Issue 2018-008

Atlantropa Project - Atlantropa Project

Atlantropa Project - Atlantropa Project
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2018
Time: 78:12
Track List:
A Continent Of Joy (2:43), The Great Maker (5:53), New Sky: i. Part I The Plan (3:26), ii. Part II The Bridge (0:58), iii. Part III Atlantropa (2:52), Now Is Always Past (1:32), Time To Bid Goodbye: i. Part I A Key for Peace (3:03), ii. Part II Unknown Waters (1:44), iii. Part III Last Goodbye (2:41), They Want To Steel the Ocean (6:56), Thinking Further Than A Generation's Life (1:21), Gotta Stem The Greedy Water (4:52), At The Mercy Of Progress (1:42), Walk Across The Sea (6:18), Mare Nostrum Dream (3:07), To Understand What Understanding Means (1:07), When We All Speak Atlantropan (9:00), It's Time For New Dreams (1:34), Dream My Dream (6:58), Star Atlantropa: i. Part I Look to the West (3:06), ii. Part II We Still Have A Lot To Learn (5:03), iii. Part III Shining Star (1:44), Reprise (1:14)
I do love a good concept album. Rock operas are a no-no. Too much like musicals. But a concept album that tells a great story (Operation Mindcrime) or one that tells a real story (Eureka's Shackleton's Voyage) are always worth a listen. The latter is even more enticing if it is about something that I never knew existed, thus opening up something for me to explore further.

Did you know, that around 100 years ago there was a serious plan to build a hydroelectric dam across the Strait of Gibraltar? Have you ever heard of the Atlantropa project (or maybe its other name Panropa)?

In addition to providing enormous amounts of hydroelectricity, it would have drained large parts of the Mediterranean, opening up huge areas of new land for settlement and agriculture; in effect joining Europe to Africa and forming a new mega-continent to rival America and Asia.

Another dam would have provided a new roadway between Sicily and Tunisia. This gargantuan engineering and colonisation idea, expected to be constructed over a century, was devised by the German architect Herman Sörgel in the 1920s and promoted by him until his death in 1952.

Despite its obvious faults (the amount of steel needed for the first dam alone, was equal to the annual world production), the project won popularity after both world wars. If you take the time to investigate further into this project, the personal, geo-political and engineering stories, are fascinating.

Anyway, that is just one of the joys of discovering this grand musical project put together by a group of eight experienced musicians from Germany. (Those more knowledgeable of the German prog underground than I, may like to know that the core of this band were also members of the German band Waniyetula which was formed back in 1969, releasing two hard-to-find albums).

The Atlantropa story is told through the extensive use of two narrators (more of which later) and male and female singers. Musically the album is on the mellow side of the progressive rock spectrum. From the track-listing, this looks more daunting than it is. For some reason many of the songs are divided into several parts. There are 23 tracks listed. But most of the separation is artificial, and most listeners will just take them as multi-parted songs. Indeed you can really take the whole album as as one long song. There is a common musical style and tempo that holds everything together. Without the narration, the transitions between tracks would be barely noticeable.

I'm often reminded here of the melodic sense of Unitopia or The Flower Kings, although the arrangements are less complicated than either. Saga, Mystery and The Alan Parsons Project would be other comparisons, as would moments from a lot of the current wave of modern German prog bands such as Sylvan and Seven Steps To The Green Door.

You can find memorable melodies and arrangements across this album. Don't expect complex or overwhelming progressive music. It took me a few spins, but I soon realised that the melodies had really sunk into my memory and I was readily humming along to most of the album.

There is some clever variety to keep it interesting. The metal-meets-classic prog rock of The Great Maker is a personal favourite, along with the Saga-inspired Time To Bid Goodbye. The bluesy groove of Gotta Steem The Greedy and the African-meets-samba groove to New Sky Part II work well, as does the violin incorporated into the memorable When We All Speak Atlantropan.

The one downside is the narration. It is well performed and well placed and timed. However there seems to be an English version and a (native) German version of this album. Sadly the narration on the English version seems to merely be a direct translation of the German words. The sentence construction and use of words, has a scent of Google Translate. It is a very clunky use of the English language. Some parts just do not make sense. The apparent intention behind most phrasing could have been so much better expressed.

Narration on albums always suffers the risk of becoming a distraction after a few listens. Here it quickly becomes a detraction. (If you are a German speaker, then I'd suggest (and hope) that the native language version will work better.)

That aside, this is an album that has unveiled a fascinating piece of history and a very enjoyable collection of songs. Another recommended release by the Progressive Promotion Records label.
Andy Read: 8 out of 10

Day Six - Solitary League

Day Six - Solitary League
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 61:04
Track List:
Hypervigilant (4:58), Flight to Mars (6:10), Myriad Scars (9:44), Math's Patterns (8:31), The Cloud (8:02), Grace In Words (6:35), 3:09 (1:48), Deadlock (5:38), Modern Solitude (9:38)
This is the third full album by this truly unique Dutch band, and I must say that I have loved this band for quite a few years now.

Tracks from their last album (seven years back now) such as Massive Glacial Wall, Age Of Technology and Castel Gandolfo are still very impressive. I play these regularly. Does that make me a fanboy? No. But maybe yes if you count the always dazzling and explosive Day Six live shows.

Anyway, waiting for the new Solitary League for so long, does makes you question one's faith in a band. In that time members have been fighting to keep the band alive, manage changes in personnel, and encounter all the highlights in the other joys of life. The writing sessions get interrupted or obstructed again and again. Hard times. Will the fire within, still be there? Did the Day Six spirit survive? Will this be a release that has got even stronger due to years of struggle? So yes, I am preparred to be critical.

My first play wasn't just the expected relief. It was the joy of victory. This album outclasses its strong predecessor. Many more listens tied the knot. I am sold, and so can't do anything else than recommend that you to listen to the brand new world of Solitary League created by Day Six.

A world class twisting of heaven and hell in Math's Pattern, where separate instruments are fighting to stand out, yet become brutally regulated by calm vocals. The there is Flight To Mars with its phenomenal, fragile trace of gentle jazz. Melodic wonders are to be found in Grace Of Words, whilst the superb stylistic mixes of Myriad Scars are wrapped in a blanket of high quality Robbie Stiphout compositions and melodies, with some moving and stunning jazzy parts.

Exciting riffs and vocals, both by Robbie Stiphout, and some utterly delicious keys by Rutger Vlek (ex-Orpheo) are shattering everywhere. The rhythm section, by Daan Liebregts on drums and Eric Smits on bass is switching from military pounding, to gentle-as-a-baby-kitten. Effortless. The quartet allows you less than two minutes rest with 309, which merges into the hell-breaking Dreadlock, as a build up to the calm start of the closing epic track Modern Solitude, which is nothing less than the epic of the year.

With Solitary League Day Six are showcasing Dutch progressiveness at its very best. Highly recommended. Only one thing can better this album, and that is seeing it in a live setting.
André de Boer: 9 out of 10

Focus - The Focus Family Album

Focus - The Focus Family Album
Country of Origin: Holland
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 44:21, 44:25
Track List:
Disc 1: Nature Is Our Friend (3:14), Song For Eva (9:31), Riverdance (4:45), Victoria (3:53), Two-Part Intervention (1:21), Mosh Blues (6:24), Raga Reverence 1 (5:24), The Fifth Man (4:41), Song For Yainah (1:53), Clair-Obscur (3:13)
Disc 2: Let Us Wander (2:22), Birds Fly Over (Le Tango) (5:30), Spiritual Swung (3:02), Santa Teresa (6:00), Hazel (1:56), Fine Without You (7:02), Raga Reverence 5 (3:49), Five Fourth (7:05), Anaya (2:07), Winnie (5:30)
Spread across two discs, The Focus Family Album captures a range of styles that have been associated with Focus over the years. The album contains tracks recorded by the band in the last ten years, that until now, have been previously unreleased. It also features solo pieces by individual band members and two compositions that are slated to be included in the band's next studio album.

The album is a mixed bag; Some of the band pieces are quite impressive, but a number of them do little to excite, or ignite the imagination and probably explains why they were never originally released.

Both discs begin with a solo flute piece recorded especially for the project. Thijs van Leer certainly knows how to compose a luscious tune for the flute, and the two pieces featured in this release are fine examples of his art. They both showcase Leer at his most lyrical, and any listeners expecting some rock flute snortings would probably feel disappointed.

The two compositions are similar in style and structure to the uplifting and frequently improvised flute tunes featured in Leer's outstanding DVD Estudes Sans Gene released in 2007. Let us Wander which opens disc 2, is probably more memorable than Nature Is Our Friend, which is somewhat let down by the inclusion of some sampled bird tweeting; no doubt added to emphasise its pastoral appeal.

The other solo pieces featured in the release, showcase the talents of the other members of the group. Pierre Van Der Linden is able to demonstrate what a formidable and versatile drummer he is during Riverdance and Spiritual Swung. However, it is Van der Linden's contribution as an ensemble member in tunes like Birds Come Fly Over, that show his importance to Focus' recognisable sound.

The newest member of the band, Udo Pannekeet makes an impressive impact in his two solo pieces, Song For Yaminah and Anaya. However, these delightful and often beautifully melodic solo bass pieces may not have enough appeal to hold the interest of fans wishing for the cut and thrust of tunes such as Hocus Pocus.

The most appealing solo contribution on the album is made by guitarist Menno Gootjes. His electric guitar is briefly put back in its case, and Gootjes is able to delight and tease listeners with two magnificently performed acoustic tunes. Two part intervention is based upon a Bach tune and is a glorious interpretation that reproduces and channels the spiritual and contemplative air that is often associated with Baroque music.

The second acoustic piece, entitled Hazel, is stunning and showcases Gootjes skill and ability to play with alluring emotion. Hazel works well as a contrast to the pieces featuring vocals that precede and follow it. In this context, Hazel acts as an appetising filling; sandwiched between two largely disappointing compositions, it is a perfect interval tune and it tastes and sounds sublime.

In addition to Victoria and Mosh Blues, a number of other band tracks such as The Fifth Man and Fine Without You are unsatisfying. These tunes are much less interesting and are much more predictable than the stronger pieces on offer. Their hackneyed structure and style somewhat diminishes the overall appeal of the album. Fine Without You is particularly tired and features some cliché-ridden ramblings that are bereft of either invention or inspiration. The Fifth Man plods along in a similar, heavy footed manner.

The most impressive band tunes of the album are undoubtedly Song For Eva, Clair-Obscur, Five Fourth and Winnie. Five Fourth is particularly enjoyable and incorporates some delicious Hammond parts into its gorgeous and emotionally fulfilling guitar-led melody. Clair-Obscur and Winnie are slated to appear in some form in Focus' next studio album and on the evidence of these two tracks, this forthcoming release should be every bit as enjoyable as Focus X.

Both tunes are embellished by some outstanding guitar parts and each contain Focus' hallmark combination of a melodic sound, accompanied by engaging organ fills and emotive guitar tones. Winnie ends tantalisingly with a dreamy flute interlude that exudes quality, and concludes the album in a manner that is equally as satisfying as the album's excellent cover art.

The release is beautifully packaged and sports a gatefold design that exhibits Roger Dean's colourful cover art to great effect. The sense of care and attention to detail is maintained in the informative and well produced booklet that accompanies the release. It contains extensive information about each track. The sound quality is crisp and clear and the whole package is a welcome release for Focus aficionados.
Owen Davies: 6.5 out of 10

Godsticks - Faced With Rage

Godsticks - Faced With Rage
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 56:55
Track List:
Guilt (4:32), Hard To Face (6:12), Open Your Eyes (5:05), We Are Leaving (6:53), Angry Concern (6:37), Avenge (3:59), Revere (4:26), Unforgivable (6:00), Everdrive (8:08), Fame And Silence (5:03)
The story of Godsticks started in 2009 with their EP Godsticks that was rated highly on DPRP (review here). Also their debut album, Spiral Vendetta (review here) and their sophomore release, The Envisage Conundrum, got a very high rating on these pages (review here).

Then a couple of years ago on Emergence Godsticks changed their style of music and turned from progressive rock to a more metal-orientated sound. That ended their perfect streak on DPRP (review here) and now I am anxious what this new album will bring.

The two steady members in Godsticks are Darran Charles on guitar and vocals, who also plays live with The Pineapple Thief, and Dan Nelson on bass. Newly recruited on Faced With Rage are Tom Price on drums and Gavin Bushell on guitar and synths.

The music style is in the same style as on Emergence; more progressive metal. The earlier albums from Godsticks have influences from Zappa and King Grimson. Faced With Rage has more influences from progressive metal bands like Jim mentioned in the review of Emergence; Mastodon, Fates Warning and Kings-X.

These bands are all present on my list of interesting music and I still play music from them all very regularly. But for some reason this new album from Godsticks does not do it for me.

It is very technical and very well played and not a note is wrong. But overall the riffs are predictable and not as fresh sounding as on the band's earlier albums. While writing this review I went and discovered their older albums for the first time, and they really blew me away. The Envisage Conundrum sounds a lot better and a lot more interesting than Faced With Rage.

So I have a lot of mixed feelings about this album. It introduced me to a good band with very good music. Faced With Rage has some fine moments, such as We Are Leaving, and is technically very well played. But it never grabbed me.

Personally I hope they return to their music of the The Envisage Conundrum album. I will certainly return to that album a lot.
Edwin Roosjen: 6 out of 10

Wingfield Reuter Sirkis - Lighthouse

Wingfield Reuter Sirkis - Lighthouse
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 56:38
Track List:
Zinc (7:47), Derecho (8:29), Ghost Light (14:19), Magnetic (11:13), A Hand In The Dark (4:54), Transverse Wave (5:19), Surge (4:29)
As I left, my wife handed me the walking route and cheerily said to me: "enjoy your visit".

Later, during my walk, I found myself listening to the tunes which make up Lighthouse. Overcome with heat, I sat on a dune-covered landscape near Cape Trafalgar in Andalusia. Positioned on a rocky outcrop, Trafalgar lighthouse was visible for miles around. Rigid in concrete, standing motionless and never shirking from its sentinel role; it absorbed warm sunbeams and reflected cold shadows onto an azure sea.

As I reflected upon the surroundings, the lighthouse provided a perfect sonic and visual backdrop. The combination of the lighthouse and the natural magnificence of the scenery, contrasted uneasily with the electronic textures of the music. This created a somewhat unnerving, but ultimately rewarding experience, where technology, nature and history joined in restless harmony for a short while.

Lighthouse is a release that has a huge array of sounds, and possesses great textural variety. It was recorded at La Casa Murada Studios in Spain in 2016 and features Mark Wingfield on guitar, Marcus Reuter on touch guitars and Asaf Sirkis on drums. During these recordings, a number of improvised tunes were captured on tape. It is a companion release to The Stone House (read my review here) and much of Lighthouse exhibits even greater amounts of form-shifting tension and malevolence than its predecessor.

On this occasion however, bassist Yaron Stavi was not present. The bottom-end duties are, for the most part, taken up by Reuter's touch guitar, and what is created in tunes like Zinc has an industrial resonance that is filled with extensive rumblings. It has more than enough low end drive and intensity to satisfy.

Lighthouse contains seven compositions; two of these have durations that stretch over ten minutes. These extended pieces give the virtuosi involved many opportunities to shine. There is space for the individual musicians to stretch out, and for the ensemble as a whole to create and present a hypnotic groove. The seven compositions are totally improvised, and whilst the musicians may have had an idea of what they wished to achieve, the end results were neither composed, nor predetermined. Nevertheless, the trio presents a form of improvisation that has a recognisable style that is set within defined structures and identifiable rhythms.

Although Lighthouse is impressionistic and highly imaginative in every respect, the music is never as confusingly abstract, nor as chillingly radical, as that associated with the unconstrained improvisations of the British free jazz improvisers of the 70s like John Stevens, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, or indeed the acclaimed guitarist Derek Bailey. This trio have managed to amalgamate the innovation, spontaneity and energy associated with improvisation, with many of the engaging qualities more usually found in composed music.

On occasions, the trio's use of a variety of timbres and textures are borne exquisitely on a carefully constructed carpet-weave of guitar tones, mechanised loops, hums and intricate rhythms. These are frequently redolent of some of the most adventurous work associated with Robert Fripp. For example, Derecho exhibits some wonderful melodic tones during its sustained, high-pitched guitar interjections. These contrast sharply with the menace of its dark-shadowed underbelly that is portrayed in a succession of gut wrenching, lower-end guitar parts.

Both dissonance and harmony have important parts to play, as the inventive musical narrative of Derecho is played out. The second half of the piece sees the tempo slacken in response to a superb drum flurry by Sirkis. The slower pace which emerges, is a perfect foil for the moans and groans and metallic shards that emanate from Wingfield's guitar. The whole piece is speared by high-end spikes, and on occasions it becomes an absolutely compelling cacophony of dissonance.

The release has a huge range of sonorities and the two guitars featured both have distinct parts to play. These complement each other, and mesh beautifully when the music requires it. For example, the elasticated, squeezed squealing of the ever-changing guitar effects of Magnetic are totally enthralling.

There are times when the album is full of sinewy riffs, electronic colours and the type of vibrant textures that are the very opposite of the reflective and softly tranquil guitar sounds often associated with jazz. The compositional traits and overall sound of the trio are also far removed from any stylistic norms associated with classic prog. Lighthouse is a truly progressive experience. The whole recording process and the compositions produced, are arguably the antithesis of the type of approach so beloved and adopted by classic bands like Jethro Tull, Genesis and Yes.

Lighthouse is an album that exudes unpredictability and excitement. Its unorthodox recipe is often ground-breaking and is able to evoke random thoughts, such as about the sonic properties of a swift's beak in jelly. Its fresh and novel approach teems with life and is sun-filled and ocean-blue in every respect.

For those readers who feel that labels help to signpost the music described, Lighthouse might be best defined as progressive jazz fusion with lots of expressive attitude. That attitude is expressed in finely-timed drum parts, ambient tones and whining plumes of spiralling guitar. When the need arises, these elements are darkly underpinned by industrial-grade drones and effects.

Later, on that fine Andalusian day, surrounded by cooling sand, I played the album again. By this time, Cape Trafalgar was enveloped by dusk, and the columned structure was misted by distance. Light pulses belched out from the stillness, illuminating the greying wave crests rising from the darkening sea.

Once again, the combination of the album and the surroundings created a memorable experience, and despite the boldly adventurous unworldly sounds that filled my head; for a fleeting moment, I believed that everything in the world could co-exist in peaceful harmony. I hope that you enjoy your visit to the Lighthouse. I certainly did!
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10