Album Reviews

Issue 2022-005

Athemon — Athemon

UK / Brazil
Athemon - Athemon
Perception (3:15), Whispers (5:28), The Glass Hindered Us (3:57), Different From What Was Missing (5:22), Seed of Change (7:25), I Voice of Mine (8:12), Reaching Deepness (6:42), Greatest Understanding (5:53), Birth (4:01)
Calum Gibson

Athemon is an anglo-Brazilian group with the combined talents of Adriano Ribeiro and Tom Maclean (ex-Haken, To-Mera). Describing themselves as a “metal band that seeks to forge the perfect alloy of darkness and beauty”, the band reflect this in their name; taken from the Dynamine-Athemon butterfly which they suggest has similarities with how people grow and change.

Having been familiar with some of Haken's work, I had in my head what I was expecting the sound of this group to be. However, I was wrong. While expecting a “modern prog metal” sound, similar to the likes of Leprous or Riverside, it was instead a heavy, chugging affair. Dirty and heavy, bassy riffs make the backbone of the album from the very first chord of Perception. Vocally, Adriano is on form, with melodic and heavy cleans that complement the “darkness and beauty” of the music. Occasionally they take on a sound similar to some of Candlemass' Johan.

Tom's bass work is exceptional as well, with flurries of shredding here and there, as well as delivering well on the low-end of the album to make sure it delivers a throaty punch. His production on the album is incredible.

The album takes on a heavy, thundering and almost doom approach, with melodic cleans and chugging riffs. The bass helps the album stand out from other doom bands by adding a touch of flair now and then to keep you on your toes. It is unrelenting in the chugs, which normally would get a bit repetitive, but the added licks and leads that pop up now and then, really break things up to maintain your attention. As a fan of bass-heavy songs (as long as it isn't djent), I'm a happy lad with this collection of tracks.

Overall, it is a damn good attempt at modern doom metal with a touch of prog to make it more interesting. Considering it is the duo's (trio if you include guest drummer Gledson Gonçalves) first album, the question is whether they can top it with their next?

For fans of Candlemass, Saint Vitus, Nevermore and similar.

Pierce Drummer — War Of Shadows

Pierce Drummer - War Of Shadows
TransLunar Escape (6:51), Doctor One (4:58), Point Blue (3:51), Church Hill (4:37), Our Path Connected (4:13), The Umberland Clock (4:09), Trocar (4:03), Floating Inside You (3:52), In A Ghost Dream (5:59), Salutation Unknown (4:56), Solar Jets (Flight Of The Shepards Dream) (4:37)
Jan Buddenberg

With War Of Shadows Pierce Drummer (vocals, guitars, synthesizers) presents his debut album. Aided by special guest Lucy Peru (vocals, bass and drums) they have successfully shaped a sci-fi-inspired musical journey that narrates as an adventurous space opera. Its story takes place on two space vessels and involves a cast of characters (The Stranger, The Trainer, The Target and Doctor One), each beautifully depicted on the CD's accompanying miniature flyer. A minor downside is the peculiar difference in size compared to the CD artwork, which makes it impossible to fit these supporting drawings into the package without folding.

It's the music that counts though, which on many occasions it does. On the spacious sounds of TransLunar Escape, the narrative lifts off nicely with electronic new wave, somewhat mindful to Depeche Mode, while suggestive sound effects successfully flash images of jetting into open space. Upon first glance the music seems to ripple comfortably onwards, revealing only its shiny exterior, yet after a few spins many details and arrangements are detected underneath its surface that give depth.

The spacious feel of the music is immaculate and the successive Dr. One adds an atmospheric, dreamy state to this, with beeping robotic elements and a fabricated multitude of background sounds as guitar and keys slide in, and harmonising vocals hover over the composition.

It's these vocals, and the way in which they are applied, that has a major impact on the overall atmosphere and experience of the album. I find them generally non-distracting. When they add a worldly, almost tribal vibe (Point Blue, Salutation Unknown) to the music they work just fine. A perfect illustration can also be found in the cinematic greatness of The Umberland Clock, which displays a delightful, futuristic atmosphere slightly reminiscent to Eloy. In the subsequent electronic Trocar they do however tend to overshadow the mildly Eastern-orientated music.

Songs like Our Path Connected and Floating Inside You showcase a light rock approach with tightness of drums encircled by bass and synth, which in the distance imprint visions of Gary Numan. These appreciated diversifications enhance the flow of the album, which through In A Ghost Dream adds another level of previously encountered psychedelics for overall enjoyment.

With bass ruling supreme, as synths weave wonderful galactic soundscapes of far-away star systems, it is Solar Jets (Flight Of The Shepards Dream) that peacefully ends the story. Although not completely, for the digital version on Bandcamp sees a sparkling appendix in the form of the electronic We Are One, revisiting some melodies from the album.

In short, one can find a fresh dose of originality and ideas within the music and various visitations of the album manage to release its intricate, interior design of musical richness and narrative. An interesting effort worth checking out and hopefully the shape of things to come will include congruent artwork formats next time around.

Neograss — Talisman

Neograss - Talisman
Overture (5:02), Daybreak (6:03), Surrender (5:52), Lost Search (3:43), Warrior (1:56), Travel (3:26), Midnight (6:42), It's Loose (3:12), A Night Piece (1:53), Up You Go (2:28), Visions (2:35), Awake (4:12), Passacaglia (3:07), Me And You (4:21)
Greg Cummins

Neograss is a totally new band for me. Previous comments suggest that they used a bluegrass / progressive rock approach, but that doesn't really apply to this current release. Also, the band had apparently ditched the guitar in favour of using a banjo. The banjo can be clearly heard in a number of songs, particularly on It's Loose, which could easily have been added to an album by Saga, Ambrosia, or Magnum. But as I don't have any media information in my possession from which to gather various facts, I can only surmise the band have side-stepped their predilection for the banjo and adopted the guitar as a more prominent instrument. (The lack of information on the band or the recording is stunning, to be honest. -- Ed.)

Searching the net for some details about this band reveals they consist of Emil Bekkevold (vocals, banjo, dulcimer, willow flute), Tore Morten Andreassen (Mellotron, guitar), Åsmund Wilter Eriksson (double bass), Aleksander Kostopoulos (drums), and Benjamin Mørk (Mellotron, piano, keyboards)

Simple snare drum and keyboard fills help the opening song, Overture, to develop using Mellotron and synth to add some dimension. Its brooding and spacey feel are hard to pinpoint but I could easily see this track on an album by Ozric Tentacles, even though they don't sound the same.

The second song, Daybreak, features a fantastic opening section that really calls for major development, and its repeated use as an underlying concept theme for the band to return to time and time again. The last half-minute is used in this manner but it deserves to be used as a recurring theme or as a finale; it is so damned good and compelling. Great vocals and keyboards help to keep it afloat.

Surrender is a very pleasant ballad and it is here that we hear the strength of Emil's voice as he easily reaches the higher notes in the chorus. Lost Search is also another decent song and contains just enough variety to keep the interest level up. Warrior is the band's attempt at a Uriah Heep song, as the swirling organ and vocals try to emulate that magic 70s sound, but it can't quite match The Wizard.

The crisp drumming at the start of the sixth track, Travel, had me thinking that we were going to take our partners and begin Dancing Madly Backwards but Captain Beyond said we should definitely keep our seats and not disgrace ourselves at our age. Vocals on this track also sound slightly off-key but not out of tune, if you can relate to that.

Midnight gives us our first glimpse of a slight Pink Floyd influence but once again you are lead astray, as the vocals bear no resemblance to any of the Floydian singers, past or present. There is also a very slight similarity to an album by a band called Absolute Everywhere which featured Bill Bruford.

The tracks, A Night Piece and Visions are pure noodling and don't deserve space on the disc. Sorry! The 12th track, Awake features some pleasant vocals and nicely composed sections using guitar and keyboards to add dimension, sounding somewhat akin to Focus or Sebastien Hardie. No complaints from me!

It is not until the 13th track, Passacaglia, do we really hear the banjo being featured, along with a keyboard accompaniment which admittedly sounds nice but could hardly be called having any bluegrass influence. It is a very pleasant instrumental song and one that you could easily warm to after a few spins.

The final track is quite a decent song and has a very obscure similarity to Robbie Williams' Let Me Entertain You. That connection is lost when the band unwinds towards the end to give the song the rousing finish it deserves, with a great guitar and keyboard flourish.

There are a few tell-tale accents noticeable but nothing that detracts from the music to any discernible degree. The vocalist definitely sounds like Guy Manning (Manning), which is no bad thing as I enjoy many of Guy's excellent albums.

This is very refined, nicely composed, pleasant and soft; just the way I am enjoying much of my music these days. However, considering the band use two Mellotrons, piano and an assortment of keyboards, I was hoping to hear more of them being used in a leading role. They form more of a background fill for most of the album. They are rarely used as the featured instrument, as you might find on a 70s Genesis album. They do however, allow the band to add plenty of appropriate atmosphere to this album, which gives it much of its strength. Maybe I should have listened to this album with the headphones on to help discern all the keyboards used but I'll leave that until after dinner with a nice Shiraz in hand.

This is quite a departure from what you might be used to, but it is nonetheless enjoyable as it covers so many diverse styles and ideas. Apart from the two tracks that could have been easily ditched, I am enjoying this more each time I play it. References to any of the bands mentioned above are to give a vague hint of what you might find here. The band stand quite capably on their own, as they know their craft pretty well and can only improve with age, just like my Shiraz. Drink up guys, nice job!

Toundra — Hex

Toundra - Hex
El Odio. Parte I (8:07), El Odio. Parte II (6:44), El Odio. Parte III (6:53), Ruinas (5:01), La Larga Marcha (5:50), Watt (7:50), FIN (4:57)
Martin Burns

As an instrumental progressive rock band with two guitars, bass, and drums, plus the use of synths and piano, Toundra are usually pigeon-holed within the poorly defined post-rock genre. But for me, these Madrid natives are a band that merges adventurous prog-rock and prog-metal into a melodic-but-fierce brew. The only post-rock thing about them is that they make instrumentals. With Toundra's seventh studio album Hex they return to the blistering form of 2018's Vortex, after a sidestep into the soundtrack world of 2020's Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.

Their new album opens with the three-part, 22 minute, El Odio which in English means Hatred. The track is informed by the band's observation that there are "much better alternatives to hatred" and for the sake of our collective future things need to change.

As they are a purely instrumental band there are no lyrics to covey this message but the melodies and their arrangements produce an emotional, tangential approach to the theme. And what music it is. Opening with synth washes and by gentle, picked electric guitars, when the pummelling riffs, bass and drums come in, it is a proper wake-up call. This is not your whisper and build to repeated crescendos style of post-rock. This is a progressive rock and metal band firing on all cylinders. The off-the-scale energy of Alberto Tocados (bass, synths), Álex Pérez (drums, piano), David López “Macón” (guitars, synths), and Esteban Girón (guitars) is always at the service of the melody. It is expertly paced, with a sense of drama and hooks aplenty.

When they hold back from the heavier, up-tempo music, as at the beginning of El Odio. Parte II, they artfully deploy acoustic guitar with an open, warm melody before it darkens into heavy riffs and an almost shredding guitar solo. They mix in synth passages to act as a breather, before the intensity returns as the melody grows and changes. The 22 minutes fly by in a whirl of twisting, intertwined guitars and bass, driven by the superb drumming. This is ensemble playing of the highest order, highlighted by a great sound and clear mix.

Toundra, promo photo

On vinyl, El Odio fills side one, so what do you get when you flip the disc over? You get four more tracks of equal quality to Hex's opening epic.

Ruinas (Ruins) has a prominent bass line that underpins the guitar-focussed riffing, its fast tempo has a clever delicacy to it, and there's a lovely guitar solo. It also rocks like anything. La Larga Marcha (The Long March) starts at a dignified rhythm, with interweaving guitars exploring a looping melody that grows in intensity without going for the heaviness previously displayed. It is brilliantly done.

The third individual track is the fabulous Watt. Introduced with cymbal washes, synths and gentle guitar it soon brings the prog-rock with full-on guitar sparring. They also add, unfortunately uncredited on the notes that came with the release, a superb saxophone that put me in mind of Theo Travis' work with Porcupine Tree circa Stupid Dream. It adds another colour in a very smart way.

The album ends with the building, picked guitars of FIN with its open, hopeful melodics, and piano, providing a subtle close to the powerhouse tracks that have gone before.

Toundra's Hex is a superb achievement. Not a minute wasted, full of melody, and with ensemble playing of a fantastic standard. I can't think of anything I would change. A magnificent record of atmospheric instrumental progressive rock. Don't miss out on this.

Toundra are going to be in the top 5 at the end of year, and it's only the second week of 2022. Oh my goodness! The rest of the year's releases have a high bar to reach.

Transport Aerian — Skywound

Transport Aerian - Skywound
Shall Not Be (3:15), At the Cliff (4:38), Fracture I (0:40), Lunatic (7:09), Latgallan Gothic (4:21), Falling 20 (3:11), Fracture II (2:13), Kuznetsov (3:53), Fracture III (0:56), The Effect (3:01), Moses (3:49), Fracture IV (1:10), Skywound (5:14)
Sergey Nikulichev

Now that the DPRP format puts the reviewers' mark before the text, I shall have some hard time explaining why I've left a 9 mark for an album that made me raise my eyebrows after the first listen; that seemed dull and uninspired after the second one; that revealed surprising undercurrents upon the third one, and the fourth one ... well, the review below is essentially its result.

One of my long-cherished opinions is that prog should not necessarily be instrumentally complex to be uhm ... “proggy”. What is important is that Skywound is one of the few records that reinvent the genre, breaking some rules and imposing new ones.

No flashy instrumental solos will grace your ears, no odd time signatures will make you catch your breath. There are no whirlwinds of melodies, nor exquisitely fine songs that will stick in your head. What Skywound has in abundance is a powerful message, plenty of drama and an artistic vision unlike any other band.

Time to introduce our heroes. Transport Aerian (TA) is a Belgian project led by its mastermind, main composer and vocalist Hamlet. TA has only recently evolved from a studio-centered concept, into a full-scale group. Skywound is the sixth album, a successor to Hamlet's acclaimed records Darkblue and Theriantrope, but the first one in a new format. It is also a concept album, speaking about a tragedy of a simple man, who is caught in a century's turmoil, about his lost love and standing against history's millstones.

From the first seconds of Shall Not Be, which introduces a crushingly heavy, almost doom metal riff and Hamlet spitting venomous lines about all the madness surrounding the protagonist, I felt like I was sitting in a chamber theatre watching a performance of a mid-century avant-garde playwright.

Throughout the record TA easily and seamlessly combines such remote influences as Ange and Matthew Parmenter's theatrics, Ulver's electronic experiments, neo-prog guitar parts, My Dying Bride's combination of heavy riffs and violin, and 4AD-catalogue avant-garde leanings. At times Skywound sounds like Katatonia's twin brother, suffering from schizophrenia instead of depression, or like Peter Hammill doing a side-project with Antimatter. Especially so on Latgallan Gothic where its eeriness reminds me of Hammill's The Fall Of the House of Usher.

The Effort is a great mix of post-punk and neo-prog, and Skywound is a gorgeous closer and an emotional climax. However, I prefer to think of this album as a suite divided into parts, rather than individual songs. All these tracks work for me only as a part of a larger concept, and lose a part of their charm without Fracture I-IV interludes and the darker tracks like Kuznetsov or Moses.

A couple of words should be said about Hamlet as a vocalist. Although he's no Freddie or Dio, his dexterity in vocal delivery impresses me a lot. He roars, wails, recites, whispers and, of course, sings in a solid way, serving as a worthy successor to the Decamps brothers (Ange) / early Fish / Les Dougan (Aragon) etc.

For me Skywound stands to be one of the most important records in dark prog since Unfolded Like Staircase by Discipline (and even better in some aspects, because, I dare say that Hamlet's musical influences are broader). Add the fact that this is less than 45 minutes long (i.e. tightly packed), and it comes with a booklet vaguely reminding me of Travis Smith's ugly, beautiful, eerie, weird artwork.

If prog means “music taking you to places you've never been”, this is probably one of the best prog albums of the past year. Some of you, dear listeners, might not feel cosy about the trip, because the destination is the darker parts of your own self and of the world around.

Yenisei — Reflections

Yenisei - Reflections
Gravity (3:41), Waves (5:32), Aftermath (6:34), Bitter Cold (4:39), Abandoned (3:42), Blurred Horizon (5:44), No Escape (5:06), Memories of Times Before (5:47), All That You Could Become (6:03), Returns (2:49)
Andy Read

Formed in 2018, Yenisei is an instrumental post-rock quintet from Kraków, Poland. They started out as a metal band but after struggling to find a vocalist, they decided to concentrate on instrumental rock music.

I first encountered Yenisei with their 2019 debut album The Last Cruise which received a hearty recommendation on our new releases blog and drew interest from many quarters in the post-rock community.

Reflections is a natural successor, delicately weaving an array of emotions and an omnipresent nostalgia.

Despite having a twin-guitar approach, Yenisei is probably one of the most gentle and bright-sounding post-rock bands you are likely to come across. Ignoring the somewhat downbeat song titles, I find the music to be pleasingly uplifting and positive. Yenisei also tend to avoid the build-and-release approach that has made many bands in the post-rock genre so predictable.

The ten songs here tend to stay around a central theme or style, with subtle variations developing depth and dynamic. The keys and synths of Rafał Piniaź coat each song with an atmospheric and ethereal vibe. Each song stands in its own right, but I've found the best rewards are where you take Reflections as one entity and just go with the flow. I'm often reminded of latter-day Momo.

And really there's not much else to say. Reflections is a definite winner for those who enjoy instrumental progressive music with a bright and positive vibe.

Album Reviews