Morning Jigsaw (8:01), To The Beach (3:08), (And Not Back) (2:05), The King (5:27), Dim (6:56)
A Formal Horse is a new and refreshingly young band hailing from Southampton on the south coast of England, and featuring a traditional vocals/guitar/bass/drums line-up. They released their first EP in June 2014 and subsequently were a surprise, long-odds winner at that year's Resonance Festival, since garnering plaudits from respected reviewers such as Sid Smith.
Their sound is a modern, edgy math rock, laced with dryly humorous female vocals. There are some slight King Crimson influences, and some others, not so obvious. Maybe even the band are not aware of it, but on I Lean, the choppy, fast, angular chording is certainly reminiscent of The Groundhogs at their Split prime.
The band's dense and tough sound, full of fast guitar chording and picking, through effortless time signature changes done in the blink of an eye, all laced with counter melodies, is leavened by the female vocals. Emily Tulloh on the first EP has a plain but effective voice, and her matter-of-fact style fits the band's sonic template like a glove.
By the second Morning Jigsaw EP, released in March 2015, the band has developed the confidence to stretch-out on the eight-minute-plus opening title track. Emily has now been replaced by Francesca Lewis, who sings in a slightly higher register, and with a little more emotion. Guitarist Benjamin Short contributes the lyrics to all but a couple of tunes, and his lyrics are very poetic and create a nice otherworldly feel, to counter the precise nature of the music.
The rhythm section of drummer Mike Stringfellow and bass player Russell Mann nails down the complex rhythms with a fierce insistence that creates just the right amount of tension. Another layer in the cake is a penchant for Canterbury-esque oddness, especially in the lyrical department. The concluding track, Dim, with its line: "We lie, we alibise. We can; we can, we Caliban," is a pointer in that direction. One assumes "alibise" is what is referred to as "Albise" on the EP cover, in which case this fine piece of wordplay is the work of Francesca Lewis.
The crisp sound on both EPs is courtesy of Rob Aubrey of IQ and Transatlantic fame, and the whole package makes for a neat and interesting double-debut, showing that modern progressive rock does not need to hide behind the skirts of the 1970s. However, getting the ultra-conservative prog audience interested in something new, which does not rely on 70s tropes, is another matter entirely.
A Formal Horse fits in well with the current wave of new and relatively young progressive bands from the UK. Along with The Fierce and the Dead, Knifeworld, and Schnauser, to name but three of a growing scene, it shows that progressive (as opposed to "prog") rock music is alive and well on our little island. There is hope!
Requiem Part 1: Dies Irae / Wrath (7:11), Requiem Part 2: Duodecim Cruces / Twelve Crosses (3:39), Requiem Part 3: Pie Jesu / Decay (6:00), Requiem Part 4: Lux Aeturnum / Let Them Burn (4:26), Requiem Part 5: Kyrie Eleison / Mercy (10:18), Requiem Part 6: Libera Me / Free Me (7:36)
The word Requiem, from the Latin "requies" (rest, repose), is traditionally used to describe a religious (or not) "service" to honour the dead. Originally it was a Catholic Mass presenting God's love to those recently deceased.
As far back as 1969, and part of the Easy Rider soundtrack, hippy troubadours The Electric Prunes used the title Kyrie Eleison (or track five here!) in a psychedelic chant like way. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a Requiem which gave the world the hit single Pie Jesu, so making a populist version of this old idea has been around for years.
This interpretation was written by Grant Gordon (once a member of The Divine Comedy) and was triggered by the death of both his parents, so is ostensibly quite a sombre and personal affair.
Part 1, Dies Irae / Wrath is a slow processional piece with e-bow like guitar, electric and acoustic chording with a vocal that could be described as a more melodic Roger Waters. Hints of synth are heard throughout this record with a kind of folk-rock feel. Even a touch of country on part 4, Lux Aeturnum.
Oddest track, the aforementioned Kyrie Eleison, has wailing, Gregorian chanting, a pleasant waterfall guitar motif, and a scary spoken word confession but cadences out with some welcome optimism provided by acoustic guitar and simple piano. Hard work that one.
The album ends with Libera Me / Free Me and it's a really good track. Almost IQ in feel. The last part is a spoken word section about a friend being taken away to die in an ambulance, the guitar and keyboard sound effect back-drop lifts this well into prog territory.
This is another one from 2013 (we must buy a new net) so apologies to Mr Gordon for only just finding this. I'm not sure I'll be playing it too often but a lot of hard work has gone into his quite private project and that has to be admired. He also appears to be playing it in the occasional pub venue, not too sure how well that would work. "This ones about the day of judgement - sinners burn in hell! Let's see some hands, woo!" etc
... but good luck with that and hope that this cathartic assignment has helped you with your loss.
Trick of the Trade (6:09); Introversion (12:24); According to Plan (6:35); Tears Gone Dry (12:14); The Silent Giant (5:22); King for a Day (27:29)
I missed the early stages of this Norwegian band's decade-long career. The reviews that I read of their first two albums (Motions of Desire and Circus For Life ) suggested that I'd be experiencing a very traditional form of symphonic prog, which is not my style of choice. However, suggestions that the band had evolved in a heavier direction, led me to investigate their last release, The Suffering Joy (2011). The wonderful, multi-part opening epic, A Life's Work, made me an instant fan.
The band's fourth album builds on the template of its predecessor but with the epic saved for the end. Five shorter, but still weighty, tracks open up proceedings.
Musically the band maintains its roots in both classic prog and classic heavy rock, but planted in a very modern interpretation, which emphases central melodies, clever harmonies and a very high energy. Guitars and keyboards share the limelight.
It sits somewhere between the more accessible prog metal (Dream Theater) and the heavier classic symphonic prog of Transatlantic and Spocks Beard. Magic Pie has something to offer fans of both genres. I detect a healthy dose of Deep Purple and even a nod towards Lynyrd Skynyrd here and there. From similar influences Magic Pie has created a much proggier version of Finland's Von Hertzen Brothers.
The sound quality on King for a Day is fantastic, I guess thanks to the use of renowned producer Rich Mouser (whose varied resume includes Tears for Fears, Dream Theater, Transatlantic, Chris Cornell, Mike Portnoy, Oleander, Weezer, Less Than Jake and Spocks Beard).
The sing-along choruses and ever-changing, extended instrumental sections make all five opening tracks essential listening. I'd be splitting hairs to choose a favourite. With three vocalists and two backing vocalists in this sextet, the singing is the real highlight.
On The Suffering Joy, it was the opening epic that was the inspirational slab of music. The shorter songs which followed were unable to match it. Here, the shorter songs open the album and are faultless. It is the closing epic which can not compete.
Weighing in at a hefty 27 minutes, it is a good example of where lofty ambition perhaps outweighs ability. There are certainly many great sections within this mélange of ideas. However there is nothing which ties it all together into a coherent whole. I'm left thinking that the individual ideas (and there are many) could have been better crafted into three or four shorter songs. The album would have been far better for it.
For me, if you could take the opening epic from The Suffering Joy and combine it with the first five tracks on this album, then I would have no hesitation in awarding a perfect score. That said, King For A Day is still an excellent, modern progressive album. It will appeal to a wide range of fans who like their symphonic prog to be complex yet accessibly-melodic, to offer a wide dynamic with an abundance of light and shade, and to showcase a band who deliver exemplary musicianship and sublime vocal harmonies, yet without ever disappearing up their own egos.
On that basis, King For A Day must join the all three previous Magic Pie albums reviewed by DPRP, and get a very hearty recommendation.
Distilled reality (6:02), Thujone incantation (6:44), Green fairy (10:36), Melting ritual (6:17), Absinthe desolation (10:52), Narcotic (7:46), Green hour (6:45)
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world."
Oscar Wilde was attempting with these words to sum up the effects and the mysteries of absinthe, particularly its mind altering affects. Over the past couple of hundred years the anise flavoured drink – the 'Green Fairy' as it is known has inspired art movements and works of literature and with the release in 2014 of Green Fairy by Maxxess, it makes its way into the modern progressive era as well.
Maxxess is an instrumental project from German artist Max Schiefele that is designed to convey something of a road journey in search of the strange green drink. Indeed from the beginning you are put firmly into the front seat of the car and transported elsewhere. This is a driving album, designed to accompany you along winding roads and open fields, to the tops of the mountains and down to the sea. Ideally suited for those trips where you are free behind the wheel and there is nothing much ahead except for the open road and an open mind.
Perhaps indicative of this driving spirit most powerfully is the album's ten and half minute title track which builds powerfully from the sequenced start into a thunderous hard edged riff, delightfully combining a touch of Blue DreamSatriani with early 80s Rush. Where the music delivers is in its simplicity and yet its depth. Avoiding any overly fussy instrumentation, Schiefele keeps the music vibrant and accessible throughout and combines subtle and atmospheric with punch and energy effortlessly.
Musically there are similarities here to the recent debut release of Steven Rothery's, Ghosts of Pripyat, and fans of his work would appreciate this piece and find enjoyable similarities. In tracks such as Melting Ritual, Schiefele has a feel similar to Rothery in his delivery of slick sounding, memorable hooks, blistering solos and layers of reverb.
There is depth within the soul of the album and in Absinthe Desolation the use of electronica provides us with a rich and varied tone too. That said this album is what it is, a predominantly guitar based instrumental collection of songs. Often this proves to be a challenging modus operandi for a musician, largely down to the repetitive nature of the music. Schiefele wisely keeps things around the 55 minute mark but with that said, there are moments where he could have kept things a little tighter still, or varied the pace and key a little more adventurously.
Narcotic is a prime example of this. With its composition mirroring tightly the five songs or so before it, there is feeling that this is repeating itself once too often and the album flounders a little, running out of creative steam. At this point in the car journey you might find yourself only half-listening.
Fortunately the moody, drifting Green Hour saves the 'hour' at the end, giving the album a much needed sonic shot in the arm. Quite apparently on the last track is Schiefele's, Gilmour influenced, soaring guitar style.
Green Fairy is a worthwhile shout it you appreciate atmospherics and well crafted guitar. It is skillfully executed throughout and this is without doubt part of the albums overall charm and appeal. At times the music feels a little like it plays it safe. Not bland but not edge of the seat exciting either. However perhaps as the creator of this album has specified, this music can be perhaps be appreciated more with a dazed head, particularly if you want to see the fairy!
In Search of the Perfect Melody (19:50), Girl from a Glass Sphere (7:09), The Mirror of Memories (7:00), Blood on the Rain (4:25), Over & Over (5:40), In the World of Fantasy? (12:30)
Millenium are somewhat of the forgotten Polish prog band who have been around for 15 years now but not yet managed to ingratiate themselves into the general mainstream prog consciousness. Indeed, even DPRP has been remiss in covering their progress over the years, having only reviewed their second album, 2000's Vocanda and completely missing out on their other 11 studio albums and 2 live albums. As a belated redress, we are more than happy to review their latest release, In Search Of The Perfect Melody, as well as the limited edition 15th anniversary release of rarities.
The band is a quintet currently comprised of Łukasz "Gall" Gałęziowski (vocals), Krzysztof Wyrwa (bass, Warr guitar), Tomasz Paśko (drums), Piotr Płonka (guitars) and Ryszard Kramarski (keyboards), with the new album also featuring the guest talents of Karolina Leszko (vocals), Metus (backing vocals), Piotr Bylica (cello), Grzegorz Bauer (drums) and Darek Rybka (saxophone).
The main force behind the band is keyboardist Kramarski who wrote all the music and co-wrote, in conjunction with vocalist Gall, the lyrics. He also produced the album. However, don't be fooled into thinking that the album is based purely around keyboards, as plenty of guitars feature, indeed they are probably the most prominent instrument.
The style of music is firmly in the classic prog style with the addition of female vocals and sax, which nicely enhances the rather nice instrumental The Mirror Of Memories and adds a lot of colour to the title track. All the lyrics sung in English, and, might I say, with a fair degree of aplomb. The lengthy In Search Of The Perfect Melody holds together very well and contains quite a few Floyd-isms, although not sounding a whole lot like that archetypal prog band. The combined vocals of Gall and Lesko blend well and provide some dynamic integrity.
Girl From A Glass Sphere is a jaunty number with the guitar and the rather shrill lead synth echoing the main melody line. Again the vocal arrangement is quite delightful, the female backing vocalists giving an excellent performance on the choruses, which really lifts this number. There is perhaps rather too much reliance on the synth solos, the first of which is perhaps too pedestrian and overlong, although the guitar solo following the second is a good counterbalance. I would perhaps have enjoyed this more, if the brief section that starts developing into a more industrial setting was expanded to give a completely contrasting ending.
The Ballad Blood On The Rain has a faux string section, well the violins are keyboard derived, although the cello is real! I am sure the band would have preferred to have had all real instruments, which would certainly have enhanced this track, although there is no criticism of what they have achieved. The start of the song is nice enough but really takes off with the guitar solo.
Over & Over takes on the mantle of the most accessible song on the album and uses a lot of different instruments throughout. Ironically, Gall seems to be rather straining himself on this number, resulting in the least impressive vocal delivery, but that doesn't distract from the overall high quality of the song and group performance. The layered female vocal section at the end of the song is particularly enticing.
In Search Of The Perfect Melody ends with In The World Of Fantasy? which, as a nice segue, also opens the rarities collection of the same name. Undoubtedly the most interesting number on the latest album, check out the YouTube video, it is a high quality prog number that stands apart. In some ways it reminds me of Magenta, as both bands have a similar dynamic, and it is a fine song to end, or start, an album.
In The World Of Fantasy? (12:30), The Song Of Hope & Love (4:30), Puzzles Suite (14:15), Reincarnations (6:40), Up & Down (5:14), Chaos (4:28), Epilogue (6:16), Ecosong (4:30), Born In '67 (5:48), The Prose Of Life (4:46), Ocean Of Memories (5:58), Dreaming (1:30)
Since the demise of the single, it is not often that bands have many rare tracks that can be grouped together to form a nice package of rarities for fans to complete their collections. In fact I can't recall any such album since IQ's The Lost Attic in 1999, coincidentally the year that the earliest of these Millenium rarities stem from.
Three tracks are from that year; a lovely piano and synth demo version of Chaos, and an alternative version of Ecosong, which initially sounds rather dated and underdeveloped, and is only lifted by the guitar screeching through. This song has many of the elements that still define the Millenium sound, but it also clearly emphasises how far along the road the band has come in terms of writing and production. The final song from the earliest years of the band, is the previously unreleased Ocean Of Memories, which gives the impression of an uncompleted recording and one whose arrangement was not fully fleshed out. It has some nice moments in it and could certainly have held promise.
Reincarnations, although originally recorded and released in 2002, is actually a version of the song whereby the song, which originally appeared as two separate parts on the original CD, has been reunited to give the single piece as released on the vinyl release of the album in 2013. Again, this is a great instrumental number with a very clear production, possibly enhanced by remastering for the new release.
Jumping forward nine years, we have a duo of tracks from 2008, a six-minute radio edit of the 15-minute Epilogue from the mini album of the same name. A nicety rather than a necessity, as the song is the conclusion of a concept developed over two previous albums and, lyrically at least, does not make a lot of sense out of context. The song does show the dramatic improvements in sonic qualities over the intervening years, no doubt helped by Kramarski's development of the Lynx Music studio. Up & Down, another radio edit but this time it is from 2008's full album release Exist, on which Millenium really came of age in the prog scene. Again, this song is taken from a concept album, and the disassociation of the song from its natural order leaves it somewhat out of place. No doubt the purpose of these edits was for promotion of the album and not aimed at whatever remained of the 'singles' market, as the edit does not really add anything.
Rather more interesting is Puzzles Suite, which I believe is an amalgamation of selected musical highlights from the Puzzles double album. This piece works rather well and certainly flows as if it was always intended to be a standalone composition.
The most recent years of the band are represented by two tracks recorded at the time of the 2013 Ego album. The unreleased The Song Of Hope & Love is a surprise omission from the album, as it is a rather fine song which, as the title intimates, is of the ballad variety. Born In '67 was included on the album, however the version included here is the demo, with Karmarski providing the lead vocal. Although his voice is not as strong as Gall's, he can certainly hold a tune and could certainly pass as a vocalist, particularly on the slower numbers, like on this largely acoustic track.
Coming up to date, as well as In Search Of The Perfect Melody, we have a short radio remix of The Prose Of Life, a song originally released on the Puzzles album. Finally, there is a brief, unused choral and symphonic theme entitled Dreaming that was originally recorded for In Search Of The Perfect Melody. A lovely piece of music whose excision is somewhat of a mystery, but it is good to have included on this release.
Overall, this is a nice collection of rarities, with a few pieces that fans will appreciate having in their collection. As with all albums of this nature, there is not a consistent flow and that, coupled with its length, means that it is unlikely to be played as much as original albums. It still has lots to enjoy though.
Battlescars (3:19), Shades of Grey (2:59), Tears of Blood (10:12), Suspirar (3:27), Deep in the Dark (5:46), Breaking Point (3:50), White Dogs (Including the Raven) (5:31), Smoke (7:46), The Eyes of Skye (2:31)
There are so many talented artists in the current progressive rock scene who are (unjustly) flying under the radar. I would definitely put Rick Miller in that category. Breaking Point is not Rick's first album. Far from it actually, but somehow or another, he wasn't on my radar until now. My loss, but I am happy to say that Breaking Point has introduced me to this very talented musician.
Rick is a Canadian composer and multi-instrumentalist, who to put it mildly, is quite prolific. With a career scanning over 30 years, Rick has covered a lot of ground musically. This is his 10th album in a little over 11 years. That being the case, it makes the quality and freshness displayed on Breaking Point all the more impressive. As a point of reference, there are comparisons on the album that could be made to artists like Camel, Pink Floyd, Steve Hackett, The Alan Parsons Project and even The Moody Blues. That said, this is no exercise in pointless retro imitation. This album is a contemporary work by a confident and vital artist.
The overall mood of the music is dark in tone, but Breaking Point is not a metal album in any way. Fear not though guitar aficionados, Rick is a very talented guitarist and there are moments that would make Andy Latimer proud. The instrumental opener, Battlescars is almost soundtrack-like and serves as a great introduction for what is to follow. In fact, there are many entertaining instrumental segments scattered throughout the album and this is where the Camel influence is quite strong.
Although Rick is responsible for the bulk of the instrumentation on each track, there are also some excellent guest performances. Most noticeably Sarah Young, who adds some magnificent moments on her flute.
Rick doesn't have a wide range vocally, but he seems to know his limitations and the end results are effective. The noticeably upbeat title track, the mini epic, Tears of Blood and perhaps the album's highlight, Smoke, are all excellent. Picking standout songs from the album is a challenge though, because it is truly a consistently good listen from beginning to end.
Running just slightly over 45 minutes, Breaking Point certainly doesn't wear out its welcome. In fact, I would have been happy for a few more songs to be added. Regardless, this is a well produced, impeccably performed and extremely entertaining album. However many fans Rick Miller has at this point, he deserves many more. If you are not familiar with his work, this is a great place to start.
Deeply Dazzled (5:55), Dreamster 2 L.R. (4:16), Flipside (5:08), Streamliner (4:34), Memory Babe (3:50), Skull Baby Cluster (2:24), Zoom Sequence (4:03), Rocket to Damascus (4:38), Beautiful Nudes (3:02), Old Goat (5:10), Squirm (2:34), Wow! It's Scootercar Sexkitten! (1:41), Phantom Sedan (Theme from Tail-Fin City) (2:47), Ordinary Idiots (3:36), V-Ghost (For Harold and Ellen) (3:29), Blink-Agog (5:08)
Despite having released approaching 120 albums, Bill Nelson is most remembered amongst progressive rock fans for his earliest work with Be Bop Deluxe. The reason for this is not only was that band plying its trade during the latter end of the classic era of prog but that the music was more in sync with that favoured by the average prog fan. Indeed, with the exception of the short-lived new wave combo Red Noise, Be Bop Deluxe has been Nelson's only long term group adventure. The remainder of his output cover a remarkably diverse range of styles. An admirably adept guitarist, Nelson has frequently laid aside the six string in favour of keyboards, synthesisers and other electronica. What is more, most of his solo albums are true one-man efforts, written, recorded, produced, played and sung by the man himself.
After the Satellite Sings, an album first released in 1995, is no exception with Nelson singing and playing electric and acoustic guitars, E-bow, bass guitar, keyboards, piano, marimba, harmonica, percussion, drum programmes, plastic tape recorder and wind-up gramophone! The only assistance called in was Ian Leese, who provided bass guitar on one song, and Dave Cook who added octopad fills on another. Another remarkable fact was that the album was created from blank tape to finished mix in a 28-day period without a single note, lyric, demo, or idea being prepared in advance. There was, however, a vague concept that the album should in some way reflect Nelson's interest in the 1950s Beat Generation of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg which would provide the lyrical inspiration to meld with complex rhythmic patterns inspired by early 'drum and bass' music.
Hang on! Drum and bass? Although that might sound anathema, there are definitely elements of that genre on tracks such as Rocket to Damascus, Blink-Agog, Flipside, and Memory Babe. These tracks are among the most difficult to absorb if, like me, one is not that au fait with the rhythmic aspects more readily associated with dance and rave music. The programmed drum sound doesn't help either, becoming rather monotonous; once heard it sounds the same. These songs should not be dismissed out of hand though as another of the more rhythmically intense tracks, Deeply Dazzled, is a great album opener with much to enjoy and Memory Babe has a great chorus and some excellent guitar work. The guitar does make regular appearances throughout with some very lush moments and Nelson showing off his command of the instrument to provide some lovely moments throughout as well as some more angular moments on Squirm and full guitar hero soloing on Ordinary Idiots.
Elsewhere Streamliner could almost be a David Bowie track from the Black Tie White Noise era, Beautiful Nudes definitely has some David Sylvian affectations (Sylvian being a fan of Nelson, having invited him to play on several tracks on hise excellent 1986 album Gone to Earth) and Wow! It's Scootercar Sexkitten! is as crazy as the title would suggest.
I expect the sheer volume of his output would put off people investigating Nelson's back catalogue. And, to be truthful, for readers of DPRP, After the Satellite Sings would not be the place to start. There is no doubt that Nelson is an interesting character and has a multitude or ardent fans who have stuck by him and followed his diverse musical explorations with enthusiasm and glee. Although Nelson has left behind the pomp and prog of his earliest years, it is good to know that artists of his nature are still out there delivering music in whatever direction their muse takes them. The world would surely be a poorer place without them.
Who's Going to Say (6:20), Wishes of the Earth (4:31), Walk the Course (3:50), Common Ground (4:54), Memory Babe (6:11), Ties that Bind (3:53), This Forever More (4:50), This Way To Eternity (3:42), Holy Bright (6:13), Babylon (3:54), Seasons of the Witch (6:26), Watching the World Turn (3:35)
Glenn Thomson is an Australian multi-instrumentalist whose roots are to be found in the progressive rock scene of the 70s. His influences range from Rick Wakeman through Tangerine Dream and onward to the avant-garde explorations of Sun Ra. Clearly, Glenn is a man who enjoys having a diverse musical palette to work with.
Who's Going To Say leads the album off and establishes Thomson's musical vision. His raspy voice and delicate piano are paired-off against orchestral synthesiser effects. The music is languid and somewhat relaxing, a sort of thinking man's
New Age style. Thomson's lyrics are thoughtful and well-spoken and they blend well with the music. Wishes Of The Earth walks a similar path. The tempo is a bit brighter but the music itself, is more pleasant, than it is compelling.
The title track, Memory Babe, features an eerie synthesiser intro and a slight World Music feel. It is a lavishly-crafted soundscape, with instruments appearing and then falling back into the mix. It is subtle and merits repeated listenings. This Way To Eternity features an effective vocal and a nice keyboard solo. Babylon features an extract from Chant by the visionary artist, poet and "Parisian muse" Panmelys. It is probably my favorite track on the album. Thomson's voice is a bit more expressive, and the music whispers and soars with a sort of ethereal beauty. Babylon is the track where all of Thomson's musical pieces, come together.
Glenn Thomson's music is gentle, melodic and pretty. His voice however is lacklustre and generally it adds nothing to his musical ambitions. To my ears, Memory Babe makes for lovely and well-crafted background music, rather than mind-blowing prog. I'll rate it as a 6 but with a promise to return to it again, in the hope of unlocking some additional secrets.