Atmospheres - The Departure
Sun (4:16), The Farthest Star (5:16), Void (4:29), Into Orbit (5:46), Laniakea (2:26), Satellite (5:28), The Departure (5:57), Direction (3:38), The Arrival (6:37), Vapor Trail (1:14)
And boy did the band deliver. From start to finish, The Departure is a very strong and well-produced piece of music. The band chose to not repeat itself, but to evolve. As a result they have grown in their sound and song writing. The result is a concept album with strong songs that really prove themselves as stand-alone tracks. The concept (the earth is dying so mankind needs to travel through space in search of a new home) is not that new, but the way the story is told through the songs is wonderful and cinematic.
Atmospheres has found a way to combine djent, ambient and prog into a great and exciting sound that should provide for a great live experience. I will check them out for sure when the opportunity presents itself. Whether they choose to perform the entire album or a selection of songs won't matter.
One of the main differences in comparison to the debut, is that there are a lot more (clear) vocals on The Departure. Where the lack of vocals on the first album never bothered me, the addition of more lyrics really helps to tell the story, and at times the vocals are used as an instrument to offer a more ambient sound. Another change is due to the fact that personnel-wise the band recruited Mathieu Rachmajda on bass, a great addition I might add.
Founder Stef Exelmans has really found a great way to develop the band and its sound, and that shows from the start of the album to the very end. For me the comparison to bands like Tesseract, Cynic and sometimes even Animals as Leaders comes to mind.
There are no weak tracks on this album, although a few songs really stand out for me. Sun starts the album with the drums paving a way for a delayed guitar sound to take the album into an ambient flow. What follows is a heavy and crunchy end to the first song that puts the album into a gear on which second track The Farthest Star can carry on.
On the track Void the band displays its ambient side to create a great soundscape and a bridge to the fourth track Into Orbit, one of my favourite tracks. Into Orbit, Satellite, The Arrival and the title track combine the ambient, rock, metal, prog and djent into some wonderful pieces of music that are worthy of my ears and yours.
With Vapor Trail the album comes to an instrumental end. Again with the percussion from the intro, now leading into a hypersonic end to the album.
The only problem with this album is that it stops just before the 45 minute mark. I really wish some of the songs would have been a bit longer. But in the case of this album it just leaves you wanting more. I am sure Stef and his bandmates are very pleased with that conclusion.
So after the end of the cosmic journey to the farthest reaches of the universe, I can say that this is an album that would have made it onto my list of great albums of 2015. But unfortunately I never got to listen to the album thoroughly until 2016. It is a wonderful time to be a prog fan. And Atmospheres are one of those gems that keep me on the lookout for new and exciting bands trying to make their way to your stereo.
Arno Agterberg: 8.5 out of 10
Atropos Project - Towards Firmament
The Slide (6:00), Bent Crown (6:09), Block No Light (6:06), Alchemist (4:06), Expeller (6:32), Towards Firmament (6:24), Sistine (5:18), Red Roads (6:15)
Towards Firmament, released in December 2015, is the second album for Quarles, under the name Atropos Project. His first, 2013's Equator, was very similar to this album, with a lot of jazz, metal, and prog influences. Quarles wrote, performed, recorded, and mixed everything.
Since the guitar is Quarles' preferred instrument, it only makes sense that Atropos Project's music is guitar oriented. However, his early metal drumming influences are clear, since much of the drumming work throughout the album leans to the heavier side. Jazz is also a clear influence over his drumming.
While I found Equator to be a slightly more diverse album musically, Towards Firmament has its distinct musical influences. Jazz and metal are clear, but I also hear nuances of prog. For instance, while a lot of the album is moderately heavy and quick-paced, Quarles slowed the tempo down for the third track, Block No Light. This song has more piano, and it is calm, contemplative, and dark, much like a Steven Wilson instrumental passage. In Expeller, there are moments where the guitar takes on a Muse or Radiohead sound, further demonstrating Quarles' influences.
In general, Atropos Project's music is hard to pin down to any particular genre. In that regard, it is definitely prog. All of the musical motifs in Towards Firmament find some sort of connection to prog, which makes it an interesting listen for fans of instrumental music. The layered synth sounds scattered throughout the album, create an eerie soundscape which adds an additional level of interest to the music. Additional piano throughout the album would help immensely to make the music even more interesting.
Personally, I enjoyed Equator a little bit more because it had more piano work, at points sounding similar to Mannheim Steamroller. However, when I contacted John about his previous album over a year ago, he told me that Towards Firmament would be soncially darker than the first album. Clearly, he has achieved that darker sound, and it works without being overpowering.
Towards Firmament is a rewarding listen if you give it your undivided attention. In all honesty, Atropos Project takes effort on the part of the listener to fully appreciate the nuances in the music. Partly because it is all instrumental, the passive listener will miss a lot of what makes this music enjoyable. It could be all too easy to dismiss this album as mere background music. However, if given full attention, Towards Firmanent rewards. Listeners of instrumental groups and artists such as Antoine Fafard and The Fierce and the Dead will certainly enjoy it.
Bryan Morey: 6.5 out of 10
The Benzene Ring - Crossing the Divide
And We Are Become As Strangers (0:55), Jerks in the Obsolaire (5:12), Descension (1:41), Miles Past the Mark (7:08), Alarms (8:27), _XX_ (1:53), Voiceless in the Dim (3:55), Wraiths and Spectres (6:51), The Grand Rat Procession (9:15), And We Are Become As Rats (8:31), Ascension (9:15), (...) (14:22)
There's a huge amount of raw energy on this album, and you cannot help but get drawn-in, despite its sometimes quirky song structures and frequently low-fi elements. Terms like avant garde or alternative certainly seem to apply, but that could cheapen what I actually hear taking place. Songs like Alarm exude such intent and intensity, that it only serves as evidence of the painstaking time many of these tracks must have taken to complete.
The band can play. Even when they seem to be falling back on more standard forms, they'll invariably drop and add random beats, or switch genres mid stream. The album initially appeared guitar-centric, but I soon discovered a healthy dose of keys/piano that were often exactly what the particular moment of music needed, or bubbled under the surface in support of the larger composition. The drums roll and rumble with precision, never feeling arbitrarily thunderous or understated. Knowing exactly when to groove and when to launch a sonic strike is certainly the skill on full display here. The bass parts are often deceptively intricate. Miles Past the Mark demonstrates the bassist's ability to play with restraint, while also adding flourishes that help elevate the otherwise simple groove.
In the press kit the band explains the album's concept. Had I made a judgement before hearing the first note, based solely on this explanation, I would have likely formed a poor opinion. However there's some really great lyrics here! Unfortunately there were no lyrics in the promotional materials, but they do have them on their Bandcamp page. Lines like: "The incessant babble / The cloying prattle / Packed like a crowded elevator, cable severed, careening into the ground" and "All of my wasted devotion / Emptied out over the ocean / No one will discover it / It's gone, it's gone, it's gone" are eloquent, poignant, dark, witty, and expertly delivered. And there's no shortage of well crafted verse. To this end, I find the lyrics on the album to be one of its greatest assets.
The vocalist sounds a lot like Adrian Belew (King Crimson), which for prog fans will make a subconscious connection with Crimson's own ironic and clever form of rock. There's also a dead-pan style in their phrasing, reminiscent of Trey Anastasio (Phish). In spite of having to deliver complicated lyrics, they still manage to compose interesting and melodic parts. And We Are Become As Rats is the best example of this mastery in motion. Just like with the bass, there's a lot of subtlety in their skill on display.
Trying to form a list of comparable artists is not particularly easy with this band. Songs like Voiceless In the Dim start by having more in common with Radiohead than Porcupine Tree, which is exactly what band the song ends up sounding like! Wraiths and Spectres vacillates between so many styles and moods, and rather well I might add, that it has me thinking of Frank Zappa's more cohesive material. In part due to the primary guitar tones used, I'm often hearing a punk and alternative radio rock influence, which would be on par with the local New York City music scene's historic sound, from which the players call home. The grungier bits even have a Helmet level grit, further drawing those connections.
It's worth mentioning the production is a mixed bag. For the most part, the music is delivered adequately but with some obvious (to me) mixing and/or mastering imperfections. There's more than one moment where there's an unacceptable amount of crackling (distortion) in the mix. This is often from pushing the loudness of the mix or instrument too far. At other times the guitars can be a touch harsh. The average listener won't notice on their MP3 player with $5 ear buds, or in the car driving highway speeds, but in progressive rock we have a community that still engages and ONLY engages with the music, often devoting dedicated listening time on higher level equipment. The recording's limitations will be most noticeable to them.
When I previewed some of the tracks on their Bandcamp page prior to accepting the review, I knew there was a lot here I could like, and along those lines it certainly exceeded my expectations. Crossing the Divide is a very engaging, energetic, and demanding album. It borders on schizophrenic. It took me a few plays to get my head wrapped around it. There's a lot to absorb from song to song, sometimes even within a single song. It takes an attentive mind to truly appreciate what's here, so for a casual music fan this wouldn't impress. Thankfully progressive rock fans aren't casual; rather we tend to celebrate the unusual. In those terms, there's a lot to applaud here.
Kevin Heckeler: 9 out of 10
Crescent Moon - The Lidless Room
Acceptatio (2:18), Game Ain't Based on Sympathy (3:13), Black Vinyl Dreams (4:42), Game Ain't Based on Sympathy (1:07), The Bellman (3:04), Of Aphids and Ants (5:19), The Lidless Room (3:29), Obsolete Men (5:47), The Devil and the Machine (4:09), The Old Riverbed (5:42), Through the Gate (4:05)
In this case the band has created a brave concept album through which it questions the digital age. Full of references to social media and the (in)dependency to connect to the rest of the world, this album doesn't fulfil its main purpose which is to entertain and warn the listener, as I was not that overwhelmed by the production and song writing. What remains is a collection of songs recorded by a group of Pink Floyd fans that have a nice vision but lack the skills to translate it into the masterpiece they must have been aiming for.
The production is quite thin. Although some credit has to be given to the fact the band members put a lot of effort in the creation of the album, the Pink Floyd influence is obvious but the band never succeeds in really following in the footsteps of their heroes. None of the songs really stick to me and the instrumental passages are not that interesting or atmospheric.
So I am fairly short in my review. Although it doesn't sound that bad, there just isn't much that is memorable on this album. So fans of Pink Floyd who never get tired of clones could have a listen. But for other fans of progressive rock this album isn't that interesting.
Arno Agterberg: 5 out of 10
Earthside - A Dream In Static
The Closest I've Come (8:00), Mob Mentality (9:56), A Dream In Static (7:35), Entering The Light (5:27), Skyline (9:28), Crater (6:03), The Ungrounding (5:34), Contemplation Of The Beautiful (11:49)
You may have noticed that none of the band members are credited as lead singer. As a result four songs feature a different guest vocalist from the international metal scene, whilst the other four tracks are instrumentals. More unusually (especially for an American band), the album also features the esteemed talents of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra. Add a string quartet and additional guest musicians and you can appreciate why I described this debut as ambitious.
All these ingredients could have been a recipe for disaster, especially for an inexperienced band, but Earthside have clearly put a lot of time, thought and effort into this album. If you're looking for comparisons, then it successfully bridges the gap between the power of IO Earth, the intensity of Riverside and the cinematic world of David Arnold and Hans Zimmer.
The band members certainly know their chops and the all-male singers (Lajon Witherspoon, Daniel Tompkins, Bjorn Strid and Eric Zirlinger) acquit themselves pretty well by mostly avoiding the usual metal clichés (there's scarcely a scream or growl in sight). The production is also first rate, adding bite to the crunching power riffs and with a particularly crisp drum sound.
Although the orchestra appears on just two tracks, Mob Mentality and Entering The Light, it is used to good effect. An edited version of the former could easily be the theme song to a Bond movie, with its dramatic orchestral strings. The latter has the atmosphere of Zimmer's slow-burning scores like Inception and Interstellar. That said, probably my favourite song is the title track, which has a fairly basic arrangement with a ringing guitar hook and a convincing vocal from Tompkins.
Although there is perhaps a tendency for the longer tracks to repeat themselves a little, especially the spacey instrumental Skyline, none outstay their welcome. The final track, the expansive Contemplation Of The Beautiful is a good case in point with Zirlinger's vocal and the string quartet building to an emotional peak. Overall, this is an impressive debut by anyone's standards.
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10
Graal - Chapter IV
Little Song (2:57), Pick Up All The faults (5:29), Shadow play (4:46), Revenge (5:39), Guardian devil (3:33), The Day+Stronger (8:30), Lesser Man (5:46), Last Hold (5:49), Goodbye (8:49), Poetry for a silent man (3:00), 10-Northern Cliff (5:57)
Teasing listeners into thinking this is a folk record, with the pastoral and fluty Little Song, your socks are knocked off by Pick Up All The Faults with it's organ-based, riff-heavy rock. It's the type of sound that seems to be missing from later Magnum records with the prog side always being uplifted by the array of keyboards and synths - a real treat for lovers of these electric ivories - Listen to Shadow Play for the full Graal Monty.
Singer Andrea Ciccomartino has a classic voice with an end-vibrato that sits in the mix like another instrument.
Revenge continues the Deep Purpleness but with hints of Kurdt Vanderhoof's Presto Ballet, with The Day+Stronger further cementing this comparison.
The baroque, churchy opening on The Last Hold would by now have everyone on their feet. It is a real drum-driven stomper, and still I'm going to wax lyrical about those keys! Smashing stuff.
The long ballad Goodbye is as good as anything Dream Theater could produce, then a piano piece A Poetry for a Silent Man is followed by album closer Northern Cliff. It's a beautiful, guitar-led instrumental that could be placed in any genre with the words rock, folk, and "file under good music" in the category.
Graal then, are a hidden treasure and thank you Italian specialist label Jolly Roger Records for hopefully sending this fine slice of (to me) unknown minstrels into the world. Its retro-ish legacy will be timeless and will sit perfectly next the very best of this type of rock music. A triumph of everything that has gone before and is yet to come.
Andrew Halley: 9 out of 10
KariBow - Holophinium
CD1: (The Fragments) Distant Movements (1:44), Holophinium (6:06), E.G.O.(11:28), Victims of Light (6:55), Some Will Fall (4:07), Connection Refused (4:35), River (6:04), Angel Scent (5:59), King (5:04), Quantum Leap (8:59)
CD2: (Letter from the White Room) Moon (Part 1) (2:15), Walk on Water (Part II) (7:35), Orbital Spirits (Part III) (5:04), Eden (Part IV) (6:39), Lifelong (Part V) (7:53), Part of the Century (Part VI) (2:52), Plutonian (Part VIII) (3:52)
CD2: (Letter from the White Room) Moon (Part 1) (2:15), Walk on Water (Part II) (7:35), Orbital Spirits (Part III) (5:04), Eden (Part IV) (6:39), Lifelong (Part V) (7:53), Part of the Century (Part VI) (2:52), Plutonian (Part VIII) (3:52)
It's therefore great to introduce music that has very much been under the radar as far as I'm concerned. Holophinium is their latest recording and it's a double album, with the first CD having ten tracks of variously different genres (which they call The Fragments) and CD2 called Letter from the White Room, that is a seven-sectioned piece labelled Part 1 to Part VII.
The sound is very much in the crossover field ranging from the big Mystery-styled track Holophinium to the Toto-like Victims of Light and the almost 80s Howard Jones electronica on Connection Refined.
Angel throws in some pleasant sax, whilst it's pure prog with E.G.O. and Sam and Ziggy's favourite Quantum Leap. River even manages to sound just like Saga, something made even more realistic with Michael Sadler actually singing on it.
Rüsing's singing is perfect at portraying the different styles and it's a very good vocal. The musicianship is totally first class and most of it appears to be provided by Oliver himself, as he is credited with drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards. The album, though, has a myriad of guest players including Unitopia's Sean Timms who provide smashing keyboards to Quantum Leap.
Disc 2 is a concept based on an astronaut's thoughts about his cosmic travelling as written in The White Room, which is the small bridge between the launch tower and the rocket. It addresses the contrasts and emotions that inevitably occur from being so far from home, and the awe of seeing our blue and green world thousands of miles away as he walks on the moon.
It's conveyed with great virtuosity (great drumming) and a superb guitar solo from guest Colin Tench with lovely spacey key pads. It's very thoughtfully composed, depicting how such a journey can completely change your perspective about the Earth. I'd like to think he's saying it was about time we stopped blowing bits of it up, arguing who made it, and start facing the future by looking after the miracle that our planet is.
The CD packaging is particularly good, with its sci-fi artwork and full lyric booklet. If you like your prog to have a more rocky or commercial feel, then give this one a whirl. If enough people appreciate this music, I cannot see any reason why this shouldn't be a huge entry (or to be spacey about it, re-entry) into the mainstream album charts.
Andrew Halley: 8 out of 10
Pseudo/Sentai - Bansheeface
Quantum Cardboard (1:53), Sleeping Closer to the Ground (3:41), Terraformed Transcendence (4:26), Immaculation (2:59), Bansheeface (5:42), Trap of Assassination (1:27), Black Matter of Machinations (4:05), Sleeping Closer (1:37), The Holy Metamorphacity (6:13), A Taste of Endangered (1:25), Classic Tactics of Xenocide (4:12), March of the Selkies (3:49), Mound of Seed, Seed of Earth (2:36)
This album left me rather bewildered after my initial listen. Lyrically dense (it has been a quite a while since I have heard an album with quite so many words on it) and musically baffling, it has taken quite a number of plays for my ears to accustom themselves to the sound and the story of Bansheeface.
Psuedo/Sentai have produced a full-on concept album here. The music provides a soundtrack to a mash-up of manga comic, graphic novel and video game. It explores the conflict caused by the discovery of the titular Bansheeface and the war that happens between humans and a population of Selkies as a result of that discovery.
I found that the telling of this story in a compressed fashion (across a running time equivalent to two-sides of vinyl) is one of the reasons I didn't quite get this album. Once I'd abandoned myself to the overall sound, things started to click, and on repeated listens the story and its characters started to kind of make some sense, in the way that Coheed and Cambria's and Ayreon's science fiction epics do.
The music moves between an ambitious gritty metal, glitchy electronica, hard rock and prog. With swiftly changing time signatures, they manage to cram more into one song than some bands do over an entire album. Some of the shorter tracks are instrumental montages of battles with gun noises and helicopter sounds, and others are short expositions linking the plot together.
The longer, though by no means epic, songs display Red and Blue's excellent singing and overlapping harmonies. Immaculation even opens with an engaging rap section over interesting electronics. The title track has a Wishbone Ash twin guitar attack and the semi-ballad Black Matter of Machinations has Mellotron-like keyboards, before it twists and turns towards prog metal, but then pulls itself back. The best track is the less lyrically intense The Holy Metamorphacity, a good heavy prog work-out with a nice guitar solo. Here the music is given more room to breathe and has less turn-on-a-sixpence moments than some of the other tracks.
There is much here to enjoy in this eclectic mash-up of The Mars Volta and Muse with reminders of The Cardiacs and The Residents in its refusal to conform to this listener's expectations. It also comes over as a Mr Bungle, without the funky elements. I cannot fault the energy, ambition and eclectic uniqueness here. But for me, there are as many misses as there are hits, and I would only return to it rarely.
(For another perspective on this album please read Raffaella Berry's Something For the Weekend recommendation.
Martin Burns: 6 out of 10
The Skys - Jouney Through the Skies
One Saturday Of The Spring (2:51), The Rain (2:53), This Is What You've Got (2:48), Take A Look Inside (0:38), The Ancient Indian's Song (4:45), Should Stop Now (4:13), The Wings Of The Night (3:03), Dreams (5:24), Broken Sounds Of Truth (3:40), Virtual Reality (4:57), Is This The Way (3:53), Love Of Life (6:17)
I had previously heard a few songs from The Skys, but this was the first time that I have listened to a full album by the band. Instrumentally, this showcases a very talented group of musicians. They fall squarely into the Neo category so you won't hear anything that will strike you as particularly groundbreaking. That said, the performances are at such a high level, it hardly matters. The keyboard and guitar work throughout the album is especially impressive. In fact, the musical element of Journey through the Skies is so strong that it made it very difficult for me to adjust to the vocals and how some of the lyrical content is constructed.
The lead vocals are presented in a very dramatic fashion, which may be appropriate to the theme and the lyrics. There is a starkness to the music at times, that really paints an interesting picture. That said, I just wasn't sold on the actual vocals by Jonas Ciurlionis. This didn't stick-out to me on previous Skys songs that I had heard, so perhaps there is a new style emphasised on this album. The challenges with the lead vocals become even more glaring when matched with backing vocals by Kyla Wright and Anne Marie Helder. Rather than them blending successfully, it just sounds somewhat awkward.
There is almost a Leonard Cohen-type of vibe to Jonas's lead vocals. Add to it, the occasional tendency for the vocals to fall into a spoken word style, and it just proved to be a distraction to me. If all of that sounds interesting, then you may get more mileage out of the vocal element of this album than I did. On one hand, all of this separates Journey from the Skies a bit from other Neo prog work, but the approach just didn't resonate with me.
The overall talent of this band can't be overlooked and there are some truly entertaining moments to be found on this album. The second half is particularly strong, but still affected by the vocals. One exception is the album closer, Love of Life, in which keyboardist Bozena Buinicka handles a majority of the lead vocals. It made me wish that the rest of the album followed this direction. From a musical perspective, there is still much to admire about Journey through the Skies. For that reason, I would still recommend giving it a chance. I actually hate to criticise an album like this, as the care that was put into it is plain to see. Regrettably, I can't overlook the elements that didn't work for me and for that reason, it falls into the category of a good album that could have been great.
Patrick McAfee: 6.5 out of 10