Blind Ego - Liquid
A Place in the Sun (6:11), Blackened (5:44), What If (6:24), Not Going Away (7:32), Never Escape the Storm (8:20), Tears and Laughter (4:47), Hear My Voice Out There (5:56), Quiet Anger (6:31), Speak the Truth (6:54)
I also wouldn't call Liquid a retro album, but for some reason it reminded me of some of the great hard rock albums of the 70s. There is an unabashed and consistent kick-ass quality on display, that really works, and the opening track, A Place in the Sun, wastes no time in establishing this fact. It is a pounding song with effective, old-school vocals by Brooks and excellent guitar work by Wallner. Blackened is the closest thing to RPWL to be found here and also one of the best tracks on the album. Aside from this song though, it is tough not to notice how much the bulk of Liquid differs from RPWL.
What If is a great rocker, followed by another highlight track, Not Going Away. Epic, in how it builds to its memorable chorus, the song also features fantastic work by Arno Menses. There isn't much to criticise about any of the songs on Liquid. The flow of the album, in terms of quality and substance, is extremely consistent. There are great performances throughout, and Wallner provides ample proof that he is one of the truly underrated rock guitarists. There is no better example of this than the excellent instrumental, Quiet Anger. This complex song mixes several musical styles, and impresses, in the way that a great Joe Satriani or Steve Vai track does.
The album closer, Speak the Truth ends the proceedings in an appropriately anthem-like way. It also contains one of the best guitar solos that I have ever heard from Kalle. As stated earlier, Liquid isn't a prog album, but it is one of the very best rock albums that I have heard in a while. The time and care it took to produce is apparent and the results are well worth investing in.
Patrick McAfee: 9 out of 10
Circa - Valley of the Windmill
Silent Resolve (14:41), Empire Over (9:24), Valley of the Windmill (7:32). Our Place Under the Sun (18:43)
Valley of the Windmill follows that tradition. Though the overall sound doesn't deviate a whole lot from the standard Circa/Sherwood brand, there is an energy and adventurousness here that wasn't as apparent on the last few Circa albums. Billy's production mastery can create results that almost sound too perfect. That said, this album is again masterfully recorded, but the music sounds crisp, and breathes impressively.
Bookending the album with two epics, this feels like the most traditionally progressive of all of the Circa releases. Long-form prog tracks can be great when they work, but when they don't, it can be devastating to the overall success of a recording. That isn't the case with the album opener, the 15-minute Silent Resolve. One of the better Circa tracks, this plays like a true band effort, with some excellent work by each member. There has been talk of Yes recording a follow-up studio album to 2014's disappointing, Heaven & Earth. With Sherwood back as a permanent member of the band, it would be great if he could bring a quality similar to Silent Resolve into Yes's future work.
Though shorter, Empire Over also displays an ambitious feel, and is an effective rocker, with some great guitar and production work by Sherwood highlighting the track. It bears mentioning that new members, Scott Connor on drums and Rick Tierney on bass, both impress. Their work is in the foreground, and to my earlier comment, Valley of the Windmill sounds like a true band project. The more acoustically-driven title track maintains the quality level, and is also a high level mark in the band's discography.
This leads to the almost 19-minute closing track, Our Place in the Sun. Featuring excellent work by Tony Kaye, this is easily the most progressive that Circa has ever been. Shifting musical gears throughout, this song intrigues with some significant and entertaining instrumental moments. It more than maintains its length, and again is a highlight of the band's career.
In fact, the same can be said for all of Valley of the Windmill. There is nothing that will surprise you in terms of originality, but this is nonetheless a very good symphonic prog recording. It is easily the best album that Circa has ever released.
Patrick McAfee: 8.5 out of 10
Crystal Palace - Dawn of Eternity
Dawn (2:35), Confess Your Crime (8:26), Eternal Step (6:31), Any Colour You Need (8:19), Daylight After the Rain (3:32), Fields of Consciousness (6:35), Hearts on Sale (5:45), Eternity (2:00), All of This (5:43), Sky Without Stars (5:21), The Day that Doesn't End (4:15)
The album starts with an ambient intro, Dawn, and from the first real song, Confess Your Crime, there is a nice variety of well-built, progressive and powerful songs. The first part of the album has tracks that are about seven minutes long, and thankfully Crystal Palace have kept the lengthy, melodic guitar solos which I love. Eternal Step is very IQ-influenced and has some nice lyrics, whilst Any Colour You Need is a more dreamy song. Daylight After The Rain is not so convincing to me but that song is less than four minutes; in prog terms a short intermezzo.
Fortunately the good stuff returns on Fields Of Consciousness. Hearts On Sale and All Of This show more of the new heavier side of Crystal Palace. Sky Without Stars is mellower, and suddenly the last song, The Day That Doesn't End, sounds very neo prog; more of the old sound. The second part of the album has songs that are about five minutes in length, so there is a bit less room for very lengthy soloing, but still enough to keep it interesting for a proghead like me.
It took some time to get into this album. It is a real grower, but I liked Dawn Of Eternity. Crystal Palace changed their sound to become a bit heavier, but since they have made a lot of albums, I think a change of sound is not necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion the sound is a lot more contemporary and a good choice for the future of Crystal Palace. Dawn Of Eternity is a good album and the band will not loose old fans and hopefully gain a few new ones. I think next time I see them at a festival, they will not be the opening act.
Edwin Roosjen: 8.5 out of 10
Curved Air - Rarities Series Volume 1: Tapestry of Propositions
Propositions (1:13), Norway Improv (5:08), St Albans Improv (3:59), Hull Improv (3:19), Edinburgh Improv (3:54), Kinross Improv (3:05), Wimbourne Improv (3:56), Wolverhampton Improv (4:10), London Improv (3:57), Milton Keynes Improv (4:22), Eastney Improv (4:23), Ilminster Improv (4:36), St Ives Improv (3:51), Poole Improv (3:38), Shoreham Improv (4:17), Norway Improv (5:03), Propositions (reprise) (1:33)
Considering the recordings were from 14 different cities, the syncing together of the various elements is mostly very smooth. With a couple of exceptions, notably the transition from Wimbourne to Wolverhampton, the changes between improvisations are almost imperceptible. Of course, having a consistent sound quality helps create the illusion of a continuous performance, which is the case on this recording. Although it has to be said that the quality is not of the highest level one has come to expect from modern technology. The bass and drums are rather boomy, and the cymbals tend to dominate over the guitar and violin. (One does tend to appreciate Robert Fripp's dictate that Bill Bruford not play any cymbals in the eighties version of King Crimson.)
That gripe aside, the performances are pretty impressive, and considering that the improvisations are born from the same root song, the diversity is admirable. The ordering of the different sections imparts a nice flow to the piece, climaxing with the impressive Norway Improv, incidentally one of the few times you can actually hear the audience.
This is a bold endeavour that has created a unique piece of music, something that has never been heard in its entirety before, and undoubtedly will never be heard again! A very progressive idea from a stalwart of progressive bands. If the sound had been a bit better, then this would have been an essential album.
Mark Hughes: 6 out of 10
Greenslade - The Birthday Album - Live in Switzerland 1974
An English Western (5:05), Sunkissed You're Not (7:12), Bedside Manners Are Extra (5:38), Pilgrim's Progress (7:43), Drowning Man (6:09), Time to Dream (4:00), Sundance (17:20), Feathered Friends (5:21), Drum Folk (14:07)
However, the 21st century audience will, unfortunately, not have so great an experience due to the less than hi-fidelity nature of the recording. Taken from what is obviously an audience source, there is a slightly muffled sound which lacks crispness, particularly where the drums are concerned. Having said that, there is decent separation between the instruments, with some mighty bass work from Reeves underpinning the dual keyboards.
If you are a hardcore Greenslade fan then you may well consider it worth getting the album, to revel in the extended workouts of Sundance (twice the original length of the album version) and Drum Folk (extended by five minutes). To be fair, sonically Sundance does not suffer so much from the recording's source, as the additional music is largely keyboard-based and is not competing with the bass and drums. Drum Folk, as might be gathered from the title, is largely taken up by the admittedly impressive drumming of McCulloch, who (as heard on the youTube clip) has a six-and-a-half minute solo midway through the piece, and then ends the track with another 90-second flourish.
If this had been a soundboard recording, then I would be extolling its virtues to all and sundry. However, essentially as a bootleg recording, albeit one that has been quite well cleaned-up and free from hiss in all but the quietest sections, it is something that the casual buyer should be wary of. But if you are a collector and/or an uber fan, then you are not going to get anything better than this.
Mark Hughes: 4 out of 10
Karakorum - Karakorum
Phrygian Youth (7:28), Beteigeuze Pt. I (15:41), Beteigeuze Pt. II (9:05), Beteigeuze Pt. III (17:11), Fairytales (14:26)
Phrygian Youth starts-off with a heavy riff and voices that sing in perfect harmony. It turns groovy, with guitar and keyboard solos taking turns and remind one of bands like The Animals or Deep Purple. This is edgy 70s-rock, until the bass turns it into a real proggy track with a riff in an odd time signature.
The suite, Beteigeuze, begins with calm harpsichord sounds and reminds me of ELP's Take A Pebble. The keyboards create just the right atmosphere, and the double vocals remind me of Porcupine Tree, especially when the guitar is laid over the keys. It then turns jazzy, wild and hectic, all underlined by the percussions. This track will work great live, especially when it returns into its opening theme.
Hello Pink Floyd, we're in Part II, which goes directily into the beautiful, melancholic mood of Part III, carried in-particular by the vocals. The heavy parts are shaking, the keyboards could be played by the late Keith Emerson. Strange, crazy voices start to shout nonsense. It is a little avant-garde, a little out-of-space, then the whole band joins the odd time signature and rocks hard. This is prog-theatre at its best, right up until the final note.
Fairytale ends the record. It has a oriental touch, with distorted, prayer-like vocals. The instruments take us into a fairytale-world. It is the catchiest tune on the album and a great closer.
Although one can hear many references, Karakorum create a style of their own, and can be named alongside bands like Birth Control or Can. Since they have been signed by the label Tonzonen, it seems very likely that we'll hear from them in the future.
Philipp Röttgers: 7 out of 10
Lapis Lazuli - Wrong Meeting
School (21:34), Phighyphe (17:46), Reich (17:13)
If you like albums that are easily accessible and embed in your mind after a few listens, then the Wrong Meeting is probably not for you. This is an album that is durable and progressive in every sense of the word. It has countless levels to explore and numerous secrets to disclose. In Wrong Meeting, Lapis Lazuli has continued to develop their unique style, but have pushed the boundaries even further. The album is not easily categorised, and the combination of so many influences and genre's blurs any labels that might be given to the band.
The album was recorded at Wicker Studio's in southeast London and was produced by Syd Arthur's bassist Joel Magill. Thankfully, the recording is crisp, clear and lively and suffers from none of the frustrating compression that dogged the sound quality of Syd Arthur's Sound Mirror.
Wrong Meeting marks the first time that the band has recorded in a purpose-built studio. Their previous albums were recorded in the house that they used to rehearse and live in. The attention to detail that is on display throughout, reflects the time, expertise and energy that must have gone into the recording process. The results are sonically impressive and the album has a gratifying dynamic range that comes into its own when driven-hard through either headphones or speakers.
This album is never complex for the sake of it, but contains, in abundance, bouncing rhythms, odd time signatures and invigorating passages of measured cacophony. However, the sum of the band's music is much more than this, and its infectious effect on the listener is difficult to convey. Lapis Lazuli creates epic music that has the ability to influence the head, heart and hands.
Wrong Meeting, possesses the enviable ability to take the listener on a journey to extraordinary places. The whole album is imbued with a vigorous intensity and has an astonishingly spontaneous feel, where sparkling ensemble playing dominates, and the players' enthusiasm for their art shines through. There is much about the album that has a seductive and charming appeal.
In Wrong Meeting, Lapis Lazuli manages to weld a succession of seemingly disparate styles into each of the album's three pieces. The album wears a kaleidoscopic outer-garment that has the texture of jazz, the durability of rock, the warmth of psychedelia and the quirky eccentricity associated with Canterbury-based bands of the past. Underneath and strategically-placed hangs a pair of baggy trousers, to coyly and humorously expose the rhythmic influence of ska.
The three compositions all contain highly fulfilling components such as crunching guitar riffs, animated bass interludes and unforgettable melodies, usually provided by the sax. These parts coalesce expressively during each of the long running pieces to create something that is not always seamless, but is consistently enchanting.
In contrast, there are a few junctures, including the concluding minutes of School, where the band reveals a different identity, to create some ferociously ugly and unnerving sections. When these unexpected elements come to the fore, the listener is left with a disturbing, yet strangely satisfying after taste. To alleviate these, the band's arrangements frequently display a broad, moon-mouthed smile based upon the cheery influence of ska. This lightens the occasional darker parts and camouflages the inherently complex cerebral nature of the compositions.
School, is the opening track of the album and is also the longest. At its funkiest, it's a progressive disco piece for eight-limbed dancers. Rising above a plethora of swinging rhythms and knuckle knocking beats, the middle section of the piece features two memorable riffs. These burst into life to impose themselves, and during the 13 minutes that follow, these 'bad boys' recur, to weave some semblance of structure into the cleverly-crafted chaos.
My favourite part of the whole composition occurs after ten-and-a-half minutes when bass player Toby Allen gets a chance to impose his globular and elegant sound upon proceedings, with an exquisitely executed solo that propels the piece into the pungent and verdant area of psychedelia.
The final four minutes of the composition's 21-minute journey begins with a darkly droning guitar part, which links two disparate passages. It is another standout moment and is almost as evocative as the bass-led interlude which preceded it a few minutes earlier. School is brought to a conclusion via a piston-thumping ensemble section that reminded me of the way Seven Impale utilised a full-bodied, foreboding sound in the epic, concluding track of their City of the Sun release.
Phighyphe was originally based on a tune by sax player Phil Holmes and was initially called Phil's Five. It incorporates a range of world music and ethnic influences into its 17-plus minutes.
It begins with a haunting, Middle Eastern theme that quickly morphs into a playful rhythmic groove, which recurs throughout much of the piece. Neil Sullivan's contribution on midi guitar is executed with much feeling and gusto, to embellish proceedings when needed. His carefully selected tones establish many of the shifts of mood and emphasis that are such an important component in the tune. The guitar of Dan Lander also plays an important role in this tune and in the band's overall sound, adding some tasteful rhythm, and when necessary, offering just the right amount of dissonance and distortion to his parts.
A live version of Phighyphe recorded in 2015 can be viewed on the band's YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDguQvKs71s) and it is interesting to see how the piece has evolved and developed since then. The final recorded version loses none of the freshness and spontaneity that is in evidence in the band's live performance, but contains a level of sophistication that takes the piece to an even higher level.
There are many standout parts in Phighyphe. These include a dramatic change of pace and emphasis that occurs in the middle of the piece, to make way for another interlude of magnificent bass work. The slower section which follows, is then superbly developed thanks to some stunning sax work. Later, the piece is also decorated by some beautifully-chosen flamenco-styled guitar effects.
The whole piece undoubtedly tells a story through its luxurious tones. At the same time, Phighyphe is open-ended and varied enough for the listener to be able to effortlessly choose their own narrative, or landscape, to accompany its many sections and moods. The music throughout Phighyphe provides a landscape that enables listeners to appreciate the band's belief in the importance of creating psychedelic journeys through the medium of instrumental music.
The dance rhythms and happy ska influences that unexpectedly emerge in the last five minutes of the tune, offer a playful contrast to the series of mouth-watering guitar solos that precede it. This frivolous interlude helps to lighten the mood, and adds yet another rewarding dimension to this totally satisfying piece.
However, perhaps the most impressive piece on the album is the final composition Reich. The tune started life as a single riff and as a homage to composer Steve Reich. Reich encapsulates everything that is so endearing about the music of Lapis Lazuli, but it also has much more of raw rock energy than anything the band has previously recorded. It also contains some of the most satisfying examples of riff-based rock within its complex arrangement that I have heard in many years.
Reich also features some exceptional kit -ork by Adam Brodigan. The section that features a glockenspiel effect and other percussive device is magnificent, and its array of impossible dance rhythms brought to mind the work of Frank Zappa and his classic Be Bop Tango piece.
As an added bonus, Reich also includes the most evocative guitar parts that I have heard since Robert Fripp's contribution in Starless and Bible Black. The execution and tone of Sullivan's howling guitar work at the 7:56 mark is simply superb, and breaks free with a heady mixture of raw-power and measured finesse
Wrong Meeting is a remarkable and an impressive release in every respect. It contains many of the ingredients that I appreciate in progressive music and should satisfy anybody who enjoys music that sits firmly outside the box. Wrong Meeting is unpredictable, vibrant and fresh. It is superbly played and arranged throughout, and never fails to excite, puzzle or delight. Above all, it cannot be easily classified, or described. It just simply just needs to be heard!
The handwritten insert that was included with my copy of Lapis Lazuli's latest album says it all: 'We hope you enjoy your stay at the wrong meeting. Please call again'
I certainly will.
Owen Davies: 9.5 out of 10
Leptons - Between Myth and Absence
Back To Oblivion (3:20), Absence Pt.1 (0:58), Instrument Men (3:08), Absence Pt.2 (3:04), The King Inside Of Me (4:57), Absence Pt.3 (0:57), Beware (3:56), In My Hutch (8:04), Silent (3:15), Absence Pt.4 (1:14), Sharathon (3:16), Absence Pt.5 (1:02), Mr. Hurtsman (2:58), Absence Pt.6 (0:38), Leptons In Love (3:51)
Monni also plays most of the music and sings, and is assisted by Alessandro Grassi (bass) and Paolo Gravante (drums) in the studio. Their music is not characterised by virtuoso eruptions on guitar or keyboards as we often see in our prog scene. It's mostly quite mellow, with the occasional heavier guitar riff, but often we just hear acoustic guitar sounds. It makes their music a bit dreamy and predictable for me, lacking the variety I look for in prog music.
Monni doesn't have a bad voice but it's often sung in one tone. At the times when the drums play a more uptempo beat, the tracks come alive a bit, as in The King Inside Of Me, which also has some distinctive bass sounds. On the track Beware the bass player also plays a big role throughout the entire song, which also offers one of the slightly heavier guitar parts. The track has a space rock ending and in general the music can also be described as psychedelic rock. The longest track, In My Hutch even shows slight similarities with The Velvet Underground and Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan. All tracks are combined by short interludes entitled Absence, numbered from I to VI.
For someone like me who really is into Neo Prog this is really not my kind of music. The prog scene has a diversity of styles, so there is something for everyone, and I had some short moments of excitement listening to the tracks on their website, when there was an occasional heavier guitar riff, but not enough for me to truly embrace this album.
Check them out yourselves and hopefully lots of proggers will disagree with me and discover some great new prog music from Italy.
Peter Swanson: 5 out of 10
Riverside - Eye of the Soundscape
CD 1: Where the River Flows (10:53), Shine (4:09), Rapid Eye Movement (2016 mix) 12:40), Night Session - Part One (10:40), Night Session - Part Two (11:35),
CD 2: Sleepwalkers (7:19), Rainbow Trip (2016 mix) (6:19), Heavenland (4:59), Return (6:50), Aether (8:43), Machines (3:53), Promise (2:44), Eye of the Soundscape (11:30)
CD 2: Sleepwalkers (7:19), Rainbow Trip (2016 mix) (6:19), Heavenland (4:59), Return (6:50), Aether (8:43), Machines (3:53), Promise (2:44), Eye of the Soundscape (11:30)
The album is a compilation of sorts, featuring older experimental pieces from their third, fifth and sixth albums as well as four new tracks (Where The River Flows, Shine, Sleepwalkers and Eye Of The Soundscape). The album is in two CDs, so I approached this the same way.
CD 1 has a general Pink Floyd-meets-Porcupine Tree's Voyage 34 feel to it, with some electronic-sounding drums and a mix of twangy, semi-clean guitars, all mixed in with some synth leads. The opening track, Where The River Flows sounds almost like a chill-out 80s prog rock dance track, with its rhythmic beat and electronic textures. The rest of the CD does not deviate much from this, keeping the same vibe throughout, with some inclusions of Riverside's trademarked slides, on the guitar leads. The bass lines are a bit groovy, the leads are proggy and it gives the feel of a 70s/80s acid trip, much in the same way as Voyage 34 does. The final track on the CD, Night Session – Part Two offers some saxophone to mix it up. However, this track could have been much better if roughly two-thirds of it was removed, as it gets quite long and quite boring after the four minute mark
CD2 unfortunately follows the same pattern of the "less is more, but even less is less" approach, with minimalistic drums, few stand-out guitar parts, and generally very basic electronic patterns and licks. Again it keeps the acid trip feel, but with none of the excitement that contemporary pieces bring. With no solos, uninteresting drums, typical, unimaginative synth leads and rather lacklustre bass lines.
Overall, I'm sad to say I am thoroughly disappointed with this album, considering their previous releases. I wouldn't even say the album is good for decent background music. The prog rock/metal element is gone from this album. While Voyage 34 by Porcupine Tree is in four parts, all of which are interesting with exciting solos and bass lines, this album is in 13 tracks, 11 of which are filler, and the other 2 (Promise and Where The River Flows) are just interesting enough to listen to more than once.
Calum Gibson: 4 out of 10
Wet Rabbit - Of Clocks and Clouds
Easy If You Try (4:56), No More Time (6:39), Through the Storm (5:27), Of Clocks and Clouds (6:13), Dark Rain (5:02), Feedback (3:13), The Last Whale (9:12), As Here as Ever (5:13), Kill the Robots, Pt. 1-6 (29:16), Red Rain (5:34)
A fairly ambitious effort, the CD, lasting well over an hour, is full of synthesised, ambient sounds. It's neither dark nor light, and most tunes consistently propel forward, courtesy of actual drums. The occasional rock solo maintains the tie to rock. The singing is serviceable but not stellar.
A few tunes, such as No More Time and title track Of Clocks and Clouds, stand out for their fine guitar solos. Throughout the CD, Sostai shows excellent guitar chops. He solos well, but, as on Dark Rain, he also has a knack for weaving guitar lines in and out of the electronic foundation. Another winner is the ballad As Here as Ever, where the mellow singing and mellifluous guitar playing mesh perfectly.
The mostly slow-paced "epic", Kill the Robots, is overly sparse and subdued in spots but is saved by savvy guitar licks. On the weaker side, the instrumental Through the Storm seems to lack an end goal (and evokes memories of The Eurythmics), and the re-make of Peter Gabriel's Red Rain adds no creative boost to the original.
Although on this CD elements of each of Sostai's stated influences are on offer, clear copying of another artist is not to be found. Indeed, Sostai deserves credit for making music that retains some measure of familiarity, yet still falls outside of traditional moulds. He's a particularly good guitarist, moreover, and a future focus that favors that instrument may lead to even greater success.
Joel Atlas: 7 out of 10