Anima Mundi - Insomnia
A favourite album of mine from 2010 was The Way by Cuban proggers Anima Mundi. It was rich in European-prog influences and musical textures, even though the band hail from the other side of the globe. This latest album however forgoes the melodic styling of the band’s earlier recordings, for a far darker sonic palette.
Formed in 1996, Insomnia is the band’s sixth studio album, and although several personnel have come and gone, key members Roberto Díaz and Virginia Peraza remain. In addition to writing the songs, Roberto plays various instruments including electric and acoustic guitars, whilst Virginia handles (mostly analogue) keyboards. They are joined by Yaroski Corredera (bass guitar, synth bass), Marco Alonso (drums, percussion, saxophone) and Aivis Prieto (lead and backing vocals).
Set in a fictional dystopian city, this is the second part of a trilogy that began with the 2016 album I Me Myself. It had similar artwork, but musically Insomnia delves into much darker corners of the mind. In fact, Nightmares would have been an equally apt title. Although there is an air of dark foreboding which pervades the album, there are also moments of pure grandeur thanks to Virginia’s cinematic keyboard orchestrations.
The three-part opening track, Citadel, sets the tone of the album where Act I - Confidential foregrounds a prominent bass line, edgy dissonant guitar, processed vocals and shrill synths to create an air of menace and unease. Similarly, Act II - Scenery with its pulsating bass synth, monotone vocal and spacey synths is a direct descendant of Pink Floyd’s Welcome To The Machine.
Both Nine Swans and the instrumental Electric Dreams take their cue from Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack. The former, constructs a dark but majestic wall of ambient synths behind the stark vocal and electronic effects, whilst the latter incorporates smoky saxophone and a variety of sampled sound effects. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but the title Nine Swans brings to mind the line “Are nine-and-fifty swans” from W.B. Yeats’ poem The Wild Swans At Coole.
To continue the cinematic references, the title song Insomnia could almost be the title song from the next James Bond movie with its eerie symphonic keys and sensuous vocal. Likewise, The Wheel of Days has a late night, cocktail bar vibe, with its slow jazzy rhythm, sultry trumpet (from guest Julio Padrón) and crooning lead vocal.
The penultimate, near 11-minute New Tribes Totem is very much in the jagged-edge prog territory of bands like Van Der Graaf Generator. Alonso lays down a busy drum groove, underpinning fuzzed guitar reverb, piercing electronics and compressed vocals. Dark and ominous, it builds an almost unbearable intensity with Díaz’s heavy guitar workout and an improvised sax solo (again courtesy of Alonso).
In contrast, the lyrical Her Song is easily the album’s most approachable. It’s dedicated to Heidi Burgs, a friend of the band who passed away in December 2017. Lyrical, with an evocative chorus, it features a light, airy drum pattern (evoking Floyd’s Us And Them), surging Mellotron strings, atmospheric Floyd-ian guitar and an emotive vocal with delightful, wordless harmonies. A fine way to close the album.
There are two things that surprised me about this album. Firstly, given Anima Mundi’s previous albums, the dark melancholic atmosphere. As I look out the window at the time of writing (the 1st December to be precise) onto a grey sky and unforgiving rain, it's an almost perfect soundtrack. Secondly, the songs themselves are far more varied than the downbeat tone would suggest. To be fully appreciated however, you do have to be in the right frame of mind, and despite several plays, it's an album I’m still coming to terms with. Listen to the songs on Bandcamp or Progstreaming and judge for yourself.
Gorod - Æthra
While not generally being known for its output of prog rock bands, France does have a share of some of the most talented in the world: Gojira to Alcest and (on the less metal and more prog side) Lazuli and Magma to name but a few. However one band who have flown under the radar with a rather large underground following would be the masters of technical death metal, Gorod.
Gorod are one of the pioneers (along with Necrophagist) of tech-death, or technical death metal. This often features intricate time signatures, very precise riffs and licks and is often heavily influenced by jazz and blues.
My initial thoughts with this album were that it doesn’t feel quite as ‘beefy’ as their previous albums. It is heavy, the precision lead riffs are there, and the insane drumming is present. But something is missing, compared to Process Of A New Decline for example.
However, if you ignore that fact, all the ingredients you could expect are still present and are still very much alive and kicking. Title track Aethra for example features a superb blues intro to build up, before the stop-start riffing insanity kicks in.
Despite the sheer number of riffs that are coming out of this, the album is surprisingly catchy (in a way that only death metal can be). However there does still sometimes feel like there is too much noise being created. It is still precise and is still superbly performed, but something doesn’t feel right. There is potentially more lead riffs being mixed in, and (again coming back to Process Of A New Decline) it sounds like the levels for all the instruments have been levelled out, which sadly masks some of the more intricate guitar work.
One other downside is that, there could have been more variation. The album is supremely technical, but the pace doesn’t really change at all. This means, that with the intricate riffs and machine gun drumming, it begins to feel like a long album despite lasting only 44 minutes.
On the whole, a good and solid album, but unfortunately this falls a bit short of their previous works. While I feel it doesn’t top their first three albums, this is still a solid offering. I’d highly recommend if you are fans of Necrophagist, Persefone, Obscura or Death, or if you like tight, intricate prog and fancy something on the heavy side.
London Underground - Four
If you enjoy music that wears the influence of 70s prog, psychedelic rock, and jazz on its sleeve, then London Underground’s fourth album is bound to appeal.
London Underground is an Italian trio. The album is an entirely instrumental affair and features ten compositions. Band leader and keyboard player Gian Luca Gerlini makes an impressive contribution. His principal instrument is the Hammond organ. The release is a magnificent showpiece for the Hammond’s memory lane, bubbling and lush engaging tones.
The music has a real retro feel and its rhythmic appeal and timeless organ interjections, at times, invokes the spirit and strident sound of bands such as Argent and Atomic Rooster. During some of the more delicate symphonic passages, there are sporadic, hazy tints, which vaguely reminded me of the enthusiastic expressionism of Focus. On the rare occasions, when the music swings in hip-swaying fashion, Santana even came to mind.
The production of the album is superb and the buoyant rhythm section of Alessandro Gimignani and Stefano Gabbani on Rickenbacker and Fender Precision basses aided by guest Fabio Baini, credited with all bass parts, provides a bustling foundation on which Gerlini’s finely executed, energetic solos and embellishments can flourish
The band's previous album, Honey Drops released in 2010, offered two original compositions and a range of covers. It included a rousing and interesting version of Jethro Tull’s Dharma for One, that refreshingly featured neither a flute nor a drum solo. Nevertheless, as you might have guessed, it is drenched in an abundance of powerful cascading organ parts that have a capacity to captivate and thrill. It is without a doubt one of my favourite renditions of this early Tull classic.
Overall, Four is a much more consistent and enjoyable release than Honey Drops. It offers six original band compositions, and four enjoyable interpretations.
The band's version of Brian Auger's Tropic Of Capricorn is particularly impressive, the rendition of Joe Zawinul’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy , originally written in 1966 when Zawinul was a member of the Cannonball Adderley quintet and which subsequently became a hit for The Buckingham’s, is also crisply refreshing, without losing the original's soulful, hand-in-the-air, gospel-like ambience.
Riccardo Cavalieri enriches the band’s sound on a number of tracks. His acoustic and electric guitar flurries and viola flourishes, offer a range of different aural colours. These contrast favourably with the dominant keyboard instrumentation that drives the music. There are some fine guitar passages in What I Say and during the expressively titled _ Jam_. The honking, squawking sax of Stefano Negri offers another dimension to the band's palette of sounds in tunes such as What I Say and Tree Man Job.
The album begins in an enticing fashion with the beautifully crafted Billy Silver. The track is driven by colourful organ parts, which propel it along in a beautiful, yet powerfully melodic manner. The Hammond organ is set against a tenacious rhythm that swishes and flows in a full-bodied manner. The exquisite tones of Billy Silver provide an almost perfect opener, which sets the bar satisfyingly high.
The rest of the album has many standout moments but arguably does not consistently achieve the impressive range of qualities displayed throughout the opening piece.
The Comete is also an enjoyable piece and ticks many of my prog preferences. It has a great groove and features some wonderful distorted organ tones, similar in style and sound to those that are often associated with bands such as Caravan and Hatfield And The North. To cap it all, it has a flowing piano interlude and is enriched as it pedals towards its conclusion by some fantastic, spiralling synth sounds.
There is much to admire and enjoy throughout this excellent album. If I had one minor criticism, it might be that that once a groove or musical pattern is established, the band tends not offer many unpredictable diversions. The band's straight-ahead, groove-ridden approach, that extracts every anticipated nuance from a predetermined path, may not satisfy listeners who might enjoy the surprise and thrill of listening to music generously laced with unforeseen musical twists and turns.
Usually, I might find this stylistic tendency somewhat off-putting, but such is the quality, power and strength of the majority of the compositions, that I found myself swiftly enveloped by its relentless foot-tapping rhythms. The album's delicious array of keyboard sounds is enchanting, and consequently it was nigh on impossible to resist the memorably warm retro embrace of the band's prominent use of a Hammond’s full range of tones, which boldly decorates and brightly illuminates much of this delightful album.
My encounter with the music of London Underground has been a thoroughly gratifying experience. I hope that you find it equally satisfying.
Yesterdays - Senki Madara
Eight years since Colours Caffè, Hungary's Yesterdays return with their third album, an intriguing blending of Hungarian folk songs dating from several hundred years ago, with modern progressive rock.
The lyrics and melodies from the traditional tunes have been maintained with new music and arrangements provided by the band's main composer, Bogáti-Bokor Ákos. Although some folk purists, of whatever their nationality, may be horrified at the mere thought of such an amalgamation, it is only what has happened to the songs throughout the centuries. The fact is that no one knows what the original (if such a term can be applied to folk music) songs sounded like. One only has to take the English folk song John Barleycorn as an example, with it's form, structure and lyrics varying across different parts of England. Of course, centuries ago the songs were undoubtedly sung unaccompanied, so there exists plenty of scope for embellishment of the central melody. Fairport Convention have had a fifty-year career based on their re-interpretation of traditional songs.
The important thing is the actual song, or rather melody. The traditional songs that have survived to the present day have done so because they are memorable and have great depth. It is thought that most traditional songs are based on true stories or ancient myths that have grown with the telling and handing down throughout the generations, although that is not something I can comment on in the case of Senki Madara because, naturally, all the lyrics are in Hungarian! But listening to these foreign tales, one can absorb the ancient history contained behind and within the notes.
As such, the album is totally unlike any other modern prog album, for progressive is definitely what it is, although leaning towards the more gentler and melodic end of the spectrum. No extended solos here. I suppose some parallels can be drawn with the UK's Solstice. But really comparisons are moot. What is displayed is a general deftness of touch enjoyed by the female vocals, overlaid with melodic guitar passages, lashings of harmony and great use of fretless bass. There is plenty of depth to these songs and arrangements, making the album a joy to listen to; relaxing yet expansive.
Yesterdays have done their traditional folk heritage proud with these renditions, even more so for the fact that the music stands up well in a contemporary progressive setting. Ákos (acoustic and electric guitars, bass, mellotron, Hammond organ, piano, Moog, synthesisers, percussion, backing vocals) has to be complimented on his arrangements, with plaudits for the contributions and musicianship of the rest of the group: Stephanie Semeniuc (lead and backing vocals), Enyedi Zsolt (piano, Hammond organ, Moog, synthesisers), Fehér Róbert Benjamin (acoustic and electric guitars, backing vocals), Kecskeméti Gábor (flute), Kósa Dávid (percussion and vocals) and Szűcs József (drums) and their special guests: Szirtes Edina Mókus (lead vocals on Ne Mondd El and Ugy Bocsáss El), Tarsoly Csenge (lead vocals on Hajnalcsillag, backing vocals), Bogáti-Bokor Orsolya (violin and viola) and Márton-Sípos Dóra (cello).
One of the most unique albums of the year.
Yurt - IV - The Obstacle Is Everything
Yurt present themselves on their website as "The sonic elders of YURT" who have conducted experiments in a broader field of progressive noise since 2009. Since this induction, three noisy albums have been brought to the light of day, of which just one made it to get a review on DPRP, barely I should add. _The Obstacle Is Everything _, their fourth attempt, has recently gathered momentum to erupt, and being intrigued by the progressive noise description, I decided to give it a go.
The band still consist of Andrew Bush on percussion, Steven Anderson on guitar and vocals and Boz Mugabe on bass, vocals, electronics and artwork. And it has to be said the artwork is administered beautifully. Weird psychedelic drawings giving a sense of alienation and mystique, which is even further enhanced by drawings of their previous releases on the inlay. Lyrics are included as well, but seeing the length of the tracks, one can immediately draw the conclusion they mainly focus on the instrumental spectrum of their fussy existence.
Ready for lift-off, and Icon Rubble starts, and at once I’m back some 40 years, to a time when I “apparently” encountered proto-progressive noise. The resemblance is strikingly uncanny and it feels like actual déjà vu. It took me a while back then (I was 12 at the time I discovered this), but Orgone Accumulator and Brainstorm from Hawkwind’s iconic A Space Ritual have since become some of my favorites from that era. But unlike Hawkwind, who evolved into much more than just ordinary rubble, Yurt have become fixated by that point in time.
The production by Tommy O’Sullivan is full on, aggressive, bombastic, heavy and dark. Possibly a direct influence from the stoner rock associations I pick up. The other part I pick up is krautrock, fueled by incredibly heavy guitars and throbbing bass. Imagine Nektar on Sounds Like This, with the volume turned up to max and unlimited improvisational skill on display. Spacey keys accentuate, and synths give a space-rock feel to some of the tracks, but there is no letting go; it is heavy, psychedelic and subtlety is nowhere to be found. It’s almost like an anger management class; you’ve got 45 minutes in which you can scream, destroy and hit at anything you like, even become manic and crazy if needed. Angel Happatuth Meets Devil Dikkei fits this description like a glove.
After a few minutes in, Faith Utensil at long last gives some tiny room to breath with improvised guitar-based space-rock and spacy synths. It’s one of the quieter parts of the album, where it’s becalming, for the way you get there is paved with clutter and trash. Vocals, not their strong point, are an ordeal as well, being intoned and aggressive, reminiscing a tripped-out Dave Brock.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel though. For after the humongous The Curious Observation Of The Peas-haver, filled to the brim with much the same and more odd freaky free jazz, we are out of the caves of darkness. We’re finally welcomed by an oasis of quiet and peacefulness for it’s the end of the CD and there are no more songs to digest.
I’d like to give some recommendations as to whom might be interested purely based on what I’ve heard. Groups that would fit into the more full-on aggressive doom-filled psychedelic stoner-/krautrock-type band category. I’m afraid I only heard of one: Yurt. If you do give them a try then please tread with care.