Album Reviews

Issue 2024-036

For All We Know — By Design Or By Disaster

Netherlands
2024
55:00
For All We Know - By Design Or By Disaster
Forced To Be Free (5:18), Lifeline (5:50), This Hell We Know (6:23), The Future That Came Too Soon (7:05), All We Did Was Hide (4:36), Hush (2:14), Remind Me To Forget You (5:34), Flaws (7:39), Guide Me In Getting Lost (4:36), Ghosts of Summer's Past (4:30), Goodbye (4:21)
8
Andy Read

For All We Know was formed back in 2011 as a side project of Ruud Jolie, best known as a member of Within Temptation. The self-titled debut album was released in the same year. It offered a stunning collection of melodic progressive metal, but never seemed to get the attention it so richly deserved.

It was followed six years later by Take Me Home. This was a disc for those feel-good moments when you just need a dozen easy-on-the-ear melodies, and easily made my list of Top 20 albums of that year.

In 2023, both albums were finally released on vinyl via the young Dutch prog rock/metal label Construction Records. That same label is now responsible for the release of For All We Know's third album; the intriguingly titled By Design Or By Disaster.

During the writing process, Jolie (guitars, additional keys and programming) again worked closely with singer Wudstik. Elsewhere, the band consists of the same musicians who were featured on the first two albums: drummer Léo Margarit (Pain Of Salvation), bassist Kristoffer Gildenlöw (ex Pain Of Salvation), and pianist Marco Kuypers (ex Cloud Machine).

This third effort continues the band's direction-of-travel towards a lighter collection of songs. Primarily, the listener is taken on a journey that flows freely between heavy-prog and pop-prog.

Other than a few vocal screams and a handful of heavy riffs, I think those seeking the complexity and heaviness of progressive-metal will find little to please them here.

There is however an abundance of diversity, with songs such as the seven-minute-plus art-rock voyage on Flaws, shifting effortlessly through multiple styles and grooves.

For All We Know. Promo photo by Slashley Photography.

I am often reminded of bands such as Enchant, Lifesigns, Flying Colors, Compass, Prehistoric Animals, Into The Open or Frost. There remains a pervasive Pain Of Salvation vibe to many of the songs. Occasionally the lighter, electronic moments of Fates Warning and OSI seep through. On Flaws the band gives a generous nod to Freak Kitchen.

The voice of Wudstik is one of the band's biggest strengths. With most of the band members adding backing vocals and close harmonies, there is a distinct AOR character to most of the key melodies. And alongside the dynamic diversity, those melodies are what sets this album apart.

The opening four songs exhibit everything that I love about melodic, modern progressive rock. But be patient. The addictive melodies are clear on a first listen, but they are skilfully wrapped around many musical twists and turns which take a few spins to unravel.

After this strong opening, the album does have a weaker mid-section. The next three songs seem stuck in ballad territory. Along with the closing track, Goodbye I feel that this over-supply of slow-paced, simpler tracks undermine the otherwise upbeat, progressive intent of the album.

The dull instrumental Hush should have been left in the studio's digital dustbin. The use of digitally-generated female vocalisations is another overused tool. Thankfully tracks eight, nine and ten are as strong as the opening salvo. Guide Me In Getting Lost probably has this album's biggest hook.

There are also some Easter eggs hidden for the attentive listener; melodies from the previous albums that return in an innovative way on this new album. This has the intention of creating a trinity of the band's premier albums; something that is reinforced with the common style of the artwork.

Although By Design Or By Disaster is not a concept album, there is a common thread in the lyrics. They tell the story of a young man making his way through life, building and losing relationships with his parents, lovers and later his children. This is reflected in the artwork, which shows three characters representing the same person at different stages of life. The blindfolded adults, symbolise our bias and clouding of vision, while the baby is still free from judgement and completely open to life. Hence, the album's title.

By Design Or By Disaster is available now digitally, on CD and on coloured vinyl via Construction Records. As with the first two albums, I've found this an impressively enjoyable listen, with an abundance of stand-out songs that should appeal to all lovers of modern, melodic, progressive rock music.

Oudeziel — Oudeziel (reissue)

Poland
2024
19:57
Oudeziel - Oudeziel (reissue)
Binner (5:10), Jeremy (3:06), Flight (4:50), Reis (6:45)
7
Jan Buddenberg

Third time lucky?

Following the sudden unfortunate demise of Obrasqi, Artur Wolski (composer, guitars, keyboards) and Jaroslaw Bielawski (drums) decided at the beginning of 2023 to continue as Oudeziel, which in May 2023 resulted in the independent digital-only EP release of Fluistert. This EP was shortly after picked up by Dutch record label Rock Company who in slightly altered and expanded form officially released it as the band's, again digital only, eponymous debut in June 2023.

These versions are no longer available and now fully replaced by this third (and final?) reissue which, freshly remastered by Przemysław Rudź with whom Wolski recently released the album Pomeranian Wind, is available in both digital and physical formats.

As before, the EP includes Binner and Jeremy as well as a newly arranged version of Reis. Songs for which I gladly refer to the elaborations in my original review. Completing the EP, at the surprising expense of the magnificent tracks Fluistert and Life, is new composition Flight.

Lifting off from ambient serene surroundings into grand cinematic post-rock atmospheres. A bridge of sensitive bass gives it more ground, while percussion adds a spirited sense of worldliness, the entirely apt entitled Flight is once again a marvellously construed soundscape. One that breathes Obrasqi and effortlessly attracts. From a story point of view, somewhat instigated by the accompanying videos, it falls ideally in place between Jeremy and Reis. This together with previous highly recommendable achievements and an undisclosed promise, has most certainly raised and whetted my anticipation for Oudeziel's debut album some more.

At the same time though, I feel the need to speak out my wish that both Fluistert and the infinitely beautiful and now sorely missed Life (which has been left off this reissue for unknown reasons) will find a way onto Oudeziel's upcoming debut. Hence, my lower rating. Hopefully I didn't jinx things because that would be very unlucky for those not yet acquainted to these breathtaking songs and Oudeziel's exceptional composing mastery... Finger's crossed! 🤞

Prehistoric Animals — Finding Love In Strangest Places

Sweden
2024
44:59
Prehistoric Animals - Finding Love In Strangest Places
The City Of My Dreams (9:04), A Bad Day for the Neon God (1:35), Living in a World of Bliss (5:17), Unbreakable (6:57), Strange Places (1:18), He is Number 4 (4:09), Come Home (0:57), The Secret Society of Goodness (7:02), Nothing Has Changed But Everything Is Different (8:33)
8
Sergey Nikulichev

I would have probably joined the ranks of prog-heads, easily mixing up Swedes from Pre-Historic Animals and Spock's Beard-family-related Pattern-Seeking Animals, if not for one factor. PHA's debut Consider It A Work of Art is one of my absolute favorites from 2018, still holding a place in my top 10 from that quite musically strong year, and definitely a Newcomer Of The Year for me. I loved the mixture of atmospheric urbanistic prog, alternative rock and ear-gracing melodies. And while there's nothing extremely revolutionary about it, neither in 2018 nor in 2024, this is a winning formula — being simultaneously accessible and intricate. PHA are aware of the prog rock roots, but prefer crafting music, that looks into the future, in the same vein with such collectives as Frost, Hats Off Gentlemen…, Jolly, Kyros and to a certain point Riverside, if we look at their occasional flirtations with pop music (take Addicted or Friend or Foe).

Unfortunately for me, I skipped the band's subsequent diptych The Magical Mystery Machine (covered by Ignacio and Andy favorably), and there we are with the fourth release Finding Love In Strangest Places, the shortest one so far in the band's career. Essentially, this is a 6-track release, integral and focused on storytelling. As the members state, “it can be described as a dystopic version of the film Love Actually. It's about people finding love where they least expect it. The country girl finding the love of her life in a female cyber soldier. A couple meet in a bar, get married the same night and sign up for the ultimate proof of love program. Employee number 10 is about to blow up the whole factory when she falls in love with number 4. These are only a few of the included love stories”. Not a bad idea, if you ask me. Only supported by the sound that the band creates — heavy, down-tuned riffs, digital synths and pumping bass lines. Again, none of this has been invented by PHA and was tried before many times, but in the hands of the quarter the ingredients add a noir / cyberpunk cinematic feel (not the Blade Runner, but the initial cyberpunk concept “high tech – low life”).

The City Of My Dreams serves as a nearly flawless opener, dynamic, clocking at almost ten minutes but with a strong fundamental idea, that the band keeps developing without losing focus.

Living In A World Of Bliss is a decent (but not above decent) pop-rock number, with a flaw of keeping the same rhythmic pattern for a bit too long. He Is Number 4 succeeds where World Of Bliss fails, delivering a 100% hit, heavy, somber and melodic (dark AOR, anyone?), not unlike the material featured on Dividing Lines by Threshold.

The Secret Society Of Goodness despite not being the longest, reserves the title of the proggiest track on the record with many mood shifts and rhythm figures, with strong echoes of Rush's Clockwork Angels.

Nothing Has Changed But Everything Is Different is a relaxed major-tone track, with a feel of XXI-century power ballad. It had felt a bit anticlimactic at first, but with subsequent listens grew on me, due to a good coda and an outlet from heaviness of the rest of the CD.

Generally, I am convinced that Prehistoric Animals don't get all the praise they deserve. They have an edge, self-irony and loads of good material in portfolio. On the other hand, Finding Love will unlikely bring crowds of new fans to the band. It is not a breakthrough yet, it's a reaffirmation of the band's already existing powers and capabilities. For me as a fan, it's an 8 out of 10 record. For those not familiar with these Swedes, it's a 7 out of 10. I would recommend Consider It A Work Of Art for a brighter picture of what they can do at their peak.

Skraeckoedlan — Vermillion Sky

Sweden
2024-03-27
47:33
Skraeckoedlan - Vermillion Sky
Cosmic Dawn (2:42), Starsquatch (7:58), Mysteria (5:20), The Vermillion Sky (7:09), Metagalactic Void Honcho (8:06), Night Satan (4:52), Meteorb (3:37), Astronautilus (7:49)
8
Jerry van Kooten

Swedish stoner band Skraeckoedlan released their fourth full-length studio album recently. Stoner comes in many guises, and it is when it reaches into the heavy and progressive side when it has my interest. I liked their first album, Äppelträdet (The Apple Tree), but with Sagor (Saga) (2015) and Eorþe (Earth) (2019) they really got my attention as more prog was creeping in, resulting in a balance that my taste was looking for.

It took a while though, during which COVID played its part, but March 2024 saw the release of their latest album, Vermillion Sky. As is common these days it was released in a few versions: black vinyl, blue with red splatter vinyl, yellow with red splatter vinyl, and blue vinyl. The latter is in a single sleeve, the others in gatefold sleeves. Now I am not a collector of coloured vinyl and even prefer just black vinyl, but apparently it keeps a lot of people happy. These issues do come with an 8-page comic booklet, designed by their long-time collaborator for artwork, Jonan Leion. There was even a science-fiction novel of the same name, written by the band. These guys are taking things very seriously now. At the same time, not too serious, if you see the online game they made, which even showed up in a real-life arcade machine they bring to gigs with them.

The album and song titles and the credits (and the comic booklet and the novel) are in English now, but the lyrics are still in Swedish. Perhaps to reach a wider audience, but I don't really care too much about the language, it's the whole of the music that counts.

Cosmic Dawn is a spacy introduction but more than just some effects. The somewhat electronic feel (most likely guitar effects) gave me a Maserati feel. It's a proper introduction to the whole album, the flow of which has to be on purpose. The moments of building up tension and release are carefully planned over its duration, with bits of breathing space on a predominantly heavy album of course. If space travel is like this, it is not an easy ride!

Even the shorter tracks are quite diverse. The longer tracks have a longer intro or build-up towards the inevitable prog-laden heaviness. Some slow and brutal, some epic, especially with the dual guitar play.

It's paradoxically the longest track Metagalactic Void Honcho that has the least variation. Good riffing, but to my taste a bit too long, and it lacks the catchiness or the melodic epicness found in many other songs. Or maybe it's that a large part of the lyrics are sung with a lot of the same type of anger and lack variety there. This is corrected however by the following track, the excellent Night Satan, which shows a lot of diversity, with melodic vocal lines, even in the harmonies.

The production is excellent. In its fuzzy heaviness, the driving bass is still clear and receives the right amount of space. The extra separation when the two guitars play duelling riffs or melodies is making the sound extra spacious, the multilayered melodies of course tickling my ears' audio reception.

If it was just stoner rock, my head would less interested. It has the catchy riffing of speedy stoner while keeping my brain busy with the changes and melodies. The science-fiction concept approach will appeal to prog-rock fans as well. For those who like their prog heavy. If you know the previous albums you will recognise the band's signature style and will love the way the band have taken this next step. Others can think of Baroness or Mastodon, or a progressive and more melodic and prog version of Russian Circles.

Album Reviews