Art Against Agony - Russian Tales
Königsberg Präludium (4:00), Nothing to declare? (4:16), Tea for the Dragon (5:18), Coffee for the Queen (4:30), Saratov Incident (4:29)
The tracks were all written under the impression of the band's 2016 tour through Russia, and deliver a good set of emotions; more than their previous albums did. The band has found its own style somewhere in between Animals As Leaders and Counter-World Experience, and here they perfectly moderate and connect the extreme ends of both bands. Not overly focusing on the most inhuman artistry like the American AAA do, but also not being as sluggish as Counter-World Experience. As a result they have managed to create a very listenable and enjoyable set of shred tracks, which spin from atmospheric, jazzy soundscapes, to heavy riffing metal slams.
With great melodies and alterations in the arrangements, these five tunes provide a great ride through various emotions; from dull to aggression, from sadness to happiness. The arrangements are very versatile in a way that reminds me of the cleverness of the early albums by Canadian guitar god Dave Martone. Even though this is a set of instrumentals, the album perfectly avoids becoming boring. So musically this is really great step forward in the shred genre.
The only set-back lies in the mix. Even though the mix here has improved a lot over their older works, there is still a way to go. The first thing that strikes when listening, is an audible imbalance in the drums mix, where the kick drum appears much louder than everything else, plus all its bass frequencies are terminated. That is a big minus, because why would you remove all the bass from an instrument that is commonly known as a "bass drum"? Also the guitars could use much more dynamics, which would provide much more heaviness to the metal parts, with a more mellow attitude to the clean, melancholic moments. Also the clean guitars could use a little more effects like reverbs and such, for a better colorised sound experience. Due to that, the mix appears unbalanced and compressed.
Thus, the listening experience will suffer a lot for sound purists, for which I am rating the album half a point lower that it deserves music-wise. Mind you as every rating of 8 and above on DPRP is categorised as "recommended to everybody", I think for a better mix and overall golden band sound, the Art Against Agony would do good to listen and study the mixes of wunderkind David Maxim Micic to improve their skills in shaping soundscapes.
So except for listeners that 'need' the perfect mix, I recommend this album very much, especially to those who generally are annoyed by shred, because this EP might open your mind to it. And by all means, watch this band live when you get a chance. They do killer performances!
Raimond Fischbach: 7.5 out of 10
DC Sound Collective - Following The Noise
Dante (3:18), Candidate (4:04), Let's Play Army (6:17), Ghostwriter (4:39), Rowena (9:14)
Daniel Crommie is a songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist (mandolins, e-dulcimer, drums, buche, balalaika, recorders, flutes, synthesisers and vocals) from Oregon. Thus the 'DC' represents his initials, rather than the US capital, which I'd initially presumed.
DC has released over two dozen solo albums, plus numerous albums with Group Du Jour, four with Echo System and five with Saturnalia Trio over the last quarter of a century. DPRP has previously reviewed the three previous DC Sound Collective releases with Rotation and A Memory of Errors Vol 1 and 2 getting mixed receptions.
The Collective is a revolving cast of musical collaborators co-ordinated by Daniel Crommie and Eldon Hardenbrook (bass, keys and guitars). This time around the pair are joined by the guitars of Bruce Hazen and Colin Henson (a member of Jade Warrior in the early 1990s) and Leslie Gray (violin and viola).
The opening gambit, Dante is a flute-led, jazzy, Tull-esque song. The half spoken vocals give it a very alt rock feel. It doesn't evolve as much as it needs to and could be a little less risk-adverse. An extended length, with more exchanges between the flute and the jazzy groove would have been nice. It ends, just as it starts to get really interesting.
We then shift to a trance beat, mixed with aboriginal rhythms, mixed with some Canterbury prog flute, mixed with Indian rhythms and instrumentation. Candidate is all wrapped around a very repetitive hook/chorus. It sounds better than it ... well ... sounds.
Another left turn for Let's Play Army. Here a folksy acoustic guitar is paired with violin and Canterbury-style flute. The vocals are sung, with the threatening line of: "Let's start a war. It's something to do", offering sharp contrast to the peaceful instrumentation. Again the music could build and evolve a bit more than it does.
Ghostwriter is my least favourite song. In fact I don't like it at all. Built from an alt rock mould, there is a horrible Casio-esque keyboard sound, a weedy guitar, canned drums and the whole thing is too repetitive and cheesy.
Thankfully we hit a better stride for the final track Rowena with it Floydian, ambient opening before flute and bass take the lead over soothing keys. A beautiful acoustic guitar section takes over, becoming electrified with solid drums, and then a flute brings the song to an end. Nice.
Whilst it's not going to set the world alight, I found this to be an entertaining listen. Partly because I just had no idea what was coming next and partly because amongst several misses, there are quite a few hits. You can sample the whole thing on the DC Bandcamp page from the samples link above. Well worth half an hour of your time.
Andy Read: 7 out of 10
Knekklectric - For Mange Melodia
Vi e mindre (5:16), Hanska på (3:40), Prokrastinera igjen (6:09), Stolpekontroll (4:14), Vestkyst (3:53), Kino (7:35)
Norwegian band Knekklectric is new to me. For Mange Melodia is their second album after their 2014 debut.
Other songs portray some post-rock elements, prog fusion breaks, heavy rock bits with distorted vocals, jazzy electric piano, and bits that remind me of 1980s new wave (Dutch 1980s band Immortal with their album Blind Birds comes to mind).
The lyrics are supposedly in the Ålesund dialect but with my almost non-existant knowledge of the Norwegian language, I have no idea how this differs from the rest of the country. I've never had a problem with lyrics I don't understand (although learning Swedish helps understanding a few words, like the intrigueing "hundred thousand floppy discs" in the opening song). So this is not a factor for me.
Maybe Hanska På is an example of when elements that are too contrasting break the flow of a song. But maybe it's just the distorted and less melodic vocals that don't do it for me.
Prokrastinera igjen is wavering between melancholy and bluesy prog. Stolpekontroll also shows a lot of diversity, as it starts off a bit mellow and has catchy melodies, but the middle section is another weird combination of a proggy keyboard solo over frantic drumming and bass playing. Where the former has powerful vocals, the latter shows more melodic and fragile singing. I both styles like a lot.
Vestkyst has a bit of a dreamy, lightly-psychedelic start but recalls sections from Vi e mindre and Stolpekontroll as well, especially during the a keyboard solo, which is not just a keyboard solo (try and listen to all that is happening here). A lot can happen in under four minutes! Kino is the longest track and has room to build up things more slowly. With a verse and chorus being the "simple" parts of the song, sudden breaks and instrumental parts bring out the weirdness that depicts this band.
Modern prog, with a vintage and warm sound, is probably a description covering most of the vibe, but it's impossible to give a short description that would apply to the whole album. One could argue the title (meaning Too Many Melodies) says it all, but that wouldn't do the generally positive idea any justice. The overall feel of the album is a bit dark, which I like.
Several listening sessions later, I notice I am skipping Hanska på. It's a bit monolithic compared to the rest, and although that rest is taking you to very different places, Hanska på is unexpectedly out of reach. Or just not to my taste.
With so many different elements it is not an easy album to get into, but it is worth the effort. It's a big collection of ideas and melodies, mixed and woven into compact songs. It's an original take, in a world where I think a lot of albums sound formulaic. I think this will appeal to a broad audience among the readers of DPRP who will enjoy several of its many different aspects, and also to the more adventurous listener as a whole.
Jerry van Kooten: 7 out of 10
Мааt Lander / Øresund Space Collective - Split
The Multicellular Structures Into The Space Drift (22:38), Easy Teenage Version (19:34)
Despite my predilection for all things sci-fi, space-rock has never really been a type of music I can easily relate to. My interest in the genre was briefly raised during my teenage years, when my brother recounted, with ever increasing oval eyes, witnessing a partially-clad and luminescent Stacia dance with wanton abandon at a Hawkwind gig in the early 70s. At the time, I much preferred the structured tunes and tongue-in-cheek lyrics of albums such as Jethro Tull's Aqualung. A few years later, I discovered jazz, and my musical tastes evolved to become much more eclectic and open minded.
A live performance by Steve Hillage at Lancaster University in the late seventies persuaded me that extended, spacey jams could be a thing of beauty. More recent albums by bands such as The Ozric Tentacles and the 3rd Ear Experience have only reaffirmed that point of view.
Split is an interesting release, and as the name suggests the release is split between two bands, Maat Lander and The Oresund Space Collective. Both bands ply their trade within the stylistic confines of the densely populated space-rock genre. The album is available via Clostridium Records and it can be heard on the bands' Bandcamp pages.
Stylistically, Matt Lander stands out from other space-rock bands. This is not surprising, as the band is made up of members of Vespero and the Re-Stoned. Over the course of a number of releases, Vespero have established their own identity as a band that utilises many of the characteristics of space-rock, but are not afraid to include aspects of jazz and world music into their mix, in order to create something that is highly palatable and often quite unique.
The Oresund Space collective probably needs no introduction for aficionados of the genre. They are a multi-national collective who are nominally based in Sweden. Over their long career, they have produced many albums, a number of which have received recommended reviews on DPRP. Miles Davis suggested that musicians should: 'Play what you don't know' and the OSC put this philosophy into practice in their music: as their work is totally improvised.
Even though the results may sometimes be inconsistent, I personally enjoy music where the outcome is unknown; it simply adds to the excitement. For many listeners, the groove that the OSC establish, as a consequence of their empathy to each other and their ability to imaginatively improvise, is a major attraction. Their excellent album Different Creatures has lots of exciting passages where unpredictability has the upper hand over any notions of which path the music eventually might follow. Disappointingly, this aspect of the OSC's art does not particularly feature in their contribution to Split, which for the most part, follows a more predictable and well-trodden path.
Nevertheless, Split is successful on many levels. The two pieces are long-running and give ample time for the listener to immerse themselves; to be swaddled by the lulling ebb and flow of the keyboards and warmed by the warping wash of spacious guitars.
Of the two compositions which make up the release, Maat Lander's The Multicellular Structures into the Space Drift is the longest. It is a satisfyingly-varied piece that surprisingly ends with an acoustic flourish. Enjoyably gift-wrapped within its galactic, rocket-fuelled ambience are numerous passages that elude to prog rock, krautrock and psychedelia.
It begins predictably with synthesiser bustles and moonlit shards of keyboard fills. These have the energy and guile to pierce the ebony-spaced sky, like gleaming, glittering, shooting stars on a cloud-clear winter's night. The guitar that picks its way into the opening sequence has a tone that is often associated with Pink Floyds Dave Gilmour. Were it not for the sound effects that accompany the guitar in this section, the clean blues-based licks could satisfyingly accompany any slow-moving rock ballad.
The introduction of the bass and rhythm section after six minutes moves the tune into much more choppy waters. The pulsating groove that is established, energetically pleads for old limbs to join hands and dance in a manner not quite befitting advancing years.
The whole piece has an organic, evolving sound that is easy to become enveloped by. Chunky riffs, adrenaline-pumped bass and sky-borne synth swirls weave imaginative patterns that continually invite the listener to participate, rather than passively listen in arm-chaired repose. There are even opportunities for a slow paced, extended guitar solo that for some listeners is bound to reawaken the old rocker that lies long forgotten and dormant within them.
The final part of the piece features some acoustic guitar contrasted with, and augmented by, an array of effects. This is an incongruous mix, but the band's spirit of adventure just about pulls it off, to conclude the piece in an interesting fashion.
On the face of it, the OSC's Easy Teenage Version is more locked into the norms of space rock than Maat Lander's contribution to the release. Certainly, it has less shifts of emphasis and much of the track follows a well-worn path, to establish a relentless and hypnotic evolving groove, where the combination of the collective sound of all of the instruments is essential and has a significant part to play.
Unlike Maat Lander's piece, there are no opportunities within Easy Teenage Version for individual instruments to take a lead. Consequently, the piece has a similar timbre throughout. No doubt, because of this, for some listeners the piece will fall into the category of being a homogenous instrumental soup that is neither distinctive nor particularly interesting.
Nevertheless, as an example of well-played jam-based space rock, Easy Teenage Version is sure to gain many plaudits. After the interesting diversions of Matt Lander's The Multicellular Structures into the Space Drift I found it to be rather one-paced, containing little of the excitement or unpredictability associated with the OSC's other releases such as Different Creatures.
Split has given me hours of listening pleasure. It has certainly made me reconsider if space rock might be a musical style that I can relate to after all.
Owen Davies: 7 out of 10
Kim Seviour - Recovery Is Learning
Chiasma (4:21), Call to Action (4:32), Connect (4:33), Faberge (5:00), Mother Wisdom (5:08), The Dive (5:05), Where She Sleeps (3:31), Recovery is Learning (4:37), Morning of the Soul (5:13)
Recovery Is Learning has an autobiographical thread running through it concerining Seviour's ME, a chronic illness. It deals with the physical and emotional fallout from this, but the album is nowhere near as bleak as that description sounds. Seviour and Mitchell's melodic and punchy tunes, and the lyrical move from darkness to hope, keep it away from the maudlin. In fact there is plenty of light and shade throughout the album and it steers well clear of anything glib.
None of the songs here go over the five-minute mark, and Seviour has moved away from the epic side of Touchstone, such as their track Wintercoast and its sequels. However, you never feel short-changed by the propulsive prog-rock here. There is no fade-in or build up, as Recovery Is Learning kicks off with Chiasma's propulsive bass-line and Brown's off-the-beat drumming. Seviour's voice shows no sign of any ill affects from her medical problems. Strong, forceful and delicate by turns, she owns the material here in a way that was less evident on the last Touchstone album, Oceans of Time.
Mitchell's use of layered keyboards and guitars serves the melodies and Seviour's vocal lines superbly. As a pairing, they seem to be in complete synchronisation. Mitchell drops in some concise guitar solos here and there, such as on Call to Action and on the title track, but it is evident that this is Seviour's show. The album moves from the almost heavy prog of The Dive, to the delicate piano and voice of Where She Sleeps. Recovery Is Learning is full of catchy, almost (whisper it, it seems to be a dirty word in prog right now) commercial, chorus-led, ear-worm prog-rock. This album could crossover and would sit happily alongside in it's own way, say, Muse.
So all through Recovery Is Learning, you can hear that her heartfelt and personal approach has inspired John Mitchell to terrific instrumental and melodic heights. With this and his Lonely Robot project, Mitchell is having very much a purple patch, and on this evidence long may it continue.
For the prog fan that wants the epic tracks and who baulks at the idea of a chorus, then this is possibly not for you. But if you welcome earworm melodies, punchy and passionate music, musicianship and singing, all allied to songs that are both personal and universal, then don't hesitate to get on board Kim Seviour's Recovery is Learning express.
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10
Vipassi - Sunyata
Gaia (4:30), Benzaiten (3:20), Jove (4:01), Sum (5:14), Elpis (4:47), Paradise (2:33), Samsara (5:55)
After a few spins this album makes a lot of sense to me. The structures and soundscapes got a firm hold on me for the half an hour of playing time. And that is the only let down of this release. It is much too short! The seven songs that Ben Boyle has written for the album are pretty short in comparison to a lot of other songs in the progressive landscape. But, in defence of the creators of this piece of work, I must say that part of the strength lies in the compact yet excessive nature of these songs.
Once the album is at full speed (after a mellow intro in the first section of opener Gaia) this album is everything you want if you are into fast, yet skilled, extreme progressive metal. The production is clinical, and by no means is that bad. It is very complementary to the songs and structure of the album. Guitar, bass and drums play greatly together, yet there is still enough audibility and space to really concentrate and listen to every note that is played by the individual members of this project. The solos are never too flashy and overindulgent and the bass by Brandan Brown gets all the space it needs to give the songs just that extra layer and depth.
I won't break every song down, because this album is, in my opinion, a song divided into seven parts. And given the album's title and themes, I would like to believe the band approves of this. Sunyata is a Buddhist concept that describes void and emptiness. The album succeeds in setting an atmosphere that facilitates the harmony and balance between the different forces within the band. With soundscapes, eerie background vocals and even very complementary grunts on the track Elpis.
Fans of Cynic, Animals as Leaders and Fallujah will be pleased to get their hands on this release. Enjoy and let's hope this release gets a (longer) follow-up!
Arno Agterberg: 8 out of 10