7for4 - Splash
Junk Funk (4:33), Fortune (4:55), Downhill (2:43), If Only (6:05), The Scent (5:56), Murder She Said (4:10), Fiesta (6:05), Shhhh (5:12), Lesson Learned (4:54), Doubt And Ask (7:33)
Apart from the intricate rhythms and explosive compositions on show, there are moments of great variety and subtlety. For the most part, this is a release that will appeal to listeners who enjoy guitar-dominated instrumental tunes in which the throttle is set to maximum.
7for4 was founded in 1999 by guitarist Wolfgang Zenk. Zenk was formerly a member of progressive metal band Sieges Even and is featured in that band's late 90s albums Sophisticated and Uneven. He now manages and teaches at the renowned Munich Guitar Institute.
Zenk is able to demonstrate a commanding mastery of his instrument throughout Splash, on which he also handles keys. The excellent contributions of the rhythm section, also play a part in ensuring that the album as a whole is not totally overshadowed by Zenk's flamboyant guitar thrusts.
The instrumental mix of styles and timbres guarantees that Zenk has numerous opportunities to exhibit his considerable technical skill and ability. In this respect, much of his guitar playing is truly outstanding. His contribution is polished and perfectly executed. He fully delivers and never disappoints in a release simmering with incredible solos that bubble and boil with arpeggio sweeps and precision-picked lines.
The album begins with the energetically bright Junk Funk, which as its name suggests bounces along with wanton gusto. It is an engagingly-enticing jazz rock fusion piece and is an excellent opening to the album. As befits quality instrumental music, Junk Funk contains enough twists and turns to create numerous illusionary images in the listeners' mind. Apart from some muscular bass work, it also includes some impressively-fluid and blisteringly-fast lead guitar parts. These brought to mind a raft of bluringly nimble guitar players such as, Paul Gilbert and the clean melodic style of the great Shawn Lane. As a contrast, the long and continuous notes displayed in some of the deceptively slower sections of the piece, were in some ways reminiscent of Alan Holdsworth's unique Legato style.
Fortune is a slow-building and tunefully-melodic piece. It contains a satisfying balance between the dazzling individual performances of the players and the memorably-melodious nature of the composition. It has become one of my favourite pieces of the album.
In contrast, Downhill is an exuberantly-extravagant guitar feast, in which guitar pyrotechnics momentarily eclipse elegance and melody. In this respect, its powerful, metallic style gives the music a rawer feel.
The track which follows is arguably the highlight of the album. Imaginatively placed, it is a wonderful jazz rock instrumental and illustrates the range of styles to be found on Splash. If Only is creative, imaginative and technically adept. Beginning acoustically, it smoulders and builds beautifully. It features a wide range of moods and textures that are superbly arranged to compliment its recurring instrumental chorus. In its mellower moments, If Only highlights some great interplay between the bass, keys and guitar. Melodically satisfying and expansive in its structure, it is reminiscent of Focus in its prime.
The complexity and refinement of If Only and tracks such as, the equally satisfying The Scent positively distinguishes Splash from many other guitar-led releases. The quality and variety of the compositions, often takes the music to a higher level.
Murder She Said has some break-neck guitar work. The piece is lavishly garnished with lashings of sprint guitar, tastefully juxtaposed with more sedate moments. It was however, one of the few tracks where the sum of its separate parts was a case of guitar-extravagance rather than collective instrumental harmony.
Fiesta has a rural feel and features a sparkling country folk-like rhythm. It also has lots of funky shadings of pace and texture within its slate-grey landscape. The re-emergence once more, of the initial, sunlit melody in the final part of the piece was totally satisfying.
Bass player Markus Grutzner features strongly in the idyllic and slow paced SSSh. His rich, deep end tone offers a perfect foil for the lovely jazz guitar pickings which adorn and embellish the piece.
The quality and strength of Zenk's compositions are also further in evidence as the album moves towards its conclusion in the final two tracks. Lesson Learned has some delightful piano parts that are offset against its darker and heavier elements. The album concludes with the plaintive opening of Doubt and Ask. This piece soon transforms into an all-out guitar-borne assault, characterised by a charming bass and keys middle section that glides along. An accompanied, spoken-word passage swiftly follows. The addition of spoken words seems to be a feature of a number of releases that I have recently heard or reviewed and in my view this trend rarely adds extra depth to the music. Nevertheless, here the spoken interlude serves as a useful bridge for the piece's much darker concluding passage and atmospheric ending.
Overall, 7for4 has created a release that is saturated with proficiently confident playing. It contains a rich tapestry of diverse and skilfully arranged compositions. At first I found the onslaught of guitar too bombastic and overbearing. Over time though, I found myself growing to like Splash. With greater familiarity, I was able to look beyond its bold, vociferous moments and was able to discern its many subtle qualities.
If you like guitar-dominated instrumental music, that has energy and sensitivity, then 7for 4 is well worth hearing.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Arnioe - The Levenworth Files
Eleven (2:56), Realize (6:27), Prima Faci (Don't Say a Word) (7:28), A Little Hope (8:18), Back to Zero (6:29), Breakout (5:50), Dream Away (2:58), Childhood Memories (7:11)
According to Scharfegger, this CD, falling under the rubric of 'Renaissance space rock', is a concept album, describing the life and times of inmate Mike Donaldson, taking you through a journey of the highs and lows during his time in Levenworth. 'The sound for this CD', Scharfegger adds, 'had to be darker and heavier.'
While earlier Arnioe releases have been likened to those of Pink Floyd, on this album Porcupine Tree and more-modern progressive rock come more readily to mind. There is softness and an edge, darkness and light - but a heaviness dominates.
The softness can be found in A Little Hope (or at least in part of it), contrasted with the raunchy rock on Prima Faci. Variety is wrapped up on the well-composed Back to Zero, where soothing strumming eventually gives way to some harsh guitar riffs. The best-in-show prize goes to the aptly named Dream Away, a jazzy, atmospheric tune featuring slow, tasty guitar playing. The runner-up would be Childhood Memories showcasing, near its end, impressive symmetry between a wailing guitar and keyboards.
Notably the only tune fitting the description of 'space rock' would be the opener, Eleven, which is an even and uneventful tune. Throughout the CD the singing is adequate and largely unobtrusive.
Marring the CD is the just-plain-awful sound quality. Indeed, muddiness and distortion are pervasive. Perhaps the lack of clarity is a tool to paint a portrait of prison life, but regardless, the listening experience and the musicianship often get lost in muck.
True to its goal, this CD provides a dose of the darker side of modern progressive rock. But the music is not a stand-out ambassador for the genre, does not break new ground, and the dismal sound deters repeated listening. Having said that, Arnioe is still a fairly new adventure, and sprinkled throughout the CD are hints of promise for a better future.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Emmett Elvin - Bloody Marvels
Artificial Pterodactyls Over Leytonstone (5:03), Phobos (3:07), Toxic Sweetheart (3:41), Beyond Astronomy's Reach (5:35), The Indolent Spark (1:30), Where Do You Think You're Going? (5:19), Harmonium Phosphate (3:34), Nocturine (1:08), Jupiter Sneezed (2:41), Two Tree Island Drowning (4:31), Disaster Avenue (1:58), Witness Unknown (4:57), Medicine Box (2:19), Outro/BAR Reprise (0:59); bonus tracks: X Corpus (3:40), Dustbowl Prizewinner parts 1 & 2 (3:33)
Bloody Marvels is his second solo venture, the first being Emmettronica in 2013, which concentrated, not surprisingly, on electronic and sample-based music. This time the focus is his acoustic side and he does not disappoint with the eclectic mix of instruments he uses, or the dramatis personae he recruits from the Knifeworld ranks and beyond.
The full line-up comprises EE (on 6- and 12-string guitars, resonator slide guitar, piano, recorders, percussion and mandolin-banjo), Beverly Crome on french horn and tenor horn, Chloe Herington on bassoon, cor anglais and alto sax, Richard Larcombe on harmonium, Anna Tam on cello, Daniel Friend on trumpet, Matt Stevens on six-string guitar, Sarah Anderson on viola and violin, David J. Smith on percussion, Will Elvin on acoustic bass and Oliver Sellwood on baritone sax.
What EE delivers is an intimate and intense sonic scrapbook of contrasting pieces. The 16 compositions range in length from under 60 seconds to nearly six minutes. Each one conjures up a vivid, compelling mental photograph or a fascinating storyline taken straight from his overly-musical mind.
This is further enhanced by the album cover's slightly surreal and zany artwork which depicts him as a Beethoven-type figure surrounded by cartoon characters caught in a maelstrom; swirling within his wild imagination.
A crash of chords leads into the opener, the delightfully-named Artificial Pterodactyls Over Leytonstone which leads into a beautiful, jangly, acoustic guitar work-out with EE supplementing on recorders, percussion and piano. There are shades of Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grapelli here as Sarah Anderson enters fleetingly on piano. To make it all the more confusing, there is a snatch of German Beer Hall reverie at the end.
A flowing piano on Phobus combines with gorgeous, expressive brass and strings to make for a beautiful, mournful piece that is full of emotion and yearning. This is in stark contrast with Toxic Sweetheart's sassy, retro styling on acoustic guitars, and an improvised section using casserole and saucepan for an added dash of percussive crash.
Jazzy drums and piano open the grandly-named Beyond Astronomy's Reach, which while not quite conjuring an image of a space capsule landing on a lonely comet, has the massed ranks of Knifeworld bringing rise-and-fall to a huge swell of sound that permeates inner space more than it does the outer universe.
The Indolent Spark does however have a marked, other-worldly quantity with its controlled cacophony of noise in the all-too-brief time that it lives. Where Do You Think You're Going is a foray into psychedelic country rock with EE turning his hand to a mandolin-banjo he found in his father's loft. Suddenly it develops into a fantastic, Knifeworld-like workout with a wonderfully disciplined sound which stops it spiraling out of control.
For something completely different, there is nothing more haunting than Harmonium Phosphate, complete with birdsong, blessed with a richness and depth from the eponymous instrument played by Larcombe and supplemented by cello and cor anglais.
Nocturine, as EE describes it in the sleeve notes, features guitar parts sounding like church bells pealing. Though swift, it creates a haunting effect.
EE's back to his stunning retro guitar work on Jupiter Sneezed which canters along with casserole and boots providing the percussive accompaniment this time.
Two Tree Island Drowning is based on a true story, harking back to when EE nearly went to meet his watery maker when he was aged four. The lovely, looping guitars over Will Elvin's acoustic bass are dramatically interwoven throughout.
For Disaster Avenue, EE returns to the piano with shades of Debussy's Preludes in the way it describes a specific setting. Meanwhile the downbeat Witness Unknown features the album's only vocals.
Guitar maestro and man-of-the-moment, Matt Stevens, makes an appearance on Medicine Box. His virtuoso playing on what EE describes as 'a difficult piece' is the perfect accompaniment for the keyboards, including Nord strings.
Outro/BAR Reprise is a fleeting, tinkling keyboard interlude leading neatly into the first bonus track. The three-sectioned X Corpus features the mass ranks of Knifeworld which, with added church organ and closing staccato rhythm, sound like a kaleidoscopic venture into Gothic subterranea.
And finally, Dustbowl Prizewinner Parts 1 and 2 melds together some European telephone conversations with a luscious piano and trumpet duo (Daniel Friend) which brings the album to a classy denouement.
This kind of avant-garde prog is usually well outside my personal comfort zone. However there is something quite brilliant about Bloody Marvels which like most of the pieces on it, I cannot quite put my finger on. It's enigmatic and innovating and I absolutely love it.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Flor De Loto - Nuevo Mesías
Nuevo Mesías (4:30), La Tabla Esmeralda (5:56), Espejo Del Alma (5:36), Cumbemayo (4:23), En Otro Lugar (6:49), Caleidoscopio (4:51), Hipnotizame (7:15), Creados Del Fuego (9:56), Rumbo A La Eternidad (8:28)
I remember being equally impressed by the care and creativity that was displayed in the artwork for their self-titled debut release. I also vividly remember repeatedly pumping my fist in the air with excitement during and after hearing that release. In my view it is their most accomplished foray into the excitingly-varied sub genre of progressive flute rock.
That was in 2005 and since then Flor De Loto has largely abandoned the fluently-styled instrumental flute progressive rock that was so satisfying in their debut. Instead, the band has steadily incorporated a vocal element into its music. The addition of limited vocals was particularly successful in their acclaimed second release Madre Tierra.
This album fruitfully incorporated both Andean folk music and fusion within memorably explosive flute-led compositions. Since its inception, Flor De Loto has undergone numerous changes of personnel and no doubt, this accounts in part for some of the ways in which the band's music has developed over the years.
By the time of the third album, Mundos Bizarros, the vocal element had significantly increased. The band had also replaced aspects of the folk and fusion elements previously so inherent in their compositions, in favour of a more hard-edged, heavier metal sound. This has increasingly been the case with each subsequent release and was particularly in evidence within the band's inspired, flute-laden, yet metallic-streaked re-workings of tunes from earlier albums in their fifth release, Volver a Nacer in 2012.
For their newest offering Flor De Loto has presented a fulfilling feast of Andes prog. It contains all of the elements that have defined the band's sound over the years. Five members of the eight-piece band are credited with writing or co-writing. It is therefore not surprising that this contains an eclectic mix of styles.
There are nods to Los Jaivas and Solaris. The fusion of metal, classic progressive rock, jazz and Andean folk works particularly well in a number of instrumental tracks. This is especially the case in compositions such as the beautiful and symphonically-pastoral Caleidoscopio and Cumbemayo, where the extensive use of saxophone adds another dimension.
However some pieces, such as the intense flute/guitar duelling rock composition Hipnotízame and the slow burning ballad En Otro Lugar, rely heavily on a more conventional chorus and verse approach.
En Otro Lugar has an Andean folk influence that is mixed interestingly with a classic rock style. It features a sing-along anthem complete with guitar pyrotechnics that build in intensity as the piece rumbles thunderously towards its conclusion.
The mixture of different styles and influences within this release should satisfy a range of prog fans. The instrumentally-expansive Rumbo A La Eternidad has lots of intense riffing. The guitar and flute jousting that is exhibited in the opening stages, remind me of Flor De Loto's fellow South American band Ergo Sum. Similarly the Andean folk melodies contained in Espejo Del Alma drew comparison to the work of the Peruvian band Supay.
Special mention should be made of the outstanding contribution of flautist and saxophonist Junior Pacora Valdinia. His infectiously energetic playing abundantly dominates proceedings in the up-tempo numbers. Similarly, his inspiring and ornate playing provides ample opportunities for meditative reflection during the mellower moments.
On this showing, Valdinia is certainly a contender to take the mantle of progressive flute player of the year from such esteemed players as Ian Anderson, Thys Van Leer, Stephen Dundon and Kollar Attilla.
Each composition in Nuevo Mesías contains some truly exhilarating moments. The numerous and substantial instrumental breaks, coupled with the collective empathy of the players, is highly impressive throughout. The metal-influenced embellishments, conservative song structures and vocally intense choruses were sometimes not to my taste. But despite this, the overall excellence of the instrumental parts more than made up for any reservations.
One of the most impressive pieces is the gorgeous flute-led melody of La Tabla Esmeralda. In this instrumental piece, reminiscent of the debut album, the flute flickers and flames around some memorably-rhythmic guitar parts. The jazz-filled flute break at the 1:22 mark is evocatively beautiful and is to be slowly savoured before the pace quickens as guitars chug and wail. The closing minutes also contain a wonderful keyboard solo that hits all of the right spots.
I also particularly enjoyed the adventurous jazz fusion contained within the outstanding instrumental composition Creados Del Fuego. For the duration of this piece, the flute is momentarily placed in its rack and replaced by some great reed work. In this thrilling work many different textures and intense shades are explored. One moment slow and coy, the next brash and creatively bold. This is just under ten minutes of instrumental excellence, where all the players shine and twinkle brightly in their skilled and tightly bound, gift wrapped, collective abilities.
For those readers interested in South American flute prog rock, exemplified by such stylistically diverse bands as Ergo Sum, Supay, Tanger and Koiak; Flor de Loto is an essential band to check out. In this respect, whilst the band's first two albums may be more rewarding, Nuevo Mesías is a strong release with many excellent features.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Kamelot - Silverthorne
Manus Dei (2:12), Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife) (feat. Elize Ryd & Alissa White-Gluz) (4:39), Ashes to Ashes (3:58), Torn (3:51), Song for Jolee (4:33), Veritas (feat. Elize Ryd) (4:35), My Confession (4:34), Silverthorn (4:52), Falling Like the Fahrenheit (feat. Elize Ryd) (5:05), Solitaire (4:56), Prodigal Son: Part I: Funerale - Part II: Burden of Shame (The Branding) - Part III: The Journey" (feat. Alissa White-Gluz) (8:52), Continuum (4:17)
Their concept albums have addressed very interesting topics such as Goethe's Faust on Epica and The Black Halo, or Arthurian legends on Siege Perilous.
This album came after a period of changes for the band, in which vocalist Roy Khan was replaced by Seventh Wonder's amazing singer Tommy Karevik plus the return of original bass player Sean Tibbets after 17 years.
As the band's third concept album Silverthorn tells us the story of a 19th century little girl named Jolee, who dies in a tragic accident witnessed by her twin brothers. The story deals with how the girl's affluent family handles the tragic event, leading to cover-ups, secrets, and betrayal. Several extremely talented musicians were guests on this album including Elyze Ryd (Amaranthe), Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist and Arch Enemy), Sascha Paeth and Luca Turilli.
Overall I consider Silverthorne as Kamelot's masterpiece and one of the most important power progressive metal albums from 2012. The band had the capability to transmit to their music all the drama and intensity told to us through the story of Jolee and to live it from song to song.
All the compositions are in the perfect place to give this album the power and emotionality it requires. It is an album that is beautifully composed and produced. Tommy Karevik will never make a debut so perfect, whilst Thomas Youngblood's skills and power behind the guitar are exceptional.
The highlights of this album are Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife), Song for Jolee, Veritas and Falling like a Fahrenheit.
I strongly recommend this album to our kindly readers, as it is a perfect disc for me that brings me many excellent moments.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Sezione Frenante - Metafora di un Viaggio
Quattro Stelle (4:51), Attesa (2:48), La Quiete In Un Attimo (4:25), Viscido Ambiente (2:58), La Meta Non Trovata (4:14), Passaggio (1:07), La Meta Non Trovata (Curiosit‡ Di Essere) (2:09), Svegliati Luce (9:22), Pace Immaginata (3:27), Nota Stonata (8:15)
Having been composed during the first incarnation, it will come as no surprise that this release has a 1970s Italian progressive rock style. It is heavy on keyboards (producing vintage sounds), layered guitar and has some excellent bass playing. Like all the great Italian prog of the time, it is sung in Italian.
Metafora di un Viaggio is a concept album based on the poetic journeys of Dante Alighieri. This release has the symphonic sophistication of the classic period of Italian prog.
Sezione Frenante has Moreno Favaretto's bass guitar driving the songs' intricate rhythms, underpinning the Hammond organ, piano and synths of Mirco De Marchi. This particular prog cake is then iced with Doriano Mestriner's long and delicate guitar lines, Alessandro Casagrande's unfussy but pin-sharp drumming and Francesco Nardo's strong vocals.
I feel that Sezione Frenante should not be criticized for releasing a CD of retrospective prog, just because of a quirk of timing (admittedly 40 years is quite a delay!). It is better to treat this as an obscure, lost album of the era that has been rescued from the vaults.
Most of the songs on Metafora di un Viaggio have interesting changes of tempo and structure and Sezione Frenante must be applauded for the ambition that they show, even if occasionally it leads to an interruption of the mood that they have created. Some of the songs can feel a tad disjointed.
The opener, Quattro Stelle, shows some of this ambition as it moves from electric piano, bass and tubular bells on to an accordion-sounding keyboard solo. La Quiete In Un Attimo leads with a heart-beat bass line and guitar power chords which build up the tempo before suddenly turning into a piano-led ballad.
The two long tracks, Svegliati Luce and Nota Stonata, are multi-part songs with sustained guitar lines, pulsing bass and lovely keyboard solos and fills. These songs work very well.
The only thing I would like to make the reader aware of, and this is the reason for the 'good' rating, rather than the DPRP recommended rating, is the singing of Francesco Nardo. He has a voice full of character, but he is placed rather forward in the mix, and so, at times dominates the songs more than is possibly wise. This tends to distract from what the other musicians are doing around him. But I must stress this is a fault of the mix, not the singing. It does have the effect of making some tracks slightly less successful than others, but on the whole this is a good, solid, slab of Italian progressive rock.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Silhouette - Beyond The Seventh Wave - Duo Review
Prologue (2:32), Betrayed (1:42), Web Of Lies Part 1 - The Vow (8:20), Web Of Lies Part 2 - The Plot (4:31), In Solitary (6:16), Escape (5:14), Lost Paradise (10:19), Betrayed Again (1:25), Devil's Island (8:55), Beyond The Seventh Wave (7:39), Wings To Fly (5:09)
Peter Swanson's ReviewIt's not unreasonable to presume that Dutch prog bands will be appearing at the top of many people's 'Best Prog Albums of 2014' lists. After the releases of new albums from Minor Giant and Knight Area, it's now time for one of the other new Dutch giants of prog: Silhouette.
I don't want to sound too patriotic, though I also have some Scottish blood running through my veins, but it's all about quality and that's what Silhouette delivers. After the release of the band's highly acclaimed album Across The Rubicon in 2012, there could be some worries whether they would be able to make an album just as good as that release. Well yes they can! Probably Beyond The Seventh Wave is actually a step up. The album is well mixed and is rich of beautiful melodies.
Some stunning soloing on guitar and keyboards from Daniel van der Weijde and Erik Laan respectively, with the addition of guest musicians on violin, clarinet and cello, contribute to the magic of this album. Dutch 'prog legend' Ton Scherpenzeel (Kayak, Camel) also showcases his skills on the Moog synthesiser as one of the guest musicians.
At times the music of Silhouette reminds me of those two bigger names in progland but it has a heavier bite. Guitarist Van der Weijde likes playing powerful riffs to spice up some of the tracks. Erik Laan also plays an important role as being the main songwriter, with Brian de Graeve. He produces some mind-blowing layers of keyboard and especially the organ sounds are excellent.
The first two tracks can be described as intros, before Web Of Lies, divided in two parts, really gets the album going and shows us what these guys are capable of. It's a great prog song with the Moog in a prominent role. The typical piano sound that we recognise from the Camel albums can be heard on In Solitary and Devil's Island. The instrumental track Escape has some prog metal influences with some powerful guitar riffs and heavier drumming. Other great tracks are Lost Paradise with another excellent organ solo, and the title track.
So, proggers from all over the world, I would suggest that you drop everything you're doing right now and take some time to listen to this marvelous album. You won't be disappointed. Maybe it is a nice idea for a Christmas present from Santa?
Theo Verstrael's ReviewSilhouette's Across the Rubicon was one of the appetisers of 2012. The melodies, the harmonies, the solos and the clever use of a children's choir made this a stand-out album. Comparisons with renowned bands such as Barclay James Harvest, Marillion, Pendragon and even Genesis were mentioned in Geoff Feakes' review which rewarded the album a DPRP recommendation. Quite an achievement for such a young band and of course it also meant a significant burden, Would the band be able to match that success or, even better, improve on it?
It took slightly more than two years to release the successor. Meanwhile the band saw co-founder, drummer and vocalist Jos Uffing leave, and while recording this disc, bass player Gerrit-Jan Bloemink also called it a day - both because of personal reasons.
Because competent replacements could be found soon (Rob van Nieuwenhuijzen on drums and Jurjen Bergsma on bass) the band was able to concentrate fully on Beyond the Seventh Wave. This fourth album is an ambitious project based around the hunger for freedom of an innocent man convicted for life to forced labor. It is largely inspired by books such as Henri Charrières' Papillion. Ton Scherpenzeel (Kayak, Camel) and a string quartet helped them out. But has all this ambition resulted in a memorable album?
The answer is a convincing 'Yes'. Beyond the Seventh Wave grows with every turn, is impressive in its different moods, offers the listener great mellotron sweeps by Erik Laan, flutes, violins and cellos, long guitar solos by Daniel van der Weijde and some great melodies sung mostly by Brian De Graeve.
The songs echo reminiscences of Camel's Harbour of Tears because of the melancholic general mood. I am also reminded of Tony Banks' A Curious Feeling because of the elegant use of piano and of Pendragon's The Masquerade Overture because of the catchy choruses and the long guitar solos.
The album opens more or less in the same vein as ..Rubicon with two short songs. Prologue is a keys and piano-led ballad. It is nice and slow with a vocal melody that reminds me of Across the Rubicon, but is different enough. The guitar solo with clarinet turns out to be a nice combination, and it ends with a soft piano coda that fluently develops into the rock-orientated Betrayed where the full band joins in.
This pair of songs sets the stage for The Web of Lies, a two-song epic with all the good elements thatSilhouette has to offer. There are multiple melodies but with a recurrent themes, several outbursts on guitar, energetic bass playing, harmony singing and some quiet sections with acoustic guitar, cello and violin dominating. Great song!
In Solitary is another ballad, starting with vocals over piano and clarinet. The harmony singing by De Graeve and Laan works extremely well here.
Then Escape starts and on a first listen I was totally flabbergasted. An ugly, metal-like riff, mimicking Metallica or Iron Maiden comes out of the speakers and I feel that Silhouette has totally lost it. Fortunately it lasts only a minute before the band becomes normal again. Why on earth did they choose to do this? For the rest of its five minutes this is a rather nice piece of music but it most certainly is not their best.
Lost Paradise is in every aspect a real gem. The melody, the variation, the stunning guitar solos, the good singing, the romantic, acoustic guitar, the clever piano; it all floats gently and naturally and builds a beautiful musical landscape.
The piano coda develops into the short instrumental Betrayed Again that in turn opens almost classically into Devil's Island. Again the piano is used beautifully here, varying and accompanying alongside the vocal melody sung by De Graeve and flautist Mary O.
Halfway through there is some awesome interplay between cello, violin and clarinet, supplemented by march-like drums and subtle keys that builds a romantic, musical interlude on which both vocalists pick up their vocal lines again. The crying sounds of seagulls mark the end of this fantastic, rich and melodic song.
The title song opens strongly with guitar, some rather aggressive singing and full keys. The melody floats to and fro, there's a very quiet middle section with beautiful violin and strong vocals, and it all culminates in a fast guitar solo, which could have been longer.
Wings to Fly is actually a rather poppy song and therefore probably selected as the first single.
I think that Silhouette has made another huge step forward with this album. Although some may not like Brian de Graeve's rather thin voice, his singing fits very well with the rather slow tempo of most of the songs. His voice, a bit high-pitched but always good on tone, gives the songs something extra over the rich instrumentation.
The music is nowhere aggressive or dominant. The individual instruments are very well balanced because of the crystal-clear production and de Graeve's voice mixes well in that complex. Too bad they choose for the really ugly opening in Escape, but there are many excellent songs on this album to compensate for that.
All-in-all this is a monumental album that places Silhouette again in the forefront of melodic, symphonic prog. It matches Across the Rubicon in many respects. Because of the use of flute, cello and violin it even outpaces its successful predecessor at times.
Because of that weak opening of Escape it is not a perfect album but it comes very close. The Netherlands should be very proud of yet another great symphonic band in the vein of Flamborough Head, Mangrove, Like Wendy and Egdon Heath.
Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart - Make Believe It Real
Disc 1: Make Believe It (acoustic) (4:11), Cyber Spice (3:56), Revenant (4:15), Be Careful What you Wish For (6:25), Skyline Signal (6:17), Demonkind (3:36), Eternal Energy (5:28), Embers (5:11), SpaceRocknRoll (5:14), Journey Past the Stars (2:50), Reflections (14:15)
Disc 2: Always (Spirited Away) (6:32), No one Cries in Space (4:00), Iceflow (Icetalk mix) (5:35), Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk (2:23), Make Believe It Real (6:28), Chain of Thought (8:25)
Disc 2: Always (Spirited Away) (6:32), No one Cries in Space (4:00), Iceflow (Icetalk mix) (5:35), Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk (2:23), Make Believe It Real (6:28), Chain of Thought (8:25)
This release is the band's first double CD. Disc one is the album Make Believe It Real, whilst disc 2 rounds up alternative tracks, remixes of previous material and songs recorded for other projects. As a result it is a bonus curate's egg of random rarities.
Standing out on the second disc is a fantastic cover of Pink Floyd's Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk, and the wonderful epics, Always (spirited away) and Chain of Thought. The title track (also on disc 2) has a wonderful, ethereal quality to it.
The main attraction here however is Disc 1. Like all the best band leaders in the world from Miles Davis to Ashley Hutchings, Don Falcone picks and chooses which collaborators work best on which song. The quality of the collaborators is of a high standard throughout and the way the album is pulled together by Wishart and Falcone is a testament to their skills as performers and arrangers, and the choice of fantastic collaborators.
However this is a Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart project, and Bridget's superb vocals are to the fore on all the tracks, whilst her beautiful flute and EWI playing weaves its way through the aural soundscapes that she and Don have composed together.
Lyrically Bridget is on fine form here. The epic, majestic sweep of the 14-minute plus Reflections is a joy to behold and listen to, whilst the opening beauty of Make Believe It (acoustic) and the self explanatory Space Rock'n'Roll are all highlights from a uniformly strong album.
If you enjoy Wishart's work with other collaborators like OmenOpus, Chumley Warner Bros or Hawkwind, or if the wonderful kind of space rock displayed here is your trip, then you will fall in love with the magic of this album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ticket to the Moon - Dilemma on Earth
Earth (10:17), A Black & White Picture of a Rainbow (7:19), Perfect Day (8:50), Dilemma (9:58), Deadly Schizophrenia (6:56), Down In You (9:18), Machine Is Running (7:51)
This album is just a whole lot of fun to listen to with a great balance of high-octane instrumental workouts amongst strong and beautiful melodies. This is definitely a band to watch out for in the future. There is an obvious Dream Theater influence, but I actually think more of Haken when listening to this band because there is a certain freshness and excitement about the music. The band focuses more on melody rather than the quirky instrumental sections that Haken are known for, but both bands are a breath of fresh air in a genre that I felt was getting stale with bands that were little more than copycats of Dream Theater.
Things kick-off right away with a fantastic riff on the album opener Earth. The whole band has a chance to shine, with distorted guitars and fantastic synth keyboard leads. The vocals are also very tasteful and well done. The blending of the vocal sections with the instrumental passages is expertly done, neither outstaying their welcome. There is a great middle section that is more atmospheric with a David Gilmour-inspired guitar, along with the voices of children in the background. Andrea Portapia is a great player and his solo here is inspired, accompanied by some slick bass lines and intense drum work. This is a clear highlight of the album, and we are only on the first track! The second song, A Black & White Picture of a Rainbow is a heartfelt ballad that is very emotional and reflective in its execution. Perfect Day is another stand-out track that starts out with great melodies from bass, guitar and piano all melding together perfectly. This song starts off slow with some fabulous female vocals added to the mix. About halfway through, the song becomes much more intense and heavy with some fantastic soloing from both guitar and keys. It is a fantastic piece of music that showcases the two sides to this band beautifully.
Dilemma is a high-energy progressive rock instrumental piece. Once again, this is a chance for the whole band to shine as they shift through various time signatures and musical riffs and melodies. What strikes me listening to this piece is the amazing display of variety. This band does not stay stuck in the same sound or style. Throughout this one piece of music there are sections that are heavy and dark, and also sections that are light and emotional. They blend between heavy metal and atmospheric prog seamlessly.
Deadly Schizophrenia continues to showcase what this band is best at, with strong melodies, strong playing from all band members and a great emotional buildup. Down In You is the epic finale of the album, and is very dramatic in its execution. There is a new level of intensity at the end of the track that makes for an exciting conclusion. This is not the end however, as there is one final instrumental track called Machine Is Running. I view this as a sort of an epilogue of the album; a final reflection and perhaps a glimpse into what could be ahead for this band. This is a very dark, atmospheric, heavy piece of music with haunting keys and soaring guitar.
Dilemma On Earth is a near perfect, melodic, progressive metal debut album. This is clearly a concept album as the lyrics share a common theme and the songs all blend seamlessly into one another, as if they are one complete piece of music. The concept has something to do with an Earth in the near future that is dying, and the attempts to save it for the children of the future. This adds to the emotional effect of the lyrics and brings everything together and gives it purpose.
I also have to comment that the cover art of the album is beautiful with a futuristic landscape atop a hill. This is an incredible effort from a promising young group of musicians. They are very smart in their songwriting, balancing instrumental workouts with strong melodies that are full of emotion and power. They know how to add diversity to the music and make sure it is never stale.
Along with Haken, I believe Ticket To The Moon could be a driving force to revitalising the progressive metal scene. I recommend this album to all progressive rock lovers and hope to hear more from this band in the near future.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
The Kadeem Ward Project - Betrayal In The Maze Of Snakes & Ladders Where Judgement Smeared Walls Shades The Undergrowth Of Envy That Which Houses The Hognose & Formicidae Minds
Betrayal (In The Maze) / (Of) Snakes & Ladders (12:05), Where Judgement Smeared (Walls) (10:02), (Shades The Under)growth Of Envy (11:08), That Which Houses The Hognose & Formicidae Minds (6:28), Bonus Tracks: Jungle Fever Jam (4:47), Austere (Intoxication Remix) (8:48), Ascension (Towards Nirvana) (Vision I: The Awakening) (4:48), Descending (Vision I: Circle Of Limbo) (11:46)
On the Project's Bandcamp and Facebook pages it cites that the artist is 'The Gypsy Forging All But Nothing & Nothing But All' and that the music can be described as 'Electronic Mediums Used To Channel The Inner Chakras Into The Physical & Universal Realms' ... er right. I should have known I was in for something strange given the album title and the fact that the track listing, when combined, makes up the album title - well sort of. I'm not quite sure the purpose of all those parentheses!
The main album comprises four tracks, three of which extend past the ten-minute mark. All four flow continuously, providing a continual 40-minute suite of music.
From the off there is an ominous air of dark psychedelia. Think of a basic Bevis Frond mixed with a 60s garage band and you'd not be far off the mark. Musically, there are layers of guitar over simple percussion, essentially a single drum and hi-hat, with vocals masked in reverb. The track segues neatly into the instrumental, Where Judgement Smeared (Walls) section, where the focus is on three separate guitar lines accompanied by bass and more comprehensive drum contributions, which eschew any cymbals, presumably to prevent interference with the wailing guitar part.
By the time we arrive at (Shades The Under)growth of Envy I have to confess I am quite captivated. Sure, the chances of Ward winning an award for songwriting are pretty slim, but the music does pull you along and seems to distort time. One is never aware that proceedings are dragging.
I am not sure how much of the material is actually composed, as opposed to deriving from a stream of consciousness jam, but it really doesn't matter that much. The different instruments are interwoven and provide a musical narrative that just naturally flows. Indeed it was quite a way into this track before I became aware that a layer of keyboards had been introduced into the mix. The keys dominate the transition into That Which Houses The Hognose & Formicidae Minds, and no, I have no idea what that means either!
This final track of the main album is more dynamic and has a fuller, more aggressive sound, which contrasts nicely with what has gone before. The vocals are heavily manipulated to become an additional component of the music. It is quite difficult to comprehend the words being intoned, the voice becoming part of the blend and utilised as another instrument. Interesting stuff.
The download comes replete with bonus material headed by Jungle Fever Jam which is presumably recorded by a full band (possibly His Mechanical Devices given that this group was credited on a 2014 EP of live rehearsals, although I confess I am guessing here!) There is certainly a live feel to this track which does lack the level of coherence found on the main album. A remix of the title track from 2013's Austere single almost doubles the length of the original track. Although of a similar style to the main album, it is a lot busier and suffers from the inclusion of a too-prominent programmed drum track.
The final two tracks, Ascension (Towards Nirvana) and Descending, are pretty disappointing as they are nowhere near the same quality as the album, neither sonically nor musically. Being rather an incoherent mess in places and unlike any of the four main tracks, they do tend to grate somewhat.
So by sticking to the main album and avoiding the bonus tracks, one has a rather different and largely enjoyable slice of modern psychedelia. Nothing complex, no shifting time signatures and largely devoid of recognisable song structures but an interesting alternative to my regular listening habits.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10