Reviews in this issue:
Dreamgrave - Monuments
Drop The Curtain (4:43), Monuments (7:45), The Passing Faith In Others (11:28)
Hungarian progressive metal band Dreamgrave have followed up their 2014 album Presentiment, with a much shorter EP. However, despite its brevity, Monuments delivers on many fronts. The band consists of Dömötör Gyimesi (vocals, guitars), János Mayer (keyboards), Mária Molnár (vocals), Tamás Tóth (drums), Krisztina Baranyi (violin), and Péter Gilián (bass).
Over the course of this brief EP, Dreamgrave remind me at times of Haken, especially during the song Monuments. At other times, they remind me of Slovakian prog metal band Persona Grata, especially since both bands utilise the violin and Gyimesi's voice sounds like Persona Grata's vocalist. Even though I can hear similarities to other bands, Dreamgrave are ultimately very unique. Their sound is fresh, bringing a jazzy feel to their heavy, operatic sound. Lead vocalist Mária Molnár's voice fits the music extremely well, and the vocal harmonies with Gyimesi really make this group stand out. Only briefly on the title track do screaming vocals emerge, and they fit the music perfectly. Even those that do not enjoy screaming in their music, may find that it works really well here. It is never overpowering.
One of the most impressive things about Dreamgrave is the way they move from quiet to heavy and back, almost seamlessly. They are expert musicians, and their inclusion of violin really separates them from other prog metal bands. My only complaint with Monuments is its length. I could have easily listened to another thirty or forty minutes of this. This EP certainly whets my appetite for more. Those of you that enjoy the twists and turns in the recent progressive metal scene should take notice of Dreamgrave.
Bryan Morey: 8.5 out of 10
Lorenzo Feliciati - Elevator Man
Elevator Man (5:54), The Brick (7:24), 14 Stones(7:45), Black Book Red Letters (7:29), Three Women (5:29), Unchained Houdini (4:15), The Third Door (5:49), S.O.S. (5:31), Thief Like Me (5:23), U Turn In Falmouth (3:19)
Despite the passing of the years, the rose-tinted glasses remain un-cracked; history has tethered the past, whilst unchallenged recollections are able to soar like the rain-free clouds that shape and shimmer in the summer sky. No time-weighted anchor can haul down the lofty impression made by Lorenzo Feliciati's superb performance on that day.
His playing inspired a 12 year old boy to practice and take up the bass. More than a decade later my son still has the CD, Upon My Head that was signed for him, and no doubt, still etched upon his heart, are the words of encouragement that were said.
Fast forward to 2017 and Lorenzo Feliciati has now become well known in prog circles for his work with Colin Edwin in Twinscapes and for his involvement in bands/projects such as Burnt Belief, Mumpbeak and Naked Truth. He has also received much praise for his work as a solo artist, where albums such as Frequent Flyer and Koi have been well received.
His latest album Elevator Man is arguably likely to find greater appeal amongst a wider base of prog fans than either his debut album Upon My Head which showcased a variety of influences, or his previous release Koi which blended prog with ambient sounds.
The luscious soundscapes that were an integral part of the music of Koi have been largely replaced by an altogether edgier sound in Elevator Man. Nevertheless, there are still occasions such as during the gloriously emotive trumpet and saxophone parts of Black Book, Red Letters and in the final pages of SOS, when a reflective and atmospheric approach can be detected.
SOS features a vibraphone, and its distinctive sound has an understated yet important part to play in creating the track's frenetic, rhythmic soundscape. The vibraphone gives the composition an unusual and interesting edge and is set against fervent bass parts and an incisive guitar solo provided by Mattias IA Eklundh. During SOS' delightful conclusion, a change of mood occurs. The ambient atmosphere of this final passage provides a calming and soothing balm to offset the penetrating shards delivered by Eklundh's guitar.
The closing piece, U Turn In Falmouth, is probably the most calming composition on offer. It is a slow burning and ever evolving composition, that is full of cleverly-devised effects and spacious drum fills. These evoke visions of misty, wave-spun oceans and meandering clouds. Plunging discordance and pulling bass parts also have a part to play and add to the track's lilting, ethereal quality. The piece offers an understated radiance and provides a soothing sunset conclusion to an album that is, for the most part, effervescent and frequently sparkling.
For his latest album, Feliciati decided that he would utilise the skills of a number of drummers. A different player occupies the stool for most pieces. This does not detract from the album's distinctive style and sound. On the contrary, the diversity of the percussive styles on display subtly embellishes each piece in a unique and beneficial manner.
The use of a number of musicians throughout the release is not refined to drums. Each tune is performed by a different line-up. This enhances a feeling that the album has a discernible aura that conveys the players' enthusiasm for their art. In addition, it also ensures that Elevator Man is able to exhibit a freshness of sound that can be missing in albums where the list of performers remains unchanged in each piece.
However, what sets Elevator Man apart from many other fusion albums that feature magnificent musicianship, is the way in which the individual players blend seamlessly together as an ensemble. Their collective empathy and proficiency helps to illuminate and highlight the strength and outstanding quality of the compositions. This is emphasised to great effect during the first five tracks, which include a horn section. These pieces are quite different in both sound and mood to the pieces that follow.
The combination of the three-piece horn section of trombonist Pierluigi Bastioli, baritone saxophonist Duiliu Ingress and bass trombonist Stan Adams, with the expansive bass parts of Feliciati, works particularly well. By choosing a low-end horn section, Feliciati is able to utilise their sound in an unusually rhythmic way that gives the music a forceful tone. The vibrant mix of brass and bass drives the music in a fascinating manner and draws attention to the many wonderful embellishments and solo parts provided by Feliciati's mastery of both fretted and fretless basses.
During the album, Feliciati's bass and the three-piece horn section can be compared to a pen and paper. When apart they are valuable items of stationery, but when joined together, as in Wordsworth's sonnets, they can be creators of innovative quality. That inventive quality can be heard to good effect in the muscular chorus of the album's opener and title track, where the blending of bass and low-end brass instruments provides an extra dimension, that is both memorable and unsettling because of its unusual sound.
The opening piece sets the bar high for what is to follow. It is a relatively accessible tune, but the recurring riff that is prominent throughout, reminds me of the power and unpredictable dissonance associated with latter days of King Crimson. Feliciati's playing is a highlight and the influence of Jaco Pastorious can be heard and identified in the series of delightful solo bass parts which unfold as the track progresses.
Pastorius' mantle is taken up once more during the opening section of The Brick which highlights some of Feliciati's most impressive bass work in the album. The other components of the piece all sit together perfectly to make this one of the most interesting and progressive tracks on the album. However, once again the combination of using a low-end brass trio to add extra propulsion to strategic parts of the tune works well and ensures that the piece has superb dynamic characteristics, where explosive increases in volume, and subtle, swift-fingered bass caresses each have important parts to play.
The relentless power and heavy riffing of the brass section that lies at the heart of 14 Stones gives the piece an intimidating and menacing quality. This is countered and offset by the atmospheric and cinematic interjections provided by trumpeter Cuong Vu. His introduction to the piece is particularly melodic and his blowing during the avant garde section towards the end of the track is also exemplary.
Nevertheless, the most emotive trumpet parts on the album, are to be found within the majestic ambience of Black Book, Red Letters. In this piece, the work of Claudio Corvini is both soothing and lyrical, bringing to mind such expressive players as Ian Carr and Henry Lowther.
The interplay between the sax and trumpet is also excellent. They combine gloriously and are able to create a richly vivid sensory illusion of red ochre sunsets reflected onto a sea of ever-changing hues, crowned by the gentle lapping of tiara-sparkled waves.
However, my favourite piece in an album bedecked with inventive tunes and superb playing is the evocative The Third Door. In this composition, Feliciati discards many of the unwritten rules of fusion and has created a piece that contains elements drawn from other contemporary music genres.
It features DJ Skizo on "Turntables and rhythm design" and Feliciati on all other instruments. The Third Door is a mesmerising and intense listening experience that is thoroughly progressive in its breadth and intention. The repeated spoken call to "don't fall asleep" is not easily ignored and is effortlessly obeyed as Feliciati skilfully juggles his way through musical passages that contain twinkling bass harmonics, crunchy guitar riffs and monstrous, belching bass parts that are garlanded by a thick range of tones often associated with Jaco.
I recently asked my son to remind me of what was said all those years ago. He replied that Feliciati had encouraged him to "Practice well, never give up, and always play for fun".
Feliciati's love of music and his ability to inspire, shone brightly during that encounter some ten years ago. It continues to shine vibrantly throughout Elevator Man. The album is a highly enjoyable experience from its first track to its tenth. It is undoubtedly one of my favourite releases of 2017 and if you enjoy impeccably played instrumental fusion music with a progressive twist, I urge you to check it out.
You never know; you might even find that you, or someone you know, are inspired to take up the bass!
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10
Kayak - Seventeen
Somebody (3:04), La Peregrina (11:42), Falling (3:08), Feathers And Tar (3:14), Walk Through Fire (10:23), Ripples On The Water (3:40), All That I Want (3:47), X Marks The Spot (1:58), God On Our Side (3:30), Love, Sail Away (3:12), Cracks (8:50), To An End (3:32)
Founding member/keyboardist Ton Scherpenzeel has chosen to continue with a brand new line-up featuring singer Bart Schwertmann, guitarist Marcel Signor, drummer Colin Leiijenaar (Neal Morse) and on one track (Cracks), bassist Kristoffer Gildenlw (ex Pain of Salvation, Neal Morse). The album displays a sharper, more direct edge than previous Kayak releases and the progressive rock elements are escalated. As an example, the 12-minute La Peregrina is an adventurous and multi-layered musical treat. It is also a positive testiment to Scherpenzeel's choice of Schwertmann in the lead vocalist role. He displays an impressive range on the song and throughout the entire album.
The expanded, progressive tracks (La Peregrina, Walk Through Fire, Cracks) are the most captivating, but the strong instrumental, Ripples On The Water is also a highlight. Featuring guitar work by Ton's former Camel bandmate, Andy Latimer, the song is a reminder of what a guitar legend sounds like.
The remainder of the album falls into more conventional areas, but contains some entertaining pop/rock moments nonetheless. Tracks such as Somebody, Falling, All That I Want, Love, Sail Away and the beautiful To An End, prove that Scherpenzeel still has much to say musically. That same statement could be used to describe Seventeen in general, as this new line-up has produced one of the better albums in the 45 year history of the band.
Patrick McAfee: 8 out of 10
Major Parkinson - Blackbox
Lower, Lower Me Down! (4:48), Night Hitcher (5:55), Before The Helmets (1:26), Isabel - A Report To An Academy (9:42), Scenes From Edison's Black Maria (1:48), Madeleine Crumbles (5:07), Baseball (10:21), Strawberry Suicide (3:03), Blackbox (5:49)
Twilight Cinema was a bit of a mixed bag, but Blackbox is more cohesive sounding, although it does take a bit of a turn to the dark side. Jim mentioned that the vocals vary, from primal screams to Leonard Cohen. On Blackbox I do not hear any screams but the comparison with Leonard Cohen can still be made. Major Parkinson's sound also reminded me of The Flower Kings, especially the parts where TFK use an effect to transform Roine Stolt's vocals an octave lower. If I remember correctly, from some point in their discography they have one song like that on every album, like White Tuxedos on the Desolation Rose album.
The back catalogue from Major Parkinson contains some very diverse sounds, but Blackbox is more cohesive and mostly darker sounding. There are more violin and wind instruments such as trumpet, saxophone and trombone. I think no one will be surprised if I add fellow Norwegian band Gazpacho to the list of influences. The dark voice of Jon Ivar Kollbotn is the steady factor in the sound of Major Parkinson. The chanting female vocals by Claudia Cox are more present on this album, and a very nice contrast to the voice of Jon.
The album starts with Lower, Lower Me Down! and Night Hitcher. The first one being more ambient and mellow and the second being more techno with soulful keyboard sounds, very distantly sounding a bit like Nine Inch Nails. Blackbox has songs with a variation of duration. The first two songs are of average length whilst Isabel - A Report To An Academy and Baseball are the epic songs on this album. On the long songs they take their time to steadily build to a climax.
Madeleine Crumbles is the only 'happy' song in this album. On previous albums they have had a few more of those but on this album only one. If you like the diversity of previous albums then this can be the only downside to this new album, only one 'happy' song. But then this one is highly enjoyable. By far the best song on this album. In between are some short songs, dark vocals and atmospheric piano/keyboard interludes. The album ends with the title track, which has a chorus sung by Claudia with her chanting voice that will hypnotise you.
Blackbox is seriously one of those albums that needs a lot of time to sink in. It is very dark and needs some spins, but after some time it crawls under your skin. I also listened to their previous albums and Major Parkinson is my discovery of 2017, I hope many more people will check out this remarkable band. Blackbox is not the easiest way in, but in time you will enjoy it more and more. Some parts may seem indigestible but then just play the marvellous Madeleine Crumbles. Too bad there is only one song like that on the album.
Edwin Roosjen: 8.5 out of 10
TNNE - Wonderland
My Childish Mind (8:27), Eye Of A Storm (6:43), Katrina Killed The Clown (7:15), Wonderland (6:50), Final Fantasy (5:27), Frozen In Time (7:43), Glittering Lights (4:11), Eight Weeks (8:28), Le fil du temps (4:23)
There is no doubt that TNNE, along with the band No Name that they evolved from, take their influences from the prog bands of the 80s and 90s, rather than the 70s, whose influences, particularly IQ, can be heard throughout the album.
The opener, My Childish Mind, is a case in point, although it would be an injustice to TNNE to over-emphasise any comparisons, as the band do have their own style and sound. The opening song is quite a belter though, Kiefer's smooth vocals, some great guitar and keyboard interplay, and additional flourishes from guest saxophonist Fred Hormain all add up to an excellent beginning.
The next two tracks relate to the destruction caused to New Orleans by hurricane Katrina back in 2005. The muscular Eye Of The Storm verges on prog metal. The the powerful riffing and broad pallet of keyboard interjections, emphasise the power of the tropical cyclone that was one of the most destructive ever in US history. Katrina Killed The Clown deals more with the aftermath of the storm, the initial piano intro giving way to some great harmony guitar sections, the whole song being imbued with a plethora of melodies.
The quality is maintained through the title track and the soaring Final Fantasy, while Frozen In Time features some inventive guitar playing from Cordero, including good use of the ebow in the opening section. For me, this latter song loses it's way a bit in the middle, with the more narrative lyric, and dreaded spoken word lines, not being a cohesive as the earlier material.
It is the same with Eight Weeks, the main issue is that the vocals tend not to merge with the music very successfully and there is an almost combative feel, the vocals distracting from the music, whilst simultaneously the music distracting from the vocals. These two tracks are divided by the disappointing Glittering Lights. This makes the album somewhat uneven, with the better songs at the start of the album. Indeed, when first playing the album I was left with the initial impression that the album was largely a disappointment, driven by the lasting impression of the weaker second side.
The bonus track Le fil du temps is somewhat of an oddity, sung in French with accordion-like keyboards and a faintly Algerian type vibe, the song is totally different from anything else on the album, but enjoyable enough in its own right, with special mention given to the sax and guitar breaks.
So this is a rather mixed bag, whose positive elements certainly outweigh the negatives. TNNE are certainly heading along the right lines and have the talent and vision to create something special in the future.
Mark Hughes: 6.5 out of 10