Kyros — Recovered
For those few unaware progsters, it is my privilege to remind you that only a few years ago Kyros (ex-Synasthesia) were one of the most talented newcomers in the UK prog scene, combining a modern take on the instrumental side, artfully-constructed melancholic melodies and pop influences, not unlike Frost* or Lonely Robot.
The band is still young but they are not newcomers any longer, with three albums released and a new one fresh here on the table. I must admit that last year's Calexa Dreams escaped my attention, while the first two I revisit quite often.
Now, in the hard times of pandemic the Recovered title seems very appropriate, and has all the necessary ambition to cheer up those prog-heads struggling for their health or the health of close ones. As for me, I have always loved cover version albums with a non-typical cover choice, and Kyros manage to surprise me more than once here. Here are some “track-by-track” impressions.
Behind the Lines. I was never was a fan of the Duke album, but this cover shows the original from a different perspective, which is rather good, I guess.
Force Ten. Let's face it, you cannot spoil a Rush song, you can only fail yourself as an interpreter. Which is far from being the case here. Great cover!
Under My Skin. Warning! This song enters the red-alert zone of Brit pop and silly major harmonies. It doesn't work for me a single bit.
The Fluke. Okay, Devin's got a load of great songs, but The Fluke is an oddball choice. I am not exactly a fan of the song, and unlike Behind the Lines, the cover only affirms my “meh”-attitude towards it. (Still, Terria rules!)
Closing In. I am not familiar with Imogen Heap's legacy, but the cover is a nice indie-pop song. Worth investigating further.
FU. Aanother radio-friendly alt-rocker, with a soaring and flawless vocal delivery by Adam Warne. Far from being a prog song, but I admit that I like it.
Heartstrings. This one's a polite nod towards Frost. Quite close to the original delivery by Godfrey & Co, with the same electro-pop-rock overtones.
Where's My Thing. Another test-for-skills, and here we have a slightly digitalised Rush instrumental.
The Good Doctor. No matter how hard I have tried, I have never got into Haken. But this cover version manages to light the spark of my interest towards reinvestigating the original.
Because of You. Again a “woo-hoo” to Adam and his bandmates for a great choice! Giraffe was a superb project, and the cover makes me giraffe-happy that its legacy lives on.
So to put it briefly, I am not sure if Recovered will be a frequent guest in my player, but listening to it was more or less fun, and while some choices are skip-able for me, I can't help enjoying the rest. One could notice that the band sounds quite tight and aware of their growing skills. They obviously had fun doing this, and so should we, the listeners.
Lind — A Hundred Years: The Justification of Reality Part 1
A Hundred Years: The Justification Of Reality, Part 1 is the fifth solo album by Andy Lind (drums, keys, vocals, programming and bass), a member of jazz-metal outfit Panzerballett. Other bands he's involved in over the years go under the names of The Ancestry Program, Schizofrantik, and Freaky Fukin Weirdoz, where the names of the latter two give a fine illustration on what to expect here; extremely complex, progressive, jazz-infused metal with influences of avant-prog, math metal and experimental fusion.
Quite a mouthful, so to put it into a digestible picture think of King Crimson, Frank Zappa or Gentle Giant as an individual dinner course, each with their own flavourings and juicy chewiness. Then mix these three together into a hearty meal served in impeccable performances mindful to Haken, add a pinch of Nu-metal, rap and whiffs of swing-jazz in an all-spice amalgamation of experimental prog, and the outcome is an unparalleled buffet that requires some sharp cutlery. And a royal one at that if one takes into account its 80-minute length and the Bandcamp-Only bonus track Banged In The Panic Room, that rounds off part one of the concept in sweet instrumental liquorice lightness.
Aided by several guest musicians, Lind works his way through multi-layered, challenging prog compositions which in Do I Really Notice reveals a feast of odd-time Haken signatures and King Crimson psychedelics captured in a bowl of scary precision. Progressing through immaculate interplay of guitars, bass and Lind's drumming escapades images of Lucas Lee as well as disturbed mental visions of Porcupine Tree are received as the song flows seamlessly into A Hundred Years. With a lush synth solo amidst the Jazz and metal-ties of the song and Petra Scheeser's vocal contribution igniting memories of Nodo Gordiano, it almost approximates the time needed to comprehend this complex Gordian knot.
Contently dozing-off from these two solid dishes in Strange Waters' intro, one is rudely awakened to another highly eclectic state of treacherous Lucas Lee musicality where projections of Koen Herfst's Leo appear courtesy of the heavenly vocals of Scheeser. With jazz ruling-supreme in Invisible Tears, where surprising elements of electronics slowly invade like a sticky toffee pudding, it's the aggressive The Magic Gate that impresses with its many underlying, contrasting melodies that continuously flow into each other and create a majestic sauce of complex prog-metal deliciousness.
With each song meticulously flowing into the next, there's no actual resting point. The Schemes certainly doesn't supply one, presenting musical and vocal proclamations of Gentle Giant caught in a jazzy prog metal way reminiscent of Haken. The baffling array of ideas, inventive breaks, tempo changes and odd time signatures, amidst impeccable instrumentation, is as tiring as it is phenomenally brilliant.
Around this mark every single one of my progressive receptors is slowly becoming saturated. Thankfully Displaced And Criticized's lighter jazz overture provides a welcome break. Tantalising synth work and a wondrous New Orleans jazz-inspired improvisation midway through, cleanses the palate beautifully, so juices of Slipknot/Linkin Park rap can fill them again. After this the infinite complexities of Soul Kinship and a final entangled musical anomaly in the form of Controversial Theory make my taste buds exhausted.
Listening to A Hundred Years from start to finish is quite the challenge. The one time I actually succeeded, I craved for nothing else than to listen to the peaceful sounds of silence. It's all astonishingly executed, ingeniously arranged and brilliantly composed but taking it all in at once is too much of an overdose.
For anyone with a healthy appetite for the complex, resourceful and avant-garde side of the prog metal spectrum, A Hundred Years is most certainly a recommendable and intriguing album worth investigating. Others might have to nibble first.
Motorpsycho — Kingdom Of Oblivion
After last year's magnificent conclusion to The Gullvåg Trilogy The All Is One I was looking forward to Motorpsycho's new release, as I had become a bit obsessed with that trilogy. I find the thought of exploring their other 20 releases a little daunting, but a new release, now you're talking.
The band recorded the majority of the album pre-lockdown in France, with additional work added back at their Tromdheim base. Constructed from riffs and song ideas that wouldn't or didn't fit into the trilogy, Motorpsycho intended Kingdom Of Oblivion to be a celebration of their love of a good riff in a 70s hard rock style. However, Motorpsycho being Motorpsycho, this idea transformed into something far more interesting and eclectic.
Whilst encompassing some hard rock elements, Kingdom Of Oblivion also delves into progressive, space, stoner and psyche rock, with a dose of psyche and prog folk.
The 70s influences are there but Motorpsycho do not let them dominate, as they restlessly explore the melodies in their own unique way, with duelling guitar riffs, window-rattling bass lines and thunderous drums; all topped by vocal harmonies that wouldn't disgrace a CSNY album.
The core Motorpsycho trio of Bent Sæther (lead vocals, bass, guitar, keyboards, drums), Hans Magnus Ryan (lead guitar, vocals, keyboards, mandolin, violin, bass) and Tomas Järmyr (drums, vocals), is supplemented by Dungen's Reine Fiske on guitars, returning to help out for the first time since 2014's Behind The Sun. The album has a wonderful, warm sound and a live-in-the-studio feel, aided by a clear mix.
The roller-coaster ride of Kingdom Of Oblivion gets immediately up to speed with the ear-worm melody of The Waning (Pt. 1 & 2). Black Sabbath slab-like riffs coupled with a psyche-pop melody that avoids being monolithic, alongside rhythmic changes and a blistering-but-short, spacey guitar solo. A cracking start that continues with the title track's building riffs, psychedelic cadences and superb harmony vocals. It all fits together with precision but at the same time feels open-faced and loose-limbed.
On The United Debased Motorpsycho channel the space-rock of prime Hawkwind that has a punchy guitar solo that shifts it into enthralling areas as it flies forward. And talking of Hawkwind, Motorpsycho take a bit of a left turn with a cover of the Lemmy-penned The Watcher from the Hawks 1972 release Doremi Fasol Latido. The Motorpsycho version takes the original's quiet darkness up a notch, with scratchy guitar, disturbing ambient noises and threatening paranoid feedback.
The two centrepieces (can you have two centrepieces?) are At Empire's End and The Transmutation Of Cosmoctopus Lurker. The former moves through distinctly different dynamic phases. Opening in acoustic mode, it heavies-up spectacularly before quieting down again, dropping in some Mellotron. All wrapped up a peaceful, psychedelic melody. The later track pushes space rock par excellence into stoner territory with fuzzed up bass and wah-wah guitar. It switches and changes in unexpected ways, even becoming slightly, but winningly, scrappy as it barrels along in a let's-test-the-limits live way.
Motorpsycho alleviate the riff fest by interspersing acoustic songs in between the heavier tracks. These have folk elements as well as psyche ones. The harmonically-delicious Lady May, the instrumental Atet and the sparse After The Fair are all great, but the best is the song for the goddess Athena, The Hunt. Featuring mandolin, keys and soft percussion, it would not have been out of place on Led Zeppelin III.
There are also a couple of more or less instrumental tracks, the quiet closer Cormorant and the remarkable Dreamkiller that works its way from acoustic dreaminess, to a killer riff, over which keys and Mellotron float. It also builds to some thumping crescendos.
On Motorpsycho's Kingdom Of Oblivion you would have to look hard and be picky to find much wrong with it. It may lack the cohesion of the albums in The Gullvåg Trilogy but not all albums have to have an overarching concept. Kingdom Of Oblivion is the sound of a band letting their hair down and having fun and managing to sound quite unlike anyone else.
The Samurai Of Prog — The White Snake
Hot on the trail of The Lady And The Lion The Samurai Of Prog (TSoP) travel on with The White Snake And Other Grimm Tales II, the second (concluding?) part of musical interpretations of the wondrous fairytale stories of the Grimm brothers.
Recorded in the same time-frame as part one, the conducting trinity of Marco Bernard (Shukar bass), Steve Unruh (vocals, violin, flute) and Kimmo Pörsti (drums, percussion) are again joined by carriages of gifted musicians in which the usual suspects Rafael Pacha, Carmine Capasso and Marco Grieco are accompanied by newer faces like Marcel Singor (Kayak), Marc Papeghin (French horn, trumpet) and many more.
Contrary to what may be expected knowing the Grimm brothers' well known collection of tales involving Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Hansel & Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty (to name but a few), TSoP opt for interpretations of lesser known stories on this pair of albums. It is only the tale of Snow White (A Queen's Wish included on part I), with which I was familiar. It's actually my favourite song of theirs where a moral story with many twists, turns and atmospheric mood changes is translated in a way that exhibits a beautiful anthology of progressive movements from the 70s/early 80s; a speciality of TSoP.
In short the moral of this new collection of tales, despite their relative unfamiliarity, shows that TSoP have outdone themselves once again.
The White Snake And Other Grimm Tales II perfectly shows why it is good to never change a winning team, starting with the wonderful 'down to the last detail' artwork from Ed Unitsky whose graphics bring colourful expressiveness to the stories, further enhanced by the individual song synopses written by Marco Piva.
And with all five adventurous tracks composed (as before) by different Italian keyboard players, six if you count the short reprise of The Tricky Fiddler, the tracks offer a magical journey through enchanting progressive rock landscapes.
The enticing instrumental The Tricky Fiddler, written by Grieco and based upon a fiddler's quest for accompaniment, is beautifully depicted by a variety of luscious violin movements from Unruh. Playful folk atmospheres and excellent musical engagements, touching upon classical Vivaldi, keeps the flow of the music going fluently, occasionally managing to bring visions of Kansas through musical interplay and obvious violin divinities. Grand melodies and a lovely, restrained passage with alluring flute and sensitive bass then leads up to a gorgeous solo by guitarist Singor, bringing the story to full bloom. A closing revisit in The Tricky Fiddler - Reprise harbours a beautiful duet of melodic guitars (Carmine Carpasso) and expressive violin parts by Unruh, giving the concept album a formidable and deeply rewarding finish.
Searching For The Fear, a composition by Alessandro Di Benedetti (Inner Prospekt), is surprisingly another wordless composition which glides past in comforting Canterbury-styled ease. Unruh's violin once again translates the story beautifully and the ethereal vocals by Paula Pörsti guide the melody movingly towards a beautiful intricate piano-led passage that slowly converges into tantalising symphonic prog reminiscent to Genesis. Incorporating synths and guitars swirling in perfect unison and Singor whipping out a marvellous solo, this beautiful composition marks one of the album's highlights.
In complete contrast to the previous songs, the lavish melodic flows of The Devil With The Three Golden Hairs are filled to the brim with lyrics. Some might even consider them to be flooded, as it takes effort on the listener's part to read/hear between these lines and discover the variety of musical intricacies captured within this miniature, opera-styled composition. We have four vocalists, Unruh (The King), Daniel Fäldt (The Devil), Marco Vincini (The Boy) and Elisa Montaldo (The Mother) and it progresses from folk into gracious symphonic prog with a lush seventies Genesis sound and darkly atmospheric, early Marillion melodies.
The Travelling Musicians ups the opera anti and reveals a total of six different vocalists, each portraying a different character of the enchanting tale. Written and composed by Luca Scherani it also marks the introduction of Italian lyrics to the play, sung by Stefano Galifi (dog), Alessio Calandriello (rooster) and Alessandro Corvaglia (second robber).
At first this feels strange, but as the song progresses it works brilliantly thanks to the exceptional flow of the music and the meticulous arrangements, in which the interaction between the Italian parts and the English lyrics (Unruh - Donkey, Montaldo - Cat, Fäldt - First robber) are framed. This is especially noteworthy when the cat's gentle grace (Montaldo) harmonises with Calandriello's temperamental rooster, the song's vocal highlight.
An extraordinary musical journey so far, TSoP then add some magical fuel and transcend, full steam, into the epic beauty of The White Snake. A composition divided into five individual segments, each one is more enchanting then the other. Composed by Oliviero Lacagnina (Latte E Miele) and with lyrics by Massimo Gori, its long opening statement builds the scene perfectly, as marching beats and 'fit for a king'-trumpets are met by mysteriousness and an abundance of musical alternations puffing E.L.P. refinement alongside scrumptious orchestrations.
Majestically compelling melodies with constant imminent threat and Kansas glamours then sees Unruh coming perfectly in his stride as he delivers a brilliantly captivating performance in portraying the main role of the servant. The third segment (The Trial) introduces Camilla Rinaldi as the princess, who's beautiful vocal appearance rivals Unruh's. With superb acoustic guidance (Pacha) and emotive guitars from Singor, this marvellous piece of music soars dynamically in exuberant melodies, adventurously slithering through uplifting moods and otherworldly atmospheres. It becomes especially attractive when the composition is transported into a vividly playful Spartacus (Triumvirat) arena.
Inspired upon Rinaldi's grace, Unruh manages to up his vocal game in the musical waterfall of A Ring In The Water, the fourth part of the composition. In the final (initially) folk-inspired chapter, The Wedding, delightful flute embraces Unruh and Ronaldi's divine vocal duet, romantically melting them into one. Revisiting various themes, musical ideas and an overwhelming finish, it's the perfect ending to this monumental song which is, as far as I'm concerned, TSoP's greatest achievement to date.
The White Snake And Other Grimm Tales II wholesales in outstanding performances and adventurous symphonic compositions, all delivered with a stunning musical maturity and depth. It's a succession of highlights, in which especially title track generates a masterly impression that leaves you wanting more. Much more.
Having pulled out all the stops The White Snake And Other Grimm Tales II is the perfect consolidation of The Lady & The Lion's, already brilliant outcome and I cherish the thought of what will follow hereafter.
With Unruh's obligations elsewhere for the moment, part of these future stations have already been announced with upcoming releases of Pörsti (Past And Present), The Guildmaster, Bernard & Pörsti (Robinson Crusoe) and the TSoP's 0mnibus-2: The Middle Years. Modern day progressive lovers who appreciate a lush symphonic seventies rock touch, should therefore jump aboard and enjoy these marvellous rides on TSoP's train. A highly recommended listen.