Amenophis - Time
The Overdue Overture (8.03), The Sandglass Symphony (7.54), Some Times (4.28), Mrs April McMay (4.59), You (8.10), Intermission (1.36), The Puppet Master, Wheel Of Time (3.39), Coming Home (1.25), Avalon (11.13)
I'll come straight to the point; this is a very traditional, symphonic European prog album, combining lots of different influences such as classical, folk and prog, mixed in with classic prog time signatures. Add in some great instrumental passages and those good old synth string sounds for good measure, and you have a decent album. The opening track The Overdue Overture is an excellent number and I think probably the best on the album, showcasing the band at their best. Parts of it remind me of Camel's Harbour Of Tears album.
The album confuses me a little though. There's quite a lot of 'easy pop' vocals and sentimental lyrics such as "I want to be with you for the rest of my life" which then changes into a completely different complex musical passage. The Sandglass Symphony is an example of this. Whatever the chosen song mix on the album, I have the impression that the 'easy soft and sentimental' side comes straight from the heart, possibly due to the loss of the Michel Roessmann's brother Stefan.
The Puppet Master lifts the album in the middle, with some skilled guitars and some darker Germanic, nearly stadium rock-esque vocals. It's a great guitar and synth riff workout with some funky bass and is far more interesting musically. All of the classic prog parts are here, and there is so much musicianship and talent to enjoy.
Avalon again finds the right path to end the album, coming in at 11 minutes in true prog style and even has a bass solo through a wah wah pedal, with Mellotron in the background.
There are many memorable tracks in the album, with excellent instrumental passages, some blistering electric and acoustic guitar work by Vollumuth/Roessmann, and familiar influences throughout. However there's not enough for a generic 'recommendation' due to some of the slightly 'softer' moments which for me, dilute the 'prog aspect' and lose the focus needed to make it a great album.
Perhaps that might seem a little harsh, but prog seems to have stepped up its game recently, whereas this album remains firmly rooted in 25 years ago (or more). That is okay, but if it is what you are about, then give me a full album of it. As I was writing this I went back again and again to make sure that I wasn't missing anything, which does prove that there is depth in the album. When it's good, it's very good. I think fans of early Genesis, Marillion, Big Big Train and Camel would appreciate this the most. I just hope we don't have to wait another 30 years for another album.
Ian Butler: 5.5 out of 10
Inior - Hypnerotomachia
The Paper Ship (5:19), Mu.s.e. (Music and Subtle Ensemble) (2:43), Stain of Steel (7:45), Worn-out (3:03), From Blue to Red (5:56), Starslave (3:43), Resilient (2:44), INI.OR (5:34), Dust (3:09)
The band describes the CD as "the journey of a human being from the disgregation of the appearances of the contemporary society to the inner self." The first-person lyrics, in English, are similarly obtuse, although something may have beeen lost in translation.
Meaning and narrative aside, this is solidly progressive music with strong playing and excellent production values. The music ranges from the light side of prog rock to some brief, hard edged segments evoking Rush. There's a hiccup, that's all it is, in the form of moderately zany vocals. After all, this is an opera. But rest assured, after a few listens, the loopiness begin to endear itself.
Of course, some tunes work better than others. The Paper Ship, the opener, is a fairly fluffy song that screams "pleasant." On the next tune, Mu.s.e., Berlenghini quickly gains credibility as a guitarist, a status solidified on the well composed, albeit rougher successor, Stain of Steel, which veers into prog metal a la Dream Theater. Other highlights are From Blue to Red, which features sharp guitar lines, emotional vocals, and intricate drumming, and Starslave, a catchy, buoyant tune that again showcases the guitar.
Inior is another of the hard-hitting tunes. There's perhaps too much head banging, but yet again the guitar is impressive. Only the closer, Dust, partly punctuated by a repetitive beat and a surprising poppiness, disappoints in part.
Notably, the package shows real care for detail. The cover art, based on a 17th century drawing of "curiosities" (such as prehistoric creatures and odd shaped tools), draws in, and then holds the viewer. The graphics are likewise appealing.
In summary, this album, although relatively short, delivers much diversity and creativity. Strained references to additional prog-rock bands could be made, but no similarity is striking or long-lasting. Indeed, the band seems to have created the inspired record that it wanted to make. Although not overtly operatic, this album shows more risk-taking than crowd-pleasing, and in the end, it works very well. The band is already busy with its next piece of work, and based on the high quality of Hypnerotomachia, this is a clear reason for optimism.
Joel Atlas: 8 out of 10
Lambert - Drachenreise
Corona (7:35), Stairs (5:58), Estranho (4:44), Hill (7:34), Call (4:48), Past (4:56), Motion (4:44), Sunrise (4:55), Lonely (3:04), Source (3:17), Doucement (5:05), Drachenreise (7:30)
A devotee of the so-called Berlin style of electronic, sequenced music, Lambert has now released another solo outing (his first in many years) entitled Dracheneise ("Dragon's Travel). The only other musician is a guest guitarist on the opening tune. Although the music is fully instrumental, the liner notes reveal Lambert's message here: to remind people to listen to their feelings.
As noted, this music finds its source for the most part, in the Berlin style of electronic music. Undoubtedly, fans of (early) Tangerine Dream, Bertrand Loreau, Larry Fast, and Jean Michel Jarre will find immediate comfort in its midst. But for those who worry about the repetition for which this genre is known, let it be known that there is minimal droning here. Instead the music is varied and vibrant. Present throughout are real melodies, well-mixed harmonies, rich landscapes, and even cognizable solos. And the sound quality on this CD pops. Wallpaper it is not.
The tunes are surprisingly distinct. One of the highlights is Stairs, which will satisfy fans who expect a predictable background, but also those who appreciate some lift and discernible melodic progression. The downright eerie Past is also notable. Without a beat or rhythm, the song serves up synthesised washes that roll over the listener like a light wind.
Lonely is a somber, brooding piece featuring a lead, reminiscent of a harmonica or accordion. In the excellent Doucement, the delicate tones of an acoustic piano and a tuba (yes, a tuba) interact peacefully. Less successful are Call, which oddly blends the sounds of traditional percussion with electronics, and Motion, which, true to its name, is full of action but angles towards pop too much.
In sum, Lambert's return to solo work is certainly a success. This highly creative CD manages to be both busy and calm, both dark and light, and as such, it deserves praise and close attention.
Joel Atlas: 8 out of 10
Osada Vida - The After Effect
King of Isolation (3:51), Sky Full of Dreams (4:32), Still Want to Prevaricate? (3:05), Lies (5:34), Dance with Confidence (1:11), I'm Not Afraid (5:47), Losing Breath (5:01), Restive Lull (5:42), Haters (4:32), No One Left to Blame (7:52)
The music here is a continuation and widening of that found on Particles. The songs are relatively short, with memorable choruses and eminently hummable melodies. The band uses classic rock structures, but alloys them to sophisticated arrangements. They use many prog touches, coupled to interesting dynamics and art-rock atmospheres. They are moving away from prog-metal, and into that heavy prog area occupied by fellow countrymen Riverside and Believe. However their use of a string quartet, vintage keyboard sounds and the freshness of their approach, means they cannot be considered in any way copyists.
This freshness of approach can be easily heard on the instrumental tracks, where the vintage keyboards on Still Want to Prevaricate? are a delight, and on Restive Lull where jazz touches inform the interplay between guitar and keyboards.
The songs are all richly emotional. The opener is a classic rock-meets-prog tune, which in a prog-friendly radio world would have 'hit single' written all over it. The string quartet adds depth and pathos to the semi-ballad Sky Full of Dreams. The organ playing on Lies and Losing Breath, channels the spirit of Jon Lord. There is also a power ballad in the shape of I'm Not Afraid, where singer Marek Majewski shines, as he moves from a tone of world weariness to triumph.
Osada Vida is a band that mixes the heavier end of prog, with sometimes intense guitar riffs and solos, but then balances these with vintage keys and piano, jazz touches and a great melodic sensibility. If you can envisage listening to a heavy Marillion, then this is for you.
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10
Pantommind - Searching For Eternity
Not for Me (4:38), Moon Horizon (6:13), Walk On (6:16), Lost Lullaby (4:40), Angel (5:27), Hypnophobia (3:05), Down to the End (7:06), Tell Me (6:48), Searching for Eternity (8:47), Heart (3:01), Lost (6:59)
It can be a fascinating and rewarding experience. Sometimes frustrating, as an act fails to deliver on its potential or simply decides to call it a day. Sometimes satisfying, when a band grows and develops in the way you had hoped.
This quintet from Bulgaria falls firmly into the second of those categories.
It was over a decade ago that I heard some early demos, and was interested enough to snap up a copy of their debut album on America's Sensory Records in 2005. Shades of Fate (review of Shades of Fate) had three gems but lots of unfinished business. I was impressed enough though, to conclude that: "Pantommind is clearly a band with huge potential."
Four years later, I was back at my keyboard for the release of Lunasense (review of Lunasense). This time all the lessons had been learnt, with the band crafting an album of classy, dark-tinged progressive metal that made its way to number 4 in my Top 10 for the year.
We've had to wait over five years for its successor, but I am happy to predict that Searching For Eternity will continue to develop a fan base of those who enjoy thoughtful, melodic progressive metal, with various shades of heavy and light, and who demand a singer and musicians from the very top of the pile.
In many respects this is Lunasense 2. The basic ingredients are the same. The recipe has just been revised and perfected.
Musically this sits firmly in the style of such bands as Pagan's Mind, Evergrey, Vanden Plas, Crimson Glory, Symphony X, mid-period Fates Warning and Savatage plus a less-complex Andromeda or Darkwater.
I sense two added ingredients here. In the songwriting, there is a heavier spoonful of the Germanic melodic hard rock style (Pretty Maids/Bonfire). The blending of simpler melodies with more technical progressive metal playing, also brings comparisons to Circus Maximus in places.
In the vocals, Tony Ivan has dropped his delivery to a more frequent use of his rich mid-range. He still frequently rises to the heights of his abilities, but this gives added variety and drama to the music. This will also make this disc more appealing to those (not me) who have a disliking for the 'air-raid siren' that was in heavier use before.
Extra interest is added with a guest performance by Mike Andersson of the Swedish band Cloudscape on one track.
Whilst stylistically, Pantommind offers nothing strikingly original or overtly progressive (no Dream Theater-style wankery here), there exists a real quality, complexity and depth to the songwriting that rewards repeat and careful listening. Whilst I have made multiple comparisons, Pantommind really does have a recognisable sound of its own.
There are some gorgeous guitar and keyboard details. The clever, layered harmonies and accent-less vocals from Tony Ivan are distinct and amongst the best that this genre offers.
In a similar way to the contribution of Mark Zonder in Fates Warning, the cleverly inventive drumming of Drago constantly lists a riff or a melody to a higher level. Sure, he has power and a mean kick, but there are some lovely fills that enliven passages and stick in the mind.
Of the songs, the first six are flawless. My favourites differ each time I listen. Interestingly the band has decided to re-arrange and re-record three tracks that originally appeared on that first 1999 demo album called Freedom. Of these, Moon Horizons is one of the gems of this disc, whilst the mid-paced title track has some lovely plucked guitar lines that remind me of Fates Warning's fabulous FWX. The first half of the other revised song, Down To The End is one of the few weaker parts of this disc. It is saved by an interesting instrumental workout in its second half.
Unsurprisingly my conclusion is the same as it was for Lunasense. I've been doing this review lark for long enough now, to know when an album stands out from the crowd. In the past five years, the crowd has become thicker, but this still stands out as one of the best albums that the world of progressive metal will offer in 2015. Buy with confidence.
Andy Read: 8.5 out of 10
Jonathan Segel - Shine Out
The Next Attacking Wave (3:12), Turtles All The Way Down (6:25), The Bolinas Witch (3:27), Sometimes Always Never (1:14), Leaving Troy (4:27), All Eyes (4:07), Love, and Money (3:25), Dr. Freebird (3:20), Juniper and Birch (2:56), Let's Catch Frogs (6:13), Nice Tree Ice (6:09), Shine Out (3:29)
Getting sacked from his day job in 2012 led to the decision to decamp with his wife and nine-month old daughter to Sweden, the country of his wife's birth, where they reside to this day.
All these influences are brought to bear on this charming and intentionally slightly woozy album, recorded in the idyllic setting of a log cabin by a lake, somewhere in Sweden. Having seen that kind of Scandinavian setting for myself, I can say that Shine Out perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being just outside of time, that those peaceful settings conjure up.
Jonathan plays all the instruments, including electric and acoustic guitars, banjos, violins, and percussion. He also sang it all, some of it with Sanna Olsson.
An odd mix of Americana, indie, light electric psych-folk, a dash of Roy Harper, and on Let's Catch Frogs even some Neil Young geetar noise for good measure. It all combines to make this a delightful way of spending three-quarters of an hour.
Roger Trenwith: 7 out of 10
Seven Side Diamond - Enigma
Prolusion (1:23), Pact (7:19), Unique Verse (6:37), Metasong (4:36), Shine 7:12), Enigma (I. Psique Door) (0:52), Enigma (II. Sunset) (4:41), Enigma (III. Infinite Night) (3:06), Enigma (IV. Loom in the Sky) (01:31), Enigma (V. Labyrinth Lake Mind) (1:52), Enigma (VI. Cryptic Wars) (2:12), Enigma (VII. Sunland Island) (1:22), Enigma (VIII. Secret Dive) (3:33), Enigma (IX. Before) (3:34), Enigma (X. Offhand Funeral) (2:02), Enigma (XI. In) (2:35), Enigma (XII. Life Party 2) (3:50), Enigma (XIII. Speranza) (2:52)
The thing that struck me on my initial listen is the quality of musicianship and compositional skills of this band. There are some fantastic bass runs by Diego Parres throughout this enjoyable, sometimes quirky album. The music is sated with competent and solid drumming from Casimiro Araujo, fine guitar work by Joao Fadel great keyboard and piano playing from Andre Fadel (checkout Labyrinth Lake Mind). The vocals come courtesy of Diego Americo (kind of a cross between Freddy Mercury and James LaBrie) and not a bad singer at all; in fact well suited to this type of prog.
The tour de force piece from this album is the wonderful 34-minute epic Enigma, which clearly demonstrates the musical calibre of these guys. The track is a remarkable, complex creation that enthralls and captivates. Being called Enigma, it is a bit of a mystery as to what's it all about and although split into 13 parts, Enigma has to be listened to as a whole. It has everything that will pique most progsters. We've some great vocals (Offhand Funeral), good guitar solos (Life Part 2 and Loom in the Sky), it is stuffed to the brim with sublime piano work (too much to list here), with amazing and great sounding bass playing throughout, and some superb drumming to boot.
I really enjoyed listening to this album and hearing such a breath of fresh air coming from South America. As a bit of a keyboard player myself, this album was a delight for the sterling piano work, which figures greatly within the music. In fact some of the synth and keyboard playing in Sunset does remind me of Neal Morse's style and subsequently Transatlantic.
It is now four years since this was released, so let's hope there is something in the near future from this band.
Alan Weston: 8 out of 10
Snovi - Snovi
Trigon (0:51), Anima Mundi (5:31), Ekliptika (3:27), Chandra (3:51), Supermarket (3:42), Virtualni Trubador (2:33), Bal Vampira (4:37), Iluzija (4:45), Trailer (1:43), Skylla (7:46)
At face value, the band intrigued me with an eccentric video to one of their songs. Shot in black and white, with paper-mache dolls as the lead subjects, the band obviously strive to portray something unusual and eerie with their product. This mysterious feeling continued when I received the review copy of this album. Snovi's albums come in unusually sized paper sleeves with strange paintings as the artwork, with a sheet inside that contains the album credits holding the disc. As far as presentation goes, they're right on the money.
The music is not as eccentric as you'd expect from all this. Imagine a darker, more progressive rock oriented Ozric Tentacles, add in a huge orchestral influence and remove most of the mushrooms and LSD. Still, a Steve Hillage influence can be heard in the clean guitars. But even then, I don't understand what that kind of spacey vibe has got to do with the 'epic' sounding orchestral stuff Snovi wants to incorporate as well. It just doesn't seem to match. Even though Snovi play with a spacey ambient or orchestral texture here and there, I feel they're at their best when they're either playing it heavy or when they're using acoustic guitars. The latter is by far the best sounding aspect of the recording.
The electronic element is mixed very upfront, and that turns out to have a jarring effect sometimes. The electronics feel incredibly harsh in tone and lack good taste, to my ears anyway. My main problem with them is that they seem random most of the time, as if any other synth of FX patch could've been used instead. I feel - I can't believe I'm saying this - that there's too much variation in the use of different sounds. This gives the listener no familiarity to latch onto, a bit like feeling lost in a jungle of sonic chaos. The choir sounds do add a nice twist to the music, giving it a pretty 'epic' feel at times. Still, the cold 80s sounding production (thin guitars with chorus effect, distant sounding drums, a flat bass sound) stop the band from sounding like a unit on this album.
Most of the songs are very full. Musical parts are all over the place, but they don't necessarily complement each other that well. Fortunately, a couple of tracks are welcome exceptions. Supermarket is a proper space rock/funk workout and Virtualni Troubadour is a well composed piece of acoustic music. The track Bal Vampira stands out, because it succeeds best in combining the rock with the electronic element. The beat is unashamedly 90's techno, and the band bust out numerous heavy rock riffs. Just plain unpretentious fun. Also, Iluzija has a groovy drum and bass groove with spacey clean guitars and choir vocals. Finally all these layers come together here, while making some musical sense.
Generally, the music has a nice flow to it, transitioning to the next musical part easily without hiccups. However, the melodies are mostly very long winded. There's rarely something to them that makes them stand out. When the music does work once in a while, the proficiency of the musicians shines through. I have to give a special mention to the bass player, who comes up with some interesting parts throughout the album.
This just Snovi's debut album and it's not bad by any means, but not something to get excited about either. The band released a follow-up in 2014 called Ciklus, and I'm reviewing that one as well. I'm interested to hear how - or if - they've progressed since this one.
Give this album a listen if you can live with some inconsistency and can appreciate some freaked out instrumental music.
Karel Witte: 5 out of 10
Spleen Arcana - The Light Beyond The Shades
Erin Shores (12.00), Fading Away (10.18), Memento Mori (24.08)
How very prophetic of him to identify 2015 as the year of Spleen Arcana's follow-up album The Light Beyond the Shades, an indication of the care French multi-instrumentalist and composer Julien Gaullier takes when bringing his music to market.
For this second Spleen Arcana album, he is joined again by David Perron on drums and Marie Guillaumet on backing vocals while Gaullier appears on vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, keyboards, bodhran, glockenspiel and mandolin, with all three tracks recorded in Paris between 2009 and 2013.
Gaullier makes no secret of the fact that he is heavily influenced by 70s progressive rock and that's really the yardstick to use for listening to Shades as throughout the three tracks, a succession of classic bands can be heard within the compositions.
The overarching themes incorporate Celtic elements and Erin Shores sounds like a paean to the natural beauty of Ireland. It starts with the sound of thunder or crashing waves followed by Irish pipes and drums captured within a pared back vibe, the acoustic/electric guitar passages conjuring up Mike Oldfield. Gaullier's singing voice has a meditative quality which makes it ideal as it never dominates or swamps the flow of the instrumentation.
The piece ebbs and flows - in keeping with the passage taken throughout the album - and towards its denouement, you can pick up more Oldfield and a touch of Camel before a gentle piano solo takes it to its conclusion.
Fading Away introduces itself with some ear-catching synths sequencing along with piano chords and a harp-like sound, before Gaullier's vocals come in. Its rockier feel is augmented by a guitar solo which provides a much needed lift and there's a section which features both Guillaumet's backing vocals and also some fluent bass lines. Bass, acoustic and electric guitars herald a racier change of pace with mellotrons also coming in, but it continues perhaps a little longer than it should in the same vein.
After an intro comprising a huge wash of synths, Memento Mori takes an unexpected direction with Gaullier's voice little more than a whisper over a quieter sequence. But this is not for long, as a driving bass rhythm underpinning synths takes over. From there on, the piece comprises a series of twists and turns in the tone and style of the instrumentation ranging from King Crimson jazziness to Floydian sublimity before it returns to the driving bass and synths, with a touch of Tubular Bells emerging towards the conclusion.
You can sense the painstaking work that has gone into the creation of The Light Beyond the Shades and I can only offer my whole-hearted admiration and respect to M. Gaullier, truly an independent artist, for his attention to detail in delivering three complex works.
However, there are junctures in some of the longer instrumental passages where my attention did begin to wander but overall, it is pretty, pastoral prog, produced and played well, which is also reflected in the nature themed artwork which accompanies it.
Alison Henderson: 6.5 out of 10