Apairys — Vers La Lumière
France's Apairys was formed in 2014 by Christophe Bellières (vocals), Benoît Campedel (guitar and bass), and Silvain Goillot (drums and keyboards). Listening to this group you wouldn't think there were only three people in the band. Their debut album, Vers La Lumière, which translates as "Toward the Light", has a full and complex sound characteristic of bands with many more musicians. The album may be a little hard to track down in some streaming circles, but the CD is available for purchase from the band's Facebook page and it is available digitally for purchase on iTunes in the US iTunes Store (and presumably in other countries' iTunes stores). It is definitely worth the effort to find this album.
At 48 minutes long with the last track being almost 17 minutes long, it seems like this album was designed with the restrictions of vinyl in mind. There is something to be said for working within that framework, even if the album isn't released on vinyl. It forces a band to be careful with what they choose to include. The result is a streamlined album without fluff. The shortest track is the first, at 5:47. This is definitely a prog album. The songs give plenty of room for the musical motifs to develop without feeling rushed. My only complaint with the album is it seems to end rather abruptly. The way it ends makes it feel like there should be one more track, which is a little disappointing since the last track is as long as it is.
Musically this album is very strong. The guitar work is extremely polished, and Benoît Campedel can shred with the best of them. His work alone makes this an enjoyable album to listen to. His solo on the instrumental title track is thing of beauty. The drums are intricate and provide a strong background for the songs. Bass and keyboards round things out, with the keyboards playing a prominent role in the band's overall sound. They set the stage and create a distinctive ambience.
Christophe Bellières is an excellent vocalist. Most of the album is in a more moderate vocal range, but he doesn't let that stop him from soaring to the high points at times. The album has long instrumental passages which help to make the vocal passages stand out even more.
Lyrically the entire album is sung in French. You'd think with as many years that I have studied French in high school and in university that I'd understand what's going on better than I do, but you'd be wrong because I slacked in those classes. I'm able to grasp that the album seems to be mildly dystopian and philosophic. That alone will keep this interesting on repeated listens. Someday soon I hope to study French a little more, and maybe listening to more music sung in French will help with that.
I really like the artwork for the album. The cover art is quite stunning, and the additional artwork in the booklet is a nice touch. There is a bit of a steampunk aspect to it, which seems to connect to the lyrics.
Overall this is a solid album, especially for a debut record. Musically and vocally there is a lot to appreciate here. A fan of classic and contemporary prog will find much to keep them interested with Apairys' Vers La Lumière.
Different Light — Binary Suns Part 1 (Operant Condition)
"Love at First Sight" is a phenomenon I'm not familiar with as such. Maybe blinded by love is more accurate, for it had taken me a considerable amount of time to ask my former colleague out for a drink. No head over heels love affair, but an early mutual likeness that has grown and matured over the course of years and now twenty years into our relationship I've come to understand, interpret and feel as love.
"Love at First Sound" on the other hand is one aspect I can wholeheartedly relate to. My inner sound-system has been listening to music ever since I was little, and through many flings an infinite musical kaleidoscope with internal preferences towards certain types of music was moulded and forged within me. Prog being one of them obviously, yet there's an endless array of closely related genres, oddities and guilty pleasures that helped shape this magical melancholic musical jukebox inside me.
And every once in a while an album penetrates inside, nestling and securing its own unique place in the sun, like 2019's discovery Lies and Butterflies by Mystery, the second to my series of "Merde!" experiences (part one being Nemo's Présages). Both albums of exceptional touching quality and harbouring several individual unsuspected personal surprises. The alluring warm ray of light from Binary Suns Part 1 (Operant Condition) concludes this trilogy right away.
Having started in Malta in 1994, releasing All About Yourself in 1996, the band is laid to rest some time later. Keyboard player and vocalist Trevor Tabone, having moved to Czechia in the meantime, decides to have another go in 2008 and so far the band have released besides an EP Icons That Weep, The Burden Of Paradise and a compilation disc in form of Il Suono Delle Luce. For Binary Suns Part 1 (Operant Condition), their fourth album, the band consists of David Filek on drums, Petr Lux on guitars/backing vocals, Jirka Matousek (bass) and features a special guest appearance by Lucy Lux on backing vocals.
The grandeur opening sounds of Amphibians immediately ignites a bright internal beam of sunshine within me through its many divine AOR touches. Tabone's deliciously tuneful and melodic vocals comprises a lovely engaging over-familiar pop sweetness which works wonders within the neo progressive character of the song. The superb melancholic flow, careful arrangements and intricate classical piano-nature of the composition is furthermore surrounded by smooth background harmonies and once the goose-bump inducing Neal Schon inspired guitar solo (Journey) ends Different Light gently invite me, similar to Mystery's previous engagement, to come and sail away into a sun drenched paradise.
Sunglasses adjusted the uptempo Faith firm and fluently glides by in smooth REO Speedwagon pop fashion with subtle drums and intricate bass lines, while the frivolous underlying melodies showcase highlights of A.C.T. happiness. The delicate superb change into old fashioned AOR-keys (Trillion) and Queen-like solo could have lasted me light-years, and thankfully that's exactly what happens with the adventurous epic Spectres And Permanent Apparations.
As one of the three tracks divided into individual chapters (Amphibians and On The Borderline being the others) it keeps the delicious glow of the album going. Bursting with virtuous piano it is a liquorice prog-delight from the opening seconds of Ataraxia (chapter one), as it streams with flawless transitions, many thematic returns and melodies, meanwhile breathing a wonderful Styx feel. Lucy Lux's vocals supply perfect harmonies in the second chapter Two Shadows setting up for the equally wonderful Small Mercies delivering a small Vinyl Confessions Kansas treat as it glides into the instrumental Hand Of Providence. The exceptional playful nature of chapter 5 Barbrera flirts with Supertramp yet it is infectiously surpassed by the highly addictive Synethesia which is brilliant example to the inventiveness and creativity in Different Light's accomplished compositions. The final chapter Midas Gold reprises many of the melodies and harmonies and ends on a high with a tantalising melancholic emotive guitar solo reminiscent to Mystery.
The Answer playfully continues with some lighthearted west-coast AOR pop rock (LeRoux, Toto) mixed with Dilemma freshness, illuminating the pathway to the formidable Two Faces, featuring once again the intricate moving harmonies with Lucy Lux. Arguably one could consider it a repeat of steps taken earlier on, but the tasteful elegant way, gorgeous arrangements and sublime executions in which it is done keeps on giving and giving, so I couldn't care less. And it even gets better.
For as a possible omen to Binary Suns Part 2 the end of the album shifts ever so elegantly into a darker mood with On The Borderline that tops it all off, opening with fiery guitar flashes and a emotive melancholic atmosphere. Passing through captivating New England deliciousness it momentarily slows down before soaring into the overwhelming instrumental chapter Demonic revealing a stellar spine chilling solo by Lux on guitar. Final chapter Now Just Go Away comfortably revisits the conceptual theme of the album one last time, although its title is in direct contrast to my undeniable urge to re-visit the album over and over and over again.
Highly recommendable for prog enthusiasts this album has been able to capture my deepest cravings through its moving emotional progressive rock with a vibrant healthy heatwave of AOR. It is exactly the sort of appetising pleasure one can wake me up for during the night, as it releases an instant internal ray of sunshine, excitation and admiration where the refined prog AOR-lightness somehow manages to continuously emanate Bighorn to me, a sumptuous one-off AOR delicacy from the late seventies.
I for one am lustfully looking forward to the second part of the concept, and if the darker atmosphere of On The Borderline is anything to go by, a substantial sunblock might be in order for part one proves to be a wonderful summery breeze. If they decide to add more power thus creating an irresistible gigantic black hole they also got my vote. Until that joyous day comes I'll savour this "sure to make my top-10 list of 2020"-album, meanwhile kneeling down to their current record label to cure my need by re-issuing physical copies to their previous albums, for I hate feeling incomplete.
Jack O' The Clock — Witness
It is always interesting when a band develops and adapts their studio sound and evolves their approach in a concert setting. That is exactly what the excellent Jack O' The Clock have done with the release of their first live album which faithfully captures the bands performance at the Columbia City Theater in Seattle in 2017, where the band were part of the Sea Prog festival.
A number of things are readily apparent from the moment the album begins. The band is quite adept at reproducing their studio sound, but the intimacy of their approach in the setting of a live performance is successfully captured throughout the disc. It is this intimacy and feeling that you are a part of the audience that is experiencing a moment that is unique. Similarly the album is able to give the impression that the event is quite special and it is also the manner in which that is so brilliantly conveyed that makes this album particularly attractive.
As you might expect the band create a much more organic sound on this live release and the stripped back nature of much of the performance adds to its overall charm. However, Jack O'The clock is not content with simply reproducing their studio back catalogue note for note. There are numerous occasions when the band stretch things out to move off script from that determined by the studio versions of these tunes. In this way, a number of tunes have unexpected embellishments, or move in an unfamiliar direction within the tunes recognisable and familiar framework.
It is interesting to see the way in which the band has structured their set list. Clusters of tunes are grouped together to create extended suites of music. The way in which many these tunes have been joined is no accident and I am sure a lot of thought went into this so that each tune compliments the other within a section of the gig. In this way track one, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence/Blue Tail Fly, track four, Guru On the Road/The Blizzard/Ten Fingers, track eight, Slow March/Schlitzie, Last Of The Aztecs, Lodges An Objection In The Order Of Things and the concluding track,.22, Or Denny Takes One For the Team/I Am So Glad To Meet You, have all been sequenced and organised purposefully, so that they each complete a unique extended song cycle, or self-contained song suite if you like.
The songs chosen for the set list span the whole career of the band. I was pleased that selections from the bands last two albums Repetitions Of The Old City 1 and 2 were chosen as I am familiar with those having had the opportunity to review these works for DPRP in the past.
The bands signature sound is very much on display in this live performance. In this respect, the tuneful warbling of band leader and principal composer Damon Waitkus makes a significant impression. His idiosyncratic delivery and easily identifiable vocal style fits the music of his band perfectly. It is full of expression and heartfelt emotion and the sincerity of how he delivers the lyrical message of his art comes across in droves.
Another identifiable element of the band's overall sound is the role that the bassoon and violin play to enrich the group's textures and give a range of colours to their stylistic pallet. The combination of Emily Packard's violin and Kate McLoughlin's bassoon gives much of the music an earthy feel and the bands grass roots Americana approach tinted subtly with hints of bluegrass incorporates a number of influences within its Avant amalgamation of styles.
However, despite some lush arrangements and impressive instrumental parts, at the heart of Jack O' The Clocks art is the ability to write a good tune with thought provoking lyrics and a memorable melody. It is evident throughout the album that Waitkus is a jolly good song smith.
When these elements are combined with his unique amalgamation of stylistic norms and a progressive approach to music and composition, the results are never less than impressive. Consequently, this album is sure to appeal to anybody who enjoys a good tune, but also appreciates music that sits outside the box and finds music that defies usual genre norms satisfying.
There are many highlights and standout points throughout the release. I have always had a soft spot for Guru on The Road and the band's delivery of this instrumental piece is totally convincing. Of the other tracks, a tune about death and dying The Old Man and the Table Saw never fails to bring a lump to my throat. It begins with a meaty bass line that soon finds a sense of purpose and harmony as it travels a path accompanied by vibrant dulcimer tones that are so much a trademark of the band's sound.
The bassoon melody just floats and flutters with double reed strewn vibrated expression, on top of the band's smoothly sculptured instrumental scree. Its middle section must rank as one of the most beautiful that Waitkus has penned and its heartfelt conclusion wobbles wistfully with clear emotion. It was always a good studio piece on Repetitions of the Old City 1, however the immediacy, sincerity and inventive instrumental sections of the live rendition ensures that it is now a very good, dare I say excellent piece on Witness.
If you have not heard the music of Jack O' The Clock before, then Witness may well prove to be a valuable starting point to explore this excellent bands canon of works. Much of this live performance is very satisfying and on occasions it is nothing short of phenomenal.
There is not much else to say other than I think I will pour myself a tepid tea and witness it all over again.
Trio Kadabra — Hot Jats
This is a tricky one. At first the idea of a jazz trio unpicking and re-packing some classic Frank Zappa tunes is highly appealing. Not that is hasn't been done before ad nauseam, given Frank's enduring legacy that has influenced a diverse range of genres. However it is thought that he was generally dismissive of jazz itself as a respectable art form. "Jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny", said the great man, along with calling it "the music of unemployment'. There is of course a large compendium of improvisation in the Zappa catalogue, and there is the great jazz-rock trilogy of Waka/Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo, and Hot Rats to whet any beard-stroking, beret-wearing hippy's appetite for noodling.
So Trio Kadabra's project here is certainly justified and initially of interest as to how the piano might have a crack at replicating some guitar. Three middle-aged well-trained musicians from Italy fits the bill, and so I had high expectations. What a letdown. I've thrown various listening angles at this album for the last month and it always ends up thrown in the easy-listening elevator-accompaniment category I'm afraid. Little in the way of imagination, just a simple play on the original melody. It's exactly the sort of lounge-music that Frank was parodying so much in America Drinks And Goes Home.
Take Eat That Question - Inca Roads for example. There is none of the original frenetic drumming. On Son of Mr. Green Genes the piano does a miserable job of emulating Frank's fabulous guitar, and the original bar-stool honky-tonk feel to the piano is replaced with more mellow hotel foyer banality. With Little Umbrellas the twangy base and wind overdubs of the original are simply trashed for more of the same simple piano melody. Sacrilege.
In an attempt to perk the interest (or more likely offend the original composer) there is a version of Miles Davis' All Blues segueing into King Crimson's Frame by Frame via (barely noticeably) King Kong. I hope the notoriously upsettable Robert Fripp doesn't hear it - he would do his jazz-hating nut.
I can't help but thinking that Keith Jarrett would have made a much better crack of this. A Zappa tribute demands at least a snifter of adventure, not a dumbing-down to make it suitable for background-listening at a dinner party. Don't waste your time. Check out Ed Palermo Big Band Plays The Music of Frank Zappa instead.
Vikram — Behind The Mask I
So, here we have an album, based on the book (part one of a planned trilogy), based on the RPG board game, based on the musical transcript books (five volumes, one each for guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and vocals), based on the album, for which you can buy digital sample packs of the various instruments and sounds used during the making of the album. In an era of mass marketing this may seem confusing, and I'll do my best to try and explain.
Vikram is the brainchild of Brazilian guitarist Tiago Della Vega. Tiago is a musician who I have never heard of, and after reading his biography and doing some research, this has surprised me. His credentials as musician, producer, mixing and composition are incredible. I then found out that Tiago is, according to the Guinness Book Of Records, the fastest guitarist in the world. Google Tiago, find the video on Youtube and be absolutely amazed. While this is an amazing achievement, and I was astounded when I watched the video, it did give me a degree of trepidation before playing the Vikram album, as I was expecting this to define the sound of the album.
I can confirm my worries were quickly dispelled. What we have is a Technical Metal album, which should quickly add Vikram to the long list of great metal bands to come out of Brazil. What is credible is the band have quickly identified the musical style they want, and do not try to over experiment with their sound. Vikram, from the outset, have defined their style, being a mix of Metal with the ethnic influences of Persian, Egyptian, Gypsy, Arab and Hindu cultures. The modern metal sound is interspersed with djent overtones at times, but this does not dominate the sound of the album. The predominant sound is similar to that of Iron Maiden and fellow country men Angra, with the Eastern musical influences present, but never dominating the sound. Being a fan of Orphaned Land I was worried that there would be more than a similarity of sound, but both are very distinct and the use of ethnic sounds help them both create a unique direction.
Singer Guilherme de Siervi, has an amazing voice. When controlled he does sound like Bruce Dickinson and Blaze Bailey, but his range is much more vast than either of these singers. He goes through growl and guttural styles, and still retains control and melody, which many other singers lose.
As you would expect, the first track, Taar is an instrumental, which acts as a scene setter for what is to come. While being a concept album, each track is able to stand on its own merit, and you don't have to know the story behind the concept to appreciate what Vikram have taken seven years to create. The novel, on which the album is based, Behind The Mask I, “takes the reader on a journey through time and space based on oriental culture (Egypt, Turkey, Arabia, Spain and India). The book tells the story of Nathanael Frost, an "immortal" who traverses the world and the centuries in search of explanations for his existence.” So, expect to spend a lot of time with this project if you wish to fully digest both the music and story. As a reviewer, with certain albums, you are not able to dedicate adequate time to some albums to fully digest and appreciate its impact, before you have to begin to make sense of what you have listened too. So you have to try and predict the longevity of the product, and whether it deserves more listens further down the line, as a fan rather than a critic. For me, Behind The Mask I certainly does.
It is difficult to pick out a highlight on the album, with fourteen tracks available, none seem weak. Give Requiem For Salem (a frenetic onslaught which Dragonforce could only wish they could emulate), The Mortal Dance Of Kali (a mid paced Eastern influenced song with epic chorus) or Eyes Of Ra, (one of the few tracks were Vikram slow things down a little and Guilherme de Siervi duets with Ines Vera Ortiz, providing a brief opportunity for the listener of catch their breath, before the intense onslaught continues) to get a feel of what you can expect.
If you have a love for Progressive Metal with an Eastern twist, have the available time to immerse yourself in a deep story-line and intense music, then give Vikram a try. Certainly one of the more refreshingly new Metal disc I have listened too and will regularly play when the mood takes me.