Reviews in this issue:
Burntfield - Hereafter
This is an album from Finnish band Burntfield and comes courtesy of the marvellous Progressive Gears label who bought us The Winter Machine and V.A.I.N. albums last year.
It is the band's debut album and the biography states Burntfield are a progressive alternative rock band, whose music is discretely spiced with a taste of AOR and hard-rock elements. Reliance on strong melodies and powerful harmonies form the basis of their versatile song writing. By mixing vintage and modern they create unique musical atmospheres.
A pretty fair assimilation and distillation of their sound. The album itself has lots of openness and expansiveness to its very sparse and uncluttered sound. This is the sound of the far north, somewhat bleak and wide open sounding, moving and melancholic at times.
Opener Now opens with string, an echo-laden piano motif and what sounds like cello sweeps. It sounds a very evocative and deceptively simple melody that draws you into their dark and complex world. Swiftly followed by Sub-Zero which is rather more strident with a fine opening riff and guitar lines before the muted vocals from Juho and Valtteri are introduced. Fairly catchy and it will stay with you.
Juho’s voice is a little like that of Daniel Cavanagh of Anathema. He is also a fine and fluid guitarist with a very short but captivating solo on this fine first vocal song. In fact I’m really liking what I’m hearing here. My Grief has more searching and emotive vocals of "how my grief is coming back to me and my grief is growing inside me". Another very melodic and brief guitar solo here too.
The AOR feel comes to light clearly in Feeling Of Love. It could be a Chicago outtake with its gentle guitar, layered vocals, and lush sounding vocals. Another fine song indeed and it would work well as a single. After a gentle opening, Q & A gathers in intensity sounding not unlike vintage Moody Blues.
In The Air is a gentle little song that has a good tone to it, but the next track is a stunner. The Failure is very much like Anathema, with a similar sound to parts of the Distant Satellites album. All very moody and with good use of strings to create a setting. More fine guitar work from Juho and Valtteri and a surging backbeat from Steven Favier to boot. A very dynamic track and very driven sound to it. Possibly my favourite track of the album. Or...
The album's longest track What Remains offers most diversity within a single song. It starts with a gently plucked acoustic and bass runs from Maarten Vos, then strummed guitar chords and Joho’s expressive vocals. A layered chorus part before a gentle, graceful piano solo before another soaring guitar solo. Then back to the chorus, the gorgeous layered vocal sounds, harmonious voices, and more guitar and keyboards solos. All very impressive indeed. This is my favourite song really, one that is both moody and evocative and yet somehow uplifting all at the same time.
The final and title track brings this fine debut album to a close. Another subdued opening of keyboards and strummed acoustic guitars, At the 1:12 mark some electronica is introduced, leading to a fine solo piano solo and some non-vocal voicings before the main vocal is introduced. Very plaintive vocals, fairly down-key and mournful but not totally sad or depressing. Instead it is hopeful, still ending with spoken words of "we’re never alone and I always will".
This is an album that buries itself in your sub-consciousness and will leak little snippets of melody at odd times. It is rather a good album, all told. It is of gentle melancholy and great sounds and melodies. Very much recommended for fans of Anathema and the like. Get into this band before they become huge. Remember you heard it hear first.
Haken - L-1VE [2CD and 2CD/2DVD]
CD 2: As Death Embraces (3:52), Atlas Stone (7:12), Cockroach King (8:17), The Architect (16:00), The Endless Knot (6:34), Visions (23:35)
DVD 1: Affinity.exe / Initiate (6:01), In Memorium (4:42), 1985 (9:21), Red Giant (6:31), Aquamedley (22:28), As Death Embraces (3:52), Atlas Stone (7:12), Cockroach King (8:17), The Architect (16:00), The Endless Knot (6:34), Visions (23:35)
DVD 2: Falling Back To Earth (12:08), Earthrise (5:10), Pareidolia (10:19), Crystallised (20:15), Initiate (Music Video) (4:16), Earthrise (Music Video) (4:48), Lapse (Music Video) (4:44)
Calum Gibson's Review
11 years ago, the prog-rock/metal band Haken formed in London. After recording a demo and beginning to play some shows in 2007, they began to gather a name for themselves before dropping their debut album Aquarius in 2010. Since then the band have come on in leaps and bounds to release their fifth album (Affinity) in 2016, with a sixth expected in 2018.
Having always known of these guys, and dabbled a bit but never too far, I thought a live album would be great first place to start. It will be a good number of "hits" and showcases how they play live, both important factors.
The sound is pretty good for a live album, all the instruments are clear and easily heard, especially the bass which is quite nice. However, I do think it is missing "something". Now I only have the CD version, but it may be a better experience watching and listening to a live DVD turned up loud. But on the whole, the sound is good and well-mixed.
Now, to the music. Haken are one of the bands at the forefront of the UK prog scene, and they have the chops for it. With grooving bass lines, soaring vocals and harmonies, complex drums (and the occasional blast beat!) and atmospheric keys, it has everything you need. There is some atmospheric sections thrown about, some funky and upbeat moments, some heavy sections and even a couple of 20+ minute epics to round things off. The band really showcase their talent for writing and their ability to write interesting prog.
As much as the music is good, and the band are very talented songwriters and musicians, I do feel it is lacking a specific selling point. They have their own sound, but it doesn't quite stand out above the likes of Caligula’s Horse or Leprous. Which I think is a shame as if they just had that wee bit more, they would likely be one of my favourite bands as they are all very talented and the songs are catchy, but they unfortunately seem to end up as another modern prog band, albeit one of the better ones.
If you are a fan of the aforementioned Caligula’s Horse, Leprous, Between The Buried And Me and similar bands, then have a listen and you will likely enjoy these guys.
Bryan Morey's Review
Haken! Haken! Haken!
This chant has become common at the British prog metal masters' live concerts worldwide. From the Netherlands to Michigan, USA (where I saw them live in 2015), the chant crosses all borders and boundaries (unlike Richard Henshall, who was unable to get a US visa when I saw them). Having seen them live, I know full well the build-up of anticipation as the crowd anxiously waits for the band to take the stage. Like many fans, I've been waiting anxiously for a live album. We finally have one, and it is glorious.
Haken is one of the best live bands you will ever see. While they don't dance around the stage like Angus Young of AC/DC does, they take their craft very seriously. Anyone who knows their music knows how technically complicated the songs are. When they play live, they are focused on the task at hand. The result is the band sounds as good live as they sound on their albums. At times, they even sound better. Ross Jennings adds the necessary showmanship, along with fantastic vocals.
The sound quality on the CDs is exceptional. I was disappointed when I initially heard the low-quality review copies InsideOut sent us because they sounded so flat, and the crowd noise sounded really bad. However, once I received my pre-ordered copy in the mail, all was set right. The bass sounds great, the crowd noise slides into the background, and the entire concert sounds really good. The DVD has a stereo mix and a Dolby surround 5.1 mix. I've only had the chance to listen to the stereo with headphones, but that mix sounds great as well.
Visually, the concert isn't as good as it could be. For one, the label could have released it on Blu-Ray, which would have offered the very best in picture quality. Even on DVD, though, the picture is good. My issue is more with the excessive use of strobe lights the lighting engineer chose to use. At a live show, this isn't that annoying, but watching on your own tv makes it hard to see what is going on. It may give some viewers a headache, or worse for those prone to seizures. The editor of the video chose to overlay some 80s-style effects on a couple songs, but these don't really take anything away from the performance. If anything, they add to the Affinity vibe. To his credit, the editor did a great job of making the small venue seem much bigger than it really is.
One of the best parts about this live set is it comes with a second DVD of live material that isn't included on the CD. The CDs and DVD 1 are from a show in Amsterdam (April, 13, 2017). DVD 2 has four songs from ProgPowerUSA XVII in Atlanta, Georgia, USA (September 10, 2016). Those four songs weren't included in the Amsterdam set, so it is nice to get even more live music. Mike Portnoy even makes an appearance to play the gong at the end of Crystallised. This show featured a larger stage and less fancy lightwork. The editing was also much smoother, with more camera time spent on each individual member before moving on to a different view. The Amsterdam show jumps around way too much for my liking. Sadly, that is the style for live concert DVDs these days. I much prefer the more relaxed editing. It doesn't make my head spin as much.
My only other issue with DVD 1 is the editor chose for some unknown reason to intermix footage from a show in Luxembourg the night before the Amsterdam show. I assume this means they intermixed audio from that show too, but they don't say which songs (or parts of songs). They don't explicitly mention if the CDs are just the Amsterdam show or if they include parts from the other show. I'm not a fan at all of mixing different live shows and passing it off as one. With that said, I didn't notice it at all when watching the show. I only found out when I looked at the booklet after watching the DVDs. My issue, then, is more theoretical since I fully enjoyed the final product. I'll add that the booklet has nice photos of the band at the shows in Amsterdam and Atlanta.
Back to the music. There were multiple times in the DVDs that made my jaw drop. The most memorable was the part in Crystallised when the band is singing vocal harmonies but they are all singing different lyrics. They pulled this off flawlessly. I can only imagine how difficult it was to get that right while playing live, but they did it. There were also a couple times where I noticed Ray Hearne laying down a drum beat in a different time signature than the rest of the band, and I was reminded of John Bonham. Not many drummers have that level of skill, but Ray certainly does.
The band chose a great setlist for this show. Since it was their tenth anniversary tour, they played from Aquarius and Visions. For the former, they compressed the entire album into a twenty-two minute medley. This worked really well, and it has proved to be a favorite of mine over repeated listens. Both this song and The Architect featured the growling vocals that Haken sparingly uses. Ross did a perfect job on those parts, and while some people may not like that vocal style, Haken uses it to masterful effect. It matches the music, which is the way that vocal styling should be used.
Despite my issues with some of the editorial choices in the final visual presentation on the DVD, I can't bring myself to give L-1VE anything but a perfect score. The music speaks above all else for me, and the band played brilliantly. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Haken is one of the very best bands in progressive rock right now. They are to metal what Big Big Train is to more traditional prog. These two bands are leading the genre into uncharted territory, and I'm happy to be along for the ride. Haken has done what few prog metal bands are able to do. They have molded their influences into something truly unique. The hints of Gentle Giant and Dream Theater will always be there, because of the impact those groups had on the genre, but Haken have formed their own sound. This live set is a perfect showcase for what this band has to offer, and any prog fan's collection is incomplete without it.
Pöhja Konn - Pöhja Konn
As a reviewer, you are sometimes confronted with the situation of having to decide which of the bands you have never heard of before you would like to pick to review. Basically, it is luxury problem, as it's just an indication of the great abundance of progressive rock releases. Nevertheless, it may bear the risk of ending up with an album which you find nearly impossible to comment on because it simply is not your kind of thing.
But there is also the case that the album leaves you speechless because it just blows you away.
That’s what happened to me after a few spins of Pöhja Konn’s eponymous release. I picked this album because one does not often get the chance to write about a band from Estonia. Globalisation definitely has reached progressive rock. Pöhja Konn hail from Tallinn and were formed it 2009. Information on the band is somewhat scarce, though. From what is provided in a language that I understand (English), I was able to elicit that Pöhja Konn stands for "Northern Frog", which is a mythological creature, a sort of dragon-like beast in Estonian folklore. (But I also found out that it is the name of a beer brewed by an Estonian brewery. The web really is limitless.)
The line-up consists of Ott Adamson (drums), Siim Avango (bass), Jürgen Kütner (guitar), Kristen Kütner (guitar, mandolin), and Valter Soosalu (keyboards, vocals). Whilst being around since 2009, the band had never recorded any material previously until they received an out-of-the-blue-invitation by the Estonian Writers' Association to set into music eight poems by Estonian writer Betti Alver. The band was given a high degree of creative flexibility in approaching and implementing this project and consequently, they mixed both their existing repertoire with songs written based upon the poems.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of my knowledge of the Estonian language, I was not able to identify which of the songs make use of this lyrical guideline. I leave that to my and to (I assume most of) the listeners' imagination.
Part of what makes this release so exceptional is that I found it appealing right upon first listening. Owing to the catchy melodies, the dynamics, the crisp and fluid bass guitar lines and the inspired interplay between keyboards (predominantly the organ) and guitars. But also having listened to it over a dozen times since, it did not wear out. It is not that I discovered something new upon each spin - their song structures are too clearly recognisable to bear many surprises. It was good right from the beginning and it kept being just that. It simply is straightforward progressive rock, dense and compact, varied, but not overly complex, accessible, fresh, modern sounding and mature for a first release, with excellent musicianship and production - just high spirits music.
With the opener Vöitlus, the band hits the nail right on the head and sets the mood for the rest of the album. After a minute of Steve Howe-esque delicate acoustic guitar intro (the only reminiscence to Yes in my opinion), heavy organ and riffing kick in, Valter Soosalu’s voice perfectly fits the music in terms of melody and intonation and the song develops into some guitar/synthesizer extravaganzas in the second half. Musically, we have a blend of various influences from the 1970s progressive rock scene with a considerable dose of originality across the entire album.
The slight jazzy influences especially in Hulkuv Laef, Pigilind, the instrumental Ümarruut, and Mängivad Pillid, Kuu On Vees (beautiful ballad) combined with Valter Soosalu’s organ playing very much remind me of what Thijs van Leer and Focus did back then - just listen to the intro of Tähetunt.
There is also some Gentle Giant in the keyboards’ work, some early Saga concerning the guitar riffing, some Kayak with respect to the melodies, a little Camel for the guitar solos and quite some Scandinavian mood displayed by bands such as early Kaipa, Viima, and Beardfish, especially in the quieter tracks such as Pigilind.
But above all, there is a lot of Pöhja Konn. Just the final track Kas Ma Eestit Unes Nägin? falls off a bit in terms of "progressiveness", as it rather seems to be a danceable rock song suited for airplay. Just a very minor downer, though.
I strongly recommend this great release and I am anxious to find out how the band will develop going forward, having delivered such a remarkable debut. Too bad that the album came out already in 2016. Otherwise, it would have been a clear contender of my 2018 "album of the year" list.
Reale Accademia Di Musica - Angeli Mutanti
Every so often an album comes along which gives you instant thoughts and feelings of gratitude, satisfaction, happiness and blissful memories. Immediate transportation back to high-school, reliving that comfortable old green leather chair up in your parents attic, or perhaps feelings of cloudiness rapidly changing into open skies and inner peace. The same can be experienced whilst drinking a splendid cup of coffee, wine or whiskey; if the combination of scent, smell and aroma’s is just the right amalgamation, it can stimulate your senses. Sometimes for me even to the occasion of experiencing the exciting memories and feelings of being back at the stone factory my dad worked at during the eighties. Miraculously Angeli Mutanti by Reale Accademia Di Musica invokes this effect on me.
The story of Reale Accademia Di Musica begins at the end of the 1960’s when Pericle Sponzilli is asked to join The Fholks. During their three-year existence they tour in Italy and record a cover-single with the B-side written by Sponzilli. A few internal changes later an album is recorded in winter of 1971 and released to critical acclaim under the name Reale Accademia Di Musica in 1972. Shortly after its release Sponzilli leaves to India and although with new members completing the band, they cease to exist at the end of 1974. Afterwards several albums using the name of Reale Accademia Di Musica have been released, but none ever had the original feel or musicality to it, let alone the full approval of its original players.
Decades pass until Sponzilli in 2014 receives an invitation to perform once again with some old friends in P.I.S. (Progressive Italian Supergroup). Sponzilli, still actively writing music, gets so much joy out of this short-lived adventure that he starts writing rock-music again with a progressive touch. A new Reale Accademia Di Musica is formed along the way, and come 2018 their official second album sees the light of day after a 46-year hiatus.
Right from the opening chords of the title track it’s obvious what lies in store from this newly reformed group; 1970s-inspired melodic prog, based upon bluesy guitar-riffs laced with intricate keyboards. Sponzilli's voice is heartwarming, crystal clear and when singing in unison with the beautiful expressive vocals by Erika Savastani a perfect picture is painted. Supported by solid rhythm section Andy Bartolucci on drums and bassist Fabio Fraschini one can hear lots of influences (some more obvious than others) ranging from progressive bands from the 1970s like Barclay James Harvest, PFM and Nektar, to 90’s pop-rock like All About Eve. Production gives it a modern feel, with each member searching for the ultimate achievement of creating the perfectly balanced song.
Casa Nascondono Le Nuvole is the first of many highlights where the strength they behold with Erika on vocals is displayed. Reminiscent of early seventies Barclay James Harvest, its build on intensity and the Mellotron sounds gives it an authentic feel of some of the purest, moodiest prog I have heard in years. One can feel the emotions and drama, perfectly delivered by Erika. Even the MP3 files I received for the review gave me goosebumps; imagine listening to it on CD, which has an added bonus track, or even better on vinyl!
With Tempo they build up the pressure and really start to “cook”. Written by keyboard player Fabio Liberatori, a long time companion to Sponzilli, we’re greeted with the good old days of Italian prog. Twirling piano, synths and moog like PFM, shards of 90s' Nuova Era, and lots of scenic mood changes throughout.
Softly but surely the album embraces you and once the Pink Floyd-inspired Io Sono Qui comes into play, you're reliving mementos of pristine joy. The journey ends with a magical jazzy / blues-inspired instrumental. Touching guitar alternating with moving Moog- solos, all the while supported by a dynamic bass-line and mild subdued drumming, it’s a Journey's Dream, After Dream come true. The perfect ending to an outstanding album and the question whether this is a real incarnation of Reale Accademia Di Musica can be acknowledged full-heartedly.
So will this album be a benchmark in the future? Only time will tell and I’ll let everyone be the judge of that. I enjoyed it tremendously, so for the meantime I’ll just create my own memento for future reference in savouring a lovely bottle of equally qualified Barolo in the back of my garden enjoying the summer sun. Reading travel guides for Italy by the way, for I just realized that I haven't been there for about 46 years as well.
If you’re a fan of beautifully arranged progressive rock in the finest 1970s era song-structured tradition possible like PFM, Le Orme, Camel and Barclay James Harvest, this is most certainly worth your while.