Chains Of The Collective (5:38), Waves Of Destruction - I - Rising Tide (1:05), Waves Of Destruction - II - Struggle For Survival (9:09), Estrangement (1:39), Turn Of Fate (7:39), Colourblind (5:20), Clash With Eternity (4:11), A Life Less Ordinary (6:55), The Whistleblower - I - Devastation (1:16), The Whistleblower - II - Vindication (10:40), Turn Of Fate (Acoustic) (4:32)
Alarion is a project by multi-instrumentalist Bas Willemsen. Starting in 2005 as a band, then called Alerion, in 2014 Bas continued alone and changed the spelling to Alarion. With the help of guest musicians and vocalists he has recorded the debut album Waves Of Destruction, on which Bas plays guitar, bass guitar and keyboard.
The name Alarion sounds a bit like Ayreon. Among the guest vocalists are Damian Wilson and Irene Jansen. Damian is a frequently returning guest vocalist for Ayreon and Irene Jansen participated in the live edition of Star One. Another guest vocalist is Paul Glandorf from Semistereo and the guest keyboard player is Erik Laan from Silhouette. Alarion is more metal than Ayreon and more in the line of the Star One project from Arjen Lucassen. On Waves Of Destruction each song features one vocalist and Damian Wilson gets the most vocal parts.
Alarion brings us a huge variety in music. The main part is symphonic metal but there are also acoustic mellow parts and some orchestral sections. The heavy songs with Damian Wilson remind me lot of the work he has done with his own bands. Chains Of The Collective and Waves Of Destruction - II - Struggle For Survival will appeal to fans of Threshold and Headspace. Turn Of Fate with Irene Jansen remotely sounds like her sister in Nightwish, but the gothic element is not that obvious in Alarion.
Colourblind is another heavy and, this time, fast song with Damian Wilson. Clash With Eternity is a mellow track with Tineke Roseboom. She also performs background vocals on Waves Of Destruction which she also did on an album by Blaze Bayley. A Life Less Ordinary is another heavy song with many changes, and is the only song with vocals by Paul Glandorf. The last song The Whistleblower, with vocals from Damian Wilson, is a heavy progressive metal song that has many Dream Theater influences and is the most complex song on the album. The heavy Irene song also has an acoustic version at the end of the CD. Normally not my cup of tea, but I do like this one.
Waves Of Destruction is a very impressive debut album. There is a diversity of music present, with a huge amount of symphonic metal.
The participation of Damian Wilson really improves the quality and fans of Damian's work with Threshold and Headspace will be satisfied. The album has more vocalists, Irene, Tineke and Paul also provide some good singing on this album, and a variety in music but it still sounds very coherent. Waves Of Destruction is a solid album and I am looking forward to the next Alarion album.
The Second Dawn of Hiroshima (3:58), Idiots Lose Control (3:41), Just a Ride (3:13), Nothing But Death (4:14), Mutant Circus Manifesto (4:38), Coming Home (4:41), The Harmony Concept (4:08), Epiphany (4:08), A New Dawn (3:50), Sons of the Atom (7:20), The Butterfly Effect (Live in Studio) (3:57), Epiphany (Paternoise Remix) (4:08)
Element of Chaos are a band from Rome, Italy, who have now entered their tenth year and describe themselves as "post-atomic avant garde". Quite a challenge to live up to something that esoteric. In the 10 years they have been around, they have so far released an EP (The Butterfly Effect) and one album (Utopia) before they let A New Dawn out into the world.
The album starts with chugging riffs and machine gun drumming, before the growled vocals and ethereal leads join the front. Shortly after, a mellower, cleanly sung bridge comes into play before the riffing and growls come blasting back in. What follows for the rest of the opener, The Second Dawn of Hiroshima is more chugging, stop-start riffs and a synth lead reminiscent of the old Sonic games. Growled and clean vocals trade off against each other, with it tending to go from a heavy section with growled vocals, to melodic bridges more reminiscent of Devin Townsend.
The album tends to follow this chugging and stop/start pattern, with some leads thrown in to break it up. Some bits do get the feet tapping, but the riffs don't seem to change much, except for some technical bits thrown in to a soup consisting mainly of chugging. There is a lot of repetitive drum and guitar riffs to be found here. Even if they are different, they are still very similar.
Mutant Circus Manifesto is likely to be the only track I enjoyed at least 80% of the way through (the track ends with a typical chugging riff again, which spoiled it). It has a nice solo and pace, and the vocals are well constructed. The second half of the album seems to be better written, with more variance in riffs and structure. If the album had been written to more closely resemble this side, I suspect I would have enjoyed it a lot more. However, there is still a lot of re-using of riffs, or changing them only slightly.
There is a lot of potential, I just feel it is a bit disjointed and they are trying to do too much with the sound, and cram too much in, as such it feels a bit rushed and haphazard (not in a prog way). If they dialled back the fast pace occasionally, and tried to rely less on the chugging riffs (which are very over-done here), and maybe allow the more melodic and heavy bits flow a bit more, they could release a very good album. Sadly this is not it.
There are elements of deathcore and djent throughout, with some hints of hardcore punk spread sporadically through the album. The more "avant garde" or "prog" bits sound a bit out of place. The band has the talent to do well in the various styles, but they just need to work on making them blend better together. Think Rings of Saturn and Emmure mixed with some Periphery.
In short, there is potential, but it has been wasted on cramming too much into too little.
CD1, Scambot 2: In The Trees (10:28), Roots Twist (3:02), Sam (3:20), Clipper (4:36), Forget About It (0:46), Pretzels (4:25), Buzz (4:32), Race The Stars (3:44), O (1:26), Roll (6:23), Constructed (3:46), Freezer Burn (5:23), Scores Of People (5:22), Cold Hands Gnat (4:00), Proceed (3:19),
CD2, Inkling (More from the Scambot 2 Sessions): Presence (0:48), Scambot (2:17), Boghe (4:01), Sickness (2:01), The Coma (2:11), I Named You (0:45), Falafel (1:29), O Elastic Love! (1:23), Cram (8:10), Mystery Song (0:04), E (0:37), The Scorpions (5:32), Skating Backwards (2:15), Tom (7:01), Mayday! (1:25), Lovesong (1:27), Back It Up (2:54), Inkling (1:37), Uncompressed Rag (2:04),
Under the guise of my New Year's Resolution to expand my reviewing repertoire in 2017, I am currently seeking to follow some musical pastures anew.
For reasons that will hopefully become clear very soon, I think a brief biography is relevant here, especially for those (like me) who are new to the Keneally world.
To begin, we go back to late 1987, when a much younger Mike got hired to play guitar and keyboard with Frank Zappa. As the 90s got underway he got a solo career going, while also working with Frank's sons in the group Z, and then playing in Steve Vai's band for six years. Eight audio or video projects emerged between 1992 and 1998, with titles such as Boil That Dust Speck and Sluggo! Mike then formed a label in 1999. Starting with the instrumental one-man-band album Nonkertompf, he unleashed another 20 or so Keneally releases in quiet succession.
Fast-forward to 2012, and another career highlight was an album called Wing Beat Fantastic: Songs Written By Mike Keneally & Andy Partridge (the former leader of XTC), followed by Evidence of Humanity with drummer Marco Minnemann. Mike works a lot nowadays as a member of Joe Satriani's band whilst playing death metal in the live band Dethklok ("We, the human band, play the death metal live, while the cartoon Dethklok is in rhythmic sync with us, on a huge LED screen above the stage. People go nuts."). He also composes orchestral pieces, including a 52-minute suite The Universe Will Provide, recorded with Holland's Metropole Orkest and released in 2003.
That, by way of a bit of background, sets the context for Scambot 2, which as the title suggests is the shy sequel to 2009's Scambot 1. Musically, and especially lyrically, it continues the epic tale of a grumpy little guy named Scambot, whose behaviour and personality are being controlled by an evil fruit jam magnate named Ophunji.
The epic tale of Scambot and the other humans, animals and deities in his life, complete with cartoon-strip illustrations, is told in-full and brought to life in a wonderful 24-page booklet, which accompanies the 2CD version of this album.
According to the man himself, Scambot 1 was a dense, mostly instrumental and pretty darn abstract listen. "For Scambot 2 I really wanted to write a bunch of songs, as opposed to composing a bunch of pieces, and that's what happened."
And he has certainly succeeded in that. Considering Keneally's diverse and somewhat chaotic background, Scambot 2 is way more accessible, melodic and enjoyable than I dared to expect.
Despite its weird, quasi-cookie monster vocals towards the end, I love the opening track, with its heavy guitar riff and Zappa-meets Kings X-meets-Psychotic Waltz musical expression. The shift however is instant, with the second track taking on more of a blues-based drawl that drifts between Skynyrd and The Eagles. And it continues: Race The Stars is a west coast fusion-pop hybrid, Roll is a great slab on retro rock in the vein of Deep Purple, whilst Constructed and the closing Proceed are very laid back, American singer/songwriter tracks that could be an ode to James Taylor.
That's not so say that any track stays static within such easy descriptions or styles for long. Scores of People conjures up images of The Beatles amidst a cocktail of musical and gospel, all played over a creepy "See-saw Margery Daw"-esque theme. Only the weird Donald Duck vocals that dominate Cold Hands Gnat can be classified as a failure.
Scambot 2 contains wonderful performances from the likes of Kris Myers, Pete Griffin, Bryan Beller, Joe Travers, Doug Lunn, Gregg Bendian, Ben Thomas, Jesse Keneally and Marco Minnemann. Despite credits being given to seven different engineers, the sound quality is consistently fabby.
Overall, if you like your music to be truly progressive by cause of its inventiveness and variety, then Scambot 2 is just a wonderful album to listen to.
One final piece of detail: Scambot 2 is available as a simple download in the format/quality of your choice from the Keneally website (link above). However there are still some of the 2000 copies of the limited edition 2CD set available. This comes with a second album called Inkling (plus an additional 8-page booklet for Inkling, both nestled within the attractive digipak.)
Only available in this 2CD format, Inkling consists of additional music recorded during the Scambot 2 sessions. It stands apart as an album in its own right, and I guess mirrors more closely the abstract, instrumental music that characterised Scambot 1. I gave this one listen but it was too abstract for my taste. However I would treat it as a freebie, and still go for the 2CD version, so that you get the lovely booklet and full storyline.
Back to the Machine (4:18), Ready, Set, Sue (3:31), Riff Splat (5:34), What is the Meaning (4:21), Marseille (4:18), Good Day Hearsay (3:31), Witness (5:03), Balloon (3:00), When the Gavel Falls (4:09), The Verdict (4:30), Free Radicals (1:34), Magistrate (3:39), Shiloh's Cat (4:33), The Tort (5:10)
The trio of Tony Levin, Marco Minnemann and Jordan Rudess need no introduction to most progressive rock fans, old and new. But just in case these three virtuosos have slipped your attention, Tony Levin is a world class bass and Stick player, who played with Liquid Tension Experiment, Peter Gabriel and King Crimson to name but a few. Marco Minnemann is one of the best drummers on the scene and featured on the last three Steven Wilson albums and is one of the members of The Aristocrats. He also plays guitar, as can be heard on his solo albums. And Jordan Rudess is of course the keyboard wizard in Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment.
These three very gifted, yet humble musicians first got together for the release of their collaboration debut Levin Minnemann Rudess back in 2013. Scott Schorr, producer and record label owner of Lazy Bones Recordings introduced the three virtuosos and ignited the spark for their project. Hats off and thank you very much Mister Schorr for your vision and hard work! The first album was heralded and well received for being an album full of mind-blowing songs and virtuosity. And thus the trio got together again in 2015 to start writing and recording the follow-up to this great debut. The project's name sounds like a law firms' wet dream and that was exactly what the trio thought when they wanted to name their sophomore album. Hence the name From the Law Offices Of.
Finding space in the trio's very busy schedule was one of the biggest challenges, but in the end they have been able to create a new masterpiece.
From the Law Offices Of is exactly what you would have expected after their debut. However with the undeniable talents on board, there is so much to enjoy and discover, that it is impossible to state that it's more of the same. This album is another fusion of jazz, progressive rock and mind-blowing music, but in my humble opinion it takes it up a notch and is slightly better than their first effort.
It is quite impossible to take down this album track by track, and I would recommend all of you to give this album a few spins before you come to your very own conclusions. But here are some of my personal favourites.
Witness features an unworldly solo by Jordan Rudess and is one of the highlights of the entire album. And that says so much more about this particular solo, than about the level of his playing in the other songs. The groove on this track is great as well.
The second track Ready, Set, Sue has a King Crimson feel to it and features Minnemann and Levin who find each other in odd time signatures, with another great piece of skill from Rudess on top of that.
There is something great in all the tracks and it takes a few listens to find each of them. But once you do find those gems, it makes so much sense. All the riffing and soloing does take some time to get your head around, but in some cases the song is a little easier to take in. The fourth track, What is the Meaning, is very funky and even has something you might call lyrics. Even though it is only the track's title, that is sort of sung.
Balloon is a great track that sounds very light in comparison to most of the other tracks, but all the songs together make a very good album. It could be somewhat challenging to some, because of the dynamics in song writing, but it will be very witty and fun for others. I highly recommend this super trio to anyone into the aforementioned bands and virtuoso playing.
An Infinitesimal Spark (1:50), One of Many... (1:27), Prison Skin (6:21), Spirals Within Thy Being (7:16), Cosmic Walkers (3:22), No Faced Mindless (5:52), Living Waves (5:54), Vacuum (2:13), Stillness Is Timeless (9:36), Aathma (20:00) Part I. Universal Oneness (6:36), Part II. Spiritual Bliss (4:06), Part III. One with the Light (5:23), Part IV. ...Many of One (3:58)
Persefone is a band I have heard of, and heard a few tracks of, and always enjoyed, so I was Looking forward to this album, as it includes guest spots from Paul Masvidal (Cynic, Death), Øystein Landsverk (Leprous) and Merethe Soltvedt. After a four-year break since their last album (Spiritual Migration) Persefone has returned with their fifth album, Aathma, and I was eager to check it out.
The album starts off slowly, with a couple of short melodic intros creating a nice atmosphere with the keyboard skills of Miguel Espinoza, before throwing you into the full-tilt prog metal piece of Prison Skin. This track packs a punch with fast technical riffing, growled vocals intertwined with clean passages, and an altogether full-on prog metal onslaught.
The following track, Spirals Within Thy Being, follows a similar structure, with an abundance of fast and technical guitar and drum wizardry, complete with shredding solos and blistering leads. The work of guitarists Filipe Baldaia and Carlos Lozano Quintanilla really shine through here.
After the following five tracks of unashamed talent, following the pattern of fast, technical and melodic, we come at last to the mammoth title track, Aathma, which has been split into four parts. These tend to focus more on showing off the songwriting skills and talents of the band, with softer parts, more streamlined riffs and less stop/starting and overly-complex areas. It is a fantastic closer, to what I can imagine being one of my top albums of the year.
The sole reason I wouldn't give this a perfect score is that I wouldn't describe this as having any memorable riffs as such, due to the blistering pace of the album and the sheer volume of technical licks plastered over each song. Aside from this however, the album is a serious tour de force of impeccable prog metal.
The album is complicated, technical, fast, melodic and everything else you could want from a progressive death metal band. It is filled with twists and turns, and stop-start riffs in abundance, but they are worked in well to the music, so it does not become boring or repetitive. Filled with clean vocals and harsh growls, the album serves up a hefty slab of progressive metal, which should keep any fan of this genre happy.
Fans of melodic and progressive death metal such as Be'lakor, Katatonia, Devin Townsend, and similar would do well to pick this up.
Altered States (23:34), The Black Dot (8:53), So Is Life (5:02), Dusk (5:08)
Describing themselves as an "art-pop and prog outfit", Starfish64 was established back in 2006 by Dieter Hoffmann. He has since been accompanied by various European musicians for the release of three albums and three EPs. The most recent of these was the concept album Refugees, which received a positive DPRP review back in 2015 (review here).
From what I can make out from the credit list, there is now a core to the band based around Hoffmann (vocals, keyboards and guitars), plus drummer Henrik Kropp and Dominik Suhl, who adds additional guitars and keyboards. Add to that for this album, we have seven additional musicians who add bass, piano, trumpet, and flute.
The band recommends that this album is best listened to "with good headphones, scented candles and booze of your choice", and that nicely sums up the mood. Stylistically An Altered State of Joy blends low-key neo-prog (think Hogarth-era Marillion), with the more cinematic, ambient moments of Pink Floyd and Camel, and a big new-age vibe (Nigel Mazlyn Jones springs to mind a lot).
Hoffman is the composer, and it is clear that he has a great awareness of melody and mood in his songwriting. The disc takes a two-sides-of-vinyl approach, with side one being an ambitious, multi-part long song, and side two consisting of three complimentary shorter tracks.
The highlight is undoubtedly the A side. It takes bravery to open with a 23-minute track, but as it moves through five different themes, before returning to the original motif, Altered States is a very impressive composition. Everything builds and evolves nicely, and each of the various parts possesses a memorable melody. Hoffman's voice bears a canny resemblance to the calm side of Steve Hogarth, which is no bad thing.
Over on side B, and I also really like The Black Dot which ticks the art-pop box with an excellent use of trumpet. So Is Life is listenable but not as compelling. Dusk is, well, just rather dull.
I have spent a bit of time with this CD to see if it has staying power. It has, although I do tend to only listen to one side at any one time. Everything is very gentle and single-paced. Listening to both sides in one go, and my attention tends to wander. One track with a little more variety in tone, style and tempo would have done this album no harm at all.
Overall this has proved to be a very enjoyable discovery, one that those who like their progressive rock not to rock too much, will really enjoy. It is mainly being sold as a digital album but if you want a "hard" copy, then the Starfish64 Bandcamp page (linked above), also offers a professionally burned CD-r in a fold-out digipak including lyric-sheet.