The laws of VAT and music – a note to end the year

January 1, 2015 – from this day onward the European Union requires anyone selling digital products (downloadable music, eBooks, video courses) to individuals in the European to charge VAT based on the country where the buyer is based (as opposed to where the seller is based). That means two things: 1) sellers have to administer what they sold, separately, for each of the 28 countries of the European Union, and 2) they have to transfer the received VAT money to each of these countries monthly or quarterly, depending on local tax laws. According to EU representatives, the law prescribing all this has been put into effect to prevent large vendors, like Apple (iTunes), Amazon and Google to base their European offices in low VAT countries like Luxembourg. A good idea, from a tax collecting perspective, but is it such a good idea when looked at from different angles? From a free market perspective, it is somewhat annoying, but looking at people selling online courses or music at a small scale it gets worse. As a music lover especially the former of these two affects me and the people I interact with a lot – musicians, fellow music lovers and anyone buying digitally downloadable music. Actually, this law led to a few interesting discussions on Facebook, which bring to light different points of view, but also issues the EU legislators had apparently overlooked.


First of, a lot of independent artists selling their music on site like Bandcamp or CDBaby announced they were going to stop digital downloads, because they could not afford the time and money involved in keeping a full administration on this. At least one small record company, US based, announced to follow the same step and stop offering digital sales via Bandcamp to European customers. Luckily, CDBaby, and on December 30th also Bandcamp, announced that as larger bodies, they would offer the service to their customers (the bands and small record companies) to take care of VAT administration and payment. Size reduces cost, but there’s two sides to this part of the story: apparently, the EU had not taken into account these smaller vendors (the FAQ on the EU’s web site actually claims that 90% of online sales is business-to-business, which is subject to different VAT legislation), but does not tell how much of the remaining 10% is related to the small vendors mentioned above and how much to the large companies the law makers actually tried to deal with. At the same time however, a lot of small vendors (bands mainly) only started complaining at the end of December, while the change in legislation was already announced in June or July 2014. Lucky for them, their umbrella sites CDBaby and Bandcamp were paying attention – let’s hope they can all make an appropriate deal and continue offering their materials. After all – in the end the bands are affected, because us listeners will not be able to buy their stuff. Well, if they offer also CD or maybe vinyl, we could, but for many that would raise the price bar to high (because of shipping cost mainly). No sales means no money. Nice extra detail to that: many banks, certainly outside Europe, charge money for international transfers, in some cases up to $35 per transaction. Imagine having to pay that as a band for a limited set of digital sales to 28 different banks in as many different European countries…

Another point of view came up in a Facebook discussion started by an artist. This particular artist is very fond of selling a physical product, like a CD or a vinyl album, including nice packaging, lyrics sheets and possibly some extra goodies. He would love his buyers to get these, with all the love and care put in to them, rather than just buying the downloadable version of the music. For the genre of music from which my main sources of reference come, including this one, i.e. progressive rock, this is something that dates back to the packaging approach started in the 1970s by bands like Yes and Pink Floyd.

In this discussion the issue was brought up that besides the packaging the quality of digital audio also plays a role – it is possible to deliver digital music at bit rates higher than what can be supported by a CD. However, the audience for that is still limited, even in progressive rock a lot of people still are pretty happy with the sound quality of CD or vinyl, or ignore these high bit rate options because they don’t want to put a computer in their living room to play music. Or prefer to have the physical product of course.

Bottom line, we should not forget a number of things, and it would be great if our law makers in Brussels would do the same in the future:

  • Not everyone selling digital content is a large vendor, with enough money to pay for professional book keepers
  • Digital is not the only option, some people still prefer the physical product, alone or next to digital downloads, so lets not pretend as if digital downloads are the only future direction
  • If companies like CDBaby and Bandcamp would not offer VAT administration and payment to Europe as a service to their customers, a lot of bands and independent record labels would be out of business right now and we’d be deprived of their music
  • Being an independent artist or record label, offering digital downloads, makes you a business (wo)man, and entrepeneur – think carefully and think ahead
  • Putting this type of laws into effect, without taking the above into account, might drive people back to illegal downloading of music, just when we at least get the idea that that practise is decreasing

I wish you all a very happy and musical 2015!

Open the gates! (Progeland – Gate to Fulfilled Fantasies)

“As we approach the gates, the trumpets sound. The gates open, and A New Era is about to begin, as we enter Progeland.” That’s the idea I get when I hear the opening track of the album Gate to Fulfilled Fantasies by the Finnish band Progeland – brainchild of bass player Perry Lindström, who also released albums with Corvus Stone and Voice of the Enslaved this year. On this album, for which he wrote all the music, Lindström is accompanied by Tomi Murtomäki (vocals and all lyrics), Juha Kaski (keyboards), Matias Kangasniemi (guitars) and Pasi Manninen (drums). The aforementioned gates are visible on the beautiful album cover – Sonia Mota took care of all the artwork.


As mentioned, the album opens with A New Era, which is a keyboard piece that resembles horns blown at the walls of Jericho (anyone remember Helloween?). This is followed by a Dead Calm Waters, which is best described as Progeland’s own Easy Livin’, driven by a rhtyhmic pounding tandem of guitar and organ, on top of a rock solid rhythm section. Don’t play when driving. Or, on second thought… why not?

Once we leave the calm waters, Solar Boat leads us through a slow, dark intro that develops into a guitar riff that returns a few times in between versus and is accompanied by a keyboard piece that makes you wonder whether a flute would’ve fit here as well. The song tells the story of man going to war, and eventually ending up in war, saving each others life. As war approaches and is entered, the guitar takes up more and more of the musical underpinning of the song, until it the courageous death of one of the men is announced by a Deep Purple sounding organ.

After a short keyboard interlude, Ocean, we meet a man and his beloved, sitting at the fire in One Day I’ll Be Your King. This one starts with another Uriah Heep like guitar and organ intro (and what is that bass doing there, Petri?). As the story develops further, more room is created for the singer, who announces they will have to part their ways, until he comes back for her. After this, the guitar takes over again toward the end – and bringing us to Under Ancient Skies, the most varied track on the album, with great vocals, accompanied by keyboards and a nice, long guitar solo at the end.

After the melancholic ballad So Silently (with a somewhat medieval ring to it) the album ends with Angel, in which a man offers himself to the Angel of Death. This is a slow, dragging track carried by guitar and piano, a fitting end for both the subject of the song and the album itself.

Gate to Fulfilled Fantasies is a concept album, in the sense that all lyrics are inspired by Egyptian mythology, but no continued story lies underneath the songs.

All in all, a very enjoyable experience – a classic rock album that has yet to become a classic.

Night is full of emotions (Aisles – 4:45AM)

Sometimes, you wake up in the middle of the night, and go out to see what is going on in the world – or just lay on your back and fantasise about it. That’s what Aisles’ album 4:45AM is about: a man doing just that, get up and stroll through the city, soaking up all the emotions he feels. Each track on the album fits an emotion he may encounter, from melancholy to sorrow, but also the feeling of strength to correct past mistakes.



All of these are different emotions, and that explains why all tracks on this album are so vastly different, despite the idea of it being a concept album. This also makes it in hard to grasp the album at first – but by the time you reach the end, you just want to listen again. My review notes show this – usually I listen to an album ‘on the fly’ a few times, and then over time I start taking notes as input for a review. Even after playing the album 10 times, my notes still showed doubt about the first few tracks, and more and more curiosity near the end. And I’m playing it yet another time while writing this…

The opening (and title) track 4:45AM opens with a catchy guitar riff, which makes you expect a straight forward rock song. Nothing is less true, this is a full blown, varied neo-inspired track with a lot of very nice guitar and keyboard work.  The instrumental Gallarda Yarura that follows is a very well done instrumental piece. At first I found it just a bit too long, but after some time you start realising that more is happening than you hear when listening to casually – a sin when listening to this type of music any way. Now the real confusion of the first few listens starts right after this, with the 80s pop alike track Shallow and Daft, which according to German Vergara in an interview is exactly that – an 80s pop alike track with a message about the shallowness of commercial radio. It grows on you, despite not being the most complicated track on the album.

After this, there’s a lot more on offer, and my personal highlights are The SacrificeIntermission and Sorrow.

The Sacrifice is a beautiful acoustic guitar and vocal track, in which Sébastian Vergara shows what he can do (with his brother on backing vocals), and the additon of a string quintet at the end to complete the feeling of the sacrifice being made.

Intermission is a very surprising and addictive instrumental. With it’s pulsating rhythm and the guitars sounding almost as if being produced by a synthesizer, it is an almost psychedelic rock track that stays with you.

Sorrow is the highlight of the album altogether, with a varied mix of melodies, instrumentation and great vocals. It also shows the one weakness of this album: the balance between highs and lows in the mix. It’s not only because my own main instrument is bass that I feel the bass side of the sound spectrum is lacking on this album, only Sorrow seems to be more balanced in this respect.

The two remaining tracks Hero and Melancholia I will not describe in full detail here, but they are of the same quality as the other tracks.

This album is really what some would call a ‘grower’ – and exactly why I never would write a review based on a single play of an album.

(also published on, thanks to German Vergara for providing a review copy of the album)

A supper turns out unexpectedly – Light Damage

A good voice, an well composed melody or the overall mood of a song may surprise you, and sometimes a band manages to deliver an album full of that. The self title debut of Light Damage, is such an album.

When I play it, this album grabs my attention from the first second.

light damage cover

The opener Eden, starts with a guitar and tubular bells ticking away like a clock, before building up into a guitar driven instrumental that only stops to make room for a vocal part. Here, the first hint of vocal harmonies appears – promising more for the rest of the album. The track builds up to another crescendo that seamlessly connects to the next track Empty.

Right after the start of Empty, the band quiets down, to allow singer Nicholas-John to sing the opening verse. After that, the band builds up a great heavy progressive rock sound, ending in a guitar and keyboards taking turn soloing, leaving the final note to the organ that was wailing underneath all the time.

The master piece of the album is the mini epic The Supper of Cyprianus. Here Nicholas- John guides us through the story of this supper, that turns from a feat into the execution on the spot of a girl, convicted of being a witch. Luckily for all, she returns as an angel in the end. Well worked out keyboard melodies and guitar solos by Stephane Lecocq support the changing mood of the story from beginning to end.

After this story, we go straight to Heaven, another track that builds up gradually, this time with a key role for the rhythm guitar, which at times is almost metal like.

The short instrumental F.H.B. (For Helpful Buddies) may be dedicated to people helping the band, but I found nothing to confirm that. It’s features a plucked guitar and keyboard under a melodic guitar solo. Short, and uncomplicated, it is the least grabbing track of the album.

After this, Touched proves easily to be the heaviest track of the album, with a lot of guitar and interesting, less obvious keyboard melodies.

Light Damage has, by other reviewers, been compared to Sylvan, Pendragon and IQ, but also Marillion. I’ll avoid further comparisons, and prefer to think of Light Damage’s music as rooted in 70s progressive rock and later neo-progressive rock, where keyboard melodies and heavy guitar work support well executed vocal work. Nicholas-John has a very slight French accent, which leads to unexpected pronunciation in some places, but it works out very nicely.

A promising debut!

(also published on

Fossils can still contain live – Fossil Evolution

Belgian band Isopoda was also referred to as ‘the Belgian Genesis’ in the 1970s, and has long since disappeared from view. However, former singer and bass player Arnold de Schepper is still very much alive and kicking, and tries to bring the remains of Isopoda back to live, by means of Fossil Evolution, a band in which he plays together with his three sons and one of their friends.

Fossil Evolution

Their debut album World in Motion was released in October of this year, and contains some great music, that does require a attentative listen to be appreciated fully.

A track like opener Beautiful Colours starts out slow and mellow, and just when your attention drifts away, it takes of into a well performed, melodic instrumental that resembles Genesis (and of course Isopoda).

World in Motion itself has a similar song structure, initially starts as an acoustic guitar based folk song fashion. As more instruments joins in, the song gains more power, but it never satisfies me completely, and I have the same problem with The Voice Inside.

The drums and bass, and the vocal harmonies of Arnold and Maarten de Schepper (father and son) make up for that on Next Time. 

Oblivion has some jazz influences in its structure, as it builds up to an instrumental climax that is dominated by a guitar solo that reminded me (surprisingly on an album like this) of Savatage.

The icing on the cake of this album is the Isopoda cover Considering.  This is a full blown 12-minute epic. The piano and keyboard on this one are nearly perfect. A trumpet solo and the vocal harmonies complete the show. However, the fact that the cover is the best part of the album means that the band has some work to do to be able to top this effort on a next release….

Fall in love with the only world we have

One of the albums I ran into through the great community around House of Prog is Fall In Love With the World, by United Progressive Fraternity (UPF).

Fall In Love With The World

A line up consisting of former members of Unitopia and The Tangent, give this band has a solid musical base, and it shows on this album. An album that carries a message that was also brought forward by Unitopia earlier – we should take better care of our planet. A broad subject that affects us all and is high the agenda of UPF. This shows in the lyrics, all centered around this theme, each track in its own way.

Opening track is the film music like We only get one world. The album contains a lot of heavy progressive rock, driven by guitars and keyboards. Still, the band has left a lot of room for quieter parts and other instruments as well.

Best proof of this, because it fills about 25% of the album by itself, is the 22 minute epic in 7 movements,  Travelling Man (The story of Eshu). This track contains well executed saxophone and (sax-)flute solo’s, but also driving guitars and wailing keyboards. To me, the best part of this track, and maybe even the album is the combination of the 3rd and 4th movement here. The former contains an almost marching beat, on top of which the vocals, keyboards and guitar interleave with each other like on early 70s Genesis tracks. It transfers almost seemlessly into the second, which moves from a heavy guitar driven part into a middle eastern feel and then suddenly introduces a violin that shows how well violins and guitars can rock together.

The Water is also an ‘ear-catcher’, that contains backing vocals and vocal effects recorded by  Jon Anderson – making UPF singer and producer Mark Trueack a very happy man, according to the liner notes. The driving beat of this track makes it really work. The acoustic guitar based alternative mix that is included as a bonus is also not bad, but lacks a bit of that drive.

In Choices, Don’t look back – turn left and Religion of war, the band manages to mix slightly pop rock choruses with just the musical complexity to make rock into progressive rock. The interplay between the instruments, including that aforementioned saxophone makes this into  modern symphonic rock, with a catchy edge.

Surprisingly, the least appealing track to me on this album is the title track, Falling in love with the world. The track is based around an acoustic guitar, with other instruments playing around it in the same way as on the rest of the album. However, the track lacks a bit of power, not in the least due to the very low tempo of the vocals. Not a bad track, but nowhere near for example Travelling man.

Overall, I am pleasantly happy with this album, and the way it UPF combines old school symphonic rock with modern sounds and instrumentation. Some tracks, like Don’t look back and Religion of war and certainly The Water are actually good material for getting the band air play on rock radio stations around the world and the internet.

More than worth buying for sure!

(also published on

Cailyn – Voyager

Starting in the 1980s, there were people like Yngwie Malmsteen, Edward van Halen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Chris Oliva and quite a few more who got the label guitar god attached. There was also at least one goddess apparently, called (The Great) Kat. They all had, or have, two things in common: first of, they’re guitar playing skills are fantastic, and second, in each case I lost my appetite for their music quite quickly, maybe with the exception of Eddy van Halen. All that shredding, speeding, tapping etc. is great for guitarists and guitar fans, but as a music listener it bores me quite quickly. Yes, I know, it’s great that someone can make his guitar talk like a human, but it’s all skill and technique and very little emotion, or feeling, if you will. I much prefer the feeling that e.g Steve Hackett put into old Genesis tracks.


Coming January, the world will see the release of an album that helps me with that: Cailyn Lloyd’s Voyager.

Cailyn Lloyd might also be a guitar goddess, but I think she’s broader than that. Her skills are great, like those of the others, but she manages to make it not only about technique, and guitar is not her only instrument – she plays synthesizers, bass and some of the drums on this album as well.

The album is an instrumental concept album, about the travels of the Voyager probes that were launched at the end of the 70s to explore the outer planets of our Solar system.

Each track, except the first and last one, is about one of the planets or moons the probes passed on their journey. The booklet with the CD includes a description of the different rock and gas bulbs, and reading those really shows why Cailyn composed the tracks the way she did. Composed or arranged I should say, because  four of the tracks were composed by Gustav Holst.

The music simply makes you feel, or rather see, for example how the probes fly over the quiet surface of Io, enjoying a slow, somewhat melodic bass line, to be disturbed suddenly by a volcanic eruption of Cailyn’s guitar. A few tracks later, we find ourselves admiring quietly the rings of Saturn, accompanied by mellow keyboards and a bit of guitar, and suddenly we drop through them, driven by a heavy guitar riff, to end up on the dark side, slowly flying away from the giant planet with a steady rhythm towards Enceladus. That moon gives us a dark, almost cold track, just like the moon itself before we head of to Miranda, one of the weirdest moons in our solar system, represented by a high pitched lead guitar that together with a driving synthesizer takes us along the surface something that is best described as a planet turned partially inside out.

After that, there’s still more, with the roller coaster ride around Uranus, which contains a shuffled drum pattern,  the moon Ariel, where a storm at the end of the track reminds me of the staccato riffs that Alex Lifeson played on Rush’ 2112.

Without wanting to describe all tracks, it is worth mentioning the use of an English horn on Pale Blue Dot, which is a track that almost makes the Voyager probes look back in a nostalgic way at earth in the very far distance.

The album closes with Heliopause, which, like the opening track, shows that Cailyn indeed has speed and skill on the guitar, until Voyager leaves the solar system at the sound of the last beat of the drums.

A well thought out album, for all who enjoying a bit of instrumental progressive symphonic rock, with a lot of emphasis on skilled guitar playing. Read along with the liner notes, or close your eyes and enjoy a trip through space. I love it.

(also published on

Beyond the seventh wave, by Silhouette

Silhouette is a Dutch neo-prog band, who released their fourth album this year. An album consisting of 11 tracks, each well composed and well executed.

Silhouette Beyond the Seventh Wave

At the base of Silhouettes music on this album is the keyboard work of Erik Laan, who is also the most productive composer in the band. Together with the two guitar players he creates a musical bed for the vocals, without overdoing it. In the tracks In Solitary and Lost Paradise there is still plenty of room for quieter parts. On Wings to fly, the band builds up nicely by starting with acoustic guitar, flute and cello, to end with a full blown electric crescendo. All of this carried by a very steady rhythm section – where part of the bass tracks are played by Jurjen Bergsma, because Gerrit-Jan Blooming decided to leave the band.

The album is at times a bit bombastic, but never annoying (unlike some of the overdone things that for example ELP could produce in the ’70s). A slight defect of the album, from my point of view are the vocals.  There are a few occasions where I feel, although both singers try their best (and with good results in e.g. Web of lies), the vocals either lack emotion (perhaps due to focusing too much on technique) or sound a bit forced in the higher regions. There is some room for improvement there, because in Devil’s Island it can get a bit annoying for the listener.

That last track, Devil’s Island is great in its instrumentals: when listenig with eyes closed, it is easy to imagine a flight over an island, seeing it from above, in the middle of the sea.

Overall, a good album, worth listening – but not as good as it could’ve been.

(also published on