A new dawn..

Last night I was side kick on Into The Mirror Black, next to my wonderful DJ Morgana. We had an interview with Arjen Lucassen and a showcase of the forthcoming Ayreon album The Source. I had a great time, we had a great time – and we’ll do this again.

Does that mean my own show will stop? No, of course not. But there will be some changes in other areas. My reviews have become very infrequent and that is how I feel about reviewing right now: I’d rather enjoy the music and write she. I feel like it, without the pressure of ‘having to deliver’. So there will be a few more soon, for Background Magazine, but after that I’ll go back to doing it on my own. No pressure, and only do it when I feel like. And as for the 100 words? That will stay, because it’s a nice way of writing about the essence of things. And it allows people to get an idea of a album, and then go straight to the music.

So, leaving planet Alpha and on to planet Y, for a new dawn. Not through the black hole, but Into The Mirror Black….

 

Aisles – Hawaii

First time I heard Aisles was on their dark concept album 4:45AM. With Hawaii, they deliver another 80 minute concept album, about a group of human colonies surviving after the earth is destroyed. Musically it’s a very interesting mix of melodic symphonic rock, transferring the sound of the 70s and 80s to a 21st century sound. There is no lack of musicianship in this band, and Angel is one of the best vocalists I know. Highlights for me: jazz rock infused The Poet, and the wonderful, very melodic, symphonic rock pieces CH-7 and Pale Blue Dot. Progressive Rock lives in Chile.

 

Highly recommended.

Reviews

It’s been a while since I posted reviews regularly. I find it hard to find the time to write – not so much time to listen. So, I’m going to experiment with a new approach. The remaining albums to review this year will be done in the style of 100 word reviews. If that works, I might extend it to 150 max, but 100 seems nice. Next one up shortly!!!

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Nth Ascension – In Fine Initium

About a year ago I was introduced to the magical world of Clanaan, where the chords needed to create music are lost. And they’ve been lost for a while – I think at least two years by now….  Luckily, I know where they are. The missing rider is a man called Darrel Treece-Birch, and he’s using the chords to create beautiful music on any keyboard he can find, together with his friends Alan ‘Spud’ Taylor (vocals), Craig Walker (drums), Gavin Walker (bass) and Martin Walker (guitar). Come to think of it, looking at the names, maybe the next album should be titled The Rider, the Bard and the three Walkers…ifi-new-album-poster

Where The Ascension of Kings was certainly to my liking, I recall challenging the band into taking it another step up on the next one. Time to find out if they did.[acfw id=2]

The opening track Kingdom Keys already shows that if they haven’t picked up that challenge, at least they tried – and succeeded. The track starts rather loud, with big drums, but builds up into a more theatrical piece, with emotional vocals over layers of keyboards – to end in a wonderful, almost bluesy, classic rock guitar lead. And yes, Spud’s voice may be an acquired taste, but I like it more every time. It stands out among other vocalists, as in not being cliché, and he manages to put a lot of emotion into his singing.

He can also do other things – even if he doesn’t have the range of Bruce Dickinson, it’s mainly due to the vocals, and Darrel’s keys that I get reflections of late 80’s Iron Maiden (Alexander the Great, anyone?) on End of Days. It’s not metal, and far more keyboard oriented than, but I do get that image for some reason. The mix of piano and guitar halfway, and the bass in a quiet part add to the score.

Like Vision on the previous album, The Cage seems to tell a story – about war, but also in a way about how our leaders treat their people I think. With a driving drum and bass pattern underneath one of Darrel’s keyboard walls the track has a certain momentum, only interrupted by a slow bass, keyboard and spoken vocals half way, and a dramatic ending. And ending that lyrically makes me think of how we are currently selecting our ‘leaders’, and the way that gets criticised and opposed more and more. Hopeful, yet dramatic:

The World has changed forever, nothing will ever be the same
As the trumpets sound across the earth to warn and to proclaim
Confetti propaganda, falls like autumn dying leaves
And the rhetoric you all believed in the dirt now disappears

And did I skip over So, That was the Apocalypse here? Yes, but only because I was focusing on the tracks that match each other so well on this album. This track stands out among them, because it is completely different. On a radio show chat, it was discussed whether it could be an ode to John Lord. Lots of keys and organ, a biting guitar and a bass that propels everything forward – if not an ode to John, then to his band Deep Purple.

At the end of the album we find the next three pieces of Clanaan, a story that started on the previous album, and that continues here. On In Search for the Rider, the keys (a lot of it piano) lead the way for Spud’s vocal, over a slow, tight rhythm section. Some short melodic patterns, often hardly a second long recur in a recognisable way in between the intricate layers of the keys and guitar, providing a nice coherence to the track. That idea continues in a lesser extend in the instrumental Forever, before the the slow, sad When the Rain Falls leaves the listener longing for the continuation of the story on the next album.

So, is it perfect? No, because nothing is, but Nth Ascension got yet again a bit closer. This music is complex, melodic, emotional and definitely a nice mix of classic rock and symphonic. The Dutch talk about symphonic rock when keyboards rule, avoiding (useless, to my mind) discussions about whether or not it’s prog, and Nth Ascension fits that term very well. Highly recommended.

 

Colin Tench Project – Hair in a G-string

Classically trained (but not in guitar) guitarist Colin Tench is about 132 years old now. He was there when George Martin was conceived, errm, conceived The Beatles… Having learned to play the instrument at 22, after a 110 years he can barely be distinguished from the ones who started at age 5.

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This is the point where I could say ‘All jokes aside’ and continue, but with this album I’m afraid that’s very hard, as there is a lot to laugh about, in between 80 minutes of seriously good and well performed music. Good music, in the form of an epic title piece, that is divided into separate 4 parts, and runs about 30 minutes in total. The piece has a recurring musical theme, that is played in so many different ways it takes a proper listen to spot it, and which invisible makes it into a coherent piece. Makes coherent indeed, because this is not music for casual listeners. They will hear loose bits and pieces, that only connect when you sit down for it. It starts in Part 1 with an acoustic guitar and some synths, changes to electric guitar and piano, but just as easily goes Santana style lating in the second half of Part 2. In Part 3, avant garde and Zappa-esque things happen (also lyrically), while in Part 4 we are treated to a great progressive rock piece, with a comedy parade performed by vocalists Peter Jones and Phil Naro. [acfw id=2]

Having the theme, and Colin’s way of composing make that this works. He doesn’t just lay down a chord pattern. He thinks (and talks) in melodies and every note has to be at the right spot and of the right length – like the way classical composers did. I know first hand – having contributed a whopping 2.30 minutes of fretless bass to this piece. I have some bass notes left over that were rejected for being in the wrong place. I think the same applies to Petri Lindström (Corvus Stone) who contributed most of the other bass parts on the album, and Stephen Speelman (Unified Past) who makes a short but stunning appearance right in the middle of Part 2.

In between the four parts, 8 other tracks are placed, all of which are delicately crafted compositions, and as varied as the main suite.

Can’t see It Any Other Way, is almost a prog rocker, with sufficient ‘funny noises’ and percussion to make it into something that attracts attention. The big star here is singer Phil Naro (Unified Past). La Palo Desperado and The Mad Yeti show Colin Tench’s skills on acoustic guitar, and so does Dnieper Summer Day.

On The Sad Brazilian, a horror movie like keyboard riff opens, after which the track develops into a nice mix of melodic electric guitar rock and orchestra.

That orchestra, which lives in Gordo Bennett’s (GorMusik)basement also happens on Lisa Waltzes back in with no G-string, which is a ‘redesign’ of the last bit of Corvus Stone’s Moaning Lisa. In that piece, originally German Vergara sings ‘mi chitarra canta’, on this version Colin let’s his guitar sing for real. He does it again, acoustically on Lisa’s Entrance Unplugged, a redo of the same tracks intro minutes, with additional beautiful flute work by Ian Beabout. Oh, and there’s the bonus track of course, a full orchestra rendition by Gordo Bennett of the yet another part of Moaning Lisa.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed Something Screwed was always one of my favourite demos of CTP, and now it’s been remixed and slightly changed. Colin’s ode to the old prog bands, by musically making it exactly what the title suggests.

The love it or hate it track on the album is likely A Beautiful Feeling. A bit of an odd beast, being a proper rock ballad, but with a feeling to it that made me nick name it ‘The love boat’. It does have that feeling, just listen and you’ll understand. At the same time, it has something very appealing, maybe once again because of Phil Naro’s great vocals.

And of course, like all Colin Tench’s works, the artwork on this album (digital release available September 30th, CD in november 2016) is done by the brilliant ‘pintora’ Sonia Mota (Chipmunk). To honour her (we think, but he won’t admit it) Peter Jones contributed the 23 second Part 4b Redux to the album, which has the Chipmunks singing.

That same Peter Jones provided the vocals for my forever favourite track on this album And So, Today. Not favourite because it’s the most complex or most progressive, but because it is a very fitting and well executed tribute to all the musicians who left earthly life in the year before this album was released. Every time I hear the line “Our wild eyed boy is stardust…” I get goosebumps and the hair on my arms stands upright.

Overall, this is an album I find hard to describe. The music on this one was all mainly composed by Colin Tench himself, although the contributing musicians got a lot of freedom to fill their parts. This makes it different from Colin’s main project, Corvus Stone, which has tracks composed based on ideas by different band members. Some may find it more coherent because of this. Either way, like Zappa liked doing new things, as did Yes and Genesis in the early 70s, and The Beatles in the 60s, Colin aimed at doing something not done by other bands. And I think he succeeded. Music that sounds loose and playful, yet every note was perfectly planned. As Peter Jones sings in part 3, it’s Gooditygooditygood. Highly recommended!

Almost through the year

We’re almost through the year, as far as reviewing is concerned. I promised no more than 26 and with what is now pending I think I will go over that. However, I have to make choices and I have a lot of things going, so after the list of reviews below is completed, I will not review any more this year. From next year, I’ll review what I want to review, or on very specific requests. No strutural plan anymore, since I have so much going on in my life that I can’t do a fixed review schedule, which I already noticed this year.

But! There will be airplay every week for any new artist that reaches my inbox, and soon there will be live interviews, all on ISCK Rock Radio in The Prog Files / Angelo’s Rock Orphanage. Wednesdays, 9PM-11PM CET, http://iskc.rocks.

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So – this year’s remaining reviews:

Aisles – Hawaii

Elaine Samuels and Kindred Spirit – Phoenix Rising

Pandora Snail – War and Peace

Nth Ascension – In Fine Initium

Fractal Mirror – Slow Burn 1

Colin Tench Project – Hair in a G-string

Flickr Rate – Flickr Rate

Colonel Petrov’s Good Judgement – Moral Machine

New Sun – Transitory

Crystal Palace – Dawn of Eternity

Even after two years of reviewing and putting stuff on internet radio, I run into bands I don’t know – and it looks like that is not going to change anytime soon. On the table right now is the album Dawn of Eternity by German prog rockers Crystal Palace. A band that’s been active since 1995 as far as album releases are concerned, releasing their debut about a year after their start in 1994. crystal palace

The band required some investigation on my part, as I knew the name but not the music (as often happens to me). Although dubbed Neo-progressive on progressive rock database giant ProgArchives, the band have quite a bit of hard rock and metal influences in their music – probably stemming from their roots as an AOR band in the mid ’90s. This also shows on this album, for example in Confess Your Crime, which starst after the atmosperic brief instrumental opener Dawn. Something in Confess Your Crime, probably the keyboards and vocals vaguely remind me of early Dream Theater work. However, there are also influences of older Pendragon and perhaps even IQ in there. The track changes from metal like to a more heavy psychedelic midsection, and then to a very well sung keyboard and vocal part at around 2/3. Certainly a nice introduction the album as well as the band. [acfw id=2]

Eternal Step starts again with an almost metal guitar intro, and again a vocal part that reminds me of Dream Theater – actually this track has a similar, but softer, feel as Surrounded in places. The build up from the opening to the melodic guitar solo and the heavier ending is great on this track. And building up tracks is something that certainly characterises this album – it works on this track, but also on the very well arranged Fields of Conciousness, which starts with a melancholic guitar tune, then builds up via something close to alternative rock to a metal-like ending. The vocals on this one are emotional and very good.

Word to the drummer also – for example on Heart of Sale, which has a slight echo on the upfront drums, which works well with the electronic sound of the keyboards and the guitar riff. An other great drum track is All of this, which is heavy and dark, but still melodic and contains a very well done guitar solo.

Another track worth mentioning is Sky without Stars, which starts with a pulsating guitar and emotional vocals, until guitar, bass and drums join in to make it more powerful, without speeding up. As the music softens a bit halfway, the vocals beautifully reappear from the echoes, working toward a Porcupine Tree like soundscape at the end.

Crystal Palace are band with many influences, and they deliver a powerful album here. Probably not the biggest hit in the genre this year, but certainly recommended for fans of heavier progressive rock with 80s neo and 90s prog metal influences. The singer and drummer alone are already worth having a thorough listen.

Virus – Memento Collider

Having released four albums in 13 years, Virus is clearly a band that doesn’t focus on quantity of releases. This feeling gets stronger when you take into account that the length of their fourth, 2016, release Memento Collider is only 45 minutes long.

The Norwegian band, headed by Carl-Michael Eide (vocals and guitars) has its roots in the Norwegian black metal scene of the 1990s, but have moved on quite a bit from there. On previous albums, their music was compared to that of for example Voivod and Cynic, but they also claim influences from the likes of Talking Heads and even Miles Davis. The latter is definitely not very present on this album, the others can easily be found when listening carefully.VIRUS-640x640

What is immediately immenent when listening to this album, is that this is not happy party music. Sinister guitar riffs, supported by very melodic, often quite slow bass lines build an atmosphere of eeriness that gets under your skin. I think we have all tried listening to Dark Side of the Moon in the dark with headphones one. This album gives the same feeling, but with far darker music. The first two tracks, Afield, which is very dark and slow, and Rogue Fossil, which shows more rhythmic and melodic variations either pull you into the album or drive you away from it. I let myself be dragged in, and I must say I have no regrets. This is the kind of music I appreciated at the time Voivod let go of their pure metal roots, and some elements of the music also remind me of the Austrian band Il Ballo Dell Castagne, whose album I reviewed end of last year. [acfw id=2]

The remaining four tracks on the album do not all reach the level of the first two, in terms of darkness and variation, but none are bad. The bass is very prominent in all tracks, as are the sometimes frantic drums (Phantom Oil Slick!). Gravity Seeker, which lyrics are the source of the album title, has a slow, almost 80s new wave feel to it – with a heavier basis.

All in all – for those who like the bands mentioned in this review, this is definitely a band to check out. The same holds for metal fans who want to hear what a metal band can do when they leave their core roots behind and start mixing in other things. One thing is for sure, in terms of progressiveness, this is a lot more original than all the Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd derived material that is floating into our collections these days. None of it bad, but some refreshment for the ears is more than welcome.

Mike Kershaw – What Lies Beneath

In the modern prog world, we find a number of communities, consisting of fans and musicians. The communities are represented online, on Facebook or on music web sites, and the involved musicians end up playing on each others albums, or cooperating on  ‘special’ albums. Some of these cooperations involve long standing artists, for example the current cooperation between Jon Anderson, Roine Stolt and Jonas Reinhold in Anderson/Stolt. Others involve less well known artists, some of whom also have been around for a while already. Here examples are cooperations around Corvus Stone’s Colin Tench, or United Progressive Fraternity and Mark ‘Truey’ Truack.

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Another example is the community that revolves around the band Big Big Train. In their Facebook group, a whole lot of musicians have found each other, including for example Fractal Mirror and some members of Unto Us. In this community, we also encounter keyboard player and vocalist Mike Kershaw. On his album What Lies Beneath, subject of this review, we find a lot of musicians who are active in the BBT community, like Leo Koperdraat, Leopold and Allyson Blue-Sky, and Gareth Cole.

As can be expected, having musicians, good musicians cooperate, something good must come out of it. On this album, we find 8 tracks, on all of which the involved musicians give it their best. Frank Urbaniak’s drums, Gareth Cole’s and Leopold Blue-Sky’s bass are the most frequent companions of Kershaw’s own keyboards, but on individual tracks we also find drums by Joshua Leibowitz, Rohan Jordan-Shah and Leopold Blue-Sky, while Leo Koperdraat and Tom Slatter take care of guitar and vocals on Two Eyes and Wounds.[acfw id=2]

Looking at the compositions, most of the tracks are written by the trio Kershaw, Blue-Sky and Cole, and feel like a mix of rock and folk, often with a nod toward the 80s – especially when Mike’s keyboards come in. What strikes me is that although each track has it’s own little treats, there is no real shiner among the tracks composed by this trio – although the guitar solo in Another Disguise is a landmark on the album. The tracks Two Eyes and Wounds, for which respectively Leo Koperdraat and Tom Slatter not only played guitar but also wrote the music, appeal more to me. Two Eyes, which’ lyrics are very personal to Mike Kershaw certainly brings life to the album half way, and although not an up tempo track, Wounds stands out as well – this could be a Roger Waters track to my ears.

Due to the keyboards and vocals, Gunning for the Gods is the only track on the album that I don’t really appreciate at all. It’s thought provoking lyrics get buried in a keyboard sound that is not working for me.

All in all, this is not a bad album, certainly not in execution by the musicians, but I would have hoped for a little more excitement in the compositions. Apart from ‘breaks’ and ‘bridges’ a lot of the music gets stuck in the same slow, melancholic mood and tempo, which makes it hard to keep listening attentively. Part of that judgement no doubt comes down to taste, so I do suggest everyone to give it a try, not ignore it.

Gagliarchives Top 20, June 10th

No idea if I’m going to post this here every week, but I was postively surprised by some entries in the Gagliarchives Top 20 for the week of June 10th, which I caught on Tom Gagliardi’s show this morning. Usually I don’t catch that programme, since it runs from 4AM-8AM local time on Sunday morning for me, but he had an extended show today, running till almost 9AM. Definitely a list to keep an eye on, even if you can’t catch Tom’s show.

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