Issue 2014-002

Round Table Review

Prog Sphere Productions

Progstravaganza 15: Ascension
Progstravaganza 15: Ascension
Country of Origin:Various
Record Label:Prog Sphere Promotions
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Samples:Click Here

This is Edition 15 of the Progstravaganza compilation and the third to be featured in this unique DPRP Round-Table-Review-In-A-Paragraph format.

This time the team at Prog-Sphere has compiled a collection of 33 songs by largely unknown new bands from around the world.

Without wishing to repeat ourselves, there is a full explantion of Progstravaganza and the rational of this review format in our reviews of Progstravaganza 13 and Progstravaganza 14: Timeshift.

To again widen the range of opinions offered, we've made it a review threesome. Joining Andy Read and André de Boer, we have the DPRP's Roger Trenwith giving his view on each song. To make it more of a challenge - they have to do it in no more than a paragraph!

Where available we've also added a link to the band's most recent DPRP album review.

You can stream individual tracks of interest from the Progstravaganza 15 Bandcamp page whilst you read through the comments. You can also download the entire "album" via Bandcamp in the usual different audio formats under the "pay what you want" format.

Synaesthesia - Life's What You Make Of It (7:30)

Roger Trenwith (RT): Stadium sized heavy sympho-prog inviting inevitable comparisons to Porcupine Tree, nice tune with a good sense of dynamics. This band are incredibly young, with the promise of great things to come.
Andy Read (AR): Classic melodic Asia wrapped in extra Synths. Good singer. Needs a stronger hook and lead riff.
André de Boer (AdB): This sounds a lot like Kino. Interesting stuff.

Shineback - Fears Aren't Toys (5:48)
[Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed (2013)]

RT: Interesting use of techno rhythms in vocal-heavy modern prog. Album favourably reviewed on DPRP.
AR: Uptempo electronica meets a Prog salesman. Appeal potentially wider than just Prog fans.
AdB: These are no beginners. Tinyfish with a lot of guests. Great song.

The Fierce and the Dead - Ark (4:03)
[Spooky Action (2013)]

RT: Album trailer song from Matt Steven's Crim meets post-punk monster. Marvellous! Another one given a thumbs up from DPRP.
AR: Always enjoy a bit of calypso! Saw Matt Stevens play solo a few years back and enjoyed him, if not a bit too samey. The band format overcomes that problem.
AdB: Ah, this one is in my personal Top 10 of 2013. It rocks fierce!!

Vermilion - Fractals (7:04)

RT: Here comes the inevitable ProgMetal. Dandruff-loosening Metallica riffs contrast with delicate interludes. The idea is over-stretched, but the tune is more interesting than I thought it might be.
AR: Similar to the one before but with a fusion vibe and heavier guitars.
AdB: High class instrumental prog metal mixed with several styles. Beautiful.

Seconds Before Landing - Instructions (4:18)

RT: Sci-fi Prog, robots marching to space-stun guitars. Not bad!
AR: A sort of groovy O.S.I vibe to this. Great guitar. Interesting.
AdB: Ambient Space Rock, well crafted with a lot of guests. Ayreon not being bombastic.

Luna Achiary - Against the Wind (3:45)

RT: Nice Sundays vibe from Italian-French singer-songwriter, until the introduction of generic riffage turned it down an average path. Promising, all the same.
AR: Not convinced that the folky, singer-songwriter style in the first half and the heavy riffage in the second half go together very well. Lovely voice.
AdB: Luna drives a progressive rock band with a clear voice. Nice indeed, but original?

The Mad Drummer - Please Don't Haunt Me Lucy (5:16)

RT: South African drummer makes solo bedroom record. Slightly barking, slightly metal, slightly experimental instrumental. Undecided.
AR: Horrible guitar distortion and bedroom quality production makes this instrumental unlistenable for me.
AdB: This is very interesting experimental stuff from South Africa. Like it!

Dying Passion - Tremor (4:40)
[Secretly (2000)]

RT: The somewhat strange phraseology of the Progstravaganza blurb for this prog-metal band is the only interesting thing about them. Next...
AR: For fans of female-fronted metal with a gothic vibe who don't mind having heard it all before.
AdB: Nice female fronted progmetal doom band in the style of The Gathering. Not renewing anything though, we've heard this before.

Obsidian Key - Bleeding Romance (9:26)

RT: Brighton-based metal/gothic/thingummy with horrible mannered male vocals that takes nearly 10 minutes to lurch along messily to nowhere in particular, ending with a female vocal-led power ballad that sounds like it was added as an afterthought.
AR: Theatrical heavy prog with some nice ideas and quite a few others which don't work very well. Good bands can identify which is which and build from there.
AdB: Mixing duel vocal ProgMetal with old skool Hardrock is a nice idea. Unfortunately this song doesn't invite me to hear more.

Fusion Orchestra 2 - Secret Shadow (12:16)

RT: The second longest track on the album is a pleasant enough if somewhat earnest middle of the road guitar dominated rock song with a distinct 80s feel. Decent guitar solo in the middle. Probably twice as long as it needed to be.
AR: Classy opening. Singer is badly underused and the fusion guitar is greatly overused. There is a good 6-minute song in here.
AdB: In rebirth this band still aims for fusion of styles. This lengthy song offers clear female vocals with laid back soundscapes that makes no impression at all.

Castaway - Until the Summer's Gone (6:53)

RT: Prog-pop from Slovakia with many time signature changes, crammimng loads, possibly too much, into its seven minutes. Interesting.
AR: Alt/Indie rock with an eye for the mainstream. Not my thing.
AdB: An interesting mix of progressive styles in a mature way with great vocals for a debut album. Impresses me a LOT!

Yuval Ron & Residents Of The Future - Flags (4:36)

RT: Berlin-based band with great jazz-fusion chops and a for once unaffected female singer. Good keyboard and guitar solos. Nice.
AR: Well-delivered fusion with quality female vocals.
AdB: Intelligent and surprising high-quality fusion, love it. I want to hear more.

Il Rumore Bianco - Il Primo Attore (6:11)

RT: More than decent Italian jazz-prog let down a bit by the strident vocals being too high in the mix. Shows promise.
AR: Off-beat Italian, jazzy Prog that's heavy on the instrumentals. Lots of different textures keeps the listener engaged.
AdB: Pure Italian ambient fusion. Not my cup of tea but it sounds really strong!

Fabio Zuffanti - La Certezza Impossibile (7:28)

RT: Sophisticated, cinematic Italian prog with a Floyd-ian bent.
AR: Acceptable Floyd-ian vibe behind an Italian singer who can't. Lovely extended guitar solo. Get a proper singer next time.
AdB: Fabio is well-known with Höstsonaten. This is a solo project song that starts lazy and relaxed, building up towards a long guitar solo. Beautiful but nothing new.

Heartscore - Railroad Avenue (5:51)
[Straight To The Brain (2004)]

RT: Very quirky and hard to pin down German one-man band. Gentle Giant plays Einstein-A-Go-Go.
AR: Wow! Not heard anything quite like this before. Never have guessed it was a one-man band. A Magi-mix of musical styles baked, fried, boiled, steamed and then roasted! Shouldn't work but by hell it does thanks in part to a great (hired) singer. More please.
AdB: Absolute Pro is that this psychedelic music is hard to pinpoint. The Con is the odd composition of average impact and vocals.

Polska Radio One - Shangri-La (5:50)

RT: Not Polish, but Russian. Heady 60s flavoured psychedlia, not bad at all!
AR: Way too Hari Krishna for me.
AdB: Slow train alternative music. From Poland but very different from the successful stream of Polish bands. Can't say I like it nor reject it.

Investinmolden - Lust for Stars (4:43)

RT: No, not a damproofing system, but a new band from Poland with a distinctly very early Caravan keyboard sound. Another promising one.
AR: Some terrible band names in this bunch. However if you like your Prog to plod then this may be a name to remember.
AdB: Sympathetic Polish effort for over-simple prog. The composition is horrible and it all sounds rather amateuristic.

The National Orchestra of the United Kingdom of Goats - Chains (8:09)
[Vaaya and the Sea (2012)]

RT: Our Baz likes these. This is part of a 43-minute song suite and it sure is epic stuff!
AR: Another band name you wouldn't want on a t-shirt (if it'd fit!). Can't hear much to do with goats - although the who-oo-oo-oo chorus is cheesy. Listenable.
AdB: This is high-class progressive rock that doesn't belong on a sampler anymore. Awesome, buy it!

Lechuga - O Vurdon (5:04)

RT: This Chilean guitarist won a Steve Vai Scholarship, and here the Spanish guitar intro leads to 4 more minutes of Latino flavoured electric guitar virtuosity.
AR: Above-average guitar virtuoso stuff.
AdB: Spanish guitar starting softly, overtaken by metal riffing. Wonderful guitar craftsmanship if you are looking for that!

Delta - New Philosophy (3:56)

RT: ...and this is Benjamin Lechuga's prog metal band. The vocalist is painfully overwrought.
AR: Well-played melodic metal with a decent singer and some proggy instrumental bursts. Second division stuff but with promotion potential.
AdB: Coming drom Chile like Lechuga, Delta has several albums out. This is hardrock with a twist of progressiveness. A bit too old skool for me.

Beyond-O-Matic - Wish (15:37)
[Time To Get Up (2010)]

RT: This American duo describe themselves as "bombastically enhanced spaceprog stadium rock". 'Nuff said. Takes ages to get going, with some exotic instrumentation, and oddly I quite like it!
AR: Good example of why such compilations should have no song longer than 8mins. Psychedelic, retro noise with a singer who swallowed too much helium.
AdB: This psychedelic rock has a Vangelis-like synth background with fairly good, clear ProgMetal vocals. Way too boring to listen to for 15 minutes though.

Afenginn - Septem Turbido (Höstvisa II) (5:50)

RT: Scandi/Balkan ethnic mash up music that will get you waltzing in your head to its slow, insidious, melancholic groove. Not prog, definitely progressive, and the best track on the compiliation.
AR: Gently satisfying world/folk instrumental with xylophone, sax and strings. Music to have a bath to.
AdB: High-level folk / eclectic Danish music. I am very open minded about boundaries of Prog but I think this is a track that is over the edge.

Time Grid - Escape (10:03)
[Life (2013)]

RT: The effortless imagination of the last track does this sprawling "woe is me" stylistic mess no favours at all. Next...
AR: My review is linked above...I wasn't enthused.
AdB: I had learned of this band in Andy's 2013 mega ProgMetal review. I now confirm his conclusion, this is a mediocre effort. Just too much of too little.

PBII - Never Old (8:19)
[1000 Wishes (2013)]

RT: Dutch symphonic prog that got a glowing review on DPRP. Not for me.
AR: Top 15 Album of 2013 according to the DPRP writers. Who am I to disagree?
AdB: A wonderful Dutch production especially for a good cause, the fight against childrens' cancer. Beautiful orchestrated epic of high-level traditional Dutch progressive rock.

Coshish - Maya (6:18)

RT: Prog-metal-lite band from Mumbai fusing Hindi elements with trad rock. Not as interesting as it could have been.
AR: I'd describe as quirky alt-guitar-rock which spins around an unusual Indian vibe. Song should develop more, but I could take an album of this.
AdB: Progrock from India. Hindi sung. A tad different and well played!

Dimension Eleven - Point of No Return Part 1 - Far From Beyond Eternal Depths (6:48)

RT: Prog metal from Poland. Riffage. Portentous vocals. There's probably a Part 2. Next...
AR: B-Grade heavy ProgMetal with an accented singer with tuning issues.
AdB: Solid Polish Progressive Metal without real surprises in style, clean vocals or composition.

Fractal Mirror - Brian's Song (5:40)

RT: Dutch band with an atmospheric and poetic song with loads of spooky keyboards. Nice.
AR: André must have the last word on this...
AdB: Great track, it is so cool and different. Admittedly being the band's video artist I am a bit biased!

Burning Circle - What Would Life Be (6:21)

RT: The rather charming Steve Howe styled acoustic opening is spoiled by another unecessarily over dramatic vocal perfomance which by the end has me wincing. Why does nobody simply "sing" anymore? I don't me out...
AR: Gentle song. Needs a gentler singer.
AdB: Great song from this Serbian band. Not a complex song, with a well-known type of building up the tension but very well done with very, very strong vocals.

Minerva - Before I Lost My Fight and Sigh (9:31)

RT: Sigh? You should be so lucky. German hard rock that morphs into something rather unexpected with jazzy sax. Different, and rather good it has to be said, although another one that is probably twice as long as it need be.
AR: Back to the early days of rock/prog before the track evolves into something completely different and sung in German. One song probably isn't doing this band justice. A lot of Prog fans could like this.
AdB: Sounds like it was constructed and played with lots of emotion and fun! Very nice psychedelic post-rock with lots of guitar and sax. The German spoken text in the end is disturbing the flow.

AsZension - Elliptical Orbit (4:11)

RT: This Canadian band is "fusing progressive rock and metal with a wide array of instrumentation". Now, there's a surprise.
AR: If you enjoy heavy prog instrumentals which blend fusion, Persian moods, classic old skool Prog and metal, then this maybe for you. Sound over substance for me.
AdB: I heard some great instrumental Prog back on the Progstravaganza XI sampler. This one is equally good or better. An example how you can do a 10-minute instrumental epic that keeps you enthralled.

Les Fradkin - Joy of Man's Desiring (2:54)
[One Link Between Them (2008)]

RT: The Bach tune, a snippet of which Peter Banks snuck into Yes' Everydays? Indeed it is. Cheesy, like a poor man's Mike Oldfield.
AR: On the last ProgStravaganza Les Fradkin was Vangelis. Now he's back as Bach. Still no Prog.
AdB: Cheap composition, what does it all sound like?, played in a rather revolting way.

Oneir0naut - SOOMH (7:00)

RT: Oddest band name in this list produce the oddest thing here. Lots of looping results in hypnotic percussive ambience and strangeitude. Go to the front of the class, I'll see you after. Not sure it works out of context, and at least one of my colleagues will hate it. :)
AR: Seven minutes of train tracks. Utter goolies.
AdB: Experimental psychedelia, by far the most non-music I've had to endure. If that sounds like a recommendation to you, go ahead.

Taine - Existence (5:41)

RT: Growling...and a truly cringeworthy spoken word passage at the end (just to prove I stuck with it). Time to go home.
AR: Progressive in a Mike Oldfield-meets-Anal Stench fashion. This is actually well-executed, inventive and probably very good if you like growlies. The spoken ending is crap though.
AdB: From the first second Taine blows you away with melodic tech power metal and progressive interludes. Great stuff.

And finally...

Roger Trenwith: Definitely an improvement on PS XIV, with a much wider scope. Be thankful you don't have to listen to every track more than once, like us three. Happy New Year!

Andy Read: The statistics - Of the 33 bands on this compilation, I'd heard of seven of them before. DPRP itself has only ever reviewed 9 of these bands.

After our grumbles about too many bands, too many non-Prog acts, over-long songs and lack of quality control in the last two editions, I have to say this is much better. The Les Fradkin track fails on all counts and IMHO any band unable to 'showcase' itself in less than 8 minutes should stop now.

There's not so much for me to get enthused by this time. However that is more down to taste than the quality of some very interesting bands to be sampled here.

André de Boer: This Prog-Sphere Progstravaganza feed number XV is of high quality compared to some of the previous releases. Much to enjoy here (thank you all for that!) and only little to reject. Bear in mind that this is a one verse only review, some impertinence might be read but is not intended. Enjoy!

Top 5 Recommendations

Roger Trenwith

Andy Read

André de Boer

1.AfenginnSeptem Turbido (Höstvisa II)Heartscore - Railroad AvenueThe National Orchestra of the United Kingdom of Goats - Chains
2.The Fierce and the Dead - ArkCoshish - MayaThe Fierce and the Dead - Ark
3.Yuval Ron & Residents Of The Future - FlagsAfenginnSeptem Turbido (Höstvisa II)Castaway - Until the Summer's Gone
4.Polska Radio One - Shangri-LaYuval Ron & Residents Of The Future - FlagsFractal Mirror - Brian's Song
5.Fractal Mirror - Brian's SongSynaesthesia - Life's What You Make Of ItIl Rumore Bianco - Il Primo Attore

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Published 5th January 2014