Reviews in this issue:
Circadian Pulse - Elements Of Existence
Circadian Pulse, a progressive metal band from Melbourne, Australia, have managed to release a follow-up to their 2012 EP In the Blink Of An Eye. When reading through their bio, releasing this new CD seems to have been no easy task and arguably made their hearts beat faster on several occasions. The band had recruited a new drummer (Tommy O.) and played a string of local live shows to support the initial EP, and the future was looking bright for them. Disaster struck straight after, when their vocalist and Tommy O. left, leaving them in an almost comatose state.
With the band now once again active and existing of Simon D’Alfonso (bass) and both Stephen Stergiadis and Bzen Byanjankar on guitars, they slowly worked on new material. With drums supplied by supremetracks.com they progressively succeeded to record a basic form of Elements Of Existence and only needed to find a singer for it. As luck would have it, vocalist Daniel Viktor stepped in to record the vocals for the new album, subsequently joining the band in 2017. In order to reasonably understand what I’ve experienced whilst listening to Circadian Pulse these last few months, I’ll just give a description of my first fine morning engaging with the CD.
The lovely artistic digi-pack, with a design created by Daniel Viktor, fascinates and makes me anxious to what I’m about to unfold. Lyrics are not included and have to be found on the website, which is a slight downside, but easily overcome. So I slip open the laptop, with the intention of listening to the CD and following the lyrics. I subsequently press play and pour myself some coffee to make me feel at ease and get ready to take it all in. I receive a mail I reply to. Someone greets me at WhatsApp, so we start a conversation. Facebook starts annoying me with useless messages. I pour myself a second cup of coffee. The phone rings (work) and before I know it, I hear no music in the background. Three quarters of an hour have gone by in a flash. So onto the second attempt.
Suspended has a very catchy start and pulls me right in, sounding very familiar. Nice riffing, vibrant drums and a melodic voice with a slight roughness to it. I might as well take another coffee, for this sounds interesting. The doorbell rings and I receive a package, I almost forget the laundry and oh my, look at the time, I’ll have some lunch now. I guess it goes without saying I hear no music again after some time. But I distinctly remember hearing it in the background, comforting, relaxing and filling me with joy. I may have to find a different method to manage to get a review done.
Fast-forwarding to the present day, I have to admit I have tried it all. I played this in the car, at work, during household work, on headphones in the train, whilst taking a shower. You name it, I’ve done it. The album is in my system, it feels like a second nature 24 hours a day. It’s addictive, soothing, relaxing, exciting and nourishing at the same time. Curiously, this is one of those albums you can listen to on whatever occasion, and the reasons are plenty.
This grips you right from the start, giving off the right bursts of energy. It is solid throughout with no weak songs to be found. All tracks have a different flow and recognisability about them, which sooths my peace of mind as well as my ears. The bass playing is exemplary and versatile, and when interacting with the dynamic guitars, forms a strong bond reminiscent of Dream Theater and Fates Warning. The firm and virtuous drums sound authentic, although it remains a mystery as to who played them, with neither the artwork or website giving any information. Keyboards are used mostly in a supportive role to the melodic heavy prog-metal, with the exception being on Nature, a track in a similar vein as Eve by Dream Theater.
The biggest asset for me are the vocals by Viktor, making my heart go slightly faster with warm feelings, for he can craft his voice in various different styles. In a different intonation, he sometimes reminds me off James Hetfield, throws in some Ted Leonard of Enchant, but most of the time I get the insights of Gregoor van der Loo of Lemur Voice, a voice I still adore (just thinking about it makes me wonder how he fills his days nowadays).
If I had to choose an example, then Transcending Evolution embodies it all. A demanding opening with a Rush atmosphere after which it changes towards eclectic Dream Theater, complete with intricate bass and supportive keys. Guitars fuel the intensity with a nourishing touch of twin-guitars, erupting into progressive Metallica. Reminding me of Andromeda, it finally finishes with a mixture of Rush, Lemur Voice and Sieges Even, eventually softly fading away like a wave of fresh air; just what the doctor ordered.
In conclusion: in this short period of time Circadian Pulse feel like part of my daily routine and I look forward to any music they intend to prescribe. Hopefully slightly less familiar next time and with lyrics included please, I rather read a book(let) than a tablet. Now to find a drummer to get the juices flowing further on the live front!
Gryphon - Reinvention
Forty-plus years since their last release, Gryphon, the "pseudo-progressive retro-medieval folk-rock band" are back with a new album. A group that could not have originated from anywhere else in the world than merry old England, the band that introduced crumhorns, bassoons and recorders, amongst other esoteric instruments into progressive music, are in as fine fettle as ever.
Three original members, Brian Gulland (bassoon, baritone sax, recorders, bass crumhorn, piano), Graeme Taylor (guitars) and Dave Oberlé (drums, vocals) are joined by Graham Preskett (violin, keyboards, mandolin, harmonica), Rory McFarlane (bass) and Andy Findon (flute, piccolo, soprano crumhorn, soprano sax, clarinet, fife), an impressive replacement for Richard Harvey, the band's original multi-instrumentalist. And there are a lot more instruments used than those given in these credits!
Time has not eroded Gryphon's quirkiness, humour and inventiveness, indeed Reinvention is hardly an apt name for the album, as it could have been released as a follow-up to any of their 1970s albums. Which is not to suggest that they sound dated, for their music is the epitome of timeless, although you'd be forgiven for thinking that the opening Pipeup Downsland DerryDellDanko was taken from a Tudor play on the life of Henry VIII who, had he pursued music with as much gusto as he did wives, would surely have written a ditty as jolly as Hampton Caught, although without the electric guitars and bass and probably not as punningly titled.
The lengthy Haddock's Eyes sets a portion of Lewis Carroll's adventures of Alice to music, and although not as likely to become as big as a hit as that other Alice In Wonderland themed tune (Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit), it would surely gain more approval from Carroll, as it is as wild and fun as the book itself.
The arrangements throughout are stunningly good, with the different tonal qualities of the various instruments blended to perfection. With so much musical scope, each track has a uniqueness, yet still maintains an overall Gryphon-ess. The standout track for me is Sailor V which incorporates gentle pipes, fiddles, a jaunty Irish section, languid bassoons (with harmonica vamping), a brash bass, guitar and drum section, an anthemic electric guitar section and rousing organ. In true prog fashion there are numerous themes intertwined throughout, which are revisited/reinterpreted as the track progresses. Marvellous stuff.
The pedigree of the band members is substantial, with involvement across a wide range of cinematic, theatrical and contemporary musical projects. It is very likely that everyone who reads this has seen or heard some artistic venture that at least one member of Gryphon played a part in. With the skills and abilities in high demand, it is our good fortune that they found the time to write and record such a marvelously welcome album. Forty-one years is a long time between albums but it has certainly been worth the wait. Welcome back Gryphon, you have been missed.
[check out the band's website, it is very funny!)
IQ - Ever 25th Anniversary [2CD + DVD]
The Darkest Hour (10:54), Fading Senses (6:36), Out Of Nowhere (5:08), Further Away (14:55), Leap Of Faith (7:21), Came Down (6:00), Came Down - The Solos That Got Away (4:36), Lost In Paradise (5:25)
CD2, Ever Live at the Colos-Saal, Aschaffenburg 10 February 2018:
The Darkest Hour (12:11), Fading Senses (6:38), Leap Of Faith (7:06), Came Down (5:36), Further Away (15:32), Out Of Nowhere (5:29)
Ever 2018 Remix 5.1 surround sound mix (60:54)
Ever Live at the Colos-Saal, Aschaffenburg 10 February 2018 5.1 surround sound mix (52:54)
Further Listening: Album Demos (42:55): The Darkest Hour (9:45), Fading Senses (6:53), Unholy Cow (Out Of Nowhere) (2:334), Further Away (intro) (3:42), Further Away (full demo) (12:06), Leap Of Faith (4:46), Came Down (3:06)
Studio Outtakes (instrumental) (50:12): The Darkest Hour (10:39), Fading Senses (6:44), Out Of Nowhere (5:03), Further Away (14:29), Leap Of Faith (7:16), Came Down (5:59)
Unused Ideas (18:54): Waltzy Song (2:23), Echo Song (2:52), The Blues Riff (2:00), Bassy Track (1:03), Guitar Thing (3:44), Quiety Demo (3:16), Some Chordage (1:31), Monks (2:02)
Rehearsals (27:59): The Darkest Hour (Part 2) (2:36), Fading Senses (Jamming The Riff) (3:03), Fading Senses (#2) (4:54), Unholy Cow (Developed) (2:19), Further Away (Jamming The Riff) (1:59), Further Away (Arrangement) (9:22), Came Down (Different Intro) (2:08), Sad Chords (1:35)
Thirty-seven-and-a-half years into their career, UK's IQ have become something of an institution on the prog scene. Currently recording an eagerly anticipated new album, there is an opportunity for reflection in the celebration of the 25th anniversary of their pinnacle Ever album.
It was somewhat of a crunch time for the band, as after losing their record contract when Peter Mensch, the MD of their label Squawk, decided to refocus his attention back on managing bands, the future looked uncertain. So it was rather a surprise when unexpectedly the band announced they were going to record a new album. What is more, Mike Holmes (guitar), Martin Orford (keyboards) and Paul Cook (drums) were to be reunited with original vocalist Peter Nicholls, who had departed the fold under somewhat of a cloud back in 1985 shortly after the release of their second album. The album also introduced bassist John Jowitt to the wider world. How that all came about is detailed in the extensive booklet accompanying this deluxe release.
This three-disc set contains a brand new remix of the album, as well as a recent live recording of the whole album from Aschaffenburg in February of this year. The studio and live recordings are both present as stereo mixes on the CDs and 5.1 Surround Sound mixes on the DVD.
For those who have not heard the album before, then you have missed out on a treat, a superlative effort from a group that, free from the shackles of a label questing for hits, were free to produce an album without compromise. The results being a distillation of the music that IQ were always destined to produce. The fact that all six songs still crop up in set lists to this day, is a testament to the enduring appeal of the album.
Although lyrically there is a general theme of loss, a reflection of the death of quite a number of family and friends of the group around the time of the recording, musically there is an almost joyous triumphalism in the air, a figurative, and literal, rebirth. Two bonus tracks have been appended to the end of the album. The first is an alternative, instrumental version of Came Down with some different guitar solos that is interesting to listen to and hear how things might have developed. The second is Lost In Paradise, a radical reworking of The Darkest Hour that IQ donated to the 2005 Tsunami Projekt charity album. It is a rather lovely version, with the vocals and backing vocals intertwined throughout, although tempered by the addition of contemporary news reports of the disaster that claimed so many lives. Another IQ rarity resurrected from obscurity.
The remix adds a greater clarity to the recording, highlighting elements that were somewhat lost on the original, and rebalancing parts that, over the years Holmes, in his role of producer, had not been completely happy with. One could argue that remixing the album is rather self-indulgent as, from the fan's point of view, the released version was fine as it was thank you very much. However, it should be noted that the changes are mostly very subtle, nothing of the nature of the 2011 Re:Mixed freebie given out by the band at their 30th anniversary concert. Ever remains true to its original form, but with a crisper sound, cleaner acoustic guitars, enhanced bass pedals and a bit more prominence given to the Mellotron (for which there is an additional reason other than the remixing - all revealed in the booklet!). As Holmes writes, the original mixing was done rather quickly and without anyone having a consistent, overall view of everything, and how would he approach things if this was a new IQ album.
The respect that the album is held in, is clearly heard from the crowd reactions on the contemporary live versions presented on disc two. Over the years the major change in the songs is in Nicholls' voice. Naturally, no one is likely to sound the same a quarter of a decade later but there are not many people that sound better after such a period of time. Nicholls has grown into his voice, the somewhat shriller peaks of his early years, having mellowed into a more mellifluous prospect.
Technology has also come a long way since the album was first performed, which has enabled the live presentation to more accurately reflect, and even better, the studio recording. A comparison of Forever Live and Aschaffenburg 2018 is a fascinating way to spend a couple of hours, if you are that way inclined (and unfortunately I am!). Hand on heart I have to confess that the new live recording of Ever will, for me, probably be the version of the album that I will play most often in the future, it is that good!
The DVD is packed with over four hours of material. The 5.1 mixes of the remixed album and the live concert, add a new dimension to the listening experience, but it is the further-listening tracks that provide the most interest for the IQ fan and even the casual listener.
The album demos provide a fascinating insight into song development. Whilst songs like Darkest Hour are present in an almost complete form, the instrumental demo of Fading Senses features a different lead synth in the intro section, a funky break in the middle and a completely new riff at the end, that remained undeveloped as a linking section into Out Of Nowhere. The prototype of the latter track (with it's working title of Unholy Cow) is very much slower, and at a very early stage, with key components yet to be written. The intro of Further Away is mainly keyboard ideas, whereas the full demo is the programmed song, in the final key that it was recorded in. It is interesting to listen to all the parts of this composition generated electronically and not with real instruments.
The studio outtakes and rehearsals also provide greater understanding of how the songs came about, while the unused ideas goes across the board, from the potential greatness of The Blues Riff to the downright bizarre Bassy Track, which could have been IQ's own Jazz Odyssey ("Hope you like our new direction!"). Of course, a lot of these further listening pieces are not of pristine quality, being, as they are rescued from all sorts of ancient media. However, as a fun poke around IQ's dirty drawers, they are a welcome addition.
Overall this is a worthy reissue that offers a substantial amount to the long-term fan and the uninitiated. The only thing missing is the original version that would avoid the completist having to have two versions of the album, but I guess it wouldn't have all fit on the single DVD.
Tim Morse - III
With two previous albums and two rock-related books to his name, Tim Morse may well be familiar to prog fans in general, and Yes fans in particular. The aptly titled III follows Transformation (2005) and Faithscience (2012) both of which received positive DPRP reviews (reviews here and here). He is also keyboardist in the American Yes tribute band Parallels, although I’m not sure if they are currently active, as the band’s website hasn’t been updated since 2010.
Morse provides lead vocals, keyboards, guitars and bass as well as drums on a couple of tracks, supported by several guests including Mark Dean who played on the last two albums. Although Faithscience passed me by, I really enjoyed the debut album, and although stylistically it was a bit of a mixed bag, it certainly gelled. III on the other hand is less eclectic, remaining more or less within the melodic, and occasionally mellow, prog domain.
Opener Wake Up is appropriately titled, being a near-perfect morning song with its ringing synth hook and Yes-style harmonies. It’s also a good indicator of what the rest of the album has in store. The Chris Squire-styled rumbling bass is courtesy of guest Jay Leek (another member of Parallels).
Unsurprisingly given its length, Labyrinth is a more fractured affair with spiky instrumental sequences contrasting with mellow vocal interludes. The dreamy instrumental bridge featuring key strings and piano is especially engaging. As this song reveals, Morse is not the most dynamic of singers but his voice works within the context of the songs, sounding a little like Billy Sherwood.
The ballad-like The Marquis reminds me a little of American crooner Dean Friedman (remember Lucky Stars and Lydia from 1978?) with its lazy piano, female backing vocals and laid back vibe (only the sultry sax is missing).
If Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman ever get around to releasing their long promised album, it would probably sound something like The Path. Combining a memorable vocal hook with generous helpings of synths, only Kurt Shiflet’s shredding guitar solo sounds a tad out of place.
Mary Celeste is for the most part more sedate with keys, Mellotron-like choir, piano and fretless bass blending to engaging effect and a lovely violin solo from guest Oisin McAuley. The sunny My Ally for its part, boasts an upbeat melody and some delicious guitar work.
The concluding Circle / Talisman is a melancholic ballad with a beautiful melody. The rippling piano, acoustic guitar and mandolin has more than a hint of Anthony Phillips. The Talisman section in contrast, is centred around an edgy guitar riff, before returning to the opening part to end on a tranquil note.
III is not an album that will set the world alight but is certainly worth 45 minutes of anyone's time, especially fans of melodic prog. Yes followers in particular should give it a try, particular those who have been waiting eagerly for a new studio album from either version of the band.
Sonar (w. David Torn) - Live At Moods
My first reaction to this new release from Sonar was a: ‘What the heck is going on here!’ or even a: ‘Why is nothing happening?’. Initially, Sonar’s use of repeating, encircling, pin-point musical textures and interweaving rhythms left me baffled and a little bored. But after many plays I realised that the precision of the band’s four members and the free interplay of David Torn’s solos, requires as much of the listener as the players. And boy, do the players turn their concentration levels to maximum overdrive in this music.
Sonar’s new album was recorded live at Moods Jazz Club, Zürich, May 24, 2018. The four-piece band were joined by soloist and guitar texture maestro David Torn, as on their previous studio release Vortex released earlier this year. The bulk of Live At Moods is three tracks from that album (Waves & Particles, Red Shift and Lookface!), with one track (Twofold Covering) from 2014’s Static Motion. The other two tracks are Sonar on their own, and a track fully improvised by David Torn.
In front of a small but appreciative-sounding crowd Sonar get going with Twofold Covering. Opened by Christian Kuntner’s throbing bass, he is soon joined by the guitars of Stephan Thelen and Bernhard Wagner and Manuel Pasquinelli’s drums. The track builds from short, repeated phrases into a recursive behemoth. The guitars are almost always picked, and there is almost nothing you could call a riff. Think Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint as played by Pat Metheny where looping notes intertwine. Then add into this polyrhythmic mix, David Torn’s looping and squealing guitar textures that disrupt the flow of the music without disrupting the flow of the music. What? Yes, exactly. Hence my confusion on the first few listens and the need for the listener to be as committed to this music as the players.
The stars on this album are, firstly, Christian Kuntner’s bass playing. He anchors each song, and was my way into this minimalist but complex music. Following his bass lines was the piece that solved the Sonar jigsaw. Secondly, David Torn’s looping, sometime ethereal, sometimes fierce guitar lines. They spin and clash over the pulsing, strange musical structures the band develop. So, amongst the ringing guitar motifs that the band lay down, Torn’s controlled feedback and sustained piercing lines bring disruptive, other-worldly grunge to the precision-tooled playing of Sonar.
Torn does not make an appearance on Tromsø from the band’s debut album. Its tribal rhythm and insistent guitar pickings are surprisingly powerful, and it may not just be Torn who adds magic here.
The one mis-step for me is the inclusion of For Lost Sailors, a track fully improvised by David Torn. His use of loops and the sheer range of sounds he can wrangle from his fretboard is a technical marvel. It is easy to admire such virtuosity, but its reliance on formless drones and a lack of impetus, compared to the band-based tracks, make for diminishing returns on repeat listening. I find my finger hovering by the skip button.
You could argue that this is an album of chin-stroking technique and little feeling, but Sonar produce music that, though technically accomplished, also has a restrained, emotional underpinning. And restraint is better than histrionics in my book. Imagine Tangerine Dream as a guitar band, and you have some idea of what the strange world of sound that is Sonar’s Live At Moods approaches.