Reviews in this issue:
La Cadena - Hope?
Mistakes happen sometimes, and in this case a lost parcel meant a good CD slipped off the radar. As a result, we're months behind with the review of this fine album which was released in 2018. Ignoring it was not an option!
The band's subtitle is "Psych Jamband" and as that implies, this Sevilla-based quintet focus on the symphonic, psychedelic spectrum of the prog rock genre and they are mainly active on the stages of the Iberian peninsula, playing jam sessions. Hope? is their third album, recorded live in the studio as a conceptual piece. While the influences on this album are many, the main direction sounds a lot like Pink Floyd's epic tracks on Meddle and Atom Heart Mother (minus the orchestra and choir). The guitar playing of David Gilmour especially and Richard Wright's delicate keyboard style are widely adapted in this setting. From there, the band venture into heavy stoner doom metal at first, and the spacey style of Eloy later on, including some really groovy bass lines.
This is the first band I've heard that ventures in the direction of the highly acclaimed and unmatched bass style of Klaus-Peter Matziol. It's a brave thing to do and works pretty well! The psychedelic journey goes further in the direction of krautrock à la Embryo and Magma's Zeuhl to round off the rather broad and unique style of La Cadena Psych Jamband.
This album works best as ambient music or an inspiration for meditation, but there is enough variety in style to sit down and listen fully focused. There is no instrumental shredding or other artistic indulgences, but the leads, arpeggios and grooves combine to create a good tapestry and an interesting journey with accomplished musical arcs. Only the colourful and expressionistic vocal styles might bother those who are less open minded. If you are uncomfortable with some of Magma's vocals, this may also apply here. Everyone else should click the 'samples' link above and listen to this great album on their Bandcamp page!
Crea - Dwarves & Penguins
Hailing from Sweden, Crea have been in existence for 30 years, which is one heck of a long period before releasing your first full length CD. Even after this length of time, the CD would not have happened except for a fortunate twist of fate. A friend of the band had just set up a new drum rig in his studio and asked Crea to help test it out. This friend, Roy Lunburg, was so impressed with the music of Crea he asked them to record more tracks, which he produced, and so Dwarves & Penguins was created.
Crea are unashamedly neo prog and wear this badge with honour and pride. The classic hallmarks are all present in Crea's prog rock extravaganza. But what demonstrates that they have been around for some time is that the songs on offer here are succinct and do not, at any point, become self indulgent. They all feel that each section has its natural place in the song structure. Each tempo change or musical passage feels integral to the song as a whole. Taking this into account, the only downside is the shortness of the CD. Hopefully, this will be remedied soon as Crea are already well on with their second release.
The instrumental, The March Of The Penguins, opens proceedings, welcoming the listener with a thunder crash and a countdown, before Crea introduce themselves. Peter Gren, band founder and guitarist, immediately demonstrates he is an excellent player with big dramatic stabs, and a sound reminiscent of Steve Rothery and Nick Barrett. This track sets the goalposts for the listener in terms of what to expect. It's a jaunty, foot tapping number, which brought an instant smile to my face. What the listener immediately gets is a true feel of passion and a love for the music. I have rarely felt this from a CD, but the feeling at times is quite overwhelming. Crea have not only produced an album of music, but something which carries with it an almost physical emotion.
Big swelling keyboards from Anders Karlsson introduce Some Of Us, a restrained track with atmospheric keyboard swirls adding texture over gently plucked guitar. The track ends with another solo from Gren, this time one with great feeling and emotion. In places, I was reminded of Pendragon, but only in delivery, not in any way copying what has gone before.
Shattered Vision has an infectious guitar riff. The arrangement will have you singing along to the chorus before you know it. Due to the guitar sound, the track reminded me of Dire Straits at their most commercial. This track also reminded me of someone else. It then came to me, and the similarity falls close to home for Crea, their countrymen Gallion, a band I spent many pleasurable hours listening to in the late '90s. While the obvious prog connections are always apparent in Crea's music, they have added something more to their songwriting which helps them to deliver wonderfully diverse songs, each having its own unique style.
Second Thoughts has a '90s new wave meets It Bites feel. A poppy rhythm and keyboards reminiscent of Depeche Mode drive the song along. The only thing with this song is that it ends suddenly and feels almost incomplete. It's worth listening to for a guitar passage which Francis Dunnery would have been proud of.
Millenium is a huge, dramatic track. The emotion will make your hair stand on end. This is the type of stadium rock song which Marathon, or eNorm as they are now known, deliver so well. Soaring guitar solos, during, and at the end of the song, leaves you with a huge feeling of satisfaction.
Now to probably my favourite six minutes of music so far this year. The albums second instrumental, March Of The Dwarves, would not have been out of place as the title music for the TV series Game Of Thrones. The track begins with a bombastic orchestral introduction before the band make their entrance with a Celtic tinged riff which will stay with you for a long time once you've heard it. A keyboard passage, leads to Gren again taking centre stage, delivering an almost metallic solo before all the instrumentalists play off each other to deliver a fun, folk tinged, climax. Just wonderful stuff.
Dwarves & Penguins draws to a close with its two longest tracks. The first, Walk Into Bright Lights, is a slower composition, which drifts through different passages so smoothly, that by the end you will feel that you have been immersed for far longer than the eight minutes that have passed. The song draws you in, relaxes you then neatly massages the aural receptors in your brain in an almost Zen like manner.
Finally we are introduced to Barabrossa. This starts like Rush, reminiscent of the Farewell To Kings era. You are taken on a ride of epic proportions, crossing musical oceans, drifting calming musical waves, searching for a suitable mooring site, while being serenaded by pounding rhythms and soaring guitars, which build to a wonderfully satisfying conclusion.
For a debut album, this is a stunning piece of work and one which Crea should be extremely proud of. I would highly recommend Dwarves & Penguins to anyone currently feeling starved of a good dose of honest neo prog. I look forward to the next release, which will hopefully arrive much quicker than the 30 years this album took to arrive.
Fraudprophets - Poptosis
Fraudprophets is a collaboration between multi-instrumentalist and composer Sean Halley and A-list drummer Nate Morton. Poptosis is their debut release. They blend elements of jazz, pop, rock, country and 70s fusion with help from guitarist Oz Noy, keyboardist Matt Rohde and a couple of other guests. These guys have chops to spare, but they don't just go in for showboating. They work with the melodies they have created in inventive ways, taking on board all the influences listed above as each tune and arrangement requires.
The tracks on Poptosis group themselves into different styles but don't assume that limits what they do here. For instance, there are the more jazz influenced tracks, such as the Steely Dan-ish loose-limbed, jazz-funk of Scrubs. Then there is the slow jazz-blues of Sad People Music with its crying in your drink in a smokey bar under the neon beer sign ambience. The saxophone on this from Snarky Puppy's Bob Reynolds is superb.
Other tracks take jazz-fusion for a ride down the funky side of things. I Think I Just Said That starts off like a Dick Dale surf guitar workout but soon mutates into bouncing fusion. The Phlebotomist mixes fusion with post-rock, as does the heavy Skronktastic which has some outstanding guitar from Sean Halley. My favourite track, Homer's Journey, has a John McLaughlin meets Alan Holdsworth feel to its flowing elegance before it turns into an almost shredding monster. Terrific stuff.
Having set a high standard on parts of Poptosis, some of the other tracks don't quite work as well for me. I found myself not fully engaged by the jazzy funk of Two Steps Back, and although I admire the violin of Nashville fiddle ninja Jenee Fleanor on Eat A Frog, its fast-paced fusion mixed with country hoedown doesn't hold up to repeat plays. And this comes from someone who really likes the use of violin in a fusion setting.
With far more hits than near misses, Fraudprophets' Poptosis is a great album of fusion based heavy prog-rock that embraces ambitious experimentation within established boundaries, and you can't ask for more than that. Roll on album number two.
Surface Of The Sun - Panacea
Surface Of The Sun is a solo project by the multi-talented Devon Eggers, which began back in 2011 when he started recording. Panacea is the second offering, and is recorded, written and performed entirely by Devon (aside from the drum parts, which were composed and performed by Chris Warunki from Omnisight). As someone with an interest in solo projects, I was keen to explore this and see how it all came together.
Opening track The Science Says opens with a sound reminiscent of early Tool, with some fuzzy riffing and superb drumming. A fast-paced song, with a very catchy chorus to boot.
Oblivion continues the Tool vibes but slows the pace down and brings in some slightly heavier, chugging riffs. The bass line on this track is the standout feature, providing an underlying groove that really helps pull the track along.
Penultimate track The Silence opens with another funky bass riff before Devon's clean and aggressive vocals come in. Soon after, the heavy distortion comes in to create another melodic, catchy, chugging bit of prog goodness. The track flows well, never straying much from its heavy groove, but weaving between intensities enough to keep it interesting.
And finally, EP closer is the title track Panacea. This track sounds almost like a summary of the previous three. It twists and turns through heavy and softer passages, melodic and aggressive moments, all with that grooving bass and technical drumming keeping it all tied together and helping the build up to the hard-hitting outro.
If you like Tool, In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3-era Coheed and Cambria, or A Perfect Circle, this EP will probably be right up your street.
Han Uil - Esoteric Euphony
According to my collection, Han Uil's most recent appearance was the excellent second Tumbletown album. The credits for that album stated that the songs were written by Han Uil and arranged by Aldo Adema. For the listener, it was hard to tell which part should be accredited to whom, but in that case it didn't matter because I liked the results so much.
With Esoteric Euphony we get the compositional skills of that collaboration. Comparisons to Tumbletown can be easily made. Some of the breaks and vocal melodies sound very familiar, or should I say recognisable. It's there but it's not just a copy of what we've heard before. I guess it's something that I can only attribute to Uil's trademark sound.
But an album is much more than that, it is the complete package of songs, arrangements and production. Overall, the music is on the easy side of prog. More progressive than the singer/songwriter style on the first album, with lots of breaks and changes and a large focus on melody, and Uil's typical guitar work.
Several parts are a little heavier, like Failure (a Saga feeling here), the chorus in Give Me Fire, or short sections and breaks in several places on the album. But it's heavy without being very powerful or angry. And personally, that is what I miss here. Uil's feeling for melody is obvious, and the man is a great guitar player who displays a good grip on a wide range of styles. He has a clear voice, if a little sweet, but could use more power and fire. That is of course a matter of taste.
On several tracks, the sound of the drums is rather flat, limited in variation, and unnatural. I can only presume most of these have been programmed although the credits do mention Maurizio Antonini as the drummer. But it's Han Uil on guitar, vocals, keyboards and programming. The other musicians are listed under the "with" heading but does not state who is doing what on which track. It's not that this album needs very powerful drums, but in several tracks where the drums grab the attention, the limited sound becomes obvious.
One of the three longer tracks, The Storyteller, is a bit darker and weirder. With its delicate melancholy and soaring melodic guitar parts, this is my favourite on the album. It's a great composition, helped by unexpected backing vocal melodies. This is however one of those tracks that suffer from the drum sound. Next Door Bully is also a strong composition and a good performance to my ears in all sections, from the verses to the chorus and the instrumental section where the keyboard solo melds into the guitar solo.
Runaway is probably the track with the most varied sound and arrangements. It is richer in variation and sound, and perhaps also in production. A little bit of piano during the guitar solo, the lead guitar continuing while the last chorus has already started, and the organ. This is where the songwriting becomes interesting for a prog audience.
Runaway also has the most prominent bass sound (Tumbletown's Aldo Adema is credited on bass, could it be him on this track?). When I heard the bass, it occured to me that on several other tracks it sounds like the bass is missing. The reason for that could be the composition, writing, arranging, mixing, or production, there is no way of telling. But with that realisation, listening to the album again just brought more of the lightness to the surface. A simple drum rhythm and guitar strumming, then a section with drums and a bit of keyboards. Why not more at the same time?
For me, a huge part of Tumbletown's charm was the full, multi-layered sound. And for my tastes, this is missing from Esoteric Euphony. Of course, this is how the album was written even though I prefer something else. If Uil is happy with this, it's a successful record for him. You, the reader, should look beyond my criticism and decide for yourself if this album is to your liking.
If you're familiar with his previous albums (check the reviews for Alone and Dark In Light here on DPRP) I'm sure you will find that this is the next step in his solo discography. If you're not seeking the heavy side of prog, have a listen, there is a lot to enjoy here.