Magic Carpet (3:41), Black Rainbow (3:20), Named after Rocky (5:01), Cat's Cradle (5:01), Bride (3:56), Open Up (6:16), OMG (6:27), The Meaning of If (2:55), Crystal Mountain (4:29), Crystal Anthem (4:15)
Way back when, at the time when the mighty The Octopus was released (reviewed here),
the talk in the town, for those who hold Amplifier close at heart, was already of what
was in store and, what was soon to be: Mystoria.
With the eagerness that coincides with a new release of Grand Theft Auto or yet another iconic product by the company once led by the late Steve Jobs, the Amplifier fan base awaited that day. And then: Echo Street was released.
This wasn't what was expected. Yet it wouldn't be true to the spirit of Amplifier, if things only followed patterns long developed.
On the other hand, (the DPRP duo review) wasn't bad at all. So fans all cheered for the
new album, and then, flags abound, for the day had come to finally release Mystoria. Would it be in the vein of the grandeur that
The Octopus held? Would it be of a more atmospheric and concise nature like Echo Street?
Alas, if truth be told it is really not like either of those albums. Yet, what Amplifier has released here is a stormer of an album, that rocks out and is just what Sel Balamir, (singer and guitarist) said it was to be. All they wanted to do, was plug in and rock out.
As soon as Magic Carpet comes storming out the gates, the statement of intent is there: this is progressive ROCK! No beating about the bush,
just soaring guitars, bass guitar and thunderous drums. This sounds as if Amplifier has spent a night out with young Messyrs Lifeson, Lee
and Peart and discussed the essence of rock and the use of the wah wah pedal. Then the next day, Amplifier would go and write this tune, as if to give a nod to their Canadian inspirators. Whether or not this carpet flies due to the Rush inspiration, doesn't even really matter that
much, for the song has all the Amplifier trademarks we have come to love over the years.
Black Rainbow follows and it would be very logical if both songs were the results of the same jam session. The song has the same urge and drive
as the album's opener. Alex 'Magnum' Redhead gives the song a kick, in the same was as Geddy Lee did in his best years. It's a compact song and here again,
Amplfier makes use, to great effect, of the wah wah pedal, like Alex Lifeson or Thin Lizzy's Brian Robertson.
Named after Rocky has an intro that sounds every bit like that of a Manowar song, as it has the same vibe as Joey De Maio's classic,
Bass-led intro's. Still, the Amplifier sound soon takes over and, in a song that swirls and finds curves at its own centre, we even find
folk-inspired vocal lines. The bass and guitar however, remain at the helm.
Cat's Cradle could enable Amplifier to play at any BBC music programme, as it is the most radio friendly that Amplifier gets on Mystoria. The guitar
intro might catch you off guard, yet as soon as the song gets to its chorus, with its ska-infused feel, you might even wonder if this is Amplifier
you are listening to. Yet it unmistakably is Sel's voice you hear here. This track brings quite the balance to the album and, for
all of its pop charm, it adds perfectly to the Amplifier canon.
Bride has an almost King's X feel and is an ideal bridge between Cat's Cradle and the more psychedelically inclined track that follows.
We're not yet even at the two final 'Crystal' tracks that make for a 'Crystal' suite, so to speak. Where Crystal Mountain is
a more folksy intro to the suite, it is Crystal Anthem that brings us a very fine, rocky closer with great harmonies in the vocals.
All in all, Amplifier has made an album that is as varied as it is compact, an album that duly and truly rocks, yet there is still a lot in the songs that adds to them, that is to be discovered and that makes this another great addition to the Amplifier catalogue.
The standard version of the album has ten songs, yet the media book has two more. Meld (Summer of Love) and Darth Vader have places in
the track listings that make you think that these songs should actually be there in the first place.
If you like your progressive rock to rock, yet never to abandon its progressive roots; if you want to be able, just for once, to plug in your
air guitar, air drums, air bass and just groove along with the finest of British progressive rock, then this is one record to
play, again and again. As the other fine British rockers once put it: Mystoria has it all.
Salva D' Or (5:15), grant me entrance (6:30), and wait for (4:14), my choice to lead (4:12), your greatness to (4:51), an ending. (2:54), After solid black (4:25), the unending (4:05), human form (5:10), will Or I'En (4:16), to happen (7:06)
Axial Lead is a prog metal band (progressive/avant-garde as they define themselves) that adopts many influences and flavours: jazz, funk, Latin and Mediterranean, among them. There's a lot to be found here, and not only in the music.
Their debut, Of Infamous Credentials, is a concept album, made evident by the not-so-subtle titles of the tracks, which form a phrase. Props to the web design that, while not being vital to the experience that the album provides, adds an extra layer of immersion, by replacing the usual paper booklet.
The different rhythm and melodies present in most tracks are one of the album's greatest qualities, but sometimes, in sections with a lot of time signature and idea changes, I couldn't help but hear some disconnection between ideas. This is not a major issue, but it does distract from the otherwise enjoyable music. All of the instruments sound solid, and the vocals fit the music well.
The track my choice to lead has some experimental ideas that blend very well with the other musical styles present on the album. On the other hand, an ending. is strictly confined to classic prog metal. Other than that, it's really hard to put labels on many of the pieces, since they're always mutating and add many different spices to the pot.
Overall, Of Infamous Credentials is an album that's worth checking out, and the few rough edges found here and there, should not deter prog fans from taking this very satisfactory journey. This is a band that shows a lot of promise.
Kennedy (4:16), Think Of A Name (4:57), Days Of The Weak (4:10), The Passage (2:24), Pyramid (5:02), Gorilla Train Station (7:21) , Rumbera (7:25), The Midnight Weirdos (8:41), 3AM (1:42)
Four young Frenchmen, Dot Legacy burst out of the traps with priapic zeal on the opener of their debut album. Kennedy sets the tone for just over three quarters of an hour's worth of crashing doom riffs and a nu-punk amphetamine rush. Boasting a line-up that features two guitarists, one of whom doubles up on keyboards, I assume that the ultra-fast lead runs are down to John Defontaine, a man whose ideas spill out at such rate as to sometimes leave his fingers behind, as they trip over themselves flying up and down the fret board.
Have no fear, there is no prog bombast or pomposity to be found here. No siree, there just ain't the time for that. There is no fear of crapulence here either, as Dot Legacy is a lean, mean fighting machine. Days Of The Weak, while having a pun-tastic title, also benefits from a sonic reverberation that batters the eardrums, before a kind of post-punk middle section. And let's face it, which among us insular English speakers would have the confidence to pun in another language?
Dot Legacy is the sound of rampant, youthful zest and they make the kind of noise only a young band could make. The Passage is a joining section of industrial, ambient space-noise that may well be heard as a cacophony by some, but even that should not put off the intrepid musical explorer. Pyramid includes a vocal that is almost rap, over an initially cosmic backing that descends into some real heavy riffage. Parts of this song remind me of Rage Against The Machine at their most splenetic. You can see Defontaine's tousled mane flying about from here.
I would imagine that trying to persuade a symphonic prog fan to listen to this would be a nugatory exercise, but one can only hope. Go on, become that neophyte! The best track title on the album sees us leaving the Gorilla Train Station for seven minutes plus of stoner/space rock that serves to show the group's more subtle side; if stomping, downer riffs and space noises tick that particular box. This album is quite fun, I must say!
We will forgive the regressive nature of their publicity shot, standing mean and moody in a tunnel - not an alleyway, at least. For there is light in the tunnel, and that applies to the music as much as to the photo. Rumbera seems to be a bit disjointed, and is probably twice as long as it need be, with predictable loud/(overlong)quiet/loud sections. But hey, this is their first attempt, bless 'em.
The album plays out with The Midnight Weirdos, a spacious and eerie tune that early-on hints of an oleaginous sludgerock riff that eventually sprawls all over the tune like an octopus dowsed in axle grease. On top of this, much zipping about on the fingertrip fantastic, turns the mosh pit into a writhing, sweaty mass in no time at all. Luvvly! Suddenly it's 3AM and all is becalmed, as the wrecked and wasted chill-out around the camp fire to a woozy, acoustic ballad.
"From skeletons to lost souls, with only one song they make you whizz, buzz, fuzz" they say in the PR blurb, and while I can't recall ever having "fuzzed", who am I to argue?
Parboiled (7:42), Slowblind (6:00), Symptom of the Moony Nurse (5:12), Suite Beef (13:54), A Tuna Sunrise (6:40), Behind the Wall of Sheep (20:25), Seven and Smell (4:08), Worn Utopia (15:19)
Years ago I was introduced to Electric Orange's 2003 album Platte, an album that contains a lot of what is called motorik: the most repetitive structure a song or jam could ever have. Krauters used to do that a lot back in the days: establish a specific rhythm or groove and have it on repetition, define the one chord to remain in during the piece and jam as long as everybody in the band has fun. That was surely fun for the musicians, who, often on drugs, jammed out way too long for the majority of listeners to bear, but it still had a fan base. Electric Orange found a way to limit themselves to lesser doses of it, at more regular song durations, and that way I enjoyed it very much. Plus, the album had some other, more psychedelic pieces to offer as well. Thus I like the album still up on to this day, as I still every now and then request songs of the album on Progulus Radio.
When I saw their newest, Volume 10, waiting there in our staple to be reviewed, it immediately caught my eye. I was eager and it was clear that I had to pick it. I was very interested in finding out how they sound nowadays. At my first listen I found myself stunned about how different the approach turned out. I took a listen to a couple of tracks of their releases in between these two albums, to understand the way the band evolved. Going through these eleven years of band history, it became clear how they matured. The way everyone in the band got more secure and reliable in their jams freed everybody to focus more on themselves instead of the other band members. They no longer remained tight at one specific rhythm. Instead, the band improvised more and more in soundscapes and textures, with only the drums being used like a metronome to keep a steady course. But with Volume 10 even the percussions no longer perform an ever ongoing beat, they are free to improvise in any form one can imagine.
The result is a more dynamic album with good highs and lows, containing a great balance of all instruments involved. It never focusses on a melody, very rarely even, can a melody be identified at all. The band put their interest in well arranged textures at minimal progress which always turn out to good effect. Slowly woven arcs carefully drag you from one theme to the next. It is a great psychedelic album to meditate on. The absence of the ever ongoing drum pattern is the best part of it.
With drums, bass guitar, electric guitar and electric piano, but also upright bass, a couple of other exotic string instruments, banjo and mandolin, organ, mini moog, mellotron, sequencers and other assorted synths, the band greatly integrate their influences of Kluster, Kraan, Amon Düül, Guru Guru, Embryo and Tangerine Dream into their own unique sound, whilst the rhythmically detached drummer not rarely sounds like early Nick Mason in e.g. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.
So, if you like to close your eyes to music and let your mind flow through bizarre thought patterns, landscapes, self-findings or whatever psychedelic exercises, this album is perfect for you. Have fun with it and transcend!
Peaches En Regalia (3:16), Roundabout (8:28), The Great Gig in the Sky (4:35), Stereotaxis (9:19), Hairless Heart (2:37), Concerto Grosso 1, I Tempo, Allegro (2:00)
Playing covers is almost always a tricky business. To do it in an acceptable way, either you have to be very good at it (e.g. The Musical Box or The Watch playing Genesis) or give those well known songs a total makeover by using unusual instruments. The latter is exactly what the GnuQuartet in Prog have done. This Italian bunch of talented musicians, consisting of Francesca Rapetti (flute, beatbox), Roberto Izzo (violin), Raffaele Rebaudengo (viola) and Stefano Cabrera (cello), selected some prog classics and gave them a fully instrumental treat. As they dared to select songs written and performed by some of the best prog can offer, be it Zappa, Yes, Pink Floyd or either Genesis, they have something to prove. And they do and yes, they do sound a bit like Apocalyptica.
Peaches En Regalia is a very nice rendition of the Zappa original, which is also an instrumental. The scratching cellos starting off the track slowly give way to some nice flute and violin playing the waltz like music fluidly. Halfway the scratching is repeated after which the interplay with flute and violin take over the main theme again. The fade out comes much too soon and doesn't do this nice song justice.
It takes some courage to play a classic Yes song with cellos, violins and flutes. Yet the GnuQuartet deliver a satisfying Roundabout as they incorporate many subtleties in their version. The flute and violin play the different vocal parts one after the other, the strings take up the melodies of the keyboards, guitar and bass. Much of the original is left out, yet in such a way that is still makes this quite convincing. That is an achievement if you take into account the intricate interplay of all the original instruments.
The original of The Great Gig in the Sky was especially attractive because of the unbelievable vocals by Clare Torry over the fantastic keyboard music. So I was curious to hear how the GnuQuartet would interpret particularly that aspect of this classic song. They hired the vocal services of Durga McBroom-Hudson. She adds excellent vocals to the song; to my ears almost as good as the original. The instruments do a decent but not remarkable job.
Stereotaxis is an original song penned by cellist Stefano Cabrera. It fits very well in between their versions of these classic songs. The song opens with some spooky flute playing and string plucking after which the violin and viola start the main melody, supported by the cello and the flute. Halfway the tempo is speeded up which changes the overall atmosphere of the song completely for a while. It suddenly sounds like Jethro Tull instead of Mike Oldfield (think of Voyager or Music of the Spheres) but after some two minutes the overall feeling returns. This piece of music shows that the GnuQuartet is very capable of writing their own original music.
The choice for Hairless Heart, one of my personal Genesis favourites, is a proper one. Flute, viola, cello and violin prove a perfect combination to deliver the romanticism that this song characterizes. This version may not be too original, it again does justice to the original.
A short piece featuring beat box and electric guitar played by Andrea Maddalone closes off this CD. Unfortunately it is much too short and for no good reason. The melody is very nice, there were ample possibilities to build up a nice full-grown song of four or five minutes but somehow they decided to leave it to a meagre two minutes. That is really too bad but at the same time illustrative for the biggest flaw of this album. As the music is nice, attractive and well-played showing, they can do a proper job. Taking into account that the choice of classic prog songs is almost unlimited, it is incomprehensible that this album is released as an EP lasting for half an hour. The GnuQuartet don't do themselves any good, I think, to release this album with only so few songs. The back side of the cardbox sleeve contains a personal recommendation by mr. Steve Hackett himself: "The GnuQuartet is a very talented band and I recommend their CDs. They embrace a wide range and their music is strong." With such a recommendation they should have tried to record a fulltime album with a mix of prog classics and their own material. Now Karma is a very nice appetizer while it could have been an irresistible main course. Therefore a 7 instead of the full 8 it easily could have had!
Prelude to a Disaster (3:41), The Ghosts of Pripyat (13:38), Reaktor #4 (6:45), The Day After (10:15), Red Forest (7:12), On the Roof of Hell (15:38), The Macabre Pilgrimage (7:10), Heroes End (2:24)
Well I wonder if there will be another coincidence in 2015 like the one I experienced at the end of 2014. I had just received delivery of Steve Rothery's exquisite new album The Ghosts of Pripyat when into my inbox came this album; Philippe Luttun's The Taste of Wormwood on which the second track is called The Ghosts of Pripyat !
To be fair, Luttun's work came out earlier in 2014 than Rothery's and the works couldn't be more different in nothing but good ways, really they only share a title, but an odd coincidence anyway.
Philippe Luttun is a French multi-instrumentalist who plays everything on this album and sings, along with his regular vocal collaborator Pris.K. The Taste of Wormwood, subtitled Voices From Chernobyl, is a concept album based on the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant that occurred on the 26th of April 1986. Thirty-one people died in the immediate aftermath, both in the explosion and in the attempt to contain the disaster. It focuses on the human and environmental side of the disaster, from the perspective of those living and working in the vicinity.
The album opens with a long piece of electronics, sampled voices and, most affectingly, the haunting sound of a child's musical box. Acting as a soundscape overture, the tracks builds atmosphere as it runs into the opening of the second track, the aforementioned, The Ghosts of Pripyat.
The Ghosts of Pripyat slowly builds tension through mellotron-style bass drones, so that when the heavy guitars crash in, it is with a sense of relief. The guitars have a prog metal feel to them and along with the stuttering drumming and forceful bass, they push the piece on until it reaches the vocal section. This then settles into a melodic and moving exploration of the 'technological nightmare' that the disaster left behind in the nearby, dormitory town of Pripyat. Over a keyboard-led groove Pris.K's light vocal is joined by Philippe Luttun in a dark and emotive song. This is a good start to the album and is probably the most prog metal of the tracks, musically speaking.
Reaktor #4 is an instrumental track, named after the reactor that exploded in the Chernobyl facility. An industrial thrum and an oppressive, disturbing bass, leads into an energetic guitar riff before it breaks down into electric piano and organ motifs. A very engaging guitar solo and a guitar and a synth duet make this seem a much shorter a track than it is.
The Day After describes the confusion and helplessness of the people in the immediate vicinity after the event, opening with a sample of a traditional Russian folk-song that suddenly sticks, repeating a single word like a faulty CD. This then segues into a pummeling riff, as it turns into an outstanding slice of heavy prog. A memorable melody invests the vocal section with feeling, and the piece ends on a long and interesting keyboard and guitar coda.
With its title referencing the deforestation caused by radiation poisoning in the pine forest downwind of the nuclear plant, Red Forest, is a guitar-led, atmospheric instrumental. Then, just when you think you know exactly where it is going, a saxophone pops up, adding a terrific melancholy air to it all.
The epic, On the Roof of Hell, has a heartbeat bass pulse and electronic washes underpinning the story of the heroism of the brave men who climbed on the roof of the reactor building to try to dampen the exposed reactor core on fire below them. The song has great synth playing and the sax returns, tying it in with the track before. This richly textured piece comes in two parts, the vocal song followed by a smartly atmospheric instrumental lead-out.
The concept then jumps in time to the present day and looks at the tourists visiting the ghost town of Pripyat. The Macabre Pilgrimage has a lovely piano opening that is suddenly overwhelmed by a Mahlerian funeral march. Pris.K leads the vocals, as the guitar comes in, riffing heavily. Superb.
The final number is a short instrumental track consisting of piano, acoustic guitar and sampled Russian voices, which rounds-off the album in a satisfying way.
This is a very moving and enjoyable heavy prog album with tinges of prog metal and electronica. The vocal interplay between the singers is well handled. There are obvious reference points here: touches of Dream Theater-style riffing, melodic elements from Rush and Stupid Dream-era Porcupine Tree, keyboards used in a way reminiscent of Riverside and hints of Ayreon, without the space-opera melodrama. The Taste of Wormwood does have an identity of its own, with the influences worn lightly. They are really just reference points.
The only problem I have with this album (and the reason it did not get a 9 rating) is the opening track. This sound-effect laden overture does not stand up to repeat listening. A similar atmospheric intro occurs at the start of The Ghosts of Pripyat and the album should really have commenced there.
However, having said that, this is an assured, sonically dramatic and purposeful work, that avoids monolithic riffing in favour of melody and atmosphere. It is a great find and a great start to the reviewing year.
Not Yet (4:30), Hallucinogenic Hummingbird (5:26), Resistance Met (3:25), Ruya (4:48), The Onset (1:55), I Am Error (12:30)
Meet Mammoth, the world's second-favorite prog metal band named after a prehistoric pachyderm. (One can't really argue with Mastodon claiming the top spot there.) As a metaphor, the mighty mammoth evokes an image of power, majesty and, unfortunately, being utterly extinct. But if you expect something ponderous, lumbering and old-fashioned, the trio of colourfully-dressed Los Angeles-based chaps that make up Mammoth may surprise you. For not only is this hairy heavyweight surprisingly light on its feet, it also has said feet set firmly in the here and now.
This album, Polymorphism, is the band's second. It is very short, to the point that it's effectively an EP. Mammoth would probably describe itself as an instrumental progressive rock/metal band, but I'm going to go ahead and say it's actually a post-modern jazz band. If the Dave Brubeck quintet was a trio, and if two of them were electric guitarists, then this is what they would sound like.
Not Yet starts promisingly, with a fast and funky bass riff that is soon complemented by metal guitars and drums, turning into a very cool funk-metal groove. It's full of prog licks; straight from the land where Gentle Giant, that hippest of prog dinosaurs resides. However, even before the album is halfway into its second minute, we're already in jazz territory. We get two solid minutes of jazz noodling in odd time, first from the bass, then from the guitar, before the main theme returns.
As it turns out, most of the songs (there are six tracks, but only four proper songs) follow this pattern. With the only track offering vocals, Hallucinogenic Hummingbird, the album turns into Animals as Leaders for a while, before we get to the mellow bit with vocals. Again: very jazzy. I hear, in equal parts, The Cinematic Orchestra and, especially with the female vocals, Thieves' Kitchen. Then Animals as Leaders takes over once more for the ending.
The third "song", Resistance Met, is some completely unlistenable garbage that may or may not involve a bowed double bass played by a three-year-old. Yes, it's very artsy. Now turn it off!
Ruya, thankfully, is on more familiar ground. The most laid-back piece of the set, its main theme (reprised at the end) sounds like something that wouldn't be out-of-place in a hip, cocktail lounge. Things don't stay in one place, and this time it is the middle section that gets to rock out, Rush-style. Unlike the prehistoric beast of old, this Mammoth skips and tiptoes gracefully around all sorts of complex rhythms. Although the guitars occasionally veer into metal territory, the music remains light as a feather.
The Onset, a quite interesting, fret-tapping, guitar toccata is no more than a short intro of what is meant to be the main course. I Am Error is a 12-minute showcase of what this band has to offer.
It quite neatly summarises what has gone before: the oddball metal riff, the laid-back jazzy bit and the funk groove in odd-time, all tumble over each other. This piece gets its epic length mostly from the gargantuan five-minute drum solo that dominates its middle section. I can't imagine anyone having much need for a five-minute drum solo, except when you really, really like drumming. To the song's credit, the slow ballad section that follows is quite nice. Another speedy prog metal lick abruptly brings the album to a close.
Mammoth's Polymorphism is, and there's really no other way to put this, musician's music. It focuses primarily on the interplay and the soloing of these three very talented musicians. Metal, prog, funk and jazz are stringed together at great speed. Sure, they make a valiant attempt to channel their virtuosity into listenable songs, with a beginning and an end. However, this quality is subordinate to the showcasing of the musicianship. It's a recording of well-educated players giving guitar lessons. They throw so much at the wall, but not a whole lot sticks. It is too casual, too incidental, too overtly technical to really make any emotional impact. Take it for what it is – a cool and very well-played trifle.
If you loathe such music, you probably won't find much, if anything, to like here. For my part, I find it an enjoyable listen (save for that awful Resistance Met) for as long as it lasts. I don't even like jazz that much, so that's a good sign. My tolerance for what I call "fiddling" is somewhat limited, especially when the album is (mostly) instrumental. It's just as well, then, that this album isn't very long.
CD 1: Build Seas: Violent Lights (4:12), Drumfire (3:53), Neotenie (4:54), Between Two Words (7:41)
CD 2: Dismantle Suns: Little Bird (5:36), Mechanical Minds (4:47), Strangest Tides (5:09), Dark Clouds Mean War (6:02)
Originally available in 2013 as two separate EPs from the Nordic Giants website, Build Seas and Dismantle Suns have been released as a double CD digipak following the band's signing to Kscope. A full length album is due in 2015.
No strangers to live performance, their shows are by all accounts an inspirational experience, combining rock and theatre (with tribal costumes straight out of a Mad Max movie) and backed by impressive videos, some of which can be viewed on the band's website. Nordic Giants is basically an instrumental duo fronted by the occasional guest vocalist, and their diverse instrumentation includes bowed guitar, piano, drums and trumpet. Whilst not the easiest of acts to pigeonhole, if you like the hypnotic and tunefully atmospheric post-rock of M83 and Sigur Rós then Nordic Giants should be on your essential audition list.
Build Seas opens with the dreamy and compelling Violent Lights featuring a haunting vocal from male singer Alex Hedley. Incidentally, although the guest vocalists are all name-checked on the press release, the two principle protagonists of Nordic Giants remain anonymous. They are not even credited on the minimalist album artwork or the band's website.
Trumpet and keys create a widescreen, cinematic sound for Drumfire, whilst Neotenie is, despite the agreeably-busy arrangement, let down by a sampled voice spouting pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo like: "We have to go to space just as fish had to leave the water when the ponds began to dry up".
Between Two Words on the other hand (this time with the heavenly female voice of Freya) is a tasteful exercise in restrained dynamics.
The second disc, Dismantle Suns, continues in a similar vein. However the lead song, Little Bird, is fronted by the alluring voice of Alyusha and has a smoother, more mainstream sound with a hint of Kate Bush. Mechanical Minds is centred around a haunting piano theme but sadly, like Neotenie, it also falls victim to a rambling sampled male voice preaching pearls of wisdom. That said, lines like: "More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.....let's all unite" do at least have a sincere (if naïve) charm.
In contrast, the gorgeous Strangest Tides benefits from the heavenly female vocal of Heymun, leaving the ominously titled Dark Clouds Mean War to conclude. Following a symphonic keyboard and piano arrangement, it erupts with a clatter of drums to close with a dramatic flourish.
There is nothing overly complex about what Nordic Giants do; much of their music is based around a compelling, re-occurring hook. And although the lead songs Violent Lights and Little Bird are the most immediate, the rest are generally more expansive and would not sound out of place on the soundtrack of a contemporary movie. Given that M83 and Sigur Rós are currently being used on UK TV commercials to advertise everything from soap powder to banks, there's no reason why Nordic Giants couldn't make the same crossover into mainstream consciousness given the chance. Their debut album, due out later this year, is certainly one to look out for.
Northbound (24:03), The Northlands Rhapsody (2:23), A picture in Time (5:59), And the River Flows (2:50), A rainy Day on Dean Street (4:37), Legacy (4:52), I dare to Dream (5:24), so Long the Day (6:31), A Sense of Place (2:07).
Finally after months of promise, teasers and snippets I finally have in my very own hands this long-awaited release from Tony Patterson and Brendan Eyre. I'd been very taken with Brendan's work on Riversea's Out of an Ancient Earth in 2012 and also with Nine Stones Close. I was also aware of Tony's work in Re- Genesis but never actually heard it per se.
So I was very excited by the prospect of this album. To coin an old turn of phrase from a Supertramp album advert for Crime of the Century on LP some 40 years ago, this is truly "The Promise Achieved, A Massive Delivery".
What we have here is an album of sublime beauty, of heartfelt emotion being lovingly executed in homage to the "Northlands" of Northern England, especially the areas around Hartlepool and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This is a musical portrait, largely instrumental, but crafted with such "tenderness" that it is wistful, sad and heartbreakingly emotional, The first time I heard the first track Northlands it bought tears to my eyes, so graceful is this music.
The album is literally all about the music. In the assembled cast that bring this extraordinary vision to life, the names read like a Who's Who of British Progressive Rock. Yet these bedfellows are bought to the project not for their sales pulling power but rather because they can add the requisite touches that improve, accentuate and enhance this magnificent album.
It is very cinematic in feel, almost like a soundtrack to an as yet unfilmed epic. The lengthy Northbound is itself split into seven interwoven sections to create a suite of mood pieces very evocative in nature and with vocals at certain key junctures, all of which provide the groundwork on which the rest of the album is constructed.
The whole album was 18 months in preparation, crafting, constructing and recording and it certainly shows. Everything about this album cries out "Class Release". Everything from the poignantly-evocative artwork, which is beautifully photographed by Howie White, to the elegant booklet which contains both full credits and lyrics. I am impressed by the care with which the great people at Esoteric have got behind the whole project and have helped bring it deservedly to a wider audience.
This is not a hard hitting album by any stretch. It is never brash or abrasive, mostly it is a laid-back affair to chill out to and to listen to in one complete sitting, letting the music flow around and over you like an eddy on the Northumbrian coast.
It only breaks into a sweat with the more urgent Rainy Day on Dean Street. This actually adds a welcome change of pace to proceedings.
But don't be fooled by its pacing, it's not languid for its own sake, it's just that a slower pace gives the music room to breathe and for its layers to evolve almost like a shy deer in a clearing would, to taste the wind, and emerge safely.
Tony Patterson's voice bears a resemblance to a certain Peter Gabriel and this is by no means a bad thing. In fact on So Long The Day one gets a feeling of what an album by Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel could sound like (if you guy's read this please consider that). Steve's tender guitar adds a melancholy timbre and an amazing solo part to an already beautiful song.
This album is about a man's journey home to his roots in the North and how, despite being away for many years, never has he forgotten his roots and the impact those roots hold on his life. Likewise, this album is a musical journey for each listener and invariably you may find elements within it that cause you to reflect on your own life journey and to find peace with your chosen path.
There are Celtic influences here too and I would propose that this is a very spiritual album, not in a religious way but rather in a more holistic and reflective manner.
Whatever your take on that particular aspect, this is an album you really need to hear, to live with, to embrace and to listen quietly to, to hear its sheer magic and magnificence for yourself. Let this music speak to your soul as it were.
Northwinds is definitely one of my top three albums of 2014 and I have no hesitation in giving this 10 out of 10.
Seriously, do not let this one pass you by. It is an utterly compelling release and one that will retain its grandeur for many years to come.
Fantasizer! (8:17), Twig (5:39), Freak (7:32), Nomad (7:36), At Odds (4:18), The Anomaly (4:38), Linear Tendency (5:48), Caged Creator (11:32), Solemn (3:16)
Fantasizer is an appealing instrumental fusion album. It is Canadian composer Dean Watson's third release and is arguably his most satisfying. Watson is responsible for all of the performances on Fantasizer.
In this release it is clearly evident that as well as being a talented guitarist, Watson has an enviable mastery of a range of other instruments. Fantasizer is an album that is centred on wonderfully fluid guitar parts and the frequent use of dynamic keyboards. The album has many contrasting features which offer moments of high energy, complemented by gentler, reflective interludes. At times the music on display is redolent of artists and bands such as Chick Corea's Return To Forever, Greg Howe, Bruford, Pat Metheny and even Alan Holdsworth.
The extensive and sensitive use of piano gives the music great depth and variety. This is immediately apparent in Fantasizer, which opens proceedings. There are moments when the music takes on a heavier hue and is reminiscent of latter-day King Crimson. This is particularly the case during the riff-laden guitar passages that emerge and recur during this excellent track. Throughout the piece there are many occasions where the cleverly arranged piano parts add subtlety and refinement, contrasting favourably with the blazing guitar parts.
Fantasizer is a technically adept album and should appeal greatly to readers who enjoy music brimming with sophisticated virtuosity. However, despite the adroit musicianship on display, the compositions are readily accessible.
Much of what is on offer almost certainly relates more to progressive rock than to jazz. The melodic themes and intricate transitions within each piece give this album the potential to appeal to the heart as well as the head.
In this respect Freak is an excellent example of Watson's compositional skills. This track is able to successfully combine many disparate elements that would potentially appeal to a wide audience of progressive music fans. It begins sedately but soon develops into a piece overflowing with memorable melodies and cerebral shifts in tempo and attack, incorporating a full dynamic range.
It is a fine example of how symphonic rock, fusion and classical influences can be combined within a single composition. The quality and emotive intensity of the performance throughout the album, makes it difficult to fully comprehend that the end product is the work of a single musician.
It must have been a difficult and painstaking task to attempt this. Watson has undoubtedly and successfully achieved this challenging goal. I can pay Watson no greater compliment than to say that all of the instruments effortlessly combine, as if this was a band of individual players with their own distinct styles and unique musical personalities.
The ability to create an authentic band sound is particularly evident in Caged Creator. This piece is the longest and one of the most successful tracks of the album. It begins as a sparse piano and guitar piece possessing a fragility that is memorable and at once overwhelmingly attractive.
As one might expect in a piece of this length, many other moods are explored and delightfully exposed. Instruments majestically jostle and joust. They playfully and harmoniously unite, to create a rewarding listening experience in the numerous and highly-varied musical passages. These elements combine to create a piece that brought to mind the qualities inherent in some of Chick Corea's most expansive compositions in Return To Forever.
In Caged Creator, the concluding piano-led coda that revisits the opening theme, is beautifully constructed and delivered. It is yet another example of the quality of performance and composition that is plainly apparent throughout Fantasizer.
This is a fine instrumental album and is a welcome addition to the broadly-based jazz rock/fusion genre that has included so many great albums and performers over the years. I would be eager to hear the music of Dean Watson performed in a live setting and interpreted by a group of his chosen musicians. I wait with interest to see what form his future musical projects and plans take.
There are far too many different styles and positive attributes in this release to do them justice in a review, but if you have a penchant for skillfully composed and performed instrumental music, I don't think that you will be disappointed. I hope that readers will have the opportunity to investigate this album for themselves.