Reviews in this issue:
Der Blutharsch And The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand - Wish I Weren't Here
Der Blutharsch And The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand (for the sake of my fingers, I will refer to the band as DB for the rest of this review) is a musical project of prolific Austrian musician Albin Julius, and has existed in various forms since 1996. The band has gained a degree of notoriety due to its alleged links to the neo-fascist movement. Julius has denied this. But the use of fascist symbolism by DB, and appearing live with other neo-fascist bands, makes this denial a bit difficult to believe.
The reason I listen to music is for pleasure and enjoyment, so I will focus on the music presented, rather than the beliefs of the musicians performing it. So, on with the review.
The cover of Wish I Weren't Here, with its picture of an alien architectural foreground, with blue skies and fluffy clouds, enhanced by the band logo and album title in green metallic foil, is striking. The only other information contained within the glossy card sleeve is some production information and the song titles. Oh, and a caution. This being the advice that “for maximum listening pleasure listen only when chemically enhanced!” How many of my prejudices do DB want to affirm before I actually listen to the music?
If the album's title, Wish I Weren't Here, is intended as a nod to Pink Floyd's classic 1975 album, then that is where any similarity ends. The music here resembles Hawkwind's acid rock output, combined with the type of music favoured as a soundtrack to a lot of the currently popular Scandinavian TV dramas. DB's singer, Marthynna, has a voice similar to early PJ Harvey (but not as good), giving some of the songs an indie feel. DB have been tagged with the neo-folk label by some listeners. This is something that Julius states he can't see where the connection comes from. Having investigated this new-to-me genre, I have to disagree. To me there are obvious connections to be heard in the band's compositions with other artists labelled as neo-folk.
Wish I Weren't Here's opening track, Evil, with its psychedelic instrumental combined with Marthynna's almost chanting vocals, has a distinct Doors vibe to it.
With the album's second track and title song, we enter full Hawkwind territory, with Lemmy-like fuzzy bass, vocals ranging from spoken lines to the almost manic, interspersed with twiddly keyboards. At times this is not far removed from Silver Machine.
All One is the track most obviously neo-folk, sounding like something from a Tarantino movie soundtrack. The jangling guitar adds the folksy flavour and gives the song a spaghetti western feel.
With track six, My Soul Rests Low, it actually sounds like the band has just plugged in and are tuning up, with sparse vocals added over the top. It is more unfortunate that the instruments and voice all sound as if they are tuned to a different key.
We then get to the track entitled Forgotten, which surprisingly is the most memorable track on the disc. An up-tempo rocker which has an almost new-wave feel, providing a rather enjoyable interlude.
With the penultimate track, He Is Here, DB revert back to what appears to be their de facto sound of Hawkwind emulators. But the bass playing is enjoyable.
With the final song, O Lord, it appears someone has discovered a discarded Black Sabbath riff lying around and have decided to use it. Then, just as you think the album is over, after a minute of silence, the band reappear with a wall of sound which finally brings the album to a close.
For anyone hankering after listening to 70s Hawkwind with a female singer, then this might be what you've been looking for. For me it was not one of my most enjoyable musical experiences. I did like the cover though.
Free Human Zoo - No Wind Tonight
CD 2: Curritur Ad Vocem Curritur... (6:42), Eursum Corda! (5:12), ...Ad Vocem (3:20), Vive Valeque (4:22), Aete Est Jabula (5:10), Talitha Koum (6:42), No Wind Tonight... (7:07)
One of the things that I like the most about instrumental music, is that listening to it can send the mind on a journey to explore unexpected concepts, or visit some of the most unexpected places imaginable. During the experience of listening to the two discs that make up Free Human Zoos' No Wind Tonight, I was briefly spirited to a place filled with images of the past, where my mind began to ponder about love, life and loss. This particular journey was a one-off. I cannot even identify whereabouts in the music my thoughts turned to these three ‘L's’, or indeed why.
The music of the album is bright and cheerful. It is full of wonderful imagery and irresistible musical colours that rarely tint to grey, or hint of sad-eyed melodies. I have listened to the album on a number of occasions, and these specific images and heartfelt thoughts have never returned. In the right setting, I guess that is just an indication of how music can create a unique space in time, and how persuasive the rhythms and melodies of Free Human Zoo can be.
That brief encounter with thoughts about love and mortality, created a clutch of transitory ideas that spun in wayward directions. In that moment, as my thoughts collided, I understood that love is a journey and its language is possible to share. It provided a catalyst to write a piece of prose about the timeless nature of love. The piece entitled Have you Ever? is located at the end of my thoughts about this fantastic release.
Free Human Zoo’s latest album is a very evocative and simply stunning release in every respect. I have no hesitation in stating that it offers something different each time that it is played. I have no hesitation in highly recommending it to readers who enjoy instrumental music that includes a gratifying combination of the zest of Zeuhl and the joyful exuberance of progressive jazz.
No Wind Tonight possesses an enviable vitality that is easily discernible the moment the ensemble begin to play. It exudes a satisfying freshness where all aspects of the album display the appealing hallmarks of spontaneity and creativity. Free Human Zoo has created an album that has a remarkable ability to envelop a listener in its unusual and original-sounding embrace.
The album contains two CDs and each feature lengthy compositions. CD 1 has a 45-minute suite, Bab’Y (Le Ravin De La Grand-Mère). Disc 2 features a 26-minute suite entitled Curritur Ad Vocem and two other distinct, stand-alone compositions.
Bab'Y is a tribute to the survivors of Babi Yar (Kiev, September 29/30, 1941). The piece contains eleven sub-tracks. These segue seamlessly into one another. Themes toe-tap the senses and lightly embed in a gentle, superficial manner. The same themes twist, turn, fork and spade to dig deeper, until they etch themselves upon the subconscious.
Recognisable motifs, paddle, swim, and leap in a similar-yet-different fashion. These dart memorably and with attention-grabbing incisiveness in and out of the suite. Melodic ideas linger, then confidently recur, to reinvent themselves. This technique frequently creates a woven tapestry of many textures that leaves a memorable imprint. Identifiable and familiar themes rise, evolve and subside, to give the whole album a wonderful organic, freshly sculpted and ever changing mystique. By turns, this well-crafted and enthusiastically performed suite is beautiful, strident, elegant, raucous and utterly compelling.
The different subsections of Bab’Y meld flawlessly together to form a vibrant soundscape that paints an expressive canvass. Granite tors and verdant vales all have a significant place within a musical landscape that is infused with buoyant bass parts, percussive rock falls and kaleidoscopic melodies. These elements coalesce and combine to effortlessly cohabit and reside within the complex, shifting rhythmic patterns, which are integral to much of the suite.
A range of musical styles, including jazz, prog, and something very undefinable, are all in evidence during the suite. When these facets are contained within a flowing, shifting tide of tasteful sounds, it is no surprise that Bab'Y is able, in various degrees, to excite, enthral and soothe the senses. Whilst it is possible to listen to and appreciate the individual tracks that make up the suite, Bab’Y is best experienced as a whole piece. It is an impressive work!
Stylistically, the influence of Magma is never far below the surface, and at times this froths, spits and bubbles up, to break water in an explicit manner such as during the opening section of Revoir L'Aurore and on occasions in Forces Vitales. This influence is characterised by a deep, pulverising bassline that is prominent in the mix, and an often-relentless trance-like evolution by repetition of a series of musical phrases and ideas. As some of the sub-tracks conclude and segue into the next, a number of the climactic conclusions and transitions are reminiscent of the work of Neil Ardley's Kaleidoscope of Rainbows and The Harmony of the Spheres.
The wealth of instruments used by the ensemble only serves to emphasise this comparison. The core of the band contains Matthieu Rosso (guitars), Emmanuel Guerrero (piano), Samy Thiebault (tenor sax), Laurent Skoczek (trombone), Nicolas Feuger (bass) and there are guest appearances by Camille Fritsch (soprano voice), Jocelyn Mienniel (flute), Bruno Ortega (bass flute) and Jonathan Edo on percussion.
The leader and composer of the band is drummer Gilles Le Rest. His complex rhythmic flourishes lie at the heart of much of the band’s music. His innovative and inventive strikes and flourishes are a consistent highlight. This is in evidence, to good effect, in the obscure, foot-shuffling embellishments to My Little African Doll.
On more than one occasion, over the course of both discs and due to the rhythmic core of the music, I was reminded of the work of Bill Bruford’s Earthworks. However, whilst No Wind Tonight features many elements commonly associated with jazz, and has passages that would sit comfortably in any jazz collection, it most certainly is not a jazz album. Its progressive mix and unique combination of flavours has a distinctive taste, that many jazz purists will shun and many progrock fans will probably find equally difficult to imbibe.
The video link featuring the outstanding sub-track, The Yar, that ties together many of the themes of Bab'Y, should demonstrate this point. In this piece, and on a number of other occasions, the band delivers a succession of related motifs, discordant piano flurries, and brass interjections. These components are strongly accentuated by the relentless power of the bass. This creates a delightfully ugly, yet thoroughly mesmerising and captivating sound.
There are many standout moments during Bab’Y. The Yar is probably my favourite sub-track, but Klezmer Volutes is also delightful. However, it is the sum of the music and its cascade of ever-shifting patterns, rather than its individual sub-tracks, which gives Bab’Y its outstanding appeal.
Concerning this, the flute also has an important role to play. Some of the gilded flute passages resonate elegantly, whilst some are much grittier and contain a suggestion of the sort of aggressive tones that all lovers of prog flute will appreciate. The chiming cascading of the bell-like flute melodies of L'Espoir Au Cœur are enchanting. They were somewhat reminiscent, in terms of tone, elegance and beauty of the gentler melodic sections of Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick.
Bab’Y has a clear freedom of expression. It is not constrained by any limitations that genre labels may place. To emphasise this point, there are times when the guitar of Rosso is clean and precise, and there are occasions when it its distorted, fuzzed tones, full of spite and measured aggression, take the music to the edge of a rocky precipice. This also demonstrates the band's versatility and refusal to typecast in a particular style.
Curritur Ad Vocem is almost as engaging as Bab’Y. It contains five sub-tracks and takes the listener on a journey that explores an unlikely alliance between medieval music, folk and jazz idioms. It works remarkably well and its unique amalgam of influences is completely alluring. Vocalist Fritsch excels and provides the music with an infectious human touch. This provides an immediate and readily-accessible dimension, whilst the overall complexity of the music is able to appeal on many other levels.
Overall, Free Human Zoo’s No Wind Tonight has struck me in much the same way as when I first discovered progressive music.
I am smitten by its unusual and inventive array of charms. I have found much of it irresistible. I enjoyed it so much; I immediately went out and bought the band’s first album. That is something that I haven’t done for years and I can only think of one or two albums that I have reviewed for DPRP, that have moved me to such an extent that I have immediately felt a need to explore the band's back catalogue.
Some readers might find that the manner in which the players extract every bit of life from a theme, or melody, a source of frustration. On the contrary, I found this aspect of the band's art fascinating. It never ceased to intrigue and often amaze me how a subtle, or sometimes a striking shift of rhythm, or a different use of dynamics, is able to alter the mood and complexion of a piece, but somehow still fit naturally into the composition as a whole.
I will conclude my observations, by stating that No Wind Tonight is one of the most gratifying and enjoyable albums I have encountered this year. It is fresh, it is unique, and many aspects of it are simply quite magnificent.
Have you Ever? (inspired by No Wind Tonight)
Once The man whispered in her ear: "Have you ever heard a nightingale?" He placed his loud red jacket quietly over her shoulders and warm slippers on her feet. Under the light of the stars, in the stillness of windless night, they were lifted to the world of their love on the wings of a magical song.
Later The undertakers workshop and chapel of rest, stood conveniently between the garage and the pub. After completing the form, the man sprinted to the chapel. The woman lay there. Her hair was whiter than it had ever been. Her face was like chalk and coldly-still, like marble. Her eyes and lips were closed tight. He felt frosted and cold in the silence. He puckered his lips and ventured a hard kiss. He lingered, heart glued to the enduring whispers of the past and shuffled out, empty, flat and without haste. He looked into his future and only saw her.
Forever As I watched my father fade, he stroked my hand and weakly whispered: ‘Have you ever heard a nightingale?"
In the stillness of that windless night, from the bare land of his distant memory, a nightingale sang.
They were lovers once more.
Midnight Sun - Dark Tide Rising
Midnight Sun was a new name to me when I was given the chance to review this album. Hailing from Stroud in Gloucestershire, they describe themselves as "the rarest of beasts; an original rock band". That's quite a statement and I was eager to see what this adventurous debut album had in store.
I was delighted to see a familiar name among the line up, vocalist Huw Lloyd-Jones, formerly the frontman of UK prog rockers Also Eden and the co-founder of the Summers End progressive rock festival, which I've been proud to attend on two occasions, and an event that is always a popular highlight on the prog rock calendar. Huw's vocals are instantly recognisable and the main driving force behind the sound of this album.
Opening with Scheherazade, the album drops the listener straight into familiar territory. Heavy guitars and dreamy keyboards fill the soundscape, backed by a prominent rhythm section. Huw's vocals soon kick in and I'm reminded of why I enjoyed Also Eden's work so much. His voice is incredibly unique, hints of Peter Gabriel and David Longdon can be heard, but he has a sound and feel all of his own. The middle section of the song, following a brief keyboard solo, is especially captivating, with beautiful vocal melodies flowing over crunching guitars and synth strings; reminiscent of early Threshold or Arena. It's epic stuff, setting the album off to a great start.
An acoustic guitar opens the second track, Clouds. Strings and keys build up as the song gathers momentum, the vocal melodies then carry the majority of this song on a beautiful journey throughout its eight-minute run time. There are some great riffs and some super drum work from Chris Habicht.
Continuing with Broken Angels, the album takes a more metallic twist. A guitar solo worthy of any Megadeth album gives way to more sublime vocals from Huw, before the song moves into a slower section in the second half, before bringing back the heavy guitars and driving drums towards the end.
Early Warning is one of my favourite tracks and one of the more progressive. Brooding piano and orchestrations lead into a great guitar hook, upbeat drums and more of those beautiful vocals. The song moves through many different sections, including a particularly dark piano section with some emotional lyrics that seem to revolve around the subjects of loss, regret, anxiety and fear; concepts that this album deals with frequently.
After a strangely awkward opening, Delirium turns out to be the most straightforward song on the album. It could have easily be lifted straight from an early Genesis record, save for another couple of great guitar solos. At first this song seemed to pass me by. Within the context of the full album, it became kind of lost, surrounded by bigger pieces. But after multiple listens, it grew on me substantially, becoming a track that I have gone back to many, many times on its own. A fantastic, catchy little number that offers something a little different from the rest of the album.
Closer, Control is the album's longest and darkest track. It starts with possibly the heaviest section on the entire record, before moving back into more familiar prog territory. Despite the dark atmosphere of the song, it has a surprisingly uplifting chorus, with Lloyd-Jones singing: "These are not ordinary days...take control". This is another section of the album that brings to mind Psychedelicatessen-era Threshold. This is also another song that crept up on me, taking multiple listens for it to truly get under my skin. The band are firing on all cylinders here, with the song building towards a truly epic ending, bringing the album to a close in a flurry of fast drums, huge guitars and epic horns.
So, are Midnight Sun indeed what they claim, an "original" rock band? Well the short answer is simply, no. This album contains so many sections that remind me of other bands that I found it incredibly difficult not to simply list them all in this review. However, what Midnight Sun have done is write an album of brilliantly crafted, well structured and memorable songs that are likely to appeal to a wide range of progressive music fans. They cover everything from traditional prog rock to progressive metal, and they even touch on djent, though thankfully very briefly. The vocals will not be for everyone, the backing vocals in particular sound a little disjointed and seperated, but depending on how you listen to the album this is a minor complaint that only an audiophile will notice.
This is a solid debut. While it may not make too many album of the year lists, it's an album that has something for almost every progressive music fan. There is a lot to take in, but it still manages to have songs that remain stuck in your head, hours after listening to them. The band might sound like a whole lot of other bands, but when they write songs as strong as the ones here, I have very few complaints. Highly recommended.
Orquesta Metafisica - Hipnotizados
Originating from Buenos Aires, Argentina the septet of Orquesta Metafisica now reside in Paris, France. Founded in 2009 by composer and pianist/keyboard player Sebastian Volco, he was soon joined by Sebastien Rosenfeldt (bass and producer). The two had already collaborated on projects involving ballet, cinema and theatre, and his expertise in ambient music and electronic tango gave them the perfect opportunity to realise surrealistic live shows involving video projections, dancers and acrobats.
For this album they drew inspiration from the innovators of rock, jazz, tango, chamber music, whilst incorporating influences by Frank Zappa and King Crimson and classic composers like Igor Stravinsky and Astor Piazzolla. Not your average formation of a progressive rock band. After their first album, 7 Movimientos as a sextet, presented in Buenos Aires and New York, they decided to move to Europe where they were joined by new musicians, evolving into a septet.
During the years 2014 - 2016 they staged in Paris two highly satirical live shows, "Krach Bousier" and "Hypnotized: a metaphysical opera", about public opinion and manipulation through the mass media. The latter is where Hypnotizados is conceptually linked. A disturbing strongly-visualised and groundbreaking protest, it is graphically depicted by some even more upsetting, yet ever so recognisable imagery in the artwork.
Where the front cover may already give rise to thoughts about current issues such as leadership/dictatorship, unpredictability, deceit and hostility, the accompanying booklet extends these even further. Here many contradictions like war versus love, the glorification of sex and the global, toxic degrading of human life are confrontationally depicted.
Aiding all this mass hysteria, is the controlled media covering what the people want to hear, blindfolding us in the end. And here the impact of the concept gets even deeper with many quotes from historical figures like John F. Kennedy, George W. Bush, Pope Francis. Recent tweets from presidential campaigns and authorities add more confusion and bewilderment to the plate. When the greatest dictator known to man gets the first quote on the album, (featured through a sound fragment) that's when you know Orquesta Metafisica mean business.
The music, thankfully much more light-hearted in nature, emphasises these worrisome and saddening events by means of carefully administered melancholic bandoneon (a type of concertina particularly popular in Argentina and Uruguay), psychedelic saxophone, deeply touching violins and many more instruments.
The hypnotic state, which according to Volco we may have reached already, is represented through the immaculate hypnotic electronic dance rhythms in Amnesia, which feels like a highly festive yet deceiving piece of music.
The prequel Anestesia features classical overtures and passionate tango dancing with mesmerising melodies and cautiously entangled marching drums and punctuating sax, flowing naturally into Amnesia like an anaesthetic.
Dazed and confused, it is here that the concept takes off in alarming form with Bastardes Cósmicos. Delicate, spine chilling violins, an unsettling fierce bass, and haunting rhythms with melancholic strides breath an air of War Of The Worlds by Jeff Wayne. The spoken quotes and fragments unsettle, effectively adding alienation to the concept, as if to let us know we have lost contact with ourselves at heart.
Playful, sparkling, jazzy structures filled with complex drum rhythms follow in Hiromy, to be washed away in Zappa-esque bass surroundings and saxophone flights in Estrujamientos. Tension slowly builds to a psychedelic crescendo, before turning into ambient, symphonic surroundings with patriotic horns in Los Ojos.
La Salamanca, about a Argentinian legend involving moral-denying demonic creatures, initially follows in laid back jazzy fashion, mellows out and then suddenly in best One Of These Days tradition dives into chants of Trump supporters shouting "Build That Wall". A Pink Floyd and Roger Waters darkness prevails, to be concluded with some improvised piano and superb classic symphonic violin expressions, before ending in a complex UK and King Crimson apotheosis.
While Abre in a playful avant-garde prog way addresses freedom via registered privacy, the final trio of shorter tracks, Manada Hipnotizada, La Catedral and Elevación Primaria, revisit earlier themes and movements, beautifully touching some spacious, electronic Welcome To The Machine (Pink Floyd) parts in the meantime.
It may have taken them a few years to visualise and shape the concept of their live show into a CD format but they have succeeded extremely well. The suggestive images in the context of the theme and the accompanying cinematic music, amplify each other and make the concept bigger as a whole. The absence of guitars is never felt, with the other musicians supplying bandoneon, clarinet, Yangqin and saxophone. The additional string quartet of violinists make sure the music has a wide appeal and a broad variety.
In a live setting, filled with theatrical effects, more intimacy and an even bigger sound, this conceptual album will most likely be an even better experience. Let's hope a DVD will soon allow us to also experience this visually, for this intriguing, well-composed and executed concept is most expertly done. Enjoyable from start to finish, and I hope they follow up with "Krach Bousier" in a not to distant future. Remarkable stuff.
Port Noir - The New Routine
Port Noir hail from the Swedish town of Södertälje. Released on the Inside Out label this is their third album, following 2013's Puls and 2016's Any Way the Wind Blows.
Here's a quote from the bio released with the new album: "Hard-hitting alt-rock trio Port Noir blends old-school rock with contemporary pop, r&b and hip-hop in a creative and minimalistic fashion. Inspired by bands such as Rage Against The Machine, Death From Above 1979, The Weeknd, Daft Punk, Queens Of The Stone Age, this trio makes for a fresh and interesting addition to the rock scene."
One things that strikes you about this album is the booming bottom-end of the tracks, providing the spinal juices that flow to create some bombastic hard rock grooves. There's certainly a musical consistency and delivery across the eleven tracks. Love Andersson's vocals are very distinctive and are well suited to the band's approach to contemporary pop that has a serious hard edge. No prog extravagances here in terms of lengthy songs (nothing extends beyond five minutes) or 'gratuitous' solos. Also great that the band haven't fallen into the trap of filling an entire CD. Men and women of a certain age can listen to all of this album without a visit to the bathroom!
The songs ooze and drip with electro synths, driving guitar riffs, and pounding drums that gives the band a modern, fuck-you attitude, delivered in a retro, hard rock style. For example, lyric lines like: "I can't stand the stench of your lack of brains," from the song Define Us emanate a no-messing, pussy-footing-about delivery that defines the band's attitude and hard-hitting approach. Some of us will question if this is prog but if there's one track to wet your lips then listen to this track (it happens to be the longest).
You certainly can hear the influences that Port Noir have cited in their bio' but they have weaved their own style here, making full use of disco-style beats, R&B grooves and exploiting what technology has to offer to produce an album that is beaming with in-your-face confidence. A refreshing take on good old rock-and-roll based music and an album that certainly opens up your ears to new prog possibilities.
TheNightTimeProject - Pale Season
TheNightTimeProject are a band that has an impressive set of members. A who’s-who of Swedish talent, the band was formed by ex-Katatonia and October Tide guitarist Frederik Norman, and later joined by his brother Mattias (both being ex-Katatonia and October Tide members, as well as having played in Trees Of Eternity - a side project of Swallow The Sun guitarist Juha Raivio). The first album also featured Tobias Netzell (vocalist of In Mourning) and former Mandylon stickman Nicklas Hjertton, both of whom unfortunately had to leave due to time constraints, being replaced by Jonas Sköld (October Tide drummer) and Alexander Backlund of Letters From The Colony.
Having been a massive fan of Fredrik and Mattias’s work in Katatonia and Trees of Eternity, I was quite eager to get stuck into this album. And I can confidently say I am far from disappointed.
The album is melodic, melancholic, punchy and has a lot of replay value. The influence from Katatonia is quite present in the softer and melodic passages, and the heaviness of the member’s other projects adds a nice counter.
Pale Season features a good mix of the styles you would expect from a roster of musicians such as these. Melodic prog, combines seamlessly with the more-melancholy sounds of atmospheric doom, all the while, an underlying tone of modern gothic rock provides a nice foundation for the rest to build on.
The penultimate track, Signals In The Sky features a lovely surprise in the form of guest vocalist Heike Langhans of Draconian fame.
The band are unfortunately going to always get compared to Katatonia, and listening to the albums that the brothers are on (such as The Great Cold Distance and Last Fair Deal Gone Down) and comparing them, it is easy to see why. However, Pale Season has enough differences to allow it to stand apart and let the members come out of the shadow of their more popular countrymen.
If you like any of the bands I’ve mentioned, or similar melancholic prog bands like Votum or The Loveless then you will enjoy this album. I know I do.