Elephants of Scotland – Execute and Breathe (Album Review)

When you are good at something, you’ll be rewarded. That must be what it felt like for Vermont (US) based Elephants of Scotland. Founded in 2010 by Adam Rabin, they recorded their first album Home Away from Home in 2013. This got them invited to perform as opening act on RosFest 2014, a gig so good and well received that they released it on DVD afterwards. Thanks to my friends at House of Prog, at least indirectly, I met bass player Dan MacDonald in the chat room of Nick Katona’s weekly Mad Platter radio show, and he was kind enough to send me both their albums (in digital form) – for review. So here goes – a review of their second album Execute and Breathe, one for the debut will follow in a few weeks.


As said, the band was founded by Adam Rabin, who takes care of the keyboard work and part of the vocals. He initially established the band with Ornan McLean (drums) and John Whyte (guitar, vocals). This trio was extended with bass player Dan MacDonald, who also sings his parts, after they ran into his ‘bass player needs band’ advertisement in a news paper. Given the prominence of his bass in the bands music, a perfect addition.

The album is filled with powerful, layered rock that I could compare to many of my favourite bands, but I’ll limit myself by saying that some of it sounds like a modern version  of 80s UK acts like Marillion and Pallas, with a bit of Rush mixed in. This becomes clear immediately on the opening track A Different Machine, which has a driving, punchy bass underneath a wailing keyboard – an immediate show of the energy this band has on offer.

This continuous in a completely different way in The Other Room, on which the guitar takes over the lead role from the keyboards. This allows John to show what he is capable off after 40 years of playing while Adam  takes over the vocal duties from Dan. An amazing track about someone using their telepathic abilities to influence others. A short, sinister roller coaster ride of 4 minutes.

This is followed by Amber Waves, which opens with a short keyboard tune and develops into a very well built up rock song, with different moods (with 8 minutes its a short epic with a few movements) that really shows how much of a modern version of aforementioned bands Elephants of Scotland are. Something new to hear in this one on every play.

On TFAY it becomes very obvious that John has a soft spot for Rush and has played as single person tribute to that band in the past. This is a track that, after the Floydian intro, easily reminds of late 70s, early 80s Rush (think Permanent Waves) – and John’s playing and vocals come close enough to fool a passing listener. Apart from the vocals, once again by AdamBoxless, could fit the same era, but has a completely different feel to it. Here bass and drums cooperate really to put down a bass well underneath keyboards and vocals that build a nice melody together, catchy but not even close to poppy at the same time.

The two parts of Endless, two separate tracks that together fill just over 10 minutes are the cream on the pudding this album is. Again, all influences mentioned before are evident, this one has keyboard walls, a very present bass, melodic guitar and a driving drum beat. The ending of (instrumental) Part 1 actually reminded me of a keyboard infested version of Rush’ 2112-Grand Finale. It is followed by acoustic guitar and keyboards on Part II, a brilliant contrast, which support Adam’s well sung vocals. The percussive work of  Ornan in the build up to the heavier, more up tempo piece that follows is something only an experienced drummer can come up with – just like the drumming he shows in the instrumental mid section. This Part 2 lets all four band members shine, through the tempo  changes and different atmospheres in the separate parts.

But cream needs pudding, and the pudding is what we find in the end of this album in the form of another very much Rush-like track, Mouse Trap. Oh boy, I made that comparison a few times now, blame it on John and Dan, they do sound like Geddy and Alex at times. Still it is the keyboard of Adam and the drum patterns of Ornan that make this into an original Elephants of Scotland track in the end.

In terms of production, I like the way the instruments are mixed here, all instruments can be clearly heard at all times (at least when played, dôh). In terms of sound, a little more dynamics might have been nice – for example in Amber Waves, the choruses could’ve been more dramatic if they were a bit less loud. However, that’s nit picking on a fine album.

I really enjoy this album, and recommend it to anyone who likes powerful modern prog. Looking forward to reviewing their debut and the DVD as well – the former has had a few spins already, the DVD is still in the shrink wrap…

Track of the Day: The Tangent – Spark in the Aether

The Tangent, the project of mainly Andy Tillison, that once included a large part of The Flower Kings, is still around. Around, and happy – as you can see in this video for the title track of their album Spark In the Aether that will be released later this month. See Andy bounce around on stage, and enjoy his music and lyrics. I know I do….

What to find inside? This Raging Silence – Isotopes and Endoscopes (Album review)

When I see words like isotope and endoscope combined in an album title, I get curious to their background. Certainly in this case, because isotopes and endoscopes play a role in an industry where I worked for a number of years: healthcare, and more specifically oncology equipment. Alas, the title has nothing to do with that, all I could find was that it sounded like a good title for an album, in this case the album Isotopes and Endscopes (sic) by This Raging Silence, a quartet hailing from Bristol, UK.

(Note: After publishing this review, Jeff told me the title relates to his personal experiences in the year 2014 -AH)


The album has been in the making for a while now, and if all goes well it will be released shortly after this review appears, in April 2015. The band was formed by Jeff Cox (guitar, vocals) and John Tyrer (electric and acoustic guitar), who were quickly joined by Dave Appleford on bass and Garry Davies on drums. Cox and Davies were both members of the British heavy metal band Jaguar in the mid 1980s, a band that was co-founded by Cox in 1979. After a revival of the NWOBHM in the late 1990s, during which Jaguar was revived as well, Cox started focusing on writing solo material – which eventually led to the found of This Raging Silence, a progressive rock band.

On the album, which was kindly provided to me on CD-ROM by Jeff Cox, accompanied with some background information, and a request to review it, we find a slightly heavy rock music, interleaved with atmospheric instrumental interludes and influences from different sides.

The opening track Alone Inside my Head (Can we go there with an endoscope? Probably not…), starts with a cacophony of (mainly female) voices followed by a scream “I cannot stand itThe lyrics deal with, not surprisingly after this, observations of life, stress and mental illness. All this is a song that shows some influences from modern prog, including Porcupine Tree, mainly in the instrumental parts: keyboards creating a melody, that repeats, while underneath the guitars and bass add their own varying parts. The vocals of Jeff Cox on this one appear a little bit nasal – something that may take some getting used to, but I have no problem with it. The guitar and bass work, and certainly a guitar solo, show some of the metal past of the band members. At the same time the line ‘toxins they accumulate, so how do I communicate’ is catchy enough to stick in your head.

The love for rock, not so much metal, continues on Garden of Joy, which is an ode to Jeff Buckley, a major influence of Jeff Cox. It seems a straightforward heavy rock song to the casual listener, but it is a little more complicated on more careful listening. I am not too familiar with Buckley’s work, but through this track, and some background listening, certainly got interested in hearing more. A fitting tribute in that sense.

Confluence is the longest track of the album, with its 11 minutes. After an intro with the sounds of water and wind, or ghosts, and an acoustic guitar, a single guitar note comes in that makes any prog fan immediately shout ‘Gilmour’ – and more notes follow. After a guitar lead that is definitely following David Gilmour’s example, a Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree like soundscape is build up which is suddenly replace by a rockier guitar solo, before the vocals come in. This time, the vocals are slightly higher pitched and less nasal – showing a different emotion than in earlier tracks, a call for action “We all need to break these chains, under the weight of which we’ll choke”.

After this, Jeff Cox and his band take us on a camping trip to Lora Doone, a dark, scary valley in Exmoor. The lyrics deal with emotions and toughts of Cox, based on a real camping trip years ago. Dark, gloomy, sometimes scary, but with a positive ending. Musically this illustrated by acoustic guitar, almost Paul Samson (remember him, anyone?) like electric guitar riffs and powerful bass work. As scary as it may be, I’d like to go camping there now.

But there’s more travel – The Caves of Rojales in Spain tells of a Swedish woman in her sixties who lives there (part of the year) making her art. Based on a talk with her, the band created this track, where the music seems to follow the lyrics by switching from acoustic guitar to electric rock and back a number of times. At some point a verse explains that “A sail boat trip is so much better than riding on a train” follow by an instrumental that clearly mimics the noises of a train ride, translated to guitar and keyboard riffs.

In the end All is Forgiven. At least, that is the message of the closing track, which deals with the problems created by religion and intolerance across cultures. On this track, I suddenly understood why the band mentions Red Hot Chilli Peppers as an influence. Hardly a prog band, but this track borrows very cleverly some of the vocal style and bass sound of RHCP, but blends it with modern rock and once again almost psychedelic, Porcupine Tree like instrumental parts. With all that, it also is to my ears the heaviest track on the album, and one that I really like.

All in all, I think This Raging Silence may not be the band that is going to change the sound of progressive rock, but they are definitely part of that sound. Skilled musicians, narrative lyrics and a nice mix of influences and originals ideas is what I heard. Also, the sound of the album is very good, I like the mix – although in some places the bass and drums might have been a bit more on the foreground. A worthwhile and recommended listen!

Taylor’s Universe – From Scratch

It took me a while to get this album to sink in – I played it on and off for a few weeks before I realised this was a bit of avant garde, a bit of jazz rock and should be interpreted as such. Robin Taylor has been working under this name since 1993 and this is the 14th studio album of Taylor’s Universe.


An album that starts promising, with upbeat drums, a guitar and Minimoog taking a fast start. However, it slows down quickly and the opening track Other Meetings becomes more repetitive in nature. Repetitiveness is the issue with this album altogether, all my notes on the first 4 tracks contain that word in one form or another. This is not necessarily bad, but in this case I find it annoying – an album of a well established artist, who works together with a great set of guest musicians (I don’t know all of them, but they certainly are skilled when listening to the album) should not be boring. The fact that I feel the second track Beta X consists of a number of parts that seem to be glued together in a somewhat incoherent way doesn’t help either – but with the band being categorised as avant garde it may be that I miss the point myself.

This feeling remains throughout the first four tracks, although once you get the hang of it, it is pretty clear that the fourth track, Interrail, is an expression in sound of a railroad trip with a few stop overs.

On the sweet, soprano sax oriented Laura’s Lullaby the music comes closer to jazz instead of avantgarde prog, and more likeable to me. That continues in Für Louise, although the low, somewhat droning sound of the first 2 minutes might have been shorter. After this intro a jazzy, somewhat fun piece of, again jazzy, music with a lead role for the saxophone and Minimoog again.

Closing track Autumn River is an acquired taste, like the first 4 tracks. It consists of electric guitar and Ebowed guitar loops and doesn’t do much for me.

All in all, not an album that I will play a lot, but one that might be appealing to fans of avant garde music and more specifically Taylor’s Universe.