Reviews in this issue:
3.2 - The Rules Have Changed
The original 3 album, To The Power Of Three, released in 1988, was an attempt by Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Robert Berry to capture some of the commercial success that bands like Asia and Yes were having in the era. Though they never reached that level of success, the album's first single, Talkin' Bout, received a lot of radio airplay. Though it contained some very good tracks, overall the mix of pop and Emerson's more adventurous style seemed to conflict with each other.
It was when the band reached the live stage that their true potential became clear. Allowing for the musical expansion that Emerson excelled at, their music displayed an energy that was sometimes missing on their debut release.
3 broke up not long after their tour, in large part due to Emerson's dissatisfaction with the project. It is somehow fitting though that it was an old live recording of the band, released almost 30 years later, that rekindled Keith's interest. It reminded him of how good they were, and led to he and Berry working on ideas for a new album. Sadly, this was not to be, due to Emerson's passing in March of 2016. After a long period of reflection, Robert decided to continue work on the musical ideas that he and Keith had collaborated on. The results are contained in this extremly entertaining release.
Though Keith Emerson does not play a note on the final version of The Rules Have Changed, his imprint is all over the album. In fact, it stands as a rousing tribute and a testament to his distinctly vast talents. Berry does a fantastic job of utilising Keith's ideas to recreate the sound that Keith would have brought to this recording. Though there is an unavoidable sadness contained within these songs, the end result is triumphant. It sounds like a natural and improved upon sequel to the original 3 album.
Tracks such as One By One, Powerful Man, the title track, Your Mark On The World and particularly, the rousing Somebody's Watching succeed, not only in their reminder of Emerson's talent, but they are just fantastic songs. The same can be said for the majority of the album. Robert Berry is a multi-talented musician, and with this release he has co-penned and entirely performed a wondrous accomplishment.
I am not sure that anyone could have expected a new 3 album thirty years later, so for that reason alone, it is a great surprise. The fact that it also represents a wonderful tribute to one of prog rock's greatest, helps to take it to the next level. Overall though, Robert Berry has done his friend Keith Emerson proud, because The Rules Have Changed stands on its own as a truly entertaining recording.
(This review is published in conjunction with the interview Patrick McAfee did with Robert Berry. Read it here!)
Flying Machines - New Life
When I was younger, I spent hours in the company of my grandpa. His skill as an accomplished raconteur always made the fog of time lift. He regularly enthralled me with vivid tales of aerial dogfights and skill filled crash landings on the yellow bracken foothills of Merionethshire, Wales. His inspiring tales helped to fuel a childhood infatuation with flying machines in their different guises and awe inspiring manifestations.
By the time of my early teens, I had almost become expertly aware of the various sounds associated with different planes. The low-hum, coiling, wailing and frantic push-pull rumblings of a Cessna 337 Super Skymaster was always a favourite, closely followed by the distinctive hoarse throaty sound of the Britten-Norman Trislander.
With the passing of time, the once satiating pleasure of singing out of tune to a merlin engine, or the satisfaction of identifying a delta-winged silhouette, has long receded. However, it is strange how something as seemingly innocuous as a name, or even an atmospheric piece of music can rekindle long forgotten memories. Flying Machines' latest album New Life did that for me on more than one occasion.
Transported back to my grandad's bobbing knee, embraced in the orange glow of the wood spitting fire, different but similar hands, tightly clasped upon the observer corps, aircraft identification book. Each black edged winged silhouette taking turns to fall in, taking time to stand still in time. These reminiscences once misted and sepia toned have taken on a vivid new hue; yesterday’s memories no more, as the disc rotates and the music colours and sharpens my fragile recollections with vivid precision.
The albums delicate ebb and flow has a persuasive quality that, strikes a successful balance between structure and chaos. Standout tunes such as, Elation and Take Time are highly evocative. They emit a consistent feeling of intimacy and immediacy, which celebrates the present but, offers a signpost to the past. These tunes consistently envelop listeners in gorgeous melodies, showpiece guitar parts and wondrously spacious ensemble passages.
Flying Machines' mostly instrumental album draws upon a range of contemporary sounds and influences including prog, to create an album that is an excellent example of contemporary progressive jazz rock.
The album begins with a powerfully multi layered guitar extravaganza, where the spotlight shines brightly upon the talents of guitarist, bandleader, and principal composer Alex Munk.
This track is at odds with the relaxed nature of many of the other tunes and is a valve bulging, fist thumping exploitation of ingredients and tones normally associated with rock guitarists. It bursts into life containing a huge sound that roars, explores and lingers. The vibrancy of the tunes powerful granite edged guitar sound makes a beeline for the senses, to thump the heart and bounce the brain in an uncompromising embrace.
Although the piece has multiple layers of distorted effects and tones, it is easily accessible and has wide-ranging appeal. If the intention was to begin the album in an attention, grabbing way, it certainly works. It also provides a platform for the other styles of music contained in the disc to act as a distinct contrast to the bold yet beautifully ugly head shaking noise of the first track.
The album contains three improvised pieces made by the band on the fly. Blink, Standing Still and Bullet Train provide a fresher looser, blast-of-noise approach that contrasts beautifully with the album's more delicate, carefully arranged works like Moondust and Kilter. The approach works well and knits things together in an enjoyable manner so that the album never settles into a predictable groove. Bullet Train is particularly chaotic; exuding lashings of energy and great ensemble playing set against a wonderful, rhythmic backdrop.
All of the members of the band excel at different points in the album. Alex Munks expressive guitar playing oozes with emotion. Each guitar embellishment radiates with feeling and he has an impressive ability to choose just the right amount of clarity or distortion to complement the mood of a tune.
The rhythm section consists of Dave Hamblett and Conor Chaplin. Chaplin is also the bassist for Dinosaur and his role within Flying Machines is every bit as impressive as his contribution to Dinosaur's recent Wonder Trail release.
Keyboard player Matt Robinson holds many of the tunes together and his frills and subtle embellishments help to establish a range of flowing sounds that offer a satisfying contrast to Munks's formidable array of tones and textures.
The band's knack of mixing things up extends to sections within pieces as well. Tunes frequently change unexpectedly, to offer a new direction, or a different approach to appreciate. This is no more apparent than in the magnificent Elation. Everything about this tune works impressively well. It includes a finely crafted guitar solo and some flowing piano interludes. Used to great effect and juxtaposed within Elation’s beauty and fragility and are some frantic rhythmic passages, shape-forming keyboard, and guitar soundscapes.
It ends with a softly sung section to reprise the delicately framed melody of the previous piece Prelude To Elation. The imaginative use of the voice as an instrument in Prelude To Elation and at the conclusion of Elation was reminiscent of some of the work of Richard Sinclair for Hatfield And The North and more recently the work of Romain Baret in his superb Naissance de l'horizon release.
Elation has an unforgettable ambiance and I was soon captivated, by the tunes mysterious allure. My awareness of my surroundings is lost in its soothing haze. When I listen to this album, vivid recollections continually enter my thoughts. My grandad appears again, now ageless and everlasting in my rekindled memory. He avidly points; colourfully indicating patterns and imaginary faces in the drifting contrails that patchwork the early morning sky. Consequently, I have found it almost impossible to be unaffected by New Life’s remarkable pull.
I have thoroughly enjoyed Flying Machines wonderful album. In fact, many of its tunes have left me swooning and besotted. Its inventive melodies provide more than enough excitement to feed the imagination. Its reflective qualities that enable it to reawaken the past are gently comforting and its hypnotic melodies and occasional poly-rhythmic math-rock structures have a fascinating and long lasting appeal.
Put simply, Flying Machines' New Life album is impressive in every respect. The use of a number of styles ensures that it will appeal to a wide audience and in particular to anybody who might appreciate well-played and arranged instrumental music.
Mike Kershaw - Arms Open Wide
It really is fun to watch an artist grow in their craft. I've been listening to Mike Kershaw's music for several years now, and I'm amazed at how his sound has grown and matured. His lyrics have always been his strongest point, in my opinion. They are thoughtful and profound. While many reviewers have been unable to get past Kershaw's somewhat static vocals, I was captivated by his lyrics from the moment I first heard them. He is a keen and precise critic of society and human nature. On Arms Open Wide, Kershaw combined that lyrical talent with another leap forward in musical talent and ability.
In addition to Mike on vocals and keyboards, the album features Gareth Cole on guitar, Leopold Blue-Sky on bass, and Stefan Hope (Gandalf's Fist) on drums. Each one of Kershaw's recent albums/EPs have been better than the previous ones musically. Arms Open Wide is no exception. His older albums tended to be more sparse and spacey, and they were heavily synth driven.
A few years ago, I believed that Kershaw's music and lyrics would be best served by a more cohesive band with more diverse sounds. Since then, his music has featured a much more balanced musical approach. Guitars, complex bass riffs, and complicated drums fills add a lot to this music. With the addition of more complex music to go with the excellent lyrics, Kershaw's relatively limited vocal ability should no longer stand as a barrier to enjoying his music. His voice is warmer on this album, and he appears to be growing as a vocalist.
Gareth Cole's guitars on this album really stand out to me. He plays in a variety of styles throughout. His melodies, riffs, and solos work really well with the music. His guitar solo on Curtains is exceptional, and it really brings the entire album to the next level. It approaches Hackett-like levels of brilliance towards the end. Kershaw's swirling synths, the delicate drumming, and the intricate bassline are the icing on the cake as the album masterfully comes to a close. The well-paced solo ends the album on a soaring note that leaves me wanting to go back and listen to the album again. Since the lyrics, which deal with fear of an all-seeing government as well as anxiety and other similar themes, are thought-provoking, the listener should find plenty to absorb on repeated listens.
Fans of Mike Kershaw's music will likely agree that Arms Open Wide is his best effort to date. For prog fans that have been turned off by Mike's vocals in the past, I encourage you to give this album a try. It is a well-balanced progressive rock album that delivers thematically and musically. For those unfamiliar with Kershaw's music, this album is the perfect place to start. By the end you'll want to close your eyes and sway to the rhythm of Cole's guitar.
Onysus - Dyuson - Between Two Worlds
Most progressive bands used to record several demos (on tape, remember those...) before making a real effort of a debut album in the old days. Years of molding, crafting, creating ,cutting and shaving with pieces eventually falling into place; after which they felt confident enough to release their album, sometimes to high appraisal from press and audience for one could hear the growth of a band with a bigger and better production. With today’s standards it is possible to record superb sounding albums, brilliantly demonstrated recently by many artist (just check some recent reviews on DPRP). Now under review is Dyuson - Between Two Worlds, a conceptual debut album by Onysus from Braga (Portugal) bringing back memories of Majesty coming into growth as Dream Theater releasing their eponymous debut album When Dream And Day Unite: sound-wise enjoyable but obviously surpassed by the iconic Images and Words.
In short, the concept of Dyuson tells the story (in three acts) of a future earth which is ruled by a tyrant government, in which main character Robert encounters an alien being (James) one day, who he becomes friends friend. World leaders despise of this and declare war on James, and with his new friend endangered, we travel through the choices and decisions Robert has to take to save his friend, in the end result making Robert the man between two worlds.
Act 1 starts off with intricate melodic guitars by André Pacheco and Pedro Coelho and introduces vocalist André Lopes, creating anticipation, immediately filled in by Beyond This World; eclectic progressive metal, lots a breaks, asymmetrical rhythms and multiplex guitars. Unfortunately there is something sorely out of context, for it sounds flat, moderate and production is definitely not up to scratch. Making out the instruments is fine for the guitars, but drums (Daniel Rodrigues) sound thin, dull and pale and combined by dim indistinguishable bass supplied by Francisco Petrucci a muffled backbone is formed. Guitars, too upfront in the mix, shred and grasp you by the throat to which Lopes adds his restricted vocal abilities, ultimately making the composition sound forced and unnatural, almost like a demo. A sound quality which sadly doesn't improve on further exploration of the album, making it an exhausting experience to listen to on the whole.
When you try to energetically filter out the shortcomings on sound and production, one can reasonably conclude there is lots on offer. Onysus incorporate lots of influences from classic progressive rock like Gentle Giant (especially vocals) and Rush, metal like early Queensryche to more explicit technical prog-metal bands like Dream Theater, Pain Of Salvation and Haken. Switching styles from jazz to metal, blues-rock and melodic rock to speed-metal shows promise on what they might be capable of in future. Perfect example is On Hell We Shall Talk in act 2, which reminds me of Lemur Voice. Based on luscious melodic guitars slowly building up to a formidable complex ending section with angry guitars and orchestration throughout, a feature they should use more often. Only to be used again on the equally enjoyable Bloody Tears and sparsely in the end section of The Final Report.
Act 3 portrays signs of elaborate heavy progressive metal, which will appeal to fans of Haken, though sometimes I can’t beat the feeling Onysus get lost and make it over-complicated. In The Righteous Man and the epic The Final Report they forcefully plow ahead constructing lengthy heavy prog-metal tracks incorporating breaks, riffs, atypical melodies, showing technical abilities and shredding solos in several ways to convey the concept, but ultimately lose focus and drown in an unnecessary overabundance of complexity. Good effort but not quite there yet.
Personally I think this release comes to early in their carrier. They incorporate some bright ideas into their music and especially the tracks laced with Lemur Voice and Rush sound promising, but to make a coherent record takes a bigger effort. Orchestration gives their music a favorable extra dimension which they could explore more, and once they achieve a crystal clear production they could be well on their way. Recommendable for fans of Dream Theater, Iron Maiden and Haken; for me personally they only just opened the proverbial door from the basement looking out, now let’s see where it takes them.
Shineback - Dial
Masterminded by singer, multi-instrumentalist Simon Godfrey, Shineback rose out of the ashes of Tinyfish, releasing their debut album Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed in 2013 on the newly formed Bad Elephant Music label. The demise of Tinyfish was a shame as their last album The Big Red Spark was for me one of the best releases of 2010. With Shineback, Godfrey along with co-writer Robert Ramsay (another Tinyfish veteran) has embraced electronic music and keyboard technology, perhaps encouraged by his keyboardist brother Jem (of Frost* fame) who played on the aforementioned The Big Red Spark.
Godfrey has been far from idle since the release of Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed. During the 5 year interval he has married, relocated from the UK to Philadelphia, USA, released a solo album Motherland in 2014, and formed the band Valdez who released their debut album This in 2017. He has also released the digital only Black Bag Archive Volumes 1 to 3 consisting of previously unreleased material written and performed by Godfrey over the past 20 years. More specifically, in 2017 a 4-track Shineback CD entitled Minotaur was released to serve as a stopgap for this album.
Whereas Tinyfish was fairly lean in terms of its musicians, here Godfrey has enlisted an small army of guests including Dec Burke (Frost*) - guitar, Hywel Bennett (Dec Burke Band) - guitar, Joe Cardillo (Valdez) - keyboards, Tom Hyatt (Valdez, Echolyn) - bass, Ray Weston (Echolyn) - vocals, Matt Stevens (The Fierce And The Dead) - guitar, Karl Eisenhart (Pinnacle) - guitar, Daniel Zambas (We Are Kin) - keyboards, Henry Rogers (Mostly Autumn, Touchstone) - drums, and Tom Slatter - guitar.
Dial clocks in (if you’ll excuse the pun) at a generous 70 minutes including the near 10-minute title song and the closing mini-epic Kill Devil Hills. Its an eclectic mix of styles that includes prog (naturally), electronic, mainstream rock and pop, blues, industrial and hard rock. In many respects, it's a far cry from Tinyfish and I get the impression that Godfrey has been influenced a little by working with American musicians over the last few years.
In an album that’s hard to pin down musically, Lies And Consequences is a suitable opener that literally explodes from the speakers with a combination of shrill electronics, guitar feedback and thunderous drum fills. The simple, repetitive riff that follows reminded me of the iconic The Faith Healer by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band whilst Godfrey’s chant like vocal adds substance to the vitriolic choral hook.
Many of the songs including Here I Am, The Gentleman and Without Words open with melodic and rhythmic electronic effects and build gradually from there. The latter song has an upbeat chorus which like Me Vs. Me that proceeds it is reminiscent of the intelligent pop characteristic of Tears for Fears.
Piano and a touch of key strings are sparingly but effectively combined with electronic instrumentation on several songs, particularly during the title song Dial. Both I Love You From Memory and Kill Devil Hills feature noodly, but unobtrusive synth solos that add a touch of Genesis-like dynamics to both songs. My New Reward is virtually all keyboards and bubbly electronic effects with a dance beat and a simple, but compelling synth hook. More synth-pop than prog-rock but its infectious exuberance is hard to resist.
Guitar hasn't been abandoned altogether however as the list of guest musicians testify. Consider Her Ways is a mid-tempo, organ driven rocker with a catchy chorus and a fuzzed guitar break whilst Dial is almost upended by a lengthy blues jam. The deceptively titled Let Her Sleep oozes aggression with distorted guitar, an anthemic choral hook and a Nine Inch Nails attitude. Kill Devil Hills boasts not one but two long solos with a shredding and intense assault at the halfway mark and histrionic workout towards the end that would do Steve Vai justice.
Godfrey’s distinctive, cut-glass voice has never sounded better than on this album although during Lies And Consequences, Dial, Me Vs. Me and Let Her Sleep he does resort to using EDM style (electronic dance music) vocal processing. Thankfully this is not overdone and can be quite effective as in Me Vs. Me where he reverts to his normal voice for the upbeat chorus. During The Gentleman his subdued singing even manages to sound like Gerry Rafferty.
The only song where Godfrey doesn't sing is Here I Am, where lyricist Rob Ramsay’s spoken monologue accompanied by spacey effects bears a resemblance to Patrick Allen's chilling "Mine is the last voice that you will ever hear" message on the extended mix of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes. The standout song on the album however is probably the beautiful I Love You From Memory, a bittersweet ballad with a passion drenched vocal and a yearning chorus.
Despite the moniker Shineback and the long list of guest musicians, Dial feels like a very personal and uncompromising album where Godfrey hasn’t pulled any punches, putting his heart and soul into the recording. The arrangements are sparse one moment, dense the next and you can easily imagine Godfrey building them layer upon layer in the studio. With so much genre hopping and the 70 minute length, it does taken several plays to properly digest.
My only reservation is the bloated guitar solos which although impressively played, sound out of place and a tad self indulgent. To be truthful, I miss the melodic style of Tinyfish guitarist Jim Sanders whose fluid contributions were an integral part of the_The Big Red Spark_ album. In the end however, it comes down to the quality of the tunes, and songs like I Love You From Memory, Consider Her Ways and My New Reward are amongst the strongest that Godfrey and Ramsay have penned thus far.