Issue 2019-081

25 Yard Screamer - Natural Satellite

25 Yard Screamer - Natural Satellite
Country of Origin
Wales
Year of Release
2019
Time
66:05
Samples
The Storyteller (7:59), Devastate (5:41), The Silent Rising (15:30), A Space Where Someone Should Be (9:20), While We Are (6:29), Never In The Detail (6:44), Code Jeremiah (14:20).

25 Yard Screamer is a three-piece power-trio from Carmarthen, Wales. Actually they mention an "inactive 4th musical brother" but I'm not sure that counts. Formed way back in 2002, it was really 2007's Cassandra that rose them to prominence (review here), even getting a track in Classic Rock magazine's top 100 of the year. They purvey a darker neo-prog of the Porcupine Tree ilk, and if anything have gone a little darker on this their seventh album.

To start with, Nick James's vocals really are an acquired taste. Often feeling strained, they certainly convey some drama and are lyrically clear. Don't be put off on first listen.

The opening track, Storyteller, although it has been the pre-release advertisement for the album, for me it is the poorest song on the album. There is a nice crescendo instrumental section with some subtle but noticeably off-tune moments. Nothing memorable except the interestingly-weird EDM fade out.

Devastate sounds a bit like Children-era The Mission, evoking the deep husks of Wayne Hussey. The strange production continues with a fuzzy mid-section, and I'm not sure if it was intentional. Either way, it's a turn-off for these ears but is followed by some pleasingly-delayed guitar effects, just to return to muffled vocals at the end. The track achieves the feeling of devastation overall, which I suppose is the point.

There is the obligatory epic in The Silent Rising, something this band excels at. For sure this is the most ear-perking on the album. There are guitar harmonics, melodies even! But again some production issues during the chorus. After about four minutes there is a clever key progression, then an atmospheric acoustic section. Lyrically strong, as on the whole album, with biting lines such as: "The free world is led by a fuckwit". Definitely one to add to the bulging "prog rock epics" playlist.

A Space Where Someone Should Be is a lovely, haunting song with an opening monologue on, presumably, a recent loss, which feels thematically akin to Anathema's Internal Landscapes. Heavy, almost gothic, gloomy and excellent. While We Are is a straight-forward rocker with some more expletives, but a justifiably cynical lyric, apt to these times. It offers more of a 70s feel musically, (Animals-era Floyd) with even more melancholia.

Rocking again with Never in the Detail but with more of a prog time-signature channelling their inner Rush. Here we are fast-paced with some vocal harmonies and more-than-listenable guitar solos. This one should be barn-storming live, if they play in a barn that is. Code Jeremiah reprises the lengthy epic format for which this band clearly have a penchant. There are fewer hooks than The Silent Rising but nonetheless it is an ambitious act of storytelling, and one admires their bravery to stretch out and not keep to a more radio-friendly format. This is prog after all.

Overall the album is very much worth it from the third track onwards. They could have ditched the first two without compromise, and with Rob Reed of Magenta who lends a keyboard hand on a track and is behind the White Knight record label, one would have expected a bit more gloss in the production standards.

Make sure you are in the right mood.

Arena - Re-Visited Live!

Arena - Re-Visited Live!
Country of Origin
UK
Year of Release
2019
Time
CD: 65:35, 51:58; Bluray/DVD: 124:02
A Crack In The Ice (7:25), Pins And Needles (2:46), Double Vision (4:33), Elea (2:59), The Hanging Tree (7:31), A State Of Grace (3:42), Blood Red Room (1:22), In The Blink Of An Eye (5:22), (Don’t Forget To) Breathe (5:25), Serenity (2:52), Tears In The Rain (5:03), Enemy Without (5:06), Running From Damascus (4:17), The Visitor (7:12), Poisoned (5:05), Jericho (7:39), Mirror Lies (8:44), Tinder Box (4:01), Solomon (15:05), Ascension (5:12), Crying For Help VII (6:12) Bonus Video: Poisoned (4:51)

Although having witnessed the original Marillion in 1984 at the age of 15, Songs From The Lion's Cage by Arena somehow never really warmed me at the time. Fun times as they were at their acoustic gig at "Stairway To Heaven" (31st of March 1998) or Tivoli (31st of October 1999), both in Utrecht, it didn't ignite a spark as such.

With my musical preferences at the time gradually manoeuvring towards progressive metal, a turning point was reached on the 17th of October 2000. A memorable night, with a whole different story attached to it, but it did see Pain Of Salvation supporting Arena at Paradiso, Amsterdam on their Immortal? tour. A most peculiar pairing of prog, splitting the crowd effectively in two for the occasion. I haven't followed Arena afterwards, apart from a gentle awareness.

So why do this review, you might ask yourself? The reasons are multiple, with the first one being that of simple curiosity, since this live registration involves an integral live rendition of their successful release The Visitor, an album placed in high regards amongst Arena fans. Trust me, I have a hugely devoted Arena friend to remind me of that. Secondly the involvement of John Mitchell. Although already present on the original album, his style of melodies, refined play and compositional skills I have grown to like considerably over the years. His work with It Bites and his own project Lonely Robot are amongst his finest, making me anxious to hear (and see) some great interpretations and quite possibly improvements on the original Arena material.

Third and most importantly: after reading the round-table reviews by my fellow team-mates on their latest album Double Visions, released in 2018, their ratings and references made me wonder whether the music would nowadays suit me better, having developed a broader taste. Subconsciously I may be questioning why I strolled away all those years ago. Would I embrace the music this time?

After admiring the beautiful packaging, enclosing a wonderful 48 page booklet filled with mementos and many concert photos, I let the CDs do their work in the car stereo first, to hear whether I would make it to the footage.

On the first spin of the first CD, an immediate, most exciting change caught my ears through the warm, pleasant and strong vocals of Paul Manzi. As the vocalist to The Oliver Wakeman Band's Coming To Town, a personal favourite thankfully brought under my attention by Dave Wagstaffe (Landmarq), this turns out to be a brilliant surprise. Manzi's voice brings a lot of power, volume and expressiveness to the plate, elevating the music. Some might say his voice is too edgy at times, to portray the more intricate passages, but overall he does a perfect job and for me heightens the experience. Furthermore, his superbly confident singing in Poisened and The Mirror Lies (CD 2) falls perfectly in place, showing how Arena have grown and what they have accomplished on their most recent studio effort Double Vision.

The very clear sound production on both CDs made me switch to Bluray rather quickly. Recorded in the famous "De Boerderij", Zoetermeer (Holland) it sees Arena revisiting The Visitor, which celebrates it's 20th anniversary, bringing it with precision and strength, under the watchful eyes of a very devoted collective of fans. A relaxed Clive Nolan plays his parts with seeming ease and stays comfortably behind his keys, while Kylan Amos (bass) on occasion interacts with the crowd. John Mitchell, positioned in front of Nolan, plays his contributions stoicly and with great care, reproducing the original compositions, while excelling with some great melancholic and melodic solos. And lastly the fully concentrated, hard working drummer Mick Pointer, sitting at the back, replicates the drum parts to the best of his abilities.

From a musical point there are many highlights and hearing these songs so many years after their original recordings is actually comforting. It's clear that Arena had their influences from bands like Shadowland and Marillion at the time, but slowly started to form their own sound. Mitchell being the one to "blame" for this, by showcasing strong melancholic solos with a touch of Steve Rothery (Elea) and lovely David Gilmour strides (Serenity), with a divine touch combining both in the title track The Visitor, bringing back some delicious Chelsea Monday's.

With John Jowitt originally involved, now strikingly interpreted by Amos, Arena gained a smooth yet dynamic drive. Combined with the solid keyboard parts of Nolan, the result is some exquisite neo-progressive rock of which In The Blink Of An Eye is a perfect example. Add to this the successful harmonies, and it is clear that today's execution of The Visitor is a feast for the ears.

Because of time restraints, only a handful of other tracks could be played such as Jericho and Tinderbox. The fan favourite Solomon closes the regular set on an absolute high. Ascension from Contagion then confidently follows, but once the audience participation track Crying For Help VII starts, the momentum is lost and a slightly different running order in the set would have made a bigger impact.

Viewing-wise, there are lots of nice close ups catching the different musicians accurately in the act. Thankfully they zoom-in on a guitar-solo when there is one, switch to keys when applicable or show a difficult break on drums which Pointer handles with the utmost precision, however unnatural and forced this may look sometimes. The calm, steady cameras give a good overview of the concert from various angles, without being to over-indulgent in switching from one-to-the-other too quickly. Rather they focus at length on the musician, thus managing to keep a gentle flow to the show. Well-directed minor details such as the audience singing passionately along with devotion, captures the vibe of the concert devoutly, although I'd wish for more shots of the backdrop images featured during the performance of The Visitor, to highlight the different subjects addressed within the theme.

Although the overall performance is solid and impressive, it does feel somewhat distant and obligatory. There's hardly any crowd interaction during the first part of the concert and only in the later stages does the band loosen up to the reactions of the crowd. The stage performance doesn't add a huge amount of theatrics visually, but then again the combination of music, close ups and strong deliveries make up for this.

As this is a limited release, my advice is to get it while you can. It contains a good representation of Arena on top of their game, revisiting their best album with some strong selections from other releases, with impeccable performances throughout.

My only random thought is why they included both a Bluray and a DVD? I hope they decide to issue separate formats later, since one will usually be redundant when bought together.

Maybe the biggest plus-point is that this has caused me to start were I left off and re-acquaint myself to other albums I've missed in this progressive rock Arena. Try it. It could happen to you too!

Forest Field - Seasons

Forest Field - Seasons
Country of Origin
Netherlands / USA
Year of Release
2019
Time
63:04
Samples
Delta Hours (4:34), Change The World (5:45), Spring Is Coming (4:13), Into The Lion's Den (5:43), Rain In May (5:04), Eyewitness (5:52), Circles (4:03), A Silent Cry (6:11), Autumn Sky (4:32), Trading Places (6:00), Storm In November (7:32), On The Edge Of Winter (3:35)

Adding a "progressive rock" reference to this fifth album by Forest Field feels somewhat strange. The album has its ambient moments whilst mixing rock with metal nuances, but once placed into the "melodic rock" category, Seasons falls perfectly in place. Absolutely fine, but in that category the playing field is immense with many competing releases and it almost takes a miracle to be noticed. One glance at the website melodicrock.com/ tells you as much.

Forest Field is basically a two-man project. Peter Cox (Chinawhite) handles all instruments and additional vocals, while Phil Vincent (Legion) adds lead vocals. A special guest guitarist, Vince O'Regan (Pulse, Legion, Bob Catley) is featured on two tracks (Into The Lion's Den and Trading Places). Peter Cox is the main man though, being responsible for the music, lyrics and production.

Musically there are some nice goodies and lovely ideas involved, but that is hindered by the production. A polished sound is a necessity in melodic rock / AOR, which in most cases benefits or even defines the musical experience. Here the rather poor production does the opposite, sounding clinical and adding a disturbing resonance, making it an audible challenge and a slight turn off.

While Delta Hours, a poppy radio friendly track, is an engaging opener, Change The World directly sparks images of Ten, Cannata, and Dare. A good song with some great guitar melody lines and a catchy refrain, although the arrangements could have been better. Something that turns out to be an issue throughout the album, where bridges do not always flow naturally. The drum transitions especially suffer from this, for when applied in a more complex and versatile way they tend to be out of sync with the music. A definite point of attention for next time.

Into The Lion's Den is a superb heavy rocker reminiscent of Street Legal and State Of Rock, featuring strong and solid guitars by O'Regan. It stands in straight contrast to the refined acoustic subtleties in Rain In May where the violin touches give a glimmer of Kansas, before being disturbingly disrupted by a rock eruption. Soothing tracks like Eyewitness and A Silent Cry open in a majestic way, oozing Journey and Boston with predictable harmonies and well-known melodies, while the safe Autumn Sky rocks in Magnum style.

Just like Into The Lion's Den, Trading Places shows great promise, with gorgeous heavy passages and melodies where the solos by O'Regan give it just that extra depth and power. Heavily leaning on keys, Storm In November then slowly brings out some sparks of Styx, with a touch of Walk The Wire and World Trade. It's the proggiest track on Seasons which features a further three instrumental tracks: Spring Is Coming, Circles and On The Edge Of Winter. The first two feature flashy keys and superb solos on guitar by Cox, performed to a steady rhythm gently flowing by, whereas On The Edge Of Winter feels like an oddly out of place, soft, ambient track.

Just like their previous efforts, Angels? and Lonely Desert, Seasons is a release based on a theme, not only described in lyrics, but stunningly depicted in the artful booklet and complementary digipack. If some of that energy had been put into the production and arrangements then the result, in my mind, would have been much more satisfactory. Also Forest Fields sometimes fall for the: "I've heard all this before" trap. Not necessarily a bad thing when it's done right, but flawed production stands in the way of this. Tweaking some elements should do the trick though, for the music is actually quite enjoyable and definitely worth checking out if you like smooth melodic AOR with an occasional heavy touch.

Richard Henshall - The Cocoon

Richard Henshall - The Cocoon
Country of Origin
England
Year of Release
2019
Time
47:22
Samples
Pupa (2:25), Cocoon (10:26), Silken Chains (8:10), Limbo (3:54), Lunar Room (8:21), Twisted Shadows (8:46), Afterglow (5:16)

There is no doubt that the decision to have all Haken members involved in the writing of new band material has been a big move and pushed the band to new levels. But it has also had an impact on the master himself, Richard Henshall. After giving away duties to the other members, he must have felt the need to open another valve to let his creativity flow. After the brilliant collaboration with friends in Nova Collective, he's now created a new album, all written and produced by himself. And it appears to be a rather personal album, as the concept is the personal watershed moment. Throughout the album we watch the protagonist of the album processing through a series of watershed moments and see him getting shaped by these experiences.

Henshall plays keyboards and guitars and does the vocals throughout the album, assisted by Matt Lynch who gained some fame in Cynic and Nova Collective on drums, and the self-scouted wunderkind Conner Green on bass. Adding to that trio, quite a good handful of friends and contacts from his musical journey guest on this album, contemporary artists such as Jordan Rudess, Marco Sfogli, and David Micic among others. Ben Levin, Jessica Kion, Ross Jennings and Richard's wife Eli Henshall participate on vocals. Even Joe Riley, keyboardist in New Yorks prog combo Jolly added to the album, but differently, because he also happens to paint impressively great pictures, and thus donated a pencil drawn portrait of Henshall.

The compositions are more or less in the style one would expect from Henshall, being stuffed with a broad mix of influences and ideas. Perfectly woven into one another with a huge output of notes, it makes one almost become breathless during the endless attempts to keep up with everything that is in there. But the album is still different to Haken's music, as all the incorporated styles and influences don't reflect the past of progressive music. On the contrary, the album reflects mostly influences of contemporary artists. The Ben Levin Group and their better known side project Bent Knee, as well as David Maxim Micic, Between The Buried And Me and The Deer Hunter are the main influences as far as I can tell. And all of the provided styles, even some very jazzy moments, give you the best idea of the emotions which Henshall tells about; each watershed moment initiates a different set in a great way.

But as we look into the protagonist's mind and soul, the album becomes way more impressionistic than any Haken output; we're not in a movie here, but in a certain person's brain. Because of that, the listening experience has a different spin.

In the beginning, at the first listens, while exploring the genius musical math of the compositions in awe, one is left rather cold, because it's not as much an expressionistic piece as one would expect. It takes some time to understand why the absence of most of the cinematic picture that we're used to, is so important to this very personal story of a man looking back at his path.

This is the point when the album gains its full power and from here on, there is no halt, it will take you under its spell. Once this progress is finished, it turns out that the album is as perfect as it can get, and one understands what a genius piece of work this is. With this album it's not so much a question if one can top that, because that has to be absolutely impossible. It's more a question of whether any future pieces can keep up with this ultimate piece of work.

Koen Herfst - Leo

Koen Herfst - Leo
Country of Origin
Netherlands
Year of Release
2019
Time
64:13
Samples
July 20, 1984 (5:52), Dream Away (5:11), Realization Of The Inevitable (5:53), Coffin & Carriage (4:03), Bereaved (4:52), Saying Your Name Out Loud (4:21), D(E)ad (6:55), I See Myself (4:16), Are You Out There Somewhere? (6:40), Simple Life (1:47), Leo (8:55), All We Have Is Now (5:30)

Apologies all around, but I can be terrible at names sometimes. Keeping up with new bands, side-projects, line-up changes and an increasing stream of new music is hard enough, let alone when someone plays in a genre you like to listen to, but where one isn't particularly a fan of one specific band. Obviously most of us know the big names, but when I get a personal question like: "Who's the drummer playing with DJ Armin Van Buuren?", I'm left speechless and Herfst's name would never have popped up. I'd like to think that I'm not the only one.

With that out of the way, imagine Leo falling on my doorstep with the question as to what do we think of this album? A quick glance at the booklet shows some extremely familiar names and the storyline is intriguing. And once I have Googled some more information, I'm amazed that the name Koen Herfst doesn't ring a bell, for amongst many other things he has played with the likes of Epica and After Forever, founded the successful drum festival Herfstfest and has won the title "Best Hardrock Drummer of the Benelux" five years in a row. He'd better suit-up to collect number six, but let's not get ahead of things.

For the record: I'm not on first name basis with Koen Herfst, but the name "Koen" has a special context/meaning, in relation to the subject and music of the album. For Leo is a prog-metal concept album of a very personal and intimate nature and a brave statement by Koen coming to terms with feelings of loss, abandonment, grief, anger, frustration, despair and surrender; to name just a few. So no cheerful story and actually this proves to be the most depressing album I have listened to in years (I'm over-joyously happy to report).

The story (in a nutshell) starts with the tragic events of his father's (Leo) death on 20 July 1984, when Koen was just a toddler of 10 months. It extends towards the present day and describes / interprets the impact it has had on Koen (and his family). A highly emotional, suppressed moment is hidden somewhere within, but brought back to life when Koen found long-lost family relics such as a diary and videotapes in the attic some years ago. Anyone who's suffered the loss of a dearly departed, or a divorce for that matter, can heartily relate when you get confronted by these remnants from the past, and the stream of emotions, thoughts and emptiness it evokes.

Right from the start, the story, which is chronologically told, grabs and holds a firm grip up to the last dying seconds of the album. An rather intense flashback moulded in progressive metal where Koen doesn't shy away from doom, thrash or even black metal. And while my preference tends to go towards a more melodic genre, it feels fully satisfyingly in place. Even more, it's all ingeniously encased with an infinite array of resolute versatile drums and percussion, dynamically thundering-on with subtleties and finesse. To get a sense of understanding and amazement of the drum-parts on display, think of it as a crossover between Scott Rockenfield (Queensryche), Neil Peart, and Mike Portnoy.

Besides drums and percussion, Koen handles guitars, keyboards, programming and adds vocals on the "angel/death"-parts, and in his own role as "Son". This last one is a brilliant strike, giving the concept substantially more emotional depth. The Death part is dark, ominous, growling and mysterious and mostly spoken, but when actual singing is involved, Koen's vocals on occasion tend to sound like Dave Brock (Hawkwind), most notably in Are You Out There Somewhere? which radiates space-rock in a Jolly way. In Simple Life, played only on piano and one of the few resting points of the album, he moves even the boldest of men with his vulnerable, openly bare-naked pledges, reminiscent to Daniël Gildenlow of Pain Of Salvation.

The role of "Mother" is performed by Anneke van Griersbergen, who, with her almost pure angelic voice brings the feelings, inner struggles, strength and comforting character of mum across perfectly. While her cries of desperation triumph in July 20, 1984, it's the vocals that sooth in Dream Away. Further harmonising "father" vocals by Merijn van Haren (Navarone) intertwine here magically, expressing the helpless rage. In Realization Of The Inevitable, van Haren continues to impress, delivering the pain and agony most fittingly.

Apart from these vocal-roles, a choir existing of Koen and Marcelo Bovio (ex-Stream Of Passion, MaYan) adds divinity in I See Myself, while in All We Have Is Now, Koen's real life mother and sister are featured in the choir, taking the story almost full circle. A small part in Bereaved is kept for Harrison Young (Doro) and while throughout the album the fierce bass lines by Rob van der Loo (Epica) drive the songs onwards, there's even room for some exceptional guest solo spots. For instance Jordan Ruddess (Dream Theater) excels in July 20, 1984 with a dazzling solo, while the heavy guitar solo by Paul Quinn (Saxon) overwhelms in Dream Away.

Ruud Jolie (Within Temptation) convinces equally in Saying Your Name Out Loud, but my 12 points go to the contributions by Jord Otto (Vuur) on guitars and Ben Mathot (Ayreon) on violin in D(e)ad. Over spoken fragments of Leo Herfst, father time slowly creeps nearer, to majestically appear in a forceful, expressive doom threat. What follows is an alarming duel, gaining brilliant momentum through demonic, shredding guitars and victorious, celestial violin; although story-wise the violin obviously loses.

Another highlight are the fluent crossovers, bridges and exciting changes of pace, like the captivating transition from Realization Of The Inevitable to Coffin & Carriage, igniting flashes of Operation Mindcrime by the aforementioned Queensryche. Lastly in the requiem Leo, all registers are opened one last time with grungy riffs and heavy rock while a thunderous middle section, with superb bass and delicate piano parts, gradually shifts into Empyrean orchestrations, reminiscent to The Perfect Element by Pain Of Salvation. Fading, authentic piano play by Leo Herfst finishes the song in minor key.

Koen can stand proud and tall with this daring piece of musical art, which reveals more and more details after many listen. This, together with the technical complexity, and the touching nature of the subject and its proverbial, radiating energy is something I recommend for every right-minded prog-metal fan to explore and feel. My guess is you won't regret it.

The story is close to home in my case, which has likely affected my grade, but if you like a well thought out and perfectly executed concept album along the lines of The Incident by Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater's Train Of Thoughts or early Pain Of Salvation, with a dash of doom and thrash Metallica, your marks might be rather high as well. A definite Top 10 list favourite.

Koen (Herfst): a name to remember from now on.

Lord Helmet - Forget The End Of The World

Lord Helmet - Forget The End Of The World
Country of Origin
USA
Year of Release
2019
Time
40:59
Samples
Hidden Things (3:54), The Judas Tree (4:36), Building Castles (3:36), Remade (3:36), Seeing Dreams (3:39), Forget the End of the World (9:24), In Blue (3:32), Clear Skies Darkened (3:34), Rings of Saturn (5:08)

Based in Los Angeles, California, Lord Helmet is a duo consisting of David Tomkins on bass, guitar, synths and vocals and Adam Figura on drums. Their debut album, Forget The End of the World, is a raucous and tuneful affair.

Lord Helmet has a great way with a hook-laden tune, and their mix of heavy prog riffing and punchy drumming, barrels along with large dollops of hard rock, classic rock choruses and heads-down punch. But the sound that ices this cake is David Tomkins voice, which sounds like the charismatic offspring of David Bowie and The Sisters of Mercy's Andrew Eldritch.

The songs here are compact and have a lot going on in them. The opener, Hidden Things, hides nothing as it punches from the speakers with layered guitars, hard hitting drumming and an annoyingly-catchy chorus. There is a Porcupine Tree feel to Building Castles' harmonic, chiming guitars and rising melodic line. Remade has a hard-rock edge to it and features a cracking chorus.

When Lord Helmet goes for a more expansive running time, with the title track, they keep the focus of the shorter works, and when it moves into prog-metal in places it works really well. The prog-metal re-emerges in the excellent Clear Skies Darkened, which echoes Riverside at their best.

So, if you think that Porcupine Tree's Open Car (from Deadwing) is one of their best, then Lord Helmet should be for you. They have a Muse way with a bombastic melody, but without the tendency to histrionics. Those wanting expansive solos should look elsewhere. They wear their influences on their sleeves but execute them with passionate melodies and forceful arrangements.

There is a heady brew of hook-laden rock and prog on Lord Helmet's Forget The End of the World, which is thoroughly enjoyable, easily recommendable. It does not outstay its welcome, as it would fit easily on to two sides of vinyl. Roll on album number two.

Pinnacle - To Whoever You Are Now

Pinnacle - To Whoever You Are Now
Country of Origin
USA
Year of Release
2018
Time
59:35
Samples
Prelude/Flying Colors (9:32), Because Of You (8:24), To Whoever You Were Then (1:25), 1001 Days (7:41), Little Tin Angel (4:31), Words (4:38), New World View (3:36), Stained Glass (8:46), To Whoever You Are Now (5:05), Stars (5:57)

Whether you'll feel the love for Pinnacle's fourth album largely depends on how much stock you place in originality.

There is no doubt that their creative output and influence can be pin-pointed easily. At the core this is early UK 80s neo-prog, with some minor side-steps into folkier pastures with occasional moments of Kansas harmonisation.

The good news is that To Whoever You Are Now is less on-the-nose in this regard than its 2012 predecessor, A Blueprint For Chaos which comes across as very Fish-era heavy.

Much of its musical circuitry hinges on the guitar prowess of Karl Eisenhart. His muscular, polished guitar sound dominates, with familiar hooks and stomping, noisy solos. Precision and melody can become consumed however in the excesses of the over-long instrumental passages that bulk out the middle sections of the likes of Because of You and the squawky breakout in 1001 Days. If you are listening to these pieces with your ear half-cocked, you will begin to feel the overall effect of the songs bleeding into each other.

Where the tracks are leaner, in the shorter compositions, there is some colour and fizz, such as the rocking groove of Little Tin Angel. The clear favourite of the sub-six minute pieces goes to the Rush-flavoured Words, which is elevated to another level by the superbly distinct voice of Echolyn's Ray Weston. Its poppy song structure, combined with a Lifeson/Lee sensibility, proves that the band does have a knack for melody.

It's within the latter half of the album where the better numbers are placed, with the short, playful instrumental, New World View and the standout Stained Glass. Overall though they don't quite succeed in igniting any passion or evoking emotions. There are no real surprises or explosive moments to be found that will demand your attention. There is a quality to the songwriting and performance, but ultimately it merely charms in all-too-familiar ways.

If you find yourself complaining that genuinely new music is hard to come by, then this album will likely pass you by. It does have an identity, yet nothing about it feels epic or indeed moving. It's a well-realised group of songs that sadly lack bite for the most part, and crucially, what the album lacks are some elements to latch on to. In a sea of jewels, there are too few diamonds to be found.

T - Solipsystemology

T - Solipsystemology
Country of Origin
Germany
Year of Release
2019
Time
72:54
Chapter Seven - The End Where We Begin: The End Of Always (14:00), That Thought You Lost At Home (8:41), Chapter Eight - The Trauma Of Happiness: A Haunted Ghost (8:05), Lifeoscopy (6:01), Laughter’s Cold Remains (12:19), Chapter Nine – Solipsisters: When We Were Us (9:48), Beyond The Dark (14:00)

Solipsystemology concludes the trilogy which started in 2015 with Fragmentropy and continued with Epistrophobia (2017). And similar to those, it contains three chapters divided into several connecting compositions delving further into the psyche, through challenging intellectual lyrics and a diverse musical landscape. And it feels like Thomas Thielen (T) with each successive album digs deeper and deeper, gradually peeling away layers to secret chambers of your mind, while the music becomes more fragile and intimate on the one hand and intense, gloomy and ultimately more complex on the other.

My initial thoughts after the first encounter with Solipsystemology were: "I'm exhausted and I need refreshments". For apart from the radiated, passionate, schizophrenic musicality, T's emotionally draining, melancholic vocals bear a deep sense of drama, sadness, loneliness and leniency. Reminiscent to a blend of David Bowie and Steve Hogarth (Marillion), it possesses hypodermabilities, slowly pushing you firmer into your seat as the story unfolds.

To fully comprehend T's music and psychological concept, you need a comfortable seat in which to nestle, inhale, absorb and indulge upon his brainwashing. This isn't your average, easy-flowing, happy-go-lucky prog. On the contrary; these are grievously-perfected, thought-provoking, intellectual and unsettling self-reflecting pieces of art, leaving you empty inside once Beyond The Dark has ended.

For some of T's own thoughts about the album, check out the last part in our interview series with him here.

Like the complex system of your mind, each composition stretches and bends in many shapes and forms, frequently changing mood, warmth and emotion. Imagine neo-progressive delights in the form of melancholic Steve Rothery-like solos, flowing cautiously around refined, emotive, poppy, ambient passages, while dense yet elegant Marillion-esque melodies are embraced by psychedelic paths of saxophone (The End Of Always).

Sparkling Pendragon keys contrast with minimalistic vocal segments in That Thought You Lost At Home, whereas the three tracks forming Chapter Eight harbour a scary beauty, with T going all out on vocals, resembling pain and loss whilst touching hope and resignation.

After the intricate guidance of orchestrated passages, complicated minimalism and beautiful harmonies, Lifeoscopy thankfully functions as a rocky resting point. Being the most accessible track featured on the album, it is concluded by a soaring synth solo and delicious neo-prog in Laughter's Cold Remains, drowning into chill atmospheres.

When We Were Us unlocks funk and a heavy riff, whilst complex rhythms and drum patterns converge to psychedelics, rock and experimental chaos surrounded by unsettling piano. Silence takes over halfway.

The penultimate track, Beyond The Dark finally ends the concept in the most intricate way possible, incorporating a dark, mysterious atmosphere and gorgeous, icy calm melodies and a superb guitar solo. Surrounded by haunting screams, at long last the oppressive bass-line firmly takes control, essentially leaving you numb and amazed.

A remarkable achievement considering this was solely written, recorded and performed by T. The sheer complexity of the constantly-changing music, aided by many colourings such as sound effects, samples, minutely-detailed arrangements and skilled instrumentation, is astounding. Add to this the crystal clear production and symphonic pop influences, and anyone familiar with T's work will undoubtedly press this work of art close to their hearts, if not seal it within.

For me the tangible, breathing sorrow contained within the compositions in combination with T's splenetic voice draws me slightly away. But don't let this hold you back, for besides this there's infinite beauty to be found within. Unique and highly recommendable.