Album Reviews

Issue 2021-172

Duo Review

A Dying Planet — When The Skies Are Grey

A Dying Planet - When The Skies Are Grey
When The Skies Are Grey (8:55), Honoring Your Name (6:41), Hope For Tomorrow (7:27), Embrace (14:49), Far From Home (7:57), A Father's Love (7:40)
Andy Read

American progressive metal guitarist and songwriter Jasun Tipton is a name well-known in the prog community for his work in Zero Hour, Cynthesis, Death Machine and Abnormal Thought Patterns, as well as a solo album.

When The Skies Are Grey is the second album from his newest project, A Dying Planet, which initially emerged in 2018 with the encouraging Facing The Incurable. For me that album suffered from the use of four different singers. Here Jasun has decided to stick with just one of those four; ex-Sun Caged singer Paul Adrian Villarreal. Drummer Marco Bicca and bassist Brian Hart complete the line-up.

Now, I have been a keen follower of Jasun's output ever since the first two Zero Hour albums were the subjects of one of my first reviews for DPRP more than 18 years ago. What I like about Jasun's bands/projects is that they all sound different from each other. From the technical death metal of Death Machine, to the six-string inventiveness displayed on his solo album, Jasun has shown himself more than capable of handling prog-metal music in all of its different shades.

In a similar way to the two albums so far released under the Cynthesis moniker, A Dying Planet's output sits on the softer edges of the prog-metal spectrum. Yes there are moments on this album where the power and technicality of the guitar work, wants to mirror Jasun's main band Zero Hour. But this is by no means a relentlessly heavy album.

When The Skies Are Grey will equally interest fans of the more ambient and melancholic forms of metal (Anathema, Katatonia), who don't mind the occasional blasts of angry guitar. There is also a certain djenty-vibe to the songs that may appeal to those who enjoy the likes of Animals As Leaders.

But overall this reminds me of the sound of some of the more adventurous (mainly American) prog-metal bands of the 90s and 00s.

A Dying Planet, promo photo

Most of the tracks are of an extended length, with Embrace being stretched-out to the 15-minute mark. This offers plenty of space for the quartet to develop the subtly-different textures, shades and colours of each song. The development of each composition is often delivered via subtle effects. I particularly love the variety of Jasun's playing. He throws everything at the music here, from angular chords, to delicate arpeggios. The solos are generally short and to the point. The occasional blasting riff stays no longer than it needs to.

However, the star of the show for me, is singer Villarreal. I loved his voice on the two Sun Caged albums on which he sang, but always felt that the complexity of the music interrupted his inherent sense of melody. Here the more consistent flow of the songs gives him the space to float smoothly and unencumbered over the top. His timbre, melodic sense and phrasing is perfect throughout. The clever manipulation of harmonies is the icing on the cake.

The end result is an intoxicating listen; one that I have repeatedly come back to in recent weeks. This is one of my favourite albums of 2021 and the perfect prelude to the much-awaited new album from Zero Hour that is due for release in the coming year.

This album is available in digital and CD formats from Lifeforce Records. A vinyl version is due to be released in the new year.

Calum Gibson

A Dying Planet have come out of northern California to showcase their talents at melodic progressive metal to the world with their second album When The Skies Are Grey on Lifeforce Records (who brought Trivium's debut out). Sounds like my kind of thing and ticks the boxes I like, so let's have a listen.

Unfortunately, I can tell from the opening half of the title track that this album may not be for me. Sadly, this feeling only grows throughout the rest of the album. The djent sound doesn't break any new boundaries, with many of the riffs coming together in a bit of a muddy mess (albeit with very good production values). It is often interspersed with lighter, clean and melodic moments that are often very minimalistic in nature.

Everything on the album works together and compliments each other well, however for me it unfortunately did not do much else. The tracks often followed a predictable pattern, and the actual make-up of each song didn't spring out at many points at me; apart from the intro to A Father's Love, that is catchy with a fun set of leads weaving up and down. However, I must confess that was the only part that sticks in my memory.

The album as a whole is well written, the playing is tight, and the band clearly gel together as a result. The songs aren't too long for what they are doing, and the vocals are never over the top or underdone. However, even with all that, the album still came across to me as a bit “beige” – unoffensive, plain and predictable and definitely not exploring new musical ideas and sounds.

If you're a fan of Periphery or Tesseract then these guys will be up your street, but I will bow-out and wish them luck in the future.

Fleesh — Here It Comes Again (A Tribute To Genesis)

51:26, 49:56
Fleesh - Here It Comes Again (A Tribute To Genesis)
CD 1: Dancing With The Moonlit Knight (8:02), Burning Rope (7:03) Firth Of Fifth (9:34), Dusk (4:18), Looking For Someone (7:05), Ripples (8:03), Afterglow (4:08), More Fool Me (3:09)
CD 2: In The Rapids (2:31), Fly On A Windshield/Broadway Melody Of 1974 (4:29), Mad Man Moon (7:32), Entangled (6:30), Carpet Crawlers (5:17), The Musical Box (10:27); bonus tracks: Your Own Special Way (6:12), The Lamia (6:54)
Geoff Feakes

In addition to several tribute bands faithfully recreating their music on stage, Genesis have been the subject of numerous tribute albums over the years with contemporary prog acts, orchestras, and even dueting grand pianos playing homage to their melodic prog legacy.

Fleesh have gained a favourable reputation at the DPRP thanks to their faithful tributes to Rush (The Next Hemisphere in 2017), Marillion (Script For A New Season in 2018) and Renaissance (In The Mist Of Time in 2020). Formed in 2014, they are a talented duo comprising singer Gabby Vessoni and multi-instrumentalist Celo Oliveir who first came to the public's attention with their impressive cover versions on YouTube. The recent release of the excellent Eclipsed album featuring all original songs proves that they are more than just a covers act.

A courtesy scan of the track list makes it pretty clear where Fleesh's preferences lie as far as Genesis' back-catalogue is concerned. The songs all date from 1970 to 1978, with at least one from every 1970s album with the surprise exception of Foxtrot. Overall however it's an impeccable selection with Dusk and Looking For Someone from the Trespass album being welcome inclusions. After Foxtrot, A Trick Of The Tail is my favourite Genesis album so there's certainly no complaints about the presence of Ripples, Mad Man Moon and Entangled.

From the tranquil opening of Dancing With The Moonlit Knight it's evident that Fleesh has done their homework as far as the arrangements are concerned. It's superbly constructed with the choral hook in particular benefiting from the powerful keyboard orchestrations. Hackett fans will also appreciate Oliveir's guitar playing which has a ring of familiarity, without slavishly copying the maestros' style or timbre. Burning Rope doesn't fare quite as well. Here the busy instrumentation occasionally overwhelms Vessoni's otherwise fine singing.

Elsewhere, the piano intro and famous guitar solo during Firth Of Fifth demonstrate Oliveir's attention to detail while the pastoral Dusk and the heavenly Ripples are fine showcases for Vessoni's warm delivery. The rousing finale to Afterglow really piles on the drama, leaving a wistful More Fool Me to round off disc one in style.

The second disc features a healthy selection from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, with the Fly On A Windshield/Broadway Melody Of 1974 proving to be particularly successful. It's the multi-textured Mad Man Moon (one of Genesis' most neglected songs) and the symphonically lush Entangled with its ringing 12-string guitar that stand out, however. Even better is a stunning Carpet Crawlers which almost outshines the original thanks to Vessoni's hypnotic vocals; her best performance on the album.

During the lengthy intro to The Musical Box, Vessoni sounds curiously like Christina Booth of Magenta fame although the dramatic 'now, now, now, now' finale is a challenge to her vocal range. She's more at home with the romantic Your Own Special Way and the sensuous The Lamia. During the latter, Oliveir ably demonstrates why the guitar coda made such a big impression on a young Steve Rothery.

When I first played this collection, I missed some of the musical gestures of the originals such as Banks' soaring Mellotron choir that closes Entangled (which is lower in the mix here) and Hackett's weaving guitar textures during Carpet Crawlers. However, on repeat hearings it's the subtle variations that shine through, particularly Oliveir's meticulous arrangements using traditional instruments like flute, violin and tuned percussion. Although Vessoni's singing occasionally lacks the power to do the songs full justice, her engaging delivery (with only a slight trace of accent) is a welcome change from the male vocals normally associated with Genesis.

Fleesh On

Bill Thomas — Decades: Genesis In The 1970s

Bill Thomas - Decades: Genesis In The 1970s
Geoff Feakes

Sonicbond published their first book in 2018 and since then, the On Track series has grown from strength to strength. The more recent Decades series is also gathering momentum. Although the authors vary from book to book, each bringing their own distinct style, the most common subjects are progressive rock bands from the 1970s. Several such bands have already featured in the On Track series, as is the case with Genesis who's 2019 book was one of the earliest publications from Sonicbond.

Published in 1978, Armando Gallo's Evolution Of A Rock Band was, to my knowledge, the very first book dedicated to Genesis. Since then, there have been numerous titles that have attempted to capture the essence of the band and their music. It's hardly surprising that author Bill Thomas should focus on the 1970s, a period when Genesis were at their artistic peak. They released eight studio and two live albums and experienced their fair share of line-up changes. Not many bands can claim to have replaced a much-admired lead singer with an equally popular frontman, both of whom would go on to enjoy successful solo careers.

This is Thomas' second book for Sonicbond, his first covered the music of Kate Bush in the On Track series. He charts Genesis' career-trajectory from their pre-1970s beginnings as ambitious school boys writing pop songs in the style of the Bee Gees, to the end of the decade when they were reduced to a trio. As I write, the same trio are in the midst of The Last Domino? Tour with a setlist that includes material from the 1970s, albeit, mostly in truncated form. Guitarist Steve Hackett is also currently on tour, performing the 1977 Seconds Out live album in its entirety.

At 186 pages (plus the obligatory 16-page colour section) Genesis In The 1970s is one of the chunkiest offerings yet from Sonicbond, as befits the subject. The book is divided into 10 chapters (one for each year) bookended by a Prologue and an Epilogue. When discussing each album, Thomas eschews the track-by-track analysis typical of the On Track books, but his coverage is detailed nonetheless. Solo albums from the period are also included, as is Phil Collins' side project Brand X. It's also pleasing to see that the work of Anthony Phillips has not been overlooked, even though he left the band at the beginning of the decade. Although Thomas fleshes out his own writing with lengthy quotes from band members and critics, these are not obtrusive and prove to be occasionally enlightening.

As is typical of the books from Sonicbond, Genesis In The 1970s combines insightful, well researched content with the author's own views. Although some, like myself, will not necessarily agree with Thomas' personal preferences, this is a very well written document of a band in their most creative period. No doubt, Genesis' more commercialised output of the 1980s and early 90s will be the subject of another book in the not too distant future.

Duo Review

Mostly Autumn — Graveyard Star

75:29, 40:56
Mostly Autumn - Graveyard Star
CD 1: Graveyard Star (12:05), The Plague Bell (1:46), Skin Of Mankind (4: 42), Shadows (4:10), The Harder That You Hurt (4:32), Razor Blade (7:03), This Endless War (6:40), Spirit of Mankind (4:55), Back In These Arms (6:27), Free to Fly (3:51), The Diamond (6:01), Turn Around Slowly (12:40)
Special Edition CD 2: The Show Is On (4:52), Into The Valley Of Death Rode The Six Hundred (3:45), Check In Your Eyes (5:07), Side Effect (3:35), Swallows (8:21), Heading For The Mountains (2:41), Mountain Highway (5:36), This House (6:59)
Theo Verstrael

Dramatic events often turn out to be creative inspirations for artists. Sad as that may be, this certainly is true for Mostly Autumn. Many of their strongest songs like Heroes Never Die, Questioning Eyes and The Gap Is Too Wide were inspired by the grief for the death of a beloved one. That became even more obvious when founding member, second guitarist and close friend Liam Davison suddenly died in 2017; only 50 years old. The 2018 album White Rainbow they recorded in memory of their dear friend was one of their strongest.

For many the Covid pandemic has been as dramatic as the loss of a dear one, if not more. So it doesn't come as a big surprise that the new Mostly Autumn album, Graveyard Star, is inspired by this dramatic period. Nor does it come as a big surprise that this drama has resulted in good songs. But that it would be this good?

The greenish cover of the digi-pack featuring vocalist Olivia Sparnenn-Josh in a colourful, starry sky is attractively bright and welcoming. The booklet containing all the lyrics and further information is as welcoming as the front cover and also contains a brief personal band statement on the inspiration for the album. Furthermore, some songs are dedicated to certain persons that the band has lost due to the pandemic, making this again an album based on grief. Yet the twelve songs are far from sombre or depressive.

The line-up of the band has stayed stable since their last album. For those unfamiliar with this band, they are comprised of Olivia Sparnenn-Josh (vocals), Bryan Josh (guitars, vocals), Chris Johnson (guitars), Iain Jennings (keyboards), Angela Gordon (flute, keyboards), Andy Smith (bass) and Henry Rogers (drums).

Two things struck me most during the first listens.

First is the dominant lead vocal role that Olivia has on this album, using her formidable and powerful voice fully. It seems as if her singing gets stronger and stronger with each album, both when singing softly but especially in the full force parts of which there are plenty. Josh used to sing some rockier songs himself but here his singing is more sparse and that works very well. He is quite a good singer but his wife is simply far better.

The second obvious thing is that the folk element in the songs is prominent again thanks to the collaboration of Troy Donockley (Nightwish) on uillean pipes, whistles and Portuguese mandola as well as Chris Leslie (Fairport Convention) on violin. These instruments add a lot to the variation on the album.

The album opens with the title track and first epic. After a wide and soft keyboard theme, a synth theme combined with soft violin leads to the first verse sung by Josh. The second verse is sung by Sparnenn and thus they keep on alternating the lead vocals, backed by keys and flute. At three minutes the full band comes in and the song develops into a real anthem with joint vocals by Josh and Sparnenn. At four minutes the chorus starts and features the mighty powerful voice of Sparnenn alone for the first time. Halfway there's a fierce guitar solo over heavy drumming that suddenly stops and gives way to subtle acoustic guitar strumming and violin playing a completely different musical theme. This sudden change in mood works remarkably well.

The last four minutes start with Josh playing one of those beautiful, slow guitar solos that he's renowned for, followed by a powerful repeat of the chorus and a sudden end. It is a very strong opener in typical Mostly Autumn style but because of the alternation in the lead vocals, as well as in acoustic and fierce playing, this opener is one of the strongest songs the band has ever recorded.

Nicely enough this powerful opener is followed by The Plague Bell, a small song, both in length as well as in mood. It is soft, just vocals, with only a subtle keys background. The contrast couldn't be greater but it works.

And again the mood changes completely when Josh starts playing the intro of Skin Of Mankind that can only be inspired by Hank Marvin of The Shadows, a band that can hardly be related to Mostly Autumn. The song develops into a tasteful folk song with a prominent role for Leslie's violin. Folk songs were part of their first three albums but were lost later on in their career. It makes a glorious return here.

Only three songs in and the dynamics of the album are already all over the place. The inspiration to expand the musical territories is exciting and cleverly executed. On the rest of the album they continue to do so.

Shadows has a nice country feeling until the delightful guitar solo towards the end of the song. It could have been treated as one of the more familiar rock songs, mostly sung by Josh on former albums, but this time they choose to give it a more country, than rock flavour.

The folk element is also very present in Back In These Arms with the welcome return of the pipes played by Donockley. In mood, build-up and instrumentation, the use of the pipes and melody could well have made this a Nightwish-song. It is a totally different mood but it is well fitting within the album.

Mostly Autumn, promo photo

There are also a couple of emotional songs such as Endless War penned by Sparnenn. In spite of its depressing title, it is a song of safety and warmth featuring her great vocals as well as a loud electric guitar, playing the very beautiful melody. Spirit Of Mankind is clearly directed to the many negative consequences of the Covid-induced lockdowns. Not being able to see and meet the ones you love and the frustrations brought about by that situation, leads to another heartfelt and emotional rock song with power vocals by Sparnenn.

Of course the album has its ballads, the first one being The Harder That You Hurt, co-written by Josh and his wife. It has a slow pace, bluesy guitar instrumentation and a beautiful, soft vocal melody until halfway when the full band comes in. Sparnenn uses the power of her voice fully to sing over the loud guitar in the finale.

The song segues fluently into Razor Blade, another typical, soft-starting ballad with soft keys, soft drumming and acoustic guitar, dedicated to two dear ones whom the band lost because of the pandemic. During the bridge there's some soft drumming and subtle piano that slowly takes over the musical theme. It then develops with a haunting synth theme and harmony vocals into a fast rocky affair with Josh on lead vocals. In the end section the vocal duties are shared in the emotional chorus.

The ultimate ballad is Free To Fly co-written by Josh and Jennings. Lasting only four minutes, this very moving ballad with just Sparnenn singing against a beautiful piano motive and orchestral keys will send shivers down everybody's spine. It is a welcome resting point on this dynamic album. No fierce guitar-outburst this time, just a very quiet song, enhancing the great dynamics of this album.

Johnson's The Diamond has his song-writing trademark all around it: the acoustic guitar intro, his high voice, the mumming in the chorus, the quiet drums coming in after the intro, we've all heard it before, especially in The Undertow from their Sight Of Day-album. It is very nice to hear Angela Gordon singing lead here but I found this the weakest track on the album.

The segueing into the final song Turn Around Slowly sounds completely natural and is therefore formidable. This epic starts again with a beautiful, melancholic keys intro supported by acoustic guitar, before Josh's vocals come in after two minutes. The chorus is unbelievably catchy, the energetic guitar solo very typical for Josh and the lyrics are meaningful and very uplifting; full of hope to conquer these strange times. The end section is extremely dynamic incorporating parts of Skin Of Mankind and Endless War sung by Sparnenn but with slightly altered and more positive lyrics, against a very dynamic guitar outburst. The song is dedicated to British vaccinologist Dame Sarah Gilbert, responsible for the discovery of one of the first effective Covid-vaccines. Thus the album ends with a real and heartfelt bang and that proves to be a splendid way to end this musical journey.

Mostly Autumn has the habit of release a 2cd limited edition of their albums through their website around the official release date of a new album. I've been fortunate to get hold of all these limited editions, so I really wanted to lay my hands on this one too. Because of the Brexit-induced bureaucratic insanity between the UK and the EU, it took almost two months before I obtained my copy but it was more than worth the wait.

The bonus cd contains eight new songs that didn't make it to the main album. Time constraints may have been an obvious reason, as the main album already clocks at more than 75 minutes. But I think they rightly thought that the moods of these songs didn't fit the main album that well.

They are all very enjoyable to very good (This House with a glorious finale) but not exceptional to listen to. But there is one exception.

The longest track, the eight-minute Swallows, is an absolutely fantastic song. The melancholic melody, the extended violin solo, the effective guitar solo, the piano motive, it is exceptional. Think of an amalgamation of Heroes Never Die, The Gap Is Too Wide and Shrinking Violet and you'll have an impression of what this ballad offers. This is without doubt one the best songs the band has ever released, which is bit odd as it is only available on the limited bonus disc. Too bad they used an image of a swift to illustrate the subject of the lyrics but for most non-ornithologists, it remains hard to distinguish between swallows and swift; so be it. And by the way, the powerful first track on the bonus cd The Show Is On will work perfectly as a gig opener!

This is no less than a stunning album with only good to very good songs, exceptional vocal achievements, delightful and varied musical moods, enormous dynamics, meaningful lyrics, heavenly solos, elaborated artwork and crystal-clear production. Those elements alone could have deserved them the highest rating. That majestic song on the bonus cd makes it absolutely impossible to rank it lower. An absolutely fantastic album for those who already know this band and a perfect introduction for those who have missed them until now. I can only hope that the band can also produce this high quality of songs when the creative inspiration is less grieving and dramatic.

Greg Cummins

I have been following this excellent band for over two decades when they unleashed their stunning debut called For All We Shared in 1998. Since their inception, they have released a further 12 studio and 15 live albums to critical acclaim. With such a vast catalogue, you would think they would release a clunker somewhere along the way. Well, fear not as I can honestly say I don't think I have been disappointed with any of their releases and yet here we are today with what could be considered their best album since Passengers, 18 years ago.

The first thing I noticed with this album was the strength of the song-writing, the soaring lead breaks and the incredible singing. As Bryan Josh is the only original member of the band, you can still detect his signature sound which pervades this and most of the band's previous albums. Although there is nothing really ground-breaking with Graveyard Star, I am comfortable with that, as the band keeps delivering great music that follows their trademark formula which has worked so well for them for many years. This is a long album by normal standards, clocking in at over 75 minutes, so for those wanting to maximise their musical spend, you'll certainly get more than your money's worth.

The opening track, Graveyard Star with its very catchy chorus and highly accessible format is the second-longest song offered and sets the stage perfectly for what is to follow. Skin Of Mankind which would not be out of place on a Blackmore's Night album, such is the infectious nature of the melody, is a really rousing song and will have you humming along in no-time. Think Under A Violet Moon or Shadow Of The Moon and you'd be close to the mark.

Shadows starts with a straight forward acoustic introduction but quickly settles into another pleasant groove for which this band is so well known. A soaring lead break midway through helps to add some bite to this track that would not be out of place on a David Gilmour album.

The Harder That You Hurt is another song that starts slowly with a soft acoustic introduction but quickly breaks out, with Olivia's soaring voice really driving the lyrical message home.

Razor Blade is for my ears, the stand-out track on the album as it reminds me of the excellent song by Panic Room called Satellite taken from their album of the same name from 2009. Olivia Sparnenn-Josh has one of the strongest yet most melodic voices to grace a progressive rock album since Annie Haslam from Renaissance or Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span. Her contributions to those songs that feature her as the main vocalist, help to generate some of the best music this band has produced and it is a real credit to her as she was originally engaged as the backing vocalist.

Do I miss the etheral voices of Heather Findlay (1997 - 2010) or Anne-Marie Helder (2009 - 2014)? Not really. As much as those vocalists added a large degree of strength and appeal to their songs, Olivia has been able to fill their shoes admirably and has become one of my favourite female vocalists. The fact that she married fellow band member Bryan Josh in 2013 could auger well for the band's future, as the symmetry between these two talented musicians cannot be ignored and almost guarantees a high level of musical cohesion well into the future.

This Endless War, Spirit Of Mankind, Back In These Arms and Turn Around Slowly all feature the same verse, chorus, verse, chorus structure but are strengthened by the ridiculously infectious choruses contained within each song. I played this album to my wife, who is not at all adventurous with her musical taste, yet she was singing along after only 2 or 3 spins. The Plague Bell, Free To Fly and The Diamond, while not quite attaining the heights of the other tracks, still embody what makes this band so special.

I cannot stress enough how instantly enjoyable these 12 tracks are, as they contain so much of what is missing from today's music. Far too many bands rely on ridiculous video footage to accompany the release of their latest single while trying to convince the public to fork out the big bucks for what will inevitably become a major disappointment when they realise how poor the rest of the album is. There are really no bad tracks on this album and despite only having the single album version, I am convinced I need the bonus disc to accompany what has become one of the best releases for me in 2021.

For me this band can do no wrong, as I keep hearing music that, despite being somewhat predictable, represents even more of what I have enjoyed many times before. If you have not yet heard this band before, I urge you to give them a try as their music is instantly likeable, the melodies very strong, the instrumentation beyond reproach and overall, it maintains consistency. This would suit fans of Iona, October Project, Karnataka, Kara or Magenta, and for those who have not yet ventured beyond the 70s, Renaissance, Steeleye Span and finally, a less celtic-influenced Clannad.

Mostly Autumn On

Album Reviews