Reviews in this issue:
Arca Progjet - Arca Progjet
Arca Progjet is a new band from Italy. It started with Gregorio Verdun (bass and keys) and Alex Jorio (drums). Alex is also the drummer for Elektradrive, an Italian progressive/hard rock band formed in the eighties. The band is completed with Sergio Toya (vocals), Carlo Maccaferri (guitar) and Filippo Dagasso (keys and programming).
The music on this self-titled debut album is neo-prog from the eighties, in the vein of Marillion and Pendragon. I can also describe it as a combination of the hard/progressive rock of Elektradrive and the classic Italian prog of PFM. On the album there is also a guest appearance of Mauro Pagani from PFM. The lyrics on Arca Progjet are all Italian, so you have to like that. Personally I prefer Italians singing in their native tongue instead of trying some kind of English.
The sound of Arca Progjet is very eighties neo-prog. The music is mainly in an up-tempo rock pace with many keyboard tunes and melodic guitar solos. Italian prog is known for the use of flute and violin and these elements are also present on this album.
The first couple of songs are very straight forward, very instantly-likeable rock songs. Just when you start thinking that the album needs a bit more challenging parts it also delivers. From Sulla Verticale the music becomes a bit more stretched and Arca Progjet becomes more progressive.
A nice aspect of the sound of Arca Porgjet is the melodic bass playing by Gregorio Verdun. The bass is as usual not very up front but still very noticeable, and at times it is in the spotlight and very nice. The band nicely alters between solos on guitar, violin and flute but none of these are ever too lengthy. The album changes from nice compact songs, to some songs with more room for melodic intent. It is a nice balance.
Whilst it will not break new barriers, Arca Progjet is a very solid album from a very solid band, that I will be following for their next album.
Matt Baber - Suite For Piano And Electronics
Bad Elephant Music presents the sophomore solo effort (after 2013's Outskirts, and not counting the privately released Cheap Electrolysis album cycle) by Matt Baber, Sanguine Hum's very own ivory tinkler. Indeed, this is a pure keyboards release (both synthetic and acoustic as the title ... well ... suggests). This means no vocals, guitars or drums are involved, as well as zero pyrotechnics in sight. So for those who get excited by the Sherinians and Rudesses of the prog world, a word of warning: this is likely not for you.
Rather, even if one of the main inspirations here seems to be the late, great Keith Emerson (Part Five, Part Seven), I'd say the music leans towards minimalist aesthetics (Part Two), with some cinematic ambient touches here and there (Part Four, Part Six), and a modern electronic edge (Part One, Part Nine) à la Boards Of Canada thrown in for good measure. On the whole, I believe this is an album firmly planted in the classical/contemporary end of the spectrum, with little nods to the language of jazz.
In this regard, Part Ten, which is the longest cut here at seven minutes, is also the most engaging, as it features a well articulated tapestry of everything this release has to offer: minimalism and repetition presented in a very articulate manner.
All things considered, this is a very enjoyable, late-night, headphones-on type of musical experience, impeccably performed and produced, and surely a very adequate breather in your daily helping of full-on prog. However, this being a very specific, dare I say "niche" product, I'm not sure of its appeal outside the keyboardist/pianist community which, given its quality, is a shame. Why not give it a try?
Delusion Squared - Anthropocene
Another great band that I've discovered. I think I need more time than 24 hours a day to listen to all these unknown bands releasing great and modern progressive rock albums. Delusion Squared is one of them, but they are not new. Anthropocene is the fourth effort by this French combo and one thing is for sure, I will listen to their previous releases after having checked-out these songs.
Their previous three albums form a trilogy and I encourage you to check their website, which includes a mini-site for each of those albums explaining the concepts and the characters, including the lyrics. It´s really interesting and a good idea in my opinion for those who do not buy physical albums anymore. Times are changing...
Anthropocene is also a concept album that has nothing to do with the previous trilogy but focuses on these days in which humans dominates everything (apparently). The music introduces you into this idea as it keeps a similar, sad tempo across the album. You won't find weak songs here, but maybe some dramatic tempo changes and different vocals could help to make the whole piece a masterpiece. One can find some Porcupine Tree or Steven Wilson influences here. I know it's very common to name those artists as influences, but they have created a style, and the audience can identify that sound very easily.
I'm not going to describe each song but I will say that you will need to give time to listen to Anthropocene as a whole piece. There are no singles or radio hits here, but a good concept and good melodies. It is not always easy to find that time but once you do allocate some minutes, don't miss the chance to listen to this kind of albums.
One thing is for sure, from now on this band will be on my radar waiting for their next effort. Why? Because they have released a smart and elegant conceptual album which gets bigger every time you listen to it.
Endtime Odyssey - City In Decay
This is the debut album from a Belgian quintet that has been around since 2012. They have supported numerous headline acts in their locality on the strength of a self-titled EP released three years ago.
Stylistically this is the sort of prog-metal that was popularly exploited in the late 80s and 90s. The guitar work is riff-based, with groove and solos and technical proficiency kept to a minimum. The NWOBHM influences are strong. The "progressive" element exists in terms of an ever-changing backdrop of time signatures and beats and occasional droplets of oddness (such as the weird-sounding keyboard solo two thirds of the way through the title track). I am reminded of bands such as US prog-metallers Odins Court and fellow Benelux metallers Aeolus, Xystus and Silent Edge.
To be honest, this is not an album that I have enjoyed listening to. I want more memorable riffs, with a greater variety of dynamics across each song. The keyboards are woefully under-used and buried in the mix. The composition style is often confusing, with the different instruments clashing, rather than compelling. Let's just be polite and say that the singer is not to my tastes.
In the way that an electrician turns up to do a job, only to discover that he has only brought the tools of a carpenter, I feel that Endtime Odyssey may want to be a progressive metal band, but they are more suited to being a straight metal band.
Only on Essence Of Time when the band simplifies matters and focuses on a simpler, power metal style of composition, with keyboards to the fore, does a track sound convincing. Perhaps that is the direction in which they should head in the future.
Twenty Four Hours - Close - Lamb - White - Walls
For some reason, some bands or labels think it's good promotion to send a dropbox link to a bunch of untagged MP3 files. No furtner information, not even links to a website.
I therefore will give you a short description of the information I've managed to find. The album title is a reference to Closer by Joy Division, The Lamb ... by Genesis, The Beatles' The White Album, and Pink Floyd's The Wall. The music is said to be inspired from these albums, which the band call the most important "white" albums. I guess that should be "albums with black and white covers".
Opener 77 shows a modern version of 1970s progressive blues, with an excellent wah-wah guitar solo in the style of Pink Floyd. This is something I like! Broken Song follows the same path, albeit more slowly, and I find that over six minutes of this without something of a change is a bit too long.
Embryo is not a cover, by the way. Here we have a little Genesis sound, until the guitar solo comes in, which is definitely Gilmour-inspired. With What Use there's a more of a modern approach. I guess this is where the Joy Division influence comes in.
A pun like Supper's Rotten does not really work. Is that an Italian thing? Music-wise it's a collection of ideas that don't really flow, don't recall Genesis, and are way too long. It's more Italian prog, with a few bits that are nice, but too many bits that are not.
The vocals, then. At first they made me think of Devil Doll, because of the spoken-sung and different voices and vocals, or the way Roger Waters whispers. However, it is used way too much here and it started to annoy me before I reached the end of the album, or most of the songs for that matter. Even in other vocal parts, like 77, which has a more aggressive way of singing, the vocals have a strained, forced feel. He's over-acting. While Urban Sinkhole starts off nicely, musically, I don't think I've heard this song completely in one go because I couldn't stand the singing. Think Hawkwind's Spirit Of The Age (where it fits and does not sound overacted) but then much, much longer. Overdone, that's the word.
The Tale Of The Holy Frog starts off with such an awful vocal during the intro. I almost skip the song every the song starts time but then I remember that (fortunately!) a female singer does most of singing in this song. Musically, this has the least influences from the albums that the title mentions, so it is probably closest to what the band write themselves. This, 77 and Adrian are the best songs on offer here, and I really like them. She's Our Sister and All The World Needs Is Love are also good, mainly thanks to the female singer. They should have let the female singer sing more.
The title already warns us about the influences that made this record, so I didn't expect a lot of original twists. That's not a bad thing per se, but there were too many times I had that "aha" feeling and the funny thing is that those moments did not remind me of the four albums referenced in the title.
The music heavily relies on Pink Floyd influences, but older than The Wall. I hear only a touch of Joy Division, a tiny bit of The Beatles, and a little Genesis. So the idea behind the concept is more in name than in content. It also should have been a single album.