Reviews in this issue:
Joe Deninzon And Stratospheerius - Guilty Of Innocence
One of the perks of being a reviewer is that on some days you get the pleasure of getting introduced to some music or bands you never heard of but are actually quite good. Or in the case of Joe Deninzon And Stratospheerius, really good!
Now I do have to be honest and say that this album took a while for me to wrap my ears around. But when it did, it was an epiphany of wonderful proportions. Joe Deninzon is a wonderful musician who has worked with an array of artists like Sheryl Crowe, Bruce Springsteen and Ritchie Blackmore. He writes and arranges in different styles but with Stratospheerius he has found a very creative output in a rock and progressive direction.
Being called the Jimi Hendrix of the electric violin is something Deninzon can be very proud of and he showcases this and more of his talent on his latest release on the Melodic Revolution Records label. Guilty of Innocence is the fifth album by the band fronted by Joe who also sings, and plays mandolin and acoustic guitar. The sheer mastery of the instruments and in particular the violin of Deninzon himself is remarkable. He is backed by Jamie Bishop on bass guitar, Aurelien Budynek on guitars and vocals, and last but not least Lucianna Padmore on drums and percussion. The three of them as talented as Deninzon could wish for.
There is a lot of great music on this album but there are a few stand out tracks for me. The rocking opener Behind the Curtain shows you just how good Deninzon`s voice suits in the musical direction this band takes him. The funky track Affluenza and Face showcase more great twists and turns within just a few minutes.
The Muse song Hysteria is getting the Stratospheerius treatment in a wonderful way that somewhat surprised me as I found it a very risky decision to cover such a song, but the band performed it very well indeed.
But album closer Soul Food is the best and most prog track in my opinion. The band gets it all out on this track with stomping rock, progressive segments a la Kansas and a wonderful break in the song featuring mandolin and acoustic guitar. The track also features the talents of guitarists Alex Skolnick (Testament) and Randy McStyne (The Fringe).
Released in the fall of 2017, this album is highly recommended by myself and I think you will agree with me after a couple of spins.
Kaisers Bart - Meister5tück
After a couple of years of silence around the typical German prog metal drawer, it was about time for this new gem of crunchy melodic prog metal to see the light of day. This new band project consists of Mischa Mang, vocalist of Ivanhoe, and Danilo Batdorf, known from Dreamscape and Subsignal on drums, Steffen Pfluegner on keys, guitarist Uli Riedinger, and Minz Mayer on bass. It took the band three years to create this concept piece about a schizophrenic serial killer and to wrap it in a prog metal setting, plus one more year to produce it using only private money. And the outcome is beyond brilliant.
While the concept is spun very well, the writers renounced any over-the-top theatrical arrangements á la Dream Theater or Vanden Plas, but they keep the metal rolling instead, in a manner of the most brilliant Queensryche albums. And that’s exactly how it has to be, because what we get to hear are the mad insights of a psychopath. Mischa Mang’s profession as a musical artist fully comes to pass in this setting, his incredible vocals walk hand in hand with his expressive way of acting in order to draw the picture of a crazy, rotten mind, and it seems as if it wouldn’t take him any efforts.
But, as if the whole thing wouldn't be hard enough to achieve already, the band decided on German lyrics, which is one of the toughest things to do in rock and metal. Up to today, all attempts to integrate the German language in rock music have failed miserably and always sounded phonetically weird, rhythmically stumbling, or ended up in a weird, ugly linguistic form. in Meister5tück the problem magically doesn't occur. If you don’t care for the lyrics, you might not even notice that it’s a language other than English you’re listening to.
But still it would be just half the deal if these incredible lyrics and vocals weren't embedded in such a solid instrumental arrangement of artful heavy metal at a very high level of musicianship. Especially the rhythm section created quite some interesting bass lines, licks and fills, which make the album stand out instrumental-wise. But all instruments together create a great surrounding that matches the concept and the lyrics pretty perfectly.
Meister5tück, "masterpiece" in English, isn’t just the album title, it is what the quintet has created here as a debut album of a new band, of which we hopefully will hear many good news in the near future.
Pequeno Céu - Praia Vermelha
Have you ever regretted that a "take it home and extended try before you buy" policy is not generally available for many consumer goods?
Have you ever made purchases that a month later have been full of thoughts of what ifs maybes and might have beens?
I have! Mine include; a washing machine that makes a monstrous bass toned bottom noise beep when the cycle is completed and a car that glides like an enthusiastic hare on a downward-sloped open road, but is a puffing tortoise on any sharp incline.
One thing is certain, that if after reading my ramblings about Praia Vermelha some aspects of the album seem appealing, but you are not certain that you will enjoy it; all is not lost, not only is it available as a "try before you buy" item, it is also available to purchase as a "Name Your Price" download.
Pequeno Céu is a Brazilian instrumental band and their methodical approach to composition has a style that is most normally associated with math rock. The band's regimented approach paradoxically has inventive moments that exude a carefree spirit, which most notably utilise hip swaying samba passages, and many other colourful rhythms associated with Brazil.
The music relies heavily upon the electric guitar to convey melody and to develop harmony. The bass offers some substantial support and has a refreshingly gruff tone. The album contains a continuous piece of music and is sub divided into individual parts each with their own track name.
The band is adept at introducing a theme, motif or riff, and then proceeds to wring every possibility from its DNA before it is eventually discarded, or replaced by another loosely related theme. For the most part, this technique is effective and creates a release that has an organic evolving quality that has plenty of moments of light and shade.
Renowned Brazilian guitarist Toninho Horta makes a guest appearance on Paquistã and his outstanding contribution ensures that the piece has a sharpened edge. In other tracks such as, Tóquio / Berlim, Sushi Camarão, O primeiro louvadeus a pisar na lua and Praia Vermelha, the use of a variety of saxophones gives the album a wider palette of sounds. The excellent use of reeds creates an interesting contrast with the guitar-led melodies and riffs, which are a consistent aspect of the release.
The frequent and effective use of a metallophone is one of the most endearing aspects of the album. Its vibraphone sound qualities offer a perfect harmonic counterpoint to the guitar parts that dominate. This helps to create a number of passages that possess a rippling percussive sense of beauty. For example, the metallophone section in Irina Neblina is particularly impressive and helps to bring the bands Brazilian roots to the fore.
Massa on the other hand, is a particularly unnerving track. It is ugly and beautifully discordant. Its rock-faced, forceful mix is as heavy as shattered granite. On this occasion, the use of the metallophone is similar, to the way, that Chilian band Ergo Sum used a vibraphone to sweeten the metallic characteristics of their compositions and lighten the darkness of their overall sound. The over-distorted effect of the guitar and the insistent nature of its riff, brought to mind some of the hard driven work of Serbian guitarist Dusan Jevtovic.
One of my favourite pieces is Sushi Camarão. The members of the band combine to produce some of their most inspiring playing on the album. The bass and percussion work is excellent. _Sushi Camaro's broad range of styles and mixture of textured riffs and exuberant passages brought to mind the work of bands as diverse as *Big Bad Wolf* and *Lapis Lazuli*.
Overall, Praia Vermelha has many fine moments and is an enjoyable and engaging album Even though its characteristic math rock structure is by nature often repetitive, the music seldom fails to develop or evolve in an interesting manner. I thoroughly enjoyed what this album has to offer.
I recommend that you check out Praia Vermelha. You may well find that because of its availability as a "try before you buy" and as a "Name Your Price" release that you have everything to gain and almost nothing to lose.
PS. Does anybody want a washing machine that plays the bass?
Perfect Beings - Vier
The title Vier in Dutch means four. This is not the fourth album of Perfect Beings but there are four songs on Vier, each song cut in smaller bits. Vier is their third album and between their previous albums, Perfect Beings and II, and this one, drummer Dicki Fliszar and bass player Chris Tristram have left the band. The remaining members of Perfect Beings decided to continue as a trio. Session musicians were hired for the recording of the album and the three remaining members are now building a live band.
The sound of Perfect Beings has been described by previous reviewers as a Beatles / Yes hybrid. Also references to Moon Safari and Big Big Train have been made and are all very true findings. The album Vier is more complex and has more jazz fusion influences. In the artist info, the music of Perfect Beings is described with terms like odd time signatures, avant-garde poetry, and symphonic mysticism.
The opener Guedra is not the easiest opener I have heard. Some parts sound like A.C.T., very unpredictable music and indeed odd time signatures. Guedra starts of nice but The Blue Lake Of Understanding is hard to get through. The vocal-lines are very strange and I cannot get into the flow of this part. Then there is a large atmospheric part starting during Patience and lasting throughout Enter The Center.
Second song The Golden Arc starts with a long mellow part with The Persimmon Tree, which makes it to me all together a bit of a long stretch of mellow music. Turn The World Off is short and just like The Blue Lake Of Understanding seems to lack direction. The final part of The Golden Arc shows improvement.
The third song, Vibrational, is overall very mellow and just like the previous songs the heavier parts are very short. Everywhere At Once is very heavy and even has some screaming. The rest of the song is mellow and has some beautiful parts, especially the parts with the wind instruments are very nice.
Anunnaki starts very progressive and with a lot energy. This song has more progressive parts and less stretched mellow parts than the previous songs. The last two songs are easier to grasp and more a pleasant listen than the first two songs. Beautiful music but also very unpredictable and not always in the right manner.
With Vier the band show that there are still musical boundaries to be broken. Vier is not an easily digestible album, it takes a lot of spins. Perfect Beings do not sound like retro prog, their sound is contemporary, but Vier is certainly an album to check out if you like classic progressive rock like old Yes.
The songs easily go from long mellow parts to shorter rock/jazz parts. Point of criticism is that at times to me it sounds a bit glued together and the mellow parts are stretched a little too long at times.
Still overall a very good album with lots of interesting stuff for the people who like to crack a tough nut. If you can get into it, probably after many spins, then you will have a beautiful album to explore for a long time.
When Mary - 7Summers7Winters
I first reviewed 7Summers7Winters on its initial release back in 2013 (review here). In 2017, When Mary, fronted by ex-White Willow singer Trude Eidtang, signed to the UK label Sonicbond and released the second album Tainted. Now five years on, this debut album receives a well-deserved reissue on the same label. Stephen Lambe and Huw Loyd-Jones are the men behind Sonicbond, and when they are not running a record label they are organising the annual Summer's End prog festival as well as contributing to prog-related publications. Lambe is also responsible for the excellent book Citizens Of Hope And Glory - The Story of Progressive Rock.
But I digress. Much of what I wrote in 2013 still holds true, particularly about 7Summers7Winters being prog-lite. That's not taking anything away from the album however, which despite the relatively short playing time, is a fine collection of songs. I'm still unsure about the inclusion of John Denver's Annie's Song however despite the sensitive treatment, but elsewhere the original compositions (penned by Trude and the multi-talented Rhys Marsh) are excellent.
The arrangements are quite sparse at times, but that is no bad thing, allowing Trude's sensuous delivery to shine through with cut glass clarity. She still brings Tori Amos to mind whilst from this side of the Atlantic I would cite Heather Findley, Olivia Sparnenn and especially Iona's Joanne Hogg (I wonder what she's doing these days).
The first half of the album includes some memorable tunes but the second half has the best, and more adventurous material. The hypnotic Falling Tears includes Marsh's dreamy Floyd-ian pedal steel guitar (à la Breathe from Dark Side Of the Moon) and stirring Mellotron-like "strings". Are You Really Sleeping? is blessed with a ridiculously infectious choral hook whilst the title track (dedicated to 91 17th century Norwegians convicted of sorcery and burned at the stake) is all tribal rhythms and emotive vocal chants.
The only aspect of this album that doesn't entirely work for me is the synthetic drums but that's a mute point. What really stands out is Trude's inspirational voice, the excellent melodies and the crystal clear sound courtesy of Marsh and co-producer Christian Paulsen.