Amadeus Awad – Death is Just a Feeling

On dark days, I may have gloomy thoughts  – which I later mostly regret. Never were they as dark and gloomy though as the experiences that led Amadeus Awad to compose, record and release Death is Just a Feeling. Inspired, if that is the right word here, by the loss of loved ones, and a failed suicide attempt, this album is a new addition to the list of cinematic concept albums. Albums that require one to sit down and listen, and to feel. Think of well known titles like Pink Floyd’s  The Wall, or The Human Equation by Ayreon, where that applies as well. [acfw id=2]

Front Cover

Each track on this album fills a piece of a puzzle, that, once complete leads to the realisation, waking up after a failed suicide attempt, that

“…what I killed last night wasn’t my flesh, but my connection to the surreal skies I roamed in since the creation of the universe. I was already dead when you touched my face, death is just a feeling.”

The album consists of 6 tracks only, and it lasts just over 45 minutes, but it appears longer when listening. The story is carried by voices as well as music. Narratives by Dan Harper, with a low, hypnotic voice, are interleaved with angelic, and sometimes anxious vocals by Anneke van Gierbergen,the dramatic voice of Elia Monsef and the careful, almost shy sounds of Arjan Lucassen on the closing track. These voices are surrounded by music that is an eclectic mix of metal and heavy symphonic rock that is carrying the different moods of despair, grief and wonder. The acoustic opening track, with Anneke singing as an angel is one end of the musical spectrum, while the central piece of the album, Lonesome Clown takes us through metal, heavy rock and wailing keyboard music. This track is a 12 minute musical masterpiece, that would easily have fit on any Ayreon album. Actually, the presence of both Arjan ‘Ayreon’ Lucassen and Anneke van Giersbergen makes one wonder sometimes if this is an Ayreon album, but the music still different from what Arjan Lucassen has done.

Highlights of the album for me, besides Lonesome Clown, are the emotion filled guitar solos on Tomorrow Lies (which also include a great use of cello) and Temporary, and the way Monday Morning musically expresses the feeling of remembering a final goodbye. A final goodbye from a love one, who gets killed in an explosion shortly after.

The sound and production of the album are very full, because of the continuous presence of synths and keyboards in the back. That makes it somewhat loud, but never in a disturbing way – and even the clarinet on Temporary is able to come out front and center.

Despite it’s dark nature, this is amongst the best albums released this year (I skipped over a few planned reviews to write this one today). Highly recommended, certainly for those who like musical adventures akin to what the people involved in making this album normally deliver. It’s a work of art,  and I could easily see someone making a short, very dark movie to this album, to complete the package.


Anuryzm – All is not for All

Today I had a discussion with a friend on how people listen to music. There’s a lot of rock and metal music being released under the moniker ‘progressive’. Regardless of how fitting that moniker is (complexity and experimentation does not always mean that the music is ‘progressing’, pushing forward the boundaries of music), it’s a fact that a lot of this music is not something you grab on first listen. It takes at least a bit of time and effort to get into it, to give it proper listen and let it sink in. This is no different with the album All is not for Allreleased a few months ago by Anuryzm, a metal outfit hailing from the United Arab Emirates. [acfw id=2]


Anuryzm is headed by guitarist John Bakhos, and is the spin off of a cooperation he started in Lebanon in 2003. After moving around the world a few times and working with various people, he found a stable line up, which released Worm’s View in 2011. That album introduces Worm, a character that returns in the well executed artwork of the new album All is not for All as well. He seems to signify everything that modern man stands for, including all the mistakes we make and the risks we run. That, combined with lyrics, which deal with topics like nanotechnology, illness, extraterrestrial encounters and many others sets a bit of a gloomy story behind the album – “a warning to both the “Worm” and mankind to figure out their priorities and may the better side win.”

A somewhat disturbing message, but looking at the world today, one vested firmly in reality.  A complex reality, which leads to lyrics that require proper reading in the context of the above message in order to grasp them, and music that fits with it.

Now, that may come across as pompous or bombastic, which is not my intention, so lets put our feet back no the ground and look at the music on this album. Aneurysm can be found on the web described as power metal as well as thrash metal. Neither does full justice to the music, which is a blend of various things found in the different kinds of metal music around.

The opening track Mineral isn’t metal at all – it’s low power, melodic, with a very well played bass line (by Michael LePond of Symphony X) and powerful but melodic vocals by Nadeem Bibby. The big surprise is the in your face metal guitar riff that immediately follows it, the opening of Full Agonist. That track is a fast, driven metal track, where vocalist Nadeem shows that he can sing, scream and growl and switch between the three effortlessly. Sometimes he sounds like Russel Allen, at other times a more powerful version of James Hetfield.

This continues on in heavy, full metal tracks like Humanoid, but further down the road we encounter more quiet and melodic passages again. The opening of Depolarized is a good example of that. Guitar and keys put down a melody, accompanied by a slightly clattering bass and relaxed vocals, then it builds up into a full metal wall, without losing the underlying melody completely.

Stand out tracks besides these examples for me are The Challenge and 199x, and Oceans Apart. The Challenge is lead by a fast guitar riff and a pulsing double bass drum (Charley Zeleny knows his stuff) after the heartbeat used as intro, that speeds up quickly but always keeps a keyboard melody (Uri Dijk, known from Textures) underneath. After a quiet midsection, the metal march continues and the keyboards have the last word. 199x is the track with most tempo and rhythm changes on the album (I think). The guitar riff is relatively fast, but the drums and synths unadorned give it a slow doom feel at the same time. The melodic midsection is very quiet compared to the rest of the track, and builds up to the metal crescendo ending again. Oceans Apart finally, is a rather melodic and low power instrumental, with orchestral strings (by guest artist Christopher Chaplin) and a fitting guitar solo – an island of peace on this powerful album.

Production wise, like with the artwork, Anuryzm has done a great job as well. With the blasting metal power of the guitars as a basis, it’s not an easy job to make all the instruments have their way, yet John Bakhos and Miltiadis Nicolaos Kyvernitis pulled it off. This is the second album this year I encounter that has a dynamic range of 12 or above – not a measure for production quality, but it does show that the dynamics in the music have survived mixing and mastering.

So, all in all, after taking my time to get used to it, this album is definitely one I recommend to check out if you like what is monikered ‘progressive metal’. Don’t expect the melodies and shredding of Dream Theater, nor the mathematical metal of Exivious or Cynic. This band is somewhere in between, in their own spot.

On ratings and reviews

A few months ago, I thought it was a good idea to add some ratings to my reviews, in order to give people a feel for what to expect without having to read the full review. That felt paradoxal, because on one end I write the reviews, and at the same time I devised a way for people not having to read them. Yet, I did include the ratings for some reviews.

Looking at ratings as such, I’ve always had mixed feelings about them, mainly because of the way they are interpreted.


As an example: I started reviewing and rating when I was a very frequent member (and at some point admin) on ProgArchives. There, the most common ratings are 3, 4 and 5 stars when it comes to reviews. 1s and 2s are given, but not often (at least not by the serious reviewers). These ratings have a meaning too. Five stars means a master piece, four stars is a good addition to a prog collection and three stars is good, but non-essential.

The problem that is often discussed around this system is that, like on sites such as RateYourMusic, the scale of 5 stars is a linear scale, like a grading system in school, and a lot of reviewers and readers on ProgArchives interpret it in that way. That leads to asking for half stars and other ideas that don’t fit the definitions – which cannot simply be changed after 12 years of building that site. Other sites have similar issues.

Using a linear system also doesn’t really work for me, because it doesn’t tell you much without additional context. Context in the sense of e.g. style or genre – a 9 for a symphonic rock album is given for a different reason than a 9 for a progressive metal album or an experimental industrial album. Readers judging by the score will not get any information without looking at the rating in context. The context of style or genre helps, but (again using ProgArchives as an example) definitions of these are also subject to discussion, so it’s still not a pure system.

Finally, a single rating doesn’t work for me, in the way stars and linear scales are used. An album, certainly in the progressive rock realm, to many people (including yours truly) is a combination of music, lyrics and physical packaging, where the most interesting part of the packaging is the art work. In that sense, three forms of art are combined, and on top of that, the music itself can be well composed and played, but production is important as well. Putting all of that into a single number is very hard, so I though a separating rating for music, lyrics, artwork and production, with a description of the genre would be a good idea – which is what I introduced in July.

However, in the end I decided to remove it again, because it is very hard to do when albums are delivered in digital form, or without lyrics sheet. Do you give a low rating in that case, or a n/a, and what does that mean for the overall score – questions like that distract me from what it is really about: the music, the artwork, the product of the band.

So, instead of that rating system, I set up something very simple now. From now on, with each review I include a 2 point summary: an indication of the style of music, by tagging the review with applicable styles, and an advice on getting the album. When combined, this can be read as: if you like this style of music, this is my advice. An example is included in the gray box on the right. [acfw id=2]

The tags speak for themselves, the advice can have three values: Try before you buy, Recommended and Highly recommended.

If a reader needs more context than that, they can read the entire review, or the closing paragraph that contains the reasoning that leads to the summary. I’ll do the same for reviews I do on other sites, but there the advice will be translated into a rating that matches their rating system.

I’ve included the boxes for all my reviews since the beginning of June already, others will be done as soon as I can.

Gekko Projekt – Reya of Titan

Science fiction, something I like a lot when I was a teenager, and that can still get my attention when I run into a good movie or book. Apparently, I should add music album to that list as well – given this new release by Gekko Projekt.
With Reya of Titan they have released a concept album that tells the story of Reya, a space miner who ends up becoming the queen of Saturn’s moon Titan. The lyrics tell the story, not just the facts but also the emotions, and the music adds to that. Did I just define again what a concept album is…? [acfw id=2]

gekkoiGekko Projekt consists of Peter Matuchniak  on guitar, Vance Gloster (keyboards), Rick Meadows (bass) and Alan Smith (drums). These four, all of whom have been around in the music scene for many years, founded the band in 2010 and released their debut album Electric Forest in 2012. For this new album, Rey of Titan, they joined hands with female vocalist JoJo Razor, with wonderful results. The four men each take their share of the male vocals on the album, but it’s JoJo’s voice that makes me shiver in combination with the four men behind her doing what they do best – play their instruments.

The music is a mix of styles that may be encountered in other places, but never in this exact way. The bass that reminds sometimes of early Rush but with a jazzy feel where needed, while the guitar has influence of Steve Hackett as well as many a jazz rock guitarist (which I also heard on Peter Matuchniak’s solo album Product). The keyboards switch seamlessly between eighties neo progbut also reach back into the keyboard walls of the 70s and drums that keep everything in line but add to the music at the same time.

This may sound chaotic, but all of this is very well distributed over the 13 tracks that make up the album, from the filmic Snow White and Grains of Sand – which tell of Reya’s trip to the asteroids for mining and the accident that gets her to go into her freezer pod, via the slightly more up tempo North of Titan, which has a great jazzy instrumental section, to the full blown slightly staccato jazz rock track Frienda, that would only be better if the brass in the intro hadn’t come from a synth. In a way, although I don’t like such comparisons, it reminds me a little bit of Gong.

After that, This is now our Home is a full blown symphonic rock epic – with quiet parts, 70s wailing keyboards and guitar interplay and once again that jazzy jazz rock instrumental that somehow puts a signature on the album for me. These two tracks combined, Frienda and This is now our Home, are the best part of the album for me.

The tracks that follow tell the story of what happens on Titan, after Reya has lived there for 24 years. When help finally arrives for her and the people that rescued her in the end, she decides to stay on Titan and is crowned queen. All of this is told by the wonderful, slightly Middle Eastern sounding instrumental 24 years in Solitude, the rocking and varied Queen of Titan and the heavy pulsing Escape from the mines of Titan. The album ends with Reya’s favourite song from earth being played on Titan radio, Sing for Me. A surprising, somewhat weird track, with a surf guitar (?) opening and a rock ‘n roll like bass line that move into a more punctuated almost-but-not-quite-sixties pop song. Perhaps one day a real Reya will indeed request this Gekko Projekt track on space radio while flying to her next asteroid to mine. I’d recommend she requests the full album to be played.



Kalle Vilpuu – Silver Linings

Over the past 9 months, I wrote quite a few reviews and had many discussion with people about music. One topic that keeps coming back is the role of vocals. They have mixed role – both telling the story through lyrics, and adding something musical by their melody. However, when they’re absent, music can still tell stories, which is what Estonian guitarist Kalle Vilpuu proves on his album Silver LiningsThere are a few voices to be heard on this album, but only to support the music, where needed, without lyrics. [acfw id=2]


Instead, we are treated to eleven instrumentals, each of which tells a story in the music, with Kalle’s guitar of course being the main instrument. However, because Kalle is not the typical guitarist who wants to shred and show off, far from it, it works out in  rather surprising way. Some of the tracks (Anomalies, Interno, Silver Lining) have an atmospheric – or as he calls it himself esoteric – sound, building soundscapes on keyboards (played by Kalle himself) that are a bed for melodic guitar tunes and well thought out solos. Where needed, flute and violin are added to contribute to the intended atmosphere.

In contrast Industrial No4 is exactly what the title suggests – an industrial influenced track that mimics the sound of machines in the music, with metal like guitar riffs. In the Back of My Head has a little bit of that, but is much simpler and allows Kalle to lay down a guitar piece that he refers to as ‘philosophising on the guitar’Trapping is another example of a mix of industrial and melody – with some surprising changes in rhythm and melody.

The tracks Rosie (dedicated to Kalle’s daughter) and Touch of an Angel are the softer ones on the album. On the latter, the instruments are mixed back to only support the wordless vocal, making it almost a meditative song.

An interesting exercise in sound finally are the twin songs Unforgiven and Forgiven. One is about mistakes by loved ones that can’t be forgiven, while the second reflects a more forgiving mood. The guitar, fluit and the changes in atmosphere are a challenge to interpret knowing this background.

Production and sound wise, Kalle Vilpuu has taken care of things quite well. Guitars were recorded through real amps, never directly into a mixing panel, and on every track the intended balance between the instruments (and occasional vocals).

Overall, this album is a hidden gem, until he send me a copy I had never heard of Kalle Vilpuu, and over the past few months I found that this applies to others as well. A pity, because anyone who can appreciate a modern piece of not straight forward rock music will find something in this album.

Echolyn – I heard you listening

I intended to wait with this review until the vinyl was out, but that would take too long now that it’s postponed (although only by a week) – the world needs to know all there is to know about this album, now. If only because I just started a new love affair – with Echolyn.

Echolyn have been around for over 25 years if we count from their founding in 1989. The current line up has only been in effect since 2003 when bass player Tom Hyatt formally joined the band, joining the other members who had been there from the start. [acfw id=2]

Echolyn CoverNow 25 years together, with only the bass player replaced has made Echolyn a stable force when it comes to composing their music. [Note: the bio I used as input for this intro contains a small flaw. Tom was in the band earlier from 1990-1995, so he didn’t join in 2003, but rather rejoined. – AH]

I’m always careful with comparisons, but the influences the band themselves have indicated multiple times (including Genesis, Jethro Tull and Steely Dan and Gentle Giant) are clearly present here. The melodies of the first, the folky style and guitar of the second and third and the intricate vocal harmonies of the latter can all be found here, but never in a copy cat way. Actually, when I listened to the album, before diving into the history and background of the band, I heard symphonic rock, folk and rock ‘n roll in it – which confirms the influences from where I’m standing.

The music of Echolyn is a mix of all the above, and the 9 tracks on this album provide them in different mixes – here’s a selection to give you an idea.

Where Messenger of All’s Right builds up from a soft piano based melody to a complex folk inspired rock song, Warjazz is indeed what the title suggests: a mix of symphonic rock with jazz rock influences and numerous changes in tempo and orchestration (if I may use that word). Empyrean Views has a familiar sounding (folky) guitar signature, that I’ve been trying to map to something I know for a month now, without much success, combined with intricate vocal harmonies.

The band is also not afraid to go full on, in the intro and outro of Different Days, or on Vanishing Sun (Tom Hyatt knows how to make a bass really growl there!). And then there is the somewhat funky, jazzy yet rocking Once I get Mine, with a fitting, funny 50s rock ‘n roll guitar sound built in.

The only track I may not appreciate to the fullest yet is Carried Home, which has a slightly electronic 80s feel to it. That’s not entirely my thing, and it is different from the rest of the album, but it’s executed well nevertheless.

Lyrically, a story can be made up with every song, just listen – read the lyrics and think of what they are about. Songs that tell a story, although sometimes with a little bit too much trying to make things rhyme (Empyrian Views – “They found the steppe and sang it’s song, some settled in or just moved along”), some make you wonder what their meaning is (Messenger of All’s Right – “The rumble would decay when the needle hit the groove to build the silence”). They make me think and wonder…

Production wise, the album must have been challenging – with all the keyboard and vocal melodies going on, the bass sometimes drowns a bit, but overall the sounds are clear and well balanced.

An album full of surprises, every time I hear different things – and it doesn’t bore me for a second. Can’t wait for the vinyl version to come in…