Progradar Recommends (Episode 2) – PENNA, Soul Enema, Jim Griffin & Obscura

Welcome to another edition of Progradar Recommends, today I’ll talk to you about music from PENNA, Soul Enema, Jim Griffin & Obscura in this selection of bite-size reviews…

PENNA – SubLevels

Multi-instrumentalist Dave Penna first came to notariety in the early 90’s as the drummer with Long Island tech-thrashers Kronin.  Since then he has worked with Spastic Ink, Ad Astra, Ronnie Spector, Planet Hate, and members of The Coasters and The Del Vikings.

Hailing from New York, his first solo EP was 2016’s ‘Chemical God’ but ‘SubLevels’ is more progressive and less dark and has a real hard rock vibe that reminds me of Foo Fighters and Nirvana with the fuzzy guitar and hard-edged rhythm section. In fact, the exemplary drums and bass are the real driving force behind the entire EP and a comparison to Craig Blundell and Nick Beggs would not be out of place.

The EP was written and performed entirely by Penna, recorded with assistance from producer Chris Fasulo (Ill Niño, Chico Hamilton) and will be mastered by Dave Roman (Birdthrower, Leroy Burgess).

Criminally short with only four tracks, it really only gives you taste of what this talented musician is about and I, for one, am hoping his next outing will be a full length album. Intricate and complicated in places yet there is still an instant accessibility at the core and a jazz/fusion subtext that keeps everything very interesting.

Released 4th November 2017

Order ‘SubLevels’ from bandcamp here

Soul Enema – Of Clans And Clones

Okay, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way, I’m not keen on the band name and all its connotations. Hopefully that won’t stop people from listening to the music because, boy, do you really get a listening experience that is intense and madder than Mad Jack McMad but utterly fulfilling as well.

Like a more intensified version of Bent Knee this band deliver cooky and in-your-face progressive rock/metal that is a bit off-putting at first but, once you get into the same frame of mind as these talented Israelis, you will not be disappointed.

Soul Enema’s bio has this gem of a sentence, “The band combines conventional melodic rock aspects with a different, occasionally more experimental way of writing.”

‘More Experimental’? You can say that again, the middle-eastern influences are obviously there but it is the free thinking unconventional music that really knocks you off your feet in a good way. Featuring a who’s-who of modern progressive metal including Yossi Sassi and Arjen Lucassen, this is one album that everyone should try at least once and i have a sneaking suspicion that quite a few will come back for more…

The Aral Sea Trilogy has to be heard to be believed:

Released June 23rd 2017.

Order Of ‘Clans and Clones’ from bandcamp here

Jim Griffin – To A Far City

Zombie Picnic’s guitarist (James to his friends) has a solo project that is far away from the psychedelic instrumental space rock that is their usual fare. A much more personal affair, there is a lush and nostalgic feel to the music, a feel of lazy, hazy days gone by. You could almost imagine that the trials and tribulations of this modern world never existed as the five tracks (plus bonus) take you on a spiritual journey of self discovery.

Did those near perfect worlds of Enid Blyton ever exist? I’m guessing James thinks so as it is that sepia tinged world that his music keeps depositing me in.

Do we believe too much in things as they are? Superstitious reverence for that which exists.

Take an hour out of your day, turn your phone off and listen to this delightful musical peregrination that was inspired by, ‘The Narrow Road to the Interior’ by Matsuo Bashō (Genroku 2), “The Quest of Iranon” by H.P. Lovecraft (February 28th, 1921) and a rainy Summer’s day at Derrigimlagh at half three in the afternoon.

Tender vocals and a plethora of verdant acoustic guitars are king on this wonderful release that had me feeling like I was intruding on James’ most private life and yet this accomplished musician is one of the most welcoming I know. A wonderfully fulfilling collection of songs that surely make the world a better place.

Released 15th November 2017

Order ‘To A Far City’ from bandcamp here

Ostura – The Room

Since the demise of Dream Theater into a pompous, self-obsessed shadow of their original selves, progressive metal has been searching for a new standard bearer. Some have come and tried and delivered some rather tasty albums but none have reached that pinnacle…yet…

However Lebanon based Middle-Eastern collective Ostura may yet lay claim to that mantle with their ambitious new concept album ‘The Room’ which has many movers and shakers in the genre lauding it as the next best thing and, as of now, you can count me in that group too. A grandiose cinematic storyline about a social recluse girl who takes refuge in a room. Locked in with her thoughts, fears, and ambitions, the girl’s imagination turns the room into an endless universe where she is the creator. The story tackles the notions of fear, perfection, social anxiety, ambitions, rage, power, and the struggle between the creator and the creation.

A massive production consisting of performers from 12 countries alongside the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the core band, ‘The Room’ is a stunning achievement which brings Ostura to the forefront of progressive and symphonic metal artists and will literally blow you away with its power, intensity and musical aplomb.

The storyline is captivating and engrossing as the two vocalists (Youmna Jreissati and Elia Monsef) adroitly guide you through the events as they unfold and the utterly impressive musical score provides perfect accompaniment to deliver symphonic/progressive metal opera that amazes and dumbfounds with equal measure.

It is nothing short of a musical triumph from the first note to the last and should see this thrilling band ascend to the top rung of the ladder.

Released 23rd February 2018

Buy/Stream ‘The Room’ at this link

So, there you have it, another four albums I think you should buy, keep your eyes out for the next edition of Progradar Recommends coming your way soon…

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Review – The Room – Beyond The Gates Of Bedlam – by Emma Roebuck

Due to be released on 20th November 2015 by Bad Elephant Music, the new album from The Room – ‘Beyond The Gates Of Bedlam’ is reviewed by our own Emma Roebuck.

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The first thing I have to own up to is that I like The Room and am promoting one of the forthcoming tour dates.

I came late to these guys and bought ‘Open Fire’ on a whim, I immediately regretted not buying it earlier.

On first play, ‘Beyond The Gates Of Bedlam’ is the natural successor to ‘Open Fire’ in content, style and the music. It has all the hallmarks of song structure, melody and lyrics that made me like them in the first place.

The prog credentials are still there, 5 tracks coming in at over 6 minutes and this allows the musical ability of the band to come through in spades and the rest are not lacking for being shorter.

It has a better feel and production as well as being far more confident a product than ‘Open Fire’, there is a definite ‘levelling up’ on this album.

Although not a concept album there is a theme to it.  Life, love, and power, and how it affects people. Martin Wilson’s vocals add to the distinctive sound, filling the songs with passion in his delivery.  The guitar work from Steve Anderson is rich and varied but not overpowering, his ability shining through on such tracks as Masquerade and the Hunter.

Andy Rowe (bass) and Chris York (drums) provide a really solid foundation throughout the whole album, giving this very varied release a consistency worthy of the songs. Steve Checkley’s keyboards fill the music with light and shade, combining well with Anderson’s guitar on The Book, a song about the manipulation of faith by the powers that be for their own ends.

Even the more or less straight rockers on the album like Splinter are complex enough for the average prog fan. The high point for me is Bedlam, a ‘Post-apocalyptic view of life and how the fabric of life can easily break down when law and order is no longer effective’. This track is going to be a classic, 20 minutes of pure prog condensed down into 5.

Looking at this as an overall product, if you like a well contrasted songs with melodic variety at the progressive of the music market then, this is the album for you, if you want metal, dissonance or Canterbury, this is not it. For fans and listeners of  Frost*, Jump or their ilk, I reckon your money would not be wasted .

Released 20th November 2015 through Bad Elephant Music.

Pre-orders opening very soon, please keep an eye out for details.

Pre-order CDs from The Merch Desk

Download from Bad Elephant Musc

You can listen to Carrie, the first single from the album, at the link below:

Listen to Carrie