Reviews in this issue:
Antoine's Legacy - Antoine's Legacy
If a job is worth doing, then do it well.
One of the better-implored adages of the English language, and one that the three core members of this new Dutch progressive metal band must have had rammed into their souls by their parents and/or school teachers during their formative years.
Everything about this debut album gives the impression that the trio of Glenn Antoine (drums and vocals), Randy Antoine (guitars) and Marijn Geluk (vocals) have put 101% into its creation.
From the eye-catching and intriguing cover image, to the smart promotional pack, when this album first arrived out-of-the-blue, I put it straight into my player.
To swell their ranks and to boost their sound, the trio has recruited and collaborated with two of prog's most respected musicians. They have also employed two of rock's most-acclaimed studio men to give the resulting tracks the sheen they deserve.
We have Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater, Black Country Communion and Sons of Apollo) on keyboards, whilst virtuoso Dave LaRue (Joe Satriani, Flying Colors, Steve Morse Band) features on bass. The album has been mixed by Paul Northfield (Moving Pictures by Rush and Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime are among his discography) and mastered by Ted Jansen in New York (Hotel California by The Eagles and Muse's Radioactive are among his achievements).
You can bring in the world's greatest musicians and studio engineers, but if the songwriting is poor, then the album will be a dud.
Thankfully Antione's Legacy (the album) is full of superbly crafted, memorable songs, delivered by a great set of skilled and talented musicians.
The music here is of the style that was so popular amongst prog-metal bands in the late 80s and 90s (the classic period). The lazy comparison would be to Dream Theater, and there is more than a passing similarity in the general dynamics. The heaviness and pace is very much of the Images And Words and Awake DT period. However, the playing is not so intricate and complex.
With the majority of the six tracks straddling the ten-minute mark, the guitars and keyboards are given plenty of space to showcase and duel. They are frequently employed to add texture, melody and tone behind the wonderful vocals of Marijn Geluk. As such, I am more reminded of the second and third albums in the wonderful trilogy from the band put together by ex-Dream Theater singer Charlie Dominici.
This is best heard in the strong opening track, Pain And Illusions. This has everything that a fan of the classic period of progressive metal could ever need. The deep, chugging, grinding riffage amid an undercurrent of a thick bass drum, Sherinian's smooth, soaring keyboard tones, a clever change of groove and dynamic towards the second half, an addictive vocal hook, and a wonderful guitar/keyboard battle-of-the-solos.
However there is no formula being employed here. Every track has its own style and groove. I love the classic Suvvern vibe added to the Led Zeppelin meets Rush arrangement of As The Moon Shatters. Only the second track Sacred fails to hit the mark. It is actually a great song, but seems to be in a key or a range (or maybe both) that really does not suit Geluk's otherwise highly impressive voice.
Much better is Dirty Details. This is simply one of the best progressive metal tunes I have heard in the last decade, where some incredible riffs are just one of the highlights in an ever-changing musical landscape. Across this album, the guitar work is as good as on those by Dominici or fellow Americans Redemption. Where We Belong is a superb riff-monster. A track where I have yet to avoid the need to plug in my air guitar.
They just don't make progressive metal like this anymore. Which is a shame, as Antione's Legacy has much to offer, and is an essential purchase for any fan of the classic progressive metal sound. This will easily be one of my favourite albums of the year. Highly recommended.
Band Of Rain - The Dust Of Stars
After a six-year hiatus, Band Of Rain, featuring Chris Gill, have released their fifth album which is filled with haunting, ambient songs and has some rock and pop elements as well. On this album Chris Gill collaborates with his friend and multi-instrumentalist Micha Steinbacher, whilst Ria Parfitt sings on the more pop-orientated tracks Toys and Dust of Stars. The other tracks are mainly instrumental and have some heavy rock passages as well.
Gill describes the album as hypnotic, trance-like music. Treading a line where progressive rock and psychedelic music meet, it is often reminiscent of Hawkwind, Pink Floyd and very early Porcupine Tree. In some cases the tracks on this album do remind me of these bands but Gill and Steinbacher manage to create a sound of their own. Sometimes with Eastern influences but most of all with sound effects and a somewhat celestial feel, that is less dark than for example Porcupine Tree.
For fans of the aforementioned bands there is enough to delve into, but the absolute class, and capability to turn a song around is sorely missed on this album. There is a lot of musicianship on this album and the songs feature a lot of clever programming, as can be heard on Dark Sun and the album closer Lydian Flight.
The band delve into darker realms with the track Bob and really touch the Floydian grooves on Across a Starlit Night, including the saxophone. Another great track is Ancient Electric that features a superb guitar solo by Gordo Bennett.
This album is a great way to spend over an hour with some good music but it never really touches the class of the bands that were inspirational to Gill and Steinbacher. Nonetheless there is enough to enjoy and the production is very solid.
Juha Kujanpää - Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa
Well, I guess it had to happen again eventually. You might call it one of the perils of being a reviewer for DPRP.
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I occasionally review albums that make such a positive impression, that they compel me to investigate the artist’s discography further. Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa falls into that category and I have recently purchased Juha Kujanpää’s previous two releases, Kultasiipi – Goldwing released in 2015 and Kivenpyörittäjä - Tales and Travels released in 2013.
This trilogy of albums offers a tasteful experience of charming instrumental music, which is coloured by some of the conventions of prog, whilst encompassing folk, jazz and classical influences. Many different styles of music are utilised as sources of inspiration. Orchestral waltzes, Greek bouzouki, Finnish folk music and klezmer scales, seamlessly blend together with strong melodies and thoughtful arrangements, to produce music that has familiar points of reference, but is ultimately unique.
Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa has an organic feel, and its wood-formed instrumentation evokes imagery of sun-shadowed valleys and the emergence of soft-shaped spring flowers. Juha Kujanpää is a well-known Finnish composer and keyboard player. His ensemble as featured on Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa includes Timo Kämäräinen (guitar), Tero Tuovinen (bass), Jussi Miettola (drums), Tommi Asplund (violin), Alina Järvelä (violin) and Esko Järvelä (violin).
Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa is probably the most accomplished of Kujanpää’s three solo releases and it is a perfect album for any readers who might wish to hear something that offers an alternative to some of the usual styles of instrumental music associated with prog. The album provides a perfect remedy for those who might be suffering from repeated exposure to excessive amounts of distorted guitar-led fusion. It offers a melodic ear-wash that is capable of rinsing away any lingering traces of dissonance that might refuse to budge.
The album centres upon beauty and harmony, where melodious tunes, played with a jaunty swagger, play their part, to create a wonderful musical soundscape that envelops the senses in a warm, heartfelt embrace.
Vuorikiipeilijä opens proceedings and is impressive in every way. It is a great, uplifting tune and features an outstanding guitar solo. It is a beautiful piece and its likeable structure should satisfy any prog fans who enjoy melodic, guitar-led pieces such as Soft Machine’s The Tale of Taliesin, Aeolus and Out of Season.
Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa seldom fails to entertain or enchant, and consequently time spent in its convivial company passes very swiftly. Its high quality delivers satisfaction on many different levels. Each track contains enjoyable elements, but the album's overall wide mix of styles creates something that is thoroughly satisfying. Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa has the potential to appeal to a variety of prog fans. Compositions such as Vuorikiipeilijä and the latter parts of Perhostanssi satisfy any prog criteria that relates to tuneful complexity, whilst pieces such as Matkalaulu are so rhythmically adept that they are able to satiate any compulsion, or desire to tap a digit or two.
The majestic tones of Aurora are so beautiful, that they are capable of sending snake shivers to dance a playful tryst on unsuspecting spines. Aurora is undoubtedly one of my favourite pieces of the album. It is simply a gorgeous tune. Superficially, its captivating arrangement sounds like something that Dewa Budjana could have created during his Zentuary recording sessions. Put simply, it is alluring and mesmerising in every respect. The inventive use of a lap steel guitar provides an unworldly effect that gives the composition a somewhat celestial air. A number of unusual violin effects also come to the fore during the piece's satisfying finale and these help to accentuate the track's ethereal qualities.
Kumina and Matkalaulu are compositions that wear their folk influences proudly on their sleeve. Infectious rhythms give both pieces a joyous intensity.
Kumina is a foot stomping extravaganza where it is not hard to imagine the enthusiastic discarding of hats, ceremonially thrown into the air and trampled underfoot in a rush to get to the dance floor. The use of handclaps, and the fabulous interlocking work of the three violinists gives the piece a fresh, authentic air that owes much to Finnish folk music, but also incorporates other ethnic influences. The effect-laden violin solo, which concludes the piece, is particularly impressive and is full of the mystery, invention and panache that might be normally associated with such fine players as Eddie Jobson, David Cross *or *Jean Luc Ponty.
The merry, shanty-like two-step ambience of Matkalaulu infused with the scent of the sea and the rolling cresting of waves is a country-dance, jowl-shaking and hip-shifting affair. The percussion utilises a bodhran effect, and this, in tandem with the fiddle playing, creates an enjoyably memorable folk rock piece that offers a contrast to the cinematic sweeps of the title track and the sparse melodic meanderings of the recurring theme of the elegant Jää sulaa.
For good measure, Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa even includes a composition based upon some of the musical conventions associated with a waltz. However, although Hirvitalon valssi has a simple melodious charm, it is progressive in its arrangement and execution. It begins with an accordion, in a manner and style that is vaguely reminiscent of some of William Drake’s work in his outstanding Revere Reach album, but later the piece effortlessly incorporates many other elements including folk, jazz and classical music. The expressive guitar parts complement the whimsical mood of the piece and the interplay between the violins and the clarinet is sublime.
The music of Juha Kujanpää has been a great discovery. Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa is an exquisite album that is full of striking melodies, fresh arrangements and inventive playing. Its accessible nature is thoroughly enchanting and it is difficult not to be smitten by its simple melodic clasp.
However, beneath its beautiful exterior, a plethora of intriguing and engaging facets await discovery. I whole-heartedly recommend that you check out this thoroughly enjoyable release. Just hold on to your wallet though folks. If you do not, you may find yourself tempted to purchase all of Kujanpää’s striking discography of outstanding folk-tinged instrumental albums.
Oh, where was I? What was that other band that Kujanpää used to play in?
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Schizofrantik - Ripping Heartaches
With the release of Ripping Heartaches the Bavarian band Schizofrantik have reached a new highpoint in their career. Filled with good and dark themed songs that keep you on the edge of your seat, tricky math-like riffs are followed by brutal outbursts of anger and despair before flowing into melancholic melodies of heartache. It is this musical creativity that is the foundation for a collection of songs of Buddhist teachings and the weariness of our ever-changing world.
From the opener, Satan and Death Separated by Sin (how much darker can a song title get?), the band has found a way to send their talent and a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness into our ears. The opening track starts off with eerie-sounding keyboard lines before opening up after some heavy poundings of guitar. It is a maelstrom of sounds and riffs that really sets the bar for the rest of the album.
On the songs A New Day and Why Is My Mind the dust settles just a little, with frontman/guitarist and main songwriter Martin Mayrhofer giving way to his vocal talents. But the brutal and raw progressive power is back in full, on the tracks Personal Hell, Hungry Ghosts_ and Infinity.
When thinking of artists and bands to compare this release with I can`t help but think of King Crimson during the Thrak period but also Dream Theater, Meshuggah and definitely Haken. Now this says everything as to the quality of playing and composing by the members of this German band. Apart from Mayrhofer the band consists of Henning Lübben (keyboards), Marco Osmajic (bass) and Christian Schichtl (drums).
The band showcases an enormous creativity and should be considered a band to reckon with. From the powerful and demanding opening track, to the clever and beautiful Children Stopped Crying in Aleppo and onto the very progressive, compositional bravery of Infinity, this album is a must-have for fans of the aforementioned bands and surely will be played again and again by myself. I will now investigate the back catalogue of this band.
Yes - Fly From Here - Return Trip
Releasing a remixed version of the 2011 Yes album, Fly From Here, with newly recorded vocals by Trevor Horn, seems like a curious decision by the band. Horn has stated that he was intrigued with the idea, because in light of Chris Squire's passing, this was an opportunity to create a true follow-up to the Drama album with the same line-up. That seems logical, but as a fan of the original 2011 release, I will admit to some skepicism upon hearing about this endeavor. That said, considering Horn's gifts as a producer and musician, combined with his substantial contributions to the original album, I went into Return Trip with an open mind.
I am glad that I did because there are certainly rewards to be found here. The most advertised change, the new vocals, represents the least jarring difference between the two versions. Though the modification is noticeable, Benoit David's original work was already somewhat Trevor Horn-like in its approach. Where Return Trip makes it's biggest impact is in the remixing. Horn makes a point to give several tracks a very different feel in terms of tone and arrangement. This proves to be very effective and helps to provide this version with its own identity. Another very effective move is the heightened showcasing of Chris Squire's vocals in the mix. Along with being a testament to his talents, it also feels like a better bookend to his career than the disappointing Heaven & Earth album.
Including the long version of Hour Of Need, is another big plus. Previously only available on the Japan release of the original album, it provides this release with another positive distinction. One mis-step is the bonus track, Don't take No for an Answer. It's not a bad song per say, but it mainly feels out of place in terms of its placement. Positioning it within the album, rather than as a bonus track at the end, feels disruptive.
Ultimately, Fly From Here - Return Trip will likely not convert listeners who didn't enjoy the original version. For those who did however, it stands as a great companion piece and is certainly different enough to be intriguing. Questioning the point of it all is certainly understandable, but Horn's reasoning is solid. Placed side-by-side with the Drama album, this release feels like a natural next step.