Review – John Holden – Rise and Fall – by John Wenlock-Smith

John Holden’s ‘Rise and Fall’ has been in my possession for a while now and I was very gratified to be given access to this remarkable album some three months prior to its official release. I was also very pleased that I had been thanked  in the album credits, that having been an ambition of mine for quite some time.

‘Rise and Fall’ is the second album from John Holden and features substantial input and assistance from several core musicians including Joe Payne, Oliver Day and Oliver Wakeman, Sally Minnear, Jean Pageau and Michel St Pere from Mystery, not forgetting the always remarkably impressive Peter Jones. If, like me, you enjoyed John’s debut release ‘Capture Light’ (still available from John via Bandcamp) then I’m sure you will love this one too.

The album consists of just seven pieces, they are, however, lengthy and well written. It is also expertly recorded and produced by John himself while the whole album was mastered by Robin Armstrong of Cosmograf fame.

The guest list of collaborators is impressive with each bringing their own skills to bear. Especially worthy of note are the keyboard skills and musical arrangements of Vikram Shankar, a musician who is not very widely known yet. The album is a great place to discover him for yourself, he certainly looks to be a musician with a bright future awaiting him.

As a side note, the packaging on this release is again impeccable, as are the extensive sleeve notes in the booklet which give a deeper insight into each of these tracks.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right on in then shall we…

The opening track, Leap of Faith, features Peter Jones on vocals, recorder and whistles, in fact Peter bookends the album with a further performance on the last track Ancestors and Satellites with both tracks sharing a recurrent musical passage, albeit it in a different key.  

Leap of Faith concerns itself with the antics of Eilmer, A Benedictine monk who lived at Malmesbury Abbey in the 11th century and one who was fascinated by the flight of the birds and bats that lived around the priory He had it in his mind to fly like they did so attempted (like Daedalus, the Father of Icarus of Greek mythology fame) to fly using wings he had made attached to his back and arms. You can read the story in the song lyrics but I can say that gravity prevailed! This piece is very moving and very atmospheric with Peter Jones really bringing the tale to life in his own inimitable way.

This is a fantastic opener that sets you up for all that follows, which, in this instance, is the superb Rise and Fall voiced by Jean Pageau of Mystery. This talented vocalist gives a very emotionally raw vocal delivery that makes you feel his anguish as he sings of the relationship that one has with both their addictions and the person they care about, who also suffers the brunt of this addiction. This is a very honest song and another classy piece of work.

The next track, The Golden Thread, I consider a truly beautiful song, one that has extra depths to it as it is a requiem written by John’s wife Elizabeth who is a cancer survivor. She wrote this to express her deep love for John and also so that, if she were not around, the song and her memory would live on as a musical legacy of her life and struggle. This piece of music is very gentle with an almost classical tone to it and is sung by the remarkable talents of John Payne and Lauren Nolan as a duet, not being written as such initially but Lauren’s voice worked so well with Joe’s that adaptations were made to make it work in this way. The sentiments that this song espouses and expresses are both very warm, loving and deeply profound indeed with Oliver Wakeman and Vikram Shankar playing on the song to magnificent effect.

The music reaches a crescendo before fading away to the harder edged Dark Arts on which Billy Sherwood provides a bass part in the style of the late great Chris Squire, playing the sort of bass runs the great man would have done whilst alive. The track also features a spoken excerpt of Francis Urquhart of House of Cards fame, setting the tone for a politically charged song about the abuse of power by those in charge. Once again Joe Payne vocalises with real passion and power to deliver a truly remarkable track along with more fine keyboards from Oliver Wakeman. I heard this song in an unmixed state six months ago and was suitably impressed then, and still am, by its magnificent, powerful delivery and content that is right on point.

The next track is Heretic which speaks of how ISIS destroyed lots of priceless artefacts in Palmyra in Iraq after killing the 82 year old custodian Khaled Al-Assad at the site and smashing 3000 year old plus pieces in a show of cultural terrorism. He was beheaded in front of his family and his body was then hung in the central square. Again, whilst a dark song, there is hope that the displaced peoples will one day return and, as John says, “Empires rise and fall, ideologies are replaced but still the healing power of love endures.” Sally Minnear’s vocals are excellent on this too as she sings in tandem with Joe Payne.

After the Storm is about a journey one woman takes and utilises the weather outside as a metaphor for storms in her life and the ultimate realisation that, eventually, the storms both outside and inside her will pass leaving a calmer and clearer path ahead. This is mostly an acoustic piece and that adds a good contrast for the album with some fine playing from Oliver Day.

The final song, Ancestors and Satellites, returns to the opening section of Leap of Faith as Eilmer saw Haley’s comet twice in his lifetime with John using this comet theme again to show how little we’ve learnt in the days gone past. This song has vocal contributions from Peter Jones, Joe Payne, Sally Minnear and Lauren Nolan but mainly its Peter who sings this so delicately and with real warmth and all set to suitably atmospheric keyboards from John, and Vikram Shankar.

The song talks about cave paintings over 40,000 years ago and also of the Apollo mission that landed on the moon in July 1969 and of the footprints they left there for ever. There follows an ensemble of synthesizers playing a multi tracked passage to great effect and the massed vocals singing the chorus once again before the comet melody returns once again to bring the song towards its impressive finale. Another thing of note is the fantastic and powerful drum work from Nick D’Virgilio. On this track and throughout most of the album Nick adds his magic and his drive to power these pieces along in a most delightful and satisfying manner.

The vocals are impassioned and strong and Michael St Pere’s epic guitar line is heard, along with a bank of synths, sounding very epic and majestic to bring this fantastic album to a fine conclusion.

To think that this is only the work of John, Elizabeth and a few select friends funded from the sales of his earlier album and without and label support is remarkable. It shows John Holden to be a man with both vision and a purpose. I for one applaud him hugely for his fine efforts on this most excellent album. This is going to be one of the albums of the year for those who take notice.

Released 22nd February 2020

Order from John Holden here:

Review – Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day – by Progradar

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! L.A. based prog metallers Redemption return with a supremely impressive example of the genre – ‘Long Night’s Journey Into Day’.

Taking the title of Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which focuses on the decay of a family that’s plagued by addiction, Redemption have turned it inside out, and made it their own.

Inverting the phrasing of the title is really what Redemption’s message is about.”, says founder guitarist/keyboardist Nick van Dyk, “It’s a long night. It’s a journey, and at times it’s a struggle. But there is daybreak.

He goes on to say, “If there’s a consistent message to Redemption’s music, it’s that life is a struggle and there is pain and fear and doubt, but, ultimately, it is a thing of beauty and wonderment. If you push through the struggle, the rewards of that process itself, along with what you find on the other side, are joyous and a fantastic gift.”

With the band – rounded out by bassist Sean Andrews and drummer Chris Quirarte – parting company with vocalist Ray Adler (ex Fates Warning), they had to bring someone in who could fit some very large shoes and Tom Englund of Evergrey certainly fits that bill!

Absent from the band’s lineup is lead guitarist Bernie Versailles, who suffered an aneurysm in 2014, and has since been focusing on his recovery. ‘Long Night’s Journey Into Day’ does however see the quartet collaborating with guitarists Simone Mularoni (DGM/Empyrios), and the legendary Chris Poland, both of whom also supplied astounding leads on ‘The Art Of Loss’. Alongside these longtime collaborators they also recruited keyboardist Vikram Shankar, who van Dyk asserts “may be the most talented musician I have ever met.”

Legendary prog metal contempories Dream Theater are due to return with a new album in 2018 and after the general disappointment of ‘The Awakening’, they are really going to have to come up with something to upstage this sixty-five minute behemoth of twin guitar brilliance, thunderous rhythm section and astounding vocal performance from Englund.

It’s easy to say that there isn’t a duff track on an album but, for fans of the band (and prog-metal in general), it’s most certainly true of ‘Long Night’s Journey Into Day’. It’s a well thought out collection of tracks dealing with themes of recovering from failure, dealing with the end of a chapter in our lives, coming to terms with one’s mortality or experiencing a betrayal and struggling through its impact.

The mountain crushing riffing and energetic rhythm section are aided and abetted by fantastic keyboards and Englund relates tales of adaptation (Impermanent), doubts that fill the void when one’s integrity is lacking (Eyes You Dare Not face In Dreams), living life to the fullest, no matter how hard it can be (Indulge in Colour) and the superb title track of which van Dyk says, “We see a lot of dreams and hoped-for-outcomes dashed by our own failings or by factors outside our control, but dreaming is essential to realizing the beauty of life. Life is amazing and depressing and carefree and terrifying and full of hope and love and full of fear and doubt…But it is, in the final calculus, beautiful and an incredible gift. And we must keep on dreaming.

The consummate skill of the musicians shines though on every track, the twin virtuoso guitar skills of Mularoni and Poland have to be heard to be believed and the rhythm section of Andrews and Quirarte really do move mountains. However, it’s not all about power and energy, the expertise and passion flows throughout.

There’s nothing new here but what you do get is progressive metal created and delivered at its absolute best, a band surely at the top of its game and looking like they are there to stay for a very long time. Bring on the challengers!

Released 27th July 2018

Order the album in all formats at Metalblade here

 

 

Review – Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be – by Progradar

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller.

To a music mad amateur journalist like me, that statement applies to music just as much as anything else, if not more! When I hear an inspirational new piece of music for the first time, it can really hit me right in the heart and send it soaring with its beauty.

Let’s be honest, we reviewers listen to so much music that it is easy to become jaded and we could say that it would take something very special indeed to inspire us compared to the man (or woman) in the street. That could just be pretentious tosh but, recently, a new album landed in the inbox that really fits what I’m trying to say to a tee. Let me tell you more…

Lux Terminus (translated as “the light at the end”) was formed in 2016 by three musicians with a shared vision to create unique and powerful instrumental music. Their debut release ‘The Courage to Be’ is a powerful first statement from the progressive rock trio,which consists of keyboardist Vikram Shankar (Redemption), drummer Matthew Kerschner, and bass guitarist Brian Craft.

The album features guest performances from several acclaimed musicians: vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering, Devin Townsend Project, VUUR, et al.), guitarist Timo Somers (Delain, Vengeance), and cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Leprous, Musk Ox).

Put simply, ‘The Courage To Be’ is a groundbreaking instrumental release that takes themes of separation, hardship, hope and transcendence and turns them into an instrumental masterpiece. The incredible keyboard skills of Vikram Shankar are at the forefront of this superbly involving sixty-one minutes of pure musical theatre and that is not belittling the skilled contributions of Kerschner and Craft whose rhythm section adds pure virtuoso drive and impulse.

From the elegantly gentle Prologue: Departure (I), which is part one of a four part thematical musical suite, through the infectious driving grooves of Elctrocommunion, this skillful trio deliver unique and powerful instrumental tracks that just make your heart sing.

There’s intricate and convoluted (Aberration), jazz-funk at its best (Miles Away) and progressive metal, rock, jazz fusion, electronic, and cinematic influences galore, all of which contribute to a dominant first statement from these excellent musicians.

Every track is worthy of praise but the real stand out piece for me is the twenty-one minute orchestrally driven brilliance of the title track featuring Timo Somers. Described as ‘high octane jazz-fusion’, it will literally send your aural receptors into melt down as it ebbs and flows to a manically intense rhythm. I really feel that the band are having as much fun as you can legally have on this track and it’s worth the price of entry alone!

You want your keyboard based progressive instrumental with a more laid back and moody feel? Take Journey (II), Spectral Shapes or The Road Home (III) and the stylish piano and keyboard that adorn them, this album has it all.

To finish, the sultry vocals of Anneke Van Giersbergen grace the lovely Epilogue: Fly (IV), the closing part of our four part suite, a heartwrenchingly beautiful four minutes of pared back delight and a perfect way to close the album out and bring your heart rate back to normal.

Well, what can I say, it really does take something special to get me waxing lyrical about a new release nowadays but ‘Courage To Be’ is one of those rare albums that excites and inspires from the first listen but that will also have the longevity to keep you listening to it in many months to come. Virtuoso musicianship along with intelligent, involving songwriting, Lux Terminus have surely seen the light of the tunnel with this utterly captivating release.

Released 24th August 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here