Atrox - Monocle
Mass (4:17), Vacuum (4:12), Heat (3:49), Finger (6:28), Suicide Days (5:20), For We Are Many (7:23), Movie (4:19), Target (4:44)
If "doom" is still defined as slow, heavy, riff-based music, less focus on melody, and often with unintelligible vocals, then I am glad that there is actually not a lot of doom here. I like the speed and power of songs like Vacuum, with the vocals rough but not grunting, lots of progressive breaks and enough melody. 6:33 comes to mind with some unexpected breaks and craziness while sounding organic, rather than forced. A heavy metal soundtrack for a Tim Burton movie.
Not that I like putting bands in any corner, but this is a review, and for people not knowing this band I need to give some description, so I'd put Atrox in the progressive metal corner. No doom here and I am more than OK with that! Atrox is more about arrangements and the total feel, rather than fast solos. The good, very powerful vocals fit the music. The heavy riffing, bounces all around while still delivering a solid unit of a release.
In the rocking sections I get a clear Galahad feel in Mass and Heat and this also comes up during more electronic sections or openings like Suicide Days. Some slower bits with heavy riffing (OK, that is the closest reference to doom I could find) and melancholic piano (Finger) recall Savatage, while Devin Townsend probably inspired the break-laden crazy bits. I can imagine Rammstein are peers.
Favourite tracks: Vacuum, Suicide Days, and Target. Progressive in its breaks and arrangements, melodic at its heaviest, powerful overall, sometimes brutally so. Highly recommended for fans of Galahad's heavy side and Devin Townsend and the likes!
As a note to the label, promoter or distributor, I would like to add that sending a ZIP file with compressed MP3 files (even at 320 kbps) and no additional artwork or information (the cover was embedded in the MP3 files, though) is rather pale. Sending a press info PDF, a few images of the artwork with readable notes, or even a URL where to get more info is the least someone could do trying to promote music.
Jerry van Kooten: 8 out of 10
Drifting Sun - Twilight
Twilight (9:27), Wings Of Hope (5:12), Mystery Of Lies (5:45), Soldiers (7:23), Summer Skies (10:48), Remedy (5:18), Outside (5:20), Remain (8:10)
Although the band does not seem to have gained that much prominence within the prog community, there is every chance that Twilight will significantly improve their profile, as the whole package, from the album design and artwork, to the lyrics and the music, reeks of maturity. The album's title provides a lyrical theme that runs throughout the album, one that provides a continuity to proceedings. The vocal arrangements are top quality, with a great variety of styles on display, from the excellent choral-like opening of the title track (one of the best openings to an album I have heard all year) to the more harmony infused layers on the quieter sections of Soldiers.
Impressively, Falconer sings all the vocal parts and has an innate sense of harmony which, combined by the rich array of his vocal textures, gives the impression of there being a variety of different singers. The epitomy of this is on Summer Skies where everything coalesces to produce a quite stunning slab of progressive rock. Again, it is the maturity that shines through, Sanders does not try and hog the limelight but writes to the strengths of the band. The infusion of melody with the electric guitar echoing the vocal line, and then the acoustic guitars providing a lightness that contrasts with the heavier sections.
There is also a natural flow to the album, where songs merge together with seamless grace and where the internal musical and lyrical cross-references, such as the single "Let go, Let go" line on Outside echoing the repeated use of this phrase on the previous song Remedy, give the air of a class concept album.
Although nearly an hour long, there is never a moment when it feels like proceedings are dragging or that there is any surplus that could be trimmed. And what is even more impressive is that they have maintained a unique identity throughout. Okay, there are hints of Marillion in places and even a dash of Discipline here and there, but these are not overtly obvious, and it is more than likely that these are just pure coincidence. The only downside is that it is unlikely that the music on the album will ever be performed live, at least not in a way that would replicate the studio arrangements. Even if there were not the logistical (and financial) problems of getting the band together in one place to rehearse, they would also need a large cast of supporting musicians and vocals to do justice to this album.
Oh well, never mind, I will just have to sit back and play the album through once again.
Mark Hughes: 8 out of 10
Novatia - Flow
The Night Is Filled With Colours (6:04), Between The Lines (7:14), May We Interrupt (3:53), This Drive (4:51), Before Autumn Comes (5:43)
"So we started playing more from the heart and less from the mind," they explain, "searching for the perfect balance between keeping our music interesting while keeping it accessible."
Flow is the third long EP (or mini album) to come from this young quintet in three years. I reviewed both their debut EP, Remind You Of Yourself and the second effort, Reflection Of Thoughts earlier this year (read both reviews here).
All five tracks here are tied together by a lyrical theme, with the individual songs telling a different story of how people are searching, finding and losing their flow. This latest effort is again available as a digital download, with CDs available if you send the band an email via their website. However I hope the band is able to include the lyrics with each order, as well as the notes explaining each story that they sent me with this promo, as this extra insight deepens one's understanding and appreciation of each track.
Musically this is another step forward for the band. In one way they have solidified "their sound" with improved songwriting. On the other hand, the five tracks take in a wider range of styles than previously. In these respects, Flow is both their best effort so far, and also their most progressive.
With one foot still in the mellow neo-prog perfected by fellow countrymen Ricocher or Germany's Sylvan, Novatia also take in a heavy breath of jazz, fusion and art rock stylings, with a touch of funk. It sounds like the fivesome had real fun making this music.
Opener, The Night Is Filled With Colours is the closest to the mellow prog of their previous releases and thus offers a nice transition into these newer sounds. Unusually for Novatia it uses major keys and chord progressions, which I feel is less suited to the voice of Joep Selen. He certainly does not sound so comfortable here, as he does on the other songs.
Between The Lines is Novatia at their most proggy and most heavy. It is probably the best track the band has yet written. The added energy really suits their playing. The guitar work is excellent throughout the album. Rindert Bul offers a lovely tone and flow to his playing (see what I did there?). However, his riffing and soloing on this song, alongside some lovely vocal lines, lifts it to another level. I hope they do more songs in this style in the future.
Halfway through, and May We Interrupt offers something rather different. It is a fusion-esque romp, that really shows the band in a different (and positive) light. The feeling is continued with This Drive, which incorporates a horn section to funk-up the driving bass lines and jazzy aspirations.
The foot is then taken off the pedal for the closing song, Before Autumn Comes. This is all about a jazzy, laid back atmosphere and Joep Selen's heartfelt vocals.
Overall Flow will appeal to anyone who enjoys ear-friendly melodic prog, but where some additional jazz, funk and rock stylings keep the mind engaged as well. I think that with this third release, Novatia have really found their own voice. There is a confidence and joy here that is hard to ignore. Now to see if they can sustain it for a whole album.
Andy Read: 8 out of 10
Sproingg - Sproingg
Sugarwax Nailface (4:43), And The Mountain Rat Saw God (6:16), Homunculous Funkulous (4:33), No Place For Children (6:07), Krummfutter (3:04), Mückmucke (7:15), Alligator Peak (4:20), The Aliens Have Landed, And I'm One Of Them (8:21)
The trio originates from the university town of Freiburg in south western Germany. Prudi Bruschgo (guitars), Erik Feder (drums and percussion) and Johannes Korn (Chapman sticks, electric violin) claim to be inspired by bands like Magma and Frank Zappa amongst others, and they claim that they make "Space Punk Prog". Experiments and improvisation are the key elements in their music and this debut is a fine example of that ambition. That also shows on the front cover, which is an intriguing, arty drawing by Manuela Sander-Feder (I suppose the drummers' spouse). It is also something that returns in the rather special song titles. Just try to translate these titles into your native language and you'll know what I mean. And I sincerely like that. But what about the rest of the music?
Well, to put it frankly, this instrumental album will not be everyone's cup of tea. It takes an open mind to hear something melodious in the percussion-driven And The Mountain Rat Saw God, or to appreciate the interplay between violin and guitar that doesn't sound as interplay on No Place For Children. But these songs do illustrate that these guys know how to play and to jam. Sproingg's live gigs will be interesting I guess, as most of the songs on this album sound like well-produced jam sessions, ones that could easily have taken up twice as much time as now recorded.
There's quite some variation to be found in the songs. Krummfutter for instance sounds like heavy rock with strong guitar riffing in an up-tempo pace. Mückmucke is spacy and made me think of bands like Ozric Tentacles and Hawkwind. Meanwhile the album closer The Aliens Have Landed, And I'm One Of Them (great title!) is a lazy space trip with loads of keyboard-like sounds (Chapman stick!), vibraphone peeps and beeps all over the place, and a bluesy guitar. Alas the guitar sounds very uniform during the whole album and that is quite a let-down. I think that more variation in that sound would have been beneficial for the music.
It took me some time to start to appreciate this album. That appreciation doesn't lie in the music as such, because that is far too weird for my ears. It lies in the drive to do what they think they want to do and can do best, and in their personal attitude to their music by not giving a damn of what is expected, trendy or commercial. The weird song titles express that quirky attitude, but it is best shown by their claim of the authoring rights on the album sleeve: in Sproingg's world their copyright is claimed as 'copywrong'. Maybe a bit of a faint joke but it shows foremost that we shouldn't take them that seriously, while meanwhile their musicianship shows off. That quirkiness is exactly how they approach their music, so be warned!
Theo Verstrael: 6 out of 10
Tiger Moth Tales - The Depths Of Winter
Winter Is Coming (0:32), Winter Maker (10:41), Exposure (13:35), The Ballad Of Longshanks John (6:58), Migration (2:59), Take The Memory (7:10), Sleigh Ride (6:40), The Tears Of Frigga (11:43), Hygge (9:13), Winter's End (1:33)
Well, that day has come in the form of The Depths Of Winter. This old school prog album is loaded with wonderful harmonies, 12 string guitars, swirling keyboards and a wintery theme that truly works. It is very apparant that Jones has a fondness for classic Genesis, and their influence can be heard throughout the album. Unlike many other prog acts, he captures elements of their music without sounding like a knock-off. There are also musical nods to Frost and 70s acoustic rock, but it all feels fresh and original. The spoken word storytelling process is utilised again on this release, but it is used sparingly and more effectively this time. In fact, it really helps to underline the wintery theme.
Ultimately, the most impressive thing about the album is how enjoyable a listen it is. Highlights include the mini epic Exposure, the singalong-inducing Hygge, the Steve Hackett-influenced instrumental Sleigh Ride and the beautifully nostalgic Take The Memory. This is a quality album from start to end and it is easily Jones' finest recording to date. Though the wintery tone makes this the right time of the year for its release, it is a winner for any season.
Patrick McAfee: 8.5 out of 10