time Machine

So, after a tough fight it is Polish band Riverside that take the crown this year. I have always been a fan of this band without actually loving their work. All that changed with this years beautiful release. There is a depth and maturity to this release that resonates deep to the core. The fragile, breaking vocals and signature sound have taken the band to the forefront of the progressive rock genre and, in this album, they have left behind a musical legacy of which anyone can be proud.