ISSUE 2015-12

Reviews in this issue:

3rd Ear Experience - Incredible Good Fortune
3rd Ear Experience - Incredible Good Fortune
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: Thousand Thunders Music
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 75:55
Info: 3rd Ear Experience
Samples: 3rd Ear Experience on CD Baby
Track List:
Tools (19:33), One (18:08), Parsley (17:32), White Bee (8:12), Shaman's Dream (11:30)
It's well past midnight, much loved family member's snuggly and securely asleep after a memorably happy day. I venture outside to brave the wool hugging winter chill. I sit pensively, contemplating life.

Moon filled shadows; star gazing. Night sky smiling, dawn sun beckoning. Headphones are bulging; toes are tapping; involuntary trunk swaying an absolute necessity. The combination of personal good fortune, nature and the all-encompassing music of the 3rd Ear Experience are totally mesmerising. Transfixed and spell bound, no antidote needed, or sought, to halt the music's incantation. Reflective thoughts of joy overflow and swirl inside my brain. Captivated, I felt my emotional warmth rising steadily as the moon faded towards dawn.

Since then, months have passed and other music has been wolfed and reviewed, yet the taste and embracing appeal of 3rd Ear Experience's latest release still lingers sweetly.

Incredible Good Fortune was created and fashioned in the silent dry and arid heat of the Mojave Desert. It is a pulsating release that incorporates many facets associated with bands such as Hawkwind, Øresund Space Collective, and The Ozric Tentacles. The band are able to add their own unique ingredient to this mix in order to fulfil their enviable creative vision. The end result is a delightful extended jam based extravaganza of energetic, but spiritual psychedelic space rock to savour and enjoy.

3rd Ear Experience is a collective of musicians led by AmritaKripa and Robbi Robb. The recording has a spontaneous and kaleidoscopic appeal. It contains a sparkling rainbow of sounds that glows brightly. The collective energy and interaction of the ensemble colourfully trickles and cascades throughout each composition. The music flows freely, to vibrantly saturate the listener in a multihued drape of lush primeval rhythms and hypo-space pulses. These offer enough persuasion, for the hearer to be enveloped and willingly enter a mysteriously uplifting and transcendent aural world. Incredible Good Fortune consists of five pieces which span the extensive 75 minute plus running time of the release. All of the tracks on the CD have their merits, but the longest tracks Tools, One and Parsley are without doubt the most rewarding.

Tools begins with a melodic and jangly guitar intro that gives little hint of the full on sound that later emerges. After two minutes the band ignites, and the music soars. The after burners are employed a minute later and the music is propelled upwards to further heights, to expose a crunching guitar heavy jam. This part of the piece is fiery, unrelenting and intensely rewarding. However, the frenetic organ blasts that prominently emerge after six and half minutes surpasses everything that has previously occurred. The organ gusts unforgivingly and thrusts the music way beyond the stratosphere. Once at altitude, cruise control is engaged as the piece journeys more slowly onwards, as a soothing melodic calmness prevails. The tranquillity is adorned by puffs and is ultimately challenged by blasts of, expressively atmospheric saxophone. Later, the piece is further embellished, by some distant vocals that in tone and enunciation are reminiscent of Stanley Clarke. Surprisingly, the vocals work tremendously well here. In the final section, seat belts are tightened as the vocals dwindle. All musical restraints are jettisoned; lost to float freely in a tempestuous and memorable climax that is the equivalent of a white knuckle ride of uninhibited excitement.

One has many themes that emerge and recur within its lengthy running time. It incorporates numerous changes of tempo and has an impressive range of dynamics. Enough even, to satisfy those who like to see and hear the launch pad roar or the parachutes of the landing module almost silently unfurl. Emerging and bursting from the speakers at full throttle during the extended instrumental sections this track contains some of the most engaging psychedelic space jam music to be encountered. Normally, I would baulk at the thought of listening to repetitive vocal phrasings within a piece. Yet here the recurring vocal parts seem totally in harmony and tunefully at one with the whole piece. If anything, the clever mixture of repetitive, chanted and surreal vocals add greatly to the overall unworldly experience that readily permeates through this highly enjoyable track.

Parsley has a lot of ingredients that listeners might find appealing. These include unrestricted guitar solos, wordless chanted vocals, progressive keyboard parts and a memorable tune that is expanded and revisited in various guises as the piece flourishes towards its finale. All in all it's really very good and very satisfying. If you enjoy expansive progressive music that incorporates a variety of styles, Parsley will not disappoint.

The impact of these standout tracks has not diminished with time, and they continue to be totally worthy of being played regularly and repeatedly. The remaining tracks of the album, White Beeand Shaman's Dream have some of the attributes that make the standout tracks memorably enjoyable, but in comparison are somewhat disappointing. White Bee is probably the least appealing track on the album. It contains spoken and chanted parts that run through the majority of its length. For the most part, it is uneventful and lyrically twee. Unfortunately, the vocals in this composition broke the spell that the music of the album had worked so hard and successfully to establish. In its concluding section, fuzz bass and low guitar parts combine and dominate. As a result, the piece becomes much more interesting, but ends all too swiftly and abruptly.

Shaman's Dream is enjoyable enough, but suffers from its position as the final composition in a lengthy album. After listening to Incredible Good Fortune on a number of occasions I decided to share my journey of discovery with a close friend named Joy. On some encounters Joy thoroughly appreciated, Shaman's Dream. This was especially the case when listening to the track in isolation. However, in the context of listening to the whole album, and by the time the track itself had begun Joy often suffered a form of psychedelic space rock fatigue. Shamanistic vocals were primarily the cause, and certainly not a part of the cure.

Readers please do not feel concern! Don't be alarmed! You cannot catch space rock fatigue, unless you voluntarily subject yourself to it over many hours. The symptoms include an incessant desire to hear Joni Mitchell or the Amazing Blondel. When exposure or fatigue is at its worst, the symptoms also contain a yearning for the glorious harmonies of the Beach Boys. There was of course too, an earnest longing that the whole space rock experience might end. Once the player's stop button was engaged by an empathetic and sympathetic companion, the aural antidote could then be swiftly, painlessly and sonically applied. And it worked.

The antidote has yet to fail. Yet, the consequence of this affliction is Joy's continual willingness to reach for Incredible Good Fortune. Just like Joy, I wish to continue to experience the music's undoubted positive energy and power. As a consequence, I have happily resigned myself to tolerate its unwanted side effects.

DPRP readers, I am certain that you have guessed correctly! We are both now caught up in a musical groundhog day, where the benefits of continual exposure to the emotional and spiritual values inherent within this release heavily outweigh the albums shortcomings. The desire to experience Incredible Good Fortune continues unabated, despite its insidious potential to wear out a well worn, yet prized vinyl copy of Pet Sounds. Personally, I am glad that I succumbed to my desire to play the album again and again. I urge DPRP readers to take the risk and do the same. Before you do though, please heed some words of advice. You better have an antidote close at hand! Pssh...anyone want a copy of , One Direction's latest release?
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Albatros - Mundo Bosque
Albatros - Mundo Bosque
Country of Origin: Spain
Format: CD
Record Label: Mylodon Records
Catalogue #: MYLOCD105
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 42:53
Info: Albatros
Samples: Albatros on Bandcamp
Track List:
El Nombre Del Mundo es Bosque (6:11), Hijos de Los Hombres (6:08), El Hombre Anciano (5:36), Caminante de Luz (5:24), Tardis (5:27), Ende (5:40), Cómo Estás Cuando Estás Bien (8:27)
I must admit I haven't listened to many Spanish prog rock artists, so this band was completely new to me. My only two experiences with prog rock in the Spanish language have been Nexus (from Argentina) and Cast (from Mexico). Of course, I also know Anima Mundi (from Cuba), yet they sing in English!

Albatros was formed in the year 2000 when some friends got together to start a rock band. After some line-up changes, the band since 2006 consists of the current members: Javi Fernández (guitar, lead vocals), Joan Gabriel (bass), Marc Mateu "Red Perill" (keyboards, vocals), Marc González (guitar, vocals), and Tolo Gabarró (drums, vocals).

Mundo Bosque is the third release by this band from Igualada (Barcelona). Their previous albums are called Pentadelia (2008) and Ursus (2011). It's difficult to make any comparison with a more well-known artist from the genre, because they more or less have their own sound. Maybe they resemble early Pink Floyd at some moments. So the conclusion that the music sounds a bit retro is correct. But they do so in a very tasteful way. The lyrics sung in Spanish, contribute to the magic, and it's an album that will grow in appreciation every time you listen to it.

Hijos De Los Hombres has a propulsive rhythm with some great work on guitar and keyboards. The track Caminante De Luz is mid tempo, with some fiery guitar and lots of excellent Hammond organ. It is a great track that showcases the talents of the musicians. The final composition, Cómo Estás Cuando Estás Bien, has a strong build and is very dynamic. It's a track with warm vocals, howling slide guitar and a varied keyboard sound.

Not the concluding track, yet still worth a mention might be Tardis. For most of our UK readers and science fiction fans, the track might be quite interesting. And is it? Yes, it actually is. Everyone who watches the British science fiction series Dr. Who will know what typical noise the red phone booth (which really is a time machine called The Tardis) makes when taking off on its travels through time and space. That sound is the start of this track and after some minutes you will also notice that they have very delicately woven the theme tune of the TV series into their own composition.

So be adventurous and give this album a listen. It maybe well take some time to get used to hearing lyrics sung in Spanish, if you're used to hearing only English, but I think you might be pleasantly surprised by these musicians.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Creation's End - Metaphysical
Creation's End - Metaphysical
Country of Origin: USA
Format: cd
Record Label: Pure Prog Records
Catalogue #: PPRCD007
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 60:18
Info: Creation's End
Samples: Creation's End on Pure Prog Records website
Track List:
Ohm (1:30), The Chosen None (4:01), Bivariate (4:22), This Heart (4:38), All I Have (7:56), Part of You (5:02), Surrendered (6:30), Push (4:37), Turn Away (4:12), Bring to Life (5:50), Constructing a Savior (6:43), Singularity (4:38)
Sometimes it happens that a good marketing action does the opposite of the intended effect. That was the case for me when Metaphysical was in the mail. A few years ago, when I listened to the debut album from Creation's End, they appeared to be like another Dream Theater wannabe, in the most part. I'm no fan of copycats, and I should make clear that I view modern Dream Theater as a rip-off of their younger selves already. So Creation's End, as a rip-off of a rip-off, was something I found a bit annoying. The inclusion of Mike DiMeo and Marco Sfogli in the band on short notice, felt like a name-dropping action at that time, since big names were also involved in the production and engineering.

Now, when I read the promo sheet for the band's sophomore album, it suggests Metaphysical to be the perfect choice for "annoyed Dream Theater fans". That's what I am indeed, and these words made me think that this band has gone down the copy cat alley even further. Thus, I was only mildly interested in this album.

But after listening to it, I find that statement doesn't do justice at all. With DiMeo and Sfogli remaining as permanent band members, and with some touring behind them, their new material is way more focused on the band's own musical identity. The sound-alike-someone-else attempts are completely gone, and the band does what they do best: make their own music. The result is quite solid.

With two dominant guitarists and the vocalist of Riot and Masterplan, it should be clear where the road leads to. The album is a great riff-based effort, in the veins of the "German crunch" metal, taken into prog as-we-know-it from Vanden Plas, Dreamscape, Threshold, or Red Circuit. With the Dream Theater-sounding parts left out, there are less of the progressive moments remaining in the new material, but in this case that is a positive, because I found those sounding so volitional.

This album is firmly woven of heavy, grooving guitar riffs, pounding over rich layers of keyboard textures. DiMeo's rough vocal style delivers quite catchy melodies and hooks. He also has a hand for good and unconventional harmonics, which provide some extra dimensions to the guitar fest. Beautiful guitar leads mark the bridges, while the soloing is mainly shred. With Surrendered and the album closer Singularity being the only ballads, Metaphysical is an almost ride-through metal piece, which leaves you well-fed after its one hour playing time.

The sound production is good, but leaves some room for improvement. The mix sounds to me as if the engineer couldn't decide if the band should gravitate around the vocals or guitars. Both are kept at the same level, with no dynamics over time, and thus it appears like a compromise that has both departments suffering. This effect increases a bit over time, as the songs are becoming a little weaker towards the end of the album. A more concise guitar tone would have helped to distinguish the instruments a good deal better, and to provide some air for the vocals. All in all, this album is a good part better than the debut, but I'm hoping that the next one is more stringent and holds the songs' quality level from start to end, because there is a bit of decay in Metaphysical.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Engineers - Always Returning
Engineers - Always Returning
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Kscope
Catalogue #: KSCOPE 295
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 41:19
Info: Engineers
Samples: Engineers on Kscope website
Track List:
Bless the Painter (3:15), Fight or Flight (4:23), It Rings So True (4:18), Drive Your Car (3:51), Innsbruck (4:19), Searched for Answers (3:05), Smiling Back (4:43), A Million Voices (3:25), Smoke and Mirrors (3:43), Always Returning (6:17)
I've known about the name Engineers for quite some time now, mostly because of the Kscope catalogue inlay cards that always come with their albums. I was expecting it to be progressive rock, but as it turns out they've been making dream-pop all this time! No, just kidding. Of course I've listened to some Engineers tunes before. Although they're on the Kscope label, their musical style is far from prog, but the amount of detail in the arrangements and production certainly qualifies as progressive in my book.

Dream-pop as a genre has always been heavily intertwined with the shoegaze bands of the late 80s and early 90s, like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. Legendary bands, at least if you're into that kind of style. Musically, and especially production-wise, it can be a bit of an acquired taste.

Such is quite the case for Always Returning, because of the repetitive nature and similar atmosphere throughout. Liverpudlian, multi-instrumentalist Mark Peters is again joined by German ambient artist Ulrich Schnauss for this new album. According to the excellent info sheet that came with the promo, the album was written and recorded alone at home by Mark, after which Ulrich would treat the album with ambient electronics.

This is exactly what had been bugging me a bit about this album when I started listening, as Engineers' music doesn't sound like a 'live' band at all, even though it has live drums by Matt Linley (recorded in a day). It's meticulously constructed and recorded, airy, textural music. It doesn't exactly matter what is played, it's how all of it sounds. The same goes for the vocals. Even while paying close attention, they're hard to distinguish at times. The lyrics are very subtle and cryptic, leaving interpretation to the listener. That must be exactly how Engineers like it.

Of all the albums I have reviewed thus far, this one took me the most spins in order to form a solid opinion. It's also one of the few albums I can play while writing a review, without getting distracted, as the music doesn't force itself upon the listener. This is dreamy, easy going stuff and yet it's mostly very upbeat in nature. The vocals are always layered, with lazy-sounding vocal lines that at times deliberately lack a human character, giving them a universal feel. The drums throb along, trying to give some weight to the haze of washed-out guitars, pulsating electronics and dreamy, whispering vocals.

And yet, while it's all very similar in tone, these songs do have different flavours. It Rings So True feels like the less climactic sister ofPorcupine Tree's Lips of Ashes. It is lead by an impressive 3D-sounding vocal hook that will manifest itself in your subconscious after repeated listens. It's one of the most simple tracks, but definitely the most beautiful on here, with its fat, 'cloudy' synth textures and beautifully played acoustic guitars.

Album opener Bless the Painter gently leads into a colourful (notice the album cover) collision of treated atmospherics, over a continuously repeating post-punk drum phrase. Smiling Back recalls The Beatles circa Abbey Road, in both arrangement and production. The single, A Million Voices, is full of pristine sequenced synthesisers, set to a steady, welcoming groove, while distant vocals call to the listener from afar. It's all perfectly and carefully orchestrated, like everything else on this album.

This is easily Engineers most pleasant sounding album yet. While the band has sounded a bit rockier on an album like Three Fact Fader, none of that is to be found here. This album could serve well to wind down to, after listening to your favourite progressive rock classic. It is a nice 'palette cleanser' of sorts. It's excellent music to study to, to relax to or just to 'be' to.

Once you're accustomed to the music's refusal to constantly stimulate the brain with busy harmonic and rhythmic information, the subtle textures will finally show. But if you're a proghead like me, it might take more than a couple of spins.

Engineers's major change in personnel from the last couple of albums seems to have made them more streamlined, more self-aware and more focused. For listeners with patience, subtle splashes of beauty will appear through the haze. However, the quality of the production and song writing (regardless of style) and the uniform nature of the record, deserve nothing less than an 8. Check out the songs I mentioned and take it from there.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

The Experiment No. Q - The Experiment No. Q
The Experiment No. Q - The Experiment No. Q
Country of Origin: international
Format: Download
Record Label: Aenima Recordings
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 51:08
Info: The Experiment No. Q
Samples: Click here
Track List:
Enter Number Q (0:57), To the Wise and Understanding Reader (5:02), Unpainted Leaves (6:00), Romantiquesque (4:40), The Dream of the Whales (4:50), The Ship and the Poet (4:35), The Black Horizon of the Monodist (5:13), Labyrinths (5:28), The Testament of Cremer (9:56), Il Comandante (5:19)
The Experiment No. Q is an experimental recording project featuring several different musicians culled from various bands. To keep all the players and their diverse influences performing in a cohesive manner and generating a consistent atmosphere, the project is led by Paolo Vallerga (No. Q).

In contrast to a lot of musical projects featuring a selection of musicians, the album was recorded with the musicians actually playing together in a studio, rather than by exchanging electronic files over the internet. This was, of course, done to increase the chemistry between the musicians and to provide a more organic feel, which can sometimes be missing in other projects. According to the biography, the album was recorded in Italy in one week.

The musicians involved include three members from Therion, two from Loch Vostok and the remainder mostly from other Italian bands or session musicians. If I did not know better, I would say the album was actually a new album by Therion. This may be because of the input of the Therion members or just the personal taste of Paolo Vallerga. There is a lot of 'gothic'-type music on The Experiment No.Q that is not overly complicated and more accessible than, for instance. Nightwish or Epica.

Most of the songs are about five minutes in length but this album is far from standard. Each song has its own distinctive elements and character, whether it is dark male vocals or chanting female vocals, guitar solos or flute. The diversity that can be heard on this album is surprising, but the skill of Paolo Vallergo has resulted in an album that remains cohesive. Although I can't say that any particular song really stands out as the key track on the album, it is also true to say that none of the songs could be considered as filler material. Interestingly, the last track, Il Comandante, is actually a version of The Ship And The Poet but sung in Italian and, surprisingly, I find this version more to my liking.

The Experiment No. Q turned out to be a very pleasant album. After the first few spins, I turned to my Therion albums, but after a while I returned to No. Q and found a renewed interest in hearing this album again. The music is very good and Paolo Vallerga has succeeded in marshalling the forces to make a coherent album with lots of beautiful music. Fans of Therion can buy this album without hesitation.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Glacier - Ashes for the Monarch
Glacier - Ashes for the Monarch
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 55:53
Info: Glacier
Samples: Glacier website
Track List:
Whichone (4:35), Hell and High Water (5:56), Projections (8:14), Garden of Evil (7:03), Lightwing (2:49), One Man Alone (22:47), The Isle of Glass (Outro) (3:43)
The history of Glacier is a convoluted one that began back in 1979. Since then the band has endured more than its fair share of stop-starts, personnel changes and tragic loss, with original drummer Mick King succumbing to cancer in 1997. When the debut album, Monument, eventually appeared in 2001 the songs spanned the two decades of the band's career.

Fourteen years on, following a protracted recording process, their second album Ashes For The Monarch finally sees the light of day. Like its predecessor, the new album features a selection of songs whose origins date back over several years, being written by "present and past members of Glacier". Despite this caveat, the line-up on this recording is essentially the same as for Monument, namely founding member and guitarist John Youdale, vocalist Dave Birdsall (with support from Mike Winship), keyboardist Dave Kidson, bassist (and former DPRP editor) Bob Mulvey and drummer Graeme Ash.

The digipak artwork, with its muted blues and greys, has a vaguely Wind and Wuthering (Genesis) look, which is appropriate given that the music largely harks back to the symphonic prog acts of the early 70s. Glacier steadfastly occupies a territory once populated by the bigger names of the 80s prog revival, with several similarities to more recent Dutch bands also coming to mind.

Based in County Durham in the North East of England, the band's songs have a home-grown Britishness, a characteristic that can be traced back to the early work of Genesis, Marillion, and more recently Big Big Train. This is especially apparent in tracks like Hell And High Water, Garden Of Evil and the opening number Whichone, which incidentally picks up from where the concluding track on Monument left off. Like Pink Floyd and Credo they also incorporate sound effects and voice samples to supplement the narrative, although sometimes these can be a distraction rather than a benefit.

Both Whichone and Hell And High Water demonstrate the band's ability to write compact, finely-wrought compositions with a taught narrative, solid melody and slick arrangements. There is a good deal of emphasis on Birdsall's singing here. Whilst his voice is not the most refined, it has warmth and character, with similarities to Mark Trueack and John Wetton, which is no bad thing. His clear articulation also benefits Glacier's documentary-style observations.

More expansive, the three-part Projections romps along at a breezy pace, with guitar and (sampled) flute displaying a strong Camel influence, with elements of classic Steve Hackett, circa Spectral Mornings. For me however it loses the plot a little in the meandering mid-section, where spacey guitar and (uncomfortably) a dentist's drill are, respectively, used to convey the themes of pleasure and fear.

Based on John Wyndham's classic novel 'The Day of the Triffids', Garden Of Evil is a horticultural horror tale in a similar vein to Genesis' The Return of the Giant Hogweed. Musically it again has the unmistakable stamp of Camel and Hackett all over it, with a majestic orchestral arrangement that brings to mind the latter's Shadow of the Hierophant.

The appropriately titled Lightwing is a delicate acoustic solo from guitarist Youdale, which is in a similar fashion to Hackett's Horizons and serves as a tranquil respite before the album's main event, the 11-part One Man Alone. Based on the horror classic 'The Wolf Man', it's far more upbeat than the story would suggest, and at almost 23 minutes it allows Glacier ample scope to reference their prog influences. Driven by a bass line that echoes the main riff from Genesis' Cinema Show, it opens with a sprightly synth theme and includes some very fine guitar moments which have echoes of Steve Howe, Steve Rothery and Andy Latimer.

Kansas (courtesy of the superb violin by guest Gemma Elysee), Yes (Tempus Fugit), and Genesis (Firth Of Fifth ) all get a look in along the way. It's not all plain sailing however, a Kashmir-like middle-eastern sequence sounds a tad out of place, as does the jazzy instrumental variation tagged on the end. Whilst deftly played, it's out of sync with the rest of the song which reaches its logical conclusion around the 20 minute mark.

Following the heady sprawl of One Man Alone, the slow burning instrumental The Isle Of Glass (Outro) makes a fitting epilogue, with its hypnotic, sustained chords fading into the distance. It's also intended as a taster for the next release, which I for one will be looking forward to, but please don't leave it so long this time guys.

As you would expect from a band of this ilk, there is nothing particularly original about what Glacier do, but they do it extremely well and they do it in a highly engaging manner. The music is a respectful (and accurate) homage to times gone by; don't expect metallic riffs or any chordal angularity. Whilst their ambitions occasionally get the better of them, for me, tracks like Hell And High Water, Garden Of Evil and The Isle Of Glass show a band (and melodic progressive rock) at its disciplined best.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

A Liquid Landscape - The Largest Fire Known To Man
A Liquid Landscape - The Largest Fire Known To Man
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: GlassVille
Catalogue #: GVR014
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 46:08
Info: A Liquid Landscape
Samples: A Liquid Landscape website
Track List:
A Brief Moment Of Future (6:23), Open Wounds (4:21), Drifting Star (6:47), Along the Lines (4:05), The Largest Fire (5:41), Hurled into the Sun (7:34), Keystone (5:08), Paige (6:09)
This young Dutch quartet really grabbed my attention with their amazing debut release in 2012. Nightingale Express was the perfect concept album, offering a huge variety of styles and influences, yet wrapped within a coherent and captivating musical storyline. Despite some excellent albums released that year, it topped my end of year charts and remains one of my favourite crossover prog albums.

The opportunity to see them play (almost) the whole album at ProgPower Europe later that year, will remain a highlight of my quarter-of-a-century gig-going 'career'.

I'm not sure that bands with only one album are entitled to have 'fanboys', but to say that I was looking forward to A.L.L.'s second album is somewhat of an understatement. Sadly, for the six weeks I have battled with it, I've found The Largest Fire... to be a rather frustrating follow-up.

As an album, as an entity, it is a very different beast, being a collection of (just) eight self-contained and pretty direct songs, which vary little from their core structure.

That can be no bad thing. No-one wants two albums to sound the same, especially from a promising young band that is still exploring its domain. So when the music is delivered with the assured confidence that A.L.L. offers on the first part of this album, my ears are happy.

However, such was the depth and variety of Nightingale Express, I feel that the band are far from fulfilling their true potential here. The lack of depth, also means that I struggle to define much of this disc as 'progressive'. Neither does it reveal anything new after three or four listens. It's a bit too safe and mainstream for my tastes.

That's not to say that the likes of A Brief Moment of Future and Open Wounds are not highly enjoyable. Drifting Star has been my favourite since the first listen.

There are a lot of U2 and The Pineapple Thief refrains, helped no doubt by the involvement of Bruce Soord as producer and mixer. The lighter side of Riverside, latter-day Rush, Simple Minds and Coldplay are other names that spring to mind.

It's a dynamically rich sound. The guitars are more often plucked; they jingle rather than riff. The mandolin style used on the lullaby-esque Along the Lines works well. The most distinctive element remains the vulnerable, emotive voice of Fons Herder whose tone is enriched, when needed, by some clever close harmonies. The greater adventure shown at the start of the title track gets my attention every time.

Equally there are individual moments on this disc which frustrate and dismay. Drummer Coen Speelman generally lays down some engagingly crisp grooves, yet he has a propensity to become fixated on his cymbal. His endless crashing and clanging, totally dominates and ruins the ending of the opening song for me, and the end of the title track. It's not a sound I appreciate sir!

The instrumental, Hurled into the Sun, is no more than a drawn-out element from a discarded song. Its length is only due to an extended hum at the end. Too many of the tracks just fade out, instead of coming to a proper conclusion, whilst the final two songs are too one-dimensional for me.

Overall I'd have to say I found this album a disappointment. It certainly has its moments and this is still a band with huge potential. Fans of the general sound of A.L.L. from their debut album, and those who like more commercial adult rock, may find much to enjoy, but even then, three fillers out of eight tracks is not a great return. Those who like some complexity to their progressive rock, are likely to find this lacking depth and consistency.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Lunatic Soul - Walking on a Flashlight Beam
Lunatic Soul - Walking on a Flashlight Beam
Country of Origin: Poland
Format: CD
Record Label: KScope
Catalogue #: B00MQ8Y5PK
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 63:46
Info: Lunatic Soul
Samples: Lunatic Soul website
Track List:
Shutting Out the Sun (8:39), Cold (6:57), Gutter (8:41), Stars Cellotaped (1:34), The Fear Within (7:10), Treehouse (5:31), Pygmalion's Ladder (12:01), Sky Drawn in Crayon (4:58), Walking on a Flashlight Beam (8:10)
When I heard Lunatic Soul for the first time (their debut album Lunatic Soul I), I thought it was amazing the way Mariusz Duda took apart his own project from his main band Riverside. Lunatic Soul is a mixture of atmospheric, almost instrumental sounds with a lot of world music and Afro-Celtic arrangements in its songs. Many people consider Lunatic Soul as the soft side of Riverside, but it is not. I feel that this occupies the space out of Duda's comfort zone and beyond his main band. This project has without any doubt, a more personal and intense approach.

Overall we have denser and darker music on this album. The progressive roots have the main role here. Also, we have a little bit of pop or indie music in a couple of songs, and ethnic influences in some rhythms and percussive arrangements. The voices and bass playing by Duda have the main role during the album, and he demonstrates his high skill in playing the bass in many ways, and with several sound effects.

About this album, Duda says: "These are very dark and intense compositions but very melodious too. I think it's one of the best things I've ever written, if not the best." And this is right. The title is about how your imagination and solitude can take you into a moment of isolation and into a world of your own, where you can stay away from all the things that bother you in reality.

At first sight (or listening), Shutting Out the Sun gives us a very dense and atmospheric intro, combined with Duda's voice that goes into a crescendo, ending with the characteristic drumming arrangement by Indukti's drummer Wawrzyniec Dramowicz, who is back again playing the drums and percussion.

Cold is a more techno song, in which the main arrangements are made with the bass, combined with a kind of vinyl scratch in the background and a rhythm marked by drumming. This song reminds me of Riverside along with Gutter, which has a more ethnic sound and some whistle arrangements, combined with the cadence done by the bass playing and percussion, giving the song a mystery touch. This is the first song of the album in which we can listen fully to Duda's singing style, and it is one of my favorites.

Stars Cellotaped is an ethereal, very ambient, keyboard-based song that serves as an intro for The Fear Within. This song starts with an ancient Bell-based melody combined with ethnic elements made by percussion and guitars that goes into a crescendo. This is an atmospheric, but dense song, which suggests you to come into a kind of darker meditation state.

Treehouse is the break-through song of this album with a normal rhythm tempo and some indie and rock influence. It reminds me of the electric piano Brit-rock style. It is a very nice song and another highlight from this album. It is neither a ballad nor a rock song, but placed in between them, and combined with several soundscapes and voice overdubs. For me this song makes the whole album worth it. Beautiful!

Pygmalion's Ladder, the longest song of this album, starts with a Spanish guitar arrangement combined with an Oriental cadence. This turns into a guitar rhythm-based song with some influence from The Porcupine Tree and goes back to the ethnic arrangement, as the main composition gets heavier, with a similarity to Riverside. Sky Drawn in Crayon is a more melancholic song combined with chanted Buddhist voices in the background. It maintains the mysterious ambient sound with bird songs and children's voices as a part of the sonic, atmospheric ending with the addition of some electronic sound samples.

Finally, the title song of the album starts with a strong drumming rhythm and heavier arrangements instead of the vocal harmonies and singing by Duda and an outro section that sounds fantastic. The influence of Steven Wilson can be found here, and this is a great song to close this album.

Without any doubt this is an album that can touch many fibres. It is close, intense, and personal. Duda has projected himself into this work, when he said that solitude deserves to compose a whole album, and he was totally right. So, grab the wine, turn off the lights and listen to this great piece of work.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Pinkroom - Unloved Toy
Pinkroom - Unloved Toy
Country of Origin: Poland
Format: CD
Record Label: Creative Farm
Catalogue #: CRCD 003
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 60:10
Info: Pinkroom
Samples: Pinkroom website
Track List:
Blow (6:36), Tides In Eye (4:39), I Confess (6:42), Seven Levels (7:10), Moodroom V.3 (6:02), Enslaved (6:02), Flash (4:57), In Train (5:26), Unwanted Toys (6:12), Apology (6:18)
Over recent years Poland has become the de facto head quarters of progressive rock with numerous bands breaking through and the receptive audiences making the country an epicenter of European tours with countless DVDs having been filmed within its borders. Pink Room are one of the newer bands to spring forth from this fertile prog pool, although they are by far new to the music scene having released a debut album Psychosolstice back in 2009. On their second album, Unloved Toys, the long-standing members Mariusz Boniecki (guitars, vocals, keyboards, samples and music composer) and Marcin Kledzik (drums, percussion and lyricist) are joined by Grzegorz Korybalski (bass) and Karol Szolz (guitar) with augmentation from guest vocalist Elena Isakova and cello players Anna Szczygiel and Ewa Witczak.

The group describes their music as art rock, although what quite that means these days is anyone's guess. In my youth art rock was applied to bands such as 10cc who Pinkroom do not share any noticeable musical attributes. Instead, there is more of a nod in the direction of King Crimson throughout the proceedings. This is largely because of the angular nature of the guitar progressions and the often intricate drum patterns with minimal use of cymbals, which would no doubt endear Kledzik to Mr. Fripp.

Things get off to a ripping start with Blow , a heavy guitar assault which is tempered by a lovely melodic chorus. The couple of minutes from 4:15 onwards throw out the first Crimson comparisons that are integrated well into the song structure. Certainly an engaging start to proceedings. The vocals on Tides In Eyes are just great, and the mix of cello is wonderful. Again, heavier guitars break out providing a backdrop to a mellower melody and some dramatic plucking on the bass guitar.

I Confess has a strong resemblance to the Crimson of the 80s, but brings the sound up to the modern era with added keys and a more straightforward vocal than Adrian Belew frequently delivered. The instrumental sections aim more for generating mood and effect rather than just giving way for a solo, and that is what makes the album a pleasant change from a lot of current releases; the ambition to create an atmosphere, albeit in a somewhat quirky manner. Certainly, not many of the tracks on this album could be stated as having a traditional song structure.

The instrumental Moodroom V.3 (the V.3 referring to earlier parts of this piece released on the debut album and the Path of Dying Truth single that was the group's first release) is a fine piece of music. Plenty to absorb in this piece with the dual cellos providing lots of contrast. The smooth segue into Enslaved brings forth a more subdued vocal which works well in the context of the song and again features a prominent bass and twin guitars that provide the riff and melodic counterpoint.

Flash will find favour with fans of Discipline-era Crimson as the guitar in particular contains a lot of the hallmarks of that album and it's two associated releases. However, Pinkroom offer a new twist with the added keyboards and cello differentiating the song from anything that Fripp's assemblage committed to tape. Isakova's female vocals on In Train is limited to non-verbal backing vocals, which is a bit of a shame as, from what she produces during her brief appearance, it sounds as if she has quite a remarkable voice. While maintaining a characteristic Pinkroom sound, the song has a more mainstream air and has the potential for wider recognition.

Surprisingly, I found the title track, Unwanted Toys, to be one of the least enjoyable on the album, although it hard to determine why. The more atmospheric second half is better than the riffing first part, but overall it doesn't seem to have the same subtlety of flow as other pieces. But, any misgivings are forgotten with the closing number Apology with its long and more sedate, almost ambient, introduction which gradually raises the intensity with Boniecki providing some lovely flowing guitar, an extended solo with the only disappointment being when it ends; one feels it could go on for a long longer.

I was very impressed by this album by Pinkroom and have downloaded their 2009 single which is available from their website. The single was of a similar high quality and, given that two of the tracks also feature on the debut album, I shall also be looking to acquire that before too long. Despite a dislike of genre labels, proggy artrock would be an appropriate classification for Pinkroom. A nice slice of something a bit different.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Toundra - IV
Toundra - IV
Country of Origin: Spain
Format: CD
Record Label: Superball Music
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 51:23
Info: Toundra
Samples: Toundra on LastFM
Track List:
Strelka (7:49), Qarqom (9:38), Lluvia (4:54), Belenos (7:23), Viesca (4:35), Kitsune (8:17), MRWING (2:17), Oro Rojo (6:31)
Madrid-based Toundra, formed in 2007, is comprised of two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer. The band's atmospheric, yet forceful music is somewhat experimental, and has variously been described as "post rock" or "post-metal rock." The band has now released its fourth CD, the aptly named IV.

Although IV is entirely instrumental, the band's promotional material explains that underlying the music is a narrative and a concept. The music depicts two foxes who flee from a forest fire, and the underlying theme bemoans humans' destruction of the environment. Call me unimaginative and unduly literal, but it's hard to understand how an instrumental album can relate a specific story. Nevertheless, the band's point is taken and, indeed, some of the music does evoke darkness and deterioration.

The opener, Strelka, is emblematic of what is to come. The tune begins innocuously enough, then builds patiently, to a guitar-led frenzy, then to a brief bubbliness, and finally back to a pushy strength. In the same ilk is Qarcom where the energetic guitars are upfront, blazing a notably noisy trail forward.

Lluvia is a heady, feedback-laden detour into a dark otherworld. Perhaps it's demonstrative of the destruction that the band is lamenting. It's quite a good interlude, actually. More upbeat is Belenos. Here the lead guitar is bright and even catchy, at least until the song tone deliberately descends into, again, what may be an attempt to create a somber sense of deterioration.

The black sheep of the CD is Viesca, but it's a welcome oddity. Soothing guitar strumming, accompanied by string instruments, play a somewhat-classical piece that inspires calm. Phideaux comes to mind. It's my favorite song, and, if you're not a full-fledged fan of the tougher edge of prog, it may be yours too. Kitsune is all over the place, with portions featuring dreamy, soaring guitar leads, but there's also much hard hitting. MRWING is not among the more-successful entries here. The song travels less distance than most of the pieces, the drumming doesn't jive well with the guitars, and the fade-out drags.

However Oro Rojo quickly brings redemption. The band's usual symbiosis returns, and a jazziness surprisingly sneaks-in to lighten the mood. On this track the brisk drumming shines.

In the end, this music is not my usual cup of tea as there's a bit too much straight-forward driving and not enough directional shifts. But I would nevertheless gladly stop-by for an occasional drink of this aural blend. Real musical proficiency and much hard work are on display, and, impressively, the music manages to evoke emotion and image despite the lack of lyrics. If you enjoy Toundra's earlier releases, you are likely to enjoy this one as well. IV is surely a nice effort, although not striking enough to recommend widely.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

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Published Thursday 19 February 2015

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