Routine Maintenance (12:42), Avoid That Eye Candy (3:53), Perpetual Notion (6:57), A Void That I Can Depart To (10:08), Get A Lawn (6:21), Making Light Of Traffic (8:58), Destiny Repeats Itself (7:24), The Sensual Con (7:36)
Did you know there is a genre called 'avant prog-pop jazz core'? I didn't, but that's how these crazy five Minnesotans label the music they release under the moniker Bubblemath. Their sophomore album Edit Peptide was released in May this year, just a mere 16 years after the debut Such Fine Particles Of The Universe. Not being familiar with the band before, but with a such a self-description, the only cited influences on Facebook being "a shared hatred of stupidity" and a line-up that reads like this: "Blake Albinson: Guitar/Keys/Limos, Jay Burrit: Bass/Chess, Kai Esbensen: Keys/Vox/Cats, Jon Smith: Vox/Guitar/Kids, James Flagg: Drums/Vox/Formerly longest Last Name", I am positively sure to find something weird and wacky. Little could me prepare me for the musical madness that would ensue once I hit the play button.
Frank Zappa and Gentle Giant influences may certainly lay the foundation here, but there is also a healthy dose of Beardfish or Spock's Beard melodies hidden, while the instrumental prowess borders on technical metal. Over 12 and a half minutes long opener Routine Maintenance is the perfect example, as it features all the unusual harmony vocals Haken always gets praised for and unexpected instrumental twists and turns galore. The prog-pop of swedish A.C.T. comes to mind during A Void That I Can Depart To, the second track to clock in over ten minutes. All these reference points are to be taken carefully though, as that sense for the odd and avantgarde is always present.
The lyrics are obviously as tongue-in-cheek as is the music ("can't we all just get a lawn"), but quite philosophical at the same time if you have a closer look. The musicianship is stellar throughout. In Making Light Of Traffic they even exceed in a glorious attempt to nail a King Crimson groove. Like all albums with this level of wackiness however, it is not an album for every day and every mood. But the sheer jaw-dropping brilliance of the musicianship on display should make it an essential listen for everyone who claims to be a progger. All those who beg for Dream Theater or, let's say Pendragon, after a couple of minutes should be denied further use of the term progressive (in a musical context).
Ok, that might be a little harsh and elitist, but Edit Peptide is gloriously wacky, yet amazingly concise and jaw-droppingly tight. A feast for all avantgarde lovers, neo proggers should avoid this at any cost, they might die from sheer progginess.
The Exorcist (6:47), This Music (4:53), Soho (7:42), The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours (9:13), Dawn (2:47), Oceans Of Time (8:15), Some Dreams Come True (8:37)
This has been a good year for fans of the band, Anathema. First, June saw the release of their studio recording, The Optimist and now comes this solo album from the band's guitarist/songwriter/singer, Daniel Cavanagh. His influence in the band's sound is quite apparant on Monochrome and the album is also heavy on the elements that I most admire about Anathema. Strongly melodic and effectively sparse in tone, there is a simple beauty to this work that is often stunning.
Daniel has stated that a lot of this material could have been on an Anathema album, and the band was particularly interested in utilizing The Exorcist. Instead, he kept the song for this project and it provides an excellent opening. It also features a powerfully effective and memorable vocal performance from Daniel. Speaking of vocals, the album includes several guest appearances by the extremely talented, Anneke Van Giersbergen. Though her musical output of late has been more in the prog metal genre, it would be great if she did more like this. Her beautiful voice is tailor made for music this strikingly sparce and melodic.
Much in the style of Anathema, Daniel effectively duets with Anneke on The Music, Soho and Oceans Of Time. There is a lyrical meloncholy and sincerity to the vocal performances that brings real poignancy to these tracks. The album includes several instrumental songs, the strongest being the excellent, The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours. This album certainly gives Anathema fans a reason to rejoice, as the sound is there, but these instrumental tracks also give this release some distinction.
Though Daniel is primarily known as a guitarist, the quietly powerful force running throughout this recording is his piano work. The often subtle and moving nature of the album creates a mood that is similar to watching a great movie. In fact, that overall element plays into the greatest compliment that I can give to Monochrome. This is not an album that is meant to be listened to casually. It is a sublime work of depth and emotion that acquires and earns a listener's complete attention. Highly Recommended!
Coming Home (2:31), My Degenerate Mind (4:16), Stars (5:05), Days Erased (1:52), Strings (4:05), Blame It on Me (4:43), The Amazing Monstrous Grady (5:38), The Chosen One: Baptism (3:20), The Chosen One: Transfiguration (5:15), The Chosen One: Crucifixion (1:39), The Chosen One: Resurrection (6:17), The Chosen One: Ascension (5:05)
Circu5 is the creation of British multi-instrumentalist, Steve Tilling who is an in demand session musician and member of Johnny Warman's Magic Bus. Five years in the making, publicty for this album compares it to Lonely Robot, Yes, King Crimson, Yes as well as Queens Of The Stone Age and Cardiacs. This diversity of styles can certainly be heard throughout Circu5. Ranging from hard rock, prog and acoustic elements, the album covers a lot of musical ground. Concept and tone wise, there is also a bit of a Steven Wilson vibe to the proceedings.
The first half of the album displays more of a straighforward, at times, metal feel to the music. The songs, My Degenerate Mind, Stars and Blame it On Me are effective rockers while Days Erased and Strings offer up quietly dark overtone to the proceedings. For the prog fan, things get more interesting with The Amazing Monstrous Grady, a quirky tune that would make Devin Townsend proud.
Ultimately, the real calling card for prog afficianados is the excellent five part, The Chosen One. It is a compelling mix of diverse acoustic segments and adventurously complex progressive rock that flows together seemlessly. Instrumentally and vocally strong, this concept piece makes a recommendation of Circu5 a very easy decision. In fact, in my opinion, the back half of the album is so exceptional that it creates a bit of a lopsided effect overall. In vinyl terms, side A is good, side B is great! Make no mistake though, Circu5 is an entertaining listen from beginning to end.
Tilling is joined on this project by several prominent guests, including Dave Gregory (XTC, Big Big Train), Phil Spalding (Mike Oldfield, GTR), Johnny Warman (Peter Gabriel) and Andy Neve (Steve Hackett). The high level of talent involved is quite apparant as is the dedication that Tilling invested in the creation of the album. I am certainly more drawn to the prog elements on display, but hard rock fans will find much to enjoy as well. Very well produced, written and performed, Circu5 is absolutely worthy of your attention.
Back To Hell (5:38), Night Flyer (4:53), To See Angels (5:59), Winter Ghost (4:08), Woman (6:20), Hand In Hand (7:39), Show Me A Girl (8:17)
This is a very interesting CD overall and one that has certainly caught my imagination. Dick is a project name for Jakko Soimakallio, a Finnish musician who pretty much does everything on his own. Listening to this accomplished second outing you wouldn't necessarily know that, as everything is very accomplished indeed.
He has a somewhat unusual voice and he uses a deeper range than normal. Not death metal, in case you're worried, instead it is a pleasant voice with good expression throughout and whilst each song has its own separate identity, taken together they combine to create something rather special and gripping. The album is especially good on Headphones with good sound and seperation as it plays. The sound is very expansive and shows care for details and for backing textures and sounds.
It is a fairly melancholic album but it also has lots of charm to help it along the way. It is easy to listen to and thus to enjoy and it is a worthy investment of 43 minutes of your life to hear this great little album.
It kicks off with Back to Hell, which is a quirky and strange little number, sung in a deep voice. It is somehow captivating with its subtle but enhanced background that evokes images of a cold, frosty and snow laden environment. Sometimes it's what is happening in the background that makes a song soar. This is one such piece and I think it is a great song and a worthy introduction to this very imaginative artist. Lots of keyboard fills help round out the song, adding dramatics along the way with a rumbling bass line, adding additional emphasis to proceedings, before a mini jazz section heralds in orchestral keyboards and more bass soloing. Not many songs have a bass used so prominently or effectively and this makes this a great opener.
Next up is Night Flyer which opens with drums and a muted guitar passage and some distorted vocals. Again a melancholic song but with charm again. This is all very subtle, but it works well even though the subject matter is somewhat dark and sinister. There is then a sprightly jangling guitar section that is very interesting and is offset by some strong piano playing. This is a well-orchestrated track and is all the stronger for it too as one catches a sense of flight as the song progresses. Another fine track.
Then it is swiftly onto To See Angels, which has an unusual meter to proceedings. It is backed by gentle piano at every turn but at the 1:38 mark it stops before entering a very Genesis remiscent passage based on keyboards and some fine guitar underneath. Everything underpinning it all together into a very pleasant sounding section. I really like this album as it grows on you the more you play it. There is strength and beauty herein and it's all very effective without being bombastic in any manner. It also shows some real flair for arrangements and in making the music float and hang effortlessly.
Winter Ghost follows, which is a shorter but instrumental song with some strong strident guitar work throughout and some more delicate acoustic guitar and flute too, mixed in between the more strident tones and it works well too as head head into the more extended pieces that form the second half of the album, this song acts as a bridge between the two halves somehow and with the use of sound effects is very welcome indeed.
Some more standard guitar riffing chords open Woman, with Dick sounding a little like a rasping Axl Rose. The song has a surging pace to it and it even has a guitar solo on it. A pretty decent and brief one that works well within the form of the song. This is a very strong song indeed and one that deserves a wider audience than it, sadly, will probably ever receive.
Hand in Hand again features a nifty little guitar riff that hangs the song together as the song is about changes and how one strives to keep things as they are and were. It's another lovely song tinged with regrets, somehow very evocative though and with great guitar work throughout, as it builds with subtle synthesizer, bringing the song to a higher level. It is a really great song one, not afraid to stretch and to aim high and large, especially with Dicks expressive and impassioned vocals. Then it's quietening down for a repeated chorus, which bring this magnificent track to a gentle finale in a rather astonishing and most worthwhile manner.
The final and longest song is opening with just acoustic guitar. This is a mellow piece with subdued drums and instrumentation used sparingly and sparsely, to create a great and yet a restrained sound, before a gentle piano part is utilized against a jazzy guitar line. A sultry saxaphone solo by Thumas Sipponen sweeps in a jazzier section. It sounds georgous and it lends this final track an aching beauty that is largely unexpected but most welcome.
This is an album that I will revisit regularly, I'm sure, as it is very appealing and welcome. I love the artowk on the sleeve and inside the booklet, and the music is top notch. Very clever and very persuasive indeed. In fact I know this will end up in my Top Ten this year as it is that impressive. I recommend that you hear this album and that its gentle charms will seduce you too. Well worthy and very impressive stuff! Well done, Dick.
Sands Of Time: Overture (4:37), Sands Of Time: Eyes Of Agony (3:26), Sands Of Time: Dials (8:08), Sands Of Time: Hourglass (5:43), Sands Of Time: Sands Of Time (5:41), Arrowhead (5:07), Out Of Strong Came Sweetness (5:32), Queen Of Insanity (4:39), Blades (4:24), Gift Divine (6:27)
It would appear that Israel is beginning to establish itself as a base for interesting new progressive metal, with Scardust being the second band I have reviewed hailing from that country (the first being Soul Enema). Having formed in 2013 under the name Somnia, they changed their name to Scardust in 2015 along with the release of their debut EP Shadow. Since then they have been working on their debut album Sands of Time, which features a choir and string quartet as well as the band.
The album starts off with the Overture, a largely instrumental piece with some middle-eastern vibes through it as the band sets the bar for the rest of the album. Some heavy Dream Theater style riffs are showcased throughout this track before it seamlessly melds into Eyes Of Agony. The heavy progressive riffs continue to impress here as well as some stunning vocals from Noa Gruman (who, interestingly, helped with vocals on Soul Enema's album), both symphonic and operatic as well as harsh growls.
Dials proves to be an interesting track, dipping and diving through lighter moments reminiscent of Yes and Rush and heavier moments more akin to bands like Arch Enemy.
There is some outstanding musician ship, with blistering solos and harmonies and some complicated, fast paced bass work spread right across the album. The vocal skills are fantastic as well, going from low growls to higher notes that would be suitable in any opera. Everything is very well written and fits together perfectly.
Out Of Strong Came Sweetness kicks in with a groovy rock beat before the harsh vocals kick in, followed by a guest spot by Kobi Farhi (the vocalist for their countrymen of Orphaned Land). This is probably the stand out track on the album. The steady pace, fantastic riffing and the trade-off between the two vocalists make for an interesting, catchy and all round decent track.
If I had to make one criticism, it would be that personally, I don't especially enjoy operatic vocals and I do find there to occasionally be an over-abundance of the super-fast solos (although, they do suit the music and must take some talent to play!). The songs all flow together well, with the album almost sounding as one track. Unfortunately, this does make some tracks sound a bit similar to one another.
However, that being said it is still a wonderful album. I would recommend these guys to any fans of Dream Theater, Kamelot, Nightwish and the proggier elements of Arch Enemy.