Along the Great Wall (5:36), Conte de Saxs (3:23), Tibetan Monument (5:14), Circonvolutions (7:51), L'imagerie fantastique (11:00), Namire (2:37), Wedding Day (3:40), Jardin de Verre (10:27)
Circonvolutions has been on my review to do list for quite some time. However, on the plus side, this delay has enabled me to get to know the album well and appreciate its numerous qualities.
French band Carpe Diem released two albums in the 1970s. They were En Regardant Passer Le Temps, released in 1975, and Cueille Le Jour, released in 1976. Circonvolutions features six studio compositions recorded in 2015 and two live tracks recorded in 1978.
In Circonvolutions, Carpe Diem continues to ply and evolve their unique brand of atmospheric, jazz-tinged progressive rock. The band successfully mixes melodic symphonic elements and fusion. Their style is quite mellow and at times might be compared to Camel and Ange.
The live pieces feature the late Marius David on saxes, flute and percussion, and highlight the band's ability to confidently stretch things out. The recording quality of the live tracks is excellent and both are thoroughly entertaining, containing some of the finest moments of the album.
The album is characterised by some excellent interplay. There is ample space for the players to express themselves, against the backdrop of a close knit and vibrant rhythm section. Many of the pieces build up a significant and infectious groove. Circonvolutions has many opulent moments, filled with exemplary solos that rise and fall to counteract and enhance the groove created.
Circonvolutions is pleasant on the ear, beautifully arranged and always exquisitely performed. The vocal parts add atmosphere, and create just the right choral balance. This gives much of the music a vibrant, cinematic quality. Despite being accessible, the album is neither too complex, nor too straightforward for it to become uninspiring, or uninteresting.
The keyboard work of principal composer and vocalist Christian Truchi is a highlight, and should please those who enjoy a keyboard sound that is rooted in the 70s. During the course of the album, there are occasions when the production values recall the sound of the 80s, and significantly there are also times when a more contemporary sound is adopted. The intense, yet playful duelling between the dual saxophone parts and keyboards in various guises, that is ably supported by an assortment of instruments, is a recurring theme throughout the longer pieces of the album.
Tibetan Monuments' strange mix of a Pet Shop Boys vocal style, combined with an intermittent backdrop of a gorgeous, swirling Mellotron effect, immediately stood out. This combination was difficult to pigeon hole, or classify. The piece was also punctuated by some boldly corpulent sax lines, that added another unexpected, but appealing element. The whole incessant, chanted, rhythmic effect created by the blending of these components, had me falsely considering that aspects of this piece were in some ways reminiscent of Magma.
The title track's memorable main theme could have been plucked from a movie soundtrack, such was its ability to create a colourful soundscape, on which a variety of scenes might be built. The dual saxophone parts in the opening scene were particularly attractive. The main theme is repeatedly shaped, altered and reprised to act as a bridge between each component of the tune. These components feature some excellent solos and ensemble playing by all members of the band. The fast-running bass solo in the middle of the piece was superbly executed, and marks another of the album's highpoints.
By way of a contrast to the long-running title track, Namire is a short interlude delivered superbly by acoustic guitarist Gerald Macia. It is beautifully constructed and is reminiscent of some of the finest acoustic work of Jan Akkerman.
Wedding Day is a fine example of Truchi's skilful ability to write a short, whimsical song that acts as a perfect foil to the album's longer compositions. It is easily digested and can be appreciated on both an emotional, and technical level, such is its quality and subtle appeal.
Overall, I found Circonvolutions a rewarding and satisfying album. This opinion has not changed after three months of ownership, and after numerous plays. It may not have complexity or the relative inaccessibility that some readers might find attractive, but as a well-constructed and melodically pleasant album, with a touch of finesse and flair, it ticks many positive boxes.
Gecko's Tear: that's a band name to ponder. It brings to my mind imaginary images of a gecko being torn apart by a predator, or of a gecko in despair!
Tepid-scaled and cold rock basking; the gecko's tears stain the coal black floor. The cycle of the day begins, as the emerging sun creates a furnace of hope. Before long, the gecko flinches and then flecks. Measured movement replaces laboured lethargy; the quick dried air is scented by a forked tongue. Despair forgotten, the gecko steps forward, its body flexibly forged with hope and purpose to explore another blue-rimmed, tearless day.
Gecko's Tear is a four piece from Naples, Italy. They are fronted by guitarist and vocalist Claudio Mirone, and it is his contribution that dominates proceedings throughout their latest album Primati. His excellent vocal performance is theatrical, expressive and far reaching. He skilfully leads the compositions through a series of different vocal styles and moods. Mirone's falsetto parts in Paura were particularly endearing and created a wonderful contrast to the gruff vocal parts that were prevalent in the piece.
The album is a concept album about primates and is released on the excellent, forward thinking Altrock label, that has been responsible for a number of outstanding releases in the last few years.
Whilst Primati does have some moments of excellence, it is on the whole an inconsistent affair. There are times when the guest players who provide trombone, saxophone and trumpet, help to create a style that rises above the approach that pervades much of the album. For example, the opening piece, Impermeabilitia was delivered from mediocrity and obscurity by some excellent trumpet work by Fabio Renzullo. Similarly, the intervention of sax player Claudio Sorvello, ensured that Struzzo maintained my interest.
The whole album is tightly spun. There are few opportunities or space for the players to develop musical themes and ideas within the album's nine pieces. Many of the tunes appear to be overpowered by the dominant lyrical content and the band's no-doubt earnest wish to convey a message.
Knowledge of the Italian language may have helped, but the overall impression was that the music had been specifically created for the onerous job of carrying and supporting a factory-chilled conveyor belt of words. This ensured that many of tracks lacked distinctiveness. As a consequence, a number of tunes sounded somewhat similar in both style and approach. Bugia gave little opportunity for interplay, but it possessed a charming and enviable pop sensibility, which shone through in its singalong chorus lines.
On rare occasions Gecko's Tear were able to break free from the shackles of their lyrical content. When this occurred, as in the excellent mid-section of Ascendino, the performers were able to stretch out and demonstrate their considerable abilities, in a style not dissimilar to and reminiscent of Gentle Giant.
Fastidio was a particularly tiresome piece, although I suspect that its inclusion in the set was built upon a wish to deliver something that possessed both irony and humour. Whilst for many rock aficionados, because of its nod to the style of Deep Purple, it would probably be perceived as a gold medal classic rock tune.
I can imagine that wind-swept lovers of air guitar might use Fastidio as a part of their training regime. Its muscular approach was bedecked with copious amounts of testosterone-throated warbling. Despite its adept swagger and classic rock panache, Fastidio just did not work for me. It wallowed listlessly on its granite bedrock with neither purpose or inventiveness.
In the end, I felt quite frustrated by Primati. Far too many pieces are garnished with excellent intros that suggest that something memorable is going to occur. These flattered to deceive, as tune after tune failed to satisfy or excite. However, after frequent plays it has mysteriously grown on me.
The brilliant Preambolo was an exception. The emotions conveyed were stunning and it was one of the few tunes that were exciting in its delivery, intricate arrangements and inherent unpredictability. The most interesting and satisfying tracks occur towards the end of the album. Lavateri was enjoyable and contained some fine instrumental parts.
Ascendino, Preambolo and Lavateri suggest that the band have the potential to deliver instrumentally-complex and vocally-entertaining prog music, should they wish to. Perhaps, they were just waiting for another blue-rimmed day to wipe away their gecko's tears?
Misplaced Rainfall (8:58), The Emperor Idea (7:38), Fool of White Antlers (8:57), The Poet from the Mad Moon (4:48), A Rare Thunderstorm in Spring (21:07)
Taking their name from the point of orbit where a planet, asteroid or comet is closest to the sun, Perihelion Ship has emerged from Helsinki, to bring a hefty slab of progressive metal into the airwaves. Coming together in 2013, the band has released two demos before their debut album A Rare Thunderstorm in Spring in 2016.
The album starts off with the explosive opener Misplaced Rainfall. With a soft intro, lead by synths and clean guitars, the full band kicks in shortly after with a full throttle mix of fast-paced drumming and riffing. The song offers a nice mix of both heavy and softer elements, and a mix of both soothing clean vocals and expertly delivered growled vocals.
No time is wasted when The Emperor Idea starts. With an instant hit of tight guitar work and the growled vocals assaulting (in a good way) your ears, the song leads you down a dark path, with the clean vocals even getting a bit harsh at times. In the first part of the song, the organs lead the way in terms of leads and atmosphere, with the bass, drums and guitars providing a heavy hitting rhythm to keep the heartrate high.
Fool of White Antlers has a gentler approach to draw you in, with clean guitars and organ to keep it soft, with the clean vocals casually drifting along the top of the music. This is the most mellow of the songs on the album, but still doesn't fail to keep your attention for the duration. But don't let the quiet fool you.
The shortest track on the album, The Poet from the Mad Moon, is another fine example of interesting riffs that are sure to be swirling round your head for days to come after. This track in particular has some wonderful music that just oozes prog. From the drums to the guitar, to the keys and bass, everything about it is perfect.
And sadly, we come to the final track on the album... although it is over 20 minutes long! And what a track this title track is. It starts with some technical, intricate guitar work, weaving in between the organs, to keep you guessing at where it will go next. A seamless blend of both clean and growled vocals, double barrelled bass drumming, leads from the organ and chugging riffs, keep the flow going. It is an ultimately perfect closer for what has been one of the best albums I have heard certainly this year, if not longer.
For an example of what the music is like, take the heavy/soft elements of Opeth, throw in some of the melodies of fellow countrymen Insomnium and add in some Odetosun for good luck. I know for sure this is going to be on heavy rotation until the CD breaks. At which point I'll replace it instantly.
23+23 (2:47), Permafrost (4:09), Killer, Iron (4:52), Hellbillies (4:54), Fool's Parade (10:08), Lifeline (18:19), The Great Attractor (7:02), Run Little Mouse Run (4:14), I Am (5:56)
Finland has produced some of the world's best metal bands, from Insomnium to Swallow The Sun and Nightwish to name just a few. As such, Standing Ovation have some strong competition. The band is made up of Jouni Partanen on vocals, Johannes Kurvinen and Samuli Federley wielding guitars, and Petri Eskola commandeering the synths, while Mikko Kymäläinen takes control of the drums and Panu Nykänen rounds off the rhythm section on bass.
The album kicks off with an atmospheric acoustic instrumental, before launching into Permafrost, best described as a journey into progressive power metal. The track starts with a high energy assault from the rhythm section, while a blistering solo draws you in. Partanen then chimes in with his soft and soothing vocals. Killer, Iron is a heavier affair, with more of an emphasis on heavier, chugging guitars and harsher vocals.
Hellbillies seems like an odd inclusion, musically it fits in, lyrically however it seems to have gone down the 'evil hillbilly' route, and discusses a hillbilly cannibalising people. While musically the song is very good, I unfortunately cannot get my head round the lyrics (or indeed the video). While I enjoy parody bands, this one just doesn't do anything for me, which is a shame, as it has one of the best solos on the album at the end.
Fool's Parade takes the album back to its progressive power style. Beginning as a ballad type song, it changes later into full-on power prog epic, full of circus-esque breaks, blistering guitar and keyboard solos and double-barrelled bass drumming. The longest track on the album, Lifeline, is another power prog epic, with Kymäläinen showing off his skills behind the kit, as well as some fun riffing and a stellar vocal delivery.
The album suffers a bit from some tracks sounding pretty similar, to the extent I had to go back a few times to work out when it changed from The Great Attractor to Run Little Mouse Run. Both these tracks are similar high energy power metal anthems, full of pounding, full on drumming and tight, and technical riffing. Album closer I Am is a slow-paced ballad, which after the ferocity of the previous tracks, calmly brings the album down into a gentle close.
The overall impression is that this is musically well done, with the solos, rhythm section and vocal delivery all being superb. However, it is a bit too much on the power metal side for me and unfortunately the lyrical content of Hellbillies mars my enjoyment of the album. However, aside from that it is still a very well crafted album, especially for fans of power metal. If you enjoy Avantasia or Dream Theater (in particular The Astonishing), Helloween or other similarly-styled bands, you will most probably enjoy these guys.
Break (4:15), Chosen (6:01), Blinded (4:57), Seasons of My Soul (8:01), Moments Like These (3:50), How Many Feet (6:02), Day Like Today (5:58), All That I Am (6:38), Reflections (6:30)
In the beginning, there was Jeff Kearney (vocals) and Jason Pirone (Everything Else). The duo released two albums. However, they felt that the "the organic nature of a band was lost". Luckily, they came across drummer Tony Rossi, and eventually added Jeff Frankenstein on bass. Thus Third Voice was fully formed in good time to release another album, entitled A Day Like Today.
As a progressive metal band, they have some stiff competition, but they hold their own. With driving drums to guide the listener into some fist pumping, and enough guitars to have you air guitaring and head banging, the band makes music for those inclined to listen to metal with a progressive flair.
Break is a fairly standard prog metal track, but it is well written, it doesn't let up and it doesn't let you get bored, whilst setting the bar for the album. With this track, that bar is set fairly high. Chosen then comes firing in shortly after, with some odd time signatures and sing-along breaks. This is a song that would be a crowd pleaser for sure, easy enough to sing your lungs out with the chorus, before soloing away on a tennis racquet to the solo.
The vocals have a power metal feel to them, being soaring and powerful when needed, and dark and rough when the music calls for it. However, it never gets as high-pitched as some power metal bands, it always rides with and compliments the music. This makes it ideal for those who like power metal, and also those like myself who are less fond of it. The vocals flit between the two worlds, easily balanced between them.
Musically the band blends catchy, melodic music with the progressive leanings of power metal bands such as Kamelot and Symphony X, to create something that, while similar to those styles, stands on its own two feet, and begins to carve out a path for itself.
This is a very well constructed album and would be a good starting point for anyone wanting to delve into progressive metal. It is full of sing-along choruses, fist pumping, driving riffs and face melting guitar solos, all without being too 'in your face'. I think if they keep going along this path, their albums will only improve with experience, as this album still feels like a band finding its balance and beginning to focus on what they want. Fans of Symphony X, Helloween, and Avantasia would do well to check them out.