Album Reviews

Issue 2020-027

Here at DPRP towers, we frequently receive some interesting albums that whilst not strictly "prog", would be of interest to many of our readers. We sometimes receive albums that have been released in previous years. Also, with so many albums submitted, it is not always possible to find a writer with the time to give every release our usual in-depth review.

So how best can we still bring you news of such releases?

This is an edition of Prog Bites. Each still has all the usual album information and links to samples and videos (where available), but the reviews are much shorter, and we do not award any score.

We hope you will find some great music that you think deserves further investigation.

Here at DPRP towers, we frequently receive some interesting albums that whilst not strictly "prog", would be of interest to many of our readers. We sometimes receive albums that have been released in previous years. Also, with so many albums submitted, it is not always possible to find a writer with the time to give every release our usual in-depth review.

So how best can we still bring you news of such releases?

This is an edition of Prog Bites. Each still has all the usual album information and links to samples and videos (where available), but the reviews are much shorter, and we do not award any score.

We hope you will find some great music that you think deserves further investigation.

Aton Five — Childhood's End

Aton Five - Childhood's End
The Sun That'll Never Warm You (6:50), Woods Made of Stone (7:22), They Have Fallen And Thou Have Fallen (8:31), Vagabond's Worries (6:58), The Endless Desert (live) (15:07), Time (live) (9:48), The Sun That'll Never Warm You (live) (10:32)
Jerry van Kooten

While working on their second album proper, Russian instrumental psych-proggers Aton Five have released a compilation album of some previously released tracks (tracks 1 - 3) plus some outtakes (5 - 7).

Although I reviewed their full-length debut Solarstalgia and really liked it, time constraints kept me from investigating more. Now I can regard this compilation as a reminder. A big one.

The first three tracks are remastered versions of the tracks on their debut EP, Long Forgotten Tales. The first track is a relatively light opener. The second half of the song however is mainly an emotional and melodic guitar solo. The second starts more slowly but heavier, more like the sound on their debut album. The album ends with a live version of the same song. Its acoustic part on the studio version makes the contrast to the second half bigger. It could be a nice view inside the road that the band are on towards their next album, or maybe it shows that the band knows the difference in what works on a studio album and what works better live.

Vagabond's Worries is a previously unreleased studio outtake. It's an interesting experiment into an almost acoustic approach to post-rock.

The other two live tracks are from the debut album. The Endless Desert is slightly shorter than the studio version. At those lengths of time you don't have a clue whether the journey is 2 minutes shortened or not; it's the trip. What's probably most obvious is that their music has become a bit darker and heavier over time.

The band's mix of psychedelic rock, a bit of post rock, a heavy emphasis on the melodies on guitar and keyboards in old Deep Purple style, a progressive attitude in the songwriting, and some jamming in arrangements; this appeals to my taste a great deal. I have to see this band live one day. Let's bring on that next album!

Eternity — Vangeliana

Eternity - Vangeliana
Dreamers (6:36), Tears in the Rain (3:23), Solstice (4:47), Aria (5:50), Angels (3:34), Beyond (8:04), Moon Garden (6:15), Celestial Soul (5:29), Dawn (4:16), Electric Cafe (5:30), Dementia (3:45), Blue (4:06), Final Frontier (7:39), Dancing Beneath the Moonlight (4:37)
Jan Buddenberg

One might know Jose Manuel Medina as a member of Mandalaband and Last Knight, of which the latter have just released the formidable Seven Deadly Sins. Eternity is his solo project, and on Vangeliana he honours one of his greatest inspirations. If the dead give away album title doesn't ring a bell, then the exquisite opening track Dreamers will tell you as much, infectiously oozing Vangelis throughout.

It captures the same graciously grand feel and tantalising atmosphere, taking you on a voyage through touching melodies that shift into epic, bombastic soundscapes reminiscent of Conquest Of Paradise, one of Vangelis's best known songs. To me Tears In The Rain even surpasses this, as it creates a futuristic, cinematic universe filled with sorrow and sadness, where the additional rainy elements capture the mournful ending to the Bladerunner movie most perfectly.

This moving scenic landscape approach, in the style of Vangelis, idyllically shines through within each highly accomplished composition. Whether it be via intricate piano play in Solstice or the caressing classical environment of Beyond, it's all done in the most elegant, gentlest and soothing way possible.

And while the new age feel of Final Frontier proves to be a memorable trip to the outer regions of your mind, it also acts as a wonderful precursor to the warm, tangible familiarity and romantic stretches of Dancing Beneath The Moonlight. Least impressive is the slightly dissonant Celestial Soul which is mainly due to the repetitive synthy ear-worm disco/pop-melody that's too mindful to Boney M's Ma Baker.

My limited knowledge to the music of Vangelis, knowing foremost only his Oscar-winning soundtrack Chariots Of Fire and the captivating music to Bladerunner (which should have been awarded an Oscar for Rutger Hauer's supportive role) prevents me to state that I could have sworn this was the influential master-composer himself, as it also sparks picturesque images of Kitaro, Tomita and Tangerine Dream.

The originality and virtuosity on display, and Medina's warm admiration towards Vangelis is however undeniable. And although we don't hand out Oscar-rewards, for Vangelis adepts this is worthy of a NewAge/Contemporary prog-Emmy nomination and as such comes highly recommended.

Little King — Occam's Foil

Little King - Occam's Foil
Hate Counter (4:27), The Skin That I'm In (5:10), Forgotten Mile (2:26), The Foil (3:48), Nerve #8 (3:42)
Jan Buddenberg

For Occam's Foil, band leader Ryan Rosoff (guitars/vocals) has teamed up with Manny Tejeda (bass, backing vocals) and Eddy Garcia on drums and percussion. DPRP's previous encounter with Little King dates back to 2008 and although having missed a release, it is safe to say things have stayed more or less the same.

In line with previous releases the general feel of this EP is difficult to pinpoint towards a single style. It blends many genres such as alternative, indie, prog and rock. If one had to describe the superbly executed music in two words then this spicy mixture can be filed under the category: "Eclectically Exciting".

Starting it off big time is Hate Counter which soars instantly into heavy rock, with steamy grooves, solid riffs and rousing melodies. Musically reminiscent to Foo Fighters/Pearl Jam, the vocals by Rosoff occasionally spark Metallica but on a whole are mindful to a Jack Blades boldness, pouring a powerful Damn Yankees attitude.

Forgotten Mile, an intricate short ballad of sorts, starts off softly on delicate guitars and subdued vocals after which it slowly picks up pace towards a melancholic Red Hot Chili Peppers eruption. This is even more apparent in the exquisite The Foil, which proves to be a roller coaster of influences and musical diversity. While the intro ignites RHCP through it's melody, sparks of ska-Madness and quirky Frank Zappa follow, with spicy violin insertions adding progressive depth. Besides its poppy character, bringing to mind Talking Heads, further strangeness in the lyrics and the kittenish, jazzy interludes give rise to Max Webster deliciousness.

The closing instrumental Nerve #8 is a brilliant demonstration of (jazz)rock-fusion in the style of the Steve Morse Band with each member delivering an intoxicating performance. The tightness of the rhythm section creates a perfect platform for Rosoff to shine on guitars alongside some melancholic Rush influences.

The Skin That I'm In is the standout track of this EP. Its refined and calm intro glides into soft caresses of seventies Led Zeppelin rock, blissfully met by divine brushes of cello and violin. It slides back to the uplifting chorus only once more, after which a marvellous duel of violin and guitars erupt into an overwhelming delicious frenzy of Pavlov's Dog and a big royal finish in Kansas deliriousness.

The vibrant production captures the honest rawness of the compositions perfectly. Yet a little bit of attention should have been addressed to the fade-outs, for on several occasions this bring an annoyingly-premature ending. Other than that, this is a bloody tasty rock cocktail. Refill please!

Mystic Prophecy — Metal Division

Mystic Prophecy - Metal Division
Metal Division (3:29), Eye To Eye (4:15), Hail To The King (3:44), Here Comes The Winter (5:13), Curse Of The Slayer (3:53), Dracula (3:21), Together We Fall (3:39), Die With The Hammer (3:58), Re-Incarnation (3:54), Mirror Of A Broken Heart (3:43), Victory Is Mine (4:09).
Jan Buddenberg

Mystic Prophecy have unleashed their tenth album Metal Division, brutally showcasing that after 20 years they are still a force to be reckoned with in. Forged in a thunderous clear production, capable of fully annihilating even the most indestructible of Ghetto-blasters, the album contains 11 concise, energetic tracks oozing classic heavy metal, filled with melodic rock and progressive touches. 'Touches' being a clear understatement, in light of the many trashy riffs, pounding rhythms and adventurous speed/trash metal stylings.

Right from the off, surrounded by warning sirens, Metal Division takes control with steamy melodic heavy metal. With Evan K and Markus Pohl throwing bolts of flashy powerful guitar riffs, the massive and tight rhythm section of Joey Roxx (bass) and Hanno Kerstan (drums) immediately stands out. This formation paves a hellish highway to the powerhouse vocals of R.D. Liapakis, ranging somewhere between Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, Sons Of Apollo, SOTO), while in the lower regions he even manages to resemble that of Geoff Tate (ex-Queensrÿche).

This likeness to Soto is uncanny in the catchy melodic metal tracks like Here Comes The Winter and Mirror Of A Broken Heart, while the forceful second single Eye to Eye sparks Allen, especially in light of the exceptionally vigorous Symphony X-inspired opening. The divine melancholic opening to Hail To The King supplies a little progressive metal breather, whereas the groovy bombast of Dracula feels equally familiar.

The fury and aggressiveness of Curse Of The Slayer and Die With The Hammer are likewise a conquering showcasing of technically impressive progressive speed-metal reminiscent of Queensrÿche, Metallica and especially Iron Maiden. If these last two tracks don't create a moshpit in a live setting, I don't know what will.

Also worthy of note is the all-encompassing trash epic Victory Is Mine, where they go in for the kill with Liapakis's voice showing further growling flexibility and proving there's only one way to rock!

Finishing touches are delivered via the excellent artwork. There's only one option if the bands mentioned here spark your interest: suit up, brace yourself, strap yourself in and play it loud!

Red Morris — Time

Red Morris - Time
San Sebastian (6:22), My Father (7:25), Transylvania (6:10), New York (8:33), Time (6:22), Money Kills (5:34), Blessed Imelda (7:17), Opera (5:55)
Chris Haggstrom

Maurizio Parisi, a.k.a. Red Morris, is a guitarist based in Brescia, Italy. His second album, Time, brings to fruition musical ideas Morris wrote years ago but couldn't release until 2018 due to financial constraints. Red Morris's style is primarily guitar-based, classic hard rock along the lines of Gary Moore and Thin Lizzy. The tracks on Time are fairly simple and won't do much to stretch a prog ear, with bare-bones and sometimes even raw-sounding production.

Unexpectedly, the album makes several detours into light jazz, including trumpet solos by Mirco Parisi. The combination of rock and light jazz is a little strange, and many of the transitions are abrupt. For that reason, I could see how some listeners might feel more comfortable with the more cohesive, purely instrumental rock of Red Morris' 2015 album, Lady Rose. Time concludes with the instrumental track Opera, which was composed by bassist Alberto Parisi.

The big guitar chords and Marcello Spera's high vocals on New York and Blessed Imelda remind me of the youthful exuberance of Triumph's first two albums, while Money Kills leans more toward Deep Purple. The length of the songs on Time stretches to six, seven, and even eight minutes, but the extra duration is used for solos, not song development. From its classic rock sound, to the light jazz diversions, Time feels a bit like a nostalgic trip back to the late 1970s or early 80s.

Roz Vitalis — Daybreaking Live

Roz Vitalis - Daybreaking Live
Wides (8:26), Daybreaking (5:57), Nepsis (7:26), Loro Con Dolcezza E Cortesia (1:35), Fret Not Thyself Because Of Evildoers (6:54), Mother Of All Rain (4:17), Strangers And Pilgrims On The Earth (8:47), Psalm 6 (7:28)
Theo Verstrael

The St. Petersburg based instrumental prog band Roz Vitalis has been around for almost 20 years now, releasing ten studio albums and seven live albums. Since Live in Kirishi in 2016, they managed to release a live album every new year. Daybreaking Live is their fifth, with barely a year in between. That makes you wonder why a new live one is necessary. The only sensible reason can be that they have so much to show live, and do so many gigs with totally different set lists, that it would be a shame if all that material passed by unnoticed.

Yet in spite of all these albums, that seem to get pretty high ratings, until now this band has completely passed me by. The big advantage is that I could listen to this new live album completely devoid of any knowledge as to how they sound in the studio. (Well, I thought that was an advantage, but only half of the songs can be found on their studio outings.)

Looking at the running times, only Nepsis, originally on their second album Lazarus, gets a very different arrangement with twice as much duration as the studio version. Wides, Daybreaking and Loro Con Dolcezza E Cortesia and Strangers And Pilgrims On The Earth can not be found on studio albums. And that makes this live album worth the purchase, especially for their fans.

The album was recorded during a gig in their home town of St. Petersburg. That night Roz Vitalis was Ruslan Kirillov on bass guitar, Vladislav Korotkikh on flute, founder Ivan Rozmainsky on electric piano and keyboards, Vladimir Semenov-Tyan-Shansky on electric guitar and Evgeny Trefilov on drums. The latter also took care of the mixing and mastering.

As far as the latter is concerned, several things leave much to be desired. I found the drums too upfront in the mix, while the audience's reactions to the songs are faded out far too quickly, wiping away the live feeling. Therefore this album isn't a smoothly-flowing album of a live show, but a compilation of separate live songs, which is a pity. Furthermore the sound quality is a bit blurry here and there. The end of the album is awkward, with a very short bit of applause followed by some spoken words and then ... nothing. That's doesn't do any justice to the artists.

The instrumental music of Roz Vitalis is an eclectic mix of prog, jazz and avant-garde, without forgetting the importance of melody. The only time they really lose themselves in that respect is in the frenzied Fret Not Thyself Because Of Evildoers, a track that misses coherence and therefore is the weakest track on the album.

Strangely enough that is the only track that this album shares with their former live album. For the rest, there is appealing guitar soloing (Mother Of All Rain), a romantic flute and piano duet leading to a nice up-tempo flute theme (Wides), a beautiful, yet oddly Italian entitled and far too short intermezzo on piano and keys (Loro Con Dolcezza E Cortesia), some addictive recurring riffs and energetic duets between guitar and keys (Strangers And Pilgrims On The Earth) and some fine organ playing against heavy guitar riffing reminiscent of very early Deep Purple (Psalm 68). The playing is steady, tight and good.

For the fans of this band, this new live album is a no-brainer. For newcomers who enjoy not too complex but far from simple instrumental music, with hints of early IQ (more accurately The Lens), King Crimson and UK this is one to check out.

Rick Scott & Nico Rhodes — Roots & Grooves

Rick Scott & Nico Rhodes - Roots & Grooves
Outside (4:27), Middle Of Nowhere (6:21), Lost Soul Man (5:39), Let's Make It Right (4:57), It's Only Words (5:28), Hurt So Long (3:57), Funkanatomy (3:26), Come Home (4:20), The Mystery (3:56), Bottle People (4:37), Queen Of Dreams (4:55), People I Love You (5:56)
Jan Buddenberg

What do you get when you pair the folk veteran Rick Scott with the piano wizardry of Nico Rhodes? The answer: one steamy, playful, stripped down, bare naked, old fashioned rock 'n' roll party! On this album, aptly titled Roots & Grooves, Scott and Rhodes dig down into 12 groovy singer/songwriter tunes, mixing up boogie woogie, (rhythm and) blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll with unbridled energy.

Scott possesses great, expressive, soulful vocals which in Lost Soul Man occasionally remind me of Michael Stanley (MSB). Yet the overall feeling, mostly in combination with the melancholic folk/blues familiarity of the music, is that of a Mick Jagger meets a less raspier Joe Cocker whilst singing passionately along to rousing Piano Man (Billy Joel) inspired tracks.

When Rhodes explodes on the piano, and he certainly does, it's comparable to a feisty duet of Jaap Dekker or Fats Domino battling it out with Jerry Lee Lewis (Come Home / Middle Of Nowhere). In the more mellow, refined tracks like It's Only Words and Bottle People his intricate, skilful playing is of a delightfully classical nature, blending beautifully with the solid acoustics of Scott.

The sweetly-saddening clarinet by Rhodes in the fragile Queen Of Dreams is an unsuspected welcome, yet it's the aforementioned It's Only Words that's the absolute winner on this album. Dating back as far as 1971, when it was originally written, this is a track that harbours immaculate beauty through it's heartbreaking piano virtuosity and modestly brittle vocals. A song finally released that easily proves to have stood the test of time.

Prog? Personally I fail to hear it or it must be interpreted as a cookpot melting all kinds of different music styles into one. The album title could not have been picked better though, for the overall groovy sensation is one of being all shook up with further nostalgic flashes of The Beatles, JJ Cale, Eric Clapton, and The Rolling Stones.

Soniq Theater — Fortune Tunes

Soniq Theater - Fortune Tunes
Bringer Of Good Luck (4:33), Tarot Cards (5:56), Fortune Teller (5:46), Andromadeus (4:46), The Pendulum (1:02), The Prophecy (7:10), Crystal Ball (0:49), Fortunate Coincidences (4:47), Second Sight (3:23), Inner Visions (visionary mix) (7:10), Ouija Board (0:45), Ritual (4:32), Nostradamus (4:56)
Jan Buddenberg

If there's one certainty of these past two decades, it has been the steady deliverance of a new album by Soniq Theater, the keyboard-driven, ambient, electronic progressive rock project by Alfred Mueller (ex-Rachel's Birthday, reviews here). An admirable perseverance that now sees album number 20, released over the exact same number of years.

Lucky number 20 sees Mueller merrily venture into 13 well-structured tracks with a thematic approach towards the supernatural, good luck and other-worldly premonitions. Similar to his earlier work, of which a substantial amount of reviews can be found on DPRP, these multi-layered compositions and catchy, playful melodies prove to be easily approachable and entertaining.

The atmospheric moods expressed through inspired use of familiar sounds work like a charm; as in the short interlude Crystal Ball that reveals twinkling, happy memories of a freshly-shaken snow globe. The nice flow of Eastern melodies in Bringer Of Good Luck that sparkle a delightful Chinese yin/yang feel, is equally inventive.

This lovely implementation of ideas shines through as well in the playful electronic tracks Fortunate Coincidences and Prophecy, both illustrating Mueller's rhythmic compositional skills. Further uplifting sounds of panpipes and smooth transitions in Tarot Cards and Second Sight result in a warmer atmosphere that shifts slightly towards Kerry Livgren's One Of Several Possible Musiks. The energetic synth rock of Inner Visions (visionary mix) equally excites.

The album's pinnacle is reached with the gorgeously grand soundscape of Nostradamus that ends the album in majestic Vangelis style. The use of a drum computer and occasional far too basic piano parts (for instance in Fortune Teller) is however unfortunate.

Notwithstanding that, this is a fine effort which should appeal to fans of instrumental keyboard music. The easy advice is to simply try your own luck with this album, as it's available for free at Soniq Theater's Bandcamp site. And see this list for all the Soniq Theater reviews here on DPRP.

Sunrise Auranaut — The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn

Sunrise Auranaut - The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn
Huck's Happiness (theme #1) (2:33), Alone Locked Up (Chapter 'In The Hut', Theme #1) (1:15), Huck And His Father (Chapter 'In The Hut', Theme #2) (2:43), Huck's Escape (Chapter 'In The Hut', Theme #3) (2:37), Far Morning Shore (Chapter 'On The Island') (4:53), Cave And Night Storm (Chapter 'On The Island') (4:09), This Whole World Is Your Home (6:18), The Tranquility And The Sea Of Stars (Chapter 'On The River') (4:00), Collision With The Ship (Chapter 'On The River') (3:15), Lost In The Thick Fog (Chapter 'On The River') (1:59), Blood Feud (Chapter 'In The Shepherdson Family') (3:06), It's Time To Leave Again (Chapter 'In The Shepherdson Family') (2:40), Huck And Jim's Friendship (4:36), Two Crooks (King And Duke) (3:13), Huck's Happiness (theme #2) (3:54)
Jan Buddenberg

This is the sixth release from Sunrise Auranaut, a studio project led by multi-instrumentalist Vitaly Kiselev (electric and acoustic guitars, bass, synthesiser) and shows a gradual shift towards more of a band effort. Once again Alexander Malakhov is present on synthesisers, while for the first time a drummer is introduced by the name of Ilya Blinov. A welcome addition, for it gives the music a deeper, richer sound in comparison to Sunrise Auranaut's previous attempt Inserter. It also brings more backbone and variety.

Inspired on the book by Mark Twain, Kiselev has written, arranged and produced an instrumental concept-album that takes its listener on a relaxed musical stroll. And once the book opens up, the imaginary journey begins as we travel along a rippling riverbed whilst gazing at a modern-day gallery of Pictures at an Exhibition.

Chronologically from Huck's Happiness (theme #1) up to Lost In The Thick Fog (Chapter 'On The River'), Kiselev has succeeded in incorporating an historical feel via sparkling, easy-flowing melodies, spurred on by shining flashes of Tchaikovski, Grieg and seventies-inspired progressive rock. The many lovely synth escapades, manage to demonstrate Kiselev's ability to create atmospheres and mood settings to the corresponding sceneries.

Whether it's the elegant, ambient spaciousness of The Tranquility And The Sea Of Stars (Chapter 'On The River'), the freshly-packed, airy summer breeze of Far Morning Shore (Chapter 'On The Island'), the projected image of Dockworks suggested by the drum sounds in Lost In The Thick Fog (Chapter 'On The River') or the adventurously-layered, darker end section of Cave And Night Storm (Chapter 'On The Island'), it's all tastefully done, albeit coloured safely in-between the lines.

Similar to a novel, where one eagerly peeks at the end in order to satisfy one's curiosity, starting from Blood Feud (Chapter 'In The Shepherdson Family') this restricted colouring become surprisingly more free-spirited in nature. Virtuoso drum parts, alternating delicate/complex structures and sparkling keys act as a precursor to a festive celebration of electronic frolics in Huck And Jim's Friendship, while Huck's Happiness (theme #2) brings uplifting eruptions and sees further enjoyable key and guitar interaction.

On a whole these facile, approachable compositions, although gaining strength from an improved production, move slightly away from the interesting path chosen on Inserter, consequently making this a slightly lesser effort. Still an enjoyable one for keyboard-orientated symphonic music fans.

Vault — Blindfolds Aside

Vault - Blindfolds Aside
Blindfolds Aside (5:50), The 21 Grams Theory (6:33), Web Of Sin (Live) (4:55), River Of Life (Live) (6:29)
Martin Burns

Using the classic two-guitar, bass and drums line-up, Vault release their debut four-track EP Blindfolds Aside.

Vault are a talented bunch who make quite a sound, but they are still in that stage of wearing their influences openly. You can hear Deadwing-era Porcupine Tree and the recent proggy albums of Opeth in their song-based heavy prog.

This release is well recorded, mixed and arranged, so there is plenty to get your teeth into. The twin guitars mix heavier riffs with delicate playing. Within each song there are well controlled changes in dynamics and atmosphere. Singer/guitarist Malo Ordelmans is possessed of a fine voice. The best track here is The 21 Grams Theory, driven by off-the-beat drumming, and held together by the bass line, it does the quiet-loud-louder structure really well as it approaches prog-metal territory. Guitar muscles are well and truly flexed as they bury influences.

The two live tracks prove that this is a band and not just a studio project. River Of Life (Live) is the best of the two; its balladic pace and changing dynamics are thoroughly engaging.

There is nothing self-indulgent in these four songs and I expect Vault to find that extra spark to outstrip those obvious influences soon, allowing these fine musicians to explore fully their obvious potential. Investigate Blindfolds Aside, then you can say I was with Vault from the start.

Album Reviews