Gepetto — Evolutive Songs
With Evolutive Songs, French band Gepetto have produced an eclectic neo-progressive rock album that will provide something for everyone with an interest in the genre, as well as a few surprises. The project is lead by George Pinilla who is the owner of a French record store whose main love is progressive rock. Not happy with just selling the music, he made the decision in 2016 to form Gepetto and released their debut album, From Heaven To The Stars.
As with the debut album, George has pulled upon the resources of family and musical friends to help him complete this album. The eclectic mix is enforced by the fact that there are songs sung in English and Spanish.
Piano and big, lavish swirling keyboards welcome the listener to the opening track, In Your Mind. This is then taken over by a lead guitar riff which has all the elements of the early, up-tempo Marillion. The major downside for me with this album is that some of the singers used sound untrained, and therefore detract from the wonderful music. The vocals on some tracks are multi-tracked and this seems to emphasise the weaknesses. This is a shame because the general production throughout the album is excellent, and each instrument is clearly heard and mixed just right.
Al Final Del Camino opens with George playing a nylon string guitar intro, before he himself sings in Spanish, and he has a voice which is perfectly suited to the song. The guitar sound reminds me at times of Sky, before midway through the tempo changes, and has a feel of early Castanarc. At the midway point there is a keyboard solo reminiscent of Mark Kelly, before a storming guitar solo which could be by Nick Barrett, before closing with the Spanish guitar. Could this be Neo-Flamenco Prog? If so, I'll have lots more please.
For me, My Darling the weakest track on the album, but is saved by a wonderfully restrained piano outro, that makes it worth persevering with the song.
With Red Sky we have an up-tempo, rockier song with progressive hallmarks throughout, ranging from the melodic keyboard solo, to another guitar passage where again it's hard to think that I'm not listening to Pendragon.
Lagrimas Vacias is the penultimate track, and another track sung in Spanish, and it is as good and as varied as Al Final Del Camino. The acoustic guitar playing of George is again wonderful and the addition of the Flamenco style certainly adds a unique and interesting twist, something that helps Evolutive Songs stand out from the crowd.
Where would any great neo-prog album be without its epic. In a tradition that I prefer, this is saved for the last track. At nearly 15 minutes Millie Cordes is really worth the wait. The track takes many twists and turns, but the variations never feel forced. George again displays his talent with both guitar and keyboards, producing a fitting and satisfying conclusion to the album which should send any listener home contented.
While the album has its flaws, the positives more than compensate. The addition of a Spanish feel to some of the songs is a welcome addition and suits the progressive sound adopted by George and Gepetto. I have included as many links for anyone interested in the album, but Gepetto's online presence is very small. Time taken to search out this album should be rewarding for anyone with an interest in Neo Prog.
I can't believe I have written a review of a band named Gepetto and not found the space for a Pinocchio pun somewhere along the way. Maybe I'm losing my touch?
John Hahn — Undiscovered World
One hour of guitar music, made by an axeman and a drummer. No vocals, no guest virtuosos, no epics. Sounds boring, right? Wait-wait, don't skip to the next review just yet. This record might be better than you actually expect.
Firstly some history, and then a spoiler. John Hahn started his career in the 90s, made several solo records, appeared regularly in guitar-themed magazines and did some extensive touring and live playing as a session guitarist. His debut album, Out of the Shadows was released in 1992 by Leviathan Records, a record company run by David Chastain (no need for an introduction, I presume). Undiscovered World is Hahn's fifth solo release.
Secondly, a spoiler! John Hahn is not a stereotypical virtuoso, he is a good guitar player. In other words, Hahn does not demonstrate his skills, he is just playing his tunes. This is actually what wins my sympathy for Undiscovered World. Of course, there are nods to the legacy of Satriani, Vai and Petrucci here and there. However, less obvious, but more precise comparisons would be Tony MacAlpine circa Maximum Security (one of my personal favorites), George Lynch and Eric Gillette from the Neal Morse band. Hahn can shred, and can shred hard, but it seems that writing interesting instrumental numbers is also a great priority for him.
Again, Hahn is a competent musician, with a good ear for melody. He may not be the most diverse instrumentalist, but what he does, he does with confidence and skill. There's only a tiny speck of blues or jazz or fusion influences here. I feel that Hahn's roots lie in the field of 80s-90s melodic rock with a touch of neo-classic music. Which sounds just perfect for me, with all my affection for MacAlpine's releases. Check for instance the dynamic weaving of Fuel Injection, or Thrill of the Chase which lasts roughly six minutes, but does not become a tiresome listen thanks to multiple themes constantly thrown like logs to a firebox.
The “homebrew” production is quite acceptable. While it doesn't possess the groovy rock sweetness of the latest Satriani releases, for instance, it is nonetheless competent, and serves the purpose well. The guitar sounds just right; not too metal nor crunchy, maybe a bit more on the sugary side, but that's okay for me (just for a change).
This all looks good, but what about, well the prog ratio? If you are looking for intricate instrumental music, it is here in abundance. If you are looking for long compositions, complex interplay between musicians and lush arrangements, well none of that is here. The occasional keys and rhythm section have one ultimate goal here, and that is to support “the boss”; the mighty six-string instrument.
And here lies the second problem. Although individually each track is a pleasant listen, as a monolith piece of work, Undiscovered World lacks diversity, just like many guitar-focused records do. Also, I would prefer to have a higher percentage of concise material on the record. There are moments when Hahn overindulges with too many notes.
Still, the people behind this album focus on making enjoyable, melodic music, rather than showing off their skills. If this sounds right for you, pick the record.
Rick Miller — Unstuck In Time
Before the pandemic, when all was relatively fine, Rick Miller's album Belief In The Machine captured my imagination through its emotive passages, ambient surroundings, touching melodies and deep sense of melancholy. Next to his gracious guitar sound reminiscent of David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and the darker atmosphere, it was the delightful interplay of violin and cello, guided along by spacious electronic soundscapes that really caught my ear. I still play the record on a fairly regular basis.
During the pandemic, with the world facing (or in the transition towards) lockdown, Miller wrote and recorded a new album, depicting and catching these daunting circumstances in several of its compositions. The concept of Unstuck In Time is inspired by a phrase from Kurt Vonnegut's anti-war novel Slaughterhouse Five. A non-linear story of time travel, questioning moral issues, where the main character at one point actually becomes unstuck in time and experiences flashbacks from his former and future life.
Miller (vocals, keyboards, Mellotron, guitar and bass) has once again surrounded himself with the musicians featured on Belief In The Machine, with the addition of violin/guitar player Kane Miller. Those familiar with the debut album can look forward to a wonderful continuation of his Pink Floyd, Genesis and Camel-infused style of progressive rock, manoeuvring in soft, dark and melodic movements.
Miller's captivating story starts in 1665 with The Plague, depicting the desolate streets and abandoned landscapes caused by the black death. The restrained nature of the composition, flowing through intricate melodies and beautiful transitions is delightful, and becomes increasingly wonderful when, after Gregorian chants, a beautiful passage including Mellotron and dreamy atmospheres breathes the sounds of Eloy.
The guitar solo that follows is breathtaking, projecting images of Glorious Wolf's Zodiac after which unexpected flashes of Ring a Ring o'Roses (a nursery rhyme) sends shivers down my spine. Not for its (intended?) time-travel projections, as the rhyme originates from the 18th century, but to me it ignites upsetting flashbacks of a TV series about two time agents (Sapphire & Steele) operating between different dimensions. More accurately the daunting, mysterious and deeply frightening pilot episode "Escape Through a Crack in Time", in which this nursery rhyme plays an eerie role, forever reminding me of where I was on first watching it. The successive sadness of cello guided by soft acoustic guitars and gorgeous violin ends this highly accomplished composition most effectively.
The contemporary pop-sense of State Emergency, harvesting a forest feel of The Cure, ties the time travel experiences previously encountered in The Plague to today's society. The upfront lyrics are hard to ignore, addressing climate change, political issues and covid-19 restrictions. This also applies to the musical flow showcasing elegant, up-tempo melodies and the caressingly vocals by Miller.
The all-telling instrumental Covid Concerto rivals this with electronic melodies, in which violin brings elements of classical music and the surrounding atmospheric ambiance breaths sighs of Alan Parson's Project, FM and Eternity.
Fateful Apparations' ominous atmosphere and ethereal feel creates a further deepening of Miller's concept as it slowly glides through bluesy melodies that alternate with sound effects. The guitar solo after the second transition is overwhelming. Here the brilliant combination of keyboards, subtle drums and restrained melodies reflect perfectly the echoes of Pink Floyd and Roger Waters.
The musical curveball thrown in La Causa, radiates exotic Latin salsa and lively Carlos Santana guitar-vibes. These stand in direct contrast to its substantive emotional message emitting feelings of hopelessness and despair.
Just as dejectedly, Lost Continuum showcases enchanting flute melodies mindful to Camel, intertwining with violin, cello and emotive guitars. It's another alluring composition, much like the caressing synth-pop of In Sync With The System which refreshes through playful melodies, despite the song's disturbing message. Futuristic electronic music and a spacious atmosphere brings dreamy flashes of P'Cock, to be followed by an acoustic interlude in form of Broken Clocks, gracefully drowning in a pool of melancholy and surrounded by outstanding cello-play and atmospheric bliss.
The final track Unstuck In Time ends the album on a high note, marvellously returning to previous melodies where the slightly depressive tendencies carefully shift into those of hope. Besides the embracing ambient flow, gracious guitar melodies and refined worldly percussion, this immaculate composition lifts-off halfway through, propelled by vivid bass and mildly-energetic rock, embedded by more lovely guitar solos; a melancholic smoothness that slowly evolves into a sainted fade-out.
My first impression of this album was somewhat reserved, because the thrilling soundscape passages featuring violin and cello (the FM-appreciation factor) are toned down here in comparison to Belief In The Machine. But as is often the case, it's an album that grows over time and I have been won over by the intricate complexities, conceptual depth and sophisticated musical elaborations.
So no grand artistic surprises, but overall another fine addition to Miller's ever-expanding discography. Not only does Unstuck In Time perfectly showcase his consistency and strength as a composer, but it also convincingly highlights his production skills. For the album sounds magnificently clear, transparent and atmospherically warm, specifically when listening with headphones. A solid effort, worthy of exploration, especially if you are a fan of progressive rock in the vein of Pink Floyd, David Gilmour and Roger Waters.
Red Fiction — Visions Of The Void
Red Fiction is the continuation of the 2012-founded Atomic Ape, who released a 7-inch and their debut album Swarm in 2014. Since then founding member Jason Schimmel has been busy with several other projects (Estradasphere, Secret Chef's 3) and toured the world with John Zorn's Masada Project.
Bands I've personally never heard of, which goes for a great amount of the referenced artists and contributing musicians highlighted in the accompanying press statement and the album's digi-pack. Names where bands like Sunn O))), Mr. Bungle, and Dead Kennedys ring a warning bell, igniting a famous Vulkan catchphrase: "It's prog Jim, but not as you know it!" So this is a moment to once again pick up the prog-gloves.
The music was composed, recorded and produced by Schimmel over a period of three years, which to the untrained ear is almost identical to the time-frame it will take to fully fathom these compositional anomalies. Songs that resemble an enigmatic infinity equation challenging Einstein's relativity theory. This is guaranteed to exhaust even the sportiest of King Crimson adepts. In comparison to Red Fiction's unlimited fusion-generated marathon, KC feels like a gentle stroll in a narrow-minded park.
Not only does it bend, weave, explode and time-travel via meticulously-executed, mind-bogglingly-odd time signatures, the unconventional instrumentation of bouzouki, sax, clarinet, kaval, flugel horn, trumpet and accordion, (to name but a few amongst more regular guitars, drums and bass), adds a bewildering fifth dimension to Red Fiction's psychedelic universe.
Perhaps there is no need to confirm, but apart from a few becalming ethereal vocals in the closing track, and vocal improvisations in Chromatopsia, the album is predominantly instrumental. That is only logical, for I wouldn't have the faintest clue where to place a singer in these miraculously-morphing concoctions. In terms of chorus and refrains there are none, although some themes return occasionally.
Which brings me to the impossible task of even beginning to describe the music that quite possibly incorporates every single musical genre known to mankind, apart from Ambient Rap and Hiphop.
One aspect that stands out is the psychedelic nature of the songs, which in Ophiocordyceps mildly reminds me of The Bevis Frond with a sax showing characteristics of Nik Turner's Hawkwind. Flowing into a short space-rock movement (Pratfall II), projecting images of early seventies Nektar (Journey To The Centre Of The Eye), it glides seamlessly into Clone 13 which is the equivalent of a breathtaking high-wire act forged by fierce rock and metal. The whole thing thrives on trumpets and complex rhythms in a heavy space rock atmosphere.
Previously Kerberos had already set a powerful benchmark through its Middle Eastern vibe, initiating weird visions of belly dancing, which after a slow build-up by percussion and accordion becomes a real twister. Flute and violin add touches of folk. Slashes of heavy guitar riffs, add metal. Swinging into a jazzy, free-flowing trapezium of nights in Paris' Moulin Rouge, it slides back to Eastern melodies embraced by passionate tango. One is then propelled towards a climax in which the belly dance now connects with limbo-ing body parts mimicking furious air guitar movements.
The initial avant-garde prog of Selket quickly turns into effective and frighteningly-catchy neurotic rock with a touch of New York Subway Madness (Lucky Chops), jetting into surf guitar and sax eruptions, whilst surrounded by infectious swing and mild psychedelic doom influences.
Finishing in an explosive rock-overdrive and Balkan-inspired coda, Narrows comes in at exactly the right moment to give some form of rest. Striking again with surf guitar, great transitions, forceful bass play and jazzy intonations that breath Henry Mancini's Pink Panther.
Laceration looses all restraints, going all-out in an unparalleled, frantic frenzy, rivalling Yurt's noise rock. Heavy, shredding guitar parts and sax supernova's blast around until surf guitar announces an orgasm of riffs and KC complexities, only to be surpassed in Chromatopsia's overwhelming neurotic ending.
Antilla's balancing act, head-spinning with amazing tightness amidst complex rhythms and further Lucky Chops spells, gradually transforms the playing field towards the void, where in Witch Of Brunswick intricate violin play and delicate classical influences give way to an emotive movement supported by synth. A conclusive passage with shrieks of violin, maniacal laughter and otherworldly psychedelic wickedness finally fades into the already referenced and much desired reliever Poisoned Sky.
For those willing to invest time and effort, several delightful subtleties, some brilliance in arrangements and fluency within the stylistic changes will slowly reveal itself. The music on display is an intense and phenomenally-crafted trip that turns out to be quite a bumpy ride, mostly fit for the reckless, adventurous, dare-devil, prog-minded fan who is not afraid to explore the extraordinary.
Not your everyday cup of prog, far from it, but overall a very inspiring effort, slowly winning me over. An unexpected, strangely appealing outcome, although I wouldn't mind reviewing some equally entertaining meditative New Age albums after this!
Daniel Tompkins — Ruins
In 2019, I reviewed Castles, the impressive debut solo album from Daniel Tompkins, frontman with prog-metal act TesseracT and synth-rock band Zeta. For his second album, Tompkins has revisited Castles and reworked the songs to give them a harder, more aggressive edge. The music and vocals are different, the song titles have been changed but the lyrics remain the same. Also gone is the elaborate artwork and replaced with a gruesome image that's straight out of your worst nightmare.
For the recording of Castles, Tompkins worked with American songwriter, musician and producer Eddie Head, but here Paul Ortiz (Chimp Spanner, Zeta) fulfils that role. Ortiz's remix of the Castles song Saved was included as a bonus track on that album. Without the remixes and bonus tracks, Ruins is a considerably shorter, more vinyl-friendly album and is none the worse for that.
The overall style of Ruins is prog-metal laced with pop and post-rock sensibilities. Thanks to Ortiz's full-on production, it has an in-your-face sound with pounding rhythms, incessant riffs and anthem-like choral hooks. Tompkins is an excellent singer, reminiscent of Steve Balsamo (ChimpanA) with a clean, reverb'-drenched delivery. Only the final song, The Gift, features vocal growls and even then, they're sparsely deployed.
Standout songs for me are the magisterial opener Wounded Wings, with a soaring guitar break courtesy of Plini, and the catchy Sweet The Tongue featuring a monumental guitar riff that Arjen Lucassen would be proud of. Matt Heafy (Trivium) adds a sizzling guitar solo to the barnstorming Tyrant while the memorable A Dark Kind Of Angel is underpinned by a compelling keyboard rhythm.
In the final analysis, Ruins is a mostly successful reworking of Castles, even though it does perhaps lack the same tonal variation. Played back-to-back, Ruins reveals itself to be the darker, satanic twin of Castles. Both albums are a fine showcase for Daniel Tompkins' impressive vocal ability and one can easily believe that he would be equally at home singing virtually any genre of song. Much like the charismatic ex-The Enid frontman That Joe Payne, he deserves to be more widely heard.