ISSUE 2016-68

2016 X-mas Special
Reviews in this issue:

Dewa Budjana - Zentuary
Dewa Budjana - Zentuary
Country of Origin: Indonesia
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 51:04, 49:59
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Dancing Tears (9:16), Solas PM (9:18), Lake Takengon (7:45), Suniakala (8:42), Dear Yulman (8:22), Rerengat Langit (Crack In The Sky) (7:38).
CD 2: Pancaroba (8:13), Manhattan Temple (10:03), Dedariku (10:49), Ujung Galuh (7:13), Uncle Jack (10:53), Zentuary (2:49)
Beneath the slick, polished exterior of Dewa Budjana's latest CD Zentuary, it soon becomes apparent that this is an album subtly adept at melding jazz and rock with flavourings of south east Asia. It is an album that is skilfully embossed with these elements, which form a part of Budjana's trademark style. It is arguably this stimulating combination of east and west stylings that gives Zentuary a sharp cutting-edge, and that raises it above the mantle of being just another sweetly played fusion album.

The tunes are complex and highly persuasive. The playing throughout is exemplary, and so it should be, for as well as highlighting the fluid guitar skills of Budjana, Zentuary features the talents of a range of prestigious players, including Tony Levin, Gary Husband, Jack Dejohnette, Danny Markovich, Guthrie Govan, Saat Syah, Ubiet, Risa Saraswati and The Czech Symphony Orchestra.

This release exhibits a stimulating combination of technical prowess and an ability to warmly deliver a series of heartfelt melodies. It is highly recommended to anybody who likes the music of Pat Metheny or Larry Coryell and indeed to anybody who appreciates flawlessly composed and performed instrumental music.

The packaging of the album displays a great attention to detail, whilst Budjana's extensive and informative sleeve notes provide an interesting backdrop for many of the album's pieces. The cover art is also richly evocative, and hints of the ambience and range of emotions that are expressed in the music.

The two-disc set features six tunes on each disc, and with the exception of the album's closing title track, all the pieces have running times which exceed seven minutes. The longest piece on the album is Uncle Jack, which lasts just under 11 minutes. The running time of these pieces is crucial in setting out the distinct style of the album, as it enables introductory sections to be carefully presented and gives ample opportunities for musical ideas to be explored and developed. In turn this provides a platform for numerous solos to be executed, which embellish and complement a high proportion of the tunes.

Each piece contains aspects that might be considered outstanding. This might be in the manner that each tune has been composed and arranged, or in the dazzling way that it is performed. The album is littered with many exceptional performances, such as Levin's upright bass work in Solas and his glorious bass-led intro in the wonderful Suniakala. I also love Saat Syah's wonderful, misty, dew-lit atmospheric flute introduction in Rerengat Langit, which gives the piece an earthy feel. It lays a foundation that is richly inviting and carries an ability to create and maintain interest. From this opulently-adorned beginning, that is so enticingly filled with mystique, Budjana is later able to unleash an unpredictable and fiery solo that is probably my favourite guitar part on the album.

The overall impression given throughout, is that this is an album that is diamond-etched in quality and has excellence seeping from every pore.

Lake Takengon is particularly alluring and appealing. It ripples and rhythmically bubbles, spits and fizzes like a simmering cauldron, as the players combine to underpin a quick-fire succession of vocalised parts, which take centre stage to demand a listener's attention. The snappy, wordless vocals give this piece a unique feel that is in sharp contrast to the other tunes. At times reminiscent of the style of Zeptelar, but any such comparison is transitory when Budjana delivers a superbly crafted solo that sets his own unique stamp on proceedings. This is followed by the soothing menace of a marauding synth solo that not only has the flowing elegance to capture heads and hearts, but that also delivers excellence in every note.

Suniakala is probably the most atmospheric of the tunes on offer. In this piece the orchestral parts offer a perfect contrast to the slurs and wails of Guthrie Govan's guitar. His solo bellows, in carefully-constructed anguish, to reach out towards the ether. Upon its conclusion it is delicately complimented by Budjana's fine work on acoustic guitar.

Budjana's playing is full of invention. He presents a wide range of emotions through the effects and tones chosen, and is a hugely expressive player. The album provides numerous opportunities for him to demonstrate his versatility and all round mastery of his instrument, and he does this to great effect and with great aplomb.

Budjana's performance throughout Zentuary marks a real step forward from the already excellent standard demonstrated in his previous releases. For me, the most noticeable aspect of his performance lies in the versatile range of styles that he is able to adopt. These extend from the subtle jazz stylings of his beautifully assembled solo in Ujung Galuh, to the Fripp-like tones of Pancaroba.

In Zentuary, Budjana adds an extra wow factor, by introducing into a number of his solos a rawer feel that provides the listener with generous amounts of edge-of-the-seat excitement as his spotlight parts develop. This gives the album an extra bite that contrasts superbly with the polish and refined nature of the ensemble as a whole.

That craft and polish which is apparent in each of the players' performance is one of the album's greatest strengths. It is a release that is sweetly garlanded by the freedom of expression that jazz musicians often possess, and wears an air of improvisation which sits very comfortably alongside the earthy expressiveness and sophisticated range of sounds provided by the south east Asian instrumentation that comes to the fore from time to time.

Overall the balance is somewhat in favour of the western-influenced players, over their south sast Asian counterparts. It was therefore somewhat refreshing to witness the live stream in November, which showcased Zentuary being interpreted and performed by a raft of Indonesian-based players. The result was refreshing, full of improvisation and innovation, and above all was totally compelling.

Not to take anything from the illustrious performers featured so superbly on these two discs, but in a live setting the music came energetically to life, possessing edginess and authenticity that was entirely beneficial to the album's outstanding compositions. I hope that this superb live performance and rendition of this magnificent album is released before too long in a combined CD / DVD package.

In the meantime, the CD version of Zentuary is an excellent album in its own right and will no doubt provide many hours of listening pleasure. If superbly-constructed fusion appeals, I can do no more than to state that this album is highly recommended and should be heard and experienced.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 9.5 out of 10

Flux - Shadowlines
Flux - Shadowlines
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 38:40
Links:
Track List:
Night Tide (4:33), Horizon (3:35), Sundown (3:42), Shadowlines (5:31), Tears of Dust (4:42), Closer (2:45), String Theory (4:07), Simple Joys (2:50), Red Shift (3:09), Hush (3:46)
Ah, borders! Or rather, going without borders. That is exactly what happens on this debut from this London-based four-piece. The band themselves play violin, bansuri, percussion, bass guitar, guitar and piano, and they are a band that weaves a fascinating cinematic scope in their music. On some tracks, double bass, a string quartet and drums maybe added. Yet most of the songs do without. For the most part, the album is wholly instrumental. Only three songs feature vocalists. In Sundown, Sabiyha sings very beautifully and attracts a lot of the attention with her voice, while the music, more in the background, is equally impressive.

Tanya Wells is the other singer on the album. Her voice can be heard in both Tears of Dust and Simple Joys. The band has picked two different singers, yet the way the singing is immersed in the whole of the music, makes the whole of the album very coherent. That is what is fascinating about this album. The ten tracks paint global musical pictures, and challenge the listeners in the way that the tracks develop, taking on forms different than they might have had at the start of each song. The music demands and draws attention as the instruments pull you in, whether that be the violin, bansuri, guitar or piano.

The music that is brought forward offers a natural flow and urgency to the songs. Not in a way that the music is to be forced onto the listener, the urgency to me is found in the way the songs sound both universal, and in the way they speak to the human spirit. Now that might come over as woolly, yet there is an appeal in Flux's sound that speaks from, and to, the heart. It doesn't take much time before Horizon has your mind wandering off, with first the flute leading the way, then switching to guitar, before we get the flute back again. And, let's not forget, there's the rocky second part of the song that can have you enthralled before you even know it.

Shadowlines offers 10 diverse musical impressions of what this world, of what this life, is about and, with a general positive feel, that is what this album brings to the table. A lot of creativity and love went into the making of it, and the result is as pure as it is enthralling.

For sure, ye olde progge lovers may find that this is not prog at all, but then again, this is music that dares to be adventurous and progressive in all its folkyness, and in that respect, it is a thing of beauty.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8.5 out of 10

Fractal Mind - Stainless
Fractal Mind - Stainless
Country of Origin: Poland
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 51:45
Links:
Track List:
Kaballah (1:40), Pilgrim (2:45), Hellbound (5:26), Stainless (4:18), Sleepwalkers Dance (4:19), REM (4:13), Chrysalis (4:00), My Oleander (4:16), Dreamriver (2:38), Airborne (5:06), Chant of Life (3:26), Eldorados (6:06), Still Life (3:32)
In this day and age of heavy music, there are some well established areas that frequently produce high quality bands: Norway, Sweden and Finland to name a few. But in recent years a new contender, in the form of Poland, has been emerging as a strong base for progressive metal, boasting bands such as Riverside and Coma amongst many others. Fractal Mind is another band to have come from that country, and they have made sure to live up to their countrymen's reputations.

The album opens with Kabllah, a short piece, to set a dark mood for the coming tracks. It builds on textures with tribal drums and moody rhythms, before the lyrics advise you to "just follow the rhythm of what your heart will hear". The sonic foundry lies ahead, before jumping into the heavy guitars of Pilgrim. This track being another short one, at under three minutes, but features a nice mix of guitars and drums, and an equally proggy mid-section reminiscent of some of Riverside's older albums.

The album continues like this, with harmonious and melodic leads and licks, whilst double bass drums kick in at just the right points to add a nice touch of heaviness. Proggy guitars feature throughout.

The guitar work is good, with many riffs that will get stuck in your head strewn through the album, as well as leads that add another healthy dose of heavy prog flavouring. The drums add the right amount of punch to it all. Meanwhile, the vocal talents of Marcin Walczak soar over the top, bringing voice to the emotions in the music.

Sometimes dark and brooding, sometimes heavy and proggy, this is an extremely well crafted album; a "sonic foundry" to use the phrase from the start.

We have elements of Riverside, particularly vocally, some hints or the harmonies from the likes of Insomnium, and other elements of Dream Theater and even Ghost Brigade (albeit minus the heavy growls) are scattered throughout the album.

On a personal note, I feel the album could have benefited from some harsh growled vocals, even just as some backing vocals to add a bit more depth to the singing parts. Marcin does a stellar job himself, but some of the heavy bits could have done with an extra bit of punch vocally. However, it is still a wonderful album that will be on heavy rotation, and I eagerly await the follow-up to this.
Conclusion:
Calum Gibson: 8 out of 10

The ID - IDiocracy
The ID - IDiocracy
Country of Origin: Multi-national
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 51:16
Links:
Track List:
Power And The Greed (9:21), Wide Of The Mark (9:31), Will The Future Hold (3:03), Attack (3:50), Epitaph (8:37), Now That You're Loving Me (4:38), Reprise (5:38), Ending / Outro (6:38)
As their Facebook page puts it, The ID is a "worldwide band keeping prog rock alive". Idiocracy is their debut from 2015 and there is little doubt of the bands who influenced them. The term NEO was made for an album like this and the mark of early Marillion and IQ is apparent. That is not meant as a critical comment, as there are some great albums that fall into this category, and if done well, I don't mind music that is reflective of great bands of the past. There are elements of a great recording in IDiocracy, but at times it also falls victim to its limited production values. At times sounding under-produced, the heavy use of drum programming doesn't help either.

That said, there are some extremely solid moments to be found on IDiocracy. Wide of the Mark, the instrumental Attack and the Marillion-esque Epitaph all work quite well. In fact, nothing on this album is bad. Looking at it from a songwriting perspective though, it doesn't rise to a high level on a consistent-enough basis. The shorter tracks in particular didn't jell for me. I found myself thinking that the talent and elements were there for this band to produce a very good album. Coincidently, they do have a newer release, which I will definitely look into.

The performances are good and I liked that the band is not showy. They do tend to focus on the song, rather than over-flexing their musical muscles. In particular, there are some entertaining instrumental moments that fall into that classic, understated Genesis style. I would put The ID in the category of a band with a lot of potential, and IDiocracy as a modestly successful debut. It definitely contains some good material and is strong enough to keep me interested as to where they go from here. I do believe there is a great album in this band, but from my perspective, IDiocracy merely falls more into the area of a good album.
Conclusion:
Patrick McAfee: 6.5 out of 10

Kyros - Vox Humana
Kyros - Vox Humana
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 83:34
Links:
Track List:
CD 1 - Vox Humana (0:28), Technology Killed the Kids II (7:41), Cloudburst (6:02), Persistence of Vision (5:49), The Lamb, the Badger & the Bee (6:41), New Paradigm (8:58)
CD 2 - Mind Electric (5:53), Speak to Me (4:22), Persistence of Perfection (4:59), Monster (4:50), Hounds (3:08), The Darkness Grove (3:12), Boiling Point (5:53), Ego (5:02), Dilate (8:17)
I was one full listem into the "debut" album by Kyros before I realised that I had heard the band before. Formally known as Synaesthesia, Vox Humana is the first release under their new moniker. It is also a double album, which is a risky move for any band. Obviously though, they had a lot to say, and credit where it is due, this is a diverse album brimming with creative sounds and, unlike many double albums, very few repeating of themes. It's a lot of music to take in, but it is clear that the band felt that they had much to prove with their new name.

From a performance perspective, the entire band impresses, but special mention must be made of keyboardist Adam Warne. I really enjoyed, not only the variety of keys in play, but also the style in which they are used. He employs a very melodic technique that I am confident would be enjoyed by many a prog fan. Speaking for myself, some of the keyboard moments certainly had me smiling. The same could be said for all of the performances, as well as the album in general. Alhough there is a reflective nod to progressive rock of the past, nothing sounds particularly dated or like a rehash of other bands. It is modern and fresh, while still employing some traditional prog sounds.

Though there are metal elements to be found as well, I found the strongest tracks to be the more symphonic in nature. A perfect example of this is New Paradigm, which is easily a highlight of the album. That said, the metal stylings are often effective and generally avoid prog metal's clichs. Other key tracks include the pop-infused Cloudburst, the instrumental Speak to me, the adventurous Persistence of Perfection and the powerhouse closing half of the album, consisting of Boiling Point, Ego and Dilate. This is a double album that never really drags. Yes, there are tracks that are more successful than others, but overall this is a long recording that warrants its length.

Young bands like Kyros give the genre hope. This group of talented musicians is obviously enthusiastic about prog, and that is reflected in abundance on Vox Humana. It is well produced, written and performed. But most of all, it is an impressive and entertaining musical statement. If part of their goal was to be noticed in a crowded prog genre,then Mission Accomplished!
Conclusion:
Patrick McAfee: 8.5 out of 10

Minimum Vital - Pavanes
Minimum Vital - Pavanes
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 45:48, 49:01
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Javary & Montago (3:59), La Basse Danse (6:39), Valadon (4:10), La Pavane (4:28), Rodeo (3:48), Le Prisonnier Hollandais (2:45), Maria Flies (4:30), Suite en Poussiere de Lune (3:38), Folkish (8:45), Villages (3:03)
CD 2: Saladin (5:31), Yassim (5:17), Sur Tes Pas (5:31), L'Enfance des Sages (8:04), Le Tourdion (5:51), Chanter Toujours (6:19), Ende Limbo (4:35), Soleil Den (3:46), Suite Iberanique (4:06)
When this double CD of this band landed on my desk, already a considerable time ago, I instinctively decided to shove this one into my CD player. I receive so many albums every week here at DPRP; I don't have the time to listen to them all, but for some reason I picked this one out. Maybe intrigued by the sleeve featuring 3 people with animal masks playing rather un-proggy instruments in a forest. Could be I doubted if this album actually should be of any interest to us, genre wise. I was very happy to give these discs a spin since I was pleasently surprised with what I heard; finally something different than the endless stream of unoriginal copy-cats and bands think they are truly progressive by playing metal that you can't headbang to. So I decided that I would review this album myself for a change. Unfortunately it took me ages to get the review finished, for which I apologize; life at the DPRP office it not easy (you don't have to pity me though ;-) ).

Diving into the relatively limited amount of info I could find on this band I discovered that band already exists since 1982 and is formed by the twin brothers Thierry and Jean-Luc Payssan and with the addition of Eric Rebeyrol they are a just a trio. I say 'just' because their music sounds like there are more people involved. But Jean-Luc plays all acoustic and electric guitars, just as the traditional instruments oud and saz. Together with his brother he also does the percussions and the occasional vocals. Thierry plays the keyboards besides that and Eric the bass, sax and horn. Three guest musicians add midi drums and vocals to the album.

Even though they already exist a very long time, the band Minimum Vital was totally unknown to me before. There are not many French prog influenced bands that get noticed outside their country and most of them don't even try that. With their first album released in 1987, this release is their 8th studio album (not counting the live and solo albums or under another name). Apparently there were also 2 albums released under the name Vital Duo; I assume just the twins were on these.

I've thought long how to describe the music on this album. Since it's very varied there isn't really one label you can stick on it. Almost all songs are instrumental and the sparse vocals are more melodic shoutings or just a few words than real singing. There's a very acoustic, melodic and medieval atmosphere on the album. Not only beacuse of the use of some traditional instruments, but also because of the song structures; you feel you're listening to very old melodies, but then played in a modern way. The harmonies on this album are truly great; this was probably the element of this album that catched me at the first instant I listened to it. Excellent musicianship is what bursts out of the speakers and the music is just sparkling and loaded with creativity. Surely this music is to plain and traditional for several prog-heads, but when truly listening to it you can grasp the complexity and inventiveness of this music. This is truly progressive music since it surprises, since it's different and is genuine creative music. The music has some very infectious rhythms. It's a sort of art-rock with influences from gypsy, fusion, medieval and southern European traditional musics. A truly unique and very exciting mix resulting in great, progesssive and stunning exciting music every prog lover should explore. One can hear elements of Mike Oldfield, Gryphon, Jethro Tull and even Yes. The band now have a new live album out called Connexions.

I'll give this album a DPRP recommendation, because it really stands out, is truly progressive in its own way and because the quality of the musicianship is so high.
Conclusion:
Joris Donkel: 8 out of 10

Seven Impale - Contrapresso
Seven Impale - Contrapresso
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 67:41
Links:
Track List:
Lemma (8:59), Heresy (7:16), Inertia (9:10), Langour (7:39), Ascension (1:38), Convulsion (5:06), Helix (9:16), Serpentstone (7:21), Phoenix (11:14)
Seven Impale's previous album, City of The Sun, ended with the epic piece God Left Us for a Black Dressed Woman. This piston-thumping highlight utilised a full-bodied, foreboding ensemble sound and was a fully-charged piece of epic proportions. Although tightly coiled, its lengthy duration allowed the players ample opportunities to explore a range of different styles.

The band's latest offering, Contrapasso, sees a continuation and successful development of Seven Impale's impressive knack of mixing disparate forms of music.

God left us for a Black Dressed Woman must have been considered by the band to have been an important compositional and stylistic milestone, as aspects of its melody and structure are intentionally revisited in the middle section of the opening piece, Lemma, and later in the charming and tranquil sounds of the glorious interlude Ascension.

Contrapasso is an interesting and thought-provoking album that rewards the effort of getting to grips with it over a period of time. Whilst City of The Sun was, for the most part, an accessible release which contained a clearly defined feel and sound, Contrapasso treads a much-less clearly defined path. There is a greater willingness to experiment and take compositional risks. When this succeeds, as in the fusion-based, multi-coloured tints of Langour, the results are very impressive.

There are times though, when greater consistency and a little more adherence to some of the usual conventions regarding song writing might have been more advantageous in creating a potentially more accessible style, and therefore for some, a more satisfying listening experience.

For example, Heresy is a tune of expressive creativity which, despite some neat melodic twists, cannot disguise the fact that for many listeners it may incorporate too many interludes containing a number of disparate styles. The unexpected electronic effects that emerge in the middle section and conclude the piece, could well, I imagine, have many a classic prog fan reaching in frustration for the stop button.

Heresy is an ambitious piece which boldly lays the band's abilities and credentials on the table. It is by turns eccentric, serious, challenging, accessible, melodic and discordant. To cap it off, the vocal and instrumental performances are absolutely superb. I immediately enjoyed this piece, and at the time of writing this review I am still smitten!

Inertia also ticks all the right boxes for edgy, creative endeavour, and although I am not over-keen on the relentless nature of the pulsating tune which dominates proceedings, it is satisfyingly punctuated by a series of magnificent instrumental breaks.

Seven Impale is a young band, and in Contrapasso they have demonstrated the confidence to move their art forward in a quest to develop the repertoire of styles at their disposal. They have become adept at pushing and breaking-down stylistic boundaries as part of the process of establishing their own distinct voice, and for that they should be whole-heartedly commended.

The strident use of the saxophone in tracks such as Heresy and Convulsion, coupled with the overall expressive vocal performance of Stian Økland, reminded me on more than one occasion of Van Der Graaf Generator.

Languor is a great example of the range of vocal styles at Økland's disposal. In this tune he has the crystal vocal inflections that are such a prominent part of bands such as the Dead Can Dance, or the Divine Comedy. It is a tune that is skilfully composed and arranged. In Languor, unexpected twists and thoughtfully-formed instrumental interludes and textures frequently have dominance over the direction that the tune might be expected to take. When the wide range of styles on offer combine in perfect harmony, they propel the piece towards progressive excellence. It contains such a kaleidoscopic melting pot of sounds, that I doubt I will ever tire of it.

The album has the potential, for some listeners, to be a mind-numbingly intensive affair, and at over an hour long, its unrelenting, turbo-charged nature can be quite an exhausting experience in one sitting.

The production was at times not as distinct as some listeners might like, or have come to expect. This was particularly the case in Serpentstone where the band seemed to have opted for a phalanx of sound, designed to overcome any preference a listener might have to pick out individual instruments in the ensemble parts. Nevertheless, the solo parts which highlight some inspiring sax work, are vividly captured and sound excellent.

If you appreciate bands such as Virus, Van Der Graaf Generator and Motopsycho then I think that you will find much to enjoy in this elaborate and daringly-bold release. Contrapasso has certainly grown on me. I have become increasingly impressed with its ambition, scope and desire to create something that strives to be vibrant, and different. In this respect, it succeeds much more often than it fails, and I am sure that it is an album that I will revisit on many occasions.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10

Soniq Theater - Globaliced
Soniq Theater - Globaliced
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 54:25
Links:
Track List:
The Great Wall of China (6:13), Ayers Rock (4:49), Alhambra (4:19), Ice in the Tropics (5:00), Lake Vernon (3:44), Global Village (3:34), A Day in Detroit (6:08), Sierra Nevada (1:48), Silicon Valley (2:36), Provence (3:01), Glacier (3:04), Western Skylines (6:50), Peruvian Skies (3:17)
Soniq Theater is quite unique you might say. Alfred Mueller is the musical mastermind behind already 15 albums, Globaliced being the 16th, in which he ventures out in a musical way, with the controls set for the heart of symphonic rock but taking in diverse styles from metal, ambient and electronic music, to fusion and even classical music.

You can hear influences from various keyboard players, as Mueller's influences are almost too numerous to mention. What Alfred does on this album, is try to go on a musical trip around the world, while at the same time incorporating different musical influences. There are tracks that can really hold their own, such as Alhambra, Provence and Glacier, yet there are also tracks that make you wonder about whether the 1980s have really gone. The opening track in particular takes you way back through time, and drops you to a backyard of relics from movies like Beverly Hills Cop or Back To The Future.

Even though I appreciate all the work that must have gone into the writing and making of this album, the sound isn't always inviting. That isn't helped by the fact that a number of the tracks have you thinking that they weren't all that difficult in the making, and come out not as challenging as they might have been. There have been several moments that I thought I must have been sitting in one of the attractions at the Efteling amusement park.

My mind starts to wander as I read from Soniq Theater's website: "Recommended to all open-minded progressive rock-fans, and appreciated as well by 'normal people' with some musical education." I do consider myself both open-minded, a progressive rock fan and "normal", yet with melodies far easier than Genesis's Congo, I find it very impressive that Alfred has already released such a vast body of work. Mind, DPRP has favourably reviewed a good body of his work.

It may well be that electronic music has to be what you live for. It may well be that Tomita, Vangelis and Gandalf rocked your boat in the 1980s. That is the feeling I get when listening to this music. If that indeed is what you fancy, this album might well be for you. For those wishing to have keyboard players stretching themselves a bit more, I would not easily recommend this.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 6 out of 10

Symphony Novel - Aria (EP) + Ethereal Ash (single)
Symphony Novel - Aria (EP) + Ethereal Ash (single)
Country of Origin: India
Year of Release: 2013/2014
Time: 26:12
Links:
Track List:
EP: Chant (5:33), The Lake (4:51), Disorder (4:01), Infirmity (3:32), Tranquilize (4:10), Smokin Sap (4:02)
single: Ethereal Ash (6:58)
India is quietly becoming a hotbed of outward-looking progressive rock, generally with a heavy (metal) intent. I have already reviewed the excellent debut album by Hindu rockers Coshish and also hailed Rainburn's highly impressive EP, Canvas of Silence, both of which mix and meld styles from across the world. Both bands recently embarked on ProgWorks on Wheels, India's first ever progressive rock tour, which successfully hit five cities around the country with local prog bands as support.

Hailing from Mumbai, Symphony Novel style themselves as a "progressive metal, symphonic rock, alternative metal band". Started by guitarist Rachit Sachdeva in early 2012, this is their debut EP and a follow-up single. In the old days, this would be called Demo 1 and Demo 2, but none-the-less interesting for those keen to explore the exciting, emerging scene in this part of the sub-continent.

As the name suggests, the EP's opener Chant mixes traditional Indian female chanting with some NYOBHM-style riffage. The beginning (with the singing) is more successful than the ending (without).

On The Lake, Bhavika Shetty is replaced with the more western style of main band singer Gauri Aayeer. This has a lovely folkish vibe to it that would appeal equally to fans of iamthemorning and All About Eve. Again though, the somewhat stuttering drums and electronic-style guitar drags the song down, with a poor sound and lack of identity and purpose. We have two instrumentals. Disorder begins with a lovely acoustic guitar passage which builds carefully, Metallica-like, before bursting into a NWOBHM/Iron Maiden tribute band vein. Dated. Very dated. Tranquilize is a reject from Maiden's Soundhouse sessions. Skip.

Infirmity returns the theme back to a fusion of Indian chants and metal. Both singers feature, and when they do it is clear that this should be the path that the band follows. The mix of clean, western, gothic metal vocalising and Indian chants is unique and rather intoxicating. Again the riffing is pedestrian and out-of-date and the drum sound is horrible. The guitar solo and break around the three minute mark is more effective, but the song needs to evolve into a second phase and be twice as long. Closer, Smokin Sap is a stompin' bar room blues rock song. Not an inch of prog, and for a "symphonic" prog band I have not heard a single note of keyboards.

Conclusion: This is very much a band searching for an identity. If they want a future in progressive rock circles then they need to ditch the NWOBHM guitar stylings, ditch the blues rock stylings, extend their songs past the four-minute mark and invest in better production. Pronto! The whole EP sounds very thin behind the vocals, and the songs lack any compositional depth. The vocals are the only saving grace. The band needs to build, and better combine the use of both singers, whilst building an instrumental background that compliments that cultural fusion, rather than distracts and cheapens it.

That was going to be my review, until, whilst researching the band, I discovered that a single, Ethereal Ash had been released a year after this EP (it takes a bit of time for things to filter through to Europe). And wow! If only I had reviewed the EP when it was released; then I could have taken all the credit for offering a staggeringly accurate critique (smile icon!).

For this single the band has done everything I said they should. The Indian chant vocals (this time by Suvarna Tiwari) have been taken up a notch or three, and now perfectly blend with the more Lacuna Coil phrasing employed by Gauri Aayeer. Beautiful. The guitars chugg away behind, but the solo is crisp and challenging, and the use of classical Indian cello takes the whole song to another level. This is brilliant songwriting. The extended playing time allows the themes to wander, repeat and evolve.

And the production? Holy Cow! The band took their single all the way to Australia to have it mixed and mastered by Forrester Savell (Karnivool, Sikth and Dead Letter Circus). An immaculate sound. The artwork for both releases is classy, and if continued in this style, will give the band a unique identity and further emphasise their cultural roots. (They still need a keyboard player though).

It could actually be the plot from a novel: From no-hopers to a-band-to-watch in just one little single. Amazing.

(If you'd like to check out some other Indian bands, then the following were part of the ProgWorks on Wheels tour: The Uncertainty Principle, Passages, Pangea, Fraunikus, Celestial Teapot, and Stuck In November)
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 3 out of 10

Withem - The Unforgiving Road
Withem - The Unforgiving Road
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 46:57
Links:
Track List:
Intro (2:03), Exit (5:29), In The Hands Of A God (4:53), The Pain I Collected (4:17), Riven (5:50), C'est La Vie (6:28), The Eye In The Sky (3:52), Arrhythmia (3:45), In My Will (3:28), Unaffected Love (5:36), Outro (1:16)
Withem are another power metal band from Norway, a country that is the birthplace of black metal, but is now becoming known for the large number of progressive power metal bands that are striking out from the country's Nordic shores. The Unforgiving Road is the band's second album after they formed in 2011. Interestingly, founding drummer Frank Nordeng Røe is currently live drumming for fellow Norwegian progsters Circus Maximus.

The album is a good, solid power-prog album with lots of technical guitar riffs and fills coming from Øyvind Voldmo Larsen, soaring powerful vocals and atmospheric keys. Everything is combined to create numerous fast and mid-tempo songs, all very well constructed and executed. The vocals of Ole Aleksander Wagenius are fantastic, showing a talent for being soulful and powerful. Throughout the album, there are elements of Dream Theater to be found, with the trade-offs between Larsen and Ketil Ronold on keyboards a particular feature.

Unfortunately the album isn't anything new, so while it is filled with a lot of catchy songs and plenty of hooks to draw you in, and I did enjoy it, I did find it a bit difficult to get overly excited. That does not mean it is a bad album though, it is a very good and solid power/prog album, with few bad points on it and it is perfectly listenable. Just not something that has not been heard many times before.

It will be listened to again though, maybe not frequently, but it is definitely an album that I'll dig out any time the fiancé wants to choose the music that night! Recommended for fans of Avantasia, Seventh Wonder and Symphony X.
Conclusion:
Calum Gibson: 7 out of 10

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Published Sunday 25 December 2016

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