ISSUE 2015-506

Reviews in this issue:

Bakerloo - Bakerloo
Bakerloo - Bakerloo
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Esoteric
Catalogue #: ECLE2468
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 70:57
Info: Bakerloo
Samples: Bakerloo website
Track List:
Big Bear Folly (3:57), Bring It on Home (4:18), Drivin Bachwards (2:08), Last Blues (7:06), Gang Bang (6:18), This Worried Feeling (7:05), Son of Moonshine (14:57), Bonus Tracks Once Upon A Time (3:39), This Worried Feeling Alt Version (5:46), Georgia (4:04), Train (2:53), Son OF Moonshine Pt 1 (8:46).
This is a 2014 'Remastered and Expanded' reissue of an album first issued in 1969 on the then newly-founded Harvest Label. It features a then fairly unknown Dave "Clem" Clempson on guitar.

The reason it is of potential interest to progressive music fans is twofold. Firstly, the lengthy work out on Son of Moonshine. At nearly 15 minutes in length, this was a progressive tour de force for the band live. They were a busy and popular band at the time, and even opened for Led Zeppelin on their debut gig at the Marquee.

Secondly, because of what Dave did next, which in this instance was to jump ship and replace James Litherland in the mighty Colosseum, as can be evidenced on the Colossuem classic Valentine Suite and their live albums, where Dave lays down some pretty fiery guitar work, amongst Dave Greenslade's keyboard.

Bakerloo is a tad dated now in parts, and is lyrically a little cheesy, as for example with Gang Bang. Even so, there are strong hints on here of the very fine guitarist that Dave was becoming.

Drivin Bachwards is a JS Bach melody literally played backwards by the band. It showed their intention to push a few boundaries. There is some fine slide guitar on here too, which was unusual in the late 60s, as it was not widely used at the time. There is also, unsurprisingly, some fine blues on here, albeit it bit basic in its style.

Son of Moonshine is certainly the jewel in the crown, running for almost 15 minutes and giving everyone a chance to stretch-out and jam the tune significantly.

This isn't an essential album, but again Esoteric has done a splendid job on re-issuing this. The informative liner notes include Dave "Clem" Clempson's recollections of that particular time, and the very generous running time it is not without its charms. However it is definitely a case of hearing it, before investing I think.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Cea Serin - The Vibrant Sound of Bliss and Decay
Cea Serin - The Vibrant Sound of Bliss and Decay
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD/Digital
Record Label: Generation Prog
Catalogue #: Genprcd006
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 47:52
Info: Cea Serin
Samples: Cea Serin on Bandcamp
Track List:
Holy Mother (7:08), The Illumination Mask (7:49), Ice (4:55), The Victim Cult (7:58), What Falls Away (20:00)
How time flies! Whilst listening through this disc, I scoured the DPRP archives, recalling that I'd reviewed a previous album under the Cea Serin name. Two things shocked me. Firstly, that album review was 12 years ago. Secondly, and more worryingly for my mental health, I'd also reviewed the debut Cea Serin EP a year previously. Anyway, as far as you can have such a thing, you can be assured that this review is at least being written by one of the few Cea Serin 'experts' and 'completists' writing on the web today!

And in the case of The Vibrant Sound..., such staying-power is both relevant and useful in compiling an opinion.

Looking back on my opinions expressed when reviewing both the initial EP from 2002 (The Surface of all Things which is also known as Chiaroscuro) and the debut album from 2004 (Where Memories Combine), the general thrust of my conclusions were that there were some great ideas waiting to be put into a fully-coherent form. Both discs were elevated by some fantastic guitar playing, but badly deflated by a lack of a drummer.

Cea Serin Version 3 has been a decade in the making, or rather (re)making. It's a rather odd-ball pick-and-mixture of new versions of old material/songs, a cover version and two new creations. It is described by band founder Jay Lamm as a "stop-gap" disc for the impending all-new album, The World Outside.

"I wanted to bridge the gap between our next album and our debut, as the two are slightly different," he explained. "This album is to show the listeners where we came from and where we are going."

If you take The Vibrant Sound.. on that basis, then this album does have an interesting story to tell, and works very well.

Also, bearing in mind my previous comments, all tracks have been thankfully elevated by the continuing presence of guitarist Keith Warman (who also handles the great production) and the use of a real drummer (Rory Faciane).

The first pair of tracks are re-recordings of songs from the long-gone Chiaroscuro EP. Holy Mother has a one of the band's stronger chorus', a mix of clean and growly vocals, and best-displays the band's origins as a speed metal / death metal band. It is a pretty intense track.

The Illumination Mask has even more of the proggy speed metal influences, especially in the guitar playing. The lyrical concept adds extra interest.

The decade-plus gap between then and now is filled with a cover song. Sarah McLachlan is a Canadian singer songwriter, whose emotional ballads have help shift over 40 million albums. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was her third studio album in 1993, and that is where the track Ice has been taken for the Cea Serin treatment.

A pretty-basic guitar/piano ballad, it's been tinkered with, rather than transformed. (The lyrical changes overcome a biological sexual necessity!) In the context of this album, it works to highlight influences that will appear on the next two tracks (and I guess on future recordings). It sounds like the sort of ballads that Evergrey does. However Lamm hasn't the voice to match what Tom S Englund or Sarah McLachlan can bring to such a number. More of a pause for breath, than a musical highlight.

Finally we have the two 'new' songs. The Victim Cult was written for When Memories Combine but didn't fit in and wasn't actually finished anyway. It was worth finishing, as it's the best song here. I love the use of a double chorus. The way they are swapped around at the end is clever. The schizophrenic mix of tempos, instrumentation and time signatures, cleverly avoids the ever-present danger of sounding like a musical car crash.

What Falls Away is a big mix of the old and the new. We begin very atmospherically (more Porcupine Tree than Periphery). Then we enter a high-power, technical metal landscape with clean and gruff vocals. Some new age and world music elements are also dotted around the two different choruses, with a well-constructed ending to the 20-minute epic.

The highlight again for me across this disc, is the intense riffing and soloing from Keith Warman. Fans of progressive technical metal bands such as Zero Hour, early Cynic, Death and Opeth will find much to enjoy here.

As before, I find Lamm's clean vocals far superior to his non-clean ones, especially on the old material. He doesn't/can't offer the real-vicious death barks. It's more of a varying palette of screechy, grating barks. Now I'm no fan of death growls, so that probably helps my enjoyment and they are by no means heavily used. I'd just prefer even less of them.

A big plus point, is the excellent 12-page booklet. Lamm offers a full insight into the music and lyrics for each track. This greatly enhances one's appreciation of the album. For that reason I'd strongly recommend you invest in the actual CD, as opposed to the digital version. As I've hopefully explained, The Vibrant Sound is a tricky album to evaluate on a score alone. All I can say, is that for fans of progressive technical metal it is one of the best such discs of recent years.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Daydream XI - The Grand Disguise
Daydream XI - The Grand Disguise
Country of Origin: Brazil
Format: CD or Download
Record Label: Power Prog
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 1:17:14
Info: Daydream XI
Samples: Daydream XI on Soundcloud
Track List:
Keeping The Dream Alive (5:55), Like Darkness Rules The Night (5:11), Watch Me Rise (5:37), The Guts Of Hell (4:33), The Age Of Sadness (5:12), Wings Of Destruction (4:56), About Life And Its Ending (5:00), Phoenix (7:07), Zero Days (5:14), Alone (4:49), The Grand Disguise (23:40)
Prog metal seems to be experiencing something of a renaissance in this day and age. Bands like Opeth, Haken and the djent scene are finally moving the genre out from under Dream Theater's shadow and on to the next level. So, depending on where you stand, it's either a step back or a great relief that there are still bands out there that rock it like it's 1994 and to whom Images and Words is the be-all and end-all of progressive music.

Enter Daydream XI, a beardy bunch of blokes from Brazil who have little interest in pushing the boundaries of music and are more concerned with rocking hard and kicking ass. Meaty, crunchy riffs over a steady 4/4 beat, soaring choruses sung by a power-tenor with plenty of vibrato and of course lots and lots of blistering guitar solos. In addition to DT, there is a strong Symphony X influence to be found. You've heard it lots of times. A band like this had better be damn good if it has any hope of standing out amongst hordes of others.

I have some good news, then. Daydream XI is, indeed, damn good. This is the best power-prog debut album I've heard in a while. You'd never guess this band has only been around since 2008. This band sounds airtight and professional. There's a boundless energy to this collection of songs. The songs are immediately recognisable and catchy as hell. Most of all, these are some really talented musicians. Singer and guitarist Tiago Masseti has some impressive pipes (thankfully, it's all clean vocals) and the band is tight as a tick's wetsuit. Top-quality is the word here.

The heavy songs briskly romp along. There's a whole lot of them, all hard rockers of five to seven minutes. There isn't honestly that much prog going on, save a fiddly guitar bit here or an odd drum break there. Not all songs are equally memorable, but there's no real duds either. The eager enthusiasm on display is certainly infectious, and although I could have done with two or three fewer of these cookie-cutter heavy metal tracks, they sure put me in a jolly good mood.

Among the onslaught it is, of course, the ballads that stand out. There's two of them: The Age Of Sadness and Alone. Both are doozies. Prog metal power ballads can get phenomenally cheesy, but Daydream XI can really pull them off. A lot of this is down to Masseti's delivery, which sounds authentic and never over-the-top even as his voice cries to the heavens.

But truly, the make-or-break point of this album (and, indeed, the main justification of its inclusion on this site) is the 23-minute title track. It is incredibly ambitious to put such a long track on your debut album, especially at the end when we've already sat though nearly an hour of high-energy guitar violence. As a matter of fact, The Grand Disguise fits perfectly with the rest of the album. It's a bit more complex and technical than the rest of the album and a lot more bombastic, but keeps the same overall atmosphere and really keeps the high energy level going. As an epic, it effortlessly manages that elusive feat of being both a coherent and flowing piece of music and an adventurous journey that keeps your attention and does not bore for a second. That's a hard one to pull off, but they make it sound easy. I'd love to hear more like this from them in the future.

Daydream XI takes music that is not horribly original and makes it sound fresh and exciting. This will probably never be a band of genre-defining pioneers, but it is definitely a group of craftsmen who deliver quality genre work. We can never have enough of these. Thumbs up.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Antoine Fafard - Ad Perpetuum
Antoine Fafard - Ad Perpetuum
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: CD
Record Label: Unicorn Digital
Catalogue #: UNCR-5092
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 49:50
Info: Antoine Fafard
Samples: Antoine Fafard website
Track List:
Shuffle It! (5:28), Riff & Raft (4:51), Polyseven (5:33), Same But Different (4:30), Five Course Meal (5:10), D-Day (5:20), Eternal Loop (5:22), Slash One (4:52), The Egg (5:52), Presilence (2:52)
Antoine Fafard first came to my attention as the principle composer and bass player of Canadian jazz rock fusion band Spaced Out. Their self-titled debut CD was released in 2000. I have always enjoyed Fafard's complex bass lines and imaginative quick-fingered playing on tracks such as A Freak AZ, Magnetyzme and Furax from that release. The furious, bass-inspired frenzy of Furax 2, from Spaced Out's Evolution album released in 2008, is another personal favourite.

Fafard's third solo album, Ad Perpetuum, features esteemed players Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Jerry De Villiers on guitar. One of the strengths of Fafard's skill as a composer in Spaced Out, is that although the music is tightly spun and arranged, all of the players are given opportunities to express themselves within the collective.

Ad Perpetuum continues that trend, and Colaiuta and De Villiers are given numerous opportunities to show their virtuoso talents, as well as their proficient ability to complement the other members of the ensemble. The result is often magnificent and always mesmerising.

The trio is assisted on four pieces by the excellent Jean Pierre Zanella on sax, and on three tracks by the renowned keyboard player Gerry Etkins. Multi-instrumentalist and drummer Gary Husband also features in a drum joust with Colaiuta, in the excellent D–DAY. The contribution of these players skillfully supplements the outstanding performance of the trio, and gives the music an added dimension and vitality.

The informative booklet that accompanies the release is truly outstanding. It contains detailed notes written by Fafard to help to explain the performance and music of each composition. I found his insightful comments invaluable and they have greatly helped to appreciate the many subtleties and nuances contained in the music. I hope that more musicians might follow this example and display as much care to involve and engage their audience.

Fafard is an outstanding bass player, whose technical prowess and feel for his instrument can easily be compared with such illustrious players as Adam Nitti, Hadrien Feroud and Lorenzo Feliciati. Ad Perpetuum contains seven bass solos, which showcase Fafard's ability and wide-ranging technique in different musical situations. I particularly loved the slap bass solo in Five Course Meal. This track is challenging, yet melodically enticing and rich. It is probably my favourite composition of the album.

Fafard's solo part, in the tantalisingly beautiful Same But Different, is also superb. In this piece, the bass drools with delicate passion and conveys wafts of emotion in the solo slot.

Throughout the rest of the album, Fafard provides a wonderful platform for the other musicians to excel. For example, his slap bass riff in the beginning portion of Riff & Raft, is expertly executed and is simply overflowing with the skill, attack and energy associated with exponents of that style, such as Marcus Miller and TM Stevens. The energy of Fafard's playing provides a perfect foil for the vigorous solo exchanges and dueling between keys and guitar, that compete to dominate through much of the piece.

The drum work of Colaiuta offers the listener a master class of touch and syncopation. His class fully illuminates every track. Apart from supporting the music brilliantly, his majestic short solo slots also add to the quality of what is on offer. He is able to achieve just the right mixture of subtlety and intensity throughout his performance.

Without doubt though, the guitar of De Villiers is what immediately demands attention in many of the tracks. His playing is often reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth. De Villiers makes great use of tone and legato. The result is often inspiring. The disc features many outstanding solo guitar parts that wail, moan and sometimes erupt in rage. My favourite solo is by far the slowly evolving fire that consumes De Villiers' playing in Slash One.

Ad Perpetuum is an excellent instrumental jazz rock fusion album and is highly recommended for aficionados of that genre. It is complex and technically brilliant, yet it simply oozes with emotive honesty and simplicity. The music has that rare ability to convey everyday moods, whilst at the same time it has the added advantage of being able to transcend anything that might be remotely classified as 'musically mundane'.

This album has an admirable intensity and passion. It is a hugely welcome addition to the canon of releases by a number of fusion bands and performers which can trace their roots to Canada. These include amongst others some of my personal favourites such as Spaced Out, Uzeb and Sloche.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

The Good Hand - The Good Hand
The Good Hand - The Good Hand
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Minstrel Music
Catalogue #: MM005
Year of Release: 2011
Time: 45:43
Info: The Good Hand
Samples: The Good Hand website
Track List:
Between Four Walls (5:03), The Ostrich (5:52), Ghost (3:19), Drifting and Dreaming (4:40), Remain (5:21), Wait Wait Wait (5:02), Solitude (5:21), On The Lips (4:00), Lost In Light (7:05)
The Good Hand is a Dutch band that consists of three members: Dennis Edelenbosch (bass), Arjan Hoekstra (guitar/vocals) and Ingmar Regeling (drums). The music holds lots of influences from the seventies, particularly with respect to artists such as Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and Hawkwind. More contemporary, their style can be compared with Motorpsycho and Triggerfinger.

They call themselves a power rock trio, which is an apt description. For progressive music lovers there is certainly enough experimental and psychedelic elements to make this album interesting. When I started listening to this record I was not sure this album would be considered progressive enough for our readership, but my opinion gradually changed as I got further into it.

The initial songs can be considered as more mainstream rock numbers, with more progressive elements introduced later on. With repeated listening, my opinions varied as to which songs I liked best. At times it was the rock songs, at other times the more psychedelic ones and even, on occasion, the drinking la-la-la-la song, Solitude, which is a guaranteed sing-a-long.

The album has a bit of everything. The longest song, Lost In Light, is the most psychedelic, but it is the variety, that is the strength here. The songs are distinctive enough to provide diversity, but cohesive enough to make it a consistently decent power rock album.

A very good debut, this is a powerful rock album, with a progressive edge, to keep it interesting for our progressive readers.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

The Good Hand - Atman
The Good Hand - Atman
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Minstrel Music
Catalogue #: MM007
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 70:55
Info: The Good Hand
Samples: The Good Hand website
Track List:
Namaste (4:51), Greenwich Mean Time (4:00), Unity (3:58), Truth (5:16), The Opposite (5:20), Enough Is Enough (3:56), Introvert (5:58), Toll (4:40), Anthem (5:47), Nature's Will (4:06), The Death Of The Real (4:20), Atman (19:06)
In 2011 The Good Hand released their self-titled debut album, a review of which can be found above. Atman, just like the debut, is a powerful rock album with psychedelic elements. On first spin it may sound like just another rock album, but after a few spins it reveals itself to be something more than standard rock fair.

Whereas its predecessor gradually changes style, from straight-forward rock music to more adventurous and progressive stuff, the distinctions between styles are a lot more pronounced on this sophomore release. We have more 'standard' songs and the psychedelia is largely reserved for the title track, although as this song occupies more than a quarter of the running time, the more adventurous material is still adequately represented.

Some of the remaining songs are similar in style to several British pop/rock bands and are very good in their own way, but do not really appeal to me. However, by skipping those songs, one can obtain what I would regard as a more interesting album, which still has a running time in excess of 50 minutes.

That is not to say that the songs I would skip are not worthy; other reviews of this album have cited the songs I least favour as being among the best of the album. The songs they dismiss, being the ones I prefer! As with all things, it is largely a matter of personal taste. It can also depend on one's mood at the time of listenining.

The Good Hand is a solid band that really sounds like a unit. For me, that is clearly shown in The Opposite, a very slow number, but one that shows the band has impeccable timing. The more overtly progressive music starts with Nature's Will, with many brass instruments played by Arjan Hoekstra, building up to the most psychedelic song on the album, the title track that closes the disc. At almost 20 minutes, it is an eruption, which at times, is almost hypnotising and, despite being the last number, is the heart of the album.

Atman is a good follow-up to the eponymous debut. Powerful rock, with psychedelic parts, that makes it very interesting for people who like their rock with just a little more edge. With this release, The Good Hand confirm their status as a band that can play tight, but are not afraid to release the breaks and let the psychedelia loose.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Greenwall - Zappa Zippa Zuppa Zeppa
Greenwall - Zappa Zippa Zuppa Zeppa
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD
Record Label: Electromantic Music
Catalogue #: ART 1361
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 79:53
Info: Greenwall
Samples: Greenwall website
Track List:
Superpezzi (3:03), Con precisione eterna e divina (4:28), Palla di legno (4:02), Ma le melo no (5:25), La culla (5:04), E' solo dopo che c'è la luce (2:44), Non c'è mai tempo per niente (7:55), Superpezzi (scat version) (1:39), Prelievo (11:09), Un figlio (4:05), Scena di vita familiare con la piccola Jo (4:13), Due finestre, una collina (4:24), L'avventura del soldatino bianco (5:38), Il Petalo del Fiore (part1, 2a, and 2b) (bonus track) (16:07)
Greenwall began life back in 1999, when Italian multi-instrumentalist and composer Andrea Pavoni brought together a bunch of musicians to create something that sounded different and more thought-provoking in terms of the compositions he was putting together. The band's latest effort is called Zappa Zippa Zuppa and Zeppa and the band certainly packs in as much as they can on a single CD. Although Greenwall tends to came under 'Rock Progressivo Italiano' (RPI), it is a difficult band and album to pigeon-hole.

The opening track Superprezzi (Super pieces) is a very clever acapella that grows on you after a couple of listens (there is a jazzier scat version later on the album). This is followed by three tracks that are middle-of-the-road, easy listening songs, sung by a very competent Michela Botti. Not really balls-out progressive rock, but they make for very pleasant listening.

The next track La Culla (the Cradle) is a beautiful instrumental that could have easily been added as a bonus track to Dave Gilmour's On an Island. Lovely guitar work over piano arpeggios, with some laid-back percussion, that all adds to the sense of contentment and well-being, with the waves lapping at one's feet.

E' solo dopo che c'è la luce (Only after will there be light) starts with a spoken intro that gives way to simple, repeating piano motifs, supported by a classical-sounding string quartet. This is followed by another instrumental called Non c'è mai tempo per niente (There's never enough time for anything). This is a fine example of jazz fusion, with some stalwart drumming, groovy electric piano work, scat vocals and pleasant guitar work.

Prelievo (Outflow) is the longest track and is certainly more progressive in construction and sound, compared to what has come before. It innocently starts off with simple vocal and piano, but soon descends into something more avant garde, catching you off guard with a jazz-fuelled maelstrom of improvised piano, distorted guitar, frantic drumming, eerie spoken vocals and noises. The return of the vocal-led theme is a welcome respite, before the song moves towards a climatic end. Possibly the best track on the album (from a progressive point of view).

After Prelievo, the remaining songs offer the listener more of the lighter side of Greenwall. Un Figlio (A Son) is a spoken-vocal delivery, over a repeating acoustic guitar theme, with supporting pastoral strings. Scene di Vita Familiare Con La Piccola Jo (Scenes of Family Life With Little Jo) is a string-laden sentimental instrumental, with simple, melodic piano lines and supporting violin.

Due Finestre Una Collina (two windows and a hill) is another safe, melodic ballad, with supporting piano, drums and percussion and a not-too-bad guitar solo. L'Avventura del Soldatino Bianco (The Tale of the White Toy Soldier) is an instrumental that plods, until the entry of a Celtic folk-tinged reel, that is then quickly followed by jazz-fusion electric piano with some funky bass and guitar.

The bonus track, Il Petalo del Fiore (The petal of the flower), is a re-corded version of a track from their first album back in 1993. I'm wondering why they have thrown this in. It's certainly not bad, has elements of 70s symphonic bands and is definitely the proggiest track on this album.

All the songs are sung in Italian but there is a booklet, as part of the generous combined CD+DVD album, that gives English translations of the lyrics. This is much appreciated, and I wish other Italian bands did likewise. In fact, the whole package is top-notch, with the DVD containing videos, interviews and demo versions.

I'm a great fan of RPI and not convinced that Greenwall really belong within that stable. There are clear leanings towards jazz-style fusion, melody-driven songs/ballads and string-driven classical moments. I have enjoyed listening to this album but overall not really my cup of tea.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

Fernando Refay - The Day We Came To Realise
Fernando Refay - The Day We Came to Realise
Country of Origin: Argentina
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 64:53
Info: Fernando Refay
Samples: Fernando Refay on Bandcamp
Track List:
Balad (24:59), Traveling Backwards (Intermission) (00:40), The Day We Came to Realise (10:02), A Way Out (Intermission) (00:24), Dire Need of Solution (9:48), Dialogue in Angst (Intermission) (00:36), Flight Over Water (4:02), Steadfast (Intermission) (00:33), Counter-attack (Battle for Open Ground) (5:13), Last Song (8:36)
At first glance at the CD cover, you'd think The Day We Came To Realise was the latest shoot-'em-up video game, set in an apocalyptic future, where you are the muscle-bound hero taking out the irradiated zombie baddies, reaching a paradise home and saving the Earth.

Well that's quite close, except that it's a concept album of keyboard-dominated rock, which tells that story via five characters played by Refay and four guest singers. Other invitees include two fine guitarists, and a bass player. There's no credit for a drummer, and if that massive stadium kit is part of the quoted "virtual instrumental to help get the job done", then real drummers might have to hang up their sticks.

Interspersed with four small sections of narration, there are six tracks of modern prog metal, but with a Rick Wakeman and his English Rock Ensemble-feel with maybe Jordan Rudness playing along too. In fact, there is at times a strong Dream Theater feel to this album, mostly due to the piano parts and the lush orchestrations.

The opening and longest track, Balad, (the city that they need reach in the story) highlights all the elements of the dominating keys over a band backbone, and also introduces us to three of the vocalists, with Refay playing the part of Alister.

The lead guitar often duels with a synth lead and I must admit to an abundance of foot tapping because of the well-produced, driving rhythm section. However there is also a great deal of light and shade, with some classically played grand piano and a theatrical feel to the singing, as the "cast" exchange lines of sung dialogue.

Nothing against the vocalists, but the instrumental Counter-attack is my favourite track, with a terrific multi-patch bunch of synth-dominated, syncopated weaving, with some lovely voice-sampled sounds whacked into the mix. Sorry neighbours!

By the optimistic Last Song, hope and future possibilities are belted out: "Our Planet's saved again. Our Souls are free to live again". There is a hint of rock opera, but those keyboards forgive-all, and so concludes a strong album of dedicated hard work and some very enjoyable proggy moments, all played with energetic alacrity.

In this current climate of misunderstanding and the exegesis (Tafsir) of religious doctrine, it's very positive that Fenando Refay (who credits Allah for his guidance) has written a simple story of Good and Bad. The rogues here, are called The Wraith. I think they are an allegory for man-made evil (they have become mutated due to the war), but all can be overcome in comradeship, with humans all playing on the same side for once.

It's all a bit teenage sci-fi, but I really like this album. It definitely wears its prog on its sleeve and is recommended to everyone who sometimes dips his toe into the heavier side and likes music brimming with invention.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10

The Samurai Of Prog - The Imperial Hotel
The Samurai of Prog - The Imperial Hotel
Country of Origin: various
Format: CD
Record Label: Seacrestoy
Catalogue #: SCR 1009
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 56:27
Info: The Samurai Of Prog
Samples: The Samurai Of Prog website
Track List:
After the Echoes (8:43), Limoncello (7:57), Victoria's Summer Home (2:53), The Imperial Hotel (28:09), Into the Lake (8:43)
After innumerable delays brought about largely due to an overly complicated and disorganised home move, I finally get round to writing a review of the latest album by The Samurai of Prog (TSOP), The Imperial Hotel. Whereas the group's previous releases have been largely based on cover versions and interpretations of classic prog songs, the latest album features nothing but original music.

The core band of Marco Bernard (bass and de facto band leader), Steve Unruh (vocals, violin, flute, acoustic guitar) and Kimmo Porsti (drums and percussion) is augmented by several different keyboardists and composers, namely Robert Webb, Linus Kase, Octavio Stampalia and David Myers, as well as a whatever the collective noun is for a group of guitarists (a strum? a riff? a fret?) who respond to the following names: Kamran Alan Shikoh, Yoshitisa Shimizu, Johan Oljen and Kristofer Eng. Then, for good measure, add in a couple of supporting vocalists, Maria Kvist and Martin Henderson, and some prog-tastic vintage Taurus bass pedal playing by Andrew Marshall.

Although the three core group members are fine composers in their own rights, the group decided to approach some of their keyboard-playing friends to submit songs, as the group felt that their own efforts would not match the quality of the material they had covered on their previous albums. Given that four different composers working in isolation wrote the album, there is a surprising level of coherence and unity across the pieces. As the sleeve notes state, this is largely because the writers have played to the band's strengths. However, this should not diminish the impact the band themselves have had on arranging and interpreting the core songs, a skill that they have perfected on previous releases, in addition to contributing their own musical ideas that compliment the existing sections.

Living up to their name, the band has released an album replete with great prog music. I admit to having been fairly dismissive of some of their cover versions, feeling that they were at times somewhat of a vanity exercise. However, this new album announces the arrival of a proper group and one that should be taken seriously in the prog world. The five songs on this album are an excellent body of work.

Opener, After The Echoes, written by Octavio Stampalia, is all over the place as far as time signatures go, but a strong melody, some fine vocal sections, the use of a wide variety of different keyboards and Unruh's unmistakeable combination of violin and flute, all combine to generate one of the best opening songs from any album released in 2014. Anyone familiar with the second part of the Collosus/Musea Decameron release, will be familiar with Robert Webb's Limoncello which opens that album. Although all three key members of TSOP play on both versions, the two renditions are substantially different, particularly in the instrumentation used. On this latest version, I particularly enjoyed the staccato rhythm and the way all the instruments are intertwined.

The gorgeous piano melody of David Myers' Victoria's Summer Home is a perfect introduction to the album's title track and neigh on 3 minute extravaganza, The Imperial Hotel. Based on an unreleased song by Webb's old band, the excellent England, who, according to Webb himself, never really got to grips with the piece, the new version has taken on a life of its own. Simply a superb piece of, for want of a better expression, musical theatre, the song tells the tale of a house that was built for Queen Victoria, and whose past glories have now faded. Not just a song, but a complete story with lyrics, that one can immerse oneself in and really live the story. The musical accompaniments cleverly evoke the 1920s era. The band, with Webb and Shikoh, excel, with each seemingly playing out of their skins. The arrangements are superb; even the tango gets a prog overhaul!

The album is rounded off with Into The Lake by Linus Kase, which will no doubt be cited by detractors of the genre as exemplifying all that they perceive to be wrong with progressive rock. Needless to say, aficionados of the style will lap it up. There is a definite Gentle Giant influence, with melodies and counter melodies dominant and a vocal arrangement that does the Giant fellows proud. Personally, I would have liked it if they had really gone to town on the vocals, laying down multiple voices to even over-emphasise the style similarity. Maybe that would be moving back to being too close to the idea of cover versions? Intricate and clever, the music is very complex and, as a result, does not possess as strong a melodic element as other pieces on the album. For that reason it will probably be perceived as the weakest track on the disc. But musically, it is as good as it gets and shows a different side to the band.

As well as the fantastic music, the album is a treat because of the brilliant artwork by Ed Unitsky, whose illustrations, mixed with photographs, tie everything together. The booklet is nothing less than sumptuous and the trifold digipack is artwork of the highest standard. Easily the best packaged CD of the past decade!

This album really has a lot going for it and really does need to be listened to by the masses. Although the same band as on the previous releases, The Imperial Hotel raises TSOP to a higher level and sets for them a benchmark release that will be hard to follow. But, boy, I hope they do.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10

Ysma - Fourth Wall
Ysma - Fourth Wall
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 54:11
Info: Ysma
Samples: Ysma on Bandcamp
Track List:
Limelight (2:36), Four Seconds West (8:36) Thelema (8:43), Sun Pt. I-Aurora (7:52), A Beaver's Tale (4:05), Jester (8:30), Sun Pt. II-Eve (5:42), Pseudopolis (9:07)
Ysma is an instrumental progressive rock band from Münster, Germany. It was founded by Daniël Kluger (guitarist) and former bass player Torge Dellert. In April 2014 Torge left the band and was replaced by Alex Schenk on bass. The other band members are: Fabian Schroer (guitar), Jens Milo (drums) and Arne Timm (keys).

Their music contains a wide spectrum of influences, from jazz to progmetal. The bands that might spring to mind are Tool, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Dream Theater and also "oldies" like Rush and King Crimson. Their debut album Vagrant was released in 2013 and this is their second offering. Just like its predecessor, this album was recorded, mixed and mastered by the band themselves. The beautiful artwork in the CD-booklet, consists of paintings by Jenny Bals and is certainly worth mentioning. Just a pity that the text in the booklet is barely readable, so it is hard to decipher what the song titles and band members are and also who are credited. Hurray for the internet!

Despite all these influences from different styles of music, I still think it sounds a bit tame at times. Especially, the longer tracks fail to hold my attention for the entire length of the song. I think they are all musicians, very capable of producing some great sounds on their individual instruments. Still, I miss some character in the band's music. A sort of head and tail. Probably hard to explain but I invite you to try the samples and video; you may then form your own opinion. Maybe you disagree with the reviewer? I agree with Roger Trenwith who reviewed the debut album that employing a singer might be a solution to get some more dynamics going. Third time lucky, I guess? Slightly better than the previous album, so I will give it 6 out of 10.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10

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Published Thursday 29 January 2015

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