ISSUE 2015-563

Reviews in this issue:

Anthropia - Non-Euclidean Spaces
Anthropia - Non-Euclidean Spaces
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 70:26
Links:
Track List:
Strange Aeons (0:55), The Melancholy of R.C. (7:32), Silver Twilight Lodge (7:29), The Part of Them in Me (9:45), Unknown Kadath (2:55), Seeds of Decay (5:52), When the Stars Come Right (7:35), Crawling Chaos (6:22), The Snake Den(6:35), Lost in Time and Space (6:02), Fuoco (4:00), Credits (5:24)
Female-fronted bands more often than not fall into territory that is already inhabited by existing 'heroes' like Nightwish and Within Temptation. Gothic metal, rock, or, as is the case with the latter, gothic pop rock. Yes, they do add some progressive elements every now and then, and might indeed attract prog lovers. As one interpretation of progressive might be music crossing borders, that is not a bad thing at all. Still, how progressive are these bands really?

That, at least, is a question that is quite easy to answer in the case of Anthropia. Anthropia breathes, eats and plays progressive. Even though this French band does have a talented female singer who can just as easily throw in an operatic part as any of her colleagues fronting either of the aforementioned bands, Anthropia does only have the tiniest gothic particle in its very being. While operatic influences may exist here, what these days is considered gothic rock or metal is not the mainstay of this album. And, yes, there is a metal side on display.

What we have here is an album of music that proved so inspiring the band got none other than Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Aryeon) to take part in the recording and deliver the spoken words to the various songs. Apart from that, there is a vocal contribution by former Angra singer Edu Falaschi. However, given the music, instrumental chops and the singing that is provided here, the band doesn't really need any special assistance from 'special guests'.

What Hugues Lefebvre (vocals, guitars), Yann Mouhad (guitars), Nathalie Olme (vocals), Julien Negro (bass) and Damien Rainaud (drums) have come up with here, is just great in its own right. The band have made a concept album that is a tribute to the writer H.P. Lovecraft, as well as paying homage to his novels and short stories on the Ctulhu Mythos. The album takes you on a rollercoaster ride that effectively uses the band's own compositions alongside tracks based on works by classic composers.

The main influences for the band, or perhaps for mainman Lefebvre, appear to be Ayreon, Megadeth, Symphony X, Angra, Opeth and Pain of Salvation, so you may reckon the heavy part of the music is fully taken care of. Given the influence of these bands, there are a whole lot of different time signatures, changes in melody and the occasional Symphony X-like backing vocals or choruses.

The entire album breathes variety. The combination of the voices of Lefebvre and Olme is woven with care into the fabric of the album. And what of the instrumental capabilities of the band? Well, one could easily say they do not fall short of technical capabilities at all. They not only give some of their influences a run for money, but also in terms of songwriting, they may even be better than some.

If you want to treat yourself to a 'developing story'; if you like your guitars cranked up, and if you figure that female singers can do a whole lot more than feature on, if I may be so bold, rather easily-accessible songs, then this is for you. It draws on the same inspiration as Metallica's The Call of Ctulhu and Iron Maiden quoting Lovecraft on their Life After Death album. It is brooding, it is in your face and is, in all respects, grandiose. You may think it sometimes might be a bit too overblown, but, to these ears, the band retain a sharpness to the songs throughout. Bravo, Anthropia!
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8.5 out of 10

Art of Illusion - Round Square of the Triangle
Art of Illusion - Round Square of the Triangle
Country of Origin: Poland
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 65:04
Links:
Track List:
Intro (1:29), Distance (8:40), Instinct (7:01), For Her (6:24), Round Square (5:34), The Triangle (7:04), Thrown into the Fog (7:09), Shattered Mirror (3:46), The Rite of Fire (9:05), Disconnection (8:52)
Poland. A country that has several of its musicians leading the way back to the Jerusalem of prog. A country where the fountain of prog must be located somewhere. A country that has many of us at DPRP in awe of the vast stream of prog artists and bands that have risen in recent years. Aye, Quidam, Collage, Riverside, are certainly amongst the most notable in the realms of prog, but it might interest you to know that there is plenty more where they come from.

Way back in 2002, in the town of Bydgoszcz, a band was formed that went by the name of Art of Illusion. Although their music has been a blend of heavier rock, metal and prog, and though there have been various incarnations since their formation, it has taken the band many years to record and finish their debut release. The band has encountered many challenges along the way, yet, as history has already proven, Polish people don't just bend but rather persevere, which was also very much the case for the members of Art of Illusion.

Finally, in 2014 their debut album was released. Without any doubt, it goes to show that these lads can all play. Most of the songs are instrumentals and all of the band members get to shine. This is exemplified in the bass lines where Mateusz Wisniewski gets to show his technique (check out The Triangle for a suitable example), the keyboard parts that show how creative Pawel can be, the varied drumming by Kamil or the colourful playing of Filip on the guitar. Dreamy and atmospheric parts follow sections where the band really rock out their riffs and chops, and they do know how to work. The guests on vocals, flute and sax adding their own positive colour to the music.

Yes, there are parts that might make you think they are only in it for the mastering of their instruments and showing off their skills but then there suddenly is a more jazzy part or just a more emotional passage. Comparisons might sometimes be in the vein of Dream Theater, Symphony X or even Rhaspody of Fire. You can also think of the experimental side of Pain of Salvation. There is a freshness to the music of this Polish band, which is not unlike Pain of Salvation. Even though the songs might have been a long time coming, they don't just sound too constructed. To these ears, that does sometimes happen with the lengthier pieces by some of the bands mentioned. Here I seem to hear a more natural flow to the songs. It has been a long time since I heard one of the aforementioned bands play something as refreshing as Thrown into the Fog. That says a lot for their songwriting.

Most of the songs are well beyond the five-minute mark. Nice. And there is variety in the songs as well. I find their music well worth taking a dive into, as long as you are not scared of soaring guitars, arpeggios and all, keys that go their own way and a rhythm section that adds what is necessary while putting their own mark on proceedings, pushing emotion and dare to the fore and leading us into imagination. That is what Art of Illusion have produced on this very fine album.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10

La Coscienza di Zeno - La Notte Anche Di Giorno
La Coscienza di Zeno - La Notte Anche Di Giorno
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 44:07
Links:
Track List:
Giovane Figlia: A Ritroso (5:26), Il Giro del Cappio (5:22), Libero Pensatore (5:12), Quiete Apparente (1:37), Impromptu pour S.Z. (1:10), Lenta Discesa all'Averno (5:12) Madre Antica: Il Paese Ferito (5:52), Cavanella (3:09), La Staffetta (4:01), Come Statua di Dolore (7:06)
The realms of prog...

It is not hard to find yourself dwelling in one of the many corners of the far-stretched regions of prog, rarely encountering new bands and artists or subgenres, which seemingly pass you by for years. So should 'proggers' always have an open mind to anything new they encounter and try to find out more without saying, "I don't know this, so let's just pass it by?" Perhaps that 'I know what I like' attitude is more prevalent with those who listen to other styles of music. And as prog incorporates so many influences, it is often the case that those who play and love prog are more open to those many different realms, if exposed to them. While I had read about Italian prog, I never really got to listen to any of the Italian bands. The first I heard was The Watch and then, on becoming reviewer for DPRP, Italian bands suddenly were a given. Now having reviewed several albums and having watched Goblin play the Roadburn festival in Tilburg, I got to quite like RPI and as Nümph have proven with their debut album, Italian bands don't just rely on the sound of past.

This is La Coscienza di Zeno's (CDZ) third album, and its quality weaves music that on one hand is rooted firmly in the 70s and on the other brings a modern touch to the fore. While the opening track starts with Alessio Calandriello's warm voice, you might be tricked into thinking you're listening to an an Italian pop star, yet before the song is 30 seconds in, we get lush keyboard parts and violin, letting us know that this is not just an attempt at pop stardom. Calandriello's voice is an asset to the band, yet that quite plainly is not all they have got going for them.

Gabriele Guidi Colombi (bass), Andrea Orlando (drums), Stefano Agnini (keyboards), Davide Serpico (guitars), Luca Scherani (keyboards) and Domenico Ingenito (violin) are all experienced and thoroughly skilled players, and that is on show throughout the album. And they aren't the only musicians to feature on the album. They do have guests in Joanne Roan on flute, Melissa del Lucchese on cello and Simona Angioloni (of Hostsonaten fame) guesting on vocals on Lenta Discesa all'Averno. Clearly the combined instruments make for a very atmospheric album, with cello, flute and violin combining or working alone to offer a distinctly classical feel to the music.

What I find the most striking about the album is how the music flows and how the band manage to take you through the two suites of music, Giovane Figlia (young daughter) and Madre Antica (old mother) and hold your attention as the music weaves and wanders through all sorts of curves, different pastures and landscapes. Whether it's in the lush keyboard sounds, tasteful guitar solos or vocals that draw you to Calandriello's voice, they have your attention.

Sometimes I feel a spurt of Kansas passing by, then there is a part that has Genesis influences, and yes, of course, we sense the spirit of Premiata Forneria Marconi and the like but, all in all, it is in how the complete musical picture is painted, that I feel there is a definite CDZ signature to the album.

The two suites are clearly distinct from one another, the main difference being that the second might be more dark, and somewhat heavier in places. Not that CDZ suddenly become a metal band, not at all, but, as the titles of the suites suggest, if this is represents the story of a woman getting older, perhaps growing lonely, it might not be strange to think that there is a little more bitterness in the second part of her life.

Even so, both sides of the story show that CDZ knows how to write fascinating music that gets to draw you in like movies can. I enjoyed listening to this album very much. CDZ have added a great new chapter to their wholly consistent body of work.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10

Gothik Serpent - Interloper
Gothik Serpent - Interloper
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 41:33
Links:
Track List:
Direct Fright (6:57), Interloper (4:40), Interceptor (6:14), Spectral Scepter (6:31), The Last Lindsey (3:15), K Terminal (7:31), Everything Will Fail (6:09)
Kerwin Tsang (bass, Chapman stick, backing vocals, synth programming), Tom Graham (guitars, drum and string programming), Tricia Isabela (lead vocals), Yuichi Ikeda (drums), Lee Worley Raby (saxophone, clarinet), Andrew Berg (synth programming), Justin Levy (acoustic guitar), Nobuaki Hayashi (guitar solos), Joshua Kao (additional clarinet) are the components of Gothik Serpent that have spun this album together.

The brainchild of Tsang, who took care of all music, lyrics and artwork, Gothik Serpent started off as Tsang wanted to make a solo album. However, it all became too much of an undertaking as the ideas expanded. So he sought other musicians and a singer to venture further in the project with him.

By the way the album sounds, with a live feel, Tsang has not only succeeded in writing an album that combines several influences and still puts forward Gothik Serpent as an entity of its own, he has also succeeded in forming the right band to play all the material. Whether it is the jazz-influenced parts, the more pop-like vibes, the heavier elements, the funky details, or the more classically-oriented aspects, Gothik Serpent seem at home with it all. If you want to get a grasp of just how comfortable they sound, both instrumentals, Interceptor and K Terminal give a great introduction to the band.

Admittedly, instrumentals do not include vocals, so perhaps, it might not paint the complete picture as Isabela's vocals operate as a focal point in Gothik Serpent's music. I should also mention giving a listen to Spectral Scepter, which does feature her vocals. Now and then her voice adds a Porcupine Tree-like vibe, all in accordance with the rhythm and structure of the songs. Then, in other songs, it is like her voice gets in a tango with the music as they seem to counterbalance each other just perfectly. A more poppy side to her voice seems in sharp contrast to the rhythms and structures and is far less complex. It is the way that Tsang uses both sides of the vocal lines that gives Gothik Serpent something that sets them apart.

I can't seem to think of a band that is a reference as to the whole of Gothik Serpent's music, but if I were to name some that came to mind, the most obvious would be King Crimson, some Porcupine Tree and Rush, with a portion of 80s Yes, and perhaps some In Tua Nua for the vocals. And the vocals really do attract attention.

Even though the bass is Tsangs's main instrument, and it might be the instrument that lays the foundations down, it is not bass heavy. All in all, Interloper is a varied album. His background, coming from the hiphop genre, might have added to his daring to be experimental. As the bio suggests, the songs are about isolation, alienation and impermanence. The track titles do have something mysterious about them and with Gothik Serpent having been the code name for a military operation way back in the 90s, that indeed adds to the mystery just as the cover art does.

This is an album that is really for you if prog consists of more than epic tracks bursting with Mellotron. It takes an open mind to listen to, as well as being prepared to encounter both industrial traits and pop charm. It's a very nice debut. I am already looking forward to hearing the next album Extremist that is due out shortly.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 7.5 out of 10

Nümph - Theories of Light
Nümph - Theories of Light
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 50:24
Links:
Track List:
Theories of Light (7:04), Jacob's Ladder (5:45), Dust of Souls (8:01), In Dark Limbo (3:46), Death and Rebirth (7:18), Deep Impact (5:12), Within the Core (8:00), An Angel (5:11)
It is strange. At least, a wee bit strange. I have been listening to quite a few bands from Poland and they all made an impression on me. Music rich in atmosphere, music full on melancholy, singers, if they were there, and music that combine a heavy atmosphere with more subtle approaches. Subtlety in parts and overall, and all good players. Once you start listening to this album, you may well be forgiven in thinking that Nümph is another great band from Poland.

Well, of course, you start checking on facts before writing your review and so I did as well. I mistakenly thought the quality of the band almost guaranteed that the band come from Poland. Not that other countries might not deliver as well, for they do. But there is a likeness in the sound of Nümph to those proud Polish proggers of Riverside, State Urge, Art of Illusion and others, that, no matter how you regard it, says a lot about the quality and feel of this band. If the other bands might be of your liking, then you might just try and get your hands on Nümph too.

Rich in atmosphere, the band features a great singer in Marco Bartoli, whose voice just as easily could pass for a mix between Eddie Vedder and Maynard James Keenan, also due to the vocal lines. There is great guitar work by Luca Giampietri and an astounding rhythm section in Antonio Conti on bass and the drums played by Giuseppe D'Aleo. You can take it from the names of the band members that the country of origin of Nümph is the lovely Italy. Known for its well-earned history of prog too, the Nümph sound is different to what one would expect from italian prog. To have the album start with Theories of Light, then take us all on a journey through musical landscapes and to have us in sheer awe by the time the closing track An Angel comes on, is very much the proof of the greatness of this band.

A musical journey, that is what the band has on the menu on this album. Yes, they do measure up to the quality of contemporary bands from Poland, except that Nümph are from Italy. Molto bene is the only justified conclusion here.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8.5 out of 10

Oceans of Night - Midnight Rising
Oceans of Night - Midnight Rising
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 59:27
Links:
Track List:
The Haunted Mind (4:49), Midnight Rising (6:24), Critical Mass/The Breathless Sleep (5:00), The Burning Sky (9:00), Crashing Down (3:50), Gone Forever (10:03), Is this Who We Are (3:44), A World Born of Fire (5:26), Wherever You Are (7:53), Reach Me (3:21) (bonus track)
Oceans, we do not have too many of them on this world, but so vast that they are, it would be nigh impossible that the eye might miss them when glancing over the world. Yet, in the universe of music there are far more oceans that we ever get to see or even hear of. I for one did miss out on the existence of Oceans of Night. Still, the man behind this mass of musical water, Scott Mosher has been around for quite some time; first as a solo artist and later on with this band he formed with Scott Oliva. Indeed, if you take a look back, we here at DPRP have reviewed earlier albums by both Scott Mosher solo and by Oceans of Night. It might be worth having a glance at our archives if this album suits your tastes.

To help you on the way: imagine a band that has taken equal parts of Queensryche (Rage for Order to Empire era), a lot of vintage keyboard sounds not unlike you may find on Ayreon and a vocalist that just as easily evokes Bruce Dickinson, Geoff Tate or Russell Allen while maintaining his own style.

Before you take a first listen, take into account that almost all instruments are played by Scott Mosher and the musical ideas are practically all his. There is mention of a drummer Alan Smithee - yet bear in mind that in the film industry, this name was used if a director did not want his name attached to a movie. Whether or not there might be a drummer involved, the drums, to these ears, sound programmed even though that is done with great care and they are never too much so.

Joey Vera, bassist with Armored Saint, took care of the mixing and mastering. You can tell that the making of the album was done with a lot of enthusiasm. That is the sense that springs from both the playing and the vocals. As for the production, the album sounds crisp and all instruments are in fine balance.

What the Scotts have succeeded in, is making an album that mixes both hard rocking and heavy elements, with progressive aspects that set them apart from other progressive metal outfits. Scott Mosher has a fine ear for writing very atmospheric parts for the keys and they work very well throughout the album.

The opening track starts off with keys, before being taken over by a mighty riff, and this is where your thoughts easily turn to the days of a younger Queensryche. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Scott Mosher would have stepped in to fill the spot left by Chris DeGarmo. Then again, we might have missed out on this and the other albums by the two Scotts.

That is a trademark of the band that shows throughout the album. The fact that Scott had several guests featuring on the album does tell that they appreciate his songs too. The guests are Vivien Lalu (of Lalu fame), Chris Rifking (of Eye of the Storm fame) and singer Stephanie Warren. She features on the bonus track. What to say about the music? Well, if you are into storytelling songs, that are built up by vintage keys weaving backdrops for the songs to develop, if you like your guitar riffs and solo's in your face without ever being too heavy (Symphony X and Dream Theater fans may find this just a little too decafinated), if you wish for a singer that can sound like a siren but be as subtle as anyone, then this might suit you.

To get what this album is about, check out just two songs. First the moody Critical Mass/The Breathless Sleep, and then The Burning Skythat starts with a punch before turning epic just before it's halfway mark. This song reminds me of tracks by Threshold.

All in all, Oceans of Night have released a fine addition to their catalogue. Even though it might not be ground-breaking in its approach, it does have both punch and atmosphere. I'm off to give it another spin!
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 7.5 out of 10

Pax Romana - Let All Men Know - This is Sacred Ground
Pax Romana - Let All Men Know - This is Sacred Ground
Country of Origin: Finland
Year of Release: 2012
Time: 46:11
Links:
Track List:
Screaming Heads (Vox Humana) (4:47), Acheron (5:34), Batman (3:28), Let All Men Know - This is Sacred Ground (4:53), Second to None (5:53), Danish Lullaby (5:21), Soul Basement (4:36), God's Fruit (5:34), Blind Eye (6:15)
A band with a mission. A band out to spread peace. A band ready to put forward that hopful message on their website and in their music as well. A remarkable story. A band that started off in the 70s, having stopped for a while and then getting back together in the new century. Sharing the same ideals as before and still loving the disarming power of music. Or is that a naïve reviewer thinking that this is what music can do?

Since the band got back together again, they have recorded three albums, this one being their most recent. Yet, this dates back to 2012 itself. But on the website the band mention that a fourth album may be in the works, aptly titled IV .

What we have here, is music played by a band of seasoned players, yet for all the years the band may have accumulated between them, they do not sound tired.

Their music is as much progressive as it is tinged with rock and pop elements. We can easily hear parts of Dire Straits (the later albums), Jethro Tull (Crest of a Knave era), perhaps some Aragon, a little Fish, some King Crimson and in the songs that are more guitar oriented, we might even get a touch of Camel and Pendragon. Well, does that up for an interesting brew? Yes, it indeed does. It is even more compelling on realising that the band doesn't have to turn to side-long epics in order to fascinate.

The compact songs with vocals shared by two singers, keyboards weaving atmospheric backdrops, a guitar that can soar just as easily as it can paint the chords to the songs, and a sax and clarinet that add an extra kick to the sound of Pax Romana. The music is delicately played, never over the top and with great sense of fitting their message, both musically and text wise. That is the forte of these Finnish peacemakers.

Jouko Höytämö (drums), Ilpo Komulainen (bass), Jukka Höytämö (guitars), Matti Kervinen (keyboards, lead and backing vocals), Kalle Fält (reeds and backing vocals) and Matti Inkinen (guitars, lead and backing vocals) may have come some way, but there still is a future to come for this band and a message to be spread. I look forward to their next album.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 7.5 out of 10

Seasonal - Loneliness Manual
Seasonal - Loneliness Manual
Country of Origin: Poland
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 53:18
Links:
Track List:
Fading Spark (4:55), To Keep Yourself Together (7:19), Deserted Bus Stop (2:49), An Exit from Modern Society (7:50), Loop (6:18), Experience (4:08), Orchard of Rotten Apples (4:58), To Chase a Dream (4:23), Dark Woods (6:37), March of Nobodies (4:07), To Chase a Dream (featuring Piotr Trypus, bonus track) (4:07)
The realms of prog hold no secrets to the Polish purveyors of the music that we here at DPRP hold so dear. Where once Collage and Quidam were amongst the foreriders for Polish prog, Riverside must have been the prophets of the dawning of the Second Wave of Polish Prog.

In their slipstream however, many a Polish band has found its way to the inland fountain of prog that offers those who drink from it, not only a taste of melancholy and nostalgia yet also the capability to play music in a sensible and often inspirational way.

Maciej Sochon is a man who must have drunk from that very fountain. Somehow, someway he found himself mixing his water with water from the post rock well, so much treasured by the members of Mono, Explosions in the Sky and Scale the Summit. He has been active in music since as far back as 2007. A fine thing is that Maciej plays all the instruments himself and the picture he paints with his music, is very much left up to our own imagination.

It is not that Maciej doesn't know how to write songs, on the contrary, he writes very nice songs, yet he leaves it up to the listeners to have their own associations with his music. For sure, in the making of this album, he turns to deserted industrial complexes, and that is what is reflected in the song titles. Yet, because the music only features instruments and no voice, except for the bonus track, you can find your imagination getting the better of you and just going with the flow that Maciej creates.

Just imagine Explosions in the Sky teaming up with David Gilmour, perhaps not per se matching Gilmour's playing, but some atmospheric soundscapes soothe our ears and in the emotion it holds, there is something not unlike the Pink Floyd six-string hero. Maciej has done the photography for the album as well and all in all, it is great how he has images and music combined without stressing the importance of one over the other. If ebbing and flowing, the passage of time to buildings, to everything that surrounds us, can touch you, and if post-rock with sensitive guitar playing might speak to your heart, then this album might be just for you. Loved it.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10

Sontaag - Sontaag
Sontaag - Sontaag
Country of Origin: various
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 56:08
Links:
Track List:
Empyrean (5:08), The Great Harmodulator (4:48), Spaceshifter (2:37), Harmodulation (0:44), The Minor Keys of Anguished Weeping (4:23), Serena Serenarum (Parts 1, 2 and 3) (5:33), Sorush (3:18), Interstellar Genocide (3:22), Chokuto (2:01), Glissandor (4:46), The Skull-Scraping Caterwaul (3:50), Aftershock (5:41), Memoria Tenere (9:55)
Grandeur. That is something bands or artists can attain, without ever stretching for or trying very hard to reach for it. Then, of course, there are those who feel that every single thing they strive for is simply of a grandeur not yet perceived by mankind. Thus without too much ado, they cloak themselves in words of grandeur, inviting those obsessed with words to perhaps take a step beyond the words woven and strung together. Then, once their attention is there, gripped by the grandeur of the words, they then enter the temple of words so carefully constructed.

The great Scotsman by the name of Derek William Dick, whom we know by his more popular stage name Fish, had a thing for words, more particularly so in the first few albums by Marillion. Yet there was something ever-so-poetic about the bleeding heart poets (no pun intended) that his lyrics did get attention. No need for a marketing campaign to utter a lot about the greatness of what this great combination produced.

The info on Sontaag on the label's website gives you the feeling you're dealing with the next deities of prog, and lest you bow down in awe and open your ears to the great sounds that Sontaag sprinkles on you, you might just never get it. If you wish to read the exact words, I invite you kindly to visit Esoteric's website and start reeling from sheer admiration, for whoever wrote these words, must have been the kind of visionary Fish was thinking of in Fugazi.

To have your music described as "the rock opera that Pink Floyd never wrote", "a modern-day Tubular Bells" or "a prog-rock War of the Worlds" means that you are hailed with superlatives. Yes, dear readers, you might have guessed from my words that my enthusiasm has not taken the shape of awe and wonder. Not quite. To be more exact, if this is to be 'sonic cinema', I wonder why Alan Smithee did not take the credits. An attempt at grandeur this may be. Yet to these ears, it is quite the failed attempt.

American Richard Sontaag composed all the tracks and played most of the instruments, while British journalist Ian Fortnam wrote the words, and it's his voice that narrates across the album. Sontaag is assisted by Milo Venter on drums, and there is the voice of Amanda Cross that is sprinkled on the album to enhance the Floydian feel.

Yes, Richard Sontaag knows how to write atmospheric tracks, and he knows how to play the various instruments, yet not only is the stance that is taken far from being humble, the way Ian Fortnam narrates the album (it is something in his voice) soon has you thinking in terms of The Ultimate Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy or perhaps some strange and surreal sitcom, rather than thinking that this is any sort of serious undertaking.

Spaceshifter seems even to stress that thought; it is rocky and a wee bit pop-like at the same time. A nice track that can be interpreted as a song with a sense of humour but I'm afraid I'm not even sure that that was intentional.

The story concept and track titles don't add up to that much either. Of course, if the whole point is that the story should not be taken too seriously, well, then there is a chance that the humour is detected, somehow, somewhere. The music, due to the almost full-time narration, sort of gets lost in the realms of the "Great Harmodulator" as it is only there to lead from one part of the story to the next. Richard Sontaag's playing is great and his admiration for Gilmour shows through in his guitar work. The subtle keyboards are atmospheric. Where the music takes the lead, the album sounds at least a tad interesting. It is not bad, but alas, the striving for grandeur has gone amiss. Way, way, way amiss.

Youth (of Killing Joke fame), the famous producer, saw to the production. There is nothing wrong with that at all. The end of the Sontaag Manifesto says "Welcome to the future. Our future." Considering this is a debut album, Richard Sontaag can still reach grandeur in his following releases. I wonder whether that will be the case if he decides not to change the team he plays in. Never change a winning team, but what if your team doesn't seem to be on a winning streak? Wasn't it Genesis that once used the phrase "All change!" in a certain song of grandeur? Perhaps we'll get to see the river of constant change in Sontaag's future. That, dear readers, might flow towards sceneries of grandeur without using any big words at all.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 5 out of 10

Special Providence - Essence of Change
Special Providence - Essence of Change
Country of Origin: Hungary
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 44:04
Links:
Track List:
Awaiting the Semicentennial Tidal Wave (4:18), Surprise Me (5:36), Kiss from a Glacier (4:39), Northern Lights (3:56), Atlas of You (4:21), I.R.P. (Interstellar Robotic Pilgrim) (4:22), Darkness (3:43), Gas Giants (guest solo by David Micic) (7:03), Testing the Empathy (single from 2013 keyboards Zoltan Csery) (6:06)
There are instrumental bands and there are instrumental bands. There are those that have you bored within, let's put it mildly, the first 30 seconds of the opening track. And there are those that can start playing ane jamming, and have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. Well, you will probably be standing by then. Special Providence fits into the latter end of the spectrum.

Their website says 'Progjazzrockmetalturbochill' and that about says it all. Well, does it? Now if the 'chill'part of that description stands for never-over-the-top metal, never-over-the-top prog, never-over-the-top jazz, with everything combined in a very balanced way, then that description is pretty adequate. If the turbo stands for up-tempo and inspiring, then the description is also spot-on. Don't expect self-focused workouts by the band, their music is way too balanced, the songs too compact and the music too much song-oriented for such unnecessary escapades.

Where once Jadis knew how to get the most out of their instrumental tracks, it might appear that Special Providence taps from the same source. Far more crunchy than Gary Chandler and his men, yet the playfulness that Jadis put in their music, is another similarity between the two bands. Where Jadis once started off at Giant Electric Pea (GEP), Special Providence has also joined that label. If you consider that a lot of the GEP bands have instrumental passages of a joyous character, it is no wonder that Adam Markó (drums), Attila Fehervári (bass), Márton Kertész (guitar) and Zsolt Kaltenecker fit in very well with the label's roster.

The band plays an interesting mix of the different components of progjazzrockmetaltturbochill and does so with great ease and mastership of their instruments. As for the joyous side to their music, just take a look at the track titles and you will find that the band has a sense of humour to put into their music. Take the instrumental parts of both IQ and Jadis, have them mixed with just an ounce of metal, a sniff of jazz, a wee bit of turbochill and that is the recipe for what makes this Essence of Change. An instrumental feast of pörkold that goes down very, very smoothly. Love the taste!
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10

State Urge - Confrontation
State Urge - Confrontation
Country of Origin: Poland
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 49:17
Links:
Track List:
Confrontation (3:59), Revival (4:26), Liquid Disease (7:10), Cold as a Lie (5:47), Midnight Mistress (8:31), New Season (5:12), Before the Dawn (4:00), More (10:12)
Poland. A land rich in history and perseverance and a country that has developed a rich history of bands exploring the realms of prog. Quidam, Collage and Riverside are all names that bring joy to the community of proggers, but there is more to Polish prog than the bands that have already established a fan base around the globe.

State Urge is a band that has recently released its second album. Their debut came out in 2013 and was called White Rock Experience.

What is clear from the start of this album is that the band's music cannot be seen as either in this or in that category. You might hear psychedelic influences, classic rock influences, influences from new wave and electronic music and prog influences as well. Still, the band does weave all this together and puts forward an amalgam that is rich in emotion and atmosphere.

Where the keyboard sounds of Confrontation get you thinking of Camel's Lady Fantasy, the lady soon vanishes as the riff is added and Marcin Cieslik starts singing. Then you might be wondering about a mix of Editors and Queens of the Stone Age. That's not due to Marcin's voice, it is the combination of the riff and the keyboard sounds, with the rhythmic pattern of the song.

Not unlike their fellow country men Art of Illusion, all players know their chops. Marcin Bochenski puts a lot of variety and fervour in his drumming, Krystia Papiernik's bass can pump just as fierce as any, and Michal Tarkowski has keyboard parts that match very nicely with Marcin Cieslik's guitar playing whilst adding to the new wave and Editors-like sound. Together that makes State Urge different from a lot of bands in the prog scene.

So what to expect from these aspiring men from Gdynia? If you want your music brought to life with energy and emotion, if melancholy floats your boat, and if you do not mind your prog springing from a broader perspective of music, not unlike Twelfth Night once did, then why not find yourself daring to enjoy this confrontation? I was very much surprised by the band and most certainly not in a bad way. This is another fine, fine band from Poland.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10

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Published Thursday 27 August 2015

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