Reviews in this issue:
Romain Baret - Naissance de l'horizon
Naissssance de l’horizon smote me as soon as I heard the wordless vocals that adorn the latter stages of the opening title track. The inclusion of scat vocals that gild this piece and a number of other tracks, such as the superb Follow and Switch, Some Kind of Bug and A Rise of Hope, were an unexpected surprise. In places, the charming phrasing is reminiscent of Richard Sinclair’s work in Hatfield and The North and National Health. Baret’s fragile musings provide some genuinely beautiful and often understated moments where the use of a voice as a melodic accompaniment, or as a harmonic effect, is bewitching.
Naissssance de l’horizon presents a dazzling array of sonic colours that are sure to tantalise and gently seduce listeners who enjoy jazz-tinged music. If you appreciate bands and artists as diverse as Hatfield and The North, Incahoots, Nucleus, Paraphernalia, Möbius Strip and *Dusan Jevtovic * then some, or all of _Naissssance de l’horizon_ may well impress.
The album uses structures normally associated with jazz, but includes things that prog listeners might find attractive. These include a healthy infusion of rocky riffs, expressive guitar solos, Canterbury-style vocals and quirky changes of pace and direction.
The album has many unusual characteristics that give it a surprising and impressive edge. There are numerous spotlight moments to enchant and delight in the nine featured compositions. Naissssance de l’horizon contains a refreshing, yet unexpected combination of styles. These co-exist and flourish within an unlikely jazz-flavoured base to give the release an identifiable and distinctive air. This ensures that the album has a multi-faceted appeal and exhibits a persuasive quality that grabs the attention of the senses. Its ability to caress, captivate and surprise does not abate from the opening tune to its last.
Romain Baret is the guitarist and principal composer. Based in France, Naissssance de l’horizon is Baret’s second album as a bandleader. His previous album, Split Moments contains tunes composed for the most part using parameters associated with jazz, but does contain some occasional fusion elements. These fusion traits are much more prominent here.
Naissssance de l’horizon has numerous attractive qualities. Different tempos, moods and styles are contained within a single tune. This trait is endearing and genuinely impressive. The album contains many heartfelt, exciting and beautifully expressive guitar parts. These often burst into life when least expected. For example, both the title track and La Guerre des classes n'a pas eu lieu feature the dramatic intervention of some extended fretwork. The effect is captivating.
Baret has an impressive ability to play in a subtle manner, where each note has the space and clarity to offer a distinctive, easy-on-the-ear sound. However, this clean and good-mannered approach is frequently tempered and contrasted by a plethora of full -bodied, riff-laden passages where distortion and effects are used to create a gnarled, over-driven sound that is more usually associated with rock. The juxtaposition of sweet ensemble passages with unexpected surges of guitar is one of the consistent and most satisfying features of the album.
Baret’s contribution in Some Kind of Bug is particularly impressive. In the beginning of this piece and in Respire, Baret uses a range of effects and tones that are reminiscent of Dusan Jevtovic. The guitar-led instrumental sections of Some Kind of Bug bludgeon the senses and quicken the pulse. This piece rips up and spits out some of the jazz conventions that are notable in many of the other compositions. Consequently, Some Kind of Bug probably contains the most progressive, yet intense rock-flavoured moments of the album. In its mid-section, an inferno of guitar sounds are unleashed to spit fire and fury. A fluid succession of notes scream out and emerge, as if summoned from a pit of darkness, to create a lashing, bug-eyed behemoth that burps out a swirling succession of shrieks and squeals. The resulting mayhem is boldly expressive and is beautifully unsettling in its unpredictable ferocity.
The rest of the band is equally adept. The combination of the saxophone of Eric Prost and the trumpet of Florent Briqué gives the title track a powerful voice, evoking the ensemble approach of bands such as Nucleus. The trumpet solo that dominates the mid-section of that piece is particularly inspiring and exhibits similarities to the shrill-shaped blowing and free-flowing expressionism that Ian Carr was noted for. In other pieces, Prost’s sax is used to good effect to create atmospheric passages and sparkling solos.
Bass player Michel Molines excels and his choice of using a double bass enriches many of the compositions. The rich and natural tones of his double bass offers a perfect counterpoint to the electric guitar parts of Baret and provide much of the music with a deeply melodic bottom end. This is apparent in Respire, where a hypnotic, recurring bass line resonates with purpose to create a mesmerising pattern. This creates a bulging, deep toned foundation for some interesting diversions and improvisations to occur.
A special mention should be made of drummer Sebastien Necca. His busy style underpins much of what is enjoyable in this release. The adept manner in which he is able to change from gentle brushstrokes to dextrous drum patterns ensures that the music possesses a natural ebb and flow. His drumming in the Latino-tinged La Guerre des classes n'a pas eu lieu is stunning and brought to mind the rhythmic and adaptable approach of such notable players as Asaf Sirkis, John Marshall and Jon Hiseman.
A number of the tunes seamlessly flow into each other. Whilst each tune is stylistically self-contained and has idiosyncratic elements that are instantly recognisable, the album as a whole has an organic feel where the running order of the tracks complement each other and the whole album works effectively as a complete body of art.
There are some occasions when the band's insistence on using the typical jazz convention of beginning with an introduction, followed by the tune's melody and bouts of improvisation, before reinstating the introduction to conclude things, can become a little tiresome and predictable. The frequent use of this tactic during the album might well put off some listeners who are more inclined to listen to prog. However, the freedom that this gives to the band, by enabling opportunities for inventive improvisations and unusual changes of direction to occur, more than compensates for any limitations associated with using this approach.
Despite this, many things about Naissssance de l’horizon are likely to be attractive to a prog audience. The album offers a fusion of different styles, played with skill and panache, to create something that is often fresh and frequently exciting. It is a release that I have no hesitation in recommending. I have enjoyed Naissssance de l’horizon so much, that it has been my go to album for a number of weeks. After repeated plays, it continues to reveal hidden depths and subtleties to explore. Each tune has something distinctive to offer, and the album is a delightful and satisfying experience.
Bomber Goggles - Gyreland
Bomber Goggles may be a new name to readers of DPRP but at least one member of the quartet should be familiar, Peter Matuchniak. One of the youngest musicians in the early 1980s UK prog revival, he subsequently moved to the US and eventually resumed a musical career, firstly with Evolve IV, then the Gekko Projekt and more recently as a solo artist.
The latest band project started in 2017. Matuchniak and fellow Gekko Projekt alumni keyboard player Vance Gloster got together with bassist Steve Bonino and started writing material to accompany a narrative idea by Gloster. Stuck for a name, the band initially just combined the first two letters of each of their surnames (Bo-Ma-Gl) which over time, morphed into the name they go by. The fourth member of the collective, drummer Jimmy Keegan, was roped in after the bulk of the material was written.
The album is a timely concept about the formation of a new island in the Pacific Ocean comprised mainly of plastic dumped into the oceans and gathered together by a system of ocean currents called the gyre and giving the new landmass its name, Gyreland. In true science fiction style, the new land attracts settlers and, well you can probably guess much of the rest from the song titles. As a story, it is perhaps somewhat naïve but I don't suppose many expect a literary fix listening to a prog album.
Musically things start off with Land of Plastic a scene-setting overture of sorts with a fine, heavy intro. The quartet perform well as a unit, with each member stamping their mark from the offset. The harmonised guitars and organ backing are particularly enjoyable. Matuchniak's guitar melody and solos are the highlight of The Gyre which is slightly marred by the relatively poor lead vocals which sound very strained, although the choruses with all three singers are rather good.
If The Gyre has more focus on the guitar, then the opening of Building belongs to the keyboards which is an accomplished prog instrumental even if the 'Pearl & Dean' tribute is somewhat too obvious (UK cinema goers will understand what that means, apologies to other readers!)
As the album continues and the story unfolds, the listener is drawn along in a seamless flow of musical ideas, tempos and structures. We have ballads (Telepathy and The World We Really Want), energetic instrumentals (Renewed World), impassioned and angry songs (Triangle of Power and Invasion), narrative links (We Are Not Alone) and some fine playing, with Wistful Waves featuring great solos from the three writers. Keegan is a fine drummer who provides inventive fills and emphasis throughout and really keeps everything in line.
Inasmuch as there isn't really a weak track on the album, neither is there an absolute standout number, but that plays to the strength of the album, in that it is one that makes more sense when played in totalis: the sum being greater than its parts.
There is plenty of good music and fine playing to be found on this release, with all four musicians really stepping up to the mark. Of Matuchniak's varied group endeavors, I found Gyreland to be the most rounded and immediately enjoyable effort and well worth a listen to hear a modern prog concept album that is not reliant on the past to make its mark.
Melted Space - Darkening Light
France's Melted Space has returned after a couple years of touring for their 2015 album, The Great Lie (review here) to release an album even better than its predecessor.
Pierre Le Pape is the leader of the outfit, and he is joined by a cast of talented musicians and vocalists. Beyond Pierre, who plays piano and keyboard, the primary musicians are Adrian Martinot on guitars, Brice Guillon on bass, and Mike Laccoman on drums (my apologies if any of the names are misspelled - the font for the names in the CD booklet is really hard to read, and the musicians' names aren't listed online). They are joined by twelve vocalists, most notably Jeff Scott Soto from Sons of Apollo (Mike Portnoy's latest prog-metal supergroup). The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra also joins the band again.
Darkening Light is excellent. Since their last album, they toured with Symphony X and Leaves Eyes. Just comparing the two albums together, I can tell the touring experience helped Le Pape create a more cohesive album. I really liked The Great Lie, but this album rises to new heights, even though it is relatively short. The easiest comparison to make is to Ayreon. While it would be unfair to overplay the similarities between the two groups, fans of Arjen Lucassen's project will definitely enjoy Melted Space.
The muscianship on Darkening Light is quite stunning. This is some of the best metal I have listened to in a while. Nothing is overdone, and the musicians all play to serve the story. There is no bloated showboating. The drumming is complicated and interesting, and the guitar work keeps things rolling. When the orchestra isn't highlighting the quieter moments, Le Pape is blowing the listener away on keyboards. Even though this is clearly prog, there are still plenty of melodies and hooks. The singers add another layer of depth because they go back-and-forth so quickly. The album is just under 48 minutes long, yet there are twelve vocalists. This means there are multiple singers per song, which makes sense for a concept rock opera.
The concept of the album sees every singer playing a different role: Chaos, Harmony, Time, Fire, Death, Life, Space, Air, Water, Man, Lie, and Earth. Thankfully, the booklet breaks down the lyrics by each character, so you don't have to know each vocalist beforehand to understand what is going on. If you decide to buy the album, definitely buy it on CD or vinyl. Being able to follow along with the story helps immensely. You can probably tell from the character names that there are a lot of opposites, with Man (sung by Soto) taking the central place. The album is essentially a debate between these differing factions, with Man responding to all of them while he rejoices in the newness of life.
The album opens epicly. The instrumental first song acts as an overture. While I'm not a fan of opera, Catherine Trottman's (Chaos) operatic opening to Newborns is excellently balanced by Le Pape's (Space) vocal lines soon after. The Dawn of Man (I'm Alive !) finally sees the introduction of Man, and Soto sings it masterfully. I really enjoy his work with Sons of Apollo, and I think he stands above the other vocalists on this particular album. He uses his voice in a distinct way to make the most of his relatively brief appearances on the album. With that said, all of the vocalists sing wonderfully.
Pierre Le Pape is an immensely talented and creative musician and writer. Melted Space have created one of the most interesting albums of the year. It is well produced, and the CD digiback and accompanying booklet are both beautiful and integral to understanding the story. Prog-metal fans will definitely enjoy this. Even in its quieter moments, it manages to remain heavy. The music matches the story and vocalists perfectly, which is a sign of excellently composed music. I cannot recommend Darkening Light highly enough.
Robert Reed, Tom Newman and Les Penning - Theme From Doctor Who
Geoff Feakes's Review
As an impressionable nine-year-old, when Doctor Who was first aired by the BBC on UK TV way back in 1963, I was instantly hooked. And like all memorable theme tunes, composer Ron Grainer’s anthem became part of my own childhood soundtrack. Disappointingly, the single version that was bought for my 10th birthday was not the groundbreaking BBC Radiophonic Workshop version that emanated from our black and white television every Saturday evening, but a staid, big band arrangement. Even so, I still played it to death (given that video recorders and the internet were still light years away).
As Doctor Who continued through the 1970s and 80s, the theme underwent different arrangements, becoming almost unrecognisable as a result. It wasn’t until the series was successfully rebooted in 2005 with composer and arranger Murray Gold onboard, that Grainer’s original tune was fully reinstated, especially the triumphant middle-eight section.
This eight-track ‘single’, although jointly credited to Robert Reed, Tom Newman and Les Penning, is undoubtedly Reed’s baby, who I daresay shares my passion for Grainer’s theme.
Reed began working with Newman and Penning during his Sanctuary project, inspired by the Mike Oldfield albums of the 1970s. Newman produced Tubular Bells amongst others and Penning played recorders on Ommadawn, and as such brought an added legitimacy to the Sanctuary albums.
Surprisingly, given Reed’s penchant for mixes, there are just two versions of Doctor Who on this CD. The ‘Tom Newman Happy Mix’ could easily be renamed the ‘Mike Oldfield Mix’ containing as it does all the usual Oldfield traits, including mandolin, tubular bells, incisive guitar tone and a sample of the word “Happy” from the 1990 album Amarok (produced and engineered by Newman).
Reed’s own ‘BBC Mix’ has a leaner sound, stripped of some of the instrumental layers, a slightly shorter intro and minus the spoken voice samples. Reed’s Roland vocoder (which produces the ELO Mr. Blue Sky vocal effect) is also more prominent, but otherwise you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference.
The other six tracks are divided evenly between Reed, Newman and Penning, showcasing their individual solo work. Reed’s contributions are a chilled out (Chimpan A Remix) version of Indigo from the recent Sanctuary III and the Ommadawn-inspired Ommackache from Sanctuary I. Whilst they prove to be useful samplers, both tracks are best heard within the context of their parent albums.
Newman brings Uriel's Secret (from his 2014 album The Secret Life of Angels) and Happy Chickens to the table. The former is an ambient exercise in spacey atmospherics, whilst the latter, with its whistled theme and farmyard sound effects, is best filed under “novelty item”.
Sellinger's Round and Lyme are both taken from Penning’s 2016 album Belerion (review here). Again, Oldfield’s shadow looms large but it's the medieval folkiness of Sellinger's Round featuring Penning’s rustic crumhorn and the graceful melody and bolero rhythm of Lyme that wins the day.
Whilst this CD single is unlikely to attract any new converts to the Rob Reed cause (unless you’re an obsessive Doctor Who collector that is) it is an interesting companion piece to his Sanctuary albums, and as such Oldfield fans should find it worth a spin.
Patrick McAfee's Review
Thanks to my kids' adoration of the TV series Doctor Who, it has been a regular staple in my home for years. I've heard the theme song many times, but never done quite like this. This very uniqie version, created for fun by Rob Reed, Tubular Bells producer Tom Newman and legendary recorder player Les Penning, and is a real kick. It certainly received a thumbs-up from the Doctor Who fans in my household and I absolutely respect the musical creativity that went into the finished product.
The EP contains two versions of the track, one being Newman's mix and the other Reed's. With its eccentric vocal spurts, Newman's is definitely the more elaborate of the two and likely the one that will appeal most to Doctor Who fans. However, I actually prefer the more direct nature of Reed's version.
The remainder of the EP is a showcase for new and previously released tracks by Reed, Newman and Penning. Equal parts eclectic and engagingly melodic, they make for an entertaining listen. Uriel's Secret, from Newman's Secret Life of Angels CD and Indigo, a sampling of Reed's latest Sanctuary project, are especially impressive.
Considering that the real calling card is the Doctor Who Theme, this is essentially a single stretched to EP legnth. It works in that capacity and never feels particularly pieced-together. Consider the title track as the essential and the rest, a very pleasant bonus. I certainly recommend this release to fans of Reed's Sanctuary project and of course, to Doctor Who fans. The clever rendition of the classic theme song should warm the Tardis in your hearts.
Yesternight - The False Awakening
It's now four decades since the sub-genre known as neo-progressive rock (or neo-prog) first arrived on the UK scene. A surprising number of the original purveyors still remain active. Their influence on the wider progressive scene has been considerable.
Whilst, generally speaking, neo-prog bands in The Netherlands simply adopted the UK neo-prog style and rarely varied from its basic principals, the neo-prog bands that emerged in Poland (most notably Collage, Believe, Satellite, After, Amarok, Quidam and Millenium) took the UK template and transformed it into something with its own distinct characteristics.
With their band name and the artwork of this, their debut album, Yesternight and The False Awakening somewhat screams "neo-progressive rock" at you.
However that is only part of the recipe for this promising quartet of Marcin Boddeman (vocals), Bartek Woźniak (guitars, keyboards), Kamil Kluczyński (percussion and also a member of Art Of Illusion) and guest bassist Tomasz Znyk.
You could call it prog-metal lite, crossover prog, heavy prog or modern neo-progressive rock. Whatever! This collection of eight songs (and an intro) drifts between all of the above-mentioned Polish bands, but also mirrors the heavier, modern Polish-prog sounds delivered more recently by the likes of Votum, Retrospective, Osada Vida and Acute Mind.
Three things stand out here. The whole band is excellent, but singer Marcin Boddeman has an instantly likeable delivery and an innate ear for an appealing melody. The sweet, flowing, singing guitar playing of Bartek Woźniak is of the style that I can listen to all day.
My Mind is a forceful opener; giving a somewhat misleading impression of what is to follow. No other song is this heavy. Who Are You reminds me of Metafiction-period Votum, whilst Solitude mirrors the delicate atmospheres of Believe, before it starts to rock-out towards the end. About You offers an almost pop/rock styling, but is padded-out with great atmospherics. It reminds me a lot of Abigail's Ghost.
To Be Free is the mid-album prog-ballad. Anathema and Porcupine Tree fans should love this. The title track would fit nicely on Satellite's A Street Between Sunrise And Sunset or last year's impressive release by Amarok. The guitar playing here is particularly impressive.
The final two songs are probably my favourites. Lost is simply a great slice of modern, melodic progressive rock. Just Try allows the band to stretch out their playing to great effect.
This album has been released on the small Polish independent label 12 Sounds and is distributed worldwide by Germany's Progressive Promotion record label.
It is well worth tracking down, as Yesternight has delivered a very impressive debut album that will offer much to any fans of Polish progressive rock.