Reviews in this issue:
- Citizen Cain - Skies Darken (Duo Review)
- Astra - The Black Chord
- T2K - Remote Transmissions
- Immram - The Voyage Of The Corvus Corrone
- Strandberg Project – Made In Finland
- Louis De Mieulle – Defense Mechanisms
- Edifice - Arc Mentis
- In The Labyrinth – One Trail To Heaven
- The Boogeymen – The Agnostic’s Book Of The Living Dead [EP]
- Mothlite - Dark Age
Citizen Cain - Skies Darken
Tracklist: The Charnal House (4:57), The Long Sleep (12:25), (i) Darkest Sleep (ii) Manifestations (7:09), Spiders In Undergrowth (3:05), (i) The Hunting Of Johnny Eue (ii) Trapped By Candlelight (11:59), (i) Coming Down (ii) The Fountains Of Sand (iii) Delivered Up For Tea (iv) Death And Rebirth (14:53), Do We Walk In The World? (5:10), Lost In Lonely Ghosts (13:42)
John O'Boyle's Review
Since 1993 East Lothian’s Citizen Cain have released six albums with Skies Darken being the sixth. For me it is quite an event as their last album Playing Dead was released ten years ago, fear not though, it has been well worth the wait.
So what kind of an album has the band unleashed on the prog world ten years later? Well, the first striking thing about the album is the Gabriel vocal inflections, (the narrated elements sound like Fish); the second being that this could possibly have been a Genesis album had Gabriel still been with the band and the band had chosen to take a heavier approach; thirdly I love the intelligent orchestration passages that have been used which could have been lifted from the book of Robert John Godfrey, Darkest Sleep/Manifestations being a perfect example of this; fourthly and more importantly is the quality of the music presented throughout, which is just stunning.
The album lyrically has been constructed and referenced around nursery rhymes, an approach that has been built with precision, offering a dark, sinister and atmospheric cinematic portrayal of a world I am not too sure one would want to wander alone. I also love the way the continuity of the music flows, the meter and timbre is to die for, thematically jumping from scene to scene, frameworks to hang their narratives which all equates to storytelling of the highest order.
Throughout, there is symphonic grandeur that is eloquent, powerful and stated, compositional form that really offers ceremonial pomp that will more than feed the satiable appetite of those who love this style. One can’t but help being encompassed in the ethos of the musical ideology, which plays with the listener’s behaviour, emotions and morals, very much like Genesis’ Nursery Cryme. As an album, this could have been the toy that was never taken out of Henry’s Musical Box and for good reason. The disturbing lyrical content doesn’t touch the depths of say Discipline’s The Nursery Year, in all honesty, I don’t think much, if anything does, but the malevolent menacing presentation more than matches it. One can’t but notice that there is a theme running here, but that is the power of this prose and the power of the said subject matter.
From the opener The Charnal House you are left under no illusions about the bands approach, the complex, the heavy and the sedate, a fascinating approach that is beautiful and rewarding, a theme that is levelled throughout. It is the longer passages where this is really noticeable though. You can jump into any part of the album and pick up on what is happening, but it in all honesty the best results are obtained when you start at the entry level, as you travel the path, journeying with those individuals involved empathetically building the bigger picture. Just listening to The Hunting Of Johnny Eue/Trapped By Candlelight, Coming Down/The Fountains Of Sand/Delivered Up For Tea/Death And Rebirth and Lost In Lonely Ghosts, hell even the song titles are scary, confirms this statement.
It may have taken the band ten years to deliver this epic, but it isn’t time wasted. I wait baited breathe to see how this works in the live arena? This is an artistic concept that is very much worth participating in, a familiar and accustomed world that many have worked in and only a few have succeeded. I am glad to say that Citizen Cain is one of those bands and Skies Darken is another album that has made my top five for 2012. This is an album that has “CLASSIC” written all over it.
Geoff Feakes' Review
Since their formation 30 years ago, the road for Citizen Cain has been a rocky one encountering regular personnel changes and the dissolution of their original record label. The one consistent factor through it all has been the intriguingly named Cyrus on bass and vocals. Skies Darken is the bands sixth studio album and their first since Playing Dead released 10 years ago. Fans of that particular album will be heartened to know that the line-up remains intact here with Cyrus joined by Stewart Bell (keyboards, drums) and Phil Allen (guitar, backing vocals).
If you’ve been following the career of Citizen Cain then you’ll almost certainly be aware that they’ve been consistently (and justifiably) compared with Gabriel era Genesis and Fish era Marillion. The most conspicuous connection is Cyrus’ exaggerated vocal style, capturing the same resonant, theatrical tone associated with both Peter Gabriel and Fish. Ironically although Cyrus hails from the same industrial Scottish heartland as the ex-Marillion big man its two Italians that his voice most closely resembles, namely Bernardo Lanzetti of PFM fame and Simone Rossetti from The Watch.
Whist Bell composed all the music for this album Cyrus is responsible for the lyrical content and the original concept. In the CD booklet (designed by Cyrus) he goes to great lengths to explain his thought process and the premise that mankind’s blindness to past mistakes will ultimately lead to its downfall. It’s a sobering thought as reflected in the album title and artwork and although the music likewise has its fair share of dark moments it’s not all doom and gloom. True to the spirit of Genesis and Marillion the music and arrangements are intelligently structured with alternating moods of light and shade. In its heavier moments it has a certain rawness and occasional rough edges that I found particularly endearing bringing early Market Square Heroes Marillion to mind aswell as a young and inspired Spock's Beard circa The Light and Beware Of Darkness albums. In contrast, interludes of tranquil reflection give rise to heights of genuine epic grandeur, an all too rare occurrence in this current musical climate.
Album opener The Charnal House explodes into life in an organ fired instrumental frenzy that’s classic ELP by way of Neal Morse. As the air clears Cyrus’ intelligent wordplay is given a sinister twist with the integration of a children’s nursery rhyme (ala Genesis’ The Musical Box), a ploy he uses throughout the album. Thankfully The Long Sleep doesn’t live up to its name, instead it contrasts a restless, stop-start opening that about a third of the way in gives way to a lyrical vocal melody with pastoral flute and Mellotron strings. Although it lacks a truly memorable hook it ends on a majestic high with a massed chorale finale.
A ghostly synth intro sets the scene for The Hunting Of Johnny Eue, a gothic tale that’s as creepy as anything penned by Edgar Alan Poe or Stephen King. The haunting main theme gives way to a trademark Citizen Cain instrumental section with a busy bass pattern powering a mass of swirling synths. A ray of light appears in the shape of a jangly Steve Rothery style guitar motif seguing into Trapped By Candlelight featuring heavenly counterpoint harmonies bringing Gentle Giant to mind. It takes in an impressively fast and tricky drums and synth workout before returning to the main Johnny Eue theme.
Amongst a wealth of musical set pieces the highlight for me is the four part Coming Down / The Fountains Of Sand / Delivered Up For Tea / Death And Rebirth that fully justifies its near 15 minute length. A succession of orchestral crescendos announces Coming Down, a melancholic song underscored with eerie Mellotron strings and woodwind. The Fountains Of Sand features another stunning bass, drums and synth workout subsiding into a sublime cello and piano ballad. The strikingly beautiful vocal during Delivered Up For Tea is reminiscent of Gabriel’s performance in Genesis’ Visions Of Angels leaving Death And Rebirth to play out in understated fashion with Cyrus’ spoken verse underscored by a choir.
Given the excellence of what’s gone before it would be understandable if the album ran out of steam at this point but Citizen Cain still have a few more tricks up their collective sleeves. Featuring some elegant piano work and a triumphant synth line that echoes Marillion’s Heart Of Lothian, Do We Walk In The World? segues into the powerful Lost In Lonely Ghosts. Bombastic, fuzzed guitar driven punctuations and a soaring orchestral coda provides a suitably uplifting Transatlantic flavoured finale.
With one foot planted in the early 70’s and the other in the 21st century, Citizen Cain skilfully combine old school prog, neo-prog and modern prog into one glorious whole. Slick production values add weight emphasising the contemporary edge in an album that has more twists and turns than the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. In addition to the obvious Genesis / Marillion influences, in the ‘If you like that you’ll love this’ category I would add The Watch, The Enid, IQ and Pendragon.
Astra - The Black Chord
Tracklist: Cocoon (8:43), The Black Chord (14:58), Quake Meat (6:40), Drift (4:37), Bull Torpis (2:55), Barefoot In The Head (9:13)
Astra are a San Diego based outfit who are steadily growing more and more popular within the prog sphere. With The Black Chord, their second album, they continue to increase their fan base, as well as their credibility as musicians. Before hearing this album, I had only vaguely heard of Astra, and had falsely assumed that they were some new Yes-clone band, solely based on the Dean-esque cover of their debut album, The Weirding. However, a couple of months ago, I started seeing articles about the band pop up, as well as reviews of the second album, some going to say that Astra were 'The New Gods of the Genre'.
Naturally, this piqued my interest, and the other reviews seemed to challenge my preconceptions of the group. Sure enough, I found myself picking up the album a few weeks later at my local independent record shop.
The first thing you notice is that Astra have decided to play a little game: 'Let's Pretend It's The Seventies!' Accordingly, the album is the same length as an LP, has a gorgeous 'gatefold' album cover, and the band photos (which are displayed in a quirky geometric fashion) look grainy and dated. Furthermore, the choice of instrumentation on the album suggest nothing later than 1973, with Moogs, Mellotrons and Organs stealing the show frequently. Retro-rock does seem to be coming back into fashion somewhat, and Astra are at the head of this wave, rather like their stable mates Diagonal, who also feature on the Rise Above label. In all honesty, I think this is a fantastic move by the band, as I'm of the general opinion that bands did actually 'sound' better back in the 70s.
Musically, the compositions on this record are confidently progressive, but played in a rather psychedelic way, once again, mirroring Diagonal's approach, although with a touch less acid and with slightly more complex melodic lines. On occasion, this is slightly detrimental: the track Quake Meat begins and ends with a repeating musical phrase that is quite complex, but not actually that 'cool'. We get a sense that the band are merely trying to show off, but the phrase isn't actually that enjoyable, since it is too jerky.
This album is also quite fun for a game of 'Spot The Influences', and among others I have seen blatant allusions to Yes, Pink Floyd, The Doors, King Crimson, Eloy, Camel, The Beatles and even Klaatu. In particular, the heavy guitar riff from King Crimson's The Letters is clearly replicated in an I Want You (She's So Heavy) style ending for Barefoot In The Head. Fun, fun, fun.
On the whole, the tracks are very well structured, so that even the longer pieces like The Black Chord never drag. The band have an aggressive, edgy sound which is sure to keep listeners on their feet. The standout tracks for me are also the longest: the atmospheric instrumental Cocoon, the infectious quarter-hour epic title track, and the influence-ridden Barefoot In The Head.
On the whole I am very impressed with what I have heard here. Astra, like Diagonal, Haken, Steven Wilson and perhaps only a handful of other artists, truly understand how to use hindsight to bring the best progressive music to their audiences in the 21st Century. Their use of 70s instruments, album packaging and general outlook is sure to delight most fans of the genre. The Black Chord is not a flawless album, but a very good one nonetheless.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
T2K - Remote Transmissions
Tracklist: Wallmart Manu (14:02), Evil X (8:39), Noctilucent (3:23), Happy Robot (7:14), MTB Disaster (10:28), Eyes Horizon (3:10), 59 (12:19), Star Linen (12:35)
T2K consist of Kevin Gerety (8 string fretless Warr Guitar and NS 5 string electric upright), Kevin St Clair (Roland V-drums) and Timmy C Pitschka (6 & 7 string guitars and piano) and Remote Transmissions is their debut album.
This is an album that is a find and a half, an album that is full of sonic, spacial, majestic, ethereal beauty; interludes that really seep from the speaker stack. One found the more I increased the volume the more impact the album and recordings had. At a sensible volume the set pieces still had class and substance giving off a different vibe and reaction; such is the power of the instrumentals that have been created here, confirming how good these creations really are.
The main feature here is the Warr guitar, a guitar which has been designed to be played by tapping the strings, very much like a Chapman stick, a guitar that can feature from seven to fifteen strings; a guitar that has an awesome expression when played. For note, to those who still don’t know what I’m talking about Trey Gunn of King Crimson played one on several of his solo albums and on a few King Crimson one’s too.
The album also has inclusions of several differing types of guitars too, something that gives the album the sound that it has. Emotional atmospherics is really the only way for me to describe what’s here and is the order of the day in the construction of all eight instrumentals. It is definitely all about technique and tenacity.
Interestingly, none of the members of the band spent any time in the studio together, the files where just shared between themselves during 2009/2010, isn’t digital technology brilliant, which is the real surprise here, the whole feel presents itself like a well-tuned machine that has been working in unison for years on end. I supposed though, working on the music this way is no different than individuals going into the studio to add their own bits; but what I am trying to say, is that, even when you take this all into consideration it still a stunning proposition.
Whether the trio are experimenting with long complex passages or shorter sedate instrumentals, you are left feeling spiritual, like you have been a participant in something rather unique as the omnipresent notations swirl around the ether, whether you are listening to the expressive Wallmart Manu, Noctilucent or 59 there is just no disappointment.
What more can I say other than that I really love what I am hearing. This is twelve months of these individuals lives that has seriously not been wasted. This has got to be my find of the year. If you like your music to have a slight psychedelic, space rock, jazz infused feel with progressive passages, then this album is a highly exciting prospect that will definitely up your street, making it a must buy.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Immram - The Voyage Of The Corvus Corrone
Tracklist: Novi Orbis (9:02), Dignity (8:27), To Liberty (11:00), Let Us Leave Under The Cover Of Night (5:06), The Voyage Of The Corvus Corrone (10:58), The Edges Of The Map (9:26), Freedom's Song (9:54)
It's not every day there's a release from New Zealand, especially not one as beautiful as this one. A magnificent 64 page, full-colour hardback edition to complement the re-mastered album. The story is that the album contains music from the seventies, extended from its original length with newly discovered out-takes. A cache of documents from the original recording sessions, thought lost, have been restored and expanded upon to create a full immersive experience, so the story goes. This includes new gatefold illustrations for each track, liner notes and lyrics, a full history and appendices. Masterminds behind this whole concept are Paul McLaney (vocals, guitars) and Jeramiah Ross (aka Module - keyboards) who are responsible for the music & the lyrics. Together with Matt Pitt (Redkidone - illustrations and graphics) they created a collector's item.
The atmosphere of the opening track is a bit like Camel's Snowgoose but in this case the sounds of the ocean and breakers is complemented by a ship's horn and floating sounds by Module's keyboards. An echoing guitar joins in and the atmosphere and theme change into a more rhythmic sound with instrumental music comparable to the eighties sound by OMD. The theme of the first part returns for a short while. The sound in Dignity is still very much like easy listening and flowing music - in the style of synthi-pop bands from the eighties mixed with influences from Tangerine Dream from that same early eighties era - as we hear the voice of Paul McLaney for the first time, though only for a short period of time. A beautiful mellow voice, sounding quite a bit like Iva Davies' (Icehouse) vocals. Accompaniment are keyboards and electronic percussion, effects and in the middle, a nice guitar solo. A tempo change and the music begins to sound even more like Tangerine Dream, but also like the instrumental music from Eloy and also very much like P'Cock's first album. Especially because of the sound of the lead-synth.
To Liberty is the third track, gentle flowing music by keyboards and guitar and Paul's vocal. The music builds up nicely with the addition of a synth bass, percussion and more keyboards. Then the guitar takes over the melody and subsequently more sequencing and keyboards. In the last part of the track the music keeps flowing gently but besides keyboards and effects there's nice acoustic guitar, bringing in some 'folk' elements, but the overall sound can be circumscribed as 'ambient'.
In Let Us Leave Under The Cover Of Night some oriental influences because of the way the glockenspiel (samples) are used, before the orchestrations are added and a sequencer brings back the sound of P'Cock once more. In the last part the sounds of the ocean, horses and some keyboards are an introduction to track five: The Voyage Of The Corvus Corrone, so the title track. The same echoing guitar as in the first song, this time with Paul McLaney's vocal. As his voice sounds like a telephone call, the sound changes into his normal voice, keyboards are added and partly the music sounds like Depeche Mode. In the second half of the song there the echoing sound of McLaney's guitar in the vein of The Shadows (yes, the band from the sixties), followed by nice synthesizers in TD style.
Ambient music at the end and right into the next track called The Edges Of The Map. The spacey music by one keyboard and environmental sounds is followed by tasteful instrumental electronic music in the vein of Tangerine Dream (late seventies, early eighties), a melancholic 'ambient' song. Last track is Freedom's Song, also a mellow gently flowing song in the same vein of EM and Paul's tranquillizing vocals.
The book is of an excellent quality with lush illustrations by Matt Pitt and covers the amazing story of this voyage. The most important for prog-fans however would be the music. In my opinion Immram is an exquisite melting-pot of Tangerine Dream, P'Cock, Icehouse and some of the bands from the age of synthi-pop like OMD and Depeche Mode, while there are some passages reminiscent of Steve Hillage and Eloy.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Strandberg Project – Made In Finland
CD: Crossover (6:38), Yes, This Is It! (5:44), It's A Journey (4:43), Past And Present (6:03), T.M And T.M (4:33), Traveller's Tales (5:40), Two Sisters (4:04), The Magician's Departure (3:14), The Truth (5:30)
DVD: Tom’s Nurses (10:43), Dominique (11:04), Undercover (5:04), The Documentary Project (38:46) Bonus Tracks: Talk (5:36), Rainy Day (2:19), One More (6:05)
Without doubt one of the most impressive rhythm partnerships I’ve heard in recent years is that of Jan-Olof Strandberg (bass) and Kimmo Pörsti (drums). They are members of Finnish prog-fusioners Paidarion who impressed me earlier this year with their Behind The Curtains album. Pörsti also fills the drum stool for the excellent Mist Season whose self-titled debut album comes highly recommended. The duo have reunited for Strandberg’s seventh solo album Made In Finland released under the guise of the Strandberg Project. Joining them for this recording are American bassist Michael Manring, keyboardist Kimmo Tapanainen and sax player Risto Salmi (both from Paidarion), plus two guitarists Matias Kupiainen and Petteri Hirvanen. The resulting music alternates moods and tempos although if I had to generalise, melodic fusion instrumentals would be a reasonably apt description.
The album opens in unexpected fashion with the haunting Crossover, reminiscent of one of John Barry’s move themes from the 60’s. The classical guitar strumming, orchestral keys and Manring’s fretless bass all combine to generate the moody atmosphere. The more lively Yes, This Is It! is driven by Strandberg’s prowling 5 string bass whilst It's A Journey is a beautiful piece with Salmi’s shimmering sax and Tapanainen’s delicate piano providing a master class in understated invention. Composed by Pörsti, the gutsy Past And Present is a whole different ball game with Salmi’s sax underlining the memorable central tune and Hirvanen adding some explosive guitar dynamics.
Strandberg’s own T.M And T.M has another strong melodic hook around which the musicians explore instrumental diversions with Tapanainen, Salmi and Strandberg again proving that it doesn’t take volume and showy histrionics to impress. Like It's A Journey, Traveller's Tales is another ambient mood piece with Manring’s fretless and Strandberg’s lead bass both weaving their magic before they up the tempo with the joyful Two Sisters. Here Kupiainen provides the kind of fusion guitar dynamics that John McLaughlin would be proud of.
The Magician's Departure is a mellow (and a tad disappointing) variation of a track from the last Paidarion album with Jaan Jaanson from the band adding guitar and keyboards leaving The Truth to bring proceedings to a tranquil conclusion. Once again the almost telepathic bond that exists between the musicians is quite mesmerising.
The bonus DVD sees Strandberg leading a different, but no less impressive line-up, including Sami Virtanen (guitar), Jukka Gustavson (keyboards) and Rami Eskelinen (drums) for a trio of pieces filmed live in the studio. Again the music is mostly on the mellow, improvisational side although they can kick-up a storm when necessary as the funky Tom’s Nurses testifies. Production values are modest but that doesn’t distract from some fine individual moments like Virtanen’s blistering solo during Dominique and Gustavson’s (of Wigwam fame) noodly organ workout during Undercover.
The centrepiece of the DVD is The Documentary Project featuring Strandberg and Herbie Hancock’s bassist Paul Jackson. Clearly enjoying each other’s company the pair indulge in light hearted conversation as well as performing live on stage and in the studio. To conclude, three bonus tracks sees Strandberg and yet another drummer Niklas Lindholm improvising in the studio.
For those under the illusion that bass guitar virtuosity begins and ends with the Chris Squires of this world then Strandberg’s mastery of the instrument including 4 string, 5 string, 6 string and fretless will come as a revelation. He’s without doubt a musician’s musician and if players like Stanley Clarke, Tony Levin, Trey Gunn and Jonas Reingold float your boat then this album will certainly appeal. He doesn’t do it alone of course with the album title being a pointed reminder that when it comes to fusion Strandberg and friends can comfortably hold their own with their US and UK counterparts.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Louis De Mieulle – Defense Mechanisms
Tracklist: Scapegoat 1 [Projection] (7:32), Scapegoat 2 [Displacement] (4:32), Electric Cell Mutations (7:42), Skuld (6:42), Soundfrieze (7:42), The Ladybug And The Cockchafer (5:55), The Taste Of Filth (11:32), Portrait De Famille (9:09), Solitude (5:28)
A graduate of the National Conservatory Of Paris (classical writing), and the American School (jazz) and finally of the Berklee School Of Music in Boston, USA, Louis De Mieulle is a highly accomplished electric bass player who has also formed his own “jazz-groove” band Soundchaser in France, and worked with Serge Gainsborough’s son Lulu, as well as playing in more mainstream projects to pay the rent.
Defense Mechanisms was recorded in New York in 2011 and is his first album under his own name. Louis is joined by American drummer Matt Garstka who comes from a more rock/fusion based background, and Belgian jazz keyboard player Casimir Liberski, also a graduate of Berklee Music School, and the first thing to notice is that there are no six string guitars on this album, Louis also contributing his own occasional keyboards. I won’t let that put me off too much; after all it was good enough for most of the career of Soft Machine.
Unlike the Canterbury luminaries, Louis and his cohorts have produced an album that is far more jazz based than anything Ratledge and company came up with, being, I would hazard a guess, far more technically competent musicians. That is not to say this is soulless, far from it. Polyrhythmic and complex the piano and bass fire off each other, and fly apart only to come together seamlessly on Skuld (a Norse goddess of destiny apparently) before a display of dazzling virtuosity by Louis on the bass.
Syncopation, arpeggio, and probably many other more obscure musical terms I wouldn’t even attempt to kid you that I have knowledge of feature throughout, and the result is an engaging and sometimes challenging, but always entertaining listen. The notes to Soundfrieze quote a poem by Lautréamont extolling the virtues of mathematics, and the song is built on precise structures that come to conclusions, before extrapolating into infinite and quantum musical corollaries. Is there such a thing as “math-jazz”? I’ve no idea, but it will have you tapping your toe and scratching your head at one and the same time.
The song notes are as esoteric as the music, and The Ladybug And The Cockchafer is introduced with - “Ladybug (piano) teaches a song to Cockchafer (organ). Scarab (bass) intervenes – he’s jealous. The two lovers then proceed with a duet. Cockchafer is so happy that he goes into a generous improvisation. But Skuld underhandedly decides to end all this nonsense.” – which says it at least as well as I could. This one is also my favourite track on the CD, a lovely and complete piece of music. Who needs guitars?
The longest track on the album, Taste The Filth extemporises on a dissonant piano chord sequence, winding its way through a multi-rhythmic labyrinth of stunning complexity, the bass and piano dancing round each other like crazed fireflies. Solo piano in a lounge-jazz mood soothes the mood, the melodic theme maintained by the bass before morphing into a sinuous funky bass passage, presaging the return of dissonance, the piece showing the chops of the ensemble to full effect.
Solitude ends the album with a solo bass improv that dabbles in Indian scales, and is a fitting and calming end to the album. The fact that what is essentially a bass solo lasting for over six minutes can maintain one’s interest is indication of Louis’ high musical capabilities and ear for a melody.
Although definitely not “prog”, and certainly aimed at the jazz market, Defense Mechanisms is certainly intriguing enough to appeal to those of us into the more synapse-stretching end of the prog spectrum, but it is also direct enough to be accessible.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Edifice - Arc Mentis
Tracklist: Verbosity (4:09), Biomachines (4:08), Myelinate (6:21), Open Door (3:48), Reminiscence (6:10), En Passant (2:58), Exodus (5:03)
Hailing from Colorado Springs is this new quartet going by the name of Edifice. Arc Mentis is their debut offering and has been independently produced and promoted.
I’d put this forward with a description of crossover prog-tinged heavy rock in the vein of Tool, but with some inventive twists and turns. The band’s unusual line-up consists of Brendan Brossard (Chapman Stick), Joshua Baumgartner (drums), Ryan Lewis (guitars, and vocals) and Adrian Johnson (violin, cello and programming).
At just over 30-minutes of music, with three instrumentals this is really more of an extended EP than a full album. Thus you may consider that 10 dollars plus postage is relatively pricey. However Arc Mentis has some interesting music on display. We start off with the instrumental Verbosity which displays the band’s strange mixture of influences and grooves plus the fact that the violin and cello are integral, not merely there for decoration.
The following two songs follow a similar line but with the addition of Ryan Lewis’ vocals and lyrics which seem to be on a mystic, futuristic theme. His voice is a little nasally which may be off-putting for some but I quite like it and it certainly matches the music. Open Door is another instrumental, this time with more of an Arabian vibe. I find it rather drudgy and plodding for my tastes, as is the following song, Reminiscence.
One of the problems is that the whole album struggles to give a true sense of the band’s dynamic through the sub standard production. I find the drums at times almost unlistenable.
Passant is a great guitar piece, but just as it starts to build and develop… it just fades away. Rather wasted I feel.
The final song showcases the use of the strings but is again hampered by the poor production and the need for a stronger melodic hook.
Overall the first three tracks display plenty of promise, with some refreshing ideas. The production needs a major uplift next time and the songwriting would I feel benefit from much greater refinement.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
In The Labyrinth – One Trail To Heaven
Tracklist: Lost In The Woods (5:05), Escape From Canaan (4:10), Moorish Rhapsody (4:15), The Garden Of Mysteries II (3:02), Monsoon (2:50), Over The Wall (3:58), Karakoram Waltz (5:10), Muscarin Madness (4:50), Deep Saffron (5:19), Night Of The Baskerville Killer (6:34), The Endless City (3:13), Cities (5:40), Cloudburst (5:23)
In The Labyrinth have been around for some time now and are not your average prog rock band, in fact they are quite unique in what they do. The band is in fact a project of Swedes Peter Lindahl and Hakan Almkvist, who have released three albums since 1994 and One Trail To Heaven can be considered a best of album. It features tracks from all their albums (some in a different version), two unreleased tracks and a cover of Cities by Moody Blues.
Why are they so unique? Because they mix folk music from a lot of different cultures, with progressive rock and singer-songwriter stuff. The two members are both multi instrumentalist who employ a large array of instruments to get the sound they want. They also use a lot of guests on their albums for background vocals, (Lindahl is the main vocalist) and even more ethnic instruments. Next to familiar (prog) rock instruments like guitars, bass, mellotron, samplers and synthezisers instruments like viola da gamba, saz, zither, mandolin, quena, melodion, darbouka, daf, tabla and sitar are used. All these instruments give the music a mix of Gregorian (opener Lost In The Woods with its Dead Can Dance intro), Arabian (Escape From Canaan), Indian/Asian (Over The Wall’ brings Nepal to mind) and Spanish (Moorish Rhapsody) influences. The tracks in which Lindahl sings show a singer-songwriter influence like on the ’Over the Wall’ where his pleasant voice is not unlike George Harrison or James Taylor.
So it is unique, but is it any good? Well, I fear that the album failed to impress me. My main objection is that it is all so nice and pleasant. The sound of the band sometimes comes very close to elevator music. The whole album went by very pleasantly with very few moments where I was surprised or intrigued. Muscarin Madness I liked because of its medieval atmosphere and psychedelic sound. Moorish Rhapsody had some nice upfront electric guitar parts.
Do not get me wrong, the musicianship is very good and they succeed in creating an ethnic atmosphere that is different in every song, whilst still managing to give the album a coherent feel. Often they use percussion rather than a drum set which might explain the lack in dynamics. Lindahl has also a very pleasant voice. The last four tracks do end the album in a good way. Most proggy track is Night Of The Baskerville Killer with its sitar and lengthy guitar solo and reminded me of Mike Oldfield. The Moody Blues cover is also very pleasant with added violin, arch lute and upfront bass. The Endless City sounds quite experimental and Cloudburst is an atmospheric album closer. So it’s not all negative but most of the album passed me by without leaving a lasting impressing.
So to be quite honest I’m a bit confused by this album. I really respect the musicianship and the unique sound they tried to create and sometimes they do manage to grab me, but those moments are really too few to give this album a very positive rating. IMHO the music of In The Labyrinth could have benefitted from a little bit more rough edges and a little less elevator music.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
The Boogeymen – The Agnostic’s Book Of The Living Dead [EP]
Tracklist: Conception (4:28), Birth (2:42), Childhood (2:27), Adolescence (2:32), Adulthood (3:53), Death (3:24)
Hailing from New York, The Boogeymen have been in existence since 2001 and this is their sixth release. Previously a duo comprising Lewis Benko on guitars and noises and Kevin Heckeler on bass and rhythm guitar, this album seems to be the sole effort of Kevin. Who are these two you may well ask, and after an internet trawl I have not managed to find out much other than Kevin has done self-taught production work for Slightly Damned and Dischord, and Lew numbers Mississippi John Hurt, Prokofiev, Cecil Taylor, Captain Beefheart, and Buckethead amongst his favourite artists. A sense of humour there, methinks!
One wonders why did The Boogeymen send what appears to be a 20 minute DIY punk concept album to a prog website? Must have been for a laugh, that’s all I can say. Actually I quite like the cheek of it.
You can guess the concept from the song titles, and the somewhat literal lyrics leave nowt to the imagination: Childhood “Let’s play make believe, wipe our boogers on our sleeves” Adolescence “Why oh why oh why oh why” Adulthood “I’m furiously yearning to be free”.
The music is similarly literal, matching each “age”, so the most punky offering is obviously Adolescence, complete with suitably sneered vocals. The instrumentation is mostly guitar based, with some piano and synths for good measure and occasionally the kind of basic drumming a Ringo on amphetamines would have been proud of, resulting in a noise of the kind that fellow New Yorker Kramer of Bongwater fame might have come up with, but with a more prosaic and workman-like feel.
This mini-album and all their other previous efforts are available for free download from their website, so you’ve got nothing to lose but a few minutes of your life by trying them out. I can’t say they would appeal to prog fans in the slightest and I’m not at all sure why I’m even typing this, so for that reason this oddity is beyond marking.
OK Kevin, you can stop smirking now…:0)
Mothlite - Dark Age
Tracklist: Wounded Lions (5:01), Disappear (4:03), Seeing In The Dark (3:59), The Blood (3:19), Something In The Sky (3:18), The Underneath (5:35), Zebras (3:10), Dreamsinter Nightspore (5:00), Milk (3:56), Dark Age (4:23), Red Rook (5:22)
Mothlite is one of the varied and eclectic groups that Daniel O'Sullivan has a hand in. Amongst his other bands are included Guapo, Æthenor, Sunn O))) and Ulver as well as collaborations with fine artist Serena Korda. With such a vast range of bands, the range of music is obviously quite large with Mothlite holding the flame for what the promotional material calls grandiose gothic-pop euphoria that recall the deepest remnants of 80's sounds.
Being a fully paid up member of the anally retentive geek squad, I have constructed a frequency plot of the year of release of all my CDs and albums and there is a noticeable low point in the eighties. This can be reliably interpreted as my having somewhat of a disdain for that particular musical era which is somewhat unfortunate for O'Sullivan/Mothlite as Dark Age faithfully reproduces those deepest, darkest depths. Not that it is inherently bad, just not to my liking and bearing very little resemblance to anything progressive - at least Kscope have had the decency to invent a new, meaningless, term of 'post progressive'. So what is on offer? Lots and lots of synths, drum machines on every track and not a guitar within human hearing. O'Sullivan has a decent voice and some of the harmonies are pleasant, although the lyrics are not anything to trouble the compilers of modern verse with. There is also a habit for songs to suddenly be interupted by programmed drum breaks or swirls of synths that are rather pointless.
Seeing In The Dark and Something In The Sky borrow heavily from Talk Talk from The Colour Of Spring era but are pale comparisons alongside the original material penned by the greatly missed Mark Hollis. Indeed, it is possible to spot homages to various other bands of the era throughout the album: Zebras and Dreamsinter Nightspore have echoes of Japan, particularly the latter song which manages to break through a lot of the monotony by including a few quirky synth lines. Tubeway Army also float near the surface throughout, as you would no doubt imagine they would.
Although the songs are well enough written and produced, they seem to be more of a tribute to the sounds and styles of the 80s electronic era when acts featuring only synths first came to the attention of the masses, before this you really had to be a fan of German bands such as Tangerine Dream and Kraftwork to be be immersed in the realms of electronic music. So really not an album that hits the spot for me, a pastiche of something that was not all that enjoyable first time round with one or two noteable exceptions. Of the eleven tracks on the album really only Wounded Lions and the aforementioned Dreamsinter Nightspore possessed enough charm to stick in my memory and so Mothlite will not be contributing to the graphical representation of my music collection. Still, if you have any affinity with 80s electronic music you might find something in this album. But whatever that something is, it ain't prog.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10