Amber Asylum - Sin Eater
Prelude (3:59), Perfect Calm (7:30), Beast Star (5:59), TOT (8:07), Harvester (9:06), Paean (3:18), Executioner (12:48), Sin Eater (11:54)
The album starts with nearly 12 minutes of classical composition (Prelude and Perfect Calm), punctuated with some drumming and enigmatic vocals. It's pleasantly dark, setting a relaxing and yet uneasy soundscape. This general theme continues through Beast Star and culminates in the dramatic orchestral bridge on TOT . It's a long way to get there, but as I alluded to, this isn't the brand of progressive rock that goes through many dynamic shifts. The subtle changes in key and interchange of scant instrumentation invites the listener to dive deeper.
Harvester starts with droning electronics, chant, and choral. It succeeds in combining elements rarely found together in such an arrangement. Because of their delivery, it's difficult to make out the lyrics and none were included [pet peeve for this reviewer]. Once in motion, the track moves along nicely and even has some heavier stop action play between the drums and strings. There's less predictability here and the song benefits. As an instrumental, Peaen could use some lead instrumentation. It's an enjoyable use of space and layering, but not particularly interesting.
Don't be fooled by the distorted commotion, Executioner starts menacingly. It's probably the most ambitious and aggressive soundscape on the album. Sadly, it takes nine minutes for any significant change to occur. While I like the direction it takes at the nine-minute mark, the resulting payoff is four more minutes of edgier mood music.
Where the Executioner falls short, the title song finds a more successful combination of ingredients. Dynamic strings and sinister bass offer sharp punctuation between and within the longer moments of ambient music. It's an interesting composition with the kind of attention-holding elements that most people would enjoy.
Progressive music's net is so wide nearly anything slightly out of the ordinary tends to get nabbed. This frequently prompts the underlying question - is it progressive rock? For most progressive rock fans the answer would be yes. Does it appeal to those fans? Hard to say. Gazpacho release similar material and have grown to become a notable name. But they also balance the quirky tracks with more palpable songs. Even though I applaud the scope, subtle complexity, and accomplished performance, I find Sin Eater difficult to recommend. There's nothing compelling here to prompt repeated listens.
Kevin Heckeler: 7 out of 10
Arabs in Aspic - Victim of Your Father's Agony
You Can Prove Them Wrong (3:56), Sad Without You (3:25), One (6:12), The Turk and the Italian Restaurant (2:42), God Requires Insanity (8:21), TV 3 (1:39), Flight of the Halibut (4:08), Saint-Palais-sur-Mer, pt. 2 (1:04), Victim of Your Father's Agony (5:58)
On their previous albums, they were trying to copy with each song. And so, when listening, you always had the influencing band in mind. It always felt to me that in the beginning of the writing process, the first question was, what band they would want to sound like in that song. That is no more.
All songs on Victims of Your Father's Agony appear to me as if they were just written from scratch, without aiming at specific idols' sounds. Of course, you can still hear all their influences, Uriah Heep, Crack the Sky, Allman Brothers, Kaipa, Camel, Deep Purple, Ambrosia and Focus, to name a few, are still discernible. But the new material doesn't that much like others.
On this new album, the material really is the band's own creation. Without these schemas, the songs appear way more fresh with a lot of new air and creativity. The music is played with way more energy and urge to play with variations. The guys really have managed to create perfect arrangements and thrilling instrumental and solo parts throughout the album, and every track is perfectly rounded. Plus, every song takes exactly the time it needs to be perfect. On one hand that means that there are two tracks that don't even reach the two-minute mark. On the other hand, while delving in the early 70s era, it means that almost all other tracks are mini-epics, clocking in at a minimum of four minutes.
What also is stunning is the detail with which these four crazy Norwegians maintain the vintage tones of their instruments. The perfect guitar tone for sure is the most easy one to be set up, but all the rest leaves me quite astonished. It's not just a Hammond sample, it's THE Hammond sample, and it's THE perfect Leslie setup. The Rhodes sounds as if you could touch it, the Mellotron is just perfectly imprecise and unclear. And the thinness of the strings synth (is it an Elka?) is the cream on top. Even the drums sound as if they had been recorded in 1972. This has, of course, a lot to do with how they are played - which alone is remarkable - but it must have taken a lot of time to get that vintage sound done. A stellar recording, mixing and mastering process adds to the sound experience, as it brings the perfect 70s vibe into today's reproduction quality and provides great fidelity.
On the downside, I am still a little unhappy with the vocal techniques. Even though there are great epic melodies and harmony lines, and it's all sung greatly and in tune, quite a few times the vocals seem a bit exhausted or un-trained. It's a minor issue, but it is noticeable. Also I find the lyrics a bit inept, as they speak of human relationships and dealings. In these times of glory and glam, if I remember right, it was almost all about love and sex and other enjoyments, was it not? The idea of having such music talk about how to deal with one another or better not, somehow doesn't fit the shelf properly for me.
But despite these little glitches, Victim of Your Father's Agony will be the among the first albums to think of when I want to immerse myself in 70s nostalgia. And that's a bold statement from a guy who was there when it originally happened.
Raimond Fischbach: 9 out of 10
The Blessed Beat - MIV
I Feel It In My Blood (7:13), Doesn't Look Dead To Me (3:42), Like Garbage Left In The Sink (8:55), The First Thing To Come And The Last Thing To Go (0:39), Best Fuck I Ever Had (4:05), Just Like A Mermaid (13:01), You've Been Fucking Dead Women All Your Life (1:48), Only A Damn Fool Falls In Love (11:06)
It's a rather improvised album, recorded in a day, with David Kollar supplying guitar, Simone Cavina on the drums, and electronic textures, and Paolo Rainieri on trumpet.
The music is, clearly, improvised, and at times there are excellent moments that remind a little of Jon Hassell.
In spite of the inventive electronic textures and innovative percussion, it's without doubt the trumpet that dominates. The opening track is decent enough, reminding of Hassell. The following piece, Doesn't Look Dead to Me leaps in with some stellar drumming. The rest of the instruments soon join in, and it heads into interesting World music territory once more.
The driving beat and the sounds elevate the heart rate with hypnotic and inventive fervour. It's outstanding, and even the abrupt cut to a mournful trumpet, albeit a short interlude, is expertly conceived.
The dark and contemplative Like Garbage Left in the Sink is eerily melancholy, but again, inventive and listenable.
The First Thing To Come and The Last Thing To Go, however, is something else. Massively improvised, it's a mash of noise, with the trumpet piercing and squawking its dominance. But, when it settles down into the next track, it's almost like a grinding and writhing King Crimson piece with the trumpet replacing the guitar as the dominant voice.
Just LIke A Mermaid slows it down again. It's the calm after the storm, as the trumpet buzzes in and out of the liquid soundscape. It's a lengthy piece, perhaps a little overly long, as it meanders and stutters from one false ending to another.
The penultimate track is another crazed interlude of, well, phrenetic nightmarish improvised noise. At 1:48, it's about two minutes too long.
Which leaves _Only a Damn Fool Falls in Love, at a shade over 11 minutes, to close the album in a similar vein to the other 10-minute-plus track. The extended pieces do afford a bit of an opportunity to stretch it out a bit, but again, it suffers a little because of the pedestrian pace that makes what is an atmospheric piece with some wonderful and evocative playing just a little too long.
Overall, it's interesting, and there are smatterings of real beauty and, whenever you're creating a soundtrack, some corresponding moments of insanity.
The good moments are very, very good. But at times, MIV goes MIA. And the crazed, jarring passages, brief though they are, distract from the beauty rather than enhance them.
Jim Cornall: 6 out of 10
Les Lekin - The Black Rainbow Moon
Intro (1:39), Solum (8:29), Useless (6:36), Allblack (10:10), Loom (13:16), Release (9:32)
The guitar holds the main focus. On the first two pieces, it's fuzzy, chunky, improvised guitar psychedelic rock, with a bit of gloomy post-rock thrown in for good measure. Useless is a little more inventive. At least, at the beginning, until it becomes the first two tracks.
Allblack is, well, more of the same. Improvised guitar, occasionally alone, more often than not over the crunching drums and bass. That's not to distract from the excellent playing of all three musicians. They're tight, and they can certainly play, especially when they get in their groove.
They do what they do well, only it's all very similar. The two longer tracks, Allblack and Loom allow for some excellent riffing, and a bit of stretching out with some quieter passages that give more emphasis to the full-on passages. Loom, while still sounding improvised, does have some invention in the slower passages when the guitar swirls and drives confidently along.
But, for the most part, the sound is the same throughout. It's definitely consistent. Comparisons could include bands like Pelican, only heavier, with more distorted guitars in a cyclical head-spinning maelstrom of sound.
Heavy, psych, stoner, doom. Indeed. And in any order. If you love the first minute, you've love the entire album, even though if you've heard the first minute, you've pretty much heard all 50.
It would be easy to say that they lack variety and could develop into something impressive should they look to diversify. But they seem comfortable enough in this genre, and they definitely do it well. But if variety is the key, then this lock is broken.
Jim Cornall: 5 out of 10
The Mute Gods - Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me (7:45), Praying to a Mute God (5:06), Nightschool for Idiots (6:00), Feed the troll (4:55), Your Dark Ideas (4:41), Last Man on Earth (bonus track) (5:30), In the Crosshairs (3:18), Strange Relationship (6:10), Swimming Horses (7:05), Mavro Capelo (bonus track) (5:10), Father Daughter (4:09)
The Mute Dogs features Nick Beggs (erstwhile main writer and bassist of pop outfit Kajagoogoo but well known in the prog world with his virtuoso bass playing for Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett), Roger King (keyboard player and Steve Hackett's right-hand man) and Marco Minnemann (drummer extraordinaire for The Aristocrats and Steven Wilson). So with such musicianship to hand, are we in for a progressive ride that will be unforgettable?
The debut album Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me 'explores the dark clouds governments, corporations, media, and religious institutions form atop society'. Songs such as Praying to a Mute God, Feed the Troll, Your Dark Ideas, and In the Crosshairs look at how the world is driven to distraction by such forces, taking focus away from important issues and meaningful personal priorities.
Beggs points out: "We live in a time of heightened religious fundamentalism in which people deliver the wrath of God or speak out on his behalf. When did God appoint these dubious PR men? The people in this world who should truly be listened to are often the ones who are silenced. The voice of reason seems strangely quiet in the face of so much disinformation. The Mute Gods address this imbalance."
The album does have prog running through the middle but delivered with a pop sensibility in that all the tracks have strong and good melodic lines. You can hear a mixture of Yes, some post-Gabriel Genesis, clear Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett influences, and more modern neo-prog bands like Frost. Beggs plays all the guitars and does most of the vocals (his daughter, Lula, also provides some vocals, especially on Father Daughter).
The music does contain an assortment of songs from the quirky Night School for Idiots with some nice vocal harmonies, the rocking progressive instrumental In the Crosshairs, which could easily have featured on Steve Hackett's Wolflight album (I was convinced it was Hackett on guitar but it wasn't!), and to the heartfelt pop-laden track Father Daughter (Beggs' singing hear reminded me of Steven Wilson) where Beggs' daughter sounds a bit like Adele.
So is the album unforgettable? Not quite. For me personally, with my progressive hat on, I'm always wary of music that is likeable from the off in the sense that you don't have to play the album five times to get fully into it. It is enjoyable, very listenable, pleasant melodic lines, and well produced but it doesn't really break any new ground or push barriers. Putting it simply, the album is a collection of songs that will have broad appeal for prog listeners.
Alan Weston: 7 out of 10
Ovrfwrd - Fantasy Absent Reason
Fantasy Absent Reason (16:46), Brother Jack McDuff (5:06), Dust Nova (9:50), Utopia Planitia (8:14), Creature Comforts (4:19)
The band's influences can often be heard, particularly on the album's opener and title track, Fantasy Absent Reason. There is a Red era King Crimson feel to the song that is engaging. The song sounds improvised to a certain extent, but the end result is also quite cohesive. Clocking in at over 16 minutes, there is a lot going on throughout the track. It successfully switches between moments of acoustic beauty to the build of a crunching guitar-led melody. Moving ahead, a 70s rock vibe can clearly be heard on Brother Jack McDuff. With its Hammond organ and flute flourishes, the song bears a musical resemblance to what bands like Sugarloaf were recording many years ago.
Dust Nova opens in a smooth and mellow fusion style, but soon builds to a dramatic, guitar-based theme. Just when you think you know exactly where the song is going though, Overfwrd defies your expectations. That is one of the most captivating things about this album. The band keeps you guessing and there seems to be a concerted effort to create a different vision or musical direction with each track.
Utopia Planitia is the most consistent song on the album and it reminded me somewhat of the work of Liquid Tension Experiment. Almost orchestral in its presentation, the sheer musical power of the track makes the album closer, Creature Comforts, feel very logical. Laid back and melodic, the song still surprises with a middle section that breaks the flow in an effective way.
If you are looking for instrumental progressive rock with a kick, you can't go wrong with Ovrfwrd. Fantasy Absent Reason is an album that has a lot to offer and though some tracks resonate a bit more than others, there really isn't a dull moment to be found. It is also an album that rewards repeated listens with some pretty compelling instrumental landscapes.
Patrick McAfee: 8 out of 10
Sleepy Hollow - Tales of Gods and Monsters
Black Horse Named Death (4:33), Sons of Osiris (4:38), Alone in the Dark (1:35), Bound By Blood (5:48), Goddess of Fire(3:35), On Blackened Seas (5:09), Baphomet (5:18), Creation Abomination (3:37), Shapeshifter (4:18), Time Traveller (5:06), Shadowlands (5:52)
Stylistically, this follows in the shadow of greats Pantera and Iron Maiden on songs like Goddess of Fire, while tracks like Bound by Blood are more a blend of White Zombie-ish grooves and darker metal. On Blackened Seas is yet another variation on the metal theme, taking a slightly progressive turn with an ethereal verse, dark metal pre-chorus, and hard rock chorus. Along similar musical lines, Creation Abomination blends some interesting arpeggiated guitar into a well executed but otherwise predictably metal composition.
The performances are all very capable, and at times the lead guitar work is the perfect balance of attitude and proficiency (my personal favourite is on Shadowlands). Vocals are strong without being growly or operatic.
However, there's no innovation and overall there's nothing unique that had me thinking "This is the Sleepy Hollow signature sound." It sounded derivative of most 80s and 90s era metal. Additionally, I didn't hear the virtuosic ingredients that would push this out of heavy metal into the progressive metal realm. There are few progressive metal moments, and only hints of trying to be something more than your prototypical metal band.
One of my constant gripes as a reviewer is that bands do not include lyrics with promos, and while I could make out a majority of the lyrics, piecing them together is still more challenging than it should be and an issue that could be easily resolved. So once again - if you want your lyrics to be taken seriously and you're performing a genre that is notorious for burying vocals in the instrumentation, include them! I didn't hear any lame rhymes (like "life" and "wife" - hello Dream Theater) and what I could make out appeared to be given more than cursory attention by the band.
Despite my grievances, I liked the music. They write good metal riffs. They don't stuff a million notes per minute into my ears just to impress. This is solid, blue collar metal. Unfortunately, this is a progressive rock review site. My personal feelings and tastes set aside, my duty is to review this in line with other submissions in the progressive genre. Were this a metal review site then I would easily bump this a few grades. So despite the middling review for the purpose of this page, if you like metal then this should be considered a worthy listen.
Kevin Heckeler: 6 out of 10
Summer Breeze Project - Contact Part Two
Old (5:09), Grey (6:09), Metropolis (7:10)
To date, they have released a mini album entitled Energy (2009), and their first full album followed in 2011 - Unusual Horizons. Also worth mentioning is a tribute-single called Hollow they recorded to support their sound engineer who climbed the Alpe d'Huez (famous mountain from the cycle-race Tour de France) by bike to raise money for the Dutch Cancer Society KWF.
SBP were also among the eight Dutch bands selected by the Dutch record label Freia Music to represent the best of the new generation of progressive rock in the Netherlands. Their track, Concrete, was the closing track on the album Dutch Exposure Project, alongside tracks from bands such as Sylvium, Profuna Ocean and Armed Cloud.
This EP is part of a musical triptych called Contact. The first part was released in 2014 and also contained three songs: Signs, Pareidolia and Garden Of Delight. That part deals with contact at the level of the entire universe. We, as the human race, seek for contact with other life forms, but have been unsuccessful so far. This creates an image of solitude, in which we observe the human race floating in an enormous vacuum. Quite simple story, isn't it...?
Now we have Part Two and this zooms in and portrays inter human contact and touches upon different types of relationships. Within our brains there are far more connections, than there are stars in the universe. Neurons contact through synapses and allow us to think, feel, love and act. So much for a simple explanation about what's the album is about! Fortunately the music is less complicated. There are slight references to Pink Floyd and their fellow countrymen Silhouette but, compared to them, SBP sound a bit heavier in general.
Vocalist Bruins singing is quite subdued, the keyboard sound is very atmospheric and guitarist van Pelt also has some strong moments. Pity it's an EP of just 18 minutes because I would like to know how a full album entitled Contact sounds. Now we have to wait for part three of the triptych! So, to be continued!
Peter Swanson: 7.5 out of 10
Supay - Señales
Un Dia Vuelve a Empezar (6:28), La Fortaleza de Piedra (5:08), Ancestral (4:00), Alma (Nueva Version) (7:09), Señales (8:41), Vision de Eternidad (5:46), Señales (Parte II) (2:44), En el Viento (Nueva Version) (5:17)
Señales should appeal to those who appreciate largely instrumental prog that features the flute or traditional wind instruments. Señales explores a distinctive and unique path that fuses Andean folk with the band's own rousing style of symphonic progressive music. It features Andean pipes, as well as an abundance of keyboards and tastefully constructed guitar parts. These elements are skilfully meshed into an enthralling mix to create an impressively rewarding album. It has the warmth, finesse and lightness of touch associated with bands such as, Camel and Kotebel and, when required, has the bold aggression and subtle ethnic appeal of bands such as Flor de Loto.
Supay's cultural roots are particularly noticeable in the warming sunrise sounds of Ancestral. This composition is the most traditional and naturally lit piece in the album. It does not contain the fusion of styles that are prevalent elsewhere. Ancestral is simply clothed in its sparse instrumentation of pipe and percussion. These combine and waft gently to create a delightful Andean aura. The piece lightly drifts and cascades in timeless beauty, and has a sun struck melody that sparkles and soothes. The piece is richly evocative. Its traditional aural flavour conjured up and inspired imaginative images. These included, a herdsman keeping watch over ancestral fields, as a mountain clasped dawn emerged to celebrate the safe arrival of a new day.
The title track of the album is very impressive. It is built around a slow beat overlaid with piano and Mellotron where guitar and pipes joust to weave a magical blend of tradition and innovation. The middle section drips with quality as the two leading instruments explore heavier shores spurred on by the welcoming breeze of a succession of synthesiser solos.
Señales also contains revised versions of two Supay tracks that appeared on the band's previous two albums. Alma was originally a part of the bands 2006 El Viaje release and En el Viento featured on the Confusión album. These compositions were amongst the highlights of their respective albums and, remarkably, Supay have managed to improve the pieces.
In the case of Alma, the updated version has a fuller sound in the bass-led middle section and the swirling synths that accompany the pipes are noticeably more interesting. Gorgeous keys introduce En el Viento and emphasise the difference between Supay's original style that utilised the keyboards more sparingly and the more keyboard driven sound that is prevalent in many of Señales' eight tracks.
The original version of En el Viento was arguably heavier than the version featured on Señales. It was certainly more intense and in particular its exciting middle section had some wonderful guitar led moments to gurn to. The reworked composition lacks such evocative guitar parts but has a wider tonal range and a tad more subtlety. The organ solo that replaces the original guitar part is a great addition to the piece.
Señales is a compelling example of how rewarding a fusion between Western and South American music can be. It is imbued with a rich spirit and has an alluring quality. Supay's impressive album is not easily described; it has to be heard, and experienced. I hope that after reading this you feel inclined to check it out.
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10
Thinking Plague - In This Life
Lycanthrope (7:17), Run Amok (3:11), Malaise (4:41), Organism (Version II) (11:46), Love (7:14), The Guardian (5:30), Fountain Of All Tears (7:39)
They have made seven studio albums so far, and released one live album recorded at NEARfest in 2000. Their music is a mix of rock, folk, jazz and 20th-century classical music. Although the band was never directly related to Rock in Opposition (RIO), TP was strongly influenced by this late-1970s movement.
RIO was a movement representing a collective of progressive bands in the late 1970s united in their opposition to the music industry that refused to recognise their music. It was initiated by English avant-rock group Henry Cow in March 1978 when they invited four mainland European groups to come to London and perform in a festival called Rock in Opposition.
On In This Life the musicians are: Mike Johnson (guitar), Bob Drake (drums, bass, violin), Susanne Lewis (vocals, guitar), Shane Hotle (keyboards), Maria Moran (bass, guitar), Mark Harris (woodwinds) and Lawrence Haugseth (clarinet). The album has been newly remastered from the original stereo mixdown master and was released in October 2015.
On the album we also can hear various African and Balinese percussion instruments. As someone who was totally unaware of the existence of this band and due to that fact I was not sure what to expect from their music, I was taken by surprise. Alas, I wasn't surprised in a pleasant way. This style of music is a long distance away from the music I normally listen to. I was really out of my comfort zone musically. Despite that fact, I can hear the music has been recorded skilfully and with much eye for detail, but it's really not my cup of tea, unfortunately. If I have to name a band from which you might hear influences it has to be King Crimson.
If you're are progger who loves avant-garde you'll probably adore this record but if you're more a neo progger, I guess you'll let this release pass you by.
Peter Swanson: 5 out of 10