Album Reviews

Issue 2023-053

5th Season — 5th Season

5th Season - 5th Season
In Memoriam (10:32), Daylight’s End (5:07), I Am The Waves (4:39), On The Dark Side Of the Moon, pt. 1 (6:58), On The Dark Side Of The Moon, pt. 2 (6:15), Lay Down (6:58), Don’t Wanna Sing Your Blues (6:13), Desperate Measures (6:30)
Eivind S. Johansen

A well-prepared auditory meal of seven-tees styled prog rock cuisine served at the restaurant on the dark side of the moon. Great atmosphere, or exosphere to be exact, when considering the location. No surprises on the menu, but for both the experienced traveler and the accidental tourist there is much to be enjoyed here.

The opening track In Memoriam has a beautiful beginning with acoustic guitar leading into a seven minutes long instrumental. It's in the area of Mike Oldfield at his (early) best. I enjoy the sound of the organ. Cool stuff. The drums sound tightly compressed and not fully integrated into the whole; but In memoriam is a solid track. It goes somewhere; even though it's back to the beginning, but where else to go really?

Daylight's End is more of a progressive-pop-rock kind of song. There are quite a fews songs like this around, and I am not sure if we need another one, but it's well done. I Am The Waves has a touch of Justin Hayward in the vocals; that longing for something or someone. This is the progressive ballad on the menu. I like the guitars and the vocals are great too. There is something interesting going on in the keyboard section, that could have been more to the fore.

The centre-piece of the album is called (not unexpectedly) On The Dark Side Of The Moon It's in two parts. The harmony vocals seem somewhat floating in reverb, but maybe that's how it's like up there; on the dark side of the moon. I appreciate the vulnerability in the vocals. The song seems to be about the restlessness of man, that has always been, since the very first man; the traveler, the seeker and explorer. The 2nd part is mostly instrumental, and jumps about in riffs similar to Neil Armstrong's footsteps on the moon. The ensemble-playing is right on. This works without doubt great at concerts, but as a listener to the album; they loose me here, preferring instead to study the traffic in the street outside. It rains.

Lay Down goes right into Don't Wanna Sing Your Blues This is groovy kind of stuff. Steely Dan and Little Feat comes to mind. Nice vocals and vibes. Percussion. Lay Down goes on far too long or too far out.. The playing is great though. Don't Wanna Sing Your Blues has an amazingly twisted riff, that makes me think of Lay down Sally I'm not sure if this is intentional, looking at the title of the previous song... it might be — or it might not. There are smart and interesting turnarounds in this song and a nod to Joe Walsh too. Mr. Jukka Gustavson lets it all hang out on the organ. Wow, that is good! Thank you, Mr. Gustavson! (I love the Wigwam albums. It was the best band coming out of the wings of northern Europe back then).

Now for desert; The closing song is called Desperate Measures It starts with A Salty Dog type of chords on the piano. This is a chord-progression that all progressive rock bands love unconditionally. Durga McBroom sometimes of Pink Floyd does wordless singing. Then there are lots of guitar playing and even more guitar, before ending with McBroom adlib singing; that may be a bit too much chocolate cake.

There is much to love here, and lots of inspiration shining through on this album. But I think the difference between analog and digital recording puts the project slightly down. The overall sound and expression is too much the same; in a clinical sort of way. The music seems muffled or caged in. I miss the buzz of various guitar-amps and the ringing of cymbals, unforeseen accidents, surprises and strange things happening. But it's a very all nicely and lovingly done. Thanks for making the album!

Aethellis — The Affinity Oeuvre

Aethellis - The Affinity Oeuvre
Anandia (12:36), Affinifunk (3:26), Pathdancer (5:28), Dreams on Pause (3:40), Do Like I Do (3:15), Chicago News (3:35), Another Car (4:23), Let Me Be Me (3:33), The Stennis Compromise (2:09), Why Do You Keep Fighting (5:03), RIP (4:32)
Sergey Nikulichev

In all honesty, at some stage Melodic Revolution label should be brought to justice for releasing some of the oddest prog CDs out there. It is not my first acquaintance with the label, and I confess that there were many releases that left me unimpressed, and some releases that I actually quite liked (Transport Aerian, Dead End Space and Unified Past, for instance). But generally, there's something in common with many of the bands, signed to this label: they rely on synth keyboards and bass, rather than sticking to guitar-driven rock, a lot of them are influenced by Yes (including 80-ies Yes), ELP and pomp rock, and they rarely copy the classic 70ies prog sound.

All of the above stands true for The Affinity Oeuvre, a recent release by the Baltimore trio Aethellis. (Just in case: the word “affinity” is not, I believe, a nod to Opeth, but rather to the previous band of Aethellis' mastermind Ellsworth Hall, Logos Affinity). The trio's debut was reviewed in times of yore by Mark, and material-wise the new record brings no revolution to the bands previous career. Still the core of the sound is Hall's synth keys and melodies, and he's also, I believe, the main songwriter. One would surely notice that the album opens with the longest track Anandia (I myself sometimes prefer opening epics to closing epics). Anyway, should you like it, don't press stop as soon as it is over – the trio has more to offer than that. But if you don't, then probably there shall be no redeeming material for you. Odd music suggests that I should make odd comparisons, and – luckily for me – I have some. The Affinity Oeuvre reminds me of 70ies prog and classic rock bands who in the start of 80ies decided to go more radio friendly and changed their sound to bring more pop / electronic influences. If your musical stomach is strong enough to digest Love Beach, Civilian, Abacab or The Single Factor, then try Aethellis, because the early 80ies experiments is where they derive inspiration, as strange as it may sound. Funny thing is that I hear precisely proggers' “experiments with pop”, rather than downright pop music of the likes of Bonnie Tyler, Fleetwood Mac or Kim Wylde. This is a bold move, but also a bit baffling.

Apart from the aforementioned epic, Another Car reminds me of Paul McCartney's flirtations with new wave, Affinfunk as the title suggests incorporates funk influences, and reggae rhythms are spread through many tracks of the album.

The low point for many prog heads would definitely be Ellsworth's vocal skills and limited range. Although he is a professional musician, never out of tune, the vocals often lack force and attack. On the other hand, the rhythm section is convincingly strong, no matter if you like the patterns they play or not.

Overall The Oeuvre leaves a mixed impression. There's a lot of creativity inside, and it would be unfair to characterize the record as prog-by-numbers, on the other hand there are limits to my appreciation of such experiments.

Kong — Traders Of Truth

Kong - Traders Of Truth
Radiance (4:38), Hit That Red (3:27), Fringing (4:31), Rök (5:01), Mirrorizon (5:25), Glasslands (4:31), Ripper (4:36), Chaos As Law (4:35), Stray Marks (4:34), Flat Earth Sobriety (3:57), Destressed & Unrestrained (6:11)
Jan Buddenberg

Shortly after Phlegmatism, a digital only EP from 2020 containing four re-recorded songs from their 1992 album Phlegm, Kong set out to record a full-album follow up to 2014's Stern. Something easier said than done for interfering Covid restrictions did result in Oscar Alblas (drums), David Kox (guitars, samples), Tijs Keverkamp (guitar) and founding member Mark Drillich (bass, samples, guitar) having to record their parts mostly individual.

An aspect that can't be derived for chemistry between the various band members is abundantly present and Kong's powerful eclectic mix of industrial progressive metal, energetic rock and synth techno entrusted to their ninth album Traders Of Truth really splashes off the record. Taking more time out to fully focus on arrangements and development of musical layers a preliminary conclusion is that Traders Of Truth feels tighter, exceedingly more diversified and concisely balanced than ever before. It might well be Kong's fruitfullest effort thus far in their 35 years of existence.

Truth be told though that I'm only exploring their enigmatic realm for just under four years now so fans that were there from the beginning might well differ in opinion. This however doesn't take away the fact that Traders Of Truth is an amazing album and certainly my go-to Kong album at the moment. Mainly because all compositions go in for the kill and don't let go before they have shown you all four corners of the room through their rhythmic tightness, killer riffs, instrumental excellence and sublime structural designs, thereby creating a 5th sensation of satisfaction through the compelling nature of the songs.

This starts instantly with opener Radiance where a massive riff fully reminding of Rush jump-starts the album into a fabric of dynamic industrial metal surrounded by fierce bombast and powerful guitar melodies. As an express invite for headphones to explore the many layers of samples and sequencers in the background of the music it is a magnificent compact composition which in light of its many layers manages to sound surprisingly open and transparent.

This applies to all the explosive compositions that follow, first off with the furiously compelling Hit That Red which as a perfect amalgamation of Spacerock and heavy Prog reminds of veterans Hawkwind through its repetitive riffs. Something which together with atomic-clock driven rhythms unleashes strong impressions of Porcupine Tree performing in heavy overdrive. With standout performances all around it is especially Alblas' drum partitions here that warrant the word phenomenal.

Of precise length and sublimely avoiding a rerun of melodies Fringing offers similar enticing heavy designs with strength of versification as Postrock elements alternate with bombast. Followed by a more tribal approach in the groovy Rök which as an assured album highlight offers a rush of positronic enhanced rhythms and beats, surrounded by fierce riffs and psychedelic elements that halfway through explode into a hypnotic rave lifted straight out of a Wesley Snipes 'Blade' film.

With a more prominent role for bass, an element Kong could pursue more often IMHO, Mirrorzon adds a touch of ambient tribal with focus towards synths and rhythmic beats, whereafter Glasslands breaks protocol by offering restrained tangible melodies buzzing with elements of world music and tribal percussion. The latter a splendid example of the equally alluring lighter side of Kong's hard-to-pinpoint music.

Personally though I prefer their heavier side, which the catchy Ripper most impressively offers through an assemblage of groovy shuffles and Rush/Porcupine Tree like textures fitted together by vibrant percussion and an excellent melancholic guitar solo. Stray Marks also gets top marks for this through its ingenious multi-layered design with rousing rhythms amidst seamless transitions diving into industrial territories, while compelling melodies effortlessly convince one to nod along to the fiercely energetic contagious hooks.

Finest example of Kong's heaviest finest hour, before the album takes a plunge into hypnotic danceable rhythms including voiced samples via Flat Earth Society and floats off with the captivating conversational soundscape of Destressed & Unrestrained, is found in Chaos As Law. As the album's most disciplinary executed and tightest erected composition it contains gargantuan riffs that give Metallica a fierce run for their money, and features a guesting appearance by Jan Akkerman (ex-Focus) who as judge, jury and executioner lays down a magnificent freewheeling guitar solo that perfectly signals as to why he was chosen as best guitar player of the world in 1973.

To make a long story short after all this; fans of the band can assuringly add another highly recommendable effort to their collection because Traders Of Truth shows that Kong are still king when it comes to crafting their unique eclectic mix of industrial progressive metal, energetic rock and synth techno. Long may they reign!

Ogives — La memoir des orages

Ogives - La memoir des orages
Patience I-II (11:43), Patience III-IV (7:43), Mighty Pumpkin (8:59), Black Furrows (10:18), L'oubli / Von Nun and Drängt die Zeit (14:14), Mighty Pumpkin (reprise) (4:21) Patience V-VI (15:15), Epilogue (2:13)
Martin Burns

Ogives are a prog band come classical chamber ensemble. They have turned to the producer and master mixer Steve Albini to give their debut album the sheen it deserves. Albini has worked with the likes of Motorpsycho, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emporer and Cheer-Accident as well the more famous bands of the 1990s. Some of the music here seems to be well away from Albini's stomping grounds.

Ogives' La memoir des orages (The Memory Of Storms) is an odd mixture of chamber classical, choral music, prog rock, Rock in Opposition, post-rock and electronica. Ogives debut is composed and produced by Pavel Tchikov (bass, modular synth, vocals). The band has a line-up that involves a lot of doubling of instrumentation. There are two lead vocalists Marie Billy and Zoé Pireaux (also flute). There are two saxophone players Charlie Maerevoet (also keys) and Martin Chenel (both also provide vocals). Then there are two drummers and percussionists Tom Malmendier and Alexis Van Doosselaere (also lyrics). And the guitarist Manu Henrion also provides trombone and vocals. As you can see this is not the standard band line-up.

The music on La memoir des orages splits itself between the sacred and the profane, that is the ordinary in spiritual terms, not in musical ones. According to the press notes 'these pieces revolve around the themes of the perception of time and the perspective of death'.

The album opens with a long choral passage of medieval chanting supported by the tolling of tubular bells, cymbal washes, saxophone, and synths. This leisurely, slow-paced music goes on until halfway through where Part II starts with a complete left turn into loud churning guitars, in an alt-prog-post rock way. It is quite bonkers, but not so you would want to turn it off. Patience III-IV brings in sliding violin lines, female and male voices its gentle pace and melody reminds me of Michael Nyman's soundtrack to The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.

Ogives. Promo photo by Lionel Jussert.

The next two songs, Mighty Pumpkin and Black Furrows, are both sung in English. Mighty Pumpkin and its later Reprise are gently paced but have insistent percussion and the first part has a superb non-jazz sax solo. The solo is as engaging as the one Dick Parry provides on Pink Floyds Us And Them. Mighty Pumpkin would fit right on to the Scottish mavericks The Beta Band's early releases.

In contrast, Black Furrows starts with grinding, doomy riffs but the song has restless changes of pace, volume, and instrumentation. The album then returns to the choral, chamber classical mode of the opening with L'oubli / Von Nun and Drängt sie Zeit. It does, unfortunately test the listener's attention span as it drifts along ambiently for ten minutes, so when the second part steams in, it's quite a wake-up call with the most rock thing Ogives do. There's also a lovely synth solo but the track is beyond saving for me with the tedious and never-ending start.

The album continues with the fifteen-minute epic of Patience V-VI, which starts in heavy prog mode with weird stabbing synth punctuation. Voices come in, and it settles for a bit until the saxophones go all jazzy squonk. Choral voices returns before it concludes with more heavy riffing. The album ends with the ephemeral Epilogue — so slight, it's almost not there.

Ogives' La memoir des orages has moments of splendour mixed with tedious sections. Though well played and produced, and with decent melodies, its unhinged contrasts of style leave me underwhelmed. Though I applaud their singular and individual mucical vision.

OSM — Plagued By Doubts

OSM - Plagued By Doubts
Plagued By Doubts (4:06), Stuck In a Wrong Place (7:29), Why Always More?, Drown By Myself (7:15), Abyssal... (6:22), ...Loudness (5:10)
Calum Gibson

France and the Klonosphere have produced many great additions to music. With the additional help of Season of Mist, a contender for one of the best outlets of the more esoteric and extreme sides of metal, OSM have a lot to live up to and a lot of promise behind them.

The brooding and concerning intro of Plagued by Doubts leaves an atmosphere of unease before the full throttle of the group comes in. Heavy riffs and harsh, vocals exude a sense of fear and anger. Building on this, the track stays with a heavy, almost oppressive tone before fading into the clean and atmospheric start of Stuck in a Wrong. This is short-lived though, as the rhythm section comes tearing in like Gojira riff on steroids. Grooving, dark and catchy as hell - The song might be stuck in a wrong, but it is most definitely the right choice.

Why Always More brings in even more grove and prog to the mix. With elements of Klone creeping in through the heavier areas, I feel the bass work on this really keeps the song together. Never taking over, but always giving that extra layer of intensity to the riffs, and keeping the treadmill of the track going through the quieter areas. Next comes Drown by Myself. Here we build up through atmospheres and gradual increasing of layers over that bass work we've come to love so far. As expected, and wished for, we are greeted again by technical rhythm work when it all kicks off. It is an instrumental track, but superbly well written that it keeps you hooked throughout.

Abyssal... brings us to the closing stages, following seamlessly from the previous number. A blend of tones cascades through the music and vocal delivery, from anger to trepidation, to despair and anguish - we travel through them all until entering the closer: ...Loudness. We start slow and gentle, clean guitars and lamenting vocals draw your heartstrings in as it gets heavier with the developing sorrow. This continues building through the track, layering up the emotions and sound as it grows to the end and fades.

A good EP, and a fantastic insight into what the group can do. I very much look forward to delving into the rest of their catalogue. I'd suggest that if you're a fan of Gojira, Klone, Swallow the Sun, Death or The Ocean Collective, then I wager these guys will feel right at home in your collection.

Renaissance Rock Orchestra — Ice Age Cometh

Renaissance Rock Orchestra - Ice Age Cometh
In My Lovin' Arms (5:28), The Ice Age Cometh (6:57), Here We Are Again (4:53), Secrets In The Sand (7:33), Circus Life (5:04), My Lonely Heart (6:19), The Universal Dance (6:44), J.S. Rock (4:06), A Song Of Hope (7:31), The Author Of Mystery (5:06), Long Live Rock And Roll (5:08)
Gerald Wandio

How many of you remember the final Wings studio album, 1979's Back To The Egg? (Does anybody even remember Wings? Sure you do: Silly Love Songs, With a Little Luck, even (sigh...) Mull Of Kintyre.) I wasn't a huge Wings fan, but when I discovered that one of the songs on Back To The Egg, the semi-promisingly entitled Rockestra Theme, featured a boatload of great musicians including John Paul Jones, Pete Townshend, Gary Brooker, and David Gilmour (and many others), I rushed out to buy the album. A couple of days later, I skimmed the record out of my fifth-floor apartment window (I ought not confess to littering, but there you go), so dreadful was the album. Even the underwhelming song featuring many of my favourite musicians.

Why this trip down memory lane and confession of my early life of (extremely petty, in both senses of the adjective) crime? Well, I never learn: I leaped at the chance to review the latest album by the Renaissance Rock Orchestra because of a bunch of the guest musicians listed as playing on the album. For example, Alan White, Vinnie Appice, "Bumblefoot", and George Lynch. If you'll permit me a second crime, I'll use a cliche because it perfectly encompasses the problem with this album (as it encompassed the problem with Rockestra Theme): the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Now I can backtrack a bit. I'll start by saying that, if I had this album (Ice Age Cometh -- pity about the "-eth") on vinyl, it would not go skimming out my window. It's much better than that Wings album, and in fact I quite like a few of the songs, most notably the irresistibly catchy Circus Life. But as I'm sure any of you out there could have told me, cramming a bunch of great musicians onto an album is no different from cramming a bunch of great actors into a movie: individual talent can go only so far. I had been expecting at least semi-greatness; to my ears, what we have here is a pretty good album with some darned good players on it.

The Renaissance Rock Orchestra is the creation of a musician named Gregg Fox, who has written and released several albums with this project. The lineups vary from album to album, though some musicians feature on all or most of the albums. Here's what I'd say: this album is best enjoyed by listening to the excellent performances of the individual musicians and appreciating when this or that song also succeeds (some do, some don't). So what do the songs sound like?

Well, despite the "Orchestra" promised in the band's name, they sound like pretty good hard-rock songs with the occasional progressive or orchestral flourish. I am thoroughly puzzled to be told that this album "is a fantastic symphonic / rock orchestral recording that fans of the Trans Siberian Orchestra would relate to." Well, I'm a fan of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and, "relating" aside, I'm struggling to see the connection. Except of course for the word "Orchestra" in the names of both bands.

I don't want to be unfair: it may be that my expectations for this album were unrealistic. As I say, it's certainly not bad, and there are bright moments (along with some darker ones: the final song, Long Live Rock and Roll, is NOT the Rainbow classic, and I think it was an error of judgement on Fox's part to use that title for a song inevitably inferior to the great one from the seventies). But your experience may vary, and if you listen to this album with no preconceptions whatsoever, you may well enjoy it much more than I did.

Album Reviews