Album Reviews

Issue 2021-035: The Arrivals Lounge

Throughout its 25-year history, DPRP has built an enviable reputation for uncovering new, up-and-coming progressive artists from across the world.

The Arrivals Lounge is where we recommend some of the best debut albums from new artists that you need to hear.

Like a bolt out of the blue, the debut album from Manchester-based Konom has arrived at DPRP HQ - and we can't stop playing the darn thing!

So to try and unpick the history of the band, we dispatched Stefan Hennig to speak to drummer Tom Rice (TR) and guitarist Dan White (DW). They provide an insight into a band we tip to become one of the standard bearers of the new generation of progressive rock bands.

"Konom logo"

Your first release, Prelusion, came out some five years ago now and was done so under the band name Ascent. This has recently been re mastered. Can you explain the decision to change the band's name and the reasons behind this decision?

(TR) We felt with the change in personnel it would be a good time to switch things up, and Ascent became a bit of an issue as a name, because it wasn't hard to find other artists called Ascent.

(DW) We also wanted the name to be short, snappy and memorable. Bands like Haken and Leprous have quick and unique, two-syllable names that stick in your mind. We took this as our inspiration. The name Konom comes from the sci-fi series Foundation by Issac Asimov. So it already ticked the nerd box for us.

For people reading this as their introduction to Konom, can you provide a brief history of the band?

(DW) Tom and I started jamming in 2011 with our previous keyboard player Andy and a couple of other guys we knew. We formed a solid four-piece instrumental prog band with bassist Chris and put out the first self-titled Ascent EP, and began to gig on the local Manchester circuit. Following that, Arya joined us to release Prelusion in 2015. Andy and Chris went their own ways, and we eventually teamed up with Benjamin Edwards (bass) and Jonathan Worsley (keyboards) to put out this debut album under the name “Konom”.

Konom promo photo by Ekaterina Mulyukova

There appears to be an appreciation of Dream Theater in some of the songs on the album. While listening to especially some of the musical passages, I was reminded with the interplay between instruments, of Images And Words. This being that it feels like these tracks have been fine-tuned over time so that you feel totally at ease with the complexity of the music. How long have you been working with some of these tracks?

(TR) Dan and I are big early Dream Theater fans, so it was inevitable they would have an influence on our writing and playing. This album took roughly five years to get finished, so we had the luxury of spending a lot of time getting used to some of the more complicated sections and passages. We also really wanted to push ourselves in a technical sense with this album, particularly with tracks like The Great Harvest Part 1 - Epiphany, which is one of the more complex tracks on the album.

(DW) Yeah, Images And Words is one of the albums I held as gospel in my formative prog years, and for sure I've taken a lot of influence from Petrucci and Moore's playing. I think fine-tuning is the right description. I've lost count of the amount of demos we put together, trying different ideas before agreeing on finalising the tracks. In saying that though, Benjamin and Jonathan joined us during the process of writing the album and I don't think their contributions can be understated. Some of my favourite sections were realised through their interpretations and influences. I think they did a great deal to shape the record, despite joining at a later stage in its development.

Konom live, photo by Revel Rock Photography

With the band split between Manchester and Edinburgh, how has the writing of the songs been done, especially with the travel restrictions over the last year?

(DW) Thankfully the writing of the songs was completed before I relocated to Edinburgh. Mixing and mastering wasn't yet complete, which was a challenge in itself. What should be a 10-minute conversation while we are both at the mixing desk, turns into hours and sometimes days. It's been good preparation for what to expect from song-writing in the future.

(TR) It's definitely been tricky getting things done, but the pandemic has forced us generally into a way of remote working which has set us up quite well to work going forward. I think that many companies have innovated plug-ins and software to enable musicians to jam remotely too. So we are hoping that when it comes to writing our next release we still be able to have regular jams online.

The production of the album is excellent. How did you find self-producing the record, and did you find this a steep learning curve?

(TR) Thanks! This was our third attempt at producing everything ourselves (after our self-titled instrumental EP Ascent and our second EP Prelusion), so we knew what to expect. We did demo our ideas a lot more for this album than previous ones, and every demo was a chance to refine our techniques and learn something. By the time we came to tracking the album we had a good idea of how we would approach it. We also tried to keep everything as organic as possible, so we spent a bit more time making sure all the takes and sounds we had were solid at the tracking stage.

(DW) Yeah, we wanted to keep the sound of the album as natural as we could despite using all of our digital trickery. Mastering was a bit tricky as we wanted to maintain the dynamics of the music without sounding flat compared to other records. In the end it was just perseverance, trying different things and capitalising on the techniques that made it sound good. Overall I am pretty pleased with it. I don't think you would have guessed that the drums were recorded in Tom's living room.

Tell us how you managed to get Jem Godfrey to guest on the track Birotunda?

(TR) We both are big Frost fans, and we were having discussions about guest soloists on the album. I think Dan suggested Jem, and he tried to get a message through to Jem via various online channels to the band. Thinking none of the messages had got through to him, we then received an email from Jem saying he'd like to hear the song. We emailed him the song, expecting to negotiate and a bit more back and forth, and he emailed us straight back with the solo! We were extremely happy with it and are very grateful to him for taking the time to help us out.

"Konom album artwork"

How does it feel to finally see the physical release of the album?

(TR) Really good; We were lucky to get Jimmy Trippier on board to do the artwork and we were extremely happy with what he gave us. Having everything complete musically is a great feeling, as it justifies all the tweaking and fine tuning we did making the album.

(DW) It's great to have the physical copies of it at last. The artwork by Jimmy was miles beyond what we expected from our vague descriptions and concepts. That coupled with the inside art, I think it's a really smart-looking CD. Kudos to him.

Konom promo photo by Ekaterina Mulyukova

I imagine you are itching to get out on tour to promote the album. Do you have any plans at present, even if nothing can be finalised due to the current situation?

(DW) When we can, we aim to have some form of bombastic, belated release show to tie this all together, but it's true that the current restrictions are making it hard to envisage when this can happen. But for sure, when we can, we will get out there. We've got a lot of time to make up for.

(TR) Absolutely, we'd love to do a release gig as soon as we can but obviously everything is up in the air. Beyond that, we'd like to expand-out to play a few different cities in the UK and hopefully even somewhere abroad.

Thank you for your time in answering these questions.

(DW and TR) Our pleasure. Thanks for taking an interest in us!

Konom — Konom

Konom - Konom
A Welcome Change (10:34), Birotundra (7:19), As The Waters Rise (9:33), The Great Harvest i. Epiphany (3:53), ii. Dilate My World (5:40), iii. Mustang Light (2:39), iv. Reflections (6:49), v. Heedless Breath (5:23)
Stefan Hennig

You never really know what you are going to hear when receiving new material to review. Getting something like this album by Konom is worth all the hours us critics spend listening to music that does not engage us. This album is an absolute gem.

Before delving into the music, I need to provide some background on Konom, as their short history has more twists and turns than Isaac Asimov's Foundation series; from where the band take their name.

The first bit of confusion I had was that the promotional material sent with the music contained this quote: “This is a band to remember and I'm looking forward, with high expectations, to a release of a full album in the future because my heart kept screaming for more after the second and final track of this EP!"

This was credited to the DPRP. But searching for any previous reviews of Konom proved fruitless. Donning my Sherlock Holmes investigative persona, I set out to track down this quote. After exploring some of the dark recesses of the internet, I managed to discover the turbulent history of the band, along with the reason I could not find the quote. This was due to the band being originally called Ascent.

Basted predominantly in Manchester, Ascent prove to have had an active live presence prior to the arrival of the Coronavirus. Piecing this together I managed to locate the review of that EP, which dated back to 2015 and an EP entitled Prepulsion, which received a 9 out of 10.

After this release, the then bass player and keyboardist left the band. This left a trio of guitarist Dan White, drummer Tom Rice and vocalist Arya Bobaie. After filling the vacant roles in the band with bassist Benjamin Edwards and promoting Jonathan Worsley to full-time member, the decision was made to rename the band. This brings us up-to-date with the launch of the full debut album from Konom.

Konom live, photo by Revel Rock Photography

The band have managed to release a debut that is a fitting testament to their passion, drive and commitment in overcoming all the challenges thrown at them. The composition of all the songs is a stunning achievement for a group so young. The complexity of some of the instrumental passages is wonderful, to the extent that while listening to the album I found myself smiling, due to the melody and cohesion on display.

But do not think this is a flashy work which only musicians will enjoy. Far from it. The overriding theme is the melody. I found those that are played during the instrumental sections, becoming etched into my mind, and then echoing in my head for days after. This also created a desire to return to this album at every opportunity, in order to be able to immerse myself into the music, and the incredible talent on display.

Konom are without-doubt leaning towards the progressive metal stable, but the metal side certainly does not dominate. The similarity to early Dream Theater is there for all to see, but this is a band who have studied Images And Words, and been inspired by the album, rather than attempting to copy what has gone before. Konom have their own sound, and the only other bands I was reminded of were Muse and Headspace. A few passages have a djent feel but this is only in small spaces, and adds to the composition, providing the constant variation in the songs.

The band have employed a number of orchestral musicians to add texture to the songs, and this has paid dividends, as using the original instrument rather than samples, adds so much to the sound. It is difficult to believe that the album is totally self-produced, as the quality delivered is far in excess of many mainstream musicians.

When I first listened to the album, I was unsure of the vocals of Arya Bobaie, but after numerous listens to the disc, I have warmed to Arya's voice, and I am now convinced that he is definitely the man for the job. His voice is unmistakeable, singing in mostly falsetto, this being a mixture of Geddy Lee, Matt Belamy and Robert Plant. Arya can belt-it-out when he needs to, but during the quieter moments, and the theatrical, he does remind me of Geoff Mann in his delivery. Yes, there are moments which would be at home in the NWOBPR. Whether intentional or not, I'm not sure, but it did leave me with a warm, nostalgic feel.

Konom live, photo by Revel Rock Photography

Jem Godfrey makes an appearance on the second track, Birotunda, providing a keyboard solo. His presence adds further credence to the quality of the work on offer. I am not going to analyse any of the songs, as I feel I could not really do justice to what is on offer here.

There are eight tracks, but only four songs. The last five tracks form the epic The Great Harvest, and epic is certainly appropriate in describing this song, which weaves its way through so many themes, it's difficult not to be left amazed and fulfilled when it reaches its conclusion. The Great Harvest certainly delivers a bountiful crop.

To add to the quality of the product, the great art and design provided by Jimmy Tripper needs to be acknowledged, as his sci-fi flavour reflects the music so well. This is an extra level of quality that Konom have delivered and should be rightly proud of the final product.

This album is my first guaranteed inclusion for the album of the year list, and I think it will need something special to probably knock it from the number one spot. If you like your prog with edge, lavish heaps of melody and stunning musicianship, I can guarantee you will love what Konom have delivered. What they hopefully will produce in the future, should establish Konom as one of the standard bearers of the new generation of progressive rock bands.

Album Reviews