ISSUE 2015-571

Reviews in this issue:

Crépuscule - Virr
Crépuscule - Virr
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 72:11
Links:
Track List:
La Colère des Corbeaux: La Joie du Corbeau Blanc (6:25), Les Corbeaux Noirs (9:05), Sùrface: Et le Vent se Réveille (2:57), Le Cauchemar du Soir (5:00), La Génétique (3:05), Aylinn (6:20), Le Goût du Sang, le Goût du Miel: Providence (3:00), Le Scepticisme en Vue de la Nuit (5:48), Ta Mort (5:18), La Percussion des Paroles (4:48), Le Goût du Miel (3:11), Hybridika (5:00), Le Désespoir (4:19), Sur le Champ des Nuits: Au bord du Goufre (6:50), Outro (1:05)
How come this band has totally escaped my perception so far? With a little bit of patriotism, I closely pay attention to what comes out of Germany prog-wise, and a German band singing in French should have been known to me. But I must admit I have never heard of Crépuscule before, I have not read any review (okay, they only release an album every now and then), and I haven't seen any concert announcements (apparently, they don't tour that extensively). Thus I am happy to be given the opportunity to bring their current release Virr to your attention.

Crépuscule weas formed in 1984 in Karlsruhe in the southern part of Germany by Franco Rouvinet (vocals, synthesiser, soundscapes) and Gérald Rouvinez (electric guitars). They are brothers (although they spell their surnames differently, with Rouvinez being the original spelling and Rouvinet being a sort of stage name), and hail from the French-speaking part of Switzerland. They are joined on this album by Günter Kern (keyboards, Hammond organ), Thomas Zimmer (drums), Thomas Geiger (bass, electric & acoustic guitar, ukulele, backing vocals) and Patrick Damiani (electric guitar and sound engineer), plus guest musicians on saxophone and violin. In the meantime, Dieter Taubert (electric guitar) is also part of the band. Because of their Franco-Swiss roots, the band opted to sing in French and also, as they state, because French is the language of love, and love seems to be the leitmotif on this album (see below).

This is the third album in their long-lasting musical career. Crépuscule (which means Dusk) started in 1996 with the EP Les Lunes se Lèvent, followed by Signe de Vie in 2003.

Some time ago the band decided to embark and focus their efforts upon their 'lifework'. Créature Irréelle, or 'Trilogie +1', is an opus designed to consist of four albums (interesting that the band speaks about their lifework prospectively, whilst in my understanding, lifework is something rather meant retrospectively).

The first part, Hymne à la Vie, was released in 2006 and Virr, released in 2014, is the second one, at least chronologically. With respect to the thread of the story, Virr comes first and Hymne à la Vie third. (I must admit that I might well have got that wrong, as we are moving on complex poetic territory here.)

Fortunately, there is an abundance of information to be found on the web (if one is familiar with the German language), as the band has created a specific website just for this album, explaining in detail the story behind Virr and providing all the lyrics in French and German plus samples of every track.

As with Hymne à la Vie, the main topic on Virr is "love as the key solution". The hero of the same name lives in a totalitarian system, dominated by a company called Genetika, characterised by health crazes and obsessed by the illusion of genetic manipulation, and where physical love is denied. Initially, Virr is an integral part of that machinery, but things change with the kidnapping of his girlfriend, Aylinn, causing Virr to free himself from this social thought-control, to take on all sorts of challenges in search of his girlfriend. The plot in this album ends when Virr loses his consciousness during an unsuccessful attempt to liberate Aylinn.

The story features some parallels to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World or George Orwell's 1984, and the lyrical ambitions of Crépuscule are not far from Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Musically things are a bit different, as we certainly do not have a Lambs-clone here, but a very individual piece of music.

That brings us to the music on this album. With an underlying story like this, don't expect music with high spirits, but rather heavy stuff. The music nonetheless is really varied without being too complex. It is not dominated by a particular instrument, but strongly influenced by Franco Rouvinet's melancholic and dramatic singing style, reminiscent to what one is used from bands such as Ange, Mona Lisa, Versailles, Nemo and Lazuli or some of the Québec-based bands such as Unisphère. The production, however, which is flawless, provides for bass and drums to be more present than usual.

Structurally, the 15 tracks on the album are divided into four parts (La Colère des Corbeaux, Sùrface, Le Goût du Sang, le Goût du Miel, and Sur le Champ des Nuits), with the individual songs in each part merging seamlessly. The two songs forming the first part can be seen as the thematic link to the preceding album.

Opening with electronic soundscapes and church organ, the songs reveal Ange-like singing, strong melodies, lush keyboards, crisp drumming and fluid bass lines. The songs from the second part Sùrface (which is the name of the town Virr lives in) show a wide musical variety, ranging from funky influences (Et le Vent se Reveille), chanson-like singing with beautiful Tony Banks-style Hammond organ (La Génétique), and scarce instrumentation accompanying the keyboards and touchy-feely singing (Le Cauchemar du Soir), to a Pink Floyd-like ballad with great saxophone and guitar solos (Aylinn).

The third part, Le Goût du Sang, le Goût du Miel (The Taste of Blood, the Taste of Honey), is the longest and the darkest one, consisting of seven songs. The two framing songs are very reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze (Providence, Le Désespoir), the latter of which (The Despair), whilst "just" being an electronic instrumental soundscape, reflects the mood and the storyline (Virr loses his consciousness). So realistic, that it makes one shiver in the middle of the summer.

The drama in the music is very present. The lyrics of Ta Mort just consisting of a frequent repetition of only these two words (Your Death).

The last part, Sur le Champ des Nuits, includes just two songs, the first one being a mid-tempo ballad featuring a melodic guitar solo by Thomas Geiger accompanied by lush strings and more melancholic singing from Franco Rouvinet. Except for the vocals, I hear some parallels to what Sylvan is doing, showing also the neo-prog influences of Crépuscule's music.

The final song is another electronic soundscape, forming a musical and thematic transition to the forthcoming album, which, if I understand it correctly, could bear the title SoùsVeniRR. To be continued hopefully in the not too distant future...

Everyone who believes that prog is just music, is being disabused by this release. Crépuscule has created a combination of music, story, artwork and poetry which is not seen that often in progressive rock and in my opinion has yet to find its peers. This is evidenced amongst others by the fact that this album comes in DVD format, accompanied by a 92-page booklet outlining the full story, plus the French lyrics with translation into German and also containing many artistic paintings and photographs; not to mention the fully-fledged website created purely for this release.

This is an album which deserves a larger audience, and Crépuscule deserves wider recognition. It is not an album that will convince you upon first listening, as it may sound a bit too complex and melancholic story-wise, slightly too cumbersome to deal with, and the French vocals need getting used to. But it will grow upon you the more often you listen to it. It is ambitious, varied, melodic, dramatic and unusual. Be a bit courageous and try it. You will not be disappointed.
Conclusion:
Thomas Otten: 8 out of 10

Deep Thought - The Tunnel
Deep Thought - The Tunnel
Country of Origin: Switzerland
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 53:18, 62:13
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Overture (6:22), Fat Guy (7:40), Red Haired Girl (2:23), 3084 (1:37), Chess Player (6:48), Into The Tunnel (3:18), The Tunnel (4:56), Wrong Train (4:04), Out Of Control (5:16), Disgrace (5:35), Doubts In The Dark (5:19)
CD 2: Conductor (5:11), Stop This Train (4:20), Tracks To Nowhere (6:50), Engine (5:00), Why Are We Here (7:55), Emergency Brake (6:37), Without Hope (7:11), Back To The Train (6:17), Nothing (8:14), Mostly Nothing (4:38)
The Swiss are not known for producing a lot of well-known prog bands. You might be familiar with Clepsydra and Deyss, that both play music in the vein of Marillion (Fish-era). This band from Basel is similar and also includes some IQ influences. They took their time to create this album - more than 10 years of their spare time! The result is an album with nearly two hours of music. The musicians on the album are: Dominik Pfleghaar (keyboards), Dominik Rudmann (bass, Taurus bass pedals), Marcel Oehler (guitars), Lukas Reinhard (drums) and Pat Merz (vocals).

The album is inspired by the short story with the same title as this album, by the Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The CD kicks off in blistering style with the instrumental Overture. This track shows that these guys really know how to play their instruments and have learnt a lot listening to their role models. Dominik Pfleghaar impresses with his great variety of sounds from his keyboards and it's clear that Mark Kelly and Tony Banks will be among his favourite keyboard players. The guitar work by Marcel Oehler is of very good quality, although the keys are more dominant and contribute more solos.

So nothing wrong with the music on this album but the weak point is the vocal department. At a certain point the voice of Pat Merz annoyed me so much that I stopped playing the CD.

Turning the story into a concept album is always a daring enterprise and I admire the artists that dare to take on this difficult task. The lyrics, which can be found on the website, are also very convincing. A double album of almost two hours obviously requires lots of attention and patience, and I find The Tunnel a bit over ambitious. For me as a reviewer it crossed the line of tolerance and I didn't manage to listen to the complete album in one try. Despite the criticism, the band deserves a compliment for its perseverance in finishing this album after working on it so long.

The album should probably appeal to fans of the mentioned bands, and with a better vocalist I guess I would have rated this album a bit higher.
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 7 out of 10

Jhimm - Between The Waves
Jhimm - Between The Waves
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 42:56
Links:
Track List:
Outside the Box (7:10), Different Eyes (5:11), About to Fall (6:40), Part of Nothing (6:43), Between the Waves (3:23), Waiting for the Tide (2:28), Everyday Dying (4:41), Falling Down (6:40)
Jhimm is the alias of Jason Himmelberger, a musician from Connecticut who writes and records in his home studio. Between The Waves is his official debut, but on Jhimm's Soundcloud page can be found an instrumental album from 2006. His music is a complete one-man show. All instruments are played by Jason himself and he also sings. The drums are programmed, but they fit perfectly into the whole production, which by the way is excellent.

The all over mood and sound of Between The Waves reminds me of Kevin Moore's Chroma Key project (in particular because of a very similar voice sound), but you might also hear many influences from Pink Floyd or early Porcupine Tree. If you're familiar with Rick Miller or Tony Carey's Planet P Project, you'll also find some resemblances. The songs are based on well-written melodies and carefully arranged. The leading instrument is mostly acoustic guitar backed by moody electronics/keys/piano and more or less powerful drums. There's also some nice solo work such as the synth lead in Everyday Dying or the electric guitar in the first track.

Though most of the songs have a quiet and slow undertone, the tracks are kind of groovy and have a nice flow. The opener, Outside The Box with its 7/8 pattern, makes your (presuming you're a progger) toe tap and is the best track overall. A whole album of this quality would have been great, but the rest of the songs can't keep up. Unfortunately my second favourite track, the instrumental Waiting For The Tide, which tends a little more into electronic music, is a little short.

This album is not inventing anything new nor will it leave a big impact, but it's a very pleasurable listen if you like any, or all of the artists mentioned in this review. I hope Jhimm won't need another 8 years until his next release.
Conclusion:
Robert Zimmer: 7 out of 10

Khatsaturjan - Beast, Machine & Man
Khatsaturjan - Beast, Machine & Man
Country of Origin: Finland
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 61:28
Links:
Track List:
Suite Phobia Utopia (5:54), Wrong Kinda Socks (3:35), My Canon, My Way of Life (6:10), In Pursuit of a Haunting Singalong (11:47), Domain of Love (8:36), Beast, Machine & Man (4:00), American 33 (7:47), St. Angelus (8:12), The Actor (5:27)
Finnish band Khatsaturjan were formed by chums Jaakko Koikkalainen (bass, vocals), Atte Kurri (guitar, vocals), Ilkka Piispala (drums, vocals) and Ilkka Saarikivi (keyboards, vocals). Initially assembled to play classical music in a rock setting, this current album Beast, Machine & Man can best be considered as vintage symphonic. Named after Russian Composer Khachaturian, comparisons with his most famous piece, The Sabre Dance, might be made be made (if only speed related) on second track Wrong Kinda Socks but that's it. Once past this uncharacteristic slice of pub rock the rest falls into a definite genre.

This is one of these records that you might play someone who asks "OK, so what is progressive rock music?" and you'd reply with the usual explanation and then say "tell you what, listen to this". Based very much on what got us all into Genesis and all that stuff, this young band have certainly learned their chops whilst sitting out those long dark winters.

Well-played instrumentation is the secret of this album, with the piano and keys in general being highlights. However, everyone excels in their field with In Pursuit of a Haunting Singalong (at 11:47). It's Supper's Ready complete with some Steve Howe type country rondo thrown in and the early Yes comparison being cemented with some fine Hammond. In fact Atte Kurri's guitar can turn from Howe to Hackett to Mr. Funk in a nod, with parts of Domain of Love being a great toe tapper with the bass being no slouch either.

St. Angelus starts with keys, tuned percussion, theatrical voices and heavy guitar but softens into Pink Floyd territory with it's slow funk and Gilmouresq soloing, fab interplay between the rhythm section, with The Actor "Finnishing" off this album.

I, however, do have a criticism. Despite the fact that all four musicians are credited with "vocals", I haven't really enjoyed any of them. The lead voice (is it the bass player?) is in a low register and at times sounds "at the wrong speed". The harmonies are there, but all at this level of timbre. It's (I suppose) a bit like when PFM was handed Bernardo Lanzetti to be the singer for the English albums or maybe the current Spock's Beard inclusion of Ted Leonard, in other words... a new singer would elevate this band to a much higher status and certainly give them more appeal to a rock audience. This type of band used to be quite rare in this day and age, but as we all know and as dprp.net proves, it is becoming a very competitive world out there.

I have scored high chaps, but as my teachers at school used to write (in scary red ink) at the end of my essays "Good effort, but could try harder". Good luck, though, and look forward to seeing it all played live.
Conclusion:
Andrew Halley: 8 out of 10

Magellan - Double Feature
Magellan - Double Feature
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 44:04, 49:06
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Magna Carta (15:02), Winner (2:08), Friends of America (3:29), Union Jack (9:10), Another Burning (5:05), Just One Bridge (2:18), Breaking These Circles (5:23), Turning Point (1:26)
CD 2: Estadium Nacional (11:16), Waterfront Weirdos (11:05), Songsmith (5:33), Virtual Reality (5:28), No Time For Words (2:09), Storms and Mutiny (11:51), Under the Wire (1:44)
This double CD release is promoted as being the same price as a single CD, even though single CD prices vary wildly. But the concept is simple: repackage two CDs from the past and try to get a bit more mileage out of them. While it's not always a great tactic, especially with no additional material thrown in, if this double bill exposes Magellan to a wider audience, it will all be worthwhile.

Double Feature unsurprisingly combines the first two Magellan chapters, Hour of Restoration, from 1991, and Impending Ascension, released two years later. The debut CD has hints of many different bands, wrapped-up into a distinctly unique musical voice. There are doffs of the hat to Asia, the Drama/90125 or even Talk Yes releases, mid-period Rush, early Marillion, Pallas, Arena, Pendragon and even the occasional dash of Dream Theater; all contained within a disc that should really have turned far more heads than it did. The concept, about England (a big topic if ever there was one), works well enough, but it's the music, melodies, instrumental breaks and musicianship that make this a truly astounding and outstanding début.

It goes without saying that when the musical influences are from the very top of the prog tree, it's rather tough to sound different and reach the same heights. Incredibly, Hour of Restoration passes with flying colours on all counts. There is so much classic prog contained in this (relatively) short disc, that it's a truly essential album. It belongs in the very best stratum from the scene that resurrected prog after the classic 70s era. It's more than amazing, and perhaps a little criminal, that a web search of reviews for these early albums doesn't rate them particularly highly.

Magellan, from California, was formed in the 1980s by brothers Trent Gardner (keyboards, lead vocals) and the tragically recently-deceased Wayne Gardner (guitars, vocals). On their début, they also provide all the drum parts, some of which are truly exceptional, and they are joined by bassist and vocalist Hal Stringfellow Imbrie. There are also some 'inspirational' and famous spoken-word clips, such as recordings of Sir Winston Churchill, possibly because recording equipment was a little thin on the ground in the eras of Boudicca, Henry VIII, Shakespeare and Nelson. Other great English historical figures are available.

There are a few times when the concept is a little overblown, but it's little more than a passing distraction.

It does seem somewhat appropriate that, in this the year of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta (signed in 1215, just after lunch), that Magna Carta is indeed the first track. If every band and artist around can release 40th anniversary remasters and 26 CD live outings, then surely we're due for a Magna Carta (the charter, not the prog label) boxed set with rare wax seals, a copy of the original version before editing, and versions on 14 different kinds of parchment. And the extended 1215.1 remix by Steven Wilson.

The second album, has the same personnel, augmented by Doane Perry on drums on one track and Hope Harris supplying a female vocal on another. It starts out like something from Yes' album Drama; tight harmonies followed by thundering keyboard-led prog. Waterfront Weirdos is more in the vein of Fish-era Marillion, although not a copy and not a sound-alike throughout the entire song. The whole album is a little more diverse than the first, with a bit more metal and aggression thrown in here and there. It's still an intoxicating mix of everything you know and love about classic prog and neo-prog, and it's even a bit ahead of its time in some ways.

If you already own both of these CDs, congratulations, no further action is necessary. If not, and you love classic prog (and let's face it why else would you be here), to paraphrase the aforementioned Mr. Wilson: You. Need. This.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 9 out of 10

No Brain Cell - Monuments
No Brain Cell - Monuments
Country of Origin: Greece
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 62:13
Links:
Track List:
Prologue (Monuments Pt. 1) (2:08), Monuments (Pt. 2) (6:54), Man Of Silence (8:36), Take Me Far Away (4:33), Hero Condition (9:41), Don't Cry (6:51), You And Me (6:10), Child (5:38), Intermission (9:09), Fable Of The Dreamers (2:33)
No Brain Cell is a relatively new prog band from Greece, and this is its second album, after a self-titled debut. An immediate reference point for this heavy prog band would be Porcupine Tree, whom they even covered on their debut release. Other bands I thought of when listening to this release were Tool, Riverside and maybe even a bit of latter- day Pendragon. There is definitely a darker mood that these bands all inhabit, that bleeds through on this release as well. A brooding, melancholic atmosphere definitely washes over the listener during the whole album.

But, that isn't to say that there isn't variety or a bit of hope as well. One of my favorite moments of the album is the track Take Me Far Away that has some beautiful acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies, that bring a bit of light to the shade that too often permeates the rest of the album. It is in these moments where this band truly shines and shows that it has an immense amount of promise in the prog genre.

Some other highlights on this album include Man Of Silence, which really brings to mind Porcupine Tree, as it alternates from heavy hard-rocking with distorted guitar, to a more laid-back, atmospheric, almost middle-eastern feel. Hero Condition is another stand-out with a great soaring guitar melody and a little jazzy keyboard spotlight towards the beginning of the track.

Intermission is one of the more interesting songs with a very theatrical feel and lots of variety throughout. The beginning is very atmospheric and moody, with plaintive vocals. The music then starts to get a lot heavier with some odd vocal sections, including deep-voiced chanting/talking and some interesting vocoder with fast drum beats and chugging guitar riffs and occasional stabs of organ. It is a crazy mixture of elements, that shows a lot of potential for this band. I also have to mention the last track, Fable Of The Dreamers which strikes me as a sort of epilogue with beautifully-eerie piano and soaring vocals, soon joined by an orchestral swell. It is an odd ending but has a theatrical beauty to it that is really captivating.

There are definitely rough edges around this release. There are moments where the sound isn't as crisp as it could be, or the harmonies aren't quite as tight, or the instrumental playing isn't exactly perfect. But, in some ways, this rawness gives the album a little bit of its charm. The band is able to really showcase who they are, with all warts and blemishes included. There is a lot of promise here, and with some polishing and experience, this band could be a big name in the prog world.
Conclusion:
Nathan Waitman: 7 out of 10

No More Pain - The Post Human Condition
No More Pain - The Post Human Condition
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 77:46
Links:
Track List:
Nascency (4:09), All as One (4:44), Behold The Screen (6:03), The Spiral (5:05), Shrine of Pearl (5:39), God In The Glass (5:04), Bleed (10:25), Binary Annihilation Glitch (4:47), Mountains of the Sky (10:12), Cosmic Trigger (4:11), The Network (17:27)
No More Pain a four piece hailing from New Jersey show they are not afraid to push themselves both technichally and conceptually in their second outing The Post Human Condition, a bold attempt to create a grand and eclectic album. Does this experimentation and scale lead to a coherent whole?

From the go it is clear that this is no easy listening album, opening with a four minute piano heavy instrumental that does a good job of setting the mood. Things really kick off with All as One joyfully showcasing some of the bands competencies before settling into a classic rock groove. Iron Maiden's Seventh Son album springs to mind. It is clear here the high calibre of musicianship with the various rhythms and harmonies working together well.

The story apeals to fans of more grandeur concept albums as it shares similarities with Rush's Clockwork Angels or Ayreon' 0101001. It deals with the ideas of solitude, paranoia and helplessnes that advancemance in technology has brought. Fans of Porcupine Tree's Fear of a Blank Planet will also be able to draw parallels.

Unfortunately the album lacks the same balance of storytelling and direction and I felt myself loosing interest in parts possibly due to a sometimes unlikable lead character.

Thankfully Bleed, a stand out track reinvigorates proceedings with an aggressive yet catchy piece reminding the listener what can make progressive metal so exciting. This new energy continues and the album flies by until things are brought to a climax with The Network. Coming in just shy of 18 minutes, it requires attention to enjoy fully, but it does reward those who give it the time.

So on the whole The Post Human Condition has many good ideas and an interesting story but it does fall into some of the old progressive rock tropes, too much exposition can leave the listener more disengaged than interested. Production is competent with Mountains of the Sky sounding genuinely beautiful. The musicianship is hard to fault with a few "wow" moments along the way, again the second half of Mountains of the sky is exciting and euphoric. So who does this album appeal to? Well it's structure and concept reminds me of the 70s prog rock albums of Yes and Rush but importantly the band inject many new techniques, tones and riffs of modern bands such as Dream Theater, Frost and Pain of Salvation.

In answering the question then, do we end with a coherent whole? Not entirely, but for those looking for an album that rewards time spent there is much to enjoy in this eclectic, varied piece.
Conclusion:
Andy Salthouse: 7 out of 10

Tesseract - Polaris
Tesseract - Polaris
Country of Origin: England
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 46:45
Links:
Track List:
Dystopia (6:51), Hexes (5:18), Survival (4:25), Tourniquet (5:59), Utopia (5:33), Phoenix (3:54), Messenger (3:34), Cages (5:28), Seven Names (5:40)
Polaris is the third full-length release by English prog metal band Tesseract. Returning is the vocalist from their first album (One) Daniel Tompkins. Missing are much of the screamy vocals and purely metal elements found on their earliest material, with the focus continuing to be on the progressive aspects of their sound that took the forefront on the prior album Altered State.

To my amazement I found this album in our review queue. Usually major acts get scooped up quickly. I knew of Tesseract from the occasional Youtube video or mention in other reviews. It turns out they're already considered an up-and-coming progressive act, having won "New Blood" at the 2012 Progressive Music Awards. They're one of a few flagship bands in the djent metal movement, and are often thought of as modern Dream Theater equivalents, helping to push the progressive genre even further into the metal realm. I had an expectation of being wooed by this, my first Tesseract album. Prior to finishing the review I've familiarised myself with their past albums for the sake of having a frame of reference (thanks youtube), and at some point I intend to pick up the remaining material.

There's a wide variety of styles, as one would expect from any critically acclaimed progressive band; from the uncanny funk of the Faith No More-derived Utopia, to the alt/space prog and quasi-power pop of Phoenix and Cages [the latter surprisingly has the only screamy vocals on the entire album].

Undoubtedly the strengths of Tesseract's sound comes from the generally heavier and more progressive tracks. Seven Names, Survival and Dystopia which offer melodic and soaring vocals over an unmistakable nu-metal chorus, are otherwise progressive compositions, and signal a band willing to take chances with hooks, while also retaining some of the cutting edge that has earned them accolades. The ability to write fiery, catchy and highly progressive songs is really their signature sound. This culminates on the track Hexes, which has a very modern progressive fingerprint while also uniquely managing to have a recognisable metal and pop DNA at its core.

At times the vocals work very well, even beautifully as on Tourniquette and Phoenix. Then there are times when they feel forced or out of place, even pedestrian, for the style of music being performed at that moment. This seems to be a sticking point for the band as they've been through numerous lead singers over the years, having tried fitting the contemporary metal standards with more aggressive vocals, but settling on clean and melodic. This tells me the band has been slow to find their identity. The impacts on the quality of their music is nominal but ever-present to my ears.

Polaris doesn't loosen any previously broken ground for the band but it does have some great music on it. The album never grows tiring and keeps me engaged, with plenty of complicated, nerd (math) rock time signature changes and added/dropped beats. The absence of lead guitar work has no affect on the quality of the music, their songs are busy enough, they don't need it. The abundance of exceptional playing by the entire band only solidifies their place among the most talented progressive metal acts.
Conclusion:
Kevin Heckeler: 9 out of 10

Uphill Work - Missing Opportunities
Uphill Work - Missing Opportunities
Country of Origin: Russia
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 44:19
Links:
Track List:
Intro (0:27), Best Wishes (3:34), Leave It To Paul (5:39), A Troubled Rhymemaker (4:27), Smile Over Substance (3:18), History Is Haunting (3:59), Rigor Mortis (4:40), Snowing Down South (18:19)
Take the most extravagant prog band you know, take all the "weird bits" of their music, place them together and re-record all vocals with an actual circus clown. Uphill Work is like that. Expect music that is challenging, complex and not the least bit serious. The most obvious point of reference is the Cardiacs. You'll love it or you'll hate it. Me? I find this album rather tiresome to listen to, yet at the same time it wouldn't surprise me if it ended up in my end-of-year top ten.

The biggest point of concern is the singer. Band leader Lev Gankine sounds like a Russian hobo clown even when the music is (relatively) serious. His nasal, barely-singing, occasionally out of tune, heavily-accented voice is sure to be a turn-off for many listeners. The fact that this album is really wordy doesn't help; Lev starts yodelling from the moment the music starts and barely shuts up. He has enough personality to make him grow on you, but the chances are he might very well annoy you all the way trough.

The lyrics themselves are surprisingly quite good, give or take some minor grammatical mistakes and some extremely outdated references to Paul the Octopus (remember him?).

When the instruments take over (which is rarely), Uphill Work reveals itself as an extremely talented, fun prog-punk outfit, whose real virtuosity lies in its extreme tightness. Not a note goes to waste here. Lev also happens to be a great keyboard player, and is responsible for some of the best instrumental moments; a synth solo in A Troubled Rhymemaker, a climactic organ in Rigor Mortis, some rousing piano throughout.

As far as the music itself is concerned, Missing Opportunities is that risky album on which every next song is better than the previous one. It starts on some short, rough-and-tumble circus songs; odd beats, catchy offbeat choruses, ridiculous wordplay and only the slightest hints of instrumental wizardry here and there. Nothing remarkable, although nowhere close to ordinary either.

This way, the album sucks you in slowly and takes you by surprise when the hard-hitters come around. History is Haunting has a good, ballad-esque build-up and Lev manages some sincerity in his performance. The lyrical subject matter, about a Russian who wonders if he's on the right side of history, strikes a nerve. Rigor Mortis is a great rocker that shows the best of Uphill Work's prog abilities. The organ-driven climax really gets my prog heart pumping.

The album ends with Snowing Down South, an 18-minute epic, which should be the best song on the album. It is, by a narrow margin over Rigor Mortis. Strangely, it's also somehow the most conventional song on the album. Structurally it's actually a typical prog epic with a mysterious build-up, a number of recurring themes and soul-searching lyrics (albeit tongue-in-cheek). The band's trademark weirdness is toned down. They've really attempted to make a decent epic here.

They would have succeeded better, I think, had another sung it. I understand that this is Lev's band and these are his songs, his soul. But in all honesty, Uphill Work as a band has the potential to really stand out from mediocrity, and they could be a truly great band if they do something about the vocals.

Conclusion: Just short of a recommendation. Certainly not for everyone, but very rewarding if you give it a chance.
Conclusion:
Niels Hazeborg: 7.5 out of 10

While Heaven Wept - Suspended at Aphelion
While Heaven Wept - Suspended at Aphelion
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 39:07
Links:
Track List:
Introspectus (3:43), Icarus and I (7:08), Ardor (5:06), Heartburst (4:59), Indifference Turned Paralysis (4:03), The Memory of Bleeding (1:48), Souls in Permafrost (3:56), Searching the Stars (1:42), Reminiscence of Strangers (2:10), Lifelines Lost (2:39), Retrospectus (1:51)
While Heaven Wept are a progressive power metal band from America that sometimes delves into elements of so called "epic doom" within its music. It is an interesting mix of concepts, but one that the band manages to pull off well. Upon seeing the genres the band is included in, I admit I was quite excited to hear what they had to offer.

Suspended At Aphelion is the band's fifth album since its creation in 1991 and easily lives up to the expectations of epic music. Put together as one near-40-minute-long track, but separated into 11 segments, the album is best listened to as a whole to fully appreciate it. The album was written over a period of years, with some music even coming from sessions back in 1988, but the majority of the music and lyrics were written between 2011 and 2014.

The album starts off with an easy-going, relaxing instrumental number, with layered orchestrations of guitar and synths. A short track, but a lovely introduction to the album that sets the mood for the rest of it. Following this, Icarus and I and Ardor flow seamlessly together as one, with an intro that can only be described as an epic build-up before the vocals of Rain Irving kick in at the 50 second mark, washing over the music and adding to the whole epicness of the track. This then flows easily into the doom part of the songs, complete with harsh growled/screamed vocals being harmonised beautifully with clean singing. It later melts back into the power prog the band is known for.

Musically, the guitars and keyboards follow the same similar pattern for the riffs, seeming to play the same thing, while building upon it with textures. The drumming keeps things interesting, drawing you in and developing some fantastic, driving rhythms for the fully-expected sing-along moments during the chorus.

Heartburst is one of the melancholy ballads on the album. It is a soft, sorrowful and mellow song complete with a crowd-pleasing sing-along section of "whoa oh" to get everyone singing along. It is a fairly typical ballad for this style of music, so unfortunately there is not much else to say on it other than if you enjoy power metal ballads, you should love this song. It isn't anything new, but is still an emotional piece of music and well played.

Indifference Turned Paralysis kicks off with a blistering prog riff before merging seamlessly into a fast-paced, epic section. This track is instrumental; however it is essentially a four-minute prog metal riff fest, with pounding drums, technical guitars and speed. A straight-up, balls to the wall prog metal instrumental.

Reminiscence of Strangers and Lifelines Lost again starts off as a soft and slow song, utilising the keyboard skills of Jason Lingle, as well as strings before leading up to the harmonised guitar solo, reminiscent of some of Avenged Sevenfold's ballads. However this soon turns into a speedy, emotional roller coaster of progressive power metal, ending with a final minute of soaring vocals and guitars that just scream about mountains, elves and other fantasy things.

Musically and vocally, it follows the general sound of the majority of power prog, and is technical, well-crafted and beautifully written and sung. If you are a fan of Kamelot or Seventh Wonder or other power/prog metal bands (EdGuy, Helloween, Avantasia) then these guys are perfect. While musically it is not pushing any boundaries, it remains an interesting, sing-along, catchy and all round well-executed prog/power/epic album.
Conclusion:
Calum Gibson: 7 out of 10

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Published Sunday 27 September 2015

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