Album Reviews

Issue 2017-072

Howling Giant - Black Hole Space Wizard Pt 2

Howling Giant - Black Hole Space Wizard Pt 2
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 31:42
Track List:
Henry Tate (4:54), The Pioneer (4:49), Visions (7:38), The Forest Speaks (2:00), Circle Of Druids (4:57), Earth Wizard (7:24)
Nashville, Tennessee: the home of Jack Daniels has never been on my radar for much (aside from the aforementioned beverage), so upon hearing about a psychedelic doom band hailing from the city, sparked my interest. Having dabbled a bit in the stoner/psychedelic scene, but never more than dipping my toes, I had a rough idea what to expect. And so with that expectation, I delved into the second part of Howling Giant's Black Hole Space Wizard saga.

Henry Tate opens with some nice fuzzy bass lines and some good old fashioned psychedelic rock. Not much to say, but it was overall a nice opening to draw you in and bob the head too.

Following this we have The Pioneer. A solid stoner/psychedelic track, all fuzzy bass lines and slightly distorted vocals. Some nice riffs, but as to be expected, it is the bass-heavy sound that shines out.

Visions kicks in with some slow riffing, again quite bass heavy. I've always liked the slow, crushing sound of doom, and the riffs here, along with the rolling drums, really help emphasise it, even though it isn't "heavy" as such.

Next up is The Forest Speaks, which is a fantastic piece of music. A slow, chilled out and almost ethereal acoustic piece consisting of nothing but a simple finger-picked acoustic and a repeating saxophone riff throughout.

Shattering the peace brought by The Forest Speaks, Circle Of Druids storms in with a heavy riff to bring you back to reality. This remains throughout, with riffing and chugging a-plenty.

Finally we come to the EP closer; Earth Wizard. Again it is a fairly standard stoner/psychedelic track, but supremely well executed, with another nice riff, lovely bass lines and precision drumming. It has everything it needs.

Unfortunately, having not heard the first part of the Space Wizard's tale, the story was lost on me. But with a bit of digging, it appears this is about the Wizard exploring a planet he crashed on. I guess I'm going to have to find Part 1 and give it a listen now.

I would recommend this for fans of Red Fang, new Opeth (specifically Sorceress), Slabdragger, Mastodon and similar. If you are going to listen, do it on something that has decent bass, to really appreciate the psychedelic doom of the album.
Calum Gibson: 8 out of 10

Kansas - Leftoverture Live & Beyond

Kansas - Leftoverture Live & Beyond
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 59:30, 57:36
Track List:
CD 1: Icarus II (7:15), Icarus (Borne on Wings of Steel) (7:12), Point of Know Return (3:24), Paradox (4:07), Journey from Mariabronn (8:03), Lamplight Symphony (8:15), Dust in the Wind (3:57), Rhythm in the Spirit (5:21), The Voyage of Eight Eighteen (9:02), Section 60 (2:48)
CD 2: Carry On Wayward Son (6:00), The Wall (5:23), What's on My Mind (3:49), Miracles Out of Nowhere (7:13), Opus Insert (4:41), Questions of My Childhood (3:54), Cheyenne Anthem (7:11), Magnum Opus (10:29), Portrait (He Knew) (8:50)
Although The Prelude Implicit was one of my favourite albums of 2016, my last Kansas review for the DPRP was the 2009 live DVD There's Know Place Like Home. Which is my contrived way of introducing the latest release, Leftoverture Live & Beyond, their first live recording since There's Know Place Like Home. The title pretty much sums it up, recorded during the recent 'Leftoverture 40th Anniversary Tour', the two-hour set includes their 1976 classic in its entirety, several songs from The Prelude Implicit plus a sprinkling of other gems from their long and chequered career.

For the record, the line-up is the same that recorded The Prelude Implicit: Phil Ehart (drums), Billy Greer (bass, vocals), David Manion (keyboards), Ronnie Platt (lead vocals), David Ragsdale (violin, vocals), Zak Rizvi (electric guitar, vocals) and of course Richard Williams (electric and acoustic guitar). As was the case with the last album (and similar to Yes post-Jon Anderson), Ronnie Platt proves to be a more than adequate replacement for Steve Walsh.

CD 1 comprises the non-Leftoverture half of the set, kicking off (surprisingly) with Icarus II which similarly opened Somewhere to Elsewhere, their last studio album prior to the release of The Prelude Implicit 16 years later. Despite the presence of more commercial tunes like Point of Know Return and Dust in the Wind, Kansas remain a prog band at heart, with impressive instrumental interplay during Journey from Mariabronn and Lamplight Symphony. The sense of scale and dynamics is quite staggering at times, with a clear influence on artists like Neal Morse.

Ragsdale's role within the band cannot be overstated, with his soaring violin often providing the lead, whilst at the other end of the sonic scale Ehart proves he's one of the finest American rock drummers of all time, alongside Neil Peart and Mike Portnoy (yes I know Peart is Canadian but you get my drift). Overall, its a well rounded first half, with the newer songs sitting comfortably alongside the 70s material.

The familiar a cappella intro to Carry On Wayward Son gets CD 2 off to a convincing start, in fact the vocals throughout Leftoverture are impeccable. Instrumentally the band are equally faultless, with the the classically baroque Opus Insert, the elegiac Cheyenne Anthem and the monumental Magnum Opus allowing ample scope to flex their prog rock muscles. A stunning performance of an acknowledged classic, sounds as fresh as it did 41 years ago.

With Carry On Wayward Son out of the way, it's left to the swaggering Portrait (He Knew) from the 1977 album Point of Know Return to provide the encore. Curiously, the recording continues for more than two minutes after the song has ended (and the audience has stopped cheering) giving the false impression that there is more to come.

As you would expect from Kansas, who are always the perfectionists, this is an excellent package, superbly recorded and performed. The only thing that's missing is a DVD. Pay close attention to the cover artwork by the way, and you will see that it rather neatly references both The Prelude Implicit and Leftoverture.

Given their vintage (check out the photos on the band's website, they're no spring chickens) it's a testimony to their staying power that they can still deliver the goods, and have not succumbed to AOR mediocrity. American prog-rock is alive and well and living in Kansas.
Geoff Feakes: 9 out of 10

Tusmørke - Hinsides

Tusmørke - Hinsides
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 47:28
Track List:
Hjemsøkte hjem (5:20), I Feel Like Midnight (5:15), En Rykende Ruin (7:05), Lysskydrøm (6:10), Sankt Sebastians Alter (23:36)
Hinsides contains five tunes, and its final piece has a running time of over 23 minutes. On the face of it, Hinsides has many credentials that prog fans might enjoy. Its mix of compositions is no doubt aimed to satisfy listeners who like shorter, song-based tunes, as well as those who prefer longer pieces, where ample opportunities for changes of mood, pace and instrumentation can occur

The album is carefully packaged. The detailed sleeve notes include information about the Black Death in Oslo in 1348, and the establishment of the altar of Saint Sebastian in Oslo Cathedral. Lyrics for each tune in Norwegian and English are also included. The stark, skeletal artwork that adorns the gatefold cover clearly sets out the dark, disturbing subject matter that the album relates to. These encouraging ingredients suggest that Hinsides has many of the facets needed to be an enjoyable album.

Hinsides promises much, but ultimately delivers scarcely anything that is totally satisfying, let down by the unexceptional quality of the majority of its compositions. In addition, there are occasions when the noticeably murky production values ensure that the band's distinctive instrumentation is lost in a dense, sonic sludge.

This album has hardly any of the sparkle associated with Tusmørke's previous three releases, which received favourable reviews on DPRP. In the band's latest offering, their music is still infused with Nordic folk influences and the basic instrumentation remains the same; the flute still has a prominent role. Hinsides also contains songs that have catchy choruses and accessible melodies, where rousing chants and repeated vocal parts have a part to play, but the tunes are disappointingly not as fresh or as convincing as in the band's previous albums.

That is not to say, that the album is devoid of any highpoints, and indeed the majority of the tracks contain elements to enthuse about. The pop-stained melody of the opening track, Hjemsøkte hjem, is enjoyable and the expressive wash of a Mellotron that floats in and out of the piece gives it further appeal. The dominant flute riff of the ear-friendly I Feel Like Midnight is sure to satisfy those who enjoy bands such as Jethro Tull and Blood Ceremony. The slow-paced vocal refrain in En Rykende Ruin, which breaks through at around the five minute mark and which moves the piece towards a captivating conclusion, is quite beautiful. The simple, folk-green melodic charm of Lysskydrøm works well, and is perfect for evoking thoughts about fading summers, children's tunes and soothing bedtime lullabies.

In previous albums, Tusmørke's approach and chosen instrumentation has all been about establishing a groove, where a cyclical vocal chorus is used cleverly as an anchor, or a base on which to exploit the mesmerising effect of the combination of a strident bass, a patchwork of organ patterns and some feverishly-raw flute work. In Hinsides, there are few extended passages that offer either an infectious groove or provide genuine excitement. Even when a groove is established, such as during the long-running epic Sankt Sebastians Alter, it all sounds rather stilted and hackneyed. Nevertheless, the most satisfying instrumental part of the piece does contain some excellent keyboard work, where the organ shines in an extended passage.

The main issue with Sankt Sebastians Alter is that it is probably just too long, and despite its length, it arguably does not contain enough variation to consistently keep things interesting. However, the piece contains some excellent vocal harmonies and the use of a crum-horn and a medieval hurdy gurdy is convincing, and helps to provide an appropriately ancient soundscape to savour.

The rousing chorus that dominates much of the track is not particularly attractive. It has little obvious subtlety and were it not for its lyrics, which begin with the graphic description of "oblations falling from the hands of the dying" and pertain to death and pestilence, the chorus feel and melody would not be out of place as an accompaniment to a drinking game in a Viking long-house.

Overall, Hinsides is an okay album, and many aspects of it might appeal to those who enjoy folk-tinged prog, coloured and anchored by a gutsy bass sound, and suitably adorned with foot tapping rhythms. However, I cannot help thinking that on the strength of the band's previous releases, it could, and should have been much more satisfying.
Owen Davies: 6 out of 10

White Moth Black Butterfly - Atone - Duo Review

White Moth Black Butterfly - Atone
Country of Origin: UK/India
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 37:56
Track List:
I: Incarnate (1:52), Rising Sun (3:29), Tempest (4:14), An Ocean Away (2:59), Symmetry (3:07), II: Penitence (3:17), The Sage (3:41), The Serpent (3:57), Atone (3:22), III: Deep Earth (3:15), Evelyn (4:43)
Bryan Morey's Review
It is always exciting to find a new band, with a new sound that fits so well in the progressive rock genre. White Moth Black Butterfly have been around for a couple of years, but their new album, Atone is their first release on Kscope. If you know any of Kscope's other artists, you might notice after listening to Atone that it fits in perfectly with the likes of Steven Wilson and Pineapple Thief. This album is emotional, contemplative, melancholic and well produced. Who could ask for anything more?

White Moth Black Butterfly (WMBB) is primarily the product of Tesseract singer Daniel Tompkins and Skyharbor guitarist Keshav Dhar. In addition to Tompkins on vocals, Jordan Bethany provides stunning vocals that perfectly balance the music. Her voice fits the album's themes expertly, and it is also a great compliment to Tompkins' voice. Besides a myriad of musicians on orchestral instruments, the band features Randy Slaugh on piano and keyboards, Alex Holloway on bass and Mac Christensen on drums.

Even though I only have a cursory knowledge of Tesseract and Skyharbor, I've heard enough to know they are both intense metal bands. Not having heard WMBB's previous work, I was expecting this to be a metal album. Nope. Quite the opposite. This group is clearly a singer/songwriter outfit for members of the aforementioned bands, and there is nothing wrong with that. The songs are expertlty crafted with great melodies.

What stood out to me on a first listen of Atone was the fullness of the group's sound. The orchestral music adds a lot to the album. It was clearly orchestrated for these songs, which makes a big difference. This music was composed, which results in a well-flowing album. Even though the album is rather short, at just under 38 minutes, it almost sounds like one long song. The lyrics are far from being obvious (or political), which keeps the album interesting for repeated listens.

The individual songs, while certainly progressive, maintain a pop element (pop in a newfound Steven Wilson melancholy way). The lyrics and melodies are catchy, without being depressingly happy. The band also includes a touch of world influences, which isn't surprisng considering the album was recorded in four different countries. These sounds come out most in The Sage, which features the pipa, a stringed instrument from China. This instrument takes the place of a traditional guitar solo, and it adds an interesting aspect to the song.

In addition to having great songwriting, Atone is very well produced. The swirling keyboards and orchestra are neatly impacted with Holloway's bass lines, and you can actually feel the bass. The artwork is an interesting choice, although I don't really understand the symbolism of the two deer, I am smart enough to figure out the interlocking antlers make a W, presumably for the White in White Moth Black Butterfly. That could also be conincidence. The booklet in the digipack is nice, but the lyrics are so small and the font is almost the same color as the background, which makes them hard to read. The coloring throughout the physical package is very grey, which masterfully reflects the melancholy found in the music.

My only complaint with Atone is its brevity. Evelyn does not make a very good ending for the album because it drops off so suddenly, with around 30 seconds left. It leaves the listener hanging. The album could have easily been ten minutes longer, which would have brought everything full circle. With that said, that is the only issue with the music. For such a short album, it has a lot to offer both musically and lyrically.

For fans of melancholic music, with well-crafted melodies and thoughtful lyrics, WMBB should be quite appealing. I wouldn't be surprised if Atone ends up on my best albums of the year list. It gets better with repeated listens.
Patrick McAfee's Review
White Moth Black Butterfly is a project created by UK singer/songwriter Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT, Skyharbor, In Colour) and guitarist Keshav Dhar (Skyharbor). Joined by vocalist Jordan Turner, keyboardist Randy Slaugh and drummer Mac Christensen, there is a lush, ethereal feel to their music, that is appealing. Publicty for the band touts infleunces such as Massive Attack, Enigma and Sigur Ros, and that impact is apparant on this, their second studio release.

At times, Atone also reminded me of recent recordings by Anathema, particularly with the combination of male and female lead vocals. Therein lies one of the main calling cards of White Moth Black Butterfly. The vocal work of Tompkins and Turner is absolutely fantastic. They blend perfectly, and fit the style of music presented in a compelling manner. Haunting, melancholic and beautiful, the album contains some of the best vocals and associated production that I've heard in quite some time.

Strong vocals don't necessarily make a great album but thankfully the songwriting, musical performances and production are all outstanding as well. The band accomplishes the special feat of making music that is accessible, but also complex and intriguing. Although the songs are compact in length, when listened to in full, Atone provides the listener with an almost cinematic experience. Musically sweeping, the results are often dramatic and captivating.

At a slight 36 minutes, Atone feels almost EP-like in legnth. There is also a similiar tone that runs through much of the album. That said, tracks like Rising Sun and The Serpent do offer a slightly more upbeat range. Ultimately though, I can't criticise much about this album. The band displays an impressive ability to present simple and memorable songs, in a way that sounds musically panoramic. The production feels sparse, yet somehow grand, and there are moments that are stunning in their depth.

With Atone, White Moth Black Butterfly have crafted a work of significant beauty.
Bryan Morey: 8.5 out of 10
Patrick McAfee: 8.5 out of 10
Album Reviews