Album Reviews

Issue 2024-013

EBB — The Management Of Consequences

UK
2024
18:13
EBB - The Management Of Consequences
Silent Saviour (8:26), Cost And Consequences (5:40), Nieu (4:06)
9
Mark Hughes

After a well-received debut album Mad & Killing Time and widely applauded appearances at several prog-friendly festivals including Summer's End, Prog For Peart and Fusion 4 Prog, EBB kick off 2024 with a new three-track EP, The Management Of Consequences. The group have stated that the EP "is, in some ways, a companion piece to the album in that, it deals with and resolves many of the issues raised on that recording - if the album was a comment on the human condition, the EP is a more personal examination of the same." The Scottish band has, in prog terns at least, a rather unconventional line up of five females - Erin Bennett (songwriting, guitars, lead vocals, trumpet), Kitty Biscuits (backing vocals, percussion, spoken word poetry), Anna Fraser (drums, percussion), Suna Dasi (backing vocals, synths) and Nikki Francis (Hammond, piano, synths, saxophone, flute, clarinet) - alongside a single male member, bassist Bad Dog.

If you enjoyed Mad & Killing Time then there is no doubt that The Management of Consequences ticks the same boxes and is of the same high quality as the album. If you are new to the band then it is a fine place to become acquainted to the group. Silent Saviour kicks things off, a three part epic that delights throughout its eight and a half minutes. Much of this is down to multi-instrumentalist Nikki Francis whose wind and keyboard contributions are excellent. Bennett's vocals are clear and strong and the backing vocals of Biscuits and Dasi, although relatively sparse, have dramatic impact when they appear. A rather ominous and brooding song, it displays a great deal of ambition and is thoroughly well executed.

Cost And Consequences maintains the quality although the piece is much more synth heavy and the vocals delivered with passion and displaying that Bennett has a wide range and is about to employ some vocal tricks that make the ears prick up. The last minute of the song is a delight, which is not to say what comes before is not, but the whole track is arranged to build towards the conclusion. Final track Nieu is the heaviest of the three with Bad Dog thundering his way through. It is in this track that the "spoken word poetry" attributed to Kitty Biscuits can be heard. Anyone who thinks that a poetry reading in the middle of a prog song is a surefire recipe for disaster should not be concerned, as the poem is delivered with suitable bite and almost anger that is totally in sync with the music. Despite being the shortest of the songs on the EP it is probably the one that is most enticing musically. There is an awful lot going on and one's aural attention is constantly diverted to different aspects of the song.

The EP is well worth eighteen minutes of anyone's time, although I suspect that eighteen minutes will be an absolute minimum as you will definitely want to repeat the listening experience again and again.

Echoes Of Zoo — Speech of Species

Belgium
2023
56:49
Echoes Of Zoo - Speech of Species
Bee Jive (6:00), Echolocation (4:35), Speech Of Species (5:52), Lizard Dance (5:31), The Call Of The Quagga Quagga (6:50), Different Frequencies (4:09), Quarter Tone Starlings (3:51), Bioluminescence (7:54)
8
Owen Davies

Occasionally an album comes along that shakes up your expectations or preconceptions of what you might hear. Speech of Species does just that.

Echoes of Zoo's latest album holds several stylistic similarities to their exciting debut.

On the face of it, many of the tunes offer the same ingredients as those of the previous album. African, Brazilian, Indian, and Middle Eastern influences tint the music with an exotic hue. Buoyant, bass lines, a smattering of dub and complex rhythms, coalesce to create a unique knuckle tapping backdrop full of interesting textures.

Snarling sax bursts and raucous guitar yowls full of bubbling intensity punctuate many of the tunes and give emphasis to the key points and significant crescendos of the music. In addition, recurring motifs and repeated themes energetically rise and fall to splendidly excite the senses.

The principal composer is Nathan Daems who plays tenor sax and nyabinghi drums on the album. He is joined by, Bart Vervaeck on electric guitar, Lieven Van Pée on electric bass, and Falk Schrauwen on drums.

The tunes of Speech Of Species are possibly not initially as memorable, or perhaps more to the point, as distinctive as the ones that made up Break out. Nevertheless, Speech Of Species is an album that contains many treasures and numerous high points. It has a long shelf life and there are a host of subtle nuances that can be discovered over time.

The opening track on the album certainly comes into that category. Bee Jive encapsulates all the things that Echoes of Zoo do so well. It is infectious rhythmic qualities draw upon so many disparate influences and styles.These joust, collide and combine to move things along magnificently.

The title track of the album is a rousing head-rattling, riff-laden rocker, that is spiced and flavoured with the colours and creativity of jazz. It cascades and torrents with bursts of swollen energy. This fine track also features some ferocious interplay between the guitar and sax. It is discordant and harmonious; it is sweet and it is sour, and I absolutely adore everything about it.

Lizard Dance is also a strong piece. It has a fantastic bulging bass line that vibrates and rattles the ornaments. The dominant and exotic melody twirls and twists in a mysterious fashion, evoking some of the sights and sounds of a middle Eastern bazaar.

The guitar parts of Lizard Dance are very expressive. The fast strummed patterns were reminiscent of something that Robert Fripp might have conjured up during the Sailors Tale era of King Crimson. Lizard Dance is a fantastic composition that is delivered with great panache by all the players involved.

However, my favourite piece on the album is undoubtedly Bioluminescence. Strangely much of it reminds me of something a more sophisticated Grovjobb might have created.

The whole of the tune has a retro appeal and channels somewhat of a nordic Ganglat folk mood. However, it is the sparce melodic guitar tone and the sitar sounding effects that are strikingly reminiscent of the work of Grovjobb's that pin back the ears and evoke memories of that bands third and final release. Not withstanding this somewhat tenuous comparison, Bioluminescence is a fantastic track and is a fitting conclusion to this splendid world fusion album.

Whilst not everybody will bellow in delight to the sound of this release ,it is however highly recommended to anybody who appreciates progressive music that contains lots of fascinating diverse influences.

I certainly enjoyed it; I hope you do too.

The Oculist — Cautionary Tales

UK
2023
55:05
The Oculist - Cautionary Tales
Twelve Step Sentence (8:21), Terminal (8:25), Long Haul (6:14), The Flood (8:24), King Fool (9:26), Lavender (7:50), Swan Dive (6:25)
7
Calum Gibson

The UK has a long history of music, from the early days of heavy metal, to bringing prog to the world as well as setting the fires for the punk revolution. But today it is the realms of prog and metal that are being looked at, with the London based The Oculist and their debut release, Cautionary Tales. Formed by two long-time musical collaborators, Adam Dunn and Çağrı Tozluoğlu, the album also features Simon Fitzpatrick (Carl Palmer Band, Steve Hackett, Neal Morse) on bass and James Wise (Vomitile, Toloache, Die Ego) on drums.

The production and sound is crisp and clear, which is to be expected since they worked with Jens Bogren (if you listen to metal, you'll have heard his production work). From the first notes, the album showcases a fresh and modern sound, similar groups such as The Ocean, presenting both soft and harsh passages throughout.

Melodic and atmospheric, with emotive vocals, the duo have crafted a well written and presented album. Instrumentation is placed for maximum effect, with the vocals exuding at front of both vulnerability and aggression. Through the album, there is a nice dynamic between the keys and guitar work, and the contrast between the calmer areas and the metal focused sections.

There is no doubt of the duos talents, backed up by the solid and experienced rhythm section. However, unfortunately in my case, I did feel a lot of the songs dragged on a bit. Terminal sounded a bit slow in areas, and The Flood didn't really keep my attention all the way through for example. For me, if the tracks maybe had a minute or so shaved off them, or a mix in the riffs a little bit more, then the album would improve greatly.

That being said, it is still a good album. There are plenty of hooks and catchy moments, and the guest vocals of Kerry O'Dowd on Lavender are wonderful.

If you like The Ocean, Porcupine Tree, Leprous or Haken, I'd make a guess you will enjoy this one too. I look forward to what they do next.

P'Faun — Live in 2018 - E-Live & Elsewhere

Germany
2023
76:33
P'Faun - Live in 2018 - E-Live & Elsewhere
The Trip (15:33), Medley: So Ham / Gaia (15:21), House in the Storm - Part 2 (10:39), Only One Life (9:09), P'Quences (11:42), Blue Pearls Part 1 & 2 (14:09); Bandcamp-only bonus tracks: Sequencer Improvisation - Rehearsal For Bocholt (11:07), The Trip - Live@E-Live (12:43)
7
Jan Buddenberg

A year in prog is full of nice surprises. A most fabulous one in 2023 was when fairly out of the blue P'Cock's first two albums The Prophet and In'cognito were finally re-released in full by MIG-music as a double CD entitled The IC Years. With only their 1988 compilation album Burning Beach at my disposal it was great to finally hear all of those marvellous songs again, and as re-issue of the year I still get moments of goosebumps when I play it.

During my P'Cock rediscovery a second surprise presented itself when their original drummer/percussionist Tommy Betzler invited me to follow his latest project P'Faun. Another apostrophe-abbreviated band that started out as a collaboration between Betzler and Michael Brückner (synths, keyboards, electronics, programming) in 2013, resulting in the Betzler & Brückner releases Triplet and Two, who then in 2018 changed moniker to P'Faun when they welcomed Sammy David (guitars, bass) fully in their midst.

The independently released EP Sp'roque and their official debut The Golden Peacock soon followed, after which at the beginning of 2023 their most recent EP Glimpse did see light of day. To this quintet of offerings, several of which generously provided by Betzler, the Live in 2018 – E-Live & Elsewhere is now added. An album, featuring Volker Lankow on percussion as a special guest, recorded in 2018 at the E-Live festival in Oirschot (Netherlands) and the Dinosauriër Treffen in Bocholt (Germany).

Unfortunately P'Faun experienced some recording issues and technical problems whilst performing. So instead of the intended double CD to include both shows, we are now treated to a mixture of two tracks recorded during rehearsals (The Trip & Medley: So Ham/Gaia) and four tracks taken from the actual E-Live event. There is a minor noticeable difference in sound quality between the two recording circumstances but this stands in no way of enjoying the music. Every instrument can be clearly made out in the nicely achieved mix and overall the album shows fine production values for a live recording.

Following organiser Ron Boots' introduction the first of the two "elsewhere" tracks The Trip, originally found on Triplets, starts off with romantic classical piano and calming dreamy spacious atmospheres that remind of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream to which percussive elements add a sense of earthiness. Betzler adds momentum and the tight structures of the composition fully allow for comforting synth improvisations and raw dynamic guitar play. This is further heated by organ sparking Krautrock and Pink Floyd. P'Faun's space prog journey ends in atmospheres that fizz with J.M. Jarre and Berliner Schüle sequences.

Of similar entertaining length, the second rehearsal song Medley: So Ham/Gaia, a short fusion of two songs from The Golden Peacock and Two respectively, begins with some Jarre and Vangelis impressions. Under guidance of Betzler's hi-hat play (Saga, anyone?) it slowly converges into an intensifying passage that grows in tension from energizing guitar melodies. Here the Gaia-part of the medley takes over with worldly hand percussion and rugged bluesy guitars. High levels of hypnotising improvisations jam their way onwards towards a beautiful climax of lengthy guitar play.

House In The Storm Part 2 is where P'Faun's magic really starts for me. Or better said restarts, because this beautiful composition is essentially a new interpretation of P'Cock's House In The Storm. Album highlight from their In'Cognito album for me.

This time around it features an acoustic overture, replacing the original pop influenced Anyone's Daughter segment, and instantly transport me to a place of Eloy nostalgia through its familiar EM sequence and synth-driven melodies embraced by percussive rattlings. After 40-odd years I still prefer the original version, yet the powerful foundation of harmonious interplay between enchanting melodic guitars and dreamy synths give this extraordinary version a new leash on life.

Captured in the freshest sound so far, Only One Life (from the album Spr'ogue) continues this excellent momentum with calm and relaxing, spacious atmospheres in the best Schulze/Tangerine Dream tradition. Halfway through, Betzler sets the song's rhythms in motion to give David the opportunity to excel with wonderfully compelling jazzy interpretations and a fantastic solo shortly before the song ends in beauty. An opportunity he seizes with both hands.

After the tightly performed version of the EM piece P'Quences, which in a series of controlled improvisations and Berliner Schüle-style melodies, exhibits influences from world music and fine wobbly Twelfth Night-like guitar work, it is the magnificent Blue Pearls that ends the album on a mountainous high. As showstopper and final entry from The Golden Peacock this gem of a song in Part I successfully goes for gold with worldly percussion and a blast into imaginary space with versatile rhythmic dynamics and soaring guitar play. Part II ultimately rises to unprecedented heights with Didier Marouani-like synth pop and marvellous ripping guitar work.

Also available in an extended digital version which includes a Sequencer Improvisation and E-live's actual The Trip recording, I find the broadly appealing musical landscapes filled with plenty of dynamics and delightful guitar work to well-cater my musical attention span. And as a splendid souvenir of the events I'm sure the fully recommendable Live in 2018 - E-Live & Elsewhere will bring much joy to regular visitors of the E-live festival and those in search of a refreshing crossover fusion between EM, Krautrock, space-rock and prog.

In light of all the foregoing I look forward how this delightful experience works out when I catch Sequentia Legenda & Thomas Betzler live in the act on this year's E-live event which is about to take place in Eindhoven on the 20th of April. Fingers crossed eventual recordings and finding a parking spot will be challenge free.

The Pulse Theory — Coming Back Home

India
2023
46:40
The Pulse Theory - Coming Back Home
Seconds Before The Storm (1:31), Memories Divine (7:11), The Vanquished The Victor (7:04), Far Beyond (5:54), Everytime (5:34), Coming Back Home (6:39), Troubled Child (8:15), Fallacy Of Mind (4:28)
9
Sergey Nikulichev

India, while culturally an incredibly rich country, is far from being the hottest prog spot in the world, that's for sure. Apart from projects inspired by works of Ravi Shankar, I am aware of two bands coming from this region – namely Coshish, reviews by my colleague Andy and Yatin Srivastava Project, each releasing (to some success) an album in the second decade of the century and staying silent afterwards. But things change, and South Asia seems to grow more and more interested in the prog rock / metal “games” of the Western hemisphere, so I am confident that we shall hear more fine music from that part of the world. The Pulse Theory is a relatively new project coming from Bangalore, the unofficial rock / metal capital of India, and releasing their sophomore album Coming Back Home last year. The cover art is intriguing, and has a good concept, but is rather lackluster compared to the contents of the CD. What can I say? Ten-headed demon Ravana, chop my head off, if this is not a great release.

Should I have listened to Coming Back Home with my eyes closed, I would have assumed that I am hearing some hot perspective band coming from Polish scene. After the short intro, the first real song Memories Divine featured nice modern heavy rhythm, airy arpeggios section, carefully crafted melodies and the vocalist reminded me of Robert Amiran of Collage / Satellite fame. The music really sounded like a cross between Satellite, Votum and to a lesser extent Anathema. The closest comparisons that come to my mind are The Aurora Project and Polish Logic Mess, itself an obscure but great project for anyone looking for romantic and heavy prog (read Tony's review here). A good start and it is particularly encouraging that the band takes the less travelled roads of today's prog scene, not just copying Dream Theater, Gojira or Riverside.

The Far Beyond nods to post-Contagion Arena with touches of Anathema (circa Weather Systems / Distant Satellites) and even goth-rock. Everytime serves as the album's main metal feast with some killer drum groove, coming close to blastbeats at times. Coming Back Home passes the exam of being a title-track with grace and elegance, and on lyrical Troubled Child the band gets very close to neo-prog. Fallacy of Mind closes the album on a strong note with what could be a single – a radio-friendly song, with a tinge of alternative rock, but not falling outside the album's concept.

Production is fine most of the time, excellent in some places and flawed in a couple of details. I was slightly surprised with how the vocals were recorded. When the vocalist enters, it is usually done with a heavy echo which may scare off sound purists. For me, it stands as a feature of the album that doesn't cause severe discomfort, but could be corrected on future releases.

The Pulse Theory's music is equally rich in textures, melodic and well-balanced between complexity, groove and lush arrangements. But the main reason to pay attention to this release is the sense of magic and emotional density, rarely found in today's post-ironic, grandstanding and rather over-produced scene. Highly recommended for those who like their prog melodic and lush.

This record doesn't have: A sitar solo. Guitar / keyboard duels. Multipart epics.

This record has: Pieces to shed a tear to. Pieces to bang your head to. Pieces to marvel at.

Second Hand — Death May Be Your Santa Claus

UK
2023
44:03
Second Hand - Death May Be Your Santa Claus
Death May Be Your Santa Claus (2:38), Hangin' On An Eyelid (4:19), Lucifer And The Egg (7:48), Somethin' You Got (2:54), Cyclops (6:29), Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (1:00), Revelations Ch. 16, Vs. 9-12 (3:35), Take To The Skies (2:03), Death May Be Your Santa Claus (Reprise) (5:20); CD bonus tracks: Funeral (3:00), Dip It Out Of The Bog Fred (1:37), Baby R U Anudda Monster (3:20)
6
Martin Burns

Formed in 1965 but not releasing their second album Death May Be Your Santa Claus until 1971, London based Second Hand found themselves on the cusp of the sea change between psychedelic rock and the burgeoning prog explosion. This remastered re-release has three bonus tracks added to its original running order.

Second Hand are a five piece dominated by the keyboards of co-founder Ken Elliot, co-founder along with drummer Kieran O'Connor. His favourite instrument seems to be the organ from which he produces sounds that put me in mind of various organ players. The many sounds he achieves vary between the psyche of The Doors' Ray Manzarek, the church-like (hello Mr Wakeman), the bluesy hard rock of Jon Lord (Deep Purple) and the full prog of Hugh Banton (Van Der Graaf Generator). Ken Elliot is also nifty with the Mellotron and the piano.

Their sound is fiercely innovative, interesting and sometimes uncomfortable. They share musical DNA with The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster, early Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention and with the Mellotron Anekdoten. I know, the latter being a bit after Second Hand's time, but it gives you the flavour of the music.

The rhythm section of Kieran O'Connor (drums, noise, vibraphone) and George Hart (bass, vocals, violin) are pin sharp, adventurous and funky by turns. The guitar of Moggy Mead doesn't really get a chance to shine through the keyboard assaults. My main problem with this album is the vocals of Rob Elliot (Ken's brother). His vocals are rather strident in the blues shouter style, and he is rather high in the mix leaving him a little exposed. They are not really to my taste. However, when they are supported with vocals from the other members of Second Hand they are more acceptable.

The tracks here all have something going for them as they take advantage of recording in that time of musical freedom where artistic expression seem to often take precedence over commercial viability. Second Hand recorded one more album after this but changing the band's name to Chillum which was equally unsuccesful. The band split and Ken Elliot and Kieran O'Connor went to form the band Seventh Wave releasing two albums Things To Come and Psi-Fi that were given the highest mark here.

Anyway back to Second Hand's Death May Be Your Santa Claus. It is, for me, an engaging re-release at least on the instrumental side of things and the vocals are less of an issue on repeat plays. If you have any interest in the music produced in that weird space where psychedelic rock morphed in to progressive rock then this is for you.

Album Reviews