Reviews in this issue:
Company of Dreams - Company of Dreams
Company Of Dreams is a band from the Netherlands. They also point the fact that they are a female-fronted prog, metal and rock band, including female backing vocals. This self-titled EP (that's what the band call it, even at regular LP length) was released in November 2018, and don't expect "the prog" to be the main style in their music, which also features AOR and some classic metal, mixed with good choruses and singing from Deborah (the band website sticks to a first-name only basis).
The EP starts with Dreamin' of the Future, a nice first song to introduce the band's sound, with some good rock and great guitar solos. The next one is called Time. It's heavier and in spite of having good moments, it becomes a bit samey, with no surprises.
Definitely not a personal favourite, which can't be said of Enchant, which is a very good instrumental song that progresses with great guitar playing and some groovy bass moments. There are some 90s feelings here and also in the following track, Thoughts. There is a great tempo in this semi-ballad that reminds me of Metallica's The Unforgiven (Metallica fans please do forgive me for this but that was the song that came to my mind when I first listened to Thoughts). Again some great playing by guitarists Ronald and Marc produces a very good song.
Destination is the shortest track with almost five minutes and a more modern approach. It is a simple song, before we come to the best composition that closes the EP called The Secret of Life and the one having all the good things from Company of Dreams; nice atmospheric arrangements, catchy chorus and of course perfectly-executed guitar solos. A great composition from start to finish.
We have nothing new under the sun here but Company of Dreams has released a very good bunch of songs that are enjoyable from the first listen and leaves you wanting to hear more. So, I'm really looking forward to hearing their next effort! I wish them good luck too, since I just read that Ruth, the bass player, has left the band in May to be replaced by Amy.
Darkwater - Human
Formed back in 2003, an output of three albums in 16 years means that Sweden's Darkwater will never become one of the more prolific progressive metal bands.
However it can not be understated how their discography is more about the quality than the quantity.
If I ever get around to writing my book of 100 Prog-Metal Albums To Listen To Before You Die, then Darkwater's debut offering, Calling The Earth To Witness, will certainly be included. In the 12 years since its release, it has remained a regular on my playlist. A definite classic of the genre, and an album that has undoubtedly got better with age.
The much-anticipated follow-up, 2011's Where Stories End, has not fared so well with me over time. The initial enthusiasm in my review has waned, so that only the wonderful opening duo of tracks still gets return visits.
In the eight years since the last Darkwater release, lead singer Henrik Bath has released two albums with Universal Mind Project and Waken Eyes, however it is Darkwater that offers the perfect showcase for his talents.
The basic compositional template on Human remains largely unaltered from its predecessors. The music is complex; in the sense that there is an ever-changing musical background to every song. The band is able to shift gear and pace effortlessly, meaning that every track is actually a compilation of five or six very different themes. Yet it all fits together seamlessly. Listen to how much variation The Journey crams around its monstrous Sabbath-esque riff in just eight minutes.
Where Darkwater differs from many of its contemporaries, is that the instrumental show-boating is minimal. There are constant solo-spots shared between guitar and keyboards. Yet the emphasis is always on the word "spot". It never spreads into a stain that overwhelms the song itself.
The 10 tracks are all accessible and very listenable (in progressive metal terms!). That is because the melodies (verse and chorus) and the central riffs are instantly memorable, aided in no small part by Bath's innate melodic sensibility.
There is a wonderful groove to their music, which also draws you in and keeps you wanting more. In terms of favourite moments; then the two-part Alive is one of the best songs the band has ever penned. Part One acts as a gentle vocal-led intro' before another monstrous riff and a hook-to-die-for more than delivers the goodies in the track-proper.
The middle eastern vibes added to In Front of You and Insomnia work well, whilst Burdens is the best song that Dream Theater never managed to write.
It's only the two longest tracks that don't quite maintain the impeccable quality. Reflection of a Mind is saved by the obligatory great melodic hook. An edited version would have sufficed. Light of Dawn should be viewed as a "bonus track".
Added depth is given to Human by a lyrical content that, as the album-title suggests, relates to the human condition and how we relate to the world around us as one's life-clock ticks ever onwards. The band has even produced a little video to add a few insights into the messages behind every song.
For existing Darkwater fans, this will more than fulfill expectations. For fans of Andromeda, Seventh Wonder, Dream Theater and even more "modern" prog-metal bands such as Teramaze, then you will find it hard to listen to a better melodic progressive metal album, this year, or any other year. An essential purchase.
Eveline's Dust - K
The UK-based Giant Electric Pea label has seen a lot of activity recently; signing bands such as Security Project, Southern Empire and United Progressive Fraternity, as well as being the home to IQ.
Eveline's Dust are the latest GEP signing, and what a find this band are. Hailing from Italy, the band consists of four fresh-faced young men, but don't let their apparent youth deceive you. These guys have produced an extremely mature CD, the quality of which far exceeds their age.
The album, entitled K, is their second release, but the first for GEP. The benefit of this should hopefully give the band more international exposure, allowing a wider audience to experience Eveline's Dust's jazz-based progressive rock.
For a young band releasing their second album, the decision to release a concept album, could have been a risky one. However, this album is not your next Misplaced Childhood or Subterrania.
What you get here is a very introspective release. The concept is that a young girl, K, the hero of the story, is diagnosed with an incurable illness. This premise may appear to be a dark subject, but K turns out to be a modern heroine. With the contact K has with various people throughout her life, she displays a courageous strength that impacts on everyone she encounters. The dignity K displays in her darkest hours, represents a part of all of us, pushing us to fight for what makes us happy, and bringing us peace.
Onto the actual music. The best description I can conjure, is King Crimson meets Michael Bublé. Vocalist and keyboard player, Nichola Pedreschi, has one of those rare voices that draws you in, and holds your attention like classic crooners Sinatra and Dean Martin and the aforementioned Michael Bublé.
The music, while having a modern feel to the compositions, retains a nostalgic feel. This is created by the band using what sounds like mostly analogue keyboards, rather than modern digital equivalents. This gives the band a warm, natural sound, especially during the instrumental passages. These never drag on, and provide all band members with a chance to demonstrate their skills. Guitarist, Lorenzo Gherarducci is a star in the making; his natural sounds and the feeling in his solo sections are not flash. Instead they provide emotional sections, reminiscent of Gilmore and Rothery.
It wasn't until my fourth or fifth listen, that it became apparent that the rhythm section, consisting of Marco Carlioni on bass and drummer Angelo Carmignani, provide an amazingly solid foundation around which the music is built. Some of Carmignani's drum work reminds me of the playing of Ian Mosely.
I would have trouble discerning a stand-out track, or moment, because as with all great concept albums, they should be appreciated as a whole. That said, I would recommend listening to the title track, the single K, to get an instant take on this band. This introduces the album's guest singer, Lorenza Catricala, who provides additional vocals on this track. Lorenza appears again later on the album, providing lead vocals on the track Faintly Falling; an emotional ballad which will at least raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
The quality of musicianship on display, leads me to imagine that in a live environment, these four guys could break into a jazz improvisation at any time. I wish I had come across this CD earlier, as Eveline's Dust have just completed a pretty comprehensive tour, and I would have loved to have seen them live.
I feel with Eveline's Dust, we have a young band that could be one of the leaders of the next generation of progressive rock. I hope that signing to the GEP label will enable them to reach their obvious vast potential. If this release is anything to go by, this band has the qualities necessary to become the stars they deserve to be.
Fernando Perdomo - Out To Sea 2
Fernando Perdomo may not be a household name, but it is likely that you've heard his music in one way or another. In his extensive career as a performer and producer, he has worked with such well know names as Todd Rundgren, Jennifer Lopez, Jakob Dylan, Fiona Apple, Paulina Rubio and others. He also composes music for TV commercials, and in prog circles, he is best known for his work with Dave Kerzner.
Out To Sea 2 was my introduction to his talents and it was a very pleasant surprise. These types of instrumental rock albums can often be one-dimensional, but that is not the case here. Perdomo employs an abundance of styles to create an effective musical variety.
There is also an old school vibe at play that reminded me of some of the great instrumental recordings of the 70s. This nostalgic feel is aided by the cover artwork by Paul Whitehead, best known for his Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot album sleeves for Genesis.
Perdomo is an excellent guitarist, but he is never overly flashy in his playing. This is no shred-fest, but all of the songs are intricately performed with a strong sense of melody. His musical influences are clearly on display and you will hear moments that remind you of artists like Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, Jeff Beck, and Eric Johnson.
However, this album is not a re-tread of what came before, as there is a freshness to the material that sets it apart. That is in large part due to the strength of Perdomo's compositions. Consistently entertaining from start to finish, Out To Sea 2 is one of the best instrumental rock albums that I've heard in quite some time.
Stratus Luna - Stratus Luna
Stratus Luna are a young prog-jazz-rock group from São Paulo (their eldest member is only 21). They formed when Ricardo Santhiago (guitars, lap steel), his brother Gustavo (keyboards, flute) and cousin Giovanni Lenti (drums) started studying music. In 2017, Gabriel (the son of Gong's guitar player Fabio Golfetti) joined the band to provide bass. This self-titled album is their debut-release.
For all their youth, Stratus Luna produce mature music full of complexity. Mixing nods to 70s instrumental symphonic progressive rock, Canterbury psychedelia, jazz rock and world music elements, they employ vintage sounding keyboards as the basis of their sound. A sound that is muscular without being overtly heavy, combined with the restless energy of young men. And they have a way with a tune.
Over seven tracks, they explore their musical ideas with a wonderful, warm sound to the keyboards and guitar, while the rhythm section takes the ‘less is more’ approach. They vary the time signatures and dynamics in a well thought-out way. Each song has an individual identity to separate them, but still retains a cohesion throughout the album.
The signature sound on the album is, for me, Gustavo’s organ and piano playing. On Zarabatana for instance, he moves from grand piano, to organ, to synth before his brother takes the limelight for a classical Hindustani section that segues into lap steel. The keyboards return with a Soft Machine-like electric piano and an organ sound as fierce as anything by L’Orme. But this isn’t to denigrate the other fine players on Stratus Luna. It’s not that I think any of the other players are anything other than top notch, it’s just that I love the keyboards so much on Stratus Luna.
Stratus Luna acknowledge their influences (bands such as Camel, Nektar, the Canterbury Sound, Pink Floyd, Grobschnitt, and Ash Ra Tempel) but they have absorbed these, and have produced music informed by them, without any slavish retro-isms. It will sit in my playlists alongside the two excellent releases by the Japanese symphonic quartet ptf, and it will, I feel, rack up just as many plays.
These young guys should be applauded for producing Stratus Luna, an album full of melodic charms, musical chops and complexity, but at the same time it is an album that remains thoroughly accessible. One of the most enjoyable (non post-rock) instrumental albums I’ve heard recently.
The Tirith - A Leap Into The Dark
I am sure many readers here will remember the excitement and anticipation of years gone by, when a package was delivered through your letter box and you knew it was the latest cassette by a band about which you had read a review in a fanzine, or seen on a flyer handed out at one of the many prog gigs you had attended. Was it as good as the hype? Did it resemble anything like the bands it had been likened to? The unpacking usually revealed the artwork, likely displaying the band's stylised logo, then reading the alluring song titles and ultimately pressing play on your tape player.
Was all the anticipation worth it? And do you remember the absolute joy when the product met or exceeded your expectations?
Well, this release by The Tirith, (a JRR Tolkien reference just adds to the nostalgia) provided me with a wonderful trip back-in-time.
The artwork provides the same sense of mystique, I remembered all those years ago. To be honest, I still haven't worked out what the cover illustration is, but it creates the right atmosphere before playing the CD.
Then the song titles; Kalaya, Song Of The Forgotten One and The Nostalgia Sequence (which is split into three parts). Epic song titles and the likelihood of epic prog.
Would the anticipation and excitement again pay off? Too damn right it did!
The title track and album opener, immediately presents a musical statement of intent. The crunching solo guitar riff does not hold back, then bass, drums and keyboards are introduced in classic Deep Purple style. Just think Smoke On The Water. From that point on, I was immediately drawn into the world of The Tirith.
Guitarist and producer Tim Cox appears to have kept his obvious talents, as both producer and guitar player, well hidden for many years. This is apparent as the three band members don't appear to be fresh-faced youths (I hope they don't mind me saying this), but instead seasoned performers.
This is reinforced by the band's bio, which confirms the band have been around for some time. They began back in the 70s as Minas Tirith. The band then went their own separate ways, but reformed again in 2010. They released their first CD, Tales From The Tower, in 2015. I have yet to hear this, but will be hunting down a copy for certain.
When I first listened to the new album, my only concern was the voice of singer/bass player Richard Cory. However, after multiple listens, Richard's voice has grown on me. This is mainly due to remembering back to those tapes I listened to many years ago, and honestly, how many of them had classic singers?
The beauty of the bands on those tapes, were that they were not trying to get onto The Voice, or The X Factor of their time, but rather they were playing because they loved the music they wrote or imitated. In short, they wanted to play for an audience, warts and all. I mean no offence to the people I'm about to mention, but when you think back to singers like Geoff Mann, Peter Nicholls, and Ewan Lowson, these guys were never the greatest singers in the world, but the bands they fronted would not be the same without them. These were the years before auto-tune, and Richard's voice adds so much to the music of The Tirith, that it drags you back to those days long ago.
Throughout the disc I was reminded of Rush and Pallas, due to the guitar-led rock on offer, and some of the choruses or vocal melodies are reminiscent of Saga and Styx. Also, the keyboards add texture to the music when required, and enhance the overall neo-progressive feel.
Tim Cox's guitar playing is an absolute joy throughout. When Tim solos, he is never indulgent. Instead his solos are melodic, and add atmosphere to the songs, reminiscent of Pallas's symphonic prog offerings.
When The Tirith take their foot off the pedal, with a song like No More (which is a moving tribute to a friend recently lost), it demonstrates the quality of their work. It also suggests that if they where around 20 years ago, they could have had the potential of writing what was known as a hit.
So, being new to reviewing on a regular basis, I have quickly found the downside. When you get a release you like as much as The Tirith have produced, with reluctance you take it out of the player, as you need to review the next disc. However, you carry on, and hope the next CD to review is as good as this one.
To conclude; anyone wanting to feel like it's 1988 again, ripping open the envelope and putting the cassette on, and finding an unexpected, guitar-driven prog rock classic, then get this. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.