ISSUE 2016-69

2016 New Year's Eve Special
Reviews in this issue:

Animals As Leaders - The Madness of Many
Animals As Leaders - The Madness of Many
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 53:13
Links:
Track List:
Arithmophobia (6:03), Ectogenesis (4:57), Cognitive Contortions (4:31), Inner Assassins (5:31), Private Visions of the World (4:58), Backpfeifengesicht (4:28), Transcentience (5:33), The Glass Bridge (5:05), The Brain Dance (7:02), Aepirophobia (4:58)
The Madness of Many is the fourth album from progressive metal band Animals As Leaders, and is an intense and varied journey through most of the heavier styles in today's progressive music. It features mostly guitar-based riffing and mathematically dizzying song structures. While this may not appeal to all (or some) casual progressive fans, it is certainly a stellar showcase of the band's undeniable talents.

Many prog fans will recognise Animals As Leaders for their 2015 song Physical Education, featuring a popular tongue-in-cheek YouTube video in which karma has the last say. The Madness of Many follows the same general formula, equal parts djent and jazz fusion, but they also throw in a healthy variety of rock and even some classical. The last track is an entirely classical guitar piece, but true to the mood of the rest of the album the composition is dark and brooding, so not to feel too far from the menacing character of the album.

Instrumental fans will enjoy the album the most. There are no vocals and in some cases melody and musical themes are barely discernible. This is the primary failing of the music, as it's difficult to "get into" some of the songs without many repeat listens. Even after a dozen or more times through the album, I still don't always know what song I'm listening to/where I am in the playlist. In a roundabout way I'm suggesting those who like songs that rely on catchy melodies, to anchor the listener, will not find much to enjoy here.

Now that us music geeks are alone, let's get to the core of what makes many of these songs fantastic. Think The Aristocrats with more metal edginess. From the opening minutes of Arithmophobia you can sense this is going to be a heady, angular journey. The blending of King Crimson inspired figures with modern, muscular guitars, results in an artful ferocity that pushes the boundaries of good progressive taste. By the end of the first track I usually feel spent!

Many of the songs feature a full assortment of clicks, squonks, taps, flutters, flicks, pops, and squeaks. They rightfully use their stringed instruments as percussive agents, much to the benefit of the music. The middle section of Ectogenesis features some masterful double-kick drum, paired with precise, muted tap work on guitar. It may be my favorite moment on the entire recording.

There's no shortage of excellent lead guitar work and brilliant drumming. These moments can get overshadowed by the sheer scope of the compositions, but with more plays I started to pick out certain lead sections that shine through.

My only criticism is that there is a lot here for us mere mortals to absorb. Most of the tracks have layers upon layers of instrumentation, making it difficult to pull it all apart in my mind. On top of this, instruments sound as though they're sometimes playing in different time signatures, which further thwarts my efforts to make sense of it all. The benefit to this depth of design is that with repeat listens I find elements I may not have picked up before. The trade-off is being a bit overwhelmed initially, which can turn someone away before they play the song enough times to finally start making sense of what they're hearing.

The experience is relentless and the music top notch. I cannot fathom giving this anything but a recommended rating, and I understand why others have placed this album high on their 2016 prog best-of lists. It deserves the praise. Although it may not be accessible, it's the logical conclusion that is progressive metal.
Conclusion:
Kevin Heckeler: 9 out of 10

Ashby - Fragmental
Ashby - Fragmental
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 64:27
Links:
Track List:
The Faceless And The Shore (5:00), Aether - The Lunar Year (13:06), Ashes Decay (9:43), Pax (6:06), The Colossal Empire (13:17), Holy Water (6:49), A Question Never Heard (10:26)
Ashby is a young band from Germany that plays melodic prog with a metallic edge. Since it is still quite exotic in progressive rock, it should be mentioned that the vocalist is female. Fragmental is their debut album. The album is mixed by Christian "Moschus" Moos and mastered by Eroc, both known for their work with Everon (as a musician, Eroc was of course part of Grobschnitt), which also gives a good hint what to expect musically. The production is powerful and professional.

So far the facts. Now to the music. It's melodic prog with a harder edge, but not really prog metal, although in parts it gets rather heavy. Drums, bass and guitar lay a solid foundation, the "colour" is added by keyboardist Joel von der Heiden, who mainly uses piano, organ and string sounds, except for some solo leads. So there's not much for the retro or electronic fan here. Rather plain and timeless.

The focus lies on the compositions, which are varied and quite mature. The band can flawlessly change the tempo and mood within the songs, which is often a problem in prog, when different parts are glued together without any real connection. The opener The Faceless And The Shore, Aether - The Lunar and the first long track Ashes Decay are quite strong for a young band's debut album.

Sadly the band is unable to keep this high level throughout the whole album. The ballad Pax has a fine melody and is a nice contrast to the rockin' rest, but maybe it is a bit too long. The second 10-minute-plus track, The Colossal Empire, has a very strong beginning, and the musicians again are showing their skills, but somehow I cannot find a golden thread here. The last two tracks Holy Water (which is by far the heaviest) and A Question Never Heard both have sections that I find great, but Ashby can not maintain this quality throughout the songs. The beautiful guitar solo in the end is a worthy finale to the album.

What makes the band especially outstanding are the vocals by Sabina Moser, which range from clean to raspy, powerful to wispy. Not as rough as Bonnie Tyler, but far from the ethereal, sometimes opera-like voices in most gothic metal bands. Tracy Hitchings might be a hint or Sandra Nasic from the Guano Apes. But Sabina Moser has a quite unique vocal style.

Musically I can recommend this album to all lovers of melodic (heavy) prog. No re-invention of the (prog) wheel is being attempted here, but the musicianship and production are very good and fans of bands like Everon, District 97 or even Haken will probably find a lot to enjoy. What makes this band special could also be the reason to dislike it: the female vocals. Just check out for yourself, to if you like the husky voice and special vocal style of Sabina Moser.
Conclusion:
Robert Zimmer: 7 out of 10

Dreamwaves - Elements
Dreamwaves - Elements
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 15:40
Links:
Track List:
Nines (3:38), Focus (3:19), Echo (4:39), Breeze (4:04)
Dreamwaves, a UK-based instrumental prog-metal quartet, has released a debut EP, Elements. According to the band, the music lies "between the instrumental dynamics of Cynic, SiKTh and Animals as Leaders. Indeed, the djent genre is firmly on display here; the rough-and-tumble, guitar-driven music screams and soars while it layers upon itself.

The first three tracks pour into each other. The opener, Nines, is standard metal guitar, until suddenly, for its final minute, it shifts into a keyboard ballad. It's two songs in one, really. Next is Focus, which stands out for the presence of a hook: a repeating, twisted guitar riff. Unlike its predecessor though, this song never loosens its high-energy grip. A bit lighter, at least in part, is Echo. The first half of the song is bubbly and subtle, and there's arguably a jazzy element, but a harder edge arrives without warning.

A bit different is the closer, Breeze, where the usually dominant guitar sounds are partnered, more equitably, with keyboards. The song also stands out for the excellent guitar shredding near its close.

In short, Elements is a solid example of the instrumental prog-metal genre. The playing is consistently tight and proficient, and the teamwork is impressive for a young band. Based on this all-too-brief, yet auspicious introduction, the odds are good that Dreamwaves will develop a following within its niche.
Conclusion:
Joel Atlas: 6.5 out of 10

Eden Shadow - Melodies for Maladies
Eden Shadow - Melodies for Maladies
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 59:20
Links:
Track List:
Ventriloquist (10:26), False Prophet (10:48), Burden of Power (7:31), Introspect Part 1 (4:17), Introspect Part 2 (19:00), Logos (6:20)
Musically it has been a strange year for me. There have been a lot of good albums, but only a trio of what I would describe as "can't stop playing" discs. One of these came from an expected source when Fates Warning produced one of the best albums from their long career, in the shape of Theories of Flight. The other two came from unexpected sources. The first, Odd Logic's stunning Penny For Your Thoughts arrived at the very start of 2016. The second, this album, came at the very end of the year.

Melodies for Maladies is the new album from UK trio Eden Shadow. Based in Guildford, the threesome has been around since 2011 and features Ryan Mark Elliott on vocals, guitars and keyboards, Alex Broben on bass, and Aled Lloyd on drums. They have already released two singles and two albums; none of which honestly warranted a second listen.

The step-up in class from those efforts to this collection of five progressively-metallic compositions is extraordinary. I read one other review of this disc which described it as being like "a flower that opens up slowly". At the risk of plagiarism, I must admit that that is a phrase which absolutely nails the pleasure of owning this album.

Take for example the voice of song-writer-in-chief Elliott. He is far from the traditional metal screamer, and on a first listen I was unconvinced. But soon, his perfect phrasing and melodic sense won me over. His melancholic, lower tone suits the music perfectly, and it works because his voice also posesses an inherant, restrained authority.

The main instrument on this record is the guitar, played masterfully by Elliott. The riffing is forcefully melodic and highly adventurous. The soloing is fluid, confident and flawlessly executed.

Big dark riffs dominate proceedings but there is plenty of contrast, thanks to some well-crafted, calmer passages, creating that evolving contrast in feel, dynamics and tempo required by the very best albums.

Try the opening track, Ventriloquist. A sombre melancholy pervades the opening third, held aloft by acoustic guitar and voice. Then a rollercoaster ride of firm, staccato riffing takes over, reminding me a little of Day Six. Another heavy influence on Eden Shadow must be the earlier albums of Canadian trio Rush. This is especially evident in the mix of acoustic and electric guitars, and the sudden but perfectly-judged changes of dynamics and musical styles. The final third of Ventriloquist does that prog-metal-thing as well as any track I have heard in the past 30 years.

False Prophet does a similar thing but with a more direct aggression. Again Day Six is brought to mind in some of the riffing, but the chorus has a very alt-rock feel to it amidst the aggression of latter-day Fates Warning (the lilting guitar halfway though, could have come from their X album). Chameleon-like would be an apt description.

There is a nice attention to detail on everything here, including the album cover by Colin Elgie. He is best known for doing the artwork for Trick of the Tail by Genesis (spot the similarities).

Elliott states that in writing the songs he wished "to provide a young person's response to the many things that seem to be incredibly messed up with the world". The first three songs of the album look at external maladies such as politics of fear, subterfuge, manipulation and war. The last three songs are more internal and personal, dealing with depression, anxiety and loss.

"I am especially concerned about the mental health issues of young people at the moment, and through this record, I aim to make some sense of all the suffering that's going on and encourage a sense of hope," he concludes.

The album's centrepiece is the epic Introspect. This is really one long song. (For some reason split by the band into two parts, but it could equally be split into ten). The suite features guest appearances from Theo Travis on flute and soprano saxophone, Stephen Presto on piano, and singer Emma Davidson and is a non-stop catalogue tour of the best that prog rock, heavy prog, prog metal and art rock can offer. The sax solo from Travis works a treat.

Logos brings the album to a symphonic, balladic close (again more contrast).

The only point of criticism is the production, which struggles to maintain its crispness in the heavier moments, with some annoying extra noise picked up with the guitar at times. The recruitment of a keyboard specialist would add another beneficial layer of interest and act as a counterpoint for some of Elliott's guitar work.

That aside, this album has brought a welcome boost to my end of year listening and stands as one of the most accomplished and enjoyable progressive metal albums of 2016. Highly recommended.
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 9 out of 10

Jeavestone - Human Games
Jeavestone - Human Games
Country of Origin: Finland
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 42:01
Links:
Track List:
Another (2:14), Repiphany (4:20), Human Games (4:04), Aurora Borealis Man (4:58), Dinner at Eight (4:54), Mean Words (3:48), Monkeys of Tycoon (5:05), Nuclear Superstar (5:47), The Leap of Faith (6:35)
Eclectic and strange. Amusing and fascinating. That's how I describe Human Games, the fourth album recorded by the Finnish band Jeavestone.

Since their last album, the band has lost flautist Angelina Galactique, thus becoming a quartet of Jim Goldworth, Mikey Maniac, Tommy Glorioso and Kingo. Yes, these guys use weird, badass stage names; and I love it! Nevertheless, this is just the core part in a long list of participants, which counts 13 musicians (or groups of musicians) involved as guests.

It is very difficult to label Jeavestone's music in a specific category. Throughout the album we find prog rock in a 70s style, plus pop, reggae, psychedelic, rap, space rock and post-rock. Basically you can love one song and hate the following one, but personally I had no troubles in finding something cool, interesting and peculiar in each of them. And that's why I really appreciate this band. In a modern progressive rock panorama, where many bands are trying to emulate music masterpieces of 40 years ago, it is a relief to know that some are still doing PROgressive Rock instead of REgressive Rock music.

Coming back to Human Games, Jeavestone welcomes the listeners with Another, a calm and intimistic song, mostly dominated by piano and voice. This is just an opening track leading to Repiphany, one of the best fragments of the whole record. The vocal lines are stuck in my head and the music is also very interesting. On the podium we also find Human Games and Nuclear Superblast, impressive for the choice of sounds, effects and composition.

However, I'd really like to draw your attention to Aurora Borealis Man, by far the most peculiar composition here. Indeed, we can spot four totally different but well interconnected styles, that are combined to create an amazing result. We begin with an interesting "progressive reggae" section, before breaking into a Finnish rap intrusion, thanks to the contribution of Dave Maijanen. This part might sound super strange for a non-Finnish listener who has listened to English lyrics through the whole album to this point (and also for Finnish listeners I dare to say). However, it's part of the peculiarity of the song and it is well connected with the rest of the track. In fact, this Finnish flow of words gently merges into the refrain, characterised by an interesting overlap of voices and melodies.

But we're not done with Aurora Borealis Man! Rap becomes reggae and reggae finally dies into a series of calm and psychedelic sounds. This is the beginning of an awesome oneiric crescendo, which explodes into a powerful progressive rock ending, reminding me of King Crimson (or Steven Wilson).

The album comes in a digipack made by Velvet Beat, depicting a psychedelic universe, with clouds towering over our planet. Lyrics (by Goldworth) are touching a range of topics such as social/human conditions, invented stories and ridiculous situations.

Overall, we are dealing with a very interesting album, which I recommend to anyone interested in new frontiers of progressive rock music. Open your mind and check it out. (Ed: Fans of Swedish band A.C.T. will also find much to enjoy here)
Conclusion:
Ale Dunzie: 8.5 out of 10

Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Strange Hobby
Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Strange Hobby
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 57:50
Links:
Track List:
Arnold Layne (2:59), Norwegian Wood (2:07), Pictures Of Matchstick Men (3:10), I Am A Rock (2:35), Boris The Spider (2:11), (Further Reflections) In The Room Of Percussion (3:11), Sunny Afternoon (3:29), See Emily Play (2:41), For No One (2:02), I Want You (2:38), Bus Stop (3:05), Flowers In The Rain (2:10), The Letter (2:08), Ride A White Swan (2:17), Sloop John B. (2:57), Daydream Believer (2:42), Catch The Wind (1:59), Ice In The Sun (2:25), Bonus Tracks: Pretty Girls (2:41), In The Room Of Percussion (2:59), Last Train To Clarksville (2:27), Ruby Tuesday (2:48)
Although Strange Hobby was uncredited when it was originally released in 1996, it didn't take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the man responsible was none other than Dutch prog-metal maestro Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Featuring cover versions of popular songs from the 1960s, it remains Lucassen's most mainstream offering to date, and a far cry from his more familiar work with Ayreon, Stream of Passion and Star One.

It's very much a one-man-band project with Lucassen responsible for vocals, instruments, arrangements and production. The songs selected are said to have influenced Lucassen in his formative years and the track listing reads like one of those numerous greatest hits compilations of the 1960s, albeit with a psychedelic bias, as depicted by the artwork.

Some, like me may be a little surprised (and disappointed) by Lucassen's choices. Naturally given the period, The Beatles, The Who, The Beach Boys, The Kinks and the like are represented, but the songs themselves are hardly top draw (Boris The Spider and Sloop John B. being obvious examples). Also, two songs by The Monkees (if you include the bonus tracks) is stretching credibility a little thin. That said, there's no complaints about the two Pink Floyd songs (Syd Barrett at his psychedelic peak), although I can't help thinking that Lucassen missed a trick by overlooking genuine classics like Nights In White Satin, Good Vibrations and Strawberry Fields Forever.

Every song receives that unmistakable Arjen Lucassen metal makeover, with crisp production, full-frontal guitar, power riffs and precisely articulated vocals. Upbeat tunes like Status Quo's Pictures Of Matchstick Men, The Hollies' Bus Stop and The Move's Flowers In The Rain work best in this context, capturing the spirit of the originals. The quirky charm of songs like Norwegian Wood and Sunny Afternoon are buried beneath Lucassen's unrelenting bombast.

This reissue features four bonus tracks released for the first time on CD. Lucassen's own composition, Pretty Girls, is pure pop and very much at home here, even observing the three-minute rule. An alternate version of In The Room Of Percussion features a lead vocal from Kaleidoscope frontman Peter Daltrey, who sang the song first time round. And if you're prepared for such a thing, there's even a thrash version of The Monkees' ditty Last Train To Clarksville.

For Arjen Lucassen fans, this may well be an essential purchase, although it should be approached with an open mind. Think of it as a top class musician exercising his right to let off some steam and have a little fun, and it works pretty well.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 6.5 out of 10

Maschine - Naturalis
Maschine - Naturalis
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 52:42
Links:
Track List:
Resistance (11:52), Night And Day (5:08), Make Believe (7:10), Hidden In Plain Sight (7:01), A New Reality (8:45), Megacyma (11:46)
As a lover of Maschine's debut album Rubidium, I was quite excited about their new effort, but after my first listen I was pretty much disappointed by what I got to hear. It took me quite some spins to arrange myself with what the band's sophomore album has to offer, and thus it took me a while to appreciate the album.

The first track, Resistance, one of the two long tracks that clock in at 11 minutes, follows the style of the debut, but also brings a slowed down pace by linking a rather static, spacey ambience, with a sharp metal riff. In that way it combines the rather static elements of Tangerine Dream, Eloy and maybe early Ultravox, with the best moments of Porcupine Tree. But it soon leads into an early 70s hippie song-style, with chord-strumming acoustic guitars and the every-day style singing, which was already the weak point of the debut. I'm not an expert in that genre, so my references to It's a Beautiful Day and America might be a bit weak, but these are artists that come to mind when I hear this.

And from here on, almost the entire album celebrates the flower power era with its light, happy, easy-listening songs. Although there are quite some prog and also extended fusion elements, especially in the instrumental setions, over all we're listening to some sort of elevator prog. Besides the aforementioned, The Tangent should be named as an influence, as well as the Canterbury style of Caravan.

Only the the closing track, the other 11 minute tune Megacyma, brings back the rollercoster ride through all sorts of prog rock and metal at a breathtaking pace, as we got to hear on Rubidium.

Over all it must have been a stretch for the band to create this album and trying to build an arc from an impressive, almost orchestral beginning, over a hippie-era, easy-sounding centre, to a breakneck prog-stunt ending. The outcome is an album that has the potential to divide the prog audience into two camps. Those who relate more to the modern, metal-ish form of the genre, might easily be disappointed by what they would call the main girlie-like approach of the album. On the other end, the overs of a more relaxed sort of listening experience, will most likely love this album.

But whatever side of the flame-throwing genre fight one might locate oneself, this album consists of very clever song writing and production and provides a musical prowess that stands unique.
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 7.5 out of 10

Oktopus - Worlds Apart
Oktopus - Worlds Apart
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 34:46
Links:
Track List:
Discord (Approach) (1:28), Eyes Open (5:41), Worlds Apart (6:53), The Adventures of Jerry Troutmonto (part 1) (3:04), Haru (1:08), The Hand On Your Shoulder (5:11), Discord (Descent) (0:44), Minotaur (10:37)
It's never easy to play prog music if your band includes only three components, and if these three are not called Lee, Lifeson and Peart. That's why I always admire musicians who choose this uncommon path.

Oktopus is a Birmingham-based progressive rock/metal trio constituted by guitarist and lead singer Alistair Bell, bassist Samuel C. Roberts and drummer Tim Wilson.

Specifically, this English trio (formerly known as Progtopus) came out in the beginning of 2016 with the album Worlds Apart, technically including eight songs. However, practically we're dealing with an overall playing time of less than 35 minutes, which is in my opinion hanging in the balance on that thin line which separates an LP from an EP. Indeed, three tracks are just introductions to other songs and a fourth one is a three minute-long purely instrumental section. This way, we end up with four relevant songs plus an instrumental one, with almost each of them anticipated by an atmospheric/sounds introduction.

The referring genre is the typical progressive metal and I could resumé the whole review by saying that it is evidently heavily influenced by Dream Theater and Rush. Although not standing out for their originality, undoubtedly our "tres caballeros" (cit.) show some impressive technical skills. The time signatures often adventure into inconstant and complex paths, with guitar and bass interweaving their melodies along the way. Virtuous solos alternate during the numerous instrumental sections, resting for a moment when vocal lines interrupt them. In these parts, Alistair Bell also demonstrates important skills as a lead singer, with a good range up to the high notes. I'd really like to see them playing live, because from this perspective, Oktopus could be a very interesting band.

On the other hand, I can't spot any innovation and/or interesting solutions along Worlds Apart, and approaching the end of the album, I end up quite bored, feeling relieved it was not a 60 minute-long LP. The virtuosities stand somewhat on their own and the synchronised riffs played by guitar and bass seem to be broken and independent from each other. Yes, this demonstrates the trio's great talent, but at the same time, the complex rhythms and the unusual accents result in an exhausting "stop and go" music throughout the record. Eyes Open is an example, but any other randomly chosen track could fit that description.

Other bands use this stylistic solution to build their music and to show off their technical capabilities. However, in my opinion it should be used more wisely, and typically can be acceptable in two occasions: during fillers, bridges or other short instrumental parts (as Dream Theater, Haken, Opeth and many others do). Or in a completely different context, where keyboards, guitars or electronic effects fill the empty spaces, and where a specifically-oriented mix and master of the record is able to properly emphasise rhythms and drums/bass accents (as TesseracT perfectly teach us).

So, as a conclusion, I would certainly recommend to give this album a listen. It could be worth it. If you're interested in technically talented musicians and in different faces making the same soup, then this album certainly includes interesting moments. However, if you seek originality, modern sounds and innovative solutions, you will probably just move on to the next band.
Conclusion:
Ale Dunzie: 5 out of 10

Stick Men - Prog Noir
Stick Men - Prog Noir
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 51:45
Links:
Track List:
Prog Noir (5:37), Mantra (5:46), Plutonium (4:47), The Tempest (5:42), Schattenhaft (4:31), Rose In The Sand / Requiem (4:36), Leonardo (4:56), Trey's Continuum (4:02), Embracing The Sun (4:53), Never The Same (6:29)
The yearly expedition to the loft has just ended. With muted enthusiasm, the checklist is ticked and the items located. The plastic evergreen bought in 1989 was the first out. With no time to pause and no parachute needed, the hatch gratefully received its next offerings. An assortment of broken baubles and a flurry of angels without wings wait in turn ready to drop. Rough hands locate care-worn tinsel, and it is set free to drift lifelessly towards the floor. The garish colours shout out to me to proclaim yet another Christmas song.

Over the years, I have developed a sort of love/hate relationship with Christmas. Once everything is in place I actually enjoy it, but the prospect of being an enthusiastic participant is not something I relish.

In many ways, I have a similar attitude towards The Stick Men's latest album Prog Noir. When I am listening to it, the time goes relatively quickly and it is relatively enjoyable. However the prospect of locating the disc, taking it out and playing it again is not something I look forward to with any degree of enthusiasm. In this way, the last month or so of listening to this album for the purpose of this review has been like a succession of expeditions to the loft at Christmas time; a necessary activity, but not one that fills me with a great deal of pleasure.

On the face of it Prog Noir contains all of the right ingredients that should appeal. It features the wonderful talents of Tony Levin, Markus Reuter and Pat Mastelotto and their collective and individual performances light up the disc's dark mood on numerous occasions.

The album contains ten compositions and each of these offers the listener an opportunity to enter the world of Prog Noir; a world that many will no doubt find extremely rewarding. The tunes burst with bulbous dissonance and as one might expect, given the instrumentation of the trio, they are, for the most part, rich in rhythmic intensity. The overall impression is that bottom-end tones dominate proceedings and when there are occasional lulls, distorted and unnerving touch guitar interludes or frantic drum flurries take their place.

Four of the pieces feature vocals, but for those familiar with the band's previous releases don't despair, as these tunes still contain impressive instrumental passages. The introduction of vocals into the band's repertoire does not detract from the excellence and complexity of the arrangements and compositions, and for some, they may even make the music more accessible, thus adding to the band's overall appeal.

The opening piece and title track has lots of interesting features, not least of which is the relentless beat and jangly guitar which is reminiscent in some ways to the sound found in Virus' Memento Collider. It is a dark tune that reflects the mood of the album's excellent cover art. I found that Tony Levin's vocals suited the overall ambience of the tune. His delivery and overall style here, and in other tunes such as The Tempest was in many ways similar to the way Jeff Berlin sang in Bruford's Gradually Going Tornado.

As the rhythm section of the Stick Men is made up of current and former King Crimson alumni, it is not surprising that many of the pieces have similarities to the sort of complex, dark rhythms of organised chaos that King Crimson are known for. Mantra and Schattenhaft are two such tunes.

Mantra is a heavy instrumental that gyrates within its own repetitive and relentless rhythmic whirlpool of carefully constructed chaos. It is a particularly ugly tune, but I guess it was purposefully composed in that way. The trio's performance is fantastic though and their approach to their art displayed in this tune is quite compelling.

Plutonium has a number of ingredients that will satisfy many prog fans, and I can imagine that for many people it may become their favourite piece on the album. The track includes brief interpretations of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, Yes' Roundabout and Tchaikovsky's La Marseillaise within its 4:50 running time.

There is no doubt, that the concept behind the piece and the spoken lyrics are stimulating and clever. However, I can imagine that the spoken parts, over time, may well become an irritation. In many ways the piece is too clever for its own good and treads a fine line between cheesiness and pseudo complexity. It made me think of Zappa's Cheepnis, and no doubt Frank would have raised a chuckle at the humour and absurdity of the piece. Within this track there are however a number of standout moments. The guitar break following the Yes interlude was very satisfying as are the stick-flavoured bass groove throughout and the concluding drum roll.

Leonardo is one of the album's standout pieces. It is a tune that I have appreciated hearing on many occasions. Enjoyably, it is one of the few tunes to break free from the driving, rhythmic assault that is so prevalent throughout the album. Another tune that achieves this with delightful aplomb is the extremely pretty Rose in the Sand/ Requiem.

Leonardo has a jaunty feel and incorporates some folk-like rhythms and slick changes of pace. It even has an exquisite, slow-building touch guitar solo that oozes with tones that Robert Fripp is often associated with. The piece has just that right mixture of menace and beauty to make it the most enticing track on the album.

The overall effect of the instrumentation is to create a relentless assault upon the senses, and many of the tunes appear to inhabit a similar space of pace, style and mood. In the end Prog Noir is not an album I will return to frequently.

Nevertheless, I can recognise that the album has enough qualities that it should be recommended to others. I am sure that many will find lots to enjoy and on that basis I am going to award it an 8. However, I guess that many readers and listeners may well disagree and would whole heartedly and without reservation award Prog Noir at least a 9.

All that is left for me to do, is to secure the loft hatch door and wish all readers the very best for the year ahead.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10

Devin Townsend - Transcendence
Devin Townsend - Transcendence
Country of Origin: Canada
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 64:19
Links:
Track List:
Truth (4:47). Stormbending (5:22), Failure (6:02), Secret Sciences (7:28), Higher (9:40), Stars (4:18), Transcendence (5:55), Offer Your Light (3:58), From the Heart (8:23), Transdermal Celebration (8:26)
Devin Townsend has a sound all of his own. There is no mistaking his orchestral wall of metal, his often fantastic vocals and his unique pop-prog metal blend. There is an accessibility to much of his music, but he is also not afraid to blow-your-speakers-out from a power perspective. This style has worked pretty well for him and it continues on his newest release, Transcendence.

The stage is set right from the start, with the powerful, mostly instrumental, Truth. Most of the songs that follow play like mini epics and are quite dramatic in their diversity and depth. Stormbending is an appropriately titled and excellent opening track. The symphonic and heavy instrumentation blending perfectly with Townsend's booming vocals and the infectious chorus. This description actually sums up most of the songs on this album. There is a lot of power to be found throughout, and though he is a prog metal artist, Townsend presents extreme melody in the hardest rocking of moments.

Secret Sciences, one of the highlights of the album, is a perfect example of the hodge-podge of styles, and the twists and turns that the music of Devin Townsend can take. Higher starts out as if it is going to be a middle-of-the-album acoustic break, but that proves not to be the case. Morphing instead into to one of the hardest crunching songs on the album. It also features his more extreme vocal style, which personally I find less interesting than his normal singing voice. In some ways, I think it almost distracts from an otherwise excellent track. If you have an affinity for that style of vocals, his work here will surely impress.

Stars is almost pop-like, compared to what has come before it, but is nonetheless effective. Along with Townsend's vocals, the album includes a mix of female vocalists, including the great Anneke van Giersbergen. These moments work particularly well, such as on the title track, From the Heart and Transdermal Celebration which ends the album very effectively. Both tracks starting powerfully, but ending in an interestingly subdued fashion.

I am only marginally familiar with Devin Townsend's discography and Transcendence is the first album I have heard from him in a number of years. It is also one of the best. An extremely pleasing mix of metal and symphonic prog that plays out quite cinematically. I knew enough about Townsend to not be surprised by that, but it certainly cemented for me, his unique talent. He along with the gifted musicians who worked with him on this album, have produced a great example of what progressive metal can, and should be
Conclusion:
Patrick McAfee: 8.5 out of 10

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Published Saturday 31 December 2016

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