ISSUE 2015-40

Reviews in this issue:

Aquaserge - A l'amitié
Aquaserge - A l'amitié
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 45:32
Links:
Track List:
A l'amitié (7:22), Serge singe (4:11), For Bob (3:24), Sillage 1 & 2 (6:34), Sillage 3 (3:51), Je viens (4:30), Travelling (4:37), Preparation (1:38), Je viens (reprise) (2:05), Ceci (4:18)
Daring doesn't always mean doing something that might involve risking your life. Crossing borders isn't just about escaping a country and fleeing to the next. Music isn't all about conventions. Aquaserge prove just that. As their name already suggests, a French play on words meaning 'Aquatic Serge' on one hand and on the other hand 'What purpose do I serve?', there is quite more than meets the eye. Or ears, for that matter.

You don't know quite what to get with this French ensemble. They indeed are all about pushing boundaries. Where they name Neu!, Faust, Frank Zappa, Soft Machine and anglosaxon pop as influences, their music is a joyous and wonderous trip through all the influences mentioned and beyond. Julien Gasc (vocals, keyboards and guitar) and Julien Barbagallo (drums) may be the names you may find the most known in this fine and eccentric collective. Julien G. also plays in Stereolab and Julien B. also does the drumming for Tame Impala. Mind, both their other bands seem to play far more accessible music.

Yet, it is unknown territory the five indeed want to explore. That is something not only both Julien's have in common, it's something they share with the other members. There is Benjamin Glibert on guitar, Manon Glibert on clarinet and Audrey Ginestet on bass. Humour is one of their fine weapons and, just as much here as on their previous albums, they kind of like to play with words featuring Serge. That is sort of the running gag of this gang. Yet there is more than humour to their music.

The band have a very free feel for composing and the songs often feel like they were only just written. That is not a bad thing for it demands an open mind when listening to it. The French singing makes the album even more special as does the Canterbury meets jazz feel you encounter when listening to this album. A strange brew with the clarinet being a very nice counterpart to the guitar. Sunny meadows in France, the courtyard of a castle, a music festival on a square in a typical French village, the taste of a fine Shiraz and Aquaserge playing. Travelling might be the ideal partner to even more get that feel. A wonderous journey, that is what Aquaserge promise. Don't expect the expected but just let yourself go with the flow. That surely is something you can leave up to Aquaserge.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 7.5 out of 10

Ascent - Prelusion [EP]
Ascent - Prelusion
Country of Origin:
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 24:52
Links:
Track List:
The Return Movement (i. What Once Remained, ii. Transitions, iii. Satori) (15:00), A Place Unbound (9:52)
Ascent are a five piece progressive metal/rock band from Manchester, UK. This British city, probably best known for the two football teams United & City and musically for Oasis (brothers Gallagher), has a hidden "prog treasure" called Ascent! The band formed in 2011 and consisted of Dan White (guitar, vocals), Andy James (keyboards, vocals) and Tom Rice (drums). It saw a series of different line-up changes before joining with Chris Gaduzo (bass) in late 2011. They released their first instrumental EP (self titled) in June of 2012 and gigged extensively in the Manchester region. The band joined with vocalist Arya Bobaie in late 2013 and have recently released their followup EP in March of 2015 titled "Prelusion".

Drummer Rice and guitarist have managed to record and mix a great sounding EP with some help from British "prog icon" John Mitchell (Arena, It Bites, Lonely Robot) who took care of mastering the tracks. Lovers of the slightly heavier prog with a bite with bands like Votum (Poland), Knight Area (The Netherlands) and Touchstone (UK), will surely enjoy this EP! Even fans of Arena shouldn't ignore listening to this band. It's all very melodic with brilliant solos on guitar, excellent layers of keyboard, and they are supported by some great drumming!

This is a band to remember and I'm looking forward, with high expectations, to a release of a full album in the future because my heart kept screaming for more after the second and final track of this EP! I also liked the artwork of the EP. So if the same artists are available for a full album that would be a real treat too! Unfortunately I couldn't find any video of this fine band on Youtube but you can listen to the full EP on Bandcamp and I would suggest to do so!
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 9 out of 10

Clearlight (Cyrille Verdeaux & Pascal Menetrey) - Tribal Hybride Concept
Clearlight (Cyrille Verdeaux & Pascal Menetrey) - Tribal Hybride Concept
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 69:33
Links:
Track List:
Terre Australe (4:21), Raoni's Song (3:22), Shawnee Froid (4:00), Trance Fusion (5:20), Organic Trance (4:28), Papou Pas Pris (6:12), Rain Dance (5:12), Aztec Tartare (4:25), Zeph Here (5:08), Tuva Bene (5:30), Trance Pire (5:28), Soufi Dance (5:25), Trance Connexion (5:18), Amazon Corazon (5:24)
There's quite a back story leading up to the release of this album, which starts in 1975 with the release of the first album from Cyrille Verdeaux by Virgin Records under the banner of Clearlight Symphony. This was indeed the first signing of a French progressive rock band to any major UK label and its lush experimentation and psychedelic age made it very much a forerunner of new age music.

Verdeaux enlisted the services of three members of Gong for side one of the album, while side two featured the group which became Delired Cameleon Family (Clearlight).

Sadly, Verdeaux's collaborator Pascal Menetrey passed away accidentally in 2006, so this album is dedicated to him.

That new age vibe permeates the whole album, which falls under the catch-all 'progressive' umbrella. This is because it actively engages and samples world music (recorded by Menetrey between 1992 and 1999), in several cases from endangered Native Indian tribes and wild animals facing extinction, to form the basis for the 14 diverse tracks, all of which celebrate life. There are also spiritual motifs and meanings intertwined within the compositions.

If you need a clue of the musical direction it takes, think Enigma meets Deep Forest. It is an intriguing collection of mixes, bringing together Shawnee Native Indian ritual chants with Indian percussionists, and the sacred drums of Burundi with Sioux voices, to name but two.

Trance dance rhythms also feature throughout, along with bird song and tiger roars. At the very core of it is Raoni's Song, a message to the world from the charismatic Chief of Amazonia, made famous by Sting in the 1980s. Spoken in his native Kayapo language, it tells of the continuing need to protect the world.

The album is not for everyone, and in places it's rather repetitive and slightly hard-going. It's an admirable cause, and royalties from the sale of this album will go towards helping Raoni and his people resist the forces in Brazil which are still threatening their Amazonian homeland.
Conclusion:
Alison Henderson: 5.5 out of 10

Deke Leonard - Iceberg
Deke Leonard - Iceberg
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2014/1973
Time: 73:42
Links:
Track List:
Razor Blades and Rattlesnakes (6:03), I Just Can't Win (2:43), Lisa (3:55), Nothing Is Happening (4:34), Looking for a Man (3:50), A Hard Way to Live (3:28), Broken Ovation (5:28), Jesse (4:08), Ten Thousand Takers (3:06), The Hhost of Musket Flat (2:48), Crosby (Second Class Citizen Blues) (1:54), 7171 551 (5:29), Diamond Road (3:49), Turning in Circles (3:35), The Aching Is so Sweet (4:51), Nothing Is Happening (single mix) (3:50), W (6:02), Four Corners of Hell (3:52)

Deke Leonard - Kamikaze
Deke Leonard - Kamikaze
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2014/1974
Time: 65.26
Links:
Track List:
Cool Summer Rain (0.32), Jay Hawk Special (4;17), Sharpened Claws (7:20), Taking the Easy Way Out (5:28), The Black Gates of Death (4:42), Stacia (1:04), Broken Glass and Lime Juice (5:36), April the Third (3:51), Louisiana Hoedown (2:55), In Search of Sarah and the Twenty Six Horses (6:48), The Devil's Gloves (5:16), She's a Cow (3:34), California Silks and Satins (7:58), Joyful Soul (3:28), Steel Painting Man (4:21)
The reissue market is one area of music that is still delivering sales, and Esoteric are pretty much at the forefront in finding, remastering and reissuing "classic" works from the past, something which brings us to these two albums by sometimes, sometimes-not Man guitar player Deke Leonard. These two solo albums were released back in 1974 and 1975 respectively. Firstly let me say these are not really prog albums per se, but with the Man affiliation they still bear worthy of both a good listen and a balanced review.

Many years back when I was a lot younger, a good friend of mine (Peter Bonner of Psychotron Records) was a big fan of Man and used to constantly seek to entice me to follow suit. To be fair I did listen, and was a big fan of the Maximum Darkness album recorded in 1975 at The Roundhouse. Peter was also a big Deke Leonard fan, and used to possess both of these albums on vinyl at various times. Our record collections back then were somewhat fluid as albums were swapped, sold and generally passed around. I never actually owned these two, although I was familiar with them both.

Ironically this is where Pete learnt his trade, as he buys and sells vinyl and CDs now. So for me it has been rather a pleasure to re-acquaint myself with these two fine albums.

As always the good folks at Esoteric show the rest how a reissue should be done, with both albums being remastered from the original tapes, plus a complete album cover booklet replication, and the addition of decent bonus tracks, sleeve notes and a decent run time. If only all reissues were of similar quality and worth.

The music is mainly a mix of Man-style pieces along with a Rockpile-type sound with touches of Americana for good measure. It is certainly an eclectic style. No wonder that Man had John Cipinolla of Quicksilver Messenger fame on the Maximum Darkness album, as that's the direction in which Deke Leonard was heading musically.

In addition Deke has a decent sense of humour and it shows in the music too. Each album has a track that became a Man staple (7171 551 and California Silks and Satins respectively) and you can see why Man chose to add these to their set, as they are both great songs and performances. The overall sound is excellent, if a tad laid back, but on a warm summer's evening, with a suitable drink, these pose an excellent way to help pass the time.

I do say that for me the stronger of the two is Kamikaze. That possibly runs contrary to public opinion, but I actually found Iceberg harder to "get". When the penny finally dropped, after several spins, I certainly did enjoy Iceberg but for me Kamikaze has the edge.

So whilst these may not be an essential addition, they are of their time both delightful albums, with much to recommend them, and for fans of Man they will be most welcome additions indeed.
Conclusion John Wenlock-Smith:
Iceberg: 6.5 out of 10
Kamikaze: 7 out of 10

Leprous - The Congregation
Leprous - The Congregation
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 65:45
Links:
Track List:
The Price (5:14), Third Law (6:18), Rewind (7:07), The Flood (7:51), Triumphant (4:25), Within My Fence (3:16), Red (6:35), Slave (6:37), Moon (7:13), Down (6:26), Lower (4:39)
The boys have done it again! After four phenomenal albums, Leprous manage to lay another one atop with The Congregation. Every album of theirs is a step further for the band, and The Congregation marks no difference. On Coal they were focusing more on a matured song writing style and the seamless approach of the album. It was good, but their typical, weird time signatures and breaks got a bit neglected, and the songs themselves were not as accessible as on the other albums.

Coal became a great album though; one with a deep atmosphere and a heavy, depressive attitude. Now the band has managed to combine the styles of the last three albums, and the end result is massive. The sharp, heavy play with time patterns from Tall Poppy Syndrome is brought to a new level and appears in-human at times. The melodies and hook-lines from Bilateral are back, and interwoven with the depressive mood of Coal. Also the strong atmospheric element from Coal is brought to the mix perfectly. Together, all this delivers an aggressive, melodic metal of an atmosphere, so strong that you could not cut it with a knife. It is also great to see, or rather hear, that they boys are still managing to improve their musical skills, even though they were very good anyway. Einar Solberg's vocals for example reach new levels in technique, and generally sound less hysterical than on previous albums. He also has improved his falsetto to an incredible level, where he can sing it in calm and quieter mood, quite as well as when it comes to shouting out those high-pitched notes very loudly. The way he integrates his keyboard playing with an already fully-stuffed soundscape, is also genius. Not only does he find the perfect notes to fit in, he also creates sounds that are quite unusual for this genre. That way the keyboards stand out from the crowd, but not in a way that forces the ears away from the rest of the band.

The guitars have a perfect, rich, aggressive tone, but not in an over-distorted way. As usual Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Øystein Landsverk play as minimally as possible, to achieve the perfect arrangement, knowing that useless wankery would only damage these great songs. But they still do this with a precision you rarely hear from a guitarist.

Concerning Baard Kolstad, I think it is safe to point at him when it comes to a question of the best drumming on a minimalistic drum set. The position on bass is still vacant, but for now Simen Daniel Børven has played on the album as a session bassist, and he will be on tour with the band. The album has been mixed by no less than Jens Bogren, who has shaped music from Haken, Opeth, Devin Townsend and Katatonia among others in the past.

The Congregation is an incredibly perfect album by a very unique band, which has set a new standard to melodic progressive metal. The band and their music can be compared to nothing else, and I am quite certain that it can't get any better than this. But then again, I believe they will prove me wrong with their next album. Anyhow, The Congregation must not be missing in any metal collection. It is an iconic album.

Oh, and by the way, don't miss them when their tour brings them to your area. They are the best live band in metal too!
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 10 out of 10

Starfish64 - Refugees
Starfish64 - Refugees
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 51:18
Links:
Track List:
Common Ground (4:50), Horizons Change (4:14), Territorial Waters (4:25), A Sunken Island (7:22), The Lost Boat (2:51), Fire Ship (2:40), Diaspora (5:41), The Clouds That Pass The Crossing (2:11), Bird Of Passage (1:52), At The End Of The Pier (6:53), Receding Recollection (5:02), The Lost Boat [Single-Remix][Bonus Track] (3:17)
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Clearly, there are many good progressive rock bands in the world that are recognised and with a great track record. However there are many unknown groups that certainly deserve a chance. This is the case with Starfish64 and their new album called Refugees. I didn't know this band, but I must say it was a pleasant surprise to discover its music.

Starfish64 is the personal project of Dieter Hoffmann, and Refugees is the fourth full-length album, after two EPs. I recommend listening (and buying) to the previous albums on his Bandcamp page, and to see the evolution that this musician has continued throughout his career.

On Refugees Hoffmann is responsible for the vocals, programming, guitars and keyboards, accompanied by a number of musicians who complete the sound by adding acoustic and electric guitars, bass, flute and the only real drums in the song At The End Of The Pier.

The disc is listed as 'art pop and prog' and, while agreeing, I would add folk rock influences, and the atmosphere of the music of a songwriter, thanks to the landscapes and the general softness that is heard throughout all the compositions. Dieter Hoffmann vocally can remember Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, which is good news, I guess. Although it may sound strange, his voice also reminds me of Andy Kuntz of Abydos and Vanden Plas. Of course we will not find progressive metal here at all.

From the first song one can guess that this is a well-worked album, with a beautiful piano intro in Common Ground, which links with Horizons Change and Territorial Waters, where guitars take center-stage and the melancholic tone appears. This environment is brilliantly maintained in the following three tracks, conjugating keyboards, guitars and flute, all on the basis of subtle programming. Diaspora is presented as a great theme, and a very emotional burden. I don't think I'll be the only one who remembers Marillion while listening to this song.

The Clouds That Pass The Crossing and Bird Of Passage compose a perfect combination of delicate keyboards and beautiful vocal melodies, as a prelude to the last vocal track, before the instrumental ending.

In conclusion, this is an album to be heard from beginning to end. It is very emotional and melancholic, in perfect harmony with the proposed theme involving the listener.

Notably there is good work in the production and overall sound of the record, which flows from one song to another with ease and fluency. The design and the focus on the packaging is also appreciated, although more information or the lyrics would have been welcome.

Of course this album won't be on the best of the year polls, nor have the attention it deserves in the media, but it would clearly appeal to lovers of good music in general, without going into discussions on whether it is 'prog' or 'art' or 'folk' rock. Refugees from Starfish64 is highly recommended if you want to hear good melodies, surrounded by quiet and emotional landscapes within an album that flows perfectly.
Conclusion:
Ignacio Bernaola: 7.5 out of 10

Svarta Stugan - EP 3: Aspects Of Our Future Selves [EP]
Svarta Stugan - EP 3: Aspects Of Our Future Selves
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 18:15
Links:
Track List:
Neo-Futuristic (3:15), Street View (3:39), Damn Good Coffee (3:24), Drums in the Light of Christ (1:48), Un-Birth (3:30), We Are (2:39)
As the name of the band might suggest, we're dealing with a Scandinavian band. Svarta Stugan are a band from Göteborg, Sweden consisting of three musicians. Their music is a mixture of dreamy soundscapes and cinematic themes, which isn't surprising knowing they got their inspiration from the TV-series Twin Peaks and the cult-movie Blade Runner (Who doesn't remember Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer on film together and directed by Ridley Scott!).

The band members are Filip Bagewitz (synths, guitar), Emanuell Svensson (drums, synth, guitar), and Henrik Toresson (guitars, synths). On this EP there is a guest musician who plays saxophone called Christopher Thorén, but more about him later.

This EP is the third of a trilogy that started in 2012 on their self-titled debut EP, and which was followed by EP2: A Mutation and a Madness in 2013.

This latest EP is really a collection of themes, and to me the music doesn't feel very coherent. It's just some musical ideas that could lead to making an album track. Some of those ideas sound very promising, and some don't. Sometimes you can hear a slight resemblance to Radiohead without vocals, but in general you can say they quite have their own style. Whether you like it or not, it's prog in a very original style.

Dreamy sounds, cinematic and psychedelic are all thoughts that come to mind listening to these 18 minutes. But that was long enough for me. Tracks four and five couldn't really bring me any delight, mainly because of the leading role of the saxophone, which sounds very experimental. It  tasted like very bad coffee to me! Perhaps if they used the other four themes and melted those ideas into a full album, with possibly a vocalist present, it could lead to damn good coffee? For now, I'm waiting in anticipation.
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 5 out of 10

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Published Sunday 24 May 2015

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