Xavier Boscher — Earthscapes
French guitarist Xavier Boscher is nothing short of an inspiration. Last year witnessed the release of Zoologica Duodecim #3: Pond, the third instalment in a 12-part "Rock Safari" EP-series, which was quickly followed by Waterscapes.
Earthscapes, most likely the second part in a parallel-running series involving the four basic elements, brings Boscher's newest instrumental prog-metal evolution.
The energetic opener Road To Happiness, an extension of sorts to Waterscapes' adventurous prog-metal fusion compositions, hits the spot right away and displays a lush structural variety, over which Boscher sprinkles a lovely range of his technical spectrum. The ambient bridge sees some delicate touches on bass. A melodic guitar section ends the song in fine fashion.
The subsequent initial airiness of Mountain Of Spirit subsequently steps down into soils of epic grandeur with beautifully performed and graciously directed melodic guitar lines that create a wonderful narrative within the song's tightly-arranged structure.
This type of instrumental storytelling sees a continuance in Luminescent Forest where synth accentuations enhance the song's atmosphere, and melodies create a pathway of musically-sound ideas. Its surprisingly bright keys add a pleasant surprise, while the short metal bridge brings a nice diversification to Boscher's valleys of melodic virtuoso. Some of these passages do sound slightly bare when the elegant flow of guitar takes a short rest though.
Carnal Cocoon's ambient calmness and sensitive bluesy atmosphere then provides an ear-catching point, enchanting through its New Age-inspired purity. Sanctuary Of Delight sees Boscher deepen this musical world further by showcasing some exceptional acoustical techniques, over subdued jazz refinements.
Both tracks create a graceful moment before Boscher confidently gears things up again in the fast and furious prog metal surroundings of Cobalt Blue Tarantula. Here his melodic escapades are backed up by tight dynamic arrangements. In equal appeal, the appetisingly-designed guitar slopes in Field Of Sapphire easily maintain the attractive flow of the album, despite its structurally simplified, bluesy environment.
Where previous tracks like Cobalt Blue Tarantula and Mountain Of Spirit warrant the use of headphones, and these turn out to be essential in the album's impressive and well-crafted gem Volcania, bringing out seismic synth activities that flux underneath the composition's exterior. If Volcania is a preview of what lies in store on Boscher's future 'Firescapes' (pure speculation on my part obviously), then this is something to really look forward to.
All in all Boscher has once again succeeded in delivering an excellent, varied album which, through several adventurous compositions, captivates from start to finish. Waterscapes' diversity has a mildly greater appeal to me, but that's simply down to taste, and if you like instrumental progressive metal/fusion then Earthscapes (and previous efforts) come highly recommended.
Darren Johnson — Decades: The Sweet In The 1970s
Except artists like David Bowie and Roxy Music, in the early 1970s, progressive rock and glam rock co-existed in parallel universes. Although poles apart musically, both genres were extremely popular; one appealing to album buyers and concert goers, the other dominating the UK singles chart.
The Sweet were the best of a mostly-tacky bunch of glam bands, and for prog fans like myself, songs like Blockbuster and Ballroom Blitz were guilty pleasures. To their credit, they also balanced the glam rock anthems with hard, rocking songs on the 'B' sides, and in their post-glam phase they released two bonafide classics: Fox On The Run and Love Is Like Oxygen.
Despite their success in the singles charts, Sweet's desire was to be taken seriously as a rock band, but they never really shook off their image as a singles-only group. This is one of several aspects of the band's career that author Darren Johnson addresses in his book, The Sweet In The 1970s.
Like the Roy Wood book from Sonicbond Publishing, he makes a convincing case for their credibility as an albums band, although I bought Desolation Boulevard back in 1975 and I must confess I was unimpressed. Johnson however rates it as The Sweet's "must have" album, so clearly it's due for a reassessment on my part.
The Sweet In The 1970s is an insightful account of a band that enjoyed both success and failure in a single decade. Their rivalry with Queen is touched upon, although as I recall at the time this was one-sided; The Sweet clearly believed Queen had stolen their thunder. Singer Brian Connolly left the band before the end of the decade and sadly passed away in 1997, aged just 51. Guitarist Andy Scott is the only surviving member of the 70s quartet and keeps the band's memory alive to this day.
As you would expect, the author retains a clear affection for the band and his writing is comprehensive, enlightening and most of all, entertaining. The singles are individually discussed, as are the albums on a track-by-track basis. There is also a round-up of the band's activities and releases in later years. Those with fond musical memories of the 1970s (whatever the genre) will find this an absorbing read.
Pentesilea Road — Pentesilea Road
Pentesilea Road started out as the solo project of Vito Mainolfi (guitars, bass, backing vocals, programming and whatever else), an Italian musician nowadays residing in The Hague, The Netherlands. During the pandemic lockdown in 2020, it stretched into a full band experience with the addition of Ezio di Ieso (piano, keyboards), Alfonso Mocerino (drums) and vocalist Lorenzo Nocerino. The band expands itself with guest appearances by Paul Prins, Michele Guaitoli (Visions Of Atlantis) and Mark Zonder and Ray Alder of prog metal veterans Fates Warning.
One of the first things that one notices is the attention and care that's gone into the album's release. The first print, limited to 95 numbered copies (!), comes in a lovely digi-pack with full lyrics and appealing artwork based upon Italo Cavino's novel Invisible Cities on which the concept of the album is inspired.
According to their own statements Pentesilea Road is a post-progressive journey along the roads of the Invisible Cities. A tale of dissidence; an irreverent act of protest against the modern world.
The second thing is the just quoted 'post-progressive' description, which is a first for me.
Over the course of the album its meaning does become clear, as several post-rock passages and progressive (metal) movements reveal themselves, the latter instantly conjuring up recollections of Dream Theater in the excellent instrumental overture Memory Corners. Layered with melody and instantaneously catchy from the tantalising synth that brings flashy AOR vibes, it shows superb interplay and a great variety of atmospheres.
Zonder's versatile presence adds great dynamical drive to the composition, where amidst the groovy prog metal, one finds a wonderful jazz-inspired bridge. Unlocking memories of Bagheera's Andante Concitato and surrounded by subtle bass, it flows into great guitar leads from Mainolfi. A great start to the album.
The other tracks featuring Zonder, Spectral Regrowth and Give Them Space, have a similar technical prog metal intent and show skilful executions in every department. They however rarely reach the full 'pedal to the metal' treatment, something that is beautifully shown in the post-rock bridge in Spectral Regrowth which shows some delightful lighter touches on guitar before it elevates slowly into seductive Dream Theater Awake likeness.
Give Them Space's excellent intro, incorporating a fine solo from Prins, harbours the same feel and shows some lovely Hammond touches in the background until it reaches a resonating state with spatial jazz touches slowly building to a wondrous crescendo filled with a majestic guitar solo.
The same energy level can be found in Stranded, thriving on a luscious synth wave conversing with tightly played riffs and a dynamic rhythm section. The songs bridging transition into a peaceful movement with restrained instrumentation and atmospheric synths could have used some residual energy as it sounds slightly behaved, but overall it's once again a solid composition where arrangements and opulent insertions of key and organ bring to mind Kingcrow and The Stranger.
Nocerino's somewhat-pinched vocals on Stranded do require some adjustment on my part. This is simply down to a matter of taste, for he shows he can hold his own elsewhere. He for instance feels comfortably in place in the semi-ballad Genius Loci, which adds another unexpected element to the plate.
In the magnificent A Tale Of Dissidence, Nocerino's performance tops this and feels near tailor-made. Opening in a haunting fashion, this wonderful 'Addams Family'-atmosphered composition sees some sparkling key accentuations amongst gracious synths and constantly vibrating rhythmic tensions, in which touches of Arabian nights can be traced. Guided by superb guitar leads, this fine combination, together with Nocerino's passionate delivery and wondrously effective 'Geddy Lee' swipe, yields tasty Rush and Trytan visions. It is a beautiful omen as to what Pentesilea Road can accomplish.
Shades Of The Night, present in two versions, elegantly shows Nocerino is however no match to Alder (it would have been quite the revelation if he had been). Alder's performance and melodic sense adds substantially more power and dynamics to the song. Thanks to this, the emotional atmospheres of Noble Art, drawing up metropolitan scenes of a Pink Floyd memory, also reaches a higher emotive plane.
Stains, presents a third dimension with Guaitoli on lead vocals. It confidently floats somewhere between both vocal worlds. Emotionally captivating, his vocal performance is strong and suits the composition whose intro brings an appealing pub-quiz challenge before it slowly wades in an 90s Queensryche atmosphere with smooth unison interplay. A slight question does linger in my mind though: why have so many different lead vocalists performed on the album? In a way it affects the album's overall cohesive feel for me. Not seriously, but still.
Never short of ideas The Psychopathology Of Everyday Things brings mood-changing post-rock atmospheres with fine underlying instrumental executions, followed by the title track which returns to infectious prog metal. Superb leads by Mainolfi, who is in magnificent form throughout the album, slight djent touches and flying carpets of synths gives this song a lovely sound, which is occasionally reminiscent to Soul Secret.
Pentesilea Road's 70-plus-minutes debut album is an ambitious effort which sees some excellent results. The compositions sound fresh, show plenty of variation to grab the listeners' attention.
There's still room left to grow, for instance in the arrangement department, and at times compositions tend to wander off a bit and could be more concise, but most of this is probably down to the lockdown-limitations in which the album was created. If the band is given the opportunity to construct their compositions together, a little tweaking will undoubtedly benefit the overall outcome. Until such on occurrence, I'll happily listen to this enjoyable and recommendable effort some more.
Thumos — The End Of Words
If you think that the post-metal throng of bands is nothing but a cave of primitive Neanderthals (with equal musical skills), then try Thumos! This obscure US project will gracefully take you out of any Neanderthal cave and bring you ... right into Plato's cave!
Now, I know just a tiny bit more about Thumos, than they know about me. Four demos, one compilation and two EPs were released under this moniker so far. Member(s) of the project prefer(s) to keep a very low profile, and one of the very few things I know for sure, is that Thumos' music draws inspiration from the Classic and Hellenistic period of Greek history, commonly revolving around cultural themes (rather than political or military ones).
The artistic idea behind The End Of Words is to describe (by means of modern amplifiers and walls of guitars) Plato's concept of soul and its aspects. Which is 110% prog, don't you think so?
The four instrumental tracks bring to a listener's mind ideas of passion, anger and reason and further transcendence of the soul; one idea per track. Looking backwards now, I cannot think of a better-suited music to do this, maybe except organ fugues.
The material is impressively heavy, still maintaining the sense of monotone, a meditative melody and transcendental ataraxia. Of course, this combination of ultra-heavy tsunamis and bitter-sweet harmonies has been successfully tried by many art-core bands before Thumos (all the usual culprits The Ocean, Isis and Cult Of Luna). Still, Thumos is not blindly copying any of the above. Thumos are concentrating on a balance between serenity and cosmic heaviness, rather than on feelings of unrestrained anger or horror; the usual post-metal messages.
As an EP, this sounds great. It's competent and inventive, with just the right running time. Although I would love to have a full-scale album from Thumos sometime in the future, more diversity to the sound would be very welcome. Solemn, but not vulgar-tragic. Soaring but not lightweight. The End Of Words is a thing-in-itself, and a welcome addition to my post-metal collection.