I Guess (4:53), From Ego (7:09), 24/7 Smile (7:27), Afraid to Bleed (8:57), Silver Tongues (5:43), Time (5:38), Reprise for a Beautiful Day (4:24), Just Another Legacy (11:54)
Out of the Freakshow, the second Cirrha Niva album fronted by extravagant singer Le Grand, seems to be quite a theatrical affair on a first look. This is reflected not only in the title of the album, but also in the artwork and the band's wardrobe and make-up. And in the music itself of course, especially in the opening track I Guess, where the listener is invited to the 'world's largest congregation of human oddities' by a 'Ringmaster', credited as a mysterious Mr. Gold. It makes for an interesting opener, though I wouldn't count it among the better tracks on this album. The following song for example, From Ego, presents the band's songwriting abilities far better.
For those unfamiliar with Cirrha Niva's style, their prog metal draws on a whole lot of influences from the late 80s, especially from one legendary debut album, Psychotic Waltz's A Social Grace, never quite reaching that insane level of ingenuity and magic though. But that is impossible anyway, so let's not hold that against them. Time is probably the song coming as close as it gets to that ideal.
Le Grand's voice often reminds me of a "Dave Mustaine who actually can sing" (especially on the aforementioned From Ego), but his approach is versatile enough not to sit on that nasal 'Mustaine-timbre' too much, whilst fitting the music, which is sitting (or rather alternating) quite comfortably between metal and rock heaviness, with some calmer parts every now and then. The quality remains consistent throughout the eight songs, but they just don't seem to enthrall me on an emotional level.
Luckily, with the last two tracks, Cirrha Niva up the ante, as far as my emotional response is concerned. The penultimate track, Reprise of a Beautiful Day is a relatively short instrumental, building up the atmosphere for the final song, Just Another Legacy. And this is where the magic of Psychotic Waltz really touches Cirrha Niva, as none other than Devon Graves (formerly known as Buddy Lackey) graces this track with his inimitable voice and flute. Funnily enough, the outcome is closer to Devon's later work with his own band Deadsoul Tribe, but that doesn't matter at all. It is undoubtedly the emotionally most engaging song on the album, regardless of the guest contributions.
Given the high number of quality releases the prog scene is blessed (or cursed) with these days, be it from 'big names' or talented newcomers, I doubt that Out of the Freakshow will end up high on many end-of-year lists. Be it due to being overlooked because of the sheer mass of releases overwhelming us, or rather due to it missing that spark of inspiration.
I am not saying that Out of the Freakshow is a bad album, there are definitely enjoyable moments to be found, the instrumentalists know what they're doing and Le Grand is hitting all the notes with dedication, but they just seem to miss the cut for me, by an inch. I would give it a recommendation all the same though, especially if you're into the aforementioned Psychotic Waltz/Deadsoul Tribe, Megadeth or Crimson Glory. If so, it might just be that Cirrha Niva tick the right boxes for you.
Ticking Tyrant (19:51), Zeitnot (8:09), Time Machine (16:11)
Four years after their initial collaboration Sirius Singularity, Uwe Cremer and Thomas Rydell release Time Trilogy, a set of three songs about, er, time. Whereas the debut played homage to Tangerine Dream, Time Trilogy has a wider, more cinematic scope. This is most evident on Ticking Tyrant with it's glorious opening theme repeated throughout. The blend of Rydell's orchestral visions and Cremer's more angsty and psychedelic rock sensibilities, works supremely well, giving the music an almost schizophrenic element, with the lush softness opposed by the angular guitars and spacey keyboards. The use of keyboards is really impressive, as at times one easily believes there is an actual orchestra performing. The music is grandiose, without being pretentious, and could effortlessly be adapted for accompaniment to some epic cinematic blockbuster.
If there was ever any music that was perfectly suited for mixing into surround sound, then Time Trilogy is it. The different elements would, in the truest sense of the word, be totally awesome in a wider spectrum, with different sounds emanating from around the room. For instance, the alarm clock that heralds the end of Ticking Tyrant and the beginning of Zeitnot would be a dramatic overload if it rang out from behind the listener.
Zeitnot is rather more sedate, with acoustic guitar leading things off before being superseded by electric and some brilliantly programmed drums. In all honesty, not all that much happens during the track, but nevertheless the listener is gripped throughout, wondering where the musical progression will lead.
Although the first two pieces ran into each other, Time Machine stands in isolation and is almost entirely played on keyboards, with a large number of different sounds being created. The opening section has a kind of celeste atmosphere and is rather gentle, relaxing and peaceful. A jaunty and jolly mid-section, replete with strings and tubular bells, creates a more energetic atmosphere, with background electric guitar joining in as the music ramps up and increases in forcefulness. Suddenly a psychedelic burst changes the tone, with organ taking over the main riff, which has become more subdued and menacing. A clear electric guitar solo leads into the denouement, where the music is transported off into the mists of ... time.
This is another great collaboration between two accomplished composers and it offers great listening for anytime.
Low Visions (6:39), Communion (7:38), Love Thy Neighbour (5:31), (Partition) (2:01), Cold Call (4:13), Graceland (2:40), Long Dissolve/Temps Mort (10:02)
Often when listening to music in the instrumental post-rock vein, I find myself imaging what sort of film the music might accompany. Well, with the Sydney-based trio Dumbsaint, they have thoughtfully provided the film. There is a 60-minute film that was written, edited and filmed entirely by them, that features a cast of 25. This is available to view online.
The film and its soundtrack is Panorama, in ten pieces. The band say that the film is: "A suburban horror that tells the story of a residential street in darkness. Populated by a revolving ensemble of dysfunctional lovers, loners and shut-ins, the film peers in at the strange relationships and domestic rituals that go on behind the closed doors of one neighbourhood at night." And having looked at some of the footage, I can only concur with that description. I will say that they have high production values for the film. This is no hand-held, shaky camera, cliché-ridden, found-footage horror by numbers - but you aren't really here for film criticism.
The music stands alone very well. The album gets off to a cracking start. Low Visions whispers-in on strummed electric guitar full of reverb, so far so post-rock. But then Dumbsaint move swiftly, bringing in angular prog-metal riffs and fierce drumming. A staccato pulse keeps your ear alert as the piece evolves. Opeth would be proud to have produced something like this.
Things settle a bit, after that astonishing opening. What follows is a set of crafted melodies that exploit expertly-controlled dynamics that build and release tension, whilst making use of prog-metal soundscapes. Other highlights include Communion, which has speaker-cone-bothering bass and dirty, distorted guitar. The excellent Love Thy Neighbour uses a rolling drum pattern with a threatening bass line. It is very unsettling.
There is some fabulous percussion throughout this album, but on Cold Call Nicholas Andrews steal the thunder from his bandmates Michael Tokar and James Thomas. His, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach is a real highlight, whilst the bass carries the melody and the guitar comments on it all, beautifully.
The ten-minute track Long Dissolve/Temps Mort is the most post-rock piece on the album. It builds layers of melody slowly and carefully, using an outstanding lead bass in the first half, over delicate percussion and chiming electric guitar. Then it breaks out into a loud second half, that balances the first section in a satisfying way.
All in all this is a really good post-rock prog metal album, mixing moments of fierce beauty with head-banging riffs and gentle, jangling melodies. At the same time it manages to be chilling and disturbing. Joining Tides From Nebula's Safehaven in the 'Best instrumental album I've heard this year' category, Dumbsaint's Panorama, in ten pieces is a well worth a listen.
Lady (9:53), Tu (10:21), Always (10:18), Photographs of Stars (7:38), Sol (11:44), For the Heavens (10:06)
From Heaven to the Stars is the first, self-produced record by the French band Gepetto. Their band leader, George Pinilla, has always written and recorded music, playing all the instruments himself in the style of Mike Oldfield. At a certain point he realised that he needed other musicians to complete his songs and also someone to sing them and write English lyrics. That was the birth of Gepetto, the name being a reference to the character from Pinnochio.
Apart from Pinilla, who sings and plays bass, guitars, Moog and Mellotron, the band consists of his two brothers Julien (vocals and pianos) and Tony (bass), Stéphan Granjeon (drums and percussions), Marc Fernbach (keys), Chantal Laurent (vocals) and Chris Palmer (vocals, keys, guitars). The lyrics are in French, Spanish and English. The music is a progressive mixture of symphonic influences, flamenco and jazz rock. There are overtones of Steve Hackett, Alan Parsons, America, Neil Young and even Maxime Le Forestier.
Lady starts off instrumentally, until an acoustic guitar, and roars from the audience start a poppy tune including vocals. It does not last long. The atmosphere changes quickly. Progressive elements mix with some 80s-pop-hit styles. The voice sounds a little thin at times, the overall sound lacks power.
Tu begins quietly on acoustic guitar. When the keyboards set in, one is reminded of Stairway to Heaven, but this impression changes after a couple of seconds. The tune is very laid back and relaxed and creates a kind of summer holiday atmosphere. The guitar solo is completely Santana-like. Sol is full of musical changes and different short passages, the vocals are also very nicely delivered.
From Heaven to the Stars is a a musical journey, a nice little record that represents a good starting point for a promising band. Although there is a mix of different styles and elements, it all seems to fit together well. For the future, one might wish a better production that would suit the band's sound.
CD 1: Intro: HeeBeeGeeBee - Robert Webb (5:39), The Bizarre Garden Incident - Ageness (7:46), Sull'orlo Dello Spago - Ellesmere & Pericle Sponzilli (9:24), Masquerade (Lydia And Pyrrhus) - JPL (5:23), Sienna Ghost - Willowglass (8:06), Two Hundred Florins - Trion (3:44), A Wandering Poet - Stella Lee Jones (5:47), The Heliotrope - Nexus (5:19), The Jagged Edge - The Nova Mob (5:23), Swing The Gavel - Elephants Of Scotland (5:37), The Other Pig - Jinetes Negros (7:15)
CD 2: Pampinea - Mauro Mulas (9:45), Elitropia - Latte E Miele (4:57), Indictment Ever After - Oceanic Legion (6:57), Lady Of Sicily - Interpose+ (11:43), Bleeding Hearts - Court (10:45), At Lombardy Convent - Ars Ephemera (8:20), Mercenaries - United Progressive Fraternity (6:36), Take Thief - Alex Grata (5:47), Gnaffe - Il Tempio Delle Clessidre (6:12)
CD 3: A Night With Niccolosa - The Rebel Wheel (9:16), Il Sogno, La Bestia, La Ritrosa - Taproban (7:25), Rai-Ti-Tai - D'Accord (7:12), The Bridge Of Geese - Phoenix Again (6:23), Put A Tail On It - Castle Canyon (6:12), Ahead Of Fortune - S.A.L.U.E.N.A. (9:43), Ghino E L'Abate Di Cligni - Il Castello Di Atlante (6:32), Neighbors - Fran Turner (5:29), Decamerone 10/4 - Blank Manuscript (10:26)
CD 4: The Winter Garden - Ozone Player (8:20), Carlo D'Angio E L'Amore Perdto - Faveravola (8:02), The Knight's Tale - Cirrus Bay (9:37), De Bello Inter Fratres - Marrchesis Scamorza (11:53), Il Ritorno Mai Sperato - Bornidol (13:05), Locus Amoenus - Comunque Vada (9:46), Outro: Nephile's Song - Castle Canyon (8:09)
Colossus's mammoth undertaking of representing Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron in musical form, reaches a conclusion with Part III. It is another 4-CD release and the longest of the trilogy, weighing in at an impressive four hours and thirty-eight minutes! Combined, the whole 12-CD set is a few seconds short of thirteen-and-a-quarter hours, so it is quite a commitment listening-wise.
As with any such undertaking, one can't expect to find everything to one's liking, but fortunately, like the first two volumes, the positives outweigh the negatives here. And from a personal point of view, 23 of the 36 tracks (nearly two-thirds) meet my own favoured listening criteria. That doesn't mean to say the remaining tracks are not worthy of being heard. We all know that Prog is an enormously wide genre, so there is plenty to appeal to everyone.
The first CD kicks off with Robert Webb, ably accompanied by the main man behind Colossus, Marco Bernard, and his Samurai of Prog bandmate Steve Unruh, who makes numerous appearances over the course of the set. HeeBeeGeeBee should really have been the first track on volume I of Decameron as it really sets the scene and tells the story of how Boccaccio came to write his masterpiece. It is a brilliantly inventive piece, very English, humourous and catchy as hell. A brilliant start to proceedings. It is also in the minority of tracks, in that it actually has vocals, with many other contributors opting for instrumental pieces.
It is also very impressive how seamlessly things flow throughout. As the tales are presented in chronological order, it is not as if the contributions could be re-sequenced. This is arguably helped by the fact that most pieces are of an upbeat nature, which is definitely the case with the Finnish band Ageness who create a delightfully-full prog epic, given there are only three members.
Fans of the Italian school of Prog will relish Ellesmere and Pericle Sponzilli's contribution, while France's Jean Pierre Louveton (JPL) takes things in a darker direction. The excellent Willowglass provide a heavy acoustic epic, that is brought to life by guest Steve Unruh's flute and violin playing. Trion, a long-time favourite of mine, provide the shortest track on the collection, and probably of their career. It is a number that is typical of their sound, heavy in vintage keyboards from Edo Spanninga, and the ever-classy Eddie Mulder's guitar playing.
Japan's Stella Lee Jones were a surprise, presenting a lovely ditty that is a fine mixture of English folk and Parisian café music. Very entertaining! The final four tracks are provided by two Argentinian and two American bands, and show that even within individual countries, prog is very different. Of the Argentinian contributors Nexus are aligned with a more classic sound, while Jinetes Negros lay down a more jazzy vibe, that does seem rather out of place. For the Americans, Nova Mob provide a high energy piece that is dominated by some excellent violin, while the track by Elephants Of Scotland is somewhat marred by weak vocals, made more noticeable by the rarity of vocal songs.
The Italians kick off CD2 with Mauro Mulas and Latte E Miele (ostensibly keyboardist Oliviero Lacagnina with guests Marco Bernard on bass, Kimmo Porsti on drums and, guess who, Steve Unruh on violin and flute). The latter track is the better of the two, featuring an impressive keyboard orchestration with classical overtones. Oceanic Legion is a collective of international musicians from Italy, Argentina, Finland and the US, something that would have been unthinkable not all that long ago. Bernard, Porsti and Unruh from the previous track are present, along with Lalo Huber on keyboards and Carlos Lucena on guitar. I'll leave you the reader to work out who comes from which country! They create an interesting conglomeration, with quite a unique sound. It is certainly not Unruh's usual singing voice, but overall a very interesting contribution.
Interpose+ are the second Japanese band, and again confound expectations with a mellow acoustic number. Court go all-out in a song that twists and turns probably a bit too much. A tighter arrangement and shorter running time would have been preferable. Ars Ephemera (well really the Ars Ephemera Quartet) bring in a classical feel, with the excellent David Myers (The Musical Box, Genesis on piano) leading his ensemble through a lovely musical interlude, although I have to say that the middle section without the string players should have been excised!
The United Progressive Fraternity (no prizes for guessing who plays violin...!) introduce a more ominous feel on a quality song that is the highlight of the second CD. Alex Grata is the sole Russian artist represented in the set, but he doesn't let his country down, playing everything but sax in an interesting piece that pushes the boundaries. Disc two ends with the mostly acoustic Il Tempio Delle Clessidre, offering lovely music whose intricacies are somewhat obscured by the vocals.
Onto CD3 with Canada's The Rebel Wheel kicking things off with a song that definitely takes a few listens to get into. Something that can't be said about Taproban, the introduction of whose contribution is in finest cinematic Goblin style. The rest of the song isn't bad either.
Scandinavia has produced many fine progressive bands but D'Accord are not quite up there with the best of them. Theirs is a decent effort that aspires to much, but is somewhat lacking. D'Accord should take lessons from Phoenix Again who are a great bunch of accomplished prog musicians (and incidentally have a new double live album recorded in The Netherlands available for free download from their website). Castle Canyon are probably the only group who manage to tell the whole of their allocated tale, and all in six minutes. What is more, the lyrics are very, very funny, with some excellent word play.
Another highlight of the set, and definitely this disc, is S.A.L.U.E.N.A., a Spanish group based around keyboardist Eduado Saluena. They are fantastic instrumentalists, whose brilliant musical backing is superbly enhanced by the man of the moment Steve Unruh, who excels on his violin contributions as well as singing his own lyrics with great aplomb. Anything following such a highlight is bound to be found somewhat lacking, and Il Castello Di Atlante fail with their vocals (it must just be me, as I don't seem to get on well with Italian vocalists). However there are some very nice violin flourishes (NOT by you know who) and the Hammond and Mellotron are always welcome. Next up is a first; Resistor's Fran Turner and his debut solo release. Anyone who knows the Resistor albums, knows the quality of their material, and Turner shows that he is an integral part of the writing partnership in that band, with an excellent instrumental. More please! As for Blank Manuskript, I couldn't really get into this at all, again the vocals were a deciding factor.
On the final stretch and Finland's Ozone Player have utilised the sonorous talents of Richard Stanley as a narrator, adding gravitas to a lovely piece that makes best use of three different singers to relate the tale. A medieval backdrop permeates the composition from Faveravola that contains some great moments, although not as many as Cirrus Bay, a band who have been described as writing warm, melodic progressive rock that is both complex and beautiful, sporting more key changes than a drunken locksmith. And who can argue with that.
Three more Italian bands help round off the tales with Bornidol providing the heaviness in contrast to the lighter, acoustic Locus Amoenus, with Marchesi Scamorza lying somewhere in-between. Each of the tracks has their moments, with Locus Amoenus probably taking the plaudits. The album is concluded with an outro by America's Castle Canyon, who deliver a piece that gives whole new meaning to the word bombastic.
Overall this set is a fine conclusion to the trilogy, which contains a spectacular booklet with artwork from Ed Utinsky that is worth the price of the set alone. Some fantastic music is included, with a great variety of styles on display. It offers a brilliant way of discovering new artists from around the world. As with all Colossus projects, supplies are limited and tend to be snapped up quickly, so be quick off the mark and secure your own copy sharpish.
By the Light of a Sun (5:32), A Way You'll Never Be... (7:18), ...To Outrun the Light (7:07), The Revolutionist (5:57), Nada (5:41), The Silence in Coffee (5:09), Unsafe Space (4:17), Sun.a.rose (6:44), Epic (4:51), Pointless Endeavors (3:38)
In the press release that came with John Wesley's new album, a way you'll never be... (the lower case is deliberate and used throughout), he states that: "Stylistically the songs revisit some of the guitar music of the 70s that grabbed me and made me want to be a guitarist" along with bringing together the acoustic singer-songwriter and the electric heavy guitar elements of his song writing. With a way you'll never be... he has more than succeeded in meeting these objectives. Ably supported by long term collaborators Sean Malone (bass) and Mark Prator (drums), this is nothing short of a triumph.
The album kicks off with its amps up to 11. It is immediately obvious that this is a prog power-trio absolutely at the top of their game. by the light of a sun rocks with its off-the-beat, freefall drumming and heavy guitars. If John Wesley's previous album Disconnect (to use a Porcupine Tree analogy, fair given Wesley played with them) was the equivalent of Stupid Dream, then this new one is Deadwing.
Mixing up wah-wah guitar with a crunchy, almost monolithic riff, the title track powers on, with its seven minutes feeling much shorter. Wesley follows this with a bludgeoning semi-ballad in the shape of ...to outrun the light that has an unsettling rhythm to it.
The singer-songwriter element is evident in the revolutionist's lyric that mocks coffee shop revolutionaries. But the music with its loud-quiet-loud dynamic and rolling gait, pushes the heavy electric to the fore. On nada, Sean Malone's fretless bass takes centre stage, supported by Mark Prator's subtle percussion, and the melody shines on this brilliantly mixed song.
The forcefulness takes a break on the drum-free ballad the silence in coffee. A song of lost opportunities, here Wesley's voice is at its most passionate, riding on waves of electric guitars that are layered to stunning effect. It fades away into a beautiful, almost ambient guitar soundscape.
The 70s hard rock and blues rock influences come out from behind the curtain on the album's latter half. On the instrumental, unsafe space, Wesley and company channel, exquisitely, Robin Trower circa Bridge of Sighs. It's just fabulous. Then, on sun.a.rose, there is a Black Sabbath-like grind to its relentless but tuneful riff.
The album is superbly mixed and mastered by Jim Morris, so that it has a live, in-the-studio feel to it, and the cover artwork by Carl Glover is terrifying and fascinating by turns. So, John Wesley's a way you'll never be... with its deliberately lowercase typography, contains magnificently UPPERCASE music.