Reviews in this issue:
Hillsphere - Floresence
Hillsphere are a band that have emerged from the Netherlands, having formed in 2012 as a solo project by guitarist and keyboardist Elias Mayer. However, it developed into a full band soon after. When it came to their debut album, vocalist Tim Beimer joined for a guest appearance but soon became a permanent fixture of the band. After a few line-up changes, a stable line up (with Robin Waij on guitars, Kevin van der Reijnst on bass and Wouter Macare on drums) was settled on and their debut album, Florescence was released.
The band are described as progressive post-metal and it shows in the music. The first full track, The Breeding Of Us is an instrumental track that is a good showcase of their post-metal credentials. Filled with melodic leads and a driving rhythm section to keep it interesting.
The vocals through the album add a bit more of an almost "progressive metalcore" vibe to the music and bringing them stylistically in line with numerous other modern prog metal bands such as Tesseract and Voyager. The band have a talent for leads and the music is both atmospheric, progressive and modern.
The heavier tracks have a good deal of punch and melodic leads to them, and the softer ones bring in the melancholy sound with the use of clean guitars and ambient synths. The band are talented, and the rhythm section adds a lot of weight to the music and gives it a nice bassy sound. The solos are good and the choruses powerful. At times, they sound almost like a young Devin Townsend.
The stand out track for me would be Mind At Rest. This one goes through all the motions it needs to. Soft, heavy, mellow, and foreboding. It does it all and sounds like a band who is a bit closer to knowing who they are. However, Clairvoyance is a close second. A 9-minute-long instrumental that is epic in all ways. It builds up and climaxes where it should and drops down where it should. Heavy and fast and keeps you hooked throughout.
My main concern with this album would be the same kind you would get with almost every debut album. The band needs to tighten up a bit, and still needs to discover their own individual sound I would say. They have the beginnings of a sound, but this album isn’t bringing much new to the table that hasn't been done before. However, if they do that and find what sound defines them, I think they could go on to do very well.
I would recommend for fans of bands like Devin Townsend, Tesseract, Riverside, and Voyager.
Kingfisher Sky - Technicoloured Eyes
Kingfisher Sky entered the stage of female fronted rock bands some ten years ago. Having played with Within Temptation, founding member Ivar de Graaf (drums) knew he would embark on a tough journey to turn this new band into a success. But he brought along two important assets that would make Kingfisher Sky differ from their contemporaries: the angelic voice of his partner Judith Rijnveld, and the inclusion of a violoncello played by Maaike Peterse as a trademark of the band’s sound.
Kingfisher Sky focuses on compact, recognizable songs instead of exploring orchestral (Within Temptation), opera (Epica), or grunt (Nightwish) territories. Add to this that their musical inspiration ranges from Tori Amos's Winter (the band’s rendition of that song is superb) to Skunk Anansie to traditional folk and all ingredients for interesting music is there.
Their 2017 debut Halfway Of Dreams was as successful as they will have hoped for, while its successor Skin Of The Earth strengthened their position even further. I was quite impressed by their third album Arms Of Morpheus which contained some excellent, moody songs that would grant them a firm place in the forefront of the scene, I thought. Yet that didn’t happen, they haven’t achieved the same status as Epica or Delain yet.
Now there is another full album entitled Technicoloured Eyes and I was quite curious to learn where this band stands now. The 2018 line-up is completed by Edo van der Kolk (guitars), Nick Verschoor (bass) and Erik van Ittersum (keys). De Graaf, Rijnveld and Van Ittersum composed the music and the lyrics. The cover is very tastefully colourful and is as far away from those dark, spooky covers that many bands seem to prefer in the gothic scene as can be.
A heavy guitar riff opens the album and suggests that this is about to be a really heavy album. Yet within the minute the angelic voice of Rijnveld comes in and the first heavy impression is completely blown away. Then the first multi-layered vocals appear, another trademark of the band, followed by wide synth chords alternated with nice heavy guitar riffing and an addictive chorus. The track has a nice vocal melody and a very addictive multi-layered chorus. Together with the great variation in instrumentation, it makes this a very convincing opener.
On Golden Thrones is another gem on the album. It’s a slow ballad with a chorus that is so appealing that it didn’t disappear from my head for days. It makes me think strongly of The Gentle Storm because of the overall feeling and Rijnveld’s voice that sounds a lot like Anneke van Giersbergen here. The guitar solo towards the end is far too short.
Another delightful ballad, Stop The Silence has just piano, cello, and vocals. A strong, melancholic vocal melody performed with much emotion, the sad sounds of violoncello providing an appropriate musical background for the lyrics about being left behind by your lover, while the piano meanders through the music preventing the mood to become too suicidal. Fantastic song and one that proves again what an enormous asset such a string instrument can bring into a band. These kind of melancholic ballads are certainly one of the aspects that make Kingfisher Sky stand out. For me this is the absolute highlight of the album.
The title song starts with tingling piano, hi-hats and layered vocals before developing into a muscular flowing song with some nice heavy guitar riffs. The moods and the pace in the song change several times with guitar and synth alternating taking the lead, making this quite a proggy one. A worthy title track! Then Rijnveld goes opera in Next In Line, another varied track in which some guitar, lots of synths and wide vocals alternate. It is done quite tastefully.
In Reveries the first part is ballad-like and develops into a moderate heavy mid-tempo track with strong multi-layered vocals, excellent subtle piano playing and supportive guitar. It ends in an outro with acoustic guitar and piano that makes this another strong track. Album closer Dream Beyond A Dream hails back to the heavy riffing of the album opener and that is a nice feature. The song is not as heavy as the intro suggests but another mid-tempo song in which the band takes its time to expand into the music a little further. I think they should have done that more often.
While the aforementioned tracks are nice to very good, it proves hard for the band to keep up that high level throughout the entire album. There are some distinctive weaker moments, probably partly due to their choice to stick to rather short songs with a verse-chorus-verse build-up in which there is limited room to develop musical ideas further or to exploit new musical territories. For instance Paving Stones, Cornelia, as well as Walk With Brothers are well sung and well played but they somehow lack character. The intro and outro in Swimming Against The Tide as well as the spoken words do not work very well with the beautiful vocal melody and the delicious guitar solo.
In their own words they have recorded their most symphonic album so far. Although some songs certainly deserve that label, foremost Stop The Silence, this is not a symphonic rock album as such but rather a rock album with some symphonic elements. Nothing wrong in that of course, there is still much to enjoy for the prog lover. But you need to take your time for this album is a slow grower. At first glance I was a bit disappointed because of the lack of instantly recognizable or stand-out songs. Yet after almost ten spins I must conclude that it has crept under my skin, that certain songs keep popping up in my head because of their catchy melody or chorus.
There are many strong musical moments that makes this a good album and a further proof that Kingfisher Sky is a real asset to the scene. I only hope that they will succeed in recording the album that will bring them the wide appreciation they deserve. Technicoloured Eyes has a few weak moments too much to develop into such a big success but contains more than enough sparks to have faith that they will succeed in making that great album in the near future. For anyone who likes muscular but melodious female fronted atmospheric rock with hints of Within Temptation, The Gathering, Evanescence or Nightwish, to name just a few, this is one I can recommend.
Alberto Rigoni featuring Marco Minnemann - EvoRevolution
The sound of thunder and lashing rain pattering from the speakers in the first moments of the title track, is about as near as a listener will hear anything remotely natural during Alberto Rigoni’s latest studio project. With the exception of the percussion parts and an assortment of spoken sound bites, that is.
The album contains two pieces. The opening piece lasts for over thirty-two minutes and in this masterclass of the art of what is possible to achieve with a bass and modern technology, Rigoni excels in his skilled ability to pull together a variety of effects, loops and bass techniques into a coherent and structured composition.
The other piece on the album lasts a mere four minutes and in this altogether more upbeat and accessible track Rigoni demonstrates that he also has the ability to create a more concise and easily digestible way to showcase his undeniable prowess.
Drummer Marco Minnemann joins Rigoni on the album. Minnemann is perhaps best known for his work with the Aristocrats. Minnemann’s often understated but frequently superb contribution is able to convert the album from largely being a showcase of technical proficiency, to something that contains an identifiable human touch.
His playing demonstrates both subtlety and a consummate ability to build and execute a rousing groove when the need arises. His talent of being able to switch from deftness to power in a matter of moments adeptly transforms sepia passages that pulse and vibrate with bottom end distortion into a technicolour experience that brings a human connection and emotive dimension to proceedings.
Alberto Rigoni is an Italian bass player and composer, known for his work as a solo artist and as a member of the progressive rock band TwinSpirits. EvoRevolution is Rigoni’s sixth solo album. On here, Rigoni demonstrates that he is a highly proficient bassist with a clear command of how modern day equipment can enhance and extend the scope of his instrument. It also demonstrates that he is a composer of some note. Even though low-end tones dominate and primeval rhythms abound, Rigoni’s awareness and use of space and melody is always to the fore in the cleverly woven instrumental tapestries that are on display.
The piece highlights a variety of tones, timbres and bass techniques. Recurring themes weave in and out of the piece in a series of six interlocking movements. The way in which motifs recur, gives the piece a sense of continuity and purpose. There are some deft moments where harmonics play a part in creating a tender soundscape. These are contrasted with some full on heavy metallic riffing where if the mood takes, the imagination can layer, some gruff grunt effects, or tortured tonsil embellishments.
The prospect of a bass and drums album might be somewhat daunting, but the album whizzed by and I was genuinely impressed with much of what I heard. However, EvoRevolution is at its best when dipped into. I do not think that I will play the whole of the opening piece on a regular basis, but will certainly hear individual portions again.
The most frustrating aspect of the album was the extensive use of a spoken narration taken from films and documentaries. Whilst these offered an undeniable ambient nature to some musical passages and a superficial connection to the subject matter of the album, much of the time, much of its message was incomprehensible.
After numerous plays, these interjections became a sense of annoyance and detracted from my overall enjoyment of the album. The spoken word conversation/description that occurs throughout the final five minutes of the album was particularly disconcerting. Its constant chattering and largely inaudible sequence of words meant that listening to the album was a similar experience to listening to a piece of music with a TV set on in the background.
Nevertheless, and despite these minor misgivings EvoRevolution is an interesting and worthwhile release and one that will satisfy anybody who enjoys the belching tones of a bass guitar in a variety of guises.
Sisare - Leaving The Land [digital]
Leaving The Land is a very decent and balanced album. Released by Finnish band Sisare earlier this year, the album is their second full-length effort. Although the band started out as a progressive death metal act they found a new path when after a short hiatus the band crafted a more traditional progressive sound with the release of their first album Nature's Despair in 2013. Now in 2018 their sophomore album sees the light.
Just six songs feature on this well produced and strong album, each long enough to grow on you but never too long to be all too repetitive, which is the case with some bands. Starting of with the mellow yet atmospheric intro to the song Escape, this song quickly got me into their sound that is reminiscent to bands like Opeth (in recent years), Wobbler and Vangough. The track opens up and takes you on a very nice trip that lasts the rest of the album. Bluesy guitars and deep vocals pave the way to some great music like the song Geno and Shattered while the album closer Perception is a good example of the way the band give space to their instrumental passages including the wonderful crafted solo parts to bring just that extra layer into the mix of the song.
Severi Peura handles both guitar and vocals and does that in a very good way. He pours some jazzy influences in some of the instrumental sections and has a very deep and commanding voice. He shares guitar duties with Timo Lehtonen and they both have crafted a very harmonic and ferocious sound at times. I must give credit to Hermanni Piltti who has some great bass parts and gives the album some extra attitude with his sound and skills. Rauli Elenius completes the band behind his drum kit and does so in a the way this band needs, adding his breaks and not too flashy style of playing to the sound of this band. A sound that works very well in my opinion.
Not a bold statement but this album should be a very pleasant listen for anyone into aforementioned bands and a no-risk purchase for anyone exploring the different corners of the progressive genre. There is something for everyone here and that doesn't mean the band doesn't have a sound of their own. I really think this album is a very good effort and like the band says so lets hope these Finnish proggers keep expanding their creativity and talent and produce some more great music like they have on Leaving the Land.
After hearing the digital version of this album these last couple of weeks I will definitely try to get my hands on the vinyl release of this album with its great artwork. A wonderful package altogether!
Subsignal - La Muerta
Finally Subsignal have found new heights with La Muerta. In my opinion the band slowly went downhill on a long road since their first album, each new release being less enjoyable than its predecessor. And after co-writer David Bertok left, the band really had a low point in their career - The Beacons Of Somewhere Sometime, even though their most progressive album, was the worst one in their catalog so far.
But that is history, so it appears, and with La Muerta, the founders and remaining writers, Markus Steffen and Arno Menses are back to full force and just released a fully brilliant album. The key is that they didn’t care much about complexity and the need of being a "progressive" band. They progressed pretty well by focusing on the song material itself, rather than bragging with the ability of making music as complex as possible.
Being asked about their intentions in the writing process, Markus as usual insisted that they have no plans at all when writing, so it has to that La Muerta can be understood as a reference to their main influences. More than ever are we reminded of bands that have been most active in the late 70s and 80s, such as Kansas, Toto, Journey, Saga, Rush, etc. But the boys don’t outdo it and keep it at the band's typical shores. While keeping the songs in rather regular structures and schemes, it’s Arno’s beautiful melodies and harmony vocals in the first place that has one’s full attention. And this time they are better than ever before, and Arno brings us to tears at various moments with his incredible vocals.
But delicious instrumentation have their space too on the new album. Like in good old Kansas material, there are a couple of most awesome instrumental parts that make up for the progressive aspect, and also some very clever arrangements. In Every Able Hand for example. The song begins with a joyous melody in good Styx manner, which is followed up by a delicious classical arpeggio, played on a harpsichord that introduces the songs main theme. It’s that way where the great instrumentation has its own space, rather than interfering with and being in competition with awesome song parts.
While Markus and Arno are the core of the band and deliver the best they ever had on offer, the rest of the band doesn’t deserve a place in the shadows either. Ralf Schwager once again spun the most wonderful and emotional bass lines throughout all of the songs and Dirk Brand excels pretty much, now that he’s relieved from keeping up Danilo Batdorf’s heir. Newest member Markus Maichel, known from his own band Dante, adds incredibly wonderful keyboard parts and does not cease in finding the most beautiful sounds to every line he has on his sheet. And while all backing guitar tracks sound pretty perfect, I bet it’s Maichel who’s to blame for the fact that Steffen’s lead tone sounds so overproduced. Because he simply knows how to sound delicious even while providing good sonic space for another one’s lead.
So let’s hope that the band has come to a peace and the quintet stays the way it is now for a long period and puts out a couple more albums of this ultimate level. There’s only two things one could wish for the future: a decent lead guitar tone, because there is no need anymore to "push through", and some decent live arrangements in which the five only play what 10 hands can do without a dozen unnecessary tracks out of the box at the upcoming tour.