ISSUE 2014-74

New Year's Special
Reviews in this issue:

Bill in the Tea - Big Tree
Bill in the Tea - Big Tree
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD
Record Label: Doremillaro Recs
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 50:37
Info: Bill in the Tea
Samples: Bill in the Tea on Bandcamp
Track List:
Now I Know What the M Means (7:30), The Day Before (6:27), Feynman (3:46), I Wanna Be Frank Zappa (5:24), Interloop (1:32), Big Tree in a Losing Atmosphere (7:34), June (5:28), MAD! (7:47), Change Colours (5:19)
Big Tree by Bill in the Tea is a very pleasant classic sounding progressive album that contains a myriad of different influences all amongst an Italian prog backdrop. Throughout the album I hear influences from Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant and Frank Zappa among others. Big Tree is mostly instrumental, with a few vocals thrown in here and there. I'd say, though, that the focus is on the instrumentation, that has elements of classic symphonic prog, jazz and classical. There is something very comforting and refreshing about this music that for some reasons has feelings of nostalgia for me.

Opener Now I Now What the M Means is a great introduction. It has true beauty to it with really clean sounding guitars and piano. The addition of violin, performed by Alessio Taranto, brings a special element to the sound. The sound is somewhat pastoral with some jazz elements added to the guitar playing; definitely one of the best tracks of the album.

The track is followed by The Day Before, which is one of the tracks that features some vocals. The King Crimson influence is very present here with an almost dark, foreboding sound in the vocals and in the bass line that begins the track. Halfway through the track, the band really lets loose with some great instrumental work that is very fast-paced and exciting, featuring more of the wonderful violin. This is another great track that really shows the strength of this band and the sound they are able to create.

Feynman is a shorter track that begins with odd sound effects and a spoken word section. It is very atmospheric with an electronic music influence. A drum loop and some interesting guitar playing follow, with a strange effect used for the guitar sound; very different from the rest of the album. This leads into a fun track titled, I Wanna Be Frank Zappa. As might be expected from the title, this song is almost an hommage to Frank Zappa's music. A great xylophone sounding keyboard part plays an intricate line with the guitar. There is also a heavy jazz influence in the instrumentation. I really enjoy this track and find that it contains a whole lot of lighthearted fun and it's a joy to listen to.

Interloop then is a short instrumental introduction to the next track that features some classical style guitar. Big Tree In A Losing Atmosphere is another instrumental in the same vein as the album opener. A great section about two and a half minutes in has the guitar playing very funky and there is a jam with the backdrop of the rhythm section.

June is one of the songs on the album that features vocals; a very laid-back ballad, very pleasant to listen to. Once again, the highlight for me is the sublime guitar work, clean and beautiful as it is.

MAD! is another album highlight. The track has a pronounced classic Genesis influence, especially in the keyboard sound. It is very pastoral and contains an excellent intricate guitar lick, featured throughout. One of the best sections of the song comes in the middle and features some truly beautiful piano playing. A progressive rock tour-de-force this is where all the musicians get a showcase as things shift through various movements. MAD! entails all what progressive music is about for me. The album ends on a lighter note with the very pretty sounding Change Colours. There is some classical sounding guitar with some haunting keyboard sounds. The pleasant, pastoral sound gives way to a heavier section, before returning to the great musical theme from the start of the track. Now that is truly a beautiful way to end the album.

This album comes highly recommended to all lovers of classic progressive rock. I was a little disappointed at first to learn that the majority of the album is instrumental, because I usually prefer music that has vocals in it. But, the musicianship is really excellent and the songs are varied and interesting enough that I almost forget about the lack of vocals. The record has a really great blend of styles on display. There is definitely a strong jazz and classical element, certainly in the style of the guitar playing. The musicians in the band are clearly big fans of the big prog bands of the seventies and it is exciting to hear the influences throughout the album. This album holds a lot of promise. My only hope is that there will be a follow up to this record at some point.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Captain Cougar - Åkerblomrörelsen
Captain Cougar - Åkerblomrörelsen
Country of Origin: Finland
Format: CD
Record Label: Pinetree Records
Catalogue #: PINECD06
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 54:14
Info: Captain Cougar
Track List:
Maria (3:17), Revelation (5:45), Prayer (4:45), Marriage of Three (4:41), Inner Desert (7:50), Palace (6:16), Seventh Stage (5:20), Rise (9:51), All for Love (6:20)
Captain Cougar is a Finnish indie-folk group with a fascination for historical stories. Åkerblomrörelsen is a concept album about one Maria Åkerblom, a sleep preacher and cult leader. Her unconventional ways and apocalyptic visions gave her a lot of followers, even more detractors and a lifetime of peril, romance and adventure. She provides certainly enough material for an exciting concept album.

The album's conceptual nature works out quite differently than I had imagined it would. The concept proves to be less of an engaging story about the life and times of a tragic soul, and more a framework within which to play some deeply evangelical songs. Barely a song goes by in which the Lord is not extensively praised, and every spell of hardship or doubt invariably turns out to be a test of faith.

Of course, prominent religious themes are inevitable given the subject matter, but there are several ways to tell this story and Captain Cougar choose (in no uncertain terms) to focus on faith first and foremost. I know for a fact this will be a problem for some of you, and if you feel you're one of them, you would do well to avoid this album.

With that out of the way, let's talk about the music, shall we?

Fortunately, there is a lot to enjoy here. It's a finely-crafted collection of mostly mellow pop songs, often played with acoustic instruments. The addition of many classical instruments, as well as traditional folk sounds such as the banjo and the Finnish kantele, gives the album a classy baroque sheen. The broad instrumentation never feels gimmicky; it is integral to the music. Production and musicianship are impeccable throughout. Singer Laura Lathola has, in her better moments, a bit of a Melissa Etheridge-like rough edge going on. Mostly though, her voice is as clear as glass. The album sounds exceptionally pretty.

The music succeeds quite well in telling a story through emotion and atmosphere, very important in a concept album. Pieces like Palace and the nine-minute pièce de resistance, Rise, successfully create moods and tension and suggest a life of struggle and determination. The music and the lyrics complement each other well.

As a collection of pop songs, Åkerblomrörelsen works less well. Everything sounds so pretty that it almost makes up for the fact that, on the song level, the material isn't particularly memorable. This means the album, well-crafted though it may be, will in the long run probably turn out to be incidental.

The album is quite beautifully packaged, complementing the quality of the work. The lyrics do put me off, and not just because of their spiritual nature. Some of it actually disturbs me. Is it just me, or is that cheerful ditty Marriage of Three actually about incest?

Bottom line: if you're not as horribly closed-minded as I am, and feel you could do with some authentic, folksy, mostly acoustic pop with mildly progressive leanings, Captain Cougar could be for you.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

Citizen Cain's Stewart Bell - The Antechamber Of Being (Part 1)
Citizen Cain's Stewart Bell - The Antechamber Of Being (Part 1)
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Festival Music
Catalogue #: N/A
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 73:54
Info: Citizen Cain's Stewart Bell
Samples: Click here
Track List:
Decoherence (i) Nothing – part 1 (Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit) (ii) – Cupboard Of Fear part 1 (iii) – First Lesson (iv) – Second Lesson (v) – The Gift of Lucid Dreaming (13:22), A World Without Limits (i) – Revelation (ii) – Adventures Of An Oneiranaut (iii) – Awaken In Your Dreams (8:30), Projections (i) – Hypnagogic Portal (ii) – Entanglement part 1 (iii) – Parallel Girl (iv) – False Awakening (v) – Cupboard Of Fear part 2 (vi) – Entanglement part 2 (10:31), The Breach (i) – Why? (ii) – The Shooting Star Child part 1 (5:20), The Antechamber Of Being (i) – Nothing part 2 (Outwith Time) (ii) – Dream Signs (iii) – Cupboard Of Fear part 3 (iv) – Bellilin (v) – Nothing part 3 (Outwith Space) (vi) – The Gift of Lucid Dying (16:11), Convergence (i) – Entanglement part 3 (ii) – The Shooting Star Child part 2 (9:02), Full Circle (i) – Cupboard Of Fear part 4 (ii) – Asleep Or Dead (iii) - Awaken In Your Death (iv) – Nothing part 4 (HΨ = 0) (10:58)
This is the debut solo album from Stewart Bell who, as the title makes clear is a member of neo-proggers Citizen Cain formed in 1982 by singer George "Cyrus" Scott. Bell joined the band in 1990 adding his keyboard (and later drum) talents to five studio albums influenced by Genesis and Fish era Marillion before the release of the excellent and ambitious Skies Darken in 2012. Not a million miles from that album, The Antechamber Of Being (Part 1) is essentially a darker, more contemporary version of Citizen Cain with elements of prog-metal, symphonic rock and the melodrama of Arjen Lucassen's rock-opera projects.

Whist Bell and Cyrus shared compositional credit for Skies Darken based on a concept by the latter, here Bell is responsible for all the words, music, story, and even the artwork. In addition to keyboards and drums, he is one of five singers on the album joined by guests Simone Rossetti (The Watch), Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon), Mhairi Bekah Comrie and Citizen Cain guitarist Phil Allen. They each voice a character in Bell's partly autobiographical story of a young boy whose dreams provide a "freedom" from the "chains" of reality. As he grows older however the dreams turn to nightmares and his imaginary world is no longer an escape from the real one.

Despite the long list of ambiguous titles, the album plays as one seamless whole and appropriately consists of a number of reoccurring themes. This includes the soaring instrumental coda to both The Breach and Convergence (probably the albums highpoint) as well as Rossetti's sombre vocal sequence that opens and closes the album. The Genesis influences are less apparent here although still feature in the mix particularly in the more uplifting moments like the mid-section of A World Without Limits.

The vocal performances are singularly excellent, particularly the leads Simone (Peter Gabriel sound-alike) Rossetti as 'The Dreamer' and Phil Allen as 'The Teacher'. Rossetti's participation is unsurprising given the similarity between his voice and Citizen Cain frontman "Cyrus" whilst Allen's versatile singing sounds remarkably close to Damian Wilson at times. He and Bell can also be forgiven for the occasional lapse into metal vocal clichés. The impressive vocal sparring between the male singers reaches fervor pitch during the title track The Antechamber Of Being whilst the engaging voice of Mhairi Bekah Comrie as 'Dream Girl' shines during Convergence and towards the end of Projections.

Bell's inspired keyboard playing is a revelation, veering from orchestral backdrops to proggy solo flights (which avoid over indulgence) to mellow piano interludes to what could easily pass as electronic dance music for the opening and uncompromising Dechorence. In addition to the frantic riffing of the title track, Allen's fluid guitar style provides a perfect counterpoint occasionally bringing Robert Fripp circa King Crimson's Starless and Bible Black to mind. The interplay between keys and guitar is quite breath-taking at times even to this prog hardened reviewer. Session bassist David Watters also deserves a mention for his solid performance throughout.

All in all this an impressive solo debut from Stewart Bell even though it's not completely without flaws (hummable melodies are few and for me the anticipated rousing finale to the appropriately titled Full Circle is surprisingly uninvolving). That aside, it's a mostly exhilarating ride that will undoubtedly appeal to Citizen Cain fans and anyone else for that matter who has a taste for progressive rock that's dark, dense, operatic and meticulously structured.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Colossus Project - Decameron - Ten Days In 100 Novellas - Part II
Colossus Project - Decameron - Ten Days In 100 Novellas - Part II
Country of Origin: International
Format: 4CD
Record Label: Musea Records
Catalogue #: FGBG 4943
Year of Release: 2014
Time: CD 1: 61:15
CD 2: 66:02
CD 3: 71:57
CD 4: 77:19
Info: Colossus Project (VA)
Track List:
CD 1: Robert Webb - Intro (8:07), Nexus - Fourth Tale (IV, 4) (6:29), Serdimontana - Fifth Tale (IV, 5) (5:10), Jinetes Negros - Sixth Tale (IV, 6) (6:16), Mogon - Seventh Tale (IV, 7) (8:21), Willowglass - Eighth Tale (IV, 8) (7:51), Intarsia - Ninth Tale (IV, 9) (10:29), Oceanic Legion - Tenth Tale (IV, 10) (8:32)
CD 2: The Samurai Of Prog - First Tale (V, 1) (7:33), Steve Unruh - Second Tale (V, 2) (14:35), Ars Ephemera - Third Tale (V, 3) (9:28), The Rome Prog(J)Ect - Fourth Tale (V, 4) (5:05), Orchestra D'oblio - Fifth Tale (V, 5) (6:12), King Of Agogik - Sixth Tale (V, 6) (8:15), Marchesi Scamorza - Seventh Tale (V, 7) (6:06), Playing The History - Eighth Tale (V, 8) (8:48)
CD 3: Senogul - Ninth Tale (V, 9) (9:12), Camelias Garden - Tenth Tale (V,10) (5:26), Rhys Marsh - First Tale (VI, 1) (3:54), Narrow Pass - Second Tale (VI, 2) (8:02), Mauro Mulas - Third Tale (VI, 3) (9:08), La Bocca Della Verità - Fourth Tale (VI, 4) (5:05), Faveravola - Fifth Tale (VI, 5) (9:00), Trion - Sixth Tale (VI, 6) (4:22), La Théorie Des Cordes - Seventh Tale (VI, 7) (10:48), Jaime Rosas & Rodrigo Godoy - Eighth Tale (VI, 8) (5:00)
CD 4: Unitopia - Ninth Tale (VI, 9) (20:05), Piccolo Zoo - Tenth Tale (VI,10) (8:56), Karda Estra - First Tale (VII, 1) (7:38), Yagull - Second Tale (VII, 2) (2:49), D'accord - Third Tale (VII, 3) (6:49), Ozone Player - Fourth Tale (VII, 4) (9:11), The Rebel Wheel - Fifth Tale (VII, 5) (8:18), Tommy Eriksson - Sixth Tale (VII, 6) (5:47), Robert Webb – Outro (7:46)
If you're a regular visitor to this site then you may well be aware of my passion for the Colossus projects, courtesy of The Finnish Progressive Music Association. Each release is normally an epic-undertaking and this latest is no exception. It's the second part in a series based on the Italian literary classic The Decameron complete with over four hours of music and a lavishly illustrated 78-page booklet.

A variety of international progressive rock names, some familiar, some not so, provide their own musical interpretation of Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century morality tales. Juxtaposing liberal measures of sex and religion, The Decameron is reputed to have inspired English writers and poets like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Keats and Shelly. Even if classic literature is not your thing, the sheer volume and quality of music on offer here is a prog-lover's dream.

The first thing that struck me when listening to disc one was that given the subject matter, the songs are remarkably upbeat. Keyboardist Robert Webb from vintage band England opens with the tuneful Limoncello based around a bouncy synth line and high harmonies bringing Starcastle to mind.

The Ship by Nexus continues in a similar (albeit all-instrumental) vein, with meticulously-choreographed piano, organ and Mellotron conveying an ELP sense of scale. Serdimontana bring elements of prog-fusion to the table with Legend featuring impressive playing from all concerned, especially the solid rhythm section. Following an orchestral keyboard intro, Fatales Rastros by Jinetes Negros includes tricky instrumental work supporting a strident Italian lead vocal, simultaneously recalling both Gentle Giant and Banco.

American outfit Mogon put a psychedelic twist on proceedings with the lyrically surreal Mr Toad which has a touch of The Beatles circa 1967. With The Salvestra Tear, Willowglass take the symphonic neo-prog route with shades of the instrumental Genesis in the melodic guitar, organ and flute.

Half sung, half spoken the theatrical Ripped Heart by Intarsia is quintessential Italian prog, which leaves Oceanic Legion to conclude with The Sleeping Lover, which for me is disc one's best offering. The infectious choral hook is frustratingly familiar (but I can't recall where from) although it does evoke post-Morse Spock's Beard, whilst the cinematic arrangement has a touch of the pomp of Arjen Lucassen.

Whilst stylistically disc one makes few concessions to the 14th-century setting, several songs on disc two attempt, quite successfully to evoke a sense of period. Featuring the man behind the Colossus projects, Marco Bernard, on Rickenbacker bass, The Samurai Of Prog's contribution, Sweet Iphigenia, opens with medieval instrumentation and folk-style singing. This song previously appeared on the band's 2013 album Secrets of Disguise.

Following his contributions to the Willowglass and The Samurai Of Prog tracks, the versatile Steve Unruh makes his third appearance with the mini-epic Carapresa's Tale, mixing folk and classical guitar, flute and violin with a traditional storytelling style that brings Manning to mind. The orchestral Lost And Found by Ars Ephemera combines analogue keys and a string section for a tunefully-fluid instrumental, whilst The Rome Prog(j)ect's Day 5 Tale 4 evokes mid-70s Genesis with lush guitar and keyboard soundscapes.

Neifile by Italian ensemble Orchestra d'oblio has an early King Crimson sensibility alternating between pastoral and jazzy excursions, whilst King of Agogik produce a full and weighty sound for Damsel's Love and King's Wrath, helped by a powerhouse drum performance.

Marchesi Scamorza's La Storia is perhaps more mainstream than prog but it rocks along at a lively pace with a suitably catchy chorus. In contrast, Nastagio degli Onesti by Playing The History is basically a solo piano piece. Despite the subtle presence of Mellotron and flute, and although extremely well played, it is for me a tad dry and un-involving.

Of the 4 discs in this set, the third is my least favourite but that's just a personal preference. There's certainly no shortage of moods and styles however, as Spain's Senogul testify with Ninth Tale which has a distinct world-music vibe thanks to the ringing guitar, ethnic percussion and chanting voices. In contrast Quinto Giorno by Camelia's Garden features ornate piano, Mellotron and synth.

Whilst Rhys Marsh's The Tales That You Tell similarly uses Mellotron to majestic effect, his dirge-like vocal is for me an unnecessary distraction. Day 6 Tale 2 by Narrow Pass (one of five Italian acts on disc 3) opens with a medieval section not too dissimilar to Gryphon's 70s work, before embarking on a keyboard-driven instrumental, the highlight of which is the respective Moog and organ solos. Mauro Mulas utilises every trick in the book for Day 6, Tale 3, including an unexpectedly smoky clarinet solo and a strident piano / Moog finale that conspicuously brings Keith Emerson to mind.

On more familiar ground, Chichibio by La Bocca della Verità is crossover prog-rock dominated by a powerful guitar riff and a stirring vocal hook. Faveravola utilise a variety instruments for Fifth Tale, most notably fiddle and flute whilst Trion (almost) stray into easy-listening territory for the otherwise engaging instrumental Xindia.

Seventh Tale by French avant-gardists La Théorie des Cordes couldn't be more different, with a screeching, discordant intro that meanders through improvised sax-rich soundscapes for nearly 11 minutes before reaching a cacophonic finale. Jaime Rosas & Rodrigo Godoy reply with the melodic Believe, Grow to provide a lyrical conclusion to disc 3.

Opening disc 4 in epic style, Australia's finest Unitopia have a full 20 minutes to explore Day 6 Tale 9, recorded before the band's recent split. For sheer tunefulness it's the most memorable song here and includes Genesis' Domino amongst its points of reference. Italian sextet Piccolo Zoo combine male and female vocals and strong musicianship for the lively Tenth Tale whilst the always inventive Karda Estra use (mostly) acoustic instrumentation and wordless harmonies to create the elegantly baroque First Tale, one of the most effective tracks here. In a similar vein P's Ways by Yagull is a beautiful acoustic guitar solo that hints at the seminal work of Mike Oldfield.

The Rock and Roll Missionary by D'AccorD is a bit of an oddity, being a proto-prog blend of The Beatles circa I am The Walrus and David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust personna. Even odder, Finland's Ozone Player combine melodrama and comedy for the old-time music hall-styled The Well.

Golden Chains by The Rebel Wheel is serenely atmospheric before hitting its poppy stride around the halfway mark whilst Tommy Eriksson fuses guitars and keys for his soaring instrumental Cherchez La Femme. Bringing the whole album full circle, Robert Webb returns with Ode To Good Sex: The Ladies' Valley with keyboard symphonics and a haunting female lead voice, recalling the film scores of Ennio Morricone.

It's hard to say how well each of these artists have captured the spirit of Giovanni Boccaccio's writings and to be honest I don't particularly care. For me music should stand-up in its own right, regardless of the inspiration, and with few exceptions that's the case here.

It's certainly a worthy successor to Decameron ~ Ten Days In 100 Novellas - Part 1 which I reviewed back in 2011. If you've ever felt compelled to introduce a friend to the wonderful world of progressive rock, ignore those so called Best Prog Rock Album in the World samplers, as this is the real deal.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Dropshard - Silk
Dropshard - Silk
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD
Record Label: Sonic Vista Music/Aurovine
Catalogue #: AUROEX035
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 65:49
Info: Dropshard
Samples: Dropshard website
Track List:
Insight (5:08), Eyes (4:29), Cell 342 (8:44), Tied Together (6:40), Seat (2:47), Perpetual Dream (2:58), Get Out and Run (1:56), The Endless Road (10:39), Less is More (2:30), Maya (4:36), Memento (11:56), Libera Me (3:28)
Dropshard are an Italian progressive metal band formed in 2007. According to the band's website, the band "[f]ollow the roots of masters of progressive music like Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin and take inspiration from modern progressive/alternative bands like Pain of Salvation, Riverside and Porcupine Tree". The band's music has also been likened to that of Anathema. The band's first full-length CD, Anywhere But Home (2011), was well received on DPRP (review here). Early in the discography the band released two EPs. Now, Dropshard (with a new keyboard player) have released another album, called Silk.

The newest record surely takes more of its cues from the more modern of the influences noted. For the most part the music is fairly dark and heavy. The dominant force is vocalist Enrico Scanu. His voice, powerful, urgent, and dramatic, sometimes just too dramatic, forms many of the melodies and is found upfront in the mix. Indeed, in the end, a listener's interest in this album will likely turn on the level of appreciation for Scanu's voice and vocal style. Overall, the instrumentation is capable. Keyboards amply fill the songs' space and are the sonic highlights. The drumming is active and proficient but, regrettably, can be predictable and is, in tone, wooden.

A few specific tunes are worth a mention. Cell 342 is quite emblematic of the musical style on display. It's also nicely diverse; the first half features highly challenging vocals and the second half features frenzied, boisterous bursts. Eyes, which has been released as a single, features relatively mellow vocals, is less busy than most of the tunes and displays just plain good songwriting. The terse Less is More is a relaxing instrumental interlude. The choir sounds in the somewhat ambient closer, Libera Me, symbiotically engage with the keyboards. The two longest pieces, The Endless Road and Memento are solid and, to their credit, never wander. The vocals on the former though are overly aggressive and seem forced. Less successful is Maya: the vocals seem strained, although sharp guitar work salvages the piece. Perpetual Dream also counts as less appealing. The again strained, even pained vocals counter, rather than complement, the minimalist strumming.

It's fair to say that fans of modern, moderately edgy, progressive metal may well enjoy Silk. However, as noted, the bold vocals may make or break this interest. Even though some of the band's influences are clear, on this album Dropshard, to their credit, answer to no one and have confidently created their own place in the genre.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

Give Us Barabba - Penis Barbecue
Give Us Barabba - Penis Barbecue
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: download
Record Label: Rockall Records
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 36:20
Info: Give Us Barabba
Samples: Give Us Barabba website
Track List:
My Band Sax (4:07), Devin Townsend (6:11), Happy! (3:44), Io e Te Senza di Lei (5:14), Everything That I've Learned (4:35), Penis Barbecue (5:02), A per Venditta (3:56), Asselfir Enoisselfir Al (3:26)
"Give us Barabbas" is the title of one of those bible movies that have their regular TV re-runs during Easter. That alone would make a cool band name. But if we look deeper into it, we find that the main aspect of the movie is the story where Pontius Pilate asks the people of Judea, which person to be freed, the criminal Barabbas, or Jesus Christ, king of the Jews.

"Give us Barabbas!" shouted the mob, it is said. Now with this critical scriptural incident as a band name in the oh-so religious Italy, the band's attitude should be obvious. They want to smash! They take nothing serious, least themselves. They're punks.

What began with Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick - a joke about progressive rock - and got picked up by The Tubes as a musical wagon for their comedy, got endured by Mr. Bungle's extravaganza and has found life in today's bands such as Diablo Swing Orchestra and Stolen Babies, now has an Italian flavour added to it: the smash-in-the-face humor of some punks called Give Us Barabba.

So if you're one of those who only take their music seriously, or just don't sense the humour, move ahead, skip this review and forget this band. And don't be ashamed, because you're by far not alone, I know many people of that kind.

The best references about the music on Penis Barbecue come from the band themselves. They put themselves in the genre "avant-garde metal / regressive metal", or as they state in the song, My Band Sax, (where the 'Sax' is there for the sake of a bad pun): "'cause our sound is cool like Mr. Bungle and Faith No More".

More precisely, I tend to believe that they've listened to Disco Volante a tad too often! Like Mr. Bungle, they drop in any style that fits the lyrics, be it metal, reggae, Italian folk, circus music, electronica or what ever comes along. So they play every genre at once but none in specific.

Lyric-wise the band's approach isn't any different. Their humor is offensive, flat, fatuous, yet pubertal. In fact, if you have kids that speak English and/or Italian, I advise you not to play this album to them. The title track, Penis Barbecue, for example is about a witch that cuts off and burns penises. Then there's the song, Io e Te Senza di Lei, which is about a heterosexual who gets seduced in a homosexual romance. Even if you can connect music with humour, you need some sort of acquired taste in humour for some of these songs.

But some do make me laugh, like the song Devin Townsend, a praise of whom I still do not know if it is meant ironically or not. But when they come up with the lines "Just wanna say "SAsaSAsa": it means nothing, just for a laugh, 'cause I had no more rhymes in mind!" I have to laugh out loud.

Almost dadaistic are the rhymes in Asselfir Enoisselfir Al. The song's entire lyrics are like these: "It was an autumn autumn. It was raining the rain."

All together, with eight songs clocking in at 36 minutes, we have a simple, fun album with great musical variety that even combines trumpet, trombone and sax with metal. Despite the variety in style, everything they play is nothing really special, the band serves different genres, but that's it, you won't find any moments of a virtuoso there.

Concerning the humour: it's okay that it's not of a kind that I'm much into, I'd just like to have the lyrics being filled with a bit more content. But that's too personal and can hardly be a matter of rating the album. In the end Penis Barbecue is an enjoyable album and will always be perfect for when you're in a silly mood.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10

Jack O' The Clock - Night Loops
Jack O' The Clock - Night Loops
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 54:17
Info: Jack O' The Clock
Samples: Jack O' The Clock on Bandcamp
Track List:
Ten Fingers (7:41), Bethlehem Watcher (4:36), Tiny Sonograph Heart (1:03), Come Back Tomorrow (6:55), How the Light is Approached (2:51), Familiar 1: Night Heron Over Harrison Square (1:43), Fixture (5:38), Furnace (1:11), Salt Moon (3:17), Down Below (4:32), As long As the Earth Lasts (6:16), Familiar 2: Barred Owl (2:01), Rehearsing the Long Walk Home (6:31)
When trying to define progressive music, you often encounter characteristics like complex rhythms, long instrumental passages, original instruments and/or weird time signatures. That may all be true, but putting all these elements together and blending them randomly does not make the output good music. Yet that is exactly what Jack O' The Clock has done, or at least tried to.

The band consists of Damon Waitkus (principal composer, vocals, guitar, piano), Emily Packard (violin), Kate McLoughlin (vocals, bassoon), Jason Hoopes (vocals, bass) and Jordan Glenn (drums and percussion, comprising bundt pans, shakers and corrugated tubes). They are assisted on the album by several guest musicians who play instruments like pipe organ or bass clarinet. This bunch of musicians dare to do a short noise track (Furnace, totally superfluous) alongside a mosquito and percussion driven track (Ten Fingers), an atonal and a-melodic soundscape (How the Light Approached) and a bird song mimicry (Familiar 2: Barred Owl). In between, there is a track that could perfectly serve as a soundtrack for a horror movie (Fixture) because of its scratching baritone violin and haunting vibraphone over a pumping acoustic bass.

Down Below sounds as a normal song with a distinctive motive- a clear verse-chorus-verse build-up and only some strange acoustic instruments like a hammer dulcimer and a baritone violin to make it something special. It is easily the most accessible song, yet at the same time it almost disappoints because Jack O' The Clock sounds here like many other bands could sound. As Long As the Earth Lasts ends in a mild cacophony of vocals after which clarinet, violin and saxophone take over in the same cacophonic vein. The album closer, Rehearsing the Long Walk Home, has strong reminiscences with the Lord of the Ages album by Magna Carta, especially in the vocals and in the somewhat dark mood.

So, this album is quite a listen. The lack of recognizable melodies, the sound experiments, and the overall dark atmosphere of the album make it a hard-to-digest experience. If you like experimental, maybe avant-garde or even more, this may definitely be an album you should check out. But stay away from it if you're into the kind of prog folk performed by bands like Clannad, Fairport Convention or Capercaillie; this won't be your cup of tea. Yet it must be emphasized that because of its originality, this is a courageous album.

Then the question remains: is it progressive? Well, using the kind of characteristics mentioned at the beginning, this most certainly is progressive. The rhythms are complex, the instruments special, the time signatures, if any, quite strange. Those who like King Crimson or Zappa may find this an attractive album. For me it is simply incomprehensible and therefore it's unlikely that I'll ever put it in the CD player again. But to give it a low score would be unfair; musicians that have the guts to do what they want without caring what anybody may think about it are to be valued. And so this strange collection of musical ideas amalgamated in these weird songs goes unrated, no matter how dissatisfying that may be. Strange band, strange album, strange music, meant for the very open-minded.
Conclusion: unrated

Mike Kershaw - Ice Age
Mike Kershaw - Ice Age
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 56:19
Info: Mike Kershaw
Track List:
Frame and Glass (8:02), Guardian (5:17), Inside the Frame (6:47), Broken Skies (2:50), Blossom Falls (7:29), Terracotta (5:00), Tomorrow's Door (5:02), Yesterdays (8:41), When Winter Comes (7:08)
Do you ever get the feeling that you've woken up in the wrong version of life as you thought you knew it? Not due to any alcoholic transcendence the night before, but just like that?

I found myself eager to listen to a new album by an artist I never had the pleasure of hearing before. I took the time, got myself seated, turned on my stereo and listened as Frame and Glass appeared in its keyboard-heavy orientation. Evoking memories of 80s new wave music, as well as 80s prog because of the dominating keys, I was still up for an adventure. What to expect?

The answer was there, just beyond the 30 second stretch. That was the moment Mike's voice entered the scene. There are voices that are outstanding and immediately draw you in and make the songs stand out more than they would without vocals. Then there are voices that fit to the music. And then there are voices that distract you from the music; that have you focus on them and find little, if anything, that gets you back to focus on the music as a whole.

Mike's voice has a warm and dark richness, yet the way he uses it, I am sorry to say, strikes me as being very monotonous.

True, there are songs that initially appear to be a better home for Mike's voice, such as the beginning of Guardian and Inside the Frame, but once Mike gets challenged vocally, it seems he just lacks the versatility to handle the vocals without monotony.

Meanwhile, the song ideas seem to evolve ever so slightly. It is not that Mike does not have ideas as how to venture into prog territory unknown. On the contrary, he dares to explore and, without any cynicism, that's what he tries vocally as well. Yet, after having listened to Ice Age several times now, I can hear the ideas which start off tracks such as Broken Skies and Blossom Falls, yet as the songs develop, the ideas seem to dissolve in echoes of 80s prog sounds and very keyboard-dominated parts that do not always stir cries of an 'Aha-Erlebnis' yet sometimes border on boredom or lead to irritation.

Mike clearly knows his keyboard chops, yet there are moments that do just that: the keyboard part around the 1:20 mark of Inside the Frame is played in such a way that it seems out of place with the composition itself. That might of course be a production fault, but to these ears at least, in Tomorrow's Door the combined keyboard efforts rather smother the song's character, instead of adding to the atmosphere.

Mike Kershaw has ideas, and Mike has a voice that should be able to really catch your attention. He knows the chops around his instruments. However with the output rate Mike is now working at, it might be wise just to not go it on his own next time around.

And so I found myself in this strange, strange situation. Life in the reviewing department, as I've know it so far, has been different. Not to ever seem a frustrated and failed musician (which I'm not), yet a music lover to listen with an open mind to any music put forward. Yet there were times in listening to Mike Kershaw's album that I found it very hard to be in an open mind. The music took me to another version of reviewing life; one I had not experienced before. I knew for sure what kind of review to write. The Ice Age? Long gone... Yet, then again, it didn't turn out like that.

So where does that leave my impression of Ice Age? Get yourself a comfy chair, have an open mind and give it a listen, as long as you realise that this is an album by a man who puts his heart into his music and who tries to find his own place in music. Yet it is not flawless. There are reviews out there that speak fondly of Mike's music and his voice. Perhaps it is a DPRP thing and is it just that not everyone of us gets his music. I, for one, don't. Still, I do hope Mike finds his way in music and through time, gets a chance to fully develop his qualities, perhaps in a band setting with people there to get the best out of him in a consistent way.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10

Anton Roolaart - The Plight of Lady Oona
Anton Roolaart - The Plight of Lady Oona
Country of Origin: Netherlands/USA
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 44:24
Info: Anton Roolaart
Samples: Anton Roolaart website
Track List:
Gravity (7:04), Stars Fall Down (5:24), The Plight of Lady Oona (13:49), Standing in the Rain (4:53), Memoires (4:56), The Revealing Light (8:18)
From the moment the first guitar notes lazily take shape, emerging slowly from the ambient sounds that prelude The Plight of Lady Oona, I immediately think "neo-prog". Yes, of course "neo-prog" is a horrible word, and it should never be used by anyone, least of all serious music reviewers. However, that contested term does carry some connotations that very accurately describe Anton Roolaart's second album.

Compact songs, with only one exceeding the 10-minute mark? Check. Keyboard solos galore? Check. A somber and serious atmosphere? Obvious nods to Genesis, Pendragon and early Marillion? A slight lack of originality? Check, check and double check.

Please note, I have no problem with any of that. The pages of DPRP are full of such releases, many of them fine works.

It's a slow burner, this one. The first song, Gravity, is a fairly accurate harbinger of things to come. Atmospheric guitar textures, some effective string sounds and a rather good keyboard solo from Kendall Scott. The song takes its time, as does the rest of the album; it's two and a half minutes before we get to the first chorus.

Roolaart isn't a particularly good singer but he gets the job done. His excellent production values and the great control he has over the music's atmosphere, do the rest. Stars Fall Down offers more of the same.

The titular, The Plight of Lady Oona, is the centerpiece of the album. It begins again, as a slow piece in which the keyboard work once more stands out. However things don't stay there for long. There's a funky bit, with increasingly intense church organ, that unfortunately never really reaches the climax it seems to be building up to. Instead, it segues into a very quiet middle section, with very fragile vocals from Annie Haslam, before moving into a busier (yet still very laid-back) section with a lot of great musicianship on display. The song ends majestically on a nearly medieval-sounding, acoustic guitar solo.

Memoires is another standout track. The acoustic guitar once more takes centre-stage for a bit of classical guitar music that Steve Hackett himself would tip his hat to. Piano and strings take over halfway and the song becomes a quite wonderful, melodic instrumental piece.

The Revealing Light is the only song on the album that rocks a bit, if only for a few seconds. It ends the album on an interesting thought: for thousands of years, men have worshiped the sun in some way, but, since we are quite literally made from the atoms formed in the hearts of stars, our worship comes back around again.

The album's biggest problem is that it lacks energy. It's a modest and rather inoffensive, LP-length piece of music. If it wasn't for the odd power chord every once in a while, you'd almost forget it was indeed progressive rock you're listening to.

Yet, what the album lacks in energy it makes up in atmosphere and depth, which it has in spades. The incidental guitar or keyboard flourish, as well as the surprisingly effective use of folk instruments and hand claps, does remind me that Roolaart is a very talented musician and that perhaps he hasn't reached his full potential yet. If he manages to put some more fire into his next record, it would be a cracker for sure.

This album isn't an essential addition to your record collection by any means, but it's rather grown on me over time, especially as the weather became colder. I guarantee you that you won't hate it either. It's a well played, well-produced, quality genre-piece that might just warm your bones during cold days.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Strange Land - Delta-V
Strange Land - Delta-V
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 52:00
Info: Strange Land
Track List:
Un-Fare for the Common Man (4:34), Evening Stroll (0:40), Under Watchful Eyes (3:41), Dr. Manhattan (5:35), Tetsuro in Honorable Pursuit of Oneness with his Instrument (1:16), Protagonize (6:12), Whisper Change (0:59), Solid (7:27), Root-Canal in 3-Part Harmony (5:35), Luke's Blue Serial (4:22), Launch Window (1:28), Flare (6:51), Burn (3:43)
Once upon a long ago, Chris Poland left Megadeth and just about three years later, after solo album Return to Metalopolis, he caught the attention of the prog metal loving audiences around when he returned with Damn the Machine's self titled debut. A release that had time changes, texts that had something to say and added political awareness to the songs, great instrumentalists and the voice of Dave Clemmons. The album featured compact songs, hooks, atmosphere, was not overly heavy and, on the other hand, did justice to Poland's playing. Alas, the world only saw the release of that great debut that now seems just about forgotten. Yet it seems the torch that was lit then, might have survived its time travel and, well, sort of, landed in the hands of Brad Klotz and Sean Gill.

Brad Klotz is the man behind the drum kit who also handles vocals, winds and brasses as the biography will have it. Sean Gill is the man responsible for both bass and guitar, keyboards and programming and he takes vocal duties as well. What is clear from the tracks on this album, which happens to be their fourth to date, is that Sean and Brad have ears for tunes and for adding atmosphere to them. The songs are all relatively compact and never turn to Dream Theater showcasing of instrumental virtuosity. Moreover, their music indeed reflects the feel that Damn the Machine songs have and that can as well be found, in a lighter shade, in Fates Warning's music. It has a catchyness combined with heavyness without ever getting too metal for their (or anyone's) good and contains clever songwriting that has an appeal of its own. Whether it's in the vocal lines of opener Un-Fare for the Common Man, the Fates Warning like intro to Dr. Manhattan or the way the voices work together in that track, both songwriters always have ears for the development of the song and the way the listeners get into it. They do know how to write songs! In the instrumental departments there are no complaints at all as Brad is a gifted drummer which he demonstrates in Tetsuro in Honorable Pursuit of Oneness with his Instrument and Sean handles all the instruments he plays very well too. The whole album is there to prove both their capacities.

The weaker link in Strange Land's Delta V, I am sorry to say, are the vocals. For the greater part of the album there is very little to be said of the vocal lines or the way they are performed, yet there are moments that the voices just don't fully make the grade. Protagonize is a belter of a song and has great harmonies, yet the challenge to get the voices right in this one proves demanding. I am a sucker for emotion in a voice and yes, that is what happens here as well, yet, I think, they could better their music in that respect. As for the compositions and the performances, if you are into the bands named as references earlier on, you might find Strange Land worth exploring. What is quite surprising and shows they're more than metalheads throwing in time changes just to be granted the prog tag, is that there is also a deeper lying King Crimson influence to their music. Solid, Root-Canal in 3-Part Harmony and Luke's Blue Serial all show that.

Delta-V might not be everyone's cup of tea, yet as prog seems to be all about 'no borders' why not visit this Strange Land? This here explorer found the trip there very rewarding and more than worthwhile. Now just let the inhabitants of Strange Land flex the muscles in the vocal provinces and the prospect of travelling there will be even more inviting.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

A Secret River - Colours of Solitude
A Secret River - Colours of Solitude
Country of Origin: Sweden
Format: download
Record Label: Bergstrands Beat
Catalogue #: BBCD02
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 48:29
Info: A Secret River
Samples: A Secret River on Soundcloud
Track List:
Blinding Light (6:00), No Way To Say Goodbye (6:51), Starbomb (6:31), Colours Of Solitude (5:31), Are You Coming With Me (5:14), A Place To Start (7:41), Passing Grace (6:15), On The Line (4:24)
In an age where so much of progressive rock is hard-edged and dependent on crisp, punchy time changes and brutal riffage, there is always room for something a little more delicate, and ultimately less noisy or dark. With the release of Colours of Solitude, Swedish quartet A Secret River has released an album which sits surprisingly far from the metallic edge of the prog spectrum. There are still the elements within this album that bind it to the genre but this is a subdued, gentle affair with a universal appeal. The title track with its JS Bach melodies confirms its prog pedigree and some of the keyboard passages throughout the album have a distinctly Banks-like impression to them. Aside from this and a slight nod to the newer Marillion sound, there is enough uniqueness to this group to sustain it.

Given the output from Sweden from the likes of The Flower Kings to Beardfish, there is some surprise to this album that the group do originate from there. With perhaps more of a cross between the UK and the US in sound, A Secret River have a broad appeal and are very easy on the ear. Throughout this debut there is no over-the-top virtuosity or weighty, intense passages of instrumental wizardry, and that is ultimately its charm and persona. Short, catchy and effective songwriting, this album would ultimately be a very agreeable choice for when you have a non-prog partner in the car.

There is nothing tepid about the music however, as subdued as it sounds. The overriding quality behind it is one of warmth and genuineness and it's this that hooks the listener in. From the beginning, with Blinding Light and the outstanding Starbomb, the music reflects a calm and easy-going manner with its assured, lazy Sunday feel. This will provide a glow that comes from few albums in the prog genre much of the time, perhaps shared by the likes of Big Big Train or Robert Reed.

Taking it down a notch further (if that is possible) is the delicate, Are you Coming, which bubbles gently with some delightful guitar that is matched by a smooth, jazz piano. There is nothing dark or intense here, just shades of light with a little hint of upbeat hope. In fact therein sits another element of the album's charm. It could easily wallow in a kind of self-indulgent melancholia, something that would stand up to a wet afternoon of watching the weather and naval gazing. Thankfully this is not the case.

The rhythmic A Place to Start continues the feeling of something more hopeful, with a positive message about change. More clean-jazz guitar underlines this sentiment perfectly, as it breezes along in a more upbeat mid-section. Added value comes all from the tender, somewhat honest vocals from Andreas Ålöw.

Passing Grace has a decisive drive to it that largely comes from the versatile drumming of John Bergstrand and Mikael Grafström's excellent delivery on guitar. Grafström is clearly a real talent with a wide range of styles to his palate.

Closing with the calming lullaby-sounding, On the Line, A Secret River want to wrap you up and tuck you in for the night and wish you sweet dreams. It is pure in its intention and romantically beautiful in its thought. Gradually it builds to a satisfying conclusion that is both moving and prophetic.

If you like a laid-back sound that has enough in its makeup to entertain, then this is a worthwhile purchase. It's easy going, without being prosaic; lush without being too over produced and packed with very listenable melodies and a clean, appealing delivery.

A Secret River has a style that sets them apart from much around them and they should be commended for their ability to set out something that is moving without being over-indulgent.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Alejandro Villalon Renaud - Simbiosis
Alejandro Villalon Renaud - Simbiosis
Country of Origin: Mexico
Format: CD
Record Label: Azafran Media
Catalogue #: AP1314
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 44:46
Info: Alejandro Villalon Renaud
Track List:
Caos (6:50), Espectro (6:41), Foresta (8:25), Revelaciones (7:03), Suenos (7:34), Transmutaciones (8:13)
Alejandro Villalon Renaud is a Mexican audio-visual artist and Simbiosis , his first CD release, is a work created to accompany a video installation. The music is entirely written and performed by Alejandro Villalon Renaud, who styles himself as 'creador digital'.

The music is electronic, with great swathes of keyboards and possible some guitar but as there are no credits on the CD package, I might be wrong. The obvious influences for these pieces are Tangerine Dream's soundtrack work, Klaus Schulze and maybe a little Vangelis. The difference being, especially with the Vangelis comparison is that Alejandro Villalon Renaud is more interested in texture than melody.

The textures involve multiple layers of synthesizers, tolling bells, monks chanting and possibly guitar. It is all burbles and bleeps, developing textures slowly with repeated synth figures. The structure of the tracks are somewhat similar. Most of them have a two part structure where about halfway through the tracks change subtly but to no great effect.

The best of pieces are the more ambient ones, Foresta, which has a short passage of Steve Reich like piano and Suenos that evolves in an intriguing way. The rest are all very floaty and much of a muchness, so much so I began to miss where one ended and the next began. They become quite wearing to listen to after a while, as there is just not enough happening. This may all work better in the audiovisual context for which it was created, but as a stand-alone listen it is not for me.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10

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Published Monday 29 December 2014

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