Aswekeepsearching - Zia
And Then Came Spring (5:48), Sleep//Awake (4:29), Uns (4:41), There You Are (3:27), Reminiscence (4:38), Kalga (7:11), A New Solace (4:17), Hope Unfolds (5:05), Lights & Colors (4:00), Sometime Somewhere (4:51), Ascend (4:05)
A band name formatted in a very common post-rock manner (a short phrase, no spaces, all lower case). Is that telling me something about what I can expect? (I did notice that this is the first release that has no clear difference between the words while the previous releases did.)
A few track openings feature the electronics I expected in dance music. Several sections have sounds that I, as a Western European, associate with Indian music. Lyrics in Hindi, albeit mostly English song titles, is a novelty in my collection. There You Are mixes in very proggy keyboard melodies. Violin, cello, sitar, and tabla add slightly unexpected sounds.
This is definitely not your every-day post-rock. This is rock music from the heart for most of the time with, yes, some typical post-rock elements such as building up the song structure and sudden bursts of power. Not aggressive power as with some post-rock bands. There are several emotions here, but aggression is not one of them.
But there is more variation than with, for example, Maybeshewill, which I often classify as 'happy post-rock'. Zia is a little darker. I like that. The atmosphere sometimes reminds me of Mono, but when you look at the lengths of the songs, you know Aswekeepsearching don't take as much time for a composition to run its course. It's more compact. Although it might be less heavy than Mono can get, or my taste would like, this does give the album more speed.
For someone who prefers instrumental post-rock, the sparse vocals are not a distraction at all. I don't understand the lyrics. That has never bothered me with other languages, but now it might even be less of a distraction than with other post-rock bands. It also enhances the notion, that this is not post-rock by the book. While it has several elements, it just does not classify as a typical post-rock album. The listening experience is different. Post-rock crossing over to other listening territories. Interesting for fans of Maybeshewill and Mono and the likes, but also Talk Talk (after their poppy albums). A very warm and clear production makes this a more than pleasant listening experience.
And so has come the time for me to replace this digital download review copy with a proper physical copy and find their previous two albums as well.
Jerry van Kooten: 7.5 out of 10
Gentle Knife - Clock Unwound
Prelude Incipit (3:20), The Clock Unwound (15:57), Fade Away (7:24), Smother (8:40), Plans Askew (9:22), Resignation (10:16).
The band features flutes, bagpipes, alto saxophone, keyboards, viola and recorder alongside the more traditional sounds of keyboards, bass and drums. In addition, the band presents three guitarists in their mix. However, this is no shredfest, rather Gentle Knife is a delicately arranged ensemble who use their collected skills to great effect in making some delightfully graceful music. They have crafted many excellent, harmonious and melodic passages that emerge and shine throughout the album.
It sounds at times like a full-on jazz band having a go at progressive rock, and it works as it sounds - fantastic and totally different to most prog rock that you will hear today. I guess a good comparison would be the early works of King Crimson, where they were pushing the boundaries between jazz and rock (which of course they still continue to do today).
Worthy of special mention is the closing section of The Clock Unwound where everyone breaks loose and provide a storming finale to what is already a great track. Fade Away has a delicate flute passage, backed with some fine Hammond organ parts. In fact, every song has something of value to recommend, with nothing outstaying its welcome and everything having a purpose and a place in this great album.
A fine example of this is the very haunting, ethereal flute and the acoustic guitar parts that show on Plans Askew to terrific effect, being both beautifully moving and yet adding an extra dimension to an already strong track.
This is an album of many hidden depths and I really like it a lot. It is one of the finer things I have had the pleasure of hearing this year. It is a very intriguing, yet accessible release and its mix of unusual instruments makes it something both different and yet familiar; delicate and yet fierce. I really must get their debut album now, to see how much of a progression this album truly is.
Gentle Knife is a band that shows great promise and I urge you to check this album out rapidly and lose yourself in some gracefully constructed music that is very rewarding and satisfying to listen to. Very, very highly recommended indeed. Prepare to be amazed!
John Wenlock-Smith: 9 out of 10
Ghost Toast - Out Of This World
Ka Mai (5:33), Gordius (6:42), Alia (7:21), The Dragon's Tail (7:52), Minotaur (5:23), Kaia (8:13), Last Man (7:38), Ishvara (6:40), Pawn Of Fate (3:12)
The music of Ghost Toast is a combination of progressive metal and ambient progressive rock. To put it simply; it sounds like Riverside combined with Lunatic Soul on one album. Out Of This World is an instrumental album with some speaking and chanting voices during the ambient parts. I think the last added musician, János Pusker, with the cello has really added another dimension to the sound of Ghost Toast.
The two openers, Kai Mai and Gordius, are progressive metal songs. Heavy songs with many rhythm changes, so that it sounds a lot like Tool. On these two opening songs, Ghost Toast sounds like a common progressive metal band, but it would be wrong to judge this album solely on these two songs.
From Alia, this changes into an ambient album, with progressive metal elements, but a lot less than during the first two songs. Alia and Minotaur even sound a bit like Jean Michel Jarre, which is nice, but maybe not if you are only expecting metal.
The Dragon's Tail has some (Hungarian?) voices and sounds like the theatrical part of Rhapsody Of Fire or a soundtrack to a fantasy movie. Kaia and Ishavara have more eastern influences, with female chanting voices. These are two nice songs that display the ambient side of Ghost Toast. The difference between these and the two first songs, could make you think you are listening to two bands on one album.
With Last Man the progressive metal from the first two songs returns. It is a very nice song with great cello playing. Like so often, the closing song, Pawn Of Fate, has all the elements of the album's music blended into one song.
Out Of This World is a very diverse album that will appeal to people who like instrumental music, and who can handle the style difference between the progressive metal and the ambient parts. The use of cello and the chanting vocals give this album just that extra point of interest over standard instrumental albums.
Out Of This World offers good quality music, and if you can handle the style differences, then this is a very nice addition to your collection.
Edwin Roosjen: 7.5 out of 10
Nicolas Meier - Infinity
The Eye Of Horus (5:48), Still Beautiful (6:32), Riversides (4:48), Yemin (6:23), Legend (for Jeff Beck) (5:36), Tales (4:52), Rose On Water (2:40), Flying Spirits (6:57), Serene (4:33), Kismet (4:19), JB Top (for Billy Gibbons) (6:10)
Pete Oxley & Nicolas Meier - The Colours of Time
CD1 Duo: The Key of Klimt (8:06), Meeting Dewa (5:40), A Piece of Peace (7:02), Waltz for Dilek (6:03), Princes' Island (6:27), In Restless Repose (6:00), Song for Z.T. (6:10), Sahara (5:44), Bosphorus (4:26), First Day Of Spring (7:59)
CD2 Quartet : The Followers (6:11), Looking West (7:24), Chasing Kites (6:47), Riversides (5:14), Tales (5:20), The Purple Panther (8:09), Breeze (8:24), Fethiye Crossroads (7:14))
CD2 Quartet : The Followers (6:11), Looking West (7:24), Chasing Kites (6:47), Riversides (5:14), Tales (5:20), The Purple Panther (8:09), Breeze (8:24), Fethiye Crossroads (7:14))
Over the years, Meier has featured on many albums and has an extensive discography, both as a solo artist and as a member of the Nicholas Meier trio. He has often collaborated with renowned jazz guitarist Peter Oxley, and the duo have released two albums to date. In October, Meier is due to tour the UK as part of the Budjana Meier group.
The Colours of Time (2017) is collaboration between Meier and Oxley. It is a thoughtful and engaging album that contains many facets that listeners who appreciate instrumental guitar-led music might enjoy.
The album contains two discs. The first disc features Oxley and Meier and is aptly titled duo. A wide range of styles is represented, and the pair is able to successfully incorporate jazz and world influences into a number of compositions. The recording is bright and each instrument has great clarity. The result is an album where every nuance and sound is clearly defined. It is interesting to listen to the manner in which both players interact with each other, as they have a tangible empathy that makes the recording a pleasure to listen to.
A Piece for Peace is probably my favourite track. It has a genuinely beautiful melody and a laid back vibe that is just perfect for late night star-gazing with the person you love. Princes' Islands is another strong piece. It successfully melds a number of different influences, and its middle-eastern flavour gives it an appealing sound.
Disc 1 is technically adept, but both players do not lose sight of the fact that music needs to capture the heart as well as the mind. As a consequence, the tunes are not complex for the sake of it and many offer light, accessible melodies where feel and emotion are as equally important as speed and nimble-fingered dexterity
Overall, disc 1 is intriguing and tracks such as Sahara combine intimacy, intricacy and subtlety with an adventurous mix that is never repetitive and often has the ability to surprise.
The second disc is entitled "Quartet" and features Oxley and Meier in concert, with the addition of a bassist, drummer and keyboard player. The extended line-up ensures that the music on this disc has greater impact, and as a consequence is probably more likely to appeal to a wider audience than the disc 1.
There are fine versions of a number of tracks that appeared on Meier's Infinity solo album. It is interesting to compare versions of tracks such as Tales and Riversides, with how the tunes were recorded in the studio.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Colours of Time and especially disc 2, but overall there is probably little within the release that is likely to find an audience amongst those who enjoy prog, as defined by bands such as Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Yes.
Infinity on the other hand, has a much wider selection of styles, and I think it contains more ingredients that are likely to appeal to the majority of DPRP readers than the material on The Colours of Time.
Although Infinity is a solo album, there is a real group-feel to many of the compositions. As expected, the album showcases Meier's enviable ability as a guitarist, but equally important are the roles that bass player Jimmy Haslip and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta play in bringing the music to life. Haslip's bountiful contribution is particularly compelling and there are many opportunities throughout the course of the album for him to take centre stage. These are guaranteed to satisfy anybody who appreciates the full-bodied sound of the bass, played with considerable feeling and aplomb.
The album is beautifully produced and the sound quality of the recording glistens with clarity. Meier's clean tone is perfectly captured. He plays with lucid precision, and his instrument has a remarkable presence. The whole album is awash with tantalising melodies, which tease and twist, but never become dominated by brash aggression or dark discordance.
The album begins with the impressive Eye of Horus. It has a Middle-Eastern vibe and has a plethora of unexpected moments, including a bass solo that steams and sweats in a wholesome serving of bottom-end energy. It is a fine opener and is a portent for the excellent progressive jazz fusion that much of the album possesses.
Everything about Eye of Horus works; the Al Di Meola guitar style, and the howling, yelping, deep-throated electric violin that accompanies it, is perfect in every respect. The more melodic sections are very reminiscent in style and atmosphere to what Dewa Budjana so flawlessly achieved in his Zentuary release.
The most impressive tune is Riversides, which contains a great mixture of ethnic styles. Stylistically it would also have happily found a place in Dewa Budjana's Zentuary. The use of the violin gives it a slight Mahavishnu feel, but the real star of the piece is the slurred and picked distortion of Meier's guitar. The head of the tune is magical, and the feeling exuded by the bendy, bulging notes as they subside to nothing, is nothing short of magnificent.
One of the most appealing aspects of Infinity is the inclusion of a number of languid pieces that perfectly offset the more up-tempo numbers. These offer a change of pace and provide lots of opportunity for measured reflection. There are many occasions when the album practices the art of subtle seduction, by the selection of spacious notes, rather than a gruff, quick-fired assault upon the senses in the matter of a few seconds. During Infinity, touch, feel and quality are much more important than speed and quantity.
Still Beautiful tickles and caresses the listener with just the right mixture of mischievous guile and satin-sheeted seduction. The piece is easily accessible and is as tunefully melodious as anything Pat Metheny might have penned.
Yemin is an acoustic piece with some Middle-Eastern/Turkish flourishes that contains lots of unexpected twists. The violin parts work very well and furnish the piece with an air of mystery. Listeners who enjoy the multi-faceted violin work of artists such as Shankar will find much to ruminate upon during the atmospheric interludes provided by Sally Jo's expressive bow-work.
There were times when I felt that the album was a little too polite for its own good and the inclusion of some brash aggression and discordance would have added to the album's colourful palette of sounds. There were some points during the album, and particularly during the exuberantly paced and ever changing Legend, where I would have preferred Meier's chosen sound to be dirtier and more direct. This might have made the piece's enjoyable jousting between the violin and guitar even more effective.
Overall, I have become quite enthralled by Infinity. The interplay between the players is magnificent and the level of musicianship on display is exemplary at all times. This creates an album that is a delight to listen to and one that is genuinely exciting at times. Infinity will definitely appeal to anybody who enjoys instrumental progressive jazz fusion.
I am looking forward to hearing some of the tunes featured in Infinity played in a live setting during October. It will be interesting to see how the combination of Dewa Budjana and Nicholas Meier are able to interpret and evolve already dazzling tunes, such as Riversides and Kismet, into something that sparkles even more brightly.
Conclusions Owen Davies:
Infinity: 8 out of 10
The Colours of Time: 7.5 out of 10
Prospekt - The Illuminated Sky
Ex Nihilo (2:35), The Illuminated Sky (7:41), Titan (4:38), Distant Anamnesis (1:31), Beneath Enriya (6:57), The Shadows Of The Earth (5:35), Alien Makers Of Discord (feat Greg Howe) (9:03), Cosmic Emissary (7:10), Akaibara (5:09), Where Masters Fall (feat Marc Hudson) (11:39)
Prospekt is a British act influenced by bands such as Dream Theater, Symphony X, Pagans Mind and Circus Maximus. Stick this in your player of choice and for an hour of your life, tuck into their blend of fiercely technical, guitar-dominated progressive metal with a side order of symphonics, fusion and some welcome elements of contemporary prog.
For those with a good memory, I gushed over this band's debut album, The Colourless Sunrise back in 2013 (review here).
Two years later, vocalist and keyboardist Richard Marshall left the band to be replaced by Michael Morris. As Marshall's vocals were one of the things I loved about the debut, I was apprehensive about how a new voice would fit into the band's complex, high power style. I need not have worried. Marshall's soaring vocal has a passion and a strong mid-range (as displayed together on the short ballad Distant Anamnesis), setting him well apart from those metal singers that are often described as "air-raid sirens". He could still develop a richer tone (soul) to his high range and maybe an occasional angry rasp to his low range, but overall he fits this collection of songs perfectly. I think the change has been a positive one.
The band has also become a quintet, with the addition of keyboard player Rox Capriotti.
We open with the Pagans Mind fuelled title track, before we take an even heavier direction with the appropriately named Titan. Beneath Enriya has a verse and instrumentation that is modelled on early-period Dream Theater, before we change gear for an insanely catchy Fates Warning-esque melodic chorus. The change of pace halfway through works perfectly, before a blistering solo from Lee Luland takes us back to the chorus.
Indeed, it is the guitar work that often steals the show on this disc. Some of the riffs and solos are insanely good.
Albeit within the boundaries of the progressive metal genre, there is plenty of variety on this disc. The Shadows Of The Earth treads the most obviously commercial approach (in metal terms). Fans of Rhapsody of Fire or Dragonforce would enjoy this pretty direct blast of power metal.
So that's four top-quality opening (full) tracks.
Now, it's become a bit of a cliché for up-and-coming bands to drag in a few "iconic guest artists". Often, it seems to just be a way to attract the interest of that artist's own fans, with the actual contribution adding little that the band members couldn't have come up with themselves. However here, the addition of a solo from Greg Howe (of Michael Jackson fame) on the powerful Alien Makers Of Discord actually brings a style and tone that is noticeably different, and one really enhances what is already a great song. This track is the closest the album gets to the melodic hard rock styles encompassed by early-period Circus Maximus and Seventh Wonder.
Likewise, the use of vocalist Marc Hudson (DragonForce) provides a clever contrast to Morris' voice on the closing epic Where Masters Fall.
As ever with great albums, it is the attention to the small details that takes this effort up a further notch. As ever with releases on the Lasers Edge label, the sound (mixed by Øyvind Larsen at Lionheart Studios, and mastered by Jens Bogren) is excellent. I've pumped this out several times on the full system to glorious cardiac arrest-inducing effect. For those who prefer the digital world, then (again, as usual) the label has a 24 bit hi-res version on its Bandcamp platform. The album is also very well paced, with the tracks flowing well into each other and offering a constant change of intensity.
Favourite songs? Of the eight full songs, I could select any from The Illuminated Sky, Titan, Beneath Enriya and Alien Makers Of Discord. The Shadows Of The Earth is a great track, but too power metally for my tastes, and Where Masters Fall stands as a bombastically-exuberant curtain caller.
Cosmic Emissary offers a nice mix of very heavy and very light but lacks the same levels of hooks. The cinematic ballad Akaibara is the weak song, being the only place where the vocals become too air raid sireny. It also tends to wander around too much looking for that killer hook before eventually giving up, with a horrible fade out.
The use of synths mean that this album isn't as cold as the tech metal bands such as Watchtower and Zero Hour. However any fan of this genre will be able to pick out ingredients from a long list of protagonists in the prog metal genre, from Dream Theater Symphony X, Fates Warning and Pagans Mind (the obvious contenders) to more obscure artists such as Odd Logic, Arch Matheos, Lost in Thought, My Soliloquy and even Haken, in some of the more flamboyant moments.
And yet the music does not sound like a homage to any of any of these. Prospekt is a band that, in just two albums, has already found its own confidence and a sound that it can call its own.
Without doubt, with their second album this band, from the university city of Oxford, can be classified as one of the leading (traditional style) progressive metal bands on the scene today. This is a Top 10 album of the year without a doubt.
Andy Read: 9 out of 10