ISSUE 2015-559

Reviews in this issue:

Aurora Lunare - Aurora Lunare
Aurora Lunare - Aurora Lunare
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 57:44
Links:
Track List:
Evasione di Un'idea (7:56), Eroi Invincibili... Son Solo i Pensieri (9:17), Mondo Fantasmatico (8:51), Riflessi Indicativi (6:42), Corsa Senza Meta (5:19), Secondo Dubbio (5:58), Interlunio (1:51), Sfera Onirica (3:54), All'infuori del Tempo/Ritorno al Nulla (7:40)
Aurora Lunare is an Italian prog band which formed in the wrong half of the 1970s and perhaps inevitably failed to attract the same interest as countrymen PFM, Le Orme and Banco who proceeded them by eight years or more (a long time in the 60s/70s prog scene). They endured for around 12 years, making several live and studio recordings, but these were never officially released.

Reunited in 2007, this eponymous debut album appeared in 2013, a full 35 years after the band originally formed. It features three original members, Mauro Pini (vocals, synth), Luciano Tonetti (bass) and Marco Santinelli (drums), joined by lead instrumentalist Stefano Onorati (piano, keyboards, electric guitar). They are supported by no less than seven guest performers, including former Aurora Lunare members, adding a variety of genre-friendly instrumentation including flute, classical guitar and violin. With vintage keyboard timbres and articulate rhythms to the fore, the most obvious influences are Le Orme, PFM (circa the Jet Lag album), Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Rick Wakeman. In terms of comparators, I was also reminded of Chronometree-era Glass Hammer and The Tangent debut The Music That Died Alone.

There is no doubt that Aurora Lunare have the right moves. Take Eroi Invincibili... Son Solo i Pensieri for example, which at almost 10 minutes is the album's longest track. Opening with a lengthy and jazzy Emerson-like piano solo, it takes in a mellow flute and synth song section before bubbly Wakeman-style synth noodlings lead to a triumphant church organ finale.

Lead singer Pini has a pleasing voice and performs in his native language with occasional counterpoint vocals from the guest singers. Only occasionally do the vocalists let their theatrical tendencies get the better of them.

All the tracks are original compositions with the exception of the closing medley All'infuori del Tempo / Ritorno al Nulla which similarly concluded Le Orme's legendary 1973 album Felona e Sorona. Pini harmonises engagingly with guest singer Greta Merli during the first part, but it lacks the acoustic charm of the original whilst the second part features shredding synth and guitar exchanges between Onorati and ex-Le Orme guitarist Tolo Marton.

Aurora Lunare have their jazzier side, which is no bad thing, although occasionally their more self-indulgent tendencies result in throwaway tracks like Corsa Senza Meta, an ambient exercise in experimental ramblings, and Interlunio, an improvised flute solo from guest Gianluca Milanese. These to my ears sound like filler tracks, which is surprising given that the album runs for an almost generous 58 minutes.

Whilst this will no doubt appeal to lovers of old school prog (especially the Italian variety) ultimately, I can't help thinking that this is the album that Aurora should have released 35 years ago.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 6 out of 10

Blurred Vision - Organized Insanity
Blurred Vision - Organized Insanity
Country of Origin: Canada
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 47:55
Links:
Track List:
No More War (4:05), Rollin' On (4:35), Tonight (3:40), Long May You Run (4:41), Promise (4:08), Dear John (4:25), Arms of Our World (4:26), All I Wanted (3:21), Wherever You Are (3:48), The Keeper (5:11), Organized Insanity (5:30)
Blurred Vision are a Canadian trio that have garnered some attention from one of the most prestigious of sources in the prog rock world. With their 2010 recorded version of Another Brick in the Wall, renamed Hey, Ayatolla, leave them kids alone, the former Floyd front man Roger Waters has put his name behind the band and their music. Naturally the Floyd sound does feature within the walls of their debut album, Organized Insanity. Ordinarily this is something that is not altogether unusual in the world of modern prog, but actually these guys do it pretty darn well, and with a few surprises up their sleeve, they have made a highly listenable and infectious release which is hard to put down from the first spin.

Produced by Terry Brown of Rush fame, the album is a superbly-polished effort which shows from the off with the pounding stomp of No More War. Grabbing you by the collar isthea rhythmic chant of the song-title which sounds a little hypnotic and almost prayer-like, before the track breaks into a bouncy, toe-tapper number with bags of like-ability and style. Indeed the appeal of this album is an unshakable feeling that you know the songs after only one play. No More War is anthemic, with a delightful, soulful middle, evoking a New Orleans melancholic, jazz shuffle. Layered with trumpets and banjo it progresses effortlessly into something south of the border, a little spaghetti western.

The themes of war and religion are present throughout this album, which also features a layer of personal elements in stories of love and relationships. Overall it may have a meaty subject matter at times, but there is a lot of light and positivity.

As prog goes, much of the album is pop-infused with tinges of AOR like that of Flying Colors which it's no bad thing at all. Tonight is a prime example of this, with its Coldplay, chart-like feel.

That said there are still plenty of true progressive tones on offer, and singer Sepp Osley projects a spine-tingling reminder of Waters' vocal style on Long May You Run. The chord sequence and choral backdrop of this song are firmly from The Wall era, it's the sort of stuff to stir the soul, and with a carefully-understated, succinct guitar solo that avoids directly aping David Gilmour, this is a slice of excellence.

The high energy of Promise shows the range and ambition of this band and their intensity which is undoubtably stadium sized - somewhere this band is surely destined to be. There is a little of the power of Muse here, but not enough to draw any real comparison.

The first single of the album is the Beatles-influenced Dear John, a moving dedication to the life of John Lennon and acknowledgment of his everlasting appeal. Osley's 'fab' vocal here, reflects tenderness and the exciting ability he has to shape into whatever he wants to be.

'So many years have gone by, we try, but we can never say goodbye.'

The album is packed with great melodies and catchy choruses. All I Ever Wanted and Wherever You Are both ooze that, with such sophistication you have to remind yourself that this is a band on their debut release.

Adding to this point, the middle-eastern Persian crossover of The Keeper brings something else to the table that is pure gold. Both brothers Sepp Osley and Bassist Sohl Osler Osler bring their cultural backgrounds to the fore, with Osley successfully blending Farsi and Iranian sounding influences with a gutsy Western hard rock sound. The spiritual feel of the piece gives the second-to-last track on the album something unheard on the rest of the disc, and a great original sound that should certainly feature more in future work.

The rousing title-track closes a fantastic body of work that moves in and out of so many areas with confidence, yet is anchored in classic 70s progressive rock. The immediacy of the songs and the slick sound give the album even greater appeal, leaving a lasting impression that you are onto something potentially great. There is a 'Top Album of the Year' here, you just don't know it yet.
Conclusion:
Eric Perry: 9 out of 10

Ciccada - The Finest Of Miracles
Ciccada - The Finest Of Miracles
Country of Origin: Greece
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 46:43
Links:
Track List:
A Night Ride (6:26), Eternal (8:02), At the Death of Winter (4:04), Around the Fire (9:16), Lemnos (Lover Dancer) (0:47), The Finest of Miracles Suite: Birth of the Lights (1:52), Wandering (6:42), Sirens Call (1:38), As Fall the Leaves (3:09), Song for an Island (4:47)
The Finest of Miracles is a likeable album. There is much to discover and enjoy within its 46 minutes that incorporates a variety of styles including most notably, folk and symphonic prog. It should appeal to a diverse audience, but will find particular resonance with those who enjoy bands such as Gryphon, Gentle Giant, Renaissance and Jethro Tull.

In the five years since Ciccada's promising debut album, A Child in the Mirror, the band has refined and developed its sound. The Finest of Miracles builds upon the band's skilful ability to seamlessly blend light, unplugged, pastoral passages with darker, wilder, amplified moments. The album effectively highlights the band's successful and intelligent use of dynamics. As a result, there is a great deal of sonic variation contained within the album's ten captivating compositions.

The imaginative songwriting and lush arrangements on display, guarantees that The Finest of Miracles has an ability to entice listeners, to persuade them to linger, and ultimately retain their attention. The inclusion of many unusual time signatures, coupled with varied and subtle tempo changes, ensures that this is, for the most part, both appealing and interesting. Overall, the quality of the music and creativity on display throughout the release is impressive.

The album begins with the lengthy instrumental A Night Ride. It is a piece that exudes quality and is a confident statement of intent by the band. No doubt it was chosen as an opener, to highlight the band's versatility. It also provides a distinct contrast to the majority of the pieces on the album, which feature the abundant vocal talents of Lydia Boudouni.

A Night Ride and The Finest of Miracles as a whole has many elements that fans of symphonic prog might enjoy. Later on, the short but nonetheless enchanting instrumental Lemnos (Lovers Dance) fulfils a similar role. Although in Lemnos' case the piece does not showcase the band's symphonic prog credentials. Rather it highlights the band's affinity with folk music. Lemnos has an earthy quality. It bounces along with an early music ambience that immediately brought to mind the work of Gryphon.

The opening steps of A Night Ride are dominated by a dusky, melodic violin part that is accompanied by some tasteful keyboards. The reflective tune and engaging instrumentation unite to create a mournful and wistful atmosphere. At the two-and-a-half minute mark, a well-formed, shimmering guitar solo emerges to give the piece a harder and darker edge.

Further variety is provided by a flute part, which although highly melodious, also contains hints of the snorting aggression often associated with Ian Anderson. A number of other tracks, including Around the Fire and Wandering, also contain some attractive and impressive flute work. Flautist Nicolas Nikolopoulos' excellent contribution and juxtaposition of opposing flute styles creates just the right sort of enjoyable tension to energise these tunes.

The combination of instruments in A Night Ride works well to produce a memorable musical excursion. Overall, it provides the listener with a clear indication of the subtlety, breadth and strength of Ciccada's music.

Eternal is a beautiful tune containing great depth and variety and is one of the standout tracks. It is built around some glorious and emotive vocal parts that brought to mind the work of Annie Haslam and Renaissance. Within Eternal's clear and intelligible song structure there are numerous opportunities for instrumental forays and subtle developments. These contain lots of key changes, intricate rhythms, quieter melodious moments and fully charged changes of tempo. There are moments however, when the vocal elements seemed to me a little one-paced, but the ensemble playing and the quality of the instrumental interludes more than made up for this.

By far the strongest and most rewarding part of the album is centred on the five-track The Finest of Miracles suite. The tunes are strong and have a consistent theme. Although the suite's instrumental pieces Wandering and Sirens Call are my favourites, the three vocal tunes are also very satisfying.

Wandering is a particularly appealing tune combining elements of both folk and jazz. The piece is instrumentally diverse containing great keyboard work, lashings of flute as well as numerous rich and expressive saxophone parts. It also contains a gorgeous jazz influenced piano, violin and flute interlude at its conclusion that I just want to hear again and again. The suite as a whole is an excellent example of how to convincingly combine many disparate musical influences into a rewarding and coherent structure.

I am pleased that I was given the opportunity to review this album. I have enjoyed it greatly and I feel that I will continue to do so. The Finest of Miracles should appeal to a wide variety of listeners. I hope that many readers will feel inclined to check-out this refined album and hopefully enjoy its numerous qualities.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10

Driftglass - All That Remains
Driftglass - All That Remains
Country of Origin: Canada
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 60:17
Links:
Track List:
Insect In A Jar (5:54), Thrown Out To Shore (6:58), Evelyn (3:56), Devil Of My Dreams (8:48), My Last Lament (5:37), Disconnected (4:24), The Rise (5:31), The Unfolding (10:12), All That Remains (9:00)
All That Remains is the first full-length album from Canadian prog-metal rockers Driftglass, and boy, do they come out of the gate swinging hard. This is quite an impressive statement from such a young band. The references are pretty obvious, including fellow Canadians Rush, seminal prog-metal group Dream Theater, and newcomers, Haken for their creative approach to the genre. But do not fear, this isn't a mere copycat band. What is so great about Driftglass is that there is a freshness in their approach to this familiar style. They add plenty of elements to the music that bring a different dimension, making the album far more interesting.

A prime example is Thrown Out To Shore, which contains many interesting elements that show this isn't your standard Dream Theater clone. There is a jazzy element to the guitar chords at the beginning, that really adds an interesting spice to the eclectic stew. The Rise features a great instrumental breakdown that has an almost middle-eastern flavor, reminiscent of the style that Tool brings to the table, but with the pomposity of a band like Symphony X. About three minutes into The Unfolding there is a section which I can only describe as a prog metal version of the classic jazz standard Take Five. This was an incredibly entertaining section and a fascinating take on a classic piece of music. These are just some of the examples of how the band plays music from a familiar genre, but adds their own unique twist to it.

This album is not without its flaws, though. Some of the tracks go on a bit too long, and feature unnecessarily-long instrumental exercises. I found myself having a bit of listener fatigue at times. But there was always some kind of exciting section that brought my attention right back, and even made me chuckle in delight to myself at what the band was doing. This, to me, is the mark of a great and promising band.

Driftglass have certainly earned themselves a new fan with this album. With even more maturing, this could be a prog-metal band to watch. If you are a fan of the prog-metal genre, I urge you to give this album a chance as you may be pleasantly surprised.
Conclusion:
Nathan Waitman: 8 out of 10

I Will Kill Chita - Evil Bear Boris
I Will Kill Chita - Evil Bear Boris
Country of Origin: Russia
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 41:38
Links:
Track List:
Point of No Return (23:05), Alles Unter Kontrolle (6:40), Ned Hopper (3:49), Keine Rationale Erklarung (1:50), The Music Will Play In Your House But You Won't Hear It (6:40)
The neon sign said it all: 'Welcome to the teddy bears picnic! Enter the lair of the cartoon bears'.

It was the novel highlight of the well-trodden Theme Park, and it featured bears that had been stars, bears that had been extras, and bears that had even been left on the cutting room floor.

Locked in time, pungent and care-free, the exhibition was wearing well. The bears posed unblinking and heroic, as the wide-eyed, snake-shuffling crowd, captured digital and eternal moments of joy.

The lair was adorned with all styles of bear and all forms of personalities, each wanting to be heard. Bears posed with hats, and some with caps. Others lolled; their eyes gawping through stained monocles. Proud yet self-conscious, they displayed their loosened cravats as they sipped from crystal glasses. Others stood upright, forever embarrassed and tear-drop stained, wearing nothing but fur.

Convincing, happy-music soared on bear-breath droplets, to sooth the bewitched punters. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed an off-beat, rather wicked looking bear. Alone and apart, blue furred and aloof, it was gazing with malice towards the celebrity cartoon bears.

The 'A list' picnic bench was surreal. The celebrity bears sat frozen in time, just like some hideously distorted vision of Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper. Yogi Bear was sporting a garish tie, 'his' head crowned by a well-worn pork pie hat. Winnie, hand cramped in the honey jar. Paddington forlornly sitting aside a bulging, battered case. The Care Bears all heart; glowing warmly, splendidly bedecked in kitschy, dazzling fur.

Then without warning it happened.

The music stopped and was immediately replaced by something that was far less comforting. Something that was much more unpredictable and exciting in every respect. I was transfixed and felt compelled to listen. Even now, many months later, I feel the need to describe something about what I heard.

First impressions are not always an accurate indicator of whether the music is going to have a lasting resonance. On this occasion though, I immediately liked what I heard and I have continued to uncover many more things to discover and enjoy with each subsequent listen. I have since learnt, that the music relayed was from the third album of Russian band I Will Kill Chita (IWKC).

Although rooted in aspects of post rock, the beguiling instrumental music created by IWKC is embellished by complex jazz flurries and is imbibed by the adventurous spirit of jazz. It is gorgeously adorned by an array of symphonic instruments including violins, French horns and a theremin.

The opening composition, Point of No Return lasts for over 23 minutes and is a totally mesmerising and fascinating experience. Although unique and captivating in almost every aspect, the instrumentation and general overall style of much of IWKC's music might be compared to bands such as After Crying and Isuldurs Bane. This comparison is largely made as a result of the extensive use of the cello, and also the use of many symphonic and classical motifs.

The cello playing is wonderful and gives the whole album an unusual ambience. Just as, Georgie Born added a different dimension to National Health's The Bryden 2 Step and Squarer for Maud, the atmospheric use of this often-neglected instrument in progressive music brings an entirely distinctive and positive element to the charismatic music.

There are numerous changes of intensity in the various tracks. The listener is hard pressed to anticipate which way a piece might develop. This creates an exciting and altogether memorable album. Overall, the album is quite reflective, but this is always tempered by the band's ability to shock and surprise. At times, when the pace quickens and becomes frenzied, or when squealing bowed noises occurr, I am reminded of King Crimson's Larks Tongues in Aspic.

Such attempts to find musical signposts in IWKC 's music do not really do their unique style justice, but hopefully will point the way to some extent, to what a listener might expect to hear if they wish to check this album out.

All of the performers are consummate musicians and the lush orchestral sound created is superb. The sound quality of the album is impressive and expertly captures the subtle nuances that abound.

Special mention should be given to bass player Nick Samarin. Many of the tracks are adorned by some spacious and gorgeously-toned bass parts. These often either lead the piece towards ornate and fertile areas, or provide some firm, yet versatile bottom-end muscle upon which the other players elaborate.

Each of the five tracks has more than enough quality to stimulate and entertain discerning listeners who enjoy complex progressive music. There are even strong hints of Elton Dean and The Soft Machine in the album's concluding track, which features some outstanding sax, brass and keyboard work. If you are not convinced that this album is worth checking out, then just as in Moorder's sublime release Moorder 11 memories of Tubby have once again been rekindled by the inclusion of the tuba as a component of this album!

My first exposure to this entrancing music at the theme park and my total concentration upon it, made it seem as if time was suspended. Once the music faded, it's granite-like spell also ended and I was brought into another, altogether different and darker reality, by the unearthly chuckle of a blue-furred bear.

Ocean blue and confident, the malevolent bear strutted to the table; its acrylic fur puffed, ceramic eyes bulging and rubber lips pursing. Tightly clenched paws swept aside those bears that did not listen, or lower their heads in respect and admiration. Bananas squelched underfoot, as Baloo's position on the bench was usurped.

Munching a well-placed gummy bear, and with a sour look, the bear drawled: 'Move aside celeb bears, it's time for a new approach, a fresh style, a fresh sound. There is a new bear on the block.''

Exuding confidence and demanding to be heard Evil Bear Boris had arrived.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10

Marco Machera - Dime Novels
Marco Machera - Dime Novels
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 39:00
Links:
Track List:
The Sky (5:37), The Ugly Song (5:07), Big Juju Man (4:51), Ham on Rye (3:48), Out of the Blue (4:37), Sing for You (3:22), The Art of Cliches (3:42), John Porno (3:47), The Sky Part II (4:32)
Dime Novels is quintessentially a quirky pop-rock album, bordering on Americana in places, with the odd glimpse of progressive rock moments. It certainly has a cornucopia of sounds, grooves and layered instrumentation that makes for an interesting listen, but not one to get the old prog juices in full flow. On the whole, the nine short songs that make up this album resonate with a level of musical sophistication that show that the writer, Marco Machera, is a very capable songsmith.

An Italian musician whose musical credentials include supporting Marillion as part of a previous European tour, some of his songs definitely remind me of David Bowie. For instance the drum intro to Out of the Blue put me in mind of the start of Bowie's 5-15 The Angels Have Gone from his Heathen album. There's also a bass line in The Art Of Cliches that reminds me of Boys Keep Swinging. Big Juju Man is something that Bowie could have easily fitted on Lodger.

Other songs, like The Sky and Ham On Rye certainly have a little Americana/country rock vibe running through their veins and puts me in mind of material by Wilco and Ryan Adams.

One song I found hard to stomach was John Porno. An annoying song with vocal sound-bites, irritating orchestral/cinematic fanfares and mediocre drum rhythms. A song thrown in for the hell of it I guess.

I would not rate this as an out-and-out progressive rock album – far from it. It certainly was to a certain extent an enjoyable album to listen to and overall there are some catchy tunes and melodies. Although he has enlisted the help from some of prog's giants (the great Tony Levin appears on one track) it fails to find the elusive prog g-spot.

To me it's basically nine individual songs. For those Bowie fans out there, this would be equivalent to reviewing something like Lodger as a progressive rock album (and in some ways it was for Bowie). However, on this basis I rate this album 6 out of ten because it lacks that progressive spark.
Conclusion:
Alan Weston: 6 out of 10

Man - Reanimated Memories
Man - Reanimated Memories
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 60:29
Links:
Track List:
The Ballad Of Billy Lee (6:00), No Solution (4:39), In Time (10:32), We Know (4:36), One More Ride On The Waltzers (4:27), Ordinary Man (6:11), God Delusion (4:33), Got No Monet In My Pocket (5:05), Nothing Fails Like Success (5:11), Events Of Yesterday (3:20), All The Birds (5:48)
With the sad death of Mickey Jones, the stalwart mainstay of the Man Band, back in 2010 and the very disappointing Kingdom of Noise release the year earlier, it was something of a surprise that six years down the line, Man are back with another new album.

Reanimated Memories has been released by Esoteric, the label that has done such a sterling job of reinvigorating the band's back catalogue. Maybe they didn't want Kingdom of Noise to be their swansong, or maybe the deaths of ex members Clive Johns (in 2011) and Ken Whaley (in 2013) gave them the incentive to get some more music down, before time caught up with any more of the longer-standing members. The line-up on the new album is essentially the same as at the time of the last album, namely Martin Ace (bass, vocals), Phil Ryan (organ, piano, vocals), Josh Ace (guitar, vocals), James Beck (guitar, vocals), and René Robrahn on drums (although this is the first recording with Beck). Also featured is pedal steel guitar legend BJ Cole.

Although the style of music fits in nicely with the, admittedly, highly varied output that has been released under the Man name over the 47 years of their existence, the overall feel is pretty more relaxed and slower than night have been expected. Maybe this is age, or should we say 'maturity'-related, as four of the tracks were written by Ace senior and three by Ryan, although the remaining four numbers, all written by Ace junior, tend to be the more laid-back of the album. However, the quality of the songs is pretty high, and certainly better than on that 2009 effort.

Let's start with the songs by the members that provide the link to the heyday of the band. I have found Martin Ace's songs some of the weakest in the Man catalogue, often being somewhat whimsical. On first hearing the opening track, The Ballad Of Billy Lee, I did think that it was completely out of place, edging very close to country and western smaltz. Having hated it the first few times I heard it, the song is slowly growing on me. One More Ride On The Waltzers is a pretty simple love song, and Got No Monet In My Pocket doesn't really lift things much. However, things come together on All The Birds, a lovely understated song with a particularly fine guitar solo and some nice piano fills from Ryan.

Ryan's numbers are more to my taste, with the excellent In Time being the highlight of the album. With a bit more balls from the guitar department, a nice vocal (his voice has aged better than Ace's) and a great repeated descending piano line, this is a fine addition to the Man catalogue and probably the best song Man has released this millennium.

Ordinary Man features the two guitarists playing out of separate channels, which is a nice touch, although they are rather too far down in the mix to really be effective. Hopefully in a live setting they would really play on this and get some of the Man duelling guitars going. Another nice guitar solo closes out the song. Nothing Fails Like Success is a good-time boogie number that brings back memories of the classic pub rock of the mid seventies.

Josh Ace sets out the stall for the new generation of Man with the great No Solution with a nifty guitar riff and again, Ryan making a vital contribution with his piano and organ work. Ryan also features heavily, along with Cole, on We Know a melodic number replete with backing vocals on the chorus. God Delusion is, as anyone who has read the book of the same same name by Richard Dawkins (who, along with several other notable atheists, is name-checked in the song) asks the pertinent question: "I don't know why people lie dead in the dirt in the name of a God in the sky". Finally, Events of Yesterday is rather held back by a somewhat pedestrian drum beat but still has enough going for it to make it a worthwhile inclusion.

Reanimated Memories is a good addition to the Man catalogue and, if it does prove to be their last, is a fine effort to have as their parting legacy. Obviously, it is not in the same league as their classic albums, but for a band which has probably had more members than the number of years they have been in existence, this album does the Man legacy proud and is worthy of the name.
Conclusion:
Mark Hughes: 6 out of 10

Muse - Drones
Muse - Drones
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 52:07
Links:
Track List:
Dead Inside (4:24), [Drill Sergeant] (0:21), Psycho (5:17), Mercy (3:52), Reapers (6:00), The Handler (4:34), [JFK] (0:55), Defector (4:33), Revolt (4:06), Aftermath (5:48), The Globalist (10:07), Drones (2:52)
Many fans of the early progressive style of Muse found themselves sorely disappointed with 2012's The 2nd Law. That album saw the band attempting to move in a top 40 direction, and, while it gained the band new listeners, it alienated their core group of fans that appreciated the progressive pop rock sound of their early albums.

With that in mind, as well as the desire to achieve their first number 1 album in the US, Muse turned to AC/DC producer, Robert John Lange (he produced Highway to Hell, Back in Black, and For Those About to Rock We Salute You ) to try and help the band get that coveted number 1 spot on the US charts. It worked, and Muse's latest album, Drones, quickly went to the top of the charts. The album finds the three-piece, made up of Matt Bellamy on lead vocals, guitar, piano, and keyboards, Chris Wolstenholme on bass guitar and backing vocals, and Dominic Howard on drums, making some of the most creative music of their careers.

Despite being a top-selling album, Drones is not much of a pop album. In fact, it has much more in common with Origin of Symmetry than it does some of their more recent work. In some regards, it is their most progressive album to date, considering it is their first full concept album. The story is distopic, in the vein of The Wall , Animals, or 2112, but it is incredibly relevant to today's world.

The concept is about humanity being turned into drones by oppressive governments. Psycho is about these drones simply doing what they are told without thinking. The use of the word drones has a dual purpose, since it also clearly references the arial drones that certain unnamed governments use for surveillance and destruction. It is clear that Muse, and specifically Matt Bellamy, are not fans of extensive government interference, and of war. About halfway through the album (with a short speech by President John F. Kennedy marking the change), the drones fight back, causing a massive war and great destruction.

The song, Aftermath, sees the central character tired of war, wishing it all to be over. This song is to 2015 what Flying Colors' Peaceful Harbor was to 2014. It is peaceful and quiet, with wonderful guitar playing from Matt Bellamy, as well as nice orchestral work. It truly is a beautiful song. The album ends with the survivors learning to live in a new world. Bellamy perfectly finishes the album with a short a cappella song that sees him singing multiple parts. It sounds like something you would hear in an old church, and it is meant to sound like a hymn. As a concept it works wonderfully, yet the songs also manage to stand alone.

The music on this album sees Muse returning to the sound of the earlier part of their career. The techno elements from The 2nd Law are nowhere to be found. The orchestral sounds used extensively in The Resistance are used sparingly here, to greater effect. The second half of the album is definitely stronger than the first, both muscially and lyrically. The first half is louder and more radio-friendly (except for Psycho, which features rather sophmoric lyrics and an overuse of the F word).

The second half sees the band choosing to embrace different elements of prog, particularly in The Globalist, the band's longest song to date. It features many different changes of style, starting off quiet and gradually building. The song, Reapers, has more time signature changes than I can count. While the band was striving to hit the top of the charts with this album, they did so by embracing their rock and prog edge that made them popular early in their career.

While there is much for prog fans to appreciate in Drones, there are a few drawbacks, particularly early in the album. The first couple of songs are a lot poppier than I would prefer, and the lyrics to Pyscho are just plain bad. The verses are alright, but the chorus and bridge are terrible. The drill sergeant screaming at the recruit is tacky, and frankly annoying to listen to. The album really gets going with the fourth song, Mercy, and there are few poor moments in the rest of the album.

The other downside to the album is the packaging of the cd. It is simply a cheap, folded cardboard/paper case. A jewel case would be a significant improvement to the overall experience. However, the artwork in the booklet is quite fetching, with special artwork for each individual song. These pictures capture the essence of each song wonderfully. Despite the missteps, the strengths of the album ultimately outweigh its weaknesses.

Many fans of early Muse have passed over Drones after listening to a couple songs, and those songs are likely the weaker ones from the album (considering those were the songs Muse released first). The album should be appreciated as a single unit, and it is certainly one of their best albums in a few years. By returning to what made them popular in the first place, the band has created something for everybody. Both pop, prog, and rock fans will find something to like in this album, and the band demonstrates that they have not altogether forgotten their roots.
Conclusion:
Bryan Morey: 9 out of 10

Next To None - A Light in the Dark
Next To None - A Light in the Dark
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 65:41
Links:
Track List:
The Edge Of Sanity (9:39), You Are Not Me (4:55), Runaway (4:58), A Lonely Walk (5:31), Control (9:58), Lost (6:12), Social Anxiety (3:44), Legacy (3:56), Blood On My Hands (8:14)
Next to None is a band consisting of teenagers, whose debut album is produced by non-other than Mike Portnoy. No surprise really, because their drummer is his son Max, and Max proves he already is a phenomenal drummer.

For this young band the guidance and talent of Mike Portnoy is a blessing; getting the attention very few bands at their age are granted. Being signed to Inside Out is a great reward for having within your ranks the son of someone who is considered a legend within the industry. Thankfully, Max and his bandmates are very talented indeed.

Their debut album A Light in the Dark is an enjoyable listen. The Edge of Sanity starts with a great intro, before it takes off as a song which could have been on a Dream Theater album like Systematic Chaos. The samples, the odd time signatures, and the riffs are clearly inspired by the prog giants that Mike Portnoy co-founded. But apart from some musical references throughout the album, the boys do search for a sound of their own. And that pretty much sums this album up in my opinion.

This is a band still searching for their own sound, and obviously needing to mature their songwriting and musicianship. With that being said, you need to see and hear things in perspective. Next to None really shows some promise, and songs like You are not me and Blood on my Hands prove just that. The main reason why this album won't stand its ground amongst other releases this year, is the lack of consistency. The dynamics and quality of the best of this album, is not enough to lift the other songs. This is mainly due to the lack of depth within songs like Legacy and Runaway, which are too bland for my tastes. Although the screams and grunts from vocalist Thomas Cuce, who also handles the keyboards, are good, his voice on the clear parts is too thin.

If you are looking for an innovative prog metal album you will be somewhat disappointed, although there is some good proggy stuff on here. But there something within this band that makes me wonder what time and experience will do to their sound and direction. I would surely encourage them to stick to their guns and continue their growth and have a lot of fun along the way.
Conclusion:
Arno Agterberg: 6 out of 10

Unto Us - The Human Landscape
Unto Us - The Human Landscape
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 48:09
Links:
Track List:
Towers of Babel (9:47), Boy (9:19), In a Lifetime (8:44), A Human Landscape (1:51), These Four Walls (8:09), Plan B (10:19)
Unto Us is a new band formed by former Also Eden vocalist Huw Lloyd-Jones and bass player Leopold Blue-Sky. The Human Landscape is a compact little album, just under 50 minutes, containing five main tracks (plus a short piano interlude). Throughout this run time, the band manages to showcase its unique take on the neo-prog genre. When listening to this album, the bands that are brought to mind are Fish-era Marillion, Pallas and perhaps a bit of IQ. For some reason, the album brought me back to the late eighties-era of prog where the bands mentioned above were trying to carry its dying torch.

There is a lot to enjoy on this release. The album opener is hard-hitting, with a great opening drum beat, before Lloyd-Jones comes in with his expressive vocals. There is some fantastic synth-playing throughout many of the instrumental passages of the song.

Boy is on the softer side with some beautiful piano behind Lloyd-Jones' emotional vocal performance. Opening with a almost music box-like quality, In A Lifetime is another pleasant ballad in the eighties neo-prog style. Halfway through, the song picks up its pace a bit with some almost Spanish-style guitar. Then, the song ends with a heavy jam, completely in the opposite place from where it started. A very interesting track with many different parts to it, and a definite highlight of the album.

After the brilliantly haunting, yet short, piano interlude, titled A Human Landscape, we move to These Four Walls which is very moody and varied with some great instrumental work from the entire band. Plan B opens with some pretty harp before it launches into an almost funky beat and synth sound. This is a very dynamic song, lifted by soaring guitars, interesting keyboard leads, and the once again great vocal work by Lloyd-Jones. This is definitely the biggest, most epic piece on the album and really showcases the band's abilities. I love the whole instrumental section in the last few minutes, where synths and guitars take turns soloing over the fast and tricky drum patterns.

Overall, this is a great little album that really showcases some of the best that the neo-prog genre has to offer. The only negatives are that the album can sound a little dated and unpolished at times, but that might be a positive to those who are looking for a throwback to the heydays of Fish-era Marillion. Unto Us is definitely a band to watch out for and this album shows a tonne of promise for what this band could possibly cook up in the future.
Conclusion:
Nathan Waitman: 7 out of 10

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Published Thursday 13 August 2015

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