The Aqualung - We Bare All
Awake the Sleeping Dogs (3:53), Into the Wild (6:32), Breathe (5:38), Delusion (6:05), Metasphere (6:09), Ruins (4:54), Chewinggumnun (4:01), The Aqualung Pt. 2 (7:29), One Last Time (7:25), Erase (6:31), Hold On (6:09)
The quartet's compositions are quite emotionally driven. Mellow parts of rather melancholic and sad emotions usually take off with heavy outbursts of despair and rage, which then flatten down again, only to calm back into another mellow episode. Using the band name as a metaphor, their songs feel like an introverted dive in an ocean, which results in a return to the surface, only to break through the water and be confronted with the harshness of the real world.
In contrast to the heavy emotions, the arrangements are very minimalist, and the display of musicianship is taken totally back to a minimum. The intention is clearly to provide their songs with a lot of air to have the emotion at maximum effect. This will leave the hard-core progger rather unsatisfied, but that's not what the band cares about. The boys still have enough stylistic repertoire throughout the album for a thrilling listen, and it's worth every second you spend with it.
On the downside, there is little variation in melody, and many melody lines are repeated a little too often, which makes one fed up with the album easily when listening frequently. Also, the vocalist hasn't enough technique to create a strong and clean air flow, and so he appears to follow the other instruments instead of leading them. Not that he's out of tune, no, not at all! It just needs better technique to improve his assertiveness.
What we have in hands with We Bare All is a decent debut album, and when I compare it to many dozens of other debuts, this is very promising and I'm convinced that they will improve vastly with their next effort.
Raimond Fischbach: 7 out of 10
Ashen Waves - Premonitions
Whispers (8:36), Premonition I (1:17), Enmity (7:39), Premonition II (0:49), Frozen Night (6:30), Premonition III (1:11), Bridge Through Time (7:30), The Void (9:51), Premonition IV (1:03), Anamnesis (5:54)
The band members are Peter Hraur (grunts, guitars, keyboards), Tyler Fedeli (lead vocals, drums) and Graham Noel (bass). On the tracks Enmity and Bridge Through Time, they have a guest grunter Greg Bogart.
As I am not really into doom metal, I feared for the worst. But the opening track, Whispers, pleasantly surprised me. It's a quality track from beginning to end. It starts with calm and fragile keyboards and there are even some folky elements melted between the more heavy guitar work. The vocals by Fedeli are very pleasant and even the grunts by Hraur don't disturb me - they actually sound great together.
Sadly, the opening track is the best on the album. On Enmity, it's all heavy guitars and grunts in doom metal style and the subtlety of the first track is completely missing. About half way through the track, some of the quality returns. The tracks Premonition I-IV are brief interludes between the tracks and are sometimes acoustic or rhythmic but always full of atmosphere. They are the cement between the bricks.
This album is a real variety of styles, from heavy to relaxed and from progressive to doom. All of these styles combine on the longest track, The Void. Everything you've heard on the album has been fitted into this track. There are beautiful keyboard sounds, heavy guitars, grunts and some nice clean vocals.
It's a pity that not all tracks have the same quality as the opener, otherwise the rating probably would haven been a bit higher, but this is a nice debut release by these guys from the States.
Peter Swanson: 7.5 out of 10
Colin Bass - At Wild's End
Return to Earth [4:30], We Are One [5:55], Walking to Santiago [6:46], Waiting for Someone [4:10], In Another Time [1:48], Szegereli Eternal [4:53], Darkness on Leather Lake [5:03], Bubuka Bridge [1:54], If I Could Stay [5:59], Girl From the Northwest Country [4:35], Up at Sheep's Bleat [2:51], At Wild End [8:12]
The laid back and somewhat folksy tone of the album cover is a pretty good indication of what to expect from the CD. Though the 12 songs contained here touch on several different styles, there is a mellow musical flow that runs through much of the album. That's not a criticism, but going into it, you are best not to expect anything too adventurous. There are a few more upbeat rock songs and glimpses of a sound that every Camel fan will recognise. Those fleeting moments, though, are due more to Colin's voice and Andy's guitar work than to any significant progressive elements. Overall, there is a nice, comfortable feel to At Wild's End that works quite well.
The album opens with one of its strongest tracks, the extremely pleasant Return to Earth. The song employs a cheery melody and Colin's vocals fit perfectly into the tone utilised here. As things progress, the album takes a few low-key turns with songs like We are One and Waiting for Someone. As previously mentioned, there are also enjoyable harder rocking moments like Darkness in Leather Lake and In Another Time. Mostly though, this is a great album to sit back and listen to on a nice autumn day. The strongest moments on the CD such as Walking to Santiago, Girl from Northwest County and the title track, all display a middle-of-the-road vibe that is really quite enjoyable.
Though some songs are more compelling than others, all things considered, At Wild's End is an entertaining album. It doesn't reach the creative heights that Colin obtained on An Outcast of the Islands, but to be honest, I'm not sure that it aspires to. The album is certainly strong enough to warrant a recommendation. Particularly if you are fan of Colin's previously work. Plus, for fans of Camel, there is some nice work by Andrew Latimer to be found here. As mentioned above though, it is definitely an album that fits a certain mood. This is not a 'knock you off your seat' progressive rock recording, but more so, a confident and comfortable folk, pop, rock excursion.
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10
Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder - Direction Green
Direction Green Part I & II (42:17)
Direction Green, a 42-minute-long single piece is a teaser EP from the rehearsal sessions for their latest album (following on their coloured themes) Green.
As you would expect from a duo of German musicians and a Dutchman brought up on a diet of Tangerine Dream Kraftwerk and Neu, it continues that lineage of suitably-haunting electronic sounds. Broekhuis' mesmerising, metronomic percussion lays the foundation as the music builds up in waves and waves, and the track, like all the best pieces of electronic music bubbles and coalesces, building momentum and force until the hypnotic melodies and simmering electrical tensions erupt into a musical piece de resistance. It is hypnotic, captivating and atmospheric, and the ambience of the music fills the room, until you are immersed in the sonic balm of the music.
This is the sort of music you should listen to on headphones as the waves of synths crash against the musical shoreline across the stereo channels and deep into your subconscious.
When you consider that this is merely a teaser piece, imagine what the album will sound like. A fantastic soundscape from a musical trio at the peak of their powers.
James R Turner: 8 out of 10
Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder - Green
Green One (24:59), Green Two (18:14), Green Three (10:36), Green Four (16:36) Yellow is not Green (4:56)
As probably the key proponents of contemporary Krautrock, Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder are masters of their game, and having worked together for so long, their compositional abilities and intuitive knowledge as to how each other works creates some of the most intense, emotional and uplifting electronic music I have heard for some time.
Green One, whilst not as long as last year's Direction Green. is the longest piece on this album and revisits some of the electronic motifs from the EP before busting into life with some amazing analogue synth sounds and powerful percussion bringing to mind the work of Vangelis or Jean Michel Jarre, but all neatly within the musical universe that BK&S have honed and created over their 21-year career.
Moving to a more organic sound on Green Two with an elegiac almost Tangerine Dream-esque opener, the piece builds and builds, slowly, sinuously, until the powerfully-precise percussion of Broekhuis starts to drive the piece, really pushing in at around the five-minute mark, as the synths start to sound like a choral cavalcade. The beat drives on, as wave after wave of synth power ebbs and flows through the hypnotic beat-driven track, Broekhuis as intelligent and powerful as any drummer, and the way that Keller and Schönwälder weave their sound together is a fine thing to hear.
Joined by regular contributors Raughi Ebert (acoustic and electric guitar) and Thomas Kagerman (flute and violin) on Green Three, the addition of the two extra musicians and their more traditional instruments gives the track a different sound, and the way the guitars and violins weave in and out throughout the track, and the use of pianos within, give it an almost late-night laid-back jazz feel, all blended and weaved into the BK&S sound.
Green Four is another well-made and beautifully performed piece of haunting contemporary Krautrock, as the way the trio blend their skills and weave their sound into a organic whole is a joy to listen to. Each track seamlessly flows into the other, until what you have is different pieces of the same musical jigsaw, which when put together the right way are really enjoyable - a contemporary electronic symphony.
The final track, and by far the shortest on the album, Yellow is not Green, with its heartbeat percussion, its simmering synths with a mournful sax sound, sounds similar but different to what has come before, and is maybe dropping hints about what lies round the corner for BK&S.
Whatever way you look at it Green is a triumph of electronic music, the contemporary electronic symphony that redefines the sound of Krautrock, and exposes the human soul that sits at the heart of the very best electronic music.
James R Turner: 9 out of 10
Eureka - Great Escapes
Stepping Out (2:08), Animated World (4:00), Stolen Child (3:42), One Million Stars (3:53), State Of View (4:06), Chase The Dream (6:33), Escape! (3:36), On The Run (4:00), The Big Picture (10:08), Solid Ground (4:42)
As Bossert states, the album represents his admiration for songs that ride "the balance between clear song structures and instrumental courage". Another difference on this new release is that Bossert handles the lead vocals instead of using guests. He does a good job and it makes one wonder why he didn't just sing his own work previously. Lyrically, the album covers some serious and adventurous topics in a thoughtful and creative manner. It is obvious that Bossert wrote about things that were important to him with the goal to make music that is as thought provoking as it is entertaining.
Production wise, Great Escapes is pretty close to flawless. This is a very professional and slick recording but what is the music like, you ask? Well, to quote the marketing for the album, If you like bands such as Rush, Pink Floyd, Marillion or Yes, you don't have to look further than EUREKA. I think that is a fair assessment, but the reference is really more specific to certain periods of those bands' recording careers. There is a late 80s, early 90s feel to this album. If you have a fondness for the more commercial progressive rock of that period, you will absolutely find much to like here. With its significant AOR/prog vibe, bands like World Trade and Enchant also came to mind as I was listening to this album.
With the exception of drums and backing vocals, this is pretty much a one-man show with Bossert handling all of the instrumental duties. Most impressively, Great Escapes has a real band feel to it, which is a testament to how well he plays each instrument. He is a particularly strong guitarist but pretty much handles each instrument with equivalent skill. The backing vocals of Cathrine Jauer and Kalema are also extremely effective.
So, strong production and performances in check, how does the album resonate? Personally, I missed the adventuress nature of Shackletonís Voyage. This album is not as progressive and plays a lot more like a straightforward rock album. There are certainly progressive elements to be found, but they are not predominant. That isn't a criticism per se, because as far as rock albums with prog elements go, this is certainly a good one.
Running at just over 45 minutes, the album doesn't wear out its welcome. The flow of each track is effective and though there are some definite highlights, there really isn't a lull to be found. Stand out tracks include the rocking, Animated World, the upbeat State of View, the instrumental Escape and the semi-epic, The Big Picture.
Where the album truly touches greatness though, is on the homage to aviation, Chase the Dream and the album closer, Solid Ground. Both of these tracks successfully squeeze an epic and majestic feel into just a few minutes. From a songwriting perspective, they are the high points of the album. Overall, going into Great Escapes with the proper perspective of what to expect, there is quite a lot to enjoy about this album. The quality is clear to see and it is obvious that a lot of care went into the recording. Frank Bossert is an exceptionally talented musician and if the goal was to create a prog rock album that focuses more on song structure, he has succeeded in a significantly entertaining fashion.
Patrick McAfee: 8 out of 10
Shepherds Of Cassini - Helios Forsaken
Raijin (6:17), Mirrors Have no Memory (0:45), The Almagest (14:59), Mauerfall (13:54), Pleiades's Plea (9:53), Helios Forsaken (14:33)
But then again, these here shepherds from outer space know a thing or two about musical improvisation and before I knew it, they added some welcome violin to the track, even added a Faith No More like vibe and yes, they succeeded in mixing all that with just a hint of Eastern tinged music in the vein of Rainbow's The Gates of Babylon.
Shepherds of Cassini are a band following their own path. Every single track is there just to be played with joy, at quite the volume and listened to with great enthusiasm. This is a not a band that goes for easy tracks for the masses, as most of their songs are longer than 10 minutes in duration.
This truly is an album to explore, as each and every single time listening to the six tracks sheds new light on them and has you experience the musical journey quite differently from the time before. Music as an adventure. You might wonder if 14-minute tracks can be interesting if you hear them several times, yet let me tell you, this album is very much worth your while if you like your menu based on experimental and (over-) long tracks that go hand-in-hand with more than mere decent playing. Apart from that, Brendan Zwaan knows how to sing.
The violin is a superb addition to the sound and the band really make the most of their playing together; that is what, for instance, The Almagest shows very clearly. If King Crimson and Van deer Graaf Generator had joined forces with Sky Architect and Monolith and ended up mixed with Orphanage this album might perhaps indicate their direction; an album full of surprises and at the same time skilfully recorded, and tracks that just scream "Come explore us!" Yes, riffs abound, and you will get to hear some metal parts, but all are added for the total effect of the songs, never out-and-out metal. The band truly deserves credit for the way their songs are built. Very, very fine, indeed.
It's well worth checking Shepherds Of Cassini out, they provide a great and fresh meal for prog lovers. Those into space and stoner rock might have a greater chance of finding this to their liking, still, I do think there's a lot to be enjoyed in this, their second album. Good on ya, mates!
Marcel Hartenberg: 9 out of 10
Spettri - 2973 MMCMLXXIII La Nemica Dei Ricordi
Il Lamento Dei Gabbiani (5:43), La Nave (7:08), La Profezia (7:09), Onda Di Fuoco (6:41), La Nemica Dei Ricordi (7:07), Il Delfino Bianco (4:09), La Stiva (5:28), L'Approdo (5:04), Il Lamento Dei Gabbiani (Mono Version) (5:44), La Profezia (Mono Version) (7:10), La Stiva (Mono Version) (5:28)
Somewhere along the way, they decided to make a comeback. The songs for the new album were recorded in 2014, so this time it did not take them about 40 years to release their music.
The debut album, Spettri, is a concept album about a young man who wants to find answers to war, violence and economic power. During this search, he only hears reflections from himself. His story continues on this album, 2973 MMCMLXXIII La Nemica Dei Ricordi, in the year 2973.
The first part of the story, the part from the first album, is written in English in the booklet but the rest of the lyrics and the rest of the story is written in Italian. This is not really a show-stopper for me, as I like Italian prog and I know many people feel the same.
The sound of Spettri is dark, with many thick layers of keyboards including Hammond organ, Wurlitzer and Mellotron. The guitar is sharp and raw, and at times with the saxophone it sounds brilliant. The vocals are flooded with character and they fit the music perfectly.
At times, I hear Spettri as an Italian Deep Purple: Jon Lord must be a major influence to keyboard player Steffano Melani. Listening to the start of La Nemica Dei Ricordi, it sounds a lot like Perfect Strangers. I can also hear influences from Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Van der Graaf Generator.
The thick sound tends to fill the room and is not easy to ignore, and the sound quality is good.
2973 MMCMLXXIII La Nemica Dei Ricordi is about 50 minutes of great music. For some reason, the CD finishes with mono versions of some of the songs, which seems a very strange addition. However, if you like Italian prog, then you should get this album instantly.
Edwin Roosjen: 8.5 out of 10
Theo Travis' Double Talk - Transgression
Fire Mountain (6:06), Transgression (12:26), Smokin' At Klooks (4:18), Song For Samuel (5:32), Everything I Feared (5:35), Maryan (7:47), A Place In The Queue (10:00), The Call (2:55)
He is working again with Mike Outram on guitar (Steven Wilson, Herbie Mann, Carleen Anderson, Jacqui Dankworth) and Pete Whittaker on Hammond organ (John Etheridge), who both appeared on that 2007 album. They are joined by Nic France on drums (Steven Wilson's Grace For Drowning album, David Gilmour's Live At The Royal Festival Hall DVD and Kate Bush, Robert Wyatt and Allan Holdsworth).
As one would expect from musicians with such pedigrees, the music on Transgression is expertly played, full of subtleties and fire. The music is more than well served by Steven Wilson's mixing and mastering of the CD. As the keen-eyed reader will have noticed, there is no bass player on this album. So the low end is provided by Whittaker's Hammond playing and by the low notes out of Travis' tenor sax.
The album opens in a fierce fashion with the Mahavishnu Orchestra blast of Fire Mountain with Travis' tenor blowing up a storm, seemingly forcing the other band members to keep up. The music is jazz, but it is jazz that heavily channels English progressive rock and jazz of the seventies, eschewing the funk and fusion elements of American progressive jazz-fusion. It is a terrific opening.
Bookended by quiet Floyd-like guitar and organ passages, the title track just about edges it as the standout track on this collection. It moves from the atmospheric opening to darker, harder tones as it shifts through the gears. There is an incandescent solo from Outram that then makes Travis up his game for his free-blowing tenor solo. However, this still remains an ensemble piece, with Whittaker's organ and France's drumming moving from the sensitive to the storming in support without being overwhelmed. This is fabulous music by anyone's standards.
What follows these two engaging openers is just as good. There's the relaxed Peter Green meets Carlos Santana latin-jazz blues shuffle of Smokin' At Klooks and the moody atmospherics of Everything I Feared, co-written with Dave Sturt of Gong and Jade Warrior, which has brilliantly delicate flute work on it. The gentle Canterbury influence can be found in the cover of Robert Wyatt and Philip Catherine's gorgeous Maryan. The flute-led melody, underpinned by subtle drum and organ, is quite haunting.
The other lengthy track, though not up to the 25 minutes of the original version, is a cover of The Tangent's A Place In The Queue. Here, the band work as a unit producing a soulful and plaintive sound. I must mention here Whittaker's outstanding Hammond work. If you are looking for a reference point here I would steer you towards Thijs van Leer's sound on Focus' song Focus III. Like any good cover version, it sent me back to listen to The Tangent's original.
If I have a caveat it is in the form of the lounge jazz of Song For Samuel, which I thought was a little bland at first, in a seventies sitcom-theme sort of way, given the quality of the other compositions on this album. But on repeated listens, it is saved by changes in dynamics and by a delicate, quiet guitar solo.
Overall, however, this is a blindingly good album of melodic and exploratory progressive jazz. But at the same time, it remains modest in that wistful English Canterbury way, so that it ensnares you in its heartfelt charms. Let's hope that there is not an eight-year wait for a follow up.
Martin Burns: 9 out of 10
Underfate - Seven
Mercury (7:15), Hand Print (4:57), Entanglement (6:07), Memento Box (9:02), One Step Over (6:07), OOBE (10:20), Way Out (7:00)
The story is all about Mercury, the protagonist of the story and what happened to him and his lady friend. The band have written short diary entries to deliver the story, yet they use no lyrics at all. They have created a sound that is at a crossroads between prog, post rock and alternative music, sometimes 80s inspired, or so it seems. Their music is not strictly post rock, I would say, as we hear more than textures in general, as on One Step Over, which has some fine guitar work by Piotr Chomitz. Apart from that, Adam Zmuda has a clear role on keyboards, which are not always used as much in post rock.
Mateusz Switala and Slawomir Lewandowski provide a solid backing on drums and bass and, listening to the album, it sounds all very much a band effort. They have succeeded in letting the music depart from a dreamy kind of state and it doesn't take much of one's fantasy to picture the music as accompaniment to the different tales in the various songs. Skilful guitar playing, never overplaying the game, with quite the amount of emotion in the music and always a keen balance in the dynamics, Seven makes for a very nice debut. Though the album may not be groundbreaking in approach, this is one album that is played here on a regular basis and that keeps adding to the experience.
We can only hope that Mercury's story continues beyond Seven. This one really calls for more. If you like your instrumental music to be rich in atmosphere and never over the top and, maybe, if you think of Explosions in the Sky's younger nephews, toying with electronic sounds, you might get the picture. If not, I suggest you check the album out anyway; it is well worth the effort and well worth your time.
Marcel Hartenberg: 7.5 out of 10