Armonite - The Sun Is New Each Day
Suitcase War (3:46), Connect Four (3:23), 'G' As in Gears (3:21), Sandstorm (3:44), Slippery Slope (3:17), Satellites (3:47), Die Grauen Herren (2:48), Le temps qui fait ta rose (3:26), Insert Coin (3:37), Bastian's Happy Flight (3:17)
The album, while short (it clocks in at about the length of one Transatlantic song), certainly packs a punch right from the driving, superb first track. There are a couple of tunes with Middle Eastern motifs, there's spoken word, and even, in Insert Coin, an homage to the early computer games those of a certain age will remember fondly (or not, if you never made it past level 1 of Space Invaders). It's a fun and driving electronic and rock-tinged piece, with early computer game sounds thrown in, which ends as abruptly as most games of the day did, just before the next level. Thump the machine and insert another coin.
Inspiration for other pieces come from equally diverse sources - including books The Little Prince and Momo. The former is the inspiration for Le temps qui fait ta rose, a beautiful, melancholy neo-classical piano and violin piece that shows that whatever Armonite choose to do, they do it with clarity, passion and no mean skill.
Satellites, on the other hand, is clearly inspired by space, with the violin providing oodles of drama and mood, although once more there is a delightful classical interlude to change mood in an instant.
The keyboards are certainly the dominant force in the band, with violin being used more than appropriately. There is never a feeling of imbalance. Some pieces veer toward jazz, others definitely reside in rock, while others, such as Slippery Slope, begin in a much more laid-back zone, with Barendregt's drums provide a subtle and inventive backbone for proceedings. Many of the pieces resemble evocative film music, such is the descriptive nature of the playing.
The last track, Bastian's Happy Flight, is taken from the movie The Neverending Story, and was written by Klaus Doldinger (best known from his band Passport). They can even do covers tastefully while putting their own spin on it. It's magnificently played, everyone driving the melody along at pace.
One of the wonderful aspects of this release is that they can choose any direction from here. Armonite can easily crank up the pace and veer into UK territory, or they could choose to inhabit a more electronic genre. Or classical. Or movie scores. Hopefully, their next foray will be a little longer, and give them the opportunity to really explore some of the wonderful themes they create. And while not suggesting they do go and pull out a 30-minute epic, they most definitely have the capacity to create tension, change pace, use different instrumentation wisely, and they play exquisitely. What's not to like?
Code - Mut
On Blinding Larks (3:22), Undertone (3:38), Dialogue (5:24), Affliction (3:26), Contours (4:17), Inland Sea (4:13), Cocoon (3:24), Numb, An Author (3:26), The Bloom in the Blast (4:36)
The label markets the album (and the current incarnation of the band) as progressive post rock. I think that's a good description, although I would add the word 'blackened' to it. One can draw parallels to other black metal bands who have abandoned that particular style, to explore more progressive territory: Ulver, Solstafir and Alcest, to name a few. I feel Code have made a very original album, but I'll give some admittedly out-there comparisons. Imagine a very depressed Riverside. Or a looser-playing, less metal-sounding Leprous.
This album portrays all types of dark and depression, with the vocal style reminding me of Alternative 4 era Anathema. Vocalist Wacian's expressive range on this album is impressive. He easily goes from mournful whispers, to tuneful melodic singing and some truly desperate screams. The vocals are very much at the front, but that's not to say the music isn't interesting. The drums, bass and guitars and the occasional synthesizer/mellotron provide a bleak atmospheric canvas to the vocals, and it just fits like a glove. The band's black metal residue seeps through with their extensive use of dissonant harmony. It brings a constant feeling of unease and disorientation upon the listener, but it's deliberately constructed to make sense after a couple of listens. The music can get quite heavy and/or proggy, but every instrument generally plays in service of the often minimalistic atmosphere.
My favourite track is Dialogue, which features the most powerful vocals on the record, as well as the most haunting atmospheres. The band even managed to squeeze in a perfectly timed guitar solo, of which there are extremely few of on this album. For most readers of this website, I think that'll be the most accessible track. If interested, check out the YouTube link to give it a listen.
The production is nice and clear, with the drums really having that post rock quality to them. The dynamic range is outstanding, not only of the instruments, but the vocal performance as well. Also, the packaging looks very professional, including a nice gatefold cover. Thanks to the label for giving us the complete, uncompressed product to review.
To conclude, this album surely isn't suited for all of our readers. But fans of the darker, more gothic side of things: check this out if you dare. Click the samples URL to listen to a stream of the full album.
Karel Witte: 7.5 out of 10
Fields - Contrasts - Urban Roar to Country Peace
Let Her Sleep (5:02), Wedding Bells (4:01), Someone to Trust (3:49), Wonder Why (3:39), Music Was Their Game (3:01), The Old Canal (4:18), Put Out to Grass (3:30), Storm (4:38), Set Yourself Free (4:35), The River (2:32), Spring (1:50)
Originally recorded in 1972, this album, inspired by the journey from urban landscape to rural serenity, inexplicably lay in a record company's vaults for the best part of four decades. Fields, born from the ashes of Rare Bird in 1971, was originally Rare Bird keyboard player Graham Fields, former King Crimson drummer Andy McCullough, and guitarist Alan Barry. After the eponymous debut album, Barry left, to be replaced by Supertramp's Frank Farrell.
The strangely unedited booklet states, quite sadly, that Fields felt he was made to feel somewhat ashamed of the album because of CBS' treatment of the band; they were dropped after the first of a three-album deal. Contrasts is definitely nothing to be ashamed of, it's a beautiful album, of its time but still resonating today. Any fan of 70s keyboard-driven prog needs this album. However, there is also a sense of sadness that Fields did not continue, as there's enough strong material and incredible musicianship here to suggest they could have created many more fine albums.
This is quintessential (with emphasis on the essential) keyboard driven early British prog. Field can play - he's in the same league as Emerson and Rick Wakeman, as is quite clear from the opener, Let Her Sleep. which starts in a similar way to the legendary Van der Graaf Generator piece Theme One. Until the amazing organ comes in and the virtuosity takes the breath away. That's not to say this is a one-man show, on the contrary, the drumming is fast, furious, and very tight. Farrell's guitar and bass work is equally imperious. Farrell's sparse vocals work well in the middle section, before Field once more lets the fingers fly.
Wedding Bells is very 1970s, finishing with gorgeous strings at the end, segueing into Someone to Trust, which sounds like something off McCartney, the former Beatle's first solo album, even though, ironically, Field mentions a similarity to John Lennon in the booklet notes, perhaps because of the piano phrasing sounding a little like some of the work on Plastic Ono Band and Imagine.
Wonder Why has a very Hatfield and the North Canterbury sound. Music Was Their Game has such a rural England feel, starting with birdsong and blossoming into a catchy song Gentle Giant would have been more than proud of.
Three bonus tracks, demos from the time of recording, are tagged on to bring the album to a respectable 40 minutes, and are also quite pleasant compositions, in spite of their obvious improvisational nature.
For lovers of early 1970s melodic British progressive rock, and the great albums from the era, there's another volume of melodic music to add to the collection. It has its frailties, but those make it even more magical and special. And with familiarity from repeat plays, it grows into a firm and comfortable friend. And while it's keyboard driven, this is a band working supremely well as a unit, creating something of rare beauty. A lost gem is lost no more.
Jim Cornall: 9 out of 10
FM - Transformation
Brave New Worlds (5:38), Cosmic Blue (4:43), Reboot - Reawaken (5:30), Children of Eve (4:56), Safe and Sound (6:21), Tour of Duty (7:35), The Love Bomb (Universal Love) (5:29), Soldiers of Life (4:14), Heaven on Earth (3:58)
Their 1977 debut, Black Noise, was a landmark album in the nation's progressive scene. After many line-up changes, and lengthy breaks, surviving member and co-founder Cameron Hawkins (keyboards and bass) is joined by drummer Paul DeLong and violinists Aaron Solomon and Edward Bernard. Clearly, FM is not FM without a violin. And when you're being measured against the yardstick of the late and simply astonishing Nash the Slash, then you need to be good.
The last 'official' FM album was Tonight from 1987, although other snippets of original FM music have trickled out over the years.
The opener, Brave New Worlds, sounds like Yes with violin: imagine what would have happened had Eddie Jobson actually stayed in the band, and you have a good idea of the sound.
Many years may have passed since FM released an album, but considering Hawkins has been active with the band recently, it's no surprise that this is a competent and confident album. The new additions to the band fit in seamlessly. DeLong's drumming is efficient and impressive, the keyboards are, as one would suspect, excellent, and the strings vary from understated to flashy, elegant and fearless.
One of the standout tracks is the gorgeous ballad Safe and Sound, a beautiful and poignant song. Some of the pieces have a feel similar to later Caravan albums, with Pye Hastings at the microphone, or a keyboard-laden (and very good) Yes with strings.
No one would really expect a return to the early days of FM, with the killer keys, zany violin and pounding drums. This is mature progressive rock, melodic, powerful, intelligent, and meaningful. Great keyboards, and some heartwarming and attention-grabbing violin moments. And while it doesn't reach the heady heights of Black Noise, it's great to have a new FM to add to the catalogue of albums they've released previously. Welcome back, and let's not take 28 years for the next one, eh?
Kermit - Litoral
1926 (4:39), Samhain (4:18), Circumpolares (6:03), We Tripantu (4:49), Ingeborg (3:59), Magnitizdat (6:29), 1927 (11:47)
Litoral takes its name from a well-known literary magazine which emerged in Malaga during the 1920s. The album as a whole is a tribute to, and an acknowledgement of the magazines literary achievements achieved in often difficult political times. The album mixes literature and music in a seamless manner. The music contains and is interspersed with readings from many different texts including amongst others Allen Ginsberg and George Orwell. This creates an unusual effect where the soundbites at their best add to the albums unique atmosphere, and at their worst, intrude upon the flow and natural ambience of the music. The female mantra that introduces the blasting bass and space rock rambling of We-tripantu was enjoyably different and highly effective.
Litoral is neither predictable, nor one paced. The prevailing mood of the album is best summed up as reflective. It has a dusky twilight ambience. On occasions though, it has the brightness of a sun kissed dawn. It is in parts; dark and broody, but also light and airy.
The release is not overly dogged by the monotonous tempo and stereotypical range of sounds that some post rock albums are cursed with. The music is usually interesting and has a number of memorable moments. Instrumental passages of shadowed mystery and darkening tranquillity abound. These are strikingly swathed in glinting guitar parts and twinkling effects. Kermit are frequently able to create a sunset-layered soundscape of gilded beauty.
The album is significantly more satisfying in its final three pieces. Ingeborg is probably the most upbeat track on offer. It begins with the sound of children at play and has an appropriately joyful melody. The Arabesque influenced section which emerged at the two minute mark was unexpected. It simply added to the overall quality of the piece. Ingeborg is one of the albums high points. Its conclusion was particularly enjoyable and featured some lingering, tastefully distorted guitar parts.
The final two pieces of the album are consistently excellent. The introduction of a brooding saxophone in these tracks gave the music greater sophistication and an extra dimension. Magnitizdat is my favourite composition of the album. Sensually repeated words drift like flotsam in and out of the impressive waves of sound created. A trance like cascade emanates from the heart of the music to entwine and bewitch unsuspecting listeners. It is altogether quite captivating.
Overall, I enjoyed Literal and I will certainly return to it from time to time. The album is available as a name-your-price download from Bandcamp. I hope that readers feel inclined to check it out.
Litoral has more than enough bold energy and gentle subtlety to satisfy a diverse prog audience of differing tastes. It includes many moving and accessible passages that flicker with slow burning intensity. Delicate and occasionally strident changes of tempo help to maintain suspense and attention. These combined elements roughly clasp and gently caress the listener throughout this atmospheric release. I am glad to have experienced Litoral's endearing, twilight embrace.
Owen Davies: 7 out of 10
The No Name Experience - The Clock that Went Backwards
My Inner Clock (7:08), Clairvoyance (2:13), About Angels and Devils (6:36), Looking Back and Forward (7:04), The Clock that Went Backwards (4:51), Circles of Life (5:53), Welcome to My New World (3:55), The Snow (7:59), Circles of Life (Edit) (3:58)
Their debut album, The Clock that Went Backwards, combines elements of great '70s and '80s prog bands, and it's not hard to find traces of IQ or Pendragon between all the different layers this album brings.
The record does come in all sorts of flavours. While the music is pretty confined within the aforementioned genre, the textures and colours are very varied. The music shifts and varies all the time. It can go from epic to serene or heavy to calm in an instant, and the two music segments never feel disjointed or forced upon each other.
There's great value here for all prog fans. Every instrument is spot on, with guitarist Michel Volkmann and keyboardist and founding member Rukavina interchanging centre stage throughout the album. Circles of Life - which sounds almost like a desperate plea - displays a wonderful performance by guest sax player Fred Hormain. On a completely different tone, Looking Back and Forward is a hopeful, cheerful piece.
Strangely enough, the title track is an instrumental one and even hints towards something that could have inspired Dream Theater, had it been recorded earlier. I guess this clock really does go backwards. Welcome to My New World might be the most rock oriented track on the album, with drummer Gilles Wagner and bass player Claude Zeimes keeping a tight groove. The Snow also brings heavy elements into the mix, but the track builds up from a softer ground to end on an all out guitar-sax battle.
It's not hard at all to reccomend TNNE's first outing. So if you haven't heard it yet, please do. It might not be an instant classic, but it does have something for most of our readers to enjoy.
Diego Crescini: 8 out of 10
Puja - Merkabah
Goghaye Jaan (2:41), Beduin Moon (4:49), Pharaoh (5:40), Turquoise (3.29), Estambul (6:08)
While only an EP, there's enough on offer to know that there is definitely potential here, if Puja focus on exactly what it is they want to deliver.
The Middle Eastern flavour is clear yet not overbearing. It's a bright, airy album, with vibrant guitar, subtle and appropriate drumming, and at times, an improvisational feel. This, occasionally, gives some of the tunes a bit of a 'demo' sound.
The opener, Goghaye Jaan is all too short. Beduin Moon, which follows, has some delicious guitar work, floating effortlessly around the melodic tune. Pharaoh ups the tempo a little, before slowing and transforming to a jazzy, soft piece of music, before heading back to the main theme, via a couple of other changes. Occasionally that improvisational feel leads to a bit of a loss of momentum, but the changes are certainly inventive and adventurous.
Turquoise offers more of the same - a Middle East influenced melodic theme, some improvisation, and then back to the more rock-influenced playing of the theme, with some nice drumming and bass thrown in.
The final track Estambul, starts slowly and hauntingly intrigues, and has a very 'old' and traditional feel to it, only to take off in the last minute to bring the piece firmly up to date.
Due to the narrow niche of rock mixing with Middle Eastern music, natural comparisons will include Orphaned Land, Myrath (without the vocals), Asia Minor, or, again minus the vocals, portions of the Canadian band The Tea Party's outstanding release The Edges of Twilight. While it's a little more free-form and spacey, and much older (1972), Agitation Free's Malesch album also shares some moments in a similar vein. However, all of these mirror Puja's work only occasionally.
Puja has bags of talent. The guitar work alone is inspired, and further defining the melodies and developing the transitions during the songs would lead to a tight, cohesive sound that really delivers an interesting palate of rock, jazz and eastern music. And the melodies are such that there's plenty of opportunity for Puja to really push some boundaries. Their future could be very exciting.
Jim Cornall: 6 out of 10
Strawbs - Prognostic
Heartbreak Hill (7:25), Through Aphrodite's Eyes (7:17), Something for Nothing (7:13), Starting Over (10:29), Deep in the Darkest Night (4:03), The River/Down by the Sea (9:35), Blue Angel (9:29), Tomorrow (4:29), Lay a Little Light on Me/Hero's Theme/Round and Round (8:27)
This album, however, seems to be a bit of a dark horse. The information on the website presents it almost as a new album, which it isn't. Any Strawbs fan worth their salt likely already owns much of this, however, for the casual listener who owns a couple of their albums, this is more than a welcome 'best of the rest' addition.
The first five songs - dubbed "Prognostic Strawbs" - have all appeared over the years, hence the different lineup for each song. Three of the first five songs were on the Heartbreak Hill album, which was recorded in 1978 but released in 1995. Through Aphrodite's Eyes was on the Broken Hearted Bride album, and the last of the five, Deep in the Darkest Night, including former Strawb Rick Wakeman, originated on the Cousins and Conrad album High Seas.
What the liner notes (actually just lyrics and who is on each song) don't say, is whether these are the originals, remasters or remixes of the originals, or slightly different takes. A little clarity would have been appreciated by fans unsure of purchasing the album as new, previously released, or somewhere in between.
Also, the only mention of whether the four bonus "archive prog" tracks are previously unreleased pieces or similarly recycled is on the Strawbs website album page, which shows three of the four pieces to be remastered, while The River/Down by the Sea, recorded for Central Television, is listed as previously unreleased.
Origins aside, the music is, as one would expect from a band with the quality of Strawbs, superb given band leader Dave Cousins has plucked these from other places to showcase the proggier side of the band. There are various incarnations of the band included here from over the years, and the playing from each is immaculate. All are cemented by Cousins' unique vocal style. The songs change and flow as all great progressive music does. There are shorter passages, soaring guitar solos, chunky riffs, punchy keyboard passages, memorable melodies and beautiful sections of simply mesmerizing and classic prog. Starting Over is a highlight, gorgeous harmonies, slick catchy keyboards, slow passages, faster sections and heavenly guitars combining. It's not hard hitting, heavy progressive music, however, as the simply beautiful Deep in the Darkest Night exemplifies. But pieces like Tomorrow - which packs one heck of a punch in under five minutes - certainly show Strawbs more than capable of rocking out, in a progressive way, of course. And why Dave Cousins is an under-rated yet very fine guitar player.
And, when you include some of that Hero and Heroine pinnacle to close out the selection, a live recording from 2010, you can't really lose.
Only completist Strawbs fans will want to pick this up if they already own all or most of the back catalogue. Anyone with a cursory interest in one of the overlooked and yet most versatile bands of the 1970s and beyond, however, should likely own several Strawbs albums at the very least, and if they are curious about their other, slightly more obscure work, this is a nice compilation to add to the collection. Those new to Strawbs could do worse than pick this up as a reminder of all that was great about progressive rock stalwarts, and why Strawbs should be included among the best, if not the most consistent.
Sunset in the 12th House - Mozaic
Seven Insignia (14:43), Arctic Cascades (10:56), Paraphernalia of Sublimation (9:55), Desert's Eschaton (8:25), Ethereal Consonance (6:50), Rejuvenation (5:49)
Loosely fitting into the instrumental post-rock category, the quartet, which also includes Dordeduh drummer Sergio Ponti and bassist Mihai Moldoveanu, seem inspired and released to explore whatever musical direction they choose to. And do they explore.
The lengthy opener starts slowly, almost ambient, before taking off with chugging guitar riffs and heavy drums, before taking another quieter turn, then heading off into other territories again from heavy rock to post rock. Given their musical heritage, there's a bit of metal in there, but it's tastefully incorporated into a thoughtful and intriguing whole that doesn't overcook any of its ingredients.
Arctic Cascades starts slowly again, quiet and calming, with beautiful shimmering sounds and guitar echoing tranquility. There's no metal in sight, here, it's just a beautiful piece of music.
Some tracks are more playful and joyous, others have much more of an eastern influence, such as Desert's Eschaton, combining eastern sounds with driving rock. There are progressive metal sections that don't seem out of place as they give way to quieter passages. And there's tons of melody, too. When it does go a little heavy, there's a change of direction coming at a moment's notice.
Finding comparisons is difficult, as each piece differs wildly, and there's even great variety within pieces that can be akin to Dream Theater one second and Camel the next.
The last track, Rejuvenation, starts firmly in melodic post-rock territory. And this is the only song with "vocals", and they're of the growling kind. It's not a constant throughout the song, and for some, this may add to the album, but it may put some people off a little and detract from what, otherwise, is an outstanding musical journey.
Each piece on this diverse album is bubbling with invention. There's so much happening, so many changes within each song, it's hard to see how it works. But work it does, and admirably. This album has a bit of everything. It's intriguing, mysterious, quiet, heavy, demanding, satisfying, sparse and furious. Mozaic is an apt title indeed.
Jim Cornall: 8 out of 10
Vennart - The Demon Joke
255 (3:15), Doubt (4:13), Infatuate (5:10), Rebirthmark (3:46), Duke Fame (4:17), Don't Forget the Joker (3:54), Retaliate (3:56), A Weight in the Hollow (5:39), Operate (4:45), Amends (3:33)
The first, and most obvious question to get out of the way - is it as good as Oceansize?
The first track has quiet vocals, a gorgeous tune, with all kinds of distortion at the end just to mix it up. Doubt is part indie pop, part grinding grunge. It's clear this isn't Oceansize Mark II, it's an entirely different beast, or demon, even. That's not to say there aren't echoes of Oceansize, after all, it's a part of Vennart's heritage and psyche.
Other comparisons are difficult - which is a good thing. While certainly different, hints of Doves and Lowgold in the shoegaze/pop realm are meant as huge compliments. And then throw in current crossover bands such as Editors and Engineers to the mix.
Of course, Vennart has a vocal style all his own. He can be raunchy on the unpredictable, heavier piece, Duke Fame, and then power through a fuzzy, angry, modern song like Retaliate, with the delightfully soulful Don't Forget the Joker sandwiched between them. If BBC Radio 2 plays the new Stereophonics single, they have to play this. The most straightforward song on the album, A Weight in the Hollow, is similarly delicious.
Mike Vennart has come of age. The Demon Joke is subtle, warm, mature, modern, inventive, intelligent, melodic and varied. It's not Oceansize. But, in the same way his former band was, it's supremely and essentially listenable. Captivating stuff.
Jim Cornall: 8 out of 10