Reviews in this issue:
Echoes of Giants - The Way To Us
To my ears, many American prog bands can be characterized by their tendency to stay on the muscular side of the genre. Think of Kansas, Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard, and the likes that only show their soft sides in attractive ballads that form a welcome resting point in their often loud, fast and heavy prog songs. Strong, sometime heavy guitar riffs, mid to fast tempo songs and many references to heavy metal and AOR, two music styles that the American continent is famous for. These are ingredients of many albums, amongst which there are many great ones. Yet my musical taste favours the European way of playing prog, which to my ears has more subtle parts within the music and more attention given to melody, odd time signatures and acoustic instruments. Of course, many exceptions to this general picture can be put on the table but this is in general how I see it the American and European sides of prog.
Those thoughts came to my mind when listening repeatedly to the latest album by Echoes Of Giants entitled The Way To Us. This is a band I’m completely unfamiliar with and whose music left me very puzzled for a while. Because this album is slightly disappointing at first, then it crept under my skin, seduced me and made me wonder in the end how on earth it had been possible that I didn’t like it at first glance. This is a real beautiful album by this American band, and very uncharacteristic too in the light of the general picture I described at the beginning.
Echoes of Giants are Wes Bolton on guitar, Echoplex - percussion, drum programming and synth, Tracy Thomas on keyboards, marimba, drums, percussion, drum programming and bass, and Rick Kaufmann on bass and acoustic guitar. Bolton and Thomas are long time school friends from Missouri where they shared their love for progressive music while playing trumpet and keys. Later on, while living and working far apart but still managing to play together regularly, they met Kaufmann and decided to start recording. Their debut At The End Of Myself received many good reviews in the US and abroad, although my DPRP colleague Joel Atlas was not amongst the most enthusiastic reviewers (review here).
On their second album, Echoes Of Giants are again supported by Joey Myers on vocals, while Theese Weber also adds numerous vocal duties. These vocals are one of the greatest assets of this album: an excellent mix of female and male voices that blend together extremely well but also stand on their own merit. Their voices are sometimes laid back, sometimes strong, sometimes soft, then loud but always well balanced and perfectly fitting the musical mood of that moment. Another great feature is the musical quality. At first this album sounds like a dreamy soundscape with many recurring musical themes and some outbursts that always return to quieter moods quickly. The music may sound mellow but it isn’t. It really needs quite a few spins to distinguish the differences between the individual songs.
The album starts off with the instrumental Wait with heavy guitar riffing over pulsating keys accompanied with a strong bass theme behind, culminating into a nice interplay between guitar and keys. This heavy mood is nowhere else to be found in the album. It’s a nice opener, albeit that it sets a heavier mood than the music will fulfil.
The real mood is set by Hope (part I) with a dreamy and echoing guitar intro over which Myers sings his first, soft vocal lines. With clever keys and drums the songs develops further towards a very appealing chorus sung in harmony by Myers and Weber. That chorus will re-appear several times during the course of the album, but always in a slightly different way.
The songs gently float from one to another, amalgamating this collection into a coherent album without any particular song standing out on their own. Sometimes the music is more up-tempo (Fading), then acoustic and folky (Close The door), dreamy (the instrumental The Death Of A Dream which sounds deceivingly simple because of the unassuming but very effective piano theme, Is This Home, Stand Beside Me, Hope (Part 2)), pure prog (Escape, Take Me Away, Not Going Back) or art rock (Find Myself Today). Every song is subtle and well-crafted with recurrent musical themes and numerous references to typically British bands like Anathema, Tears for Fears and the folkier side of Mostly Autumn, and even to folk bands like Magna Carta, to name just a few.
All in all this is an extremely nice album that I will return to often. It will almost certainly occur in my personal top-10 list of favourite albums of 2019. And I surely want to check out their debut album. That all is something I wouldn’t have thought of for even a moment after the first spin. So give this one a few spins, it’s more than worth it!
Grand Reunion - In The Station
In The Station is the debut album by the Chilean band Grand Reunion. You won't find many progressive clichés here. In fact, you may not consider this to be a progressive rock album. But who cares, when you have a bunch of good songs? The band says that 'experience and friendship' are the source that gives life to Grand Reunion, and after hearing this album, I am sure that is true, because you can feel that chemistry that you can only feel in a debut album. You know what I'm talking about: no over-production, a garage sound, like a live album, but a real retro-rock sound from the rehearsal room.
The music in this album is full of energetic, noisy and fuzzy rock 'n' roll in the seventies vibe, including organs and some Latino percussion lines (great use of bongos). I haven't listened to the classics of the 70s but I really like the band Black Mountain, and the Grand Reunion sound could be something similar but maybe without the indie punch.
In The Station has eight songs, four of them sung in Spanish and four in English. From the very begging of Eres Tan Serpiente, the listener can recognise the influences from the stoner, blues-infused rock, and heavy-psyche genres as well as that Black Mountain sound that I mentioned. For the second song, they use some spoken words about the universe, and cosmic sounds, before the song begins with great guitars and a captivating tempo. The title track follows, and this is the first sung in English and was chosen to be the first video single (watch it on the video link below). There is great percussion for this track, alongside some impressive guitar playing.
Bang Bang the Headband could be the perfect description of Grand Reunion's sound. It has all the elements mentioned in the previous songs and in the next songs too. Almost eight minutes of great playing, lovely vocals and captivating rhythms. This is my favourite track.
Unfortunately it is follwed by Sombra del Terror, the only song on the album that I don't like. I tend to treat its heavier sound and rhythm, with some dramatic voices, as an interlude for the last part of the album, which is great.
Drivasse, again in Spanish, starts slowly but grows through a pop rhythm, to a great guitar fuzzing at the end. Weedow starts with some kind of reggae sounds before progressing to a grand finalé including great choruses. It´s Alright closes the album in a softer and effective way.
So, you won't find here the next big thing in progressive music, but if you like great songs that progress to great finalés, then this is your album. It's growing on me with each listen, because the music is sincere, and I can feel that. I'm really looking forward to seeing what Grand Reunion do in the future.
Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate - Out Of Mind
As a reviewer at DPRP, most of the time I am faced with the same black-or-white situation concerning the nature of the review I am supposed to write and my approach to that. Once I get a release, I either listen to it a few times under different circumstances, having no problem to form my opinion (like or dislike), or I have severe difficulties coming to terms with the music, not being able to pigeonhole the music right away, and my opinion varies according to the circumstances or the mood I am in when listening to it. Those are the reviews which I tend to keep pushing forward, and Out Of Mind by Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate belongs to the latter category.
Out Of Mind is the band’s fourth album in a career that started in 2012 with Invisible, followed by When The Kill Code Fails in 2015, and Broken But Still Standing in 2017. I must confess that this band so far has completely escaped my radar, not even having discovered it by coincidence while zapping albums and playlists on Spotify. Mastermind behind Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate (did not find out yet where this unusual name comes from) is Malcom Galloway (lead vocals, lead guitar, programming, keyboards), together with Mark Gatland (bass guitar, Chapman stick, guitar, keyboards), and Malcom’s wife Kathryn Thomas (flute, bass flute and vocals on Electric Ant). Neither the notes accompanying the release nor the band’s website mention a drummer as a permanent band member. There is one on some of the photos, though. A guest for live performances only with programmed drums on the album?
Lyrically, Out Of Mind draws its inspiration from memory, dealt with from different perspectives, reflecting the band’s interest in science in general and science fiction in particular. When I Was A Ship, for instance, is based upon Ann Leckie’s science fiction trilogy Imperial Radch, De Humani Corporis Fabrica is the title of Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius’ ground-breaking anatomy book published in seven volumes in 1543.
The songs Coming Back and The Electric Ant are inspired by novels of American science-fiction author Philip K. Dick, Losing Myself deals with mind degeneration due to dementia. The lyrics of the touching and emotional Lidice are about humanity and solidarity in the face of inhumanity (Lidice is a Czech mining village completely destroyed by the Nazis in World War II). The lyrics not at all are a light fare and are rather demanding, and the same holds true for the music.
In an attempt to classify the band’s music, I can conclude that the foundations clearly are progressive rock, combined with various additional elements and influences, making it diverse and varied. The most prominent feature, in my opinion, is the ambient and spacey character of the quieter parts in some of the songs, not unlike it is found in the work of Oak, Anathema, and to some extent Damanek. Good examples of that are The Rose That Was Red In The Dark and I Miss The Stars, the latter of which displaying a Pink Floyd-feel (not the only one to do that) and even coming close to space rock. Characteristic are the keyboards (strings and organ) walls of sounds, sustained guitar notes, slow and sometimes narrative vocals.
Inherent in that type of music, though, is a certain absence of rhythmic structures, dynamics, and catchy melodies, which I am sometimes missing in the band’s music. Defiance on the other hand is much more aggressive and with its guitar/synthesizer interplay reminds me of DeeExpus’ King Of Number 33.
Additional influences come from electronic music, as evidenced by the repetitive character of the basic sound structures and the sequencer / synthesizer lines in Maze and If You Think The World Is Bad.
The vocals are strong throughout the album, sometimes mellow and melodic (When I Was A Ship could be an old Marillion song or one from Kino), sometimes harsh as in Stand Up. What I liked about the vocal tracks of this album is the band’s ability to perfectly reflect the lyrics' content, mood and message in the music. Listen to Lidice to realise both the drama of the inhumanity and the hope displayed by the act of solidarity. Feel the hopelessness and the despair of someone realizing his deteriorating mental abilities expressed in the song Losing Myself.
Besides the musical references mentioned above coming through individually in some of the songs, there are hints at Lunatic Soul, Sanguine Hum and even Riverside for the album as a whole. It is not easy listening - neither lyrically, nor musically. It requires the listeners’ permanent attention. It is ambitious and demanding, in a positive way. If one is prepared to account for that, then this release should be part of a well-diversified progressive rock collection. It took me a while to accept that, though.
Magenta - We Are Seven
CD 2: Gluttony (12:26), Envy (9:47), Lust (12:50), Anger (7:02), Greed (7:08), Sloth (10:00), Pride (14:20)
Magenta - We Are Seven [DVD]
DVD 2: Gluttony (12:26), Envy (9:31), Lust (14:39), Anger (6:12), Greed (6:47), Sloth (9:01), The Lizard King (6:15), Pride (15:52)
Magenta's concert recorded at the Robin 2, Bilston in April of last year where they performed full versions of both their most recent album We Are Legend and their second album Seven sees a release as a double CD and a double DVD.
Given that the band have only recorded seven studio albums, these latest releases brings the total number of live CDs and DVDs to twelve, six of each. Admittedly, two of the live CDs/DVDs were in the same package and two more, as with We Are Seven were the same concert in audio and video form. But it shows how confident the band are in their live performances. And justifiably so as one cannot fault the musical performance which are tight and exact.
The core band is formed by Christina Booth (vocals), Chris Fry (guitars, backing vocals), Rob Reed (keyboards, backing vocals), Dan Nelson (bass), and Jiffy Griffiths (drums). This line-up is supplemented with Karla Powell (oboe) and Katie Axelsen (flute), who provide a more organic aspect to the more usual synthesised orchestral sections. The presence of the wind instruments are particularly powerful on the quieter tracks such as Prekestolen and Anger although the fine quality mixing enables their parts to be heard even when the rest of the band are in full flight.
Without a doubt the star of the band is guitarist Chris Fry whose playing is prominent throughout, effortless switching between electric and acoustic guitars and laying down riffs a plenty. That takes nothing away from the rest of the band performance wise, Christina Booth's singing is spot on and watching the DVDs shows that she reaches even the highest notes in an almost effortless manner. Reed, never the flashiest of players, or performers, holds things together while the rhythm section are the tightest in the band's long history.
This concert was the first time that the albums have been played live in their entirety, which is quite an undertaking given that the band rarely skimps on the playing time of their releases! Not a group that is known for improvisations, the renditions follow the studio versions pretty closely, particularly for the We Are Legend songs, as their newness means they have not had time to develop on stage. Of the songs from Seven, Greed is the song that most differs from the album being somewhat shortened.
Three other songs taken from other releases are also included in the set. Opener Speechless, played according to Christina to get warmed up, kicks things off with intent the performers not holding anything back. Prekestolen, from Metamorphosis, includes a brief section of Bridge Over Troubled Water and was used as the calm after the storm of the Legend album and was the end of the first half of the concert, as shown by the DVD track listing.
The length of the second set has meant that it would not fit onto a single CD so the first encore, The Lizard King from the rather disappointing The Twenty-seven Club CD has been moved to the end of the first CD. Thus, the second CD is the whole of the Seven album, although not performed in the order of the original album. Not that it makes much odds as although a concept album there is no inherent chronology.
If there is one criticism of the band it is that they are not very interactive with their audience. The end of the concert just sees the band walking off stage and song introductions are perfunctory if at all. But it is evident from the smiles, particularly from Mr. Fry, that the band are enjoying themselves.
There are no extras on the DVD which, apart from a few clunky shots from the front of the stage, is well filmed and captures the performance well. Both are nice releases in the usual bi-fold cardboard sleeves with very little additional information other than credits and track listings and will please attendees at the concert or the hardened collector. As the TV advert says, does exactly what it says on the tin (apologies to non UK readers for that!).
El Tubo Elástico - Impala
Spain has always had a tradition of great prog bands, and a large proportion of these were (are) instrumental outfits. Hailing from Jerez de la Frontera (near Cádiz, on the Atlantic Spanish coast), El Tubo Elástico (that's Spanish for "Elastic Tube") have a vast array of great classic instrumental Andalusian bands, such as Imán Califato Independiente or Guadalquivir to look up to (even if the obvious Flamenco leanings of these two seminal outfits are largely absent on this release). As well as more modern bands from elsewhere in the country who successfully cultivate their own brand of instrumental music, Toundra and Jardín de la Croix being the obvious choices, there’s also sundry outfits such as Kotebel, Hysteriofunk or Difícil Equilibrio to name but a few. Needless to say, I encourage you to discover all these brilliant bands (if you haven't already); you're in for a treat.
Where does this band and their newest release Impala sit amongst this embarrassment of prog riches? In a comfortable position, I must say. If I had to nitpick, I'd say the album gets a bit samey after the impact of the first couple of tracks. Although it loses momentum after the one-two punch made up of Ingrávido and Antihéroe, both the musicianship and the compositional values are of an undeniable high standard throughout. Elaborate guitars and a tight rhythm section (hats off to Carlos Cabrera's impressive drumming) take the spotlight here, with keyboards present but pushed to the background. Proof of this rhythmic inclination is the presence of stick authority Guillermo Cides guesting on Turritopsis Nutricula, enhancing Alfonso Romero's already agile bass lines.
For those needing a style/genre description, I'd say what you'll find here is an even blend of prog, math rock and space rock, with a subtle post-rock seasoning and an overall funky, groovy thread which ties it all together. Case in point is La Avispoteca (which translates into "Wasp-o-teque"), 6 minutes of percussion-laden catchiness which is probably my favorite track on the album and would make modern day King Crimson or even Animals As Leaders proud. If it's longer form pieces you seek, look no further than the wonderfully titled El Acelerador de Picotas ("The Cherry Accelerator" for those wanting to know), a two-parter which showcases some serious interlocking guitars (courtesy of Daniel González and Vizen Rivas) and intricate drumming throughout its 12 minute running time.
El Tubo Elástico are a safe bet for those who like their instrumentals with plenty of twists and turns, hard-hitting yet nuanced, reasonably complex but developed within firmly structured frames (Gordian Knot come to mind in this regard). Make no mistake, this is an excellent release, and shows a lot of promise for a band you should take note of.