ISSUE 2015-556

Reviews in this issue:

Apogee - The Art Of Mind
Apogee - The Art Of Mind
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 55:32
Links:
Track List:
The Art of Mind (19:54), Inside the Wheel (8:56), The Games You Play (9:31), The Price to Pay (8:06), Sea of Dreams (9:05)
Apogee is actually a band from Germany consisting of one person, Arne Schäfer. He's responsible for all instruments (except drums), compositions and vocals. On this new album he is supported by Eberhard Graef on drums and he does a great job, whilst Schaefer is playing some great riffs and soloing on mainly guitar.

Not that the keyboards are neglected on this album. By no means! Schäfer also turns out to be a more than reasonable keyboard player with some nice soloing on several tracks. There are enough Hammond organ and Mellotron sounds for keyboard lovers to enjoy. The music is heavily inspired by the seventies prog. Influences of King Crimson, Rush, Pink Floyd and Genesis can be found. Another name that springs to mind is The Tangent and certainly the voice of Schäfer resembles that of Andy Tillison, vocalist of that band. Schäfer is not a great singer but his voice fits perfectly with the music.

The album starts with the title track, a real epic of almost 20 minutes devided into five parts. This track is full of awesome orchestral arrangements, brilliant soloing on guitar and beautiful keyboard sounds. Schäfer shows that he has a great creative mind and that he can compose some excellent music. The other tracks are all a bit shorter but always more than eight minutes, with probably the final track Sea Of Dreams being the best of the rest. I also enjoyed the Moog parts on Inside The Wheel.

This is maybe not the most original release of 2015 but when it is performed in such a great manner by Schäfer and his companion Graef, it deserves a recommendation. I prefer this quality above spasmodic renewal in music.
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 8 out of 10

Effa Lente - The Effa Lente Configuration: Parts 1-4
Effa Lente - The Effa Lente Configuration: Parts 1-4
Country of Origin: Ireland
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 44:46
Links:
Track List:
The Effa Lenta Configuration: Parts 1-4 (44:46)
Effa Lente is the brainchild of Irish multi-instrumentalist David Alfred Reilly. It's part rock, a little bit of classical thrown in, and at times has a movie score feel (although the kind of movie that would be quite dark). One moment orchestral, the next it's heavy prog in a King Crimson, even Opeth vein, minus the vocals. It's got the tension of some of Porcupine Tree's darker moments, before going a bit Bach, then Vangelis before twisting through to a moody Tony Banks soundtrack piece. And that's just the first five minutes.

Sometimes, so many musical ideas and changes can leave a sense of confusion, or simply turn the listener off. Also, with such music, there is the danger that the composition is going to be deemed pretentious or, at worst, that an unlistenable piece of music will be created. That is not the case here, and that's no mean feat.

While there's a lot going on, it's compelling enough to be completely listenable. Indeed, the various mood and tempo changes leave a sense of anticipation for what's coming next. It's as if dozens of musical vignettes were thrown into a mixing bowl, and then carefully stitched together to give them life and cohesion. Not that this is haphazard music. It's driven, driving, powerful and modern. It's a bit like a musical rollercoaster ride, offering changes at every corner with something new to be found after each turn.

The quieter passage serve the disc well, in that they allow the heavier passages to not overwhelm. One or two of these passages do stutter jarringly a little at times, but it's only a minor and temporary diversion on the absorbing musical journey. There are so many different guitar and keyboard sounds that it makes for compelling listening, and a sense of wonder as to how this could ever be pulled off live.

There's a doom/death metal feel occasionally, but it's not inaccessible and, again, it doesn't dominate the recording because of the many changes that come along so often. It's almost the antithesis of ambient music where things change and evolve very slowly, but the ending may be unrecognisable from the beginning.

It's really the heavy, driving segments that succeed and create the overall impression of the album. Probably the greatest feature of this composition is that it works at all, given that its components are so different. Challenging and intriguing? Yes. Heavy? Yes. Heavy going? Surprisingly, not at all.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10

Eternal Journey - Nebular
Eternal Journey - Nebular
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 65:56
Links:
Track List:
Illusions (2:46), The Entrance (5:59), Nebula Movement I (6:34), Emptiness (Zero Gravity) (4:39), Eternal Journey (4:38), Nebula Movement II (6:40), Nostalgia (4:34), Electric Heritage (3:49), Alley Road (7:01), Nebula Movement III (5:51), Promise And Demise (5:36), Nebula Movement IV (7:42)
Eternal Journey is a progressive space metal project from German guitarist and songwriter Alex Papatheodorou. Nebular is the second album of the project, where Alex is being supported by various guest musicians, mainly on drums and vocals. The album seems to have a lyrical concept, but I don't get it and thus I will suspend judgement on this. So, let's get straight to the music.

Alex says that he's influenced by music from artists like Pink Floyd, Dol Ammad, Ayreon and Opeth, and indeed this already gives you some good hints about what to expect. There's also some 80s hard rock influence.

The album starts with Illusions, an instrumental overture. After showing the melodic and synth-driven side of the project, it ends with a metallic double bass attack. So in this short piece, you get a quick outlook at the next 60 minutes. The first real song, The Entrance, begins quite groovy in an odd meter (7/8) and then the vocals come in, which are not bad, but have a kind of metal attitude that I don't like too much. The track is varied by many breaks and tempo changes, and features some nice guitar solos. There's quite a lot happening in only six minutes. The following Nebula Movement I begins with some spacey synth sounds and the different parts alternate between acoustic guitar strumming, heavy riffing and orchestral breaks. Again the vocals are a bit annoying here, especially in the second half of the song.

After these more complex songs, Emptiness (Zero Gravity) appears quite straight and has a nice melody in the first one and a half minutes, before the song seems to lose the golden thread during a rather uninspired metal part. Luckily after a while it gets back on track and has a nice, heavy ending.

Eternal Journey is a quite fast and heavy instrumental piece, again enriched with a lot of spacey keyboard sounds and a spoken word section at the end. With Nebula Movement II the (for me) annoying vocals return, but there's a nice instrumental section in the second half. Nostalgia and Electric Heritage are two shorter tracks, containing both weird and very heavy parts. There are even some Death Metal growls in the latter one.

In strong contrast to this stands Alley Road. It starts as a semi-acoustic ballad and might be the best song on the album in terms of classic song writing, whereby the melody reminds me very much of Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead Or Alive. But that's nearly forgotten after a heavy middle section and more growling vocals, before suddenly the lovely melody comes in again at the end. Nebula Movement III is the slowest and probably weakest of the four parts. The final two songs Promise & Demise and Nebula Movement IV again show the whole variety of styles that Eternal Journey are able to offer, but don't add anything new. Instead of a huge finale, the last track just fades out.

All in all Nebular is an interesting album with a lot of variety. It offers a professional production and solid musicianship, and particularly fans of Ayreon or Dol Ammad should check it out. Also lovers of spacy synthesiser sounds, who are not afraid of some heavy stuff, might find a lot to like here. There are two things that prevent me from giving this a higher score. I'm not someone who scores an album down because it doesn't sound progressive enough, but the "metal attitude" (especially concerning the vocals) that pervades this whole opus just annoys me a bit. Secondly, although there are many great parts on this album, most of the songs don't convince me from beginning to end, and aren't very memorable, apart from the "Bon Jovi song".
Conclusion:
Robert Zimmer: 6.5 out of 10

Mondo Drag - Mondo Drag
Mondo Drag - Mondo Drag
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 35:17
Links:
Track List:
Zephyr (2:34), Crystal Visions Open Eyes (4:36), The Dawn (4:04), Plumajilla (6:40), Shifting Sands (5:24), Pillars of the Sky (6:45), Snakeskin (6:10)
"Hey man, is that freedom prog?"

"Yeah man."

"Well turn it up man!"

It took me all of 30 seconds into the first track Zephyr to think of this review opener, and the next 35 minutes only reaffirmed it was spot on.

Mondo Drag are self-proclaimed savage, psychedelic, acid-dreaming, prog-spinning, cosmically-proportioned jam rockers. When writing reviews we're asked to think of other bands and styles that we're reminded of when listening to the album. Mondo Drag isn't derivative, but it mostly evokes memories of albums long-abandoned when I gave away my vinyl records at the demise of my last turntable. You can catch glimpses of The Doors, Blue Oyster Cult, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Jefferson Starship, Yes, Hawkwind, and even Tangerine Dream all in the same song!

There's a degree of honesty in the production, instrumentation and [based on internet live show photos] fashion choices. It feels fresh while also flaunting its obvious psychedelic prog rock roots. I personally respect a band with the nerve to be intentionally out of sync with what's trendy.

My promo copy did not include lyrics and I didn't find them online either, a common problem it seems with many digital copies we've been receiving. I note this here to remind bands that if you want your message to be taken seriously, and you insist on adding heavy effects on your vocals, then include lyrics. Otherwise listeners can only assume what you're singing isn't worth the time to try and decipher. The only song I could make out most of the lyrics was The Dawn, and they're quite good. So it's a shame they don't seem to value them.

The songs are generally upbeat and have a nice pace. They're not slow, contemplative compositions (Pillars of the Sky being the exception). There's a smattering of odd time signatures and strange musical transitions, as if to honor their progressive DNA, while also plenty of straight-forward, restrained rocking to keep things accessible and melodically enjoyable. It's a very pleasant balance between the grooves of say The Doors (in particular check out Snakeskin) and the headier stylistic aspects of bands like Hawkwind and Caravan. Three tracks weigh in at over six minutes in length, so they're not afraid to stretch their legs and have some fun.

For me, the middle pack of songs are the strongest. As previously mentioned, The Dawn is a rocker with some subtle Black Sabbath attitude and I would imagine that this would be a great, infectious song to hear them perform live. Plumajilla was an immediate favorite at first listen, conjuring visions of Jethro Tull (and not just because of the obvious flute connection), before collapsing into a sublime The Dark Side of the Moon-era Floyd interlude. It's a textbook example of how to make fantastic, intimate music without needing to throw around a thousand notes. My only complaint is that it doesn't last 40 minutes.

Shifting Sands steals a page right out of Radar Love's play book, while again managing to sound unique and virtuosic. It's a hard-driving song with some great interplay between the keyboards and guitars.

While I don't make mention of all the tracks in this review, they're all very enjoyable and I don't think there's any filler.

By today's standards the recording quality is on the poorer side of the spectrum. Background noise/hiss is prevalent throughout and certain instruments lack the clarity one might expect from a 2015 recording. That said, they are going for a retro sound and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the entire album was tracked using tape in a old shuttered studio. These are certainly things one can forgive and overlook in lieu of the quality of the songs.

Because of the timing of this album in my review queue, and its short duration, it received A LOT of repeat plays in my car over the past couple of weeks. If you're a fan of the edgier side of 70s hard and progressive rock, then definitely give them a chance. There's a lot of great music here, and with all the tracks available for preview on their website, there's nothing to lose in checking out some freedom prog, man.
Conclusion:
Kevin Heckeler: 8 out of 10

Mosaico - Vola
Mosaico - Vola
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 38:26
Links:
Track List:
Vola (5:03), Il Bivio (4:38), Il Critico, il Profano, l'Artista (4:06), Il Nuovo Potere (6:13), Questa Santa Umanità (5:23), Materia e Vita (4:03), Lenti Passi (4:59), Sopravvivere (3:42)
I confess: I am a big fan of progressive rock hailing from Italy. Having grown up with the progressive music scene from the 70s, I was particularly attracted by the Italian school. I love the lyrics and the harmonies of that music and believe that Italian is better suited for singing than most other languages. As such, I follow with excitement and passion the developments of Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI) and the many fine bands that are dedicated to this genre. Mosaico is another example of that.

The band is from Grosseto in Tuscany and was formed in 2000. Vola (Fly) is their debut, self-produced and released (with high quality standard), and it's a very strong one. Mosaico is a classical five-piece band, enlarged by a percussionist, the presence of whom is felt, without being a distinctive feature of the band's sound. The line-up consists of Enrico Nesi (vocals), Cristian Dima (bass), Nicola Cambri (keyboards and accordion), Alessandro Capanni (drums), Simone Batignani (percussion) and Fabrizio Biscontri (electric and acoustic guitars).

The band has its roots in the Canzone d'Autore (singer-songwriter) genre, something that becomes notably evident in Enrico Nesi's singing style, which sometimes is rather narrative, reminding me of Angelo Branduardi, and in the emphasis that is put on the lyrics. A collection of poems dressed-up in progressive rock, as another reviewer has put it appropriately. To avoid any misunderstanding here: this is not singer-songwriting with some progressive touches, it is progressive rock through and through.

The band does not have an official website, but is present on Facebook which reveals that Volais not a concept album, but the common thread of all songs is symbolised in the cover artwork called Grande Apertura (Big Opening): the difficulties to be overcome on the way towards reaching the light at the end of the tunnel. (I must admit that I relied on other people's findings here, my knowledge of the Italian language being too scarce to discover that by myself).

Whilst being symphonic by nature, the songs of Mosaico avoid bombast and undue complexity and are fairly tight and melodic. All songs are in the four to six minutes range, and the whole album length is similar to what one would find on a vinyl production of the 70s. Brevity is the soul of wit! The band has abstained from packing 70+ minutes of music onto its debut, thus certainly having enough options to follow-up with a successor album (and whetting the listener's appetite for more of this fine music).

This is an album which needs repetitive listening (and it is enjoyable doing this), because, in my opinion, it takes some time to get used to Enrico Nesi's singing. Only gradually does one discover all the subtle details of the songs and the excellent musicianship of all the band members. Nicola Cambri's keyboards, mainly Hammond, synths and Rhodes, are very present, without dominating. Good examples of this are the title song Vola, Il Bivio, and Materia e Vita, which feature some very fine synthesiser playing, Fender Rhodes, and Hammond organ reminding me of my Le Orme albums.

Additionally, one finds folk influences in Questa Santa Umanità and Il Critico, il Profano, l'Artista, songs strongly characterised by Nicola Cambri's accordion playing. Fabrizio Biscontri's guitar, whilst being somewhat subordinated to the keyboards, adds elegance and variety to the band's sound and has a distinctive role in each song. It comes across particularly catchy in Lenti Passi where I very much enjoyed the extremely melodic guitar solo towards the end. The last song Sopravvivere is unusual insofar as it features funky and jazzy rhythms and a sax performance by guest musician Aldo Milani. For me, it provides variety, and expresses the joy of making music.

This album will appeal to everyone looking for accessible, melodic and varied prog, and especially to fans of Loccanda delle Fate because of the romantic vocals and the emphasis on melodic keyboard playing. I also hear some influences from Biglietto per l'Inferno and from the old PFM (which were more complex, though, at least at first listening). A distinctive feature of Mosaico is the blend of singer-songwriter roots and symphonic rock elements, which makes this album quite unique in style.

I leave the missing .5 grade for a 'recommended' tag for their successor album, which I hope will come out in the not too distant future. I very much look forward to it.
Conclusion:
Thomas Otten: 7.5 out of 10

Narrow Pass - A New Day
Narrow Pass - A New Day
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 60:33
Links:
Track List:
A New Day - Part One: One Day, One Night, Part Two: Don't Dare! (8:21), The Challenge - Part One: Early Steps, Part Two: Omen, Part Three: Black Wings (8:15), Fireflies (6:15), Acquiring Wisdom (6:56), Metamorphosis (7:34), Flaming Snakes (8:21), Hard Work (5:27), Xroads (9:17)
Narrow Pass is masterminded by keyboardist/guitarist Mauro Montobbio, who resurrected the band name from the 1980s and enlisted a new line-up before releasing three albums, A Room Of Fairy Queen's (2006), In This World And Beyond (2009) and the latest, A New Day (2014).

A New Day is based on a story of the same name by writer/musician Beatrice Oldi (who also supplies the song lyrics). I have to confess the story as it appears in the CD booklet was for me completely impenetrable with lines like "At dusk, as if answering an ancient call, my people leave their eggs to the embrace of darkness and, together with the sun, let themselves fall into the abyss", perhaps loosing something in translation.

What the story lacks in linear narrative, the music makes up for with a beautifully cohesive sound with individual tracks knitting together in a complimentary fashion. It's unashamedly old school Italian prog with Genesis, Camel and Steve Hackett being obvious role models. And speaking of Mr Hackett, his brother John is name checked on the album cover which is not surprising given that his inventive flute playing features prominently on several tracks.

Although the album boasts a wealth of instrumentation including guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, flutes, oboe, soprano sax, recorder and three lead vocalists, each element is tastefully deployed, resulting in a refreshingly uncluttered sound throughout. The two-part title track for example features mainly guitar (acoustic and electric) with minimal vocals and piano, whilst the three-part The Challenge is purely instrumental with flutes dominant. In fact Anna Marra who has a lovely voice and is responsible for most of the singing doesn't appear until the third track, the folk tinged Fireflies.

Whilst the music throughout is melodious with a meticulous attention to detail, the high point for me appears just five minutes into the title track with a stately guitar hook that recalls Steve Hackett's Ever Day from Spectral Mornings and Pendragon circa their The Masquerade Overture and Not of This World albums. The hypnotic intro One Day, One Night also features a superbly majestic Andy Latimer-style guitar solo from Montobbio.

Elsewhere Genesis fans will recognise the Cinema Show-like rhythm that appears during Black Wings (the third part of The Challenge) whilst the repeated "Returning underground" vocal hook at the end of the restless Flaming Snakes evokes the spiralling "Turning around" lines that similarly climax In the Cage from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Montobbio also has a penchant for Tony Banks-toned keyboard theatrics as the bubbly instrumental Hard Work ably testifies.

The album has its weaknesses though. During the otherwise elegant Fireflies, evocative vocals, flute, classical guitar and synth strings can't disguise the dull melody. At the other end of the scale Metamorphosis is an unconvincing stab at hard rock, despite a creditably raunchy vocal from guest Cathy O'Gara, gritty Hammond playing from Gianni Bergamo and searing dual guitars.

With so much good music coming out of Italy in recent years, A New Day doesn't quite have that extra edge to warrant a DPRP recommendation. It is nonetheless a first rate album where the impeccable musicianship, stylish arrangements, melodic tone and Mauro Montobbio's crystal-clear production adds up to a rewarding, if undemanding listening experience.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 7 out of 10

Old Rock City Orchestra - Back To Earth
Old Rock City Orchestra - Back To Earth
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 39:03
Links:
Track List:
When You Pick an Apple from the Tree (4:14), Feelin' Alive (4:08), Rain on a Sunny Day (2:09), Mr Shadow (3:45), Melissa (2:54), Lady Viper (2:38), My Love (3:01), Tonight Tomorrow and Forever (3:02), Why Life (3:52), Back to Earth (9:17)
The appropriately named Old Rock City Orchestra is a band who conspicuously wear their retro influences on their collective sleeves. They are inspired perhaps more by the sound and spirit of the late 60s/early 70s, than they are by any specific artists from that (or any other) period.

A relatively young quartet of like-minded musicians, the band was formed in 2009 and their debut album Once Upon A Time appeared in June 2012. Three years on, their second release Back To Earth sees the light of day.

Although Back To Earth is at the time of writing currently featured on the excellent progstreaming website, to my ears it is more proto-prog than prog, with shades of blues-rock, psychedelic, jazz and even classical. There is a nervous energy in the playing. This is not surprising, as with every song (the title track aside) averaging less than four minutes and a total playing of under 40, there is little time for introspective ramblings.

There is also a quirky sense of the avant-garde, as the opener When You Pick An Apple From The Tree testifies. It's a surprisingly breezy, lightweight piece with wordless harmonies courtesy of a multi-tracked Cinzia Catalucci (the band's lead singer and keyboardist). Bizarrely, it incorporates a lush, classical-flavoured violin interlude at the midway point.

Elsewhere however, incessant fuzzed guitar riffs coupled with gloriously vintage organ fills are the order of the day. Guitarist Raffaele Spanetta, who is responsible for writing all the songs, allows himself a rare moment of indulgence during Mr Shadow with a histrionic solo worthy of the likes of Steve Vai or Joe Satriani.

There is a mellow side to ORCO as the acoustic ballad Melissa demonstrates, but it's the near 10-minute title track that stands out. Following a meticulously played jazzy instrumental intro, Back to Earth eases into a sparse but hypnotic keyboard sequence with superb vocals from Cinzia. She really is a wonderful singer giving an emotive performance, not unlike Siobhan Fahey of Shakespeare's Sister fame and their 1992 hit Stay.

Old Rock City Orchestra has produced an album of mostly short, sharp, self-contained songs which is by no means a bad thing. For this old progger however, it's discovering something unique and slightly off-the-wall that really excites, and as such Back to Earth (the song) is something I will be returning to more often than anything else on the album. As a standalone track it deserves 9 out of 10 but for the album as a whole I'll settle for a respectable 7.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 7 out of 10

Picchio dal Pozzo - Live [DVD]
Picchio dal Pozzo - Live
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 76:20
Links:
Track List:
Merta (9:30), Coccomelastico (8:20), Off (8:00), Il Presidente (9:30), Adriatico (9:30), La Bolla (10:00), Napier (10:00), Lindbergh (8:00), Uccellin del Bosco (3:30)
Picchio dal Pozzo's Live isn't a high budget DVD with all kinds of camera angles, post-production effects and wild graphics.

But what really matters in any music video, within reason, is the actual performance. And right from the off, with original member of the band Aldo De Scalzi's acoustic guitar taking front and centre on the instrumental Merta, the seated musician draws in the audience, and video viewer, with the gentle, pastoral sounds that gradually welcomes more instrumentation. One-by-one, the song takes off, with beautiful contributions on electric guitar, sax, bass, drums and musette. The combination is slightly jazzy, and very reminiscent of the Canterbury genre of music.

While borrowing heavily from the band's 1976 self-titled debut, each of the four PDP albums is represented during this 2011 concert in Genova, along with an unreleased piece, Lindbergh.

Coccomelastico introduces some special guests on sax, with a piece highly reminiscent of the seminal fusion band Weather Report, although it's also, thanks to the keyboards, firmly in Hatfield and the North territory. When the phone rings during the song, the music grinds to a halt, and the cellphone is answered by De Scalzi and, while the other band members enjoy the joke, as it's in Italian, the rest of us can only speculate as to what's going on.

But the musicians are definitely in the zone. Focussed, tight and comfortable in each other's musical ability, and Edmondo Romano's playing is nothing short of astounding. Indeed, throughout the entire show, his mastery of sax, clarinet, flute and other wind instruments is captivating. His introduction for Off sets the tone for a gorgeous piece, with De Scalzi again supplying vocals that are really nothing more than using his voice as an instrument. It seems like it's going to be out of place, but work it does, beautifully. Massimo Trigona's bass, which is also given ample opportunity to shine on the piece, is liquid, tasteful and enthralling, with a sound not dissimilar to the legendary Percy Jones in Brand X.

Il Presidente, complete with video on the screen in the background with images of Silvio Berlusconi (presumably the Italian audience gets it), starts out with vocals, and the lyrics scrolling on the screen. It's a much jazzier, improvisational piece, but still exhibits the passion and cohesion in the band.

Adriatico, which starts out with a video and the sound of chickens (really) is the quirkiest and strangest piece, which again exhibits the multi-instrumentalists in the band exhibiting their talents. The composition, and the accompanying images, are decidedly odd (the images at the end wouldn't look out of place at a Steven Wilson show), but it is no less captivating than the rest of the concert.

Eerie spoken words, with shaky images of the northern Ukrainian abandoned city of Pripyat introduce La Bolla, and it's a poignant and haunting piece of music, with a rather unnerving video accompaniment - which matches the improvised and at times chaotic and shrill composition - of various aspects of the Chernobyl disaster, which will have an unwanted 30th anniversary in 2016.

The DVD also comes with a lengthy 44-minute documentary in Italian, from interviews done in 2006, with English subtitles, on the history of the band.

Anyone who enjoys the jazzier side of that early Canterbury scene, such as Soft Machine, and fusion bands including Weather Report, will be completely immersed in this magnificent performance and the quality of musicianship. Varying from mad to jazzy, rock to improv, tender to powerful, this is an indispensable and overwhelming performance.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 9 out of 10

Clay Green's Polysorbate Masquerade Band - The Trans-Neptune Trajectory
Clay Green's Polysorbate Masquerade Band - The Trans-Neptune Trajectory
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 34:44
Links:
Track List:
Coronal Mass Ejection (10:51), Entropy (5:34), Remembering "Bubbles" (1:19), The Uchalna Revision (2:38), Antimatter of Fact (a.k.a. Life and Death (2:41), Scattered Disc (11:41)
With a name like Clay Green's Polysorbate Masquerade Band, you know two things instantly. Firstly, it's definitely going to show up first in a Google search. Secondly, the band don't take themselves too seriously.

This short album harkens back to 1970s prog in some ways, with that classic organ sound permeating many of these all-instrumental tracks. It's a huge mixed bag, pretty much everything possible in the prog realm is in here. There's jazz, funk, psychedelic 70s, rock, classical guitar, time changes, and much more. So much so, that at times. it's a little overwhelming. The transition, for example, from one of the jazzier sections at the beginning of the first track, Coronal Mass Ejection, into a solo guitar that reminds me of Gordon Giltrap, seems a bit abrupt. The piece then goes a little funky, before heading off in another direction entirely. It's catchy enough, and well played, and when it does head into an early 1970s prog direction, it moves along swimmingly, until it all changes again - electronic and spacey. But wait a second and, like the British weather, it's something different once more.

That same feel continues on Entropy, only faster, with a hugely repetitive and very fast and furious drum pattern. Then there's another of those rapid changes, this time it stops and we've got about 30 seconds of Anthony Phillips-like guitar work on Geese and the Ghost. Then it goes jazzy, and the drums are far more inventive, but another 30 seconds later it's all gone off again, prog with the furious snare drum, then back to the guitar, and then it stumbles into another prog-like section that stutters before returning to the main theme. And just when you thought it couldn't get any stranger, there's a brass ensemble thrown in.

The quirky The Uchalna Revision is a neat piece that actually gets from A to B with little fuss, and Antimatter of Fact has some great wailing guitar, 70s keyboards and driving bass. The album's closing track is also the longest, there's definitely a retro feel to this one too, and it does have a bit of a nod to Focus, even PFM or Van der Graaf Generator. Although there's also a section of almost film score to it in the middle section, and drummer Dan Zalac also gets a solo in the piece. When it's flying along, keyboards swirling, it's impressive stuff, and the last driving, pounding couple of minutes of the album is simply superb.

Green plays most of the instrumentation on the album, with the exception of drums, and does it well. There's some very good virtuoso playing here, from keyboards to electric and acoustic guitar. When that conventional, retro, progressive is smouldering along, it's simply wonderful stuff, but with all the changes, it's all a bit jumbled at times. Sure, it's meant to be a bit crazy and avant-garde, and fans of Zappa may like some of what's on offer here. File under 'quirky'.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 5 out of 10

Soul Secret - '4'
Soul Secret - '4'
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 72:34
Links:
Track List:
On the Ledge (7:36), Our Horizon (7:00), K (5:42), As I Close My Eyes (2:00), Traces on the Seaside (4:47), Turning the Back Page (6:50), Silence (5:20), In a Frame (3:47), My Lighthouse (6:36), Downfall (3:05), The White Stairs (16:44)
'4' is the new album from Soul Secret, an Italian progressive metal band from Naples. At first sight not a very daring title. A visit to their website reveals, to my surprise, it is not their fourth album. '4' is a concept album about Adam who does not dare to take decisions on the crossroads (hence, 4) of his life. He is indecisive about wanting a child. When his girlfriend suffers from cancer, he does not know what to do. Finally he helps her with euthanasia but it feels as if he betrays her. After her death he cannot live with himself anymore. Looking back on the crossroads of his life he feels regret about his wavering intentions. He decides to commit suicide. Or was it just a dream? Not a very optimistic story about the (lack of) courage in the face of the dark sides of life.

So far the concept. Let's turn to the music. '4' is an album that is reminiscent of the first two albums of Dream Theater, without the soft ballads. Soul Secret does not need ballads. '4' is a well-balanced album. These Italians know how to write music. They are not afraid of some bombastic pieces, but they also know to surprise you with moments of beautiful harmony or fragile melodies (As I close my eyes). Exploring the possibilities of a theme you hear jazz, latin, classic and of course rock influences (Traces on the Seaside).

I have listened to this record for a week now, working behind a computer screen. And every time I am surprised again by another moment in different songs. Sometimes it is the vocal melody, more often an instrumental part. So there is a lot to enjoy and to discover. This album does not reveal all its surprises right away.

Exploring their back catalogue (two albums) made clear that it was a good decision to look for another singer. The best song on their previous album was sung by guest vocalist Arno Menses, from Sieges Even and Subsignal. The new singer, Lino di Pietrantonio, has a great range and a better voice. Most of the time it is a pleasure to listen to him, except in the last part of the song Lighthouse. The vocal melodies are not very predictable. It takes some time to get used to it.

Weak point: Already with the first notes you know he's not singing in his native language. This said, I am glad they did not choose to sing in their native language. At least it gives you the opportunity to sing along.

The band used real actors for the two or three dialogues between Adam an Anna. The band seems quite content about the results. I would not be too proud. It sounds a bit like a cheap B-movie.

Finally, although it is a progressive metal record with an important role for the guitarist, it is Luca Di Gennaro on keyboards, who makes '4' really worthwhile. Not only because of his solos, but also of his arrangements. He brings air and creativity to the music.

Do not expect the overwhelming experience as one can have with the debut from Headspace or the craftsmanship of Dream Theater. Especially those who like Arcane, Sieges Even or Shadow Gallery should give it a try. This is a good album that has its moments in every song.
Conclusion:
Wim Dekker: 7.5 out of 10

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Published Sunday 2 August 2015

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