Luca Di Gennaro — The 2nd Coming
Luca Di Gennaro is the keyboard player of Soul Secret, whose excellent Blue Light Cage I reviewed some two years ago. In the subsequent interview I asked where the band gets their inspiration from Luca replied: "We don't give any limit to our musical inspirations! I studied rock, prog, metal, pop, blues, classical and also R&B vocal lines, and I try to take inspiration from every genre in my melodies and arrangements". His first solo album, The 2nd Coming, is the perfect illustration of this statement, while I get the distinct impression he adores adventurous Arcade games as well!
Next to having composed, arranged and produced the music Di Gennaro plays keyboards, guitars, bass and "everything else", while a few guest spots add further spectacle. These foremost take place in the epic title track, the one composition most identifiable with his Soul Secret prog-metal roots. With David Wise adding sax in Into The Rainfall it's especially Alfonso Mocerino noteworthy drum talent that brings power, dexterity, drive and backbone to the music, apart from The Spiteful Liar and Into The Rainfall which are free from any of his drumming talent.
Out of these two tracks the former exhibits symphonic orchestrations, bombast, and gamely instrumentation, and might as well be used as a suspense intro to a daunting level of jumping plumber-fun. In Shannon Tree this image gets an exciting power-up through a sonic array of dazzling keyboard wizardry. This highly eclectic song is the prime example of Di Gennaro's limitless inspirations. Gliding through valleys of lovely synth melodies and sophisticated classical piano movements it builds momentum through smooth guitars, soaring into pompous keyboard orientated rock and tumbles straight into explosive Funk (with capital F) with excellent bass playing throughout. Driving relentlessly into an eruption of keys and upbeat melodies it crashes into glamorous summery Salsa madness before soothing melodies victoriously signal game's over.
This short reflective moment that closes Shannon Tree is consolidated in the intricate, somewhat sad, atmospheres of Into The Rainfall which showcases Di Gennaro's elegance of touch on piano beautifully. The embracing sax adds a favourable note to this fine ballad, although a certain smoothness to its sharp cutting sound would have been my preference. Other than that it's a precious resting point on the album, much like the entertaining jazzy intonations in A Rose In The Sand which is Di Gennaro's open application towards performing at the Cruise To The Edge lounge bar, floating smoothly through acoustic guitar and passionate sophisticated melodies.
The order in which these songs are allocated on the album brings a nice flow to the album and makes sure one is constantly drawn into the music, seeing that the surrounding four tracks are fairly keyboard driven and a lot to take in. Let me rephrase this: if virtuous keyboard extravaganzas that meet the likes of Jordan Rudess, Andrew Roussak, Rick Wakeman and other contemporary wizards is your game, then buckle up and get ready for a marvellous entertainment ride at high speed.
Showing Di Gennaro's compositional strength, these well-constructed and diverse compositions burst at the seams with creativity, inventiveness, and a sparkling freshness armed with power and force, embracing a wide variety of sounds within his immaculate playing. Opening track Chasing Next is a fine example blasting off with energetic electronic melodies and smooth Didier Marouani-styled pop influences. As the composition intensifies, it dives into sensational rave-like melodies. For its remainder, it keeps on firing on all synth-cylinders, with amazing agility and compositional depth, igniting visions of Gerard in the process.
With driving bass-moog and rhythmic propulsion, Route 24 adds delightful groove and textural richness, as Di Gennaro soars his way through lush synth melodies and vibrant tribal-like movements with occasional Jan Hammer (Miami Vice) nostalgia. It is followed by the equally entertaining Climb which adds an airy freshness of Deja Vu and eclectic Keith Emerson (ELP) escapades to the plate. Both tracks have an air of hypnotic techno and house. Although not being a fan of that style, it actually works fine here. The best is yet to come though, and hopefully one has saved room for the lengthy The 2nd Coming, for you ain't heard nothing yet!
Opening with bombast, initially throbbing and pulsating in similar fashion as the other hard hitting compositions. It glides, momentarily, into mild prog-metal overdrive. Guitars and swirling synths eclipse each other and form a wonderful passage that shows the magnificent arrangement skills of Di Gennaro. Provided with depth of sound and instrumentation, the dreamy soundscapes are awakened by Eastern raptures that signal a Mastermind-like section. Di Gennaro unleashes a bundle of ravishing "shredding with Sherinian" excursions at hyper-speed, leading up to a final reflective pause around the ten-minute mark. From here on in it's all systems go and the previous Mach One velocities are accelerated to warp speed nine ferociousness.
These mind-boggling Dream Theater-like minutes are the best I've heard on any recent instrumental keyboard driven album. Here, excellent shredding guitars from Maria Barbieri and Stefano Festinese brilliantly interact with Di Gennaro's otherworldly key-gymnastics. When a short ELP eruption sets the composition ablaze, one can't help tumbling down an unrivalled stream of complexities. Blistering synth frenzies, then Frank Cavezza's excellent final guitar salute, before it fades satisfyingly into the distance, as a few spoken electronic words round off this brilliant composition.
As it stands, this marvellous composition is worth the price of admission alone. It's definitely a plus 1 to my initial rating. If all the compositions on The 2nd Coming had been this spectacular my rating would have been through the roof. Some tracks, although excellently written, arranged and performed, are somewhat out of my comfort zone or of slightly lesser interest to me.
However, the way in which they are arranged throughout the album makes them work beautifully and this might be just as well. For imagining an hour of demanding edge-of-your-seat "progtacular" is actually a daunting thought, and might seriously have overdone it. Now, wonderfully balanced and harmonious with an astounding finale, The 2nd Coming turned out to be a solid, strong and entertaining album by an experienced artist who shows he can perfectly hold his own.
Electric Mud — The Inner World Outside
Formed in Hanover in 2011 and taking their name from a 1968 album by Muddy Waters, Electric Mud is the brainchild of music conceptualist Hagen Bretschneider and multi-instrumentalist Nico Walser. For their fifth album, The Inner World Outside, they have enlisted the help of film composer David Marlow, keyboardist Timo Aspelmeier, string instrumentalist Judith Retzlik, and they rebranded themselves as a "Cinematic Prog Art Ensemble". Also involved in the project is photographer Andrea Weiß, although the moody cover paintings are by Polish artist Józef Rapacki, who was active in the early 1900s.
Musically, The Inner World Outside follows in the footsteps of the previous album 2020's Quiet Days On Earth although the additional instrumentation brings a more sophisticated element to the arrangements. Marlow and Aspelmeier are responsible for the bulk of the compositions although Walser penned the expansive Around The Mind In 80 Lies which is the album's main claim to progressive rock fame. With three main composers all playing keyboards, there's certainly much to explore and enjoy, particularly if atmospheric, neoclassical instrumentals with diverse elements of prog, post-rock, ambient and jazz float your boat.
Wisely, the album opens with probably its most satisfying offering, the hauntingly beautiful Exploring The Great Wide Nothing. It brings film composer Michael Nyman at his most romantic to mind as the track builds from tranquil beginnings to a stirring orchestral crescendo. It was written by Marlow who is generally responsible for the shorter tracks including Moving On with its melancholic piano that brings the album to a serene conclusion.
In between, a programmed choir brings a Rick Wakeman-style majesty to both The Fear Within and Sérotonine, particularly the latter with its noodling synth break. The aforementioned Around The Mind In 80 Lies boasts a synth fanfare worthy of Keith Emerson. This is one of the few tracks to feature lead guitar and for the coda, Walser cuts loose with a soaring solo. Those Who Leave The World Behind is another proggy offering with sustained organ chords that unexpectedly breaks into a medieval dance, bringing mid 1970s Gryphon to mind.
The album's longest piece, Silent Stranger Suite, is a meditative tone poem of sorts featuring some delightfully mellow extended solos courtesy of classical guitar, synth and violin. Only the majestic timbre of a church organ around the halfway mark disturbs the calm. The penultimate Descent Into The Forsaken Valley is a macabre piece that would not be out of place on the soundtrack of a 1960s horror film before Aspelmeier's impressive piano playing takes a diversion into jazz-rock territory.
Like many a good album, The Inner World Outside rewards with repeat plays, unveiling musical nuances with each successive spin. This is particularly true in the more ambient moments where Retzlik's violin, viola and cello embellishments are simply sublime. Especially recommended for late night listening with good quality headphones and a glass of your favourite tipple close at hand.
Kant Freud Kafka — Historias del Acantilado
Kant Freud Kafka are a Spanish band who began their career in 2014 and who have now produced their third offering to what seems to be a receptive audience. Their previous albums have rated well on Rate Your Music and initial opinions seems to endorse this latest album as well.
Assisting Javi Herrera (vocals, drums & percussion, VST instruments), Alia Herrera (vocals) and Dani Fernandez (bass), we have an ensemble of other players utilising violin, viola, cello, piano, keyboards, clarinet, cor anglais, bass and sax to name a few instruments.
Beginning with a plaintive and very melancholy acoustic opening of Voz de Metal gives a somewhat false impression as to what is likely to follow. Crashing cymbals, solid and propulsive drumming give way to an organ undercurrent with angular vocals and complex time signatures. It's not very melodic and extending for over 10 minutes, this will take some time to envelop the cerebellum.
The second-longest song, Carta de Gaia, also takes the listener in a slightly different direction using a plethora of sounds including synth, acoustic guitar, softly struck percussion and Alia's alluring voice. The song's beginning has more of a chamber music edge to it but that quickly gives way to a strong synthesizer series of patterns, accompanied by deft drumming and some incredibly complex arrangements. It is not until the track is almost over before we experience some very tasty and melodic guitar breaks that help close out this rather unique song.
The instrumental piece Conspiranoia begins softly with piano but then includes bass and synthesizer but is not that engaging as the sound is quite angular. This definitely borders more on avant-jazz than the traditional progressive music that the band normally writes.
Also beginning with soft piano, cor anglais and very plaintive violin My Baby Just Scares For Me suddenly adopts a slightly percussive edge with delicate snare drum and soft fills. The song finally takes on a more regimented sound when all instruments rally in unison to add some rhythm and flair to what might have been an otherwise underwhelming song.
The final track is the epic, 15 minute, El Acantilado which embraces most of the instruments at the band's disposal. Again, despite a slower beginning, the song really fires up on all cylinders when a strong synth line is accompanied by solid drumming and imaginative bass to create the strongest song on the album. I am hearing all sorts of vague influences from other bands, but you really need to make your own interpretation of these as each listener will have a different opinion. Just over halfway through, the vocals chime in with Java's singing giving way to his daughter's more angelic voice.
This album will definitely challenge some listeners as it is quite the departure from what you might normally be used to. Sure, it contains a fair smattering of chamber prog influences and avant-jazz excursions here and there, but it is well written, well played and very creative. For those with a penchant for something a little left of centre and who don't mind spending the time required to absorb exactly what is going on here, the rewards will be there in spades. Clever stuff!
Scott Reed's String Theory — Regenesis
Scott Reed is a sound engineer who turned to musician. Besides his day job he also knows how to play a lot of instruments, apart from the keyboards he plays all the instruments on Regenesis. For the keyboard parts he hired none other than Derek Sherinian.
Scott Reed's String Theory is about heavy and fast progressive metal, so the former Dream Theater keyboard player is a welcome addition. Derek also played on Scott's debut album Revolution so on the second album the conditions are the same. Just like his debut the new release, Regenesis, is filled with heavy guitar music, fast soloing by guitar and keyboard, and difficult progressive metal rhythm structures.
After the intro tune, The Curtain Falls, the album opens violently with Regeneration. After a long minute of strange keyboards sounds the beginning riff reminds me of the music of Faith No More. When the song lifts off it is heavy-metal muscle guitar music, heavy riffs and a lot of fast solos by both guitar and keyboard. Derek Sherinian is perfect for this job. Between all those fast solos there is a heavy riff as guiding theme through the song. Nice to fall back on a riff to get some breathing space between the soloing but the default riff for this song is a bit too easy.
On the previous album, Revolution, there was more room for melody, but on Regenesis you have to wait for the second part of the album to get to the melodic elements. The first part of the album is heavy stuff, a lot of notes and a lot of shredding.
At the start of Day Zero it seems a bit more organized than the intense opening of the album. Just when I discovered a melody by joined guitar and keyboard the pace increases, and it is back to the muscle metal. The pace of the drums changes throughout the song, the very fast parts are borderline messy approaching the style of a blast beat. This style continues on Outrageous Fire, Scott Reed is really trying to put as many notes as he can on a single album. Scott Reed and Derek Sherinian are both technically skilled and on the first part of the album they are really throwing it in your face.
The first part of the album is heavy and fast and just when I was getting numb from all the solos the song The Philosopher comes as a pleasant turning point on the album. The fast and heavy pace make room for melodies, a more gentle pace and some eastern influences. A very good song, if you have trouble wrestling through the bombardment of notes in the first half of the album then start at this song.
On The Astronomer the fast solos are back but there is a lot more structure in the song, allowing you to feel where the music is going. In the centre a thick organ by Derek brings a Deep Purple vibe to the music. The first part of Reflection is without drums, probably broke all his drumsticks on the blastbeats early on in the the album. A nice slow paced song and another great spot for the thick organ sound. On The New Dawn it is back to the heavier music. Of all the heavier tracks this is the better one. Many Dream Theater influences and many changes in rhythm and style, nicely crafted.
Regenesis is not for the faint of heart. Scott Reed brings us heavy-metal, muscular guitar music and the first part of the album the muscles are on steroids. Together with Derek Sherinian he produces a lot of fast heavy solos with, at times, a bombardment of notes.
On the second part of the album there is more room for melodies and the songs are more structured. It is like he first wants to show how well he can play and then show he can also play music. Nothing wrong with that, at times I like an instrumental challenge and certainly some heavy technical complex parts. The second part of the album saves it but the first part is a bit too messy and too intense to these ears.
Roz Vitalis — 20 Years - Alive and Well
Roz Vitalis is a Russian band that began in 2001 and offered some excerpts from an assortment of early demos to kick things off, resulting in releasing their first official album entitled, L'Ascencione in 2002. I did not pick up on this band until 2015 when I obtained their album entitled Lavoro d'amore which appears to be their highest-rated studio album.
Their sound is firmly rooted in the chamber prog/rio/avant-jazz arena, but they do delve into traditional symphonic progressive rock on a fairly regular basis.
The band is led by chief songwriter, Ivan Rozmainsky (electric piano, synths), with Ruslan Kirillov (bass), Vladislav Korotkikh flute), Vladimir Semenov-Tyan-Shansky (electric and acoustic guitars), and Evgeny Trefilov (drums). They are assisted on a few tracks by Yury Khomonenko (percussion), Philip Semenov (drums), and Andrey Stefinoff (clarinet). Their music is all instrumental and encompasses a vast palette of ideas but is quite pastoral in many sections. It is also quite melodic and somewhat restful when you need something to help that second glass of Shiraz go down. This is not quite as adventurous as another Russian band called Little Tragedies who utilise more keyboards to great effect.
Roz Vitalis' music is often best heard in a live environment. I am discovering their predilection for live performances allows the band to stretch out and give the audience a totally holistic concert and to allow the listener to feel they have experienced their entire career in one sitting. That the band have a vast repertoire of songs is no secret but to hear the crystalline production in this live environment is very engaging. Ironically, the participation from the audience is somewhat constrained, so either their engineer has edited out most of the applause or the locals have forgotten how to show their appreciation for such fine music.
The tracks chosen for this series of live concert excerpts include some that have been performed many times before, but they are included here for good reason. They simply represent some of the best music the band has written. Tracks such as Ascension Dream and Annihilator Of Moral Hazard come to mind. The latter track includes lengthy sections of organ and is accompanied by plentiful flute which dances between the notes to great effect.
Individual track commentary is a little unnecessary as the album is quite long at over 80 minutes but rest assured, there is a great display of musical dexterity evident here and which would have surely been appreciated by an attentive audience.
The songs certainly develop in a much stronger manner towards the end of the album, which ensures a great degree of satisfaction. The keyboards and flute are a lot more playful and feature more predominantly as the integral component of each successive song. Thankfully, I am glad to report that the flute sounds nothing like what you would expect from Jethro Tull or from Focus. When accompanied by the clarinet, the flutes really bring home some of the finest music on the album.
There is much to admire and enjoy here and while there are no vocals to be found, that is certainly not an impediment to this rather creative and rather unique band.
Soniq Theater — Cinemagic
Soniq Theater is the solo-project of ex-Rachel's Birthday keyboard-player Alfred Mueller. He has released an album a year since 2000 (reviewer takes off shoes and socks to help count), so that's twenty-two with the release of Cinemagic. As is his habit, this was released on January 1st. Fourteen of these previously releases have been reviewed by DPRP.net. Search for them here.
This album finds Soniq Theater in its usual territory of classic prog, utilising multi-layered keyboards and good-quality programmed drums. The sound and mix is clear, and emphasises the often-memorable melodies. The arrangements are engaging with plenty of keyboard detail.
On Cinemagic, the chosen theme is movie genres and Alfred Mueller has named each track after one of them. The music he produces sometimes edges towards movie-music cliché for that genre, but I will assume that these are parodies on his behalf. It has the kind of serious playfulness that Rick Wakeman has sort of made his own.
There isn't any new-age ambient drifting on the album. Instead, the tracks have focus and are relatively short. The opening track sets out his stall and features a Greenslade-like synth solo as it mixes tempos and dynamics. The longest track, Epic Movie, moves from stabbing organ riffs to a great organ solo. Blockbuster is a little forgettable but Greetings From Hollywood strides sideways into a funk setting for a stroll down Sunset Boulevard.
Soniq Theater evoke 80s electro-pop on Stuntman and Kraftwerk-meets-Daft Punk on Science Fiction. Tangerine Dream synths build on Armageddon pleasingly, and the album closes with the Studio Ghibli-like Mellotron melody of Love Story.
Overall, despite the odd misstep, this is keyboard-heavy prog that has fun exploring soundtrack genres. Cinemagic takes its conceit and executes it well. That Soniq Theater's Cinemagic is made available for name your price from his Bandcamp page should not be taken as a sign of low quality music. Soniq Theater make solid and dependable releases. Although they are not world-changing, they are worth a listen.