Roland Bühlmann - Aineo
Breakthrough (6:23), Ham'nagen (7:04), Unexpressed (7:04), Aineo (6:00), Meldilorn (8:19), Kenosis (5:55), Contemplation (11:08)
Roland Bühlmann, who incidentally took the cover photo, produced the album and played all the guitars on it, and has something about him, way-beyond any meandering. His nimble playing, the use of sampled drums, the subtle dynamics and above all his layering of melody, refuses to allow this collection of guitar instrumentals to become background music.
The opener Breakthrough is a case in point. Here, Bühlmann uses up-tempo and strident guitar riffs, with a jazz-tinged breakdown that, along with his elegant soloing, produces a tune that is hard to forget.
Other highlights on this CD include the dark, electronic atmosphere of Unexpressed, with its classical guitar interludes and the off-kilter drum patterns you find in dance music. I also love the percussive and chiming soloing on Kenosis, and the modal tones and middle-eastern vibe of Ham'nagen, which also has a terrific bluesy solo on it.
There is a little dip into smooth jazz territory with the title track, whilst the closing Contemplation creates exactly that, with its moody, slow, melodic ambience which also has the subtlest of electric guitar solos. It makes good the promise of the cover art but is neither meandering nor background music.
If you enjoyed Steve Rothery's The Ghosts of Pripyat, then I urge you to investigate this delightful and inventive collection.
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10
Christina - The Light
Full Stop (4.51), Stay (5.09), Legend In The Making (4.55), Disappeared (4.00), When The Darkness Fades (4.39), The Anger In Your Words (3.39), The Same Old Road (3.39), Last Breath (4.56), The Light (5.37).
Hers is a rare, wonderful gift and, especially now, Christina has been through a passage in her life that would test the very strongest and doughtiest among us. First, there came the loss of both her beloved parents and then there was the diagnosis and successful treatment of breast cancer which she overcame with great dignity, humour and grace.
Few present will forget her Don't Give Up duet with Alan Reed at last year's Trinity Festival in Leamington, where grown men were reduced to blubbering wrecks by both the poignancy and beauty of their seemingly impromptu performance while Christina was undergoing treatment.
It is little wonder therefore that The Light, for which Christina has written all the lyrics and co-wrote the music with her colleague and Magenta main man, Rob Reed, is a deeply personal and spiritual collection of songs, which are chiefly about the quest for enlightenment and the knowledge of what will happen in the afterlife.
The musical arrangements featuring a galaxy of top musicians such as Andy Tillison, Theo Travis, John Mitchell, plus her Magenta colleagues Chris Fry, Dan Nelson and Andy Edwards, while her sister Francesca Murphy provides the backing vocals.
Thankfully, with Reed’s peerless arrangement and production skills, the accompanying instrumentation never competes with or swamps that glorious voice. A simple piano or delicately modulated synth against a steady rhythm is all that is needed for much of the album.
This is her second solo album, the first being Broken Lives And Bleeding Hearts, which came out in 2010 about which my learned DPRP friend Geoff Feakes remarked: "Along with pop and rock, elements of blues and jazz surface, all of which are handled with supreme confidence and panache."
Again, there are bluesy and jazzy moments on The Light, but there is also a more soulful feel which really first came out on the brilliant Janis Joplin tribute, Pearl, on Magenta’s The 27 Club last year.
The Light starts with the beautifully thoughtful Full Stop that evokes a feeling lyrically of being out of your depth, its lilting keyboards, steady beat and Francesca’s backing vocals giving it gentle textures.
Stay is a sweet ballad, full of wistfulness, the sounds of a string section and piano, along with some delicious vocal harmonies before Travis enters to deliver a mellifluous soulful saxophone passage.
There’s a mellow soulfulness to Legend in the Making and Christina makes some beautiful shapes within the notes she sings. However, Disappeared is the song which takes the album to another level in raw emotion. It is the trembling in her voice as she senses her loved one slipping away before her eyes which is so moving and ultimately heartbreaking.
Those moments are not fully recaptured until the title track at the end. However, When the Darkness Falls has a delicious melody, which Christina laps up, and an orchestral like backing. The Anger in Your Voice is probably the weakest track of the nine here as it plods along without really going anywhere.
The Same Old Road is another pretty ballad with an air of nostalgia hanging over it and Last Breath has some jazzy overtones as she recalls the final moments of her father’s life, the song literally finishing on a last breath.
If these previous songs all seem to have the finality of life as their central theme, then the utterly gorgeous Celtic-like title track brings new life and optimism back into focus. Christina’s voice again scales almost impossible heights of beauty and purity.
Only the terminally flint-hearted would fail to be moved by The Light, especially with the personal stories which have inspired and coloured the songs. She breaks your heart and uplifts your spirit in equal measures.
While the rest of the world lumbers on, deluded by the artificiality of the so-called "commercial" music, the world of progressive rock can only give thanks that it has a precious jewel called Christina. Catch her with Magenta in London and Bilston later this month. That voice is as extraordinary live as it is here on record.
Alison Henderson: 7.5 out of 10
Freedom to Glide - Sick To Death
A Better Way (5:10), Dear Mum (1:32), No White Stone (3:17), Shell Shocked (9:10)
Their debut album got a well deserved 9 out of 10 on DPRP by Andy Read, and in my opinion this EP and deserves the same high appreciation. There is a subtle shift in musical style, but still nothing to worry fans that have come to know F2G. The influences of Pink Floyd are still very obvious but F2G are no copycats.
The opener A Better Way has a nice build-up with atmospheric guitar work and powerful vocals. On Dear Mum it feels like Roger Waters himself is in charge of the vocals. The third track No White Stone has a more acoustic feel, but towards the end there is a scorching guitar solo by Andy Nixon. It really gives you goosebumps. The final track, Shell Shocked, has orchestrations and acoustic guitar that brings a nice atmosphere and at the end. The madness of the whole subject matter is clearly made with more bombast through heavy guitars.
So watch out for the new full album of these guys and check out this brilliant EP on Bandcamp.
Peter Swanson: 9 out of 10
Hibernal - After The Winter
After the Winter (7:16), Homecoming (4:30), The Time Has Come (7:19), All That's Been Lost (3:11), Worn (5:25), A View of the World (3:48), Displacement Part I (2:34), Displacement Part II (3:44), The Silent Earth (8:03), Pathways (5:06), Beginnings (5:55)
Plenty of artists have tried various shades of the (Prog) Rock Opera, but they've always chosen a style similar to a stage musical, with the storylines and characters being progressed through the song lyrics by a cast of guest singers.
Healy's Hibernal project differs in that there are no songs; the music is merely a backdrop to the storyline played-out by two or three voice actors. It is about as close to cinematic, as an album can get, without becoming a radio play, and having to create a hard drive's worth of sound effects.
This is the third Hibernal album, and again Healy takes one of his own Blade Runner inspired sci-fi storylines, and lays it over his own ambient, guitar-led, post rock, cinematic soundtrack. It's akin to the softer instrumental bits of War of the Worlds, but with no songs.
Healy is foremost an author, who has been building a decent catalogue of self-published, futuristic novels. After the Winter is adapted from his novel, After the Winter (The Silent Earth, Book 1), which he published through Amazon last year.
It tells of a man who transfers his thoughts and memories to a synthetic body in order to survive an apocalypse. When life finally returns to planet Earth, his human soul begins to seek to return to its human form. But things don't quite go to plan.
It is very similar in many respects to Replacements, last year's Hibernal offering, which I reviewed in some detail here. Again the story benefits greatly from the use of two excellent voice actors, Brad Everett and Faleena Hopkins, the latter also appeared in Replacements.
Healy plays most of the instruments, but there is a great groove added by the bass, performed by Rowan Salt. I am struck that the use of additional, experienced guest musicians may help develop this project as it moves forward.
You just have to sit down and immerse yourself in the Hibernal music and story. I did just that and again I really enjoyed the hour's entertainment. I find this storyline more rounded and thus more satisfying than Replacements.
However this time the music appears to hold more of a background role. There is a slower pace to the delivery of the story, which is a plus, as it gives the listener more space to absorb what is happening in the plot. However that space needs to be better filled with the music.
To avoid becoming too predictable, I feel that Healy needs to develop more variety in his playing and composition for when the actors are "off-stage".
As before, once I know the outcome of the storyline, I'm not sure that I'm going to play this more than a couple of times. Thus, Hibernal works more as a podcast for me. In that respect, the download is quite enough, and at just 5 Australian dollars (3.50 euros at today's prices), I think that Healy had a pitched his product just about right. If you enjoyed his previous works, then this is a no-brainer. For those whose interest has been piqued, there is little to loose.
Andy Read: 8 out of 10
Master Massive - The Pendulum
The Pendulum (0:46), Time out of Mind (4:43), Aadham You Will Not Stand Alone (0:27), Four Dreams (8:01), The Monastery (4:49), I Am the Prior (0:34), Eye of Silence (5:54), Dear Aadham (3:05), Sovereign Power (6:41), The Media Palace (4:04), The One Chosen by the Gods (0:13), Hymn to Yellowhawk (7:09), Wishing Well (4:24), Broken Hearts (4:06), Dark Prophecy (4:13), Showdown (5:51), Elegy (5:35)
Without needlessly keeping you in suspense, the answer is 'Yes'. To make that case you need only to listen to Four Dreams, The Monastery, Sovereign Power, Hymn to Yellowhawk, Showdown, and a very Rush-meets-Dream Theater-esque Elegy to finish the opera.
We have often-complex song structures with odd changes and time signatures, virtuosity, heady lyrical concepts, (three) six-minute-plus songs, and songs within songs. Musically and conceptually I can't help but think that this album would be the love child of Operation Mindcrime and Opeth's latest Pale Communion. For many metal listeners this would be a match made in heaven, and I'd be derelict in my metal review if I didn't mention Metallica. Metallica.
While these tracks demonstrate the band firing on all cylinders, this album also certainly has its share of misfires. The Media Palace, though a solid rock song, feels more like an Iron Maiden tribute band's attempt at making original music and not the progressive instincts demonstrated elsewhere. Such is the case with several of their tracks. I often find myself drawing parallels with other bands that succeeded in milking some of these styles.
Lyrically there's a scattering of moments that come across as contrived, awkward, or obtuse. Lines such as: "To experience you when your life lust is drained/Tear drops from your eyes feel like they are mine/Through your weary eyes I'm not so sure anymore," make me cringe. The spoken word sections serve no purpose other than to move the storyline along, and they seem unnecessary in the overall context of the album, as those points are made lyrically in the songs.
Other than the occasional nit, there are moments of songwriting brilliance like The Monastery's "Prisons of the gods of stone/Pressed into the fortress walls." It would be unfair to suggest that the lyrics for much of this don't matter, but I do find myself listening more to the music than singing along or deeply contemplating something they have sung.
That isn't to say all the non-progressive tracks fall short, just because they're not particularly inventive. Wishing Well is a catchy dirge, and Eye of Silence is heavy and grungy in all the right ways.
As far as the music production, this is a well recorded and produced album. The mix is not trying to win any loudness wars and has a consistent, modern-era quality despite also feeling a bit like it's from a bygone era.
The album speaks highly of the artist's skill and dedication in completing such an ambitious project, and it demands repeat listens. Overall I can see myself coming back to this many times in the coming years.
Kevin Heckeler: 8.5 out of 10
Davy O'List - Second Thoughts
Second Thoughts (8;55), To The Stars (4:07), The Emperor (8:21), Touchwood (6:23), Bonnie K (3:35), Halfway To Heaven (14:31)
Davy is ably supported in this venture by Andy Tillison on keyboards, Paul Brown on bass guitar and David Wagstaffe on drums. Davy contributes guitar, organ, synthesiser, trumpet, special effects and vocals. The band works together seamlessly, supporting and enhancing each other's work.
The title track echoes Davy's work with The Nice. It opens with an organ passage that would be at home on The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack. Davy's vocal is functional rather than fancy and not unlike Lee Jackson in style. Andy Tillison's keyboards play-off Davy's guitar, while the rhythm section energetically drives things along. It is an exciting introduction to what is to come. To The Stars opens with bits of guitar, organ and a half-spoken vocal. It soon becomes a sparring match between Tillison's keyboard and Davy's growling and crying guitar.
The Emperor opens with a repeated piano and guitar riff and soon develops into an up-tempo number, with plenty of interplay between guitar and keyboards. Tillison and O'List are both first-rate soloists, who never overplay. Touchwood begins with chorded guitar and a hint of a jazzy feel. Davy's vocal, and the song's repetitive chorus are simple yet effective. Bonnie K is a guitar-driven remake from The Nice's catalogue. It has a bit of an R&B feel to it, which perhaps gives a hint of what the Nice might've become had Davy been in charge.
Halfway To Heaven closes out the album in grand style. It is a 14:31 tour de force, showcasing the band at its proggy best. It opens with Davy singing to modest keyboard backing, only to take flight into a lovely updating of the best elements of late 60s/early 70s psych and prog. The vocal and lyrics are appropriately trippy as the music draws you happily inward. This is an ambitious piece of music but the band is definitely up to the task.
In summation, Davy O'List has come home to his roots and the homecoming is a resounding success. This is an album that's bursting with ambitious ideas, and has the musicianship to make them work. This album is a 9 in my book, with just a bit taken off for the vocals. All in all it's a wonderful updating of those early days of prog.
Rick Collins: 9 out of 10
The Psychedelic Ensemble - The Sunstone
Prologue-The Voyage (2:14), The Sunstone (5:31), The Siren's Spell (4:17), The Storm (4:50), A Hundred Years On (8:04), Sun Mad (6:58), Digging Up the Past (5:45), The Quake (5:42), Gaze (7:42), Endgame (4:07), Back to the Sea (7:18)
The Psychedelic Ensemble's four previous releases have received superlative reviews on DPRP. Like these, the new CD, The Sunstone, is a concept album. The theme centers around a gem with refractive powers, called a sunstone, and thus used by Viking mariners for navigation. In addition to a small orchestra, appearing on the CD as guests are, most notably, vocalist Ann Caren (a veteran of The Psychedelic Ensemble) and, on one song, organist Michael Wilk (of Steppenwolf). Atmospheric cover art depicting the CD's concept was provided by Sam Del Russi.
Given the orchestral flair and female vocals sprinkled throughout the symphonic prog on this album, a clear reference would be to Glass Hammer and more specifically to that band's The Inconsolable Secret, although there are also hints of Emerson Lake and Palmer and Return to Forever. The keyboard-heavy music here is complex and active. Throughout the CD, a high level of musicianship is readily apparent on all instruments (especially keyboards), a remarkable fact given that this is a one-person band.
Although, as is usual for concept albums, the songs tend to run together, a few songs deserve individual mention. The orchestral opener, Prologue-The Voyage, portends good things. It's mostly straight-forward classical music that is gradually laced with electric, progressive aspects. The title tune, The Sunstone, is a catchy one indeed; you might be singing along as soon as round two. The mid-tempo Sun Mad has, in parts, a haunting quality and throughout, some stand-out vocals.
Digging Up the Past moves along notably well and showcases aggressive keyboards that jive nicely with the fine vocals. Nods to 1970s jazz fusion are prominent on The Storm (which highlighting a frenzied violin, evokes the Dixie Dregs) and The Quake. Less successful, but still solid, is The Siren's Spell. It is nicely atmospheric but too dark and dreary.
A few broader shortcomings can be noted. Segments of the music seem over-active. Why so many drum taps and rolls? Sometimes, less is more. Also, the production values are not stellar. Enhanced crispness all around, and greater separation between the guitar and keyboards would have been welcome.
In short, with this ambitious and engaging project, The Psychedelic Ensemble has created yet another winner. Let's hope that this "band" keeps them coming.
Joel Atlas: 8 out of 10
Stoney Spring - Right On Heliotrope!
New Blood (2:02), Jobs (4:12), Revenge Rock (3:46), Class of '74 (2:47), Class of '75 (4:08), Pleasure Quest (2:53), I Got a Map (3:16), Stick Shift (3:18), That's not an Ice Cream Truck, That's God (3:22), Right on Heliotrope! (3:22)
One of the most notable things about this release is the lyrics, which contain a very sarcastic and negative view of the modern world, including a notable attack on Steve Jobs and his influence. Although very biting in their social commentary, the lyrics contain a lot of humour to soften the darkness of their message. Lead singer Rob Waller reminds me, in fact, of Kevin Gilbert in both the tone of his voice and the nature of the satirical lyrics that he sings. There is no doubt that this band is very opinionated, and they don't hold back in communicating their political views of our modern-day culture.
This album is very short and the sound quality isn't perfect. When listening to this album I imagined myself sitting in a small club, listening to a raw band perform a few unpolished tunes for their unsuspecting audience. The music isn't without its flaws, nothing is musically perfect on this record, but that adds to its charms and allows the listener to focus on the lyrics, which I'm sure are the main focal point for this band.
The music is very simple, often just stripped down to drums and an acoustic guitar or piano. While I prefer my music to have a bit more complexity, I respect the artists' vision and their right to share their message in the way they desire. I would only recommend this to those who like a more basic singer/songwriter approach to their music, with a little bit of odd psychedelia thrown in for flavor.
Nathan Waitman: 5 out of 10
Vola - Inmazes
The Same War (5:10), Stray the Skies (4:13), Starburn (6:05), Owls (5:51), Your Mind is a Helpless Dreamer (5:21), Emily (3:01), Gutter Moon (3:55), A Stare Without Eyes (4:58), Feed the Creatures (5:37), Inmazes (7:29)
Inmazes is not only impeccably produced, it is an album of such extreme range, that it is difficult to categorise. Its captivating mix of metal, electronica and progressive rock is expertly supplemented by lush vocals and strong melodies. The album's ten tracks often combine grinding guitars, heavy percussion and soothing vocals. The results can sometimes be jarring, but somehow it all flows together effectively.
Comparisons can be made to bands like Porcupine Tree, North Atlantic Oscillation, Pineapple Thief, and OSI, but Vola has a sound that is also quite uniquely their own.
The band consists of Nocolai Mogensen (bass), Martin Werner (keyboards), Felix Ewert (drums) and Asger Mygind (vocals). The performances on Inmazes are sometimes complex, but the overall results are also quite accessible, to the extent that some listeners may question if Vola is even a prog band. The eclectic nature of the album alone, confirms their progressive credentials, but if you are looking for symphonic epics, they won't be found here.
That said, the band definitely knows how to put a significant amount of twists and turns into a five-minute composition. The quality of the songwriting is truly where Inmazes secures its success. Melody is expertly woven into the chaos, and the songs contain choruses that will stick with you. There are occasional moments where the album seems in danger of falling into redundancy, but then the band will surprise you by moving in a direction that you didn't expect.
Inmazes is an impressive accomplishment by a band that is well worth keeping an eye on. If you like your prog modern, heavy, melodic and accessible, then Vola is for you.
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10