ISSUE 2016-001

Reviews in this issue:

The Anagram Principle - Inventor
The Anagram Principle - Inventor
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 49:36
Links:
Track List:
Fathom 3327 (8:34), Napalm (4:28), Occam's Razor (2:02), Master Of Distance (12:23), The Light Consumed (1:43), Black Cloud (5:37), Quake (3:41), Transmission (3:44), AfterMath (4:36), Gamma Andromeda (2:48)
The Anagram Principle is a prog rock duo based in Pittsburgh, USA, comprising Tedd Arnold and Bob Neft. Inventor is their second album together.

The whole principle of the album is a musical journey featuring those inventors who have sought to change and, in some instances, potentially destroy the world.

Arnold is responsible for the slightly robotic, other worldly lead vocals, which, in this context, are ideal for the ten electronic tracks, each of which offers different perspectives and shades, but all contained within a rigid framework. Arnold also takes care of programming, keyboards and guitars, while Neft provides the harmony vocals, drum programming, keyboards, bass and guitars.

With the sound of the sea and seagulls starting opener Fathom 3327, the track finds electrical genius Nikola Tesla, the archetypal mad scientist, on his death bed, reflecting his final thoughts. The track shifts through a variety of electronic moods and textures,

Napalm is another full-on track that has an urgent rhythm and some rather harrowing lyrics about the effects of the afore-mentioned flammable agent. Occam's Razor which follows is a short, rather beautiful, melancholy and spiritually-tinged instrumental.

The longest track, the aptly named Master of Distance, again has a keen futuristic edge, characterised by some great vocal interplay and well-modulated keyboards.

We then return to the shorter compositions through The Light Consumed, which again which has plenty of dramatic vocals and electronica, then Black Cloud that introduces a more hypnotic quality with the repeated use of the phrase "over and over again". There are shades here of electronic pop pioneers such as Depeche Mode and Tubeway Army.

Quake follows in a similar vein, pumping out those metronomic rhythms and slightly spooky synths and Transmission slows everything right down, multiple voices delivering some doomy lyrics involving 1984 and all its inherent nightmare visions.

AfterMath mixes it up some more through a slightly Eastern vibe and finally, there's Gamma Andromeda, an interesting instrumental with an almost Russian-sounding recurring vocal line which closes this particular chapter, but leaves the door ajar for more.

It's an intriguing collection of variations on a given theme. For those who like their prog at the more electronica end of the spectrum, there will be much to savour here.
Conclusion:
Alison Reijman: 6.5 out of 10

Barock Project - Skyline
Barock Project - Skyline
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 70:16
Links:
Track List:
Gold (8:39), Overture (3:39), Skyline (10:20), Roadkill (5:58), The Silence Of Our Wake (10:47), The Sound Of Dreams (2:22), Spinning Away (6:05), Tired (9:57), A Winter's Night (4:37), The Longest Sigh (7:52)
Since I discovered this band a few weeks ago, I've been wondering how did I miss this one? If I had listened to this album before I made my Top 10 list of 2015 albums, it for sure would be among the best five of them! I'm glad I wasn't the only reviewer at DPRP that apparently overlooked this magnificent band from Modena and Bologna, Italy. I'm very grateful to Alison Reijman and Joris Donkel, who me aware of the existence of Barock Project by including Skyline in their top 10 end-of-year lists on the DPRP website. This is actually their fourth release, and it will probably be their big breakthrough in the world of prog. Their third album, Coffee in Neukölln (2012), already sounded promising, but they've created a real masterpiece here.

The project founder is keyboard wizard Luca Zabbini, who is also the bass player, backing vocalist and composer. He is a great admirer of Keith Emerson, and proves his great skills throughout the entire album. I already consider him among other great keyboard players from our time such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) and Clive Nolan (Arena, Pendragon).

The vocalist, Luca Pancaldi, is also quite brilliant (and has no accent!). He has a strong and powerful voice that reminded me of Steve Walsh of Kansas, in his better days. The highlight in the vocal department for me is the track Tired, where Pancaldi's vocals sound really fantastic and Barock Project prove they also can play prog metal in a Dream Theater style. The other band members are Eric Ombelli (drums) and Marco Mazzuoccolo (guitars), and they both are great musicians as well.

The music has elements of neo prog, jazzrock, progressive metal and 70s progressive rock. It never gets experimental, however, and the song structure always stays intact. We are treated to beautiful melodies and catchy tunes, with sometimes lush and bombastic keyboard sounds. On the opening track, Gold, you might recognise some influences of Spock's Beard and Kansas. There is a horn section that reminded me of Toto, harmony vocals in the vein of Yes, and beautiful Mellotron sounds near the end that could easily have been made by Genesis. With all those references, you will understand that this is an opening track to die for!

The entire album is a real feast for your ears. Hopefully, they will keep producing such high quality in the future because this is a band to watch. Let's hope they play some gigs across Europe because I think it will appeal to lots of prog rock lovers. But even Europe is too small for this Italian band and they might have the world at their feet. There are no bad tracks, and my other favourites are Skyline, The Silence Of Our Wake and The Longest Sigh. Do I need to say that I strongly advise every DPRP reader to listen to the full album on Bandcamp? I won't be surprised if after listening you say "This album is a must have!"
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 9.5 out of 10

Blank Manuskript - The Waiting Soldier [LP]
Blank Manuskript - The Waiting Soldier
Country of Origin: Austria
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 39:26
Links:
Track List:
Induction (6:09), Public Enemy (5:42), Kites to Sky (2:54), Doubts (3:45), The Night (9:17), Conclusion (5:07), Cloud (6:36)
Sometimes when we receive albums to review, we get descriptions that include phrases like "inspirations include Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, Rush and Greenslade" (I just felt like throwing a curveball there). Normally, the result sounds nothing like any of these so-called inspirations, leaving the description invalid.

However, such a description would be applicable to Austria's Blank Manuskript, who seem to take their influences from bands such as Camel and Pink Floyd (as is confirmed on their website) and do so much more with it. Their latest release, The Waiting Soldier, fuses elements of vintage prog-rock with an assured sense of retrospective vision in order to create a very fulfilling album, whether listened to in single bites or as a whole.

According to the band, "the album deals with the loss of identity and the formation of a fictitious working environment. The story tell [sic] the day of someone, who hasn't found his place in society and thus intends to take his desired place." Just your average prog-rock concept album, then. The album, which is not available on CD, is housed in a rather creepy gatefold sleeve with lyrics on the interior. Altogether a quality package, but it's the music that's the key here.

The pace is set with the dreamy Induction, which seems to float almost accidentally into a Canterbury-style riff. A few flutey flights later, a vocal passage leads us sublimely into a heavy riff. This is an example of something the band do so well: they are able to take the listener through many highly contradictory styles without ever needing to force that change. Each song is a whirlwind of moods and emotions, and yet it all flows so beautifully.

Public Enemy does just the same, travelling from anthemic riffs, through to beautiful guitar solos with a brief stop at mathematically complicated rhythms. Kite to Sky is a bit more self-contained, featuring a child's singing and a swelling guitar solo over a brass section. Absolutely marvellous. Doubts finishes off side A in the proggiest fashion possible, the main riff featuring a funky alternating 7/8 and 4/4 pattern that will surely have fans bopping their heads knowingly.

Side B starts with The Night, a track that is easily the most reminiscent of Pink Floyd on this album, with its floaty organ passages and slowly shifting melodies. Indeed, when the band start singing in the seventh minute, you can be sure they've lifted the vocal line straight from Echoes. The aptly-titled Conclusion brings the melodic part of this album to an end in style, with a great saxophone solo over another funky riff. Everything is going great until the music suddenly drops for the final track, Cloud, which is essentially an exercise in drone music with clips from the rest of the album thrown in for good measure. While eerie and atmospheric, one can't help thinking that the band are pushing it a bit at six full minutes. Knowing that there isn't any thrilling musical conclusion at the end makes the decision to skip this track even easier.

Apart from the final track that will surely polarise listeners, this is a solid album full of great arty tunes brushed lovingly with a dose of classic prog. Blank Manuskript have proved that there is still worth in reimagining those vintage sounds and bringing them together in creative ways. In all honesty, it may be the best Austrian prog album I own - sorry Eela Craig!
Conclusion:
Basil Francis: 7 out of 10

Box Of Shamans - Belief And Illusion
Box Of Shamans - Belief And Illusion
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 41:44
Links:
Track List:
Belief (5:58), All For You (1:22), Optical Delusion (3:32), Circumstances Divide (2:50), The Search (10:33), Tune In (3:27), May's Daze (5:22), Intruder (2:45), An Illusory Ploy (5:55)
Box of Shamans is a musical project involving current members of Los Angeles band Heliopolis whose debut album City Of The Sun, released last year (2014), made some positive waves.

This album gives the band members licence to explore some darker and more esoteric themes than on City Of The Sun. It all centres on our beliefs systems and how those beliefs could turn out to be illusions. On the flip side, according to the album notes, "A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary."

Using these thoughts and ideas, the band offers plenty of food for thought, both musically and lyrically.

The band comprises multi-instrumentalist Michael Matier (Heliopolis, Ten Jinn), drummer Jerry Beller (Heliopolis, Mars Hollow) and vocalist Scott Jones (Heliopolis, Rocket Scientists), who also provides the lyrics.

Belief kicks off the album with some jazzy, jarring guitars and drums, some interesting time signatures and piping keyboards before it takes on an acoustic groove, Jones' voice light and airy throughout. It goes through several more interesting musical transitions, the best of which is a subtle, unexpected key change followed by a very short and sweet Yes-inspired passage.

All For You is a short but beautifully crafted little vocals-led song with a hymn-like quality while Optical Delusion has some more Yes-inspired motifs, all taken at a much faster and frenetic pace.

Circumstances Divide is another short, sweet acoustic song, that acts as a prelude to the longest track The Search. Here, a cappella voices start a fascinating voyage into varying moods and textures, sealed midway by an ethereal section of voices and spacey synths. Then it reverts to a seriously jazzy groove where Matier's chunky bass lines become more prominent and is followed by a tinkling piano and returns back to bass.

Tune In is another hymnal interlude with great vocal harmonies and some searching lyrics. May's Daze on the other hand is one of the more puzzling tracks as it does not seem to quite fit with the flow of the overall movement but the introduction of a mandolin grabs the attention.

Intruder starts with radio signals and offers some more Yes sound bites by way of a tricky time signature and Chris Squire-esque bass lines.

Finally, An Illusory Ploy rounds it all off on a more downbeat note with discordant piano and slightly sombre guitar riffing in the mix.

The album is engrossing for the most part because of its theme and its recurring nod to Yes, but there is still a lot to play for if they decide to venture out a second time under the Box of Shamans banner.
Conclusion:
Alison Reijman: 7 out of 10

Last Flight to Pluto - See You at the End [Download only]
Last Flight to Pluto - See You at the End
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 54:04
Links:
Track List:
Heavy Situation (9:14), House by a Lake (10:27), Red Pill (8:39), Lots of Swords (8:18), Seven Mothers (10:20), Now Boarding (7:06)
If, like me, you grew up as a member of the Classic Rock Society in Rotherham and spent a large portion of the late 90s at the Herringthorpe Leisure Centre, then you will remember with fondness the live performances that Welsh progress Ezra put on regularly.

Last Flight to Pluto sees the return to the prog scene after a long absence of Ezra drummer and founding member Daz Joseph, who has collaborated with vocalist and songwriter Alice Freya on their newest project, this six-track album.

All the members of the band are based in Daz's native South Wales, and the impressive line up is completed by teenage guitar wizard Jack Parry, bassist Jon Constantine (who is also an engineer at Rockfield Studios) and male singer Brett Andrews, also in his teens. So, there is a fantastic mix of fresh talent and musical experience on display here.

There is a real combination of sounds on the album, with the shortest track clocking in at over seven minutes long, whilst the incredibly funky and rocky Red Pill is over eight minutes long, yet doesn't feel it. It is a mix of melodic rock, funky guitar and bass, and the juxtaposition of Freya's beautiful vocals with a Red Hot Chilli Peppers-esque rap works incredibly well in context, before Parry throws in a Pink Floydian guitar solo that shows some of the diverse sounds that the group are mixing up in their melting pot.

There are also some contemporary cultural references to Game of Thrones in the fantastic Lots of Swords, the musical power in this band working really well together. Before they were Last Flight to Pluto, they had worked together in various cover bands, and this experience and trust working with each other is carried over to this record. The band sound comfortable in each others' presence, which just gives more to the music and the listener.

Superb tracks like the epic House by a Lake, which is stretched out and gives room for the songs to build and breathe, and the ever-so-relevant and intensely prescient Seven Mothers, with its ecology-themed lyrics and fantastic sound, lead into the atmospheric and ambient closing track, Now Boarding, which rounds off a highly intelligent, well-made, musically and vocally diverse debut.

Mention has to be made of Freya's diverse vocals, from rock to the pop side, she is a highly versatile and talented frontwoman and a lot of the strength of the songs is a testament to her and Joseph's vision.

Last Flight to Pluto have, with this debut, shown a lot of skill and talent. With younger members in the band, they're not quite the finished article yet, so it's going to be really exciting listening to them develop and hone their craft, and it's a musical journey I look forward to joining them on.
Conclusion:
James R Turner: 7 out of 10

Melli Mau & Martin Schnella - Gray Matters
Melli Mau & Martin Schnella - Gray Matters
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 71:07
Links:
Track List:
Miracles Out Of Nowhere (Kansas) (6:35), Digging In The Dirt (Peter Gabriel) (4:54), Point Of Know Return (Kansas) (3:19), Changes (Yes) (5:06), Swim (In Flames) (3:40), Let This River Flow (Soilwork) (5:06), Curse My Name (Blind Guardian) (5:57), Onward (Yes) (3:56), The Storm (Flying Colors) (4:16), Green Tinted Sixties Mind (Mr. Big) (3:19), Stop Loving You (Toto) (4:41), The Pinnacle (Kansas) (9:28), The Grand Experiment (The Neal Morse Band) (6:25), Colder Months: Peaceful Harbour (Alpha Rev) (7:36), I See Fire (Ed Sheeran) (5:01)
On Gray Matters Martin Schnella, the mastermind of Flaming Row, and guitarist/vocalist in Seven Steps to the Green Door, and his girlfriend, Melli Mau, attempt to acoustically cover the songs that influenced them the most, and they've done it very successfully. This album actually hits three of my 'weak spots', which are cover songs, "unplugged" music and female vocals, but I love every moment of the album. I even enjoy listening to songs I would never want to listen to in their original form.

The covers contain holy prog grails and some prog metal tracks, but also some straight rock songs have found their way onto the album. Whatever genre the couple have touched and rearranged, they found the perfect balance of staying fully true to the song while adding their own flavour to it. The arrangements are all made for vocals and acoustic guitar, electric bass guitar and cajon. Some fine filigree chord modifications appear throughout, a couple of vocal harmonies have been changed, and some added, to do the new instrumentation justice. Sometimes a certain part of a song was played with a new timing to fit the arrangement more smoothly.

It is amazing to hear their take on these super-produced, sometimes even over-polished industry blockbusters, and how they bring these down to such wonderfully-grounded chamber music. The album never fails to deliver a "two humble people playing some songs" attitude, even on such instrument-laden songs such as those from Kansas or Blind Guardian.

While the world of rock and pop is filled with superstars doing covers of others and tributes, and - forgive me if this includes any of your heroes - almost always in a mediocre way, this young couple displays incredible talent in finding perfect new clothes for old music without losing their original attitude. Topping that, it is an audiophile recording, self-made in their own studio and it comes in a shiny digipak with an 18-page booklet.
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 9 out of 10

Methodica - The Silence of Wisdom
Methodica - The Silence of Wisdom
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 69:51
Links:
Track List:
Ukiyo-e: intro (2:29), The Angel Lies Dying (6:42), J. (7:46), Only Blue (6:42), Caged (13:45), The Lord Of Empty Spaces (10:39), Destruction of Idols (6:07), Ukiyo-e (7:57), Firth Of Fifth (bonus track) (7:46)
Six years after their debut album, Searching For Reflections, and three years on from the interesting EP Light My Fire, Methodica are back to deliver some good music. This band based in Verona (Italy) plays classic progressive metal characterised by interesting intrusions of electronic, as well as by epic keyboards moments. It is extremely rare to find a highly original prog metal band nowadays. Unfortunately, it seems like a few amazing bands in 15 to 20 years around the new millennium were able to express at least 90 percent of this genre's potential, while in recent years only some peculiarities can be detected in certain bands (Haken, TesseracT, etc.). And this album is certainly not an exception, since we can clearly spot influences from prog metal divinities such as Dream Theater and Opeth, as well as parallels with Tool (especially in the first part of J.), Anathema, TesseracT and more. However, Methodica have managed to build a proper and personal mood and atmosphere that can be enjoyed through all of their songs. The riffs are impressive and powerful and the vocal lines remain effectively stuck in your mind. On the other hand, the band also demonstrates a great expressivity in the most intimate and calm moments; Only Blue being a good example. A two-minute introduction shows the potential of this Italian band. In fact, The Angel Lies Dying introduces the album with a cool keyboard opening, soon joined by a powerful drums, guitar and bass riff. Furthermore, if you don't know Methodica from their previous works, you'll probably be impressed by the debut of Massimo Piubelli's voice, delivering strong and impressive lines over the instrumental section. Regarding the content, this first song deals with the exile of Satan from Heaven. That's why, at a certain point, you can here creepy and inhuman effects applied to Piubelli's voice. While I truly appreciate the effects, I must admit it doesn't fit my personal taste.

One thing is certain by the end of this song: we are dealing with technically-skilled musicians. And this is confirmed throughout the album. Specifically, I particularly appreciate Paolo Iemmi's bass lines; he is able not only to support the songs' groove, but also to accompany the melody, adding character to the compositions. Good examples are Caged and The Lord Of Empty Spaces, which are also the tracks I'd like to highlight from this album.

While the first of these is an interesting 14-minute-long suite, the latter is by far my favourite on the whole album. It is a perfect balance of intimate, powerful, strong, epic and virtuoso moments, well arranged and overall highly enjoyable.

Finally, a special mention for the bonus track: Firth of Fifth. Yes, THAT Firth of Fifth! However, only the lyrics remain from the ashes of the Genesis song. What character and personality the band brings to this last track! Even the central riff, the most unique characteristic of the original song, bends to express Methodica's sound. it is really interesting work! Unfortunately, as many other prog rock lovers, I belong to a 'religion' where Gabriel-era Genesis are sacred and untouchable. However, I'm sure others will find Methodica's Firth of Fifth extremely enjoyable.

I'm happy to recommend this Italian English-speaking band, who have created appealing and enjoyable, and really good progressive metal, although without bringing much innovation to this genre (which, as I said, is a problem shared with many other bands).
Conclusion:
Ale Dunzie: 7.5 out of 10

Quanah Parker - Quanah!
Quanah Parker - Quanah!
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2012
Time: 59:13
Links:
Track List:
Chant of the Sea-Horse (2:21), No Time for Fears (4:05), Quanah Parker (6:50), Sailor Song (3:17), Flight (3:35), The Garden Awakes (4:54), After the Rain (7:35), Asleep (5:52), Silly Fairy Tales (7:10), People in Sorrow (5:31), The Limits of the Sky (4:19), Shenn Menn (3:41)

Quanah Parker - Suite degli animali fantastici
Quanah Parker - Suite degli animali fantastici
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 50:21
Links:
Track List:
From Distant Lands (3:55), Suite degli Animali Fantastici (tracks 2-9): Risveglio Onirico (2:49), Danza di un mattino (6:35), Interludio Notturno (0:57), Deja-vu Fantastico (3:38), Luci dagli Abissi (1:32), Cantico Marino (4:04), Animale Multiforme (4:30), Ritorno alla Mente (3:47), A Big Francesco (4:12), Death of a Deer (9:36), Make Me Smile (4:46)
Named after a 19th century Comanche chief, Quanah Parker are a Venetian female-fronted progressive rock band who were active between 1981 and 1985. Recently revived with their second album Suite degli animali fantastici, their debut (simply called Quanah!) was/is a compilation of early recordings and later projects. However, the consistency of the "sound" is such that you'd never realise the passing of the years.

Riccardo Scivales is the leader of the pack, and it's his virtuoso keyboard skills that dominate both these albums. Before nearly an hour of well-played art rock, the wonderful "antipasto" of The Chant of the Sea Horse gently eases the listener with its classical piano and haunting wordless vocal from Elisabetta Montino. Her voice is a cross between Annie Haslam, Kate Bush, Maddy Prior, and (for me) the singing style from early 70s Norwegian band Ruphus.

The rest of the album has terrific organ flourishes combined with great bass and drum interplay. Roberto Noè's lead guitar brings a welcome "heaviness", especially during the track Asleep, which also delights with its call-and-response section between synth and vocal - prog folk at it's best. Short instrumental Flight adds a jazz-rock vibe that permeates the rest of the record and keen listeners will also note the homage to Camel's Moonmadness on the excellent Silly Fairy Tale. It's also of interest that this debut is all sung in English, the next album is sung (besides the last two numbers) in their native Italian. I totally recommend Quanah! with the Focus-like Shen Menn concluding these 12 tracks.

English translated Fantastic Animals Suite is the 2015 follow up, and is another gem of the genre. Before the suite itself, Distant Lands opens the doors of the land full of the extraordinary creatures. Very much a concept with the eight tracks depicting visions of multiform animals (Animale Multiforme), illuminated eyes of something "down there!" (Luci dagli Abissi), and talking dolphins (Cantico Marino).

Superbly executed by all the musicians with extra praise thrown at drummer and percussionist Paolo Ongaro, who adds a thoroughly modern jazz feel to this band of proggy minstrels. Fans of organ and keyboards will also love this album; there's even a hint of Tomita on Luci dagli Abissi.

To my "useless with other languages" British head, Montino's singing sounds more at home expressing herself in Italian and may I say it's imbued with a sensual theatrical sentiment adding gravitas to all those beautifully-enunciated syllables.

After this long-form piece, the last two tracks, Death of a Deer and Make Me Smile, are both sung in English, the former as the voice of the unfortunate Cervidae mammal but with loads of great guitar and keys, and the latter a pure pop song, which should be gracing the charts if it wasn't for the asinine buying public!

This is a new band to me and a welcome find. The original Quanah Parker did rather well for the native people of North America, and I hope his namesake band continue with that grand legacy.
Conclusion Andrew Halley:
Quanah!: 8 out of 10
Suite degli animali fantastici: 8 out of 10

Spock's Beard - The First Twenty Years
Spock's Beard - The First Twenty Years
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 2:33:16
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: The Light (15:34), Thoughts (7:12), The Doorway (11:38), June (5:32), Day For Night (7:36), At The End Of The Day (16:30), Solitary Soul (7:34), Wind At My Back (5:12)
CD 2: The Bottom Line (7:37), She Is Everything (6:50), On A Perfect Day (7:49), Jaws Of Heaven (16:26), Waiting For Me (12:38), Tides Of Time (7:50), Falling For Forever (20:02)
This 20-year retrospective of Spock's Beard's history is reflective of the multiple changes that the band has experienced over the years. In 1995, they entered the prog scene with a significant impact that increased over the next seven years. This first phase of the band ended somewhat abruptly with the departure of Neal Morse in 2002. The first disc of this collection covers that initial period and includes several of the band's signature songs. Appropriately, this anthology opens with the title track from their debut album, The Light. For many, this song was the introduction to the band and, 20 years later, it holds up well. Each album of the Neal Morse era is covered effectively by at least one track. In a collection such as this, there is always room for debate as to what songs should have been included. That said, the choices on disc one make sense and represent the original band quite well. They also confirm, beyond a doubt, why Spock's Beard became so popular.

Disc two mainly covers the post Neal Morse era and the difference in sound and style is instantly apparent. The band made the wise, or perhaps natural, decision to move in a different direction and though it was admirable, the difference was somewhat jarring at the time. The first few albums with Nick D'Virgilio fronting the band saw them attempting to regain their footing. The benefit of time allows these songs to be heard in a very different context. Absent of the shadow of Neal Morse's departure looming over them, the quality of these recordings becomes more clear. The material included from this second phase stands securely on its own and the increasing confidence of the band reveals itself with each subsequent track. The current incarnation of the band, featuring Ted Leonard on vocals, is represented by two tracks that solidify the continuing quality of the band's work. The retrospective songs on disc two don't display the same level of distinction as their earlier material, but they are nonetheless appealing.

For people looking for an introduction to the band, this collection is a very good start. For established fans, the calling card of The First Twenty Years is the newly recorded, 20-minute epic, Falling for Forever. This Neal Morse penned track includes every current and former member of Spock's Beard. It is commendable that the band chose to include something that would distinguish this release and the results are definitely entertaining. In many ways, it is one of those epics that Neal seems to write effortlessly and, for that reason, the track lacks a certain freshness. Ultimately though, the song covers a lot of musical ground enjoyably and is an impressive showcase for each member. It certainly makes this collection well worth the price for any long-time fan of the band.

Spock's Beard seem to be constantly evolving and take each band member departure as a challenge to prove themselves. Though they may never again reach the artistic heights of their early years, this collection proves that they are still worthy of respect and attention. There have been highs and lows in the band's history, but at its best, the music is amongst the finest progressive rock of the last few decades. Like many modern prog bands, Spock's Beard have consistently displayed their musical influences, but they have also created a unique and impressive library of music that is all their own. The First Twenty Years is a definitive confirmation of that fact.
Conclusion:
Patrick McAfee: 9 out of 10

Yak - Quest for the Stones
Yak - Quest for the Stones
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 43:24
Links:
Track List:
Quest for the Stones (23:58), Veil of Aeternum (19:26)
Yak date back to the early 80s, being founded in 1982 as a four-piece progressive rock band in Toot Hill, Essex (UK). Keyboardist Martin Morgan apparently chose the name because at the time, he was deeply interested in Tibet, Himalaya and remote wild places, and also to underline his homage to Camel, one of the main influences on his musical style.

The band played from 1982 to 1984, before their jobs took the members to disparate parts of the UK, forcing the band to split up. Morgan, however, never let the idea of Yak die and kept on playing and recording old Yak songs and new material, some of which he put together on the album Dark Side of the Duck in 2004. Despite being a low-fi solo project at the time, it was successful enough to try reuniting the band, which took place with two of the three other original members and resulted in two jam-like live albums called Does your Yak Bite and The Rutland Chronicles, released in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

The recognition by a wider audience, however, came with the subsequent album, Journey of the Yak, recorded in 2008 by Morgan together with Dave Speight, who played with Peter Banks' band (Banks was the first guitarist with Yes). Speight was also playing for Nick May's band, and Nick was with The Enid. Together with Gary Bennett on bass, they formed and still comprise the current line-up of Yak. With Morgan as the 'stable anchor' of the band, Yak can therefore be regarded as his project.

This is also evidenced by the music on this album, classified by the band itself as symphonic progressive. Although their classical prog music line-up (keyboards, bass, drums) is similar to some famous predecessors such as ELP and Triumvirat, Yak's music does not have too much in common with them. It is less complex and pompous, not as virtuoso-driven, instrumental, and even more keyboard-oriented . I rather hear similarities with the work of solo musicians/projects/bands such as Shaun Guerin, Elegant Simplicity, Willowglass and even Mike Oldfield. The band itself, besides Camel, mentions early Genesis, Rick Wakeman's early solo albums, UK and Steve Hackett as their main sources of inspiration. The latter reference is interesting, as there is no guitarist on the album. However, Morgan occasionally elicits guitar-like sounds from his Kurzweil and other synthesisers, giving the impression of a fully-fledged guitar presence.

The album is made up of two long instrumental suites, full of melodic and varied keyboard sounds (Mellotron, strings, pianos, synthesisers), with recurrent musical themes played in different variations and with diverse keyboards, classical music-influenced melodies and dreamy tunes. Don't expect rough edges, twists and turns, it all stays on the mellow side. I did not hear substantial advancement or musical innovation compared to the preceding album (which received a 'recommended' tag from DPRP). Yak adhere to what they have been doing best: playing symphonic, keyboard-oriented, tuneful music with enough atmosphere and stylistic changes to keep the tension up and the listener engaged over the entire 20 minutes of each of the two songs. If you are into that kind of music, you can't go wrong with this album.

As with all Yak material, the music is sold to raise funds for the place Morgan works, Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary, which provides a permanent home to around 400 rescued animals. In this respect, buying the album is a win-win: getting a good piece of music and supporting a worthwhile project.
Conclusion:
Thomas Otten: 8 out of 10

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Published Sunday 10 January 2016

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