AltaVia - Kreosote
About To Fade (12:27), So Far So Good (6:50), Road To Nowhere (6:03), Paradox (9:46), Love Is Worth A Try (4:25), The Storm (5:42), You Are The Sailor (7:38), Velathri (5:53)
Half a decade is quite a while for a new band to be out of the public eye, particularly these days when people seem to have shortened attention spans. However, prog fans are a hardy bunch and can be forgiving of such delays. It is not as if nothing has been heard from the band in that time, in 2012 Stagni and Copeta released an album under the name Materya, a continuation of a project that had originally started under the auspices of Francis Dunnery before AltaVia came together, and 2013 saw the band self-releasing a live album, available for free download from their website.
Although Italian, AltaVia don't sound like any of the more famous Italian prog bands from the 70s, having a more modern sound that bears resemblance to some of the more mainstream releases by Marillion and their ilk. Unusually Kreosote starts off with the album's epic number About To Fade. It is as if the band wanted to present their prog credentials from the off. However, the choice is a good one as the slow and gentle building of the number draws the listener in. A variety of different moods and tempos, although generally on the slower end of the scale, holds the interest during the first, mainly vocal, half of the song. This is followed by some nice instrumental passages, which reveal more layers as one becomes more familiar with the music. An excellent start!
The quality is maintained through So Far So Good and Road To Nowhere (not a cover of the Talking Heads song!) which both display a fine command of melody, and allow contributions from all the band members. If there is one criticism, it is that structurally the songs are very similar, which is not to state that they sound the same, just that there are no real surprises. However such an approach does, I suppose, make the album an easier listen.
Paradox has a rather haunting melody in the initial section, one that blossoms into a fuller prog direction in a manner reminiscent of IQ. The prog instrumental section is somewhat short-lived before the vocals are reintroduced. The track does tend to drag a bit and runs the risk of being too repetitive, although the closing instrumental section is rather good, allowing Stagni to let loose on the synths. Again, I think that structurally things tend to get a bit lost. It is almost as if the band is trying too hard, rather than letting things develop more naturally.
They do get things more cohesive on Love Is Worth A Try, a fairly decent 'ballad with benefits' that showcases the fine vocal blend of Stagni and Copeta, as well as sticking in a couple of solos out of the blue. Overall the vocals are excellent, with completely unaccented diction and good use of harmonies, particularly on The Storm, a standout track which has a rather Magenta feel to it.
You Are The Sailor has a few more IQisms in the music and a vocal arrangement that has a touch of the It Bites. Despite this, the song refrains from being derivative. The album is rounded off with the excellent Velathri sung in Etruscan, the language of an Italian civilisation which survived for 600 years before being assimilated into the Roman Empire in about 100 BC.
There is a lot of quality on Kreosote, which is a strong follow-up and sits nicely alongside the début album. I don't think that it has quite enough of an impact to make it into a future classic album but there are enough signs to conclude that creating a major work is not beyond the abilities of AltaVia.
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10
Full Nothing - Full Nothing
The Claim Forgotten (5:08), Midnight Warning (3:58), Forbidden (4:44), Sunlight (4:46), Moonlight (4:08), The Book of Fears (5:47), Where The River Flows To Die (5:01), Return (5:59), The Call Of Nothing (0:56), The Endless Time (6:19), Titan's Tale - Part I (2:30), Titan's Tale Part II (2:45), Epitaph (6:20), In Notingness We Trust (4:07)
As for a standout element on this, Full Nothing's debut, the vocal work jumps out and is outstanding. According to their Facebook page, they mention that: "World class vocalists joined in and helped build a wide range of refined options that gave shape to the Full Nothing universe". That fact is very clear in the finished product, and to be honest, this album contains some of the best vocals that I have heard on any prog metal album. There are many vocalists credited and it's not as much the lead vocals (all of which are impressive), but the layers of backing vocals that give this album its unique identity.
This vocal virtue seems to increase on the back-half of the album, as does the overall diversity of the music. Whereas the first few tracks tend to lean towards more straightforward metal, that changes at the mid-point. Tracks like Endless Time, Titan Tale's 1&2 as well as the excellent Epitaph and In Nothingness We Trust, were much more diverse and interesting to me. The band mentions Pink Floyd as an influence and this can definitely be heard in their work.
Although I have paid much attention to the vocals in this review, I don't want to slight the musical performances. This is a very well rounded album and the work of each member is really quite impressive. As with the best prog metal bands though, their focus always seems to be on the song, and not with showcasing the musical muscle of any given member.
Full Nothing's début is one of the best prog metal recordings that I have heard in the past year. Suffice to say that this band deserves attention. This album is made with obvious care and enthusiasm and I can easily recommend it.
Patrick McAfee: 8 out of 10
How We Live - Dry Land
Working Girl (4:01), All the Time in the World (4:50), Dry Land (4:39), Games in Germany (4:34), India (5:07), The Rainbow Room (5:15), Lost at Sea (4:26), In the City (5:36), Working Town (3:48), A Beat in the Heart (4:30), English Summer (3:30), All the Time in the World (12" single mix) (6:31)
How We Live made music in a quite a different musical universum than Marillion did and does. In the nice foreword to this album, Hogarth mentions bands like Talk Talk, The Blue Nile and Talking Heads as their main inspiration. That is obvious from the 12 songs on offer on this album that has a very strong 80s feel all over.
There is hardly any prog to be found on a first listen, but the album is certainly worth giving some more spins as it grows on you. Then you start to hear very listenable and melodious, somewhat poppy songs that have clever instrumentation and a good, very clear production. Apart from Hogarth, who of course sings and plays keyboards, and Woore on guitar and additional vocals, How We Live consisted of Andrew Milnes on saxophone, Taif on bass and George Jackson on drums (on two tracks Manny Elias plays the drums).
Songs like the opening Working Girl, Games in Germany, India and Lost at Sea all have that 80s synth feeling, with obvious musical references to the first two Talk Talk albums and also to A Flock of Seagulls or Tears for Fears. A track like All the Time in the World has a great, funky bass melody (Level42 eat their heart out) and a catchy chorus. Add a soulful saxophone and a short guitar solo, and this is an easy to digest but quite attractive song.
On the other hand there is In the City that reminds me primarily of Glenn Frey's You Belong to the City, although there are also some Sade-like saxophones and keys to be heard. A certain Peter Gabriel can be heard doing some backing vocals on The Rainbow Room, a nice up-tempo song with some heavy guitar and saxophone over the addictive vocal lines, that refer strongly to bands like Spandau Ballet or even Duran Duran.
And if Marillion ever falls short of inspiration, which fortunately seems quite unlikely, they may think of reworking Lost at Sea, a slow ballad with a very nice vocal line, jazzy guitar and saxophone melodies and great keyboard chords. There's more potential in the music than Hogarth and Woore succeed in realising here, albeit this song is nice to listen to.
Of course the most familiar track on this album to most of us is the title song, as it was included in Marillion's Holidays in Eden album, the second studio album with Hogarth as lead vocalist. Dry Land ranks among my favourite Marillion songs because of the flowing and very catchy chorus. Their version has to be considered a cover version though, as the original appears on this album. It is a bit difficult to review it without hearing the Marillion version, but as a good melody is hard to spoil, this song is also hard to waste. The overall feeling of this original, is that it is a bit 'thinner' in sound, with a lighter intro and a lighter, picked guitar solo. The arrangement is more focused on the keys than guitar, the vocals are as impeccable as expected and the song as a whole holds its ground easily.
Choosing this as the title track illustrates that Hogarth already had a fine nose for good music. Another example of that is the bridge between the verse and chorus in Working Town. It settled in my mind and I didn't succeed in removing it for many days. It is a very nice, fluid song with still-relevant lyrics dealing with the demise of Doncaster, an industrial town in the UK that went down because of stupid economic policies.
The album closer, A Beat in the Heart is again very reminiscent of Spandau Ballet and a bit of a filler.
This re-release comes with two bonus tracks. English Summer was the b-side of a 12" single, and is a rather non-descript song (a real b-side) that is nice to have for completists but easy to forget. The 12" version of All the Time of the World is a very funky version, with a great bass loop, some soaring guitar playing and typical 80s driving drums. Some extensions with guitar, saxophone and vocals have been added that may not be really necessary but don't spoil the song either. It is a real pity (actually a big shame) that two other tracks, Simon's Car and You Don't Need Anyone, are not included here; only published on a Racket records special release many years ago, these will remain hidden in the vaults for many years to come.
The booklet is nicely produced, with all the lyrics of the original album songs, as well as very fine liner notes by Malcolm Dome who worked closely with Woore and Hogarth in their Europeans time. Both Hogarth and Woore, as well as others, tell their views on the creation of the album. It's a good and informative read, that does full justice to this fine record.
For those Marillion-aficionados that have never come to peace with Steve Hogarth as lead singer, this album has obviously nothing to offer. For those that have placed him in their heart, this is a very nice addition to a music collection because it offers Steve Hogarth in his pre-Marillion era. The feeling of the later Holidays in Eden album can be heard everywhere, but How We Live also offers its own quality and talents that makes this album more than worthwhile.
Esoteric records adds another little gem to their impressive catalogue, although the omission of the above mentioned extra tracks is unfortunate. I found it a very nice and at times quite addictive album, that will return to the CD-player regularly.
Theo Verstrael: 7.5 out of 10
Lost Kite - Remains
Rise (7:26), Where Swallows Fly (10:09), Up and Down The Gravelpit (4:02), Selma by the Window (2:46), Old Limp Duck (1:59), Goat Island (3:52), Ma Fourmi Noire (3:41), Off-Seasons Shores (1:25), Prayer (2:04), Remains (8:15), Winter's Presage (3:05), Dark Woods/Dawn Meadows (11:50), Seven Waves Apart (3:09)
Stefan Carlsson, a member of Swedish prog band Kultivator, and his son, David, are very talented multi-instrumentalists. It would be all too easy for a two-person band such as Lost Kite to sink into mere musical minimalism, with only a few instruments used sparingly. Thankfully, the Carlsson men avoid that trap. Guitars, piano, bass, keyboards, flute, drums, saxophones and a variety of other woodwind instruments abound, to keep Remains sounding fresh throughout. Both David and Stefan sing, with David generally having stronger vocals, likely due to his youth. The layering of their voices creates a larger sound than one would think possible from a two-person band.
While much of the album is more atmospheric, although Up and Down the Gravelpit does feature some heavier moments, both on electric guitar and bass. The electronic drums also sound remarkably natural. When Stefan joins in with the flute, I am instantly reminded of some of Jethro Tull's heavier output from the 1970s. The saxophone towards the end, adds another nuanced layer to the piece. This instrumental song is a definite highlight from the album.
In general, Remains suffers from being a bit too long. At just over an hour, much of that time is filled by shorter songs that, at times, sound too much alike. The album booklet refers to the tracks Selma by the Window through to Prayer as a sketchbook, so these quiet pieces are basically one long song. Since these six songs sound so similar, I think a few of them could have been jettisoned in order to improve the flow of the album. Additionally, they could have included more flute or saxophone in these songs, since those instruments are used sparsely overall. Lost Kite are at their best when including those instruments in their music, and thus using them in Sketchbook would have made the songs much more interesting. Regardless, the album picks up in tempo and flow, with the song Remains, which includes singing.
Once the music picks up in tempo again, it becomes much more manageable for the standard prog fan. After 15 or so minutes of overly quiet music, the extended electric guitar solo in Remains is certainly welcome. Winter's Presage is another contemplative piece, but when measured against the previous heavier song, it fits. Plus, the song features some pleasant interplay between electric and acoustic guitar.
The Tull influence featured earlier, pops up again in Dark Woods/Dawn Meadows. Some of the best parts of the album are when Stefan's flute balances out David's guitars. Indeed, the build-up of this particular song features that very balance, until it breaks into some heavier guitar work. While the heavier guitar work in this song could have benefited from a clearer tone, it adds a much needed crunch to the album.
Overall, Lost Kite's Remains is a good album with interesting moments. While I think an inclusion of flute, saxophone and other woodwind instruments into the Sketchbook section of songs would have greatly improved the quality and flow of the album, the Carlsson men are certainly talented, and they create a remarkably full sound for only two people. If they play to their full strengths on their next album, I think Lost Kite will appeal to a broader prog market.
Interestingly, I found this album most appealing earlier this week as I listened to it while taking a walk on a cold winter's day. Besides the music playing in my headphones, all I could hear was the sound of the wind blowing across flat Illinois farmland. Somehow, Lost Kite's music seemed to fit that backdrop very well. And I mean that in a good way. The calming and atmospheric music was the perfect compliment to a brisk winter stroll.
Bryan Morey: 6.5 out of 10
Salva - Sigh Of Boreas
Sigh of Boreas (15:24), Elite (7:58), Gone II (7:12), Wings (6:38), Queuetopia (7:12), Closed Casket (11:08)
Sigh of Boreas is released on Rob Reed's White Knight label, which is apt given that the multi-talented Malmberg's role within Salva is similar to Reed's involvement with Magenta. In addition to his varied instrumental input, Malmberg is responsible for all compositions (with assistance from Gavik on one song), the arrangements and production. He even designed the cover!
The title track opens with a lovely piano theme and lush keyboard orchestrations, before hitting its dramatic stride and never looking back. Heavy riffs, synths and pipe organ create a sense of power and majesty, with shades of Kansas, although for me Malmberg's processed, angst-ridden vocals distract from, rather than add to the music.
The relentless Elite and the catchy Gone II err towards metal territory, with folky embellishments courtesy of mandolin, accordion and (sampled) flute, although again for me the lead vocals are too upfront in the mix. Gone II is so called, as the edgy riff is based on the song Gone from their first album, A Handful Of Earth (2004).
The ballad-like Wings brings a welcome change of pace and an anthemic guitar coda reminds me of Saga, whilst Queuetopia thunders along in true Dream Theater style with strident guitar and synths competing for attention.
In contrast, the concluding Closed Casket has a retro feel (to begin with at least) thanks to the prominent organ, acoustic guitar, Mellotron-like strings and an engaging chorus. At the midway point, a tranquil Genesis-like interlude morphs into a heavy rock section with the obligatory shredding guitar solo, before easing back for the chorale finale.
Salva is an extremely accomplished unit that combines old school prog with a harder, more contemporary sound, but whilst Malmberg's production is otherwise faultless, his vocal treatment is an acquired taste.
Geoff Feakes: 7 out of 10
Vespero - Lique Mekwas
The Course Of Abagaz (16:19), Ras Dashen (9:32), Oromoo's Flashing Eyes (10:01), Abyssinian Ground (8:20), Isidore's Prophet (10:24), Follow The Fitawrari (8:50), The Emperor's Second Self (11:39)
Lique Mekwas however sees the band excel in a range of structured compositions which show the band's veracity in pursuit of its art. It also marks a versatile and sophisticated development of their style. Lique Mekwas cheerfully displays a range of influences including prog, jazz, psych and even a hint of folk. These are skilfully entwined, to create the band's emerging signature sound.
The contribution of guest Pavel Alekseev on tenor saxophone gives the opening piece, The Course of Abagaz and the majority of the other tunes an extra sonic and stylistic dimension that boldly states that this is just not another space rock album. His forceful blowing gives the album a range of colours and textures that are utilised to great effect. The closing section of The Course of Abagaz is particularly impressive and the interplay between the sax, piano and organ had me dangerously and buoyantly bouncing in my seat.
As one might expect, for a band that has been an exponent of psychedelic space rock for so many years, there are numerous times when the album displays the usual hallmarks of that style. Many of the tracks are underpinned by a hypnotic groove that is overlaid, as might be expected, by spacey synthesiser runs and a raft of finely crafted guitar effects.
Nevertheless, Lique Mekwas is also an album that has many contrasting facets. These include compositions that sprint and dawdle, such as The Course of Abagaz, which incidentally also displays great percussive energy in its opening minutes. It also later possesses an impressive dynamic range, which skilfully enables emotive passages of both light and shade to be explored. These attributes are cleverly demonstrated on several occasions throughout the album and provide a platform for the band to skilfully use subtlety or bombast as persuasive tools when the need arises.
It is just as well that this album includes a number of contrasting elements, for it has long running time of over 75 minutes. I must admit that time spent listening to this album passes quickly and it is easy to be enveloped by its spacious melodies and trance-like embrace. This is one of those albums that it is easy to enjoy and appreciate either as a full-on listening experience, or as background music.
There were many occasions during the disc when I was reminded of the overall sound of Ozric Tentacles, and if you like the Ozrics then you are sure to enjoy much that is on offer. In the end, what shines through in this impressive album is the quality of the musicianship and the excellence of the compositions. The use of the violin and saxophone as a part of the band's palette, ensures that the music has an earthy, emotive feel that contrasts perfectly with the electronic wizardry of the various guitar and keyboard effects, to offer an altogether different, unworldly galactic sound.
Towards the end of Ras Dashen, the listener is treated to a succession of magnificent solos that highlight how talented and accomplished the players are. The spotlight solos by violinist Vitaly Borodin and saxophonist Alekseev superbly complement each other. However, it is the solo featuring the glistening, finely-polished shards of guitarist Kuzaovlev that is the concluding highlight. The combined effect of using this trio of solos to end proceedings, helps to transform Ras Dashen from being merely good, to a piece that is simply exceptional.
One of the most engaging aspects of the album also sets it out from the norms usually associated with space rock. Although many of the tracks establish a whirling, swirling groove, they also possess exciting changes of rhythm and frequent changes of tempo to keep things fresh and stimulating.
Both Oromoo's Flashing Eyes and Abysynnian Ground have much to offer in their quest to fascinate and excite. These creative and delightful pieces are crammed with funky rhythms, and fleetingly offer fresh territories to feast your eyes upon. They present an enjoyable contrast to the hypnotic patterns that are prevalent in the tracks designed to mesmerise.
Isadore's Prophet is an example of the band's ambition to create a piece that is planned to enchant, mesmerise and captivate. It is carefully woven to include spellbinding repetition, and wears its designer space rock label proudly and prominently on its sleeve.
Abysynnian Ground is one of the standout tracks. In styling it owes more to fusion than to any other genre. The guitar, keyboard and saxophone parts meld seamlessly, to create an impression that this could be a jazz rock band from the late 70s. It incorporates some tints that were reminiscent of Carlos Santana's guitar tone in its opening moments. The deliciously nimble organ parts that come to the fore later on, even have a welcome and glorious Canterbury vibe.
Within the enjoyable arrangements that the band have formed, the violin is on occasions the perfect instrument to add a dash of ethnic and world music into the mix. Follow the Fitawrari does just that. The whole piece has a Middle Eastern vibe, in which the violinist and all of the performers play their part. It has a freshness of approach and a similar mix of styles that Consider the Source achieved so successfully in their World War Trio parts 2&3 release. Follow the Fitawrari has an engaging and appealing recipe, and its potential is fully realised by the players' ability to bring the completed piece to fruition.
Lique Mekwas has many distinct and appealing features, and in the end I was totally won over by its charms. I think that I will play it often. It is an impressive album and should appeal not only to those who enjoy Vespero's own brand of space rock, but to a variety of listeners who appreciate compelling and varied instrumental compositions, played with style and panache.
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10