Solitary Way (3:44), Vegan Mother's Day (2:53), Augogo (2:38), Laudation (1:35), Star Of The Show (4:22), Drunk On A Boat (4:27), Waiting For Luigi (1:46), The Beast (6:24), Gold And Silver (3:50), Mercy (0:27), My Banana (3:32), Devil's Egg (4:39), Little Bear (1:19)
Hailing from Glasgow, the six-piece Big Hogg have released the follow-up to 2015's self-titled debut album. Gargoyles is a wonderfully melodic collection of psychedelic pop-prog. It channels the progressive pop of circa 1967-70, in a way that sounds modern, and they avoid any retro-pastiche. The arrangements are full of interest, making use of various brass instruments, flute and keyboards, as well as the usual guitar, bass and drums. Add to this new Canterbury sound, a pair of fine-voiced male and female vocalists. This makes Big Hogg's sound a winning mixture, that can move from whimsey, to a colourful intensity.
Big Hogg open the album with the summery, West Coast harmonies of Solitary Way, with its catchy Beatles-esque melody and folky flute interjections. They add more electricity to the brilliantly titled Vegan Mother's Day, which has a top trumpet solo on it. By the third track Augogo they hit a swinging 60s groove and change to female lead vocalist. The song is witty and salacious, and eminently hummable. Three tracks in, and I'm sold.
Big Hogg mix things up superbly. There is an electric, piano-driven, woozy waltz (Drunk On A Boat) and a cracking Steve Reich-like brass band instrumental (Waiting For Luigi). They find a lost Beatles melody circa The Magical Mystery Tour on Gold And Silver. There is a dark-side of the 60s song, The Beast, with its witch referencing lyrics and terrific trombone. Whilst My Banana marries the sweetest voice, to a scathing lyric and a fabulous brass break.
One track wearies a little on repeat plays (you can discover that for yourselves) but the rest is just top-notch. The use of brass to add a brass band style, makes the music solidly British, and it had me digging out Big Big Train's English Electric albums. Gargoyles' mix of voices and instrumentation and its storming melodic sense, makes this album from Big Hogg a joy.
Opening Wound (6:25), Breathing Holes (9:27), The Mental Room (7:29), A Labyrinth In The Void (5:32), Horla (2:32), Closer To The End (6:01), Sleep For Me (11:19)
There is little doubt that there is an abundance of young talent in the instrumental/post rock/djent sub genres of progressive music. The difficulty for this multiplicity of artists, is in creating a sound, an identity, that will make you stand out from the array.
Collapse is a band from Grenoble, France who state their influences as "the graphic film universe" and bands like Porcupine Tree, Archive and Mogwaï. With an EP and two albums already under their collective belts, this is their time to break out from that array.
An original, somewhat inconspicuously-disturbing cover is a good start. The crisp, uncluttered production is another plus point.
What will set them apart the most however, is a more laid back approach to this style of music. Many bands from these genres have guitars to the fore, often relying on either pure blunt force trauma or the gentle building and evolving of their mood to a rousing climax. Collapse take a more subtle approach.
The guitar (noun:singular) is there, but shares the melodies with the keyboards and some programming. Quite frequently it is joined in this role only by a piano. The first three tracks are fresh and inviting. The bass booms warmly. The drums alternate between simple rhythms and more adventurous foreplay. The way that the huge, tribal drum rhythm opens and subtly closes Breathing Holes is my personal highlight, along with the more cinematic, earthy style to A Labyrinth In The Void. The only voice is a spoken passage for Horla. The final two songs don't work for me as well as the others.
I really like the use of the xylophone on A Labyrinth ... I feel there is space within the band's arrangements to perhaps bring in some other, less conventional instruments in future. It would greatly develop the richness of their palette and colours. But overall Collapse is band that will hold appeal to those who like their instrumental (post rock) to have a more subtle approach. I would image the music takes on added colours in a live setting too. A very enjoyable album.
Inside Voices (2:23), Amnesia (3:08), This Drug (8:52), Accident (5:31), The Discovery (12:48), Memories Returning (1:09), Dreamscape (9:16), That Drug (4:01), Presence (5:50)
The Invisible is the name given to the solo output of drummer Jake Bradford-Sharp, who first came to the prog world's attention at the tender age of 16 when he joined The Reasoning, recording three albums and an EP with them, and, still only 18, was voted fifth best drummer in the 2010 annual Prog! magazine poll. Following the disbandment of The Reasoning in 2014, he joined Ghost Community whose debut album, Cycles Of Life was released in 2015, and also a covers band The Vipers who regularly gig around the London area.
MK-Ultra is his first solo release, on which he plays all the instruments, sings and designs the artwork. Indeed the only thing he didn't do was mix or master the album, functions undertaken by Jeanne Albin and Marcel van Limbeek, respectively.
On hearing this album for the first time it would be difficult to guess that Bradford-Sharp's main instrument is the drums, as he displays considerable proficiency across the board. The guitar and keyboard parts are fully fleshed out, with plenty of solos performed on both instruments. Of course, no one is perfect and the weakest component is the vocals. Not that they are bad, but just lack distinctiveness, a degree of character and ultimately power that would completely complement the music. Having said that, the vocal arrangements are imaginative and, in places, adventurous.
The album itself is quite diverse, which is apt considering that the album's concept is based on the MK-Ultra project carried out by the CIA for 20 years between 1953 and 1973, which investigated ways to manipulate people's mental states and alter brain functions by applying various procedures and drugs in order to aid interrogation and torture. The experiements, all carried out clandestinely and largely illegally, at colleges, universities, hospitals, prisons and pharmaceutical companies used unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects. Nice eh?
There are many notable moments on the album, notably This Drug, which perfectly sums up the experience of a test subject, the rather lovely Accident (check out the accompanying video which is perfect in its simplicity) and The Discovery, which is one for the traditional prog lovers. Elsewhere I doubt you'd ever find a drummer committing a solo piano track (Memories Returning) anywhere else, while Dreamscape takes on a more contemporary sheen which nods more in the direction of bands like Muse.
This is a promising debut from a very talented individual. The Invisible is a name to keep an eye out for.
Main Programme (113:34): Intro, Awake And Nervous, The Darkest Hour, From The Outside In, The Road Of Bones, Frequency, Without Walls, Ocean. Leap Of Faith, Until The End, Outer Limits, The Seventh House
The Encores (19:10): Ten Million Demons, Widows' Peak
The Projections (132:44), Until The End (Lorelei 2014) (11:43), The Art Of The Road Of Bones (14:10), Photo Gallery (7:22)
The December 2014 Christmas Party at the Bordererij, Holland is the subject of IQ's first BluRay release. Filmed at the end of a triumphant year for the band, whose most recent album, The Road Of Bones had been received with great critical acclaim, the group are in top form performing to a packed venue of the faithful.
Naturally, the set heavily features the new album, in fact it is played in its entirety, as well as numerous old favourites, none more so than the opening number Awake And Nervous, harking back to the band's debut album release over 30 years previously. Multiple cameras allow attention to be paid to each of the five members of the band, with some unusual angles ensuring wide coverage, including one strapped to the headstock of Mike Holmes' Stratocaster, allowing views of his intricate fretwork. The performance is exemplary and demonstrates the superb musicianship prevalent within the ranks of the group.
Back to four original members, the friendship and experience of the band shines through: Holmes is a much underrated guitarist who can seemingly turn his hand to playing any style dictated by the music. Drummer Paul 'Cookie' Cook is technically ultra proficient without ever having to resort to unnecessary displays of prowess, something that would undermine the IQ strength of guitar-keyboard interplay. His musical rapport with bassist Tim Esau provides one of the strongest rhythm sections in prog, and Esau's calm and assured presence is a band strength and more suited to the type of performances in which IQ excel, rather than the sometimes over-the-top antics of the undeniably popular John Jowitt, who replaced and was subsequently replaced by Esau.
Vocalist Peter Nicholls is the consummate performer, providing emphasis to the lyrics by his theatrical moves and flourishes, being in fine voice throughout. Age has somewhat mellowed his voice, smoothing the outer limits (pun intended!) but not diminishing his power or subtleties. 'New boy' Neil Durant still looks faintly surprised that he occupies the keyboard stool, in a band that he was originally a fan of, but his technical abilities, both as a keyboard programmer and player, are of the highest order.
Someone new to IQ, would not be aware that nearly half of the set is based on the new album, as the new and the old blend well together. The renditions of the newer material are just as accomplished and solid as items from the more familiar back-catalogue. With ten studio albums to their credit, there is plenty of material to chose from, but we get a select couple of numbers (Awake And Nervous and Outer Limits) from the first two albums, a couple (The Darkest Hour and Leap Of Faith) from the 'reformation' album Ever, and the title tracks of both Frequency and The Seventh House.
Personally, the only thing lacking from this release is the notorious sense of humour that the band possesses, particularly during the festive concerts. Yes the encores, strangely provided as a bonus feature instead of as part of the main show, does have the band appearing in Santa hats, apart from Mr Holmes who wears his traditional Christmas Angel wings (and the pair he dons for this concert are pretty spectacular). However the usual on-stage banter and the encore musical horseplay is lacking. Maybe the idea was to present a completely serious recording and edit out the extraneous, or perhaps the band were somewhat apprehensive about the presence of the cameras and the recording of the concert for posterity but, to me, an essence of an IQ gig is lacking. Not that this devalues the release in the slightest.
The bonus material, or Special Features are worthy additions. Having the encores, provides the complete set particularly as Ten Million Demons is somewhat of a rarity, having only been available on the special edition release of The Road Of Bones and not regularly played live. If the nature of that song makes it a somewhat strange choice as an encore, no doubt can be laid on the choice of the perennial favourite Widow's Peak, which rounds-off the concert. Although a much overused term, this song can be regarded as a classic and can easily lay claim to be the defining moment of the first incarnation of the band.
The Projections features just the live projections of the whole concert, including the encores, set to the stereo audio. This is actually a great visual treat, as one can really see how well integrated the visuals are to the live performance and what such a great job has been done by Dene Wilby. Where and how he sources all the material from, is a wonder. In many respects, watching the projections without the 'distraction' of the performers actually focuses greater attention on the music, I certainly noticed a lot more nuances in the live renditions in this setting, than during normal playback of the main feature. We also get to see the full intro film, which does contain the characteristic band humour to a much fuller extent. The cast of characters are very amusing. I particularly liked Neil Duran Durant and Miss Rhoda Bones!
The Lorelei Festival performance of Until The End is, in my opinion rather superfluous. The daylight performance obscures the projections and does not allow best use of the lighting rig, but The Art of the Road Of Bones, a conversation between Nicholls and long-time band artistic director, is fascinating in giving an insight into how the cover artwork evolved alongside the writing and recording of the album. Finally, the photo gallery gives a lot of behind the scenes shots of the the band setting up at the venue, and gives some much deserved exposure to the crew and team behind an IQ concert.
With an impressive 5.1 Surround Sound option, Scrape Against The Sky is undoubtedly the most complete IQ live film and should be an essential purchase for both hardcore fans and lovers of great progressive rock.
Introitus (1:14), The Circus (5:16), Rain (4:24), I am an Eye (5:49), An Embalmer's Lullaby Pt. 2 (3:40), Ophis (4:25), Sentymento (3:04), Scream Again (5:33), Grey Obsession (4:27), Dusk Patrol (2:08), Pain (4:46), Ubique (4:09)
The Mugshots is a band based in Italy, with a wide range of influences from Alice Cooper and Joy Division, to prog rock and black metal. This has bled into to their music and stage presence, with crime stories swinging through the lyrics, and an affinity for theatrics. Having worked with renowned producer Dick Wagner in the past, they have now teamed up with Freddy Delirio and many others to create their latest album, Something Weird. Guests on the album include Matt Malley (Counting Crows), Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan (Venom Inc., Atomkraft), Mike Browning (Nocturnus AD) and many others.
The album kicks off with an almost happy-go-lucky vibe, with playful keys playing over a non-threatening rock beat, and vocals reminiscient of Alice Cooper. The slightly creepy nature of the vocals plays well with the happier, theatrical-sounding music, to create a sound that is easy-going, while still being quite rocky, but also a wee bit unsettling.
Something Weird seems to be a mix of this style, and more conventional (albeit it very well written) rock beats. It is almost like a mix of shock-rock, pop and horror. All in all, it works very well, together with the music sounding like it would lend itself well to something like The Circus Of Horrors theatre show. However, it should be noted that the album gets progressively darker and more rock orientated as it goes on.
It flows well, with some tracks blending into the others seamlessly, as well as the evolving sound, to create a well-rounded album that hits all the right notes for fans of shock-rock styled music. There is also an element of guitar driven pop too it, so think Alice Cooper meets Avatar with a dash of The Killers thrown in. Don't expect a pop record from it however, this is definitely a rock album, and a fine one at that.
Rest Another Time (5:06), Right Way (4:51), The End Of Their World (4:49), Roller Coaster (5:04), Heaven Is Here (5:45), Look In The Mirror (4:48), Last Breath (4:23), Standby (4:19), The Wisest Man On Earth (7:33)
Let's get straight to the point. Re:Search is a bloody clever, enjoyable and deserving album for anyone who is seeking some grown-up progressive rock, with occasional metal flourishes.
With three such albums to their name, Retrospective should now be a much bigger name than they (yet) are. I tried to bang the gong for them with my enthusiastic review of their previous album, Lost In Perception (read it here). After giving this new effort a few spins, I went back and refreshed my memory of that album, and it has more than stood the test of a few years.
Re:Search stands in very similar musical territory and I think it is fair to say again that his young Polish band has created another collection of atmospheric, groove-laden alt/art rock songs, whose appeal reveals its charms slowly on each visit to the headphones.
As before it takes a few few spins for the music to work for me. The accented vocals of Jakub Roszak are rather unique but offer a perfect counterpoint to the music, which is often atmospherically soothing. What Retrospective offer, wavers between alt-rock and art-rock. There is a metallic edge at times to the music but the soloing is at a minimum. It would be too narrow to place this under progressive metal.
The nine songs offer tremendous variety in terms of groove, dynamics and emotion. Each song is engagingly multi-faceted, something heightened by keyboardist Beata Lagoda, who adds harmonies and joint vocals on several tracks. Her voice is more poppy and offers a complimentary contrast to Roszak's. That fact that she features more heavily on this album is a big plus point, frequently reminding me of the vocals by excellent French pop-prog-rock-metal band Venturia (check out their very enjoyable The New Kingdom release from 2006).
However the highlight of this album is the guitar work from Maciej Klimek and Alan Szczepaniak. Between them, they refresh every track with a different combination of guitar sounds, and many of the riffs and solos are simply compelling.
Yet again I am left to implore fans of Muse, Porcupine Tree, Votum, Believe, Riverside and Gazpacho to give this album (and its predecessor) a try. A Top 10 album of the year contender for me.