Skyline Vertical (3:53), Cold Sky Blue (4:59), Counting All the Stars (4:06), On Spider Hill (8:05), For Someone (5:01), Arc En Ciel Pt. One (3:48), The M-Chord (5:25), Arc En Ciel Pt. Two (4:02), Meaningless (4:08)
Cross and Quinn create an interesting dilemma for me. Sometimes I enjoy music that can be described as ambient, and other times it just doesn't hold my interest. It really depends on the mood I am in. With that said, it was difficult for me to listen to this album as background music. Due to my own personal tastes, I really had to dig into this music, and I can honestly say that I am not disappointed.
Cross and Quinn is a collaboration between former King Crimson violinist David Cross and Seán Quinn. Also featured prominently is the beautiful voice of American singer Beth Hirsch, who is probably best known for singing on Air's album, Moon Safari. Cross plays electric violin throughout, and Quinn plays keyboards and piano, in addition to drum programming and vocals on some songs. It seems as if Cross and Quinn initially intended this to be an ambient album, but as the project grew, the music took on qualities of bands such as Pink Floyd, Radiohead and Talk Talk.
Cold Blue Sky provides a fascinating balance between ambient music and lyrical content. There is also a definite flow throughout the whole album, as if it were one long song. Cross plays his electric violin in a way unlike any other violinist I have ever heard. Do not think of Robby Steinhardt of Kansas fame when approaching this album. Rather, Cross uses his instrument more like a synthesizer. It creates a nice rapport with Quinn's keyboards and Mellotron, especially in the song, On Spider Hill.
The strongest song on the album is the title track, Cold Sky Blue. This song features Beth Hirsch on vocals, and the slight accent in her voice gives the piece a special flavor. She also happened to write the lyrics for the song. There are some definite 1980s overtones on For Someone, particularly with the keyboards. Paula Gilmer does an excellent job of singing Quinn's lyrics, which, on this song, remind me very much of Steven Wilson. Specifically, the lyrics remind me of the Porcupine Tree song, Trains, and Wilson's solo song, Happy Returns. The band could have taken this song to the next level had they used a real drummer, rather than drum programming. The added intricacies that a talented drummer can add, especially in the fills, would serve this song well. I assume the band avoided adding a drummer in order to retain the overall ambient style to the music.
The nature of ambient music can lead to a fair amount of repetition, and that tendency pops up in places throughout this album. When the music does get monotonous however, Cross' violin re-emerges to shake things up. His violin work is what ultimately makes this group stand out. It creates a focal point for the instrumental sections. Nevertheless, Quinn's electric piano sometimes takes a similar position, like in the beginning of Arc En Ciel Pt. Two. Interestingly, his calming piano work in this song is a simple, repeating set of notes, but it is brilliantly complimented later in the song, by the more complex violin playing of Cross. The two musicians build off of each other beautifully.
Overall, the instrumentation here is solid, albeit sparse. Through the use of electric violin and electric keyboards, Cross and Quinn create walls of sound that are not overpowering, yet sometimes leave the listener wanting more complexity. Lyrics are important for the songs that have them, but overall the music is the main focus. For those that enjoy quieter music with progressive overtones, Cross and Quinn is worth looking into. For those easily bored by sparse music that leans toward ambient, this likely won't be your cup of tea.
The Secret Pt. 1 (8:24), The Secret Pt. 2 (7:15), Animal (5:18), Ghosts of Insanity (5:35), Fallen (5:40), The Passage (5:10), Disguise (1:53), Portrait (5:39), Daydreamer (5:35), Dogma (5:45), In Sorrow (3:40)
Formed in 1994 and having had their first release (a mini CD) back in 1996, The Passage is DGM's 11th album and features some big names in the guest spots in the form of Michael Romeo (Symphony X) and Tom Englund (Evergrey). Interestingly though, the band's current line-up features no original members; the oldest member having served since 1999, and the last original member having left in 2005. But anyway, time to go through The Passage...
The album starts with a heavy-hitting, fast-paced metal track with fast, chugging guitars, blistering drums and the occasional pinch harmonic thrown in for good measure. It is a fantastic track for head banging and fist pumping, and comes complete with good sing-along bits and filled with intricate, wee riffs. The drums never let up either. It is the kind of song that nearly got me playing the air guitar at work.
Proper old school metal solos from Simone Mularoni (guitars) and Emanuele Casali (keyboards) sing their way through the course of the album, often harking back to such metal bands as Annihilator and Lion.
the album keeps up this fast-paced metal journey, full of fist pumping metal joy with enough changes in the riffs and structures to keep things interesting and exciting along the entire journey.
The ballad on the album, Disguise, is a fairly typical one. It is slow, with lots of piano, and soulful, sorrowful vocals, but nice and short to allow for more in-your-face prog metal goodness. That suits me fine; The song is nice break to let you catch your breath (and I would guess for the drummer Fabio Costantino to do the same) before the face-melting power prog attack comes back for round two.
The guitars and keyboards are fast and very intricate, the bass is driving and keeps the sound rounded out, the drums technical and rhythmic while the vocal styling of Mark Basile goes from soaring power metal, to old school rock. All the tracks are very good, with breaks and singalong bits at the right points, and the solos expertly placed to keep things exciting. There is not really much else to say about the album, except that The Passage is a fun, fast prog-power metal fan's dream.
I am not usually a fan of this type of power metal infused prog metal, but this album is one I can listen to a lot. Recommended for fans of Avantasia, Dream Theater, Helloween, Symphony X* and similar.
Drift (5:10), Let the Light Flood In (5:30), Flight(4:45), We Who Blackout the Sun (5:15), Hanging by Time (5:39), Culling the Herd (7:25), Last Psalm to Silence (2:15), The Good Night Sky (5:28), Headlights (4:25), Black Wind (6:14), All Good Things (5:00)
Two years later the band picked Nick Raskulinecz as producer in the recording of their new album. Nick Raskulinecz has proven himself somewhat of a household name in North American modern rock of recent years, as he has produced Foo Fighters, Mastodon and also the most recent Rush studio efforts. The production on this album overall is good. Yet what happens with many studio albums these days, is that they miss out on organic sound. By that I mean that the end result finds itself under a layer of production, which to me, doesn't always do justice to the music. For sure, it does help in getting an album sound more even overall, yet, when you hear artists play live, music doesn't always sound like that. Still, that might be a matter of taste. We shall now move on the music.
Where the previous album had its twists and turns in the music, the band have found their way in making the music more open to a larger audience, perhaps even more radio-friendly. It is not that the band have forgotten where they come from. Certainly not. When listening to opening track Drift, the guitar part in the background very much reminds of Alex Lifeson's rhythm guitar during La Villa Strangiato, as does the build up of the song as a whole. Is it a nod to the Canadian trio? Is it just a mere coincidence? The band segue in and out of longer tracks on this album that contains both more poppy, (Coldplay and Muse) elements, and on the other hand heavier parts. Let the Light Flood In is an example of that. It mixes part Coldplay together with part Dredg, the latter being a band in that also mixes pop and proggier rock, throwing some postrock into the mix too. Sometimes you even get to think of Coheed and Cambria. Yet, the songs remain somewhat demanding as time signature changes occur throughout the album.
Matt Page (vocals, guitar), Joey Waters (drums, vocals) and Chris Tackett (drums) know how to write songs that easily grab your attention, yet also offer more than just a catchy sound. It is what the band have proven on their first album, and it is what happens on this album as well, albeit that the album might sound more polished than before.
We Who Blackout the Sun is an instrumental that displays the instrumental craft of the band, who get you with a melody, put down a cinematographic sound, let you feel the atmosphere and at the same time the song has all three musicians showing their ability at their instruments.
The track that follows, Hanging by Time, adds vocals to the instrumental skills, and might even be more of an overall picture of what the band is about. Matt Page offers a great guitar solo, and sings full of emotion, whilst the drumming and bass playing are more than just solid. Both the more radio-oriented and the more (prog) rock interested listener will find something to their liking in this song.
Culling the Herd is another track that clearly shows that the band knows how to write songs that get to move people. Here they remind me of Damn The Machine, the band that featured Chris Poland of Megadeth fame. That most certainly is not a bad thing, as they created one of the finest albums mixing progressive rock with metal; vastly underrated.
All in all, this is an album that invites listeners from a widerrock background, whilst sticking to the progressive aspects. If any of the names mentioned in this review appeal to you, then this album most certainly is worth a listen. This one comes well recommended.
Grecale (5:16), Lamento di uno Spaventapasseri (3:47), Stella del Vespro (5:54), Maestrale (5:21), Tra Mille Gendarmi l'Amore (5:49), Ricordo di Nene (4:35), Scirocco (7:03), Come un Salice (5:33), Morte di Nene (3:50), Libeccio (3:52), Il Foco (2:55), Addio ai Corvi (6:41)
Somewhat of an Italian prog supergroup, Fufluns (named after the Etruscan God of wine and happiness) have members from Il Bacio Della Madusa, DAAL,The Watch, Hostsonaten and others. Spaventapasseri (Scarecrow in English) is the debut album of this particular line-up.
The album, written by singer Simone Cecchini and keyboardist Alfio Costa, is a mix of keyboard-led symphonic prog, folk-like tunes, psychedelic touches and a splash of theatricality, all wrapped-up in a rich sound. Spaventapasseri is bookended by two fine keyboard-led instrumentals, the first of which Grecale reminds me of early Greenslade.
The songs are melodically strong and vocal-led, and in that respect it resembles the song structures on Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, where the lyrics take the lead. Simone Cecchini has a characterful and impassioned voice and sings in Italian throughout. The songs are mainly mid-paced and feature fantastic Hammond organ playing from Costa, along with lots of Mellotron and synthesizer work. There is also some nice flute work on Maestral and it has a nice 70s classic prog feel to it. The 12-string guitar makes an appearance on the piano ballad, Tra Mille Gendarmi l'Amore and also on Morte di Nene, lending these tracks an Anthony Phillips vibe.
At the mid-point of the album Fufluns step it up a bit with the forceful Scirocco. This track twists and turns through contrasting slow and fast, loud and quiet sections to great effect. Along with the instrumentals, this is one of the best tracks here.
The only drawback to Spaventapasseri is the abundance of ballads and mid-paced songs. Though they all have a terrific amount of instrumental colour to them, there are no instrumental passages to breathe air into some of these tunes and to balance the intense vocal delivery. Having said that, this is a good album that is firmly in the keyboard-dominated Italian prog tradition. If that is your prog cup of tea, then drink deeply of this particular infusion.
Billowy and Broken (4:31), Circles Into Squares (3:43), Mascot (4:23), No I In Voice (4:47), Ribbons (4:32), Visions of Grandeur (4:05), Follow Through (4:27), Next To Strange (5:33), The Opposite (4:16), Paperthin (3:58)
Opener Billowy and Broken sets out Lucid Fly's stall perfectly. Nikki Layne alternates between the phrasing of Cristina Scabbia from her early days with Lacuna Coil, the pop prowess of Amy Lee (Evanescence), the off-kilter timings of Leslie Hunt from District 97 and Paulina Maślanka's gothic tones in Poland's Delight, (at least in their early albums). Her subtle variation in approach, is subtly-varied and very appealing. The song's clever central riff reminds me of latter-day Fates Warning but with an alt edge to the groove. An intriguing mix.
Its appeal lingers into the second track. Circles into Squares has a beguiling hook, and its constant changes of pace and power, are very clever. There is a more obvious alt edge to this song, helped no doubt by the involvement of Forrester Savell (Dead Letter Circus, Karnivool) who lends his atmospheric nouse in the mixing and mastering of these ten tracks.
Mascot has a more direct Evanescence chorus, yet the rest of the song reminds me a lot of Dutch band Autumn, especially in respect of guitarist Doug Mecca's ability to alternate constantly between gentle atmospheres and a more pounding, throbbing riffage.
Hailing originally from Florida, and now in Los Angeles, this three-piece (with Aaron Ficca on drums) have been announced as a "straightforward breath of fresh air" in their crafting of a very quaffable blend of prog rock, alternative rock and dark rock.
I'd certainly go for the "breath of fresh air" bit. Whilst having a dark edge, the music here is, on the whole, bright and uplifting thanks to its huge tsunami of energy and Layne's bright, clear vocal. As for "straightforward"; the skill in crafting songs which refuse to stay still for more than a few bars, is anything but that.
After evolving their sound with the release of three EPs, the band raised $13,000 in a crowdfunding campaign to record this, their debut LP. After four great openers, Ribbons suffers from not offering that change of style or tone needed to rattle the listener in the midst of an album. Visions of Grandeur picks things up again though, by simply being a great piece of song-writing. Next to Strange and Paperthin are of a similar standard.
Next time I'd love the band to bring in some keyboard sounds. It would add that extra layer and depth needed to sustain three-quarters-of-an-hour of progressive music. The recruitment of a bass player (again perhaps on just a few songs) would add that progressive bottom-end detail that is missing here. Vocal harmonies and layered vocals are great, but can become predictable. Layne has a great voice. She must not become too stylised. When used, her bare, harmony-free vocal is mesmerising. Less can be more.
For me, the best albums are those that you spin a few times to familiarise yourself with. At that stage, nothing really stands out. Yet you sense an impending addiction. By the fourth (or at a push, the fifth) listen, you are hooked and can not stop spinning the darn thing. Building Castles In Air is such an album. I love every single moment of it. You will too.
CD 1: Alive Again Intro (2:06), The Call (10:21), Leviathan (6:00), The Grand Experiment (5:48), Harm's Way (14:12), Bill's Keyboard Solo (2:45), The Creation (16:49), There Is Nothing That God Can't Change (7:18)
CD 2: Waterfall (7:18), Eric's Guitar Solo (3:32), In the Fire (10:28), Alive Again (34:16), Rejoice (3:36), Oh Lord, My God (3:11), Reunion (4:44), King Jesus (6:38)
DVD: full concert plus tour documentary
The man who needs no introduction among those of us with heart and ears full of prog, treats us to another live album. This time however, as with Neal's 2015 studio album, The Grand Experiment, this show features the whole of The Neal Morse Band, and it is clear that this recording is truly a band effort.
The man behind the kit and on vocals is another prog icon, Mike Portnoy, and he is joined by the bass playing giant that is Randy George, who also takes on vocal parts. On guitars, keyboards, clarinet, sax and vocals there is Bill Hubauer. Last but by no means least is Eric Gillette, the man whose fluent guitar playing and vocals completes the same team that also produced The Grand Experiment. This concert was filmed at the end of the trek to promote that album.
These men have had some experience in playing together, yet it's with their teaming-up as The Neal Morse Band that they seem to have gelled even more. The band opens in fine form after the Alive Again intro with the a capella part of The Call, and it's not just the vocals that show the skills of this band. Through 16 tracks, selected from throughout both Neal's solo career and from their joint album, the band truly shines and delivers.
There is little that can be said about Mike's drumming: where in heavier outfits you sometimes may think he pushes hard to be the focus of the band, it is here that he fits into the balance very adequately. Is it Neal's music that makes him adapt his pace and power, without ever really slowing down? Is it the joy of playing in this band?
It must be said that all band members play their part in this recording and in this band, as if they are all well aware that this is a group effort. Given the interaction between the band on stage, the joy of playing live together is very visible. And, should you only be able to listen to the CDs, then you can also hear the band enjoying themselves throughout. Just listen to Alive Again on the second disc, to find how the band switches their instruments in a very joyous mood.
If you have a closer look at the track listing, it is obvious that The Neal Morse Band not only visits Neal's proggier albums, they also weave the more religiously inspired tracks into the set. That may lead one to thinking that these are tracks that don't fare well in the total set, yet, just experience the set and let the music and the vocals be the decisive factors. You may very well find that the songs sound different from what you expected.
As for Neal: he is clearly singing and playing the whole set, being there and then in the moment. Neal got visibly moved during this concert and the way it is portrayed. Even though the DVD images are not always as clear and sharp as they could be, this version adds to the music being listened to in this live setting. With a tour documentary added to the set, this is an impressive picture of life on the road with The Neal Morse Band.
What you have here are excellent musicians, a very nice setlist (with room for both regular songs and for epics), and a band clearly enjoying themselves. It does take me back to the earlier days of Neal touring with Spock's Beard, where the playfullness was just as great. Neal has ventured far from those days, yet it is with great pleasure that I meet up with this longtime musical companion again.
Muse Meets The Eye (5:13), A Secret Place (8:12), Relations (6:20), On My Isle (4:48), Obsidian Sky (5:12), Mynd Awake (5:58), A New Gate (6:24), Villa Straylight (5:58)
Mynd is the follow-up to an older prog metal trio called Annon Vin, which had some minor success in the nineties. It consists of Erik Grösch, guitars, Tom Brenneis, bass and Uwe Ruppel on drums, plus Christoph Menzendorf on keyboards and vocalist Marc Laukel. Coming from the progressive metal shores, the band brings up a lot of Fates Warning influences, but focuses more on neo prog by primarily celebrating their Genesis influences, whilst also adding styles in the vein of Saga, Gentle Giant and King Crimson.
They manage to balance their influences with their very own style of composing and instrumentation, so that the band sound is all in all rather unique, with pretty solid instrumental arrangements and a perfect sound production. The vocalist's style ranges from a calm Ray Alder, up to the roughest of Peter Gabriel and beyond. On one hand all this provides a good listening experience, but on the other side, the guys just don't manage to create something catchy. Neither the vocals, nor the instrumentation or individual parts of the songs create a "Wow"-effect. Once you've been through the entire album, it is hard to remember a melody or something else of it.
For those who want to sit down to their music and enjoy nothing but a listen, the album might easily be a disappointment, but it is quite perfect in your car or as background entertainment at work.
Recede (1:36), Vargorok (5:40), The Righteous, the Faltering & the Frail (9:53), Al Ahrarjan Is Setting (7:00), Black Citadel: Shadow of Al Debaran (7:03), Reflect (5:42), ...To Rule the Peaks (4:51), The Hermit (6:29), Clouds & Spectres (0:56), Engines of the Maker (3:49), The Goats of Ulthar (4:33), A Ritual for the Black Goat (1:15), Pantheon of Skies (4:58), Ascend (2:19), Light a Fire for all the World to See (6:27)
Hailing from Northern Italy, The National Orchestra of the United Kingdom of Goats (or UKoG as fan's know them) have released a follow up to 2012's excellent Vaaya and the Sea, which I purchased on the back of Basil Francis' review in these very pages (see review here). I have been a fan of them ever since.
UKoG's new offering, Vargarok, is a step up from the previous album. It continues the stories from their invented world of Kolepta and its hero Sillyphus. What you get with Vargarok is another superb, epic-length concept album. The tracks here segue into each other, to form a near seamless flow of music. This carries the listener away on waves of electronics, piano, guitars, bass, drums and well-sung vocals.
For Vargarok, UKoG have moved their sound on from their last release, adding more crunch to their self-styled 'symphonic grind pop extravaganza'. The musicians involved, known as The Insane (electronics), The Coachman (bass, backing vocals), The Admiral (guitars, vocals) and The Seer (drums) are on the top of their collective game.
The album starts gently with Recede, that uses a plaintive and beautiful piano melody to build up to the title track, where they kick the UKoG beast into gear. Full of heavy prog guitars that hint at prog metal, they borrow a trick from the opening of Porcupine Tree's The Incident in its use of staccato, layered chords and silence. As an opening salvo, its mix of the punchy and the melodic grabs one's attention, and refuses to let go for the next hour.
Heavier prog goodness follows, but always garnered with a subtle flamboyance and flair. On The Righteous, the Faltering & the Frail, UKoG move from whispery Ulver-like electronica, through the full band pile-driving the melody, to a play out of orchestrally-layered keyboards that brings to mind a guitar-free Pink Floyd. It is a multi-part epic in itself, and possibly the best track amongst many excellent ones. Though the best track seems to change with each subsequent play of Vargarok, something which I have always found to be a sign of a quality record.
There is a sinuous bass to the soaring ballad Al Ahrarjan Is Setting, before a rolling wall of guitars brings in the 'grind' from their self-assessment on the bruising Black Citadel: Shadow of Al Debaran. Whilst piano, electronics and ethereal guitar make for a pair of beautiful tracks on Reflect and ...To Rule the Peaks. They mix electronics with a folk-like melody (The Goats of Ulthar) and there is some anthemic, stadium prog with Pantheon of Skies, that expertly mixes tempos and dynamics.
There are recurring refrains, and the use of piano gives Vargarok a strong overall structure, allowing The National Orchestra of the United Kingdom of Goats to elbow their way past the doyens of heavy prog such as Porcupine Tree, Oceansize and Amplifier.
There is not a weak point on this album. If you wish that Porcupine Tree would reform, then The National Orchestra of the United Kingdom of Goats' Vargarok would be the benchmark they would have to meet. An album of heavy, subtle and atmospheric progressive rock. My album of the year.
Finland, a lovely country with a penchant for fantastic death, doom and prog metal bands. So upon discovering that Oddland were Finish, I began wondering if they would stand up to the likes of Swallow The Sun or Insomnium. So when this album, Origin, hit the shelves, with high expectations I delved in to see what Finland's next offering was like.
The album starts with some fairly heavy, chugging riffs, which sound like they are harking back to some of Opeth's early work, before the music takes on a more Meshuggah-styled approach and enters into the djent area. The vocals have a sound akin to what I would expect Devin Townsend to sound like, had he been from Finland as opposed to Canada.
The album mixes this djent sound with some nice acoustic parts, and some more melodic prog metal riffs to create the overall sound. Think Devin Townsend meets Meshuggah and you get the idea of what they are like. However, the riffs unfortunately tend to follow a similar chugging pattern most of the way through the album, with some intricate leads here and there, and some other discordant sounding leads when the intricate ones aren't there. This sadly means that there isn't a vast amount of variation, and I found myself being rather unexcited after the fifth track of chugging, djent-styled, stop/start music.
While the album isn't a bad one as such, as a whole it can be a bit much to listen to. But having said that, a track at a time here and there, and I'm confident I would enjoy it.
Musically it is nice to hear some different vocal styles over the djent sound, rather than the typical shouting/growling/out-of-place clean vocals that you tend to get with it, but aside from that I wasn't particularly thrilled as a whole. However, as I said, split it up and listen to it a bit at a time, mixed in with other music, and it would be thoroughly enjoyable; I just find that all of it, at once, is too much. For fans of Periphery, Meshuggah, Devin Townsend.
Screams Behind the Whispers (4:49), Stargazing (6:58), A.S.I. (The Singularity) (7:59), Event Horizon (5:49), The Screams Empire (Suite I) Random Frequencies (7:04), The Screams Empire (Suite II) The Arrival (6:37), The Screams Empire (Suite III) A Quest in Time (7:56), The Screams Empire (Suite IV) Resistance (7:28), Adrift (4:49)
Silver Key is a quintet of Milanese neo-proggers, and The Screams Empire is the follow-up to the band's 2012 debut, In the Land of Dreams. The debut was favourably reviewed in these pages.
This new work is a science-fiction concept album that moves from an Erich von Daniken-like ancient alien contact opening, through the creation of artificial intelligence, to space travel. This is all dressed up in sturdy, well-played and produced neo-prog. The tracks have a lot packed into them and are chock-full of a Marillion-like melodicism.
The opening track, Screams Behind the Whispers, displays quite a pop-prog nous in its catchy chorus, one that recalls Sound of Contact's Pale Blue Dot. Nice to hear an album kicking off in the old fashioned way, with what could be the lead single. On Stargazing, the singer Yuri Abietti betrays the time, through the 90s, when Silver Key were a renowned Marillion tribute act. But it is only here that his strong voice, and almost accent-less English, echoes the vocal mannerisms of Fish.
Silver Key produces neo-prog with great guitar and keyboard interplay, as well as having a bit of jazz-rock edge (Event Horizon). They move into heavier territory in both the super A.S.I. (The Singularity) and in sections of the four-part epic The Screams Empire suite. The latter is, in parts, like Rush doing neo-prog.
All in all, Silver Key's The Screams Empire is a compact and interesting slice of science fiction neo-prog. No time is wasted on pointless noodling or attempts to make spacey soundscapes, which is to its credit. With this album Silver Key would easily keep company with Pallas, IQ and Arena.