Reviews in this issue:
Catchlight - Amaryllis
First released in 2016 and passing under critics writing in English, this album is now getting a re-release in a remastered form and with superb new art work. Catchlight’s Amaryllis is an accomplished and atmospheric prog metal album. The riff heavy interplay between the guitarists (Sebastien Arnaud and Arnaud Michelet) provide layers of detail that bear repeat listening with ease. Meshing with Michael Holzinger lithe and powerhouse drumming, and the supple bottom line that anchors Amaryllis’ full prog metal sound. The inclusion of electronica and sparsely used samples help create the overall atmosphere. (A minor irritation for this reviewer is that the band’s website is not really clear as to who plays bass on the album, nor how many members there are in this Lyon/Grenoble based band, some photos have five, the video four).
This is, as so often is the case in prog-metal, a science fiction concept album. Details of which, and rather splendid extra art illustrating each song, can be found on the band’s website. The illustrations remind me of the Japanese manga/anime Ghost In The Shell. The story, briefly, is that the human race is on the verge of extinction. And now exists tentatively in the underground city of Amaryllis. The city is managed by an A.I. answering to the name E.O.S. The city sees the birth of a human hybrid in its laboratories as the album reaches its climax.
Catchlight have chosen to write and sing the lyrics in English. Singer (and guitarist) Sebastien Arnaud has a fine voice and can wring quite some emotion from his second language. His vocal style is reminiscent of Riverside’s Marius Duda. And some of the music has a Second Life Syndrome-era Riverside edge to it, especially on the bass driven, fiercely percussive Criminals.
There is a sense of movement and purpose to Catchlight’s storytelling throughout Amaryllis. From the opening Pre-natal instrumental intro to the gorgeous harmony vocals in the closing Amaryllis' Falls Part 2: Imago, Catchlight have some surprising moments. Chiming harmonic guitars, threatening keyboards, ominous almost industrial percussion, blistering barrages of guitars that up the metal content but never lose the subtle interplay between the players. Catchlight’s use of dynamics and tempo changes give life to the quiet-loud-quiet passages throughout and, on songs like Crysalide, you get loud-louder-louder-still structure that works really well.
I do have a minor quibble it is that once or twice the vocal heads towards the growly side. This style of singing, even when used briefly pulls me out of the musical mood that Catchlight have worked hard to create. I would rather have the instrumentation and the music give the emphasis rather than the vocalist growling. But as I say a minor quibble.
Catchlight’s Amaryllis is a prog-metal album that is detailed, melodic and when required crunchily loud. In terms of its musical style it puts me in mind of Guilt Machine’s focused On This Perfect Day rather than the more prog theatre multi-vocalist work of Ayreon. In the genre of post-apocalyptic, science fictional prog-metal, the likes of Dream Theater and Ayreon have some new playmates and their name is Catchlight.
Trevor Horn - The Reflection Wave One
Trevor Horn may very well be the most successful member of the Yes family. He initially replaced Jon Anderson in 1980 for the Drama album and later produced the Yes releases 90125 and Fly From Here. It was his role as producer for many prominant artists that garnered him the most of amount of recognition and acclaim. That said, as his work with the Buggles, Yes and The Producers verified, he is an excellent songwriter and musician as well.
The Reflection Wave One is his first solo work. The soundtrack to a Japanese anime co-created by Stan Lee and director, Hiroshi Nagahama, the album stands as a bit of a curio more than anything else. With the exception of a few traditional pop songs, this is a film score in the true sense of the word. It is comprised of musical moments and moods that range in length and listening quality. Though Trevor's proves himself quite adept at soundtrack work, some of the tracks are too short or inconsequential to make a strong impact. Performed heavily on keyboards/synths, the longer tracks are at times, compelling. Horn's progressive rock background is apparant on some of the more dynamic, faster paced moments.
There are also two traditional pop songs included on the ablum. The first, Sky Show, written with Chris Braide, has the sound of an 80s Horn-produced hit. Though I prefer the more scaled back rendition that Braide included on his Singer Songwriter album last year, Horn's version does have its charms. The song actually makes a few appearances, including a shortened acoustic version that closes the album. Ultimately, it is an earworm of the highest order.
The other pop song comes in two versions: SunSunSunrise, sung in Japanese by 9nine and the English version, Future Boyfriend, which features a great vocal by Paget Shand. The latter is the better of the two and is a very enjoyable pop song.
Your overall enjoyment of this album depends on your liking for soundtracks of this type. The music is very well performed and unsurprisingly, it sounds fantastic from a production standpoint. I wouldn't call it essential by any stretch, but ultimately, I enjoyed this album for what it is. If you are a fan of Horn's style, I am pretty certain that you will find things to like about it.
Kaleidoreal - A Life Wasted
Sweden's Kaleidoreal may not be a familiar name to even the most dedicated prog fans, but they have created a very mature and well-balanced album with A Life Wasted. Centering around lyricist, guitarist, bassist, and keyboardist Lars Granat, the group also features Rikard Rynoson on vocals and Sebastian Johammar on drums, along with a few other guests on a couple songs. The album they created ranges from heavy rock to quieter contemplative moments.
The music frames the lyrics exceptionally well. The instrumental sections tend to be heavier, but the music often calms during the vocal parts. At some points with more thoughtful lyrics, an extended instrumental portion following the singing gives the listener room to contemplate. Throughout Yellow And Blue, Granat writes a scathing a indictment against modern society. Some examples include "Drunk on succcess / We call this progress," and "The rich and the famous cry on the streets while the sick and the dying get lost in between." After those lines, the song moves into an excellent spacey guitar solo that gives the listener time to think about what they've just heard. Rhetorically, Granat arranged the song masterfully to bring the listener to an emotional point where he or she is ready to hear the tough message that needs to be heard. And he does this without getting political at all. This is true social commentary that is often lacking today.
The music on this album contains a strong balance of guitars and keyboards that interact well. The keyboards range from clean piano to organs and traditional prog synth sounds. The drums have the perfect level of complexity to keep the listener interested, and they are mixed well. Granat is an exceptional guitarist. He knows the right style of playing for each part of the songs, and he does not overplay. The bass rounds things out nicely, especially when it plays the melody lines along with the guitar.
After several listens, I've noticed how diverse the album is. At times the band approaches an upbeat progressive metal sound, yet at the beginning of A Life Wasted Part 2, they feature vocal lines and harmonies that sound very similar to some of The Neal Morse Band's recent output. The quiet Ozone is different from everything else on the album in that it is very short and sticks to one style. It offers a good break before moving into the more varied final song, which starts off on the heavier side.
Fans of guitar-centered progressive rock will enjoy A Life Wasted. The diversity of the musical sounds and styles found here works really well. The album has a strong flow. When you come to the end of it, you feel very satisfied because it ends at the perfect point. Any more would feel like too much, but any less would leave you wanting more. As it is, the album has a level of completeness, especially considering it is not a concept album. The lyrics give you a lot to think about on multiple listens, which is a great reason to come back for more. Anyone who enjoys a well-organized and well-balance prog album will find a lot to enjoy with Kaleidoreal. I hope there is more to come from the band.
Ángel Ontalva & Vespero - Carta Marina
Childhood model of Fireball XL5 tuned to the imagination, prepped and ready to launch.
Count down sequence initiated.
Windows and Doors locked.
Loose objects removed from shelves and window ledges.
Illuminated Mobile of the solar system hung from ceiling.
Lights off... room darkened.
Volume set to destructive level.
The thrust of the music pushes me into the springs of the chair. My tympanic membranes shake and wiggle in a shamanic dance of delight. Care to join me in a fanciful trip amongst the planets with the star lit musical accompaniment of Ángel Ontalva and Vespero?
If you enjoy tongue twisting guitar runs, swirling synths, violent violin passages, relentless yet interesting rhythms coupled with some of the typical ingredients of instrumental space rock, then this album is an experience that should not be missed.
Carta Marina is an album that is able to deliver shafts of twinkling sunlight onto the darkened hull of any space pod, as it is tosses and twirls in a quest to leave the pull of the earth.
Although Vespero appear to wish to place their music firmly within some of the accepted the stylistic parameters of space rock their interpretation of that style is never one dimensional, or resolutely fixed in a groove of inflexible effects and unchanging rhythms.
The album has a different ambiance to the band's last three releases. There is much less use of stereotypical space rock effects and the band has embraced some of the sounds and time signatures associated with fusion. The band’s sound also has a much harder edge; this is due to a large part to the collaboration between celebrated Spanish guitarist Ángel Ontalva and the band.
Ontalva’s mastery of the guitar; his skilful use of tone and the showcasing of many muscularly expressive solo parts, gives the music of Vespero a emphatic boost that from the off creates a glorious racket, that locks onto a listener’s limbs, making them shimmer and shake in a frenzied dance of impromptu delight.
Even more significantly, when Ontalva is not creating head-turning moments on his guitar as exemplified by his fantastic solo in Sea Orm and also during excellent fusion tinged Horrenda Charybdis Near Lofoten, the band as a whole provide a plethora of imaginative adrenaline moments to savour.
Nowhere is this better shown than in the excellent group performance of Sledges Crossing The Gulf Of Bothnia. This piece stands apart from the other tracks on the album, largely due to a math-rock feel. It begins with a gorgeous acoustic guitar passage that had me nodding with delight and craving for more.
Both the keyboards and violin excel and jockey for a place on the podium alongside Ontalva’s sharp edged acoustic guitar and Fripp toned electric flourishes. In the end, Vitaly Borodin’s richly formed violin solo that breaks free at the midpoint of proceedings is probably the highlight of the piece and on this occasion, his performance probably warrants the top spot. Alongside Horrenda Charybdis near Lofoten, it is probably the standout track of the album.
However, despite the consistent excellence of Ontalva’s performance and the frequently delightful exchanges with Borodin’s violin most notably during Sea Orm, it is arguably the keyboard that gives the music room to breathe and express itself. Alongside the rhythm section, synth’s, keys and effects provide a fine platform for violin and guitar to excel.
There was only one piece on the album that did not fully satisfy. After the excitement of many of the other pieces, the slow paced Insula Magnetica failed to quicken the pulse. Its frequent use of effects and drones appeared at times to succumb to the temptation to proclaim an allegiance to a number of the norms of space rock, However, as an interlude tune created to give the listener time to draw breath, star gaze and dream; it serves its purpose well.
Ziphius on the other hand, features a monstrous riff that fills the cockpit of your room with menace and deep space foreboding. It captures the body, straps and suspends you from the ceiling to helplessly and weightlessly dangle, whilst chunky guitar riffs and screeching bow work, tumble and twist in a struggle for dominance.
I thoroughly enjoyed my fantasy voyage accompanied by the dashing performance of Vespero in Carta Marina and the sparkling contribution of guitarist Ángel Ontalva.
All that remains is to say; if you decided to accompany me, I hope that you enjoyed the trip and have a safe return.
Re-entry sequence initiated
The Regal Worm - Pig Views
Pig Views is the third release by Jarrod Gosling using the moniker Regal Worm. This excellent release and the previous two albums, Use And Ornament and Neither Use Nor Ornament, showcase Gosling’s enviable ability to meld, package and mix a range of styles into an impressive musical experience.
He has created a trilogy of albums that are melodic, idiosyncratic, and humorous, but above all, they are all truly progressive in their scope and breath. To cap it all, Pig Views takes Jarrod’s art to another level and is probably by far the most satisfying Regal Worm album yet.
Pig Views is fresh inventive, compelling and alluring. It's contemporary take on prog is stimulating, does not take itself too seriously and is free of many of the musical clichés and conservative structures that all too often tether many prog artists to the past. It is neither retro-sounding, nor a reinterpretation of the type of music associated with classic bands of the past. This album declares its individuality creativity and artistic integrity from the first to the last.
Gosling’s keyboard work throughout the album is excellent. His use of a variety of instruments and sounds associated with the classic ingredients of prog in the 70s, such as, the organ, synth and mellotron ensures that a recognisable sound has new parameters to explore. This provides the album with an overall sparkling effervescence that is reassuringly familiar, but satisfyingly bubbles and explodes with a fresh, newly formed altogether different aroma.
As well as keys, the sax is a principal instrument. The album features some raucous sax interludes that successfully cross the line from melody towards dissonance on more than one occasion. However, the excellent use of the human voice, both as an instrument in its own right and as a means to carry the albums quirky often tongue in cheek lyrics gives proceedings a warmth and engaging ambiance.
On occasions, Pig Views offers its own twisted version of Sunshine Pop. Pre-Colombian Worry Song is a magnificent piece. It is catchy and alluring, full of surprises, with bright and wistful moments to savour. This tune successfully integrates a number of styles to help it to display a variety of moods and emotions. I loved every moment of it! With a lyric like "You can slip off the edge of the world on God's own banana skin", it is difficult to see how any listener will not find himself or herself forming a wry smile.
In this tune and on other occasions in the album Gosling displays an intuitive knack of using repeated phrases in order to create maximum impact. This technique works really well. In the hands of a less accomplished composer, such a ploy might have risked failure. Who would have thought that the repetition of the word "Down" in Pre-Colombian Worry Song could have created such a memorable effect? Writers such as, Gosling and Phideaux, to name but a few, have the uncanny ability of doing this without such repetition overstaying its welcome. It certainly works for both Gosling, during Pig Views and for Phideaux in Infernal.
Experiencing an album that is so full of unexpected twists is an absolute pleasure. Just when a groove or mood is established, another style emerges, or a change of tempo surprisingly occurs, or dissonance temporarily triumphs over melody. I can imagine that some readers might find aspects of the music disjointed over the first few listens. However, over time these elements just fall in to place and ensure that the album has a long shelf life. It just gets better and better after repeated plays.
Although Pig Views is unique and has its own identity, no doubt, some readers might want some further signposts and band comparisons to see if Pig Views might appeal. The use, ebb and flow of a series of dramatic choral parts in the first two pieces might draw some listeners to compare these sections with aspects of some of the music of Magma.
The male vocals throughout have a relaxed and easy style that is extremely pleasant. On more than one occasion, the vocalist was reminiscent of Beardfish.
There were also times when Pig Views embraced some of the complexity and sounds associated with bands such as National Health and Egg, but equally there were occasions when Pig Views adopted an accessible foot tapping style that might be witnessed in countless tv programmes across the land. It is this mix and melding of disparate approaches that ultimately makes the album so attractive.
There are many highlights throughout, but I particularly liked the sensitive and delicate use of female voices at strategic moments. The fragile refrain that concludes the opening track is a creation that has consummate sonic beauty all of its own. Similarly, Jag Vet is a short, but beautifully executed, poignant interlude tune, where the measured and plaintive refrain "No! Karin, do not go there" ripples gently in emotive waves, to cascade from the singer’s heart.
The longest piece on the album is The Dreaded Lurg; it lasts over fourteen minutes. This duration gives Gosling many openings to explore a variety of themes and moods. There are numerous occasions to explore different tonalities and their interaction with rich layers of sound. The piece has many memorable passages. It features challenging rhythms juxtaposed with interludes that provide as a contrast, a gentle valley of sonic walkways filled with a range of soothing melodies and sweetly scented instrumental delights. Bubbly keyboard parts and explosive sax parts create a cacophonous sound. By the time, the piece concludes, listeners who like their music to be unpredictable, may well find themselves involuntarily clenching and raising a fist in appreciation.
An album that is as fresh and inventive as Pig Views rarely appears. I can only suggest that, if you want to experience something that is bold, novel, puts heaps of creativity into its take on prog and overall is just plain good fun, then I urge that you should check this superb album out.