Heresy (3:42), Beggars' Parade (4:38), System (5:36), Not a Song of Mine (3:53), Ill Winds in the Well of Thought (9:05), Even my Home (3:46), Free (5:31), Rock You? (4:14), Bonus track: Heresy [instrumental] (4:02)
In the modern, web-wise world, much has been written about the diminishing role of record labels in the production and distribution of music There can be little doubt that the ease by which modern artists can both record and publish and then get their music heard by fans from across the world, has truly liberated and democratised the industry. The day when labels were really the sole arbitrators of who entered a recording studio is now gone. The ability of any artist, from any place to make a living out of their music has been greatly enhanced.
However, as with all things in life, there are many minuses to counterbalance such pluses. One of which is the removal of a label's role in guaranteeing at least some basic level of quality to the quantity. Although one can argue about their success in doing so, labels did have a big role in filtering out the hopeless from the hopeful.
In the time when anyone can self-record and self-release 12 songs and call it a new album, sites such as Bandcamp have become flooded with music that in reality should never have left the student dorm. Now only a small number of fans, probably with some form of compulsive disorder, can ever devote the time necessary to ensure that the occasion gem is plucked from the muck.
That was a longer than normal time on my soapbox, but this particular album is, I feel, a good illustration of where some record label gate-keeping would have been beneficial.
After 13 years, two demos, a split and a reformation, Entropia Utopia has finally emerged from the rock scene of Thessaloniki, to release a debut, full length album.
The eight tracks on The Flourishing ...could be described as song-orientated crossover prog. The guitars alternative between discordant, metallic riffing and a gentler detailing, which reminds me of A Liquid Landscape. With the exception of one track, stretching to nine minutes, all the others run to around five. It's concise. I like the guitar work and the groove and the melodic lines. The lyrics are also worthy of extra attention and the flute adds texture.
However, this is an album still at the demo stage. The problem (and where some gate-keeping could have been helpful)is in the vocals. Stamatis Pratsinakis is the creative force behind Entropia Utopia. The singer clearly has an ear for a good melody, and there is a quality to his voice which could work. Some of the time is does. However he lacks the necessary control and so every song suffers from lack of tuning. Possibly due to this, the producer has constantly added some technical effects to his voice. Unfortunately this has only exaggerated the problem.
Before considering this for release, the band should really have been advised to go back and fix the vocals. A strong emotive voice would take this music to another level. The potential is clearly there, but as it stands, and in a deluged marketplace, this is unlikely to appeal to many, but friends and family.
Welcome the Bright Skies (5:44), The Autotelic Self (11:05), Your Life (3:02), This Fragile Existence (5:48), The Tower (8:18), Shining (3:58), Ocean Mind (18:24)
FreddeGredde is a solo project from a very talented young man from Sweden, named Fredrik Larsson. The first time I heard of him was through some popular YouTube videos, where he plays clever covers of everything from TV theme songs, video game soundtracks, and Queen songs. There were a few videos that showcased Fredrik's penchant for writing complex songs with progressive rock influences, but I considered him strictly more in the interesting pop music genre.
With this, his second album under the moniker FreddeGredde, he has created a full-blown progressive rock experience and the results are extremely impressive. There are no doubts that Fredrik Larsson is an immensely talented musician and composer. He plays almost all the instruments on the album, with the exception of drums (by Louis Abramson) and the flute on track five which comes from Zuzana Vanekova. This is really impressive, considering how accomplished all the playing is on this album. The keyboard work is especially strong.
Something that strikes me immediately as I listen to Brighter Skies is that the album is very uplifting and positive. The best comparison I can make, is to the popular prog band Moon Safari, also from Sweden. Just listen to the opening track, Welcome the Bright Skies, and you can hear impressive vocal harmonies and soaring keyboard work, among a bright and cheerful backdrop. This is a fantastic way to start this record and things only improve from there.
The Autotelic Self may be my favourite track. It sounds like a mixture between classic Images and Words period Dream Theater and the aforementioned Moon Safari or even fellow Swedes The Flower Kings. My favourite section that displays this perfectly comes about seven minutes in, where the music shifts between a heavy progressive metal riff-filled section and a sunny symphonic prog bit, complete with twinkling keyboard runs. This is a great mixture of all the things I love about progressive rock.
Your Life is a short, pleasant track with a folk and Celtic influence. This shows yet another side to Fredrick's musical repertoire. This Fragile Existence is another showcase of diversity, with an almost classical section in the middle, amongst the more progressive metal leanings of the rest of the track. This is just pure, fun music to listen to with an uplifting spirit.
The Tower shifts gears once again, with a beautiful start, focusing on vocals and piano. Fredrik's voice is perhaps an acquired taste. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there was something initially off-putting about it. I'm not sure if it is his accent or that he has a more pop-sounding voice than I'm used to for this kind of music. But, I will say that over time I have gotten used to it and find many sections where it is downright beautiful, and I really like the use of vocal harmonies throughout the record. The Tower builds and builds with a wonderful flute added to the mix, and finally a triumphant finale that is extremely satisfying.
We aren't done yet, though. The final track of the album is an epic of almost 20 minutes called Ocean Mind. This is a great combination of all that has come before. There is plenty of heavy progressive metal, bright flurries of synths, tricky time signatures, and varied sections, with influences from classical, folk, and even circus music. I really appreciate the adventurous spirit of this epic. It can sometimes be a little overwhelming and over-the-top, as it just keeps going without any slowing down. I might have appreciated some lighter sections to balance it all out. But, there is no denying that there is something truly special amongst all the musical chaos.
Brighter Skies has been quite a pleasant surprise for me. It keeps unfolding and revealing more of itself to me and I like it more and more. Fredrik Larsson is extremely ambitious, and almost all the ideas here work extremely well. He not only has crafted music that is spectacularly complex and varied, but he is also able to perform it all.
This is the type of progressive rock that I really fall in love with. It is positive and uplifting, continuously interesting and changing, and complex and varied. For those who love symphonic prog in the vein of bands like Moon Safari, Spock's Beard, Magic Pie, and Beardfish, I would strongly recommend this album. It continues to shine more brightly the more I hear it, and that is all I ask from my favourite music.
Rebirth (3:29), From Dark To Light (7:27), Flying (2:35), Another Time Another Place (3:36), Holy Playground (8:16), Haunted Mind (5:42), Room Full Of Angels (5:59), Final Ride (7:05), Welcome Home (4:28)
Mikko Iivanainen (M.I.) is a guitarist from Finland. This country is probably best known for the band Nightwish, but maybe one day M.I. will be just as famous, who knows? He is an admirer of Jimi Hendrix ever since he saw a documentary on TV. He started playing guitar at the age of 11. Later he even graduated at the Conservatory. So there can be no misunderstanding, this guy really knows how to play guitar.
In addition to guitar, he also plays keyboards, bass and banjo on this album. The other instrumentalists playing are a percussionist (Abdissa 'Mamba' Assefa) and a drummer (Mikko Kaakkuriniemi). Also appearing on the album are two vocalists, and more importantly the Jousikaiku Quartet, a string quartet that's dominantly present on several tracks.
The opening track, Rebirth, is more or less an intro and has a narrator telling a story, before the album really kicks off with the up-tempo track From Dark To Light. Here the Hendrix influence is clearly audible, but also influences from other guitarists which M.I. admires like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Halfway through the track, the string quartet enters the playground and gives this song a touch of Kansas.
The track Another Time Another Place is very different and has a jazzy feel. Not surprising, if you know that M.I. also has a big admiration for Pat Metheny. On the longest track, Holy Playground, the string quartet dominates and the guitar sounds laid back. The same can be said about the next two tracks, Haunted Mind and Room Full Of Angels.
With the penultimate song, Final Ride, we're back where we started with heavy guitar in metal style. M.I. demonstrates that he feels just as comfortable playing metal as playing jazz. There are some great riffs on this track.
Being a guitarist, this album by M.I. turns out to be very much guitar-driven, so lovers of keyboard sounds will have to search intensively to find some nice bits. So this is especially recommended to DPRP-readers who love guitarists playing in a non-Gilmouresque style. As I am also a fan of some excellent solos on the keyboard, I would have loved a bigger role for this instrument on the album, but otherwise I still enjoyed listening to this talented musician.
Stranded (parts 1-V) (10:31), Into the sun (7:20), The Lie (5:03),Under Control (5:54), Crossing of fates (4:48), My Old Friend (5:27), Ocean of stars (5:35), Solitude (3:40), Nothing (6:15), New World (5:57), Redemption (Stranded parts 6-10) (17:27)
When Pink Floyd released The Endless River last year, there was quite rightly a flood of debate and views, many of which said the album was underwhelming. Whilst I actually enjoyed that album, I have to say that this release from Dave "Squids" Nathaniel Kerzner may just be the antidote for those disappointed Floyd fans, as there is a definite whiff of Pink Floyd unveiled here. However this is better.
I hasten to add that this is no mere Floyd clone, as it weaves a rich kaleidoscope of sound, colours and textures across its most generous running time (even more so on the deluxe version). In short: this album is destined to become a classic in its own right.
Drawing deeply into a large talent pool, Dave has worked with some of the very best within the prog field. As we all know, a name doesn't automatically equate with awesomeness. Here though, Dave has got these guests to add and embellish something that was already excellent. Amongst many stellar performances, we have the magical and lyrical guitar of Steve Hackett (in no way 'rigid', as a certain Mr Banks dubbed it recently), the booming synth of Keith Emerson and the sultry vocals of Heather Findlay. All add gravitas to this fine, fine album.
Bookmarked by two epic tracks, Stranded Parts 1- 5 and Redemption (Stranded parts 6-10), we have crammed between some very tasty songs such as Under Control_ which has a chorus that will drive you crazy, and a whole slew of shorter 'mood' pieces.
If you like keyboards, then this album will be an absolute dream for you. Dave is no slouch as a player and here he shows the full breadth of his skills, yet always seeking to enhance the song and not just to show off his chops.
There is also some fine guitar work from Mr Hackett and a certain Francis Dunnery. Along with Dave's regular guitarist/bassist (Fernando Perdomo), Nick D'Virgilo drums throughout, so you know the rhythm section will be bang-on.
Dave has excelled himself by crafting a consummate body of work that will certainly stand the test of time to be viewed as a milestone album in 21st century progressive rock. Sure, one could play spot-the-influence, but whilst everyone has influences, it is how you shape and adapt those to define your own sound and statement that matters.
This is an album to play through in one go and to just allow the graceful music to flow over you, emerging the other side rejuvenated. The 'deluxe version' adds even more, lengthening several tracks, remixing others and adding some more instrumental pieces that add to the beauty of the original work (and not to say almost twice the length).
Fans of classic prog in the vein of Genesis, Yes, Camel, Spock's Beard and The Flower Kings will find much to their liking here. The artwork by Christine Leakey is also of a very high standard, bringing this to life visually and adding much to the sonics with some stunning visual palettes.
This will be in my top five albums list of 2015 without any doubt. So what are you waiting for? There is a whole New World out there just waiting for you to explore.
Tokoloshe Man (5:12), Jubilee Cloud (4:06), Gold (4:28), Lift Me from the Ground (4:04), Tomorrow I'll Go (4:48), Try to Touch Just One (6:44), Weekend Lady (2:55), I Would Have Had a Good Time (4:20), Come on Down Jesus (3:37), He's Gonna Step on You Again (4:27) *Bonus Tracks:* Sometimes It's Not Enough (2:59), Tokoloshe Man (single version) (3:59), Can Someone Please Direct Me Back to Earth (3:56), Great White Lady (3:52), Shamarack (3:20), Higher Than God's Hat (4:11), Would You Follow Me? (4:08), Ride the Lightning (4:05), I Won't Ask You Where You've Been (4:32)
South African John Kongos is somewhat of a pioneer in many respects. Not only was his debut solo album, the marvellously titled Confusions About a Goldfish, the first album released by Pye's progressive imprint Dawn records, but a song from his next album, Kongos (the subject of this review), was the first to ever feature a sample, that of a rhythm from an African tribal dance.
Even after his mainstream recording career was over, he maintained a presence on the UK music scene, with his recording studio being one of the first to incorporate a Fairlight BMI keyboard in it. But that was later. After a debut solo single, one single with Floribunda Rose, three singles with Scrugg and the ..Goldfish album (all collected on the impressive Lavender Popcorn CD), Kongos signed to the Fly/Cube label, home of Joe Cocker and Marc Bolan, and started recording a new album. It was greatly assisted, albeit inadvertently, by Elton John.
Kongos' quest for unusual rhythms, harking back to his South African days and absorbing traditional tribal music, brought him into contact with Ray Cooper, Elton's percussionist of choice. That led to an introduction to Gus Dudgeon, Elton's favourite producer at that time. He happened to have some spare time, since Elton was off touring and cementing his reputation, particularly in the US.
But it wasn't just the producer that Kongos was able to poach from Elton, he basically took the whole band that had created John's recent Madman Across the Water album. Hookfoot's Caleb Quaye (piano, guitar), Dave Glover (bass) and Roger Pope (drums) were all secured, as well as backing singers Sue and Sunny and future record producer Mike Moran (synthesisers). Another future producer, Ray Thomas Baker, engineered the sessions.
So there can be no dispute as to the quality of the musical and production team behind this album, but what of the music? The album contained two hit singles, Tokoloshe Man and He's Gonna Step on You Again, later reinterpreted as Step on by The Happy Mondays and covered by Def Leppard, whose relationship with Kongos started in the early 80s when he helped them develop a computerised drum kit using the Fairlight. Both songs featured some unusual additions to their musical soundtracks, including chair squeak, rusty tin, earth drums, clapperboard, castanets, asses jawbone, bicycle bell and maracas. The former also had an interesting brass arrangement by Robert Kirby, who first came to prominence when his college friend Nick Drake plucked him from obscurity. The success of the singles, propelled the album into the top 30 in the UK.
Elsewhere, the album contains a variety of musical styles, from the 'psychedelic gospel' of Jubilee Cloud (which does have certain similarities to Elton's output of the time, particularly in the piano and vocals), to the more acoustic Gold which like He's Gonna Step on You Again was co-written by Scrugg keyboardist Chris Demetriou, probably attesting to the fact that the sounds had been around for a few years before finally being committed to vinyl. That specific song also features a typically lush arrangement by Kirby and a host of additional backing vocalists.
The ballad, Tomorrow I'll Go, is a plaintive ode that is made more impressive by its simplicity. It was a surprising choice for New Zealand hard blues band The Human Instinct to cover on their second album. The lengthy Try to Touch Just One is the most progressive track with some very nice guitar and synths, and a remarkable instrumental section by Quaye and Moran.
I Would Have Had A Good Time is another fine song with overtones of Elton John, although it does contain a rather more plaintive vocal delivery, with some nice background organ and a fine electric piano solo. The more upbeat Come On Down Jesus works very well musically, with some great performances throughout, all driven by Cooper's very upfront tambourine. Anyone who has witnessed Cooper performing, will know that his tambourines don't have a very long lifespan!
The CD is expanded by the inclusion of nine tracks taken from singles released at the time of the album's release and subsequent to that. Sometimes It's Not Enough, the b side of He's Gonna Step on You Again, is a total contrast to the A side and, to my mind, the much better song.
Both sides of the second single are featured, the single version of Tokoloshe Man is somewhat more aggressive, while the flip side, Can Someone Please Direct Me Back To Earth, like on the previous single is a very different style of song. It is much more sedate and simpler and, again gets my nod in preference to the more famous A-side.
The subsequent singles follow the diversity of the album, but don't really seem to catch the spirit or adventure. Great White Lady is somewhat repetitive, Shamarack has a sort of Cat Stevens feel to it, while Higher Than God's Hat seems to be an attempt to jump into the glam rock scene.
Would You Follow Me? is more acoustic but the mandolin seems somewhat out of place. Ride the Lightning is more interesting and actually achieved a degree of success several years later, topping the French charts for several weeks when it was covered by Sylvie Vartan (under the slightly amended title Qu'est-ce Qui Fait Pleurer les Blondes?). The whole thing is finished off with the languid I Won't Ask You Where You've Been which plays to the strength of Kongos' compositional skills.
All-in-all this is an interesting album, of material that strides across several genres. Probably not a great deal that will entice the progressive fanatic but this still offers plenty to those whose palates are a bit more expansive and have an interest in music of the early 70s.
Introducing The Storm (1:04), Shipwreck At Dawn (7:52), A Woman - Part I - Intro (1:50), A Woman - Part I (1:32), Facing The Winds Of Doom (4:24), Vertical Memories (prelude) (4:17), Vertical Memories (6:08), A Woman - Part II (1:32), A Dier's Oath (6:08), A Journey Into The Light (3:03), A Woman - Part III (1:24), The Traveller (8:45), Sirens (3:56), Death And The Merciful Gods (8:25)
Living Stilts is a new prog band hailing from Italy. According to their website their 'creations (a bit pretentious...) don't exhaust themselves over the course of the individual song, but should be thought of as suites, and for this reason [the band] favour the concept album form.". The main writer of the music is Luca Mavilia (keyboards, arrangements, voice, programming, mixing and mastering) with Alfredo Cassotta (drums and percussion) co-writing two tracks and being the only other musician on the album. Additional vocals are provided by Maria Tomasello and Antonio Bella, with narrative recitation by Ben McGuire. All the lyrics were penned by Vincent Spasaro.
Blasphemous as it may be, I am not that great a fan of concept albums, mainly because some of the concepts themselves are frankly quite ludicrous. Just as it is incredibly difficult to write lengthy songs that are worthy of the extended playing time, it is also very hard to come up with a coherent concept, that hangs together well over the course of an entire album, let alone a double album.
Despite this, many bands seem to think that they have to deliver lengthy songs, and albums they can define as 'conceptual', in order to call themselves progressive. However, I digress, and the rant is somewhat inappropriate because the songs on Shipwreck are not excessively long and the musical concept, for the most part, hangs together well. Indeed, there are some exceptionally good musical passages. Vertical Memories (prelude) for example, is quite sublime.
Having two distinct vocalists is another plus, and one can easily forget that all of the music is derived from the keyboards, as Mavilia is very adept in his choice and employment of samples. In addition, the mixture of different keyboard sounds adds depth and variety. Much of the music does have a nautical air and the breaking up of the narrative by the A Woman interludes, with their more orchestral backing, makes for a clever arrangement. It has to be said that Tomasello has a fine set of lungs on her.
The depth of sounds on A Dier's Oath is impressive, although I wish the drum sound was less harsh, the toms are too prominent and the cymbals too resonant for my liking. I am also not a great fan of narration on albums, and so I would naturally tend to completely skip A Journey Into Light, and admit that I did do so for the first few times I played this album.
However, McGuire's performance as a preacher is very passionate and engaging, on a par with Phil Lynott's ravings on The War Of The Worlds. I also like the musical backing to the narration, which seems to enhance the impact of the words.
The two longest tracks are held back to the end, linked by the duet Sirens. The three tracks combine to provide a fitting ending to the album, with the relatively long intro to The Traveller setting the scene and continuing at a modest tempo, placing the emphasis on the vocalists who carry the song well. As might be expected, Death And The Merciful Gods provides the most drama on the album and could, from the opening minute or so, be easily mistaken for a long lost piece by the Alan Parsons Project. The song plays out and brings the album to an effective end, without overstaying its welcome.
I suppose this album is similar to the prog theatre efforts of Clive Nolan, and being only an hour in length this is more easily digested that Mr Nolan's efforts (I have yet to make it through the whole of one of his epics). Although not something I would play with a great degree of regularity, there is certainly enough on this album to enjoy, and I am sure there is a large market for this type of music.
Mavilia is a fine writer and arranger, and is obviously an accomplished keyboard player but doesn't choose to show off his skills through endless solos or flights of excess. Given my acknowledged prejudices against many of the components of this album, it is surely endorsement enough that I would welcome hearing future releases unleashed under the Living Stilts name.
Buy Your Piece of Love (4:31), Welcome Tomorrow (8:03), Tune in Zone Out (4:17), Maybe Sometime Else Then (4:29), Revolution by Design (3:56), Behind a Veil of Snow (4:56), The Liquid Hourglass (2:37), Now the Waves of Sound Remain (10:20), This Last Favour (4:42)
Phi were formed in 2006, in Austria by Markus Bratusa (vocals, guitar, programming), Arthur Darnhofer-Demár (bass, vocals) and Gabe Cresnar (drums). In the ever-varied nomenclature of genre division, they term themselves as a post-progressive rock band.
Now the Waves of Sound Remain is their fourth release, following on from For the Love of Ghosts (2011), The Deflowering of Reality EP (2012) and Years of Breathing (2013). This is their first not to be self-released, following their signing to The Gentle Art of Music label.
Don't let the name of the label put you off, not only does this label house RPWL and Sylvan, the music produced by this trio is very accomplished and very enjoyable. The vocals, all in English, are robust and assured with added harmonies where necessary. I suppose the 'post progressive' label is appropriate, as the songs tend to be mixtures of a more 'standard' style of composition, with post rock interludes.
This can at times be rather confusing, as in the opener. Buy Your Piece Of Love, where ostensibly a love song, is turned into flights of aggressive guitar interruption, giving the song a whole new attitude. The lengthier songs, Welcome Tomorrow and Now the Waves of Sound Remain contain instrumental passages that keep the listener interested and make the most of the album's limited instrumentation. The lack of keyboards (anathema in a prog band but perfectly acceptable in post rock) is not an issue, as Bratusa wrangles a multitude of sounds out of his guitar, with some particularly nice playing on the title track. That is a song that fully justifies a 'progressive' tag.
The shorter songs do, in some respects, have a similarity to early Muse, although it is not a massively obvious comparison. Indeed, the guitar sound on tracks like Tune in Zone Out has a more gritty, earthy sound, reminiscent of some of the early seventies hard rock bands. The group has a more sensitive side too. Maybe Sometime Else Then has a gentler introduction with a programmed cello sound adding depth, although some of the drumming on the quieter sections is a bit intrusive and doesn't really change in the heavier sections. It would have been more dramatic to change the beat somewhat, to emphasise the different sections more. The more experimental, The Liquid Hourglass, shows promise of a direction the band may want to explore further.
The press release for the album states that this album is full of music with 'double bottom'. I have no idea what that actually means but the end results are palatable enough, even if it is unlikely to set the world alight at the moment. However, the post progressive genre, with Phi at its head, may have much more to offer in future years.
The Call of the Ancients (1:28), Can You Here Me Scream (4:25), Destiny (4:24), It's All About You (4:57), Kingdom of Lies (4:21), Just Step Aside(4:45), Alter Ego (1:24), The One You Loved (4:09), Are You Out There – Part 1 Facta, Alea Iacta Est (1:11), Are You Out There – Part 2 (3:24), To Tame the Savage Soul (3:21), Dark Angel (4:13), Quiet....Listen! (4:52), Aun Estoy Aqui (Bonus Track) (4:07), The Elves Song (1:00)
Septum's Quiet..... Listen! is a confusing release. Septum is a septet from Cuba, a country with which you don't really associate this musical approach. Their approach definitely has a more European style. Let me try and enlighten you.
Think symphonic progressive metal and heavy metal with celtic, folky leanings. We have guitars, drums, keyboards and bass, all interacting with violins, flute and bagpipes. We also have the proverbial operatic singer, whose approach is somewhat one-dimensional, although Jessica Sori's soprano approach does create a striking contrast against the backdrop of the instrumentation alongside. There is something rather intriguing about this approach, but in reality Septum don't seem to be able to make up their minds what they want to be. Exploring different genres, and experimenting with them, is all good and well, but after a while this all becomes somewhat samey.
The album contains 15 tracks that vary between one and five minutes, the album lands in at just over 52 minutes. Where the band wins hands-down, is on their more metal approach. You can hear inflections of German metal band Helloween circa Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2, although being more diverse and experimental. At times the soundscapes sound slightly immature and formulaic; the folky, celtic tones don't seem to work so well or have as much prowess. I find bands like Maggo de Oz have done this approach much better.
There is some mighty fine guitar work displayed throughout, that is matched at times by some rather fast-to-rapid-paced drum work, which does at times sound slightly tinny due to the production. I think that a fuller, meatier sound would have been more according for what the band were trying to achieve. Putting that to one side, and on a positive note, the use of the varying time changes does keep things interesting for the listener. Thematically the band does have some very interesting ideas, they just need to be nurtured and refined.
Although I understand what Septum are trying to do with Quiet..... Listen!, their complexity and diversity just doesn't seem to work, mores the pity, which leaves it being nothing more than average. The standout track is, It's All About You.
Desperation of a Soldier (9:37), Just Leave (3:27), Arabian Nights (8:22), Before I Die (6:12), Unconscious Thoughts (3:20), I Don't Care (5:26), My Child (4:43), Deluded (9:43), Unconscious Thoughts (bonus track) (5:35)
With internationally acclaimed bands like Within Temptation, Delain, Epica and After Forever emerging during the last decade, The Netherlands appears to be a fruitful ground for female-fronted progressive metal music with a gothic hint.
During the first minutes of Shot in the Dark, the debut album by new Dutch band Thirteen, I thought that another band in that vein had seen the light of day. But this is a very different band, which takes a slightly different direction and is therefore probably even more interesting for dprp.net readers. For Thirteen blends gothic rock with intricate melodies, soft passages with heavy band bursts, and an Arabian flavour with melodious rock songs.
The origin and nucleus of Thirteen are Jeroen van der Wiel, keyboardist in the Dutch instrumental band Odyssice, and Audrey Lahaije who sang in cover bands playing music varying from Alanis Morissette to Mariah Carey. They found each other, discovered their mutual passion for bands like Nightwish and Evanescence (and each other, apparently) and decided to dedicate their passion towards their own band. As they were no strangers to the Dutch prog scene, they called in the help of an array of experienced guitarists, among which was Aldo Adema of Egdon Heath, and were able to achieve a high level of production. But in the end, it all depends on the quality of the music, and fortunately Thirteen also convince in that aspect.
Most of the songs are quite slow and atmospheric, with much space for the keys and extended guitar soloing, and Thirteen is not afraid to open with quite an epic song. Desperation of a Soldier is a good opener, offering almost everything the band can accomplish. We have a good melody, excellent singing, a gorgeous intro, nice soloing and a thundering outro. A nice song.
Arabian Nights is a real stand-out song because of its eastern flavour. My Child is a very mellow ballad, with loads of keys and no guitars at all. Its melody is almost cheesy but it stays on the good side of cheesiness, albeit just. Deluded seems to pick up the vocal line of My Child, but it develops nicely into a beautiful, slow song with a very moody choir and a great guitar solo, immediately following the choir.
Unconscious Thoughts is another very strong song with a beautiful piano theme and a goose-pimple vocal melody, that is rendered beautifully by Lahaije. Her voice is at times a bit thin in the low registers, but on the whole very pleasant. The bonus version of this song, that closes the album, is even more beautiful, with strings added to the piano and the vocal lines during the first two minutes, to build up just the right romantic feelings to fit the music. Then the full band comes in, which leads to a compilation of authentic, disturbing and terrible audio samples on real war issues. It is an impressive statement and an absolutely great song.
But in spite of the experience of the band and the nice songs on this debut, it is understandable that not all is good on the album. I Don't Care is really irritating, with a far-too-simple melody, very mediocre lyrics and almost nothing attractive to justify its five and a half minutes. The guitar solo is nice, but for the rest it's an unattractive filler.
The music of Thirteen fits somewhere in between Within Temptation during their Mother Earth album, Evanescence during Fallen, The Gathering during Nighttime Birds and Flamborough Head during One for the Crow. It is full of melody, sparse, open and heavy instrumental backgrounds and a good singer.
On stage, Thirteen becomes a five-piece with Van der Wielen and Lahaije supported by Mark Silverentand on guitar, Dion Pietersma on drums and Lars Herben playing bass. They are a band very much worth checking out.
Just Another Day (5:05), Eight (5:41), Delirium (3:59), Alone Again (6:16), Tomorrow Won't Happen (3:54), Handle With Care (7:07), A Tree Tall Enough (5:01), Salvation (6:34)
This Brazilian five-piece band uses a mash-up of eclectic styles and influences on this, their fourth release. Attitude If Noticed (VAIN) is Alessandro Queler (keyboards), Cristiano Pierobon (bass), Fábio Souza (drums), Giulliano P. (guitars) and Will Geraldo (vocals). The songs are sung in English and are about how inhumane we can be to each other, and they form a loosely connected concept.
VAIN is a band that has many pro leanings, and that uses elements of the lighter end of prog-metal, post-punk rock and electronics, all wedded to strong melodies. These tracks are driven with a good sense of purpose. There are no drifting sections and no excess fat in evidence. This is a well produced, played and thought-through set, where nothing outstays its welcome.
Two songs feature the dark, electronic pallet of Songs of Faith and Devotion-era Depeche Mode. Delirium has haunting samples of vocal chanting, that give it a gothic edge. An acoustic guitar solo provides a surprising analogue contrast, over the digital darkness underneath. VAIN returns to this electronic pallet on A Tree Tall Enough, making great use of unsettling discords, mixed with moody, pulsing bass and drum machines, all to excellent effect.
The title track and the terrific Handle With Care are heavier, electric guitar-orientated songs, with light touches of acoustic guitar and keyboard washes providing contrast. It made me want to revisit Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream album.
There is an exquisite, mournful ballad in the shape of Alone Again, with guest vocalist Cleo contrasting with and complementing Will Geraldo's strong vocals. It builds nicely and features a fine guitar solo. This would not have been out of place on the last Anathema album. The intense instrumental, Tomorrow Won't Happen, moves along on a forceful bass groove, mixing electronic percussion with standard drums and guitar work, that would make Robert Fripp proud.
The opening and closing tracks are melting-pots of classic and post-punk rock, with The Cure-like guitar harmonics on the opener and prog-synth work on the closing track. They are both engaging, but not as eclectic as the tracks that they bookend.
This is an album that wears its eclecticism proudly, moving as it does across a number of styles, whilst remaining firmly VAIN's own. Those who prefer albums with a strong central identity may find the switching irritating, but I liked the idea of not being sure of what was coming next. So, not a band easily categorized, but a very interesting listen.