Dice - Twentaurus
I See The Lights (12:06), Sometimes In The Silence (10:44), The Darkness Of The Universe (9:45), Twentaurus (2:44), The One And Only (10:18), Time Takes Time (14:08)
I See The Lights introduces us to Dice and to Hanke as well. The track clocks in at 12:06 and it is relaxed and spacey, guided along by Hanke's harmonica, Viertel's psych-tinged guitar and Christian Nove's vocal. Half spoken and half sung, it is an acquired taste. I found it to be a bit drab and emotionless but you may like it more than I. Sometimes In The Silence is a bit more uptempo, carried along by Peter Viertel's guitar work. Viertel is a strong presence throughout the album, injecting energy into an otherwise dreamy atmosphere. Twentaurus (Dreamscene 17) at 2:44 is by far the shortest track on the album. It is an interesting collage of voices, sounds and keyboards hardening back to the days of Krautrock and sonic experimentation. The remaining album tracks all log in at 9:45 or longer but they lack the clarity and dynamics to lift the album from good to something special. In conclusion, the band's use of Thomas Hanke's harmonica is a nice touch but too often the music seems to meander, without really ending up anywhere all that special. It's pleasant but not a knockout.
Rick Collins: 6 out of 10
Hasse Fröberg Musical Companion - HFMC
Seconds (1:47), Can't stop the clock (7:24), Everything can change (5:15), Pages (15:23), Genius 5(48), In the warmth of the evening (10:42), Something worth dying for (3:33), Someone else's fault (10:14) Minutes (1:08).
The album opens with the sound of a clock ticking (and closes in the same manner) and we have a concept and running theme of time, woven throughout all the tracks on this album.
Can't Stop The Clock is a good example of this, with muscular guitar opening giving way to a delicate vocal from Hasse. The sound is lush and expansive, layered and textured, but with that soaring voice above it all plus with some very impressive guitar work from one Anders Landsjo. It must be said that all the musicians on this album are excellent and of a very high calibre, and their ongoing association shows in their skills.
What also sets this album apart, is the use of some jazzier interludes which add a different tone and timbre to proceedings. That makes this an album of delights, delicacies, subtlety and class, along with intelligent and very poignant lyrics, especially on the epic Pages. This is the longest piece here and a majestic work in its own right. It offers some really beautiful guitar parts, and lyrics of substance, depth and humanity, performed with passion and aplomb. Throughout the album the melodies that convey the songs are very strong and memorable.
Genius works from a slide guitar riff, which adds an unusual dimension to the song. As inviting as a warm open fire on a winter's evening, it has that warmth and invitation to rest-a-while and let it encompass you, as you immerse yourself in its charms.
Hasse's voice is in very fine form indeed. Impassioned, authoritative and yet somehow tender and vulnerable at the same time, you can tell these songs and lyrics really resonate and mean something almost cathartic to him as he sings them. So much so that they stay in one's head long after the album has finished. Indeed anyone who enjoys the work of The Flower Kings and Neal Morse will find this album irresistible and much to their taste.
For me the standout tracks are, Can't Stop The Clock, Pages and Something Worth Dying For, but everything here has its merits, and deserves its place in this fine canon of work. From the opening ticking, to the closing chimes, lies 65 minutes of classic prog. So I urge you to give this time and space in your listening roster over the coming weeks, months and years, as you will be spinning this one for rather a while.
A really wonderful album.
John Wenlock-Smith: 9 out of 10
The Last Embrace - The Winding Path
On My Own (7:36), Nescience (7:01), The Field Of Minds (16:31), The Fear Of Loss (5:47), Let The Light Take Us (5:42), White Bird (10:03)
An awareness of the need to promote one's efforts within the French market is generally poor. Promotion to an overseas market is often imperceptible.
I guess that is why many French progressive artists seem to have next to no following, or even cognition, outside of French-speaking borders. That is why a band such as The Last Embrace, that has been around since 1998 and has released three studio albums, has never been reviewed on two of the biggest prog music websites - (DPRP and Progarchives). The only reason I got this, their fourth album, is that I now live in France.
That is a shame, as there are a lot of progressive rock fans around the world who will find much to enjoy, if they ever receive an invitation to walk The Winding Path.
The Last Embrace is a five-piece band fronted by vocalist and lyric writer Sandy. There is a weighty musical expertise on offer. Careful compositions make maximum use of both contemporary band instrumentation, plus a septet of classical musicians.
This is classic-style progressive rock: retro, yet modern-sounding. We have complex, multi-faceted compositions with dashes of 70s jazz and rock, some metal and folk, and swashes of classical strings. The tracks are on the longish side. The Fields of Mind expresses itself for almost 19 minutes, whilst the others average around the seven minute mark. The (English) lyrics are poetically philosophical, leaving plenty of room to add one's own interpretation.
Sandy has a lovely, wistful, bluesy, jazzy lilt to her vocal; something I feel the band should make more use of. The opener shines by having a lighter touch and allowing Sandy's jazzy vocal to impress. The more poppy feel to Nescience is very different, but works well, aided by another string of strong melodies. Elsewhere Sandy has to adapt her vocal to suite the varying musical palette.
That is the fault I find with this record. It is simply trying to cover too many bases. As a result, despite many listens, I'm struggling to give The Winding Path a clear identity. The first two tracks are my favourite. It's the longer tracks that just don't quite flow for me. They also lack the memorable hooks and riffs that would maintain my interest, amidst the extended instrumental sections. However I know many people will see that as an advantage. This is indeed quite a niche album, whose appeal will be personal, rather than general.
It is though a very classy album, not without ambition and holding many of the characteristics which lovers of classic progressive rock will enjoy across the world (not just in France!).
(Footnote: To be fair, on the marketing side this band is seeking to widen its appeal. This crowd-funding campaign is testimony to that.)
Andy Read: 7.5 out of 10
John Lodge - 10,000 Light Years Ago
In My Mind (4:54), Those Days in Birmingham (3:18), Simply Magic (2:44), Get Me Out Of Here (3:55), Love Passed Me By (3:24), (You Drive Me) Crazy (2:38), Lose Your Love (4:01), 10,000 Light Years Ago (4:55)
The album title is 10,000 Light Years Ago, yet 1977 was quite a long time ago too, which was when the Moody Blues bass player, song writer and singer released his debut solo album.
Natural Avenues teased progressive rock fans with it's Roger Dean cover but was quite a tame affair, yet a pleasant enough listen. So 38 years later and John Lodge shows us just what happened next, with his second solo album.
Guitarist Chris Spedding is again on board (he was in The Wombles if you remember?) but also guest appearances from original Moodies, Ray Thomas (flute) and Mike Pinder, who has pulled-off the dust cover from his mighty Mellotron and used those little reels of tape with recordings of strings on them, to add a 70s feel on the Moody-like Simply Magic, albeit for all of it's two minutes and 44 seconds.
Anyway, the album is a varied affair, with opening track In My Mind being quite Pink Floyd with its organ, Gilmour-esque lead and drumming. A good start.
The final title track has more hints of Moodyness and latter-day The Beatles about it, with that great, strummy acoustic guitar and orchestral backing. In between there's the pub rock of You Drive Me Crazy, the autobiographical Those Days in Birmingham, the English tea room dance of Love Passed Me By, and a fine Tom Waits impression on Lose Your Love. There's also a hint of fellow Brummies ELO with the rolling Get Me Out of Here.
This album is just as good as anything currently selling millions in the singer song-writer category and it's been a real grower. Of course it's not prog rock (maybe besides the opening track), but it's fast becoming my summer album of choice, as I sip on a chilled Montana sauvignon blanc.
Well played Mr Lodge and let's not wait another 38 years for your next album. Did you know that 38 is the most drawn number in all worldwide lotteries? See, I can be profound.
Andrew Halley: 7.5 out of 10
Methexis - Suiciety
Chapter IV: Ruins (4:49), Chapter I - Exterior: Remember, Fear's a Relic (6:11), The Windows' Cracking Sound (1:46), Who can it be? (6:34), The Origin of Blame (3:27), Prey's Prayer (6:07), Chapter II - Interior: Sunlight (8:20), The Relic (8:28), Chapter III: Suiciety (6:40)
Nikitas Kissonas has written a concept album about all the dark, outside influences that can affect a child from its birth to death, but like The Wall or Radiohead's good bits, gloominess can be uplifting, and that is certainly the case here.
Suiciety is the title and an "A" team of musicians has added virtuoso contributions to this incredible, wide-screen theatrical event, that mixes rock, prog, jazz, funk and classical with real brass and strings and a modern day Eno in Nikos Zades. He is credited with "sound design", throwing fairy dust on an already blessed pallet.
The real star however is The Enid's Joe Payne, who could almost be dressed as a Dickensian Fagin to deliver his enunciated, sung narrative to the open-mouthed audience huddled together in the cold, misty, dank amphitheatre of the setting.
Sectioned into chapters, the child is firstly born and welcomed to the world with the jazzy Remember, Fear's a Relic. Then we follow his life with every twist and turn, via some of the most varied music you'll ever hear on a rock album.
Who Can It Be is a 60s brass-dominated film soundtrack, followed by Payne's narration imbuing fine Shakespearian thesbianism on The Origins of Blame, which has a Queen-like chorus which morphs into the instrumental Prey's Prayer. This track is reminiscent of Frank Zappa's Water Melon in Easter Hay that's used in a remarkably similar manner in the Joe's Garage story, and therefore deserves its own shelf in the vaults of Guitar Solo History.
Sunlight is just pure bliss and the only paean to optimism here. Joe Payne's voice has never sounded better, replete with Steve Howe-style classical noodlings. Before we get to the last track (spoiler alert) where I don't things are going to go very well for our young protagonist, we get The Relic.
Beginning like 60s Pink Floyd, it builds into an increasingly ascending riff with massive orchestral strings and full band. It's enough to make your hair stand up on its own. Then it stops, breaks into piano, drums, solo violin and cello before the next tsunami of orchestral noise washes your fragile body, clean off of the mountain side. Fantastic.
Suiceity (the track) ends the show and is packed with brooding gloom and hopelessness, all wrapped up in a fascinating piece of minor key, electronica-spiced, jazz rock-from-hell. It is a song for fans of Mellotrons, used as instruments of torture. It's the noise that Dante's Inferno would make, or the descent into an active volcano. When we reach the bottom and the spirit departs, phased words are expelled into the abyss: "Oh my brothers, can't you hear the groan? Can't you see the mire? Can't you scent decay?" It's all falling down......"
Some people hate the rock opera idea or just don't want their music veneered with theatre. Good job then that I've picked up this CD, because I love every last twang of the cello bow and ride cymbol hit. It's got brilliant musicianship, excellent singing and a captivating story, with poignant lyrics that captivate, challenge and keep the listener's attention to the last step. It's a triumph of modern progressive rock and if it doesn't win an Oscar, it is definitely my album of 2015.
Andrew Halley: 10 out of 10
Mr So & So - Truths, Lies & Half Lies
Paperchase (8.20), Apophis (6.44), Truths, Lies & Half Lies (4.04), House of Dreams (3.30), Looking Glass (3.15), Jingo (7.41), You're Coming Home (7.35), Breathe (5.08), Time for Change (4.47), Compliance (5.52), Please (10.21).
This is not in any way detracting from Mr So & So. In a way, it is something of a compliment because they have made an album that defies description in that it cannot be easily bracketed into belonging to a certain genre or sounding like any other band. For the record, this is their sixth release, their previous recordings being an EP made two years after they formed in 1989, then five studio albums. However, their reputation is equally built on their live performances though they have been quiet since their appearance at the Resonance Festival in London last summer.
Returning to Truths, Lies and Half Lies, their elusiveness from my point of view is because they do not seem to take themselves as seriously as other bands on the circuit which, in turn, translates into their quirkiness both lyrically and musically. It's there from the outset with Paperchase, starting with a full-on guitar riff from Dave Foster which leads into a sing-along type verse and a hooky chorus. In the chorus, you find yourself homing in on the "Tea and toast" line which seems to be totally congruous and incongruous at the same time. Then later, there is a fantastic guitar passage which really sounds as though it should be in another song entirely. This is the dichotomy of the whole album and one over which I am still pondering.
The other challenge is I am still not sure if I like the vocals of chanteuse Charlotte Evans and bassist Shaun "Magoo" McGowan, but their harmonies are crystal clear and their voices blend beautifully into the framework of the instrumentation. They certainly know how to rock as Apophis proves, while at the same time providing an interesting lyrical and spoken narrative about an asteroid due to come close to earth in 2029.
The title track again throws up a little curveball through its mystical lyrics and understated melody line, while House of Dreams gives a more prog pop perspective over its almost waltz-like rhythm courtesy of Stuart Browne. Looking Glass is a rather clever love song with a bitter sweet twist, performed by Evans and the sonorous piano of Andy Rigler, and there's the sound of breaking glass somewhere in the mix.
Jingo is another little curiosity in the collection punctuated by its Middle Eastern twang and off the wall lyrics, while the combined voices of Magoo and Charlotte, along with its gentle acoustic rhythms on You're Coming Home, put me in mind of The Beautiful South's Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott - until the bagpipes kick in at the end.
The gentler vibe on Breathe offers another strong vocal run-out for Evans and is probably my favourite of all the softer songs again with another surprise ending, this time a ticking clock.
They're back rocking on Time for a Change which swings along in a solid groove, but then it's back to the quirks on Compliance which, it is fair to say, is an anti-religious rant, complete with spoken quasi-prayer passage, crazy synths and another huge guitar contribution from Foster.
Bringing it to an end is Please, another ballad-like piece with a mellotron intro in which the vocal harmonies are to the fore and its denouement ends up like a Hey Jude sing-along.
Well, there you have it and thank you Mr So & So for completely confounding this critic. It's still a very difficult one to call and I guess I will still continue to play it on and off just to see if I do finally get a handle on what they are doing.
Alison Henderson: 7 out of 10
Prowlers - Sogni in una goccia di cristallo
Preludio Ai Sogni (3:35), Claustrofobicaria (pt1) (3:39), Asia (7:42), Libera Menta Sola (12:59), Il Gioco Del Diavolo (9:46), Farfalla Fantastic (4:58), Clastrofoicaria (pt2) (5:29)
For the most part the album limbers, treating the listener to its sedate and innocent passages, an emotional soundtrack, as it journeys to its completion. It has a sedate almost innocent sound that laments and caresses your heart. The band haven't created anything new here or invented new sonic soundstages, it is formulaic in its approach. However, from time to time the band do step outside the box and like I said previously, rock it up a bit. Had the band not taken this approach, the album would have been somewhat and insipid. Note that we are not talking the sonic approach of fellow countrymen, Mastercastle or LoreWeaveR say. Vocally Mombrini is not the most powerful of vocalists, however it is fitting with the soundstage on offer.
For me it's the longer passages that work the best, where the band have time to find their feet, although the two-part Claustrofobicaria offers diversity, where the culmination of the opposite approaches work well. The soft and melancholic Pt1 verses the rapidity of the Marillion-esque tinged keyboard driven Pt2 that is backed by some rather fantastic emotional guitar passages, where, if I was to be totally honest, is the band reaching their pinnacle of their creativity on this album.
As I said, Sogni in una goccia di cristallo as an album is moody and pleasant and takes a safe path of entertaining without taking any real risks. To some degree it does come across as an album that one would play in the background, but at times it will and does have the wherewithal to surprise.
John O'Boyle: 4 out of 10
Prowlers - Prowlerslive
Ande (5:11), Asia (6:00), Claustrofobicaria (pt1) (6:04), Clastrofoicaria (pt2) (5:54), Farfalla Fantastic (4:12), Guardando Dentro Te (6:29), La Grande Quercia (9:07), Libera Mente Sola (12:18), Sweet Metamorfosi (9:41)
I have said this before and I will say it again, sometimes live albums work and sometimes they do not, which of course is stating the obvious. However, one of the things that can make or break a live album, besides having the quality of songs, is the mastering / sound quality. ProwlersLive for me does not have a fantastic soundstage, it is very much in the same sort of vein as Sogni In Una Goccia Di Cristallo. It meanders without grabbing your attention, making you sit up and listen, more's the pity. This could be due to the fact that several of the songs come from that said release. For me this album sits on the proverbial fence not daring to venture into a stronger and more dynamic world, being what I would describe as being contemporary in approach.
Laura Mombrini's vocals play a very important role in the band however they do become forgotten and lost at times, fading into the background; to counter this there is some nicely guitar and keyboard work presented from time to time throughout this affair.
Italy has presented some fantastic bands throughout the years, seeing some great albums being recorded. However Prowlers have not managed to gain access to that league as of yet. This really is an album for completists.
Claustrofobicaria, La Grande Quercia, and Libera Mente Sola are the standout tracks on a mediocre release.
John O'Boyle: 4 out of 10
Roz Vitalis - Overcoming-Up
Overcoming-Up (4:21), Madrigal (4:35), Journey Of Possible Forgiver (6:47), Serene Light (4:11), Thorns Of Forgiving (7:23), Claws Of Winter (Blizzard Paths) (20:54), Overcome By Uplift (4:41)
However, it is not entirely pastoral. The opening title track is an oddly metered, slightly jazzy, slightly gothic work that never quite settles down, and is a nicely disconcerting opener. From then on you get an album of keyboard–led pastoral prog. Madrigal, Journey Of Possible Forgiver and Serene Light are quietly symphonic with lovely touches of flute, percussion and bass. Rozmainsky's use of a variety of keyboard sounds, and the developing melodies keep the pieces interesting. They could be from the soundtrack of a nature documentary.
My main issue is with the two longest works on the album; Thorns Of Forgiving and the epic Claws Of Winter (Blizzard Paths). Here, Roz Vitalis, use a short musical phrase that they repeat and repeat. There is little musical development. Rather they rely on the multiplicity of keyboard textures and other instrumentation to try to keep things interesting. For me however, without any meaningful musical development, both pieces soon irritate and become tedious.
A bit of judicious editing could have made this into a good EP of bucolic melodies.
Martin Burns: 5 out of 10
Something’s At The Sky - From the Rain
From the Rain (3:27), If Only You Care (3:47), Strange Whispering (5:02), Shining in My Eyes (5:27), Dreams (5:19), Trust (3:52), Rose in the Snow (5:38), Rain Drops (7:09), Syringeful of Green (6:57)
From The Rain is the band's debut full length CD although a 4-track EP was released in 2012 under the title Marking the Beginning. All four of those songs were rerecorded for this album. Queen and Porcupine Tree are cited as influences although to be honest I detected precious little of either in the nine songs hear. Lacking the depth and complexity of prog-metal, I would say their music is closer to traditional metal with occasional prog tendencies. Not surprisingly, vocals and guitar dominate proceedings. Whilst the classically tutored Kimbrian has a wide vocal range, moving from baritone to tenor in quick succession, I found his theatrical, pseudo-operatic singing a distraction rather than a compliment to the songs. Pitkänen for his part favours crunching power chords and metallic shredding and whilst there are elements of John Petrucci in his technique, his histrionic style and use of distortion seems closer to that of Steve Stevens.
Often the individual performances seem detached from the song and one another which is perhaps why I found it difficult to engage with the songs. On the other hand it could just be that the album has a shortage of memorable melodies or hooks. Take track 3 Strange Whispering for example where the chorus is based around the repetitive chanting of the band's name. The strident singing, fuzzed guitar riffs and the occasional wailing synth break err towards self-indulgence with only the solid rhythm section maintaining a sense of cohesion.
The aptly titled Dreams brings a welcome change of tone and tempo with refined piano and synth strings whilst the concluding Syringeful of Green is perhaps the most successful track with a pretty decent melody that builds from tranquil beginnings to a powerful coda.
This is an interesting debut from Something's At The Sky and whilst Kimbrian has a distinctive voice and the rest of the band certainly play well with a strong sense of conviction, for me that is not enough to set it apart from the pack. I should point out however that judging from the positives comments on the band's web site, it has attracted some very positive reviews so metal fans in particular are recommended to check out the samples and judge for themselves.
Geoff Feakes: 6 out of 10