ISSUE 2015-595

New Year's Special
The last issue of 2015 and it's chock-full with not less than 20 reviews. This brings our total number of published reviews this year to a whopping 863, the highest number of reviews we've ever done so far.

You'll have some time reading this issue because we're going to skip two publication days - the next Reviews Issue won't be before the 10th of January. See you in the new year! Have fun, have a great time, we wish you all good health.
Happy New Year!
Reviews in this issue:

Ad Astra - Surface of Last Scattering
Ad Astra - Surface of Last Scattering
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 50:11
Links:
Track List:
Surface of Last Scattering (11:01), Lament (6:52), Cradle to Grave to Life (21:20), A Gift of Peace (1:44), Pathways (9:44)
Ad Astra is the musical partnership between keyboardist/vocalist Doug Bowser and guitarist Christopher Flynn. Their latest album, Surface of Last Scattering, is the follow up to their debut from 2008, Beyond our Bounds. The Americans from Florida's Gold Coast have a Christian view of our world and combine music with their beliefs.

I don't consider myself a Christian, but still the lyrics speak for themselves and provide a relevant depth to the music these men create with the help from some friends.

From its opener, the title track Surface of Last Scattering, to the closing track, Pathways, this album is filled with some great and accessible progressive passages. The songs are good and remind me of great bands from the classic prog era and 'newer' bands like The Flower Kings. I really mean this as a compliment, as the musicianship of the duo and their guests is very good. Having said that, I do have to say that their sound lacks a good drummer. The drum programming is very tame. I am absolutely sure a drummer could do the band and their songs some good. The other missed chance is the vocals. Doug Bowers is a good singer, not a great singer. Now, having said that, the chemistry between Doug and Christopher is the main reason the album sounds good, so I wouldn't even consider bringing in an other vocalist. The lack of great drums and vocals simply made me decide this album is good, not great.

What about the songs, then? Surface of Last Scattering starts off with a beautiful piano introduction, before opening up into a very melodic and progressive track. The instrumental passages of this and other tracks are very nice and remind me of bands like Kansas and, on some occasions, UK. Not bad, right? That's what I thought listening to Cradle to Grave to Life, which is an epic three-part track, and the beautiful album closer, Pathways.

Lament is the second track, and is a very nice song with depth in its lyrics and a prominent role for the keyboards. A Gift of Peace is a short yet beautiful instrumental piece to set you up for the last, and my personal favourite, track, Pathways. Due to its depth and dynamics this song stuck with me days after first listening to it. Not that this or the other tracks are anything new or groundbreaking, but the music is good and sometimes even beautiful. Yet, as mentioned before, the lack of some great drums and a bigger voice took away some of the greatness.
Conclusion:
Arno Agterberg: 7 out of 10

Akinetón Retard - Azufre
Akinetón Retard - Azufre
Country of Origin: Chile
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 32:07
Links:
Track List:
Jason Torelli (3:40), Come On Lenny!!! (3:59), La Vida Rota (3:29), Afrobó (5:48), Azufre (4:08), Chévere (3:59), Loop (7:00)
Chilean quintet Akinetón Retard are back with their newest release Azufre (Spanish for sulphur). This amazing band was founded in 1994 and this is their seventh album after a nine-year hiatus since Cadencia Urmana was released in 2006. They now feature a 'power trio' combined with double sax arrangements.

Overall, this great band strikes back with an excellent mixture of jazz, fusion and progressive rock elements, highly influenced by King Crimson and their 'Projekts' and combined with arrangements of traditional music and folklore from this region of South America. But these aren't the main musical influences here. The highlight is a musical journey that spans several musical genres. Tracks like Jason Torelli combine hard rock cadences with some psychedelic and jazz rhythms. Come on Lenny!!! is a more easy-listening track, which enhances the wind arrangements and the guitar with influences from Robert Fripp and Frank Zappa.

La Vida Rota (Broken Life) is a reissue of a track previously released on their 2003 album, 21 Canapés, but now it's a bolero-jazz version that includes guest members Carmen Gloria Vilches on vocals, Rodrigo Rojas on keyboards and Rodrigo Mora on percussion. Finally, the closing track, Loop, shows us a more relaxed musical experience with a kind of post rock feel, with some influences from bands like Tortoise.

Azufre is a very interesting and amalgamating lossless musical experience and a perfect introduction to the unusual avant-garde genre, also represented by other Chilean bands like Mar de Robles and Tryo. Highly recommended.
Conclusion:
Guille Palladino: 8 out of 10

Australasia - Notturno
Australasia - Notturno
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 37:28
Links:
Track List:
Nebula (1:40), Eden (6:06), Kern (4:28), Creature (5:26), Invisibile (3:47), Haxo (2:40), Amnesia (5:35), Lumen (3:38), Notturno (4:08)
The world has waited quite some time for a new band names after a continent. We've had America (from America), Europe (from Europe, twice) and Asia (from, er, Europe), and now we have Italian band Australasia. A continent eagerly awaits the band's second album release...

The band, the brainchild of Gian Spalluto, call the instrumental music - among other things - shoegaze and blackened post rock, which sounds a bit like a scorched stick. Influences are slated as Ennio Morricone, metal, and electronic, so it's well thought out and ambitious.

The tasteful, and rather dark, cover, hints at a dark subject although, in reality, the concept is of music related to the various guises of the night.

It is, clearly, post-rock. However, there are nuances that set it apart from what would be expected in the genre. That is, primarily, the addition of some rather inventive keyboards. The opener, Nebula, is very much in the ambient/electronic zone, although the typical post-rock layered guitar riffs kick in forcefully on the next piece, Eden. However, the bubbly keyboards that kick in, albeit sparsely, do crete a welcome diversion from layered guitar-driven post rock.

And while comparisons with many of the top exponents of the genre, such as Mogwai or Maybeshewill, are valid, the keyboards that could come out of the classic electronic era, do create a different dimension.

The album's closing piece, also the title track, is a simply gorgeous piano piece that is different, and emphasises its diversity. At a shade over 37 minutes, it's not overly long for a prog album, however, it feels longer, in part due to the variations throughout.

While it may not be 'blackened' post rock, it does inhabit relatively new territory, albeit only in places. But it's well played, well produced, and definitely a good - and different - addition to any post-rock collection. It's to be hoped that, rather than re-tread traditional post-rock territory, Australasia spread out a little and develop the areas that make them different rather than those that fit more neatly into the genre pigeonhole.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10

Cairo - Double Feature
Cairo - Double Feature
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 53:39, 64:29
Links:
Track List:
CD1: Conception (2:10), Season of the Heart (10:13), Silent Winter (8:25), Between the Lines (9:25), World Divided (10:16), Ruins at Avalon's Gate (22:35)
CD2: Angels and Rage (10:23), Corridors (11:56), Western Desert (17:08), Image (1:25), Then You Were Gone (8:25), Valley of the Shadow (15:52)
The five-man Cairo were formed in the San Francisco Bay area in the early 1990s. This double album, a two-for-one re-release, consists of their eponymous debut album from 1994, coupled with its follow up, Conflict and Dreams, from 1998. Cairo's music mixes a neo-prog approach and an AOR sensibility, along with Keith Emerson organ sounds and Yes-like vocal harmonies. They are like Asia or Kansas but a bit heavier on the prog element, especially the keyboards.

Cairo's debut album, after a short instrumental, kicks off with the AOR prog of Season Of The Heart. It is a fairly straightforward anthem with a stadium rock chorus, but it does mark out Cairo's musical identity. It is full of Mark Robertson's neo-prog synths and Hammond organ, balanced with Alec Fuhrman's guitars and fronted by Bret Douglas' strong and controlled tenor lead vocals.

Each of the lengthy pieces here have many points of interest. Silent Winter has staccato keys and a classic rock refrain. The hard rock guitars on Between The Lines are given a run for their money by Hammond and synth solos. The best track here is World Divided, which opens in a ballad mode but then picks up pace with great grand piano and more synth and guitar duelling. Douglas' vocals are exceptional here and it reminds me of Ra-era Utopia when Kasim Sultan takes the lead vocal.

The debut is let down slightly by the epic Ruins At Avalon's Gate. It is bookended by short vocal sections but it is really an instrumental workout. Very much influenced by ELP, this is Cairo displaying their considerable musical chops but it does seem to be a case of 'let's throw in everything instrumentally', but it ends up being a bit bombastic. I find it only works in parts and my interest waned in places as it rambled around. Still, this is a good debut with many interesting ideas.

The beauty of this double package is that you can immediately hear what Cairo did next. The path Cairo chose for Conflict and Dreams was to sacrifice some subtlety for speed. Every track is breathlessly paced, except for a short acoustic interlude in the shape of Image.

On Angels And Rage, Cairo up the hard rock guitar content against the neo-prog keys and singer Douglas sounds like a darker toned Ian Gillan. Musically, it is as if later, mature, Pendragon were from San Francisco instead of Stroud.

Cairo continue to up the metallic edges on Corridors, whilst giving further metal tilt to the full-on AOR prog of Then You Were Gone. The band show their commitment to their chosen path on the 17 minutes of Western Desert, I'm surprised that they did not all collapse at the end of the relentlessly fast-paced track. Drummer Jeff Brockman gives the standout performance here.

Over the two albums, I found Cairo to be a bit of a mixed bag. It is one of those recordings that does not quite add up to the sum of its parts. I find that I like it more on an individual track basis, rather than listening to either of these album as a whole. Altogether a good listen, but I find it at times lacks direction. A strong outside producer may have helped provide the focus that I feel is missing.
Conclusion:
Martin Burns: 6.5 out of 10

John Hackett - Another Life
John Hackett - Another Life
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 48:48
Links:
Track List:
Another Life (4:02), Look Up (3:45), Poison Town (3:37), White Lines (5:08), Life in Reverse (3:20), Burnt Down Trees (2:57), Satellite (3:32), Forest (4:44), Magazine (4:40), Rain (3:12), Actors (3:43), Another Day, Another Night (4:10), Poison Town Reprise (2:08)
As the brother of a rather famous prog legend, John Hackett has carved out a nice enough career. His work has featured on many an album by his brother, Steve, and his solo career hasn't been that bad, either. The impression of John Hackett has tended to lean more towards a classical bent, but that's definitely not the case here.

This is definitely heavier prog than one would associate with John's solo output (other than Checking Out London), but it's not heavy prog. Play this for a Genesis/Steve Hackett fan, and it's likely to be hailed as a magnificent new Steve Hackett album. The fact that Steve, Nick Magnus and Genesis' other not-nearly-famous-enough guitarist, Anthony Phillips, all play on the album only adds to its impression as a classic album in the Hackett vein.

That it's John, not Steve, isn't relevant when it comes to the quality and, listening to this and Steve's most recent album, this comes out on top. At times, it's light and poppy, but compositionally that doesn't matter as it's so well written and melodic.

John's flute work on the first track reminds of Steve's Defector album, and perhaps Spectral Mornings. It starts off pop, then takes off with some magnificent playing by Hackett, S. It's the same story on Look Up, which also has pop leanings thanks to its accessibility, but again, John's vocals sound eerily similar to his brother, and the fact that Steve's guitar sound is so unique means this also sounds like a classic from any of Steve's solo career. The beautiful guitar almost sounds like it's from an unused 1970s Genesis session.

There's even a bit of Sledgehammer in Burnt Down Trees, although again, the guitar work is unmistakeable and magnificent. The track that follows, Satellite, is the other Genesis guitarist's time to shine. And he does so beautifully. However, Steve does manage to squeeze on to the track, this time playing harmonica.

While it doesn't have the grit and complexity of some of the early Genesis prog, this definitely holds up against much of his brother's output. It's unfortunate that Steve is the yardstick by which John is measured, but when it's this good, it hardly matters, and certainly the name helps when it comes to people taking note. Plus, Steve's trademark sound throughout absolutely takes this to another level. And in spite of not being full-on prog, and quite light with occasional heaviness, it's still beautiful.

This is mature prog that crosses over into mainstream. It's beautiful, well played, and perhaps the pinnacle of John's career to date - which, given his musical output - is saying something. And for fans of the other Hackett, this is an essential listen and purchase, too.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 8 out of 10

Halma - Granular
Halma - Granular
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 41:00
Links:
Track List:
Deep White (8:26), Sediment (7:42), Riverbed (4:31), Mud Mound (6:58), Dirt Devils (7:43), Crooning Dune (5:40)
The sixth album from German four-piece Halma is touted on the album as being for fans of Tortoise and Talk Talk. Lofty goals. And, of course, when considering how Talk Talk's career spanned superb pop to unique progressive music, it's difficult to ascertain which period they mean.

Nonetheless, it's all about Halma's music. And if you're looking for something like Talk Talk, in any of its guises, this isn't it. It's somewhat pedestrian post-rock where each track sounds very similar to the previous one in tempo as they slowly build layer upon layer.

At the beginning, Mud Mound sounds like frustrating Frippertronics with a steady beat behind it, although this too passes, as it turns into more of a post-rock drone piece.

The fuzzy Dirt Devils, does at least have a little bit of pace and life to it, and perhaps Crooning Dune, which is a good composition and possibly the best on the album. There are some minor similarities on this track to the instrumental sections on the final, almost groundbreaking Talk Talk album, Laughing Stock, but they are fleeting.

It's not a terrible listen, and there are interesting moments, it's just that there's too little variation, and it frustratingly doesn't go anywhere. Ambient music is one thing, but ambient post-rock is quite another.

By the end of the album, the only thing that's memorable about it is that it's not really very memorable at all. On the bright side, chances are after being prodded to think of Talk Talk, a quick listen to Laughing Stock brings a hefty sigh of relief and a smile at just how wonderful it is.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 5 out of 10

Knight Area - Hyperlive [CD, DVD]
Knight Area - Hyperlive
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 75:25, 100:00
Links:
Track List:
Afraid of the Dark (6:15), The Lost World (5:19), Bubble (5:02), Crimson Skies (4:15), Avenue of Broken Dreams (4:53), Living in Confusion (5:34), Stepping Out (3:31), Running Away (3:01), Song from the Past (3:36), Hypnotised (7:44), Medley (16:08), Mortal Brow (10:17)
Some album titles are just made for a tour. Following hot on the heels of 2014's Hyperdrive, Knight Area return with their live CD and DVD package, Hyperlive.

Recorded, as are many performances, in Poland, it's really not a live album in the retrospective sense. With the exception of one track, This Day, this is a live version of Hyperdrive, with a fairly lengthy medley track of songs from their previous albums, inventively called Medley, plus one other older track, Mortal Brow (or Mortal Brew as iTunes calls it), to round things off.

Unfortunately, while Knight Area are an excellent neo-prog/heavier prog band, Hyperdrive probably isn't their best album, so playing it in its entirety live, and presenting this as a live recording, both as a CD and DVD, smacks more of commercialism than an attempt to provide a balanced live show.

Knight Area, of late, inhabit a similar realm of prog as Arena or Pendragon, even, of late, IQ. It's still melodic, classic prog, but with a bit more heaviness at times in the guitar work, and the vocals also push it a bit more into the 'heavier side'.

It's impeccably played, as one would expect, although the melodies don't exactly hit the heights of the aforementioned British neo-prog stalwarts. That's not to say it's not impressive, however. The stand-out, Living In Confusion, for example, has some very Genesis-like passages, and it's hard to get more prog than that...

And the final track on the album, Hypnotised, certainly brings the show to a climax before the medley of eight oldies crammed into 16 minutes. While there are plenty of chops and changes, it's also a highlight.

As one would expect, the accompanying DVD of the show is well-produced. The band looks very 'metal', including the obligatory long-haired singer with British Olympic team surplus leggings. There's also a bit of 'trickery' going on, as there are harmonies and only one vocalist. Cue discussion on ethical live practices. The performance is competent, although not spectacular, and there's no pyrotechnics or video enhancement, which might be seen as something of a rarity these days.

As is the norm with most DVDs, it comes with a bonus interview that fans will watch once, a discography and some photos.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10

Andrew Laitres - Singularity
Andrew Laitres - Singularity
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 69:35
Links:
Track List:
The Coming Singularity (6:38), The Visitors (10:37), All This Could Be Yours (12:33), Automaton (16:35), Walk With Me (23:20)
Andrew Laitres released his solo album, Singularity, after writing, performing and recording it all by himself. It's a true solo-effort. The Winter Tree's (formerly known as Magus) main man is full of creativity and musicianship so a solo effort is no surprise. The majority of the album was recorded after a single take, and is mostly improvisational. For those of you who are fans of The Winter Tree/Magus, prepare for a different listening experience, as this truly is something else.

I love ambient music and, within the format of The Winter Tree, Laitres is a very good composer and musician. So I was a bit disappointed with the result here, even after listening to the album many times. Some parts are good for late nights and meditation although I can't imagine Laitres' purpose was to write background music. But, to my ears, this album never becomes more than that. The reason is the lack of pace, depth and the improvisational and minimalistic character of most of the music.

There are some tracks that provide some nice parts, like The Visitors and Automaton. And the most interesting track is All This Could Be Yours, with more dynamics and percussion. However, the album failed to impress me or live up to the expectations I had, given the quality of Laitres' other work.
Conclusion:
Arno Agterberg: 5 out of 10

Phantasmagoria - Golden Planet
Phantasmagoria - Golden Planet
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 53:37
Links:
Track List:
Launch (1:01), Departing Planet Earth (6:11), Siberian Frostbite (8:00), Space (1:26), Brave New World (6:22), Connection 7 (2:39), Home (0:53), Distant Voyage (6:31), Emergency (2:50), Golden Planet (8:28), Golden Planet (Remix) (9:16)
While this Ohio band's 2014 release is described by the band as space rock, it's a little more mainstream than the kind of more psychedelic space rock genre Hawkwind can be found in. In fact, there are more similarities to some of the Canterbury sounds than there are to what could be traditionally considered space rock.

There are some light jazz and 1970s influences, and certainly there are some tracks that sound quite the homage to Camel. The space elements are more in the theme than they are the genre. Keyboards and guitar dominate the largely instrumental tracks, not that this is to diminish the solid contribution from the bass and drums section, which hold down the bottom end admirably, yet without showy pretension.

Each of the mature and melodic compositions is well crafted, and extremely well played. And they are certainly varied. The short interlude, Home, for example, starts out with some rather pedestrian old American music, before bursting into life on the following track, the spacey (thanks primarily to the effervescent keyboards) Distant Voyage. Emergency starts off ambient/electronic, before going through some lounge-room piano, and then back to one of the main musical motifs of the album.

Overall, while not spectacular or groundbreaking, it's a very solid, listenable album that covers many bases from ambient electronic interludes to spaced-out synth-driven jazz-rock right through to rockier instrumentals. The strong sense of melody throughout really gives this mature release a big boost, and it's to be hoped that Phantasmagoria continue to create intelligent music that defies pigeonholing.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10

Runaway Totem - Viaggio Magico
Runaway Totem - Viaggio Magico
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 41:56, 45:34
Links:
Track List:
CD1: Mongolian Voyage/Cucamonga Valley (14:44), Mozambico (14:18), Jaipur la Città Rosa (12:54)
CD2: Segreto tra le mura (12:32), Ganesha Puja (13:40), TAT L'Albero Cosmico (19:22)
Italy, as we are all aware, has long been a mainstay and producer of fine progressive rock since the early 70s, with the like likes of Banco and PFM leading the charge to capture the minds and wallets of prog fans. This double CD showcases Runaway Totem live in Trento, Italy, in May 2013, with this album seeing the light of day at the very end of 2014.

Runaway Totem perform entirely in Italian so if, like me, you are sadly lacking in Italian language skills, then you either just listen or you use Google translate to work out out what is going on - I chose the former.

The style is very eclectic, bringing elements of world music and jazz into the mix, and with a unusual combination of instrumentation this evokes sounds and images of distant lands for sure. I must warn you the vocals are questionable in that thy have an operatic tendency, which makes listening a challenge at times. I found I could only take this album in small chunks, but i stuck with it and surely enough there is some great instrumentation on here and the unusual voicing give this weight.

These guys and gals really can deliver in a live setting, and I did grow to appreciate this somewhat finding the opener, Mongolian Voyage, especially acceptable. Gamesha Puja is equally scintillating with its use of Indian rhythms and the quite startling bass of Giuseppe Buttiglione.

There is real emphasis to this piece as it evokes the Indian grandeur of Jaipur with its complex, intense myriad of rhythms and counter rhythms, which shows real imagination and creativity. I find a burgeoning admiration for what these folks are doing and the class with which they do it, even if i still find the vocals difficult to digest.

This is not the easiest listen but, if you want a challenge, check it out and if you can get on their 'bandwidth', then you will find much to appreciate and even enjoy.
Conclusion:
John Wenlock-Smith: 5 out of 10

Shattered Skies - The World We Used To Know
Shattered Skies - The World We Used To Know
Country of Origin: Irland
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 57:47
Links:
Track List:
Collapse of Man (1:26), The End and the Rebirth (3:59), Haunted (4:39), 15 Minutes (4:48), Elegance and Grace (5:02), Show's Over (4:33), As the Sea Divides (6:09), Flipside (4:16), Aesthetics (6:51), Saviours (4:52), The World We Used to Know (11:07)
Shattered Skies are a band from Ireland, who are now London based. Since 2011 they have released two EPs and this full-length album in early 2015. Their sound is quite unique by combining melodic rock with elements from technical metal/djent.

Tracks like The End and the Rebirth or Saviours are straight, catchy, nearly AOR-ish rockers, but the heavy bass, guitar and drum sound gives the songs a hard and progressive edge. Imagine Animals as Leaders play tunes by It Bites and you get an idea. Most of the other tracks are even heavier, but still very melodic. Especially the keyboards and the clean singing of vocalist Sean Murphy prevent the music from sounding simply like metal. From an objective point of view the music of Shattered Skies is not very progressive in terms of odd time signatures, long tracks or jazzy chords, but their sound and style should appeal to most listeners of "modern" prog metal.

The mixture of straight, almost poppy songwriting with a djent metal sound makes this album kind of outstanding. Maybe it is a little too less diversified, but great fun to listen to and easily obtained a spot in my top 10 of 2015. You can bang your head as well as sing along to the catchy tunes. Meanwhile, singer Sean Murphy left the band in Summer of 2015 and the band are currently auditioning new singers.
Conclusion:
Robert Zimmer: 8 out of 10

Dave Sturt - Dreams and Absurdities
Dave Sturt - Dreams and Absurdities
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 57:18
Links:
Track List:
Mirage (6:30), Transcendence (7:40), Hollow Form (6:32), Bouncing Like Gagarin (3:00), Jaffa Market (6:30), (In My Head) I'm Swimming (1:30), Unique and Irreplaceable (5:40), Dreams and Absurdities (6:56), White and Greens in Blue (7:00), Vast Indifference (6:00)
Another artist few may have heard of, but most likely will have heard. Sturt has played bass alongside some of the greats, in Gong, with David Gilmour, Jade Warrior, Bill Nelson and in Cipher with Theo Travis.

Travis, Hillage, the late Daevid Allen, and Nelson are among the many guests on Sturt's solo album. As one might expect, it's a rather cerebral affair, with ambient sounds, world music influences, and much more, all bound together by Sturt's effortless and beguiling bass playing. And while the style of the pieces may vary, it's definitely not a case of too many changes making for a disjointed whole.

The gorgeous, eastern influenced Mirage starts things off with some fluid and engaging fretless bass. The next piece, Transcendence, is beautiful music that brings to mind the astonishing Cathedral Oceans series by John Foxx. Hollow Form shuffles along, with some tasteful and understated sax from Travis. Bouncing Like Gagarin features spoken word, and has a bit of the eeriness of Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of the Titanic to it.

Hillage's guitar takes Jaffa Market in a more upbeat direction, and Knifeworld's Kavus Torabi features on the far too short (In My Head) I'm Swimming. Unique and Irreplaceable is a supremely haunting piece with Allen's guitar adding to the ethereal sound.

There are some similarities in sound, at least in the bass playing, to both Brand X and Weather Report, although this most certainly isn't fusion. Some of Colin Edwin's collaborations also spring to mind.

Overall, a beautiful and thought-provoking album that quietly demands to be heard, and listened to intently. Doing so rewards the listener with so much. This is ambient music that really defies the definition of the genre. It's not background music, it's intense, considered, mesmerising. This is rare, immersion music, and music that affects feeling and emotion. Who could ask for more?
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 8 out of 10

Tamarisk - Frozen In Time
Tamarisk - Frozen In Time
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2012
Time: 45:48
Links:
Track List:
Ascension (6:58), Royal Flush (4:14), M.O.J.O. [The Death of The American Prayer] (6:46), An Alien Heat (5:21), A Christmas Carol (7:29), Breaking The Chains (7:54), No Room At The Top (7:06)
A fossilised musical time capsule of sorts has been unearthed from the sub-basement of topography, previously stuck in a warped glitch for around 30 years. The silent dirt of underground time has been dusted off this artefact. And it has been enabled to freely travel from the past to the present, revealing it now as a curio of progressive rock from an earlier embryonic era.

At the time of its birth at Druids Studios in East London, this entity took the form of something known at the time as a 'cassette tape', released in November 1982 by British prog outfit Tamarisk. It was a demo simply entitled Tamarisk. This curious entity then took on a dual form in July of the following year with the birth of its younger sibling, another demo, Lost Properties. The entity, five Tamarisk Elders, proudly displayed the sound of their progressive rock offspring to the public, at places like legendary London venue The Marquee, as well as the U.K. Electronica festival.

These Elders are Elder Andy Grant on vocals, Elder Richard Harris on drums, Elder Steve Leigh on keyboards, Elder Pete Munday on guitar and Elder Mark Orbell on bass.

After these glorious times of proud display, the entity went in hibernation, cold yet incubated by many a contouring clump of soft English earth.

The entity-child awakens. It knows it's time to revisit the world has come, and it burrows up through the ground into new daylight. What was once a child is now an adult of about 30. It has weathered the intervening years well, healthy, glistening, with hardly any bruises or warts in sight - or in sound. No longer is the entity a cassette tape but, as a full-grown physical being, taken form as something called a 'compact disc'. It also lives in a computerised parallel reality known as a 'download'. Its mission, in either one of these realities, is to reinvigorate the fond memories of the earlier Tamarisk cassette tape releases and live shows, and perhaps to deploy the music of Tamarisk to a new generation of listeners.

This being is, indeed, Frozen In Time. Announced to the world in attractive gatefold packaging, displaying a cryptic icon of a lizard.

Seven songs, five Elders - from the stumbling darkness of A Christmas Carol to the breezy, brisk surf of An Alien Heat to the spacey abrasive melancholy of Royal Flush, Tamarisk takes us on a careening sojourn through a lot of Marillion-style hills and dales.

Elder Leigh gives us keyboard playing that freewheels into brilliance, at times melancholy and at other times kinetic. Elder Munday's axe is harmonious and fluid, yet at other times skitterish, to the point of wayward solo abandon. Elders Orbell and Harris are a dual mechanism, driving forth the rhythm of Tamarisk and holding it all down as a double-barrel laser deployment of red relentless groove combustion. And the words, the communique, delivered with confidence by Elder Grant, speaking of amongst other things peace during Cold War and waxing poetic on a long-ago passed rock-and-roll poet.

The former takes the form of Ascension, where Elder Leigh's dutiful keys strike a pattern of vintage. This signals in reverse to that prior past, when another life-form, perhaps a distant cousin of the Tamarisk entity-child, issued a communique known as Script For A Jester's Tear. Elder Munday's guitar sparkles like the stars of time that the entity hibernated under all these years, solar sundials pointing from the heavens of the occurrences to yet occur. And Grant, the spokesperson, suggests to us in his missive here, "It's all just a memory now". Who knows? Time and circumstance will again filter together, telling us if the memories of Tamarisk are the only things left, indeed.
Conclusion:
Jim Corcoran: 6 out of 10

Three Wise Monkeys - Progetto Arte
Three Wise Monkeys - Progetto Arte
Country of Origin: Australia
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 59:16
Links:
Track List:
Islands (4:19), PANOPTICON (5:40), Shoegazer (6:59), Unboxing (3:13), Horsemen of the Apocolypse (3:34), River, Desert, Wind, Mountains (4:14), Vanitas (5:07), Asomatous (6:20), Bluebox (5:59), Gravitas (4:25), nOOb (4:41), Terminus (4:45)
Three Wise Monkeys are a three-piece jam-based fusion band from Sydney, Australia. Both their previous releases, Perihelion and False Flag, gained positive DPRP reviews.

Progetto Arte is probably the band's most accomplished release so far, as it successfully builds upon the differing positive attributes of both Perihelion and False Flag. Perihelion was awash with loose and sometimes open ended jam-based compositions, whilst False Flag's pieces were generally more finely honed and refined. The band's latest album is made up of 12 exhilarating tunes. These spit and fizz with just the right balance between melody and dissonance. The album also sparkles with skilful finesse to brilliantly contrast with the power and raw energy that is a prominent feature throughout. Progetto Arte contains many wonderful solos and much of the trio's music and performance has a spontaneous and improvised feel. It is an album that has much to offer those who like their fusion heavily marinated with virtuoso playing within innovative and intricate compositions.

Any notion that the band might attempt to subtly seduce the listener in the album's opening piece, Islands, are quickly abandoned. Islands is instead uncompromising in its approach. The track provides a rich sequence of riff-laden segments that are appealingly garnished with slices of snarling energy. It is a piece that is teeming with primal emotion and paradoxically is lined with sophisticated playing. In this composition, these elements combine to bewitch and then entwine listeners with a succession of pulsating adrenaline-pumped performances.

Progetto Arte is frequently inventive and is, for the most part, also fiendishly complex. The musicianship throughout is exemplary and provides a wonderful platform for the trio to exploit the strengths of the band's burnished compositions. Intricate playing abounds and the arrangements frequently take unexpected twists and turns to create an album that has an enjoyably stimulating and often spontaneous quality.

The album features many hard-edged biting guitar parts that give it a pumped and muscular tone. Guitarist Kypo provides a great deal of variety, and is able to support the music using a wide range of styles. His solos are engaging and his use and careful selection of a range of effects is never predictable or inaccessibly flamboyant. Kypo plays with a ferocious frenetic fluidity that is easy to appreciate and difficult to ignore. Kypo's skilled performance offers a supple contrast to the expansive bass lines of Alex King and the fine drumming of Brendon Waterman.

If Progetto Arte is played loudly, careful consideration for neighbours is required; Kypo's wailing guitar, Waterman's imposing strikes and King's muscular rhythms are easily capable of making a neighbour's magnolia wood chip wallpaper ripple and bulge to the brick buffered beat.

However, the importance of melody is never neglected and is never far from the heart of the band's expressive compositions. This is beautifully illustrated in the gorgeous multi-layered themes contained in the impressive Unboxing. It is an engagingly composed piece that almost equals the warmth of Sol Invictus; the stand-out track from the band's Perihelion album. The piece is based around a delightful bass riff. Once again, King displays his masterful technique on the bass using both harmonic and percussive effects to underpin the lyrical cascades of Kypo's guitar. The band's trademark style of explosive guitar-led fusion is not entirely forgotten. In a blistering middle-eight section, Kypo's face-gurning guitar lines take centre stage to tease and excite before the piece fades to grey with an impressive drum flourish.

The album has enviable durability and the compositions arguably get stronger as the album progresses. The string of satisfyingly strong pieces begins with Vanitas and ends with Terminus. The wide mix of styles in this sequence was exciting and often hard to classify. Out of this succession of pieces, the methodical post rock styled introduction of Asomatus was particularly appealing. It brought to mind the work of bands such as Kermit and El Tubo Elástico. The change of direction in Asomatus to a more metal edge after three minutes was unexpected, but ultimately was highly rewarding.

Bluebox is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. The whole piece is highly charged and comes across as a fresh, loosely-constructed jam. Superbly executed tapped and slapped bass parts create infectious grooves that enable the guitar to improvise with gruff aplomb. Overall, it is an excellent composition and is representative of the Three Wise Monkeys' tenacity and distinctive style.

I doubt that the music of the Three Wise Monkeys will appeal to those who might enjoy a more straightforward song-orientated approach to prog, but for aficionados of fusion there is much to appreciate and admire. Indeed, 2015 has been a good year for fusion, Dewa Budjana's Hasta Karma, Consider the Source's World War Trio parts II & III, and the Three Wise Monkeys Progetto Arte have all provided excellent albums that, in their unique ways, have helped develop and extend the parameters of instrumental progressive fusion. I thoroughly enjoyed the Three Wise Monkeys latest offering and have no hesitation in recommending Progetto Arte to all fusion fans.

In the final analysis, not everybody will appreciate Progetto Arte, but I am confident that the Three Wise Monkeys' unique style that is showcased in this album may astound many listeners.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10

Trailight - Primitive Mountain
Trailight - Primitive Mountain
Country of Origin: Canada
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 46:08
Links:
Track List:
Open Doors (6:10), Sentient Beings Part 1 The Dim Future of Our Distant Past, Part 2 All That We Are (5:32), We Are the Ocean (4:13), Frail Human Form (3.13), The Primitive Mountain (5:12), Passer By (4:46), A Thousand Years (7:23), Navarino (5:09), Beyond the Rubicon (3:29)
Over the weeks that i have been listening to this rather blistering and quite heavy in parts opus from Trailight, one band has come to mind that have a similar sound vocally and musically, and that is Creed, the US rockers who had a huge hit with Eyes Wide Open.

Where Trailight differ is that their music is more diverse and features some of the dreaded death metal vocals and some quite trashy guitar riffage.

Whilst I'm not an overt fan of prog metal, I do concede that many love this sub genre immensely and for them, this album has many merits. It has a degree of heaviness and technicality, and it is also melodic in parts and there is significant use of 'light and shade' within the tracks to stop it being a continuous noise.

In addition, the vocals, when not death 'metallised', are very clear and understandable as the whole album seems to be questioning our place in this vast world, how we fit in and interact and what we can bring of worth, and the difference it makes to the bigger picture.

It is a tad short at 46 minutes but not a moment is wasted. The production values are clear and there is good separation, making this a delight to hear - loud it is even better.

For me, We Are the Ocean is a standout piece, as is The Primitive Mountain. The sleeve is very good, reminding me of the recent Haken cover. At times, Trailight do remind me of Haken as they share a similar melodic sensibility and the ability to embrace melody and harmony alongside heavier tones and elements.

I'm sure their next project will be even better and even more developed and polished but, for now, this shows great promise.
Conclusion:
John Wenlock-Smith: 7.5 out of 10

Umpfel - Cactus
Umpfel - Cactus
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 58:36
Links:
Track List:
The Midas Touch (6:33), Precarious (7:02), All The Girls Think I'm So Hot (3:40), Fly, Fly (4:53), Busskort (5:34), Right Through Your Hearth (4:46), Illuminati (8:20), Mr. Anund Where Are You? (4:24), Shleep 13:21
Umpfel is a new progressive rock/metal project from Norway consisting of Anund Vikingstad (guitar & bass) and Andreas Skorpe Sjøen (drums, keys and vocals) and was founded in 2011. On their official debut album Cactus they are supported by several guest musicians, who contribute solos or vocals. There's also a small string ensemble (two cellos and two violins) which can be heard on six of the nine tracks.

So much for the facts, but what about the music? For me this album was one of the biggest surprise bags of the year. What should I expect from a band called Umpfel - I don't even know how to pronounce it, with an "a" as in "under", with a "u" as in "oomph", or like the German word "Sumpf" (which means swamp) - and an album named Cactus?

As weird as the name is the mixture of styles the band uses and creates. The first two tracks and the 8-minute Illuminati are the nearest to "classic" prog metal tunes with the usual hints to Dream Theater, Enchant or newer bands like Haken or Leprous. All The Girls Think I'm So Hot sounds like a funky ballad of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, while Fly, Fly and Busskort are really heavy songs with elements of modern/alternative metal, while the latter one also features some quite melodic parts and a great It Bites-like synth solo.

Right Through Your Hearth (this is not a typo!) reminds me of fusion projects like Simon Phillip's Protocol or instrumental sections on a Toto album. Mr. Anund, Where Are You? is a varied instrumental track which starts with an extremely heavy riff, features some typical prog parts (odd time signatures, syncopated riffs and solos) and finally ends with a heavy polka section. The final Shleep (a pun made of "sheep" and "sleep"?) is a real treat: from melodic heavy parts over weird screaming, samples of bleating sheep, thrash and fun metal to a terrific hymnic ending, this track offers both fun and aspiration. I haven't had a similar experience since Spock's Beard's The Light or It Bites's Once Around the World.

This album might not be suitable for everyone because of some of the heavy or weird parts, but I strongly recommend to give this young band a chance. The big variety of styles, the great clear voice of Andreas, excellent musicianship, a really awesome production and its airiness lift this album far above average and directly into my top five of 2015.
Conclusion:
Robert Zimmer: 8.5 out of 10

Volvox - Volvox
Volvox - Volvox
Country of Origin: Argentina
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 50:54
Links:
Track List:
Oxygeno (4:06), Despues del ocaso (5:05), Mas alle de lo evidente (4:59), El arte de la guerra (6:23), Syndrome de Estocolmo (4:37), Cobra (4:38), Eclipse (4:54), Obsessive Blues (5:06), Jacques Cousteau (7:08), Degeneracion en generacion (3:58)
A debut eponymous release from an Argentinian band can't be bad when it's inventively named after a tiny green alga. Volvox is an instrumental band not short on ideas or influences. It's jazzy, occasionally heavy and phrenetic prog with intermittent aggressive heavier overtones. Keyboards and guitars compete for the forefront, although the drumming is extremely good, too.

The guitar work has an occasional King Crimson feel to it (the Adrian Belew incarnation), the keyboards are a tad more conventional. The drumming is, at times, phenomenal.

At the end of Sindrome de Estocolmo they borrow heavily (also known as copying) a riff or three from Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Cobra has a distinct world music feel to it, while "Eclipse" is much more in a jazz vein. Obsessive Blues again starts out with more light jazz, although the song does swiftly head into bluesier territory, in a not dissimilar way to Steve Hackett's occasional foray into a genre he loves. The man himself would definitely be impressed by the most prog piece on the album, a Hackett-like piercing guitar assault on Jacques Cousteau. It's the album's stand-out by a long way, and the drumming - almost a solo - is again outstanding, before the blistering guitar scorches its way back in.

Volvox have certainly created a varied album of instrumentals. The playing is great, and the variety keeps things fresh. It's all very good, but just lacks that spark and cohesion that takes a good album into great territory. But there's enough on show here - especially on that truly epic
Jacques Cousteau_, to suggest that, with a bit of fine tuning, Volvox can make real inroads into the prog genre. Anyone not checking out the album should, at least, investigate that one track, bearing in mind that the entire disc doesn't inhabit similar territory. More's the pity.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10

Adrian Weiss - Easy Game
Adrian Weiss - Easy Game
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 52:48
Links:
Track List:
Tracklist: Awkward Silence (4:44), Instant Relief (4:03), Aim To Please (4:23), Immediate Measures (3:45), The Last Days (4:16), Hacienda (4:11), Camel's Dance (4:19), Second Sunrise (3:35), The Offering (4:21), Easy Game (4:05), Night Owl (5:51), Offbeat Frankenstine (5:15)
Adrian Weiss' Easy Game - his second solo instrumental album - seems like a thing of magic. From the explosive, guitar-slapped intro to Awkward Silence, I could almost sense that this was no run of the mill album. In my prejudice, I wouldn't have expected such developed content from a "mere" power metal guitarist (as much as I love the genre).

There's a lot of novel ideas to be found here, even though I have to admit that it is first and foremost a guitar virtuoso album, and that it will most likely appeal to guitar players. With that in mind, I will not go into a track by track analysis, because that would be like reviewing a zombie movie one death at a time: every description will be covered in guts and as bloody as the next.

But that is not to say this album is repetitive. On the contrary, although there's shredding aplenty, there's also many other moods that I'd like to highlight. Hacienda and Camel's Dance add different layers icing to an already delicious dessert. The first brings a spaghetti western feel into the mix, while the second goes into the more familiar arabesque guitar instrumental.

The following track, Second Sunrise, goes in a different direction altogether and is reminiscent of sandy shores, palm trees and deep, clear oceans. Of course the rest of the album is full of heavy rock tunes and the classic instrumental ballads that have become staples of every guitar lead album.

The production values are very high, with every instrument in place. The sound is clear as day, and all the pieces can be heard distinctly at any time, although the double bass drum could have worked the same if the volume was a tad softer in some of the tracks. The players in here are all phenomenal, both the three-piece band and the guests, making Easy Game an album to be reckoned with.

It reminded me a lot of the first times I heard guitarists like Tony Macalpine or Paul Gilbert, not for the compositions, but because of that sense of finding something special; and that deserves high praise in my book.
Conclusion:
Diego Crescini: 8.5 out of 10

We Stood Like Kings - USSR 1926
We Stood Like Kings - USSR 1926
Country of Origin: Belgium
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 74:00
Links:
Track List:
Capital (7:42), Downfall (4:00), Siberian Taiga (6:25), Are You A Master Too (6:24), Kremlin (6:40), Immense Wealth (6:28), Caravans (5:55), Samoydes (10:10), The Black Sea (6:03), Icebreaker Lenin (5:45), Volchovstroy (9:19)
We Stood Like Kings are a Belgian four-piece "post rock" (not prog) instrumental band who tour their compositions accompanying vintage silent films.

Projections in concerts have long been part of the live spectacle but besides the Pet Shop Boys (!) playing along with the Russian monochrome classic Battleship Potemkin or Nash the Slash providing a live soundtrack for Nosferatu, this idea seems pretty rare in the rock music scene.

This CD is the studio version of their latest project, providing the soundtrack to Dziga Vortov's A Sixth Part of the World. Judith Hooren provides a haunting arpeggio-led piano over a traditional blend of bass, drums, and electric guitar, adding timbre and texture to the keyboard-dominated sound. The ivories are also joined by epic string and pad flavours which all add a grandiose which mirrors the feeling of the movie.

Although we always try to give a youtube link for most of our reviews, in this case it appears that most of the visual content is there, along with tracks from this album, for you to watch (and hear) and, to be honest, that is probably the best way to consume this. However, the music does stand up on its own merits, especially once the ancient celluloid presentation has been engraved into your subconscious. The rise and fall of emotions and the hardships have been woven into the fabric as if the audio and visuals were meant to be married from the off.

Not necessarily an essential addition to your collection of shiny silver discs then but, matched with the film, it's award winning.
Conclusion:
Andrew Halley: 7 out of 10

Zip Tang - Private Shangri-La
Zip Tang - Private Shangri-La
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 47:00
Links:
Track List:
Cigarette Burns (7:11), Knowing (3:30), Exit 94 (4:42), Maniacal Calliope (6:40), Lines (1:40), Big Crunch (6:00), Phantasmagoric Haze (3:49), Plastique Hey-Zeus (4:30), Delete the Hole (3:25), Gravity (3:42), Iterum (1:51)
What a lovely surprise Zip Tang is. I definitely love what they did with their new album. The band were unknown to me (and probably many others). But they really know how to groove and rock. And all that within and beyond the progressive rock boundaries. The Chicago-based band released this, their fifth album, as a three-piece, after Marcus Padgett (saxophone) quit the band after 12 years. His absence is easily noticeable, but this isn't a bad thing. Although Padgett is a great musician, the sound of Zip Tang 2.0 is great.

Fred Faller (drums), Perry Merritt (vocals, guitars and synthesisers) and Rick Wolfe (bass and vocals) produced the album themselves and did a very good job. The sound is warm and very balanced. The music reminds me of Frank Zappa or even Bigelf. But this new effort is a little less jazz influenced than their previous albums. You can even hear a little mainstream rock/pop edge on some of the songs.

The album starts with Cigarette Burns. This song represents the album very well with some different passages and moods driven by a very strong melody and a lot of dynamics.

Knowing, Exit 94 and Maniacal Calliope follow in the same vein but each have their own identity within the album. The ballad Lines is short but very nice and sets you up for Big Crunch, which is my favourite track on this album. The song starts with an ambient intro but takes off with a very groovy and progressive part that reminds of Rush at their best. And when you are really grooving your way through the song you find out it is way shorter than you wish it was. But that's all part of the magic in the case of Zip Tang. The pain is quickly taken away by Phantasmagoric Haze, which is another great track. Starting as quite a straightforward rocker, it evolves into a layered and a little more complex composition.

Due to the shorter length of the songs this album is over before you know it. And there are no weak tracks, although Delete the Hole and Gravity don't bring anything new to the table. The album closer, Iterum, is a short synth-driven song that brings a nice close to the album after 47 minutes of great and very entertaining music. Give this album a few spins and I am sure you'll find it very interesting at the very least. And with bands like Rush, The Who and Zappa as clear influences, you might even grow to love what the band did on Private Shangri-La.
Conclusion:
Arno Agterberg: 8 out of 10

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Published Thursday 31 December 2015

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