Arcade Messiah - III
Revolver (6:05), Citadel (7:15), Deliverance (10:27), Life Clock (6:49), Black Tree (5:18), Sanctuary (5:50)
The track kicks off with intent and is unrelenting in its onslaught, the first four minutes is unrelenting riffing, even when a second guitar solos over the top. A brief interlude brings come calm before it is back to the aural assault. As we begin, so we shall continue, with Bassett channelling the riffage of early Black Sabbath, the raucous bottom-end threatening permanent damage to bass speakers. Structurally, Citadel does not differ from Revolver, a domineering intro and outro, separated by a brief, lighter motif; and one could easily misinterpret the similarities as being repetitive. However, with repeated and careful listening, subtle differences emerge, giving each of the pieces it's own identity.
An electronic representation of a cello signals a change, as we progress into Deliverance. The tempo is taken down, giving room to breathe. The steady beat of the bass drum expands into a fuller kit, sounding very realistic considering it's electronic origins. Sure, there is no denying the post-rock flourishes, although Bassett is able to take things a bit further and really create his own sound and style, even within the confines of instrumental music created mainly from guitar, bass and drums.
Unlike previous Arcade Messiah releases, III largely shuns a gentler side, with each track being very upfront and in your face. The least bombastic of the numbers is the closer, Sanctuary, which makes more use of a synthesiser, or at least the synthesiser is not drowned out by the guitar!
Bassett is quite the unique talent, taking on and mastering numerous musical styles and creating enjoyable and listenable music in each genre. I for one will keep listening to his various projects, as they have wide appeal and are always of quality. I just hope he doesn't decide to do a country album, as that would severely test my appreciation!
An album for blowing away the Christmas and New Year languidness.
Mark Hughes: 8 out of 10
Gemstone - Bridges
Freedom Fighters (7:22), From the Ashes to the Sky (4:05), Lost in Reverie (3:56), The Eyes of War (3:55), Cradles & Graves (7:30)
Where they differ though, is that Gemstone is s bit more low-key when it comes to soloing. This is not to imply that there is not some impressive musicianship to be found here, because there absolutely is.
Like many EPs, Bridges leaves you wanting more, but what is included is pretty entertaining. The band does an excellent job of creating hard-hitting progressive rock that also contains some melodic, even softer moments. This range of styles, as well as the diverse vocals, play heavily into the success of the EP.
Freedom Fighters establishes expectations, with its keyboard-laden opening that ultimately transitions into an effective prog-metal track. With all of the songs ranging between four and seven minutes, the band packs a lot of punch into each, the most progressive of which are the final two, The Eyes of War and Cradles and Graves. Both of these songs are filled with fine musicianship and truly creative arrangements. The second half of the closing track shifts gears so sharply that it almost feels like a bonus track. It is nonetheless an effective move.
One can assume that a full album will come from Gemstone at some point. Bridgesis a relatively brief, but entertaining introduction. It is also a sign that what is to come from this talented band, is worth looking forward to.
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10
Novatia - Remind You of Yourself
Imperfection (6:44), Closure (5:31), How does it Feel (4:00), Closer to the Next (5:46), Blank Home (6:39)
Novatia - Reflection of Thoughts
Flowing Thoughts (5:47), If It's Love (4:57), Rule (6:02), Underway (6:24), And I'll Wait (3:37)
The most notable thing about Novatia is their bare-naked approach to recording the ten songs on offer here. All the tracks were recorded in one take with all the band members present, giving the music a very "live" feel.
On the debut EP, Remind You Of Yourself the mood is dominated by a gentle ambiance. Both the opening pair and also the closing track, focus on the gentle vocals of Joep Selen, with keys adding a soothing texture and the guitars some enjoyable (but gentle) solo runs. The pleasant How does it Feel has a more bass-led, funky approach and offers an effective change of pace halfway through. The strongest track is the more up-tempo Closer to the Next which benefits from the greater energy in the vocal, drum and guitar departments.
In terms of complexity and innovation, the arrangements take more inspiration from pop than prog, but there is a strong hint of fellow neo prog countrymen Ricocher, and the atmospheres are clearly inspired the the likes of IQ, Floyd and Jadis.
The second EP, Reflection of Thoughts shows greater ambition in terms of its variety and progressive tendencies. Opener Flowing Thoughts is more up-tempo than anything on the debut and offers a nice variety of textures. If It's Love takes things a step further by bringing in some well executed jazz styles and funky grooves. The live feel of the recording works particularly well here. Underway follows a similar approach and also works well. I feel that this mix of jazz, funk and neo prog is the direction Novatia needs to concentrate on, if it wishes to carve out a sound of its own.
Strong melodies are the key to Novatia's appeal. Rule suffers from the lack of those, but the closing gentle song, And I'll Wait has that clear lyrical hook, of the type that Riverside specialises in.
For me these two efforts work best if you treat them as one album and play on random, to mix up the tracks, and thus the styles a bit more. The debut EP is currently on Bandcamp for a "pay what you like" offer, and the second EP for a mere €5. Well worth investigating.
Conclusion Andy Read:
Remind You of Yourself: 7 out of 10
Reflection of Thoughts: 7.5 out of 10
Seeking Raven - Lonely Art
Searching for Those Eyes (5:29), Lonely Art (3:40), Becoming the Hermit (3:34), Untold Stories (4:11), Rising Sun (3:42), Momo the Woodfire (4:11), Sad Clockwork (3:20), Mother of All (4:12), Prelude of Truth (4:16), Chaos Town (4:03), Seven Fountains (6:51), Last Waltz (4:00)
The choice of the band's name does have something to do with Janos' affinity for E.A. Poe and his story The Raven (set to music by The Alan Parson's Project, a band which Janos is quite a fan of). But basically it was inspired by the mythological relevance of the raven and its reputation of intelligence, magic and individualism.
Individualism and the seeking of direction, are elements which I discover in Seeking Raven's music. It combines a wide variety of musical styles, from metal to folk, some gothic, a touch of funk, a bit of jazz and a good deal of prog. The overall atmosphere of the songs is slightly bleak, something which already is reflected in the cover art: a pitch black silhouette of a raven against a grey background. Whilst being varied, the music is on the harder edge throughout most of the album (unlike its successor).
The opening track Seeking for Those Eyes is a good example of the variedness and the different styles influencing Seeking Raven's music. Starting with the sound of pouring rain and a raven's cry, we have melodic piano lines, replaced by heavy guitar riffing, sharp, clear singing, whispering, growling with respect to the vocal harmonies, short breaks of guitar and flute solos. Pain of Salvation is an influence.
The title track which follows, is more AOR (in the Toto and Asia vein) with a catchy and melodic refrain and a frantic guitar solo, whilst Becoming the Hermit shows reminiscences to Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Calm passages (albeit not that frequent in number) alternate with eruptive outbreaks and catchy melodic lines with rough, almost dissonant tunes. The harder passages also remind me of the current musical performances of Dec Burke.
No doubt, the musical talent of Janos Krusenbaum is outstanding. It is amazing how a guy doing it all by himself, can sound like a complete and fully-fledged band. FreddeGredde and Shaun Guerin may serve as comparisons. However, I have the impression that sometimes he is trying to assemble too many musical styles and genres in each track, as if he is still seeking his distinct musical direction. Sometimes less is more. That being said, I am pretty sure that given the musical skills and the abundance of musical ideas, this musical direction will surely emerge, and Seeking Raven is to be kept a close eye (and ear) on. For the time being, this is a band appealing mostly to fans of harder-edged progressive rock.
Thomas Otten: 6.5 out of 10
Seeking Raven - The Ending Collage
Road to the City (3:55), Requiem (4:46), River Lethe (1:48), A Second Chance (3:43), Rose (1:13),The High Art of Flying (5.41), It's Okay (7:17), Summer Days (3:39), Vanishing of the Little People (3:34), Dance Darling Dance (4:48), Truth (2:52), I the Raven (3:39), Brave New World (3:28), The Movie's End (4:16)
Following the recognition that Janos Krusenbaum gained with Lonely Art, he decided to form a fully-fledged band and to tour extensively in Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, France, and Austria. Besides him still being responsible for all of the lyrics and music, as well as for vocals, guitars and keyboards, on this release and for live performances, Seeking Raven also consists of Jan Jerig (bass and backing vocals) as well as Martin Zang (drums and backing vocals) plus some guest musicians on flute and additional vocals.
Lyrically The Ending Collage is about a dying world, to be replaced by a new one. The story is told from a couple's perspective, having different feelings about what the upcoming wold is like and its impact on their lives. Some parallels come up with Brave New World from Aldous Huxley, not only because one of the tracks bears the same name as his famous book.
Over all, the album sounds more mature than its predecessor. The blending of styles persists such as AOR (It's Okay), prog, some art rock and folk (Vanishing of the Little People and Truth), a bit of rap (Brave New World). Hwever this is less pronounced, as there seems to be more coherence in the songs, and the central theme is more easily recognisable. The heavier parts of the music play a minor role compared to Lonely Art, and have made way to lighter, more joyful and subtle melodies.
The overall tone is rather mellow and gentle, without the music becoming too polished. Acoustic guitars are much more prominent than hard electric riffing, especially in Requiem, a BJH-sounding piece, and A Second Chance. Sometimes, The Ending Collage comes across like an unplugged version of Lonely Art. The vocals are substantially more varied than before. We are not offered a high degree of complexity, aloof musicianship and long, extensive soloing. Instead of that, the songs are compact, melodic, song-oriented and accessible.
I particularly enjoyed A Second Chance, and Summer Days, both acoustic, guitar-led ballads, perfectly suited for airplay. The High Art of Flying, probably the proggiest song of the album with similarities to Sieges Even and Pain of Salvation, is very catchy and varied, with falsetto-style vocals (and some growls). I also enjoy It's Okay because of its catchy guitar solo and the good interplay between keyboards and guitar.
The album shows a beautiful cover and inner sleeve artwork, reminiscent to a children's book illustration, and is quite a contrast to the somewhat sinister cover of its predecessor.
Seeking Raven has released two quite different albums. Buy this one if you are more into the softer version of progressive rock (prog light) and Lonely Art if you like your prog somewhat harder and rougher. It is difficult to come up with comparable bands, but I consider this as a positive sign of Seeking Raven's individuality. I am still convinced that this is not the end of what we'll see from Janos Krusenbaum and his band Seeking Raven (I have no specific information at this time - besides Janos mentioning in an interview that the third album is being completed).
Thomas Otten: 7.5 out of 10
Darrel Treece-Birch - No More Time
Nexus Pt1 (1:30), Earthbound (3:21), Riding the Waves (5:09), Hold On (4:07), Requiem Pro Caris (3:21), Nexus Pt2 (1:26), Twilight (3:47), Mother (Olive's Song) (4:37), Freedom Paradigm (6:03), Nexus Pt3 (1:11), The River Dream (6:59), No More Time (8:00), Legacy (4:02), Music of the Spheres (7:34), Return to the Nexus (7:37)
Consistently strong throughout, No More Time, is written around Darrel Treece-Birch's excellent keyboards, and he is also a good drummer and bassist on the evidence here. The additional players add different hues to the symphonic prog bread, leavening it with fine guitar, violin and lead vocals.
The album's opening three numbers are engaging instrumental workouts, with Riding the Waves raising a smile as it boogies along in an 80s Van Halen kind of way. The violin of Counterparts bandmate John Power adds a level of melancholy to the beautiful Requiem Pro Caris, whilst The River Dream features an excellent, slow-burning guitar solo from Dan Mitchell. The closing track, Return to the Nexus, has a Floyd-like build and release, that is a joy.
But just when you think that No More Time is possibly becoming a little ballad-heavy, in comes the Kashmir thump and loud guitars of Freedom Paradigm, where the synth and guitar weave around each other. All the instrumentals are never less than an engaging listen and some are intensely riveting.
The songs fit seamlessly into the pure instrumental flow,showing that Darrel Treece-Birch can write lyrics as well as winning melodies. Careful choice of vocalists anchor the songs, with Nth Ascension's Alan Taylor featuring on two (Hold On and Twilight), brings a word-weariness to them. Then John Power matches his strong vocal on the title track, with equally strong guitar. But the icing on the vocal cake is Karen Fell, who sings beautifully on Music of the Spheres, joined by an exquisite synth solo from Darrel Treece-Birch.
So, on No More Time you get extended, keyboard-driven, symphonic progressive rock, where each guest artist is fully in-sympathy with Darrel Treece-Birch's aims, as the music ebbs and flows over its lengthy running time. Indeed, it seems to me, that each guest is trying to outdo the other in the power and gorgeousness stakes; a terrific way to finish 2016's prog listening.
Martin Burns: 8.5 out of 10
Witchwood - Litanies from the Woods
Prelude/ Liar (7:23), A Place for the Sun (7:11), Rainbow Highway (5:54), The Golden King (6:24), Shade of Grey (11:04), The World Behind Your Eyes (5:43), Farewell to the Ocean Boulevard (15:27), Song of Freedom (9:31), Handful of Stars (10:09)
And that is what you get here. Music made and played from the heart, firmly rooted in the 70s, when organs came to life in the hands of Jon Lord or Ken Hensley, guitars were either played by Martin Barre, Mick Box or that minstrel in black, what's his name, yes, Ritchie Blackmore. And, let's not forget the world's most renowned flautist, at least in the land of the one-legged flautists, Ian Anderson.
With a vocalist who easily moves between Ian Gillan, David Byron and David Coverdale, this band has the capacity and talents to do more than just recreate the feel of days of yore. What they do, is write songs that are very much songs from the now, yet with an unmistakeable, authentic 70s take on them. Not as much a time trip in itself, but a record that succeeds in bringing the magic of the past to life for today.
If your heart pines for music that borders on both progressive and hard rock, from an era long since by-gone, then you need not seek any further. This is just the album you have been looking for. Just put the album on, your headphones as well, and enjoy the craft of this very fine Italian band. A very nice discovery that makes you hope there will be more in store.
Marcel Hartenberg: 8.5 out of 10