Thomas Glönkler — Tiefenland
Thomas Glönkler has been active in the world of progressive rock for quite some time now. After initial steps taken with German prog band ICU, who in their 10-year existence managed to release three studio releases before disbanding in 1997, he continued on his own relatively soon after and released the solo albums Auszeit and Goldstadt in 2005 and 2010 respectively. Thirteen years later, Glönkler now gets to present his third solo album Tiefenland. A concept album that tells of a place that's always within us, where you can travel to and stay or visit in transit. A contemplative story about the uncertainties of our origin, our being and becoming.
The thoughtful immersive story, which in light of its native lyrics does require some understanding of the German language, started to take shape even before Goldstadt. So Glönkler (guitar, bass, keyboards, programming, drums, percussion, backing vocals) has fully devoted his time and energy for the better part of sixteen years to complete Tiefenland, with the aid of Alex Hanafi (lead vocals), Butzi Hofmann (drums, programming) and various participating musicians. Its result is an impressively finished whole that all throughout manages to attract, captivate and compel whilst it stirs up and conveys a heartfelt range of feelings and emotions that comfortingly warm deep within.
Musically Tiefenland consists out of nine masterly arranged compositions, some of which divided into individually named segments, and in Nichts Ist Vorbei (Nothing Is Over) starts off with serene atmospheres embraced by chanting children voices and comfortingly inviting vocals. Seizing the moment Bis Zur Himmel (Up To Heaven) then sprightly continues with elegant dynamics and melodic pop influences that brings memories of Starfish64 and Anyone's Daughter. It is followed by a delightful guitar solo that segues into a fragile sung melancholic coda embedded with sounds of a distant playground of hymning children.
At this point, Tiefenland opens a portal into a realm that minutely ticks with Supertramp and Alan Parsons, after which it builds intensity until melodies touch down in a turbulent transition, shaped by mild bombast and driving saxophone of Jürg Wonderlich that evokes psychedelic visions of Pink Floyd. Provided with beautiful vocal developments, the subsequent Verloren (Lost) builds on this excellently with an apotheosis construed differently than expected. This ultimately yields another excellent transition into energetic seventies styled rock that bursts with energy, melody and outstanding interplay.
During these seamless connected compositions it becomes perfectly clear Glönkler, aided in mixing and mastering by Volker Hinkel, has invested an immense amount of time and effort to broaden his concept with a wealth of nuanced details and arrangements. In the third part of the subsequent Die Stille Nach Der Schrei (The Silence After The Scream), a composition where the first two segments offer ambient atmospheres that flow into melodies with harmonica play (Matthias Fuhrmann) followed by moments of musical complexity. This pays off with strong impressions of Marillion in a Steve Rothery-like guitar sound and Hanafi's emotional vocals which on occasion are the spitting German image of Steve Hogarth. This together with depth of sound and overall emotional feel expressed in music for me however matches Thomas Thielen to a T and his fans are hereby most cordially invited!
Kleine Seele (Small Soul) features Laura Castogiovanni on backing vocals and continues this delightful phase in Glönkler's journey with intricate parenting harmonies. It flies off into free soaring uplifting melodies that touchdown in Frei Sehn (See You Free). A song which denotes another wonderfully crafted composition where its correspondingly named part indulges with energetic and intensifying rock that exhibits pop elements reminiscent of U2 and Marillion. A temporary stop in Die Endlichkeit Der Welt (The Endlessness Of The World), given form through brittle vocals graced by beautiful harmonies and returning harmonica, then finally leads into the overwhelming beauty of Schattenland (Shadowland).
Glönkler's compositional strength and arrangement skills in this multipart musical treasure of perfectly tied together motifs, conceptual themes and lyrics ,truly shines. And in Vortraum this gives way to delightful dynamic play complemented by outstanding guitar play. Followed by an emotionally sung Limbus which revisits psychedelic realms and finalises in a heavenly guitar solo ensured to give Marillion "Freaks" goosebumps all-over. Passing the multifaceted intensely transporting layers of the compelling Zwischenland, Leben In Dir adds a delightful touch of acoustic fairytale elegance and vivaciously hopeful melodies embraced by magic of a children's choir to this, and finally rounds off Tiefenland's captivating journey perfectly full circle in tranquil open-ended atmospheres.
While supplies last, this attractively packaged album is available in limited 2CD and gatefold vinyl versions which both include a bonus CD that offers a wealthy treasure of alternate takes, unreleased tracks, demos and out-takes which makes Tiefenland as a whole even more beautiful and impressive. Within this collection one finds embryonic versions dating back to 2007, singer/songwriter styled ideas, cinematic soundscapes, and several unused tracks in demo form. Out of these Insel (Island), Schattenland's original finale Mein Weg (My Way), and the eleven individual musical landscapes that make up the 2014 recorded Island Suite are the most interesting ones worth exploring.
All in all; if you're a progressive rock fan always on the look-out for a delightful diverse album of exceptionally good music that takes you back to a good place, then Glönkler's marvellous Tiefenland is a highly recommendable place to start looking!
John Greenwood — Dark Blue
For those not familiar with the name, John Greenwood is the guitarist now working with Unitopia. He originally grew up in the UK and practised medicine before electing to concentrate on his musical aspirations. Extracting some material from John's media information, he emigrated to Adelaide where he became director of the Adult Burns Centre at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. For the next 20 years, he developed the service, received Membership of the Order of Australia for his response to the 2002 Bali Bombings, was 2016 South Australian of the Year and retired in October 2020. Fortuitously, he met Mark Trueack after a hand injury robbed his mate, Jimmy Keegan, of a place in United Progressive Fraternity. John took over. Interesting twists on Unitopia's back catalogue, made Truey think that a Unitopia revival with new blood might be on the cards. John and Sean Timms (Unitopia) became good friends, and worked together well on John's solo work as well as new Unitopia material.
2023 saw the release of his debut album and what an intriguing and absorbing album it has turned out to be. John sees the world in a slightly different perspective than I do on a number of issues, but I must admit to being incredibly impressed with his acerbic piss-take on a variety of matters including, global warming, the Covid-19 virus, immigration and many others. His dry and wry outlook on these issues is very heart-felt and adds an enormous impetus to these songs. Lyrically, the album soars above anyone's else's attempts to address these same issues and while some may argue it has been done to death already, it seems John's worthy contribution will put others work to shame, despite its later arrival on the music scene. The lyrics are really quite moving and enable John to impart his interpretation on so many of these social issues that it becomes too hard not to be influenced by them. Who knows, a sceptic leopard may even change his spots mid-stream after hearing this album.
The opening track, A Little Piece of Rosco Vidal nails this subject perfectly and is one of the highlights of the album. Musically it also scores well as his female lead vocalist sings her heart out in unison with John over such a contentious subject.
Too Late concentrates on global warning, rising sea levels and other climate issues and while it is supported by a very orchestral pillow as such, it reaches the loftiest heights thanks to the ethereal style of arrangements. This segues into the third and forth tracks and continues its anthemic approach to this project. The Ocean at 16 minutes duration is the epic that takes centre stage and allows John and his fellow minstrels to really explore all the nuances and subtleties of this well conceived song.
At this point I am feeling quite moved by this rather unique album thanks in no part to its musical beauty, gorgeous harmonies and emotional lyricism. If I had to liken this to other musicians' work, I would have to include Steve Thorne, Aries (Fabio Zuffanti), Dave Bainbridge (Iona), Robert Reed (Magenta), David Minasian, Cosmograf, (the more balladic style of) Genesis, Ken Baird (Monarch Trail), Kevin Peek (Sky), Martin Orford (IQ), Nick Magnus (The Enid, Autumn), Steve Hackett, Tiger Moth Tales, Rick Miller and Renaissance. John is in really good company with these other very aspiring musicians as this album matches much of what his contemporaries have produced. The remaining songs on this offering are equally engaging and despite the slight difference in their structure and arrangements, their overall appeal is just as obvious. The only throw away track is Packin' My Suitcase which is an acoustic 12 bar blues piece which, while containing nothing offensive here, doesn't seem to fit as well, compared to the other songs which excel on every level.
John also offers a very creditable version of one of Genesis's hallmark songs, Afterglow and indeed is exemplary of the type of sound he is bringing to the table with this project. He could have easily given the same treatment to Ripples, Entangled, or Blood On The Rooftops and scored just as many points with these sets of ears.
Suffice it to say I am very impressed with this rather unique album as it has made me more aware of social issues from a different person's perspective. Musically, it is very engaging, due in part to the contribution of a number of musicians, whose work I have enjoyed immensely through other projects. Craig Blundell (drums), Sean Timms (keyboards / piano), Nick Magnus (keyboards / orchestration) and Steve Unruh (flutes) together with a bevy of other guest musicians, all assist in creating a thoroughly immersive adventure that ended far too soon, despite the album's almost 70-minute duration.
This will appeal to just about all progressive rock fans as it contains so many crucial elements that we all aspire to hear on every album. Soaring lead breaks, excellent songsmithery, emotional lyrics and gorgeous melodies abound right throughout. I can't wait to see what John has in store for us all with his next album. Brilliantly done, Sir!
Vasil Hadzimanov Band — Keyf
How many times can you express how much you like something?
It is wonderful!
It is invigorating!
It is delectable!
These words take on an extra dimension as I listen to the beautiful tones and mysterious vocoder vibes of Gipsy. What a fantastic way to begin an album! The taste of this memorable tune lifts and sweetens my spirit and reinvigorates my senses long after its notes have dissipated.
This opening piece sets the bar high for what is to follow. Thankfully, the rest of the album is just as good.
If beautifully crafted progressive Jazz is your thing with hints of world music and a sprinkling of prog rock thrown in for good measure then nothing about the Vasil Hadzimanov Band's outstanding Keyf will disappoint. (His name is spelled Vasil Hadžimanov, but the accent is not used in the band name.)
The magnificent Gipsy says it all and encapsulates what makes this album so special.
Nevertheless, just like their previous album Lines In Sand, there is something to cater for a wide variety of tastes in this satisfying release. Just compare the carnival rhythms of I Wish I, or the progressive leanings of Mirroring, with the gorgeous recurring motif of the jazz-tinged title track.
I thought that Lines In Sand was excellent, but this album is equally captivating.
Word less vocals feature in Heliodoro's Recipe and Mente Pura. The sweet toned timbres offered will surely be appreciated by anybody who appreciates the music of artists as diverse as Norma Winstone, or perhaps even the Northettes.
Some of the tunes, just cling to your senses and stubbornly refuse to fade. Aphgan Samba does just that! Its fusion of different musical genres, repeated motifs, phrases and riffs, weave and etch a distinctive pattern that is hard to ignore and easy to enjoy. It is one of the few tunes where the guitar has a gutsy solo and, it works well in the context of the piece.
If you enjoy the music of bands such as, Azmari and Black Flower, you will probably enjoy this exciting tune.
However, whilst the compositions shine brightly, it is undoubtedly the flamboyant and subtle keyboard skills of Vasil Hadžimanov that consistently light up the room. For example, his glittering contribution during Reminisce, Mente Pura, and Keyf takes these pieces to ports and climates unimagined.
Undoubtedly though, Hadžimanov's most evocative playing occurs in the carefully formed and delicately balanced Balada Za Martu. In this enchanting piano based tune Vasil Hadžimanov shows how space and the delicate placing of notes can have a profound effect. It is a fitting and unpretentiously beautiful piece to conclude the album.
I could go on and on about the attributes and qualities of each tune in turn. However, to spare you that perhaps laboured analysis, I recommend that you check out this album. I am sure that it will not disappoint.
Keyf is simply outstanding!
The Mighty Handful — Men In Stasis III
The Mighty Handful complete their Men In Stasis triptych following up Men In Stasis I and Men In Stasis II with, yes you guessed it, Men In Stasis III! In what I think has been a wonderfully enticing musical exercise the croup has explored the idea of recreating three EPs each containing three tracks with ostensibly the same title. However, although the tracks may have similar names they are unique compositions each of a different style and of a different subject.
On this third EP, The Signal starts in an acoustic manner but soon expands out into a rousing number with excellent singing from vocalist Matt Howes. A plea for unification of different factions that exist in society today, the subject is apt for these troubled times. The Crucible starts with a brief a cappella section before guitars come crashing through in what the group states channels "the imagined sound of The Undertones on a day trip to the underworld". On this piece guitarist Christopher James Harrison gets the plaudits for his solo in the fist section and his power chords throughout. The middle-eight is masterful in changing the tone before we are back to the more energetic approach before ending in a somewhat epic manner with drummer Gary Mackenzie and keyboardist adding a culminating flourish.
Finally, The Stand has a more soulful beginning lyrically exploring the difficulties in attempting to make the world a better place for all when it is often difficult enough to get through each day. The musical theme of the first section is replicated in a second section which is a full band experience with bassist Tom Halley having a prominent role laying down the foundations upon which the other musicians can build. With a rousing finale the EP comes to an end.
The lyrical ideas are complex and thought-provoking, and it is great the way that name of one song will appear as in integral part of the lyric in one of the other two songs. I have thoroughly enjoyed the three parts of Men In Stasis, which will shortly be available on CD (mine is on order!). The Mighty Handful are a band with plenty of ideas, plenty of talent and a chunk of innovation to boot. Well recommended.
Obsidian Tide — The Grand Crescendo
Back in 2012, Oz Avneya (guitars and clean vocals) joined forces with Erez Nadler (drums and programming) and Sachar Bieber (bass and harsh vocals) in Tel Aviv to found Obsidian Tide. After a critically enjoyed EP in 2015, they brought their debut album, Pillars Of Creation to the world in 2019. Now, 4 years later they have the follow-up: The Grand Crescendo.
We begin with Clandestine Calamities, a twisting web of intricate and constantly moving music. Some of the verse riffs strike me as similar in feel to Hexvessel or Haken, but with some added adrenaline thanks to the harsh vocals that punctuate it now and then. Follow-up number, Beyond has a punchier opening, moving away from the more melodic rock sound of the previous, and going for an altogether heavier and more metal orientated vibe, with harsh vocals and beefy chugs to pull you through before we have a back and forth between calmer and more aggressive passages.
The Invasion Of Paradise returns to a primarily melodic and gentle style of prog, but again with again aggressive punches of violent guitars and vocals interspersed between it all. The contrast between the two styles is flawless here, with some almost Pink Floyd-esque guitar work coming between bouts of heavier work.
HALO CRVSHER is an interesting number. Retaining the soft/hard nature of the previous tracks, there is also the addition of some fantastic flute solos. Despite these middle eastern influences being spread through the album, it is particularly present here. Bringing to mind some of Orphaned Lands's work. The acoustic and clean sung intro to The Undying Flames flows perfectly into a slow build towards more crushing riffs. This then leads to tense and tight dance between clean and harsh vocals, with serpentine licks framing it, before a blistering network of solos leads us to the end. The longest number, The Field Of Reeds comes next. Here we are treated to more Opeth like rhythms and solos before they step back for the calm to wash over once more before the peace is shattered by fierce musicality. Complex leads and patterns abound here, swirling between the verses and vocals. Miracles closes the hour-long experience as a soft and peaceful acoustic instrumental while the music fades and the album ends.
The album has many good qualities: the music is well written, melodic and harmonious yet aggressive and harsh at the same time. Calm passages add to the impact of the heavier sections, and those same sections bring more light to the softer areas. The music is tight, well performed and the production is fantastic. My only real complaint is some of the tracks did go on a bit, with some bits maybe needing 20 or 30 seconds shaved off. Aside from that, a solid effort by a band still finding their feet on their second album.
Fans of modern prog metal, like Leprous, Perihelion Ship, Haken, Opeth and similar would do well to have a listen.
The Resonance Association — Choose Euphoria
The Resonance Association was formed back in 2006. The band consists of Daniel Vincent (Lead guitars, keyboards and sequencing) and Dominic Hemy (guitars, theremin and electronics). They have produced several albums and a lot of them have been reviewed for DPRP with a wide variety in the results. Their style of music is progressive rock leaning towards dark ambient, electronica and psychedelic space rock. On their previous releases they were more experimental and this latest releases Choose Euphoria first gave me the idea of a turn more towards 80s electronic music. From the fist spin Choose Euphoria has a familiar, maybe even poppy, sound. If I should name some bands from the progressive rock scene that pop into my head while listening to The Resonance Association I think of the Dutch band Monomyth, Ozric Tentacles and Øresund Space Collective.
Opener Force Majeure opens with a guitar driven lick and after the drum beat kicks in this song keeps rolling until the end. During the song the guitar riffs changes piece by piece so that many variations of the melody pass laying down a hallucinating atmospheric layer of music. On Invocation it is time for the keyboard and electronics to take the dominant role from the guitar. The first two songs have almost exactly the same beat, up-tempo not really a dance beat but impossible to sit still. Both songs have the same hypnotizing pace and atmosphere.
I was afraid that this beat would be present on all the songs but that is not the case. The variety between the songs might not be very big, but the whole album is one big atmospheric trip. It sounds more cohesive but if you are looking for the experimental stuff from previous releases, then you will not find it on Choose Euphoria.
With The State Of Things it starts slow and up to the song Trip Hazard the pace of the songs slowly increases a step with each song. On Elsewhere it is a return to a somewhat slower pace again. Like on some previous albums The Resonance Association places a lengthy song at the end of the album, in this case Space Time Politics. During this song there is a bit more variety but compare to previous albums it is still well within the safety limits.
With this new album The Resonance Association added another fine album to their catalogue. Choose Euphoria is an instrumental album that compared to some of their previous releases is not as experimental and stays within safer musical boundaries. At first, I thought I was listening to a revival of the eighties but slightly the album turns more into a psychedelic dream. Fans of instrumental ambient electronic music will certainly like this album.