This Is All Illusion (12:21), Dance of Demons in Disquise (7:34), Colour in the Sky (4:58). A Cycle Never Ending (23:53)
I have been writing reviews for DPRP for close to two years, and I will occasionally mention that the thing I enjoy most about it, is the discovery of new bands and artists. That's not to say that the results are always positive, but I love that the progressive rock scene is still so vibrant.
Prior to hearing this new release from Australian born (UK based) Ben Cameron, I was not familiar with his work. His debut project album, Tipping Point was released in 2014 and reviewed positively on DPRP by Mark Hughes. Somehow though, I originally missed that review and A Cycle Never Ending was my introduction to Ben's music.
The opening track, This is all Illusion, sets a tone that represents the overall tone of the album. There is a traditional symphonic prog feel to the track, mixed with a bit of Steven Wilson and even 70s hard rock. Instrumentally, there is a lot to like about the track. In researching Cameron, I did read some criticisms of his vocals, but I honestly found them to be fine. He isn't a great singer, but he is certainly adequate enough in this category. In that respect, his voice reminded me at times of Andy Latimer from Camel.
The Dance of Demons in Disguise is very heavy on the Wilson/Porcupine Tree style, as is the next track, Colour in the Sky. As I mentioned in another recent review, Steven's Wilson's influence on modern prog is very clear, and it is also quite evident throughout this album. All of this aside, the songs do work on their own, but Ben does respectfully show his influences.
The album concludes with the 24-minute title track. There is a lot to like about this epic, including a re-occurring guitar riff that is truly infectious. It is untouchably the highlight of the album, as the transitions work, the choruses are memorable and the instrumental passages are strong. There is a live performance feel to this song, as well as to the album in general, that works very well. This fact is certainly helped by Cameron's impressive guitar work and the talented musicians who make up the "project".
All in all, I enjoyed A Cycle Never Ending. It is an album steeped in traditional sounds. Ultimately though, it all comes down to the level of performance, production and songwriting, and this album is a success in all of these areas. To go back to my original point, The Ben Cameron Project definitely falls into the category of a positive new DPRP discovery for me. If you are familiar with his previous work or you are not, I think you too will find much to enjoy about this album.
Violenza Gratuita (0:14), Il Buon Caffe (1:17), Heavy Love (7:53), Ti Vengo A Prendere (5:22), Il Cavaliere Odia (4:27), 112 (4:52), Happiness (4:34), Gladio (3:08), Fakoya Ltd (4:10), A Tailor's Sale (6:23), Prima Repubblica (1:30), Mouth Shaped Universe (5:28)
This band from Italy was formed in 2003 during a King Crimson concert at Verona. Il Bis is their second album and the follow up to their debut from 2011 entitled Benediktus Und Vobis Quoque, Catafalcus Es Tu. The band members are: Matteo Bertolini (basses, guitars, soundscapes, theremin and keyboards), Mirco Ravenoldi (vocals, guitars, keyboards, programming and bass) and finally Cristiano Roversi (keyboards, bass pedals, programming, samples, percussions and guitar). The latter is probably better known as a member of Moongarden. On several tracks they are assisted by guest musicians on guitar, bass, drums and saxophone.
After a short introduction of 14 seconds, the album kicks off in Beastie Boys style. The track Heavy Love is more recognisable as being a song in a prog vein, with sometimes a jazzy intermezzo on the keys, but with some fine work on guitar, and Mellotron sounds later. Lots of the song titles are in Italian but the vocals are in English, which is probably better for most proggers, but I don't know if it is as comfortable for Ravenoldi to sing in English. He has a voice that you have to get used to, but is fairly acceptable on most tracks and I've heard much worse singers in our prog scene!
The album contains all the well known elements that we know from prog: pounding drums, bass pedals, organ, Mellotron and Moog sounds, melodic guitar soloing and heavy guitar riffs mixed with jazzy parts. There is plenty of variety on this album. The band is also not afraid to experiment on tracks such as Fakoya Ltd. which is more of a rap song. A Tailor's Sale is one of the tracks that will appeal more to the traditional lovers of prog music with its Mellotron and Moog and a more normal song construction, with a head and a tail to it.
This album is not your average prog album, but if you're open to a more modern approach to our beloved music style, you will enjoy most of this. If not, there are more than enough other bands that have released great albums this year! I personally found the album refreshing at moments but also quite annoying at other points, mainly because of the vocals that acquire a certain taste. So my advice is to listen to the album very carefully and hope you'll find it satisfactory.
Fobia Inc. is a new post-rock band from Poland featuring Łukasz Kamiński and Paweł Dziedziul on guitars, Alexander Mazuruk on bass and Tomasz Markowski on drums. In a somewhat unusual merging of post-rock music and progressive conceptualisation, the band's debut album, Astral Seasons, is a concept album based on a man's journey through time and space. As the album is, as one would expect from a post-rock album, totally instrumental, the portrayal of the concept has to be told in purely musical terms.
The opening number, Lost, starts fairly sparsely, with the album's protagonist questioning his isolation, and gaining a degree of anger before accepting his fate and embarking on his journey.
The album then follows a linear narrative divided by the seasons. Spring is light and airy with the dual guitars blending well, particularly during the harmonic sections. Solstice takes things in a heavier direction, dominated by the prominent drum beat and power of the guitars which did remind me of early Black Sabbath at times. Midway through, the powerful assault ceases, giving way to the greater openness of Spring, although the changeable weather is portrayed by the return of the bombast, and the stormy power of the ensemble. Summer has more of a languid feel, leading to a mysterious and rather lovely Equinox, which ramps-up, leading to the more unsettled Autumn.
As Winter takes hold, things move from the delight of a crisp, bright and fresh winter's morn to the perilous freezing conditions of the depths of the season were danger surrounds.
The closing track, Hollow is a bit of an enigma, with a four-minute period of silence built into the track. The style of the music (pre- and post-interval) to me represents the hardship of the journey for the man and his succumbing or resignation to the inevitable (whatever that might be!), only for there to be a rebirth or transformation into the astral plane. Yes, well perhaps...
Overall, Astral Seasons is a good addition to anyone's post-rock collection and is a very accomplished recording for a debut release. It is obvious that a lot of care has gone into the recording of the music and the presentation of the packaging, with a great digipak surrounding the physical CD, something a lot of artists don't pay enough attention to in this digital download age. This is certainly a 'keeper', and a band I will be paying attention to in the future.
Absence - Part 1 (12:57), What If? (5:59), Lost In Translation (4:59), Chalkhill Blues (3:43), Absconded (10:38), Absence - Part 2 (18:35)
Poor Genetic Material has always been a band that proved difficult to make comparisons to. Yes, a certain Pink Floyd, Yes, Camel, Caravan vibe can be found at times, but they make it less obvious than most bands who utilise these styles. Plus, Phillip Griffith's vocals remind me somewhat of an 80s synth pop singer. That is not a slight, and in some ways he adds to the overall unique style of prog that they produce.
I had not heard an album of theirs for quite some time, so Absence was a bit of a re-introduction for me. I was quickly reminded that their music requires an investment. As a testament to the sometimes-subtle complexities in their music, multiple listens of their material brings rewards. In fact, I would dare say that numerous spins are essential. As a case in point, the first listen of this album left me somewhat cold. Subsequently though, the music began to take shape.
Absence Part 1 and Part 2 act as significant bookends to the album and form a 32-minute opus that impresses with its range of symphonic, psychedelic, ambient, folk and rock elements. There is a lot of variety to be found here and the performances are all at a high level. The tracks sandwiched in the middle of this epic, are certainly more compact, but entertain in their own right. What If is probably the closest thing to a straight forward rock song that I have heard from the band. Lost in Translation takes on more of a ballad feel, that includes an excellent Tony Banks-like keyboard solo and some great guitar work. Chalkhill Blues displays a Canterbury style. Absconded, with its memorable melodies, is the best song on the album.
Absence does have some highs and lows. There are segments of the epic tracks that work better than others. That is not unusual, but it is also what differentiates an essential epic from a good epic. Overall though, this is an entertaining recording. The variety alone is impressive. A real grab of styles, and with this album, Poor Genetic Material maintains its reputation as a unique voice in a crowded prog genre.
Samba Lombarda (5:03), Iurop Is a Madness Part 1 (3:05), Iurop Is a Madness Part 2 (3:16), Gobbastan Part 1 (3:09), Gobbastan Part 2 (5:13), Gobbastan Part 3 (1:56), Grey Riot (3:34), Tripoli (3:23), Song for Clair Patterson (6:19), Minka Minka (4:25), Brahim Izdag Part 1 (2:21), Brahim Izdag Part 2 (3:37), Brahim Izdag Part 3 (6:13), There's a Riot Goin' On (0:06)
For their new CD Brahim Izdag, Italian art-rock-come-post-rock quartet, Sparkle in Grey has raided its leftover recordings cupboard, using material from the sessions for 2013's Thursday Evening and 2015's Perversions of the Aging Savant (an album they did with the USA-based band Controlled Bleeding). Unfortunately it sounds like a bunch of cast-offs, and this album, though obliquely about the refugee crisis, never really settles or gels.
A couple of tracks have some interest. The opener Samba Lombarda has a nice lilting air and the violin of Franz Krostopovic shines here, as it does intermittently throughout the album. Tripoli is like a widescreen spaghetti western soundtrack, building up to the shootout, whilst the title track (named after a Moroccan skier who took part in the 1992 winter Olympics) weds a folk-like melody with some excellent post-rock guitar work.
However, the remainder is somewhat of a test. The avant-garde squonking of Song for Clair Patterson is a proper patience-tester. Other tracks are very weird cover versions, for which I applaud Sparkle in Grey, as a bugbear of mine is cover versions that are too close or identical to the original. Here they cover reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson on Iurop Is a Madness, that disappointingly falls short of going full-dub. There is a folk rock version of The Clash's White Riot in Chinese (!) on the track Grey Riot. To cap the wackyness of it all, we have a cover of Sly and the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On that consists of six seconds of silence. How we laughed in the Burns' household.
So Sparkle In Grey's Brahim Izdag is really for completists only.