Acacia — Resurrection
The origins of the Italian progressive metal band Acacia date back to the 90's, having released their debut album Deeper Secrets in 1996. Following it's release musical differences however led to their rapid collapse in 1998. Now, 23 years after this debut, Acacia are back with the aptly titled Resurrection, a conceptually themed album on the endless inner rebirths of man. Still at the helm is Martino Lo Cascio (guitars), joined afresh by Gandolfo Ferro (vocals), Simone Campione (guitars), Massimo Provenzano (bass) and Claudio Florio on drums.
Resurrection should definitely appeal to those in favour of classic progressive metal; the likes of Fates Warning, Hittman and foremost Queensrÿche. Especially since several of the engaging tracks have a sympathetic Empire/Rage For Order catchiness attached to them. This is most persistent in The Age Of Glory which next to generous uptempo dynamics sees catchy riffs and delightful variations, while Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" spoken word segment, divinely followed by a tantalising guitar-solo, oozes this gorgeous Empire feel.
Tracks like the energetic Chains Of Memory, the quieter Season's End and proficient Gone Away are equally competent and inventive compositions, revealing a tight rhythm section with gracious melancholic guitar melodies, running smoothly from start to finish. The transitions in between chorus/verse and bridge are flawless, while Ferro confidently shows his chops. In Light In Shadows his vocals resemble those of Lance King, which is emphasised by the delicious heavy AOR touches that gives this little highlight a powerful and admirable Balance Of Power feel, something experienced as well in the excellent My Dark Side, where minute James LaBrie (Dream Theater) tendencies shine through.
Although not mentioned as such, several compositions have delicate symphonic layers buried within them through added keyboard/violin parts. This adds depth and diversity and lifts a track like Revelation Day and the aforementioned The Age Of Glory. On the album closer The Man these symphonic details are a perfect fit to the emotive melodies and captivating guitar solo, which furthermore sees a surprising Pink Floyd-ian The Great Gig In The Sky-style female vocal finish, also not credited.
Next to the short atmospheric opening of Obsession, setting the mood for the album, an obligatory ballad is included, per usual. Conforming to a good prog metal standard Alone shows finesse and slight emotion surrounded by good execution, but it also reveals the minor shortcomings of the album. The compositions each have a catchy, enjoyable and straight forward prog metal vibrancy to them, where every aspect is done up to a solid standard of perfection, yet there are no real distinguishable and memorable highlights. This despite the great performances found in the instrumental compartment which sees some great performances throughout.
Not necessarily a bad thing, for many a prog-metal fan can assuredly give the album a listen at any given moment, but it falls ever so short in comparison to contemporary releases. Still, a very recommendable effort, especially after a 23 years hiatus. Welcome back!
Beneath A Steel Sky — Beneath A Steel Sky
To every negative there is to be positive, or rephrased: something bad will always be levelled by something good. A similar thought must have been playing through the minds of Beneath The Steel Sky as Covid-19 hit hard and forced lockdown. For inspired through this two close friends and various previously related bandmates we're very much inclined to undertake a new venture in form of Beneath A Steel Sky. The resulting six-member collaboration has produced a deliciously and organic sounding, expressive EP that sees entertaining instrumental prog-metal mixed with post-rock and electronic soundscapes.
A remarkable achievement for several members have, literally, never met and the whole album was recorded, written and mixed online. Something definitely not noticeable in the cohesive compositions, which in I Am A Free I Am Not Man A Number opens atmospherically on a synth-wave with light-footed bass (Mark Young) creating a desolate environment. The smooth layers of guitars enhance the apocalyptic cinema feel which is successfully continued in The Audient Void. Here the mildly overpowering opening on guitars passes onward into mildly ambient atmospheres reminiscent to Riverside and Porcupine Tree capturing refined feelings of solitude and emptiness. The technically skilful metallic riffs marching towards joyous post-rock furthermore sees excellent drum-partitions by Graeme Cross, while the Krautrock-styled textures breath light sighs of Walzwerk.
With the band in possession of three guitarists (Ian McCall, Sandy Wilson and David Jack) one might have the impression this is a heavy fuelled guitar-orientated album, but that is somewhat besides the truth. In the subdued Redshift, narrating a story of a Tree Tow-trucking incident gone awry, it all stays refined, intricate and calm with synths and drums slowly dragging the song forward with guitars mainly used for guidance. Initially Everyone You've Ever Known has that same subdued nature, harbouring feelings of sadness and melancholy with lovely synth accents filling the atmosphere. Yet its fierce post rock ending, thriving on gushing guitars pushed dynamically onwards by drums and fearless pounding bass, is a wonderful testimony to the strength of these triple axes, showing to great effect how to convincingly erect a majestic wall of sound.
Another fine example is the feeling of impending doom drawn up in the beginning of The Sparrow And The Saint, where tension slowly builds and glides towards ambient quietness, igniting images of Toundra's Vortex including its solitary artwork. Caressed by a dreamy segment it evolves into a wonderful restrained and balanced end section, where the simplicity and catchiness of the melodies stand out, aided by further divine interplay and superb guitars gliding in slight Pink Floyd mode.
This sort of joyous compositional build up finally sees a superb highlight in Alternative Endings (Nae Bother Edgelord). Its peaceful airy atmosphere, breathing serenity, is captured pristinely and flows into caressing instrumental post-rock filled with tight riffs and delicious bass lines. The splendid use of synths (Krist McKenna) gives it a marvellous deep futuristic positive vibe, while the exquisite coda feeds feelings of craving for more.
Thankfully good things come in three, tipping the scale on Beneath A Steel Sky even in a more favourable position. Besides the fact that the band have started working on a full-length album, they have also stated intentions to follow through with a tour, Covid-19 permitted. Both of which is something to look forward to, as this first effort confidently shows engaging melodies within well-constructed compositions, and delivers engaging musical creativity and versatility. Until then I'll simply enjoy this broadly appealing and recommendable EP, for in all honesty; my post-rock days have only just begun and this listening experience has been a brilliant way to start.
Electric Mud — Quiet Days On Earth
Back in 1968, American blues man Muddy Waters released an album entitled Electric Mud. The title was adopted by a 1970s Krautrock band, an American retro rock outfit and this contemporary instrumental duo from Hanover, Germany. Accurately describing themselves as 'post-rock with neo-classical elements', Quiet Days On Earth is the fourth album from Hagen Bretschneider (music conceptions, bass, video editing) and multi-instrumentalist, producer Nico Walser. Previous albums Lunatic Asylum (2015) and Wrong Planet (2016) passed DPRP by, but the last album The Deconstruction Of Light (2018) was positively received by this reviewer.
Given the number of tracks - 15 in total averaging over 5 minutes each - you would be forgiven for thinking that this is a double album. Instead, they've crammed as much music as is feasibly possible onto a single CD. Thankfully, the quality matches the quantity as far as the music's concerned. Quiet Days On Earth forgoes the retro 70s rock style of the previous album in favour of haunting and often tuneful cinematic soundscapes. Several tracks for example would have not been out of place on the soundtrack of the 2013 sci-fi drama Gravity. Even the titles could have been written with the film in mind. Combining the minimalism of Steve Reich with the melodic sensibilities of Craig Armstrong, acoustic and electric instruments are layered, building each track from tranquil beginnings to a satisfying peak.
The two opening tracks are prime examples of Electric Mud's technique. Aurora Moon begins with synth washes and gentle acoustic guitar which develops into a melodic theme with glockenspiel supported by synth orchestrations. Silhouettes Floating Down A Rain-Slicked Street is probably my favourite track. It combines glockenspiel with xylophone before a bass synth beat heralds a stirring ascending keyboard strings melody in the style of film composer Michael Nyman. In a similar vein, Foggy Postcard From A Barren Land contains a delightful piano melody that rises an octave in pitch for each repeat before being joined by synth.
The title track Quiet Days On Earth brings French composer Erik Satie to mind, to begin with at least. But it soon morphs into a guitar fest with fretless bass, classical guitar and a distorted but soaring David Gilmour-esque solo. Both this track and the following Wading Through The Waters Of Time feature a dense, fuzz guitar harmony for dramatic effect. The pastoral timbre of what sounds to my ears like a Mellotron flute also graces the title track as it does the two concluding pieces Into The Great Unknown and Sleeping Under A Green Desert Tree.
Like several tracks, The Loneliness Of The Somnambulist takes a leaf out of Pink Floyd's book by incorporating sampled voices and natural sounds. With its sustained keyboard chords, it's also reminiscent of Floyd circa the Wish You Were Here album, fused with the symphonic sweep of Tangerine Dream. On a similar note, Eyes Watching Skies which opens with the majestic tones of a pipe organ, incorporates a variation on the four note guitar phrase from Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
Despite the obvious merits of Quiet Days On Earth, I must confess I miss the vintage prog-rock leanings that for me made the previous album so compelling. At almost 80 minutes, this album is perhaps 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, particularly as several tracks are similarly structured. I would urge you however to follow the 'samples' link above and listen to the first two tracks at the very least. You may very easily find yourself falling under the spell of Electric Mud's captivating soundscapes.
Jhimm — The Golden Age Of Nothing
Originally released as a four-track EP in 2017, Connecticut's Jhimm finished up three more songs this year, making The Golden Age Of Nothing his second full-length release. Jhimm is an abbreviation for Jason Himmelberger, sometimes billed as Jason Himm for short. His music has strong nods to first-wave prog, but it holds much in common with a lot of the independent or small-label prog acts producing music today. Jhimm reminds me of an artist you might hear on Bad Elephant Music or a similar record label.
The Golden Age of Nothing is pretty heavy in the synths, primarily because that's Jason's main instrument. Guitar features prominently throughout as well, though, ensuring the album has a rock edge. Guitar could be used a bit more consistently. On Meteor it doesn't come in until the last minute or so after having not appeared in the song at all until that point. It's great once it comes in, but the song could have used more guitar with a buildup to a long solo. The drums are relatively simple throughout, which can be a detriment at times because of what sounds like a lack of bass guitar. I think the lack of bottom end from a bass guitar hinders the album. Strong bass lines could have added some interesting textures in thinner spots.
Jhimm's lyrics are front and center on the album, as is often the case with solo artists in the prog world. Cultural critique abounds, along with commentary on the golden age of nothing in which we live. The lyrics make the album an enjoyable listen because they're not superficial. Jason's delivery, through melody and layered vocals, helps the lyrics to shine. He doesn't have the best voice in the business, but he knows how to work within his range and abilities. His tone fits the melancholic vibe created by the keyboards.
I found the guitar solo on Dark Side Of The Girl followed by the main melody to be a nice touch. The song has a gentleness to it from the subdued acoustic parts and quieter singing, but this helps set up the guitar solos very well. The smooth tone and soulful playing make for a contemplative listen. This is relaxed playing, not metal shredding. The instrumental track, L'Appel du Vide, offers a more upbeat major key sound with drums, keys, and guitar working together nicely. Waiting To See You Again is more melancholic, reflecting on the distance and separation that so many of us are experiencing this year.
The star of the show is the 22 minute title track. Jhimm took his time on this song; it's the culmination of four years of work. It manages to sound like other parts of the album while also sounding unique. Once again the lyrics bring things together. Midway through a very Pink Floydian guitar begins in the background, which works really well with the synths playing. There's a strong Rick Wright sound to the keyboards on the track. The final four minutes offers swirling synths with an extended guitar solo that brings to album to a satisfying close.
Overall The Golden Age Of Nothing is a good album that could use some improvements. Intricate bass work would have added a lot, I think, along with more intricate drumming. The album is heavy on the synths, which should appeal to fans of the keys. Lyrics are Jhimm's strong point, but the music itself is very well written too. As it is it makes for enjoyable repeat listens. Prog fans who like their music on the lighter side (i.e., not metal) will enjoy it.
Melanie Mau & Martin Schnella — Through The Decades
I first became aware of this German duo when I got very lucky earlier this year and reviewed Flaming Row's The Pure Shine. Both Melanie and Martin have been members of Frequency Drift and Seven Steps To The Green Door. Through The Decades is their third album consisting of cover songs, reimagined in an acoustic folk way.
The album consists of 14 cover songs, ranging from classic progressive rock from the 1970s (Yes – And You And I and Genesis – Dancing With The Moonlight Knight), via the 1980s commercially successful pop prog (Queen – Don't Stop Me Now, Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes, and Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill), some Metal (Metallica – Creeping Death and Blind Guardian – Harvest Of Sorrow) to modern Progressive Metal (In Flames – I Am Above, Pain Of Salvation – Reasons, and Agent Fresco – Dark Water). There are two bands who unfortunately I have not heard of before, as well as Flying Colors' Kayla. That last track's original was so good I am surprised it has been tackled as I cannot imagine it being improved upon.
While Flaming Row struck all the right notes with me, I admit to struggling with this release. I have never really understood the need to remake other bands songs unless there is a specific reason. The only band I have listened to a lot when covering other bands songs is Dream Theater. This is because they did it that infrequently and when they did it was an event. If a band slips a cover song into their live set, then for me, that's fine. But a whole album of covers, and not even of a similar genre, then I imagine the casual listener would struggle to digest this whole album more than once. I can see most people having favourites and having those on repeat, missing out the other songs they don't enjoy.
For me, the first song, Dancing With The Moonlight Knight, was a good introduction, a bit of a unique take on the song with a folk feel adding a new perspective to the song. After that I struggled with the choice of songs. Second was Kate Bush's, Running Up That Hill, and a minute into the song I began to think, why would you cover a classic song if you cannot improve upon the original, and for me, that is the downfall of this record. I think the choice of songs are too close to classics, that improving upon the original is very difficult. While Melanie and Martin's hearts are in the right place, as I can't imagine they will make a fortune in performing cover songs, it has too often become the norm to cover other peoples songs. This has been done to death via the Saturday night “variety” shows which TV producers think we want to listen too.
Having heard Melanie and Martin first with Flaming Row, I think in future I will look for their albums of self penned music, as for myself, that is were their talents should be utilised in creating new and exiting music.
Thurisaz — Re-Incentive
Atmospheric death/doom metal has always been one of my favourite styles of music, and having been listening to Thurisaz since I first heard The Cimmerian Years back in the early 2010s, I was quite excited to see they had a new album. Having begun in Belgium back in 1997 as Modilium before changing their name in 2000, they have returned now after 4 full lengths, 2 demos and 1 live and acoustic album (aptly titled Live and Acoustic) in 2020 with Re-Incentive.
The album starts of how I hoped. A 10-minute-long epic of progressive and atmospheric death metal. It reminded me of bands like In Mourning with the tremolo guitars and chugging riffs, all the while being fast paced and yet allowing a sorrowful feel.
The band make good use of the talents of all band members for the vocals, with some fantastic harmonies sounding through the album, especially on Monologue when the mix of cleans, screams and growls all meld together brilliantly on top of the mournful guitars and elements.
The melodies through the tracks are fantastically written, bringing together the likes of the melodic contrast between harsh and clean, heavy and chilled, hard and soft made famous by bands like Insomnium or more modern takes by Dark Tranquillity.
The keyboards on the album, as expected with a band like this often tend to lend more to the mood of the tracks and to create and environment of melancholy, rather than take centre stage. They blend in with the vocals and tremolo riffing to create a wall of sound that just screams (sometimes literally) and brings on emotion in the way only atmospheric death/doom can.
Ethereal in places (such as through Exemption), almost brutal in others such as the album opener, where galloping riffs and black metal styled screams assault your senses in the most beautiful ways.
If you're a big fan, like me, of the bands like Be'kaor, the aforementioned Insomnium, In Mourning, Dark Tranquility, or early Katatonia and October Tide then I would strongly advise grabbing this album. You won't be disappointed.