Esthema - IIII
Esthema, hailing from Boston, USA, is a multi-cultural ensemble consisting of classically trained musicians ranging from America, Turkey and Cyprus. Operating in the instrumental, progressive rock, jazz fusion field they devote their gift wholeheartedly to create delicate, sensitive and moving pieces of Art. This, their forth album purposely titled IIII, is another testament to their exceptional skills as musicians (individual and combined) and composers.
Wedged in-between four substantial tracks are short, intimate, ambient soundscapes/finger exercises, and it's the four intricate world-music inspired entities responsible for the overall mood. And while at first glance, Esthema may sound like the equivalent of a small conservatory chamber quintet demonstrating their unique talent, (which they do to me), they progressively revealed to behold much more on further listening.
Harmonious, guiding bass defines a fluent, earthy foundation to which conventional acoustical instruments such as guitar, violin and jazzy drums add a warm, intimate, comforting and homely atmosphere. Further carefully-arranged dynamics of Middle Eastern traditional instruments like the Oud and Bouzouki, alongside meticulous hand-percussion, provide a rich sound and engaging melodies.
The apparent improvisational character of the tracks is filled with an eye to detail, and their execution has been well thought-out and timed with utmost precision; as if rehearsed to perfection. Where classical violin symphonies fill one with sadness, they also successively lift you up with the coldness of winter or embrace you with a glowing warmth from the inside. The laid back yet enthralling vibrant rhythms and structures created by the acoustic guitar, playfully drive the tracks forward or suggestively slowly fade into gentle, caressing movements.
The combined amalgamation of sounds breathes life into complex, refined tracks, giving a rhythmic flow of endless pictures and sceneries, which is most evident on Successive Waves. Giving way to imagery, the slow, pulsating, meditative bass interacts with percussion and middle eastern folklore. Once the intensity picks up, it turns into a oceanic symphony bursting with controlled heartbeats and energy, ending in a beautifully-arranged natural, ambient surrounding.
This is intriguing music to me, and in their field certainly worth investigating. Captivating music for fans of world music, Brian Eno, John McLaughlin and Return To Forever.
Hypnotic Nausea - The Death of All Religions
"A concept album about the viral nature of religion and other mind viruses" is how Athens-based experimental heavy rockers Hypnotic Nausea describe their second album, The Death Of All Religions. If they have had no line-up changes from their first release, 2015’s Hypnosis, then they are still a heavy rock trio with some progressive tendencies.
I found, on a first listen, that The Death Of All Religions' brand of heavy rock not to my personal taste. But on subsequent listens I warmed to it a bit more. Hidden amongst the metal riffing, some things of interest were occurring.
Over Holy City’s extended running time, they develop a heavy rock take on post-rock, as sludgy riffing builds over an unhurried rhythm. When the vocals enter in the last third, it takes the song up a level. The singer and guitarist George B has a good voice, and he neither screams nor growls.
Things get less monolithic as the album goes on. Hypnotic Nausea add tricky time changes to the grinding guitars of Dogma. They bring an unexpected subtlety to the slow Outside and also to the title track. There is a classic metal edge to Priest, one that they disrupt on the way to an adventurous instrumental coda. The closing Inquietum Cor drifts along for a while but then powers up to 11 with a Sabbath-like section.
All the short tracks act as interludes between the longer ones, but on repeat plays I find them redundant. Hypnotic Nausea have also produced a comic book that illustrates the concept, but not being a fan of that art form, I will refrain from passing comment on it.
Hypnotic Nausea’s The Death Of All Religions is more of a heavy rock album, than a prog-rock album and that’s the reason it doesn’t all work for me. If they "up" the prog invention, then Hypnotic Nausea will produce something really interesting. File under: Keep an eye on.
Ihlo - Union
According to a lot of people who have listened to Ihlo's debut offering, then this London-based quartet has been listening to a lot of TesseracT. Dunno about that as I've never really enjoyed TesseracT; but I am rather liking what I hear from these seven tracks.
The staccato, djenty riffage and the silky smooth (almost pop) vocals are all there, but it's the heavy use of atmospherics, and electronica and synths that smooth out the sound and makes it a far more absorbing listen.
Sure, fans of Haken, Leprous, TesseracT and Caligula's Horse will likely love this. But it may also appeal to those, like me, who find a lot of the djenty bands too cold and repetitive.
The opening two tracks are an experience dominated by the layered textures of the music. The polished production enhances the emotive and uplifting nature of the album. Starseeker, with its brutal opening riff, is about as heavy as Ihlo gets. But even here the melodies and emotion leave the bigger impression.
Parhelion is the most memorable track (with a big nod towards Caligula's Horse/Arcane's Jim Grey in the vocal department), whilst Coalescence manages to keep me engaged throughout its quarter-of-an-hour running time. An impressive debut from a band to watch.
Kama Kollectiv - Koti
Kama Kollektiv is the band of young Finnish singer and trumpet player Kirsi-Marja “Kiki” Harju. The quartet is based in The Netherlands and is made up of Kirsi Harju (trumpet, vocals, composition), Aurora Hentunen (piano), Jonathan Nagel (double bass, composition), and Yoad Korach on drums. The music is an amalgamation of jazz, Scandinavian folk and indie pop.
The music is generally easy on the ear; the lyrics are evocative and provide a rich tapestry of images assorted with Finnish culture and nature. The album’s sound quality is clear and is precise. It has a rich dynamic range, where every instrument has a clear and distinct voice.
There are probably not many aspects of Koti that will appeal to prog rock aficionados. However, if you wish to hear some bitter-sweet melodic tunes with a beating jazz heart, beautifully performed and delivered by an idiosyncratic voice, then much of Koti will be of interest.
Vocalist Harju has an interesting voice that listeners will either love or hate. Her intonation was at times reminiscent of the offbeat musings of Dagmar, although the style of the music on offer rarely veers towards experimental and innovative areas.
Her trumpet tone is full-bodied but frequently gentle. There are few occasions of cheek-puffing distortion and diaphragm-bursting soloing. It is all rather subtle and melodic and this style fits the overall mood of the music perfectly.
Hentunen provides some gorgeous embellishments to many of the pieces. When he does, as in the beginning and mid-section of Dragonfly, the mood that exudes has a late-night appeal and possesses a delicate, silk-winged sensuality.
In this excellent tune the whole ensemble has a part to play in its skilful execution. Harju’s trumpet solo provides a lovely contrast to the folk influences that have an important role to play in its concluding section.
One of the most interesting pieces on the album is probably Turvapaikka; it’s fascinating rhythmic qualities and sweeping trumpet melodies creates a cinematic effect that evokes images of young deers prancing and old salmon leaping. It is one of the few pieces when the band stretches out, to move beyond recognisable song-based structures. It is a beautiful piece!
Whilst Koti has no prog rock pretentions, and does not offer any unexpected diversions, it is a surprisingly enjoyable and interesting experience.
In the final analysis, it is probably best suited to candle-lit, supper-filled, late evenings, rather than bright-eyed early morning jogs around the park.
Onioroshi - Beyond These Mountains
This is the first album by Italian Onioroshi. Progressive / psych by their own definition, I would put the psych first, then progressive, and add ambient and a bit of doom to that list as well.
The last two tracks are the more ambient ones, both ending in 5-minute sections of ambient samy-ness. There's more of that throughout the album, even in the louder sections, which is what prompted me to at least mention doom. A bit more post-rock with slowly adding a layer of sound would provide more candy for prog rock ears.
For the progressive side of their music, listen to the first two tracks. Several sections alternating in sound and speed. Touches of post-metal here as well, pleasing my taste the most. Dark overall, mostly instrumental, mostly heavy and enough changes.
The bass has a prominent role. In some bits that were a little too repetitive to my taste, especially with the guitar hitting the same notes for too long, it was the bass that provided a welcome variety. The part leading up to the ambient closing section of the album is quite heavy and has more varied guitar, though, so they do know how to do that.
I think the album might divide listeners in groups favouring the first two or the last two tracks. But perhaps there are lots of people who like ambient mixed up with something heavy, what do I know. Personally I am intrigued and interested to hear what they're going to do next. Although I would skip some of the slower and repetitive bits I am quite happy with most of this album.
Oscillazioni Alchemico Kreative - Giordano Bruno
Oscillazioni Alchemico Kreative (OAK), is a band project by Jerry Cutillo, a relatively unknown multi-instrumentalist from Italy who has thus far released six albums, dating back to 1995. Lucky number seven, Giordano Bruno, is a passionate play of 14 carefully crafted mini-suites, where we follow the swift, adventurous and dramatic footsteps of historical Italian philosopher, priest, cosmologist and mathematician Bruno (1548-1600).
Embodied in a warm, organic, vintage production, the voyages, life-path and beliefs of free-thinker Bruno are interpreted and told by an intriguing array of linguisticly-challenging lyrics sung in either Italian, German, English and Latin. These are expressively chanted in either a light, dramatic, tuneful or erratic tone, depending on the stage of the captivating journey.
Drawing inspiration from seventies Italian progressive greats like PFM, Le Orme and Banco, Cutillo further incorporates strong influences by Genesis (Gabriel-era), classical music and folk rock. As a devoted Jethro Tull admirer, his authentic minstrel qualities also radiate, with a severe “flute-a-like”-ness to Ian Anderson (Campo Dè Fiori, Circe, and Un Valzer Per Il Mocenigo). The interpretation of Danse Macabre, a classical symphonic adaptation to a poem by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921); being an outstanding deja-vu experience to Jethro Tull’s Boureé.
Refined acoustical passages in The Globe, reminiscent to Anywhere by Grobschnitt, flow gently, alongside medieval early Genesis (Dreams Of Mandragora) and the entertainingly-familiar spacious touches of ELP in La Cena Delle Beffe. The playful, jazzy saxophone by David Jackson (VDGG) salves and adds imaginative depth, whilst he also supplies some unnerving, psychedelic ad-libs such as in the entertaining Sandali Rossi.
With moody, melancholic, earthy Mellotron passages intertwining to divine interventions and angelic vocals (Diana/Morgana), progressive momentums gather in Wittenberger Fuchstanz, which is filled with beautiful arrangements reminiscent of Nuova Era and mid-seventies Genesis. Precious, atmospheric movements shine with Pink Floyd, to top things off in this satisfying concept.
In alignment with the extraordinary, detailed artwork by Ed Unitsky, Giordano Bruno proves to be a recommendable delight; a richly coloured, and deeply diversified conceptual prog rock opera, with lively touches of folk rock. Bravissimo to Cutillo.
Signe - To Sappho
If you enjoy female voices arranged with a mysterious, progressive zest, and possessing a gently calming and a bewitching pull, then much of Signe’s To Sappho release may appeal.
The album revolves upon the improvised vocalisations and words sung in both English and Finnish of Riikka Keränen, Kaisa Mäensivu, Selma Savolainen and Josefiina Vannesluoma. The only other instrument to feature is the double bass, and Mäensivu keenly plucks that. In the final piece, a vibraphone is also included in the mix.
The music that the band creates is coy and very idiosyncratic. It darts seamlessly in and out of jazz forms, free vocal expression, nordic folk and minimalist avant-garde meanderings. This combination creates a listening experience that is always interesting and occasionally disturbing. The album radiates with a simplistic, sparse beauty.
Much of To Sappho is calmly meditative and provides a perfect antidote to bouts of restless insomnia. Ode To Aphrodite II’s gently-lilting vocal waves, includes an array of repetitive sounds and phrases. As they break, frothily surf and bubble upon your ears, you may find yourself gently lulled to sleep.
Signe may not be the best free-vocal improvised group currently around. That mantle perhaps belongs to the Trondheim Voices or Ikarus.
Unlike Ikarus’ latest release, Mosaismic, much of To Sappho does not bounce and rattle rhythmically and is altogether a much more contemplative affair. However, it is fair to say that at times, some of the more offbeat, expressive moments of To Sappho, in tracks such as Aphrodite, run Ikarus' Mosaismic pretty darn close.
Stamina - Live In The City Of Power
Every year I seem to find a couple of melodic heavy rock albums that bring me back to my early days of listening to music. A lot of the bands seem to hail from Italy.
Stamina is the brainchild of guitarist and songwriter Luca Sellitto. I first came across them with their third release, Perseverance, which made my list of Top 10 Albums in 2014.
After four studio albums and collaborating with special guest singers such as Goran Edman (ex Yngwie Malmsteen) and Nils Molin (Amaranthe, Dynazty), they have selected one singer, Alessandro Granato, for this live album set.
Royal Hunt is the closest comparison, for the addictive mix of melodic rock, prog and neo-classical, with constant stredding exchanges between the guitar and flamboyant keyboards.
Recorded in September 2018 at the City of Power Festival in Zgierz, Poland, this is a great value CD / DVD combination, containing nine powerful songs from their catalogue. I only have a promo with the audio. You can judge the quality of the DVD from the track in the YouTube link below.
The set includes nothing from their debut album and just one from its successor. We have three from Perseverance and five from 2017's equally impressive System Of Power. You have exactly the same tracks on the CD, as on the DVD.
The mix isn't the greatest quality, with it sounding as if its been taken from within the hall. I'd have liked the vocals more forward in the mix, with a fuller, heavier tone. The heavily-accented in-between song banter is hard to decipher. However this is a great collection of melodic prog-power metal, that will entertain existing fans and should tempt any newcomers to dig into the Stamina back catalogue.