Album Reviews

Issue 2024-044

Amarok — Hope

Poland
2024
57:47
Amarok - Hope
Hope Is (4:44), Stay Human (5:52), Insomnia (6:05), Trail (7:06), Welcome (5:15), Queen (5:15), Perfect Run (5:50), Don't Surrender (6:59), Simple Pleasures(7:33), Dolina (3:08)
9
Edwin Roosjen

Amarok is the Polish band led by multi-instrumentalist Michał Wojtas. At the beginning of this milennium, Amarok released three albums and then took a hiatus of no less than twelve years. 2017 saw a reborn Amarok and after another three releases it is now time for album number seven. Of the previous three albums, The Storm was a bit of an odd one out, a soundtrack to a contemporary dance performance, but Hunt and Hero are well received albums amongst progressive rock fans. The music of Amarok is progressive rock with some ambient atmospheric parts and what sets this band apart is the use of instruments like violin, Indian harmonium, and the Theremin. The line-up has not changed since the last album, Michał is still joined by Marta Wojtas, Konrad Zieliński and Kornel Popławski. I saw Amarok live in concert last year, and I was impressed. This year they will return for another concert and I will surely try to be there.

For some reason, all Amarok albums have a few songs I tend to skip. Amarok is a band with a wide range of instruments, atmospheres and musical colours, and sometimes it just becomes a bit too mellow or too dreamy for me. On this new album, this is however not the case. The album still has mellow parts but the whole albums feels more as complete journey and feels a lot more balanced. The opening of the album immediately grabs you and from that point on you are hooked. The title track Hope opens the album and is driven by a powerful guitar riff. Parts driven by the riff are glued together with atmospheric sounds and spoken words by Marta Wojtas. Great Pink Floyd-like guitar solo in the middle. We will hear a lot more influences from Pink Floyd on this album. Stay Human has a very different pace and energy. It has a more easy steady flow and a more atmospheric feel to it. With the message to stay human, I can live with that. If I am not mistaken I hear some nice melodies on the Theremin.

Insomnia opens with a very Floyd-like guitar lick. Another step towards a more atmospheric sound. A chorus that cuts through you heart followed by another Floyd-like guitar part. Do not be worried, then energy level on this album is not constantly decreasing. The atmospheric mellow parts and more energetic parts are very well distributed over the span of the album. The energy level goes up on Trail, more electronic sounds and accessible beat. A more technical guitar solo fits into the music perfectly. The last part of the song is very heavy, in-your-face pounding rock music.

After a heavy part it is time for a more dreamy song Welcome. Ambient soundscapes but still a steady pace from the rhythm section. This song is written by drummer Konrad Zieliński who also is singing on this one. Towards the end of the song more instruments and sounds are introduced and slightly the ambient mood is pushed towards the background and more power comes to the surface.

The next song is written by bass player Kornel Popławski. It takes a long time before the tunes of the song Queen enter your ears. A slow song with some intense parts and some very gentle parts presented by Kornel on the violin. Perfect Run is a very up-tempo instrumental song with a lot of room for keyboard and all sorts of electronic sounds. Not a song with a remarkable melody or anything else that stands out, but it is just a very pleasant song. It is just one of those songs that you do not remember being on the album but when it is on then you cannot stop moving your head or feet.

Don't Surrender is a gentle song that reminds me a lot of Blackfield, with beautiful songs that tell you to always carry on whatever obstacles are in your way.

Simple Pleasures also takes a while before the music really starts. Do not use the volume button too quickly, though. Another slow gentle song with more Pink Floyd feelings. Dolina is in Polish with some violin and if I am correct I hear the Indian harmonium, an instrument I saw Michał Wojtas use on stage last year.

With their new album Hope, Amarok really made a step forward. All the elements of the music Amarok are still there, progressive rock with ambient parts and instruments like violin and Indian harmonium. The balance between the wide range of elements is blended perfectly. They just delivered a very cohesive album. A musical journey, and a very enjoyable musical experience from start to finish. I am pleasantly surprised by Amarok and for me Hope is one of the best albums of 2024.

DRLCT — Médée

Switzerland
2024
39:58
DRLCT - Médée
Asunder (10:56), Un Jour en Octobre (8:56), Flow Your Tears, That Bluebird Said (9:17), Interlinked (10:49)
10
Calum Gibson

DRLCT is the project of Fantin Reichler, a multi-instrumentalist, who has released Médée as a tribute to their late mother. A collaborative effort between Fantin, some guests and graphic artists, each of the 4 tracks is accompanied by an animated music video to create an immersive and melancholic post-rock tribute to her. On the Bandcamp page, each track has some additional information about the inspiration for each of the 4 movements.

With a delicate start, Asunder introduces the melancholy through minimalist guitar work, with a slow build of textures as the track grows. Soon after, the guitar work is replaced with keys and electronic drums while retaining the heartbreaking atmosphere. Harsh vocals are added to the layers of the song in the later half, elevating the atmosphere and tone to one of hammering home the emotions of despair and sorrow in the lyrics.

Un Jour en Octobre is an instrumental, and the shortest track on the album. A slow burner of post-rock beauty, we weave in and out of chords and pattens of leads. However, the mournful vibe soon takes a dive into anxious tones and discordant progressions as the track grows and develops into a darker territory. But still it builds becoming almost oppressively bleak in the despairing blend of post rock and metal.

Acceptance and yearning are the subject of the opener of side 2. Flow Your Tears, That Bluebird Said slides in with rhythmic synth bass, before a voice-over discusses an outlook of the body. "This body that doesn't want me needs to burn", is how it is described on Bandcamp, with the voice-over melding with the music to create an ethereal sense of peace reminiscent of some of the works by Lorn or Perturbator. The second half of the track encapsulates the “yearning”, with heavy guards striking minor chords over hard, but slow, drums. It creates a sense that something is missing, before it delves back to a peaceful a reprieve. “We are the cosmos dreaming of itself”.

To close, we have Interlinked, and the subjects of pain and dying. Here there are more long passages, stretching out in delicate and gentle notes reflecting the sorrow. The track seems to simultaneously get heavier, while also lighter as it develops, aided partially Isis Lambiel's additional vocals. Peaceful acoustics follow the crescendo for a tender outro as they slowly get replaced by waves breaking upon the shore.

From the first notes I was hooked, a masterpiece of textures and emotion moulded into a superb piece of music that is best taken as a whole. For any fans of melancholia and post-metal, this should be in your collection. Fans of everything from Mogwai or Alcest to Solstafir even darker bands like Ellende or Møl would likely enjoy this, or at least appreciate the beauty carved in the despair.

Eamon The Destroyer — We'll Be Piranhas

UK
2023
42:50
Eamon The Destroyer - We'll Be Piranhas
The Choirmaster (4:56), Rope (5:27), Sonny Said (5:22), Underscoring The Blues (3:41), We'll Be Piranhas (4:28), A Pewter Wolf (4:54), A Call Coming (4:18), My Stars (9:44)
7
Calum Gibson

Eamon The Destroyer have come to the musical world from Bearsuit Records, an independent label based in Edinburgh. Having various descriptions such as “noise merchant”, “best bizarre music you'll hear” and “sharing magic mushroom soup with Ivor Cutler”, the album promises to be, at the very least, an interesting experience.

Well, it certainly is an intriguing and captivating performance. Skirting through numerous styles, the album is basically a 40-minute showcase of genre fluidity. Dancing between folk-ish elements, before electronica takes over. But soon after, this has given way to quite progressive rock and even some punk elements. It is disquieting, emotive, ambient, jarring and poetic all at the same time. Some of it, such as Sonny Said reminds me of the likes of Nick Cave with its dark and poetic style and gritty, whispered vocals being somewhere between sung and spoken.

The album is filled with experimental undertones, from the glitchy, electronic start of The Choirmaster, to the unexpected disharmony at the end of Sonny Said and the “Pink Floyd meets Prodigy of Underscoring The Blues. It feels chaotic but with each area of chaos tethered to an unsaid anchor point. But it is all unsettling and disjointed in a truly captivating way.

In truth, the whole collection is difficult to describe and put into words. There is no structure, but it doesn't feel out of control, despite having little coherence between each passage and movement. Some areas are filled with unconventional drums and keys, while others are gentle pieces of calming vibrations, such as A Pewter Wolf.

While this isn't an album that will get a spin often, I suspect it is the sort of album that just hovers at the edge of your mind, occasionally filling you with an unstoppable desire to experience it again.

If you are a fan of irreverence, and surreal entertainment then I would suggest you have a listen. It reminds me a bit of Ivor Cutler's work, mixed with some early Pink Floyd, and a slight touch of Monty Python and The Magic Roundabout.

Methexis — Potential Deltas

Greece
2024
44:38
Methexis - Potential Deltas
Φωλίά (4:54), Starting Anew (5:02), You Want to Know (3:45), A Farewell Kiss (6:48), Emotive Elevator (2:00), Χορóς (6:26), Μέθεξίς (4:19), Μοίρολοί (11:24)
5
Sergey Nikulichev

Potential Deltas is the fourth album by a Greek one-man band Methexis, released after a lengthy silence clocking at half-a-decade. The previous two efforts received high praises from Andrew and Jan, and I shall (humbly) stand by them on these. Nikitas Kissonas, the man “pulling the stings”, was doing a truly marvelous job which, in my eyes / ears, put him on the same level with such bands as Isildur's Bane, Regal Worm and Seven Impale — delivering very genre-defying, forward-thinking and original material, neither too avant-garde, nor too conservative, with more creative twists and turns than some prog bands have for the duration of their career. I especially loved the project's debut, The Fall of Bliss, but the subsequent ones also have the considerable depth and taste. Hence, I was looking forward to get acquainted with the long-awaited follow-up. Sadly, the reality and expectations didn't link this time.

The AI-generated cover art for Deltas raised some questions already, but it was the creative turn of music itself that Nikitas took, that put me off. Instead of polyphonic themes and out-of-the-box ideas featured on previous releases, the first five tracks of the fresh output were styled as quirky avant-techno-pop with incrustations of Greek ethnic motives, eschewing all traces of melody and featuring (deliberately?) annoying singing. Okay, that was baffling enough, and I find myself now wanting “back to the box, please”. Compared to Topos, the first part of Deltas is literally what Duke / Abacab period is to Trick / Wuthering in Genesis' history (and I must confess I hate Abacab with a passion).

Second part, with track titles in Greek, have a somewhat redeeming quality and serve the reason why my final rating isn't lower. Here the ethnic concepts take the central stage, with winds, string instruments and percussion. Compositions are made in non-traditional (i.e. non-Western) scales and are moody, dark and sinister, especially the closing Μοίρολοί, bordering at inventing the term “Mediterranean dark folk”. While the music is, again, not to everyone's ears, it treads the path less taken, and for this already should be noted.

It could be that Potential Deltas should be regarded as a masterpiece of misanthropic irony. But in all honesty I have no desire to approach this music in a non-penetrable suit of post-modernist worldview while I sincerely failed to actually enjoy the contents.

If you are new to Nikitas' music, run and pick any of the first three (top-notch) releases. I am left with a sorry feeling that this record – instead of telling me something – only pretends at doing so.

Regna — Cinema

Spain
2023
47:23
Regna - Cinema
Opening Credits (0:58), Return to... (6:30), Spyglass (8:16), Tangent (8:38), Dramatis Personae (1:31), Accolade (20:27); hidden CD bonus track: Curtains (1:04)
9
Jan Buddenberg

For well over a decade now DPRP have yearly published a writers' Top 10 list feature in the final weeks of December. With the year not fully over this can be considered a slightly "dangerous" affair, because in a roughly two-week period a lot can still happen. It won't be the first time a perfect musical stocking gift is released right before Christmas. Right? In this context, Regna's Cinema release on the 22nd of December is cutting it seriously fine, and as excellent late runner-up makes a desperate plea to postpone these publications well into January of the new year!

In this particular case it would not have changed much, because I actually discovered the band — comprising Alejandro Domínguez (guitar), Arturo García (bass), Miquel González (keys), Marc Illa (vocals), Eric Lavado (drums), and Xavier Martínez (guitar) — just a few days prior to February's Bandcamp Friday. I'm sure glad I did though, because their debut Cinema, follow-up to the 2015 EP release of Meridian which in all my enthusiasm I unintentionally awarded a second DPRP review, is a most excellent affair.

Not a concept as such, the album is conceived as a musical arch of two hemispheres that, as the album proceeds, unfolds common threads like fear, loneliness and the need of having an emotional shelter (and its posterior collapse). An array of emotions perfectly captured by the pleasantly voiced Illa, who compared to his achievements on Meridian showcases a fine melodic growth and gained strength in melancholic expressiveness. With tightness of interplay and easy approachable complexities of arrangements that seamlessly shift in mood and atmosphere the same also applies to his instrumental companions whilst they take listeners to the movies.

Dimming the lights in Opening Credits with a short engaging overture in Jon Lord (Deep Purple) style, it is in Return to... that Regna most excellently open curtains with calm musings and slowly intensifying retro-prog, which through vintage atmosphere and melodic build up reminds of the Italians Tritop. Returning to musical pleasantries as found on Meridian, this melody laden composition continues to attract with playful subtlety and groovy, jazzy instrumentation. After elements of symphonic prog, it ends with a dainty finale of harmonious key/guitar movements which, inspired by ELP, brings the second Italian flavour to life: Nuova Era.

Hailing from the Barcelona region in Spain themselves, this surprisingly moreish Italian seasoning also comes to the fore in Spyglass when after a key driven passage dynamic melodies blast off into virtuous synth play which most vibrantly cooks up delectable images of PFM. Provided with fine expressive vocal lines and an intricate acoustic entrance that enraptures Neuschwanstein/Genesis feelings, a memory also unlocked through melancholic Mellotron, this delightfully variegated composition might well be my favourite album track.

Closely followed by the successive Tangent which, next to complicated time signatures and liveliness in performance, delivers Wishbone Ash like twin guitars and harmonious arrangements that ideally remind of Mental Fracture. Complemented by an omnipresent touch of ELP keys and jazzy elements that hint at Yes, this wonderfully construed composition follows through with beautifully subdued interpretations. It concludes with an intensifying run of recurring motifs entrusted with zestful all around performances.

Placed between the weeping flute-like Mellotron in Dramatis Personae and Curtain's short acoustical post-script, provided one listens to the mandatory CD version, we find the impressive epic Accolade. Worth the price of admission alone and fully deserving of the title's credential, this marvellous suite begins with a lengthy 70s inspired prelude of graciously swaying Canterbury melodies akin to Greenslade. To then with compelling ease and captivating comfort effortlessly alternate soothing vocal passages with delightfully directed uptempo key-driven prog movements that, spotlighted by great guitar work and outstanding unison in play, energetically traverse towards a massively enjoyable instrumental section in which Regna pull out all the stops. A final return of themes and classical piano embraced by tangible vocal emotions soothingly rounds off this majestic composition.

Oozing potential from all their musical pours, Cinema is still growing on me and proves to be a highly rewarding and hugely pleasurable experience. Strengthened by skilful performances it most confidently carry the celebrated progressive past into the joyfully exciting new. And I, for one, look forward in hearing what their future holds.

If you're a fan of 70s-inspired, vintage Italian resonating, progressive rock then surrender yourself for the experience and make sure to check this outstanding and highly recommendable effort out. Pick up a beautiful physical copy in support while you're at it. In the meantime, I'll write an appeal for their sophomore album to be released much earlier in the year, so it can be included in future year lists. Agreed? Marvellous! Well done!

Tanshuman Das — Progress Report

India
2024
70:51
Tanshuman Das - Progress Report
Battle Theme (0:56), Machine (7:05), Scarlet (8:04), Fearless Leader (4:01), Sahara Desert (5:34), ERISED (7:22), Enceladus (1:25), Final Price For Life (7:30), Dependium (9:52), Reflections (10:02), Subject To Interpretation (3:09), The Changing Zeitgeist (5:52)
8
Thomas Otten

Before even saying a word about the music on this album, one thing is quite clear: being a prog rock act from India, Tanshuman Das seems to be almost alone in the hallway. If one buys into the statistics of "Progressive rock and related bands/artists" from progarchives.com (of which I can't really assess whether they are exhaustive or not), there are 16 names listed for India, besides Tanshuman. With an estimated population of around 1,430 billion people, 17 is not a lot. Iceland, with its approx. 0,35 million inhabitants, has 19 names in the same statistics. Admittedly, this comparison may be a little off. The music culture is quite different in India compared to Europe, and it probably is more difficult to capture every prog band and to have it included in a list in such a vast and hugely populated country like India.

Whatever the case, the musician Tanshuman Das, a bass player, composer, and producer, based in Nodia, belongs to a rare musical species when it comes to his geographical origins. With respect to what one hears on this release, he is more "mainstream" (connoted positively), being deeply rooted in the progressive metal segment of prog rock. The lyrics, which are based around concepts within the world of games and virtual reality, also express Tanshuman's passion for gaming, in addition to the one for music.

Not having ever heard of this musician before, it was sheer curiosity to find out how "Indian-influenced" prog metal would sound like that drew my attention to this release, and, well, the mention of Derek Sherinian, ex-keyboarder of Dream Theater as guest musician on the track Reflections must have had its stake in it as well.

As indicated on Bandcamp, besides Tanshuman, his (current?) band (project?) consists of (seems to include?) Toxic Teddy (guitars), Spencer Garrison (vocals), and Siddhant Boruah (drums). Besides Derek Sherinian, Leonard Roth of the Austrian prog outfit Their Dogs Were Astronauts also acts as guest musician on keyboards. Spotify mentions many more and different names of musicians active on the various tracks. My guess is that Progress Report, the songs on which were written over a period of more than 10 years, is more of a project kind, involving music friends and companions, while the live performances are done by Progress Report, the band Tanshuman Das created last year (again with some other musicians) to bring his songs onto stage. The fact that close to no information on the web exists besides a Facebook page, which I deemed to be rather unsubstantial at that, does not really shed much light on these line-up issues.

But let us turn to the music on Progress Report. With an album title like this and a time span of 10 years of writing the songs, the assumption is obvious that this album is meant to report on the progress that Tanshuman has made during his musical career. However, I would need to know whether these songs were placed on the album in chronological order of their creation (from older to more recent or vice-versa). Not having a clue whether that is the case, for me, the "progress" made consists of Tanshuman's ability to display and meticulously blend various elements of progressive metal.

Unlike some other bands, such as Myrath from Tunisia or Orphaned Land from Israel, whose music incorporates elements of their respective ethnic heritage, Tanshuman Das' music only very occasionally allows one to draw the conclusion that its protagonist is of Indian provenance. The only track which shows Tanshuman's origin is ERISED ("desire" read backwards), which, with its English and Sanskrit lyrics, touches on the topic of the ultimate liberation — to be free from all desires.

The other tracks put different styles of progressive metal into the foreground respectively. They incorporate virtuous, djent-driven tracks with lush keyboards and complex rhythms in Machine, and Fearless Leader, reminiscent of peers such as TesseracT, Devin Townsend, and Animals As Leaders. Additionally, we have the melodic, accessible prog metal of bands such as Vanden Plas, and Threshold in Scarlet. And there also is the music on Final Price For Life, comparable to what one would expect from the harder parts of Sylvan, and Pendragon, bands which mainly are active in classic and neo-progressive rock. Plus there are elements of heavy prog on The Changing Zeitgeist, as played by For All We Know. Finally, what would this album be without tracks like Dependium (great short jazz-rock piano solo in the middle!), and Reflections, both tributes by the self-confessed "Dream Theater fanboy" Tanshuman Das to his idols: pure prog metal with great soloing of guitars, and keyboards, plenty of twist and turns and many catchy hooks.

The rhythm section, especially the bass guitar (no wonder) is very present, but I would not go as far as assigning them the role of lead instrument, which is clearly taken by the guitar. But the keyboards (played by Leonard?) also get plenty of opportunities to contribute depth, and variety to the music. Accessibility, excellent musical abilities, catchiness, and variety are elements that run like a common thread through the entire album. That provides for "easy listening" despite the music being ambitious and challenging.

No, I cannot report that much progress on my learning curve with respect to knowing "Indian sounding" progressive metal, having listened to this release. But it gave me an excellent round-up of various genres of progressive metal and therefore is recommended to listeners wishing to get a sort of "compendium" of this type of prog as an introduction. I look forward to what comes next from Tanshuman Das, but also to him marketing his music intensively.

Album Reviews