Dream The Electric Sleep — American Mystic
Lexington, Kentucky trio Dream The Electric Sleep can best be placed on the heavy rock side of the progressive rock scale. Not metal, but also not symphonic prog. American Mystic is the band's fourth album and first since 2016's Beneath The Dark Wide Sky. The band comprises Matt Page on vocals, guitar and keyboard, Chris Tackett on bass, keyboard, and backing vocals, and Joey Waters on drums and backing vocals. The backing vocals create wonderful harmonies to Page's tenor.
I hear elements of Rush, especially in the guitars, which take on a very Lifesonian style on "The Lessons They Bring." That track is the longest, and perhaps proggiest, on the record, and the guitar takes on multiple styles over its nine plus minutes. The final guitar solo reminds me a bit more of John Petrucci of Dream Theater at his more melodic. Steal The Love also has some soaring guitars that remind me a lot of Rush.
The album also has a bit of a Styx influence. There are a lot of vocal harmonies, which really round out the overall sound. It's a very American (or at least North American) style of progressive rock. Even the lyrics display that, with abundant yet subtle Biblical imagery. The title track has some Supertramp overtones, and I also hear subtle influences of The Who throughout the record.
Joey Waters' drums are worth highlighting. Thick and complex, they create a solid rhythm section that pairs nicely with Chris Tackett's bass. The keyboards are used sparingly to add synthy sections without overpowering the mix, again reminiscent of Rush. After The Fallout has a strong 1990s Rush influence, with a prominent low-end bass riff, sprawling guitars, walls of drums, and the opening synth sound.
The lyrics are thoughtful and profound on the record. Beyond Repair sees someone looking at the mistakes they have made in life and wondering,
is the damage beyond repair?
is there anything to compare it to?
can torn and tattered wings fly?
even after the deluge?
is the damage beyond repair?
The band began writing the album back in 2017, and a lot has happened in the world since then, which ended up getting reflected in the lyrics and music over the course of this album's development. The band also worked with Michael Beinhorn as producer, who has worked with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, and Marilyn Manson in the past.
One complaint I have with the production is the prominent use of the fade-out at the ends of the songs. I know it has been popular for a long time, and it was certainly used in some of the most famous AOR/prog albums of the 1970s, but I've never been a fan. I would rather have a definitive ending to a song. With the fadeouts, this album loses some flow and feels a bit choppy, but the band's musical style remains consistent throughout which helps hold things together.
The artwork, both on the cover and throughout the booklet, is another high point for the album and certainly worth buying the record in a physical format (you also get a PDF of the booklet if you buy the digital album on Bandcamp). Nils Karston's artwork consists of collages showing primarily vintage Americana, but also some images of the Titanic. If anything, the album cover is an eye-catcher.
Overall I highly recommend giving American Mystic a listen, and I suggest digging into Dream The Electric Sleep's back catalog. I've enjoyed their past albums, but I think their latest is their best. It's their shortest, and I think it has benefited from careful planning and production. It's accessible without being boring. Fans of guitar-driven rock will certainly find much to enjoy.
Jordsjø — Salighet
I was a little surprised to see the limited initial interest to review this album but to my surprise this new release from Jordsjø has turned out to be an absolute hidden gem. I have followed the band almost from their inception and have never been disappointed with any of their offerings. It was only after obtaining their second album from 2016, Jordsjø II, and the 2017 release, Jord, did I really begin to take serious notice as these two albums were, for my money, the best albums the band had released. That is until now.
For those unfamiliar with the band, the musicians responsible for this outrageously good album are Håkon Oftung (vocals, guitars, flute, keyboards) and Kristian Frøland (drums & percussion). It would be a little difficult to define exactly what I am hearing here, but I detect snippets of influences and ideas from the likes of Wobbler, Lars Frederik Froislie,Tusmørke, Sinkadus, Wallenstein (sans the violin), Kaipa, Taylor's Universe, Solaris, Seven Reizh, Phideaux, Paatos, Minimum Vital, Janne Schaffer, Isuldur's Bane, Gentle Giant, the playfulness of Caravan, the more pastoral side of PFM and Anglagard. It stands to reason that the Scandinavians have really put their name on the musical map recently, considering how many excellent bands and albums have been created there over the past few decades. I am sure there are many more bands from that very creative region that I have not yet discovered but, for now, I am more than happy with what I am hearing from this region these days.
Vocals are quite scant but very effective when they are featured. It is the brooding combination of keys and guitar however, that infiltrate your brain with a mesmerising assortment of clever and challenging arrangements. Add in some Focus-styled flute, accompanied by some stabbing sections of organ and acoustic guitar interspersed with a very tasty synth run and the first song should have you immediately hooked.
Each song effortlessly floats from one to the other with a melancholic interlude and helps to carry the story beyond what the music alone is trying to achieve. During the more up-tempo sections of the second song, Sankeren, I am hearing some vague resemblance to an old English band called Cressida as the method of exploiting the keyboards is somewhat similar. No complaints from me here then!
The bands latest release showcases exactly why Jordsjø have consistently scored very highly on RateYourMusic as they are yet to unleash anything less than solid music which is well composed and perfectly executed. They serve up lashings of progressive folk with a jazzy influence here and there — with some retro sounds straight out of the 70's. This is an adventurous and mature album from a band that just delivers exactly what the record buying public are wanting. I can't wait for their next album, but you can take it to the bank that this will be amongst my top 10 for 2023. A great album by anyone's yardstick but something to be enjoyed even more so if any of the aforementioned bands are on your musical radar.
Another milestone in a captivating and rewarding musical career! Well done!
Noveria — The Gates Of The Underworld
Not that you couldn't expect something like this from one of today's prog metal records, but this one kicks some serious ass.
I first noticed the Roman quintet Noveria while doing an overview of DGM's “family history” for myself. When Noveria started, they shared two members with DGM – Andrea Arcangeli on bass and Emanuele Casali on keyboards. In 2016 Emanuele stepped back from his responsibilities here, and the rack is now owned by Julien Spreutels. Another ace in the team is Francesco Corigliano on the vocals, who is (spoiler alert!) doing some outstanding work here. The band released three records, and in my opinion showed solid progress, delivering fine dark power metal sound – not what you might expect from the land of Rhapsody (Of Fire) and Labyrinth. The Gates Of The Underworld is Noveria's fourth release, and – lo – some demons are definitely coming from behind the gates.
Noveria have never sounded so close to Symphony X as in 2023. It comes especially in terms of “power” aspect in their brand of power metal. Compared to the 90% of herbivore Euro-power, the band is definitely carnivorous and happy about it. Their fangs are thoroughly bathed in blood of those metal collectives standing lower in the food chain. For instance, Origins sounds precisely like Romeo, Allen and Co shook off some years ago. Noveria seem to be aiming at making The Odyssey 2.0. – and the result is far from plagiarism, more like being “able to lift the same weights” as their US inspiration.
Descent with Fabio Lione holding the guest microphone evokes thoughts about pre-Epica Kamelot (darker Kamelot, less sexy and more metallic), with grandiose chorus and fabulous shift of dynamics, while Revenant is closer to Karevik-era Kamelot, only with larger biceps. Again, a memorable chorus – and some nice phrasing in the shred parts.
The title epic echoes plenty of influences – from Divine Wings Of Tragedy to DGM's works and Metallica's S&M (in terms of mixing post-thrash rhythms with symphonic arrangements). Cheesy moments are there as well, but within the genre, Noveria are the ones who prefer adding Neapolitan cornicello pepper to their cheese. Plenty of moments to headbang here, too.
The band chose the 'Arabian'-scale Ascent as one of the singles, but for me this is where the album for a moment loses its speedy pace. Overlord on the contrary is the speed-metal fireworks-fest in the vein of Manticora. Watching the video, I can easily believe that all the destruction around was caused precisely by the band's rhythm section.
Half-ballad Anima, shows the quintet's master-stroke in adding a cinematic approach to composition, and the closing Eternity features already familiar grandiosity. I especially love the guitar work of Francesco Mattei here, who is influenced not only by Michael Romeo, but, if my guess is right, by Jeff Loomis, for instance.
What is great about the album as a wholesome statement is that the band manages to make the half-asleep genre sounding fresh and fit. Inventive, kaleidoscopic riffage equaled by beautiful instrumental solo parts is precisely the new blood prog-power needs. I hate uttering banalities, but I really enjoyed listening the riff rollercoasters here.
If I should find a thing to complain about, for objectivity's sake, then it's the production. Which is not bad, but, so to say, “customary and reasonable”. Its commonness actually conceals many good things on the album, for no good reason. With less digitalized, triggered sound, it could make a huge difference and allow the record to reach even higher.
Anyway, to the best of my knowledge, Noveria found a fine, worthy niche for themselves. While Symphony X have stayed where they are since 2015, with Nevermore no longer with us, and with the declining quality of Kamelot's material, the Italians do shine. I eventually ended up preferring Noveria above their “parent” DGM.
Speed Of The Stars (Steve Kilbey and Frank Kearns) — Speed Of The Stars
Steve Kilbey (bassist and vocalist with The Church) and Frank Kearns (guitarist with the short-lived but excellent Cactus World News) first encountered each other when their respective bands shared a co-headlining two-show gig at an ice rink in New Hampshire, USA in the summer of 1986. They met up again eight years later at a London concert by The Church and decided to collaborate on an album, sessions for which started in August 1998 in Dublin. However, Kilbey's then heroin addiction curtailed the project after only three songs were completed and the project was quietly forgotten about.
Skip forward 14 years and, upon rediscovering the tapes from the sessions, Kearns sent them over to Kilbey suggesting they might renew their musical acquaintance. New sessions throughout 2012 and 2013 resulted in four new songs but again life and other commitments but a halt to proceedings pushing the project to the back burner for a further couple of years. In 2015 the duo thought that the world had waited long enough to hear the album and so took to the now defunct crowdfunding site PledgeMusic to raise funds for final recording sessions and also presumably to make sure they actually completed the project. The rather low-key release came about in 2016 on the independent Red Coral Label that had been set up to re-release the work of Cactus World News and gathered some great reviews with Kilbey himself stating that it was the best album he had been involved with and featured some of his best lyric writing and singing. However, the small label had neither the experience nor contacts to promote the album and its impact at the time was rather limited.
With UK label Easy Action undertaking a large reissue campaign of Kilbey's solo and collaborative works, as well as releasing the latest album by The Church, The Hypnogogue earlier this year, the album is getting a second stab of the cherry. What is more, the duo have come together once more to write and record two brand-new songs especially for the reissue. Kilbey handles vocals, bass and keyboards while Kearns adds guitars and backing vocals with drums and percussion provided by Kearns' CWN bandmate Wayne Sheehy or Kilbey's collaborator Barton Price.
Considering the songs were recorded over a 25-year period, there is a remarkable consistency in the sound of the album; it is nigh on impossible to audibly determine which songs were recorded in 1998 and which some 25 years later, although Kilbey is keen to point out that the two new tracks are more "lighhearted in contrast to some of the other more philosophical stuff... the new songs are Speed Of The Stars just enjoying themselves". The 'more philosophical' nature is related to the original album's description, also by the lyricist, as being "about the natural world and history and mythology. An album trying to reconcile past and present. The constant dialogue between the living and the dead." Kearns reflects that for him the music of the album "represents a journey of releasing our emotional burdens" and also considered it one of his best works.
The album is certainly not an in your face rock maelstrom, but a more considered, almost dreamy effort replete with atmospheric guitar soundscapes. Kilbey is right in that his laid back vocals are some of the best he has laid down, even when there is some obvious, but low-key, manipulation of the vocals as on Heliotropic it is in keeping with the song adding an extra dimension rather than an attempt at trickery. Kearns' contributions throughout are always perfectly judged with a myriad of different sounds and tones extracted from his six string, pedal board and ebow. Keyboards are kept to a supporting role providing discrete synth chords or even just independent isolated piano notes. Occasional acoustic guitar, such as on Autumn Daze, are crystal clear in the mix to the extent that you can hear fingers brushing over the strings as they move to a different chord. Although the tempo is generally rather restrained, a greater insistence and drive is provided by a more active drum pattern on tracks such as Black River and Nepenthe, which were both recorded at the first sessions with Sheeny hitting the skins. The third track from those initial sessions, Honolulu Bayside, is a personal favourite and is a totally delightful song.
Also worthy of mention is Vela Velox, more of a traditional "song" in that one can sing along to it if one so desires, and it has a more memorable melody and distinct chorus. At one point it seems that the entire project was going to be called Vela Velox, as that is how it was referred to in a 2015 blog posting from Kilbey. His comments on the album posted in the blog are very apposite: "I need to write and sing some more but the first batch was so good it's a little daunting to keep up the standard. I am really so happy with this record; its hard to describe it - organic lush warm open soothing spiritual Celtic influenced something about Frank's playing and his sound invokes ancient Ireland far beyond Guinness and leprechauns. The mood here is gentle transcendence with small details and subtle fleeting moods, the guitar is unusually orchestral sometimes I can't figure out what is doing what." Vela Velox is also one of two songs that features the final band name in the lyrics - It's the speed of the stars that shocks me, the whole universe, it softly rocks me in its own lovely way. The other is the great and deeply philosophical final song Words Are Wasted: Walk with the wind, talk with the silent dead, words are wasted in the fog ahead. The speed of the stars, the poppies and graves, they cut them all down to save the Empire's face. This is such a definitive concluding song that it has maintained its place in the sequencing with the two new songs, Sir Francis Drake and Red Star being positioned immediately before it.
A worthy re-release and an album that demands proper listening; throw away pop music this is not, but an artful construction designed for longevity. The only thing I could possibly criticise is that it would have been great if the album had included the remaining two songs originating from the collaboration, namely Caracas and the full version of Another Day, both of which were given away to supporters of the PledgeMusic campaign. But I suppose they deserve the exclusivity for having the foresight to back the original release.