'Homemade'. That usually stands for traditional, well known and crafted in a certain way through the ages. Yet when you combine that thought with a band name as frightening as The Boogeymen, what then might we expect? The cover shows a person in a straightjacket clearly in an isolation ward. That, if anything, adds to the wonder that the album holds. Kevin Heckeler is the main man and multi-instrumentalist behind the name, yet he has his friend Scott Watts joining him on vocals.
One of the previous albums by The Boogeymen got reviewed by DPRP (read it here) and it must be said that you would expect The Boogeymen to never ever again submit a review to us. Still, Kevin did, and from listening to this album and the music that The Boogeymen have made between that EP and this release, it is clear that the prog flag has clearly been raised over their music.
Thus, can we expect any references to classic prog or perhaps prog metal here? Well, no. Even though The Boogeymen have their very own version of the Moody Blues's classic Question, which may be found here, their music is actually far more lo-fi than anything you have encountered in the world of prog.
That might just be the charm that The Boogeymen bring to the fore. Here it is not about high production values, but it is all about the music. The music has alternative, heavy and sometimes punky influences, yet in the variation of time signatures and the subtle additions of keyboard sounds, there is more prog than punk to them. I think Kevin may just have found a niche of his own for The Boogeymen, in it being lo-fi alt prog. You might be inclined to think that prog music has to match up to modern-day studio efforts, but what if the essence of the songs is what it the music is all about?
Agreed, you might think that an outside producer could do a lot about how the music sounds. Yet, what I find most striking about this album is that the songs draw you in to listen. Kevin went on record as saying: "I write with the music being the backbone, and vocals are merely added to deliver a message or add something nominal to the overall composition. Don't look here if you expect earth shattering vocals." It may indeed be that the songs carry his musical message more than the vocals do. That might be supported by the fact that he writes quite a lot of instrumental tracks as well.
If you are interested in giving music that does not easily fit into this-or-that drawer of the prog world, and if your music doesn't necessarily have to be orchestrated or produced to the top level, if alternative music suits you just as much hard rock, and if you feel that humour belongs in music, then The Boogeymen might be for you. Even though this may not yet be their magnum opus, Kevin Heckeler definitely has a feel for making adventurous music as Assturdoid clearly shows. Beauty sometimes is in the ear of the beholder.
Voyager (4:21), Lo (3:38), Europa (3:10), Jupiter (5:40), Titan (3:49), Saturn (5:15), Enceladus (2:14), Miranda (3:55), Uranus (4:25), Ariel (2:12), Triton (3:38), Neptune (5:21), Pale Blue Dot (3:43), Heliopause (4:36).
Two years on from her first real progressive release (Four Pieces), Cailyn Lloyd returns with Voyager, a series of instrumental pieces inspired by the locations visited by the NASA voyager spacecraft, plus music from Gustav Holst's seven-movement orchestral suite The Planets, as revisited and re-imagined by the Wisconsin-based musician.
When I reviewed Four Pieces back in 2012 I posed the question as to whom this music was aimed, being too rock-derived to meet the acclaim of the classical purist or the crossover market. However with this release Cailyn seems to have come down firmly on the side of rock music. Indeed these pieces would appeal greatly to admirers of Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and even Yngwie Malmsteem, whilst still attracting interest from prog fans.
One thing that is certainly not in question, is the tremendous passion, skill and sheer musicality with which Cailyn embraces this rather astonishing music. The opening and title track is a case in point, starting with moody, atmospheric keyboards and featuring some dazzling guitar runs, as the piece builds and builds with some fabulous bass parts and fine drum fills. Finally a dynamic guitar break fades to chorus voices. It still has semi-classical overtones but it holds enough interest.
Europa features some lovely and laid-back guitar parts. Cailyn has rained in her skills, and rather than shred-away she has chosen to restrain herself in what she plays here, and it works excellently. A classic case of less is more.
Jupiter, the first of the four Holst tracks, (the others being Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) takes the familiar Jupiter theme and adds a far more bluesy tone to proceedings, which really works well.
In fact as throughout this disc, Cailyn has shown great imagination in how these pieces are interpreted, by wisely choosing to leave the melody that became I vow to thee my country intact, and only adding a soaring guitar melody at the end of the piece. In fact the guitar line she plays greatly underlines and shows what a simply astounding melody this piece possesses.
The other Holst pieces are of a similar standard and show great respect for that masterful and admired work
In between the Holst pieces are her own compositions, all of which fit very well and are a pleasure to listen to. As always the more you play them the more you appreciate the craft that they possess, and the talent Ms Lloyd possesses.
This is a very mature yet accessible work, and I would suggest that if great guitar playing is your thing, then there is much to enjoy within these grooves. She has progressed significantly since the first disc. In addition this album has a simply astounding gatefold sleeve, and very interesting sleeve notes about the Voyager mission itself. A fine album by any standards.
One More Red Nightmare (4:41), The Great Deceiver (3:38), Lament (4:19), The Night Watch (5:31), Fallen Angel (5:47), Book of Saturday (3:07), 21st Century Schizoid Man (5:25), Starless (4:47), Easy Money (5:27).
John Wetton has long declared District 97 to be one of the bright hopes for progressive rock and so it was unsurprising that he would elect to join them to revisit some of his King Crimson back pages. Recorded live in Chicago in October 2013, this brief (42 minutes) CD is the result of that collaboration, and it is a decent portrayal of these classic pieces
The songs are taken from the Larks Tongues In Aspic, Starless and Bible Black and Red albums, along with the obligatory run through of 21st Century Schizoid Man. District 97 does a fine job of recreating the dense sound of mid 70s King Crimson.
What is different is the shared lead vocals of John Wetton and Leslie Hunt, as this brings a slightly different tone to proceedings. Generally speaking the songs remain pretty much as played by the original Crimson incarnates, except One More Red Nightmare and Starless which are shorter, the latter song being only about 40% of the original running time. That is a shame, as in its full version it is an epic, grandiose piece and one that D97 could do real justice to.
Overall this is a good, solid but not utterly spectacular album, but as a stop-gap between the Machines album and their new Kickstarter-funded release, it will appeal to those who follow D97 or who care to revisit these lesser-performed Crimson songs afresh. Really it should be longer and there should be more improvisation by the band, as improv' was what made the mid 70s version of KC so formidable and intriguing live.
So this is a bit of a missed opportunity, however it is good to hear a young band taking the chance and covering this music and the presence of Mr Wetton adds gravitas and credibility to the proceedings. So bring on the new District 97 album and we will see how that one fares.
Breaking Osiris (7:04), Stellar Attraction (5:38), Creation of the Humanoids (part 1: Atomic War, part 2: Rise of the Robots, part 3: The Order of Flesh and Blood, part 4: In Rapport, part 5: Perfect Machines) (19:38), Marilyn Monrobot (5:07), By Air Express to Venus (9:32)
Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages... Oh no, wait this is not Trekkie territory around here. Here we have a universe created by those magnificent men and woman that already sent us into space with their Attack of the Martians album, reviewed here.
The line-up of the band has changed, partly due to the untimely passing of the band's original drummer Mark Cella. He is still missed, having played an important role in the band. Apart from introducing a new man on the drums, the band has added Tom Benson, who plays violin, guitar synth and the ever popular MandoBot.
The cover of the album takes us into vintage sci-fi movie territory, and a closer look at the track titles does the same. Opener Breaking Osiris comes with an Eastern flavour, yet this does not hark back to the times of the Egyptian pharaohs, it is all about Hubble images. Space and sci-fi are the central themes.
The band sure know their ELP and their King Crimson. Yet what they have succeed in, is to build on trademarks such as the grumbling bass, as much as the great vintage key sounds and the violin parts, as any lover of either of those bands would want them to. Their music is not simply a 1 + 1 of the music of these bands. What we have here is firmly rooted in the mystery that the sci-fi movies of old hold. The songs put that feel, that vibe into music. The richness in the keys is one of the main ingredients here, varied and spicy, as you might expect a meal to be produced from fusion cooking.
Both drummers are featured on the album and it is a great testimony to Mark Cella that his follow-up is a great drummer as well. What Bill Noland does with his bass is simply stunning, as Stellar Attraction easily shows. This is a song in which the whole of the band excel. Not that the other songs on this album are any less compelling, it is just the amazing bass part in the second track that left me stunned. As for bass sounds, wait for the opening seconds of the epic Creation of the Humanoids. As Madeleine Noland shows around the 1:50 mark, there might be some ELP vibe left in this band, but hey, this is far more than a tribute band could ever be.
It would be one great adventure to hear this music played live, yet picturing this band perform these great instrumental tracks in a vintage sci fi movie setting, already works miracles. If you like your prog to be heavy on keyboards, with a sense of humour in there as well, and by a band that builds their own musical landscapes as they go along, this might be your ideal trip into space.
Planet Vega (5:20), Phasor on Stun (4:16), One O Clock Tomorrow (6:15), Journey (5:23), Slaughter in Robot Village (5:07), Aldebaran (5:24), Shapes of Things (3:50), 7th Heaven (5:44), Sofa Back (5:02), Trial By Fire (12:27), Black Noise (10:20), Surface to Air (10:14).
Many years ago in the golden age of vinyl it was not uncommon to come across a batch of Import Cut Out LPs that had been imported for sale outside of the USA or Canada. I distinctly recall buying a couple of FM albums. I probably played them a little and then promptly forgot about them, an experience not uncommon to many I suspect.
So leap forward about 30 years to 2014 and those lovely people at Esoteric have dug deep and not only re-released the Black Noise and Surveillance albums on CD but they have also secured this rather splendid CD and DVD set of a re-formed FM's appearance at Nearfest from 2006.
What I wasn't prepared for, was how damn good this sounded all those years later. This is just wonderful.
FM never set the world alight musically, but on the basis of this set that is our loss. This has echoes of 80s Power Windows-era Rush and other bands of that time. It is primarily very keyboard-based, with the unusual addition of electric violin and electric mandolin, which add a very different dynamic to proceedings.
It's a good mixture of instrumentals, vocal pieces and short and lengthier pieces, all of which are very worthy indeed. There are some great musical passages, nippy synth lines, and great work from all musicians. It's very atmospheric at times, and as it's live, it sounds really together. Considering they had not played a gig for years, this is a major accomplishment.
Both the CD and the DVD have the same tracks and there are no "extras" on the DVD. But the filming is crisp and unobtrusive, giving a great representation of what was a triumphant return by FM..
This is music that has a stately majesty and class to it, and whilst it may not break any new ground, it is a very satisfying listen. A lot of the lyrics are quite sci–fi related, not that that is a bad thing. Singer Cameron Hawkins bears a passing resemblance to a lower register Jon Anderson, but it is the consistently interesting and accomplished playing, especially Claudio Vena, which elevates this release to being something pretty damn special.
Tracks like Planet Vega, One O Clock Tomorrow and Aldebaran remind me of why I love this genre of music. We have vast, emotive soundscapes that transport you elsewhere, with excellent lyrics and musicianship to boot.
The only thing that doesn't quite work for me is the reworking of Shapes of Things. It is a good cover version but not of the same calibre as their own material and is a tad superfluous to requirements.
The final trilogy is made up of epic songs, all being ten-plus minutes long and each being very different. Trial by Fire opens with moody extended violin sweeps and a gentle vocal, before more sinister keyboards are added to the mix. There is a nice crisp bass on this too. Black Noise follows, telling the tale of an epic struggle, and featuring some fabulous violin from Claudio, epic keyboards from Cameron and fine drum fills from Martin Dellar.
The set is concluded with Surface to Air, which opens with keyboards and a thumping bass, before a soaring synth leads a merry path to Cameron's vocal. What I like about these longer pieces is the room allowed to develop themes and stretch out a little. That said, FM have an economy of style where every note adds to the overall song, taking each piece to a higher level whilst still retaining a grasp of melody. A lot of bands could learn from these stellar performances by these veteran musicians.
This truly is a fascinating release and a great memento of what was a very special evening. So if keyboard-based prog is your thing, then you will find much to enjoy here and I heartily recommend it as a very enjoyable way to pass 80 minutes of your time.
New Frontier (10:12), Take a Moment (8:56), Mr. Wishbone (3:31), Elegy (6:07), Love and Inspiration (14:05)
Formed in Los Angeles in the summer of 2012, rather than head straight into the studio, Heliopolis set up their stall in the proper way, with a series of live shows to fine tune their direction and songwriting.
It's a band with a decent track record, comprised of former members of progressive rock acts Mars Hollow, Ten Jinn and Genesis tribute Gabble Ratchet. Heliopolis features Jerry Beller (drums and vocals), Matt Brown (keyboards and vocals), Kerry Chicoine (bass and vocals), Mike Matier (guitars), and Scott Jones (voice). Two years of crafting has created a debut based on four high-energy long songs, which sandwich an instrumental.
It's not a long album but it has all the elements of contemporary, yet classically-based symphonic progressive rock. The soloing is extensive and relies heavily on the keyboards. The four part vocals are another key element. It is immediately identifiable as (north) American, very much in the vein of Mars Hollow, Spocks Beard, Mystery and Rush, with earlier influences from Yes and in places King Crimson.
The opening two tracks take their basis from Yes, Mystery and Rush. The very, very busy drums and bass carry the entire rhythm and riff, the keyboards dominate the solos, with the guitars used to add detail. Rarely on the album to the two solo instruments play against each other. They tend to just do their own thing. There is very little riffage from either.
Take a Moment is my favourite track on this disc, but both openers always seem to go very quickly. A great first half of the album.
Everything but the drums on the short Crimson-esque instrumental Mr Wishbone is played by Mike Matier. It's a filler really. A chance to take a break and get a half-time burger.
The second half however is a disappointment. Elegy doesn't quite work. It plods, lacking the spark and invention of the opening pair. It's too safe and twee, in the way of Neil Morse's ballads. Where the first two songs speed by, this drags.
We are in Spocks Beard territory for the longest and final track. But this also fails to ignite. The guitars seem to have gone AWOL and it is just too polite for my tastes.
On City of The Sun Heliopolis has shown they have the ingredients to produce a great modern prog album, but seem to have run out of steam after the break. I feel that much more should be made of the four-part harmonies, and the guitar needs to play a much stronger role. The final two tracks are just crying out for a good old-fashioned guitar-keyboard duel to add a bit of balls to it all. At times the guitar is buried in the mix and at others it just doesn't seem to be doing much.
For those who enjoy the sweeter side of contemporary American sympho prog, then this is well worth checking out, especially the first two tracks, which after all do occupy half the album. A promising start.
A Thousand Khets (2:01), Compound Fiasco (9:14), GibGib (8:21), The Construct (1:24), Black Birdies (12:24), Obscenificator (9:18), Mystic Pizza (2:13), Matt Damon (18:13)
Eidolon is the debut release from Canadian progressive metal band Last Scattering. The band cite many contemporaries as major influences, such as Between the Buried and Me, Periphery and Protest the Hero. However, to me this sounds exactly like an album Between the Buried and Me could have made. The 'circus death metal' style of that band can be heard throughout this album, as well as a very similar style of screaming.
In terms of style, this scores low points when it comes to originality. But during this careful study of Between the Buried and Me's style, the band score maximum points when it comes to adventurous composition and playing skill. Instrumentally, these musicians pull off the crazy, syncopated riffs and rhythms, as well as their influences do. But more importantly, the compositions (as crazy as they may get) make sense more often than not. There are numerous catchy grooves and riffs, and certainly not every second is impenetrable in its complexity. A jazz fusion influence pops up here and there, and it's wonderfully developed.
Some of the highlights on the album include the shorter songs (which are still around nine minutes long) Compound Fiasco and GibGib, and the epics Black Birdies and Matt Damon. These tracks feature the most head-banging parts and wild guitar solos, as well as some more subdued jazzy exercises.
With so many creative twists and turns, it's a joy to hear that Last Scattering never lose the main thread that runs throughout many of these songs. Most of all, this is incredibly intense and epic music. Luckily, they haven't forgotten to include some clean, calming parts in order for the listener to catch some breath once in a while.
Areas in need of improvement include the production and the clean vocals. The bass and the guitars sound really good, but the drum recording, while not bad, doesn't quite match up to that kind of sonic quality. Vocally, as good as the screaming is, the clean vocals often sound like an afterthought and aren't as strong as they should be. I have a feeling the band must be aware of this, and I have no doubt that the second album - which is already in the making - will see some kind of progress in that department.
I cannot give this the DPRP recommended tag, primarily because of the huge contrast in quality when the clean vocals appear. Everything else is spot on. It's incredibly ambitious, focused and realised for a debut. I hope that their next creation will benefit from the expertise of a producer/engineer with an ear for tone. The results should be amazing with the talent on board.
If you enjoy the ridiculously fast, intricate and harsh progressive metal of the aforementioned bands, then by all means give this one a listen. If your liking of (progressive) death metal stops around Opeth, first check out the bands mentioned at the start of the review to see if you dig the style.
Lotus Thief is a female/male duo from San Francisco consisting of Bezaelith (bass, guitar, synth, vocals and lyrics) and Otrebor (drums). Rervm is their full length debut.
They describe themselves, intriguingly as 'text metal'. The reason for this, I assume, is that the six songs here are each based on one of the six books of De Rerum Natura by Titus Lucretius Carus, a Roman poet of the 1st century BC. Lotus Thief's sound uses doom-laden, metallic riffs with touches of space-rock, and atmospheric, ambient sounds. Mix them together and ta-da, 'text metal'. So far so prog, at least in the concept.
However things start to go wrong quite quickly, once you get down to the music. A major problem is the production. Now it may just be the mp3 files sent for review, but the sound is full of bass boom which dominates each track. Only every so often does an instrument emerge from this, to capture one's attention. This is nothing to do with the musicianship, as both players are obviously talented and Bezaelith is not a poor singer, but the production makes the vocal lines, solo or multi-layered (with pleasingly odd harmonies), seem passionless and rather dull.
The music itself moves from the pummeling-aggressive (Miseras), to a track with tempo-changes (Discere Credas), and onto interesting vocal arrangements (Lvx). There is even a bit of heavy Hawkwind-style space-rock (Mortalis). But my attention drifted, due to the murky mix which makes the songs so similar. This is not helped by the long, ambient outros to each song. These can take upwards of three minutes to drift by, before the next pummeling starts. I must have been annoyed by this, because I worked out that the album contains 13 minutes or so of this nonsense, which gets very wearing.
I'm sorry that I cannot be more positive about this album from this obviously talented duo.
Destiny (2:52), Product (8:27), Spies (3:47), Oyster Club (5:43), Tunnel (2:53), Go Fast (2:03), Go Slow (5:25), Island (7:20), Reprisal (5:32), Chaos (1:23), Victory (6:57)
It has been a couple of years since Peter Matuchniak's last solo release, the highly regarded Uncover Me. For someone who is not a full time musician, Peter is involved in several bands which are broadly associated with the wide church of progressive rock.
Evolve IV (2008) was sculpted over the internet by four individuals who shared a common prog interest, whilst Gekko Projekt (2012) had less focus on the guitar, mainly due to the band's keyboard player having a major role in composing. Although neither band has yet to release a sophomore album, Matuchniak keeps his musical muse satisfied with solo activity. It is far from a lonely endeavour, as his musical ensemble comprises no less than nine musicians.
Aside from Matuchniak himself, playing all the guitars and adding some vocals, there is able support from: Paul Mouradjian, a Berklee College music school graduate, on keyboards; drummer and vocalist Scott Connor, who performs alongside ex-Yes members Tony Kaye and Billy Sherwood in the band Circa; Steve Bonino on bass and vocals, Natalie Azerad a French jazz singer with an amazing voice (it is no surprise that she nails The Great Gig In The Sky in a Pink Floyd tribute band), brass and wind is provided by JoJo Nakano on saxophone and David Gilman on clarinet; with further vocal support provide by Ted Zahn and Alyssa Matuchniak, a new generation of Matuchniak musicians.
Whereas previous releases on which Matuchniak featured were all of a high quality, none were without minor flaws or lacked that essential something to lift the album to the next level. However, with Destiny that threshold has been reached and surpassed.
This is largely due to the variety in the music and the talents of the supporting players, with a whole lot of credit going to Natalie Azerad whose jazz background adds a new and authentic dimension to the music. However, this is not to diminish the achievements of the main man, who was solely responsible for composing and arranging all but three tracks, as well as engineering the recordings and producing it.
The three co-compositions, by the core group of Matuchniak, Mouradjian, Bonino and Connor, include the short numbers Tunnel with a nice and crisp guitar sound, Chaos, a marvelously-crazy instrumental, and the album's longest track Product with its soaring guitar, ethereal backing vocals and a whole host of tempo changes and styles that make it a bona fide prog gem.
Elsewhere the album reaches peaks on the lovely Spies, with its heavenly lead vocals (by daughter Alyssa) and haunting clarinet. Also on the lyrically funny Oyster Club which reminds me, particularly in the chorus, of a 30-year-old Janysium number. (As an aside: Matuchniak should re-release the Janysium music one day, even if only a download. My old cassette tape gave out years ago. Not that the music could be termed long lost classics, but it had an honest naivety, and the songs I can remember, although can't guarantee the titles are 100% correct, Honest Policies, Iron Lung, Hippy In The Rain, and A Bit Of Nothing Really... would be worth hearing again).
Island is a mature piece of music that would fail most prog tests, but fits in well with the rest of the album, particularly the guitar playing, both electric and acoustic, which is of a high standard throughout the album and the keyboard and clarinet coda which rounds the piece off nicely. Victory pulls everything together in a rousing finale that is a musical tour de force that many more established acts would be delighted to have in their repertoire, even if the faux reggae interlude is a bit cheesy.
It is a very long time since I first heard the Janysium/Mach One tape that was sent to the prog revival and erstwhile Genesis fanzine Afterglow in the hope of a decent review. Many, nay most, of the bands and musicians whose first tentative steps were highlighted in that fanzine, have fallen by the wayside, becoming footnotes in musical history. So it is good that some have persisted and are still enjoying making music. The fact that after all this time, Matuchniak is still exploring new avenues and, what is more, producing his best work to date, is an inspiration to us all.
Supernal One (Immanence and Transcendence) (4:40), Different Stage (11:30), Again and Again (5:00), Eden's Song (14:06), S.O.S (Save Me) (5:26), Immutable (5:31), White Flag (10:00), Dischord n' Datchord (2:08), Swim In Your Ocean (5:46), Orwelled (0:28), The Endgame (15:13)
Supernal Endgame hail from Dallas, Texas and offer an engaging and sprightly blend of symphonic neo-progressive rock that is just brimming with hooks and solos.
Now a quintet, the band first emerged four years ago with a confident debut album (or "worship project") entitled Touch the Sky. It won them a positive welcome from prog fans in the USA. They have now signed to 10T Records and will undoubtedly gain a wider following with this second volume of Touch the Sky.
Lying somewhere in between Spocks Beard and Enchant, this is a very American-sounding prog album. Bright in its tone and delivery, all the songs have a clear vocal melody, yet also extensive instrumental sections, with the keyboards firmly to the front of the mix.
All the members contribute vocals, with Rob Price and John Eargle sharing the central parts, in a similar way as is done on the Enchant albums. On the whole the vocals are impressive, although here and there they take a different pitch or phrasing to the one I expect, not always in a positive way.
There is a very clear spiritual basis for the lyrics, which some may find too preachy and obvious, and a couple of the tracks tread a very fine line with their levels of prog cliché and rock cheesiness (Again and Again). There is nothing new or remarkable here, but I have to admit it is a darn good listen, and all delivered with great passion, belief and love for the music. Different Stage is one of many highlights.
On paper, of the two 10T albums I've reviewed in this edition, I was expecting to be giving the Heliopolis a more enthusiastic review. However despite its flaws, I think this is the album I will come back to more often.
Cosmos (1:18), Poetry In B Minor (For Solo Piano) (1:15), Guitar Etude No. 1 (D Major) (2:21), Guitar Etude No. 2 (G Major) (4:10), Tautology (For Guitar & Bass) (3:55), The Tone Row (For Keyboard & Guitar) (2:15), Voyager (5:23), Circadian Rhythm (3:36), Closure (7:14), Strange Loop II (6:22), Mount Ethereal (7:34), Chaos (Fantasia On Drum Track) (1:47), Opus No. 1 (Witsend Quartet - 1984) (5:46), Opus No. 3 (Witsend Quartet - 1984) (6:01), Strange Loop II (Syzygy Live - 2010) (6:38), Mount Ethereal (Syzygy Live - 2010) (8:03)
In science 'Syzygy' refers to an alignment of three celestial bodies in a gravitational pull. In this case, these three "celestial bodies" are Pulse, Pitch, and Purpose (trademarked!). Phew! That quote is from the very lavish press release "book", and sums up this bands' intellectual approach to rock and roll.
Pretentious? Moi? Not at all. Carl E Baldassarre, guitarist and leader of these merry minstrels, takes his music seriously and to that end the band has re-released this 20- year-old album. With new artwork, mastering, ordering, and now with added "New Piano" (trademarked), this CD showcases the original album with bonus material. Two previous instrumental tracks have a live outing, with Mark Boals singing, and cassette home-grown recordings of Opus No.1 and 3 complete the extras.
The reordering of the album means that the quiet acoustic ditties begin, with the dynamic increasing as it plays out. I don't know the original track listing, but for me playing this CD on a random setting gives it more light and shade.
Therefore four acoustic and almost classical guitar pieces flow into more ensemble tracks, ending with the aforementioned live stuff. Well played vituosity is the signature dish here, that always stays true to the menu with Strange Loop II and Mount Ethereal being the standout tracks. Paul Milhacevich's drumming is a particularly enjoyable experience.
Despite the gatefold images of all four members in what could be a homage to that famous Queen video, the album is mainly played by previous inceptions called "Witsend Trio" and "Witsend Quartet", featuring different players.
This isn't an essential purchase but probably a must for completists of Syzygy and lovers of instrumental versions of this genre. The really good news is that there is going to be a new "symphonic-progressive" project being built in Northern Ohio to once again launch us listeners even closer to those astronomical lumps of undeviating prog rock.
Inceptus (2:40), Exodus (1:47), Pyskerion: The Question (3:02), In the Words of Avakus (01:52), Light Year Time (05:33), Kerakryps (05:27), The Black Hole Lounge (01:08), Circuits of O.D.D. (01:54), Behind the Eyes of Ikk (08:36), Isle of Bizen (04:34), Xyrethius II (04:30), Recoil (03:17), Breath of Life (03:04), Transcend (09:38), Planet Qwinkle (04:41), Inner Peace (02:07)
After a six-year hiatus and having released their first record Angular Perceptions, Michael Harris and Ted Leonard (Enchant, Spock's Beard) returned with their outstanding Progressive Metal project called Thought Chamber. This album is also the first to feature new members Bill Jenkins (Enchant) on keyboards, Jeff Plant on bass and Mike Haid on drums.
The band keeps their progressive metal roots, but it is now combined with some other musical influences from jazz and experimental music, and even a little reggae arrangement on Transcend, which has become the most acclaimed track from this album. Musically, we have a mixture of musical elements from bands such Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, Kansas, Styx, and even Yes on several tracks, which keeps this album from becoming monotonous.
Ted Leonard's voice sounds more mature and with more vocal technique and skill, keeping his influences from singers like Steve Perry and Steve Walsh. He sounds more harmonious and stays so even in the moments in which he must raise his voice. You can note this in the more recent work he has done with Spock's Beard and Enchant.
The work done by Michael Harris is awesome and he fully demonstrates his technical skills and influences such as John Petrucci and Arjen Lucassen. He has provided this album with wonderful riffs and guitar solos.
Pyskerion is a concept album in which the band keeps their prog metal style and influences mentioned above, but with a spacey ambience provided by the arrangements on guitars and keyboards. The album has too many short tracks in the form of instrumental passages or working-like intros for the main songs. I believe many of them could be included as part of the songs without losing any meaning to the story being told.
Michael Harris has stated that: "The story is told from the eyes of a young boy genius named Avakus. He is able to witness a mission aboard a ship (Kerakryps-One) through the galaxy of Psykerion, and his life is forever altered, causing him to reflect on, and question his own life, as well as the objectives and destiny of mankind".
We have an awesome album with all the elements that Prog Metal fans wants to hear; heavy and deep metal riffs and arrangements, spacey and ethereal keyboards solos and atmospheres, and solid and precise drumming, all placed in a very complex and sometimes unbelievable musical structure. Pay attention to what I think are the highlights: Psykerion: The Question, Light Year Time, The Black Hole Lounge, Isle of Bizen and Transcend. An interesting musical journey.
Head chef Johnny gives some words of advice and encouragement to his apprentice: "Hum a doleful tune lad! Grip the ladle tightly. Stir the cauldron vigorously. Let the ingredients of my original and inimitable rock based sauce simmer for five minutes. Now carefully follow my additional instructions!"
"Toss in some sprigs of Phideaux. Drizzle it with some Bowie juice. Add some raw and inflamed guitar riffs. Scatter on a trace element of punk. Flavour it with a hint of Morrissey angst. Colour it with Ariel Pink."
"See that book on the top shelf entitled 'Musical Pioneers'. Find the chapter entitled 'Miles Davis: Master of the Unpredictable'. Tear it out, grind it down; infuse this dish with a little of its essence. Locate the chapter 'Frank Zappa: Does humour belong in music?' Cut out the word 'Yes' that is written in bold beneath the heading. Place it in the cauldron. Let it slowly dissolve."
"For the final and most important ingredient, copiously sprinkle lavish amounts of my special unicorn dust for that added x factor. That should provide a thoroughly unique flavour and great mystique."
"Now, all we need is a name Johnny. How about Angels in the Oort Cloud"
The compositions contained within Johnny Unicorn's attractive creation are tastefully full of zest. They are never bland or predictable. The album is likely to stimulate and satisfy the palate of even the most discerning of listeners. I have hugely enjoyed the wide array of flavours on offer. Unicorn's banquet of sounds is agreeably nourishing and should appeal to those who enjoy unpredictable song writing, with a twist of alternative prog rock. It contains many exciting and often surprising musical moments during the course of the album's six varied pieces.
Johnny Unicorn is a talented multi-instrumentalist who has appeared on a number of highly regarded albums. Angels in the Oort Cloud is his seventh full length solo release. Unicorn is probably best known for his guitarist's role with Phideaux. He is currently part of Phideaux's live band. He is also the bassist of Seattle-based prog rock band Autumn Electric, appearing on their recent releases Flowers For Ambrosia and Star Being Earth Child.
The opening track Angels is a multi-faceted 16-minute epic. In this track Unicorn's ensemble of players skillfully play their part, to create a memorable statement of intent. Eric Padget's contribution on trumpet is brilliantly executed, adding even greater variety to an already inventive piece. In the role of an additional vocalist, synth player Naomi Adele Smith gives a number of the tracks, including Angels, an extra emotional intensity.
Angels, is divided into seven parts which on occasion seamlessly segue into each other. At other times, Angels challenges the listener with discordant and seemingly unrelated passages. Somehow, the sum of the parts works remarkably well. What could have been in the hands of a lesser chef, a mish-mash of ideas, succeeds as a challenging and inventive piece of progressive music. The complexity makes it an ideal opener.
Unnatural robotic vocals feature in both Angels and Creation. Phideaux successfully used similar effects in Beyond the Shadow of Doubt from the Ghost Story album. Unicorn's use is at least as good, if not more effective.
Angels in the Oort Cloud rarely disappoints, in its bold desire to dress itself in an alternative manner. Creation, LCD and Nebraska, are on the face of it short, straightforward, rock-driven tunes. All however display an unpredictable essence, which emerges on occasion to lift this trio of tunes out of what could have been a trough of predictable, standard rock.
For example, the rock/blues basis of Creation is totally transformed by the imaginative vocal effects and magnificent counterpoint vocal harmonies which dominate and unexpectedly conclude the piece.
The remaining pieces of the album more than make up for any disappointment or disdain that the raw punk stylings that make up Nebraska might have caused. I particularly liked Floaters. It contains many aspects that make Angels in the Oort Cloud so enjoyable. In its relatively short running time of just under four minutes, Unicorn manages to incorporate discordant and jarring keyboard effects, and hints of jazz, rap and moving solo guitar parts. Floaters is creative, highly entertaining and hugely satisfying. Once again, it is an example of the adventurous recipe that Unicorn has used to create this highly desirable dish.
Another highlight is the strikingly beautiful Inertia. It begins sparsely with a strummed acoustic guitar and Unicorn's enticing voice. His vocal performance is totally alluring, incorporating much emotion. He manages to be plaintive and sombre, but also warmly uplifting. The rich sounding vocal range achieved in this track is exceptional. In this respect Unicorn draws favourable comparison with the glorious vocals of Neil Hammond and his work with The Divine Comedy.
The lush instrumental sections of the piece are also particularly impressive. As the first vocal passage ends, a mournfully expressive saxophone comes to the fore.
The breadth and scope of the music is wide ranging. It includes a lovely, cinematic celestial soundscape. This recurring refrain is furnished by lush keys, multi layered choral vocals and brass instrumentation. It is unforgettable and could easily be utilised as a theme for a movie. It exudes a spiritual, out of this world quality for the listener to absorb. When the pace finally accelerates, an unexpected Tull-like folk rock interlude wistfully emerges.
The album ends as Unicorn's vocals fade away to nothing. The endearing qualities inherent in Inertia are very gratifying. On many occasions I have succumbed to an overwhelming desire to hit the repeat button.
Angels in the Oort Cloud is the first time that I have encountered Johnny Unicorn's solo material. I will definitely make sure that it is not the last. I will begin with the releases that were comprehensively reviewed on DPRP by Brian Watson, giving each the coveted mantle of highly recommended.
I also have no hesitation in adding another DPRP recommendation to Johnny Unicorn's growing collection of accolades.
Prelude 19 (2:34), Candlelight (3:45), Traveler (5:27), Annabel Lee (5:08), Day After Day (3:49), The Road (3:32), Rebekkah (5:40), St.Andrews Fall (3:32), Riddle of the Sphinx (8:15), If There's Time (3:40)
Based in the San Francisco area, vocalist Wade Greenwood and multi-instrumentalist Randy Sepe are UV Traveler, and they bring together a love of classical prog, as well as their own unique take on contemporary music.
Mixing styles and sounds, their album covers all moods and themes, right from the opening Prelude 19. Its use of atmospheric sounds, and the way it subtly weaves in riffs and musical themes that later crop up in other songs, helps to create a continuity to their work.
With a versatile and powerful voice, Wade Greenwood can do epic and powerful on tracks like Candlelight, and the driving, heavy rock song Day After Day. This evokes Ronnie James Dio and the power of those 70s hard rock bands, but rooted in the now, with great work from the guests, bassist Michael J Schiavo and drummer Greg Annunziata. They bring a full-fledged rock band sound to the album, allowing Randy Sepe to go nuts on guitar, which he does gleefully.
These rhythmic travellers lend their talents to two other tracks on the album, the progressive metal inspired Rebekkah, which shows off Sepe's guitar virtuosity, Greenwood's powerful vocals, and brings to my mind early Judas Priest. The drum and bass propel the song forward, whilst wave after crashing wave of guitar comes crushing through.
The other full band track is the eight-minute plus Riddle of the Sphinx, which despite its clichéd prog title, is actually a well written and intricately performed powerhouse of traditional prog rock, (with the emphasis on the rock) and some fantastic vocals from Greenwood again.
Other stand-outs on the album include the haunting adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe poem Annabel Lee, with Greenwood sounding like a possessed John Cale, whilst the haunting and spectral acoustic work of Sepe blends together to create a truly spine tingling piece of art. The band also cover Blind Melon's St Andrews Fall with style and aplomb.
UV Traveler have a variety of talents and styles at their disposal, and whilst the genre-hopping throughout the album could, in lesser hands be a mish-mash, they manage to make a coherent whole out of the album, and an intelligent musical journey that you want to take with them.