Irridiance - Dissidence
Children's Game (5:54), The Soldier and the Child (3:46), Until the Last One (6:09), Theorists of the Void (4:26), Another Day to Rebuild (4:01), All My Days (4:19), Forget-me-nots (4:47), Her Cold Decision (4:57), Wandering in Autumn (4:55), Vain Bravery (5:14)
It is clear from the outset that they are very much on the symphonic and operatic side of progressive metal. With soaring vocals from Audrey, and harmonies from the rest of the band, the album opener, Children's Game, sounds like a metal song that would be used by the protagonist while in trouble in a stage show. The following tracks all showcase the same level of skill, with riffs coming thick and fast and the drums keeping everyone at pace, while the vocals ride over the top, adding emotion.
Forget Me Nots introduces an almost playfull jazz feel, with trumpets and swing-style vocals leading you into a false sense of security before the twin bass drums of Loïs kick-in (no pun intended) to bring the metal back to the fold.
The music is altogether operatic, progressive and metal, combining chugging guitars with tense drumming and riffing, while soaring vocals crown the top of it. The violin is a fantastic addition, adding an extra layer of melody to the overall sound. This is a band that takes a known and extensive genre, and stamps their own touch onto it. Musically the band treads down the progressive metal route, rather than symphonic, but vocally they follow both styles. Operatic at times, but when the 'standard' singing is in, it is not over the top or in your face, it blends seamlessly with the music. Not too high-pitched nor too low, Audrey delivers a stellar performance.
The music is often broken up with short but relaxing piano interludes. While at odds with the hard hitting form of the music, these pieces invoke a nice bit of calm and respite, before the songs kick back in.
The operatic harmonies are a bit much for me, however the standard vocals are very well done, being both in harmony with the music and conveying all the emotions accurately.
As I mentioned earlier, they do take a lot from the symphonic genre, so fans of Epica, Nightwish and other similar artists would surely enjoy them, although for my tastes, they are superior to their contemporaries.
Calum Gibson: 7 out of 10
Autumnal Blossom - Spellbound
Because I Could Not Stop for Death (5:40), Memories of a Child (4:48), Eternally Not Yours (5:03), Beguiling Masks (3:53), Grey Masses (3:39), My Blood (3:40), Ravenous (6:40), Secrets (4:01), In These Rooms (5:27), Paradise (8:31)
This is the second release by Autumnal Blossom, following on from 2013's Against the Fear of Death, which was favourably reviewed in these pages. This follow-up is a mix of atmospheric goth, prog and prog-folk, used to good effect on a set of songs that tackle some dark topics. There are songs about death, childhood, self-harm (My Blood) and eating disorders (Ravenous). Spellbound is divided into three parts and follows a character's encounter with death, then the memories of a life that encounters problems, before ending in paradise.
This is a musically interesting journey. The opening track is a setting of a poem by Emily Dickinson that creates an unsettling horror film atmosphere. Pia Darmstaedter's breathy vocal works well. The album then moves into its second and longest section. Memories Of A Child brings in some light, with lovely piano, pizzicato strings, organ and flute, as its folky melody captures a freewheeling childhood. There is some variation in quality in the songs that follow, but the good ones include Eternally Not Yours, with its keening violin, the insistent piano melody of My Blood, and the English horn on Ravenous. The closer Paradise is also engaging, picking up the atmospherics of the opening track and rounding off the album well.
So, from the musical side Spellbound is a good album. Pia Darmstaedter is a terrific musician and writer. The problem is her voice can be a bit off-putting at times. Her voice reminds me of a deeper Claudia Brücken from German synth-pop band Propaganda, but without the power or finesse. On some songs Pia's voice works well, but on others such as Beguiling Masks, or the power ballad of Grey Masses, the music tends to expose her limitations. Which is a shame, because I like the songs and their arrangements as they display quite some ambition.
However, if you find her voice as appealing as the music, then you will find yourself with a good album of goth-inflected prog.
Martin Burns: 6.5 out of 10
Herd of Instinct - Manifestation
Manifestation Part Two (5:54), Gridlock (3:37), Baba Yaga (4:35), Manifestation Part One (5:16), Saddha (7:00), Nocturne (1:48), Dybbuk (6:08), Time and Again (3:26), Shatterpoint (6:34), Waterfalls and Black Rainbows (3:46)
If you like fusion that is regularly shaped and formed to delight, then Herd of Instinct's third release entitled Manifestation, is sure to find a way into your basket. Mouth-washed and rinsed to pearled perfection, it twinkles brightly amongst a plethora of hazily-starred albums in the raven black density of a rock strewn shoreline.
Manifestation is a very good album and will no doubt be welcomed by those who enjoy instrumental music draped in fusion and heavily influenced by the controlled intensity of King Crimson. On rare occasions, Herd of Instinct tread a stylistically similar path to fellow US band Consider the Source and this was particularly noticeable in the Middle Eastern-flavoured Manifestation Part Two.
The most explicit King Crimson reference can be found after two minutes in Dyybuk. Dewy-eyed and with proud nostalgia it channels Larks Tongues in Aspic in its mid section. At other times, within the bands tightly wrapped compositions such as Manifestation Part One and in Time and Again the Crimson influence can be found snarling underneath the bed covers waiting to be uncloaked. In Saddha the inspiration given to the band by King Crimson is confidently proclaimed, as a procession of aural images from mid-70s Crimson are conjured up by a series of rhythmic riffs, and distorted guitar lines.
Manifestation is awash with the fine keyboard work of Gayle Elliot and it is the superb contributions of guitarist Mark Cook and Elliot that gives the album much of its overall quality. The use of a Chapman stick in the majority of the album also gives the compositions an easily identifiable sound and provides a deeply satisfying bottom end.
I found the use of a spoken word introduction from Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis in Saddha an unwelcome distraction from the excellence of the music. Whilst it admittedly added atmosphere, the novelty quickly wore off and after repeated plays it soon became tiresome.
During the flute parts in Manifestation Part One, I longed for some of Harold McNair's overblown innovation, or Jeremy Steig's aggressive improvisation and vibrant flute percussive effects. Whilst there is no doubt, that guest flautist Bob Fischer is a fine player; on this occasion, what was offered although impressive, was safe, saccharine sweet and was akin to something that Herbie Mann might have penned. However, the Fripp-toned and smoothly fluid Warr guitar solo in the final passage of the tune, more than compensated for any disappointment I might have felt.
I enjoyed much of the album and whole-heartedly recommend it, but on a number of occasions it failed to totally enchant me. Manifestation wears an aloof crown of finely honed, jewelled perfection that is easy to admire and appreciate, but was sometimes difficult to connect with on an emotive level.
In my view, Manifestation might have benefited from the inclusion of a tad more variation, warmth and human passion. The technically adept nature of many of the compositions, ensured that much of the album appeared to be clinically formed and performed. Surprisingly, there are many fusion bands such as, Consider the Source and Glazz who manage to wear their fallibility and humanity on their sleeve, whilst plying their complex compositions.
In the final analysis, just like the choice presented in the opening paragraph, it is a matter of preference. Is a uniformly formed, near perfect product always going to be more satisfying?
The occasional notch and wart, or rough stubble edge would probably have given Manifestation an extra unpredictability and perhaps more importantly a charming, flawed dimension.
I think it is time for a carrot!
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10
Preacher - Aftermath
Aftermath (6:12), Welcome to the Fray (4:39), War (4:11), Hold On (5:16), Sleep (5:37), Vinyl (4:51), Vision (6:39), War Reprise (5:51), Always (6:16)
Upon initial listening, clear elements of Pink Floyd and I would guess Dire Straits shine through, particularly within the vocals and guitar work. Musically the band sounds like a modern 70s prog band, with keyboards leading the way in terms of melody and lead riffs, while a tight rhythm section of Gordon Munro (bass) and Iain Duncan (drums) keep the pace of the songs going. All the while Greg Murphy is leading the charge with some wonderful solos, both fast and technical, and slow and emotional. Martin Murphy provides the rhythm guitars and the vocals, akin to a Scottish Mark Knopfler.
The songs are never too long, but always interesting. Vocally, Martin has an impressive range, sounding melodic, emotional, powerful and, for want of a better word, 'rocking', all in the one track. The songwriting abilities of the band impressed me, with songs both tight and hard hitting. Others are the pinnacle of prog rock ballads, complete with intricately-interweaving guitar solos and keyboard melodies. They are a band that could easily fit in at the likes of Ramblin' Man Festival or even Be Prog, My Friend. I would fully expect to see them rubbing shoulders with the greats at any of the various prog festivals around the globe.
In terms of any criticism, the only issue I can find with the band is perhaps the fact that at times they sound a bit too much like Pink Floyd, rather than having their own sound. However, this does not alter the fact that the band are extremely talented songwriters and would fully deserve to reach the lofty heights of stardom, particularly if tracks like Welcome To The Fray and Hold On are anything to go by.
If you're a fan of the 'new' Opeth (the Heritage album onwards), Pink Floyd and Dire Straits then you will likely enjoy this band very much.
Calum Gibson: 8 out of 10
Yugen - Death By Water
Cinically Correct (7:48), Undermurmur (1:31), Death by Water (5:06), Ten Years After (1:12), As It Was (4:58), Studio 9 (2:36), As a Matter of Breath (9:27), Drum'n'stick (2:12), Der Schnee (6:05), A House (1:25)
Yugen is one of the creative outlets for Francesco Zago. He is the principal composer of all ten pieces on this album, which contains superb contributions from a wide range of players and instruments. The carefully selected and empathetic use of guitar, keys, percussion, brass and woodwind, brings the arrangements and compositions to life, in a way that often appears to be spontaneous and where improvisation is encouraged.
Three of the pieces contain lyrics. The vocal pieces are idiosyncratic, but nonetheless give the album a necessary human touch, something that is in sharp contrast to the more technically and cerebrally demanding pieces which dominate much of the album.
I never thought that I would hear something as remotely unsettling as Gazelle Twin's Unflesh, but Yugen's vocal piece Der Schnee manages to wrench that disturbing accolade from Gazelle's tightly-held grasp. Reassuringly, the alluring As it Was, and the charming A House which concludes the album, both possess a structure that might be said to be loosely associated with more recognisable songwriting conventions.
The opening piece, Clinically Correct sets out a clear signal of intent, and boldly proclaims the extent of Zago's artistic vision. It is probably the least accessible tune on offer, but its ever-changing twists and turns are sure to appeal to those who enjoy the challenge of unravelling inventive progressive music.
Clinically Correct is followed by a relatively straightforward interlude tune, Undemurmur. The stop-start nature of this composition and the atmospheric contribution of vibes and glockenspiel player Jacopo Costa, has the influence of Frank Zappa written all over it.
The most impressive piece is undoubtedly As a matter of breath. Once again, its shifts of emphasis, instrumentation, sleek complexity and overall structure drew comparisons with some of Frank Zappa's more avant compositions. The repeated phrase that is spat out and explored by the brass and woodwind players, creates an infectious groove. However, this track is not all about capturing strident, eccentric phrasing and measured cacophony. The slow tempo interlude, that snails the piece to its close, is genuinely impressive and creates a convincingly-reflective atmosphere.
The title track of the album is an exquisitely-evolving piece, which takes some of the sounds and structures associated with post rock. This creates something that is gently frail, but strongly alluring. The flowing combination of instruments produces an enchanting, organic quality, where the sum of the ensemble's parts is more important than any individual's contribution. It is a hauntingly melodic and refreshingly beautiful piece. As a contrast, aggression and spitting dissonance reigns strongly in the distorted guitar lines of the viciously short Ten Years After.
One of the most enjoyable moments of the album occurs when the guitar finally yelps-in-despair at its frustrated isolation, at the conclusion of the rhythmic and imaginatively titled Drum'n'stick. A guitar drone then lingers in triumph, proclaiming success in bringing the piece to such an abrupt and piercing close. It's a moment of dark brilliance.
In the final analysis, it is likely that Death by Water will not appeal to those who predominantly enjoy the music of classic prog bands such as Genesis and Yes. However, for those who wish to expand the style of prog that they listen to, then Yugen's latest offering would definitely fit that bill. Death by Water needs no sell-by date on its packaging asti is unlikely to go stale after a few plays. Indeed, its appeal for the listener grows sequentially, as its nuances become firmly embedded. It is fresh, challenging and refreshingly progressive.
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10