Charlie Barnes - More Stately Mansions
More Stately Mansions (3:33), Sing to God (3:56), Easy, Kid (5:09), Balloons (4:41), Ghosts (5:30), MacbethMacbethMacbeth (3:52), House (6:19), Dresden (4:51), Hammers (5:01), Film (4:44)
Not that Barnes, the band, sound anything like these two Mancunian bands, indeed, the group's website hails them as proponents of Big Morbid Death Pop which I don't think is a genre that is likely to find a huge audience any time soon. In truth, the music doesn't really sound much like the description, there may be a degree of morbidity in the lyrics that accompany the music. The music ranges from the mellow to the grandiose stopping at numerous other stations along the way. There is one sure guarantee though: the album is replete with strong melodies. The thing one immediately notices is the clarity and purity of Barnes' superlative vocals, think of a blend of Muse's Matt Bellamy and Jeff Buckley with a dash of Freddie Mercury thrown in for dramatic purposes and you will not be far off.
There are plenty of highs to be had on the album, the astounding Sing to God being an obvious highlight, particularly for those who enjoy music of a more heavy type. But there is much to enjoy elsewhere, the mellow introductory title track, the laid back and interesting sonics of Easy, Kid, the sparseness of Film and the first part of Balloons, the epic qualities and orchestrations on House and the full frontal guitar assault of MacbethMacbethMacbeth. All mighty impressive stuff for a first album.
Overall it may be a bit low key for a lot of people but if you are a sucker for a soaring voice and sweet melodies then Charlie Barnes are for you. I am certainly a convert.
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10
Tim Bowness - Stupid Things That Mean the World
The Great Electric Teenage Dream (4:00), Sing to Me (5:50), Where You've Always Been (4:12), Stupid Things That Mean the World (3:08), Know That You Were Loved (6:54), Press Reset (4:07), All These Escapes (3:13), Everything You're Not (3:40), Everything But You (1:12). Soft William (1:42), At the End of the Holiday (5:01)
In many ways, Tim and Steven Wilson were a perfect match due to their mutual affinity for somber tones and melancholy lyrics. Tim's voice alone creates a beautifully haunting landscape that is again used to grand effect on this album. It opens successfully with the somewhat uncharacteristic, The Great Electric Teenage Dream. With its heavy drums building strongly to a guitar distorted finale, the track displays a force not often heard from Bowness. It is a corker of a start, but in style, not particularly representative of the rest of the album. Press Reset being the only other song to touch on similar rock territory. That said, both tracks are effective and a nice diversion from the album's more atmospheric material.
Sing to Me sets a much more indicative tone and is a truly outstanding and touching track. Built from an old No-Man demo, the song is a convincing example of what Tim does best. There is an almost cinematic beauty to much of his work which is very much on display throughout the album. That certainly includes Where You've Always Been, an excellent collaboration with Phil Manzanera. The quiet simplicity of the track leads to a beautiful closing guitar solo by Manzanera. Other highlights of the album include the more pop infused title track, the moving Know That You Were Loved and the compelling album closer, At The End of the Holiday.
Coming so soon on the heels of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, I wondered if Bowness could maintain the high standard displayed on that album. I am happy to report that he has definitely done so. Stupid Things That Mean the World is a very strong effort and further proof that nobody is better at creating this particular style of eclectic artpop/rock. With Steven Wilson's current focus on his solo career, it is hard to ponder on the future of No-Man: will they ever record another album? The good news is that it matters not. The possible end of No-Man has resulted in the emergence of Tim Bowness as a solo artist. With a career spanning over twenty years, it has been a long time coming and he is absolutely making the most of it.
Patrick McAfee: 8.5 out of 10
Crystal Breed - The Place Unknown
Lies (5:26), Floating on Waves (5:43), The Place Unknown (6:24), Move (5:58), Rockstar Wannabe (8:23), No Turning Back (5:21), Back T'you Mum (5:05), Worshipper (9:28), Words of Silence (5:48)
Crystal Breed are a four-piece band from Hannover, Germany. Niklas Turman (guitar, vocals) and Corvin Bahn (keys, vocals) played with bands like Gammy Ray, Fair Warning, Jane and Uli Jon Roth before deciding to found Crystal Breed in 2008. Together with Thorsten Harnitz on drums and vocals and Michael Schugardt on bass they play a rocking kind of progressive rock. Trademarks are powerful and harmonic vocals, symphonic and bombastic sounds and tricky arrangements. They have their own unique sound, though you may bring to mind Queen or early Dream Theater from time to time.
Crystal Breed have a charming way of building songs I am sure many will like. In some tracks, you might just be thinking you've got it, when a sudden break or interlude comes around the corner and gives that track another kick. Tracks that start inconspicuously often develop with some twists and turns you would not expect.
Lies is a fulminant rocking opener. A driving keyboard sequence at the beginning with dancing airy drums and the vocals bring the main theme right in and, after a few piano bars, the track speeds up. Right after the 2:40 mark, a surprisingly grooving section takes hold for a minute before a really heavy guitar riff crashes in. Polyphonic singing then takes over, and the short but dynamic keyboard solo that follows brings the track to a sharp end. It is great songwriting.
Floating On Waves is a cool track with a very fine hook. It starts so sweetly that you might be thinking: a cheesy pop song as track number 2? But after one minute, the guitar loses it's chains and the piece changes direction. The song rises and suddenly: a little piano interlude comes in, in a great, classic way. This piano takes up the theme and the rest of the band joins in with driving bass and drums and harmonic singing.
The title track The Place Unknown is one of those tracks for eternity. When listening to an album by an unfamiliar band, you are definitely not prepared for that. Again, they jump right into the main theme, an uptempo guitar riff so simple and so good, which is joined by multiple voices. The speed increases a little bit and you think it's a nice rocker. A minute later, the main melody is joined by fine vocals and the break that follows features only singing and acoustic guitar. The song takes off again, rising and rocking. The main refrain soon settles deep in your ears and will stay there for a while. Towards the end, there is a beautiful guitar and keyboard section, and then the vocals take over again.
After this great 17 minutes you may need a break - and Move is it. A slow ballad that cannot stand at the high level of its predecessor, although it does have some interesting musical elements. As it gets louder, you are reminded of those typical 80s ballads of rock bands like Europe. A fine guitar solo and strings close the tune.
The second longest track, Rockstar Wannabee, again features a beautiful hook with harmonic singing and acoustic guitars at the beginning. The mood is easy and relaxed, but after the second verse we again head into another direction. Starting with a few jazzy piano parts, the track speeds on as the guitar takes over, only to stop and deliver another variation of the main theme again. This track again shows the high quality of Crystal Breeds songwriting.
No Turning Back starts quietly and piano driven, and develops into a dramatic and harmonic tune based on a few chords. The theme includes various facets and maybe this is the most relaxed song on the record, and could be a nice show closer.
Back T'your Mum is an uptempo rocker and features nice keyboard and guitar work throughout.
The longest track, Worshipper incorporates all aspects of this album, though the brilliant hook is missing this time. All in all this is more of a ballad, including rocking parts and the breaks we have previously discovered to be typical for Crystal Breed.
The Words of Silence closes the album in a sweet way; it is a fine harmonic ballad with a nice guitar solo that slows everything down at the end.
The album is well produced and sounds good. Throughout, you hear the ambitious and joyful playing of the band. Though this is a debut, you can hear the musical experience they have. Four outstanding tracks (the first three and Rockstar Wannabee) are the reason for recommending this album. The Place Unknown is interesting, diversified and showcases really strong songwriting. Not all tracks maintain the high level, and for future releases they might dare to introduce more diverse sounds.
Peter Funke: 8 out of 10
Empty Yard Experiment - Kallisti
Sunyata (2:25), Greenflash (6:12), Red (1:48), The Blue Eyes of a Dog (6:46), There Will Never Be (2:48), Entropy (6:02), Blue (1:25), Anomie (3:13), Lost In A Void That I Know Far Too Well ? (4:14), Untitled (5:37), Sama (1:26), God Has His Reasons (6:15), Green (1:46), The Call (9:28)
In 2013, EYE opened an Abu Dhabi Metallica gig that proved their exceptional ability for live appearance in front of an audience of 50,000. Sadly, they were on the bill of the ProgPower Europe festival but couldn't attend because one of the band members didn't get his visa in time. Luckily, EYE did manage to do a UK tour last year, coinciding with the release of their sophomore album, Kallisti. It was exciting to see if, and how, the new album was relating to the first. Would it be 'more of the same' or was there a chance it would even be smarter and better?
The first thing that strikes me is the intelligence; both music and lyrics have been thought over, have a meaning and include complex thoughts and compositions. There is no easy way out here, you have to dig in deep to get this album working for you. If you do, you get majestically rewarded. And if you'd like to go even further, you can even try to overlay the three 'coloured' tracks to reveal a new hidden track.
A written review forces me to describe the album in words, although this level of smart composing makes it almost impossible. Greenflash is a fantastic and rather heavy prog metal track that hints at early Riverside, or is even a bit Tool-esque. Don't mind me saying 'hints' here explicitly, because you don't hear a clone track, this is 100 percent EYE.
Red, Blue and Green are the more mysterious tracks, whereas The Blue Eyes Of A Dog mixes local Arabic influences with melodic riffing. It is pretty elusive, but so beautiful. Songs like Lost In A Void That I Know Far Too Well, Entropy and The Call are the most accessible tunes on the 14-song album. I have a slight idea why the Untitled track is untitled, as it is a melodic gem at first turning into a party song and back again. GHHR was released as a single beforehand and provides the balanced centre of this album.
Kallisti is an album that you need time for. Time to listen, alone, headphones on, in repeat mode. Get every note into your veins and you will get rewarded. A recommended specialty in the genre.
André de Boer: 8 out of 10
Introitus - Anima
Initiare (1:54), Broking Glass (10:28), Who Goes There (7:12), Slipping Away (11:16), You Will Always Be My Girl (6:30), Free (7:50), Anima (16:28), Exire (1:32), hidden track (2:58)
Anima is nothing less than a very worthy successor. Actually I find this new one even better, because of the musical theme that runs through the whole album. However, it took me quite some spins to get into the music. That was mainly because the music is complex, with many different layers, a rich instrumentation with extensive use of flute (stunning recorder intro in Free), and sweeping orchestral keys (the end section of Anima). Then there are sometimes introvert (Slipping Away), than overly extrovert (Who Goes There?) guitars and deceptively appealing choruses (You Will Always Be My Girl and Slipping Away).
Meanwhile, Introitus is not afraid to take a longer semi-instrumental track, Free, and add some "la-la-la" vocals, and it succeeds.
The album starts and ends with two short instrumentals, where the central musical theme is played in cleverly arranged versions, using church bells and flutes, to name just a few instruments. That central musical theme also dominates the vocal lines of the epic title track in which, alas, also some grunt-like vocals can be heard - that's a real let-down! Fortunately, it doesn't last long, but it would have been better had they had skipped it altogether, as it really doesn't serve any purpose. The remainder of the track is haunting, sometimes with some jazzrock, sometimes with Tony Banks-like melodies, culminating in a highly varied mix of beautiful vocals, supporting and soloing keys, thumping bass by Dennis Lindqvist, great flutes by Henrik Björlind and melodic guitar by Pär Helje. The closing section in which a children's choir, sweeping keys and Anna Jobs' vocals are stunningly combined, is the highlight of the album.
At the end of the album, there is an untitled bonus track with some nice soundscapes that is totally superfluous but far from unpleasant!
All this beauty comes to you packed in an simple but highly-attractive gatefold sleeve with blue cloud patterns all around. The mystic photograph on the sleeve suggests some aggression in the music you'll be hearing. That promise is kept to a certain extent because the album is far from soft, but it is also far from heavy. The balance between the more rockier songs and the slower, ballad-like songs is very good.
Although it was quite a difficult album to get into, it was worth the effort. It is great music that takes Introitus to the forefront of the genre of new neo-prog bands. The excellent, emotional and soulful female vocals, the clever melodies and the ever-present, very attractive melodies are the main strengths of this band, and they come through clearly on this album.
Sweden has been a prolific source for great neo-prog over the last decades. Introitus proves that the well is far from dry. Anima will reward you with more than a hour of music that easily takes its position between Magenta's Twenty-seven Club and White Willow's Terminal Twilight.
Theo Verstrael: 8.5 out of 10
JPL - MMXIV
Je suis roi (9:33), Invisible Death (5:40), Le dernier souffle de vent (7:22), Mad Science (8:00), Lifelines (5:07), L'un contre l'autre (6:16), Superhero (6:16), MMXIV (11:42)
The album MMXIV, Roman numerals for 2014, has eight tracks, the closing title track being over 10 minutes in length. The musical style on this album is best outlined as Jean Pierre's style. So yes, you clearly recognize Nemo soundscapes and his side projects. That makes the style solid, surprising, evolving, progressive, eclectic, melodic, and mildly complex, with the use of different time signatures, medieval themes and quirks as well as really excellent (as on L'un contre l'autre) guitar play. Every song on this album is a musical adventure on its own. The album is a cohesive set of songs, with a theme that is a frightening storyline of mankind's madness, but in spite of the concept, the songs can be played alone on repeat until the message comes through.
The quite special artwork, by Stan W. Decker, depicts the four horsemen of the apocalypse, as well as, one one side, the 'man of power' who buys (or steals) from the poor man who is offered artificial 'havens' to escape his condition. Also, we have religion symbolized by a Christ bearing his cross, glorified in the form of a musician. Then there is a Moor, symbolizing the fear of the stranger, the unknown and conspiracy. A "policeman" in the scenic looks to be in the wrong place. In short, the image speaks as much as the album's lyrics.
This album is an adventure, not a roller-coaster ride but more like a thrilling travelling experience with all kinds of pleasant musical surprises and a high adrenaline but content feeling at the end. A very, very fine and ultimately enjoyable album that screams to be part of your collection. Recommended is the only conclusion.
André de Boer: 8 out of 10
Klone - Here Comes the Sun
Immersion (5:10), Fog (4:48), Gone up in Flames (3:59), The Drifter (6:12), Nebulous (5:53), Gleaming (2:53), Grim Dance (5:27), Come Undone (4:25), The Last Experience (7:18), Summertime (4:06)
Partially funded by an online campaign, this is the sixth release in 12 years. It's a little bit rock, a bit shoegaze, with some postrock and even, dare it be said, catchy albeit dark pop music thrown in. Klone's music certainly is not metal but, as many bands evolve, so have Klone. What we have here, is a beautiful combination, in spite of its melancholic outlook. This is certainly a departure, although to call it a complete mellowing would be a bit of an exaggeration. This album is filled with mood, tension, great playing, lots of layers and quality songwriting.
Yann Ligner's vocals are powerful when called upon, gentler when appropriate. The guitars can be heavy, in the postrock vein of perhaps Red Sparowes or Explosions in the Sky or more subdued. The bass playing is inventive, as is the tight drumming. However, at no point is this a vehicle for overplaying or individuality, this is a sound that combines to make a fulfilling whole with all kinds of things going on to maintain the attention. Comparisons with, at times, Katatonia or The Pineapple Thief also wouldn't be amiss. They are certainly in the same league as any of them. Even the album artwork suggests they're in that same arena as the current prog heavyweights.
Every band-written song on the album works and impresses. Come Undone glistens, Anathema-like, with guitars understated yet powerful and confident.
Ironically, if there were to be a Beatles comparison, it would be in the astonishing and eerie apocalyptic ending of The Last Experience, which grinds and repeats and churns along a la I Want You (She's so Heavy). While heavy, it's melodic, the playing is first rate, and it is hugely memorable. It would have been a fitting and explosive ending to the album, however, coming out of nowhere is a cover of the old standard Summertime that, while tasteful and competent, doesn't add a lot to the overall mix, especially when compared with the imperious quality of the previous track.
If this marks a change in direction for Klone, then surely bigger and better things - and hopefully more exposure - are on the way. Deep and dark supremely confident postrock with top-notch playing and vocals, and memorable hooks means Klone deserve to be known, heard and appreciated. Perhaps, after 20 years, Klone are destined to become overnight sensations.
Jim Cornall: 8 out of 10
Mandala - Midnight Twilight
There's A Wind That Blows (6:44), The Dark Waltz (4:59), Into The Night (3:01), Midnight Twilight (2:26), Sun (4:44), I Have Fallen (4:08), Dreaming (6:55), Ghizou (7:01), Within (4:41), Fire Is Mine (5:52)
Remaining friends, the three musicians involved, Rhys Marsh (voice, guitar, Mellotron, sitar, Fender Rhodes, rebab, pedal steel), Francis Booth (bass guitar) and Will Spurling (drums, percussion, tablas), reconvened in 2014 to record this full length CD with the crucial help of Anna Giddey (violin), Natalie Rozario (cello) and Peter Keserue (harmonium).
This release reflects their youthful enthusiasm for the analogue psychedelia, rock, prog and folk of the late 1960s up to the mid-1970s, whilst kicking against the mid-90s prevalence for Brit pop and the nub-end of grunge. That Mandala genuinely absorbed these influences is evident in the music here, as they evoke an era, rather than pastiche it.
The album opens with a slab of classic power-trio, psychedelic rock that reminds me of, a light on the blues, Cream. There's A Wind That Blows certainly removes any cobwebs. Then you get, variously, the melancholic, acoustic string driven The Dark Waltz with a touch of Van Morrison about it; there is 70s funk-rock and a jazzy guitar break on Into the Night; on to psychedelic sitars and strings on the title track that segues into the lovely Sun. There is also the Richard Thompson jingle-jangle electric-folk of I Have Fallen and the country style pedal steel on ballad Dreaming. The inventive and incisive use of strings throughout the album adds colourful tonalities and light and shade. The strings work especially well against the strident percussion and bass on the prog meets heavy rock of Ghizou. Holding together, what looks on paper a disparate set of influences and styles, is the strong, cohesive character of Rhys Marsh's voice. Easily capable of singing long phrases, tempered by judicious use of vibrato and with a wide baritone range, he reminds me of singers as various as Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel and Scott Walker.
As a whole, I found some of the parts worked better than others and the band they remind me of the most, in their experimentation and refusal to be easily pigeonholed, is Family. Mandala have, similarly, a distinctive vocalist and a band unafraid to use a barrage of styles, not all of them prog. I would like to hear an album by Mandala that has been written nowâ to see what mature ambitions would bring to the table.
Moving from the mellow to the bombastic and back again, this is an album that rewards persistence.
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10
Sylvium - Waiting for the Noise
Quietus (5:38), Signal to Noise (9:15), Fade In/Out (8:24), Altered State (5:47), Headlong (4:59), Fragile (6:16), Coda (For a Dream) (4:17)
The Netherlands have had a real outburst of great prog music the last two years by bands such as Silhouette, Knight Area, Minor Giant and "oldies" Kayak. The line-up on this new album is Ben van Gastel (guitars), Fred den Hartog (drums), Richard de Geest (lead vocals, guitar), Gijs Koopman (bass, bass pedals) and Antal Nusselder (keyboards). Just after the release the band announced the departure of bass player Gijs Koopman: due to changes in the musical direction of Sylvium, he decided to leave. His replacement will be Rich(ard) Huybens who will play bass on their gig on the 12th of September in Russelsheim, Germany at the Progressive Promotion Festival. The other changes are that vocalist Richard de Geest has a more important role on this album being more involved in the writing and recording of this album from the start.
On their previous album most tracks were instrumental with the exception of two. On the new album there are only two instrumentals. The other change worth mentioning is the joining of Antal Nusselder as a permanent band member on the keys. This gives Ben van Gestel the opportunity to give his full attention to playing the guitar. And I must say all those changes have paid off.
The album kicks off on a blistering start, the instrumental Quietus which grabs you by the throat immediately. The track has an oriental feel with the pumping bass pedals by Koopman, the ambient, spacy sound of the keyboards and some heavy riffs on guitar. Musically the band at times reminds me of The Gathering and Riverside. But in Altered State you might even recognise some Gabrielesque vocals by de Geest. It's a kind of resting point on the album with beautiful keyboard sounds and some sensitive guitar work.
This track is followed by the heavy track Headlong which, to my opinion, has the most similarities with the previously mentioned Polish friends. Fragile is also a more mellow track and the sax solo by guest musician Tadjiro Velzel fits in magnificently, giving the track a Floydian feel.
High praise for this album and I can't find any bad track. This might be the time and chance for all readers to discover the music of this brilliant Dutch band. Apart from the German gig in September, they will also be performing live on the Progfrog Festival 2015 on the 24th of October in the Netherlands with several other Dutch prog bands (among them Silhouette, Flamborough Head & Armed Cloud) and Mindgames from Belgium. What might be interesting to know, clearly not a bad thing at all, is that admission is free.
So if you have the chance to see them live at this festival, why not make use of this unique opportunity? Not only will you have the chance to see and hear Sylvium perform, you will get to see others as well. And mind, if you don't get to visit this festival, it may be worthwhile to check out their stake out on the web; in my opinion they deliver some very good and interesting prog.
Peter Swanson: 9 out of 10
Umphrey's McGee - The London Session
Bad Friday (3:45), Rocker Part 2 (6:32), No Diablo (4:22), Cut The Cable (3:33), Out of Order (7:14), Glory (3:59), Plunger (6:28), Comma Later (4:38), Eat (4:24), I Want You (She's So Heavy) (5:56)
The next question to be faced was how they were going to occupy the time? I mean, when all is said and done, 12 hours isn't that long considering that some bands take up residence inside a recording studio for what seems like years. For the McGees, recording a whole new album would not do the material justice given the meticulous care and attention lavished on each studio album the band produces. They come with multiple experimentations and arrangements played with before a final version is laid down. So what better than to take the opportunity to lay down versions of familiar songs in new arrangements and older songs that have featured in the live set but never yet committed to a studio album? To save time, and remain true to the spirit of the bands that first made the studios famous (no names, but I assume you can all name at least one of them) everything was played live with the best take used for the album. The results are, quite frankly, stunning.
Firstly, I have to say that I have never heard drummer Kris Myers playing, or sounding, better. He is all over the album, dropping in fills and rolls all over the place, none more so than on Out of Order no doubt included as a tribute to original drummer Mike Mirro, a co-composer of the tune who sadly died in 2014. Myers plays the shit out of the number and it is great to hear how this song has developed since it was first released some 14 years ago on One Fat Sucka.
Listening to the album you can fully appreciate how Abbey Road has developed such a reputation. Yes, the history is important, but it is the quality of the recording that can be achieved within the studios that astounds. Everything is crystal clear, possesses a natural warmth and ambience with great separation between the instruments, remarkable considering the totally live recording. This stands true irrespective of whether the band are cranking out heavier songs like Out of Order and Rocker Part 2 (which stems from the 2009 Mantis sessions) or the delightful acoustic renditions of Similar Skin's No Diablo and Cut the Cable.
Three numbers, the wonderful opener Bad Friday, the very soulful Comma Later and Eat which has been hanging around since 2006 or earlier, make their first appearances on a studio album. However, they have featured on various live albums and made regular appearances in concert. Two others, Glory and Plunger stem from the early days of the 21st century (2003's Local Band does Oklahoma and the following year's Anchor Drops, respectively) and effectively portray two opposing sides of the group. Glory is driven by Joel Cummins on the Steinway Grand Piano which along with several other of the studio keyboards have featured on many albums, not least some by The Beatles) and features a new bridge section while Plunger has the two guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger riffing away in harmony and percussionist Andy Farag adding in sharp timbale fills where he can find the space.
If Similar Skin saw the band paying more attention to the vocal arrangements then The London Session sees the group taking things to a whole new level. There are far more harmonies than ever before and all are a treat on the ears. Although I must add that the final vocal tracks were recorded at subsequent sessions back in the US, quite acceptable as the quality of the music deserves the best vocal performances, something that would not happen when fatigue is setting in.
I have yet to mention the final track, the cover of The Beatles' I Want You (She's So Heavy) that was never intended to be included on the album and was performed, as the linear notes informs the reader, because "we were in their house, why not pay homage with a tip of the cap?" As such it is a very true rendition to the original, with Ryan Stasik's melodic bass lines doing McCartney's original proud. I for one am glad the band didn't keep this to themselves as not only is it my favourite Beatles song but its inclusion is entirely appropriate given the name of the album that it originally appeared on.
One last remarkable fact, the last four tracks on the album, some twenty-one and a half minutes of music, were played as a continuous mini-set and laid down in just one take. Now that takes balls, even if you are one of the best improvisational bands in the world.
So on the whole this is a delightful CD containing 51 minutes of top class music that covers the gamut of the various McGee styles. The quality, musically and sonically is outstanding and you really need to have this CD in your collection. Fortunately, kind hearted folks that we are at DPRP we are giving you the opportunity of winning a copy so make sure you enter our competition.
Mark Hughes: 10 out of 10