Album Reviews

Issue 2024-009

Hence Confetti — Hence Confetti

Australia
2023
23:21
Hence Confetti - Hence Confetti
New Homes (3:28), Buttons (4:45), Rorschach (5:32), Ovation (4:36), Bandages (5:00)
7
Calum Gibson

Hence Confetti are another group in the growing list of prog that is making its way from Australia through the years. Another release born from the pandemic and associated isolation, frontman Rowland Hines, Gareth Dwyer and Adam Golsby have joined together for the self titled debut ep.

New Homes kicks things off with a heavy staccato rhythm section, building an atmosphere that rises from a gentle opening to become more claustrophobic as the music layers upon itself, almost like the days of lockdown piling on top of each other day after day. Follow up Buttons has a more discordant opening, with a thick rhythm behind some jarring leads before we are lead into a Meshuggah like crush for the verse. Unfortunately however, despite enjoying the majority of the track more than I've enjoyed any of Meshuggah's work, the jarring and discordant leads and that occasionally sound out are not to my taste and sadly take away from the quality for me (however - this is a simple matter of taste - I can see why they are done, and they do "fit", they just aren't for me).

However, the following track, Rorschach is a wonderful example of melodic and atmospheric music. Building on textures, with minimalistic drums while allowing the bass to form the melody as the guitars work the ambience it creates a gentle, yet emotive sound. Ovation follows with a nice mix of calming and emotional music, but countered by heavier sections that land with a punch. Final track Bandages starts on all cylinders with some tight riffs and rhythms and harsh vocals. A technical whirlwind of aggression and harmonies.

It should be noted, Bandages was a lot quieter than the previous tracks, however still as crisp and clean (when turned up).

Altogether, an enjoyable EP and definitely a sound of a group with promise.

If you're a fan of Persefone, Meshuggah, Devin Townsend and Mastodon, I'd suggest giving these folks a try.

Kyros — Mannequin

UK
2024
55:04
Kyros - Mannequin
Taste The Day (2:26), Showtime (4:10), Illusions Inside (5:09), Esoterica (6:55), The End In Mind (7:41), Digital Fear (3:35), Ghosts Of You (5:02), Liminal Space (4:38), Technology Killed The Kids IV (7:26), Have Hope (7:57)
8
Mark Hughes

Mannequin, the fourth studio album by Kyros sees the final appearance of original bassist Peter Episcopo who has amicably taken his leave from the group. His replacement, Charlie Cawood, joins the main stay of the band in Shelby Logan Warne (vocals, keyboards and production), Joey Frevola (guitar) and Robin Johnson (drums). Never having been a band to stick to a formula and unafraid to blend a variety of different musical styles in with their core prog leanings, the album offers up a modern view of progressive rock that has a unique freshness about it. Although songs such as Ghosts Of You might display a strong eighties influence, the on-going Technology Killed The Kids series is not shy in delving into prog metal territories with some furious riffing from Frevola and serious tub thumping from Johnson. The masterful production sees the keyboards almost breaking up into distortion creating some sounds that I think even the manufacturers wouldn't believe was possible (or advisable!). Equally forceful and out there is the closing track Have Hope, one of three numbers that exceed the seven-minute barrier. The sweetness and melody of the verses and choruses are interspersed with ferocious bursts that integrate a dichotomy into the core that is, at first, somewhat confusing but once experienced a few times makes a weird kind of sense. There is so much going on in this piece that it will take a while to absorb and identify everything the band achieves.

And yet, proceedings kicked off in a completely different manner. Taste The Day is a largely acoustic piece that is rather like a nursery rhyme, albeit with a rather deeper lyric, the mood of which is thrown aside by the fantastic instrumental Showtime, a mini masterpiece that more than displays the dexterity of the four musicians. Illusions Inside features guest vocalist Dominique Gilbert who blends well with Warne. The strong vocal sections are somewhat letdown by the instrumental breaks that in themselves are nothing to complain about, but they tend to disrupt the flow of the piece. Esoterica draws the most heavily from previous Kyros albums in terms of its vocal arrangements although the opening couple of minutes have a vague Floyd-like ambiance. Canyo Hearmichael guests on saxophone although unless his contributions have been sonically manipulated or buried well into the instrument is limited to a single brief appearance.

The End In Mind is all over the place, but in a good way. A frantic onslaught on the senses it took me several listens before realising it wasn't an instrumental! The power generated from the music is so overwhelming and, again, there is a mass of musical information to absorb. The second instrumental of the album, Digital Fear is thankfully a respite from the more overt complexities largely because, as the title might indicate, it just features electronic keyboards. There are masses of them though and all arranged in a delightful manner. Liminal Space, defined by one source as "the uncertain transition between where you've been and where you're going physically, emotionally, or metaphorically" is undoubtedly the key number on the album being the most direct and overt reference to the themes about which the whole album is constructed. These, as Warne explains in the accompany press release, are related to "exploring the masks we all wear, the stories we tell ourselves to get by...This album is a real heart-on-sleeve affair... It's about what happens when the facade cracks, and you're left with nothing but the truth. Nothing but your true self."

Kyros go from strength-to-strength and are forging their own way by creating their own style and sound. The superb and unrelenting musicianship combined with a whole host of original ideas should ensure the band has a long life. With releases such as Mannequin they are setting themselves, and others, a high benchmark.

Lind — The Justification Of Reality Part II: A 3rd Ear Conversation

Germany
2023
78:12
Lind - The Justification Of Reality Part II: A 3rd Ear Conversation
Wounded Knees (8:43), Lost Words (7:34), This Dream (6:12), A 3rd Ear Conversation (4:58), Redesign (12:50), Another Try (8:33), One Million Ways (9:00), Comfort Zone (6:21), Move On Gently (5:10), Trapped In Haze (6:03)
7
Jan Buddenberg

Andy Lind's A 3rd Ear Conversation upon arrival triggered my appetite, because the two latest albums by The Ancestry Program, a band which Lind is a member of, both ended up high on my list of favourable albums in the years they were released. At the same time, I realised that afterwards, I needed to go on a strong complex-free prog diet. This avant-garde experimental jazzy prog (metal), as showcased on A Hundred Years, the first part in his The Justification Of Reality trilogy, had proven to be quite the fulfilling challenge.

Featuring guest like Kalle Wallner (RPWL), Marek Arnold, Christian Doebke, Marco Glühmann (Sylvan), Wolfgang Zenk, Gary Husband, and Steve Hunt, this second instalment puts this challenge even more to the test. And not just in a musical sense. I get the impression Lind has saved up on his most extreme Panzerballet / Schizofrantik / Freaky Fukin Weirdoz song-material and presents it all here. But also conceptually, seeing that the otherwise perfectly cared for digipak sadly omits song lyrics. In view of the album's impeccable production values that brings out every single instrument perfectly, this doesn't pose a real problem. Yet one does really need to focus in order to distil and then hopefully comprehend the conceptual narrative of the album.

And therein lies a gargantuan task for listeners, simply for the fact that Lind's brilliantly constructed, unfathomable, multi-layered compositions are of a highly demanding busy nature and take ages to digest. An example of which is shown in opener Wounded Knees, which pulls listeners into a King Crimsonian world of complex unruly textures and constantly twisting and turning strange melodies that require full concentration. So much so that after various sessions I still didn't recognise the always distinguishable vocals of Arno Menses (Subsignal), which is a remarkable achievement. Equally remarkable is that the jazzy avant-garde structures do start to feel somewhat comfortingly familiar halfway through, although in typical Lind fashion this is only temporary for several other ear-boggling strange diversions take place before the song ends.

Held perfectly tight by a brilliant virtuosic play from Lind, the subsequent funky grooving Frank Zappa inspired music of Lost Words also twists itself into extremely complex schizophrenic hairpin bends that are completely at odds with each other. Thankfully it also provides short moments of rest before it manoeuvres past a disciplined passage of orchestrated cacophony elevated by a sublime rousing guitar solo from Mike Voglmeier. Glancing briefly at my slowly intensifying eclectic saturation gauges the subsequent Stefan Weyerer's sung This Dream thankfully threads into more comforting song-based T.A.P. environments that true to Lind-style includes a spectacular guitar solo (Jan Zherfeld) followed by a doomy passage of formidably arranged odd-timed rhythms and a coda of alienating swing jazz.

Following A 3rd Ears Conversation's mightily impressive complex rhythms, in which xylophone-like programming strongly envisions Gentle Giant and delightful swirling synths movements evoke impressions of Herbie Hancock, Lind then opens up every musical register known to jazz in the overwhelming Redesign. Lifting off with atonal Fripp impressions, it navigates with captivating ease through heavy and calm segments, it simulates Flight in a jazzy synth driven interlude, and for the imaginary length of an eternity it jumps relentlessly through a restless inextricable knot of bombast and lightness that alternates at compelling velocity.

Lind tirelessly goes on to deliver this phenomenally arduous array of inventive ideas, odd time signatures and astonishing tempo changes in Another Try and One Million Ways, both enjoyed in a growing haze of weary admiration. While in Comfort Zone, starring vocalist Sami Gayed of Soulsplitter, he fully accommodates in promise with melodic heavy jazz metal, that's surprisingly easy to the ears for a change, despite the underlying complexities.

Equally appealing to my ears are the album's two final compositions. Out of these Move On Gently splashes freely about in a rhythmic pool of vibrant jazz and highlighted by refreshing female vocals from Caro Roth. Trapped In Haze showcases a dynamic modern prog approach with lush synth developments. Thanks to Ben Knabe's vocals, this shows alluring closeness to The Ancestry Program, if it weren't for the enchantment annihilating "not-my-cup-of-tea" screeching vocals in the song's disturbing finale.

For the complex-hungry prog fan still feeling peckish, the digital version of the album serves up a bonus track in form of A New Day. As I can only absorb so much extraordinary complexity on a daily basis I'll try to squeeze it into my diet starting tomorrow, simply because the intense experience of A 3rd Ear Conversation, in much the same way as A Hundred Years (hence the rating), proves to be quite the fulfilling challenge.

After all of the above it probably goes without saying this album firmly demands time and ear investment to fully fathom its contents. But once invested the results turn out to be astonishingly marvellous. All in all a highly recommendable album for the adventurously progressive go-getter. Now where did I leave that quietly rippling ambient new-age promo?

Mother Black Cap — Caveman TV

UK
2023
43:23
Mother Black Cap - Caveman TV
Caveman TV (15:09), Memory Lane (2:23), Norfolk (Graveyard Of Ambition) (9:41), Three Fools (4:56), Last Chance (9:49), Caveman TV Reprise (1:25)
7
Edwin Roosjen

On the Mother Black Cap website it is stated they like "putting the fun into prog". And they sure put the fun into prog! Check out their website and find out who's "singing however is lousy", who "can be an arse to work with" and who "is always late for rehearsals". Since 2004, Mother Black Cap is playing progressive rock music with the intention for people to enjoy. Caveman TV is their fourth album, while their previous album Energy was released ten years ago. Their style of music leans heavily on the seventies era of progressive and symphonic rock. Music in the style of Genesis, Pink Floyd and even early Marillion. I can certainly hear influences from Roger Waters solo works. On Caveman TV, Andy "Fizz" Bye is the new lead vocalist and bass player, having joined the band in 2018. His vocals are a bit like that of Roger Waters, character and expression at times saves him from a near miss in the vocal department.

The start of opener Caveman TV really sounds a lot like Roger Waters solo work or the Pink Floyd album Animals. After a couple of mellow minutes the fun starts with a lot of progressive rock riffs and keyboard tunes that are simply all over the place. With fifteen minutes, this lengthy song alternates between heavy and mellow parts with many different progressive parts. The mellow parts sound like the music on Animals from Pink Floyd and during the heavier parts there is a lot of changes in pace and melody. Memory Lane is a short song with a lot of noises glued into the song. Mellow Floyd-like organ sounds with vocals that are certainly not spot on. After slightly more than two minutes, the vocals are cut off in the middle of a sentence and the song is over.

Norfolk is a bit shorter than ten minutes and just like the title track it is full of different tunes. The first part contains a part that reminds me a lot of Garden Party by Marillion. In the middle of the song, a nice organ solo is cut off by a train station announcement, funny prank but after the unusual ending of the previous song it feels a bit overdone. The final part Graveyard Of Ambition will be nice part to sing along to at a concert.

Three Fools is a very nice song that starts with piano and vocals. The second part of the song contains some nice melodic soloing. Last Chance again features progressive music that flies in every direction. No attempts on funny cuts or noises so an enjoyable musical journey. The album ends with a reprise of Caveman TV. Did I already tell you there are a lot of influences by Pink Floyd and Roger Waters?

With Caveman TV, Mother Black Cap have produced an enjoyable album. They try to put the fun into prog and that is certainly noticeable. Caveman TV is a more cohesive album than their previous album Energy, which featured more different styles. Some pranks, a sudden stop or strange noises, at some places during the album, some work and some do not. Caveman TV is an enjoyable album especially if your interested in seventies inspired progressive rock.

Quásar — Quásar

Argentina
2023
57:29
Quásar - Quásar
Ser Eterno (11:00), Síntesis (Del Sí) (3:43), Ínferis (4:46), El Rumor Del Bosque (7:33), Código Quásar (Incluyendo Despegue Y Aparsaje) (10:29), Pars I: Kermesse (5:19), Pars II: Danza (2:16), Pars III: El Profeta (5:38), Quásar (6:45)
8
Jan Buddenberg

Are you a symphonic prog fan who like to reminisce with nostalgic admiration on the progressive 70s and return to iconic albums such as Close To The Egde, A Trick Of The Tail / Wind & Wuthering, and Moonmadness all the time? Then pull yourself away from that past right this minute and let this formidable eponymous debut album by Argentinian band Quásar convince you the progressive present is just as exciting. Maybe even more so!

Quásar consist of Francisco Comínguez (keyboards), Iván Vega (bass), Santiago Rodríguez (guitar) and Leopoldo Arenas (drums). The album was all composed and arranged by the band and was recorded live at Estudio Kimono in Buenos Aires on a single day in December 2022. Based on immaculate interplay and spot-on virtuosic performances, these live recordings to me give the strong impression Quásar have rehearsed their outstanding mature songs for many years on end before they finally decided to capture them live. However, to my surprise the recently shared YouTube footage shows four exceptionally talented youngsters that look barely into their twenties, so it may well turn out to be not so many years after all.

In accordance with the album's artwork Ser Eterno starts off in an idyllic chirping garden of Eden designed with gentle acoustic refinement and subtly rippling synth melodies that smoothly flow into a symphonic creation revealing both Genesis and Yes influences. Surprisingly, this passage also introduces pleasurable vocals from a vocalist whose name remains a secret. Luxurious synth motifs lead the way into a melodic fairytale world that remind of Anima Mundi. After a hint of The Flower Kings and a wonderful accelerating stream of enticing melodies played with excelling exuberant virtuosity, this fine opener finally drifts away in calming intricate melodies that brings enchantment of Karfagen's Birds to mind.

Incorporating a touch of warming blues in a predominantly jazz influenced style, the aptly titled Síntesis (Del Sí) also travels into delightful symphonic atmospheres that, emphasized by Rodríguez's gracefully enchanting guitar melodies, slowly changes from omnipresent Yes sceneries into a marvellous world that envisions both Finch and Sebastian Hardie / Windchase. In the Camel resonating Ínferis this wonderful nostalgic memory emerges again through the beautiful collaborations between organ, synths and the song's beautiful emotional guitar work. At the same time it manages to surprise in an original way by taking a short dip into ingeniously performed lounge jazz, dressed with comfortable Pat Metheny play.

El Rumor Del Bosque follows this alluring pathway some more and flows like a charm from start to finish with classical romanticism and delightful atmospheric changes with captivating guitar movements. Then Código Quásar (Incluyendo Despegue Y Aparsaje), to my excitement, suddenly plots a course towards more neo-prog orientated spaces, interspersed with smooth and delicate ambient passages guided by classical piano and sensitive guitar play. This delightful musical trajectory, thanks to the busy arrangements of entropic synths and dynamic play, initially brings instrumental-era Twelfth Night to mind. Shortly after this is followed by occasional impressions of the British Quasar equivalent, due to the luxurious use of synths, and a firm imprint of magical Rush splendour when bass-driven dynamics and chemistry in play signals the end phase of this very moreish album highlight.

Apart from the acoustic folky interlude Pars II, every single composition from here on in exhibits superior energetic performances as if they have actually been charged by a quasi-stellar phenomenon. Themes, motifs and melodies are crafted by guitars and keys, masterly responded upon by the delightful versatile and subtly playing rhythm section. Pars I and Pars II brings delicious impressions of Yes, Camel and the likes, but now more vigorously and animatedly played. Quásar finally rounds off the wonderful journey with emotively touching melancholic guitar melodies, classical piano and delectable synth movements. I have no doubt this stunningly beautiful composition will capture the hearts of many a Sebastian Hardie, Anyone's Daughter and Camel fan effortlessly.

Overall, Quásar have created an impressive debut album that's as good as they come. Next to showcasing their high potential it also lays a solid foundation to build upon. I hope they will have a great many decades in them to do so, for this result is most excellent and I can't wait to hear and see what their future holds! If inventively composed, playfully executed and well-composed 70s symphonic prog is to your liking, then I suggest you start lending them your eyes, ears and attention as well. Highly recommended!

Sammary — The Dream

Germany
2023
41:05
Sammary - The Dream
Cascades (5:24), Trance (4:37), Oscillation (1:41), Voices (7:32), The Game (5:09), Rotations (2:24), The Dream (5:28), Eulogy For A Dream (4:50), Awake (4:00)
7
Thomas Otten

Multi-instrumentalist and composer Sammy Wahlandt, hailing from Flörsheim in Hessen, Germany, is name-giver of the band Sammary, which started as his solo-project in 2020, when he released a self-titled EP. His first full-length album Monochrome came out in 2022. On that album, Sammy wrote all the songs and played every instrument, with the vocals being assumed by three different female singers. Of those three, Stella Inderwiesen was part of the live performances, together with a set-up involving two guitarists, a bassist, two keyboarders, and Sammy himself, who concentrated on his role as drummer. This set-up, originally formed with the intention of bringing Monochrome onto stage, evolved into a stable one which is present on this, Sammary's sophomore album, The Dream. Besides Sammy (drums), it consists of Stella Inderwiesen (vocals), Sammy's father Jörg Wahlandt (guitars), Julius Stapenhorst (bass), Marvin Kollmann (lead guitar), Ivan Khobta (synthesizers), and Benedikt Schadt (keyboards). US-keyboarder Adam Holzman, who amongst others played and toured with Steven Wilson, acts as guest musician, providing a fierce synthesizer solo on the track Trance. Former singer Marie Stenger wrote and sings on Rotations.

In terms of the underlying story, some fellow reviewers point out that The Dream takes the listener through the world of thoughts and feelings of a person in love. Assuming that this is the case, then we are talking more about the negative aspects of being in love: hesitation, uncertainty, confusion, indecision, desperation. Reading the lyrics, I rather had the impression that "The Nightmare" could also have been a suitable title for this album. Even being Awake does not seem to have brought any relief to the dreamer. Having gone through all these rather disturbing feelings, he (I assume the story is told from a male's perspective) wakes up "only to sit here and mend my broken soul" and to "pick up the pieces of my broken heart".

With this in mind, we can assume that Sammary's music, which is intended to express this story, is not light fare. Dreams, especially nightmares, can be disturbing, incomprehensible, gloomy, menacing, but also multifaceted, and rich in contrast. Sammary manage to implement all these aspects musically in an impressive way.

Right from the very first bars of this album, it becomes apparent that contrast and oppositions are key elements of Sammary's music. Stella Inderwiesen's warm, soft, almost timid sounding voice immediately follows the heavy metal-sounding opening riffs in Cascades. Such contrasting, seemingly contradictory qualities run like a red thread through Sammary's music thereafter. Brute sounding passages alter with delicate ones, gloomy moods with light ones, sensitive ones are replaced by powerful ones, solidity takes turns with fragility, the music shifts from menacing to soothing, and comes across sometimes heavily, sometimes spherically. Whilst all this makes this release sound varied, and unpredictable, I could not help but get the impression that sometimes this takes places at the expense of the music's focus, catchiness, melody, and consistency. The fact that the conventional "intro - verse - chorus - verse - chorus - bridge - chorus - outro"- song structures are seldomly clearly recognisable also contributes to this impression. For me as a listener, these missing catchy hooks and melodies mean that even after repetitive listening, there is not much sense of memory in my head with respect to the songs. A bit like dreams as well: the memory of them tends to fade once being awake. The positive side of this is of course that there is almost no wear out-effect of Sammary's music with me. So much for my subjective feelings with respect to this release.

If I were to put labels on Sammary's music, I would consider it as a mix of progressive metal, alternative, art rock with some ambient elements. Influences from Steven Wilson, and Porcupine Tree cannot be denied, but I also hear similarities with bands such as Riverside, Pure Reason Revolution, Soulsplitter, Anathema, and The Gathering. The mix of metal sounding riffs with soft, female vocals could draw comparisons with other female-fronted symphonic metal bands, but Sammary are different. Stella Inderwiesen's singing is not of the opera-style, theatrical, sometimes solemn vocals of these peers. Her voice is warm, fragile and timid sounding, breathy and spoken on occasions, but punchy, and strong enough to keep up and perfectly fit with the harder passages of Sammary's music. For me, the softer parts of her singing show reminiscence of Iamthemorning, Beatrix Players, and Dikajee.

Sammary has two guitarists, and two keyboard players. The contribution of each does not seem to be perfectly balanced, with guitars sounding a bit dominant. That may be because they are responsible for the heavy parts of the music, which are the ones that tend to stick in the ear, whilst keyboards provide for the background wall of sounds and the soft piano passages (disregarding the synthesizer solo on Trance, the most impressing solo on the entire release). Nonetheless, my taste would wish for more contributions from and a stronger involvement of keyboards, taking the presence of two keyboard players more appropriately into account.

I struggled a bit with this release and the review, as, once again, I had to differentiate between objective elements and subjective impressions. Subjectively, I could not do that much with this music, due to a perceived lack of catchiness, melody, and accessibility (and presence of keyboards). Objectively, given the youth (beginning of the 20s) of Sammy Wahlandt as the creative mastermind behind this band, the music sounds quite mature. Besides that, it is varied, unpredictable, and well played and arranged. Although Sammary are not exactly my kind of prog, I am looking forward to what we can expect next from them. The disturbing, and dissonant sounding (despite the soft piano tunes) last two tracks Eulogy Of A Dream, and Awake and the pessimistic lyrics with the questions left unanswered especially of the closing track left me a bit irritated and call for a more optimistic continuation. The fast sequence of Sammary's releasing activities so far should fuel the hopes for a new album in the not-too-distant future.

Album Reviews