Reviews in this issue:
Aldi Dallo Spazio - Quasar
Usually, Jolly Rogers Records are focusing on more rock, than prog, but this reviews issue contains two full-blown psychedelic rock albums that might appeal to part of our reader-base. They appeal to me, anyway! The first is Aldi Dallo Spazio (ADS), a relatively new Italian band, founded in 2015. In 2017 they released a self-produced album that is now being re-released properly, re-mixed, and different in a few places.
Psychedelic rock is a label as confusing or broad as any, with many different styles. ADS are on the progressive and psychedelic side of blues-based rock, with a full sound. Varied too, since several influences are seeping through.
While the opening track contains an AOR-like chorus, not unlike the much-overlooked Grand Prix, the rest of the track is much more progressive. The video below this review contains the single version, so that means it has the most accessible sections of the track, but the album version holds a lot more.
The middle part of The Distance and all of Little Piggy Will comes close to Pink Floyd in atmosphere and the way of playing and diversity, and these are probably the most psychedelic sections on offer, with melodies so catchy I can't get them out of my head. The power has an Astra feel to it. The melodic guitar lines, but more importantly the whole atmosphere of The Distance is about the best of a Pink Floyd sound I've heard since Pink Floyd stopped. This is new stuff breathing the same air.
You could probably guess what influence is shown in Santana (A Freedom Song), and personally I am glad that it's more the guitar style than latin dance grooves. It's more like the fusion of early Journey (I mean the pre-Perry albums) or even Spirit, but there's also some old Italian prog here, like PFM. Rhythmic guitar playing and percussion pay a little homage, but the rest of the track is predominantly ADS, with just a little influence here and there; meaning the track is taking you many different places. A surprisingly uplifting and jazzy song.
The Distance and Epiphany both comprise several parts that show the progressive attitude in songwriting. Epiphany, the second multi-part suite, starts with a more electronic intro, taking a bit of a Canterbury-style stroll in the prog landscape. The second part returns to the Floyd-ian style but also some Supertramp. And it all ends in a grand finale of modern epic prog.
The main focus of ADS are the songs and arrangements. Having two guitarists will of course result in several solos, but they are never flashy. Singer Dario Federici doubles on keyboards, adding an extra layer for an even fuller sound. The album is swiftly moving between several influences without over overlapping any, and manages to keep on a path of its own.
Federici's excellent vocals deserve a special mention. Powerful and still warm, with a good range and a wonderful sense of vocal melodies. It's a voice that is perfect for this kind of music. The music contains long instrumental parts which is great, but I wouldn't mind hearing his voice some more.
For this re-issue, the band decided to remove part 2 of Epiphany, titled È Gia Mattino. On the CD release, however, this song was added as a ghost track at the end of Epiphany. I am not sure whether the other releases (LP and digital) have this track as well. It's a song sung in Italian, quiet at the beginning before another beautiful collection of styles is carefully woven into a surprising mix of melodies.
While the foundation is psychedelic rock, the diversity of styles on this album surprised me and overall it still sounds very organic and completely their own. I like this more open (and open-minded) approach to prog, leaving room for improvisations and jamming. I would love to hear this band play live. The memorable melodies, powerful arrangements, surprising mix of influences that mix effortlessly, and hook-laden songs result in a wonderful album that is among the best I've heard so far this year.
Ark Ascent - Downfall
Ark Ascent was initially formed as Prophecy by multi-instrumentalist Jack Rigby in 2011 at the age of 19. With Rogue Marechal (ex-Shadowkeep) on vocals, the songs slowly gained form, to which Andrea Arcangeli of DGM-fame attributed his parts in early 2014. A few years later, under the guidance of Rich Hinks (Aeon Zen) who co-produced and mixed the album, the final stages were reached. All this effort has now finally been captured in form of Downfall.
The thematic progressive metal concept album follows the tale of humankind's fate that will eventually end by destruction through a major disaster, and it wastes no time by coming straight to the point with the divine opener Arrival. Build upon layers of symphonic keys, dynamic uplifting progressive metal riffs, melodic guitars and complex breaks, Ark Ascent take immediate control, reminiscent to Seventh Wonder's Mercy Falls.
Point Of No Return keeps the pace going with some great, up-tempo metal, complex rhythms and sudden changes into piano interludes and compelling melancholic AOR-styled rock.
Marechal's vocals, clean and forceful with a slightly rougher edge, might take some getting used to, as they are precarious at times. In the bluesy ballad Innocence Lost his spectrum is limited and doesn't quit rhyme with the sensitive nature of the song. Also he tends to loose control in the higher regions. Yet in the powerful, heavy prog-metal tracks like Darkest Hour and The Aftermath he delivers precisely the amount of aggressiveness needed.
There's no denying that besides being a gifted guitar player, Rigby is also a fairly competent composer, not afraid to let his partiality shine through. Sanctuary and The Aftermath for instance show exciting Dream Theater complexities in instrumentation, while the Metallica influence (riffs) combined with the strong vocals in Darkest Hour spark images of Eldritch (El Niño). The additional shredding guitars and intertwining virtuous keys are a delight, enhanced even further by Rigby's playful drum-parts (nowadays left in the capable hands of newest member Michael Brush).
The vigorous, melodic title track Downfall, as well as Ascension, share a dynamic likeness to Nightranger in terms of their many orchestrations and rocking melodies, ultimately proving to be an AOR-treat. Improvements on the harmonies will undoubtedly make a bigger impact. Nonetheless these tracks show great promise.
Delightful interludes such as Farewell, Ascension and Closer To Heaven supply short resting points, before Ark Ascent majestically finish with the epic The End Of Time; a superlative composition encompassing all their strengths. A bombastic opening of soft jazzy touches, turns towards symphonic sweetness, before twirling piano changes turn towards technical Vanden Plas melodies. Picking up speed, Metallica riffs then roar, making way for aggressive vocals, while the music slowly erupts into a sublime, intricate and fast-paced Images And Words inspired finale.
Although there is nothing new under the sun, this is as good as it gets towards prog-metal debut albums with solid compositions, catchy melodies and superb technical instrumentation throughout (especially on guitar). An easy recommendation for progressive metal fans with a preference towards bands like Circus Maximus, Kamelot, Lost In Thought and Dream Theater. This is an enjoyable effort, making me look forward to see what their future holds.
Hesperus - Death of my Dear Demons
Hesperus is the creation of one-man media master Roelof Broekman. Having done books, videos, production and composing, he has now released his second album Death Of My Dear Demons. I've always been quite fascinated by one-man bands, particularly heavy ones, so this was right up my street.
It is a short album, just over half an hour in length and comprised of four tracks, but it is all written, performed and produced by Roelof, with additional spoken word parts coming from various others.
The opening track, Genesis, leads you in with a very catchy set of riffs and leads, that bring to mind the heavy, doom-laden sounds of Swallow The Sun, mixed with some elements of Dream Theater's proggy bridges. It is a phenomenal instrumental (excluding the voice-over work) melodic and symphonic doom.
The title track is a heavy, relentless and incredibly catchy one. The almost tribal drumming throughout keeps you rooted, fully embracing the heavy riffs. Despite being the longest track, it grabs your attention throughout. There are some elements of it that make me think of the a mix of early Sepultura and the Master Of Puppets era of Metallica, but heavier and better written.
Observinge The Hyperworld is a slower number, being more in keeping with the more sorrowful sounds of doom metal, but with a superb load of soloing thrown in. However, after the break in the song, it evolves into a very danceable electronic piece that could be straight from a (gothy) nightclub.
Finally we have the closer Reconsideration. A fantastic closing track, filled to the brim with emotion, riffing and solos. It sounds like a summary of all that has come before and it works so well.
If you like bands like Swallow the Sun, Kontinuum or Woods of Ypres or similar prog-leaning doom/post bands, I would absolutely suggest you pick this album up. It is one of the best I've heard this year!
Knight Area - D-Day
Taking the decision to produce a concept album based upon the emotive subject of D-Day and the end of the Second World War, can't have been done without a great degree of deliberation. With all the historic material available relating to this fateful day, deciding how to approach this could not have been easy. With 2019 being the 75th anniversary of the event, could a concept album get close to relaying the story or emotion of the subject matter?
The consequences of The Two Great Wars still carry great emotions with people today. Both myself, due to my father's involvement with the Polish army during the second world war, and my wife's grandfather, who went to fight in the First World War, but did not return, leaving his widow to raise two young boys alone, are still carrying the stories and emotions of the outcomes of war. One extremely emotional moment in my life, was visiting the graves at Flanders Fields, and realising the enormity of these conflicts when seeing the graves of the soldiers who died during this single battle.
So, have Knight Area done justice to this enormously historic event? Well, their passion for the project is evident, and their research has been extensive, to the point of filming the promotional video, for Blood On The Risers, on the Normandy beaches. Personally I feel the subject has such broad scope, that the band have chosen a difficult topic to cover musically. They have included excerpts from speeches by Eisenhower and Churchill, which clearly demonstrate how great leaders can motivate nations by a speech alone. (Something missing in the world at present, great leaders and people who can galvanise a nation.) The way these have been incorporated is worth getting the album for, before considering the music.
I recall with great fondness Knight Area's first two albums and the distinct, modern neo progressive rock sounds they produced. Having lost touch with their recent albums, Knight Area have developed their sound. They now have more of a technical metal sound, with the odd nod to their progressive roots. This new direction has been reinforced with the introduction of new singer Jan Willem Ketelaers, who has a distinctive and impressive rock voice. Original and outgoing singer, Mark Smit had a very classic neo progressive rock voice, something that aided the comparisons of early Knight Area to bands such as Arena and Marillion. The new sound dispenses with most of the neo prog comparisons, and the band is now unrecognisable to their earlier years.
Opening track, New Horizon, immediately reminded me of Royal Hunt during their best period, which was during 1997 and their Paradox album. Very symphonic metal with big orchestration and Queen-sounding guitar passages. Easily my favourite track on the album.
Overlord has a Dream Theater sound, with keyboards and guitar playing musical passages over each other and an unusual vocal melody line similar to the recent Dream Theater output.
The previously mentioned single, Blood On The Risers, takes us into Iron Maiden, Piece Of Mind territory, but with keyboards to fill out the sound. The subject matter enhances the comparison to this era as well.
Singer Ketelaers then takes on a Geoff Tate persona during the introduction to The Landing, providing a track reminiscent of Mindcrime/Empire era Queensryche. Even the guitar riff and solo sound like one that Chris DeGarmo could have written during his tenure with the band.
Dutch music legend, Robby Valentine, makes a guest appearance playing piano on the track When I'll Be With You. This is a song about a recently married pilot who was shot down over Normandy and whose body was never found, and his widow's fruitless search to find out what happened to him. The written narrative in the accompanying booklet is needed, otherwise you would have no idea of the story behind the lyrics. This is the album's ballad, and is pretty uninspiring, sounding like Jim Steinman could have had a hand in the song's composition.
Unfortunately this is a lost opportunity from a great band, of producing something befitting the subject matter. It's like reading a history essay, written about D Day, but rushed to such an extent that large swathes of important facts are missing. While the idea was good, just over 50 minutes of music does not allow enough time to do justice to this historic event. This is compounded by the song writing, which sounds like a compilation of progressive metal over the last 20 years.
I am sure there will be many people out there who will enjoy this release. It will probably make it into a number of top ten lists for this year, but when deciding to write an album about such a major historic event, maybe take a leaf out of Iron Maiden's book and compose a suitably majestic track, rather than trying to stretch the idea out over a whole album.
Lo Zoo Di Berlino - Resistenze Elettriche
Being such an engaging and playful record, it's a shame that Resistenze Elettriche is such an uneven release.
Clearly an album of two halves. If the four tracks which make up the second "side" were as intense and inventive as the live "side", this would be a monster. The 23-odd minutes, starting with a decidedly weird (but wonderful), RIO-style rendition of left-wing hymn La Internationale, and beautifully closing with the evocative Aria are simply stunning.
In these tracks, based on some of classic Italian Prog band Area's pieces, the presence of guest Patrizio Fariselli on piano and synth is essential, as his playing is simply delightful and very tasty. Together with the tightly-knit unit that are guitar-less and vocals-less power trio Lo Zoo Di Berlino (a reference to German writer, actress and former teenage drug addict Christiane F.), this suite of sorts reminds me of Keith Emerson and ELP and their legendary live abandon. But also because of its jazz and fusion leanings, I definitely hear some early 70s Herbie Hancock and albums of his such as Crossings (1972) and Sextant (1973). There's lots going on, with plenty of hearty vintage synth runs and robust bass lines (courtesy of Diego "Echo" Pettinelli's nimble fingers), and even Ravel's Bolero is hinted at fleetingly here and there. It's very good, and the moving conclusion just adds more weight to the whole.
Unfortunately, I can't say I am as impressed by the remaining music. This is not to say it's weak or uninspired, but to my ears it's just not in the same league, and suffers from (for lack of a better word) a certain schizophrenia.
De Waiting War is a clear example of this, with its chaos/control antics and subtle Zappa-isms here and there, are not enough to make up for its shallowness. Control Freak is a bit more dynamic but maybe a bit too long for its own good, and I found the inclusion of mobile phone noises to be a tad annoying. My pick from this batch is the weirdly titled Ganz Egal Marcela Lagarde, as I feel the band manages to strike the right balance between the jazzy/groovy and the noisy/experimental: you can both dance to it and get spooked in equal parts.
A funky and mostly unrecognisable Bella Ciao is the final curtain of this decidedly enjoyable and entertaining instrumental release, an album with plenty of room for experimentation but which never loses sight of entertainment.
James Murray - Drakus
The rock opera Drakus is the first solo release by James Murray, a member of Diamond Jig. A unique project of adventurous, eclectic progressive folk/progrock incorporating many influences from early seventies (proto)-prog. Having taken up a considerable amount of his time, it can now be fully admired with the inclusion of wonderful graphic artwork by Via Anjipan, available for a limited time in the form of a pdf-booklet.
Themed on a medieval fantasy, Murray has delivered a musically intriguing concept album. The use of trombone gives it a ceremonious atmosphere, which combined with Mellotron, graciously flowing electric guitars, Spanish guitars and eminent singer/songwriter qualities brings a lot of diversity.
Highlights include What I Want To See, which sees heroic Murray and his band of accomplishes stride through country-shuffles while HillBilly rock, taking you back to the future with superb organ resembling Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd (See Emily Play), before ending with stately trombone and marching drums. Another is the eclectic and artful Travel On/Heroes, where Gentle Giant quirkiness transforms towards a funky disco Potatoland Spirit groove, filled with a delightful jazzy swing.
Many of the songs such as End Of A Crises, have typical singer songwriter passages, mindful to Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young and Cat Stevens, while in Drakus, Shining Through and Clear these enchanting tuneful melodies slowly build towards a climax with some outstanding electric guitar solos, provoking images of John Lees (Barclay James Harvest). The additional Mellotron sounds emphasise this even further, giving a Moody Blues feel or even a psychic The Nice in Proven.
The intricate bombast of The Riders/Worthwhile gallops with flashes of classical Renaissance, with many tempo changes and recurring themes giving a Napier's Bone attractiveness, where the raw voice of Murray justifies his Bard qualifications. Sword Of Aquarius, as to be expected, breathes a Hair (the musical) atmosphere, with beautiful harmonies, whilst featuring refined acoustic segments reminiscent to that of early Genesis. Gradually it morphs into shards of psychedelic spacerock/krautrock. Electric guitars at long last prevail with a blistering solo, all the while caressed by circling Mellotron.
Firestorm, after an initial fierce opening, follows the same pathway, with high-soaring Annie Haslam-like vocals, but then rather unexpectedly turns 90 degrees into Spanish flamenco, flips to salsa and quickly skydives into heavy guitars dancing around a Congo-based swing-jazz eruption. It is a caramba composition filled with eclectic goodies, yet providing a delicate final fitting piece to the puzzle created by Murray.
Despite incorporating many different styles, genres and musical oddities, Murray has succeeded in crafting a naturally flowing solid concept album, which will likely appeal to those in favour of late sixties/early seventies progressive rock. As such it comes wholeheartedly recommended.
Witchwood - Handful Of Stars
The first Witchwood album, Litanies From The Woods, was reviewed here on DPRP. This is their second album, originally released in 2016, and although it was not on our radar back then (or DPRP were not on the label's radar), this 2019 re-issue gives us another chance to have a listen, whilst the band are working on their third album. The reason for the re-issue is that the previous pressing was sold out; so that is some kind of recommendation.
After Aldi Dallo Spazio, this is the second Jolly Rogers Records in this issue. Compared to ADS, Witchwood are more to the rock side of psychedelic rock, but still with a heavy dose of progressive influences.
The short introduction gives an early Camel or Jethro Tull feel, perhaps mostly because of the use of flute. Like A Giant In A Cage puts us in the next gear with a rocking riff. A bluesy, rocky Jethro Tull, but heavier, with hints of the rocking side of The Doors, early Deep Purple, Steppenwolf and Uriah Heep. Riccardo Dal Pane's voice is of the hard rock style. I assume for a few of you it will be a bit too close to mainstream rock, but powerful and fitting.
While A Grave Is The River follows in roughly the same style, Mother is quite different.
The cover of Blue Öyster Cult's Flaming Telepaths is a curious one, since I've never heard a band cover it and I really love this band for doing so. On the other hand, I am not surprised, since the influences of a band like BÖC were starting shining through as well, in the progressive attitude in playing heavy rock. In a sense, this also reminds of some old Kansas, in their more rocking songs.
With Rainbow Demon, a Uriah Heep song, this album has two covers. This might be a bit overdoing it, especially since this track has nothing special, and is not doing the rest of the album justice.
A different version of the title track was released on their previous album. I have no clue as to why this was done, but this track is obviously the most progressive one. After the rest of the album it is a bit unexpectedly progressive and might sound a little out of place. I wonder whether the band will make a choice or keep swaying between genres, which is fine with me as I like what I am hearing.
So, progressive blues / rock / hard rock, with a modern production, excellent mix of guitar and keyboards, some added layers of flute, and powerful vocals. If you like these elements, then this recommendation is for you.