Reviews in this issue:
- Helmet Of Gnats – High Street
- Sky Architect – Excavations Of The Mind
- Peter Hammill - In The Passionkirche [DVD]
- Steve Hillage Band - Live At The Gong Family Convention [DVD]
- Division By Zero – Independent Harmony
- Gösta Berlings Saga – Detta Har Hänt
- The Grand Astoria - II
- Lalle Larsson - Weaveworld
- The Resonance Association – Heliopause Prelude [EP]
- Baraka – Inner Resonance
- Tom More – Self Evident Truths
- Elysium Theory – Modern Alchemy
Helmet Of Gnats – High Street
Tracklist: Tsunami (11:00), Tin Whiskers (10:26), Dozer (12:43), High Street (30:11)
High Street is the third album from Helmet Of Gnats, their self titled second getting a glowing review from Mark Hughes in 2005. From Stamford, Connecticut, they have been together in one form or another for nearly 30 years now and have hardly been prolific but they certainly make up for that in quality. With a liking for Mahavishnu Orchestra, Brand X, Return To Forever and Gentle Giant - Chris Fox (guitars), Matt Bocchino (keys), Wayne Zito (bass) and Mark Conese (drums) have produced a quite wonderful piece of work.
As instrumental records go this certainly packs a punch, keeping things interesting throughout. The tracks are nicely structured and ensure that a melodic approach is kept to the fore. Their brand of prog fusion takes a major amount of its influence from the musical titans that were (and are) the Corea, Clarke, DiMeola and White version of Return to Forever. Ambient Records’ owner and technology whizz Conese has employed cutting edge technology to make the band’s analogue sound fresh and in your face while retaining what is so appealing about the warmth of recordings from the original artists. According to Ambient’s blurb recording sessions are as live as possible with no headphones to capture the essence of the band.
With a touch of Echolyn and some Spock’s Beard in the Hammond, Tsunami opens in a playful mood and after a tentative introduction the pace builds. The live feel and distinct ‘70s influence is clear. Dynamic writing develops the structure of the piece, phrases and passages re-emerging to give a good sense of whole. There’s a chilled mid-section, keys giving it some Chick Corea and John McLaughlin in the glorious soloing of Bocchino and Fox, some Gentle Giant in the build towards a crescendo and the sinister aftermath.
Tin Whiskers has a more acoustic feel and sound with sitar and classic rolling prog sound. More Gentle Giant influence, a nice groove with busy drums and Rhodes piano keep it rooted in the ‘70s. Excellent guitar suggests Zappa and Santana in the jam section with a gorgeous jazz influenced bass solo (think Reingold or Pastorius) before a return to earlier themes.
Dozer has some nice piano and a bass led, loping rhythm. There’s a much darker mood here, the Hammond giving a slight Van der Graaf Generator feel before it opens up in an RTF kind of way. The music just flows; groovetastic!
The gargantuan title track swallows up the second half of the disc but doesn’t outstay its welcome for even a second. The sound of kids at play and the retro sound evoking cinematic images of an ordinary street during childhood, location of some extraordinary goings on. There’s a slow burn feel with a sense of mystery; this track is in no hurry to get anywhere in particular but is a joy. Classic RTF influences in the main themes - it could be RTF! – and the track swings like a bastard. There are hints of Yes, Camel and Gentle Giant with a jazz inflection, the sitar returning to add some spice with excellent dynamics within the stops and starts. Harsh lines mix with jazzy interludes and Latin swing and there is a clear sense of direction, the track refusing to meander towards a noodling session. This is an enthralling listen that doesn’t drag at all.
The Gnats knowledge and experience has shaped their sound, years of playing complex covers honing them into a formidable unit. The blending of old school jazz fusion and prog is a seductive one, the band succeeding in making it an exciting and entertaining listen that doesn’t disappear up its own rear with fiddly time changes and shredding. The playing throughout is superb and the disc sounds great; job done. This is an autobuy for anyone who loves the giants of ‘70s fusion, more so if you like a side order of classic prog with it.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Sky Architect – Excavations Of The Mind
Tracklist: Deep Chasm - Part 1: Charter (3:38), Deep Chasm - Part 2: Chime (08:04), Deep Chasm - Part 3: Changeling (0:43), Deep Chasm - Part 4: Chasm (6:45), The Grey Legend (12:11), Russian Wisdom (5:05), Excavations Of The Mind (11:46), Gyrocopter (2:58)
Sky Architect are a five piece Dutch band from Rotterdam and this, their debut release, has smartly been snapped up onto the Galileo Records/Progrock Records roster and is a kind of sister release to FramePictures’ Remember It which I reviewed recently. I rather admired Remember It and together, this brace of recordings is something of a coup for Messrs. Becker and Gordon, Excavations Of The Mind is as refreshing a debut I’ve heard for some time and reminds me of not only why I love prog but also why music collecting, musicology and music criticism are such addictive pastimes. For a serious music junkie such as myself, this is the sort of album that one hopes to discover from time to time, not only because of it’s inherent value as piece in your collection but also because of the promise it holds.
Wielding a fairly standard arrangement of instruments, Tom Luchies (vocals and guitars), Wabe Weitinga (guitars), Rik van Honk (pianos, keys and vintage keys and backing vocals), Guus van Mierlo (bass) and Christiaan Bruin (drums and backing vocals)) have created a dense and complex beast under the production auspices of Wabe (the guitarist) that defies description. Suffice it to say, in brief, that Sky Architect have mined the past 40 years of progressive music to raise an ambitious project to heady fruition with references from all over the place. Part mad and part genius, Excavations Of The Mind is an original and singular creation despite its magpie takings and borrowings that could have jeopardised its cohesion.
Certainly, it takes several listens to get to grips with, such are the myriad twists and turns of its complex and dynamic structure, but it also possesses a compelling accessibility that keeps you coming back to try and unravel this knotty profusion moment by moment. The opening salvo of Deep Chasm is a matrix of 4 parts that interweaves the intricate with the concrete; an overture to establish the convoluted and slightly perplexing experience of the whole. Part 1: Charter kind of does what it says on the tin and is a microcosm of the aforesaid. It‘s instrumental and acts as a musical prologue, introducing us to the themes and motifs we can expect to hear. A chunky piano riff is supported by a generous wash of thick Hammond organ. A tripping and skipping clean guitar plays Pied Piper with the rest of the band who follow in frolicsome suit. Driving, rasping and caustic guitars slash in perpendicular time before a swelling surge of warbling Hammond lifts us upwards, then floating notes from a strangled and compressed wah-wah guitar articulate isolation whilst channelling Mick Ronson (of David Bowie fame) as piano and Hammond droop melancholy that lead us into Part 2: Chime.
The verse is full of wonderful whimsy and the chorus is pure Porcupine Tree (Deadwing) but it’s all very catchy and evocative nevertheless. Following the sung parts comes an uptempo instrumental break with a distorted synth providing a cacophonous lead then a similarly zany and distorted guitar solo bringing to mind the melodramatic antics of Gogol Bordello. A new phase. A piano ostinato combines with sustained, ringing guitar building to a dramatic finale where the insistent rhythm section punctuate the repeating guitar/piano pattern with throbbing, weighty exclamations simultaneously recalling Rush and Pain Of Salvation. This segues into Part 3: Changeling which is only 43 seconds long and is simply a reiteration of the piano theme before Part 4: Chasm codas Chime briefly, but now a spoken narrative lends everything a neurotic edge amplified in the chorus which is fraught with anxiety bringing to mind some of The Flower Kings work on Paradox Hotel or Beardfish in their more overtly theatrical moments.
It’s in Chasm that the conceptual thread of the album takes on direct musical form, dealing as it does with “the dark and disturbing psyche of a mentally disturbed man”. The concluding passages are bombastic and abrasive and provide me with the clearest exemplar for Sky Architect, and that is Echolyn. This opening quartet moves from being aggressive and angular to whimsical and pastoral making multiple resonances with A Little Nonsense Now And Then and, by association, revives Gentle Giant quietly in the background.
Next up is The Grey Legend. An off-kilter, elephantine rhythm lumbers and sways its way into a languorous pre-verse before the sung melody comes grizzling and carping to the fore like something from a Stephen Sondheim musical in which Tom Luchies gets to show off his beautifully restrained, controlled and melodic vocals that are wonderfully unpretentious. Then, without preparation, we are thrust into an extended instrumental interlude that has fine mellotron pads and a skittering bass, drum and clavichord pattern while the guitar harshly sustains the theme. Again, without any signal, we a get a burst of ELO or Beatles-like pop intersected by a syncopated and chromatic breakdown before the instruments break out into free-fall in a bubbling 14/8 tempo. It’s all so complex and indescribable, but in just the right way. It’s dripping with anarchic revelry but equally capable of musically conjuring the anguish of the mentally tormented. This is progressive rock of the highest order.
The inventive compositions continue in the title track which is King Crimson-lite with its multiple explorations around interlocking and cyclic guitar ostinatos contrasting with clashing, staccato phrases and a gorgeous, warm melody in an acoustic setting that once again has a distinctly Porcupine Tree vibe to it without ever sounding like Porcupine Tree in a derivative way. The vocal harmonies are a real feature of this one, and more of this kind of vocal accompaniment throughout would really elevate Sky Architect’s compositions to the next level. The other two tracks, whilst consistently imaginative, are also just a bit odd. Russian Wisdom in particular sounds like a cross between a Bavarian Oompah band and a Mexican Mariachi band. Madness meets the late ‘90s psyche-pop of Motorpsycho! Gyrocopter is short and sweet and bears further comparison to King Crimson with its syncopated, clanking, heavy rock vibe but these are the two weaker tracks on the album and seem a little insubstantial relative to the gravitas generated by the rest of the songs.
Wabe’s production has an undiluted, uncompressed feel. The songs aren’t coated with a studio-trickery frosting. There’s nothing showy or ostentatious about the musicianship; there are no virtuoso moments. Nevertheless, the playing is fabulously direct, raw and occasionally breathtaking. Sky Architect are about songwriting and marrying the interplay of the instruments to generate effect. It is highly accomplished theatrical music and I’d love to see the band in a live setting because their music has a vibrancy and immediacy that couldn’t fail to entertain and astonish in equal measure. A spectacularly solid debut then, and given the relative ‘youth’ of the band, there is so much promise here. Rarely does one encounter a band that could potentially shape a new niche in the genre but such is the adroit and exploratory nature of Excavations Of The Mind. If you’re an Echolyn fan, then I think you’ll love Sky Architect but there is more than enough here to warrant investigation by any proghead who is interested in the evolution of the genre’s future and not just content to savour its past glories.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Peter Hammill - In The Passionkirche [DVD]
Tracklist: The Future Now, I Will Find You, Usher Suite, Patient, Curtains, My Room, (Something About) Ysabel's Dance, Traintime, Given Time, A Way Out, Modern
For an artist who has been recording and performing consistently since the late 1960s, there is a sparse visual record of Peter Hammill: fragments exist of Van Der Graaf Generator from their prime mid seventies period (in particular the Godbluff DVD and the more recent Paradiso concert featuring the trio formation) but as a solo performer Hammill has been poorly served. Indeed, the concert captured on this DVD is the only one to be officially sanctioned for release. Originally issued on video in the early 1990s, it was hard to find at the time and was not available for long, so this reissue is a boon for fans long deprived of being able to watch their favourite performer at any time of their choosing.
Recorded in April 1992 at the Passionskirche in Berlin, the concert was towards the end of an unusually long stretch of touring for Hammill who was soon to unleash his Fireships album on the world. A true solo show, it is just Hammill on keyboard, guitar and voice providing an intimate interaction with the audience, both at the venue and viewing the DVD. Hammill is an artist who likes to treat each concert as a unique event, existing in the moment with each song being open to reinterpretation. This helps to explain the variety of touring ensembles that he has assembled over the years, always ensuring opportunities to revisit songs old and new with a fresh and different line of attack. Anyone who has seen Hammill live will know that 'attack' is an appropriate verb as he can imbue songs with intense passion and spirit, largely aided by his vocal delivery which, love or hate, you have to admire for its intensity of delivery.
The concert that night in Berlin was largely typical of the era with a large part of the set taken up with tracks from the most recent albums, the aforementioned Fireships and 1990's Out Of Water. Indeed, all but two of the tracks on the DVD appeared on Typical, the double CD record of the 1992 solo outing. The first of these two tracks is (Something About) Ysabel's Dance, a song from Out Of Water that I could never get into and indeed probably ranks as one of my least favourite Hammill compositions. In the solo context without the frantic fiddling of Stuart Gordon the song is somewhat more palatable (which is not an insult to Gordon, his contributions to Hammill's music has been fantastic over the years) and the song comes over better here than on its inclusion on the Roomtemperaturelive album, also from 1990. The second track is somewhat of a treat with a selection of highlights from the, as then, unreleased The Fall Of The House Of Usher. The Usher Suite brings together snippets from a number of songs from the opera, cleverly merged into one effective and engaging suite. To date this tour was the only time that any of the opera has been performed live and as it was omitted from the Typical album, it is unique to this release.
The rest of the concert is a mixture of old and new, with the fabulous I Will Find You (from Fireships) and the equally fantastic A Way Out (from Out Of Water providing that Hammill's lyrical craftsmanship has not deteriorated with age. The foot is dipped tentatively into the waters of Van Der Graaf Generator just once with My Room, a long-time fan favourite that, despite its mid programme placing on the DVD, often provided the dramatic opening number of a show. A duo of numbers from 1983's Patience, namely Patient and Traintime, reinforce the fact that no matter what era of The Thin Man's back catalogue you investigate you are bound to come up with a classic or two, while set closer Modern still sounds just that despite being the oldest song performed, harking all the way back to 1974.
Filmed using several cameras, including an unusual overhead view, the filming concentrates on the performance rather than being concerned with superfluous effects. The two front of stage cameras are both mobile giving plenty of different views both when Hammill is seated at the keyboard or standing playing guitar. The major gripe about the recording is that the songs are interspersed with clips of Hammill answering various questions. The not only breaks up the flow of the concert (which in itself was been chopped around for sequencing on the video) but also gets a bit tiring on repeated watching. However, at least Voiceprint have had the decency to add in a new interview with Hammill discussing the concert from a modern perspective which is a nice bonus to have rather than just a straight duplication of the original video. Despite the relatively minor gripe, the DVD is an essential addition to any Hammill fan's collection giving a rare opportunity to see the man in action and arguably where he is most dangerous and animated - live on stage.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Steve Hillage Band - Live At The Gong Family Unconvention 2006
Tracklist: Hello Dawn (3:48), It’s All Too Much (6:00), Aftaglid Part 1, Aftaglid Part 2, Aftaglid Part 3 - The Golden Vibe (8:36), Solar Musick Suite Part 1 & 2 [The Dervish Riff] (11:50), The Salmon Song (7:30), These Uncharted Lands (11:18), Interview Part 1 (15:54), Interview Part 2 (16:05), Credits (3:30)
Although Steve himself doesn’t think so, many of our readers will remember Steve “Green” Hillage as a progressive rock artist from the seventies. Many more will remember him as one of the more illustrious members of Gong, a band that is still performing live in different incarnations. It was November 2006 when the Gong Family Unconvention was organized in Amsterdam in “De Melkweg”. There, the Steve Hillage Band performed for the first time in almost three decades - their previous live performance had been on December 18th 1979. The band on stage for this performance is Steve Hillage (guitar & vocals), Miquette Giraudy (synths, vocals), Mike Howlett (bass), Chris Taylor (drums) and Basil Brooks (additional synths).
The band opens with an up tempo track called Hello Dawn, a mixture of pop, rock and just a tiny bit of psychedelic influences. Immediately is clear that Steve brought a fantastic rhythm section to this gig, especially Howlett proves to be a terrific bass player and he really pushes the music to a higher level. Steve also shows that after some practicing, he hasn’t lost his touch and plays his solos as he did thirty years ago.
The second track, the only track not composed by Hillage/Miraudy, is an arrangement on a George Harrison song, as anyone knows, the most ‘psychedelic’ member of the Beatles. Sometimes Steve seems to have just a little difficulty to keep his voice steady but his soloing makes up for this tiny bit of critique.
An echoing guitar (with wah-wah pedal) is the overture to the three parts of Aftaglid with lots of synth effects by Brooks and 'psychedelica' all the way. At first just Howlett joins Steve and it takes a while before the music really involves the full band, but when it does, it blows you away: space rock like Hawkwind in brilliant form. Again great instrumental performances by Hillage, Howlett and Taylor. The projections on the screen behind the band are mostly abstract images with the cameras filming Steve and the band from different angles. Sometimes there are two or even three different shots in the one screen at the same time. By changing colours or transforming the filmed musicians into their ‘photographic negatives’, the viewer is able to enjoy much more than watching just the rather static band.
Inspired by his reading about the events about to come in 2012, Steve introduces us to Solar Musick, again a nice combination of space rock, pop and of course psychedelic elements as well. Miraudy lets her synths create all kinds of spacey sounds and in the second instrumental part of the song it’s very catchy space rock again. Steve excels once more on his very unusual tiny rectangular shaped guitar, probably a Steinberger. An extremely enthusiastic response by the crowd is their reward.
The next more rocky tune is referred to by Steve as ‘a fishing trip is in order’: The Salmon Song, with the more spacey interlude being called ‘swimming with the salmon’. The last song These Uncharted Lands is a song inspired by journeys outside of the body. The SHB never performed this song live although Steve calls it one of the best songs Miquette and he ever wrote. Musically the song starts off rather ‘poppy’ like Alphaville but the second part is much more psychedelic with images of a tower on a hill and Steve soloing on a single chord. If I’m not mistaken Steve uses an e-bow as well during this last part, full of improvisations.
In the interviews, Steve refers to this event as one of the best weekends in their lives and explains how the band was invited to play, why they actually decided to do it and reveals his personal history of how he and Miquette became members of Gong. He talks about System 7 and how he had to work hard to be able to play these old tunes again, but when he was finally ‘into it’ it was like ‘riding a bike’.
It seems to me this DVD is the missing piece in the oeuvre of the SHB. Down to the craftsmanship of all musicians and technicians involved this is a valuable addition in the musical library of anyone who’s interested in the SHB, Gong or space rock in general.
Conclusion: Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Division By Zero – Independent Harmony
Tracklist: Independent Harmony (7:31), Wake Me Up (6:24), Glassface (6:42), Not For Play (2:11), Jin & Jang (4:49), Don’t Ask Me (7:28), Intruder (7:18)
No one would have believed that at the turn of the last century an invasion would take place within the following decennium by a massive strain of Polish progressive rock bands. We have now landed in the year 2010 and it has happened, as surely there are few countries with so many new progressive rock bands as Poland. Now much has been said about the new wave of Polish bands, with almost all of them compared to what is supposed to be the number one band from Poland right now, Riverside. Although hearing more and more music hailing from Poland I wondered if it is justifiable giving so much credit to one band. Musically I would say no, however what Riverside has managed to achieve with their music however is a growing interest in Polish rock bands. That in itself has really made way for all other bands.
Stating all this I would like to introduce Division By Zero, hailing from Poland they are introduced as a melodic trash/death metal progressive band - whatever that may be. Division by Zero are a progressive rock outfit no doubt. The first idea’s for the formation of Division By Zero took ground at the turn of the century. Unable to find a singer for their band the four guys, Mariusz, Patryk, Leszek and Michal, played instrumentally arranged progressive rock. They even produced an EP which the four called Code Of Soul, containing two instrumental tracks. Meanwhile they kept looking for a singer and finally they found Slawek in the year 2005. Ever since finding him the development of the band has moved a lot faster, although shortly after Patryk Kumor left the band and was replaced by Robert Gajgier.
With this line up they started working on a more serious CD. A demo Out Of Body Experience was released in 2005 and soon after the band signed with Insanity Records making their first album Tyranny Of Therapy, released in 2007. The current line-up is the same as with their debut album. Slawek Wierny – vocals, Mariusz Pretkiewicz – drums, Maciej Foryta – bass, Leszek Trela – guitars and Robert Gajgier – keys.
Division By Zero developed as a band in the same era as their fellow countrymen Riverside and the sound of the two bands could best be described as Polish progressive rock. A comparison will not go farther than such. Division By Zero play heavy progressive music, which at times is almost classical pieces, but I will not call it symphonic in the true sense, for this there is too much shredding guitar present. As well as this there is a backdrop better suiting Death Metal. A comparison that might hold, but doesn’t cover the works, is Type ‘O’ Negative. Although the music by that band is much darker than by Division By Zero.
Seven tracks with a total combined length of just over 42 minutes are, in this modern day not very lengthy, but what do you get with these tracks. The album begins with the title track Independent Harmony, opening with piano the track turns into a heavy metal, progressive rock piece within seconds and further developing into a melodic song with clear vocals and some death metal growling for the dark edges in the song. As a whole Independent Harmony is a solid symphonic track, very well crafted and played and with a well timed piano piece to complete the song - making it classical sounding.
Second track called Wake Me Up, continues what has been started in the first place - a symphonic, may be Gothic style, melodic heavy prog song. The song starts with a nice tune on keyboards. The polish progressive sound is imminently present, especially the vocals, (the growls appear in this song as well), this is why all new bands from Poland are compared to Riverside. At the end again piano and soft voice leads the song to an end - beautifully done.
Glass Face starts with heavy drumming, a fast rhythm, the ever present classical sounding piano and the keyboards step in with a melody line to lead the song into another heavy track. Polish prog all over, more symphonic than I ever heard with Riverside, again, therefore absolutely different. The bridge in the song with spoken lyrics added, this is very nice indeed.
I tried finding out why so many Polish progressive bands have a similar sound to them but so far I haven’t found out why. Still somewhere it lies underneath all this beautiful music, like one opens up a can of great musicians
Well back to the music. Not For Play, with a 2:11 running time is by far the shortest bit right in the middle of the album. A beautifully played piece made up almost entirely of piano, keyboards, vocals and a tiny bit of guitar. A resting point between all the heavy progressive metal tracks. Not For Play works its way straight into the fifth track, Jin & Jang, a high melodic instrumental track where everyone gets to play his fair share and gets time to do some solo work.
Don’t Ask Me again is a well written song, very melodic and the growling is present again. I have been playing this album more than any other album so far this year and whilst writing this review I have asked myself, why so. I’ve come up with only one reason, I discovered Division By Zero last year by accident when I stumbled across a copy of their previous album Tyranny Of Therapy. After hearing that album I was completely wiped of my feet, so for certain I was going to buy their next effort.
Coming to the last track on the album, I come to the conclusion that Division By Zero has intruded my world, making the step to the song Intruder. This song is my favourite song of the album as it simply contains everything I like to hear in a heavy prog song. A driving rhythm section, melodic keyboards, clear vocals with fitting lyrics and a great melody, shall I continue? It must be clear, I absolutely love this song, which also has a nice jazzy break.
Division By Zero have made a great album, an absolute must for melodic, symphonic, heavy progressive rock fanatics. If there is something lacking it is that the album could have been longer, but then again this might have compromised the overall quality. In my humble opinion it is of a very high standard right now. Listen for yourself...
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Gösta Berlings Saga – Detta Har Hänt
Tracklist: Kontrast (3:57), Sorterargatan 3 (9:48), Svenska Hjärtan (3:01), Fem Trappor (6:32), Nattskift (5:00), Bergslagen (10:49), Innilegur? (2:51), Västerbron 05:30 (11:33)
I just read on their website that Gösta Berlings Saga entered the Roth Händle Studios; the studio of former Änglagård drummer Mattias Olsson to start recording their third full length album. It should be ready for release in spring 2011, so maybe a bit late, but here is the review of their second release; 2009's Dette Har Hänt.
Gosta Berlings Säga, I believe, was named after a film of the same name from 1924. The film was based on a book written by Selma Lagerlöf - (she also wrote Nils Holgerssons in 1906-07 and received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1909. Since 1991 her picture is on the 20 Swedish Crown bank note.) in 1891. The film featured Greta Garbo. The band were formed in 2004 as Pelikaan but changed their name to Gosta Berlings Säga. They released their debut album; Tid är Ljud in 2006. That album received a DPRP Recommended review and now, three years later, the band releases their second album.
For this album the band consists of Gabriel Hermansson (bass), Einar Baldursson (guitar; replacing Matthias Danielsson), David Lundberg (keyboards) and Alexander Skepp (drums and percussion). Dette Har Hänt is an entirely instrumental affair. But who needs vocals when you write killer tunes. And that is what this album is full of. The album sounds vibrant, self assured, urgent and adventurous. It also sounds as if the band recorded the album live. There is a distinct 70s feeling present but the band combines this with an attitude that is firmly rooted in the here and now, not unlike other new bands like Astra, Zombi and Diagonal.
The album opener waists no time in letting the listener know what will be on offer for the next 45 minutes. David Lundberg's Fender Rhodes and Einar Baldursson's guitar backed by the tight rhythm section open the album with some great melodies but also some great and aggressive soloing on the aptly titled Kontrast. Music from bands like King Crimson, Landberk and Anekdoten come to mind. The song has a dark atmosphere and an atmosphere that will return on most tracks on the album.
Sorterargatan 3 however starts very stately with piano and acoustic guitar but around the three and a half minute mark the track starts to build and build with addition of a great guitar riff and mellotron strings. That's what these guys do very well. Slowly building up and slowly taking the song down again. Especially on the three longer tracks. The shorter tracks are more focussed on the melody and less on exploring where the track will take them. They share that spirit with a musician like Frank Zappa. It is Baldursson's guitar (beautiful acoustic guitar on the short Innilegur?) and Lundberg's keyboard work (mostly the Fender Rhodes sometimes with piano, Moog, pump organ or mellotron) that shine on this album (listen to Baldursson's mighty soloing on album closer Västerbron 05:30) - but let's not forget Skepp and Hermansson who form the solid backbone of every track.
It's difficult to pick highlights on this album but when held at gunpoint I would go for the mighty Fem Trappor, a track that combines a lot of energy with a great melody. And Bergslagen a track that keeps changing colour and showcases the musical skills of this quartet best. The second part of this track sounds improvised.
With Detta Hart Hänt Gösta Berlings Saga have released an album full of impressive, instrumental, dark and sometimes psyche related music. And I'm really looking forward to their third album which I hope to review a little sooner after its' release date.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Grand Astoria - II
Tracklist: Enjoy The View (14:48), The Inner Galactic Experience Of Emily Dickinson And Sylvia Plath (7:37), Visit Sri Lanka (2:40), Wikipedia Surfer (8:58), Radio Friendly Fire (12:15)
The Grand Astoria comprises of Kamille Sharapodinov (guitars and vocals), Igor Suvorov (guitars), Farid Azizov (bass) and Nick Kunavin (drums) with this being their second album tentatively called II. The band was formed in 2009 by Sharapodinov who hails from St Petersburg, whose previous band was Neversmile, which afforded him plenty of live gigs and studio recording experience. On their web page they state their influences to be Russian winters, so they appear to have a good sense of humour then.
The Petrograd’s blend free heavy spacious experimental psychedelic stoner rock music, featuring some really infectious grooves, that will have you grooving and reaching for the air guitar, having grabbed my attention from the off. The band have developed their sound from their self titled first album, as we speak they are currently recording a third album called Omnipresence, which will have a concept, featuring nine tracks, (7 songs and 2 instrumentals), very busy boys indeed, as apparently only the vocals need to be added.
Enjoy The View is the longest track running just short of fifteen minutes, which is a melodic instrumental track, which builds, featuring some excellent lead and rhythm guitar work from Sharapodinov and Suvorov, whose styles of playing complement each other really well. As the track progresses, a harder edged guitar sound is created adding real depth to the piece. Azizov and Kunavin provide the back line keeping everything grounded and tight sounding. Throughout the track there is some rather excellent fuzz pedal work carried out, giving the track a real psychedelic feel. There is a very interesting use of Russian spoken word layered in into the track which drags the listener into the whole piece even more.
The Inner Galactic Experience Of Emily Dickinson And Sylvia Plath is the title of the next track, which cranks the speed up a notch or two, featuring some very dark and depressive lyrical content. I would really like to know the real meaning behind the song title, (Dickinson, an introvert and recluse, was famous for her, re occurring theme of immortality and death, lack of punctuation, slant rhyme amongst other items, where most of her work was created via correspondence, with only a minimal amount of her work having been published, juxtaposed to Plath, a depressive, who’s work is based on confessional poetry, having large quantities of her work published, their commonality being that they were both American and depressives to some degree. The lyrics would certainly seem to confirm this idea. Anyway I digress). The track takes a more basic classic rock approach with great effectual use of twin lead guitar, displaying real attitude, having a real Southern rock vibe to it in places. The whole piece just oozes class, being a real grower and is stunning too.
Visit Sri Lanka has a more experimental feel to it being more minimalistic in approach than the last two pieces, also being the shortest and most laid back track on the album, offering some respite. In saying this, again we really have some rather excellent guitar work displayed.
Wikipedia Surfer is the showcase guitar piece, stylish; driving without being in your face, gaining heaviness as it builds, really expressing the ability of the band, with some real progressive twists in the latter part of the track. This track also displays Kunavin’s drum ability; he is all over this track like a rash.
Radio Friendly Fire is a fitting album closer opening with radio calls heading out over the ether, layered through the track. The boys have really got this music down to a fine art placing beautiful and powerful guitar licks along side time perfect beats and grooves. The track journeys with a real sense of direction, relaxed and paced, show casing the knack of being able write a good melody and rhythm.
This is an album that is full of infectious grooves, sounding commercially appealing without stepping over to the other side and selling their souls. The band experiment and jam out their fascinating styles, for me hitting the nail on the head, which makes it an exciting proposition as to where they go from here with their new album. The band is a tight unit, having a good sense of what they want to achieve, arriving in style, dressed for the party. This is a highly recommended album.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Lalle Larsson - Weaveworld
Tracklist: Marionette (7:32), Dance Of The Dead (7:45), Newborn Awakening (8:58), Adagio (7:13), Weaveworld (14:46)
I had the chance to witness Lalle Larsson displaying all his keyboard flamboyance at the Finisterrae Festival in La Coruña (Galicia, North-West Spain), both with Agents Of Mercy (which I didn’t like) and Karmakanic (which I enjoyed very much) as well as a solo artist during his showcase spot. From what I saw and listened, it’s obvious that this Reingold Records (and Flower Kings family for that matter) kind of protégé has enough jaw dropping chops and a more than commanding stage presence. Yes, you guessed: he’s a virtuoso, and could perfectly be the new Keith Emerson if he didn’t overplay so relentlessly; we could discuss now if Emo himself used to overplay or not (did he?), but even if both share a certain love for the neoclassical, ELP’s legendary showman had a bit more of warmth and passion on his sound and performances.
That’s not to say Weaveworld (has it anything to do with the Clive Barker novel bearing the same title?) is a bad album. If what you crave for is instrumental music expertly produced and performed, just look no further. Imagine what a Derek Sherinian album would sound like had it been recorded by European musicians, with all the gratuitous shredding removed from the mix and a generous portion of classic references thrown in for good measure, and you’d get quite close to what this album sounds like. First cut Marionette offers a clear example of what I’ve mentioned above, as it starts with a beautiful classical piano that perfectly sets the dark mood of the piece, to then evolve into a rockier, heavier piece of instrumental progmetal; a powerful way to begin, but at nearly eight minutes and some repetition, it slightly overstays its welcome.
Dance Of The Dead follows closely the path set by the first track, but here’s a bit more of variation to be found. Again, and due to its macabre moniker, the piece sounds dark and gloomy, but this time in a heavier and doomier way. Guitars (handled by both Richard Hallebeek and Stefan Rosqvist) are more prominent, and there’s a nice creepy atmospheric jazz interlude in the middle of the song.
Newborn Awakening is nine minutes of excellence. This time, the mood is much lighter and mellower. We’re in Flower Kings/Karmakanic territory, and the Latin and fusion references are quite evident. Check Jonas Reingold’s tasteful fretless bass playing. Probably my favourite piece on the whole album.
Time for a sort of a “break” with Larsson’s own approach to Albinoni’s Adagio In G Minor, just a simple and beautiful arrangement of this classic, enhanced thanks to some nice guitar and bass flourishes. A nice breather.
The 14 minute title track Weaveworld wraps things up in a more traditional symphonic rock fashion; certainly, you can’t go wrong with a 3 part epic. Larsson and the whole band display their complete arsenal of prog tactics, from the opening piano notes, to the wonderfully ominous organ interlude, and then the heavier closing section, which is in fact a powerful crescendo and a perfect way to end. Great drumming (by Mikael “Walle” Wahlgren) and simple but effective arrangements for a good closing track.
Maybe not a “memorable” album, but quite an interesting one, and definitely a good calling card for Lalle Larsson, a man who can become quite a big figure in the genre if he manages to restrain his playing just a reasonable bit. Check it out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Resonance Association – Heliopause Prelude [EP]
Tracklist: Above, Beyond & Forever (5:28), Hope Falls (7:04), Enabler (3:44), Heliopause Prelude (6:17)
There’s no need to fear, underground prog is here. UK post-proggists The Resonance Association continue to stick it to the mainstream with Heliopause Prelude, an EP they put together in advance of their forthcoming full-length release Heliopause. On Heliopause Prelude, two previously unreleased tracks from the Clarity In Darkness sessions are compiled alongside two tracks from the soon-to-be-released Heliopause.
The lineup of the band remains the same, Daniel Vincent and Dominic Hemy. They are not credited with specific instruments to the specific tracks, but based on what I know about the duo they each handle guitar, electronics and drums, with Hemy also providing theremin and, ostensibly, bass.
As there are just four tracks on the EP, I will touch upon them all. The opening track is entitled Above, Beyond & Forever and starts with some driving bass, blistering guitar, a casual drum element, wailing lead guitar from Hemy and searing tape loops. Wiggly sonics trails out at the end. This song can also be found on the release No Secrets Only Codes, available from Burning Shed. I didn’t like this song the first time I heard it, but it’s grown on me after a few listens.
Hope Falls, from the Clarity In Darkness sessions, is a mediocre dark ambient piece peppered by drum programming which gives it an industrial pop sound not unlike that of Mrs Vee label mate Raelism. (of whom DPRP did not review their debut EP, as it did not contain any experimental or creative elements that would be of interest to our readers). It is just as well that Hope Falls was left off Clarity In Darkness.
The third track on Heliopause Prelude is Enabler, another track from the Clarity In Darkness sessions, and is to my ears the strongest track on the EP. Eerie mellotron style elements, some old school analog sounding hand claps, trip hop beats, and a sweetly melancholy conclusion fortify this track in its brief 3:44 running time. Quality, not quantity.
The title track closes the EP and features a slow-mid tempo grooves, trademark drone guitar from the versatile Vincent, some organ style elements, and abit of howling theremin from the talented Hemy. When listening to this track, I was delighted to hear the drum elements shift from a primitive almost low-budget sound to some digital style thumps that could have come from the Cantina band in Star Wars.
The music on the EP is generally composed and performed acceptably, and the EP is produced well. Once again the cover art that came with the promo copy I received was designed by Carl Glover. Check him out at here.
For the general public, the retail version of the EP is available for download from most of the music portals such as Itunes and Last.fm.
If you are a fan of experimental post-prog you may want to check this EP out. If you’re more into conventional vocal pop, best to stay away.
As far as room for improvement goes, it is debatable as to whether a band should release EPs such as these that preview a forthcoming full-length. For serial devotees such as myself the inclusion of forthcoming tracks acts as a spoiler of sorts, although I do suppose it serves as a promotional purpose with specific regard to the uninitiated listener. Heliopause Prelude is, to quote the rubric from our writers’ guidelines, “good: an enjoyable album – not all brilliant but with good moments”. Thus my rating of...
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Tom More – Self Evident Truths
Tracklist: Misconnected (4:54), Heaven Knows (6:03), Self-Evident Truths (5:14), Whose Taboos (5:18), Coming of Age (6:36), A Perfect World (5:15), Indignities We Bear (4:54), Discord (6:10)
Tom More is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a love of progressive rock whose ambition is to make a career in the industry both with his own music as well as also crafting custom work for commercial purposes and other artist’s projects. Self Evident Truths is his debut album and augurs well for his chances of succeeding with his ambitions.
The music on Self Evident Truths just about makes it into the “progressive rock” sphere; the songs are comparatively compositionally fairly straightforward and the album plays very much like what you’d expect an acoustic singer-songwriter’s to, with the exception that the arrangements are electric and symphonic synthesizers add some progressive interest. It put me in mind of Creedy’s album, which I reviewed last year.
Self Evident Truths is also reminiscent of music by people like Chris Adams who, over the last few years, has released “singer-songwriter” albums under his own name as well as under those of his previous band, String Driven Thing and String Driven. Gavin Sutherland, the songwriter whose canon includes the huge UK hit single Sailing in 1972, is another whose recent album The Deal falls into a similar category. Albums from these artists have included less ornamental synthesizer work than Self Evident Truths but the heritage, compositional style and lyrical content is of a similar category.
So, yes, there’s a rich tradition for this sort of music and exactly what musical genre you pin it onto depends very much on you. Personally, I think it’s worthy of review on this site.
More sings and plays all of the instruments apart from the guitars: bass, synthesizers, drums and electronic percussion. He uses a variety of guitarists for the album – I’m not going to list them all here but there is a good section on his website about them if you’re interested. What I’d say is that he’s chosen well because the guitars provide some of the highlights, such as the pretty solo on Misconnected and the coda on Discord, which thus ends the album in a delightful way.
More’s singing timbre is pleasant to these ears and his composition has been tailored to suit his vocal range so that the singing is a positive feature (I guess you’d expect that from a singer-songwriter!).
The lyrics are always meaningful, dealing with themes that, as More says “revolve around the ‘inalienable rights’ of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...in the tumult of modern life”. The lyrics are always interesting; they are another of the album’s positive features.
The songs themselves are always pleasant too; individual preferences will tend to dictate whether you refer the more melodic such as Misconnected, Heaven Knows or Discord, or one of the More rhythmic prominent ones such as Self-Evident Truths or Whose Taboos.
Overall, a pleasant debut and a good showcase for More’s capabilities.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Baraka – Inner Resonance
Tracklist: Palm Of The Maldives (5:27), Reflected Waves (5:23), Plunge From The Darkness (2:32), Atlantic (6:00), Seam Of The Globe (7:13), Yggdrasil (3:40), The Chair Made Of Guns (8:55), Gate To Principle (6:25), The Definition (4:56)
The band Baraka has carved out a tidy niche in the instrumental-fusion-prog market with a down to earth, subdued, and dramatic sound profile on their latest album, Inner Resonance. They are a three-piece outfit from Japan consisting of Shin Ichikawa on bass, Max Hiraishi on drums, and Issei Takami on guitar and keys.
At first glance I was given the impression of a Toto sound, but that was short lived and soon took on a uniqueness that was quite unexpected. The music does not rush and is deliberate in note enunciation. This is pulled off without sounding unduly staccato or contrived; it flows like a thick river of notes and expertly uses the synth for much of the transitions.
For a fusion-based band, this disc is heavy on atmosphere and makes use of sound effects to produce a wide, spacious sound. The term “fusion” may even be a partial misnomer for this album, as it is primarily slow paced and infused with melancholy mood and spacey texture - in fact, the last third of the disc has ambient flavours all over it.
The final song takes it back into the fusion-prog territory and leaves us closer to something like a silky version of the Pete Laramie fusion-rock sound. This huge swing in sound is done eloquently but makes for difficult choice for the listener. Do I want to hear some rock laced fusion or some milky ambient synth-guitar work?
The talent is here and some of the usual prog elements such as polyrythms exist, but when the chance to open up into some good instrument interplay where the guitar trades off to the bass, there is no creative counterpoint to speak of – the bass tends to follow the same notes the guitar just played.
Certainly there is a place for this album in many a collection; it’s a good addition to mine. I just don’t see it coming out very often.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Elysium Theory – Modern Alchemy
Tracklist: Lorimer's Pulse (1:39), Modern Alchemy (5:31), Spiritcom (7:36), All Seeing Eye (4:50), Beyond Yourself (6:54), The Source (8:39), Chaos (5:46), Russian Winter (6:50), River In The Sky (5:31), Blacklight Reflection (5:01), Intrigued by Faith (8:24)
Hailing from New York, Elysium Theory professes to take bands such as Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd and Riverside as its key influences.
This debut offering has been four years in the making. Initially an instrumental band consisting of Tim Reid (guitars), Benny Reyes (keyboards), Jeff Fister (bass) and Ted Feeney (drums & percussion), the line-up was finalised with the arrival of vocalist Dan Peterson in 2009.
Having spent some time with Modern Alchemy, I feel the band requires quite a bit more time to develop their craft before there is any hope of them striking gold.
Being kind, the ten songs presented here have all the hallmarks of what 15-20 years ago would have been called an ‘early self-released demo’. The quality of the production here doesn’t stand up well to comparison with other independently-released albums I’ve bought recently. Listen to the likes of Sacrum, Votum, Day Six or Acute Mind and you’ll see the expected standard. The drum sound in particular is abysmal throughout and the vocal harmonies verge on the painful at times.
Song-wise the band sits closest to the heavy-prog rock category, albeit without too much in the way of challengingly varied arrangements. There is some heavy riffing and some lighter moods, but most time is spent in a comfortable mid-range. Sylvan and Tomorrow’s Eve were two names I noted for comparison in terms of heaviness. There’s elements of classic melodic rock and modern crossover-prog to the band’s sound as well.
I’m not sure how many of the songs were written before the arrival of Dan Peterson. I sense that maybe he has had to fit his voice to the songs, as opposed to the songs having to fit his voice. He has a good voice but it is best at a soulful mid-range. It sounds strained when he tries to up the power. I feel the band still needs to work on its compositions. More variety in pace, dynamic and texture and much stronger melodic hooks. Feel free to be adventurous.
My favourite song is the title track, the opening part of Chaos works well, as does the instrumental section halfway through Intrigued By Faith. As ever samples of all the songs are available from the CD Baby link for you to make up your own opinions.
2010 has so far produced a wealth of excellent releases from new(ish) bands in the peavy-prog or crossover-prog categories. The competition is tough. Although being sold as a full album, I can recommend Modern Alchemy as nothing more than an interesting demo.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10