To start with by ending a fusty discussion: the band's name is exceptional. Yes, so is their music. Period.
To be honest I was very afraid at first, maybe a feeling that you are familiar with. If you have a band that creates an album that you absolutely adore - no, let me rephrase that: you feel that the album is the best that this band is ever going to be able to produce - when they announce the next one you have built up such a high expectation for it that you think "Shall I dare to listen to this new album or not?" as you are afraid that it will fall short, that it will disappoint you, and the band that you once adored will fade away.
Yes, I was afraid as hell with this album. Its predecessor Truth Button did not only get a DPRP recommendation (as have several other KingBathmat albums) but it was one of my most spinned records in the last half year as well.
And then the new album turns out to be even better!
So, KingBathmat can make a new album better than the previous one, that was already excellent, again and again. The music is still unrestrained, more complex but not tiring, needing several spins to understand, and the lyrical content and meaning comes straight from the heart. At the same time it is an album that makes you love it at first listen.
There are only six tracks and I can't give you a best song because all are different and mystically perfect. You can have a taste of the opening song Sentinel here:
Skip to the conclusion if you get the idea already and want to investigate for yourself or you can read the rest of this review for some further details.
"The 6 tracks on 'Overcoming The Monster' deal with the themes of psychological obstacles (monsters of the mind) that are manufactured in our thoughts, both internally through our insecurities, externally by the outside influence of others and collectively through the mass media which uses fear as a tool to manipulate our perceptions. 'Overcoming The Monster' addresses the need to ignore these clandestine forms of control and rise above the illusory obstacles that are placed in our path in order to deliberately block opportunities that are accessible to everybody."
As to the music, Overcoming the Monster is like entering a six part grand adventure. Every song has its own atmosphere and leads you through an exploration to find new and unexpected treasures with exceptional or eccentric musical ideas. And every time you listen, new aspects of the musical adventures are to be found.
To keep somewhat in line with KingBathmat's unusual musical approach I will review the six musical adventures or tracks this album offers backwards. So to start with the end, Kubrick Moon is a lengthy 12 minute song about cinematic influence. With all its delicate and fragile windings, this serene album closer could probably be your ultimate track. Before that Reality Mining is a relatively short track that kicks off with solid drums blending into guitar and (probably Georgiou's) flute that along the line accompanies the vocals in order to let you focus on the lyrics rather than the music at first. It handles the current topic of spying on everybody's communication and unreasonable use of personal information.
Superfluous is a great alternating adventure of both music and lyrics, sometimes even defying singing along. The use of all instrumentation, both apart and merged together, is hugely impressive. Not being a native English speaker, to me this song is about deliberate miscommunication encouraging people to join the military. Whatever, this track is just awesome. Having said that, the title track, Overcoming the Monster, handles the aspect of how to lose your fears. Again this is an unbelievable musical journey through all areas of the progressive spectrum including the area created exclusively by KingBathmat under the supervision of founder, composer, guitarist and vocalist John Bassett with excellent play by David Georgiou on keyboard, Rob Watts on bass and Bernie Smirnoff on drums.
The second track, Parasomnia, is a special adventurous journey apart from the other songs that I have told you about; a journey within a journey so to say. This is a song that asks, or even urges, to be noticed. It fits to the story of the lyrics exactly - how are you still able to know what reality is? - and is psychedelic as hell. Of course we end with the opening track, Sentinel, and you can find out what that's like by listening to the beautifully made video above.
Don't ever be afraid to listen to a new KingBathmat album. Listening to KingBathmat means joining a progressive adventure of the highest level. With Overcoming the Monster they have added an even more superior thrill ride to their ever expanding and adventurous catalogue. If you like the best possible progressive rock that does not follow the beaten track, this band and this album is what you are looking for. Highly recommended.
Mark Hughes' Review
This year sees the 10th anniversary since the first release under the KingBathmat moniker, whose first tentative steps into the prog world was with the DPRP recommended Son Of A Nun CD. Since that time there have been six albums that showed various developments and explorations both in the music as well as the musicians involved with delivering the songs; the early releases being largely solo outings for main man John Bassett but subsequently evolving into a fully-fledged quartet with bassist Rob Watts, drummer Bernie Smirnoff and keyboardist David Georgiou embellishing the songs of guitarist and vocalist Bassett. Only Smirnoff remains from the line-up that recorded last year's Truth Button, another DPRP recommended release and the first that received a duo review, such is the high regard in which the band is held. Indeed, we were to have gone one step further and had planned a round table review for Overcoming The Monster, although some sadly unforeseen circumstances have prevented this.
The sound of KingBathmat is notoriously hard to define, largely because Bassett writes music that is not restricted to any defined parameters, following the direction his muse cares to lead. Indeed, the one constant is the vocals, it obviously being very hard to disguise or alter the sound of the voice. Despite Bassett not possessing the strongest of voices, it is replete with personality and character and is effectively employed with suitable embellishments and supporting backing/harmony lines when appropriate. Although it may not be easy to change the timbre of one's voice, it is possible to deliver guitar performances that differ from previous releases. And, it has to be said, there are plenty of guitars on Overcoming The Monster, frequently layers of them. This is most notable on the excellent Superfluous which is also the song where the contributions of Georgiou come to the fore. But back to the guitars for a moment and the beginning of the album, where Sentinel sets things rocking with complete abandon; without doubt the heaviest that the band have ever sounded. But in true prog style, changes in tone and tempo follow resulting in a great opening number that leads the listener through many moods and some extremely good guitar soloing; one would think that there are three different guitarists in the band based on the textures and styles.
In keeping with the last album, the majority of the songs on this latest release are of a lengthy nature. This has undoubtedly come about from the development of Bassett as a songwriter; his earlier material was almost all three- or four-minute ditties and it wasn't until 2005's third album, Fantastic Freak Show Carnival, that the first tentative steps at writing an extended piece, the eleven and a half minute Soul Searching Song were presented to the listening public. Good as that song is, compositionally it was somewhat naive and did tend to portray some obvious influences. In contrast, no such accusations could be laid on the material on this latest album, where the songs naturally fill the running time and contain no superfluous baggage; Parasomnia being one title that any number of more prominent bands would feel somewhat smug at having written.
Although not a concept album per se, the album does have a consistent theme of:
psychological obstacles (monsters of the mind) that are manufactured in our thoughts, both internally through our insecurities, externally by the outside influence of others and collectively through the mass media which uses fear as a tool to manipulate our perceptions.
However, it has to be said that the thematic relationship to the songs are probably more evident to the band than the listener, although studying the lyrics, not available to the author at time of writing, might make the connections more evident. Still, I do believe that all art should be open to individual interpretation irrespective of what the originator's intent was and, indeed, should be able to be enjoyed on a somewhat more superficial level (which is not meant as detrimental to the composer or the listener!) Case in point, Kubrick Moon, which from even the most cursory listen to the lyrics refers to the cinematographer Stanley Kubrick. I am sure there is a strong lyrical connection between the subject of the title and the theme of the album and I have no doubt that the words are erudite and insightful, but no one ever buys an album because of the lyrics! The music comes first. No doubt at some point in the future I will listen with more intent to the lyrics but I particularly want to avoid the potential of coming over all pretentious by discussing lyrical interpretations, knowing full well that some people are not that interested in, or have a more limited understanding of, the words. This is not to dismiss lyrics at a single sweep, to me they are an essential component of a song and my admiration for Peter Hammill and even Peter Nicholls as excellent and interesting lyric writers knows no bounds. But it is the music that decides if an album will be latched on to and fortunately, Overcoming the Monster and, to take us back to where this little diversion started, in particular Kubrick Moon, comes up trumps.
Five of the previous KingBathmat albums have garnered a 'recommended' rosette from DPRP; Overcoming The Monster brings the total to six.
"I have a great reluctance to categorise the style of the songs as it would do nothing but demean them. Are they pop? Rock? Progressive? Well yes, and no, they contain elements of all of these categories but don't fit neatly into any of them...Do yourself a favour and get yourself a copy."
"With a whole host of interesting sounds spread across the eight songs, the album has a lot going for it...However, I don't think it quite stands up in comparison with previous albums released under the KingBathmat name."
Tracklist:Almost I (6:37), Almost II (3:12), Not A Good Sign (7:54), Making Stills (6:43), Witchcraft By A Picture (7:37), Coming Back Home (5:52), Flow On (6:07), The Deafening Sound Of The Moon (4:33), Afraid To Ask (3:08)
Following on from my interview (which can be found Here) with the prime movers behind this coming together of some of Italy's leading exponents of modern progressive rock it seems only natural that the album should now fall under my critical gaze. To say I had been looking forward to hearing this album would be an understatement. The tasters put up on the group's Facebook page were enough to send my ragbag collection of progressively inclined synapses into an electrical frenzy!
I am more than pleased to report that the album does not disappoint. Formed around Paolo "Ske" Botta and Francesco Zago of alt-prog magicians Yugen, their keyboards and guitars respectively are here joined by Alessio Calandriello on vocals and Gabriele Guidi Colombi on electric bass from fine retro-proggers La Coscienza Di Zeno (review of their new album Sensitivita to come). Completing the line up are the drums of Martino Malacrida.
Blasting off with the instrumental Almost I, we are instantly pummelled by high calibre heavy prog, that references '90s Swedish trailblazers Anekdoten and Änglagård, but given an indelible stamp of uniqueness that forges the Not A Good Sign sound-brand from the off.
Of the guest appearances, most instantly striking are the bell-like vocal chimes of North Sea Radio Orchestra's Sharron Fortnam on Witchcraft By A Picture, the lyrics to which are from the poem by John Donne. They serve to transport the tune from a land of dark heavy menace into a mythical vista of wistful swirling mists; a truly epic arrangement that seamlessly changes time signatures and structure without a hint of contrivance or pretence. Utterly lovely!
The other guests make their contributions as part of the ensemble on some of the tracks, with cello and piano from Bianca Fervidi and Maurizio Fasoli respectively, and both contributions add to the warmth of the music.
The lyrics have been written by Francesco, a string to his bow that I was previously unaware of. His words, written in English, are coming from a dark place indeed. I recently read a definition of the word "Eigengrau" as being the shade of black the human eye sees in complete darkness, and that would seem to fit the title track, sung frantically and straining by Alessio:
Better shutting oneself in
Than blowing up
And killing someone
Not a good sign indeed, from a song that appears initially and on the surface at least, to be about an imminent car crash, but could equally be a summation of frustrations and mental breakdown. All this is played out on top of a sometimes Crimsoid heavy menace, Francesco's riffs crashing around like jack-knifing articulated trucks. I love it, of course, but you probably knew that.
Alessio's vocals are put through their paces, and he shows a formidable range and power. As the lyrics are reproduced in the booklet, Alessio's idiosyncratic English pronunciation is thankfully not the problem it might have been without that help.
We need to calm down a bit after that and the wonderfully nostalgic keyboard-led instrumental Making Stills, written by Paolo, perfectly serves that purpose. Not that there are any low points on this fabulous record, but the trio of songs Not A Good Sign, Making Stills and Witchcraft By A Picture form the high watermark of the album for me.
"Making stills" is what Paolo does in his other and hopefully better paid guise as a graphic designer, and his enigmatic and dimly lit photography in the booklet fits the themes of the record to a tee. The artwork extends to the CD itself which is looking up through the bottom of a part-filled glass, darkly. All very professionally put together.
Despite its optimistic title, and the enthusiastic and excited manner of the initial vocal delivery, and indeed, the general "up" manner of the tune, Coming Back Home is a song of quiet despair. In a quite clever contrast, the over-reaching melancholy is slowly hinted at musically as the tune progresses, as summer fades into autumn and down into long dark nights of the soul. Even the Genesis synth reference at the end only prompts a wry smile in me, rather than the usual grimace, for I am in a forgiving mood.
This a beast of an album, there's even a song about giving in to Faustian pacts, which by the time it rolls around, you kind of expect anyway. That song, The Deafening Sound Of The Moon also wins the prize for best song title I have seen for some time! Plucking passing ethereal wisps from still resonating strands of Area, VdGG and all sorts of '70s heavy prog, the song shows what can be done when ancient influences are used to make something, if not entirely new, then at least fresh and exciting.
Afraid To Ask, another instrumental from Paolo, ends the album, and it is not that far atmospherically from the sublime Cloudscape on Yugen's Iridule album, and there's nothing wrong with that at all in my book.
If you only buy one new heavy prog album this year, buy this. You will not be disappointed. Another contender for album of the year in my book!
Tracklist:Roaming (3:31), Battle with the Man from Mars (4:01), Warped (2:18), Turn Away (3:46), Lost Kingdom (4:45), From the Shadows (3:17), Sea of Smiles (7:34), The Moonlight Banquet (5:27)
Leeds based multi-instrumentalist and renaissance man Chris Wade is better known as the songwriter behind the highly acclaimed Dodson and Fogg folk rock project which has, for me, been one of the biggest discoveries of the last 12 months. Here he goes leftfield on us, presenting a totally different facet to his songwriting as a diversion before the release of the next Dodson and Fogg album, Sounds of Day and Night.
The eight diverse instrumental pieces on Moonlight Banquet fall outside his usual Dodson and Fogg sound with a definite early '70s prog vibe to the album.
Performed entirely by Chris, this album takes the moody and atmospheric songwriting that is the Dodson and Fogg signature sound and then expands the instrumentation, from the hauntingly wistful Roaming to the mesmerising Turn Away where the gently seductive guitar is joined by an almost Floyd-ian keyboard riff and gently layered fuzzy guitar solo to create a pastoral, driving piece that could have fallen off any Mike Oldfield album from the '70s.
This album showcases more of Chris' great (and underrated) guitar playing which holds the whole album together, particularly where he plugs it in and riffs away to his heart's content, like on Lost Kingdom where he accompanies himself with some truly haunting keyboard work.
Chris really pushes the boat out on the uncluttered 7+ minute epic Sea of Smiles where the languorous guitar, with synths bubbling underneath, builds into a wild burst that sounds like it's going to escape from your speakers at any moment.
The sound here is fuller and more widescreen than his Dodson and Fogg albums, the counterpoints of keyboard and guitar working really well here with the bigger sound showcasing Chris' superb guitar skills. The unfussy retro production works well with Chris' compositions which don't sound like they'd be out of place in the late '60s or early '70s. In fact, if you didn't know better you'd think this was a long lost cult classic from one of the progressive labels like Harvest or Dawn that Esoteric Recordings had dug out and reissued.
This is more than an eclectic diversion, this an interesting and subtle collection of instrumental music, which you will love if you're a fan of Mike Oldfield, and is more proof, if proof were needed, of Wade's versatility as a songwriter. With this being his third album in less than 12 months - he is particularly prolific at the moment - and having heard the forthcoming Sounds of Day and Night it is exciting to listen to a great songwriter who is mastering his craft and evolving album after album.
Tracklist:Bethlehem (8:28), The Hollow Hills (Starry Heart) (6:47), Sunset Hypnos (5:23), Fuchsia (2:37), Oak Machine (8:01), Thirteen (6:54), Beneath A Woodland Moon (4:40), Portrait (10:56)
Leafblade is a collaboration between Anathema's Daniel Cavanagh and poet, actor and musician Sean Jude. Daniel is quite happy to give centre stage in this project to Sean, whom he refers to as "...amongst the greatest talents he has ever met, let alone worked with." High praise indeed, and a lot to live up to.
The central tenet of this album is Sean's poetry which constitutes the lyrics. I say "poetry" as it seems to be underselling Sean's writings were I to describe them merely as lyrics. There is far, far too much contained within his writing to even begin to do it justice in a mere album review, so you'll just have to read it for yourself, but of course I cannot resist taking up the challenge, nonetheless, so here goes!
The album booklet is introduced with a quote from Renaissance polymath and occultist Parcelus that sets the tone:
"Man is not body.
The heart, the spirit, is man...an entire star...perfect in his heart.
Nothing in the whole light of Nature is hidden from him...The first step in the operation
of these sciences is this: to beget the spirit from the inner firmament by means of the
And imagination is something Sean possesses in vast quantity. All but two of the songs are introduced in the booklet with quotations from Sean's poems over the years, and an atmosphere is wrought of wonderment at Nature in all its glory; sometimes majestical, sometimes mystical, sometimes beyond our understanding.
This from The Hollow Hills...
"I've ran with the wind now
I've danced with the stream
I've listened to mountains
The depths of the dream."
...puts it simply, but there are many more intricate examples hidden away in these songs for our delectation. This from Thirteen, a hymnal to numerology in awe of the majesty of the firmament. My, I think the literary muse is seeping though!
"What a thrill, Euclidian joy,
A portrait in the stars
If Thirteen Great Bears raged,
Dicing up to shards."
You can see from those quotes and from the song titles that the album's themes are bound up in the natural and heavenly worlds, and Sean's writing encapsulates a love and respect of the metaphysical. Where Sean's prose may look pretentious in stark print, trust me, on the album it does not come across that way at all, and the reason for that is the music that backs it.
"Ah! The music, I was wondering when you'd get round to that", I can almost hear you thinking. Daniel plays electric and acoustic guitars, the former understated, but delivering conventional riffs to balance out Sean's rustic and sometimes ancient tones from his classical and acoustic guitars. Daniel also contributes bass and keyboards with drums provided by Daniel's Anathema colleague Daniel Cardoso. Daniel Cavanagh also produced the album, aided by long-time colleague Kevin Murphy, who also contributes bass guitar on some songs.
The music is by turns fragile and majestic, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the closing track Portrait. A simple acoustic refrain perfectly complements the wandering "through the twisted woods" of the lyric, accompanying an underlying air of oneness with the surroundings, as intricate singing in the round cleverly mirrors those same gnarled and entwined tree trunks.
You can sense the song building into a celebration, and then Daniel enters stage centre with another understated stentorian riff, mixed low enough so as not to drown the song in bombast, which would have been an easy trap to fall into. A nice piece of production skill in evidence, I'd say. The keyboards swirl atop the guitar, and we eventually return to Sean's nylon string acoustic as he asks us to "Laugh with me, by the Midsummer Sun" and the song ends with the kiss of a whisper. Lovely stuff!
The way this review has panned out, I've spent far more time on the lyrics than the music, which probably does not do the latter justice, but I cannot recall having read better words in a lyric booklet this year.
If you dig Anathema (obviously), Big Big Train, Autumn Chorus and wistful English prog seen through a kaleidoscope of gently rolling forested hills and mysterious star-filled nights shrouded in mists, then this lovely and lovingly crafted album is for you.
"A very enjoyable listen, laid back and mellow but never boring, there is much imagination to be had here. The structure of each piece is thoughtful and rings every last drop of beauty out of the crisp and clear acoustic guitars with other instruments employed sparingly to increase their impact. Highly recommended."
Tracklist:Suburbia (1:00), Oracle (5:48), Terra Forma (3:42), World In Progress (4:23), Perspective Part A - Utopia (1:38), Perspective Part B - Reality (2:46), Perspective Part C - Critical Mass (4:07), Asylum (3:54), Adrian (3:41), Analysis (4:28), 301.81 (3:02), Comfort Zone (5:55)
Nem-Q are Paul Sieben (vocals & guitars), Mark Reijven (guitars), Henri Van Zeist (bass), Dennis Renders (Keyboards, samples & backing vocals), and Twain Bakker (drums, percussion, samples & additional guitars). From the Netherlands, the band formed in 2004 and released Opportunities Of Tomorrow in 2007, recorded with former drummer Paul Van Limbeek, to some good reviews. In 2008 with a new drummer the band settled down to write their next album which took some time, 301.81 finally being released in September 2012. The album was also produced by Twain Bakker.
The new album is a concept album which tells the story of Adrian who suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder (the title of the album being the medical diagnostic term). As much as they try to prevent Adrian from slipping away into his own world, he does and the songs take you into his dreams; a world into which he gets more and more immersed, telling you his thoughts and taking you through his delusions, rising through sometimes aggressive outbursts and eventually turning full circle. The album artwork features photos taken at an abandoned mental institution which also adds to the feel of the concept.
The album opens with a short instrumental sounding like a heartbeat before we are thrust into music with plenty of variation. 301.81 has it all from jazz fusion, prog rock, metal, spoken word and even pop, the heavy theme coming across well and after several listens I found it quite easy to take on board. The album really kicks off for me from the fourth track, World in Progress, where sounds of Nightwish can be heard. The three parted Perspective is a highlight with a nice keyboard opening which nicely progresses as we go through the sections. The guitars and drums are good and I really enjoyed the vocals. Adrian hints at Supertramp and Pink Floyd with numerous spoken parts using vocal effects. Analysis again reminds me of Supertramp - this is how they would possibly sound if they did metal. The title track is an instrumental with nice electrical effects put to music and you can just imagine wires being connected to Adrian to attempt to get into and stop his dreams. This flows into the last song, The Comfort Zone, which sounds very IQ with its building drums, bass and keyboards, the lyrics telling us that we may as well leave Adrian in his dreams and free of pain, so going full circle.
Several bands can be heard as influences on the album; IQ, Marillion, Nightwish, Pendragon and Supertramp spring to mind, but Nem-Q still have their own identity. I found the concept interesting and original and time has been spent getting it right. I enjoyed the different styles, a real mixture of symphonic metal and progressive rock with heavy guitar riffs. The album is well recorded with some nice effects and the use of different voices on Adrian is very well done. I look forward to what comes next from a band I can see going from strength to strength.
Tracklist:The Promise (0:51), ICU Juicy Me (4:00), Almost Starlight (1:04), Suddenly (4:16), Little Man (Ditty) (0:45), Sailing On A Dream (6:17), Just A Dream (3:37), The Little Man That Sang (5:42), The Promise (4:05), Starlight (4:58), Sailing On A Dream (Reprise)(1:41) Bonus track:House With No Door (6:33)
You have to be pretty far under the radar in the world of prog to escape being listed on the "ProgWiki" that is Progarchives, but that is the fate that has befallen Canterbury band Gizmo.
Their low profile was probably due to bad timing. Originally formed in Canterbury in 1975 by guitarist, singer and songwriter Dave Radford, the band recorded a single that year which vanished without trace despite some acclaim from the "inkies" of the day. In 1977 Dave assembled a different line up, and after surviving some literally incendiary live shows (see the History page on the band's website), in 1979 they recorded their first album, the somewhat unfortunately titled Just Like Master Bates; the juvenile title possibly inspired by Caravan's schoolboy-sniggersome Cunning Stunts? Although a fine example of the "Kent sound", recording this kind of thing against the musically Stalinist backdrop of the time meant their record getting little promotion and garnering low sales.
At the same time as that first album was recorded, demos for the second, Victims, were laid down. This record eventually came out in 1981 on a small Kent independent label and probably sold even less than ...Bates. Indeed I could not find any reference to it on catalogue database Discogs. Another case of right place, wrong time methinks, and I have yet to hear this elusive second LP.
Despite all this the band built up a loyal local following, and after splitting up and then reforming and splitting again in the '80s, they then regrouped in the early '90s, latterly resulting in a third album consisting of re-recorded old songs, a cover of Caravan's Mr Policeman and some new compositions entitled They're Peeling Onions In The Cellar. Was the cellar in question nine feet underground, perchance?
Then came a long hiatus, and eventually the band reformed again in 2011. Lead guitarist Martin Reed and drummer Nick Milton had coaxed Dave Radford out of a 15 year retirement from making music, and so began the journey to this self-titled album released last year.
The band was dogged by bad luck during and after the writing and recording of this album, with both Dave and Martin suffering serious medical conditions requiring hospitalisation. Rising above these setbacks, they were able to complete the recording and the album was eventually released towards the end of 2012.
This review has turned into something of a feature, but I feel it is needed with a band like this who I would hazard a guess most of you will have previously been unaware of, if their low profile outside of Kent is anything to go by.
And so...after much trial and tribulation, wailing and gnashing of teeth, we arrive at Gizmo by Gizmo. After the nice minor key piano intro of The Promise, ICU Juicy Me kicks off on a suitably but not over-complex motif before Dave gets all punky, and the track comes over as late-period Gentle Giant meets very early XTC for a swift half in a Canterbury tavern of ill-repute.
Dave's songs of love and regret include some nice balladry on Suddenly, which contains some nice subtle guitar work from Martin, who also shows his chops beyond the electric with the all too short acoustic breather Little Man (Ditty). The other players on the album are Alex Powley on bass guitar, Grant Matcham on keyboards, and Ian Harris, who replaced Nick Milton for this recording, on the drums.
The vocal refrain of Sailing On A Dream is naggingly familiar, but I'm afraid the old memory synapses are a bit shot. Is it Supertramp? No matter, it is still a nice song, longing wistfully for times past backed by more delightful acoustic work from Martin.
There are plenty of examples of Gizmo's take on the classic Canterbury sound, and they manage to come up with their own twist, blending Caravan-like passages with some more tricksy elements. Just A Dream is a classic example of this, and this time Martin chips in with a joyful burst of melodic fretwork. The Little Man That Sang goes for a heavier art rock approach and has some firey guitar playing, and wouldn't sound out of place on a Sensational Alex Harvey Band album.
The second part of the album, from The Little Man That Sang onwards, develops an epic quality that puts the whole band through their musical paces, and none of them are found wanting.
Of course, you can't go wrong ending an album with a prog classic, even if, as here, it is listed as a "bonus track". House With No Door from the '90s Van der Graaf Generator tribute album Eyewitness, featuring no lesser talent than the sadly departed Hugh Hopper on bass and some good sax blowing from Tony Rico, is a juicy little morsel with which to end proceedings.
Anyone with a penchant for the classic Canterbury sound, good songwriting and more than capable playing cannot fail to appreciate this album, a triumph of talent and love of one's craft over great personal adversity. One hopes that this rather good album will finally bring this band some much needed attention from a wider audience.
Since writing this review, I have learned of the sad death of guitarist Martin Reed, who lost his long battle against a brain tumour on 11th July 2013.
Martin, from Herne Bay in Kent, first joined the band in 1984 at the time of the first reformation and has been in every incarnation of the band since. Martin last played with the band as recently as 29th June, and this quote from Gizmo's Facebook page posted just after the gig neatly sums up his obvious sense of humour, the love and respect that was mutually shared with his band mates, and also stands as a tribute to his musical ability:
"We are so very proud of Martin for getting up on stage with us and performing, despite feeling like 'shit' due to his illness, and it gave him a huge boost to experience your love and support. Thank you so much, and well done to Martin, as he had a lot of practicing to do prior to the gig, as he has hardly played his guitar for 11 months! He now realises 'What a clever b*****d he was', and so do we, as Brian and Grant had the challenge of working out what notes he actually played during his guitar solos, so that they could fill in for him on keyboards. They did a sensational job, and so did Alex and Dave!"
This album, then, stands as a tribute to a man who will be much missed by his family and friends. Our thoughts here at DPRP are with you all.
Tracklist:Entry (1:29), Force Majeure (5:43), The Mirror (6:00), Doing Just Fine (5:13), Distinction (6:13), Life (5:28), Somewhere Someday (6:33), A Hundred Voices (6:27), The Spanish Prisoner (4:44), After Rain (5:42)
The Brother Ape trio of Stefan Damicolas (guitars, keyboards & vocals), Max Bergman (drums) and Gunnar Maxén (bass & keyboards) have been together for quite some time now, although only trading as Brother Ape since circa 2005 with the release of their debut album, On The Other Side. Since then they have released six albums, but still not managed to fully captivate the progressive rock market. This seemed a little odd to me and as this latest release from the band had languished for a while in our 'unclaimed department', I decided to see if I could unravel the mystery. Reading through previous DPRP reviews and researching other reviews on the internet revealed a varied and sometimes confused picture. Let's listen...
Entry is a brief, not unpleasant, but ultimately fairly dispensable introduction which might have served more had it segued into the next track rather than just sort of faded in and out. Next up is the title track and initially conjured up Ozric Tentacles, with its fairly breezy instrumental techno pop vibe, busy drums, sequenced keyboards and accompanying infectious guitar/keyboard themes. Definitely not what I had expected, although certainly a track that benefitted from being listened to through headphones, or at least centrally to the speakers.
The distinctly modern, upbeat and pop-like vibe continues into track three, The Mirror. It's also our first introduction to the vocals of Stefan Damicolas, who possess a pleasant voice, a good ear for a catchy melody and the ability to add some sweet harmonies. The Mirror ended up as my favourite song from the album and the harmonised guitar/keyboard outro not only stuck in my head from the first run through, but proved to be the turning point on my appreciation of the album. Doing Just Fine once again is immediately a hummable track and the 'whistled' melody line immediately locked in. This is definitely radio friendly music, in fact easy to imagine there being a shorter, 'radio edit' version available.
I'm not overly familiar with the band's earlier output, but by this point I was starting to appreciate why Brother Ape might be struggling to cement their progressive credentials. Certainly with the wealth of notable Swedish progressive bands it is perhaps understandable why these guys have been overlooked. Force Majeure is not an intricate album, however Distinction at least throws them firmly back into the prog market, albeit at the commercial end. Again infectious is the key word here - and this applies across both instrumental and vocal sections. If pressed I'd be inclined to offer Saga or Dutch band Silhouette as a pointers here. Whereas the more upbeat and riffier Life kicks in with the flavour of Rush and sees Bergman and Maxén flowing more fluidly. Rhythmically this is one of the stronger tracks and again as a comparator I might be inclined to suggest fellow Swedes A.C.T here.
As I researched the band's previous output, certain words cropped up to describe their music but there were a few that didn't ring true for this album. Certainly I didn't detect any jazz or fusion and although the band's sound is quite beefy at times, it certainly never entered the progressive metal forum. One genre that didn't appear was '90s era Britpop, however the acoustic guitars and Damicolas vocals on Somewhere Someday and A Hundred Voices certainly made a nod in that direction. Although worth noting that at over six minutes each, both tracks are allowed to develop further than their three minute counterparts.
The Spanish Prisoner also kicks off with acoustic guitar but the whole vibe of the song is distinctly more modern. Album closer, After Rain, is a lush ballad, iPhones waving in the air job! A track that like many others from Force Majeure displays the band's proggier leanings - be it, as here, the mellotron sounds used in the verses, or the Genesis inflected, Ripples-like chorus line, or perhaps the analoguey synth sounds employed.
So did I solve the mystery? Well yes and no. There is no doubting that Brother Ape are fine musicians, good songwriters with a flair for a catchy hookline, which is not a bad thing in my book. Where this album falls down a little is that the music isn't consistent across its fifty minute duration. We've got this dancey, techno groove opening, which didn't set the tone for me, followed by a couple of better, catchy songs. A middle, proggier section, which in turn shifts through 'Britprog', before finishing up with a couple more sing-along tracks. Don't get me wrong, all the tracks are well played and executed, they just lack some cohesive format. It's not ground breaking - not that it needs to be - but as a consequence the music is very safe and I certainly missed the fact that there was nothing challenging. So, not one for your average Magma follower methinks. On a more positive note there's a bright and breezy atmosphere throughout and certainly the production brings out all the detail in the music.
So there we have it and cards on the table - when I started with this review of Brother Ape's Force Majeure, my expectations, based on previous reviews, weren't particularly high. But I'm happy to report that after the first couple of listens I started to appreciate the band and their music. It isn't my usual fayre and under normal circumstances not an album I would have chosen to review, but, I'm glad I did. Certainly an album to check out for those who enjoy their prog with lashings of hooklines and an inkling towards the melodic pop/rock end of the spectrum. There's been a fair few 'radio friendly' prog releases of late and for those who have purchased said albums you would do well to check out this release. The whole album can be heard on the band's Bandcamp website. I'd start with Life or Distinction, but certainly look into The Mirror... love that riff!
"It's all very well played, the vocals fit the music perfectly and the whole thing benefits from a clear production that offers a very open sound, meaning nothing is too cluttered. However I find it all just a little bit stale and safe."