~ USA and CANADA ~
AZURETH – The Promethean Syndrome
In fact this five-piece formation is an international musical project, it features members from the USA and Norway. In 2004 Azureth released their debut CD entitled Yesterday's Future, Tomorrow's Past and in 2008 we could enjoy a second effort entitled Promethian Syndrome, what a captivating musical experience! Azureth delivers 10 alternating and tastefully arranged compositions with a clear production. The one moment the sound contains bombastic keyboards and howling guitar or a heavy mid-tempo with flashy synthesizer flights and fiery guitar solos, the other moment you can enjoy mellow and accessible parts with warm twanging acoustic guitar and Grand piano or acoustic rhythm guitar with vocal harmonies. Thanks to the many fluent and exciting shifting moods Azureth succeeds to keep my attention for every second, I am delighted about the frequent excellent solos on guitar (from sensitive to biting wah-wah drenched) and keyboards, especially the use of the pitchbend button is sensational like in Shadow Of A Man II (wonderful changing climate from dreamy with acoustic guitar and Grand piano to an accellaration featuring bombastic keyboards and fiery guitar) and Into The Nowhere (spectacular guitar and keyboards). But the ultimate thrill on this CD is the final composition, the epic A New World: first a slow rhythm with a bit sultry atmosphere and soul-inspired vocals, then a cascade of shifting moods (from an accellaration with propulsive drums and fiery guitar, a beautiful part with Grand piano and acoustic guitar, an interlude with heavy Hammond and fat Moog and a blistering wah-wah drenched guitar solo) to a splendid conclusion, culminating into ‘Keyboard Heaven’ delivering all classic synthesizer sounds, perfectly blended with a piece of ELP (Pictures At An Exhibition) and fiery guitar runs, goose bumps!
BIGELF - Hex
This is very special music with hints from Black Sabbath (fat guitar-riffs, a leaden rhythm-section and Osbourne-like vocals), The Beatles (especially John Lennon), Pink Floyd (Gilmourian slide guitar) and early King Crimson (floods of violin-Mellotron). The music on their third album Hex is dynamic and alternating, from ballads to heavy rock with a lot of progressive tendencies like the integration of keyboards (Mellotron, Hammond organ, piano and synthesizers), changing climates, varied tempos and spectacular breaks. The distinctive vocals are powerful and have often a cynical undertone. Bigelf’s evolution is stunning, if you are up to heavy and compelling progrock, Bigelf is yours!
In 2008 Bigelf released Cheat The Gallows.
LINKS: Website | MySpace
(DANNY) BRILL – Better Late Than Never
The title of this album is a perfect choice if you read Danny Brill his very interesting musical story that I would like to present to you, an abridged version of great website. It starts while growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland USA, he was exposed to a lot of music at an early age by his parents. Although not musicians themselves, they were great music lovers and this inspired Danny, at the age of 6 he started piano lessons at the Cleveland Institute of Music. After 6 years of formal classical trainin, he continued studying classical piano through high school where he also started playing electric organ.
During this same time Danny had a parallel interest in popular music, in May of 1971 he saw a mind-blowing ELP show that changed the course of his life and in fact Danny has dedicated his first solo CD, Better Late Than Never, to Keith Emerson for being such a huge musical influence as a keyboard player. He now knew what he wanted to do professionally and musically he had been shown how to combine classical elements and compositional techniques with rock to make what would become later known as 'progressive rock', from Yes, Genesis and King Crimson to Pink Floyd and Gentle Giant. After college he spent several years playing in bands professionally but none got as far as a record deal. After the last of these groups, (Liquide Lighte), broke up in 1976 Danny moved to New York City working at various dead end jobs and playing briefly in several ill-fated bands before finally deciding that he'd had enough of the of the starving artist existence. It had been fun, but it was time to establish something a bit more secure so he founded Keyboard Instrument in New York City, which he still owns and operates. For many years Danny had all but given up playing, but had never quite completely given up on the dream of a career as a recording artist. Finally, in 2004, he began playing a bit and writing some new material, just for his own enjoymenty. But about this same time he got together with his friend, the drummer Michael Sciotto, and played him some of his new material. Mike was so enthused, he convinced Danny to embark on recording a CD, which they co-produced together. Figuring that he wasn't getting any younger, he thought if he was ever going to do anything again with his music, this was the time for a second attempt at a musical career.
His resulting debut solo CD is aptly titled Better Late Than Never. In a way it was over 30 years in the making, because a few of the songs have their beginnings that long ago. But most of the material is new or updated, and the result is a contemporary progressive rock sound (abridged version of the biography on Danny Brill’s excellent website). If you listen to the 10 compositions on Better Late Than Never, I am sure it will turn out in an entertaining musical journey with lots of changing landscapes and unexpected views. Every song has its own atmosphere and own tasteful colouring with a wide range of instruments but the roots are obviously the Classic Seventies Prog. I am blown away by the creative and adventurous way Danny has blended elements from ELP and King Crimson with his own ideas and the variety he has delivered on this album, for example: a slow rhythm with a catchy beat as the foundation for work on Hammond, Fripperish sounding guitar, xylophone, fat synthesizers and fiery guitar in th einstrumental opener Bakers Dozen, a dreamy climate featuring warm Grand piano, flute and mandolin in Double Feature, Part 2 –David, a swinging rhythm with spoken words, jazzy piano, distorted Fripperish guitar and bombastic keyboards in Prelude/Demented, beautiful Grand piano arpeggio’s blended with classical orechestrations in the compelling instrumental Images In The Rain, a catchy beat with cynical vocals, a saxophone solo and Honky Tonk piano in the funny Fantasyland and sitar and tablas in the sultry, Ravi Shankar inspired Indjia. But the most original and alternating track is the final one: first a spacey atmosphere with synthesizer beeps and bleeps, then acoustic rhythm guitar and warm vocals, a slow rhythm with strong interplay, a short part with powerful Hammond work, a swinging piano with soft cello and delicate flute and finally bluesrock with a heavy guitar solo, accompanied by a mellow violin-Mellotron sound, unique progrock, a big hand for Danny Brill, better late than never!
LINKS: Website | MySpace
CANVAS – Digital Pigeon
In this article I would like to present a lot of bands that are, in my opinion, overlooked and this USA band is one of those bands. In 2000 Canvas released their first album entitled The Rhythm And The Rhyme (a promo-CD), two years later followed by their second effort Avenues. Then there was silence until 2007 when Digital Pigeon came out. So how about those five years between their second and third CD, did Canvas use the time? Well, I was very pleasantly surprised about the huge variety and tasteful arrangements, this band can write compositions and make good music! Canvas hosts many musicians (you can read the names on the inside of the booklet on every track), the main members are drummer John Swope, bas player Matt Schweitzer, keyboardist/trumpet player Chris Cobel, multi-instrumentalist Tom Mattem en singer Greg Lounsberry. Two of the fourteen tracks are insturmentals: the swinging Spider featurin gtrumpet and sensitive electric guitar and the exciting On Second Though with sparkling piano, swinging bass, fiery guitar and powerful trumpet. Remarkable are two songs that are written by known musicians: the late Jaco Pastorius write Teen Town (a blend of jazzrock and experimental with strong bass runs) and the Crichton brothers from Saga composed Catwalk (swirling flute and fiery and propulsive guitar work in teh vein of ... Saga). The other tracks are a pleasant blend of varied styles and atmospheres: dreamy with howling guitar in Ghost Town, swinging with piano, trumpet and fiery guitar in Armchair Voyager, acoustic guitar with warm vocals and a surprising synthesizer solo in A Reptile Dysfuntion, acoustic rhythm guitar and violin in the folky Lost In Transit and sensational keyboard play in the final song Move The Earth. And the melodic opener The Dark Side Of The Sun is very similar to early Camel because of the pleasant vocals, organ waves, moving guitar and warm climate. During my listening sessions I noticed the many strong points in Canvas their music: a high musical level of the musicians, four good singers, the sound of woodwind instruments deliver an extra dimension (like in Dutch band Alquin) en the work on guitar and keyboards is very varied and worked out very well. If you are up to varied prog, this is an album to check out!
LINKS: Website | MySpace
CHAOS CODE – The Tragedy Of Leaps And Bounds
This is the second album by USA progrock band Chaos Code that features a guest musician on tenor saxophone and harmony vocals. Their sound is very melodic, pleasant, varied and often contains lots of dynamics. I also enjoyed the strong and tasteful work on (often harder-edged) guitar and keyboards. The short first track Unity has a bit ominous climate with Fripperian-like, quite fiery guitarplay. The following song Another Hand delivers lots of flowing shifting moods (from dreamy to heavy outbursts) with good work on saxophone, flute, acoustic guitar and propulsive electric guitar, very dynamic! Other interesting tracks are A Reason To Kill (alternating with exciting guitar and sensational synthesizers), The Creature Self (captivating atmospheres, strong breaks and again great work on guitar and keyboards) and the long and compelling final song Distance (sparkling Fender piano with acoustic guitar and a wonderful, symphonic prog ‘grand finale’ with lush keyboards and a sensitive electric guitar solo. Chaos Code made three albums between 1999 and 2005, I am looking forward to listen to the other two (A Tapestry Of Afterthoughts in 1999 and Propaganda in 2005) because I am delighted about this strong effort with lots of original ideas!
(THE) D PROJECT – The Sagarmatha Dilemma
The man behind this musical project is Canadian guitarist/keyboardplayer/singer Stéphane Desbiens, a very prolific and creative person: on his 11th he started to play guitar and when he was 20 he had already a lot of experience, he joined the bands Rose Nocturne and later progrock band Sense, in 1996 he released his first solo album entitles Desbienes Acoustic, he was technician, studio musician, guitar teacher and even played in an Irish folk band, what a stunning curriculum vitae! DPRP has reviewed 2006's Shimmering Lights release. This year (2008) The D Project has released the CD entitled The Sagarmatha Dilemma, Stéphane founded a band with musicians, from drums to Chapman stick and violin and even known guest musicians like singer Stu Nicholson (Galahad) and keyboardplayer Derek Sherinan (of Dream Theater fame, plays on one track. During the first part of this album I quickly got the idea that Stéphane had put his love for Pink Floyd very obviously into his music because of the Floydian inspired guitarwork in the alternating and compelling compositions Closer To My Soul / Closer To Heaven (The Wall atmosphere and a strong accellaration with organ and fiery guitar, then joined by a swirling violin) and The Red Mountain (beautiful part with classical guitar runs).
But soon I discovered that The D Project is more than a kind of modern sounding Pink Floyd, the other five songs deliver lots of variety, subtle musical ideas and strong breaks: a mid-tempo with violin-Mellotron and powerful guitar in the titletrack, a bombastic eruption with choir-Mellotron and a break with a propulsive guitar in the captivating and varied Even If I Was Wrong, a jazzrock climate with lots of dynamics and a spectacular interlude with Al DiMeola/John McLaughlin-like, dazzling guitar runs in the fluent Radio Sherpa and a musical adeventure in the short but exciting final piece I’m Coming Down (I Shall Go Back), from a part with a dreamy violin and subtle guitarwork tot a bass solo on the Chapman stick and a compelling and bombastic end with raw and fat guitar riffs, I love it! This is the kind of album that grows and grows because of the variety, from neo-prog (Thin Air) to the aforementioned jazzrock, symphonic rock and progressive melodic rock, especially the progheads who love powerful guitarplay will be pleased with this strong album!
LINKS: Website | MySpace
ECCENTRIC ORBIT - Attack Of The Martians
If you love ELP-like bombastic vintage keyboard driven prog, don’t miss this exciting instrumental album (Attack Of The Martians by the four piece USA progrock formation Eccentric Orbit, their keyboard loaden progrock has strong echoes from ELP (the Trilogy-era). The five dynamic compositions feature a propulsive rhythm-section as a base for sumptuous keyboardplay with a leading role for the Hammond organ and Moog synthesizers, flight after flight, what a splendid tribute to ELP! In some songs we can trace the sound of the Fender Rhodes electric piano (imagine the legendary intro from Riders On The Storm by The Doors), the Wurlitzer piano and the swinging clavinet. The strong title-track (3 parts) contains a bombastic duel between the Moog and Fender Rhodes. The even longer, very alternating track Forbidden Planet (4 parts) starts with a spooky and hypnotizing climate, followed by lots of changes of atmosphere and tempo delivering many waves of a violin-Mellotron and runs on synthesizers, concluded by fragile pianoplay. Along ELP, this composition also evokes Ars Nova and other ELP-inspired Japanese bands like Social Tension and Deja Vu. So “Welcome back my friends to the show that enver ends, ladies and gentlemen: Eccentric Orbit!”.
EDENSONG – The Fruit Fallen
Here is a new USA formation, their debut album entitled The Fruit Fallen (2008) has already received a lot of very positive reactions. Edensong is rooted in 2002 when James Byron Schoen (guitar and vocals) and Matt Cozin (drums) met during jam sessions on the Wesleyan University. Under the name 'surrealistic pseudo-rock-opera' several musicans were invited and in April 2003 the band went on tour. After many changes in the line-up Edenson started to make their first album, followed by extensive tours in 2005 and 2006. Unfortunately the touring caused a lot of tension within the band, this burden was too much and in the end only prime mover James Byron Schoen remained a member of Edensong, all others had left! But James was very determined to finish that first album, after the mastereing by Bob Katz in 2007, one year later Edensong released their debut-CD entitled The Fruit Fallen. It contains tracks that were recorded before James was left by his fellow musicians. When I read the information booklet, I noticed that the Edensong members and the guest musicians used a wide range of instruments: the distinctive ‘progrock keyboards’ like the Hammond organ, a pipe organ and synthesizers, classical instruments like the violin, cello, flute and Grand piano, ethnic instruments like African percussion and Indian tablas and acoustic – and electric guitars. We can also find that variety in the use of different styles: from folk with twanging guitars, pleasant vocals and sparkling flute and classical with melancholical cello, intense violin and warm Grand piano to compelling bombastic symphonic rock featuring lush organ, fiery guitarwork and a propulsive rhythm-section and even some interludes with progmetal guitar and drums (like in The Baptism and Nocturne). The alternating song The Prayer contains an intro with Spanish guitar and some flamenco elements, very exciting. My highlight is the long final composition The Reunion (more than 20 minutes): the intro delivers classical and acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies, then the climates changes from compelling with floods of organ and fiery guitar to dreamy with twanging guitars and flute or violent with propulsive guitar riffs, I am delighted about the bombastic conclusion with swelling organ, raw prog metal and a powerful rhythm-section. In general you can describe Edensong their music as progressive folk but this band has more to offer, the blend of classical, rock, prog metal and ethnic music gives a captivating extra dimension to their music. I am already looking forward to their next album because I am very curious to the development of this promising progrock band.
LINKS: Website | MySpace
HAMADRYAD — Safe In Conformity
This kind of progrock is the reason why I still love to make reviews after 15 years, what an interesting and varied sound! Hamadryad is a band from Quebec, Safe In Conformity (2005) is the second effort after their acclaimed debut CD entitled Conservation Of Mass (2001). The line-up has slightly changed because lead singer/guitarplayer Jocelyn Beaulieu has left and bass player Jean-Francois Désilets took over the vocals. After reading some reviews on the Internet about the first album (which I haven’t heard), I got the idea that Hamadryad is almost another band on this second album! Jean-Francois his vocals evoke Peter Gabriel his voice in the same way The Watch does. This Italian band comes more to my mind on this album but in general Hamadryad their music indeed has strong Genesis undertones (between Foxtrot and Wind And Wuthering): twanging 12-string acoustic guitars, Moog Taurus bass pedals and organ work in the vein of Tony Banks. But don’t judge this new promising band as a Genesis clone because they have their sound but Hamadryad is way from a copycat! The 11 compositions sound elaborate and varied: great build-ups and grand finales, fluent shifting moods and lots of exciting soli on guitar (some wah-wah) and synthesizer. The one moment the music is mellow with twanging guitars, the other moment it is bombastic, dynamic or it contains a fiery or even metallish guitar solo or spectacular work on keyboards, very compelling and exciting. Some examples: the short piece Sparks And Benign Magic features a wonderful Mellotron and Moog Taurus bass pedalls sound, One Voice evokes Red-King Crimson era delivering propulsive electric guitar riffs and dynamic interplay between drums and guitar and Self Made Man changes from mellow into bombastic with splendid play on guitar and keyboards. I am very curious to the development of this very promising Canadian band.
MOTH VELLUM – Moth Vellum
This is a new USA four piece band that released her eponymous debut CD in 2007. Moth Vellum her sound sounds like a happy marriage between Mr. Yes (Going For The One era) and Mrs. Genesis (around Wind & Wuthering). We can enjoy six tastefully arranged, melodic and accesible compositions featuring beautiful and varied Steve Howe-like guitar work (from twanging and use of volume pedal to steel guitar and fiery runs), lush vintage keyboards (from flashy Minimoog flights to soaring Mellotron waves) and Jon Anderson-like vocals. In general the climates are dreamy or compelling, at some moments you can hear fluent breaks or bombastic eruptions. I had preferred a bit more of those moments because in some parts of the longer tracks my attention tends to slip away, the marriage between Mr. Yes and Mrs. Genesis could have had a bit more positive tension! But the running time of this album is around one hour and during the 60 minutes I have heard lots of very pleasant vintage keyboard driven symphonic rock in the vein of ‘classic’ Yes and Genesis, I think the romantic progheads and symphomaniacs will be very pleased with this CD.
LINKS: Website | MySpace
RED SAND - Gentry
The album Gentry (2005) is the second effort from the Canadian band Red Sand, rooted in Quebec. The music is in the vein of their debut CD Mirror Of Insanity (2004) but the compositions sound more matured and their new singer has a more original and expressive voice. It's party time for neo-symphonic rock aficionados: pleasant and melodic 'side- long' compositions, obviously early Marillion inspired and loaded with wonderful, very sensitive guitar soli and lush Mellotron work. The slow and bombastic rhythms and eruptions deliver lots of howling electric guitar, often accompanied by majestic choir- Mellotron, GOOSE BUMPS!
If you love bands like early Marillion, IQ, Pendragon and Clepsydra, you will embrace this wonderful new album from Red Sand!
LINKS: Website | MySpace
(Anton) ROOLAART - Dreamer
This musician has an interesting geographical background: Anton was born in the Iranian capital Teheran, his father is Dutch, his mother is Belgian, he grew up in the (poshy) Dutch city Laren and at an early age the family went to the USA. Listening to his debut CD Dreamer (2007) I notice that the eight compositions sound like a journey through a beautiful and varied musical landscape with lots of surprising and exciting ideas. The music sounds modern but in some songs I trace elements from the Seventies symphonic prog like the titletrack (Floydian atmosphere and slide guitar, wonderfuly blended with violin-Mellotron waves) and Mid Summer’s Day (Yes during the Fragile-Close To The Edge era featuring great Howe- like guitar and frequent runs on the organ along great interplay between guitar and organ). A strong point on this album is the tasteful colouring of the melodic and accessible music, it contains many flowing shifting moods, good soli and strong breaks like a swinging Hammond organ solo in the final part of Near Or Far, a biting wah-wah guitar solo and sensitive acoustic – and Spanish guitar (with castagnettes) in the symphonic On To The Afterglow and a strong build-up with pleasant sounds on piano, organ, vibraphone and cello along a blistering wah-wah guitar solo in the fairy tale-like The Spider. My only negative remark goes to the vocals, at some moments these tend to sound a bit too theatrical but it’s not disturbing. Anton Roolaart has delivered a very adventurous symphonic prog album that sounds both melodic and accessible as tastefully and elaborate, well done fellow Dutchman!
LINKS: Website | MySpace
THIRTEEN OF EVERYTHING - Welcome Humans
The music of this USA formation on their debut album entitled Welcome Humans (2005) reminds me of Rush and Kansas (concerning the ideas, not the sound) because of the dynamic and alternating climates and the good skills of the musicians. The instrumentation is varied: piano, organ, synthesizers, acoustic - and electric guitars, bass, Chapman stick, bass pedals and drums and percussion. The seven compositions deliver lots of progrock pleasure: beautiful electric guitar with volume pedal use and fiery runs, bombastic organ and boogie woogie piano or flashy synthesizer flights, powerful vocals and dynamic interplay and many shifting moods. The 'magnum opus' is the long track "Late for dinner" (almost 27 minutes): although sometimes my attention slips away, most of this composition strong because of the good soli on keyboards and guitar, the great build ups and the moving grand finale. On this CD Thirteen Of Everything evokes Pink Floyd (guitar and organ) and Genesis (twanging guitars and Banks-organ) but in general this bands tries to sound original. This is a promising debut-CD!
LINKS: Website | MySpace
ZEN CARNIVAL – Bardo
This USA progrock band is rooted in 1994, first named EOS, then renamed into SOL in 1997, finally Zen Carnival a year later and in 1999 they released the album Inheritance, in 2007 followed by Bardo (2006). The name Zen Carnival is a blend of two opposite worlds: Zen points at the meditation of the Boedistic world and Carnival at making fun with dance and music and a few things more during the annual Latin American carnival. The prime mover and musical brainchild is multi-instrumentalist Bill Denison (guitars, keyboards, vocals and flute). The music of Zen Carnival on the second album Bardo sounds strong and varied with lots of exciting soli on guitar and keyboards. It’s hard to put Zen Carnival in a category: first Grand piano with dreamy vocals, then compelling and bombastic and finally pure symphonic prog with sensitive electric guitar and sumptuous keyboards in Blindness, melancholical vocals, intense piano play, a swinging break and fat synthesizer sounds in Pins And Needles and swinging fusion with great work on guitar and keyboards in Zeitgeist. If you are in the mood to discover adventurous prog, Bardo by Zen Carnival is an interesting album.
LINKS: Website | MySpace