ISSUE 2017-013

Reviews in this issue:

Fatal Fusion - Total Absence
Fatal Fusion - Total Absence
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 55:32
Links:
Track List:
The Gates of Ishtar (2:30), Shadow of the King (7:40), Forgotten One (6:19), Astral Flight (5:34), The Emperor's Letter (7:21), Endless Ocean Blue (11:37), Total Absence (15:31)
Norwegian prog rock band Fatal Fusion have been around for some years and just released their third full length album entitled Total Absence. What I remembered from what I heard of their earlier releases on www.progulus.com, they are no fusion band at all though, and my memory served me right. They are a kind of neo prog band with a darker, vintage twist; if that makes sense.

The instrumental intro Gates of Ishtar starts with a quite sombre, oriental, symphonic vibe, not entirely unlike Saviour Machine, and the first proper song, Shadow of the King picks up that atmosphere, evoking a dark, fantasy world. What sets Fatal Fusion apart from most other neo prog bands is the raspy, dark timbre of vocalist Knut Erik Grøntvedt, and a prominent Deep Purple influence in some of the riffs and guitar work. The solo section of Shadow of the King could come either straight from Purple's The Battle Rages On or from Arabia by Arjen Lucassen's 80s hard rock band Vengeance.

With the following Forgotten One, Fatal Fusion could easily pass as a darker brother of their countrymates Magic Pie, while the following instrumental Astral Flight tries to reach the intensity of IQ's Frequency in the second half, due to similar harmonic progressions. The Emperor's Letter and Endless Ocean Blue sees Fatal Fusion explore more melancholy waters, with nice contrasts between Mellotron and Hammond parts, beautiful guitar leads and some vocal lines/harmonies in the latter, that have Pink Floyd's Echoes in sad-mode, written all over them.

The final title track, an epic, clocking in at just over 15 minutes, surprises with a Steven Wilson-esque intro. However, Fatal Fusion are not able to keep up the tension arc for the entire time. Still, I've grown to love this album as a whole, especially for the overall mood and atmosphere. It is like reading a good fantasy novel, where you become emotionally attached to the characters, but in the end you know that it is a work of fiction, so the feelings don't threaten to overpower you. This is a refreshing counterpart to real-life dramas like Pain of Salvation's In the Passing Light of Day, whose emotional weight can suck you into an abyss of feelings. Total Abscence is highly recommended to all those who love their (neo) prog spiced-up with grit and a dark, fantasy flair.
Conclusions:
Dario Albrecht: 8 out of 10

Attila Kollár - Progrock '55
Attila Kollár - Progrock '55
Country of Origin: Hungary
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 76:19
Links:
Track List:
Silent Towns/2nd movement (New recording 2016) (6:41), Poseidon 2 (New recording 2016) (2:31), The Tower's Room Lost in the Fog (New - Live in Budapest 2010) (5:54), Wanderers from the 15th Century (New recording 2015) (3:04), Hymn No.234. - revision (New recording 2015) (3:15), M'ars Poetica (Live in MŰPA, Budapest 2014) (6:24), The Lion's Empire (Live in Monterrey, Mexico 2004) (6:27), Journey in the Andes (Live in Budapest 2004) (4:42), The Dark Middle Ages (MW I 1998) (5:25), If the Fog Clears Away (Live in LA, USA 1995) (4:25), Revival / Short Cut (Live in Budapest 1980) (2:45), Levitation (MW III 2006) (2:54), Utopia (Live in Szentendre 2014) (5:48), Eden (Live in LA, USA 1995), (6:16), La Mer... (MW III 2006) (3:02), Ba'rock' (MW I 1998) (6:04)
People often say that opposites attract. I have always found there is something mysteriously appealing whenever I have been confronted by things that contrast; whether that might be paintings of verdant pastures or arid deserts, images of planet earth or deepest space, or perhaps even the surprising allure of hearing a divergence of styles within a single album.

Attila Kollár's Progrock 55 contains many disparate characteristics in a release lasting just over 76 minutes and containing 16 tracks. It is an album that exhibits the effectiveness of mixing languid flute-led pastoral tunes, with beautifully constructed acoustic ensemble pieces, or thunderously uninhibited fiery epics. The anticipation of what style might be encountered next is always interesting and creates a listening experience that, at its best, is bold and exciting.

Prog Rock 55 is a career retrospective of the work of Kollár, and compositions from much of his discography are represented in the compilation. Kollár is best known for his work as the flautist for Hungarian band Solaris. The recorded output of Solaris was reviewed in a special edition on DPRP in 2015 (here).

During his long musical career Kollár has also recorded three solo albums using his Musical Witchcraft moniker. The first Musical Witchcraft album, which was released in 1998, was reviewed in Part 3 of last year's DPRP flute prog special. Kollár is currently involved with Solaris and his own band Invocatio Musicalis. That band's live album released in 2015 was reviewed by DPRP in Issue 93 of that year (review here).

Prog Rock 55 contains tunes written, or co written, by Kollár, and he selected which compositions were to be featured. The album contains many of Kollár's most accomplished compositions. The inclusion of a number of live tracks reflects his belief that his work has an extra dimension when performed live. The heartfelt concert interpretations featured on this album, exhibit an enjoyable freedom of expression that is often associated with a live performance. As a consequence, the album benefits from a tangible feeling of spontaneity, and displays a great deal of emotional warmth.

The first five tracks have never previously been released, and include four pieces specifically recorded for this project. These five gems undoubtedly provide the greatest interest for listeners that might already be familiar with Kollár's work.

The opener Silent Towns is one of the newly recorded tunes. It contains many of the hallmarks that made Solaris' Martian Chronicles II release such a satisfying album. In Silent Towns, Solaris' trademark union of rumbling synths and a soaring flute is much in evidence. The percussive use of a darbuka ensures that the track also has a satisfying undercurrent of world music influences. The piece includes some passages that are enjoyably mottled by an impressive array of textures, and where the mood teeters between light and shade. Lighter moments are provided by the whistle and recorder playing of Kollár.

I was delighted that Kollár chose to include one of his most beautiful tunes in this compilation. The live rendition of The Tower Room Lost In The Fog differs significantly from the tightly-spun version to be found on the first Musical Witchcraft album. The concert performance dates from 2010 and is another of the previously unreleased tracks. It was a pleasure to hear such an impressive version of this melancholy, and at times upbeat tune, which in the live setting provides ample space and opportunity for all the players to express their skill.

The piece begins with Peter Sárik's evocative and delightful piano introduction. His noteworthy preamble sets the mood and creates a strong impression that this is a tune filled with charm and elegance. From that moment, the way in which the gorgeous arrangement is unfurled by the assured performance of each of the players, gives an overall impression that this is a song that oozes class. The delicately measured tones of guitarist Zsolt Vámos adds a further hallmark of quality to proceedings. Later, Sárik's cheerful playing provides a vivid counterpoint to violinist Edina Szirtes' sombre, wordless vocals and equally expressive bow work. As might be expected, Kollár's finely-poised flute lines also makes a pivotal contribution to what is, on occasions, a first-rate example of cocktail lounge jazz.

One of the other studio recordings commissioned for the new album, is an acoustic arrangement of Wanderers From the 15th Century; a tune which originally formed part 1 of 1998's Musical Witchcraft suite. This sparkling rendition ticks every box. It flows beautifully in a shimmering, sun-drenched cascade of flute and acoustic guitars that are tinged and delicately flavoured with folk melodies. Personally, although I enjoyed this new version, I missed the double-tracked flute lines and expansive bass lines of Gábor Kissábo, which had such an important part to play in the original.

As I began to settle into the gently reflective wash of the acoustic tunes prominently displayed during tracks 2–5, there was nothing to warn or prepare me for the full-out assault on the senses that was about to emerge. The old adage that opposites attract came into its own, as a duo of some of Solaris' most fervent and forcefully performed pieces followed.

M'ars Poetica is particularly heavy, and this storming version originally appeared on 2015's Martian Chronicles - Live album. Its dramatic riff has an explosive aftertaste, but the piece never ignores the importance of the use of light and shade to emphasise its more volatile parts. The second tune to also leave scorch marks on my headphones was the Lions Empire. This performance is taken from Solaris' Live in Mexico release. The band is on sizzling form and the inventive arrangement and meaty guitar work of Csaba Bogdán gives this piece added menace and a sense of unbridled fury.

The shock that this sensory onslaught created, and its difference in style to what had gone before, was both unsettling and strangely appealing. The choice of alternating sweetly-crafted acoustic tracks, with full-blown symphonic rock might not be a particularly subtle approach, but in the context of this compilation it works surprisingly well. This divergence of styles continues throughout and is particularly successful when one of the heaviest pieces on the album, the previously released studio piece The Dark Middle Ages, follows the melodic Journey in the Andes.

Journey in the Andes features a magnificent acoustic guitar interlude that is complemented by Kollár's flowing flute melody. Alternatively, during The Dark Middle Ages, the crunchy, riff-laden guitar work of Csaba provides a perfect foil for Kollár's breathy rock flute. The difference in style between the two pieces is immense, and provides an unnerving change of direction that works perfectly, is stridently raucous and gloriously brash.

The Dark Middle Ages originally formed part 2 of 1998's Musical Witchcraft suite. This piece contains some of Kollár's most dynamic and aggressive playing. The climatic passage where he spitefully spits short percussive flute bursts, that alternate with his usual lyrical tone, is just superb and deserves to be heard.

The quality of what is on offer in Progrock 55 is consistently high and each carefully chosen piece has something to commend it. Special mention should be made of the concert performance of Eden that is featured in the latter half of the disc. This excellent version is taken from Solaris' Live in Los Angeles release. The tune has a great melody, is impeccably played and the arrangement is magnificently embellished by some elaborate solo performances; most notably on guitar and on flute.

I have been greatly impressed by Progrock 55. Every aspect of it works well. The sound quality of the album is crisp and detailed, and as an added bonus the release is carefully presented and packaged. The artwork is excellent and the accompanying booklet is well set out and informative. Progrock 55 should appeal to anybody who has more than a passing interest in prog flute rock.

In an album of over 76 minutes there is no filler. Instead, Progrock 55 contains a range of impressive tunes. One of Kollár's key attributes as a composer, is his keen sense of melody. Many of the tunes have the ability to stir the emotions. They contain moving passages that seamlessly incorporate both flute and classical motifs. In short, the tunes are just memorable. Anybody who enjoys compositions of an acoustic flavour that are consistently contrasted with energetic band performances, and played with aggression and panache, will find much to appreciate in this excellent compilation.

People often say that opposites attract. I hope that you are able to check out this satisfying album; you may find its colourful palette of tunes and diverse range of styles attractive and appealing. I know I did!
Conclusions:
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10

Nth Ascension - In Fine Intium
Nth Ascension - In Fine Intium
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 67:55
Links:
Track List:
Kingdom Keys (15:18), End Of Days (11:24), So, That Was The Apocalypse (4:42), The Cage (17:06), In Search Of The Rider (7:47), Forever (7:47), When The Rain Falls (3:51)
I had never heard of Nth Ascension. However I liked the samples I heard and their previous album, Ascension Of Kings, was reviewed favourably for DPRP, so I thought I would give this album a try. I also had never heard of the melodic prog band Ten, where keyboard player Darrel Treece-Birch originates from. In the previous DPRP review of Ascension Of Kings, it was stated that Nth Ascension plays heavy but melodic prog in the vein of Magnum and Ten. So I guess I need to check out the band Ten in the future. After hearing In Fine Intium I heard also influences from Arena and Knight Area, maybe even a bit of Rush.

After listening to In Fine Intium a couple of times, while reading the review of their previous album Ascension Of Kings, I noticed that I could easily copy the whole review for this new album. Still present are Craig Walker (drums), bassist Gavin Walker, and father Martin Walker on guitar, accompanied by keyboard player Darrel Treece-Birch and vocalist Alan Taylor. Also the same, is the fact that the artwork is again done by artist Oliver Pengilley.

The music of Nth Ascension for me is very accessible. If you like the above mentioned bands then this fits like a glove, as this is powerful progressive rock with many lengthy instrumental parts. Things never sound stretched though. With a steady, solid pace they keep changing the music enough to keep it interesting, without losing their own sound. The vocals of Alan Taylor need some getting used to. In the previous DPRP review it is mentioned he sounds like Roger Chapman of the band Family. I looked him up on Youtube and indeed Alan Taylor sounds a bit like Roger Chapman. His voice fits the music, but at times he has to stretch it just a bit too far.

In Fine Intium delivers more than an hour of solid progressive melodic rock. The sound is very cohesive throughout the whole album, with enough variation to keep it interesting and absolutely no moments of weakness. I guess that is what surprised me the most, I cannot find any moment of weakness. After copying almost everything from the review of their previous album I can also copy the rating: this is easily a DPRP-recommended, highly enjoyable, progressive melodic rock album.
Conclusions:
Edwin Roosjen: 8 out of 10

Odd Logic - Effigy
Odd Logic - Effigy
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 67:00
Links:
Track List:
Effigy (17:29), Master of the Moor (6:15), Mercenary (5:13), The Yearning (3:08), Witch Runner (6:50), Iron Skyline (10:20), Memories of Light (6:51), Maiden Child (11:34)
It was only 12 months ago that Washington-based Odd Logic blew me (and many others) away with their 10-out-of-10 album A Penny For Your Thoughts. That was easily one of my top albums of 2016. This follow-up is a somewhat different beast.

This is now a fully pledged band, as opposed to a one-man-band by multi-instrumentalist and singer extraordinaire Sean Thompson. It is heavier and goes off on fewer tangents; focusing on a more traditional, riff-based progressive metal. If you love melodic, intricate music with an excellent vocalist, that runs the gamut from Enchant to Redemption (with a burst of jazz scattered here and there) then this will be one of your favourite albums of 2017. Trust me.

Having created six albums under the Odd Logic name on his lonesome, Thompson has now recruited guitarist Steven Pierce, bassist Mike Lee and drummer Pete Hanson. Effigy is the first Odd Logic album written and recorded as a full band.

Firstly, this is one of the slowest burning slow-burning albums that I have ever come across. I usually know if there is a certain je ne sais quoi to a great album on a first listen, but it can then take up to five listens for that album to give me its "quoi". This little bugger of an album is on its tenth spin and still refuses to surrender all of its "quoi". Most has been surrendered but I'm sure there is more to come! This is an album where the ear worms travel at the speed of a politician's apology! Subtle, could be another adjective to use.

Effigy has just been made available as a CD, a treatment their last album sadly did not receive, despite its wonderful cover. There is again clearly a sci-fi concept story running throughout. However I have a lossless digital file without lyrics, so the storyline is a bit hazy.

It consists of eight tracks, three of which stretch beyond 10 minutes. It is these that possess the more complex arrangements, the wider mix of styles and influences, and require more work to really get into. The more song-based structures of the shorter tracks, made the likes of Master of the Moor relatively instant hits. The vocal hook and the jazz-infused instrumental break two thirds through this track is one of the best moments on Effigy.

Other highlights include the very first minute, which reminds me of the hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling that I still get when listening to Chris Salinas' impassioned vocal on Power of Omens' As Winter Falls. The very mellow tone of The Yearning is just beautiful, if a little disappointing in its brevity and faded ending.

There will be few, if any, melodic progressive metal songs written in 2017 that better the first half of Witch Runner. Think of a more prog version of Magnitude Nine, or Enchant-with-balls. The way it slowly builds to its wonderful chorus is pure prog metal orgasm. The recurring use of heavy double-kick drumming and growls in the middle section does not work for me.

Negatives are few and far between. I could do without double-kick drumming and growly vocals. Full stop. They are not frequent enough to ruin this album, but when you have a singer of the quality of Thompson, why should anyone want to listen to someone barking down a microphone? In a similar vein, I find some of the choices in the mix unfortunate, especially on the opening track. At times where I'd expect the vocals to be lifting the song to another level, they are either placed way back in the mix or have some effect placed on them. The early fade-out, followed by silence, and then a fade back in on the closing track is a very odd choice.

Yes, this is a rather different musical beast to its predecessor, and I must admit it has required an adjustment of expectation for me. Those who enjoy a more traditional style of progressive metal are likely to be more comfortable with the style on Effigy. Personally I loved the unpredictable inventiveness of A Penny For Your Thoughts (review here). It was that which took it from a very good album to a great album. I could just do with a few more moments such as the wonderful Latin opening to Memories of Light and the unexpected jazzy guitar run that closes the liquid-gold opening vocal to the Maiden Child.

That aside, this has to be judged as another triumph for Odd Logic that will hopefully take the band to the next level and a much wider audience. Effigy is highly recommended to all who enjoy complex yet melodic progressive metal with a world class singer.
Conclusions:
Andy Read: 8 out of 10

Pseudo/Sentai - Enter The Sentai
Pseudo/Sentai - Enter The Sentai
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 46:00
Links:
Track List:
Intro The Sentai (0:33), Enter The Sentai (4:08), Desert Dessert (The Fever) (3:50), The Code Ocean (5:02), Adaptive Manipulator (I Have No Mouth) (4:29), Belle Of The Cabal (4:11), Crown Of The Crow King (2:34), The Man/The Mill/The Machina (5:07), The Empyre (Rome 2.0) (5:54), Baron Wasteland (The Sultan Of Sulfur) (5:48), Werewolf Casey (4:24)
Formed in 2007 by Scott Baker ("Vocals/Guitar/Firearm") and Greg Murphy ("Guitar/Vocals/Axe"), it took three albums before 2015's Bansheeface started to get rewards for Pseudo/Sentai with recognition outside of their US home base. On this album the pair are supplemented by two other unnamed contributors on drums and base (and "treachery" apparently).

Pseudo/Sentai is an interesting project whose music has no boundaries, to the point that any attempt at classification is pointless. In any one song can encompass moments of rock, electronic, avant-garde, zheul, post rock, and even some poppier sounds. The music is powerful, kind of metal-ish but without being metal. If you like open minded, open-ended, stereotype-free music, that is experimental and packed with unexpected musical diversions then this is something you may wish to investigate.

Unfortunately, there are two key ingredients that stop this album working its magic upon me.

The first is that there really is just too much going on at the same time. I'm all for music in which you have to invest time and attention to get the rewards. Here, with all tracks lasting between two to six minutes, nothing hangs around very long, but nothing stays still long enough to hook itself into my memory. There are many parts that I like but it's a bit like being on a high speed train. You catch a glimpse of something interesting out of the window but before you can fully appreciate it, it's gone and behind you, never to be seen again.

Secondly the production by Colin Marston does not lend itself well to such dense compositions. There was clearly a desire to go for a rough edge to the instruments and mix, but with the playing being so busy and all the instruments occupying a very similar sonic space, the endless hustle and bustle is very difficult to pick apart under a general haze of dis-clarity.

Undoubtedly there are those for whom these aspects are positives (not negatives), and there is little doubt that Pseudo/Sentai will offer much to those who seek high energy music that definitely pushes musical boundaries and norms. For me, the compositional and playing style does not work at all. However Enter The Sentai can be downloaded with the 'name your price' mode through Bandcamp, so it is very easy for you to make up your own minds.
Conclusions:
Andy Read: 6.5 out of 10

This Winter Machine - The Man Who Never Was
This Winter Machine - The Man Who Never Was
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 48:50
Links:
Track List:
The Man Who Never Was (16:05),The Wheel (9:28), Lullaby Interrupted ($:53), After Tomorrow Comes (7:58), Fractured (10:26).
Although 2017 has only just begun, I think that this is going to be an album and a band that makes big waves this year, in a way that Big Big Train have done over the past few years. This is a truly astounding and epic release by a young band from Leeds, in Yorkshire, that shows great promise for their future.

The opening title track is a real gem. Split into four distinct sections, it has a central piano motif that re-occurs, binding the parts together. What it also has, despite its deep and personal lyrics, is a lightness of touch to it. Nothing is overplayed or overworked, and every note has its place in the big picture, giving it an hypnotic quality.

Vocalist Al Wynter sings of being the man he never used to be, before a disjointed brutal riff enters the fray. That piano motif reappears, this time with a synth line floating over the top, adding another layer to this intricate jigsaw of sound. This whole piece has a very wistful feel to it, and reminds me of parts of Wind and Wuthering from Genesis some 40 years ago. Whilst the guitar parts are fairly straightforward, they certainly add to the mix significantly.

This is a song that grows in stature every time I hear it. It is a very bold and enticing opening statement of intent from the band.

The second piece, The Wheel, opens with plucked guitar arpeggios and a plaintive vocal from Al, singing of how: "It's too late as all we had was gone". It's a heartbroken song of loss, regret and the end of a relationship, beautifully written and very emotive indeed. There is a lyrical depth and poignancy here as well, showing a level of craft often missing from new bands. At the 2:40 mark there is an upfront bass part, offset by keyboard washes, and then some delicate cymbal work from drummer Marcus Murray before guitarist Gary Jevon muscles in with a choppy guitar riff set to Marcus's backbeat. This takes the song into an instrumental section with an extended, but very melodic, guitar solo which sounds like Steve Rothery in its build and delivery. It climaxes with more chrashing riffery before Al Wynter starts singing again. This time the beat is more urgent and intense though. Not heavy per se but it has clout to it, before a flurry of notes and another guitar solo brings the piece to a conclusion. This is another very worthy track indeed.

The third song, Lullaby Interrupted, is an instrumental and opens with more plucked notes from Gary Jevon before a synth growl and whoop, ushers proceedings in with a vibrant synth line and a subtle, supportive bass line that plays a counterpart melody, before the guitar crashes in again and starts a steady rhythm and groove. Mark Numan's synths then take flight before the guitar carries the song along. This track gives the whole band a chance to show their skills and it is a great, albeit brief, piece.

This really is a band to watch out for and the penultimate song, After Tomorrow Comes, repeats the melody from the first song and is equally impassioned and lyrically deep and dark. In many ways it is a follow up/companion piece to the opening track.

I really love the balance of light and shadow that This Winter Machine employ in their songs and how it creates atmosphere to their music.

The final song, Fractured, is another longer piece at ten-and-a-half minutes. Now I am often bleating on about how long tracks give a song space to breathe, flex and grow, and This Winter Machine are certainly very good at doing just that. They allow a song to progress and take a course, as needed. The piece itself is a measured march, with some soaring synth work and some fine guitar that is raw but never aggressively so. The interplay between synth and guitar is superb, before at the two-minute mark Al Wynter's vocals are added to the mix. This guy has a great voice, that is clear and emotive and with a good range and power. In fact he reminds me of a younger James Labrie from Dream Theater. It is another fine piece with interesting changes and brings the album to a very satisfying conclusion.

So in summary I am highly impressed with this album and the band themselves, and I will be keeping an eye on them over the coming months. I hope you the readers will actively seek out and listen to this magnificent release and make you own mind up. Terrific stuff and a fabulous cover too!
Conclusions:
John Wenlock-Smith: 9.5 out of 10

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Published Thursday 16 February 2017

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