Daydream XI - The Circus Of The Tattered And Torn
Ticket 000011 (1:41), Open The Curtains (3:19), Trust-Forged Knife (5:01), Painted Smile (6:48), Windblown (2:36), A Cup Of Agony (5:56), Overhauling Wounds (10:39), Collector Of Souls (6:24), Forgettable (9:28), The Love That Never Was (4:13), The Circus Of The Tattered And Torn (15:27)
Their new-found fame has not arrived overnight though. Formed back in 2008, it took a series of live concerts and careful writing before the release of their debut album, The Grand Disguise back in 2014 (reviewed here). It garnered positive reviews, but remained a little too reliant on material already written by similar sympho-progressive metal bands from Europe and their home continent. A blend of Angra, Symphony X, Rhapsody and Blind Guardian.
More live performances and more careful songwriting has led to a significant refinement of their sound and identity. I have taken my time with this album. Having listened to it carefully over many weeks, I am happy to conclude that The Circus Of The Tattered And Torn is an impressive statement, by a band that has thrown off its borrowed cloak, to display an identity and sound very much of its own. Landing an opening slot at this year's ProgPower USA festival is no mean recognition of that.
Blending traditional progressive metal with a generous doses of melodic hard rock, symphonic and power metal, The Circus Of The Tattered And Torn is a mouth-watering musical medley. Part Dream Theater, part Kamelot, part Savatage, part SymphonyX and part Seventh Wonder.
Star of the show is undoubtedly vocalist Tiago Masseti. He has a voice that just forces you to listen. He has an innate sense of melody and is able to utilse a variety of style and intensity, something that ensures every section of every song has a different nuance. He would have been very much at home as the singer for the recently revitalised Rainbow. The only room for improvement is in his diction. There is a tendency to slur the syllables. It should not be necessary to refer to the lyric sheet, to know the words for every melodic chorus.
Masseti also contributes guitar, alongside fellow member Marcelo Pereira. The guitar work and the drumming, of third band member Bruno Giordano, is powerful and varied from beginning to end.
The album has a couple of introductory tracks to set the musical and lyrical themes, but then hits a stride that does not relent for a moment. The pairing of Trust-Forged Knife and Painted Smile will be amongst my favourite 12 minutes of music this year. Overhauling Wounds is another highlight, whilst Forgettable is anything but.
As almost every progressive metal band currently seems unable to pen a decent epic track, I will forgive Daydream XI for the over-stretched 15-minute title track which draws everything to a somewhat disappointing close.
The band is now signed to the respected Sensory label in the USA. Where many labels and artists now think the best way to promote their product (artistic endeavour) is to only offer reviewers low quality digital files and (in most cases) not even a promo sheet or lyric sheet to tell a story, Sensory provides the full CD. One is thus able to evaluate the music as it should be listened to, plus all the artwork, packaging and lyrics.
Would a sculptor only have photos of his work at a press preview of an exhibition. Would a painter only offer black and white photocopies of his work to critics? Never! So why do musicians think their sweat and endeavour is best appreciated via a low quality mp3 file?
Anyway, thanks to Sensory, the listening pleasure is enhanced by appreciating how the songs are all lyrically (and within the excellent booklet, artistically) tied together by an interesting storyline ideology. As the band explains: "The concept is a metaphor to express that we are drawn to each other more by our weaknesses and our flaws than our strengths and virtues. It's portrayed through a journey, where Phillip, the Circus master, takes his new apprentice, Circe, across the various acts of this Circus. Each song represents a feeling or aspect of human life, channelled by the storyline of each character."
Knowing this, enhances one's understanding of the differing tones and styles employed within each of the eight full songs. This really is storytelling by music, drawings and words together. The impact is enhanced by having all three together. In other words, if you like the sound of this album, then it would be a shame to only acquire the (high quality) digital version.
All things (properly) considered, I am happy to conclude that this is one of the best progressive metal albums released in 2017 and one that will be happily placed in my list of Top 10 albums at the year's end.
Andy Read: 9 out of 10
The Emerald Dawn - Visions
Musique Noire (i. The Omen, ii. Into The Darkness, iii. As A New Day Approaches, iv. La Danse De L'Ecstasy) (20:01), A Vision Left Unseen (7:00), Waves (8:37), Stranger in a Strange Land (9:29)
Stewart is also the lead vocalist, with a voice that hits all the right notes but in a somewhat restrained manner, indeed sometimes it sounds like she is concentrating too hard and consequently lacks a degree of emotion. It doesn't help that the recording sometimes gives the vocals a rather distant feel, lacking in crispness. Carter, who sings co-lead on A Vision Left Unseen is certainly more of a backing vocalist, as he lacks gravitas to convince as a frontman, particularly as I don't think his voice blends all that well with Stewart's. Fortunately, the vocals are kept to a minimum on this track, as they generally are throughout the whole album.
But one does get plenty of atmospheric instrumental passages, with the keyboards generally providing the bulk of the music. This is no more evident than on Musique Noire, which has visions of a grandiose opening statement but falls somewhat flat. Not that it is bad, it just doesn't grab the attention as much as an opening number should: the parping sax is too far forward in the mix and the somewhat pedestrian drums don't help. However, with a 20-minute running time there is plenty of opportunity to make up for the somewhat lacklustre beginning and, overall, they do succeed in crafting a piece with some good musical ideas and memorable sections. Of particular note is the last section, where the energy, and tempo, is lifted to provide an excellent instrumental closing.
The last two tracks are, to me, the strongest of the four, with Waves being the pick of the vocal tracks. The vocal arrangement reminds me somewhat of The October Project, and two fine guitar solos, first acoustic, then electric, show where Carter's strength lies. The best number is saved for last, as Stranger In A Strange Land sums up what the band are hoping to achieve: interesting dynamics, an air of mystery, keyboards providing plenty of atmosphere, and an interesting and off-centre flute section. Leaving the introduction of the electric guitar until midway through the second half of the piece is a very clever move. Take what you will from the fact it is an instrumental number...
So not a bad effort and one that definitely has its moments.
Mark Hughes: 6 out of 10
Forever Twelve - Home
Seven Seas (16:06), Home (5:10), Daisy Chain (8:15), Kansas By The Sea (8:58), Karmageddon, Acoustic Rose (2:57), Fate In Our Hands (7:22)
Whilst I am new to Forever Twelve, I have to say that by the evidence of this, things seem to be going right for them, as this reveals itself to be a classy mix of prog and AOR, fused together to create several memorable and musically interesting pieces of music. Of special note is the excellent playing, especially from Tom Graham on guitars, keyboards and bass.
Opener, The Seven Seas is a case in point, sounding very Yes-like at times, the band plough through this 16-minute piece with real panache and flair, barely pausing to catch breath. With its swirling keyboards and driving organ sound, this is as good an opener as one could hope for. There is a clear statement of intent, with a strident vocal from John Baker making himself known, before a left turn into a quieter section with a repeated piano riff, offset against some fluid guitar work from Tom Graham.
It's all very enticing, and there is a great guitar break at the 3:35 mark to take the song forward. There is a further tempo change at the 4:40 mark and the song begins to pulse to a persistent bassline, before another prominent organ solo is heralded, along with synth lines that are layered to create a great sound.
This is a lengthy song but never does the attention waver or flag, such is the versatility on display. Very impressive stuff indeed. Everyone involved is doing sterling work and it's all suitably epic in scope, with a good expansive production that brings the song to life in a very appealing manner. It is a good introduction to all that is yet to come.
Also worthy of mention is the track Kansas By The Sea which somehow manages to create the classic Kansas sound from Leftoverture or Point of Known Return to great effect. Whilst there is no violin present, it is certainly a very enthralling and engaging track with a great performance from all concerned. The keyboards on this one are magnificent with a real smoking organ section at the end. This song is preceded by the equally brilliant Daisy Chain, which was released as a single and whose video garnered rave reviews, introducing as it did John Baker to the band.
So in summary: this is a fine album, although it took me a few spins to get it, but when the penny dropped it revealed itself to be a masterful release with great songs and outstanding musicianship, showing significant promise for the future indeed. Highly recommended.
John Wenlock-Smith: 8 out of 10
Jet Black Sea - Absorption Lines
Wrong Turn (4:18), The Sixth Wheel (6:51), Jumping To A Conclusion (Part I) (2:00), Absorption Lines (10:54), Cathedral (7:17), Hours Slip Into Days (8:31), 133 Hours (5:19)
Wrong Turn manages a good balance between old (hello, Mellotron!) and new (dance beats, electronic effects), managing to be an intriguing and engaging opener. Although I'm not sure about the effectiveness of using real acoustic drums on this track; they're great, of course (hell, I'm a drummer myself), but they sound out of place somehow, and detract from the vibe of the song. Unfortunately, this is again apparent on the following track, The Sixth Wheel, where the very promising first three minutes, full of mystery and atmosphere, are lessened by a rather pedestrian further three minutes of uninspired chugging guitars and pounding drums. Oh, well...
Jumping To A Conclusion (Part I), in contrast to what its slightly pompous title might suggest, is actually a short two-minute breather, which manages to be more coherent and natural than the two previous tracks. The cold and dark vibe might remind you of Kevin Moore's Chroma Key and OSI, and it opens the door for the dense atmospherics found on the title track, which can be best described as No-Man meets Pink Floyd. Does it work? Well, let's say production-wise it's both complex and crystal clear, and the choice of instrument arrangements and sound effects is of remarkable elegance, but in the end this feels like a frustrating 10-minute build up towards a non-existent pay off. And yes, the female vocals echo Floyd's Great Gig In The Sky, but are completely misplaced here.
Cathedral brings back the pattern of long, intriguing atmospheric intro followed by some more straightforward rock stylings, which again feel really awkward and out of context. Besides, Adrian O'Shaugnessy's vocals, though undeniably powerful and technically proficient, just don't belong here.
More vocals, of the processed kind this time, are to be found on Hours Slip Into Days, here courtesy of Tony Patterson. This eight-minute piece made me think of modern-era Marillion, but without the emotional punch; after all, Patterson is not Steve Hogarth, nor Adrian Jones Steve Rothery. Probably the most balanced track on the album is the closer 133 Hours, where guitars, drums and electronic atmospherics all find their natural space. Better late than never, don't you think?
This album certainly has its moments, and occasionally manages to weave nice layers of atmospherics. But I don't think Jet Black Sea have managed to get the tone right, and sometimes it gives the impression that rock instruments are present to make up for an absence of musical bravery, rather than a lack of talent or inventiveness (I'm sure there's plenty of both here). Nevertheless, you give it a spin from their Bandcamp page linked above.
Héctor Gómez: 6 out of 10
Dusan Jevtovic - No Answer
Al Aire - Soko Bira (5:04), Frusci (8:47), Yo Sin Mi (8:33), No Answer (7:17), A Ver (7:35), Prayer (6:28), Lifetime (6:18), El Oro (6:56), The Place With A View (8:02)
A friend visualises music in primary colours, but when he listened intently to Dusan Jevtovic's latest album, it was not long before he excitedly proclaimed that the tunes glistened in his mind, creating an unexpected golden aura of unimaginable beauty.
Instead of colours, I see pictures, and this is an album that is more than capable of fashioning a mystical image, where the green-braided fronds of shrubs, stretch skywards in appreciation of the skill and imagination that lies within the music's creative core.
No Answer is a special album. Hearing it for the umpteenth time, it continues to get better and offers something fresh and new to discover on each occasion. It is released by Moonjune records. Moonjune are a ground-breaking label involved in promoting music which explores and expands the boundaries between jazz, rock and prog. Their genre-crossing roster of artists may not necessarily appeal to all fans of classic prog, but on the strength of a number of their innovative and outstanding albums released during 2016 and 2017, the label is likely to become as important for progressive music, as the ECM label was for contemporary jazz during the 70s and early 80s.
Jevtovic is a Serbian guitarist currently based in Barcelona. His last album, Am I Walking, was also released by Moonjune and was characterised by heavily-distorted guitar tones that were both accessible and impressive. Its fiery brand of instrumental jazz fusion was infused and flavoured with the raw, belt-buckle appeal of crunchy, metallic riffs and frequently-challenging, complex tempos. Jevtovic's signature style and tone, shown to good effect in his previous album, are still in evidence during No Answer.
The hardest hitting guitar parts in No Answer use copious amounts of distortion and the controlled use of dissonance to great effect. There are numerous opportunities for Jevtovic to showcase his wide repertoire of guitar techniques within the album's nine gilt-edged compositions. In No Answer, Jevtovic adeptly provides hard riffs and also lightning-quick solos with an expressive edge. He is never unafraid to use carefully constructed layers to embellish things. Jevtovic is also equally adept when exploring delicate passages of music, through the attentive use of various tones and pedals. These are delivered with a light and thoughtful touch.
Jevtovic's exciting mastery of his instrument, and his impressive ability to use an extensive range of textures, complements his music perfectly. His gold-fretted performance on this album can be compared favourably with an array of highly accomplished players. On more than one occasion, fleeting points of reference can be made to what must surely be an 'A' list of guitarists. These include such notable performers as Jimi Hendrix, Robert Fripp, Bill Frissell, Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie and Terje Rypdal
The introduction to A Ver is particularly evocative and brought to mind some of the stylistic traits that Terje Rypdal employed in his magnificent Waves album. The most engaging solo of the album however, is undoubtedly the one which unexpectedly comes to the fore in the title track. It is a blistering, no-holds-barred interlude, which combines the aggression of players such as Hendrix, with the subtle intonations associated with players schooled in the idioms of jazz.
Whilst the delightfully expressive guitar of Jevtovic is at the heart of the album's achievements, the contributions of keyboard player and pianist Vasil Hadzimanov and drummer Asaf Sirkis cannot be underestimated. Their superb playing throughout, ensures that the album is successful in every way.
As a composer and arranger, Jevtovic allows his pieces space and time to breathe, but also knows when a flurry of notes, or a change in enunciation can have an exciting and penetrating effect. This ability to give the music space, ensures that the album has great depth, where tone and timbre play an important part in creating the ambience that Jevtovic intended.
The sense of empathy and the airy atmosphere formed by the players' acute awareness of what can, and what should, be played at any one given moment, gives the whole release an organic and uncluttered feel. The feeling that every note is a carefully chosen character within in an unfolding story, is emphasised by the wonderful quality of the recording. Each instrument is given clarity and room within the mix, to be heard in the way in which the trio intended. The compositions contained in No Answer consistently and superbly highlight the contrasting attributes of the principal instruments used. This is immediately apparent in the opening number, Al Aire/Soko Bira, which contains many attractive elements.
The contrast between the beauty of the crystal piano tones and the disturbing introduction of menacingly aggressive guitar lines during the recurring opening and concluding sections of the piece, is, on the face of it, a questionable mix. Nevertheless, unlike wearing sandals, shorts and a vest in an arctic winter, the combination works remarkably well, and proves that if a composer thinks outside the box, the unexpected and improbable can be totally rewarding. Al Aire/Soko Bira is forward thinking in its approach, highly skilled in its execution, and the end result is an absolute masterclass of progressive music.
The beautiful repeated piano motif which begins the piece, is reminiscent in form to something that John Taylor might have composed for Azimuth, but once Jevtovic's boldly-brazen guitar lines (redolent of those conjured by Fripp during his Evening Star collaboration with Brian Eno) kick in, any such comparison becomes totally erroneous. Nevertheless, majestic keyboard work is a frequent component of many of the tracks and is a standout feature of the album. When this ingredient is blended with deft cymbal and light percussive touches, the combination can, on occasions, create an expansive vibe, in some ways similar to some of the most satisfying work associated with the ECM label.
As a band leader Jevtovic is not afraid to let the other members of the trio take centre stage. In this respect, the flowing piano solo that comes to the fore in Yo Sin Mi, to contrast and complement the graceful guitar textures, is a particular highlight. Similarly, the piano playing that is featured towards the conclusion of the title track is stunning in technique, and wonderful in its execution. This eye-catching passage of music is later matched in quality by Hadzimanov's exquisite Rhodes solo, during the otherwise full-bodied and heavy-fretted Lifetime. Similarly, the percussive nature of Prayer, the swinging tempos of Lifetime and the intricate rhythmic patterns of the Middle Eastern-tinged El Oro give Asaf Sirkis ample opportunity to excel.
Frusci is a cracking tune with a fantastic melody and features impressive soloing by both Jevtovic and Hadzimanov. Its class is self-evident and is sure to leave a smile upon the face of anybody who enjoys carefully constructed instrumental music. The expressively phrased and lyrical guitar solo that concludes the piece is particularly notable. It is perfect in every respect. It bucks and floats like an anchored, yet newly inflated helium beach ball, on the warm undercurrents provided by the highly accomplished and supportive accompaniment of keyboards and drums.
No Answer is stylistically bold and often innovative. Whilst it is broadly rooted in the conventions associated with progressive jazz fusion, much of the album defies being categorised or ascribed to any particular genre. It contains many aspects that will appeal to an audience of widely differing tastes. For example, the fuzzed, retro feel and swinging riff that is predominant in the head-part of Lifetime would most likely enthral anybody who finds the music of bands such as Grovjobb or Fläsket Brinner appealing. Conversely, the recurring motifs and slow-building mystique of pieces such as A Ver would appeal to anybody who is captivated by ethereal, atmospheric music epitomised by ECM artists like Eberhard Weber, in albums such as Later That Evening.
Overall, No Answer is a totally satisfying experience. It is an album that I will return to frequently. I have discovered that it rewards intensive and repeated listens. Each track is exciting and unpredictable. Consequently, the whole album is absolutely mesmerising.
If you seldom or no longer get a colourful feeling when listening to music, No Answer may well offer a solution. I strongly recommend that you give Dusan Jevtovic's latest creation a try. Just like my friend, you may even see gold!
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10
Playgrounded - In Time With Gravity
Crossing (5:59), Mute (5:47), Waves (7:50), In Time With Gravity (10:27), Rotterdam (6:11), The Stranger: Pt. I Funeral (7:52), Pt. II Killing (5:59), Pt. III Verdict (9:02)
My penultimate challenge has found me wandering down the corridors of that repetitively mono-tonous genre: post rock.
At least that was the corridor that I was expecting to walk down, having read the description about the second album from Greek "post rock" band Playgrounded. What I have discovered, is something upliftingly-original and fresh.
This quintet impressed many with their debut album, Athens back in 2013, leading to tours in Greece, Italy and the Netherlands, sharing the stage with the likes of Anathema and Riverside. That album was driven by a musical conversation on the dead-ends of modern Greece. Unsurprising then, that the band have on a personal level turned away from that Greek tragedy, and relocated to Amsterdam. They then travelled further northwards, to record this album over four months in Kristiansand, Norway.
In Time With Gravity engages on many levels. Its themes vary from crisis-struck Athens and the dark clouds gathering around modern-day Europe, to the industrial landscapes of urban Rotterdam and the existential questions of French absurdist philosopher Albert Camus in the three-part album closer The Stranger. The artwork and lyrics create a space for one to draw one's own conclusions.
Musically I would describe this as electronic, groove, ambient rock. It's not really heavy. There are occasional bursts of heavy guitar. But the over-riding feeling is of something with a more delicate touch.
This is not the dour, shoe-gaze, punchy-beat-dominated post rock that I have come to loathe. The music of Playgrounded has a spark, a verve and a streak of inventive risk-taking that I admire.
The keyboards and programming of Orestis Zafeiriou and the rhythmically obsessed drumming of Giorgos Pouliasis dominate the Playgrounded sound. The keyboards contribute warm relaxing swathes of ambience, whilst the electronics have a certain Jean Michel Jarre groove and tempo. Modern: not retro.
The vocals of Stavros Markonis are mostly restrained, sometimes almost spoken. When he does raise the tension, he is placed a little back in the mix. In that sense, Playgrounded could be described as an instrumental band with a vocalist. It's a subtle difference. It works brilliantly.
The six tracks offer a little bit of everything. The opening pair are probably my favourites, if I had to select a couple for a playlist. The central threesome take more risks, as they explore new channels and side streams. The three-part The Stranger is an epic by design and delivery.
However, each different part of the album is strengthened by the tracks that accompany it. As with all great albums, In Time With Gravity is a more rewarding feast, if you devour it as a complete work.
Every so often an album comes along that catches you unaware. In not being what I expected, it came with no expectations. In Time With Gravity is simply a great creation of modern progressive music. It will appeal to anyone who likes the idea of electronica, mixed with a soundtrack that takes a refreshing twist on a genre that was in danger of becoming stale. I'm really glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone.
Andy Read: 8.5 out of 10
Thumpermonkey - Electricity
Garmonbozia (4:27), Tzizimime (3:35), This Is Not A Fire (5:04), Woadscrivened (5:58)
But still, these 19 minutes of music are based on the book Babylon Electrified by Albert Bleunard, telling the story of a man trying to electrify old Mesopotamia. It is a venturous undertaking and it barely works to re-tell that story musically in such a sparse form, but the outcome is quite good. It gives enough room to dive into the maths of music and play with it, as well as creating a couple of interesting spins and twists, let alone dealing with a handful of styles over the short time span.
Composition-wise the EP is quite stuffed with goodies. It is just not easy for all to digest, because of the band's punk attitude, which lets them neglect any idea of a sound experience. While the engineering and mix are quite good work, the naked, rough guitar tone is rather annoying, and even the moments in which the keys would sound like a spacey Porcupine Tree influence, lack the psychedelic atmosphere that would make them a great listen. But what bothers me the most, is that the singer still doesn't take vocal lessons and remains sounding like the guy next door in his bathroom.
But still, these who can handle this punk attitude, and those who like exactly that, will have a great listen and will be left craving for more. And this time the wait shouldn't be so long, because the press sheet promises the release of a full album in 2018.
Raimond Fischbach: 6 out of 10