Reviews in this issue:
- Mars Hollow – World In Front Of Me
- Uriah Heep - Into The Wild
- Riverside – Memories In My Head [EP]
- Tempul – Tempul
- Enoch – The Hierophant
- Verbal Delirium – So Close & Yet So Far Away
- Aranis - Roqueforte
- Vitruvius - Vitruvius
- The RedZen – Void
- City Weezle - Taboo
- Ben Sommer - America'd
- Revivor - The Siege
Mars Hollow – World In Front Of Me
Tracklist: Walk On Alone (12:31), Voices (6:23), Weapon (6:52), What Have I Done (5:56), Mind Over Matter (2:27), Prelude (1:48), World In Front Of Me (11:18)
You’ve got to admire bands that play and record music they actually like. Because they, well, like it. And not because they think it’ll sell by the crate load, not because they think it’s ‘hip’ or the next big thing. Such bands will never be wealthy, at least not in terms of dollars or pounds. But artistically they are rich beyond dreams of avarice. And I for one am glad they continue to follow their own particular muse. In my own little way, by buying music by bands like The Underground Railroad, Discipline, Iluvatar, Starcastle, Spiraling, Fluttr Effect, Little Atlas, Echolyn, and dozens of others I have been making my own little stand for, and paying my own little homage to integrity and honesty for quite a few years now.
My DPRP resume made much of my penchant for American third wave progressive rock music. Well, we’re surfing the fourth wave now and that love continues unabated.
And I’ve got a new band to add to the list. Mars Hollow had their debut reviewed on DPRP, and it scored a good solid, if not a ‘recommended’, rating but, horses for courses, had I been reviewing back then and - given my love of all things American - it would have gleaned at least another point. Indeed, fellow DPRP-er Alex Torres gave the debut 5 out of 5 on Sea Of Tranquillity:
Wow! At last! I've been waiting four months for a 2010 release to really grab my interest and, finally, it has arrived in the form of this absolutely splendiferous debut album from Mars Hollow! An album without fault: music that is at once complex, brilliantly played and yet melodic and catchy! Music! Hurrah!
It’s definitely one worth adding to your collection if you like any of the bands I’ve mentioned, or for that matter Rush, Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Genesis, ELP or Kansas. And, let’s face it, who doesn’t?
Produced and mixed by Billy Sherwood no less (Yes, Circa:, World Trade), and mastered by producer David Javu Morse (David Bowie, Alice In Chains, Frank Zappa) this new one is a must-buy. I’ve only had the mp3 to listen to, and up until recently I’ve been playing it (pretty much constantly) in the car and on the alienware laptop. However, I’ve just got a cool little sandisk cruzer usb thingie, tiny as you like, and made of plastic, for transporting tunes into the car without having to burn CDs. So, I’ve dragged and dropped The World In Front Of Me onto it.
And, I’ve now got some What Hi-Fi award winning Denon kit, with usb, and some Q acoustic 2010 speakers with some seriously good cabling.
This record sounds amazing - the production is a thing of beauty. Probably the best I’ve heard for a non-mainstream release. The musicianship, songs and overall vibe – of some guys about my age tearing it up and playing music they love – is wondrous to behold.
There’s been a massive buzz about this record, and the band’s live performances (including a stunning set at RosFest), all over the progressive rock t’interweb for some time, and once you pop this thing into your quality listening platform of choice you’ll know why. They’ve recently been interviewed on Sea Of Tranquillity, and, signed to 10T Records, their star is most definitely in the ascendancy.
Mars Hollow is; John Baker (Lead Guitar and Lead Vocals), Steve Mauch (Keys and Vocals), Kerry Chicoine (Bass and Lead Vocals) and Jerry Beller (Drums and Vocals) and between them they’ve recorded what for me is the touchstone of American fourth wave progressive rock music – the standard by which all else will be judged. The bar’s been set ridiculously high, but don’t think we’re dealing with coked-out complacent rock musos:
So far everything has been funded out of our own pockets but it all adds up and we're reaching a point where we have to take a step back and ask, "Can we afford to continue to do this at this level?"
John Baker’s vocals are heavily reminiscent of Glenn McLaughlin of (personal favourite) Iluvatar but elsewhere he’s been compared to a cross between Jon Anderson and Geddy Lee. Kerry Chicoine is your new favourite bass player (who has an amazing Chris Squire/Geddy Lee/Les Claypool thing going on), who combines with Jerry Beller to lay down a fantastically beefy bottom end for the marauding keys and fantastically fluid and perfectly syncopated guitar work of Steve Mauch and Baker himself respectively.
Some more astute readers of this site may have noticed that many of our reviews go in for a ‘track by track’ approach. Well, I’ve listened to this thing about thirty times now, and all I’ll say is this – listen to the 12 minute opener Walk On Alone on any legal streaming site, or better still 10T Records ~ Mars Hollow page. Once heard, it’s ‘add to cart’ time. This is one of the very best American symphonic progressive rock albums I’ve heard, and the last time I said that (for my naïve debut review) I gave a 10. Now, I know how much my DPRP colleagues gnash their gums and get, frankly, violent whenever a 10 is given out so I shall, as I always have, be guided by my DPRP reviewing guide: Brilliant, one of my top 5 of the year.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Uriah Heep - Into The Wild
Tracklist: Nail On The Head (4:15), I Can See You (4:13), Into The Wild (4:20), Money Talk (4:44), I'm Ready (4:14), Trail Of Diamonds (6:28), Southern Star (4:26), Believe (5:09), Lost (4:51), T-Bird Angel (4:01), Kiss Of Freedom (6:13)
Uriah Heep, who recently entered their fifth decade as a band, undoubtedly reached their progressive pinnacle 40 years ago with their side-long, orchestrated epic Salisbury from the album of the same name. Other flirtations with the genre produced some genuine classics, among which The Magician's Birthday, July Morning and The Spell are but three. Like any band with such a lengthy career, there will be inevitable dips along the way but the group still routinely play in excess of 200 gigs a year and have a truly global reach. The bands last album, 2008's Awake The Sleeper, was both a critical and commercial success, which came as somewhat of a surprise following a 10-year recording hiatus. Three years on and the same band who recorded that album - Mick Box (guitars, vocals), Trevor Bolder (bass, vocals), Russell Gilbrook (drums, vocals), Phil Lanzon (keyboards, vocals) and Bernie Shaw (lead vocals) - have returned with Into The Wild that proves their resurgence was no fluke.
Simply stated, there is not a single duff track on the album, not one where the finger flickers over the skip button, and not one where it could be conceivably said that the group was simply treading water and rehashing old ground. You might have notice that all five members of the band are credited with vocals. These are not vanity credits for adding a few 'oohs' and 'ahhs' here and there which are pushed down in the mix, but full on, expertly arranged and sounding absolutely glorious. Bernie Shaw is the undoubted star of the show, with a voice that is in fine fettle and, as a sprightly 55-year-old, puts many singers a fraction of his age to shame. However, this is no one man show as the input of the other four members are equally as important, and equally as impressive. Box and Lanzon make a fine pairing with the guitarist providing a steady and consistent stream of riffs interspersed with solos that are neither over flash nor too indulgent. Lanzon predominantly plays Hammond organ maintaining the sound of the band that was first heard to such great effect on the classic Gypsy, the first track on their first album. The rhythm section of Gilbrook and Bolder are as solid a unit as one could hope for, undoubtedly having gelled through the numerous live performances.
Musically, I suppose there are relatively few surprises, although that is not to say that the songs all sound the same: the staccato beat of opener Nail On The Head, the rifftastic I Can See You featuring lovely vocal interludes and Mick Box making his guitar scream, the big chorus on Into The Wild with Lanzon putting the Hammond through its best Jon Lord paces, the gritty Money Talk and the anthemic I'm Ready, there is no let up in tempo or quality. Trail Of Diamonds begins as a haunting ballad, with Box temporarily replacing the electric six string for an acoustic one. Shaw delivers the sole vocals which are perfect for the song. Just as you think the song is maybe petering out a brief symbol flourish and a guitar riff that is a direct descendant from The Magician's Birthday ramp up proceedings. The way the guitar rephrases the main vocal line is masterful - the song is without doubt one of the best the band have come up with in many a year.
But there is still more to come: Southern Star, a nautical sea-faring tale has Box reeling over an undulating backing, Believe adds more variety and dynamics, although may be a bit formulaic and repetitive for some, while Lost is the closest Heep have come to sounding like Deep Purple, indeed the song could almost be an outtake from the latter band's Perfect Strangers album. A great Hammond introduction starts T-Bird Angel which is has a more commercial feel to it but stops well short of being a sell-out while final song Kiss Of Freedom is a very good closing number, despite trying perhaps a little too hard to take on the mantle of an epic, but I can imagine this song will go down a storm live.
Over the years, Heep have been the butt of many a joke but there is no denying that they are bloody good at what they do. I suppose the proof of the pudding is that several years ago if someone had asked me if I was a fan of Uriah Heep I would no doubt have answered, somewhat hesitantly, that I liked their earlier stuff. However, ask me the same question now and the answer would be a succinct and emphatic 'Yes!' Well worth checking out for old and new fans alike.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Riverside – Memories In My Head [EP]
Tracklist: Goodbye Sweet Innocence (10:40), Living In The Past (11:59), Forgotten Land (9:59)
Since grabbing the attention of the progressive music community with their last-minute appearance at the ProgPower Europe Festival in 2004, Riverside has become a leading name on the scene thanks to four acclaimed albums and a heavy touring schedule.
To mark their 10th anniversary, the Polish quartet has created this three-track mini-album whilst they work on creating the follow-up to Anno Domini High Definition – my personal favourite album from 2009.
In the words of bassist and singer Mariusz Duda: “We have consciously gone back to our beginning to create a kind of circle.” The promo with this release proclaims that the band is returning to the melodies and space of its early releases.
With a long, slow build-up, sleepily mellow vocals and a vintage keyboard sound, the first of the three songs certainly takes such a path. Goodbye Sweet Innocence could easily have been lifted straight from the sessions from the band’s debut Out Of Myself. However to say that the other two songs follow a similarly retrospective line, is I’d suggest taking a little too much notice of the past. Living In The Past certainly follows its name with the vocal and instrumental patterns for the verse. However the chorus is heavier, with the riffage more pronounced than I recall on the early Riverside recordings. The four minutes of guitar work towards the end of this track certainly has a closer resemblance to the band’s more recent musings.
Duda’s bass leads the distinctive groove on Forgotten Land from where the passion, the intensity and the heavy, angry vocals takes a much closer line to the approach on ADHD. The mellow mid-section and a typically smooth guitar solo, mean this song really is taking the best of both Riverside worlds. (Judge for yourself with the above link of this song from the band's recent tour in The Netherlands)
After a few listens, one may find that the long-lead-in and play-out sections of this release add more to its length than to its quality.
So overall this is a more than worthwhile stop-gap for the band. It will please those who are fondest of the early Riverside albums but without alienating those who’ve fallen for the band as it has expanded its musical horizons.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tempul – Tempul
Tracklist: Chaos (7:21), Grither (10:16), Into The Fire (7:17), Elevated Shepherd (7:00), Silent Songs (6:32), Monolith (9:31)
In the past few years the website of the indie music store CDBaby has become a favoured hunting place of mine to discover up-and-coming musical talent from across the globe. An hour of genre-searching under ‘Prog Rock’ or ‘Prog Metal’ is guaranteed to uncover at least one new name. Admittedly there are a lot more names I learn to steer well clear of – but that’s all part of the fun!
My latest browsing session uncovered this little gem. Tempul hails from Seattle, Washington. Its foundation was the pairing of vocalist/guitarist Matt Jungmann and guitarist Perry Jones from their high school days. The group truly began when they were joined by drummer J.D. Fischer in college. The quartet was completed in the autumn of 2009 when bassist Mike Stevi was recruited.
Quoting Opeth, Porcupine Tree and Tool as influences, the six songs on offer here are packed with emotion, with constant dynamic shifts, some inventive song structures, and an array of grooves from across the rock spectrum. Tempul is typical of the new wave of younger bands that are taking their progressive influences and mixing it with the guitars, energies and melodies of more indie rock bands to create something fresh, thoughtful and invigorating.
This is an album that rewards a few listens as it is complex and does meander. At various times I’ve noted sections that remind me of Fen, Absolace, Dianoya, Disperse, Cloverseeds, Gazpacho, Souljourners, Tides Of Man and Abigail's Ghost. I am sure other listeners could add an equal number of names from their own collections.
Matt Jungman has a voice packed with emotion and a good range. It all comes together nicely on my favourite songs Chaos and Monolith. With a little more polish, Into The Fire would make a great single. Grither is a truly expansive musical magnetic for differing ideas and grooves. On Elevated Shepherd the songwriting is rather too simplistic for my tastes and I'm not keen on the noisy ending to Silent Songs.
The production is indie and would benefit from a bit of warmth. Some of the vocals and guitars can be on the raw side. The drummer is great. The drum sound isn’t. But then that’s exactly what you are paying for - a debut offering, from an unsigned band. On that level this must rank as one of the most promising such releases I’ve had the pleasure of discovering.
Now that I’ve saved you the trouble of having to plough through some of the less listenable new bands, pop on over to CDBaby or either of the band’s web presences where you can sample most of the tracks for yourself. A young band to keep an eye on.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Enoch – The Hierophant
Tracklist: Infinity (9:39), The Fickle Whims Of The Almighty (5:35), Space Wizard (6:11), Plague Bearer (5:51), The Hierophant (16:45), Moth (6:38), Robbie’s Song (3:22), A Riff Too Far (12:26)
Ladies and Gentlemen I would just like to say that I have just had my arse kicked sonically by Enoch and I am not talking about people, a fictional character or a biblical occurrence. I am talking about a band that was formed in 2008 in Asheville North Carolina, a band that offers cosmogonical psyche, doom, stoner rock, a throw back to those heady days of the early 70’s. The Hierophant being their debut album and what an album it is.
Neal Wilson (bass), Charles Howes (drums and synths) and Dave Lynch (guitar and vocals) are the members of this band and they aren’t messing about. There is only one way to play this album and that’s loud, make no mistake of that, that’s how the dynamics work here. This is an album that is drenched in fuzz and flanged toned guitar work, mammoth riffs, thunderous percussive work, distortion that fills the vastness of open space.
Infinity maybe the opening track, but what a way to open an album, blistering musical passages jammed out that just don’t fail to deliver on any level. This is a band that knows what their public want and they are making sure that they deliver every time. Musically we aren’t speaking of highly convoluted technical wizardry, what we are talking about is music that is sincere on the purest level.
The interestingly titled The Fickle Whims Of The Almighty is just a powerhouse that steps up the pace of the music tenfold but retains the base elements of the musical structure. Wilson’s bass gymnastics are more than matched by Howes and Lynch’s interactions that make the whole construct exciting.
Space Wizard’s sombre expressions mournfully laments the listener’s ear, gargantuan bass riffs thwart and challenge, whilst the rhythmic drum passages offers no ambiguity, reinforcing the tone of the proceedings.
If cinematic and atmospheric approaches are your niche then Plague Bearer will certainly fulfil your whims, an approach that is built on synth work and low end bass statements, an approach that is basic but works well as a combination.
The album titled The Hierophant again journeys with those doomy gargantuan bass riffs, low end harmonics that are muddy, giving it a state of being. Strangely this seems to be built up of two different musical passages. What I mean by this is that about a third of the way in the whole piece just grinds to a halt fading to nothing, complete silence, re-starting again on a somewhat musically different pathway and to be honest it is the better part of the piece. This is the band in their full flowing intensity, a very strong and powerful track offering a beautiful dynamic framework that really stomps around the ether. The hierophant card maybe interpreted or seen as a deceiver, within the world of Tarot, with power over others but be under no illusions though, this music deceives no one, it retains the upper hand in the power stakes and this really is a musical assault that is both physical and mental.
Moth notches up the ante, as Wilson, Howes and Lynch delve into their darker souls presenting a cacophonous, discordant, harsh jarring repeating rhythmic tone that assaults both their instruments and their listeners.
Robbie’s Song the shortest and penultimate piece really highlights Howes dynamic and impressive drumming, something that is evident throughout the whole album.
A Riff Too Far is an instrumental full of musical chicanery, fast paced guitar passages that are full of testosterone, dexterous and stunning that leaves the listener under no illusions. Their whole approach maybe relentless, but that is the excitement that this band offers. They don’t apologies for their creation, they embrace what they create, creations that are electric, full of statement and damn right powerful. When the finality of silence does arrive the air is left with an electric charge leaving you craving for more. This is a band that has really auditioned their selves to the world, something that A Riff Too Far more than confirms.
The R.A.I.G camp has aligned their selves with another quality band, something that they seem to have a knack of doing. This is a label that is prepared to take chances, that offers measured and diverse music, something that others may want to take a leaf and learn from.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Verbal Delirium – So Close & Yet So Far Away
Tracklist: Everlet (1:45), So Close & Yet So Far Away (5:16), Dancing Generation (5:26), Lullaby (7:54), They (3:14), Erased (5:14), Time (5:09), The Scene Remains (5:59), O.K (6:48), Reprise (4:12)
This Greek band has been in existence since 1999, formed by keyboard player and vocalist Jargon (John Kosmidis) and bass player Nik Michailidis. But, because of numerous personnel changes in the ensuing years, this collection is amazingly the band’s first official album, recorded between January and March 2009. Prior to that, they released a demo album called The Imprisoned Words Of Fear.
Despite being relatively unknown outside their own country and coupled with such a long gestation period, So Close & Yet So Far Away really sets out their stall within the European prog fraternity. You sense that all the various knock-backs they have encountered in finally getting a settled line-up in place have added to the drama and tension contained within it, especially in the settings of the lyrics.
The end result is a heady mixture of light and shade with great swathes of prog pomp and delicate instrumental flourishes. The classical motifs are pre-eminent from the start with Jargon’s wonderfully enigmatic piano solo Ervelet segueing effortlessly into the title track, one of the stand-out songs of the collection whose power riffing owes much to Porcupine Tree and Anathema. But they add their own distinct twist in no small part due to Jargon’s strong clear voice and superb phrasing.
Dark undercurrents shoot through Dancing Generation that again starts with simple piano chords but opens into a full-on electro work-out. That same theme punctuates Lullaby where a poppy, almost innocent keyboards/guitar/voice – driven melody develops into something much more sinister and deliberately jolting.
But one of the shortest tracks on the album, They, is one of the most haunting as Elsa Papeli takes a starring role on cello to accompany Jargon’s doom-laden voice and piano and plays on through the following track Erased which also contains searing guitar solo from Nikitas Kissonas.
Part of this album’s appeal is the way the tracks all beautifully link together to tell its overarching story of despair, fragmentation, madness, abandonment and lost dreams. Yet it never feels downbeat nor ever loses momentum or shape, right up to the final track Reprise which reverts back to piano and voice.
My verdict: I am so glad Verbal Delirium persevered and never threw in the towel as this album is one of this year’s great discoveries. Though the lyrics do tend to stray perhaps a little too far into “lunatic/madness” territory at times, the depth of melody and quality of musicality more than compensates. It is one to which I will continue to listen, as the first six plays I feel do not even scratch the surface of what is happening in here. There are a few outstanding issues for the band to address professionally, such as getting themselves a manager, but let us hope it does not take them so long to record a follow-up this time.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Aranis - Roqueforte
Tracklist: Roque (5:54), Ade I (1:03), Past (5:31), Ade II (1:33), Noise (11:46), Ade III (1:17), Naise (10:54), Ade IV (2:31), Tissim (5:40), Aila (8:12), Forte (3:08), PS (0:56)
Musically one of the most fascinating and enjoyable discoveries from 2010 came in the form of Aranis' third release Songs From Mirage. A super album that still enjoys regular spins. So when the opportunity arose to review this latest release from the band I jumped at the chance.
It appears to be in the nature of Aranis' music which sees them undertake different directions and therefore the cast of musicians is dependent upon their requirements at that time. So the core line up from Songs From Mirage remains pretty much in tact with Jana Arns (flutes), Joris Vanvinckenroye (contrabass & composition), Liesbeth Lambrecht (violin), Marjolein Cools (accordion) and Stijn Denys (guitar) all still present. Joining them on Roqueforte are Stefan Wellens (viola), Pierre Chevalier (piano) and David Kerman (drums & percussion). Gone sadly, from this release at least, are the female vocalisations.
As with their previous album the music is full of imagery which seemed, to me, to lend itself to a theatrical performance or a visual. So I was pleased therefore to discover this footage on Youtube. Not quite what I imagined for the Forte track, but befitting all the same.
As with Songs From Mirage the pieces remain complex, challenging, strident, dark, light, intricate and cleverly interwoven - whilst still retaining their charm. The lack of vocalisations has meant a less ethereal quality, but this has been replaced by a more rhythmically percussive Aranis. Not that the previous release lacked any drive or impetus its just here with David Kerman we have a designated percussion section. Having listened in depth to Songs From Mirage I had a head start with Roqueforte - the music resonating with me immediately. Great piano, lovely pizzicato strings, syncopated bass, delicate & strident themes and as mentioned the inclusion of drums and percussion give it a slightly rockier edge. Then there's Jana Arns wonderful flute work and Marjolein Cools subtle accordion. I'm sure you get the picture...
Now I'm not going to attempt to dissect the music, (as this would be nigh on impossible), in order to give you an insight as to where I think Aranis are coming from. I would say however that Aranis have a strong bond with classical music (Béla Bartók) and specifically with chamber music. The Eastern European flavour still remains as well as those links to the avant-garde and RIO influences. Now there will be some having read those words "avant-garde and RIO" who are now considering moving onto the next review. Well to be truthful neither genre were strong hunting grounds for me when looking out for new material, but as the years have passed I have broadened my horizons and certainly bands like Aranis make me want to explore deeper.
Imperative that with such intricate and complex music that the mixing and production are up to the task - I am happy to report that it is spot on once again.
Will this appeal across the broader progressive spectrum, I doubt it, however I would strongly urge you to listen to as many Aranis samples/tracks as possible before you dismiss them. You could well be missing out on a real treat here. I'll leave you with this. I played some of this album to a friend of mine, who remarked that it didn't seem like the type of music I would normally listen to. After informing him he was mistaken I suggested he try the following. As a keen ELP fan I suggested he listen to the track Tissim, (audio of which can be heard here on Aranis' MySpace site) and using his imagination replace Aranis' instrumentation with Hammond, piano, bass and drums. He borrowed the album afterwards...
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Vitruvius - Vitruvius
Tracklist: Stealing A Tear From The Rain (7:02), Inner Space (6:39) Somewhere (4:57), Memories (5:58), Alchemist (7:19), Shade My Sight (6:10), Lost Perception (4:26), Stain In The Moon (6:00), Black Sphere Pt. 1 (2:29), Black Sphere Pt. 2 (6:24)
With a very enjoyable take on prog metal Vitruvius from Mexico are certainly one to watch after this excellent debut release. Comprising Dulce Robles (vocals), Oskar Villarreal (guitars/keys/bass/backing vox), Ronnie Rodriguez (drums) and Armando Thamez (bass) Vitruvius formed in 2007 and produce a very melodic sound with Villareal’s fabulous guitar to the fore. The deep bass throb is also very intricate and pleasing and instrumentally the band have room to stretch out as in the decidedly prog passages of classy opener Stealing A Tear From The Rain which also features fine bass soloing from Thamez and a jazz influence with piano used to good effect.
Another element that sets them apart are the clear, vibrant vocals of Robles which make quite an impact on Inner Space after the slow-burn intro. This track also benefits from a touch of Rush here and there and some good keys. The material has variety and depth and this CD makes for a very enjoyable hour. Rhythms shift and change and the performances are top rate for a band on their debut release with quick gear changes and smooth transitions. They’ve obviously spent a lot of time developing the material, which is credited to the band as a whole, and playing it in live.
The obligatory Dream Theater influence emerges on the beautifully presented instrumental, Alchemist, and also on Somewhere but it is not over used and Robles manages to take the latter to a different place with her great vocal and the addition of jazz piano from guest Lucas Espinoza which changes the mood before more fine shredding from Villareal.
Memories features a lighter intro with a beautiful vocal from Robles supported by piano before crunching guitar raises the tension with a more traditional metal pulse in the chorus and some excellent and intricate instrumental passages. Shade My Sight opens on a thundering wave of “old school” thrash with a hint of Voivod, Robles bringing the melody. Lost Perception has a nice acoustic intro before the metal onslaught but the guitar solo is very restrained and melodic and Stain In The Moon offers a particularly proggie keyboard intro and sinister vibe with another great vocal before moving through smooth passages to a conclusion.
The two-parter Black Sphere builds on an enigmatic keyboard instrumental first section before the rhythmic metal of the second part sweeps in. Rhythmically very strong with good work from Rodriguez, there is a more epic quality than the rest of the material which shows a different side of the band although Villareal still has the opportunity to solo at will to good effect.
If you like a mix of metallic styles with Prog and influences from other genres, particularly jazz, this will be a band you want to hear. The music certainly benefits from being female fronted and Robles has the voice to make her mark on this very heavy and intricate material and change it into something different, gliding effortlessly above the mayhem. Musically they are much more complex than other female fronted prog metal bands such as Delain but retain the symphonic edge and melody without requiring a more operatic approach. Also the frequent use of piano is a good choice as it gives the whole a more organic feel than other albums of this sort tend to achieve. A highly recommended debut from a very talented band.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Ben Sommer - America'd
Tracklist: Adult Children (3:06), Speekie Engrish (4:52), Henry Kissinger (3:19), Little Hitlers (3:21), Sumerian Proletarian (4:52), Right Wing Fiend (3:40), Saint Martha (4:12), Kill The Oestrogen Queens (6:03)
Though American artist Ben Sommer labels his music as "edgy, political prog rock", most of those who will listen to his debut album America'd may end up wondering about the prog part of this statement. A self-described curmudgeon who employs music as a vehicle to vent his anger and frustration at the current state of American society, the image he projects throughout the album has more in common with punk and post-punk than progressive rock - even if, lyrically speaking, our favourite genre is far less airy-fairy than its critics would ever be willing to admit.
Personally, I have never shared the view that punk and prog are like the proverbial twain that shall never meet, and believe that injecting some of the raw energy of punk in the often staid compositional schemes of progressive rock can do a world of good, as proven by The Mars Volta, undoubtedly one of the most exciting acts of the last decade. However, on America'd Sommer adopts a conventional song format - complete with occasionally catchy choruses, as in the case of opener Adult Children - following the example of Rush (one of his favourite bands), rather than the sprawling, psychedelic approach of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and his crew.
Sommer is clearly an omnivorous listener, and his eclectic tastes are one of the factors that generally bode well for anyone engaged in the making of progressive music. His eclecticism is evident from even a cursory listen to America'd, a short, snappy effort clocking in at a mere 32 minutes, quite unusual for these times. While the more conservative prog fans will balk at the obvious punk references in the majority of the songs, as well as the overt nod to rap in closing track Kill The Oestrogen Queens, it is undeniable that the diversity of the influences adds interest to the musical texture.
The main problem with America'd lies in the fact that the music takes a backseat to the the very bluntly in-your-face lyrics. While I tend not to judge albums on the basis of their lyrical content, in this particular case the latter is clearly not meant to be ignored, and also not particularly palatable to quite a few categories of people. Now, as a woman and an immigrant to the USA, the message of both Speekie Engrish and Kill The Oestrogen Queens tends to rub me the wrong way (not to mention the vicious attack on public schools in Little Hitlers, seen as I was a teacher for about 15 years). Moreover, I am not particularly keen on conspiracy theories, nor on what I see as outpourings of anger for its own sake. The modern world may not be a very nice place, but I do not believe that wallowing in hatred and resentment are a very effective answer.
From a musical point of view, if you do not concentrate too much on the prog tag, America'd is quite an entertaining listen, and Sommer a more than capable artist. Out of the album's 8 tracks, the one that is most likely to appeal to dyed-in-the-wool prog fans is Sumerian Proletarian, with its somewhat absurdist lyrics and moody atmosphere enhanced by the exotically mournful sound of the duduk (an Armenian flute). The Rush influences surface evidently in the rockier, more riff-driven numbers, such as Henry Kissinger, with its surprisingly low-key ending, or Little Hitlers, whose chorus references Iron Maiden's The Trooper. Sommer plays guitar and bass, assisted by drummer George Arsenault throughout the album, plus a handful of guest musicians. His vocal style is more influenced by punk than prog, and has drawn comparisons to the likes of Jello Biafra (of Dead Kennedys fame), which emerge most clearly in the anthemic, perversely hummable Right Wing Fiend.
For all the time-honoured tradition of music informed by strong social and political awareness, I believe that it takes an uncommon talent to pen lyrics that sound like more than just a vitriolic rant against everything and everyone. Sommer, however, is definitely no Bob Dylan or Donald Fagen, or even Frank Zappa, and his more controversial lyrics ultimately come across as offensive rather than thought-provoking. Since he seems instead quite talented in the musical department, I believe he should concentrate more on the music and less on conveying his distaste for the undeniably sorry state of his home country's affairs.
Needless to say, America'd is a difficult album to rate adequately. Sommer clearly knows his musical stuff, and his singing is expressive as well as surprisingly melodic (provided you like that particular style). However, though the album allows frequent glimpses of potential interest, it is also an effort that has limited appeal for hardcore prog fans, and the distinctly abrasive nature of the lyrics is likely to put off a good many listeners.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
The RedZen – Void
Tracklist: Cluster (6:18), Hot Wine (6:09), Slapdash Dance (6:19), Alexa In The Cage [vocal version] (5:45), Into The Void (5:45), Who’s Bisex (5:16), Return To Kolkata (7:53), Spin The Wheel (5:09), Alexa In The Cage [instrumental version] (5:46)
Void is what you might term an album created in a jam-session between friends and highly trained musicians, bringing together a mixture of jazz fusion, played for the sheer fun and joy of it. The RedZen are Ettore Salati (guitars), Angelo Racz (keys), Roberto Leoni (drums) and Nicola Della Pepa (bass). All musicians having played in numerous bands throughout their careers, but now they have chosen to make an album full of jams.
An instrumental album with great musicianship should, in theory, be an absolute must have for the followers of the jam-band recording world. Listening to each track on the album it is difficult to believe that this music is not composed, but merely the results of a jam session amongst friends. The whole album sounds as if a lot of effort has been put into making the tracks right. All the material was recorded in two sessions lasting a grand total of six hours and what we are left with here on Void is just under an hours worth of material.
As mentioned Void is an instrumental album, for the moment I will overlook the two versions of Alexa In The Cage, especially the vocal version. So in just under 50 minutes we get the best of the jam sessions. The sound is right, the music sounds good, but here’s the catch - at first I was impressed by the guitar playing and interaction between all the instruments, however the more I played the album the less impressed I became and after a few more spins it became almost background music. This could mean one of two things, either I got completely absorbed and lost myself listening to the music, or it simply did not stick. I have to admit it is the latter of the two. The music is played well enough, but simply put, the compositions did not stand up to closer listening. Speaking of the composing side, I read about the music originating from jam sessions later on, so this had no influence on my listening.
The two versions of Alexa In The Cage add no extra dimension to what is an average album. The addition of lyrics to the instrumental version gives us a nice poppy song. But it is only a nice song - no more no less.
This may well be a perfect example of how quickly music can be created in these modern days. Certainly there are more and more apps available for us to create our own music. On the one hand it enables musicians like The RedZen to play a jam session, record it and then compile an album out of that. But is this all for the good, I doubt it - good old fashioned music making gets over run by the computer age? So as an album created in two sessions and a mere six hours of recording then things sound okay, although how long it really took to arrange the “songs” is something to guess at. I will not guess the length and effort, but will conclude by saying that four excellent musicians like these guys must surely be able to do better than this.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
City Weezle - Taboo
Tracklist: Hot Potatoe (7:12), Cunning Linguistics (2:57), Welcome To Hicksville (5:38), Taboo (7:34), Mary Jane (3:28), El Matador (7:34), Faire Game (6:25), Abuse (5:32), Nimformation (7:17), The Leprechaun (3:26), The Creeps (5:11), Famous Love (5.56)
Originating from France and within their midst a singer from the Ireland are City Weezle, a high energy band who have been creating a name for themselves as a good live act. Their highly charged music, of which the album Taboo is representative of, gives an insight into their stage shows. The band comprises of Simon Fleury (vocals, guitar & banjo), Maxime Gibon (bass & clarinet), Benjamin Violet (guitar, violin), Al Uchida (drums).
Now I have never seen City Weezle perform live, but on listening to the music I hear pointers towards bands like Primus, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Faith No More and the likes. There is this gigantic funky sound that seems to be present just about everywhere on this album. The bass-lines have a tremendous impact on the music, both in an energetic way as well as musically driving the album towards a more alternative form. Throw in some metallic riffing, off kilter rhythms, bizarre vocals and a picture starts to emerge. However I see few, if any, links to the progressive rock genre, okay maybe the use of banjo, violin and clarinet toss it in the progressive corner, but there again I like to feel "progressiveness" and that is lacking here completely.
I am not saying here City Weezle's music is bad, far from it. Sounds good, but it is definitely for a different audience than your average or even outspoken progressive rock lover all together. There are some Crimson notions in there and certainly the influence of Frank Zappa is present. But as for its appeal here, then if some or all of the above mentioned, more alternative acts, appeal then possibly so will City Weezle. As mentioned the music is absolutely packed with funky bass lines and rhythms, weird (explicit) singing and strange time changes.
This is no easy ride and looking at the album cover, Taboo was never a better choice of title. The cover is daring to say the least and make of it what you want, (I have heard several suggestions), although as the cover opens out then all is revealed... So when you’re in for something different by all means check out this effort from City Weezle.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Revivor - The Siege
Tracklist: Walls Of Luca (3:34), Fabled Monster (2:49), Decompress (3:23), Minotaur (3:12), Cold Blood Anniversary (3:06), Forbidden Degrees (4:37), The Siege (17:24), Justice Be Done (4:06)
There's a number of words one could use to describe The Siege, the latest album by the Irish group Revivor, but 'progressive' is not one of them. Despite boasting a seventeen minute track, there is almost nothing that could be seen as prog. That being said, this album is still fun in places, even if the music doesn't push the boundaries in the way prog should.
The album is comprised of eight songs, seven of them averaging 3:30 in length, each with a predictable verse-chorus structure, and the remaining song making up a five-part 'suite'. The suite itself is split up into five separate tracks on the CD, bringing the number of tracks to twelve. Each of these songs has a heavy guitar-driven sound, which brings a monotony that prevents the songs from sounding individual. There are very few changes of time signature, and no remarkable instrumentation to boost the 'prog' level of this album. As you can probably guess from the album cover, this isn't a happy album either. For example, the song Minotaur begins with the lyrics 'When you walked into my life / I could see pure evil in disguise.' The lyrics are, in general, quite vague and arty, in the way you'd expect a heavy rock album to be.
The suite itself is a remarkable beast, remarkable in the fact that it behaves rather unlike a suite. With The Siege, Revivor fall into the same hole that Rush did when they recorded The Fountain of Lamneth in 1975: the separate parts have no musical links, making the suite rather incohesive. The theme of the suite is rather vague, and whether it is consistent in all five parts, I am unsure. In the opening movement, the narrator claims he has to 'eat [his] way out of Boca Raton', whatever that means. Boca Raton is not mentioned again in the rest of the suite, and one is left to wonder why it was mentioned in the first place, if perhaps Boca Raton is just a metaphor. Needless to say, the theme is unclear, and doesn't really attempt to pull you in. The third and fourth parts of the suite make up a seven minute instrumental which feels completely directionless and, quite frankly, sounds like filler. When listening to a track over 15 minutes long, one likes to be rewarded for listening all that time with a spectacular ending, but here the music fades out, leaving the listener utterly disappointed.
The production of the album is very good; each of the instruments can be clearly heard, in what sounds like a high definition recording. If anything, the singer is sometimes hard to hear, as the vocals aren't boosted that much, but this is a very minor point. I personally like drummer Craig McKean's strong playing style; his crisp drums keep an interesting rhythm at all times. Whilst the song structures are bland and predictable, the riffs are nonetheless catchy and convey emotion.
To summarise, this album is full of style, but gets predictable and dull after two or three songs. The seventeen minute title track is a bleak attempt to cash in on the 'progressive' tag, and as prog fans, we deserve better. The members of Revivor are at the very least competent on their instruments, but no effort is made to make the songs sound individual or experimental. To put it lightly, if you were to buy this album, you might end up looking like the guy on the front cover.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10