Reviews in this issue:
Art Of Illusion - Cold War of Solipsism
Polish melodic prog-metal band Art Of Illusion have released their second album Cold War Of Solipsism. While their debut album, with the wonderfully triple-oxymoronic title Round Square Of The Triangle, was an instrumental release with singer Marcin Walczak guesting on three tracks, the vocalist has now become a fully-fledged member. Naturally, the songwriting on Cold War of Solipsism follows more traditional song structures, with verses and choruses, while still retaining a classical progressive approach.
Particularly song number two (not counting the intro Ico) Allegoric Fake Identity displays a masterfully-written tension ark from the softer verses, to the dark and powerful chorus. But even there, the band has managed to slip in a swinging bass groove intro, a frantic piano solo from Pawel Lapuc and some excellent shredding work from from guitarist Filip Wisniewski to conclude the song. It is definitively my favorite song on the album. The virtuoso playing and intricate arrangements of the debut didn't have to give way entirely to the more vocally-centered approach, it's all still there. Luckily, the two are not mutually exclusive.
The ballad of sorts, Able To Abide, is quite uneventful compared to what goes down in the first three tracks, but the two concluding tracks make up for it big time. The title track starts off with a somber groove, building up towards a brilliant riff that's both heavy and proggy at the same time. Even Dream Theater at the peak of their creativity would have killed for such a stroke of genius. It is powerful stuff for sure. Think Train of Thought era, but with a less-forced, thrashy heaviness.
The ten-minute mini epic, King Errant concludes this highly recommended prog metal album in grandiose fashion, running the full gamut from piano intro through an epic chorus, pounding riffs, sprawling organs, the only growl of the entire album and some stellar lead guitar work. Cold War of Solpsism has got everything a good melodic prog metal album needs. Great songwriting, fantastic virtuoso performances from the instrumentalists and a powerful singer, who never runs the risk of resorting to clichéd melodies.
If this band can create more 'hit singles' like the smasher Allegoric Fake Identity with its unique vocal line that is both unusual but very accessible, then the score is bound to go up even higher with the next Art Of Illusion album.
The Samurai Of Prog - Archivarium
Archivarium, as may be guessed from the name, is a trip through the archives of the international collective known as The Samurai Of Prog, compiling tracks that have appeared on various Colossus projects, as well as a handful of previously unreleased recordings and, going back to the roots of the very first TSOP album, a couple of new cover versions. However, this is not a straight forward compilation, as all of the material on the album has been given a new treatment. All tracks are remixed, some are rearranged and most have been embellished to some extent. As usual, there are a plethora of guest musicians and composers (all, except for the cover versions, as per usual are keyboard players) featured throughout the album.
Things kick off with a new instrumental, Keep The Ball Rolling composed by Octavio Stampalia from Jinetes Negro and featuring the marvellous Brett Kull on guitar. A very upbeat number with plenty of twists and turns and lots of growling, Hammondesque organ, which wonderfully interacts with Steve Unruh's melodic violin. A grand piece of music in every respect that ticks all the right prog boxes and as stylish an opening number as you are likely to hear all year. A Head Of Fortune originally appeared on the third part of the ambitious Decameron project, although this remixed and edited version only includes the vocal part of the song. Featured musicians are Eduardo García Salueña (keyboards) and guitarist Rubén Álvarez. The truncated piece works really well and emphasises the fine vocal melodies.
We head over to Argentina next with Nexus' Lalo Huber (keyboards) and Carlos Lucena (guitar) contributing to La Oscuridad, one of Huber's songs, written for a joint project with TSOP under the name of Oceanic Legion. The project was never completed, although a couple of tracks have appeared on Decameron releases. The original 2014 recordings have been tarted-up with some additional instruments and new vocals, essentially a duet between Unruh and Michelle Young, best known in prog circles from her work with Glass Hammer and Oliver Wakeman/Clive Nolan. The vocalists do a great job with the Spanish text and recognition must be given to the inventive drumming of Kimmo Pörsti, who shines throughout the album, and particularly at the end of this song. It is another immensely hummable tune with the violin again taking a prominent role.
Cristalli is a song written by Michele Mutti (La Torre Dell'alchimista) following a discussion with friends who implied that writing good music was a complicated and laborious process. To prove them wrong Mutti delivered Cristalli in just a couple of hours. Stefano Galifi (Museo Rosenbach) provides vocals but it is the trio of Mutti's keyboards, Álvarez's guitar and Unruh's flute that make this song stand out.
A newly mixed version of another Decameron III piece, Elitropia by Oliviero Lacagnina, takes us back to some fine instrumental prog. Admirable as they were, like many of the Colossus projects, the sheer volume of music on the releases can tend to obscure individual tracks, so it is rewarding to hear some of them in a new context. I had not previously assimilated the sheer novelty and musical humour contained in this piece, which sees TSOP backing Lacagnina with great aplomb. The Sleeping Lover is also from the Oceanic Legion project and previously featured on Decameron II. However, this is is an almost totally different sounding version with the remix placing a greater emphasis on the flute and violin as well as having new vocals and lyrics, both contributed by Unruh. It is one of the more dramatic pieces on the album and one of the proggiest, with a great lyric to boot.
Anyone who loved the last album by TSOP, the exceptional On We Sail is in for a treat, as From This Window was originally submitted by Presto Ballet's Kerry Shacklett for potential inclusion. The quality of that album can be judged from the fact that From This Window didn't make the cut. Thankfully it has been resurrected and fleshed out for this new recording. Serbian metal guitarist Srđan Branković (AlogiA) adds in some tasty licks which compliment those of the composer, who doubles on keyboards and additional guitar.
The first of the cover versions is a bold take on Camel's Ice, a song that it would seem somewhat pointless to cover, given that the original just about said everything that needed to be said. In part, the song is included as a tribute to the late Guy LeBlanc whom TSOP worked with on their first two albums and who was hopefully going to contribute keyboards to the song when Marco Bernard and Kimmo Pörsti first started work on it several years ago. In some respects the delay in finishing the piece has probably been advantageous as it has given the TSOP duo space from the loss of their friend, and also allowed them an opportunity to invite new musical acquaintances to contribute their skills. Despite the sleeve notes of the album stating that TSOP have come to realise that Ice shouldn't be touched or covered, they do themselves a disservice, as their version stands alongside the original as both being brilliant pieces of music. The idea of the repeated refrain being performed on different instruments, keyboards (Stefano Vicarelli from La Batterie), saxophone (Marek Arnold from Toxic Smile and United Progressive Fraternity), violin (Unruh at his wildest best) and guitar (Fran Turner Resistor) is genius and works exceedingly well. The sax is a lovely differentiator, and Turner's harmonised guitar is class on a six-string.
No TSOP album would be complete without a solo piano composition from the pen, and fingers, of David Myers. Archivarium is no exception as Predawn brings the album proper to a graceful conclusion.
A version of David Bowie's Heroes, recorded as a 60th birthday present for Marco Bernard's brother, has been included as a bonus track. As one would expect, it differs somewhat from the rest of the album as it is a relatively straightforward rendition without too much progification, although the sax and violin do add new layers. Additional guests on the track include Mark Trueack from Unitopia and United Progressive Fraternity on vocals, and fellow Australian Danny Lopresto from Southern Empire on guitar.
Once again, Marco Bernard has masterminded a superlative release that is all the more impressive given the diverse contributors and the span of time over which the compositions are drawn from. Unlike many archive collections, Archivarium hangs together so well it could almost be considered as a pre-conceived new album. A special mention should also be made of the artwork by the brilliant Ed Unitsky who, for the first time, has incorporated images reflecting the name of the band. The three samurai warriors riding from a bamboo forest out into the universe spread across the inner triptych is, to say the least, superlative, and that is before one gets to the 20-page booklet.
The Samurai Of Prog have maintained their high standards with this release. It could easily have just compiled recordings from the vault and been released to capitalise on the increasingly high profile that the trio are achieving. But the attention given to ensure that the older pieces are remixed or appended, that new music is added, and in ensuring that everything is encased in a brilliant package, shows how much TSOP care about their musical endeavours. That is also a reason why we, the listeners, should also care too. In many ways it is a bonus that the music on the CD is as good as it is, and when I say good, I mean very, very good.
Tesseract - Sonder
Tesseract is a band hailing from Milton Keynes in England. Having started out 15 years by Acle Kahney, a steady line-up was found in 2006 and their debut album (One) landed in 2011, along with some extensive touring of the UK. Two other albums followed in 2013 (Altered State) and 2015 (Polaris). In 2017, writing began for the next album: Sonder. Having known that my dad has dappled in some TesseracT, I decided to give them a listen.
The album kicks off with a heavy, chugging riff before softer elements come in: clean guitars, clean vocals and more ethereal guitars. The heavy riffs come back, but sound mellower and lighter when mixed with the lighter vocals of Daniel Tompkins.
Follow-up track King keeps the familiar type of djent riff, with the same one repeating for the first near minute or so. This track has a slow and steady pace with some growled vocals added to the mix. With the steady pace and slight lack of variation in the riffs, I do feel this song could have easily had the last couple of minutes cut off, and it wouldn’t have had any negative impact. Orbital is up next, this one is a short, atmospheric interlude.
The music comes back on the scene with Juno. Again, the intro riff is fairly similar to many others before it, however the music is mixed with some staccato riffing and some fantastic bass work. However, this is sadly let down by the same chugging-type riffs coming back in.
Beneath My Skin brings back some of the nice bass playing and a few more exciting and proggy riffs. It sounds almost like a mix of the good points of the previous tracks. Overall, this is probably the best song on the album.
Mirror Image is a chilled track, featuring a more atmospheric sound to it and a nice use of clean and heavy guitars. The second to last track, Smile, tries to do the same as Juno except with the growled vocals making an appearance again. Closer, The Arrow follows directly on and essentially sounds like Orbital, but with 30 seconds of guitar work in the middle.
Don’t get me wrong, the musicians are talented, can write a very good djent song, and the vocals (both clean and growled) suit the music perfectly. For me however, the lack of interesting variation in the music was a let-down.
If you are a fan of their older stuff, or bands such as Periphery, some of Devin Townsend’s work in various bands, or the likes of Leprous and Monuments, then definitely have a listen to this. I think you will enjoy it. For myself however, it is not my thing.