Burning Skies (12:52), Architect (4:38), The Adjudicator - Part II (10:14), Pantheon (6:02), Tempest (7:15), The Adjudicator - Part I (14:04)
In 2009, in Rotterdam, classical violinist Laura ten Voorde decided to create a band combining classical, progressive and darker music. Thus Adeia was born. Describing themselves as Avant Garde Progressive Metal, the band was rounded off by cellist Ruben van Kruistum, vocalist Franc Timmerman, Wabe Wieringa on guitars, Dennis Burgemeester on bass, Laurens Hoppe on synths and Christiaan Bruin on drums.
Serenity starts off a bit haphazardly, with the growled vocals too prominent over a disjointed intro. However, this doesn't last long as the track soon changes and brings in a good, flowing riff to get your foot tapping. The harsh vocals are then brought back into the fray, and sound much more at home.
So what we have are six tracks of full-on, chugging riffs, discordant leads and intricate musicality. The album itself is dark, heavy and emotive but all-together fantastic. Franc Timmerman has an incredible voice, with his harsh vocals effortlessly cutting through, to bring a heavy edge to everything, and his clean vocals bringing a softer side to everything else.
I must confess that during writing, I looked down to see what track I was on and found myself a bit upset that I had come to the last one on the album.
The album itself sounds to me like what I would have expected Opeth's last album (Sorceress) to sound like, if they had brought in the heavy/death metal elements again. The only downside I have is that now there is yet another album vying for a position in my top 5 of the year.
For fans of all heavy prog metal such as Opeth, Be'lakor, Odetosun and Perihelion Ship.
The Weight (6:18), Highest Bitter (5:13), Havoc (3:22), Pages (5:02), Flames (4:04), Loved Ones (8:09), After the Fire (8:30), Remember (5:39), Chivalry (7:48)
Circus Maximus hail from the bleak lands of Norway, better known for the beginnings of black metal. But as I've said before, Norwegian bands are beginning to push into the prog world in a tide of power metal-tinged musical wizardry. Circus Maximus, a well known and respected band in the genre are keeping up with their contemporaries with a steady string of albums, with Havoc being the latest offering.
The album kicks off with a fairly typical power prog track, with lots of drumming, intense riffing and vocals floating over the top. However The Weight left me waiting for something more. I'm unable to put my finger on why, but the vocal delivery on this track was not one I could get into.
The next track, Highest Bitter, kicks off in a much more accessible way, with some the vocals I had previously disliked being closer to what I would expect and rather enjoyable, and the guitars having more intricate details as well. This track in general I found to be overall better and more akin to what I would like from a power prog band.
What follows next is Havok, which sounds like it would be right at home alongside some of Marilyn Manson's greatest hits, or one that was cut from Rammstein's Liebe ist fur alle da album. So rather than power prog, we now have something along the lines of industrial metal.
Unfortunately, the album seems to follow this pattern of going through different styles. And as a result it ebbs and flows too drastically for me. Some tracks I like, others I don't, and the ones that are left have some thoroughly enjoyable bits and some lacklustre bits. The Weight is not one I would come back to. Flames has some fantastic sections to it (although I'm not a fan of the chorus), and After The Fire catches me off-guard and hits all the perfect power prog notes and will likely be in a lot of my playlists.
And so I find it difficult to make much of this album, as I left it feeling almost confused about what I had just heard. On the basis of what many friends have told me about their love for the band, I will remain open-minded and give their other releases a listen, but this album is not one I'll be back to listening to.
Overall, Circus Maximus sounds like a cross between 30 Seconds to Mars, Voyager, Avantasia and Kamelot. It is an eclectic mix of some interesting bands, but that leaves it all sounding a bit disjointed.
Bake Kujira (4:07), Moto Perpetuo (6:34), Uno (5:15), FTL (5:08), Deriva (4:53), Metoth (4:52), Tempesta Di Meteoriti (5:35), Velocit' di Crociera (6:05), Spermaceti (5:58)
Downlouders is probably a project different from any other you've ever heard. It's not a common band who builds up its own music through hours of rehearsal. It's more like a group of good musicians meeting up with some instruments and improvising. The result is so unique and interesting that before writing this review I felt the need to discover more about them and I decided to contact the band directly. For the same reason, before trying to describe their music, I think it's important for you too to understand better the idea behind the album Arca.
Nine musicians participated in this record, but it is relevant to mention that the band does not have any fixed number of components. Moreover, theoretically any interested person with some musical skills could be involved in the Downlouders project. The composition method is astonishingly simple: the participants leave their homes for a period of time ranging from 7 to 14 days, isolating themselves in a particular location, specifically chosen for its atmosphere. In the case of Arca, this was a secluded house in-between the northern Italian hills.
Among the nine people taking part in this album, there were three sound engineers and the owner of a record studio. This last one was responsible of bringing technical instruments from his studio and, at this point, everything was set for a professional recording session. There's only one big difference with respect of a common band's recording: nobody knows what he is going to play. Everything is totally and genuinely improvised! Everything recorded for this album is simply what the musicians were feeling at that particular moment; what they wanted to express.
But the most interesting part is that the whole album is following a single specific rule, a unique specific topic: the project members decide what the main topic of their 'exile' will be. And they discuss it. And they play their music day and night. It's only them, their discussions, their feelings and their music. That's how Downlouders music is created and at the same time recorded.
The result is extremely expressive. It's difficult to described it with words, but I really suggest you to lay down on your bed and play the whole album; drowning in its sounds, moods and atmospheres. Indeed, we're speaking about some psychedelic kind of ambient music. If you really need a comparison with other bands, maybe you could think about Pink Floyd (first albums), Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and King Crimson meeting up in some randomly-remote location, drinking wine, discussing weird topics and playing improvised music.
Concerning live performances, Downlouders improvise new songs every time, getting inspiration directly from their public and audience. This way, we can say that their music is totally customised on people listening to their concerts. Arca is the third album recorded by the band and the first one released through a label (Lizard Records). You can find more information on Downlouders official website, available in Italian and English. Definitely recommended.
March Of No Reason (Including The Falling Star) (7:16), Natural Forces Getting Out Of Control (Including Wind, Rain, Thunder And Fire) (10:16), Requiem For A Planet (5:16), Flight Of The Crystal Ships (4:30), To Another Horizon - The Divine Message (2:26), To Another Horizon - Change Of Consciousness (5:53), To Another Horizon - Creation Of A New World (3:27), Cosmic Balance (4:36), Peace Without End (4:58)
The Austrian multi-instrumentalist Gandalf (real name Heinz Strobl) has released almost 40 albums since his debut in 1981, as well as penning both an autobiography and a novel. That is quite a phenomenal workrate by anyone's standard. However, this, and the following review, marks his first appearance on the pages of DPRP. This is largely because most of his output can be considered as falling into the New Age category, although his 1992 album Gallery Of Dreams did feature Steve Hackett on several numbers.
To Another Horizon was the first of two albums Gandalf released in 1983, and features the composer on guitars, synthesisers, Mellotron, organ, sitar, vocoder, wind chimes, rhythm machines and percussion. A few guests appear now and again (Robert Julian Horky on flute, Peter Aschenbrenner on grand piano and organ, Egon Gröger on drums and Heinz Hummer on bass) but for the most part it is largely Gandalf himself.
This way of working stems from Gandalf's early musical experiences performing in various progressive rock bands in which he was not able to achieve his own musical vision. It was only through recording experiments in his own, very basic studio that he was able to satisfy his ambitions by recording everything himself. Signing a deal with the Austrian division of WEA records, his debut album, Journey To An Imaginary Land was released in 1981, followed a year later by Visions, which was successful enough in mainland Europe to enable Gandalf to quit his job at Vienna Airport and become a full-time musician.
This is where we pick up the tale, as To Another Horizon was the third release on WEA, now remastered and re-released by Esoteric Recordings. An instrumental concept album, the theme merged the realities of the cold war threat of nuclear annihilation and environmental destruction, with a science fiction resolution of the earth being saved by benevolent aliens journeying to our part of the universe in their crystal ships.
The music clearly has elements of New Age stylings, although the opening number March Of No Reason is more akin to Tangerine Dream. (It is no surprise that Gandalf, like TD, later found success in scoring music for films.) Natural Forces Getting Out Of Control features Gandalf on acoustic guitar and synths, and largely resembles something Anthony Phillips might have composed for one of the Survival TV programmes, although there is a rhythm section midway through that resembles that on Hawkwind's The Forge Of The Vulcan.
The lovely Requiem For A Planet features Horky and Aschenbrenner, and would possibly have been better without Gandalf's own synth contributions. This track, as well as The Divine Message, features some narration of the story (in German) which probably does heighten the drama if you can understand it! However, these relatively brief passages don't prove to be too much of a distraction.
The three-part title track starts with a more Eastern feel, with drones, sitar and finger cymbals accompanied by a bass flute on The Divine Message. The sitar continues into Change Of Consciousness, which gradually builds, with more instruments added as things progress. The piece culminates with the more upbeat Creation Of A New World, which does tend to sound rather dated. Cosmic Balance, which was released as a single from the album, has a more obvious commercial sound and is a jolly, jaunty number, although the primitive rhythm machine is rather annoying, but, hey, this was the 1980s! Things are wrapped-up with Peace Without End, which doesn't really sound like a good concluding track, lacking drama and assertion, but maybe that was the whole point.
All in all a fairly decent album, although nothing really outstanding. The sound quality is very good and if you are a fan of the artist or of instrumental soundtrack-type music, then this might well be right up your street.
Entrance - The Corridor Of The Seven Doors (5:48), First Door - Reflections From Childhood (4:05), Second Door - Castles Of Sand (13:12), Third Door - Loss Of Identity In The Labyrinth Of Delusions (3:15), Fourth Door - The Magic Mirror (3:51), Fifth Door - Beyond The Wall Of Ignorance (7:31), Sixth Door - Peace Of Mind (4:52), Seventh Door - The Fountain Of Real Joy (5:32), Exit (3:36)
Gandalf's fourth album (or fifth if you include the soundtrack for a Viennese stage-performance of Richard Bach´s Jonathan Livingston Seagull) was another concept album inspired by Herman Hesse's novel Steppenwolf. As with his previous album for WEA, To Another Horizon, Gandalf performs the bulk of the album, but is once again joined by Robert Julian Horky (flute), Peter Aschenbrenner (piano and saxophone), Egon Gröger (drums) and Heinz Hummer (bass). These musicians formed the basis of Gandalf's live band. His on-stage experiences with other musicians had an obvious influence on this album, as there is more of a group dynamic than on previous efforts, as if the pieces had been written with live performance in mind.
Gandalf also allowed the other musicians to have more input into the creative aspects of the music and a greater degree of artistic freedom than on the previous recording, which I think is to its benefit as it sounds freer and less contrived than the previous release. For example, Castles of Sand is essentially a 13-minute improvisation by Aschenbrenner on piano and, towards the end, Gandalf on acoustic guitar that was recorded first-take. And frightfully good it is too! In contrast, the next track Loss Of Identity In The Labyrinth Of Delusions is more upbeat, with an insistent drum beat (thankfully the basic rhythm machines from the previous album have largely been dropped) and somewhat manic and distorted saxophone fills that are a genuine surprise.
There is more of a progressive element to this album, although with an undercurrent of the New Age style that was to dominate Gandalf's output in later years. This is largely brought about by a greater use of guitars and less reliance on swaths of synths. Beyond The Wall Of Ignorance has more esoteric elements to it, with a sitar interwoven throughout, while Peace Of Mind is the standout track with some excellent classical guitar playing and nice flute contributions. It is a quite commercial piece (although I have no idea if it was released as a single) but let that not be seen as a condemnation. Unlike on To Another Horizon, the end piece on Magic Theatre, is quite anthemic, with plenty of classical guitar and a rousing saxophone solo to bring everything together.
There is certainly more of interest to the general prog rock fan on this album, than on the previous release but I suspect it will generally have a rather niche audience. Although I admit I have heard only a handful of Gandalf's extensive catalogue of releases, I can confidently state that Magic Theatre is the best of those I have heard.
Something to Forget (5:10), Face in the Mirror (4:20), Train of Life (5:11), Don't Say a Word (4:35), In the Name... (4:24), Catch & Release (5:16), Secrets to Hide (5:39), New Beginning (5:56), December (5:33)
Hailing from Krakow, Loonypark is a five-piece prog rock band that wears a love of 80s classic rock on their collective sleeves. Perpetual is their fourth studio release and it has songs that are melodically strong, punchy in their sound and relatively compact in prog terms. They are in the main led by keyboards, unsurprisingly as keyboard player Krzysztof Lepiarczyk also writes the music. Vocalist Sabina Godula-Zajac provides the lyrics. Sabina's voice has a nice bluesy timbre and has a lot of charisma in its power.
The album opens strongly with its first two tracks. These mix echoes of Touchstone's Oceans of Time album with that of Solstice, especially with the guest violin of Sylwia Majka Maya featuring heavily. Then the third track, Train of Life, has a rock-ballad structure that suddenly takes a welcome left turn, with an almost honky-tonk piano solo!
The album continues in the same vein. Loonypark mint new classic rock style melodies, whilst adding many prog touches. For instance, on Secrets to Hide you get swirling synths, piano, electronics, and a cracking guitar solo from Piotr Grodecki. It is underpinned by fine rolling drums from Grzegorz Fiebe and Piotr Lipka's bass.
The emotional content is stepped-up on the closing track December. This is about, and is dedicated to, Piotr Grudzinski the late guitarist with Riverside. The ballad is a fitting, moving and impassioned tribute.
My only caveat with Perpetual is the compactness of the songs. All the band are obviously good musicians, and thus the album would benefit from allowing these songs to, instrumentally speaking, breathe somewhat more. But, all in all, Loonypark have released a good, solid slice of 80s classic rock-inflected prog.
The DPRP rarely receives books to review but they are welcome nonetheless, especially by an avid reader of biographies and history like me. Progressive Rock 3 – By Kind Request is not your average music bio, rather it's a collection of articles and interviews compiled by Italian journalist Stefano Orlando Puracchio. As you would expect given the title, it follows two previous publications that covered similar ground, Progressive Rock – A Handbook (2014) and Progressive Rock 2 – Boundary Lines (2015). The English language paperback version contains just 119 pages, which I read comfortably over the course of two evenings.
I should stress that this is not, and neither does it pretend to be, a history of progressive rock. Puracchio and his co-writers do however cover a good deal of ground within the book, which has a patchwork structure similar to that of a magazine (minus the adverts and photos). Casual readers can dip in and out of chapters if they wish, but the absence of an index means that it really should be read from cover to cover. The chapter titles are also delightfully ambiguous. 'Poseidon talks with Cynthia in a Lighthouse' for example contains an interesting analysis of the writing styles of "the three Peters of prog", Sinfield, Hammill and Gabriel.
The 10 chapters include such varied subjects as Pendragon, Magma, Hungarian prog, 70s German prog and album artwork. Some readers may be put off by the shortage of populist acts, and despite being well researched, the articles are often too short to do the subject full justice. In the chapter 'Progressive Metal' for example, the writer restricts his list of best bands to just four (3 American and 1 Swedish), Mastodon, Fates Warning, Dream Theater and Opeth. I'm sure fans of Symphony X, Pain of Salvation, Ayreon and countless others would argue otherwise.
Stefano clearly knows his subject and despite the variable quality of the Italian-to-English translation, his passion for the genre comes across in his personable writing style. His only idiosyncrasy is a constant obsession to define progressive rock: a question he poses to virtually all his interviewees. That aside, it's an often insightful read and includes a number of German, Italian and Hungarian bands that were completely new to me.
Progressive Rock 3 – By Kind Request is published by the author and is available in book and electronic format from several sources including Amazon and Google Play, in both English and Italian language versions. Given that we are not a regular reviewer of books and this is a fairly unique publication, I've understandably avoided a customary DPRP rating.
In The Name Of (11:11), Flashback (5:40), Clockwise (6:34), Just A Man (7:40), Flight From Terra (8:34), Final Chaos (8:32), Puppet On A String (5:27), Odd To Get Even (10:41)
If you thought there was no room in the prog world for another Dutch female-fronted metal band then think again. Odd To Get Even is the debut album from Synergy Protocol who wear their metal credentials firmly on their sleeves. They are Laura Martínez (vocals), Maarten Heeringa (guitars, vocals), Mark Roelofs (guitar, vocals), Patrick van Mourik (drums, vocals) and Wim Smits (bass vocals).
In the publicity blurb the band states that they are not derivate of the likes of After Forever, Epica, and Within Temptation, but there's the rub. In my opinion, given the generic nature of prog-metal (operatic vocals, crunching riffs, incessant kick drum etc.) the music can often sound clichéd, and on a first hearing, that seemed to be the case here. However on further investigation, Synergy Protocol reveal an individual style that draws on the sophistication of prog-metal and the raw energy of late 70s/early 80s heavy metal (Epica-meets-Dream Theater-meets-Iron Maiden you might say).
Pleasingly, the instrumental sections are longer than expected, combining powerful riffs with dual guitar soling, all supported by an airtight rhythm section. Although uncredited, keyboards add the occasional splash of colour. Not to be overshadowed, Spanish singer Laura Martínez gives a superb performance throughout, with a vocal range perfectly suited to the dramatic shifts in mood of tempo.
Although there isn't one bad track on the album, none particularly standout, mainly due to the vocal melodies which are not as memorable as they could be. As a result, what should be an entertaining 65 minutes does drag in places, despite a consistently punchy sound, courtesy of producer Stijn Donders.
Reservations aside, this is a worthy first effort from Synergy Protocol and if they can up their game in the songwriting department, they should go from strength to strength. 8 out 10 for the musicianship and 5 out of 10 for the material gives a final rating in between the two.
Intro (2:03), The Call Within ((8:12), Patient 730100 (Conformism) (4:42), Patient 730100 (Resurrection) (7:03), Father (2:01), Fœtus (10:32), Perpetual Pt. I (7:32), Perpetual Pt. II (6:28), Interlude (1:56), Hynkel (5:36)
With AE Sense of Life, Swiss quartet Ticket to the Moon releases its second album. I was not familiar with its sound before, but a quick look at the weird video clip for Patient 730100 (Conformism) sparked my interest. I sensed something brooding there, just waiting to be released.
The Intro sets up a mood and it's clear from the beginning that this band plays a kind of progressive metal/rock of the atmospheric variety. However, the mood, the pace and the atmospheres don't seem to change that much throughout the whole album. It soon becomes a futile exercise in waiting for a proper outburst; something big, grandiose and epic, that never happens.
The predominant atmosphere however is quite nice, especially due to some moody, organ-heavy keys, whilst the occasional guitar solo, as on Fœtus, spices things up a little. The mastering was expertly handled in the renowned Swedish Fascination Street Studios, so there's not much to be criticised sound-wise. Still the compositions fall flat, as they seem to be going nowhere. All this would still justify a rating of 5 points, if it wasn't for the vocals. I don't know if it's more the timbre that puts me off, or just the plain amateurish execution. Thus it is left to Charlie Chaplin, whose famous speech from The Great Dictator is set to music for the closing song Hynkel, and who is responsible for the one emotional thrill of the entire album.
I really hope that the guys of Ticket to the Moon will recruit a proper singer and improve their songwriting for the third album, as I really like their sound. With this album however, they have put out a nice record that doesn't hurt anyone, but in a world with so many quality releases every week, especially in the progressive genre, that is simply not good enough.
0 (4:48), Beast (7:10), The Vision and the Voice (4:45), An Astract Machine (2:14), Prayerworks (3:23), The Hermit (5:08), Windlestraws (6:30), Love (4:21), ...From the Line (8:32)
?Verity is a new six-piece outfit from Finland you probably won't have heard of yet, as this is not the "typical" prog band. They formed in 2009 and Agapé is their debut. In their bandcamp profile it says: "Artistically unique, eclectic and stubborn, the band works in its own musical-alchemical paradigm, and tries to create unique and enduring listening experiences and renew the Western pop-music scene." Well, renewing the music scene is a little over the top, but the other things indeed hit the nail on the head.
The strange thing about this album is that the mood of the first half is quite different from the second, and depending where you start listening you might get a misleading first impression. In my case I'm glad that I accidentally started with track number 6. The Hermit is a very melodic tune with resemblances to Coldplay, (when they did stuff like Clocks or Speed Of Sound), Prefab Sprout or The Blue Nile, but with an awesome prog finale you would never hear from these bands.
The following tracks (Windlestraws and Love) are also upbeat melodic (prog) rock/pop hymns, which would easily fill the dance floor if there existed something like a prog rock discotheque. I cannot imagine anyone who enjoys listening to sophisticated music in general, who would not be impressed by these tracks. Great hooks, thrilling arrangements, great musicianship, and excellently produced. I'd even say that Windlestraws is one of the greatest songs I've heard in recent years.
Of course, many of the things I said before also match the rest of the tracks, but these are much darker and mellow and so probably more difficult to access. For example The Vision And The Voice could originate from Nine Inch Nails (except for the not-so-typical drum groove) and Beast really sounds like one: dark, heavy and aggressive. This is far from prog metal, but I'm somehow reminded of modern bands like Leprous or Rendezvous Point.
But there is no big disruption between the first and the second half of the album. Prayerworks (indeed) works somehow like a transition. From a quiet and mellow start this three-minute long track develops into a powerful anthem. This is a good point to mention that the album has a (loose) lyrical concept about the "journey to the inner space of man". According to the band, the album draws inspiration from modern psychology, Western esoteric tradition and the ever-changing process of human love. "The band is leaving the interpretation of the album to each and every listener in their respective reality tunnels".
Regardless of the individual mood, every track on this album is enthralling in its own fashion. What makes the music of ?Verity kind of unique is that they have a cello player in their line up. So strings are often present in the arrangements, which lets the music sound sometimes a bit folky and often a bit classical. In general the sound is quite timeless and you cannot file this under a certain genre. So I guess it might be some kind of prog.
One last thing that I should mention are the vocals, which suit the band's sound, but might not hit the taste of the typical retro or neo prog fan. I often feel myself reminded of Francis Dunnery (ex-It Bites) or, in the more aggressive parts, of Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails).
All in all this is a really impressive debut with great musicianship, a modern but also timeless sound, and a professionally flawless production. The variety of styles and moods make this album an entertaining listen from start to finish. If I had already known of this album earlier, then Agapé would have easily gathered a top rank in my Top 10 albums of last year. If the whole album had the quality of tracks 6 to 8, I might have rated this 9 or even 10, but hey, it's a debut.
Unfortunately the album is available as a digital download only. But I strongly recommend to support this young band by buying their music.