ISSUE 2016-051

Reviews in this issue:

Beyond God - A Moment of Black
Beyond God - A Moment of Black
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 49:10
Links:
Track List:
A Beautiful Beginning (1:47), Prince Creep (5:08), Sail Away Upon a Cloud (5:07), Send a Child (4:34), Nocturne (4:58), Memories (5:03), Sonambula (4:22), Destination Darkness (5:36), Cursed (4:21), Ghost Ship (4:30), Passion (5:04)
There was a time when female fronted progressive bands were quite rare. There were notable exceptions such as Renaissance and Curved Air, but overall the genre was sadly under represented in this area. Thankfully, that has changed significantly in the last two decades and nowhere more so than in the progressive metal scene. Stream of Passion, Epica, Echoes of Eternity, Kingfisher Sky and Delain are just a few examples of bands fronted by extremely talented female singers.

As much as that is a positive, regrettably, there is also a general sameness to many of such prog metal bands. The ones that set themselves apart, do so either by way of compositional stregnth or the ability to be unique. Others though, fall into the category of bands that perform well enough, but ultimately employ a somewhat redundant mix of metal, symphonic and operatic elements. Heading into A Moment of Black, I was looking for a unique quality that would seperate them from their peers. To be honest, Beyond God is not void of some of the usual clichéd prog metal stylings. That said, it is apparant that they are aiming to be a bit different and in some ways, they are.

One differenciator is that they display a stronger emphasis on the symphonic elements of their music. As crunching as the guitars can be throughout the album, a majority of the songs contain and often switch gears using effective symphonic moments as well. This combining of styles is used to best effect on the tracks Prince Creep, Destination Darkness, Ghost Ship and Passion.

What resonated with me the most though, is when the band slows things down. Nocturne, Memories and Cursed presents term at their most laid back and also at their most memorable. These songs truly showcase their ability to write a good melodies and are excellent spotlights for their very talented singer, Cynthia Knoch. In fact, her performance throughout the entire album is strong, and a significant reason to take note of this band.

Beyond God is talented, and though A Moment of Black doesn't completely seperate itself from a musical style that can be lacking in variety, there is a lot to like about the album. If prog metal, with heavy symphonic leanings and great vocals interests you, there is much to enjoy here. This is their full album debut and it will be interesting to see where the band goes from here. Personally, I think lessoning the metal leanings a bit more could reap rewards.
Conclusion:
Patrick McAfee: 7 out of 10

Blacklands - Peaceful Shores
Blacklands - Peaceful Shores
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 77:54
Links:
Track List:
Still Bleeding (7:38), Alone Again (5:41), The River (5:49), Drown In Darkness (7:46), Ballad Of A Burning Witch (5:25), Distant Warning (6:36), Grand Circles (9:04), Peaceful Shores (3:40), T.I.M.E. (5:46), Like Tears In Your Eyes (4:10), Winterskies (16:22)
Formed in 2006, Blacklands is a progressive melodic rock and metal band, featuring Tanja Magolei-Schüpper on vocals, Michael Stockschläger on guitar, Manfred Reinecke on keys, Oliver Müller on bass, and Thomas Kelleners on drums. Having released their debut album, A New Dawn, back in 2013, they now return to the music scene with Peaceful Shores.

The album started off well, with some heavy riffing and wonderful clean vocals and some backing growling to add effect. Not too fast, but not to slow either. All seemed good. However, there was a short time within the first song (Still Bleeding) with some growled rapping. This came across as being quite out of place, at odds with the tone of the album and more at home on an album from the early 2000s.

The album seems to follow this formula (thankfully minus the rapping) for the majority of it's running length, with a mix of the metal on some tracks, and more melodic rock stylings on other songs such as Alone Again. This track in particular has a stadium rock, crowd pleaser feel to it, and is quite enjoyable.

From Drown In Darkness onwards, this album seems to take on a new breath of life. While not drastically changing from the previous tracks, the songs become more 'proggy', better written and more melodic. They have greater substance to them, more variation, and become, overall, more interesting and fun to listen to.

Tanja has a wonderful set of vocal chords, doing a brilliant job on each song and really fitting with the flow of the music. For me she is the stand out feature on the album. Musically, Blacklands are an entry level of the Dream Theater style of prog. While the songs are not as intricate or technical as Dream Theater's, the music does have a similar sound, especially the keys and guitars. This is particularly clear on The River.

All in all, I enjoyed this album. As mentioned, from Drown in Darkness onwards it greatly improves, but all together an enjoyable listen.
Conclusion:
Calum Gibson: 7 out of 10

The Hirsch Effekt - Holon : Agnosie
The Hirsch Effekt - Holon : Agnosie
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 59:58
Links:
Track List:
Simurgh (3:12), Jayus (2:51), Agnosie (7:21), [Chelicera] (0:36), Bezoar (6:44), Tombeau (6:42), Emphysema (5:10), [Defaetist] (1:06), Fixum (6:25), Athesie (5:27), [Tischje] (1:42), Dysgeusie (3:13), Cotard (9:25)
Serious warning: listening to this recording can result in head or heartache. Or fascination. Or hate. Or love.

Sometimes we are looking around the world to find the easter eggs, and sometimes they are lying just in front of our door. THE HIRSCH EFFEKT are based in Hanover, Germany and seem to have themselves a slight problem in categorising their output. But first I have to repeat my warning. This is no music for the ordinary proghead, and no music for the common headbanger. It is not melodic, symphonic rock, yet the music has melodies and symphonic elements. If you like the experimental phase of Pink Floyd or are affected by the very early Van der Graaf Generator, if you like In A Glasshouse from Gentle Giant or want something new and dangerous, that immediately crashes all your thoughts in your brain, then read on.

Let me first try to describe want we are going to listen to. As stated above, the band itself seems not to be a friend of musical categories. They describe their tracks are described as Art-Core, whilst their Facebook page tells us Progressive Metal, and Bandcamp mentions Postpunk, Postrock, Artcore, Progressive Metal, Pop and classical music. All these descriptions are generated by the band of course, as well as the following statement: "Musical influences concentrate into a mash-up in the rehearsing space, so that the members again influence each other and don't hold up genre-barriers to a specific style of music. Instead, we contemplate about what's convenient for the song and define the boundaries from thereon, though we know we don't write 'songs' the traditional way. We like to set contrasts, so we once again included string and wind instruments on Holon : Agnosie."

Actually a lot of elements are familiar. Moritz Schmidt is providing straight and sometimes really heavy drumming, and together with Ilja Lappin on bass we get a sometimes fulminant rhythmic base. But in the next moment they are supporting piano, and singing in a slow and gentle mode, like on the quietest track Tombeau. For the other end you might listen and watch Ilja on youtube playing Bezoar.

Nils Wittrock is the guy on the guitars and lead vocals (and he also delivers all the lyrics), but all members are known as multi-instrumentalists. So we listen to gentle guitar and piano phrases, as well as metal breaks, quiet vocals and screams and growls. We hear polyphon and kakophon parts, and smooth and brilliant hooklines. On first listening you might have the idea that everything is mixed up, as in a musical lottery, and it will take some turns to explore.

The Hirsch Effekt love to set contrasts, and the dynamic range is one of the trademarks of this album. Another one is to develop ideas, harmonies and fine melodies, from some kind of melting pot of trash sounds.

Of course the normal way to listen is right from the beginning, but if you are a bit scared now, I will name you some tracks to begin with. Athesie comes along with a light, dancing melody in the back, which has a groovy touch, just to be interrupted by a short metal guitar explosion to fall down and start again. It is one of the most song-orientated tracks.

The mainly mid-tempo rocker Emphysema showcases some nice contrasting parts, and a great variety of singing, from quiet voice in the beginning, to screaming parts and polyphonic harmonies. The title track is another one of the highlights and full of different musical elements. The intro section until the first chorus is an exploding, nearly atonal heavy part, which jumps from one second to another into a really fine hookline. Great.

Simurgh opens the album in a calm and relaxed manner; acoustic guitars and horns are rising from the sound and build-up a charming theme, repeated in a Bolero-like way, and ending as quickly and quietly as it started.

If you are still with me, let's jump to Bezoar. The track starts with sounds, heavy drumming, bass and shredded guitars and growls. While you are wondering whether you like it or not, you will realise that the instruments get closer together, and suddenly a short and charming chorus is coming out of nowhere. Listening a few times, you will see how this main theme is developed and worked out; in the end with chamber-like strings.

The three tracks in boxed brackets are interludes, sound experiments and a nice acoustic melody, which underline the musical skills of the band. The last track I want to mention is the superb long track Cotard, which closes the album by integrating the opening theme from Simurgh. It is very well done.

The sound and production are on a high level, and underline the abilities of the band. Overall this is a very interesting and fascinating opus, which deserves a clear recommendation.
Conclusion:
Peter Funke: 8.5 out of 10

Pain Of Salvation - Remedy Lane Re:visited (Re:mixed & Re:lived)
Pain Of Salvation - Remedy Lane Re:visited (Re:mixed & Re:lived)
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 68:17, 74:29
Links:
Track List:
CD1, "Remedy Lane Re:mixed": Of Two Beginnings (Remix) (2:24), Ending Theme (Remix) (4:59), Fandango (Remix) (5:51), A Trace Of Blood (Remix) (8:17), This Heart Of Mine (I Pledge) (Remix) (4:00), Undertow (Remix) (4:47), Rope Ends (Remix) (7:02), Chain Sling (Remix) (3:58), Dryad Of The Woods (Remix) (4:55), Remedy Lane (Remix) (2:16), Waking Every God (Remix) (5:19), Second Love (Remix) (4:21), Beyond The Pale (Remix) (10:01)
CD2, "Remedy Lane Re:lived": Remedy Lane (Live) (2:16), Of Two Beginnings (Live) (2:36), Ending Theme (Live) (5:33), Fandango (Live) (6:18), A Trace Of Blood (8:39), This Heart Of Mine (I Pledge) (Live) (4:27), Undertow (Live) (4:46), Rope Ends (Live) (7:12), Chain Sling (Live) (4:36), Dryad Of The Woods (Live) (6:54), Waking Every God (Live) (5:40), Second Love (Live) (4:52), Beyond The Pale (Live) (10:31)
I remember receiving an advance review copy of the original release of this very album, just as I was due to set off for a two week holiday. I played it en route to the airport and it never left the my-fi for the entire trip. My review back then concluded: "This is not the sort of album that will never be off your hi-fi for a few weeks and then never listened to again. It is the sort of album that you will still be listening to and enjoying ten, twenty, even thirty years from now. A true, timeless, classic."

For once I was correct. Released 15 years ago, Remedy Lane stands as one of the undisputed classic albums of the progressive metal sub-genre.

As testimony to that fact, comes this unusual 2CD digi-pack release, that will be of interest (albeit a partly guarded interest) to all fans of the original album.

I spun the second CD first, as for me that is the most interesting part of this offering.

Back in 2013 there was huge interest from fans of the band, when the organisers of the prestigious four-day ProgPower USA festival, announced that the band would be appearing at Atlanta in 2014, playing Remedy Lane in its whole, uninterrupted glory. One set. One album. A one-off.

Now I have seen the band play selected tracks from the album over the years, but as with most concept albums, the impact of the individual tracks is lessened by being removed from the context and flow of the album. Of all such albums I have, Remedy Lane is probably the one I would most like to hear played as a single live event. However neither Atlanta or a following performance at Progpower Europe were realistic options, so this live album is the closest I shall probably ever get.

Now, with only Daniel Gildenlöw remaining from the line-up that created the original album, and with many years of water having gone under the bridge, I was worried that Remedy Lane 15-years-on would be an uncomfortably different listening experience. However I have to say that this is an incredibly good rendition.

Original guitarist Johan Hallgren really could nail those lead harmonies, and his was a one-off contribution. However his current replacement, Ragnar Zolberg, lands a stellar performance - even taking over lead vocals from Daniel in new places. Indeed the four-part vocal harmonies, with bassist Gustaf Hielm and drummer Léo Margarit, are stunning throughout. There are several notable (and not so notable) changes to the songs, including shifting the Remedy Lane theme to open the show and some different guitar workings. However as a whole the music benefits from the extra energy and power of a live performance.

What isn't included, is the false start that the real show had to endure. Due to technical problems the initial grand entrance had to be abandoned, with the whole band walking off stage for five minutes before starting again. So in a way then, Of Two Beginnings did in fact open the show!

Anyway, for fans of the band and especially of this album, this live version is pretty much essential listening. For those who have never tried it, then I'd suggest listening to the mid-set trio of A Trace Of Blood, This Heart Of Mine and Undertow. It will be hard to find a better 15 minutes of live music anywhere.

Back to the first CD, and I can only give this a guarded welcome. It is a re-mix, not a re-mastering or a re-recording. Some will undoubtedly shudder at the thought of meddling with a classic album. Others may welcome the chance to see what it may have sounded like, had it been recorded with today's resources. The problem is that I only have a 192kbps digital promo from the label to work from. So any comparison with the original is hard to evaluate. I really need to stick it on my main system to immerse myself in the differences (a low-quality digital file to review a remix isn't very helpful!).

What I can detect is that the whole sound has been cleaned up and that the vocals are very much further forward in the mix. If you already have the original then I'd suggest you get this for the live show, and view the re-mix has a bonus disc.

NB: Both the albums Remedy Lane Re:mixed and Remedy Lane Re:lived have also been released individually as gatefold 2LP+CD and as digital download.
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 9 out of 10

Skytalk - Days In The Sun
Skytalk - Days In The Sun
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 20:58
Links:
Track List:
Days in the Sun (4:34), Hearing the Silence (3:34), Fall Awake (4:43), Say (3:02), Foot Traffic (5:05)
If these three hirsute chaps walked onto the X-Factor stage, the arrogant panel would look them up and down and sneer: "Well show us what you do!", expecting some noisy thrash metal or something to curdle the milk, in the great unwashed's evening beverage.

However, what actually comes out is tight, psychedelic jazz reminiscent Robin Trower's Bridge of Sighs on acid, or some of King Crimson's wilder undertakings, albeit with Robert Fripp standing up!

We have very strong lead singing from funk-bass supremo Jordan Steinberg (only Americans have these cool names!), brother Talor Steinberg chopping-up the six string with Wah Wah effects and poached DNA from Ernie Isley or even Hendrix.

Ello Costello fills in on Motown drums and keys, and imbues the sound with what Extreme had a go at the 80s, but this is the real deal. Say could be an Earth Wind and Fire dressing room jam, and the literal stomp of Foot Traffic is the soundtrack to Huggy Bear's hidden lair ("Yo, them bad ass dudes are hanging out on the outskirts of town, behind some cardboard boxes" etc).

This is a great, short introduction from this talented trio of New Yorkers. Don't be put off with the shear wall of funk here, there's enough Glenn Hughes in there to satisfy Deep Purple MkII'ers and a definite sheen of Crimson, especially on the syncopated Days in the Sun (the track).

After your Central Park day in the sun, this is the perfect party album to accompany your beers and dogs. Thoroughly recommended.
Conclusion:
Andrew Halley: 8 out of 10

Zhongyu - Zhongyu
Zhongyu - Zhongyu
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 54:33
Links:
Track List:
Apple Of My Mind's Eye 2 (2:06), Torture Chamber Of Commerce (4:42), Iron Rice Bowl Has Rusted (3:45), Hydraulic Fracas (8:03), Tunnel At The End Of The Light (4:05), Apple Of My Mind's Eye 1 (2:02), Half Remembered Drowning Dream (5:20), Sleepwalking The Dog (6:41), Wanderland Wonderlust (5:31), Cat Hair All Over It (2:10), MBBL (4:51), All Food Comes From China (6:27)
Zhongyu's self-titled debut, can in some ways be compared to one of those not-to-be-missed supermarket offers. It is not so much a case of buy-one-get-one-free, but is more a case of buy-one-and-experience-three, because the album contains three distinct styles of music.

The word Zhongyu is Chinese for finally. The band Zhongyu is a studio project that combines the talents of composer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Davis, with members of the avant jazz rock band Moraine and the experimental trio Super Z Attack Team. The combination of Davis' compositional vision and the band's collective talents works superbly. There are fine virtuoso performances from Denis Rea on guitar, Alicia DeJoie on electric violin and Jim DeJoie on flute and baritone sax. Davis' impressive work on Stick provides a melodic feel to the bottom end of the band, whilst drummer Randy Doak has the just right balance between subtlety and pounding intensity, to create some delightful rhythmic frills. The majority of this impressive instrumental album combines elements of jazz and prog, with the musical traditions of China.

Much of the music has a unique character. This is demonstrated in tracks such as the My Mind's Eye part 2, Iron Rice Bowl Has Rusted, Apple of My Mind's Eye part 1, Wonderland Wonderlust and All Food Comes from China. These compositions continue to highlight a fascination with Chinese music that has been apparent in much of Denis Rea's work with Moraine.

In these pieces, an authentic Asiatic sound is provided by the clever use of percussion, and Davis' atmospheric contribution on the guzhheng. The sound of this instrument, which is a 21 string Chinese zlither, is warmly embracing. When performed and arranged in conjunction with the band's other instrumentation, it perfectly captures what the band undoubtedly set out to achieve.

The second flavour featured on the album, is comparable to that to be found in Moraine's jazz rock back catalogue. Zhongyu serves up an intense type of fusion, that is highlighted in the violin-led pieces Torture Chamber of Commerce and Sleepwalking the Dog. In addition to these cheerfully complex outings, there is also an excellent example of a more accessible rock-based fusion approach. This is demonstrated by the expressive magnificence of Hydraulic Fracas. It is an excellent piece and is representative of Zhongyu's tenacity when they push the throttle open. Hydraulic Fracas has a definite and identifiable structure that is superbly garlanded by some colourful flute work. The interplay between the flute and guitar is bold and enticing. This immediately gives the piece a more exhilarating, and arguably a more accessible dynamic, than the other tracks on offer. It is undoubtedly my favourite piece on the album.

Another sort of approach is expressed in tracks such as Tunnel at the End of the Light, Half Remembered Drowning Dream Cat, Hair all Over It and MBBL. The shape of these pieces is much more avant and experimental, combining elements of the other two styles on offer, with more than a satisfying helping of the unexpected, and all seasoned with a hint of discordance.

When these three distinct styles are combined within a single release, the end result is a product that is totally satisfying and fully deserves to be heard. Zhongyu has much to offer, and should appeal to anybody who enjoys progressive music that straddles a number of genres. It might even be the best deal of the week!
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10

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Published Sunday 25 September 2016

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