ISSUE 2016-013

Reviews in this issue:

The Enid - Dust
The Enid - Dust
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 42:37
Links:
Track List:
Born in the Fire (8:00), Someone Shall Rise (5:11), Monsters (5:25), 1000 Stars (7:01), When the World is Full (5:20), Trophy (6:00), Heavy Hearts (5:31)
At the end of February I was fortunate enough to see The Enid in concert. It was a unique audio-visual experience with the band in fine form, especially the virtuoso keyboardist and 'grandfather' of prog Robert John Godfrey and charismatic frontman Joe Payne. They played the brand new Dust album in its entirety, and both the music and Joe quite literally reached an orgasmic climax (you had to be there to appreciate it). By coincidence, the following morning a promo copy of Dust dropped through my letter box.

By my count, Dust is the band's 15th studio release in a recording history that dates back to 1976, and the excellent In The Region of the Summer Stars album (I still have the original vinyl version in my collection). By today's standards Dust is a relatively short album but true to form The Enid cram more beauty and drama into 43 minutes than most bands manage in an hour or more. It's the final part in a trilogy that began with Journey's End (2010) and continued with Invicta (2012). In the words of Mr Godrey himself it "tells the story of the band's generational voyage from the past into the future."

The band and Godfrey in particular are justifiably renowned for taking a classical music approach to prog-rock (or is it a prog-rock approach to classical music?). Other genre artists have attempted this over the years but none as successfully as The Enid.

Since the band's reformation (and reinvention) in the noughties, they have gelled into a formidable unit. They are currently Payne (lead vocals), Godfrey (piano, keyboards, orchestral arrangements), Jason Ducker (guitar, bass), Max Read (Vocoder, keyboards, guitar), Zachary Bullock (keyboards), Nic Willes (bass, orchestral percussion) and Dave Storey (drums).

This album has all the pomp and circumstance you would expect from The Enid including cinematic orchestrations (no keyboardist replicates strings and brass as convincingly as Godfrey), pounding rhythms and melodic guitar lines, although on this occasion there's a bias towards the vocals. That's not a problem, as with his five-octave range anything you may have read about Payne being the heir-apparent to Freddie Mercury is true. With Read's lush choir backing, mid 70s Queen and 10cc are continually brought to mind. When Payne hits those high notes, Russell Mael of Sparks fame is another obvious comparison.

Whilst for me none of the songs on Dust quite reach the epic heights of Malacandra or One & The Many (from Journey's End and Invicta respectively), the opening Born in the Fire comes close. It moves seamlessly through three distinct sections, from a stirring symphonic march, to a romantic ballad, and finally a rousing operatic sing-along (if you can imagine such a thing).

Other highlights include the anthemic Someone Shall Rise (the album's most immediate song), the dreamlike Monsters, complete with simulated vocal echo à la Pink Floyd's Us and Them, the melodramatic 1000 Stars, and the sensuous Heavy Hearts which brings the album to a triumphant conclusion.

My only minor reservation is that this CD lacks the impact that I recall of the live performance, but that may be partly due to my promo copy, where I really had to crank up the volume to compensate for the low fidelity. That aside, it's a worthy conclusion to the Journey's End trilogy.

On the subject of live performance, I strongly recommended you catch The Enid in concert this summer if you can, although sadly in the UK it will be without the presence of Robert John Godfrey. He made his final UK appearance with the band on Saturday 2nd April 2016 at London's Cadogan Hall and by all accounts it was a very moving evening. I'm confident however, as is Godfrey, that Messrs Payne, Read and Ducker will lead the band into the next phase of an already impressive 42-year career.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10

Frequency Drift - Last
Frequency Drift - Last
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 54:04
Links:
Track List:
Traces (7:08), Diary (5:31), Merry (5:08), Shade (5:52), Treasured (8:25), Last Photo (7:59), Hidden (5:34), Asleep (8:31)
Since their conception in 2008 the German band Frequency Drift has enriched the prog landscape with well-composed and excellently played complex music. The musical genius of the band is mainly Andreas Hack (keyboards, guitar, theremin) seconded by Nerissa Schwarz (e-harp, mellotron). They are backed by a solid rhythm section of Wolfgang Ostermann on drums and Rainer Wolf on bass, a powerful guitar player (Martin Schnella) and the new female vocalist Melanie Mau who has a very nice, clear voice reminiscent of former White Willow vocalist Sylvia Erichsen.

The powerful atmospheric music is a special blend of metal (a bit), prog rock, folk and world music, in which, over time, more and more unusual instruments are used, including the gemshorn and clarinet. Most of the songs have single-word titles and are based on novels or movies, but because they deliberately refuse to include lyric sheets in the albums, it is left to the listener to make the effort to comprehend what it's all about. Mau sings the lyrics very clearly, so a lot can be understood. Yet the music is so complex and intricate that it is hard also to concentrate on just the words.

Although they don't make it an easy listen, their fan base has grown steadily over six studio albums. They dare to be different and they dare to be a bit pig-headed, not a bad characteristic for original musicians. But does this recipe work again on the new Frequency Drift album? Last has eight elaborate tracks clocking-in at between five and nine minutes. The opening track Traces starts with a loud guitar riff, reminding me immediately of Black Sabbath for its very slow pace. The intro seems to be building slowly into something fearful and threatening, which doesn't happen at all. Instead the riff leads to an angelic vocal opening by Mau, where all of a sudden no heavy guitars can be heard at all. A really tranquil and pleasant melody follows, with twinkling keys in the background. Then, at 1:40 the full band comes in with keys, drums, harmonies and, yes, heavy guitars again but far more in the background. An absolutely stunning and utterly surprising opening to this album, yet very Frequency Drift.

They keep doing things differently. The musical interlude halfway through the song is fully keys-driven but sounds like a romantic flute solo. It forms a heavy contrast with the musical picture that was painted earlier in the song and also with the way the song ends. In slightly over seven minutes the band succeeds in sounding very varied, yet quite coherent.

Diary opens with a strong vocals by Mau. Again we have a beautiful, atmospheric keyboard solo with loads of Mellotron before a fierce, heavenly guitar solo takes the listener to the chorus again. The lyrics tell the story of unanswered love.

Electric piano and percussion open Merry. The verses are sung very low. To my ears, too low for Mau's high voice, as she can't put strength or emotion in her singing, which makes the verses sound restrained. In the choruses she can use her full vocal potential which is quite impressive. Too bad that the verses spoil this nice song.

Another song without an instrumental intro is Shade. Mau starts to sing immediately, backed by acoustic guitar and twinkling keyboards. Later on, a theremin (an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact) can be heard played by Hack, which gives this song a spooky atmosphere. The music elaborates on that spookiness further, towards a long, instrumental coda, which is very nicely done.

Treasured is a very slow song with an appealing, powerful chorus over a strong guitar riff. A long, bluesy electric guitar solo, with an obvious David Gilmour flavour is heard halfway.

Until this point the album is a very pleasant listen and a convincing successor to 2014's Ghosts and Summer. But then things change for the worse. Last Photo is a strange song. The opening is promising with a pleasant vocal verse. However at 2:30 the overall atmosphere changes, with spooky synth sounds, weird noises, heavy riffs, sudden tempo breaks, a flute-like instrumental and a nice guitar solo at the end. I hear nothing more than some musical ideas almost randomly put together. There's no coherence whatsoever. There's no clue in what direction the song wants to go, it's just a strange kaleidoscope which totally fails me. With Hidden the band takes up the strong path again. The electric piano dominates the music which has several tempo breaks but a recognisable, leading musical theme. The end section of the song is loaded with great Mellotron sounds. In the last track of the album, Asleep, the band returns to the heavy riffing of the opening track but this time far less attractive. Mau tries to sound threatening, singing some low notes, but fails to do so. Her high and tender voice doesn't match the low registers she has to sing. Worse is that the vocal sound doesn't match the overall intricate feel of the song. The song itself has its moments, with subtle keys, but the overall feeling is dominated by the misplaced low vocals. A shame that this album ends this way.

All in all Last is a nice album, with at times some splendid grandeur, especially in the keyboard sounds. But it also has some incomprehensible moments. Fans of the band will appreciate it, as it not too far away from what their former albums offer. I can also recommend it for those who like to listen to bands like White Willow and Introitus and probably also for those who like the recent Kaipa albums. In contrast though to there last two very strong albums (Over and Laid to Rest) this album also has some very weak moments. Experimenting is something to treasure and Frequency Drift is not afraid to do so. It is just that it doesn't always turn out for the good.
Conclusion:
Theo Verstrael: 7 out of 10

Galahad - When Worlds Collide
Galahad - When Worlds Collide
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: CD 1: 79:32, CD 2: 76:42
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Lady Messiah (10:32), The Chase (7:48), City of Freedom (8:41), Chamber of Horrors (5:37), Dreaming from the Inside (6:02), Room 801 (10:53), Ocean Blue (7:02), Don't Lose Control (5:40), Karma For One (7:30), Exorcising Demons (9:43)
CD 2: Empires Never Last (9:05), Sleepers (14:07), Richelieu's Prayer (8:40), Painted Lady (4:30), Bug Eye (8:53), Singularity (7:29), Guardian Angel (10:31), Seize the Day - Single mix (4:03), This Life Could Be My Last (9:20)
On the face of it, the large "30" on the cover should tell you all you need to know about this 2 CD retrospective, celebrating Galahad's 30th anniversary. But there is more to this collection than meets the eye.

True, it is a trip down memory lane with 19 tracks spanning the band's entire recorded career, but ten of the older songs which make up the first disc have been newly recorded. Galahad have done something very similar before of course. The Battle Scars and Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria albums from 2012 each contained as a bonus track a new version of an older tune (both of which are included here on disc 2).

Anyone's that's followed the band's career will be well aware of their transition from one of the leading lights of the 1980s neo-prog scene, to a heavier, more contemporary sound in the noughties. Bands like Pendragon and Citizen Cain have evolved in a similar manner. For that reason, the fresh recordings make complete sense, ironing out any potential sonic disparity between the older and newer tunes. That said, it's not too hard to spot the vintage of each song, even if you're a relative newcomer, unfamiliar with the original recordings.

There's no doubt that the songs on disc 1 have been given a fresh impetus, as the opening Lady Messiah (originally from 1985) testifies. This 2015 recording transforms a pretty average neo-prog curio, into an anthemic slice of modern prog. Elsewhere there are (intentional) clues to the band's influences, such as frontman Stuart Nicholson's Fish-inflected vocals on City of Freedom, Roy Keyworth's Steve Hackett-flavoured guitar on Ocean Blue, Peter Gabriel's words from It at the end of Karma For One, and the metallic riff lifted from Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song during Exorcising Demons.

Other highlights on disc 1 include the tasteful piano and classical guitar of Dreaming from the Inside, the epic scale of Room 801 (complete with a sample of the legendary Radio 1 DJ Tommy Vance), the infectious chorus of Don't Lose Control and the middle-eastern ambiance of the rhythmic Karma For One.

A good proportion of disc 2 is dedicated to the three most recent studio albums, 2007's Empires Never Last (Galahad's finest hour in my view) and the aforementioned Battle Scars and Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria. The title track and This Life Could Be My Last from the former, bookend the disc, and are both excellent examples of modern, epic prog, although I'm not entirely convinced that these 2014 remixes improve on the originals. Other highlights include the 2012 makeovers of Sleepers (especially the bombastic early Genesis-style finale) and the Marillion-influenced Richelieu's Prayer, my favourite track on Beyond The Realms.

I have only one minor gripe regarding the choice of songs, although I must admit it's purely a personal one. I feel the Battle Scars album would have been better represented with the majestic title track (rather than Singularity) and the full-length album version of Seize the Day (rather than the "single mix"), in my view one of Galahad's finest recordings.

The only other minor issue is the packaging which lists several tracks on CD 1 out of sequence (see above for the correct tracklisting), and also the 10-page booklet doesn't do full justice to a career spanning 30 years.

That aside there's no major complaints, especially considering they've taken full advantage of the playing time available on each CD. The band is on top form throughout and the production and mastering is exemplary (kudos to the band and Karl Groom). This album is unreservedly recommended to anyone that's yet to sample the delights of Galahad, as well as being an absolute must for existing fans.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 8.5 out of 10

iamthemorning - From The House Of Arts
iamthemorning - From The House Of Arts
Country of Origin: Russia
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 42:07
Links:
Track List:
The Howler (5:20), Circles (3:28), Romance (3:52), The Simple Story (4:01), Scotland (4:12), 5/4 (3:51), Gerda (4:53), K.O.S. (6:08), Reprise Of Light / No Light (6:17)
Russian duo iamthemorning released their first live album ahead of their anticipated third studio album Lighthouse. Recorded in Moscow in support of the Belighted album, it is not surprising that all but two songs on the set list are from that album, just Circles and Scotland representing the debut disc.

Being on home turf, the duo of Gleb Kolyadin (grand piano, keyboards) and Marjana Semkina (vocals) are supported by a full cast of supporting musicians, including the usual 'rock' band instrumentalists of Vlad Avy (electric guitar), Anton Glushkin (acoustic guitar), Max Roudenko (bass) and Mikhail Istratov (drums), as well as the all-important strings of Philipp Saulin (violin) and Mikhail Ignatov (cello).

Having a band backing Kolyadin and Semkina brings out the full glory of the Belighted songs and any notion that iamthemorning are just some fey, acoustic, chamber prog ensemble are strongly dismissed by the overall heavier sound that the band creates. Opener Howler, following an extended piano intro, suddenly blasts forth from the speakers in quite an aural onslaught, although it is largely the forceful piano and excellent drumming (Istratov is quite a find, a genuinely exciting drummer) whose contributions make the sound so full. It is not surprising that Scotland is included, as its heavier end section made it stand out on the ~ album (for anyone confused by the title of that album, ~ is called a tilde and stems from medieval times when it was used in manuscripts to save space and work for the scribe and was placed over letters to denote the omission of one or several other letters).

This doesn't mean that the more acoustic aspects of the band have been disregarded. The delightful Circles is the perfect antidote to the tumultuous beginnings, but even on this song, with just the piano and drums providing most of the musical accompaniment, it is surprising how much energy is dissipated towards the audience. Glushkin gets to shine on a delicate rendition of Gerda whose opening is brilliantly arranged with the acoustic guitar and vocals dominating, with the keyboards providing lighter, xylophone-like accompaniment. As the songs ramp up to a conclusion, the drums add almost orchestral percussion and the sweeping strings deliver glorious melody lines. The audience themselves even get to contribute with some perfectly timed clapping on 5/4.

The perfectly-paced concert recording is brought to a tremendous end with K.O.S. and, in particular Reprise Of Light / No Light which largely sums up the band, ending with some looped vocalisations that are simultaneously haunting and soothing.

Superlatives a-plenty have been poured over Semkina's vocals, and they are entirely justified as her every intonation is simply perfect, the clarity of her voice piercing through anything the band can throw out behind her. Again, nothing can be added to the praise heaped upon Kolyadin as he encapsulates the fine Russian heritage of pianists, it would be an absolute insult to call him a piano player!

iamthemorning have forged a rather unique sound within the prog sphere, and their success once again shows what a broad, and broad-minded musical genre progressive rock has become. Not since the sadly missed Mary Fahl-fronted October Project have the delights of a piano dominated/divine female singer rock band come so close to mainstream success (and if October Project passed you by, then I urge you to check out their eponymously titled debut.)

But back to the present, From The House Of Arts, despite not containing any rarities or unreleased songs is actually an essential live album and stands proudly alongside iamthemorning's studio albums.
Conclusion:
Mark Hughes: 9 out of 10

Lifesigns - Live in London - Under The Bridge [CD + DVD]
Lifesigns - Live in London - Under The Bridge
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 92:33
Links:
Track List:
Lighthouse (12:33), Telephone (10.15), Voice In My Head (5:42), Different (9:15), Impossible (5:22), Open Skies (4:15), Fridge Full of Stars (12:03), At the End of the World (9:01), Kings (5:05), Carousel (12:13)
Having been awarded one of the only two perfect marks ever given by your humble reviewer for their melodically-beautiful and brilliantly-balanced eponymous album, Lifesigns are now gaining a growing reputation as an exciting, vibrant live band.

The album's dramatis personae featured Nick Beggs on bass and three guest guitarists, Robin Boult, Jakko Jakszyk and Steve Hackett.

However, for the live incarnation, Lifesigns' composer, keyboards player and vocalist John Young, drummer Frosty Beedle and sound engineer Steve Rispin moved swiftly to find suitable permanent contenders for the vacant guitar and bass posts. Their eventual choices had impeccable musical pedigrees, namely Niko Tsonev, formerly with Steven Wilson and Jon Poole from the Cardiacs and The Dowling-Poole Project

With their debut live show being at the Leamington Assembly in March 2014, they gave themselves plenty of time to gel before launching a crowd-funding project to enable them to record the DVD, Lifesigns, Live In London, over three nights in late January 2015. The venue, Under The Bridge, is tucked away under a main stand at Chelsea Football Club's ground, Stamford Bridge. As it transpired, its intimate nightclub atmosphere proved to be a great match for the Lifesigns' ambiance.

The chemistry which now exists between the four players is now one of their most endearing selling points and is palpable throughout this DVD. It is not only the rapport between the five members – four on stage and one behind the mixing desk, but also the audience, most of whom know the lyrics off by heart. Another CD, SingalongaLifesigns, should be considered as a result!

For regular Lifesigns gig-goers, the order of the songs on the DVD is familiar, starting with the atmospheric, slightly eerie intro to album opener Lighthouse. This is a song which continues to deliver new musical pathways into its deeper reaches, especially the glorious bass pedal-led finale, complete with seagulls and storm sound effects.

Extrovert Poole is in his element at the start of Telephone with his funky solo, quickly followed by Beedle's deft stick-work in a full-on drum solo before the song, probably one of the catchiest in prog, weaves its wonderful web.

Young's biggest strength is his ability to bring terrific depths of melody into his music, as borne out by the newer songs Voice in My Head and Different. Throughout, he smiles and looks content, while the Poole/Tsonev frontline provides the main visual entertainment.

These tracks bring the DVD/CD Side One to a close, with the opener for Side Two being the concise Impossible, which packs a lot into its five-minute duration. The rangy Open Skies gives the band a chance to open up and really rock, before the emphasis shifts back once again to the album for Fridge Full Of Stars. Perhaps the proggiest of all its tracks, with Young's warm, mellow voice leading its Yes-like harmonies, along with the "guest" flute solo from Thijs van Leer. Tsonev goes for static, intricate acoustic guitar work for the first part of the song, before reverting to electric, and soaring to greater heights of beauty and intensity.

Crowd-pleaser At The End Of The World sounds fresh and vibrant, despite its doomy lyric content, and from there, they blast headlong into the killer Kings instrumental.

To close, they embark on Carousel, with Tsonev's extraordinary "50 notes per 10 seconds" opening guitar run as blistering as Beggs' Chapman stick equivalent on the album. On DVDs, there is no place to hide, and you can only marvel at the sheer exuberance and quality of the Bulgarian maestro's superlative style.

It's a rousing end to a terrific show from the band. The only criticism is that perhaps there could have been more made of the wonderful backdrop images, including the ubiquitous telephone boxes, as seen on the promotional tee-shirts, as well the iconic village church scene as seen on the album cover.

Full credit must go to film director Paul Shammasian and his crew for bringing exciting new dimensions to a memorable show. If you have not already seen them live, then catch them at the Cropredy, Ramblin' Man or Loreley Night At The Prog festivals this summer. You will not be disappointed.
Conclusion:
Alison Reijman: 9 out of 10

Todd Rundgren & Utopia - Live at the Old Waldorf
Todd Rundgren & Utopia - Live at the Old Waldorf
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: CD 1: 40:24, CD 2: 40:54
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference (4:38), Love of the Common Man (3:45), Trapped (3:20), Abandoned City (4:40), The Last Ride (5:18), The Seven Rays (10:17), Can We Still Be Friends (4:07), Back on the Street (4:16)
CD 2: You Cried Wolf (2:49), Gangrene (3:52), A Dream Goes On Forever (3:02), Black and White (4:45), Eastern Intrigue/Initiation (12:04), Couldn't I Just Tell You (3:49), Hello, It's Me (4:43), Just One Victory (5:46)
In the realms of prog, Todd Rundgren made himself a name with his exquisite band Utopia. The band of course was comprised of more people than solely Todd on guitar, piano and vocals. Roger Powell mastered the keyboards, John Wilcox was the drummer and Kasim Sulton excelled on the bass. All of them took a part in singing.

At the time of this recording Utopia had released a couple of albums, including the magnificent Ra, yet Todd had started out as a solo artist way before Utopia and had already established quite a following. He had already played with The Nazz, before going solo and releasing Runt and its follow up album, Something/Anything?, which saw him surge into superstar status. On that album Todd played all instruments, sang all the songs and also produced the album, which had critics considering him the next big thing in rock. After that came other great albums like Todd, A Wizard, A True Star and Hermit of Mink Hollow.

This is a concert out of the series that ultimately led to the Back to the Bars live album. Todd had asked the boys in Utopia to join him on the road, but during the tour the emphasis was on Todd's solo material, rather than on Utopia songs. Yes, there were some Utopia songs performed but the tour clearly was set to draw attention to Todd's solo work, not as much to promote the Utopia albums. Not even the most recent Oops! Wrong Planet got as much attention as the solo tracks.

The music is rather typical of the era, bordering even on West Coast music. It is fairly easygoing, sort of radio-friendly, and the performances don't really bring out the jam gen in the musicians, moreover have them enjoy and gently move through the elements of the songs. Sometimes Roger Powell has a run at his keyboards or Kasim Sulton works a miracle with his bass, yet it is not for the love of experiment that this album needs a listen to.

On the contrary, at times it sounds very much like Jackson Browne's Running on Empty. That is no bad album, yet it also has a very loose feeling in how it is recorded. Another record that springs to mind in the way it conveys a similar emotion is Billy Joel's Songs in the Attic". For sure, that album is far more of a singer/songwriter collection, but the approach of the album is not unlike what Todd has recorded here for an FM broadcast.

Mind you, the songs aren't bad at all and the band really shines on tracks like
Trapped, Abandoned City, The Last Ride, The Seven Rays and in Eastern Intrigue/Initiation. However it's on tracks like Can We Still Be Friends or A Dream Goes On Forever where it's just Todd accompanying himself on piano, that you can really enjoy listening to the performance.

All in all, this certainly makes for a nice enough live album. However with regards to the laid-back feel, I must say I prefer a bit more rock next to the roll. Songs like
Trapped and The Seven Rays_ have that, but only these two tracks bring out the rock. The album as a whole remains nice and entertaining.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 7 out of 10

Rikard Sjöblom - The Unbendable Sleep
Rikard Sjöblom - The Unbendable Sleep
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 49:26
Links:
Track List:
Love and War Part One: I Am Who You Are (3:24), Realm of You and Me (5:08), Rhyme and Reason (11:24), Will We Cry? (4:02), Under Northern Skies (Villemo's Song) (7:42), Building a Tent for Astor (1:42), Anna-Lee (4:50), Love and War Part Two: Lucky Star (11:11)
Rikard Sjöblom is best known as the driving force behind progressive Rockers Beardfish but he is also a part of the live Big Big Train set-up, has released a couple of albums under the Gungfly moniker, and has also issued one other album under his own name, a musical interpretation of the novel Cyklonmannen by Sweden's only beatnik writer Sture Dahlström. That first solo album was written and recorded at about the same time as the first album by Beardfish, way back in 2003, but didn't see a release until three years later.

The Unbendable Sleep is a more intimate affair than the Beardfish releases and somewhat holds back on progressive excesses. Instead there is a larger focus on a more mature rock style, one that crosses genres and, given the right exposure, should appeal to a variety of audiences.

The album kicks off with, essentially, a three-minute pop song, or at least as close as you are likely to get from a composer heavily linked with the prog world. A jaunty and melodic number, the acoustic guitar underpins a rich arrangement, complemented by an eminently sing-along vocal. The acoustic guitar provides a nice segue into the more reflective Realm Of You and Me. Again, the focus is on melody, with Sjöblom's fine vocal performance being a highlight.

As with a lot of the subject matter on the album, the lyrics are largely concerned with self-awareness and self-belief, tackling the perennial topics of love, life and death. Nothing too deep there then!

The skill of Sjöblom as a composer and arranger is shown on Rhyme And Reason, where it is easy to forget that the song is the work of just one man (there may be other players on the album, particularly a drummer, but there was no information on the press release that came with the download and, at the time of writing, the full rikardsjoblom.com website is not yet on-line). This lengthy track is one of the proggiest on the album, with a nice organ break in the middle and plenty of guitars providing a powerful backdrop of complementary riffs and solos. A heavier reprise of the chorus brings the song to a meaty conclusion.

With a title like Will We Cry?, one wouldn't expect a song full of light and laughter. And sure enough, this questioning number is slower and more moody. The brief spate of layered vocals reinforces a lyrical point, and the seemingly incongruous military drum beat actually works rather well.

Under Northern Skies (Villemo's Song) lifts the spirits somewhat, particularly with the chorus line of "There's not a worry in the world." What starts as a regular song, deviates after a couple of minutes with strange synth notes introducing a more dissonant interlude, before the main theme is reintroduced, although at a greatly reduced tempo. There is a lot of switching about during the song, and I am not entirely convinced that it entirely works throughout, although it is good to hear a different approach being explored.

The brief instrumental, Building A Tent For Astor, utilises a variety of keyboard sounds, from a pseudo accordion, a modern harpsichord and a straight-forward piano, in a little ditty that is a pleasant intermission that one can imagine being used as part of a soundtrack.

If one can ignore the terrible lyrics of Anna-Lee, one is faced with another reasonably good pop-rock song with a very good middle-eight that features some excellent guitar-keyboard interplay. The album ends with the second part of Love And War which opened the album. The pop pretenses of Part One are all but abandoned, taking on a format that is more suited to the extended playing time, with different sections, moods and instrumentation. Generally it offers a more considered approach which is somewhat rather more low key, although that is not to say there are not places where things don't break out with a fuller 'band' sound and a couple of solos thrown in for good measure. Unlike Under Northern Skies this longer piece works well and if Sjöblom's plans for performing the album live with a band come to fruition, I think it could well be a show-stopper.

Overall, this is a decent album that does lend itself to repeat listens. I far prefer this album to the last couple by Beardfish, who I think have somewhat lost their way recently. Well worth checking out!
Conclusion:
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10

SoundDiary - InVerse
SoundDiary - InVerse
Country of Origin: Austria
Year of Release: 2010
Time: 63:03
Links:
Track List:
Breakfast without News (6:02), Arising (5:18), Unbreakable (6:23), What I could be (8:07), Let the flow (5:09), The Monostereo Lovesong (3:53), With You (6:26), Black Dove - White Dove (3:54), No Reason (5:18), Flowers and Papers (5:07), Pink Air (8:46)
SoundDiary is an progressive pop-rock band from Vienna, Austria. The band originated as a covers band, performing the music of artists like Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Sigur Ros, Radiohead and Muse. As they started to write and record their own music, a progressive element was clearly established. That said, their pop origins are never pushed too far away on this, their debut album.

That isn't a criticism, as the band does an admirable job of being somewhat adventurous, while still embracing the values of a strong melody and chorus. You will hear moments that will remind you of bands like Marillion or Gazpacho, but there is also an alternative rock sheen to much of what they do. The occasional glockenspiel and flute can also be heard, which adds a diverse flavour to the overall mix.

In Verse, released in 2010 is an entertaining introduction to the band. Tracks like Breakfast without News, Arising and The Monostereo Lovesong showcase how they embrace a simple melody while still bringing something to their music that is more interesting, than straightforward pop.

Lukas Staudinger (who shares vocal duties) has a very smooth style and at times, his voice is reminiscent of Morten Harket. The instrumentation on the album is almost never showy. The band establishes themselves as strong musicians, but they do not stray to extended soloing of any kind. Though there are songs like No Reason that dabble in neo prog territory, they generally avoid epic prog leanings in favour of a more direct approach. Even when a song's length is extended, as with the album's closer Pink Air, the overall approach is somewhat refined.

There is also a sparseness to many of the songs on In Verse, that at times reflects on some alternative rock of the 80s or 90s. I should mention though that the final result doesn't sound dated in any way. The mix of styles contained throughout, only lends to the overall progressive tone on display here. Ultimately though, the highlight of the album for me is The Monostereo Lovesong, which finds the band at its most straightforward.

This is not a perfect album as there are a few tracks that don't quite jell and there are some limitations from a production perspective. Regardless, as far as band debuts go, In Verse is certainly entertaining and well worth checking out.
Conclusion:
Patrick McAfee: 6.5 out of 10

SoundDiary - A Book in my Hand
SoundDiary - A Book in my Hand
Country of Origin: Austria
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 54:29
Links:
Track List:
Mercury Syndrome (8:06), Fragile (5:23), Unknown Lovers (7:15), Dancing Like Circles (4:40), Nevertheless (5:51), Where you lead me (7:09), Obedient to Indifference (5:25), A Book in my Hand (9:50), Reprise (2:10)
Four years after their debut album, came the release of SoundDiary's follow up effort, A Book In My Hand. From the opening moments of Mercury Syndrome, it is clear that the band used the time between albums to advance their performing and writing skills. There is a quality here that is definitely a step-up from their impressive debut. There is also an increased progressive attitude on this album that is evidenced by the variety displayed on every track. Whereas the first album played like a pop album with a progressive flavoring, the prog elements here are much more direct. Although the pop vibe is still there and remains effective, make no mistake, this is a prog album.

Unknown Lovers is a perfect example of how good SoundDiary can be. The song starts as an Echolyn-like rocker and then completely shifts gears into a more sombre, but nonetheless effective ballad. Also, in difference to In Verse, there are moments on this album where the band members flex their musical muscles a bit. In other words, there are some impressive solos and entertaining instrumental passages, but these sections never seem forced. Although this album is exceedingly more progressive and harder-edged, it still feels like a natural next step from their debut. Their ability to craft an accessible tune remains, but the results are certainly a bit more adventurous this time.

There is a quirkiness to be found on A Book In My Hand that is infectious. This works better at some moments than others, but Obedient to Indifference is an example of when it works perfectly. There is so much happening in this song's short five minutes playing time. The title track is another highlight which had me wondering just how good this band would be in a live setting. In fact, I have not had the pleasure of seeing SoundDiary perform, but it seems that these songs would really come alive on stage.

A Book In My Hand is an example of a band becoming much more comfortable with their progressive musical abilities. There are a few moments on the album that didn't completely grab me. But within the same song, they usually change things, and end up winning me over.

SoundDiary is a talented band that has the ability to write a good straightforward tune, combined with the musical talents to make the end results a lot more interesting. This is a very entertaining album and it will be exciting to see what they come up with next.
Conclusion:
Patrick McAfee: 8 out of 10

Yugen - Iridule
Yugen - Iridule
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2010
Time: 48:37
Links:
Track List:
On the Brink (0:51), The Scuttle of the Past out of the Cupboards (6:37), Iridule (3:08), Overmurmur (8:49), Scribbled (1:42), Becchime (6:18), Ice (1:46), Ganascia (4:10), Thaw (1:40), Serial(ist) Killer (5:43), Cloudscape (7:53)
One of the ancient ideals that underpins the Japanese cultural and aesthetic norms on what is considered tasteful or beautiful, yugen refers to profound grace and subtlety (valuing the power to evoke rather than the ability to state directly). In many ways it is a very appropriate name for this band that hails from Italy. Yugen come under the RIO/avant-prog umbrella and were conceived by ex The Night Watch guitarist Francesco Zago. This album, Iridule, features no less than 19 musicians.

The band's influences are wide and varied and range from Satie and Stravinsky to Gentle Giant and King Crimson. The music is mainly instrumental, very complex, eclectic, absorbing and definitely challenging. If your cup of tea extends to the avant-garde and experimental, then it's worthwhile taking a good few gulps from this strange brew.

It can be argued that highly expressive experimental music can sometimes get lost up its own backside, but Yugen have an uncanny knack of holding things in-check. They will fly off at different tangents when you least expect it, yet still somehow achieve a cohesive feel to it all. The music can be a maelstrom of madness one minute and then beguiling magic the next. A fine example of this is the track Overmurmur, the longest on the album and worthy of checking out on their Bandcamp site. If you like that track, then the rest of the album shouldn't disappoint.

The album features, as one would expect, complex rhythmic passages, subtle and non-subtle contrasts and exceptional musicianship. There are the odd moments of more 'conventional' sounding pieces, like the beautiful, plaintive vocal on the title track Iridule, with it's soothing accompaniment of mellow soundscapes, or the simplistic Ice with vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar. But if you just listened to these tracks alone, you would get the wrong idea of what the music is about. Just listen to the mayhem and madness in Ganascia to blow your comfort zone wide open.

This music is definitely progressive with a capital 'P'. Amazing musicianship, complex pieces of experimental music, interspersed with the odd thoughtful, soothing, shorter female vocal tracks. This won't be everybody's cup of tea but for those who appreciate the more alternative side of prog, and like to be challenged, then this is an album to check out.
Conclusion:
Alan Weston: 8 out of 10

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Published Sunday 24 April 2016

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