Issue 2018-031: Mini-Reviews Special
Reviews in this issue:
23 Acez - Embracing The Madness
23 Acez is a Belgian hard rock / metal band. As you can see I didn't add an adjective like "prog" there. Although advertised as a progressive metal band, metal is the main part, or hard rock if you want to be specific. It's a little more than that, though, or it would have not been interesting enough to warrant a mention here.
The music is touching progressive rock territory here and there because of the rhythms and breaks, in the same way that Metallica and Iron Maiden have occasionally shown their progressive edges. The title track is the most melodic and diverse, alternating melodic with heavier bits. The arrangements are also more clever here than on the other songs, making this the most interesting track for prog fans.
The song remains the most important thing in this band's music, which might make it less interesting for a typical prog audience. However if the riffing and general angry-sounding voices of Metallica or Judas Priest are your cup of tea and if you like music to be a little more progressive and demanding, you should definitely have a go at this one.
Fields Of Troy - The Great Perseverance
Right after listening to 23 Acez, here's another metal band from Belgium. The two share a focus on metal with symphonic tendencies and touches of prog, but Fields Of Troy is more agressive and sometimes brutal. More metal.
There is a good deal of riffing, and the average speed is high. There are a few grunts and metal screams, but mainly powerful singing. The voice really fits. I am thinking of Clutch here.
Probably the most progressive song is the closing track, Doomsayer. It's the song that has the largest contrast between heavy and atmospheric and the most variation between its various sections.
After several spins, I have to admit that the metal parts do sound a bit like other parts elsewhere. The whole album is not groundbreakingly original but I doubt that was the band's goal. Making a good-sounding, brutal heavy metal album was.
If your non-prog interests reach into in the metal field, have a listen, this is well-written and well-played.
Islaja - Tarrantulla
Tarrantulla is the sixth and latest album by Finnish Berlin-based artist Merja Kokkonen, alias Islaja. This album emits a strong after-taste, as it concludes. It features nine tunes that frequently cross a number of genres and includes a raft of disparate influences.
Superficially, it features a vocalist, a raft of electronic effects and something that sounds somewhat like a cello. This unlikely meeting of flesh, circuit board and wood, creates an evocative cocktail of sounds that is both memorable and disturbingly enjoyable.
The nearest comparison would be to the work of Gazelle Twin in her magnificent Unflesh album. Tunes like Emosein, with its Kalevala roots have a similar ability to unsettle, as Twin’s work so cleverly did in much of Unflesh. Islaja’s vocal style and compositional approach also has some similarities to Bjork.
The avant nature of Islaja’s approach to song writing never fails to create an interesting aura, but she also has the knack of providing her tunes with impressive hooks when the need arises.
Islaja is also able to fuse folk melodies and electronica with ease in tunes such as Sadetta, that has a haunting melody and possesses a misty mysticism.
Some pieces have more staying power than others do. Although the sax break was impressive, the heart-on-sleeve 80s pop vibe of Tactile Material was a little too twee and predictable for my liking. Conversely, the futuristic whisperings of Robot Arm and its combination of offbeat lyrics and avant expressionism ticks all the right boxes.
If you wish to hear something that is progressive and unusual in its eclectic range of tunes, but also has some pop sensibilities and want to step a toe into the world of vocal electronica then Tarrantulla might be a good starting point.
I love it. My family hate it. What more can I say!
Olavi Louhivuori - Immediate Music I
If droning synths, noises and free expressionism is your cup of tea then look no further than this album. If melody, identifiable structures and virtuoso playing form part of your prog checklist, then this album will surely disappoint.
Experimental? Yes. Progressive? Yes. Accessible? No. Enjoyable? No.
Immediate Music I is one of those albums that may well test your patience, or you may just find that it surprisingly expands your musical knowledge and experience. It consists of three tracks that drone, gurgle and dribble in sloth-paced synth sounds and electronic pulses that seem to have little regard to form, or structure.
The loops, beats and synthesiser patterns in Parts 1 and 2 appear to have no discernible hooks or form. Instead, the listener is confronted by a blanket of sounds that imperceptibly evolve as the composition progresses. The result is tiresome, and I found the first two parts of the album so tedious and impenetrable that by the time the third part came along my interest had waned and I was not particularly receptive to what the rest of album offered.
However, the third part is the most palatable, and there were brief sections that reminded me of Fripp and Eno’s No Pussy Footing or Evening Star releases. However, even the most enjoyable interludes in part three have none of the structured build-up of tension and unleashed crescendos of power, associated with those albums.
If you want to develop your powers of concentration or nurture an ability to be receptive to something unappealing, then Immediate Music might well be for you. It would be interesting to see what DPRP readers make of this release (comments on FB please - Ed).
Malditos - II
Malditos is an Oakland-based band. Their second album subtitled La Reve was released in 2017. The band has developed a dense sound that features a guitar wall of crunching sounds, droning synths, tabla rhythms and avant vocals. These components are set against a fusion of melodies and atmospheres associated with music from Asia, and in particular the Indian sub-continent.
The result is pleasantly unsettling, and the band's dark take on psychedelia is certainly interesting. The vocals are particularly evocative and have a seductive air of unpredictability. The vocalist often uses an experimental and offbeat style of expression that can also be associated with artists such as Dagmar. At other times the vocals are reminiscent of something Siouxsie and the Banshees might have delivered.
The album is a low-fi affair, and its dense sound often made it difficult to pick out or follow individual instruments. This style was probably intentional, as there are times at the beginning of tracks where the instruments have a clear sound and have good stereo separation. For the most part though, the sound quality detracts from the album's interesting characteristics.
The tunes have an ethereal and disturbing quality and the album is shrouded in a grey veil of misty allure. Although superficially filled with mystique and full of a promise of hidden depth, many of the tunes are one-dimensional, lacking exciting changes of pace or interesting development.
Nevertheless, this album has a number of interesting characteristics and it could well appeal to readers who want to hear something unusual that sits outside the norms of prog.
Phantom Elite - Wasteland
After releasing two successful singles, this Dutch/Brazilian outfit arrives with a debut album that should appeal to all fans of female-fronted, melodic, modern metal with a progressive edge.
Founded early in 2016 by Sander Gommans (After Forever, HDK, Trillium) and singer Marina La Torraca (Avantasia, Exit Eden), the band is completed by ex-Cirrha Niva pair Ted Wouters (guitars) and bassist Eelco van der Meer, with Goof Veelen adding a second guitar. Gommans doesnt appear to be part of the band, being listed as "guest musician" playing bass on several tracks.
The best tracks are those front-loaded by the dual duelling guitars. Siren's Call was an obvious first single and the title track provides an even stronger follow-up. Revelation and Lockdown have more classic metallic structures, whilst Astray is the traditional mid-album poppy ballad pause-for-breath.
There is a good mix of heavy and light to showcase Marina's excellent vocal performance. Wasteland is nothing revolutionary but it is a very enjoyable and easily-accessible debut.
Powerized - The Mirror's Eye
Symphonic metal from Holland. Very symphonic and very metal and with a very metal singer that took me back a few decades. However if you like this kind of metal voice: he is very good at it.
Although some parts sound like classic melodic metal or epic AOR, the overall compositions are quite clever with their breaks and melodies. The symphonic parts are not just synth intros. There are several layers almost everywhere, adding much more than a typical tapestry of synths.
More than in classic symphonic prog, Powerized are less interested in speed and solo extremes, having a greater focus on arrangements. Several parts remind me of Rhapsody but it's never over the top. It has the somewhat "happy" epic prog feeling the Italians were drowning in, but Powerized manage to deliver more diversity. Pagan's Mind also come to mind, and maybe that's a more fitting comparison, since I have the same feeling about the vocalists.
There are a lot of lyrics and these have obviously been getting a lot of attention in terms of the arrangements as well. Check out the very nice dual vocal lines in For The Fallen!
Satan's Bat, my favourite on this album, is a really heavy and fast song with lots of breaks, but it never becomes flashy. There's emotional playing in Forever Coming. Ire Of The Monster is mostly typical symphonic metal with a sing-along chorus, but again the overall composition is saved by its diversity, although the 12-minute God Of This World is a tad too long.
When you would listen to several short samples you might get the "symphonic metal" label, but listening to the songs as a whole, in general there is more prog, along with some really clever playing and arranging without overdoing it, and a great production.
But I'm in doubt about the overall feeling. With repeated listening I kept being reminded of 1980s or 1990s metal bands (with better production, though) and I think it has a lot to do with the vocals. Since there are a lot of lyrics, there's a lot of vocals. Listening beyond that, there is a lot to discover on this album and I think hearing these guys live must be quite a party.
Weathered Statues - Borderlands
Weathered Statues hail from Denver in the USA. There is something quite attractive about the series of tunes presented in their Borderlands release. The low-fi nature of the album suits the band's raw style.
The band has perfected how to convey emotion and bitterness in a set of songs that will either have you dancing in appreciation or rolling your eyes in frustration.
Post Punk is not a genre or style that I would normally listen to, but on this occasion, I am pleased that I decided to step outside my comfort zone. I found myself appreciating the straight-ahead, raw appeal and honest expressionism of this type of music. However, by the end of the experience, I immediately reached for some of my dearest prog albums in an attempt to salve and cleanse my aural passages.
Taken for what it is, Borderlands is an enjoyable listen. Corpse Candle is a fine opener with a memorable hook that draws the listener in. The latter part of Hypnagogia has some interesting sections that indicate a band that is is able to move things around a little and step slightly beyond their usual style. A number of tunes such as The Widow Sunday are surprisingly attractive and I found myself inadvertently tapping out its drill-bit, woodpecker riff, or humming its repetitive nasal choral of vocal delights on a number of occasions.
Nevertheless, Borderlands is not an album that I will play regularly, it’s just not my thing, and it probably has little to commend itself to those who enjoy prog.
Barry Weinberg - Samsarana
Samsarana is a concept album. It has been written and (I think) solely performed by American musician Barry Weinberg. It stands as a novel, with each song a chapter in the story.
Samsarana is a Sanskrit word that means The Wandering. According to its creator, the album "tells a powerful human story of life’s challenges, redemption and self-actualisation that all listeners will relate to and be inspired by".
It comes more than a decade after Weinberg's only previous album; 18 songs exploring the genres of blues, country and bluegrass, and written as the score and soundtrack for the documentary film, Florida Crackers: The Cowboys and Cattlemen of Florida.
Musically, this endlessly crosses the borders from ambient progressive rock, to american folk rock, to melodic rock and metal (with some jazz and orchestration thrown in). The border crossing is done on a track-by-track basis, rather than merging these styles within a single song. So you move from the Pink Floyd mimickry of Creation and This Vicious Cycle to the Alice Cooper shock rock of Come Out And Play and onto the Neil Young-infused americana of A Passage Of Time. Taking It All would have been a great Motley Crue B-side in their 80s heyday.
This certainly has its moments. The Pink Floyd inspired songs are solid, with some excellent Gilmour-esque guitar playing. Some of the hooks, such as those on Come Out and Play are rather catchy. Whilst it can never be accused of being stuck in a musical rut, the constant genre-hopping and the lack of any repeated motifs or styles, means that the album lacks a cohearant flow. The production is certainly home-made (check out the drum sound on Beyond The Astral Sky). The whole thing is streaming from the YouTube link below.