Blue Öyster Cult — The Symbol Remains
The year 2020 is one that we all want to forget as quickly as possible, although its ongoing impact will likely remain a haunting memory for years to come. Thankfully the exceptional music released in this estranging year, stands in direct contrast. If you are a like-minded fan of Blue Öyster Cult (BÖC) then this is without doubt the most exciting year since ... well, discovering them in 1980 probably! For next to this new studio offering, three previous out-of-print albums have been re-released, alongside eight new live DVD/Bluray offerings, many of which are on vinyl as well.
For those not aware, I should probably mention that I'm somewhat biased when it comes to BÖC, as they are my favourite band ever since their 1981 release Fire Of Unknown Origin, one of the first albums that I bought (aged 12). Their unique sound, combining prog, hard-rock and metal, pop, blues, jazz, and above all melody, proved to be a real treasure trove. Initial individual pickings on cassettes drove my musical mentor crazy, so I rapidly turned into collecting the albums, and since then many great releases have found their way into my ever-expanding BÖC-collection.
Although the infrequency of their releases since "their" iconic Imaginos album (see also the review of Albert Bouchard's Re-Imaginos in this same issue) has been striking. The soundtrack to the B-movie Bad Channels (1992) contained only two real BÖC tracks, while the successive Cult Classic (1994) merely consisted of re-recorded fan-favourites. It actually took BÖC ten years to follow through with Heaven Forbid (1998) followed by Curse Of The Hidden Mirror in 2001. This short-lived, mildly successful momentum was registered on the Long Days Night CD/DVD, after which they shifted their priority towards being "On Tour Forever", something that is also now sadly halted for obvious reasons.
Meanwhile the idea of capturing the chemistry of today's incarnation of the band was subconsciously growing, and after 19 years that seed has now come to full bloom via The Symbol Remains. The title is taken from a lyric from Shadow Of California on their The Revölution By Night album in 1983. It is a brilliant and very apt title that perfectly encompasses the feel of the album, strengthened by the beautiful artwork referencing that critically acclaimed era. The diverse musicality showcased in these 14 new compositions actually takes its inspiration from all over BÖC's discography.
The energy level, dedicated deliveries and talented musicianship reveals a tight unity (a True Öyster Cult), that shows a potent act with 50 years of experience. Something which isn't far from the truth when it comes to original founders Eric Bloom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Buck Dharma (guitars, keyboards, programming, vocals), both being in their seventies by now. The way in which this rejuvenated BÖC incarnation employs this experience is impressive and compelling.
That Was Me, featuring ex-drummer Albert Bouchard on Cowbell and backing vocals, opens the album with a hard-rocking bang, immediately radiating energy and passion. The short reggae-inspired intermission adds that favourable, luscious BÖC twist. The tightness of the band is captured sublimely by the full-on production and showcases a band born to rock.
That is a qualification that's warranted throughout and sees a great example in There's A Crime, written by drummer Jules Radino. It's a fairly straight-forward, rocking composition that meets the equivalent of MC5's Kick Out The Jams with blistering guitar work, mindful to early tracks like The Red & The Black. Radino's superior technique is maybe less organic than that of Bouchard, but nonetheless his versatile escapades makes this a very effective track, fully aided by the powerful bass lines from Danny Miranda.
Embedded within the array of songs are three previously-released Buck Dharma tracks. Fight is to be found on Buck Dharma's Soundcloud account dating several years back, while Nightmare Epiphany and Secret Road were included in demo form on the Buck Dharma Archives. The latter two tracks incorporate lyrics from sci-fi writer John Shirley, accountable for many of BÖC's recent lyrics (if you can call 22 years recent). The current BÖC treatment elevates these joyous tracks to delicious new heights.
The relaxed and mellow feel of Secret Road is especially noteworthy, flowing by graciously on enchanting solos by Dharma, although Richie Castellano (guitars, keyboards, programming, vocals) has similar indistinguishable qualifications, so some could equally be his.
These gorgeous guitar parts are what makes Nightmare Epiphany another Flat Out Dharma gem, where my only remark would be the restrained drum parts by Radino. They do sparkle some engaging images of his concentrated live performances, but a little bit more variety would have been appreciated.
These versions are massive improvements but Fight's transformation is simply stunning. It's one of the best examples of Dharma's songwriting skills, magically demonstrating his talent to elevate a non-event into an all-encompassing pop-styled song, where the added cowbell, other-worldly theramin and spine-chilling guitar solo brings goosebumps every time. Together with typical Buck songs such as the ravishingly smooth Florida Man (reflecting the Mirrors era) and the catchy power-pop song Box In My Head (Hello Club Ninja!), they bring feelings of familiarity to the album.
The final song contribution by Dharma is Train True (Lenny's Song), co-written with his son Zeke. An energetic, foot-stomping track with a slight touch of psychedelics where Buck's vocal rap and musical boogie is met by delightful country shuffles from Radino. The Hillbilly structure of the song is catchy, complex and contagious at the same time, making this a marvellous 70s-inspired track that revisits BÖC's formative years most successfully.
It meets its match in the Richie Castellano-penned The Return Of St. Cecilia, which sees a unexpected return from lyricist Richard Meltzer. Besides imprints of Stalk Forrest (a pre-BÖC incarnation) through its title, the cheery playfulness of this melodic track reflects this as well, while the organ gives it a delightful Tyranny & Mutation vibe.
This pairing kicks-off the extraordinary midsection of the album, where greatness lifts towards magnificence via the ultra heavy Stand And Fight. Written by Bloom and Castellano this is one of BÖC's heaviest tracks, beating Imaginos by miles. It thrives on heavy riffs mindful to Metallica whilst vile, rumbling bass lines by Miranda and pounding drums by Radino add additional force. Eric Bloom's voice nails it and ignites visions of The Revölution By Night, emphasised by the dark, ominous atmosphere, implemented sound effects and heavy guitar parts.
Any reservation previously made on Bloom's voice, often discussed, is by then already thrown out the door, for in Edge Of The World he gives his calling-card most impressively. It's another great track surrounded by gracious harmonies and a tantalising guitar solo in Veteran Of The Psychic Wars style.
The fully-fitting odd-one-out is the Castellano-sung The Machine, a melodic rock composition oozing the nineties The Red And The Black formation led by Dharma. A solid rock song which Paul Rodgers would gladly have added to his roster. Just as surprising is the AOR approach showcased in Tainted Blood, although its epic nature and vampire references initially take me back to Spectres. The harmonies surrounding Castellano's vocals light up the track, while his delightful guitar solo adds, on the one hand, vivacity and on the other soothing comfort.
And then there's almighty The Alchemist, written by Castellano. The pinnacle moment on this album, which on first encounter time-warped me back to the cherished melodies of Flaming Telepaths (Secret Treaties). The heavy opening gives way to Savatage, while Bloom's performance rivals his own charismatic achievements on Black Blade. The bombastic melodies lead up to a monumental bridge that's driven dynamically forward with relentless power, revealing a breathtaking, dual, heavy metal thunder guitar solo. Equally inspired are the many interlaced piano parts (Andy Ascolese), illuminating visions of the late Allen Lanier, BÖC's original keyboard player. A mightily impressive composition that has soared straight into my list of all time favourite tracks.
By now it's probably clear that The Symbol Remains has exceeded all my expectations. It showcases the same infectious appeal as Cultösaurus Erectus and Fire Of Unknown Origin and unlike some albums it is completely exempt from fillers. The exquisite order of the tracks gives the album a cohesive flow, in which many a BÖC fan can enjoy a field day.
For those not yet acquainted with the band, this smashing album is a very good a place to start, with the authentic, eclectic sound of BÖC and their formidable musicianship being brilliantly immortalised. And I'm not just saying that as a fan. It's a return to true form, where the long wait has most definitely paid off. I tried to see it in many a different light, but to no avail, for from all angles The Symbol Remains ranks high in my album of the year list. I can't wait for the anniversary tour. Welcome back!
Albert Bouchard — Re-Imaginos
Albert Bouchard is best known for being one of the founding members of Blue Öyster Cult (BÖC). After his departure he went on to form The Brain Surgeons and several solo/group projects involving his brother Joe, also one of the founding figures in BÖC's history. Re-Imaginos is his newest venture, revisiting the iconic BÖC record Imaginos from 1988, an album met by high critical acclaim at the time (and mystifying confusion, although this only became apparent years after it's original release).
As a BÖC devotee, the original album holds dear memories, making me dwell in the care-free past just by ushering the word "Imaginos". One of the reasons, is the fact that for the first time I got to see BÖC on their subsequent tour with Kansas in Düsseldorf (Germany). The other is the excitement of finding out about the album in the first place. With information only to be found through magazines in those days, sometimes a release passed us by unnoticed. This could just as easily have happened with Imaginos, yet thanks to a delightful circumstance I gained knowledge of the album. For during a return trip from a vacation, our designated driver had to stop for some relief, upon which by pure coincidence I picked up the Aardschok magazine in the nearby shop containing a short review of the album.
With shops closed and internet non-existent I finally tracked down a copy the next day, as it wasn't readily available at every store. Actually it took me three hours of phone calls to track down a store that stocked the album, upon which an excited and anxious two-hour train ride to Leiden followed. An effortless affair, for during those happy days students like me had a delightful free-travelling-pass for public transport. An opportunity I maxed out in the years that followed, much like Imaginos which has been doing its rounds in my player ever since.
To my surprise, the supportive tour of 1989 did not include Albert Bouchard, which surrounded the album with further mystery, much like its conceptual tales, weaving poems and scripts from the just recently passed Sandy Pearlman. It has an intriguing story about an alien conspiracy brought to fruition during the late 19th and early 20th century, instigated by a shape-shifting agent of evil named Imaginos. A dark tale which goes beyond the limits of this review and for which I gladly recommend Jacob Holm-Lupo's illuminating insights from this article last year.
As it turns out it was originally Albert Bouchard's solo-project which he started together with Pearlman way back in the 60s / 70s, developed after his departure and now granted to become a BÖC album thanks to the involvement of record company CBS. In the final stages, Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma and Allen Lanier, the other guys from BÖC, stepped in to add their signature sounds to the album. Some of which are perfectly recognisable up to a point, for both Dharma and Bloom have distinctive vocals, yet the musical parts are (besides those occasionally of Dharma) mostly buried inside a wall of other participants. For during Bouchard' original recordings, surfacing years later under the "Demo" mark, many other musicians were attributed parts, making it virtually impossible to identify who played which part.
These foggy circumstances did however yield a near perfect album that definitely befitted the heavy metal feel they once were associated with. I say near, for despite some overwhelming compositions it included a different version of Astronomy which pales in comparison to it's original, much like the over-extended Blue Öyster Cult which turned out to be a decomposed version of The Subhuman. In regards to its 1975 live version, my favourite recording by BÖC, it was a severe let down. The underwhelming ending via the title track Imaginos tops this even further. So how does Bouchard's new interpretation fare?
The short, biased answer is "marvellous", although this obviously needs some explaining. The first thing one notices is the complete change of atmosphere. The heavy approach of Imaginos kept my boat firmly afloat, yet it didn't succeed in passing along the complexities and story-telling embedded with Pearlman's 19th century fictional tale. Re-Imaginos on the other hand miraculously does, setting the wondrously construed story in the right time frame, rocking me over with a completely different, rustic wave.
Many of the tracks have been stripped back to a bluesy, semi-acoustical setting that gives them an authentic feel of the early 70s; an era when most of these songs were originally conceived and now moulded in a musical form that was originally intended. Furthermore the inventive difference in instrumentation ignites sparks of admiration. For instance in Del Rio's Song there are a few guitar chords, sparking thoughts of mid-century rangers, while the galloping country feel of Gil Blanco County is inspired; both enhance the embracing folk-feel of the album. Combined with the occasional minstrel approach from Bouchard, like for instance in Magna Of Illusion, it creates different talkative dimensions to the concept.
These type of alternative arrangements see a triumphant highlight in Black Telescope, a reworked version of Workshop Of The Telescopes from BÖC's debut album. The distinctive feel of piracy that surrounds this composition, courtesy of Bouchard's charismatic vocals, is sublime and the surprising violin, keyboard and exquisite trumpet-solo (!) by Joe Bouchard pushes it sea-miles away from its original. Just like some delicate alterations in I Am The One You Warned Me Of and Siege And Investiture Of Baron Von Frankenstein's Castle At Weisseria, where the playful piano strides, breathe images of a warm and cosy saloon bar/room, secretively bringing to mind the imposing castle of the original artwork.
The successive Girl That Love Made Blind, omitted from the 1988 version because of time restraints, dances in the same graceful way, touching upon The Beatles, surrounded by a tingling spookiness that adds refined depth. An apparition similarly felt in Les Invisibles through the alluring use of synths. The same instrument submissively imagines aliens in Blue Oyster Cult through synthesized vocals. Overall this immaculate composition now travels somewhere between the Secret Treaties version and its 1988 version, with a spine-chilling guitar solo.
The daunting nature of In The Presence Of Another World is beautifully captured, showing the strength of the composition wonderfully, although the vocal impact in comparison to Bloom's divine delivery all those years ago, proves a hard target to beat. The reworked Imaginos however, igniting a delightful country feel, is a great example of where Bouchard excels in comparison to Jon Rogers' contributions. Now placed in its correct running order, another aspect commercially sacrificed on the original, the subtleties enclosed within the composition (and many others by the way) get a chance to shine.
The level of complexity towards the storyline sees further development via a classification of the compositions into four segments, each containing three compositions: "Quandary", "Sublime", "Ghost" and "Dance". BÖC's highly praised song Astronomy finishes the sublime section and it's indeed a return to true form, rivalling the version on Secret Treaties through its emotive melodies. At long last the memorable "hey" chants now click instantly with Del Rio's Song, a connection lost to me before. It stands as a brilliant, timeless composition, only surpassed in the majestic live version on Some Enchanted Evening.
Imaginos was always supposed to be a trilogy, yet circumstances prevented this from ever happening. Hopefully Re-Imaginos gets some deserved attention so that the missing chapters and pieces can finally fall into place. The dedication in which these songs are performed, giving them a new lease of life, certainly warrants this. Overall this is an inspiring effort which every right-minded BÖC-fan will embrace. it is also worthy of exploration for a mildly interested fan or the inquisitive novice.
For those in need of more Cowbell, a limited edition package was released, encompassing amongst other items said instrument. A priceless package for fans, although it turned out to be very expensive, as after additional income tax (which is fine) disproportional administrative costs were applied by customs. The latter's modern piracy doesn't take away from any joyous nostalgic feelings though!
French TV — Stories Without Fingerprints
CD 1: Live In The Studio: Ghost Zone / Noble Obelisk (8:31), This Decadent Poetry Is Awful (5:01), The Odessa Steps Sequence (9:44), Look At The Bears! Look At The Bears! Look At The Bears! (9:20), Conversational Paradigms (7:44), That Thing On The Wall (8:52), Black Pit (3:56), A Cornucopia Of Riches (9:51)
Stories Without Fingerprints is one of those albums that just gets better and better. The more I have become familiar with its challenging mix of motifs, thunderous riff sections and unexpected interludes that scorch a satisfying trail in unforeseen directions, the more I have begun to appreciate the band's art.
There is so much to take in over the course of these two discs that I have found that the most enjoyable way to appreciate what it offers, is to listen to it in small segments. I have even taken to listening to a track at a time, in order to grasp and come to turns with the complexity of the band's arrangements. This is an album that fires the imagination, warms the heart and stimulates the mind. I have grown to love it!
French TV are an instrumental band based in Kentucky. Stories Without Fingerprints is the group's thirteenth album. Over the course of the band's history their line up has been fluid. However, band leader and bass player Mike Sary has been a constant creative force behind the band's projects. In this album, Sary is joined by Katsumi Yoneda (guitars), Patrick Strawser (keys) and Jeff Gard (drums). Mark L Perry plays drums and percussion on three tracks on disc one.
French TV's overall style is unique, but along the way stylistic references can be made to the music of artists as wide ranging as Consider the Source, Yes, National Health, Frank Zappa, and Hatfield and The North.
Indeed many sections of the band's music offer a breathtaking mix of styles. Twisting time signatures abound, themes are suggested, offered and explored. The tunes are not linear in any shape or form. Unexpected diversions and unpredictable, yet highly satisfying twist and turns are the norm. However, French TV is a band that does not linger long in any particular style, and this makes the whole experience of the album highly stimulating, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately highly rewarding.
Jazz influences can be identified on occasions, as in the swinging synth inflections that sway the hips and purse the lips in the middle section of A Cornucopia Of Riches, but for the most part this is an album that is rooted within the parameters of highly complex instrumental prog; albeit tinted with a host of defined and undefined influences. The excellent and tasteful use of the synth throughout gives some aspects of the album a retro sound that admirers of the keyboard work of players such as Rick Wakeman, or the flowing synth sounds of Chick Corea's work with Return to Forever, might enjoy. Nonetheless, it is as a collective that the band really excels.
On occasions, the music has a hard-edged riff basis, which scrapes and scrambles the senses, as in the opening section of Look at the Bears. When the band rocks, and nods and fires up the furnace, as it does at the beginning of this tune, it is possible to identify, (or ponder over the influence) that classic bands such as Yes and Jethro Tull might have had upon the compositions. Nevertheless, the band's strength is arguably that their compositions have an undefined, edge-of-your-seat element which ensures that a listener is never fully prepared for what might follow.
Themes never overstay their welcome and sometimes appear so fleetingly that it is difficult to grasp the direction, or conceptual rational behind the piece as a whole. This is both a cause for excitement and perhaps occasional vexation.
The music has so many elements to admire, but there are instances when the sum of the whole does not appear to sit easily together. However, when the band's idiosyncratic approach to composition and style works, it really does!
At many junctures, the band's arrangements have the mystique, power and energy to raise my goosebumps and stiffen my limp ears. In this respect, the different influences that emerge in distinctive blocks in a tune such as Look At The Bears, perfectly highlight the band's repertoire and wide stylistic range.
Over the course of the nine minutes of this fine piece, there are bombastic interludes, reflective puddles and humorous phrases reminiscent of Frank Zappa. It also contains wickedly complex diversions and off-piste interludes that truly deserve to be described as imaginative and progressive.
Somehow, these disparate elements meld in an inventive manner, to create a whole, that at worst is unsatisfying, yet always interesting, and at its best is totally stimulating and somewhat exhilarating. French TV has great players and their skills are able to weave uplifting aural spirals filled with panache.
Disc two, entitled Live In The Studio is arguably more accessible than disc one. It was conceived as a faithful reproduction of the band's live set and as such has a more complete and organic feel to it. Whilst what is on offer has numerous interesting twists and turns, and freely flows in many stimulating directions, it is altogether much easier to follow and become immersed in than disc one, which at times is so challenging and complex that it is difficult to easily assimilate.
Nevertheless, disc one also has much to commend it. The titles of the tunes are wonderfully creative and the imaginative imagery that the music can create is able (if you let your mind do so) to illuminate the tune's intriguing titles. (I don't think I really want to describe the imagery that I associated with 'That Jigsaw Puzzle Is Tearing Our Family Apart'.)
The opening piece, Unexpected Secrets Of The House Of Mystery At The Witching Hour complete with its disturbing spoken welcome is full of surprises. The tune offers some colourful world fusion parts which briefly reminded me of the fast-paced, dexterous work of Consider The Source. It is a composition that rewards patient concentration. Some of its planned digressions, which include a disturbing bout of manic laughter, might throw a listener out of kilter, but overall it is a very strong opening statement. The piece exemplifies many aspects of what this band's art is all about. The whiff of unpredictability in the arrangements, is arguably the band's biggest asset, but for many, will also perhaps be the biggest drawback of this release.
At times, I felt everything was a bit too frantic and imaginative and not fully formed in disc one. Whilst there are reflective passages within the tunes, the overall impression is of intricate bombast. By the time the last track on the disc, A Cornucopia Of Riches began, I felt that my senses could do with a rest and some time out. I persevered and resisted the temptation to spin my Dean Martin greatest hits disc. I am glad that I did, as the concluding piece has a lot more space between the instruments. The bass is used to good effect as a bridge between the tune's different sections. The bombast, where it does occur, complements the other gentler parts of the composition.
In this piece and indeed throughout the album's two discs, the keyboard and synth work of Strawser really grabs my attention. Whilst the whole band excels in every respect, time and time again, it was the baying synth melodies, pulses and melodic interjections that consistently connected with me.
The flowing guitar style of Yoneda is almost as impressive and whilst his solo parts are perfectly constructed and have both a gritty and swaying melodic tone when required, it was his work in conjunction with the other players which impressed me the most. By the end of the album, it was obvious that there is a great musical empathy between all the members of French TV. This is amply demonstrated by the way in which the tasteful guitar parts complement the whole ensemble sound.
After an uneasy getting-to-know-you period, I have become smitten by this album and I will certainly be checking out the band's other releases.
The John Irvine Band — The Machinery Of The Heavens
What comes to mind when you think of the genre of jazz-rock/fusion? Is it widdly, self-indulgent, showboating soloing, over barely developed tunes. Or is it where the musicianship explores fully the melodies established, moving them further along in interesting ways.
On his website and in his press notes, the John Irvine Band is described as jazz-rock, but on The Machinery Of The Heavens the jazz-rock is used to nimbly push forward the terrific prog rock on this album. Hardcore jazz-rock fans may find this a tad light on the jazz fusion front.
The more-than-hummable tunes on The Machinery Of The Heavens have the feel of a 2020s take on 80s synth prog and pop. The reason, is that multi-instrumentalist John Irvine seems to be having a ball playing the keyboards on this album (as well as bass and of course, guitar). He seems to be channelling the sounds and textures of people like Jan Hammer, and on the opening (and annoyingly catchy) track, Harold Faltermeyer.
With this release The John Irvine Band is now operating as a duo, as John is joined again by drummer Rich Kass, who provides grooves that allow the melodies to flourish, and he can add funky syncopation where needed, without overwhelming anything.
After the catchy and sunny melody of Dark Skies, John finds his inner Todd Rundgren for the melody of ...And How Much For The Robot?. It's some squelchy, fast paced fusion that moves into a rocking coda. Guitar comes to the fore on Dangerous Notes showing that John isn't afraid of the spaces in the music, with a less-is-more blues approach that is a joy.
Inventive arrangements abound, and tempo and dynamic changes keep one's attention throughout. Guitar and synth battle it out in the solo stakes on the cracking (Across) Lunar Fields. The album closes with the title track, a three-part prog-rock epic that has it all, grinding riffs, pulsing keys and restless drumming. Fabulous stuff.
The John Irvine Band's The Machinery Of The Heavens is the sound of two musicians in synch with each other, producing textured prog-rock over a range of moods where the invention never flags. Technique here is used to serve the strong, harmonically rich, multi-layered compositions rather than the other way round. It is, unusually for an instrumental release, a warm hug of an album, just what is needed on dark winter nights.
Mark Kelly's Marathon — Marathon
Marillion keyboardist Mark Kelly has never released a solo album. That is, until now. Almost 40 years into his musical career comes Mark Kelly's Marathon. (Note from the editor: although the logo suggests the band name includes Mark Kelly's name, everywhere else they talk of Marathon as the band name and album title.) Recorded during the height of the Covid lockdown earlier this year, it is by no means a "solo" album in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, Kelly virtually assembled a talented group of musicians who worked collaboratively on the project. Though Kelly's exceptional playing is prominently featured throughout, the album feels like the work of a true band.
Singer, Oliver M. Smith is a find and sounds a bit like Peter Gabriel. His commanding vocals successfully capture the adventurous, story-telling requirements of the prog material (Amelia, Puppets, Twenty Fifty One) and he is equally adept at delivering the more straightforward pop/rock moments (When I Fell, This Time). The other members of Marathon - John Cordy (guitars), Conal Kelly (bass), Henry Rogers (drums) and Pete Wood (electric guitars) - also provide excellent performances.
There is a modern symphonic prog vibe to much of the album and hints of a classic Genesis sound can also be heard. Though not a concept album, there is a satisfying complexity to the music and the lyrics. Particularly on the 11-minute Amelia, which uses the story of Amelia Earhart as a "metaphor for the lack of planning and communication that regularly be-devils human endeavor".
The science fiction themed epic, Twenty Fifty One is also a treat for prog fans. For those looking for Marillion comparisons, I don't feel that the album is particularly reflective of Kelly's full-time band. That said, the material definitely has more in common with Marillion's 80s-90s work than their more recent releases.
Marathon was a long-time coming and proves to be worth the wait. In many ways, it is an old school prog/rock album and a very entertaining one at that. Most impressively, the results feel less like a side project and more like a new band worthy of enthusiasm. Hopefully, Kelly decides that this isn't a one-off project and there will be further releases from this talented group of musicians.
Multi Story — CBF10
This is only the fifth album from Multi Story in a career dating back to the early 1980s. The two founding members, vocalist Paul Ford and keyboardist Rob Wilsher, relaunched the band in 2015, enlisting brothers Aedan and Jordan Neale on guitars and drums respectively. Stylistically, the two subsequent albums Crimson Stone (2016) and Live At Acapela (2017) found them suspended in an 80s time-warp when the likes of Marillion, Twelfth Night, and IQ were riding the crest of the new wave of progressive rock.
CBF10 is clearly an attempt at a more contemporary, occasionally rockier direction. Things begin promisingly, with Signs and Traces featuring a surging guitar fanfare before motoring along at a lively pace with nimble bass and drums. Around the three-minute mark it breaks its stride for a languid mid-section which, despite its Pink Floyd ambitions and appealing acoustic guitar and spacey synths, is a tad overlong. In fact, several songs on the album similarly fail to gel in their entirety, even though the individual elements are all there.
Ford certainly works hard to inject drama into proceedings with his wall-to-wall vocals, and there are ample opportunities for the instrumentalists to shine. A fine example is Celluloid Star with its Mellotron-like swells and call-and-response guitar, organ and synth solos. The musicianship is first-rate throughout, as evidenced in the dazzling guitar solo at the midway point of Rebel Inside which also features rhythmic acoustic guitar reminiscent of The Who. All too often however, the songs lapse into cliché with ponderous riffing.
They never fully break free from their neo-prog roots, mainly thanks to Ford's theatrical style. Sharp Recall features chant-like vocals that bring Peter Gabriel and Fish to mind, while Freeway Army echoes the repeated “Now, now, now” line from Genesis' Musical Box. Elsewhere, as in the mellow section of Last Man Standing, Ford's singing is reminiscent of Stuart Nicholson of Galahad fame.
Despite the band's best efforts, several songs are not as memorable as they could be. The aforementioned Sharp Recall does at least boast a decent choral hook, although this is the exception rather than the rule. There are note-worthy moments however, including the uplifting piano and organ-led bridge five minutes into Sharp Recall and a majestic acoustic and electric guitar driven sequence towards the end of Rebel Inside. The concluding title song on the other hand is an anti-climax, despite an insistent riff similar to Floyd's Run Like Hell and Ford's impassioned singing.
Although CBF10 has much to recommend it, I found it difficult to fully engage with the album. All too often, I had that "it's good, but I've heard it all before" feeling. DPRP readers are to judge for themselves based on the video below or the Spotify album page link above. On a more positive note, the cover artwork by Danish artist Tonny Larsen is superb.
Riverside — Lost 'n' Found - Live In Tilburg
CD 2: Egoist Hedonist (7:22), We Got Used to Us (5:37), Escalator Shrine (20:25), The Same River (13:03), Found (5:48)
To be completely honest with you, there's only so much we can say regarding Lost 'n' Found, not because it doesn't deserve to be praised (it clearly does) but because many of you will most certainly be already familiar with its contents.
It is two things first and foremost: a superb live album, and a fitting tribute to the late, great Piotr Grudziński, who'd pass away a mere four months after the recording of this concert at the legendary 013 in Tilburg in October 2015, leaving the band, orphans of his remarkable talents.
Actually, this double live album has been available exclusively for some time at Riverside gigs as a self-released treat to the fans (and a highly sought after item for avid collectors), but such is its quality that I guess Inside Out couldn't resist releasing it officially, sooner or later. If you ask me, you can't go wrong with this set. If you're a fan of the band you owe it to yourself (if you don't own it already, that is). And for those curious about the band's music, it is an excellent starting point. I am not seeking to dismiss their previous live effort, 2008's also recommendable Reality Dream, but despite it being very good it doesn't reach the memorable heights of this particular release.
As live releases go it definitely ticks all the boxes. The performances are superb (hats off to Mariusz Duda's beautiful singing and an honorable mention to Piotr Kozieradzki's refined drumming), the sound is crystal clear and the setlist displays a nicely representative selection of songs which spans most of the band's discography. There is an obvious emphasis on the then recently released Love, Fear And The Time Machine album, with the 2011 EP Memories in My Head being the sole omission on an otherwise exhaustive repertoire.
Highlights are difficult to pick out as there's not a dull moment, but personal favourites include a dynamic The Depth Of Self-Delusion, an energetic Egoist Hedonist and needless to say an epic 20-minute rendition of the already memorable Escalator Shrine, complete with some bass athletics courtesy of Duda.
Overall, these live versions are more intense than their studio counterparts, with plenty of room for different arrangements and new passages which breathe new life into the originals without deeming them unrecognisable. Elsewhere, those who enjoy the mellower, more melancholy side of the band will celebrate the inclusion of their classic Conceiving You as well as an almost equally gut-wrenching We Got Used To Us dominated by Michał Łapaj's gloomy piano.
This is allegedly a pure, 100% live recording with no overdubs in sight, thus Lost 'n' Found serves as a closing chapter for a brilliant period in the band's history. Though at the time of its original release it might well have been THE closing chapter, 2018's Wasteland (an admittedly necessary step, but not an album I return to often) gave Riverside a new lease of life and then Maciej Meller becoming an official member seems to have reignited some spark. So, an honorable past cherished, but here's to a bright future. They sure deserve it.
Riverside — Lost 'n' Found - Live In Tilburg [DVD]
Riverside is an excellent live band but unlike some other prominent progressive rock artists, they don't release many concert recordings. This is only their second full-length live release, with the previous being Reality Dream in 2008. That they have avoided putting out a live document after every tour, makes Lost'n'Found all the more relevant. I had the pleasure of attending a show on this same tour, and watching the Live In Tilburg DVD was a reminder of that great evening of music. This release also stands as a profound tribute to Riverside's guitarist, Piotr Grudzinski, who sadly, passed away in 2016. The immensity of his talent is on display throughout this performance.
This concert was in support of their outstanding Love, Fear And The Time Machine album, but the set list is not top-heavy with material from it. Instead, they include highlights from throughout their career. To those unfamiliar with the band, this serves as a great introduction to their music. For existing fans, this set is an absolute gift. In fact, it is one of the best live recordings that I've heard/seen in quite some time. The collection of songs performed is superb and the performances are flawless. Also, for a band whose style often leans on melancholy, there is a buoyancy to their stage presence. Singer/bassist Mariusz Duda is a cordial host and the band is clearly having a great time.
The video production is polished but avoids frills or unnecessary visual effects. There is straightforward focus on the band's performance, which is a positive. Even the stage presentation is minimal, consisting only of concert lights and some smoke effects. In other words, it is all about the music. As I've mentioned in other recent reviews, concert releases have taken on a new importance in 2020. That said, Lost 'n' Found would be special in any year. Quite simply, it is superlative!
TDW — The Days The Clock Stopped
Whenever I enjoy an album, it's in my nature to dive into a band's recording history, provided there is such a legacy. So after Dreamwalkers Inc's revelation moment A Night By The Theatre I worked my way in reverse order through Tom de Wit's (TDW) discography. Or better said, I tried, for time caught up rather quickly and a new effort was already blooming.
For Tom de Wit had meanwhile written a new album under the TDW banner. This had me confused at first, for weren't the songs performed by Dreamwalkers Inc, also TDW compositions? A short conversation made it clear that besides being the frontman for Dreamwalkers Inc, now a full band effort with everyone contributing their parts, Tom plans to still release his solo efforts under his own abbreviated name, giving him the opportunity to express his musical creativity and passion in more ways than one.
Actually Tom's twofold exposure doesn't end there, for alongside the devotion in his vlogs, Youtube videos, frequent Facebook shares and Twitter/Instagram messages, he also runs his own record company. All this makes him a well-known and respected household name in Holland's prog-society and a welcomed guest at events, most notably at ProgPower Europe. His charm, disarming nature, enthusiasm, drive and his many funny faces, surrounded by his undeniable passion and humbleness, paints a picture of Tom being prog's own cuddly teddy-bear, although he probably prefers to be a huggable kitten!
But enough about Tom de Wit as a person and lets focus on his newest endeavour The Days The Clock Stops which is an intriguing concept-album about: Tom de Wit!
In his previous efforts, many of the lyrics are based on observations and fictitious characters, in which to some extend Tom's emotions and inner feelings are reflected. For the autobiographical The Days The Clock Stopped, Tom tears down his wall and shares personal struggles and mental challenges caused by some pivotal, shaping moments from his past.
A "full monty" experience, revealing many emotional and physical scars, previously locked away safely but now fully exposed, gaining heartfelt depth via the added documentary that gives a unique insight into Tom, as well as some of his loved ones. A most intense journey, following his steps from a hyperactive child, into a physical downfall caused by an horrendous bowel disease. It is a touching insight into his ways, his thoughts and the fight to come to terms with it all. If at all.
It is an intense story filled with misery, sorrow, intimacy, extremes, a near-death experience, fragility, surrender and glimpses of hope, peace and healing; where his devotion in music, aids and guides him along. All captured in surgical precision on The Days The Clock Stops. An album filled with endless concatenations of melodies, musical changes and differing atmospheres, shaping the heartfelt emotions and personified tragedies of Tom's story.
After a first glance I was thrown back to my previous encounter with Tom's music, feeling the need to use that review as a template for his new album. The second time around, this proves only to be partially usable as the passion, emotion and musical universe radiated and found on The Days The Clock Stopped is beyond comparison. If a comparison has to be made then the majestic "mother of prog metal roller-coaster rides" The More We Remember aims at coming close, yet fails miserably, for Tom's new effort slays all his previous releases and is without doubt his finest Remedy Lane thus far.
Tom supplies vocals, guitars, synths and percussion for the basic structures of the song, thereby adding sound bites and intricate melodies hidden underneath the main melodies. This adds to the impact of the concept and gives the compositions additional embodiment. The seductive cello parts (Remco Woutersen), especially in the ambient parts of the album, yields further refined sensitivity, which in unison with the heavenly choirs gives many touching moments. And next to the divine contributions of Fabio Allessandrini (drums) and Rich Gray (bass, mastering), the album features many guest spots from befriended musicians adding their signature touches, each of them elevating the complex songs to dazzling heights.
Some of these musicians are the usual suspects: Norbert Veenbrink (Clockstop - Insight 4) and Lennert Kemper (A String Of Repeats) from Dreamwalker's Inc and Bioplan's Andi Kravljaca in No Can Do. The latter is a beautifully arranged epic track that soars through many moods, atmospheres and sees additional soloing (Matthew op 't Einde) and an exquisite passage featuring Luca Di Genarro of Soul Secret on synths. Other guitar solos are submitted by Marco Sfogli (Clockstop 2), Koen Romeijn (The Pulse), Chris Zoupa (Death And Her Brother Greg) and Daniel Magdič of Prehistoric Animals on Sleepless Angels.
The way that Tom lays his soul on a plate (record) prohibits me from making a track-by-track analysis, for it's an unparalleled statement from start to finish. We blast through the (e)motions right from the start with bombastic passages and extreme metal, crashing into minimalistic melodies, expressive melancholy and delicate progressive rock. By the time Code Of Conduct's passionate delivery bursts open, the amount of musical structures and virtuouso playing has already revealed more than some contemporaries will accomplish in a lifetime.
The alterations in Code Of Conduct, jumping from extreme metal cursed with expressive death grunts, into enchanting melodies surrounded by sweet pure vocals, is breathtaking and shows Tom's growth as a vocalist. The way the fragile melodies seamlessly erupt into fierce metal and vice versa is noteworthy. The added dash of Spanish flamingo and classical influences in The Pulse is inspired and adds yet another sparkling flavour to Tom's tasty explorations, much like the lovely touches on organ.
After Death And Her Brother Greg, with complexities reminiscent of Pain Of Salvation, and incorporating some great synth and guitar work, Tom shows what he does best in No Can Do. It is a highly entertaining and epic wild ride, with restrained ambient passages slowly building into dynamic movements mindful to Porcupine Tree. The symphonic twists, choirs and fast paced melodies and shredding solos add further variety and bewilderment. It is an inventive tour de force of prog metal.
It is the uplifting nature of A String Of Repeats that brings enlightening positivity, surrounded by solos courtesy of Lennert Kemper which are to die for. Finally the embracing words and feelings of the reflective and acquiescent (CD-only bonus track) All We Can Do ends a colourful oasis of musical ideas, which shaped through technically sublime executions, has resulted in a beautiful concept album that grows ever stronger.
Not only is this Tom's most personal statement, it is also his most accomplished one so far. The upscaled production does leave some room for improvement, as do some of the over-excited, distracting high hat/cymbal dictations (A String of Repeats for instance), but it's one hell of a trip.
This is a highly original, daring and emotionally adventurous album that every right-minded symphonic progressive metal fan should at least give a try. Or embrace like me as I proverbially yank in the musical intravenous drip to once again experience this marvellously crafted album bordering on purr-fection.
Wire — Mind Hive
Back in late January 2020 my younger brother Gary, his wife Jenny and myself crowded into The Hare and Hounds' pub in King's Heath (a suburb of Birmingham). The upstairs rooms are used for gigs and that night Wire were promoting their new release Mind Hive. Despite some sound issues dogging the evening, they were terrific. At the end of the gig Gary gave me a copy of Mind Hive and it has become a regular listen for me. I enjoyed it so much it topped my half-year best-of list.
As a fan of Wire since their 1977 debut Pink Flag, I love their left-field, intelligent, choppy, guitar-driven songs, stripped of anything extraneous so it separated them from the lumpen punk herd. Within a year they had morphed into an art-rock band occupying areas that their punk peers never understood. Their next two releases were brilliant. 1978's Chairs Missing has some left-over punk attitude to its clever artiness, but 1979's masterpiece 154 is still an all-time favourite with me. Both these albums see the introduction of keyboards, sequencers, cor anglaise, flute and viola, broadening their sound without any loss of the quirky pop, post-punk and art-rock focus that makes Wire, well, Wire.
This growth also saw them incorporate psychedelic and progressive rock. This is reflected in the covers for these 70s albums which are far removed from the day-glow, aggressive sneer of punk. And remember Wire were signed to Harvest Records, EMI's prog offshoot, home to Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, Barclay James Harvest, Be Bop Deluxe and so on.
Wire's move into experimental, detailed and complex art-rock has, in recent years, found them being reviewed in PROG Magazine but this is the first review for DPRP.net's august pages. So, with apologies for this lengthy pre-amble. What can I say about Mind Hive, other than it's Wire's best release since 154.
Wire's short but intense journey in the Mind Hive starts with the menacing, spikey riff and thunder of Be Like Them. Bone-crunching bass and drums punctuate the melody, as Matthew Simm's guitar manipulations and synths weave in and out of the mix. Colin Newman (vocals, guitars, keyboards) has a non-more English vocal style that counterpoints the raucous music. It uses a lyric rediscovered from 1977 that laments the pressures of conformity. It contains a phrase that is weirdly apposite to my life under lockdown: "Insomnia dogs me, in this tired year". Who knew!
Demonstrating Wire's refusal to be easily pigeon-holed, they continue with Cactused, an oddball pop anthem which the band seem to be able to produce at will. It has a delicious hook, underlined by burbling synths as it delves into dark corners of the net. A standard song structure (verse-chorus etc) informs Primed And Ready but there is a different instrumental solo going on under each verse. It is held together by Robert Grey's less-is-less syncopated drumming and more treated guitars that threaten to blow-out the speaker cones. The 12-string acoustic and Mellotron-like keys introduce the hook-laden Off The Beach's art-pop.
After four pacey tracks, Wire take a breath with the psyche-edged ballad Unrepentant. Its open, reverberant sound has acoustic guitar, keyboard tints and a production that is richly detailed. Then follows Shadows, a disturbing lyric of a violent round-up, set to a gorgeous melody. It reminds me of Annie Barbazza's take on John Greaves' atrocity song How Beautiful You Are from her terrific album Vive.
Bass guitarist, lyricist and occasional lead vocalist (he really should sing more) Graham Lewis sings the decidedly odd Oklahoma; and no it's nothing to do with the musical. A disruptive, bass-driven powerhouse that prompts my spouse, bless her, to shout "Turn it off". Result!
The centrepiece of the album is the looping groove of Hung with its effects-heavy mix of experimental guitar soundscapes, synth squeals, stylophone, organ and pounding drums anchored by a bass-line of weighty power. They use this magnificent music to set a lyric of just six lines. Wire never take the easy route of spiralling into noise, as they keep it tightly focussed. Mind Hive then closes with a delicate ballad Humming.
If I have a complaint, it's that more songs would have been better when Wire are on such brilliant form.
This album is not for every prog fan, as it is far away from traditional prog, but if you like to hear adventurous, inventive, eclectic art-rock par excellence with a spiky edge and a no-prisoners attitude, this could be for you.
I wonder if I live for another 41 years that I'll be listening to Mind Hive, the way I still listen to the 41-year-old 154. I'm sure I will. Mind Hive is, not just classic Wire, it's just a classic.