Kyros — Celexa Dreams
Third album (including the debut released under the name Synaesthesia) by Kyros, the follow-up to their marvellous 2016 album Vox Humana. According to their website, the band, consisting of Adam Warne (vocals, synthesisers/keyboards, things that go bleep), Robin Johnson (drums, percussion), Peter Episcopo (bass, backing vocals), and Joey Frevola (guitar, jaw harp, kazoo), are "not afraid of taking songwriting and musical experimentation to a whole new level by pushing the boundaries. Creating fresh, new and exciting music with influences ranging from eighties pop through to modern post-progressive and alternative rock music". The influences are pushing more towards the latter two genres but there are certainly moments that tick the more commercial boxes, although they may very well be contained within a longer piece; certainly, this is not pop music.
It is quite hard to pigeonhole the band, definitely a positive in my book, they have a rather unique sound that does encapsulate a variety of different styles but nothing that one could say apes anyone specific. Speaking of apes, not since Phil Collins lent his drum sticks to a gorilla have drums sounded so huge. (Apologies to non UK residents who may not have witnessed the Cadbury's television advert, if you haven't it is on YouTube and is well worth watching!) The sound of the whole album is very full with all four of the band members being easily heard and pushed to the front when it comes to solo time. And there are plenty of those throughout. but before we get into that, the album's title. Celexa is actually the name of an anti-depressant, hence the album's sleeve, although it is not specifically know for having an effect on dreams (I used to write about such things for a living!) but the title could have been borne of personal experience.
The opening two tracks, In Motion and Rumour are both fast and furious displaying a more contemporary edge with the latter song in particular possessing a killer chorus and fantastic arrangement really featuring the big drums. In Vantablack is a prog epic by any standards, lots of changes in time signatures, expressive use of different keyboard sounds and a lovely slide from chaotic madness to plaintive piano and vocals, deftly followed by a more symphonic break before heading towards the close of the piece. Impressive indeed.
Ghost Kids is an atmospheric linking piece with dreamy synths and a solo guitar line leading into Phosphene (not a chemical but an optical phenomenon of seeing light when in darkness or with one's eyes closed). The title bears no real relation to the lyric which is a slow, lost love song, although one could get rather poetical and stretch the analogy to seeing the woman who is no longer there, which is rather poignant. Continuing the tradition of the previous two album we get the third installment of Technology Killed The Kids which breaks down a lot of barriers between musical genres incorporating Depeche Mode like synth parts mixed in with elements of progressive metal, even death metal without the grunting and growling but a nod in that direction in the way the vocals are delivered and placed within the mix.
In complete contrast Sentry is a simpler piece starting off at a sedate pace with vocals sung through a vocoder. The chorus is effects free with a bigger sound and the instrumental break is accompanied by a voice over that reminds me somewhat of Porcupine Tree's Voyage 34. After a rather disappointing ending, Two Frames Of Panic is introduced by forty seconds or so of subdued keyboards and a stray guitar before blossoming out into the characteristic Kyros sound. The title is apt as there is a sense of panic throughout with one never quite knowing what is going to happen next. Must be a nightmare to learn and perform live. It does require a couple of plays (at least) to get to grips with everything but is well worth the effort.
UNO Attack is the sole instrumental of the album and presumably gets its name from the card game unless the music is supposed to represent a fight started by the United Nations Organisation! Whatever it is a high energy piece that rocks along at a merry pace providing multiple places where the band could freely improvise when performing, indeed, certain sections of the piece could actually have been improvised! Finally, things are slowed right down with the piano introduction to Her Song Is Mine. No information came with the preview copy of the album I received but I guess that the piece is sung by bassist Episcopo as it is definitely not Warne singing. This gives the piece a completely different flavour from the rest of the album and although the piano playing is rather lovely the difference in style is rather disconcerting and isolates the song from the rest of the album (in short, I don't like it much!)
On the whole Kyros have come up with a strong album that shows clear progression from their previous efforts but maintaining the signature elements of their sound. They may be accused of trying to be a bit too clever in places but there is a lot to assimilate here and it is one of those albums that I think will keep giving over the long term and will not easily become staid and tired.
Melting Clock — Destinazioni
One distribution list that I am happy to be on, as opposed to many others providing for an information overload in my mail account, is the one of a progressive rock mail ordering service specialised in Italian progressive rock, publishing a newsletter about once a week. Being a huge fan of RPI, I thereby get the opportunity to follow closely what happens musically in this field of activity and to discover bands and albums which otherwise would have passed under my radar. Destinazioni by Genova-based band Melting Clock is a striking example of that.
The origins of the band date back to the year 2001, when some friends got together at the Faculty of Physics at Genova University with the main objective of having fun whilst covering the songs of some of their prog rock idols. The band's name not only is a reference to Salvatore Dali's famous painting The Persistence Of Memory, but also the result of a considerable degree of self-mockery in how the band members assessed their own capabilities at the beginning of their musical career with respect to keeping time and rhythm. Given the high the quality of this release, folks, you definitely have managed to overcome and rectify these defaults.
Although being a music collective rather that a fully-fledged band at the beginning, Melting Clock still consists of four of its founding members: Sandro Amadei (keyboards, vocals), Stefano Amadei (guitars), Alessandro Bosca (bass guitar) and Francesco Fiorito (drums). A few years after having got started, they were joined by Simone Caffè (guitars), and Emanuela Vedana (vocals). Although these musicians have been playing together for almost 15 years, Destinazioni, the recording of which started in 2018, is their first release. Haste makes waste must have been their motto.
The cover shows a female figure sitting in a bus stop-like structure along the shore, thus probably waiting for a boat, something which might evoke the fact that there are different and sometimes unusual ways to reach one's destination.
Whilst not being a concept album as such, the songs thematically are linked to each other insofar as they deal with various aspects of a journey, with the efforts that it takes and the requirements essential to reach certain destinations, mentally and physically. The band has opted for singing in their mother tongue on this first release. I consider this as an excellent decision, given that the Italian language perfectly fits this melodic type of symphonic progressive rock with a lyric, melancholic and singing-songwriting foundation. Both the CD and the vinyl releases feature English translations of the Italian lyrics. Unfortunately, we were not provided with a physical copy. Hence, as someone with very little knowledge of the Italian language, I must rely on a fellow reviewer's assessment that having translated the Italian lyrics into English is a bit reminiscent to what Pete Sinfield has done with the first Banco de Gaia albums back in the seventies. This brings us to the music on this release.
Generally speaking, I tend towards classifying Melting Clock's music as a well-balanced mix of 70ties-influenced Italian symphonic rock à la PFM, Locanda Delle Fate, Conqueror, Mangala Vallis, and Museo Rosenbach with classic UK prog, akin to Magenta, and (late period) Renaissance, garnished with a little dose of neo prog. A distinguishing attribute is the voice of Emanuela Vedana. Her singing comes across expressively, lyrically, with a touch of drama and melancholy and is also used for soloing on some of the tracks, such as the epic Destinazioni. Because female vocals are not that common in symphonic progressive rock, the music on this release additionally makes me think of bands such as Ciccada and Iamthemorning (the music of the latter being slightly more subtle, though). Apart from that, I found reminiscences to the symphonic, classical music-oriented, melodic, and lyrical style of peers such as Il Tempio Delle Clessidre, Cellar Noise, Barock Project, Panther & C. and Different Light, to name just a few. Despite these many similarities, there is enough of originality to prevent this release from just being old wine in new skins.
What are the additional characteristics of the music of Melting Clock? Guitars and keyboards (organ, piano, synths) are complementing each other perfectly. Lengthy guitar and keyboard solos are not a striking element (exceptions: Sono Luce, and Caldeidoscopio), just as little as classical verse-chorus song structures, common in pop arrangements, but almost completely lacking here. Nonetheless, the music sounds very structured and precisely arranged, and, despite appearing straightforward, gradually reveals more complexity than evoked by the first impression (listen to the rhythmic structure of some parts on Vetro, and Antares, for instance). Guitars and keyboards often are played in the form of arpeggios, with straight riffing being predominant mainly on the title track. An overall somewhat sentimental and reflective mood of lots of the melodies and a lively rhythm section are juxtaposed effectively to provide for a high degree of variety and to keep the listeners' attention up throughout. The bass playing on this release, anyway, is something that I definitely find noteworthy. Take the bass lines accompanying the contemplative piano intro and the gorgeous synth solo of Sono Luce (clearly my favourite song amongst a set of strong tracks) as an example.
This is a release that I will revert to in the future not just occasionally. To me, it has the advantage of appealing right from the first time (due to its catchiness), albeit still being demanding and fascinating after repeat listening. Strongly recommended to everyone who likes some of the bands mentioned above and looks for melodic, accessible, complex (but not complicated) symphonic progressive rock with female vocals. Speaking about destinations: dear folks of Melting Clock, I hope that after this strong and promising debut, one of your next destinations will be the recording studio in order to provide us listeners with the successor rather sooner than later.
Morse / Portnoy / George — Cover To Cover Anthology (Vol. 1 - 3)
Fans of the ever-prolific Neil Morse and Mike Portnoy (partnered with other artists) are familiar with the fact that they do not rest on their creative laurels with their own compositions, Throughout their careers and during the recording of numerous projects the juices flow into songs that have been influential in their journeys as musicians.
The Cover To Cover album series with guitarist Randy George have given their work a combined outlet for these sojourns into alternative music genres, coming from many other fields outside the realms of prog. The latest release in this series, Volume 3, combines with their first two collections (remastered) to make an almost anthology of anthologies together making up a mammoth glut of reimagined classics running to almost 3 hours in total.
It's fair to say these 'Golden Oldies' are music of a certain generation (60s, 70s, and 80s) by a certain generation for a certain generation. And like a radio station that focuses on these decades it's a guilty pleasure without apologies. Unsurprisingly, given the backgrounds of these three, the choices are rock and roll belters from mostly stadium sized artists that work really well for the most part. There is a fairly unique style applied to the songs which is very much a given for this trio and most importantly, there is a reassuring comfort factor present because there hasn't been too much colouring outside of the lines.
In contrast, Peter Gabriel's back-scratching series rankled fans and artists alike by disassembling and deconstructing the material, whereas here, Morse and Co play it safe and approach this with some crisp, production embellishment and a high level of musicianship. Most reassuringly there is no auto-tune bastardisation that comes with the 21st century pop artist talent show. It's an honest, fan made approach which serves the originals well.
The highlights (and there are too many to mention) come from sources where there is a very clear link in the influences such as Portnoy's clear love of Keith Moon reflected in a brilliantly frenetic performance on The Who's I'm Free and Sparks instrumental.
There is no doubt that Morse vocally comes from the stables of The Beatles and the solo works of McCartney and Harrison - Maybe I'm Amazed and What Is Life? shine as a stunning testament to the love of the Liverpudlian song heroes. With the latest volume it's Ringo's turn with a vocal from Portnoy on the excellent It Don't Come Easy, enhanced by his daughter Melody.
There is still plenty of prog rock here with the likes of Yes on No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed, featuring a vocal from Jon Anderson. There are two outings for King Crimson and also Jethro Tull with Aqualung's Hymn 53. All of it faithfully honoured as you may well expect. Ironically though the prog feels second place to the other material on offer, the gems are from unexpected places such as Vol 2's Boz Scaggs' bouncy Lido Shuffle and Elvis Costello And The Attractions' What's So Funny About Peace Love And Understanding with Portnoy's beats again bringing extra to the party, complementing a superb driving bass from George. Two new Squeeze tracks in the form of Black Coffee In Bed and Tempted are a perfect fit for Morse's tonality and vocal range. And Tom Petty's Running Down A Dream is a blistering, tub thumper version.
Where things become unstuck is the lacklustre Let Love Rule, missing the crackling Beatles anthemic quality that Lenny Kravitz delivered so easily with his McCartney (Little Richard) shredding vocal, not helped with the absence of the distinctive smoky soulful sax solo and swinging bass being replaced with a spiky guitar alternative, all a little too formulaic here. But through a marathon length compilation that is on the money practically everywhere else it's a small criticism.
If you're a fan of the solo and band efforts from these musical wizards then chances are your own musical upbringing features several of these classic tracks on offer, which makes for a perfect fit that won't disappoint.
That Joe Payne — By Name. By Nature.
I was always in two minds about The Enid with Joe Payne as vocalist, primarily because as a long time fan and supporter of said band I have always associated them with instrumental music and somehow it didn't seem right to head into a new direction so late in their career. Of course, this had absolutely nothing to do with the vocalist whose performances on those albums was exceptional.
However, it is only on this long awaited debut solo album that just how exceptional a singer Joe Payne is (the profession moniker of That Joe Payne is presumably to distinguish him from the American artist with the same name). There are parts on this album where one thinks "interesting sound, Blimey it's his voice!". If you are approaching this album as a fan of The Enid, you shouldn't expect anything in their musical vein, in fact the only real resemblance is in Max Read's sampled voice and choir. It might seem incongruous with a vocalist of Payne's range and talent to load songs with sampled vocals but the contrast between the purity of Payne's voice and the electronically rendered backing vocals provides an excellent contrast and works very well. And it should also be noted that in a few places there is some digital manipulation of the lead vocals but all to the benefit of the songs.
So if the album is nothing like The Enid, what is it like? The best answer would be progressive pop, but before you go running for the hills at the mention of 'pop', hear me out. This is extremely adventurous music, fusing lots of ideas and styles into the fifty or so minutes of the album. From the the mournful solo guitar, played by Nikitas Kissonas from Methexis set alongside the operatic backing vocals of The Thing About Me Is to the tender piano ballad of In My Head and on to the harmony laden What Is The World Coming To which in other eras would, as an edit with the more proggy bit excised, be all over the radio and high in the charts, there is no real description that would do the album justice.
The self-effacing By Name. By Nature with its humorous lyrics ("Wait. I wanna dance in seven-eight" is a great riposte to the disgruntled Enid fans who send him hate mail during his tenure in the band - I hasten to add I wasn't one of them!) and particularly the following Nice Boy have a more definitive beat that could be incorporated into songs more associated with the dance-floor (although the quirkiness of the latter song would preclude it from being played, as used to be said during my youth, down the local disco). Listen out for one of those interesting vocal parts in this song, it is amazing.
In My Head has nice juxtapositioning of lead and backing vocals portraying complex internal monologues undermining and refuting confidences and beliefs. As previously hinted at What Is The World Coming To is a great song with a rousing chorus which masks the more negative aspects of the lyrics. The last think I had expected to hear on the album was a heavy blues number, but that is what you get with Love (Not The Same) and Payne gives a remarkable performance alongside guitarist Duncan McLaughlan and drummer Lise Martin.
The stroke of genius behind the song is that after four minutes of Payne wailing on expertly about his romantic woes, the amazing Ms. Amy Birks recites a verse in her normal speaking voice before suddenly letting rip with the full power of her singing that is both startling and amazing. There then follows some great duetting with the two past winners of prog best vocalists awards giving it all. Just as I wouldn't have expected to find a blues-based track on this album, I wouldn't have expected the said blues-based track to easily be the best song I have heard all year. It will take something exceptional to beat it as my song of the year and even then would not displace Payne's final scream as being the best ending to a song!
I Need A Change written about the singer's mental turmoil around the time his tenure with The Enid was coming to an end, is an honest and somewhat harrowing description of a breakdown that was written in a single afternoon at the height of the crisis. Despite this, there is a clear undercurrent of almost optimism that there are better times waiting. On a somewhat similar theme is End Of The Tunnel which is really the proper end of the album. The song is also about anxiety and depression but from the opposite perspective of the former song. Whereas I Need A Change was about the singer's own illness, End Of The Tunnel is about the suffering of another with the singer offering support to the person struggling. Originally started over 10 years ago I suspect it was only the singer's own experiences that have enabled him to see the other side and thus complete the song.
The next two songs are essentially bonus tracks having both appeared on previously released singles. They both take inspiration and musical themes from classical pieces written by Henry Purcell in the case of Music For A While (with 17th century lyrics by England's first Poet Laureate John Dryden) and Ludwig Van Beethoven in the case of Moonlit Love. Both are lovely pieces, with a great musical arrangement (and harpsichord!) on the former and superb vocal arrangement on the latter. Well worth including on the album even if they are very different beasts from the other songs.
I am incredibly impressed by this album which heralds the arrival of a singular musical talent creating artistic works in uniquely his own vision. Simply superb.
Stömb — From Nihil
It's been a long way for progressive metal since Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, and Dream Theater laid the foundations 30-odd years ago. Now a broad umbrella under which many subgenres, styles and (dare I say) deviations thrive, a band such as Stömb from Paris are representative of the creative richness and curiosity the best ambassadors of the scene have always displayed. Make no mistake, the musicianship exhibited on From Nihil is of a very high standard (hats off to Tom Gadonna's powerful yet intricate drumming) but it stays well away from dazzling arrays of chops and hollow hypersonic soloing to put its focus on mood, be it textural, ethereal or just plain ominous.
The concept of the album being, in the band's own words, "cosmic chaos, nothingness and the insignificance of man within the universe", it lends itself to being channeled into a dark and intense soundtrack which wastes no time in stating its intentions from the get-go; Dimension Zero is nearly 8 minutes of balanced atmospherics and dynamic band interplay, something we could say about most of this release.
Indeed, at a towering 70 minutes (yes, it is a long album) there's plenty of room for pretty much anything: from the creepy sighs and crushing riffola of Void Divine, the beautiful interludes and anthemic melodies on the 10 minute centrepiece Extrasensory or the ethereal female vocals on Ephemeral, to the mechanical feel of electronics-infused Embrace The Nihil or closer Towards Deliverance, which might well be the only instance where guitarists Aurelien De Freitas and Tom Bonetto unleash (albeit briefly) the string pyrotechnics.
Also worth mentioning is the intriguing artwork, courtesy of painter Sylvie Gedda, as well as the videos made to complement some of the music presented here; in this regard, the visuals devoted to Ephemeral are particularly thought-provoking. It all contributes to convey the ideas and concepts and make this release a whole sensory experience, even though it's true that it can get relentless given its intensity and length (both reflections of its ambition, it has to be said).
Truly a band that can sit proudly among household modern prog metal names such as Tesseract, Between The Buried And Me, Plini, or Animals As Leaders, Stömb show enough promise to soon deserve a place in the pantheon of innovative heavy music.
Vimma — Meri Ja Avaruus
Meri Ja Avaruus has a bright welcoming style. Although there is often a quasi-big band sound; on occasions the compositions allude to or reference some of the folky idioms of Scandinavia.
Violins are used to good effect throughout the release to give it an earthy air. For example Vesi is enriched by a touch knee, hip shake violin section that invites a listener to toe prod and pattern the ground in intricate rhythmic patterns. In this respect if you like the ethnic folk influences and music of Groupa and similar bands, some aspects of Vimmas approach will delight.
These ear friendly folk tinged sections are frequently juxtaposed with chaotic and finely crafted, melodic mellow interludes. Preludi features a delightful piano introduction. This opening piece has a sparseness that evokes images of sentinel green watchtower pine trees set amongst a harvested forest floor.
The band is not afraid to experiment. They frequently let a range of aromas seep out from their wide ranging bubbling cauldron of styles.
The emphasis often shifts in an interesting manner. The influence of a number of different genres pervades many aspects of this release. There are even occasional hints of pop which from time to time, that steam, simmer, and spit out from the bubbling mix of the band's unusual creative recipe.
A number of the tunes comment upon a range of global issues including ecology. The lyrics of The Eighth Day and 8.0., have a clear unambiguous message. The tunes are sung in Finnish, but the booklet which accompanies the CD release gives a translation.
Many tunes include elements that suggest that the music of Frank Zappa is an influence. The swinging musical theme that is woven into the beginning and ending of Tarina is redolent of something Zappa might have penned in his Waka Jawaka period. The contribution of vocalist Eeva Rajakangas in the off-piste section of this piece, is particularly interesting; where whispering, chanting and screaming all have a part. Her choice and style of delivery throughout the album is very idiosyncratic. Her intonation and unusual inflections frequently surprised me.
Rajakangas' contribution often ripped apart my preconceptions of what type of vocal style should, or might be employed. There were times when I was reminded of the versatility and measured aggression of Bent Knee's Courtney Swain. Whilst the vocal performance of Rajakangas is a highlight and is at times absolutely mesmerising, the frequent use of a spoken or chanted delivery was not always to my liking.
Planeetta probably contains the most intriguing vocals to be found in the album. Its quirky, rhythmic nature and folky fireside dance rhythms that colourfully emerge in its latter stages work well in every respect. When these are joined by skilful vocal interjections; the clever mixture of styles on offer is very satisfying.
The sound quality of the release is exceptional and its clear and precise sonic qualities bring the music to life. The album was produced by Pessi Jouste and mixed by Lassi Weiste. Pessi Jouste is one of the band's two violinists. Jouste is also the main composer of the band and is responsible for four of the eight tracks of the album.
I particularly liked the way in which the band creates a spacious feel in Jouste's Tänne saakka ei paista aurinko. The intervals between its notes create an enchanting effect that gives the piece a reflective quality. Although the spoken word interlude in its latter stages, despite its important ecological message of 'we should not have started a war against nature' did little to enhance the piece. Perhaps the most earnest and troublesome narrative appears in The Eighth Day. The piece concludes with the sentiment that "the earth has become a bunker abandoned by God".
The quality of the music and its well-crafted arrangement more than compensate for any misgivings I might have about listening to music with a spoken narrative. Altogether it's a great tune and aspects of it reminded me of Zappa's Valley Girls. However, the great drum break in the middle of tune and chunky guitar parts soon had me comparing the tune with some of Zappa's more expansive and complex creations.
8.0. is perhaps the most complex and rewarding tune on offer. It is probably the standout track of the album. The piece offers a clever range of styles. It includes boisterous passages full of raucous intent, riff ridden guitar parts and spoken vocals. These different strands are cleverly woven into a well spun cloth that fits together remarkably well and conveys its unambiguous message with an earnest intent.
I am not sure if I liked Meri Ja Avaruus enough to play it frequently. However, overall I found it an interesting release and the strident riff of 8.0 has remained in my mind long after the music ended.