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ISSUE 2016-32
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Reviews in this issue:

Steve Hughes - Once We Were - Part One
Steve Hughes - Once We Were - Part One
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 76:47
Links:
Track List:
The Summer Soldier (33:03), A New Light (3:03), For Jay (9:14), Kettering Road (8:09), Propaganda: Part One (1:58), Was I Wrong? (4:37), That Could've Been Us (8:03), Second Chances (2:46), Saigo Ni Moichido (5:53)
Probably my favourite album of 2015 was Steve Hughes' stunning debut Tales From The Silent Ocean (TFTSO). Clocking in at a generous 80 minutes, it is progressive rock at its most potent, undiluted best.

Once We Were - Part One is the all-important follow-up, and as the title suggests this is the first part of a double album, with the second part due in December 2016. Although the songs are often sung in the first person, giving the album an autobiographical feel, they tackle such diverse subjects as war, broken families, love, separation, death and grief.

Whereas on TFTSO, Hughes shared lead vocals with Sean Filkins amongst others, here he handles the majority of the singing himself, with occasional support from his sister Angie Hughes and German singer Katja Piel. Like TFTSO the music is often densely arranged, with more twists and turns than a mountain road. So this is not for the causal listener, it demands your undivided attention to fully appreciate Hughes' multi-layered creations.

That's especially true of the epic-length opener The Summer Soldier, with a busy and frantic intro that brings Frost to mind. In fact the majority of the track is instrumental, including a three-way guitar battle between Hughes, Keith Winter and J.C Strand. Hughes' energetic drumming is front and centre throughout, and like Mike Oldfield circa The Millennium Bell, he's not afraid to experiment with rhythms, including the occasional techno beat. There is also a riff around the 14-minute mark reminiscent of the funk rhythm that drives Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The grandstanding synth and piano solos on the other hand, are very much in the Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess mould.

The rest of the album is more song-orientated, alternating between short tracks and longer compositions. It is a similar structure the the one Hughes applied to the last album. These range from the moving A New Light, to the expansive For Jay, which manages to combine the breezy style of The Tangent with a guitar hook that could have been lifted from an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western.

Although he doesn't possess the most powerful of voices, Hughes' high register singing is engaging, making effective use of multi-tracking to create Dream Academy-style harmonies, and even a vocoder to close the nostalgic Kettering Road (located in Northamptonshire, England not too far from where I spent my teens).

Propaganda Part One is an elegant piano and synth instrumental that serves as an intro to the hyperactive Was I Wrong that features a guitar solo from Declan Burke. Meanwhile the romantic That Could've Been Us echoes the tuneful style of Prefab Sprout. The haunting Second Chances continues the theme of lost love (with a beautiful vocal from Angie Hughes). The album reaches its natural conclusion with the lyrical Saigo Ni Moichido (One last time). Whilst Steve Hughes' first instrument is drums (as played with Big Big Train, The Enid and Kino amongst others), his keyboard, guitar, bass, song writing and production skills are exceptional. In addition to the names already mentioned, he's aided and abetted by Alex Tsentides (bass), Maciej Zolnowski (violin) and Richie Phillips (saxophone).

It's the originality of the material however that sets this album apart, as the 33-minute The Summer Soldier testifies. True, it references other artists and styles in places, but I can guarantee that you've never heard a longform piece quite like it. Even the shorter songs mostly avoid the usual verse-chorus format. Moreover, the journey from the epic scale of The Summer Soldier to the intimacy of the album's closing songs is breathtaking in its scope. Like its predecessor, this is a strong contender for my album of the year.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 9 out of 10

Meandering Mine - Neanderthal Nein
Meandering Mine - Neanderthal Nein
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 68:46
Links:
Track List:
Deus Ex Machina (3:12), La Burst (1:19), Orpheus (6:01), 3Hz (1:52), Lindblum (6:32), Kanon (5:56), Nein (6:55), Trivial Thing (7:16), Espresso (0:53), Leer (11:12), Joker (4:12), Thomas (3:57), Bad Apple (9:30)
There are several ways to go, if you start a new prog band nowadays. Most new bands are either following a melodic progressive metal template established by Dream Theater around 25 years ago, or going full-out retro by immersing in the classic prog rock sound from the 70s, or the so-called Neo Prog from the 80s (which basically is more or less the same thing).

But some new bands are going the genuinely progressive way (as opposed to the aforementioned generic variations), throwing together seemingly disparate ideas and genres, pushing the boundaries, and thus creating a whole new refreshing experience. The German band Meandering Mine chose the latter approach with their debut album Neanderthal Nein, which was released in October 2015 through Bandcamp, almost unnoticed, but has only started to stir things up in the underground prog community since the beginning of 2016. The ripples are still growing into a wave, and rightfully so. All the laurels I've read, and heard first-hand from friends are actually true.

The album starts off with Deus ex Machina, a forceful opener, dominated by a monstrous, dragging riff. Lyric-less vocals on top add an epic feel, before it breaks down a bit towards something like a "verse". Make no mistake, you will find nothing even close to a traditional song structure on Neanderthal Nein, I'm just lacking a better word here. The riff returns, only to break away into a drone interlude. Orpheus picks up the pace, presenting more vocals to the forefront, which combined with the guitar tone and overall ambience, reminds me of Grave Human Genuine-era Dark Suns.

The following tracks, the short 3Hz and Lindblum, drop the heaviness altogether, as acoustic guitars and vocals take the center of attention. They couldn't be further away from happy campfire music though, as they meander through different harmonics and challenging rhythms. Kanon continues with acoustic guitars, though used in an entirely different way, delicately plucked, as opposed to fiercely strummed. Tibetan singing bowls and cymbals add a spiritual layer.

And then comes the madness. Nein starts off with a techno beat played by the full band, before transforming into a riff, only to come back to the techno beat, this time entirely electronic. A voice sample of a DJ screams to the masses: "Seid ihr alle da, habt ihr Spaß?" ("Are you there? Are you having fun?"). I guess that's where their other main influence, besides Tool, namely Aphex Twin, really shines through. I'm not sure if I would enjoy such a thing on it's own, but in the context of the album it makes total sense (however disjointed it may sound trying to describe it).

In a recent interview, the four young guys from Munich described the songwriting process as a long and winding road, where they tried to let themselves be lead by the music itself, rather than trying to force it in a certain direction. However, they still put a lot of thought into that process, changing ideas around, throwing quite a lot in, but also getting rid of parts that didn't fall in place, hence the long time of around four years it took to make this album.

The following track, Trivial Thing, slowly builds up with an atmosphere, once again reminiscent of Dark Suns, only to burst out in a heavy riff that seems to drown itself in water every other odd meter. It is not unlike those famous mafia torture scenes that involve a toilet, odd as it may sound, but the effect is really startling.

After a short Espresso-interlude, Leer (German for 'Empty') starts off with gentle dual vocals, before building up some Tool-ish atmospheric vibes, remaining subdued throughout, refusing a proper cathartic outburst. Electronics take over and the German voice-over samples, a little girl talking to her daddy about the adventures of the day, make this some kind of strange lullaby.

The upbeat, half-electronic riff at the beginning of Joker works pretty well as a much-needed wake up call, otherwise the transition through a dub step passage from full-out piano jazz, to circus music would have been all too mind-boggling. But once again, the transition from the quirky circus stuff, via heavy organ, to a monster of a mad riff with electronica thrown on top, works seamlessly, regardless of how disjointed it may sound reading it.

The penultimate track, Thomas, takes us with piano and orchestra sounds to one last atmospheric ride. Bad Apple lulls us into a false sense of security, with dreamy, soothing moods, before returning to a wall of sound not entirely unlike the very first riff in Deus Ex Machina, with which the album started out some 60 minutes ago.

Exhausted, relieved, but thoroughly enthralled by this insane roller coaster ride, I can't help myself but press the play button once again.

Not convinced? Words can hardly do justice to this musical monster, so if you like your prog modern, adventurous and venturing unbeaten paths, go listen to Neanderthal Nein on Bandcamp now! You won't regret it. What a debut album!
Conclusion:
Dario Albrecht: 9 out of 10

Odd Logic - Penny For Your Thoughts
Odd Logic - Penny For Your Thoughts
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 44:30
Links:
Track List:
Penny (1:12), The First (5:24), Life, Lore, & Love (6:43), Secrets (5:09), The Traveler (6:12), Court Of Ancient Rulers (5:55), Mr. Compromise (3:31), The Island (8:05), Lighthouses (5:57), Agent Unknown (1:46)
If you are willing to offer me a penny for my thoughts about this album, then I am happy to admit that I have found it a truly exceptional musical experience.

The first time I heard this, the sixth album from Washington-based Odd Logic, my jaw dropped to the ground. That is the place that it returns to, every time I listen to these eight brilliant songs (plus an intro and and outro).

That this is all the work of one musician, makes Penny For Your Thoughts an even more extraordinary creation.

I could wax lyrical, dedicating several paragraphs of adjectival-dominated orgasmic prose to each and every track. However as the whole album is available as a Name Your Price download from the Bandcamp link above, then I will confine myself to one central observation.

I have been listening to melodic progressive metal since the seeds of the genre emerged in the mid-80s with Queensryche, Watchtower, Fates Warning, Lethal, Dream Theater, and Crimson Glory. Thus, it is no minor compliment when I say that in the past three decades, very few albums have encapsulated what I love about this style of music as comprehensively as Odd Logic have done here.

Musically-speaking the sheer brilliance of every aspect of Penny For Your Thoughts is off the charts.

On top of that chart has to be the vocals of this one-man-band. Sean Thompson has a tone, phrasing and melodic sense that reminds me a lot of Ted Leonard (Enchant, Spocks Beard), but with a range, power, sense of timing and emotion, that is simply absurd.

Although different in approach, the power and brilliance of his performance on this disc has to be rated alongside that of Jorn Lande on the two Ark albums and a certain Geoff Tate in his prime. The melodic hooks he has sunk into the likes of Life, Lore & Love and The Traveler are as addictive as melodies can get.

Wrapped around those melodies however, is a style of progressive metal that is able to effortlessly take the listener to many different sonic landscapes within every song. Sean has created a musical masterpiece that shifts effortlessly from metal to jazz to hard rock. An opus that features driving riffs, spacey interludes, unexpected beats, and retro keys. At times it verges on the avant garde, at others it is like listening to prime time melodic hard rock. Yet the listener never loses a song's sense of direction and cohesiveness.

This music goes well beyond what have become the rather bog-standard, predictable prog metal trappings of today. It is exciting and inventive but it remains accessible and very entertaining. I don't quite know how Sean has done it, but everything here is just perfectly judged and placed.

And when I said "comprehensive", I meant that the attention to detail in every aspect of this album is just incredible. The production is sharp and perfectly in balance, the cover artwork is original and eye-catching, and it all comes with a digital booklet that explains in detail the full sci-fi-esque story that ties this concept album together (I won't even try to unravel it here). The only thing missing is a full CD release. But maybe if enough of you buy a copy of the digital version, Sean will consider putting one together. I'd be at the front of the queue!

In conclusion: I simply can not stop playing this album. It is perfectly divine.

Something very very special will have to be released in the next six months, for this not to be my album of the year. In years to come, I have little doubt that this will be viewed as a classic of the genre. Penny For Your Thoughts really is the Full (Prog Metal) Monty!
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 10 out of 10

Odd Logic - If We Were Live
Odd Logic - If We Were Live
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 65:38
Links:
Track List:
Pre-Show Exclusive (1:30), The One (3:21), Perfect Day (6:41), Spirit Girl (6:05), The Dark Poet (11:47), Naked Mannequin (6:32), Revenge of the Spirit (4:43), The Great March (18:06), The Tide* (3:01), Post-Show Exclusive (3:52)
Those, who like me have been blown away by Penny For Your Thoughts, the new album from Washington-based Odd Logic, may well be wondering why they have not heard of this artist before, especially as Odd Logic has a history dating back to 2003, in which time it has put out no less than six albums.

To satiate my curiosity, I contacted Sean Thompson, the man behind Odd Logic, and he kindly sent me a copy of this, his previous album from 2013.

If We Were Live is, as the title suggests, a fictional live album recorded when the "band" hit the stage at The Illusionary Palace. It is certainly a novel idea.

Sean plays everything, except the keyboards that were recorded by his good friend Kevin Hunter. He explained the concept of the album as follows: "I had four albums out but didn't see any chance at the time to get a live version of the band going. And since I loved unique concept ideas, I figured I'd make a fictional live album, fully equipped with pre-show and post-show sounds, full crowd noise and interaction, and a cool fantasy venue. My artist Thomas Ewerhard, I knew would do a great job since he's done such great work for other great prog bands (Enchant, Neal Morse), and he delivered."

For (hopefully) obvious reasons this album was not recorded live, with Sean laying down each instrument separately. However he has done an amazing job with the mixing and mastering, somehow managing to really capture the rougher sound and feel of a live performance, complete with in-between song banter and crowd noises.

The pre-show and post show exclusives are on the amateurish side of audio storytelling and rather pointless after a first listen. However the anthemic The One, and the thrusting prog metal meets melodic prog rock of Perfect Day are seriously strong openers. The song writing is much less adventurous here than on Penny For Your Thoughts but Sean's rich vocals enhance the Enchant-style of delivery. Spirit Girl follows a similar pattern but doesn't have the same hook or impact.

The Dark Poet is a weighty slice of truly progressive metal in the epic style of Fates Warning, with a superbly addictive hook. This track would not be out of place on Penny ..., and along with The One is my favourite here. Naked Mannequin also has a Fates Warning style, but from their earlier Jon Arch period. I love the crazy, heavy riffing around another great melodic hook. There was certainly a great variety to the music being played at The Illusionary Palace.

The Great March is a weighty prog-metal epic. It works its way and back through multiple musical ideas. Some work better than others, but it's held together well by some military marching band motifs and just about warrants its length. The second and third phases of Revenge of the Spirit work better than the opening one. For an "encore" we have a version of The Tide from the debut Odd Logic album, which brings "the show" to a fine conclusion with a "crowd-sing-a-long".

You can sample and buy all six Odd Logic albums from the CDbaby link above. Sean has now formed a full band that has already put together a new album, to be released later this year, with hopefully some real live shows to follow. I'd love to be there.
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 7.5 out of 10

TEE - Tales Of Eternal Entities
TEE - Tales Of Eternal Entities
Country of Origin: Japan
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 46:17
Links:
Track List:
Epimetheus (7:14), Secret Lake (6:40), Marine Snow (8:45), Pulse (6:40), Mother Earth (9:17), Moonbow (7:38)
I have long been fascinated by many things that are associated with the concept of three. As a child I remember shouting out "Thunderbirds are Go!" whilst clutching a sleekly-detailed model of Thunderbird 3. This red-stained rocket gained considerably more attention in my earnest re-enactments, than any of the other five Thunderbirds.

Japanese band TEE, were originally known as The Earth Explorer. They changed their name to TEE after the release of their debut album The Earth Explorer. Since then, the band's releases have continued to refer to and utilise the three letters which make up their name i.e. TEE.

Their latest album is entitled Tales of Eternal Entities, somewhat predictably though, I prefer to think of it as TEE number three. The band's previous albums, The Earth Explorer and Trans European Expression both received favourable DPRP reviews.

Tales of Eternal Entities is a joyous and gorgeously emotive album, containing six outstanding instrumental tunes. The quality of the musicianship is a real highlight. Intricate playing abounds and the arrangements frequently enable the players to impress and excel.

Each composition is burnished with tasteful solo parts and flamed-to-perfection with instrumental flourishes that are elegantly flamboyant. The whole release is spiced with melodic interludes and delivered with an abundance of complex passages, which are able to successfully stimulate the mind and engage the senses.

The flute is the most prominent instrument and has a central part to play, providing flowing solos and tastefully constructed embellishments. Flautist Kenji Imai is a master of his instrument. His soaring, virtuoso performance is set against a backdrop of jazz rock-inspired rhythms, and spacious, symphonic compositions. The result is never less than enthralling.

TEE's overall approach is beautifully contemplative, but it is never melancholic. The album is enriched and garnished with many sparkling, upbeat passages which give proceedings a light and spacious air. The combination of so many styles, creates music that is vibrant, always distinctive and often unique. The symphonic and highly melodic nature of much of the album would probably attract those who enjoy the music of Camel. There are also many highly charged and engaging ensemble parts, which bring to mind the work of PFM.

The more muscular moments that frequently emerge would attract anybody who enjoys prog music that utilises the flute as a powerful lead instrument, and on more than one occasion I was reminded of the work of Kenso's early albums. However, TEE's overall sound is perhaps best compared to another group whose name also consists of three letters; fellow Japanese band Qui.

The keyboard work of Ryuji Yonekura is particularly engaging. He provides flowing piano parts that soothe and enrich much of the music, whilst his synthesiser patterns simmer with emotion. This is epitomised by the carefully constructed burbling and gurgling synth solo break which occurs in the middle section of Epimetheus. It gushes creatively and confidently, to deliver bubbles of sound that burst decisively with opulent splendour.

Yonekura's versatile contribution fits the mood and structure of each of the intricately arranged pieces. Similarly, when needed, the album contains some exquisite guitar work. The expansive solo that emerges in the final minutes of Epimethus exudes class, containing just the right balance of melody, aggression and distortion.

Epimethus is a wonderful opening piece which sets the bar high for the remainder of the album. Secret Lake is awash with delicately evocative motifs, which weave a vivid spell. This track also displays a seductive pull that warmly brings to mind the style of the most captivating passages inherent in Camel's The Snow Goose.

As its name suggests, Marine Snow is beautifully reflective. It is built around a soothing, slowly-repetitive, spiralling, yet constantly developing melody, which lingers in the memory long after the piece has concluded. Pulse and the superb Moonbow are probably the standouts of the album. Both are invigorating fusion pieces, laden with copious amounts of spitting and fluttering flute-rock that is reminiscent of bands such as early Flor De Loto and Artsruni.

Tales of Eternal Entities solidly builds upon the style of TEE's earlier albums and delivers something that is hugely enjoyable and often special. If you are not already familiar with this band, I urge you to investigate this excellent album. Finally, in keeping with what was written at the beginning of this review, I would like to award TEE number 3 a well-deserved score of 3+3+3.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10

Tiles - Pretending 2 Run
Tiles - Pretending 2 Run
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 96:29
Links:
Track List:
Disc 1: Pretending To Run (7:10), Shelter In Place (3:53), Stonewall (6:50), Voir Dire (4:37), Drops Of Rain (5:02), Taken By Surprise (11:22), Refugium (2:55), Small Fire Burning (4:09)
Disc 2: Midwinter (4:32), Weightless (9:16), Friend Or Foe (6:16), Battle Weary (4:33), Meditatio (1:37), Other Arrangements (2:17), The Disappearing Floor (5:43), Fait Accompli (4:32), Pretending To Run (reprise 1)(1:40), Uneasy Truce (4:19), Pretending To Run (reprise 2)(1:15), The View From Here (1:28), Backsliding (3:03)
Presents Of Mind (1999) was my first experience with Tiles. At that time I was immersed in my Rush and Dream Theater intense listening period, and so it seemed to me that this was an album that, at least on the outside, featured all the ingredients to meet my musical needs. Tiles offered hard rocking songs, with a sophisticated edge and interesting lyrics, all wrapped in eye-catching art work courtesy of Hugh Syme. Once the music had sunk in, I found it to be fairly entertaining and occassionally exciting; It was well played and produced, but also somewhat derivative, and lessened by Paul Rarick's unconvincing vocals.

While I quite enjoyed their 2004 release Window Dressing, the release of Fly Paper in 2008 was again a bit of a let-down. Yes, the music was there, the seductive artwork all present and correct, and the high profile guest performers such as Alex Lifeson leant a hand or two. But again there was something missing. Call it attitude, call it character - but something was missing.

Pretending 2 Run is an ambitious double album which was probably destined to be the band's magnum opus but, to these ears, it's just more of the same.

Yes, it is longer and bigger, but the more of the same same nevertheless. Hugh Syme's artwork encapsulates my feelings regarding this release. It looks sumptuous, polished and deceptively intriguing, but in the end is just a repetition of what he's been doing for 20 years now. Guest stars you ask? This album certainly has a Who's Who of classic and modern prog: Mike Portnoy (and son), Ian Anderson (appearing on Midwinter, a very Tull-ish title), Colin Edwin and Adam Holzman. If you want long proggy tracks, go check Taken By Surprise or Weightless. Short classical interludes? Refugium and Meditatio will do.

Is it any good? Certainly, there is great music to be found here. The title track manages to combine OSI-styled electronica, with Chris Herin's trademark, driving riffs and Jeff Whittle's propulsive bass lines, whilst both Drops Of Rain and Fait Accompli show a lighter, more playful side of the band. Elsewhere, Uneasy Truce is an intense instrumental piece, with some violin flourishes which give it a certain Kansas flavor, and Battle Weary is a passably-convincing, pretty ballad.

Unfortunately, 96 minutes are simply too many and the album suffers from its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink philosophy. It all sounds rather disjointed and all over the place. By the time we get to Friend or Foe (disc 2, track 3) it all starts to feel too long for its own good and, needless to say, the last third of the album, with its various re-iterations of the title track, is completely unnecessary. And yes, I'm still not a big fan of Paul Rarick's vocals.

So, even though I've felt consistently frustrated at the band's unfulfilled promise, I still believe they deserve recognition for their tenacity and, who knows, there might be a memorable album waiting in the wings.
Conclusion:
Héctor Gómez: 6 out of 10

Triangle - Alert & Alive
Triangle - Alert & Alive
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 59:20
Links:
Track List:
Alert (3:37), Reunion (3:33), Aligned (7:42), Revealed (8:25), Dourbie (7:18), 794078 (9:14), Go (7:28),
Alert & Alive is the third studio album by Dutch band Triangle and is released 13 years after Retreat and 16 years after their debut album Square The Circle. Their debut album was the last time I heard about the band as at that time a friend of mine was playing the keyboards. I regularly watched Triangle during rehearsals at a school in the town of Spijkenisse (near Rotterdam). When my friend left the band, singer Martijn Paasschens took over playing the keyboards. Since that day the line-up has not changed, with Jan-Willem Verkerk (bass), Paul van der Zwaal (drums) and Roland van der Stoep (guitars) as the other members.

For me the main attraction of this band is the guitar playing by Roland van der Stoep that has been compared with Marek Gil (Collage), something I fully agree with as it's not a very common sound and has it's own trademark. The bass player Jan-Willem Verkerk also manages to get noticed with some strong playing. Drummer Paul vander Zwaal is probably the driving force, and with him behind the drum kit, the drums sound very solid but also have enough variety to really add something extra to their music. Martijn Paasschens is no wizard on keyboards but he lays down a carpet of very melodic and atmospheric sounds.

Musically there isn't much to complain about on this album, however I'm not a big fan of the voice of Paasschens and I've never been since I first heard him. I miss power and emotion in his voice and to me it sounds too flat. Maybe it's because I've lately been listening to vocalists such as David Longdon (Big Big Train), Jean Pageau (Mystery), Sylvain Descoteaux (Huis* and Damian Wilson (Headspace). They have the qualities that I miss when listening to Triangle's singer. Maybe it's unfair to compare him with such majestic voices but that's how I feel about it. I didn't use to think a vocalist was very important in the past, as long as the music was great. But nowadays I think a good vocalist is indispensable! Anyway, this album is his last album as Triangle's vocalist because he has decided to start a new life in the USA. The band has announced that this is the end of the band named Triangle and will start rehearsing as a new band with a new keyboard player and vocalist in 2016.

For now, just enjoy this recording with some fine melodic prog with nice songs such as Aligned, Dourbie, the title track and the very appropriate Reunion. I certainly will keep an eye on these guys in future, because this is a promising comeback.
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 7 out of 10

Wolverine - Machina Viva
Wolverine - Machina Viva
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 65:50
Links:
Track List:
The Bedlam Overture (14:39), Machina (5:17), Pile Of Ash (4:17), Our Last Goodbye (7:44), Pledge (7:17), When The Night Comes (7:35), Nemesis (9:20), Sheds (6:50)
Wolverine is not a progressive metal band. THIS IS NOT A PROGRESSIVE METAL ALBUM! (Hopefully that has got the attention of those who scan through the album reviews, ignoring band names that you think are not for you.)

Machina Viva is based on the same template as the last two Wolverine offerings, Communication Lost and Still. We have a predominance of gentle rock atmospheres, broken by occasional bursts of intensity, yet softened further by occasional acoustic vocal passages. There are two differences, or progressions, in the band's sound this time around.

Firstly, the trend for this Swedish quintet, is clearly towards the gentle. Secondly, there is a stronger emphasis on electronic vibes throughout this album. The use of synth and programming bring a distinct OSI, Cynic, Riverside, and Everon vibe at times. The second track features a real Commodore 64 computer routed through MIDI as an instrument. It is a texture that in no way dominates the Wolverine sound, but it offers a distinct new dimension.

Once again this is very much a band album, with each instrument playing its part of the whole. For some time now, the music of Wolverine has been about emotional impact, not showcasing. The solos are here, but they are not overly complex or long-winded.

Having noted the team-effort, one of the biggest appeals of this band are the vocals of Stefan Zell. Across every song, his voice is as crisp and clear as an early spring morning. He is able to convey emotion like few others I have ever heard. To help my appreciation, the band made the effort to provide a lyric sheet with my review copy of this album (thanks Marcus Losbjer). A personal sense of sadness, hope and melancholic-longing pervades every thread, of every song. Take this, from the beautiful closing vocal ballad, Sheds:

They say that time will heal
The life is all but real
You see my worlds collide
A happy man so sad

Wolverine is a band that I have enjoyed since their debut offering, Fervent Dream back in 1996, reviewed here. They started as a progressive metal band, with heavy death metal influences: a band whose musical style mirrored their name. As one who still enjoys a dose of metal in my music, I do miss the more intense highs that gave added contrast and impact to their music on their first four releases, especially the track His Cold Touch and their classic 2006 album Still (reviewed here), an album that will always be one of my Desert Island Discs.

Opening their sixth release with a 14-minute long-song, is a bold statement of intent. The Bedlam Overture develops and twists cleverly, but it does not have enough depth and surprises to warrant its full running time. Similarly at points in Nemesis, my attention trends to wander. Machina offers pleasing variety, but I would not wish its electronic DNA to be this prominent across a whole Wolverine album. The waves of electronica that dominate the closing part of Sheds is a sound that does not tick my boxes. I do like the hymn-like qualities of this track though, combined with thoughtful lyrics dealing with prejudice, social rejection and sexual identity.

Thankfully there are some immensely enjoyable tracks on this album that reward repeat listens. The middle trio, that begins with Our Last Goodbye, is a superb showcase for the band's songcraft, boasting vocal hooks and refrains that will stick in the head forever. Written while vocalist Stefan was going through a divorce after 13 years of marriage to the mother of his children, I find the lyrics of Our Last Goodbye particularly touching. This is sure to become one of the best songs in the Wolverine catalogue.

The soft verse and intense melodic chorus of When The Night Comes is another highlight of this album. The four minutes of vulnerability that is Pile of Ash, with its stark vocal over a naked guitar, is a contender for my Song of the Year. (The bonus version with the guitar replaced by a cello is even better).

This is an album that will appeal to a wide variety of music lovers. The most obvious being anyone who enjoyed the first three Riverside albums or the second and third discs from Votum. Sieges Even's The Art of Navigating By The Stars and the lighter moments of Sylvan, Kingcrow, Pain of Salvation, and Anathema would be other fair reference points. As ever with albums released on the Sensory label, the packaging is superb, with some cleverly-toned imagery, and the sound is exemplary. I wish all labels would do as much to tempt people to invest in the benefits of a hard copy, as opposed to the digital version.

Machina Viva then, is clearly an album that shows how far Wolverine have evolved from their progressive metal beginnings. It is an addictive, soothing and superbly performed collection of highs and lows; an album that will sooth the heart and soul with its tender passion and gentle melodies.
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 8 out of 10

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Published Thursday 7 July 2016

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