Album Reviews

Issue 2024-023

Antumbra — Oblivion

Romania
2023
53:40
Antumbra - Oblivion
Where The Rivers Meet The Sea (5:56), Alone (6:28), Malevolent (5:44), The Void Of Blackness (5:22), Frozen (5:25), Remnants (5:09), Forevermore (4:54), Prisoners (4:24), The Graveyard Of Thoughts (5:33), All Paths Lead To Death (4:42)
8
Calum Gibson

Antumbra comes to us from Romania, supported by the underground label Loud Rage Music. As a one-man band, everything is taken care of by Marius Ignatescu. Since 2021, Antumbra has been busy at work, with four full length albums. At the end of 2023, Marius hand-picked a number of his previous works to be compiled together in this release: Oblivion.

My first thoughts is the production is very crisp and clear. Closely followed by sheer enjoyment. For a long time, I've been a fan of what Swallow The Sun calls "gloom, beauty and despair", and Antumbra capture that in the music. While being a separate style (STS are more melodic doom while Antumbra is more atmospheric black metal), the idea is there. Atmospheric, melodic and filled with both darkness and light. The music cuts through the anguish in the music and "implies a journey through the depth of existence" (in Marius's own words).

If Alcest delved deeper into black metal and donned some corpse paint, I could imagine them sounding a bit similar to tracks like The Void of Blackness or Where The Rivers Meet The Sea . Melancholic keys interact and contrast harsh guitar riffs and tremolos, creating both ethereal and sombre passages. The overall sound has a bit of a vibe of the second wave of black metal. Less focused on "evil" sounds like the first wave, this one featured a higher quality of songwriting and more inclusion on building layers and atmosphere, mixed in with a bleak and cold sound. Despite the overall grim tone, it produces a kind of ambient tranquillity through it all that I (and many fans of the genre) find very relaxing.

For me? Next time there is a cold winter day, this will be the first album to go on as I sit with a cider and watch the snow. I'm looking forward to it.

If you like melody and atmosphere being linked with a sense of tragedy and lamentation, then have a listen. Absolutely a must for fans of similar projects (who almost all happen to be solo efforts) such as Ellende, Eldamar or ColdWorld.

Nick Bohensky & Max N'Adamo — The Ritual

USA
2023
63:57
Nick Bohensky & Max N'Adamo - The Ritual
The Ritual (3:30), If It's Too Easy (4:03), A Minor Place (5:25), Dirty Projector (4:37), Paeniteo (2:34), Candy Cienega (4:21), Trapdoor (5:44), The Sick Blanket (4:12), My Capo (6:08), Paenitet Me (2:52); bonus tracks: Segue (0:31), Forwards/Backwards (3:23), Syllogism (4:12), The Imphilosible (5:04), Gestalt (7:03)
6
Jan Buddenberg

Having worked closely together for the past twenty odd years in bands like The 16 Deadly Improvs (prog-rock) and Bald Red Lady (alternative rock), Bohensky and N'Adamo decided to embark as a duo in 2021. So far this has resulted in the release of their debut EP The Imphilosible in 2022. And now we have their full-length debut The Ritual, which in physical format adds the EP as a bonus. A fine gesture.

Exploring life as it comes at middle-age in terms of lyrics, the duo take their musical inspiration primarily from bands like Radiohead, Steven Wilson, Marillion, Pink Floyd and a host of other names that amongst others, to give a fair idea on how broad their influences reaches, includes David Sylvian, The Church, The Fixx and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds This broadness can certainly be traced back in their music which, supported in performance by various guesting musicians, offers an all-sorts of avant-garde, new wave, pop, prog, ambient post-rock (Paeniteo), hip-hop/rap (Forwards/Backwards), and miscellaneous singer/songwriter material.

Within this array of genres, songs like The Ritual and If It's Too Easy represent nice melodic uplifting pop tunes driven by exemplary guitar and bass, with the latter song adding some surprising jazzy trumpet textures. While Peanitet Me and Candy Cienega, the last mentioned showcasing light Syd Barrett psychedelics, brings engaging melancholy drowned singer/songwriter appeal that bears close resemblance to aforementioned Nick Cave thanks to N'Adamo's spitting image vocals. Finest example within this style I find to be My Capo which soothingly calm brings mild bluesy U2 impressions as guiding guitar and mournful horns work their way towards a happier sad ending.

From a prog point of view the other remaining songs are much more of interest. All fairly mellow-paced and having a shady atmosphere, in likeness to Pink Floyd / Porcupine Tree, they each show splendid song based conciseness and subtlety in performance which in A Minor Place and The Sick Blanket leads to impressions of Starfish64 and in Trapdoor's atmospheric coda conveys emotive illuminating memories of Marillion.

This debut by Bohensky & N'Adamo is a fine effort to explore for anyone orientated towards the melancholic pop-with-a-twist side of prog.

Srdjan Ivanovic — Modular

France
2024
47:20
Srdjan Ivanovic - Modular
Fee Fee (5:24), Résistance (6:07), Sous le ciel de Paris (4:58), Sweet Home Lagkada (5:01), U Stambolu (5:21), Past Present (4:03), Kapetan Mihalis (6:02), Le jongleur (5:24), While My Guitar Gently Weeps (4:53)
8
Owen Davies

Sweet fragrance petals bow, bend, stutter, sway, and fall. Breeze blushed leaves coyly twirl. A set picnic table waits and a warmed twilight candle is lit. The music's gentle melodic fragrance permeates everything. Delicate swirls of sound shift purposefully. It's brush stroked properties modulate and set the mood.

The inviting atmosphere clasps the stop-start, flutter-hearts of the young lovers, whose senses joyfully entwine. They live in hope and share a dream. Their eagerly anticipated, youthful, smooth-skin voyage and wrinkle-aged journey has begun.

This recurring memory forming image occurred in response to the fluxing rhythms, frothed flutes, turbulent trumpets and, gorgeous guitar melodies of compositions such as, Fee Fee, Sous le ciel de Paris and Past Present during Srdjan Ivanovic's delightful Modular.

Modular is first album released in Ivanovic's own name. He is perhaps best known for his involvement in the world-jazz with a rock sound of Xénos, Nikolov-Ivanovic Undectet and Srdjan Ivanovic Blazin' Quartet.

I thoroughly enjoyed the varied tunes and accomplished playing that is a standout feature of this satisfying release. Le jongleur illustrates many of the ingredients that makes this album so enjoyable. It is an interesting piece that contains lots of different elements . It is probably the most diverse and progressive tune on the album. Guest Christophe Panzani adds some lovely tenor sax touches , but the stand-out feature of the piece is probably Yoni Zeinik's carefully crafted and beautifully executed double bass solo.

The contributions by Ludivine Issambourg and guest Magic Malik on the flute are quite outstanding. Malik's easily identifiable breathy contribution to Fee Fee is delightful. Issambourg's lively embellishments to Sweet Home Lagkada are equally satisfying.

Guitarist Manu Codjia has a pivotal role to play in many of the tunes. His fluid style and enchanting use of tone adds a variety of appealing flavours and colourful garnish and that dresses the compositions with aplomb. It is probably fair to say though, that most of the tunes will probably not appeal to most prog rock fans. The structure of several of the tunes and overall feel of the album is firmly rooted in the stylistic flavours associated with jazz.

However, some tunes such as Sweet Home Lagkada, U Stambolu and Kapetan Mihalis feature elements that some prog fans might appreciate.

Kapetan Mihalis has a gorgeously evocative jazz guitar solo that flows and squeals in all the right ways. Similarly, the ensembles fascinating interpretation of George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps is worth checking out and is sure to interest many.

Past Present is undoubtedly my favourite track. The subtle percussion and brushed kit work of Srdjan Ivanovic creates a moody backdrop for the principal elements of trumpet and guitar to deliver a poignant and memorably anthemic tune. The cinematic quality of the tune is evocative and for me at least, captures the recurring imagery of the young lovers in an ageless place in time. The piece has a nordic quality and a misty atmosphere that recalls some of the work of Terje Rypdal and a plethora of ECM releases.

Whilst Modular, may not win many plaudits amongst classic prog fans, it is without doubt a very accomplished album and one that I will continue to appreciate for many years to come.

Jack O' The Clock — The Warm, Dark Circus

USA
2023
56:54
Jack O' The Clock - The Warm, Dark Circus
The Ladder Slipped (7:27), Division Blues (2:22), Stuck Inside Of Elvis (4:45), Sage's' Song (0:49), Dürer's Rhinoceros (12:55), This Is Just What It Seems (3:30), How Are We Doing ... (13:16), ... And Who Will Tell Us? (8:21), Snowman On A Ledge (3:31)
6
Armin Rößler

The band's homepage tells us: "Jack O' The Clock was formed in Oakland, California in the summer of 2007 when multi-instrumentalists Damon Waitkus and Nicci Reisnour, who had been composition students at Mills College, discovered a mutual interest in alloying folk-inspired songwriting with a composerly approach to instrumentation and arrangement. Joined by Waitkus' partner, violinist Emily Packard, and percussionist Jordan Glenn, they began performing and recording as an acoustic quartet until Reisnour's departure in 2008. The group then found its signature sound with the addition of Kate McLoughlin (bassoon, voice, flute) and Jason Hoopes (bass, vocals), and began incorporating elements of progressive rock, free jazz, minimalism, and various world musics into its folk foundation."

The Warm, Dark Circus is the band's eighth studio album. In the meantime, Waitkus and Packard have relocated to Vermont on the East Coast and have sought out new musical allies alongside McLoughlin. However, the current album was still recorded during sessions with the previous line-up in sunny California.

Musically, Jack O' The Clock are not necessarily the most obvious choice for progressive rock fans, despite their proggy ingredients: they do more rock than prog, and their folk elements, which are very present in the overall sound, have nothing to do with bands like Jethro Tull or the numerous Scandinavian groups that draw from the folk music of their countries, but clearly come from a USA country — meaning rather cowboy hat than tartan cap or Viking helmet. This is occasionally irritating, but also has its charm and definitely results in an exciting mixture that you can lend an ear to. Not everything is completely convincing, but much of it is original and has not been heard before too often. A banjo opens the first track, The Ladder Slipped, and the violin also plays a prominent role here and later on. However, the song also leads into prog rock territory and is therefore a good example of how Jack O' The Clock transform their mix of rock, prog and americana styles into music worth listening to. A good start for the album.

After the almost seven and a half minutes of the first song, there is a much shorter number (2:22), Division Blues, which gets straight to the point in a fresh, rocking way. In Stuck Inside Of Elvis (you wouldn't want that, would you?) the horns take over and after the short atmospheric interlude with Sage's Song, it's back to prog. The multi-layered Dürer's Rhinoceros – Albrecht Dürer's woodcut of an Indian rhinoceros from 1515 adorns also the cover of the album – begins in a dreamy and relaxed manner, then becomes more dynamic, featuring strings and polyphonic vocals and offering a beautiful cornucopia of ideas. The lyrics only refer to the title at one point, when a nameless boy muses about how the artist was able to create such an impressive picture without ever having seen a rhinoceros himself. Which, as we know, had a tragic history: having come to Lisbon from India, it was sent on a journey to Rome, but did not arrive there alive after a shipwreck.

Jack O' The Clock continue in a less tragic, more light-footed, airy and acoustic way in This Is Just What It Seems, a shorter number for a change. Beautiful and pleasant to listen to. A veritable cacophony of sounds and noises then bursts upon the listener all the more abruptly in the following How Are We Doing ... — welcome to Pandemonium, one might think. The chaos gradually subsides, but this remains the heaviest song on the album. The melodiousness only returns in the following ... And Who Will Tell Us?. Whether the dots at the beginning and end of the two pieces could be a deliberate reference to the Genesis songs Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers ... and ... In That Quiet Earth (from Wind & Wuthering, 1977), which inevitably come to mind, remains speculation. In any case, a varied, exciting (almost) finale, before the album ends in a kind of epilogue with Snowman On A Ledge, performed only by Waitkus' dulcimer and the vocals of Thea Kelley, with a further counterpoint – calm, solemn, emotional, not very spectacular, but beautiful.

All in all, an interesting album whose mix of styles the listener has to get involved with and which will therefore probably put off rather than inspire the one or the other prog fan. But those who are prepared to invest a little time should not regret it.

Claudio Milano's End Friends — ManifestAzioni Live 2011 - 2023

Italy
2023
55:52, 68:39
Claudio Milano's End Friends - ManifestAzioni Live 2011 - 2023
CD 1: Per causa – nostra (7:58), Dite (2:13), Che il piacere è peccato? (2:11), E se aprissi quella porta? (4:55), Conta chi tenta! (3:08), Amanti in guerra (4:41), Secca in festa (2:58), Gallia #4 (4:13), Cerniere (7:27), Aghe aghe benedete (12:37), Nostro padre ci aspetta (3:31)
CD 2: Madre pagana (2:55), Per causa – nostra II (6:29), Incontro – Medley (8:09), Cramars Marochins Pt II (5:12), Surabaya Johnny (6:02), Il serpente e il bastone (3:11), Nella torre delle aquile (4:02), Da La leggenda di Zlatarog: Identita Claps (19:38), Pan's pot (5:58), SenseNonSex – Vocal Workshow (7:03)
6
Armin Rößler

What is that? Indians on the warpath? Or something worse? In any case, a start that is as daring as it is trend-setting: lots of vocal acrobatics, percussive elements, a distorted guitar here and there, which grates in between. Euphony is different, Claudio Milano's And Friends take no prisoners on ManifestAzioni Live 2011 - 2023. Incidentally, the drums on the opening track Per Causa – nostra are played by Walter Calloni, who has drummed for prog bands such as Premiata Forneria Marconi (mainly live, but also on Miss Baker, 1987) and Area (Maledetti, 1976), as well as for the Italian singer-songwriter Fabrizio de André (on the remarkable Crêuza de mä, 1984) and the internationally renowned singer Gianna Nannini. More important, however, is of course the namesake of the double album, Claudio Milano.

Claudio Milano? The man released his first solo album in 2004 (L'urlo Rubato), is the singer of projects/bands such as NichelOdeon and InSonar. According to a biography found on the internet, studied opera and modern singing as well as piano and composition. You can read about him: "His aim is and has been to create a bridge between music, the theatre and visual arts, also thanks to his studies as an actor, as dancer and his qualification as scene designer." Milano has therefore also written music for theater, dance and video installations. As an artist, he seems to be as versatile as his voice – its broad range is demonstrated by the double CD ManifestAzioni live 2011 - 2023, recorded, as the title suggests, at various performances (and accompanied by very different musicians) between 2011 and 2023. Another cooperation between several of the people involved in NichelOdeon and InSonar plus other "relatives" was reviewed here a few years ago.

After the wild opening, things become calmer, very emotional in Che il Piacere è Peccato?, a song that is also surprisingly short (2:10), but is as the whole double CD presented in a very exalted vocal style – if you need comparisons, Bernardo Lanzetti (Acqua Fragile, ex-Premiata Forneria Marconi) comes to mind. And of course it doesn't stay that quiet for long, it gets stormy and wild again in Conta chi Tenta! In terms of mood and tempo, it is a very restless, but also very varied rollercoaster ride. What the songs have in common is that they are dominated by the voice, while the instruments play a subordinate role. Longer passages without vocals, as in the bagpipe-influenced Aghe Aghe Benedete, are the big exception. Amanti in Guerra, one of the Nickelodeon pieces, is a good example for the numbers of a very theatrical character and a quality that would suit the opera rather well. Nomen est omen: Claudio Milano and his seven-octave vocal range could also be well imagined at La Scala in Milan.

Is that prog? Avant-garde (which can probably be anything)? Or rather opera? A mixture of everything? It is exciting, interesting, challenging and takes some time and input getting used to. If you want to hear pleasing pieces that are easy on the ear, you should stay away from this album. Those who love experiments and are not afraid of the very dominant Italian vocals can try their luck. As mentioned above, it's a shame that the music can only rarely hold a candle to the vocals and doesn't offer any similarly interesting moments.

To give another example: Peter Hammill's vocals are certainly an important, perhaps even the most important element of Van Der Graaf Generator. But Van der Graaf Generator would not be Van der Graaf Generator without the (great) musical contributions of Mr. Banton, Mr. Evans, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Hammill himself. In the case of Claudio Milano's album, the vocals unfortunately lack the musical equivalent that could take this versatile voice to a whole new level. This is a pity and, despite all the vocal power and originality he demonstrates, a bit one-dimensional and wasted potential. Perhaps Claudio Milano would be a good candidate for a collaboration with a band like Isildur's Bane. On the other hand, the conclusion of the second CD, the a cappella piece SenseNonSex, on which Signore Milano is supported by the two singers Eugenioprimo Saragoni and Giulia Zaniboni, proves just how exciting singing can be. Quirky, challenging, good!

Clive Mitten — Tales From A Misspent Youth Volume II

UK
2023
126:14
Clive Mitten - Tales From A Misspent Youth Volume II
CD1: Tarkus (12:20), Widow's Peak (8:41), Close To The Edge (14:41), 21st Century Schizoid Man / Starless (7:37), Stairway To Heaven (4:30), Thick As A Brick (20:51)
CD2: Fanfare For The Common Man (6:28), Watcher Of The Skies / The Fountain Of Salmacis / The Musical Box / Firth of Fifth (13:42), Discipline / Frame By Frame (8:55), Garden Party / Grendel (9:56), Cygnus X-1 Books I And II (16:20), Refugees (2:14)
8
Mark Hughes

Clive Mitten returns with a second volume of his solo classical interpretations, Tales From A Misspent Youth. The double CD contains tracks that, as the title suggests, were influences on the young and hopeful musician. However, this time round he also includes a couple of pieces from bands that were contemporaries from the early 1980s Marquee prog scene.

A lot of the arrangements feature prominent piano, or pianos, which is understandable for such pieces as Tarkus and Fanfare For The Common Man but adds a new dimension to Thick As A Brick: the lovely interplay between piano and flute is simply delightful. An organ park takes over the heavy guitar riff and perhaps could do with a bit more clout but overall is an excellent interpretation of one of the most complex pieces of Tull music. Perhaps Clive could try A Passion Play if he ventures into a third volume.

On Yes' Close To The Edge the chaotic section to the start of the song is creatively captured by throwing everything at it in a manner that would be very difficult for a live orchestra to achieve. The glockenspiel rendering of the I Get Up, I Get Down section highlights the melody well and the Ruby Chapel organ is just wonderful. Stairway To Heaven is all strings and eye-wateringly beautiful.

A remarkable job has been achieved in combining four separate Genesis tracks and making them sound like they should always have been that way. Although the software Mitten uses to create the orchestral sounds is second to none, I do find the drums rather too regimented and lacking in organic authenticity. But it is the piano sections that make the piece enticing.

The King Crimson pieces are probably the ones that differ most from the originals and again a fine job has been made of combining different pieces being from the 60s and 70s (21st Century Schizoid Man / Starless) or 80s (Discipline / Frame By Frame). The angularity of the compositions have been cleverly maintained with melody lines crafted into flowing violin and/or viola solos.

I have never been a huge fan of Rush, but the interpretation of the two books of Cygnus X-1 infuses a dramatic quality and maintains the aggression and venom of the first part (but without Geddy Lee's ear-splitting vocals!). Maybe because I am less familiar with these pieces, but I did find that the track did drag a bit, although having said that the section linking the two parts of the song is quite beautiful.

As for the Marquee contemporaries, we are provided with tracks from both Marillion and IQ. For the former we have two of their early (1982 and 1983) tracks. Garden Party is okay and nothing more because I never thought it was a particular good song in the first place. Grendal is initially almost unrecognisable until the repetitive bass line comes in and a lot is made of the rhythmic qualities of the track. Honestly, I prefer this version to the original by quite a long way. IQ's Widow's Peak has always been a favourite of mine. It is great to see the band gain some wider recognition. Clive's interpretation follows the original quite closely throughout but the substitution of a cello for the guitar in the quiet midway section is genius.

All-in-all, with over two hours of music this is quite a bargain CD given the thoughtfulness and ability of the interpretations. Mitten is a very talented musician and is expert in deconstructing core elements of songs and using often unexpected substitutions to create new and exciting versions of classic songs.

Album Reviews