Issue 2018-085: Mini Reviews Special
Reviews in this issue:
Bad As - Midnight Curse
Here is a great lesson in how a band can make a shtty band name, even more shtty. Formed two years ago with the title "BadAss", they quickly realised their error and renamed themselves "Bad As"!
Anyhow, baaad as that is, this band is worthy of a quick mention as it was founded by Alberto Rigoni, known to readers for his solo work alongside that with the Vivaldi Metal Project and especially the under-rated Italian prog metal band Twinspirits. It also features singer Titta Tani, known for his work with long-running prog-power metallers DGM.
This sits firmly in the melodic power metal category. Nothing really passes the four-minute mark, but there is enough adventurous guitar work to keep me interested, alongside some great riffs and melodies.
Not as bad as the name (and album cover) suggests.
Fractal Cypher - Prelude To An Impending Outcome
This is the second effort from these Montreal prog-metallers with a serious Dream Theater fixation. Their debut album The Human Paradox was released in 2016. Two years later, and they have followed it up with an EP/mini album Prelude To An Impending Outcome (although considering the track lengths, one more track would have made it a full album).
Fans of the classic 90s period of progressive metal should certainly give this a try. It certainly has its moments, although overall it feels like an exercise in playing around with some different sounds and ideas to see what (if anything) works.
For me the vocals need to grab the attention much more, and overall the melodies and instrumental sections do not captive me at all. It was a similar conclusion to the one I drew listening to their debut.
Gaia - Aerial
Some reviews ago I went for a curry, and as fate would have it Gaia serves one such dish with Aerial. And a fierce one at that! Gaia, a progressive metal-core project, is formed by multi-instrumentalist Abhiruk Patowary from New Delhi (India) collaborating with I Built The Sky guitarist Ro Han and Intervals drummer Nathan Bulla. He furthermore uses the singing abilities of Siddharth Hair, David Chunn and Sahil Khurana, resulting in a varied broth of vocal styles on this album.
Instrumental opener Aerial, structured on groovy metal riffs, slowly tickles your taste buds with a light ambient feel and melodic guitars. Prism cleanses them right down, with some delicate touches of prog metal (Tesseract), solid rhythms and clean vocals. New Reality appetisingly equal in flavor, adds depth throughout, and relishes it slightly further with harsh, grunt-like vocals.
From Jehovah up to Elements it is a hot, explosive dish of hearty metal-core with strong and bold spices and substantial meatiness, throwing you from left to right. Clean vocals become sparse and are almost completely taken over by harsh and screeching death-grunts, an acquired taste I still can’t master I’m afraid. Musically it is solid though, with strong, zesty riffs, djent, hardcore, metal grooves and touches of (prog) metal such as Opeth, Pantera and Periphery.
In the end it culminates into Nebulous, which encompasses the heart and soul of Aerial. A word of savory advice: taste this one carefully, for this vindaloo, all-spiced, chili-bowl of extremities might initially throw you off guard with its modern metal aromas, ultimately giving off satisfying smooth textures with a lingering finish. I confess it’s the perfect accompaniment whilst enjoying an India Pale Ale.
Jann Klose - In Tandem
Guitarist and singer Jann Klose has released six albums and two EPs. Jann was raised in Kenya, South Africa, Germany, and the USA, where he now resides. He has worked with a multitude of artists but is known in prog circles for working with Renaissance and Annie Haslam.
His new album, In Tandem, is at the very poppy end of prog. Klose is, on the evidence of this album, an accomplished singer-songwriter. He has a strong, mellifluous voice with a wide range. His voice is a mix of Alan Reed, Simon Godfrey of Tinyfish, Francis Dunnery, and Tim Buckley.
In the main, the songs on In Tandem work tremendously well as clever, well-arranged pop in the vein of Todd Rundgren at his most pop, and ELO, but not as lushly orchestrated. Throughout there are lovely harmonies, as it switches from upbeat, sunny pop (Never Fall), terrific acoustic ballads (What Have You Got To Say?) and the Paul Simon-esque Win This Fight. The rest, in the main, are good quality pop songs. However, some of them don’t have sufficient quirkiness to hold my interest for more than a few plays.
Jann Klose is, however, a brave man in that he covers the Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s classic Don’t Give Up. This features Renaissance’s Annie Haslam in the Kate Bush role. Tackling the song with acoustic guitar, strings and upright bass is a masterstroke and the fragility of Annie Haslam’s voice gives it a different dimension to the original. Which is what a successful cover version should do.
So, Jann Klose’s In Tandem won’t tick the boxes for committed prog-heads. But it works well on its own terms; those of an adventurous singer-songwriter of pop in the vein of ELO and Todd Rundgren.
Lathe Of Heaven - Now There's No Room
Martin Giles has been playing guitar for a long time, and has been working in the music business (mastering) for 20 years, but he has only got around to releasing his first solo album this year, under the moniker of Lathe Of Heaven.
From the start you get an idea of a mostly gentle and smooth style of songs, but there are a lot of variations. Not in a prog way, but it's like a prog-minded composer writing a contemporary album.
At first the arrangements sounded sparse, a bit too sparse for me. But the more I listened, and with better headphones, carefully-tracked layers slowly emerged. Several times I was surprised to hear something I thought I had not heard before.
Giles' guitar-playing is often slow, melodic, and moody, not unlike David Gilmour, albeit with a very different tone. A few times, the playing is a bit angry. I particularly like the very melodic, blues-based guitar solos, while during the songs there are several more jazzy chord changes. Bluesy in Misunderstood, Mediterranean in Suit, a bit of Canterbury in The Barefoot Chocolate Maker.
It's an interesting collection of song-based tracks, several progressive elements are found in the song progression, especially when they break out of the common structure. There are no classical prog elements in the form of sounds or long solos. There is though a good old Hammond in Misunderstood and Suit. Giles' voice may not stand out, but his timbre and warm sound make it perfect for this type of music.
It must be a compliment to Mr. Giles that there are no clear comparisons to mention. A little Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Robert Wyatt, No-Man perhaps, a little Tom Waits even, and some serious, thought-provoking lyrics. Solos are relatively short and serve the songs, not the soloist.
What at first sounds like a singer/songwriter album (I don't like that term to describe a genre but you'll get the idea), I now regard a beautiful album cast by a songsmith. I especially like how many of the songs reveal their intensity slowly. Some songs are a bit too slow or gentle for me, but this is an excellent album to sit down to enjoy with a peaty whisky.
Alec K. Redfearn And The Eyesores - The Opposites
Fellow DPRP reviewer Andy Read summed it up perfectly in issue 2018-080. What if an album up for review doesn’t catch the eyes and ears of a reviewer, and just sits there waiting? Is it because it is not good or prog enough, or simply not of a style that interests our reviewers or maybe some other vague reason?
I wouldn’t bet on it, but I think it would be safe to say that The Opposites by Alec K. Redfearn and The Eyesores was not selected because it was too much out of everyone’s comfort-zone here. Redfearn’s foremost instrument being an electronic accordion is quite extravagant even for progressive rock and probably doesn’t assist in gaining a huge exposure. On the one hand it gives me lovely premonitions of a vivid, burlesque, enchanting Paris, but on the other hand a horrifying one vision of probably the utmost simplistic and catastrophic music ever recorded in Holland: De Vogeltjesdans by De Electronica’s (a.k.a. The Chicken Dance, voted most irritating song of all time in 2000 in the UK).
Redfearn and The Eyesores do touch the former, but along the way turn out to be something completely different, which is very admirable.
The Eyesores consist of horn player Ann Schattle, contra-bassist Christopher Sadlers, and drummer Matt McLaren. Blended together with Redfearn on organ, loops and vocals, they succeed in delivering avant-garde, melodic, sometimes slightly psychedelic and neurotic pop-rock, with a strangely incorporated touch of krautrock. It is amazing what sounds, noises and melodies Redfearn can achieve with his accordion and I bet it takes quite a long time to implement all those sounds into his music via the use of loops and modulations. He does it excellently, and one can almost forget the initial chicken song association, for most of the time the accordion doesn’t sound like one.
After numerous listens it still remains very difficult though to pinpoint direct references for this album; it being so utterly different, especially on the instrumentation part. Sometimes it follows the path of psychedelic proto-prog like Syd Barret’s Pink Floyd, but the use of horns immediately changes it completely. If it does get more towards pop / new wave one might pick up some The Cure-like interpretations, probably even some Talking Heads or Japan, all well-known examples of extraordinary art-rock. Curiously enough they even manage to mix in some krautrock like Can and sprinkles of space-rock (Nik Turner) to give you just a foggy picture of what lies in store if you choose to give this a try.
Different? No doubt about it, and the first few spins are difficult to get your head around. However if you manage to get to that stage, this could be quite a surprise.
Salva - Off The Deep End
Off The Deep End, the fifth release by Salva, is a quick follow-up to Sigh Of Boreas from 2016. Originally formed in 2004 by Per Malmberg (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Johan Lindqvist (keyboards) and Stefan Gavik (guitars), the group is nowadays completed by Erik Zetterlund on drums and newcomer Daniel Nätt on bass. This almost stable line-up has led to a progress in sound, melody and diversity in music, showcasing their variety of styles.
With King Of Nothing, right from the start it feels as if we’re in for fine, bombastic Gothic prog-metal. Highly orchestrated with violins, and filled with nice arrangements on keys and guitar, this slow-paced mini-suite is entertaining, and once accustomed to the vocals, one can pick up certain traces of Saviour Machine and Within Temptation.
However Salva unexpectedly switch to heavy, organ-based blues rock (Deep Purple, Uriah Heep), followed by a progressive Pink Floyd / Camel-styled Skyclad. With Clarity II and Clarity IV bordering on pop (like today’s Anyone’s Daughter) and the Jethro Tull-inspired folky The Ghosts of Fives, they elaborate with additional musical expressions. Under The Fear, probably the best example of their integration of styles, explores this by being an epic, progressive, constantly-changing rhythmic track.
It is however Brickshort which hits you in the face and leaves you nothing short of perplexed. Bombastic organs flow with prog-metal riffs carefully arranged together with violins, opera, symphonic orchestration and heavenly church-vocals throughout. Trans Siberian Orchestra adepts can have a field day with this.
This latest outing shows many different faces, making it an interesting listen, but also a little confusing. On the whole the album is musically solid, entertaining and certainly worth a try, but it’s the slight incoherency in styles that might split opinions.
T3tra - Portals
T3tra come from Stourbridge in the middle-ish part of England. By their own admission, this newish two-some specialises in "electrocore".
The main-man seems to be one Johnny Marsh (guitars, synths, programming, vocoder). Abhishek Shivakumar alternates between mellow-clean and strained-screamo vocals.
The guitars and (programmed) drums have a djenty feel to them, but the thing that makes this release stand out are the extensive washes of electronica that swathe each track in a crepuscular glow. The contrasts between the "core" bits and the "electro" bits are very clever. I'm not a fan of screamo vocals at all, but the use of electronica here has lots of possibilities and makes this a band/project to keep an eye on.