Issue 2019-084: ProgBites
Reviews in this issue:
- Astralium - Land Of Eternal Dreams
- Atom Works - The Life Of Spice
- Bauda - Brvjo
- Travis Benson - Travis Benson
- Beyond The Labyrinth - Brand New Start
- Corciolli - Imaginary Brazil
- Ember Rev - From The Country To The City To The Sea
- Hala - Blueberry Ink
- Project Renegade - Order Of The Minus
- Relayer - V
- Ultima Radio - Dusk City
- Richard Wileman - Cabal Of A Thousand Souls
Here at DPRP towers, we frequently receive some interesting albums that whilst not strictly "prog", would be of interest to many of our readers. We sometimes receive albums that have been released in previous years. Also, with so many albums submitted, it is not always possible to find a writer with the time to give every release our usual in-depth review.
So how best can we still bring you news of such releases?
This is an edition of Prog Bites. Each still has all the usual album information and links to samples and videos (where available), but the reviews are much shorter, and we do not award any score.
We hope you will find some great music that you think deserves further investigation.
Astralium - Land Of Eternal Dreams
Coming out of Italy, Austalium have produced an album of heavy symphonic metal, very much like early Nightwish and Edenbridge. Vocals are supplied by soprano Roberta Pappalardo who has a very nice voice, but lacks the power of Tarja Turunen or Floor Jansen.
The songs on the album at times feel like symphonic metal by numbers, and to my ears, at least two of the songs are far too close to sounding like Nightwish for comfort.
For review, the band have provided mp3 files, a brief band bio, and no details about the recording of the album. In addition to Roberta, there are three further members, these being a drummer, guitarist and bass player. For a band whose sound relies heavily on keyboards and orchestration, not crediting a keyboard player is puzzling. Who or how have these orchestral sounds been made and by whom?
Puzzlement is further compounded when the best track on the album, Breath Of My Soul, features piano as the prominent instrument. It's also my favourite, as it diversifies from the rest of the album by being more melodic and restrained.
There are a number of guests on the album, these being additional vocalists ranging from growlers, narrators and those doing duets with Roberta.
If I had never heard of Nightwish, I may have been more impressed with this album, but being compared with such an accomplished band, then you will always have difficulty being different in a currently crowded genre. If you are a big fan of symphonic metal, this may be right up your street, but for me I'll prefer to stick with the original.
Atom Works - The Life Of Spice
The Life Of Spice is the first album released by Atom Works and these proggers from Finland tell us an extraordinary story in their concept album. The story takes place in 1930s India, and it is about a father with supernatural abilities and his three sons. The singer and lyricist of the band, Steve Baker, mentions that The Life Of Spice is only the first part of a much bigger story, where Atom Works are actually a secret society, which the five-piece band are the spokesmen of.
In terms of instrumentation, the band's sound is inspired by Dream Theater and Fates Warning, while the poetic and theatrical storytelling style of the vocal resembles Genesis and Marillion, off and on. The band have an overall good work in the instrumental section, but hats off to the keyboard player, Zsolt Szilagyi, for his amazing keyboard parts, rendition, and sound.
One of the best moments of the album is the reprise of the title track within Beyond The Old. I simply love reprises and they are best when performed in a concept album. Although it is a very short instrumental ballad, my favourite song is Time In Eyes. With its simplicity between complex songs, it has a great tranquillising role in the flow.
The band state that there are many more stories they would like to tell, and share their intention to release their next concept albums as sequels, prequels and side stories to The Life Of Spice.
Bauda - Brvjo
Chilean band Bauda is a band based around César "Bauda" Márquez Montenegro. Different sources state different things but I think this is Bauda's fifth full-length album, the fourth with a band around him. Discogs has different pages on the man himself, the domain name no longer works, so information is erm ... scattered.
Musically, though, things sound a lot more accomplished, fortunately. They're called 'an experimental rock band' and that's true, in the sense that they manage to mix heavy rock songs with interesting melodies, modern progressive leanings, and good vocals, with a heavy dose of post-rock riffing.
The atmosphere is rather dark and mysterious, not in the least by singing in a language that I don't speak, but also due to the cover.
A good production brings out the many layers. The music takes you on a journey, like a storybook with several plot twists, or changes in its musical style. If any of the mentioned styles have become a bit jaded to you, try this new mix of styles.
If you're looking for me, then you can find me near their back catalogue.
Travis Benson - Travis Benson
This is the first effort from Travis Benson, a one-man-band from Dunstable, Massachusetts, and it is a listenable collection of alt-pop-prog morsels. Each track contains some nice ideas, which just about tread the right side of the line that divides inventive from annoying, or quirky from silly. Travis' somewhat deadpan vocals survive within their limited range, and are just the right side of laconic. They benefit greatly when harmonies are utilised.
There is a lot of promise here, but one that needs longer track times to really develop ideas. It has the feel of random thoughts craftfully compiled, as opposed to fully developed song concepts. Some of these would work much better in a band format, where other inputs and talents can be utilised.
Sun's Song features guest vocals from Courtney Swain, but her limited contribution of harmonies in the chorus of a track that lasts less then three minutes, is unlikely to trouble even the most comprehensive Bent Knee completist.
Beyond The Labyrinth - Brand New Start
With vocalist Filip Lemmens (ex-Double Diamond, ex-Fireforce) joining their ranks, Beyond The Labyrinth are ready to take on a new episode in their long-standing career. Their melodic rock has been reasonably successful thus far, resulting in four albums since 1996, of which Signs and Castles In The Sand were featured on DPRP.
Self-impressed by their new sound, they decided to launch an EP marking this joyous occasion, having re-recorded some older tracks and added a brand new song aptly titled Brand New Start.
As it turns out, the title track is the strongest song on the album with slight Deep Purple and Uriah Heep influences, filled with catchy riffs and melodies. The driving, dynamic rhythm section pushes this uptempo track along nicely, oozing a seventies feel, enhanced by the playful organ manoeuvring it into old school Angel rock sound. A decent yet safe taster of what's to come.
Shine falls into the catchy AOR category, with sparkling keys and nice flowing melodies devotedly supported by a solid rhythm section and a smooth radio-friendliness. A nice track, nothing more nor less. The slow ballad, In Flanders Field, then suddenly surprises and confuses as well, displaying progressive rock, melting with radiations of Eloy, especially on the guitar parts and vocal lines.
Lastly Salve Mater, containing a darker, haunting atmosphere throughout via church organ and spooky vocals, sounds like a shallow pop/prog track in the Asia tradition, but missing finesse and depth. The simplistic drum parts, combined with the limited vocal range distract from otherwise competent instrumentation, which in a way is reminiscent to Bagheera's Silence At Romney Marsh.
The four chosen tracks leave an unsatisfied, incoherent feel, effectively making me wonder what to expect in the future. They are writing and recording at the moment to release a fifth album in 2020. On the basis of this EP, my advice would be to follow the Deep Purple/Uriah Heep route. Here their melodic rock falls into place and feels more confident. For now, this is a nice appetiser.
Corciolli - Imaginary Brazil
Brazilian composer, arranger, producer and keyboardist Corciolli has released his 15th solo album Imaginary Brazil. He also has more than 30 other projects and soundtracks to his name since he began recording as a solo artist in 1992.
This new album is a set of works written for the classical trio format of piano (played by Corciolli), violin (Pablo De León) and cello (Raïff Dantas Barreto). But in arranging them, Corciolli has added strings, synths, light touches of percussion, guitar and two singers. The music on Imaginary Brazil leans heavily on the classical side, featuring orchestral sweeps in the manner of Vaughan-Williams with the core trios mixing the melodicism of Faure's chamber work, but informed by the modern classicism of Einaudi. At first I thought the album was a bit wet, but on repeated listens its charms and details grew on me.
This album is very much a soundtrack to a film yet to be made. A film that will explore the legends, myths, history and contemporary problems of Brazil. On Sonata Cabocla there are Tony Banks-style chordal structures and a lovely synth solo. There are hints of jazz harmonies on Quilombo's exploration of Brazil's legacy of slavery.
With a song title translated as 'The Wisdom of Heaven', the beautiful song Arandu Ara features Patrícia Bastos on vocals, singing in a language I have never heard before called Tupi-Guarani. She is underpinned by electronica and piano and it is a cracker. This vies with two other tracks (Eyes of the Jaguar and Requiem) for the best pieces on the album. They both foreground the wordless singing of soprano Rose De Souza, while the music sounds like of a mash-up of Daft Punk's soundtrack to Tron: Legacy and Ennio Morricone's orchestral film work. Requiem itself has an intensity that is occasionally lacking on the odd piece. But they rarely head into new age easy listening, as the strength of Corciolli's melodies keep them on track.
Overall, Corciolli's Imaginary Brazil is an engaging work of contemporary classical, chamber orchestral works. Works that echo, as well as those already mentioned, artists like Vangelis and Enigma. If you want an enjoyable album of subtle European classicism, South American rhythms and indigenous sounds then look no further. If you want big riffs then head elsewhere.
Ember Rev - From The Country To The City To The Sea
Ember Rev formed in 2016 to play the "nervous and neurotic accordion-driven tunes" of Cambridge singer-songwriter Dan Ecclestone. This is their third release and continues in a similar vein of almost sea-shanty style folk-rock, effective in evoking English pastoral atmospheres, overplayed with a sad story-line about lost old friends. There is an uplifting acceptance of loss pervading the album, a reflection of a maturing wisdom.
Similarities could be drawn with Canada's Arcade Fire, by virtue of Chris Peckham's accordion flourishes, and I heard tinges of late 80s britpop melancholia almost Sundays-esque. In the end your opinion on this very much depends on your like or dislike of the aforementioned bellows-driven squeezebox.
Hala - Blueberry Ink
The adjective 'quirky' is defined as 'characterised by peculiar or unexpected traits'. Similar words are: eccentric, idiosyncratic, unorthodox, strange or weird. There are many more, and I think they all apply to Hala's EP Blueberry Ink.
The unorthodox starts with the musical line-up in which the standard bass guitar is replaced by the sousaphone and trombone of Arno Bakker. The last record I heard that used this approach was Captain Beefheart's Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), and Blueberry Ink's sound-world shares some of the strangeness of Beefheart's psychedelia. Also, with Helene Richter's swooping, sometimes screechy, sometimes fairy-like vocals, Hala have a singer as individual as Beefheart, but in her own way.
The music feels improvised, mixing psyche-pop with lighter avant-garde jazz touches. Guitar lines, drum patterns and electronics shift and twist, and are all underpinned with the sousaphone or trombone. Often taking a tune they have just established and deconstructing it as they go along, as on Cuddled Up In Puddles.
Tape delays introduce Build Me A House, as a strummed guitar builds up a head of steam. There is even an almost rap section before it ends in a swirl of psyche-rock. The spoken words of Ernest And His Blueberries prose poem lyric leaves me a bit baffled. The best track, and the least weird, is Muñeca Quitapena. A song about Guatemalan worry dolls, is led by a sousaphone riff that gives the track more structure than the others, and its glitchy electronics give its psyche-pop a fresh feel.
The problem or success of Hala's Blueberry Ink will depend on your tolerance for the quirky. For me, a little quirky goes a long way, especially if it has some humour attached to it. This EP has a lot of quirkiness, but I seem to be missing the humour (if there is any). However, if you are an avant psyche-pop enthusiast, this may be worth investigating.
Project Renegade - Order Of The Minus
After releasing a three-track EP, Cerebra two years ago, this is the debut full-length from this Greek, female fronted foursome, and a solid beginning it is.
Project Renegade's sound is ably self-described as "alternative, modern, heavy and groovy". Add in some electronic and ambient background themes; some lyrics centered around loss and how to unite a disenfranchised younger generation; a hyper-clear sound mixed and mastered by the ever-reliable Forrester Savell (Karnivool, Twelve Foot Ninja); and a singer (Marianna) who has a high-energy, melodic sensibility, then Order Of The Minus will have a wide appeal for fans of Evanescence, Delain and Beyond the Black.
One listen to the strong opening track Liber8 will tell you if this is for you or not (see video link below). If you continue onto Products of War then you will see the problem that I have with this album; too much of it is a straight copy of Lacuna Coil, right down to the trademark backing synth harmonies.
By the time one arrives at The New Joker it becomes clear that the band is unwilling or unable to wander far from its template of down-tuned riffage, an intense bouncy groove, and the close harmonies and vocal phrasing. The Strain does vary the pace and sound a little, but the riffage soon becomes rather repetitive and stuck in its groove.
Relayer - V
After an 11-year hiatus, Relayer return with their fifth album simply titled V. While the band-name might ignite some expectations towards the music, this is only occasionally apparent, for the overall feel to the music is that of uncomplicated, accessible melodic rock. If ever there was a Yes influence in the past, then now it would only be the Steve Howe-way of playing on several songs like Black Sand and Bye Bye, which will take you on a lovely Roundabout spin altogether.
With an open production adding a typical seventies atmosphere, and first rate instrumentation throughout, the gently approachable melodic tracks Quiet Minds, Break Me Down and Silverface ignite sparks of Tiles, and to a lesser extend that of Rush. Great Again features some healthy funky bass and Wishbone Ash structures, with vocals mindful to that of World Trade, whereas the mellow Rise Up slowly drifts towards Styx.
Several songs incorporate restful rock attitudes with delicate touches of jazz, where a Mellotron adds touches of Barclay James Harvest (The Good King) and piano-play evokes The Beatles (Earth And Son). All glide by smoothly, however, it is the early-Queen associations that excite the most. It's as if Brand New is indeed the start of something new, for here the tuneful vocals, in combination with the heavenly harmonies and typical Queen-like pop-structured melodies, invite one for a day at the races (or a night at the opera).
Tracks like Rise Up 72, Bizarre and Roads To Roam naturally flow past with light hearted drums, tasteful guitars and exemplary bass lines, whilst maintaining a delicate lightness and laid back emphasis. With the dark-yet-light intonations of The Good King quietly ending the album, 60 entertaining minutes have satisfyingly passed by. An hour of embracing familiar and engaging melodies, which will hopefully not take another 11 years to reappear.
Ultima Radio - Dusk City
In the conceptual Dusk City, alternative rock is the overarching musical concept divided by Interlude I and Interlude II. The trio of moody phases each have their own identity, whilst showing many different faces, and as a whole bring a steamy balancing act between heavy-, post-, and stoner-rock, with some nebulising psychedelics and industrial progressive rock.
Phase one immediately kicks in with Your Skin, that captivates with rolling bass and heavy riffs, being dynamically driven-forward by a solid rhythm-section. Psychedelic guitars and expressive vocals add further structure, with the emphasis towards rock with a capital R. The intense Limber, with its industrial groovy stoner rock and light space-rock passages, keeps the dark atmosphere going to be concluded in the energetic, uptempo stoner-rock of 7 of 8, featuring slight, distorted vocals and a Hawkwind / punk feel.
In Siberian, the energy level slowly drops to a more relaxed atmosphere at first and then soars into a superb Porcupine Tree heaviness.
The scenery changes via the mysterious Interlude I gliding into shady surroundings, with Monotyper showcasing groovy equality, encased with a more relaxed vibe. Icarus continues this descent, with pop influences reminiscent towards U2, until gradually revealing a 70s psychedelic Spirit in Golden Lands. Again And Again delivers a short, mellow resting point.
Thanks to the organic vintage production, present throughout, the dark, mysterious and psychedelic atmospheres culminate in the third part. Formed by psychedelic Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd sounds, Reshaped returns to inspired heavy rock, while Dusk City is spurred-on by repetitive riffs, dynamic drums and space-rock hypnotics. The improvisational character of the song ..., filled with counter rhythms and psychedelic krautrock like Walzwerk, ends the album in a forceful volcanic eruption.
With further progressive touches waiting to be found underneath the surface through the intense, complex, technical and virtuous concise tracks, this album has turned out to be a joyous sightseeing tour from start to finish. Well worth exploring.
Richard Wileman - Cabal Of A Thousand Souls
Multi-instrumentalist Richard Wileman, the composer behind the symphonic prog band Karda Estra, has released a couple of albums under his own name and this seven-track EP is the latest. It is a move away from the symphonic area, into folky psychedelia with a dark, gothic undercurrent.
The instrumental opener, Sublime Ruins, has layers of piano, acoustic and electric guitars to flesh out a dissonant, descending melody that is big on atmosphere. It could have come from a 70s Italian horror film. The closing track, The Summoned, could have come from a folk horror film like The Wicker Man.
Things brighten up melodically with the pop-inflected songs, where Amy Fry adds delicious clarinet and soprano sax as well as backing vocals. There is some quality acoustic folk-pop on I Am The Wave and there is a sunny, upbeat 60s psychedelia to the lovely Harvest Of The Stars, while the lyric seems to be downbeat.
Jazzy harmonies inform the quiet The Watchmaker's reverb-laden, multi-layered vocals. Richard Wileman's vocals are generally good but they are a little variable at the beginning of The Ink Dried. But as Amy Fry joins, things get right back on track. I really like the piano instrumental We Merge, that sounds like it has samples of waves brushing onto a pebble beach. This sound becomes a breathing, living percussion for the evolving piano melody. Quite hypnotic.
After a rocky start with Cabal Of A Thousand Souls, I have found that I have warmed to Richard Wileman's vision here. There isn't the sort of flow that you get with prog albums generally, but it handsomely displays Wileman's evident melodic gifts. I now want to know what he achieves in the longer, band-orientated format.