Reviews in this issue:
Electric Mud - The Deconstruction Of Light
Electric Mud are not to be confused with the Krautrock band of the 1970s or indeed the American retro rock band who share the same name. They are in fact a contemporary instrumental trio from Hanover, Germany comprising Hagen Bretschneider (music, sound concept, bass), Lennart Hüper (rhythm guitar) and multi-instrumentalist and producer Nico Walser.
The Deconstruction Of Light follows three previous albums, Dead Cat On A Railroad Track (2013), Lunatic Asylum (2015) and Wrong Planet (2016). I can’t comment on either of those albums not having head them but this latest combines post-rock, prog, ambient, electronic, blues and hard rock. The end result is rarely cohesive but it certainly makes for a very interesting and never dull listen. They also make (like Pink Floyd for example) judicious use of sampled sound effects and spoken word.
Whilst musical influences and stylistic similarities to other artists can be heard on most any album, the references here are so blatantly obvious at times that I’m not entirely sure if it’s plagiarism or homage. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt however and plump for the latter.
Take lead track Deadend Mind for example. The first part clearly belongs to Electric Mud with its muddy sound of doom metal and heavy, distorted bass. The second part however is a barely disguised reference to Steve Hackett’s Shadow Of The Hierophant outro, right done to the solo glockenspiel beginning, gradual build and layering of instruments. At 11 minutes 40 seconds it's also virtually identical in length to Hackett’s masterwork.
Then there's the third track Black Dog which for the most part can be best described as an avant-garde version of Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water if you can imagine such a thing (naming it after a Led Zeppelin song instead is clearly a little joke on Electric Mud’s part).
Elsewhere the song comparisons are perhaps a little vaguer although the influences still evident. Canary In A Cathouse with its distorted guitar and fuzzed organ recalls The Doors which inexplicably morphs into a bouncing Mike Oldfield-like riff circa the Platinum album before concluding with a Vangelis-style cinematic soundscape. Likewise, Through The Gates utilises keyboards and electronics to produce an equally atmospheric, symphonic outro although this time with a heartbeat rhythm, all in the style of Jean-Michel Jarre.
Suburban Wasteland Blues is a bit of an oddity in an album full of oddities. The title sounds like a pastiche of Subterranean Homesick Blues although stylistically it's a long way from Bob Dylan. It features two distinct versions (or eras) of blues guitar. The first is deep down, grimy heavy rock that could have come from anyone of the numerous blues-rock bands in the early 70s (e.g. the Groundhogs) whilst the second features vintage country blues picking complete with the sound of a crackling gramophone record.
Another oddity is the closing track Moongarden which is a virtual repeat of the Shadow Of The Hierophant sequence from the opening track although with a different arrangement that replaces guitar with symphonic keyboards in the crescendo.
I’ve saved the best until last however, the near 12 minute and most cohesive track Heads In Beds. Classical guitar is joined by David Gilmour-esque fluid lines and shimmering keys creating an ambient Floyd-ian landscape. A sweeping Tangerine Dream symphonic section follows although the bouncing synth rhythm is more Kraftwerk. The icing on the cake is a truly uplifting piano and soaring guitar section that Camel or any melodic prog band would be proud of. A melancholic piano and sea related sounds provide a fitting close.
The Deconstruction Of Light is one of those albums that almost everyone should sample regardless of their musical preferences. Some parts will not to be to your taste, they may even be downright irritating, whilst other sections will be musical nirvana. For me, the concluding 4 minutes of _ Heads In Beds_ does it every time.
Hanterhir - The Saving Of Cadan
After a few stops and starts caused by the addition and departure and even re-addition of various members since their inception in 2007, Cornish band Hanterhir have, after four years hard toil, released their magnum opus The Saving of Cadan, a prog rock opera relating the tale of Cadan who is saved from his suicide attempt in a lake by a wicked spirit, Morwenna, the Lady of the Lake.
Over that time recording locations have included a Methodist chapel, a llama farm, a cricket club and, just to be on the safe side, a conventional recording studio. After 18 months of progress the loss of all of the audio files accumulated in that period resulted in a re-evaluation of the project, some more writing and starting again from the beginning.
The five piece band features Ben Harris (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Peasy (guitar, vocals), Jason Brown (drums, percussion), Grant Kellow (bass, vocals), Mike Hewitt (saxophone, keyboards, vocal) and Lou Peixinha (flute, vocals) with additional help from Trevor Kemp (guitar, harmonica), Frances Bennett (fiddle, vocals) and Mark Cragg (melodeon). Possibly uniquely, the album has been released on a limited edition five-sided vinyl edition or, for the more conventional, a double CD.
Throughout the 100+ minutes of playing time there an immense variety of music on offer, ranging across excellent heavy prog (Hello Sunshine, Step Backwards), early Hawkwind-type cosmic trips (Cadan, Hope Comes with Love), acoustic psychedelic folk (Arloedthes a’n Lydn, Tonight, Darralow), maelstrom jazz rock (Delivered Hope, Sorrow Goes) and the unconventional (Song Of The Lady). And that's just the first half of the album!
The musical diversity continues throughout the second half and although the scope of the musical endeavours is broad and far ranging there is an inherent logic to the ordering of the pieces, even if it is not all that easy to follow intricacies of the story being told, particularly as some of the songs are sung in the Cornish language. But hey, millions of people listen to opera without understanding Italian or German so the language issue is not a problem, in fact the unfamiliar nature of the lyric actually compliments the listening pleasure.
The contrasts between different songs, enhanced by use of saxophones and fiddle, installs an excitement brought about by the listener having no idea what they will be faced with next and, importantly, means that the album never drags or becomes boring. Even after hearing the album repeatedly, previously unheard nuances make themselves apparent.
A very ambitious project but one that ultimately succeeds and, in these days where originality is becoming a scarce commodity, there is very little to match this collection of imaginative recordings.
Isproject - The Archinauts
Isproject is a young musical duo from Italy and The Archinauts is their debut album. Members Ivan Santovito (composer/arranger, vocals, keyboards, piano, bass) and Ilenia Salvemini (vocals, co-arranger) certainly deserve kudos for the complexity of this work. It feels conceptual in nature, which is daring for a debut and there is a lot of musical ground covered.
Though the publicity notes mention them not wanting to be pigeonholed into a particular genre, the influence of several prog bands is apparent. Moments abound that are reminiscent of Marillion, Porcupine Tree, King Crimson, Genesis, Riverside and others. However, I don't want to imply that this album sounds like a rehash or copy of works that came before it. For the most part, Isproject manages to display what has inspired them, while still confirming their own voice and style.
Though Santovito handles the bulk of the vocals, the moments where he and Ilenia Salvemini share the responsibilities are particularly effective. Also impressive are the arrangements and how tracks like The City And The Sky, Lovers In The Dream and the epic Between The Light And The Stone effortlessly transition their multiple musical styles. This includes some really pleasing old school prog keyboard and guitar soloing.
There is an accessibility and lack of excess to the songs that will likely expand its appeal beyond just prog fans. That lack of extremes is also reflected in the very reasonable 48:00 running time. Being sure to not wear out their welcome by creating an overly long or inconsistent debut, there is a nice flow to this recording both in tone and substance.
With The Archinauts, Ivan Santovito and Ilenia Salvemini prove themselves to be new artists of note. The album feels meticulously crafted and is full of great musical moments. It is certainly an impressive start for the Isproject and absolutely recommended.
Egor Lappo - Way Without Light
Egor Lappo is a one-man band from Russian who has just released his debut album, Way Without Light to the world. The first thing that is noticeable from the album is the quality of the production. For a one-man, unsigned debut album, the sound quality is like that of many albums with labels behind them.
The second thing to notice is the influence of Devin Townsend. The album kicks off with a heavy, djent-y sound mixed with some very Townsend-esque vocalisations and ‘tweedley’ lead riffs. A nice mix of ethereal sounding prog metal. There is lots of quick, technical riffs throughout, mixed in with some death metal styled riffing and vocals. It sounds almost like a mix sometimes of Gojira and Devin Townsend at points, particularly on Imperfection.
The album features several guest vocalists who each add another dimension to the tracks they feature on. For example, Arsafes adds a more death metal feel to Imperfection, while Ilya Markov adds a touch of power metal fuelled melody to Solstice, all this laid on over Egor Lappo’s brilliant prog metal riffing and Ivan Shiskin’s powerhouse drumming.
A clear example of the ability of Egor to change this style would be in the wild card track of Apple Lake which has a country pop vibe to it and a distinct lack of metal. But still a happy and enjoyable song none the less!
I did find that the djent sound got a bit repetitive after a while on the instrumental tracks, often relying on similar patterns to drive them forward and fill in gaps. That isn’t to say it is bad, but it does remain in relatively "safe" territory.
Having said that, I found myself surprised by this album. Normally djent doesn't do much for me, however there was something about the writing on this album that kept me listening. However, I will say that the album sounds maybe a bit too similar to a number of Townsend's works. But, on the other hand, this is a debut album and as such I believe that, with the talent showcased on it and the superb guests, the second or third album will be a truly spectacular one.
If you’re a fan of Gojira, Devin Townsend or djent bands such as Periphery etc, then go and give Egor Lappo a listen. While the album may not be revolutionary or ground-breaking, it is an altogether good, solid album.
Overhead - Haydenspark
I have all four of the studio albums so far released by this quartet from Finland (Zumanthum, Metaepitome, And We're Not Here After All, and Of Sun And Moon, plus their engaging live DVD Live After All.
It's been almost 20 years since their formation. Following their musical journey has been a real pleasure. They have yet to release anything that would not have won a "recommended" tag from me. Their fifth album more than continues that run.
Their big dynamic range, the mixture of progressive, classic and modern rock styles (with a hint of flute), their addictive spinning of grooves, the abundance of emotion and the immediately recognisable voice of Alex Keskitalo has given Overhead’s music a sound like no other.
There is a nice analogy within the splendidly eye-catching cover of their new album, which I think describes the music on this album rather well. The four faces of the band members are overlapping and inter-twined. Co-dependent, yet independent. The colours are from across the rainbow. Haydenspark is an album of contrasts but ones spun by the Overhead patchwork of creation.
In terms of the songwriting, Haydenspark takes a step back from Of Sun and Moon. That was the most direct and accessible of the band’s records. This time Overhead have increased the diversity and unpredictability. It is not a return to the more folky and traditional prog of their earlier albums. It is very much a further evolution of the Overhead sound.
To get the negatives out of the way first: As ever with an Overhead album full of diversity, there are a couple of songs that do not work for me. The faux-funk groove of King Of The World isn't to my tastes (it has just been released as the second single, so wadda I know!). The balladic Across The Nation sounds too sincere. I prefer my sincerity with a heavy touch of pathos.
But that's it. There is nothing else not to love about Haydenspark (and its wonderful cover).
The opening pair are the most direct, rockier songs; acting as a transition from the music on Of Sun And Moon. The first single, Count Your Blessings is simply one of the best songs the band has ever written.
The album's cynosure is the title track. A grandstanding veneration to the classic sounds of progressive rock's heyday. Drench yourselves in those keyboards, before rocking out to the stomping climax. A glorious triumph.
The closing trio showcase superbly the band's diversity. Death by Tribulation explodes with some violent Sabbath riffage. The Fall is thoughtful and wonderfully led by acoustic guitar. Gone Too Far just sounds glorious. Really glorious. Fans of modern progressive rock just have to hear this song.
It's all getting a bit boring. Haydenspark is another triumph for the Overhead collective. Did I say I like the cover?
(This album is released on November 15. All of the band's music is now available via their Bandcamp page - link above.)
Phi Yaan-Zek - Reality Is My Plaything
CD 2: So The Story Continues (0:37), Inner Navigation (7:20), Dragonfly Medicine (3:43), Valencia Orange (0:35), Eleven Wandering Mystics (4:57), Bold Apparition (3:10), The Oz Factor (1:02), Le Fetiche Du Toit (1:13), The Jumbleberry Fiddlestick Folly (4:38), Anthem For A Breakaway Civilisation (1:24), Beneath A Canopy Of Susurrant Stars (4:15), Subterranean Empires (5:17), Cryptic Terrestrials (1:30), Also Sprach Die Kiwi (1:06), One Of The Weirdest Things Just Happened... (3:28), Don’t Detune (0:58), Solar Heart Connect (7:38), Reality Is My Strange Thing (15:42)
There are numerous things to appreciate and enjoy in Phi Yaan-Zek’s latest release. Reality Is My Plaything is divided into two parts. CD 1 largely features vocals and CD 2 is an instrumental disc. Both parts of this release feature some excellent musicianship and some genuinely exciting instrumental passages. Both discs begin with a short piano piece. This gives the album a sense of identity and continuity across the two discs.
The quality of the playing is not surprising, given the pedigree of the musicians who contribute to the release. The line-up includes Phi Yaan-Zek - vocals and guitar, Marco Minnemann - drums, Bryan Beller - bass, Mike Keneally - vocals, keyboards and guitar, Lalle Larsson - piano, electric piano and Hammond organ, Ola Olsson - trumpet and flugelhorn, Murphy McCaleb - bass trombone, and George Sleightholme - clarinet and bass clarinet.
The guitar flourishes are particularly impressive. There are numerous occasions when the instrument, squeals, sings, and emotively weeps. The full toned bass work of Bryan Beller gives much of the music an identifiable air. His beautiful sense of timing and ability to use just the right effect or technique to complement the other instruments is a standout feature of the album. As might be expected, Marco Minnermann also provides some powerful moments on the drums that give the music an extra kick when needed.
The album is superbly packaged. The artwork is attractive and the release includes an informative booklet with a variety of pictures. The sound quality of the release is equally impressive. It is apparent that a great deal of dedicated work has gone into ensuring that the release looks and sounds as good as it possibly could.
There were times when I was thoroughly mesmerised by the quality of what was on offer, but at other times, a number of tunes left little impact. The notion of having what is essentially two separate albums in one release works surprisingly well. It has given the album a much longer shelf life than if either discs or in particular disc one had been available separately.
In my opinion, the second disc is much more satisfying. I have played it regularly and have yet to tire of its excellent musicianship and range of fist thumping, face-gurning solos.
In this respect, the songs on disc 1 have not fared so well. The process of getting to know the choruses and singing along nature of many of them with them was quite enjoyable. However, the frequent use of a repetitive chorus on a significant number of the tracks meant that some of the tunes quickly passed their sell-by date, or outstayed their welcome. It became clear that what had once been an interesting vocal foible, or a hearty sing a long chorus soon became a source of at best indifference, at worst irritation.
However, with a track list that includes eighteen pieces spread across disc 1, there are exceptions to this general feeling and some tunes have surprisingly taken on a new enjoyable lease of life when I have not heard them for a while. These include the excellent title track and the all-action bar room singalong of_ Abigails Place_ which grabs you by the ear lobes and won’t let go.
Reality Is My Plaything is one of the highlights of disc 1. It is thoroughly entertaining; clever and contrived in equal measures. In this tune, Phi manages to catch the anarchic spirit of Frank Zappa’s humour without copying his varied techniques. However, the influence of Zappa - lyrically, musically, and stylistically - permeates much of what is on offer across the two discs The idea of basically asking different guests to speak, sing/state what reality means to them, is quite novel and some of the answers are genuinely fascinating. However, the repetitive albeit humorous nature of the statements give it a limited shelf life, that suggests that it is likely to be skipped, despite the piece's thunderous, neon-lights flashing chorus that holds it all superbly together.
Disc 1 also contains a number of short duration instrumental interlude tunes. These offer a welcome contrast to the vocal-led tracks on disc 1. The vocal style has a tongue in cheek semi humorous ambience, but I found its eccentric nature and heavily affected tone an acquired taste.
Disc 2 has many standout tracks, I have spent many satisfying hours immersing myself in its full-bodied jams, and Zappa-influenced workouts. At the heart of much of the band's full sound is the contribution of keyboards and drums. Throughout the release, they perfect the art of subtly reproducing a number of quirky riffs and sounds that are often loosely and stylistically associated with the work of Zappa.
Solar Heart Connects is a wonderful piece that combines and mixes a number of tempos, moods and components into its seven plus minutes running time. It successfully melds heavy riffs, dreamy slow sections, the tasteful use of harmonics, and Fripp-toned guitar passages. To cap it all the piece ends thunderously with some shape shifting, stunt guitar pyrotechnics.
Many different styles are in evidence during disc 2 and this amalgam of influences helps to keep things fresh and interesting. The Jumbleberry Fiddlestick Folly uses a trumpet and fugel horn to good effect. Their tasteful use points towards the sort of arrangement that Zappa was creating and utilising during his Waka Jawaka and Grand Wazoo periods.
The most avant tracks on offer are Eleven Wandering Mystics and Subterranean Empires. These compositions' unusual air, willingness to blur genres and push the boundaries, is totally enthralling. In many ways their inclusion in the album is the antithesis of what was on offer in much of disc 1. However, my favourite tune of the whole album is much more conventional and appears on disc 2.
Beneath A Canopy Of Susurrant Stars is just a lovely timeless tune. The performance is impeccable, and the arrangement has great quality. Its relaxed reflective nature provides space and room for the instruments to express themselves in abundance. The interaction between the bass, brass, and the other principal instruments is sublime.
Overall, there is much more to appreciate and proclaim about this album than to criticise. Reality Is My Plaything has many standout moments and its mix of song based tunes and enjoyable instrumental workouts should appeal to a wide audience It has much to commend it. I will dip into this release frequently, especially when I want to hear some wonderful interaction between guitar, bass, keys, and drums