Tracklist:Kids (2:07), Too Young To Say Goodbye (6:28), Mega Moon (8:21), Barfly (4:47), Red White Blues (5:08), My Little Man (2:55), Diamonds (6:42), Sugar Band (9:37)
It's hard to believe it is already three years since the brilliant Lover's End, the last full studio album by Sweden's Moon Safari, was released, although the band have hardly been idle in the intervening years, what with the live The Gettysburg Address, some well received forays into the live arena and the conclusion of the Lover's End saga with last year's stunningly wonderful Skellefteå Serenade. January of this year saw the sextet - Tobias Lundgren (drums, vocals), Petter Sandström (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Pontus Åkesson (electric and acoustic guitars, vocals), Sebastian Åkesson (organ, percussion, vocals), Johan Westerlund (bass guitar, vocals), Simon Åkesson (lead vocals, grand piano, organ, Moog, choral and orchestral arrangements) - set up in their Black Moon Studios to start work on the recording of the first volume of Himlabacken.
Whereas Lover's End was a reflection on the end of a relationship, Himlabacken is much more focused on the happy nostalgia of childhood - the title itself, literally translated as 'Heaven Hill', refers to a place where five of the group members used to ride their sleighs in winter (drummer Tobias Lundgren hails from a different area of Sweden). These memories are prominent on album opener Kids as the perfectly pitched Moon Safari Choir intone such lyrics as "Where sleds are rushing down the mountainside, side by side the kids all learn to fly". The emphasis on this track is firmly on the vocals, and why not; vocally Moon Safari are the Beach Boys of prog! The musical backing has a strong orchestral flair - if anyone fancied adapting this song for orchestra they wouldn't have a hard job scoring the arrangement.
With the scene firmly set the album really kicks off with Too Young To Say Goodbye and its chorus that is simply to die for! I can barely stand the sound of my speaking voice which is immeasurably preferable to me singing (and to think I used to be head of the school choir...) but it is simply impossible not to want to sing along with this song - even if I have to limit my vocalisations to when I am alone in the car as any attempts to sing at home results in my cat getting very distressed! Impressive guitar solo to boot. Mega Moon, a song about climbing Heaven Hill in order to steal the moon in order to present to a young love, is a wonderfully original number that encompasses a wide variety of styles. The start is a very nice pop song with a jolly vocal line, xylophone-like keyboards and a sweet lyric. Then comes the massed harmonies and just before it runs the risk of becoming rather twee, the big choir comes in playing a role that is vaguely reminiscent of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. In case you fear that the band had forgotten their prog roots, don't worry as next they lapse into a very quirky section that is a distant cousin to Gentle Giant's Spooky Boogie. Wrap all that up with a big ending with lots of keyboards, the fantastic vocals and a joyous and playful air. Boy this is fun!
But it is not all sweetness and light; Barfly is rather darker, particularly lyric-wise - "I got her name on a tattoo, on the same knuckles that I hit the wall". The music does have a bit more venom and menace initially but it does settle down and it has to be said that if any Beatles tribute bands are looking for a new George Harrison then Pontus can pull off 'The Quiet One's sound exceptionally well. Red White Blues is classic Moon safari, with twin acoustic guitars intermingling well towards the beginning while the ending is given over to keyboards and the characteristic swooping guitar. One thing I would dearly love the band to experiment with is more adventurous vocal arrangements, this is not a criticism of what they currently do by any means as I love the harmonies and the clarity of their delivery, but they are all such excellent singers which is why I would like to hear them tackling a more "out there" arrangement as I know they could pull it off. Stuff like David Crosby used to come up with all the time, or maybe even something akin to Gentle Giant in their prime. Of course, this is pure bias as Crosby's If Only I Could Remember My Name is one of my all time favourite albums and On Reflection is, to me, the pinnacle of Giant's achievements. So, a selfish request in many ways but also one of genuine interest as I would really love to hear what they could come up with.
The growing confidence and maturity of the band is exemplified by My Little Man, a love song written by Pontus for his new born son. Simple in the extreme, a sole acoustic guitar, a single voice and Tobias (presumably) on shaken percussion it is a lovely, tender, and heartfelt number that perfectly expresses the unrequited love and delight in childhood innocence in under three minutes. Okay, it isn't likely to become another Yesterday but it is a nice variation in tempo and style, and kudos to the rest of the band for having the collective confidence and maturity to give ostensively a solo number room on the album. Diamonds is the most instrumentally complex number of the album with plenty of 'widdly widdly' bits (as one famous prog keyboard player used to call them), and one that I have found better not to over analyse, just absorbing it as it plays allows a better appreciation of its fine qualities. Reading the lyrics of the final track, Sugar Band, could potentially leave one wondering what on earth is in store as, in isolation, they are certainly open to question. But, in true form, the best is saved for last! Another really strong song where all the elements come together to create something bigger than its component parts. There is a saying in the U.K. relating to exceptional singers, that they could sing the telephone directory and people would still listen. Moon Safari certainly fall into that territory, individually and collectively their voices are just so easy and satisfying to listen to and, as a band, they have somehow managed to come away with an album that one can enjoy in a multitude of situations - an accompaniment to a long drive, in the background during a conversation amongst friends, an isolated, more intense and in depth submersion into the music - in all cases Himlabacken wins through as the perfect choice. What's more, there is a second volume to come.
"It is amazing that a young band could come up with an album of such maturity, that it is their debut makes it all the more impressive. This album has the potential to catch the imagination of a wide cross section of people and yet still remain dear to the progressive rock community."
"...music this good deserves to be heard...A superbly crafted, tuneful and optimistic soundtrack to kick start the New Year."
(Geoff Feakes, 10/10)
"Moon Safari have certainly lived up to the promise of their first two albums and have managed to keep the quality of their recorded work at the highest level...If this is what they achieve from tales of broken hearts, the mind boggles at what they would come up with to accompany happier experiences!
(Mark Hughes, 10/10)
"Perhaps it is all just a little too sweet and a little polished for my tastes..this is a strong release in what is a steadily growing, increasingly and more popular progressive rock market"
"With a great balance between the instruments and voices, the joyous nature of the songs and uplifting magnificence of the harmonies, this is one live recording that is worthy of including in any collection."
"The music is very upbeat with a distinctly Scandinavian feel...drawing on a strong folk music tradition. There is a sunny vibe that is infectious and the whole crowd is pulled in by the universally excellent performances."
Tracklist:Rigor Mortis (7:34), My Freedom (11:58), Lionheart (7:18), Angry Tears (8:55), Vae Victis (6:17), The River Suit (15:57)
"What do you think about music... progressive? What do you think about people... freak?
Uh... I'm afraid... I'm afraid of these so heavy guitars, only vintage synthesizers!
Please, only vintage synthesizers!"
And so opens My Freedom...
How much better does progressive metal come? In all honesty, not much. LoreWeaveR release their sophomore release, an album that is full of class and quality. Where Imperviae Auditiones (which loosely translates to 'difficult listening') displayed to the world how good this band is, Italic ups the ante. The band may have changed label and, to some degree, sonically but one thing that remains constant is the level of craftsmanship.
The band has quite intelligently steered away from re-releasing the same album, which was a winning formula. They have taken their time in creating a masterpiece that is inventive, experimental, technical, precise and downright stunning. Italic creates imagery and tells stories, stories that have been offered up by each band member, that make it that much more personal. The band has proven that they had the potential to create their own sound and, by God, have they done that with Italic. The dynamic power of the music presented is exhausting and showcases the adeptness of the contributing musicians.
Musically the album is heavy, angular at times but retains a very good sensibility of melody which is an important factor. The soundstage and production, which was done in house by Francesco Salvadeo, is outstanding where every contribution is heard with full clarity, no ego tripping, every musical nuance playing out with precision. The more you play Italic the more you get from it, each layer stripping itself back, revealing itself for you to absorb. The album is akimbo with stunning time signatures that keep you guessing, grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and taking you along on its journey. The time taken to write and compose this album has been time well spent.
Progressive Metal, as with all music, is only as strong as its back line; Claudio Cavalli (drums) and new member Daniele Focante (bass), long term friend of Francesco and Lorenzo, who joined the band in the fall of 2011 are that powerhouse that create such a strong foundation for the rest of the band to weave their magic. I don't like to say that Francesco Salvadeo (guitars), Lorenzo Marcenaro (Keyboards) and Barbara Rubin (vocals) are the main attractions as they aren't, this is very definitely a team effort; what they bring to the table is the structure that assembles itself on the rock solid foundation created.
There are no fillers on this album, another sign of strong songwriting and also a sign of a strong album. The ethos of the band would appear to be that if it adds to the occasion then it's used, if not, don't use it, let's not be clever for the sake of being clever.
"when you feel lazy what do you want to listen? To do something crazy, what could help you to forget your shyness? Could it be... could it be some sweet Irish fiddle, hey... nice to meet you Gentle Giant, Yeah... let me kiss you mister Giant, tell me all about of your fanciful dreams, don't deny me the chance to express myself."
From the opening barrage of Rigour Mortis which took my breath away with its powerful stance, Barbara as ever delivers with her vocals adding the final ingredient, offering different vocal styles, a theme that runs through the whole album. My Freedom is a construct of addictive keyboard flurries punctuated with powerful guitar chords and breaks and lyrically is the standout track which will envelop your ears and raise a smile. Lionheart with its thunderous and galloping approach, Angry Tears with its heavy and lumbering opening stance that finds eloquence and beauty as does Vae Victis and the spectacular The River Suit, which I heard as an instrumental demo, where the band really flex their musical might and penmanship playing with some very interesting soundstages, making it the perfect album closer and making this album what it is - an album that has style, edge and personality.
This is an absolute powerhouse of an album that ticks all the right boxes and for me is the benchmark progressive metal album of 2013. Miss this album at your own peril. LoreWeaveR have arrived.
"Now! who said: 'the music's over'? Yeah! we could make the boundaries break down.
Oh... how strong it makes me feel! Don't you see? Progressive is freedom! You can't fence what is running right now, the winged horses are flying with their wings, how wonderful it is! To be free... yeah, to fly with those wings."
"I couldn't honestly pick out a favourite song as the whole set was absolutely stunning...As an opening act, it isn't always easy, but LoreWeaveR set the standard for the day and for me were the band of the weekend. The reaction from the crowd was unbelievable."
Tracklist:The City Of Resurrections (2:06), I Don't Know Myself (6:05), ZodiaK (full version) (29:00), Desolation (4:39), The Astral Traveller (21:25), The Elevator Does Not Stop At This Floor (8:34)
The atmosphere is chemically enhanced, for an alteration of consciousness is needed in order to temporarily escape the polluted environment that Earthling Society find themselves in, living as they do near "an estuary that smells like it leads to the Devil's arse", to quote band leader, singer and guitar strangler Fred Laird...or industrial Lancashire if we're being more specific. The river water has a violet hue, or so my imagination tells me.
Gently introducing us to this maladjusted universe is a short psalm of sub-Faustian ambience, leading on to the dislocated caterwaul from the soul that is I Don't Know Myself, Fred giving short shrift to convention and the soul rotting ennui that shuffles alongside it, hand in hand.
The centrepiece of this album is a comet-sized slab of justified and ancient granite rock 'n' roll, blazing a trail through a smoky black sky. ZodiaK the track is a rock hymnal that now comes over as an unintended but fitting tribute to the U.K.'s very own one man cultural revolution, Mick Farren, who sadly left this world for a better place recently; he died with his boots on, as they say, as he would have wanted to.
After sharing a smoke with Conny Plank, we careen through Detroit via Ladbroke Grove, the spirit of Iggy, Hawkwind and Farren's Pink Fairies grinning malevolently through an amphetamine and alcohol soaked headrush into rock 'n' roll's seedy underbelly, doing a quick turn of The Modern Dance along the way. If your hobnailed boots don't tap to this, it may be that your feet have fallen off through under use.
It's easy to overlook the lyrics that occupy a fraction of the vast dystopian vista of this song. Often I have taken umbrage at prosaic lyrics, and they don't come much more plain than "At night driving through a city, everything comes across as shitty", but, hey, you can't argue with the sentiment. Overwhelming cynicism rides roughshod over hope to conclude "Jesus can't save me, a shadow baits me, I hate all humankind".
The protagonist is a lost soul with a deeply twisted mind; there be evil afoot. Still, kick out those jams, mofo, and let the rock make you roll. By dint of wailing sirens and the howling kith and kin of a far more radicalised and politicised generation than ours, Fred will eke out righteous indignation by way of the power of mighty Stoogian rock'n'roll. This thing doesn't so much lurch as smash its way through walls in a determined straight line.
The other weighty tome of musical meanderings presented for our delectation on this kaleidoscopic album is The Astral Traveller, which is only twenty one minutes long, so how hard can it be? Starting off where the 'Wind's Seven By Seven leaves off; this is a far more contemplative affair than ZodiaK, which is probably just as well. Jamming good with the ghost of Micky Jones, the travelling is being done at a leisurely pace, cars hissing by the vented windows of our psychedelic VW camper van. Pass the cheap red wine, and don't bogart that joint, for we must wend our weary way.
The laid back vibe is countered by the brief lyrics, wherein our hero of the deranged mind, having lost all faith in humanity finds a salvation of sorts in the welcoming arms of a Satanic cult, but so heavily reverbed is the voice that the one verse is but a fleeting observation that barely impinges on the consciousness of the listener, and so...
Crawling to a halt, this van never did like hills...the band sets up the speakers where the bus died and rave on with a free festival rifferamalamadingdong. Can ya smell the green? Eventually ending back at the start, the traveller returns, having ventured hither and thither, to and fro and close to the edge of the abyss; he is no doubt enlightened by the trip.
If I may come down from giving offerings at the altar of Mr. Bangs for a moment, this is the first time the band have been afforded the use of a full studio, and the sometimes disconnected feel of their previous six albums is replaced with a warm organic sound. The space-boogie guitar freakouts from Fred are pinned down by Kim Allen's bass and Jon Blacow's insistent rock solid drumming, and occasionally fleshing out the sound are the primal electronica of Vert:x and the dirty sax of Lew Dickinson. When this lot cook, the cumulative effect is like adding some dried Kashmiri chillies to your jalfrezi. It's hot and sweet, and once your ears get used to the heat, it just gets better and better.
Even the white boy dub reggae of closer The Elevator Does Not Stop At This Floor works, although I'm never over-keen on this particular cultural mash-up. In my 'umble opinings, only the Jamaicans can do dub reggae, it's in their blood after all.
By sleight of hand, Earthling Society have created rock 'n' roll magick on this new but at the same time very very old record. Old Mick would approve, for it seems that the freaks get their just deserts in this distant Northern wasteland.
By far the best and most coherent recording by this hard working band to date, ZodiaK deserves far more than the little attention it will probably get in the wider world. If you like your space rock visceral and in yer face, this is for you!
"Overall, Earthling Society have produced a reasonable debut that shows promise for the future, particularly if they continue to explore styles of music that make them stand out from other bands of their ilk."
"Providing a different angle to their sound has exposed new depths to the performance and, more particularly, the composition. The more popish songs are the revelation here and could expand the audience for the band, if they can get heard."
"...the album is worthy of recommendation to all space-rock/psychedelic rock fans but its weaker moments and its lo-fi sound Ė even if itís what the band intended Ė mean that a more general recommendation is out of order."
"...another very good psychedelic space-rock album from Earthling Society, one that I can recommend without hesitation to fans of the genre. However, I think that it still lacks that extra 'something' that would make me recommend it to a wider progressive rock audience."
"The band delivered their dark and twisted doomy, stoner, space rock psych soundscapes, that lie somewhere between Hawkwind and the ether of Krautrock... This is definitely a band that fans of this genre should invest some time in."
Tracklist:Hidden Sea (6:36), Days Of the Sun (6:31), Morning Mist (4:55), Heaven (7:24), Life (5:53), Lost Man (5:44), Night Light (3:50), Dreamcatcher (8:44), Visions (6:14), The Lowlands (4:28), Eclipse (6:26), Beyond The Horizon (6:27)
Tracklist:Ascension (7:00), The Steel Sky (6:10), Two Worlds Two Tomorrows (8:34), Altered Reality (7:57), Troubled Memories (7:39), A Fleeting Dream (6:17), The Awakening (6:35), Flight Through Eternity (10:17)
Two years ago I did a review of The Inner Road, a cd called Visions, but somewhere in the entire Melee of reviews it has been lost or something. Anyhow it never got published so with the second album from The Inner Road under review this is a great chance to fix this.
The Inner Road was founded as a result of two musicians playing in the band Coalition who had been writing a number of songs not suited for that band and thus this new project came to life. Steve Gresswell and Phil Braithwait are the two gentlemen in question and Visions, the debut album, is the first under review here.
Visions is 12 tracks of highly entertaining and relaxing instrumental symphonic prog.
It's been said so many times before and I'll just repeat it. Instrumentals without vocals adds an extra task for the composer of the songs as the melody line needs to be of an exceptional strength and the instrumental arrangements well chosen, after all you need to keep people listening and entertained throughout and there's no voice or lyrics to help with that. The instruments are your voice; the melody line is the lyrics. An addition to the music is the artwork which is often very well crafted on instrumental albums. And of course the titles of the songs.
The joy in playing is dripping from your speakers when you listen to Visions, from opener The Hidden Sea right through to the closing Beyond the Horizon.
I like to think that every title encapsulates the vision that the authors and musicians have, like with all instrumental music the lead instrument needs to be played very well as it needs to take you on the journey of your inner vision, in this case probably the Visions of your Inner Road.
Now I can tell you things about all of the songs separately, but that would mean I were to go into the pictures and stories I find behind the songs together with some ravings about the lush keyboards, great soundscapes, excellent guitar play and all that has to go with it.
Instead of "boring" you with my ideas whilst listening to the songs, some general remarks. By no means does this mean that the album doesn't interest me, au contraire my friends, I get a happy feeling after listening to the album which lets itself be listened to like a soundtrack to a film or TV series. The music tells us, if you will, a story.
In short, I believe this to be an excellent debut album by two very talented musicians.
Now this brings me to the follow up album, Ascension.
Steve Gresswell is still the main man behind all the compositions yet on this album his partner in crime is not Phil Braithwaite but Jay Parmar, a very talented guitar player, songwriter and producer. And this shows in the songs. Where on Visions keyboards dominated now there is much more interaction between keyboards and guitar.
The rocking sound Jay brings to The Inner Road also makes Ascension a heavier album but still nothing of what I said about the first album has gone.
The well crafted compositions, all by Gresswell and Parmar, are very consistent and bring, like before, a story and if you are a visually oriented person, a fantasizer, you can surely come up with nice images to each of the tracks.
At times the guitar play reminds me of Steve Morse and then at another moment Steve Vai comes to mind. The harmonic play, especially in Flight Through Eternity, reminds me of works by Vai and surely Parmar was influenced by these two guitar giants, as well as others.
All in all for this second Inner Road album everything applies as it did for the debut. A succesful follow up for a marvellous debut album, a different sound altogether but no less interesting.
My highlights are the title song, Ascension, and Flight Through Eternity with all its changing passages. Beautiful. I can do nothing more than highly recommend both albums.
Conclusions: Visions: 8 out of 10 Ascension: 8 out of 10
Tracklist:Intro (1:14), Fast Running (4:17), Joshua Tree (3:55), Welcome (4:14), Dark And Light (6:52), Solitude (4:02), In My Universe (5:46), Joy Of Life (5:09), I Don't Know Why (3:09)
In My Universe is the second album from the well-travelled guitarist Gianluca Silvestri. Born in London in 1977, he moved with his family to Milan the following year before a temporary relocation to California in 1996. There he enrolled in the Musicians Institute where he studied with his mentor Scott Henderson amongst others. Silvestri returned to Italy at the beginning of the millennium where he became involved in several musical collaborations and regularly performs on the jazz-rock circuit.
In My Universe is a collection of pure, unadulterated guitar instrumentals written, performed and produced by Mr. Silvestri with his friend and colleague Pino Li Trenta supplying the drums, bass and minimal keyboards. The uncluttered arrangements and crisp, clean production allow every note to ring through with resounding clarity.
Following Intro, a brief exercise in ambient guitar atmospherics, the album begins proper with the appropriately titled Fast Running. It rocks along in a solid groove with Silvestri weaving his weighty guitar textures around a memorable riff. The tricky but fluid bridge section brings Trevor Rabin in his Yes days to mind. Joshua Tree and Welcome are similarly edgy, continuing the albums tendency of constructing a big, repetitive motif around which Silvestri layers his semi-improvisational but always inspired guitar lines. Again aptly titled, Dark And Light contrasts a bleak and angular guitar pattern with crisp, free flowing phrases. At nearly seven minutes long however it does perhaps have a tendency to outstay its welcome.
With acoustic guitar providing the rhythmic backdrop, Solitude allows Silvestri to indulge in some liquid dynamics on electric lead whilst the title track In My Universe continues the mellow acoustic mood before establishing a memorable electric guitar theme, the album's highpoint in my opinion. The penultimate and playful Joy Of Life has a lightweight jazz-funk feel leaving the serene I Don't Know Why to close proceedings on a touchingly lyrical note.
Gianluca Silvestri is without question a skillful musician able to extract a variety of moods and emotions from his chosen instrument. Personally, I prefer his more melodic, free flowing style than I do his stop-start, angular technique where there is a tendency to end each phrase with a sustained, sometimes distorted note. That aside, there's no denying that he knows his way around a fretboard and if the likes of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Steve Morse and the aforementioned Scott Henderson float your boat then this is definitely worth your considered attention.
Tracklist:Dance of the Aristocrats (5:50), Culture Clash (7:00), Louisville Stomp (4:40), Ohhhh Noooo (6:47), Gaping Head Wound (6:34), Desert Tornado (5:35), Cocktail Umbrellas (7:21), Living the Dream (7:10), And Finally (6:12)
Affable power fusion trio The Aristocrats return with their second studio album, Culture Clash. Originally formed 'by demand' as the band put it after a NAMM show in January 2011, the supergroup comprises former Asia guitarist Guthrie Govan, Dethklok bassist Bryan Beller and so-close-but-not-quite Dream Theater drummer Marco Minnemann. Each band member is credited with writing three tracks, so the credits are shared equally. Both Govan and Minnemann shared credits on the astounding Steven Wilson album, The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories), earlier this year, so it's understandable that the new Aristocrats album is causing quite a fuss.
The title Culture Clash reflects the band's propensity to actively fuse wholly different genres into one exciting package. Their press release leaves nothing to the imagination, detailing the various genres blended in each song. With the "nitro-powered rockabilly" of Louisville Stomp, "up-tempo latin/prog/fusion" of Desert Tornado and even "New Orleans 2nd line/fusion" of Cocktail Umbrellas, who wouldn't be intrigued by this kitchen sink album?
With a line-up all known for their virtuosity, you'd expect an album with all the stops pulled, and you would not be disappointed. For all the times each band member must have been reigned in when working on other musical projects, The Aristocrats is clearly a place for release. Pyrotechnics abound in this topsy-turvy sonic tsunami. And yet, in all the chaos, the band remain incredibly tight and synchronised. Startling pieces like Gaping Head Wound simply wouldn't work if the band didn't work as a single entity.
Clocking in at just under an hour, this is a rather intense ride if taken from start to finish. For me personally, the album works much better when taken in small doses. While the title track Culture Clash is clearly the thematic headquarters of this album, the band puzzlingly begin with a much weaker track, Dance of the Aristocrats. Described as "techno/fusion", the opener is quite repetitive with no time signature changes and little dynamic variation. As the rest of the album proves, the band can do much better. The band vindicate themselves later on with such incredibly executed pieces as Ohhhh Noooo (four 'h's, four 'o's, I checked!) and Living the Dream.
But something dawns on me whilst I'm listening to the music. I like the technical mastery that the band have over their instruments; in fact I think this kind of skilfulness is woefully lacking from the music industry in general. I like it, but I don't love it. When Govan plays the guitar, the sounds are exciting and vibrant and seek to activate adrenaline rushes within me, but none of it compares to, say, David Gilmour, whose guitar picking on such tracks as Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Mother evokes much deeper, stronger emotions within me that resonates every time I hear those tracks. Technical wizardry will only get you part of the way towards making truly great music, but without any profundity the music on this album doesn't engage me as much as it could. Arguably, this band could be accused of playing for the sake of playing, without giving meaning to the madness. For this reason, the album suffers.
Aside from my reservations, the band have succeeded in making tight fast-paced music that blends many genres, but nothing more. Interestingly, they claim to have a sense of humour in their press release, but this struck me as a rather serious affair. This should certainly please fans of the first album, but despite the amazing display, I can't help but conclude that this is an effort of style over substance. As a musical workout, the band get full marks but it'll take a lot more than skill alone for me to appreciate them fully.
Tracklist:Wake Up Sleepy Head (2:06), The Contract (4:11), Spiderwood Farm (5:09), Sailor's Wife's Lament (4:00), Leaning on a Bear (3:27), Tempest and the Tide (5:06), Mavericks and Mystics (3:48), Well Spoiled Machine (5:09), Sapphire Ward (5:03), Rocking Horse (4:26), Tragic Catastrophe (5:21)
In recent times, there has been a slew of female-fronted prog bands including Magenta, Mostly Autumn and, my personal favourite, To-Mera. Purson is the latest addition to the scene, but there's a difference; in this case, the lady, a certain Rosalie Cunningham, dominates the band as it is her baby. Indeed, she has written or co-written each of the eleven tracks on Purson's debut album and tries her hand at a range of instruments from guitars to percussion whilst remaining resolutely on vocals.
More incredibly, the band do a very impressive job of defying pigeonholing; the music on this album is really quite unique and yet strangely familiar. After much head-scratching I couldn't possibly decide what the band were trying to achieve, so allow me to parrot the opening paragraph from the band's press release.
There is a magic place where folky warmth meets lurid technicolour horror, where progressive rock complexity and all out skull-crushing doom combines with classic songwriting to flesh out a sinister but romantic vision of twisted dreams and lurking threats hidden just out of view. That place dwells in the debut album by Purson.
As you may have guessed from the cover, the album has a spooky vibe to it, that cheesy eerie feeling you'd get if you were watching a low-budget '60s horror B-movie. Weirdly enough, I don't mean that in a bad way. It just takes one listen to Spiderwood Farm to see what I mean. The repeated refrain "Ex-dwellers of Spiderwood Farm, though they live here they mean you no harm" suggests the existence of ghosts, and the retro organ gives that classic Halloween feel to the track. The album isn't bright and happy, but neither is it too miserable and gloomy. Incredibly 'folky warmth meets technicolour horror' is a spot on description. Perhaps I should leave the reviewing to these guys.
The tone of the album is decidedly retro, much like the band's Rise Above Records stablemates Astra and Diagonal. However, readers expecting a healthy dose of prog might feel a bit cheated. Indeed, while prog permeates the atmosphere here, it is merely a small ingredient in this cauldron of folk, alternative, retro-psychedelia and a teensy bit of metal. Perhaps the closest this group come to all out prog is on the track Well Spoiled Machine; the 'Machine' part of the title being a clear nod of the head to Soft Machine. The main riff in 7/8 in this track has been lifted directly from Esther's Nose Job; it ain't original, but it's fun.
Elsewhere, it's quite a mixed bag; a few gems mixed with assorted pebbles that sink right out of sight. The opening pair, Wake Up Sleepy Head and The Contract, provide an appropriate atmospheric opening to the album and, with its intense pace, Spiderwood Farm seems to seal the deal. Nevertheless, Sailor's Wife's Lament starts a trend of songs with less going on in the music department. An overlooked piece on the album is Sapphire Ward, whose thundering bass line and excellent guitar solo make this the album's best kept secret. Finally Tragic Catastrophe shows the band using such retro techniques as flanging in the outro. The quality of the album exponentially increases with the volume, as the rich retro sound really completes the atmosphere. It's just a shame that the packaging seems a bit cheap, especially for such a well-established record company like Rise Above Records.
Purson are one hell of a curiosity but I can see them going far if they try to advertise outside of the prog community as well as within. Indeed, I can see a few of my 'arty alternative' friends lapping this one up. From a 'prog' point of view however, this release is a bit thin on the ground and from a 'progressive' point of view, it's difficult to see how the band are pushing boundaries.
Tracklist:Enemy March (8:42), Invasion (5:31), Queen Of Armageddon (9:39), No Survivors (9:25), Fight Back (9:25), Defeat (13:12)
I have to confess the main reason for my name appearing at the bottom of this review is an admiration for the music of Swedish proggers Carptree. Although several performers from that band are involved here, particularly composer, producer and keyboardist Carl Westholm, Jupiter Society are a whole different musical ball game. For those familiar with the band's two previous releases, First Contact/Last Warning (2008) and Terraform (2009), it will be apparent that despite the science-fiction parallels, From Endangered To Extinct is darker and heavier than its predecessors.
The story here is the annihilation of the human race at the hands (or tentacles?) of alien invaders and appropriately Westholm's soundtrack is dark, metallic and often oppressive with very few moments of light relief. It's the musical equivalent of the more recent crop of Hollywood movies like Cloverfied, Battle: Los Angeles, Skyline and Battleship whose (uncannily similar looking) extraterrestrials are depicted as warlike aggressors. A far cry from the benign visitors of Spielberg's Close Encounters and ET although Spielberg would later present a more nihilistic perspective with his version of War Of The Worlds.
Westholm has employed a sizable cast to realise his concept with drummer Dirk Verbeuren and bassist Sebastian Blyberg providing the musical backbone. Along with regular guitarist Ulf Edelönn, shredder supreme Marcus Jidell (Evergrey, Royal Hunt) adds his talents to the songs Enemy March, Queen Of Armageddon and Defeat. No less than three male lead vocalists are featured - Öivin Tronstad, Mats Levén and Leif Edling - and are to be congratulated for entering into the spirit of the enterprise with their character driven and angst ridden performances. In addition to female singer Cia Backman, completing the line-up are guitarists Peter Söderström and Fredrik Åkesson along with bassist Stefan Fandén.
The aptly titled Enemy March sets the scene and tone of the album with its relentless mid-tempo riff, strident symphonic keyboards and a volley of metallic shredding. Cia's singing is more neutral than her male counterparts providing a lyrical respite to the bleak and doomy atmosphere. In keeping with my movie analogy from earlier it certainly has a cinematic, widescreen feel and as a standalone track it works very well. There is however more of the same to follow.
Invasion continues the musical onslaught with effective massed choral work whilst Queen Of Armageddon is driven by some particularly powerful drumming from Verbeuren and Westholm's gothic synth soloing. Edling's gritty vocal during No Survivors is reminiscent of fellow countryman Patrik Lundström (Ritual, Kaipa) whilst the penultimate Fight Back has a more optimistic tone thanks to a defiant chorus.
For the lengthy finale Defeat, Westholm opens with an ambient, swirling synth motif and choir which is soon overshadowed by a strident staccato riff. Following a suitably histrionic guitar solo, Cia once again adds her calming vocal before Westholm's grandiose keyboard orchestrations usher in an apocalyptic coda which employs every musical trick he has at his disposal.
Although From Endangered To Extinct is skilfully conceived and executed (providing a perfect musical backdrop for Pål Olofsson's bleak artwork) it takes itself far too seriously, self-absorbed in its own despair. There is also a distinct lack of memorable themes and hooks and as a result any interest I had in the fate of the human race disappeared about two tracks before the end.
"I donít feel this is yet consistent enough for a cross-genre progressive fan commendation. However, for fans of symphonic-synth progressive space/science-fiction rock, Terraform will be an absolute joy!"