ISSUE 2016-043

Reviews in this issue:

Sioum - I am Mortal, But Was Fiend
Sioum - I am Mortal, But Was Fiend
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2010
Time: 58:31
Links:
Track List:
Upon Awakening (3:56), Pillars (8:57), Pillars (Among Us) (3:55), Shift (5:15), Drifting Away (2:26), Chambers (5:12), Lapse (3:39), Continuum (1:53), Fields (9:04), Fields (Ocean of Silence) (5:35), Pulse (4:46), Collapse (3:53)
Sioum are an instrumental progressive metal trio from Chicago, comprised of friends Dorian Zdrinc (guitar), Arthur Zdrinc (drums) and Kevin Clark (keyboard). Their first first full-length album is I Am Mortal, But Was Fiend, which, in their own words is musically influenced by "dreams, film, video games, and most frequently, emotion itself."

The album starts off with a light, classical piece involving piano and strings, to create a welcoming, chilled, slightly melancholic, but overall pleasing sound. Tracks like this, are repeated throughout the album as short bridges or introductions to the longer ones. This adds a nice effect, breaking up the overall momentum, for some moments of reflection on what came before.

The first full track is the nine-minute long Pillars; a dark, heavy and generally brooding track, with a seamless blend into a minimalistic outro lasting five minutes. While this outro lasts more than half the song, it is needed to allow for recovery after the first section.

The next full track is titled Shift. This is the one that first brought Sioum to my attention, having heard it a short while ago and having been itching to listen to the full album since. It starts of fast, with technical drumming, before a good use of discordant chords and keys creates an uneasy atmosphere that resounds throughout. This track really shows how tight the band are, as at times it sounds like the drums and guitars are almost out of time, but this adds so much to the overall feeling of the song. While the sound may be a bit chaotic, it is clear it is a very well-structured and organised chaos.

This is followed again by some tracks that are more relaxed, with a focus on pianos and synths, and involving minimalistic drums to create relaxed and chilled atmospheres. That is until the end of Chambers, when the full band kicks back in, to remind you how well this three-piece works together. The music is altogether thought-provoking, in a way that only a band like this can be.

It is difficult not to discuss each track, as each one is different, with a different pace, atmosphere and overall emotional feel to it. There is no stand-out track, all are equally as good. What may be your favourite track one day, may take a back seat the next. All are fantastic peices of brooding, heavy, chaotic progressive metal. All the musicians showcase both how talented they are and how tightly they can weave the drums, keyboards and guitars through each other to create these works of art, keeping the listener interested and attentive at all times.

I would recommend it for fans of Emerson, Lake And Palmer (particularly the Brain Salad Surgery album) and Opeth. Although bear in mind, this is instrumental.
Conclusion:
Calum Gibson: 8.5 out of 10

Sioum - Yet Further
Sioum - Yet Further
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 71:30
Links:
Track List:
Tribulation (7:17), Welcome to New Beginnings (6:06), And Technological Advancements (10:39), I Died Once (9:48), Let's Hope We Make It Out Alive (10:34), Unknown (10:44), Yet Further (16:25)
Having reviewed their previous album, I am Mortal, But Was Fiend, I instantly leapt at the chance to review their latest effort, Yet Further.

Album opener Tribulation has a minimalist and atmospheric opening to set the tone for the album. Utilising few instruments, focusing mainly on drawn-out notes and discordant notes, before the band fully kicks in around the five minute mark and goes full pelt into their dark instrumental beauty. From this point, it is easy to see where the gaming influence is drawn into their music. This could easily go along with a heavy metal version of Sonic The Hedgehog or as a boss theme on any of the Final Fantasy games.

Welcome To New Beginnings follows in the 'gaming prog' style, with the track sounding like it has been taken straight from Final Fantasy 1 (just with added guitars rather than midi sounds).

Track 3 on the album, And Technological Advancements follows seamlessly on from this, with an ethereal and almost synth intro, bringing space exploration to mind. This further evolves into a Tool-esque number, with chugging riffs and piano leads, over some rolling drums and interesting guitar licks and riffs.

This is followed by the relaxed interweaving of piano and guitar in the follow-up track I Died Once. The drums follow a similar, rolling pattern, but still keep the chilled vibe of the song; one that you would expect to follow an emotional scene in a film or game. It is a nice break from the driving prog of the previous tracks, and it displays the diverse skills of all the musicians involved.

The main issue I have with this album is the drums are occasionally a bit repetitive, with similar rolling patterns being followed often, and that the songs are occasionally a minute or so too long. However, when the musicianship, song writing and overall performance of the album are taken into account, these are minor issues and easily overlooked.

Each track is a fantastic blend of emotion, gaming nostalgia, progressive joy and hard-hitting music. It is a fantastic album of tense, discordant and chugging riffs, added to a helping of relaxing leads from both piano and guitar throughout, backed up by driving drums and rhythmic bass lines (played on guitar). To go into much more depth about why this is one of my favourite albums of the year would take a long time, so I'll simply say that whilst I'm not generally a fan of instrumental music (as I like having something to sing along with), Yet Further is without a doubt an album I will return to often.
Conclusion:
Calum Gibson: 8.5 out of 10

Starlight Brigade - Under the Velvet Sky
Starlight Brigade - Under the Velvet Sky
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 56:19
Links:
Track List:
Chemical Reaction (5:07), Long Forgotten Dreams (6:33), When the Night is Fallin' (4:56), Listen to the Wind (3:04), Slowly (Theme) (1:33), The Hidden Pathway (7:43), Living in the Dark (7:43), Peace Offering (3:48), Andrewh Meh Dah (3:34), Velvet Sky (7:37), Slowly (everything falls to the ground) (4:41)
Swedish band Starlight Brigade proudly wear their progressive rock influences on their sleeve. Most notably influenced by Pink Floyd, this group creates music that can be contemplative one minute, yet soaring and heavy the next.

While never approaching the early psychedelic side of Floyd, the guitars, saxophone, and myriad vocalists, all remind me of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Importantly though, Starlight Brigade are not mere copiers or imitators of what has come before. Rather, they take those influences and make them their own.

Starlight Brigade's line-up has changed a little bit over the course of their albums, but the project revolves around Anders Nilsson, who plays lead and rhythm guitars, lead vocals, synths, and bass. There are a large number (too many to name) of talented contributing instrumentalists. Despite the vast number of musicians, the music and lyrics were all written by Anders Nilsson. His organisation keeps the project relatively consistent.

This first album clearly shows a band trying to figure out exactly what they want to accomplish. At times, they play with the smoothness of Pink Floyd and Steven Wilson at their finest, and other times, they play with a more upbeat style, reminiscent of fellow Swedish rockers, The Flower Kings.

Unlike Floyd and Steven Wilson, Starlight Brigade have very uplifting lyrics. It is actually quite refreshing to hear this laid back, almost pyschedelic type of progressive rock, with lyrics that are encouraging and positive. In Listen to the Wind, Magnus Lind sings: "Nothing lasts forever / Not even the pain."

Interestingly, just as quickly as they can be uplifting, the band can be equally cryptic and realistic. In Velvet Sky, Nilsson sings: "Somewhere I lost my way / Old memories fade away / No guiding light is leading me home, / tonight." It is no surprise that this song is the most like Floyd at their best, containing excellent ethereal guitar and a fantastic saxophone solo.

Starlight Brigade's first album establishes a solid foundation of 70s-based progressive rock for the band to build upon. While the music shifts from lyric-oriented rockers, to minimalistic Floydian songs (like Velvet Sky), creating an air of inconsistency, they perform all very well. Musically, they are at their best with their more minimalistic interpretations of Floyd. Lyrically, they are at their best with their positivity. Overall, this Swedish band gave themselves a solid starting point for their next two albums.
Conclusion:
Bryan Morey: 7 out of 10

Starlight Brigade - Into the Light
Starlight Brigade - Into the Light
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 50:47
Links:
Track List:
This is How it Feels (4:35), Fly On (5:31), The Beams of the Sun (4:27), Only a Miracle (5:13), We Should Have Learned (3:52), Moonlight From a Starry Sky (5:37), Leave Those Bad Times to Rest (3:20), Summer Song (5:10), The Big Deal (6:10), The Life You Never Lived (3:34), Into the Light (3:18)
Starlight Brigade's second album, Into the Light, finds the Swedish group defining and differentiating their sound. This album finds the band more mature, with a more consistent sound. While their first album featured two extremes in their style, with straight-forward rock songs and quiet, contemplative songs, this second album finds a happy medium between those two styles.

Anders Nilsson remains the central figure in this band, with the same large cast of players around him as in the first record. The musicianship is excellent, with keyboards taking a slightly larger role this time around. While only singing lead on three songs, Micael Lilja sets himself apart as the best vocalist in the group. His voice is very reminiscent of John Wetton's, with a thick, earthy tone to it. He sings lead on The Beams of the Sun, We Should Have Learned, and Leave Those Bad Times to Rest. Peter Hjalmarsson and Magnus Lind sing lead on the other songs, and they are both quite good as well, although Lind's voice is a bit thin at some points.

Consistency is key on this album. The music is much more relaxed, lacking the tightness featured in many of the first album's songs. They create a middle ground between the harder songs and the spacier ones. Guitar work is strong throughout, with a particularly David Gilmour-esque solo from Peter Albertsson on We Should Have Learned. Moonlight From a Starry Sky opens with keyboard sounds that instantly remind me of Pink Floyd's Echoes.

While still proudly wearing their Floyd influences, Starlight Brigade maintain a unique style. This style is particularly displayed in The Life You Never Lived. This song is distinctly unique, even including an acoustic guitar by Nilsson that contains elements of classical and jazz. Throughout the album, backing female vocals further round out their sound. The positivity and realism of the lyrics remains, just as it did in the first album. Their lyrics contain sage advice for anyone that may be having a tough time in their life.

It is clear that Starlight Brigade significantly progressed on their second album. They have taken the best elements of their debut, and they have cut out the fat. My only complaint is with the booklet included with the CD. While the first album included lyrics in the booklet, Into the Light's booklet merely contains detailed information on vocalists and musicians in each song. There are no lyrics. However, that is a very minor complaint, and it does not take away from the quality of the music. This Swedish group continues to excel as they further define their sound.
Conclusion:
Bryan Morey: 8 out of 10

Starlight Brigade - Destination Eternity
Starlight Brigade - Destination Eternity
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 62:32
Links:
Track List:
Across the Milky Way (6:08), Take It or Leave It (4:09), A Toss of the Dice (3:35), She Can Be Forgiven (4:10), The End of All Innocence (3:48), The Shadows of Doubt (5:49), Who Will You Turn To? (3:27), The Sign of Life Keeps on Calling (4:00), Painful (4:33), Eternity (3:46), Silent Words (3:36), Fading Star V 2.0 (4:43), The Final Sign (4:30), Endlessly & Forever (3:50), Since I Put my Trust in You (2:28)
Starlight Brigade's third album, Destination Eternity, finds the Swedish band continuing to embrace their own style of atmospheric rock 'n roll. From the very beginning, as in the past albums, Pink Floyd's influence is abundantly clear, with a definite Echoes sound in the start of the first song, Across the Milky Way.

While enjoying a trip down memory lane, the band quickly steps things up throughout the rest of the song. By this third album, the band is obviously making the statement that they are their own band, even if they do blatantly wear their influences on their sleeve.

The band retains most of the musicians as the previous two albums, with Anders Nilsson remaining the key member and composer. Lead vocals are sung by Peter Hjalmarsson, Peter Sundell, and Micael Lilja.

In many regards, Destination Eternity is very similar to the first two albums, finding the band refining and honing their craft, while progressing their sound. Interestingly, the songs are generally shorter, but the band makes up for that fact by having four more songs on this album. The lyrics are less upbeat, but they never approach the negativity of Pink Floyd's lyrics. Rather, Nilsson addresses real life emotions and trials as they actually are.

While keyboards featured more prominently on the last album, the guitars step forward on this one. Many smaller atmospheric progressive rock groups often get so wrapped up in the spacey aspects of the music that they forget to include distinctive instrumentation to keep the music interesting. Starlight Brigade do not make that mistake, with masterfully crafted, albeit short, guitar solos abounding. Another excellent feature is the saxophone solos from Peter Hjalmarsson, such as the brief one included on The End of All Innocence. The saxophone adds a nice touch of jazz to the music, further distinguishing the band's style. While I said guitar solos featured prominently, keyboards still play a major role for the band.

While mainly more relaxed and atmospheric, Starlight Brigade are not afraid to embrace heavier rock. The Final Sign instantly reminded me of heavier classic rock, with guitars central to the progression of the song. The piece is a nice change for the band, and I think it is something they could build on in the future.

While the booklet for their second album, Into the Light, lacked information such as lyrics, this album's booklet contains lyrics, making it much more useful. The album artwork is top notch, with a darker background reflecting the slightly more negative and realistic tone to the lyrics.

Destination Eternity is another positive step forward for Starlight Brigade. Anders Nilsson is an excellent songwriter and composer. While the songs are short, the music is certainly progressive. I believe Starlight Brigade focus on writing shorter songs because that is their strength. I see no reason for them to change their style of writing, especially since they are doing such a good job as it is. They have produced three solid albums to date, all the while, subtly perfecting their sound. I look forward to hearing what comes next from Nilsson and Starlight Brigade.
Conclusion:
Bryan Morey: 8.5 out of 10

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Published Thursday 25 August 2016

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