Floating Worlds - Battleship Oceania
Although prog-rock has no international boundaries, the DPRP haven’t reviewed that many Greek bands of late. Based in Athens, Floating Worlds have been around since 1998 and Battleship Oceania is their third album. In case you were wondering, the band are not named after the 1974 album by Jade Warrior, but a song by American 1980s heavy metallers Cacophony. They had a profound influence on guitarist Andreas V. who co-founded Floating Worlds with bassist Vagelis Lekos. Following numerous line-up changes, Andreas recorded this album with Jon Soti (vocals), Sophia Assarioti (keyboards, piano), Mike Papadopoulos (bass) and Nikitas Mandolas (drums).
Battleship Oceania is another addition to the long list of prog-metal concept albums with an ambitious story in the grand tradition of Greek mythology, given a contemporary twist. I won’t go into detail, but needless to say it encompasses political intrigue, media manipulation and mythical gods. The full story can be downloaded in PDF format on the band's website. The track Game Of Thrones by the way has nothing to do with the overhyped TV series of the same name.
Andreas V. wrote all the lyrics and the majority of the music, with assistance from Soti on a couple of compositions. The pair are also responsible for the production, assisted by Dion Christodoulatos who also plays acoustic guitars.
The opening instrumental Oceania sets the tone with incessant staccato riffs, orchestral keys, thundering bass and prominent kick drum. Yes, we’re in symphonic power metal territory for the most part, and as opening statements go, it's pretty strong.
Sailing In History builds from mellow beginnings (and the sound of seagulls) with Soti’s engaging vocals leading the song (and the ship of the title) into dark waters. The operatic male choir (provided by the deep baritone of Michalis Giohalas) is a tad overdone and distracts from, rather than enhances, the song. Thankfully, the ‘choir’ makes only fleeting appearances during the rest of the album. It’s Soti’s singing however that commands the attention. He has a superb vocal range, unfolding the story with power and grace. Only occasionally, as on Retribution, does the histrionic vocal clichés get the better of him.
Although the power chords, symphonic keys and relentless rhythms are a staple of much of the album, especially during The Curse, Retribution and Captain Evil, there is sufficient variety in style and tempo to maintain the interest of non-metal aficionados like myself. With its galloping riff, New Mission is closer to classic heavy rock. The Empire Of The Media is driven by an infectious keys and choral hook that's more mainstream pop-rock than metal, but there’s no denying that it's catchy and would be an obvious single.
Several songs feature spoken word sections and sound effects which to be honest I’m not a fan of; as far as I'm concerned, the songs should be sufficient to tell the story. These elements are most obvious during The Last Goodbye, the one track on the album that sounds like it belongs in a stage musical. The operatic singing and chanted voices are too heavy-handed but I rather like the atmospheric keys and militaristic drum pattern that underscore the song.
The standout tracks however are the trio that close the album. Divine Love is a work of art, with a haunting theme and beautiful counterpoint female vocals by Zinovia Deligianni and soprano Athina Kamariti. The atmosphere is broken only by a strident ‘brass’ section, and overall it would make a fitting addition to a film soundtrack.
Despite its title, the 11-minute Eternal Sleep has plenty of life and vigour. It’s more prog than metal with piano, guitar harmonies, climatic peaks, a surging keys and vocal hook, even a blistering bass solo. The orchestral keys section, with chanted male choir, adds a touch of Ennio Morricone. The instrumental Island Of Dreams is another track that sounds a little out of place given the somber narrative, but it’s an uplifting closer nonetheless. A rippling electric and acoustic guitar rhythm segues into a majestic section that recalls Queen circa Queen II, followed by a surprisingly sunny guitar theme.
The arrangements and individual performances throughout Battleship Oceania are top notch. Whilst keyboards are not as convincingly orchestral as some of their contemporaries, Assarioti creates some suitably expansive soundscapes that strike just the right balance with the strident guitars. In addition to the solid riffs and fills, Andreas V. lays down some classy but never indulgent solos, most notably during The Curse, Game Of Thrones and Divine Love.
As you would expect, music of this nature requires plenty of rhythmic muscle and Mandolas and Papadopoulos certainly deliver on that score. As I said earlier, Soti is a commanding frontman, although at times, to my ears his vocals are not as clear as they could be, which is surprising given that he had a hand in the production. The same could be said for some of the instrumentation, such as the piano during Game Of Thrones.
Given the damning nature of the story, the lyrics wisely avoid naming a specific setting or country, although the spoken words are delivered with precise English accents, so you can read into that what you will. Musically however, Battleship Oceania straddles borders and styles, from the prog metal of Queensryche and Dream Theater, to the symphonic metal of Rhapsody of Fire and Kamelot, and onto to the classic metal of Iron Maiden and Rainbow. Hopefully, it will not sink without trace (pun intended) but will gain a much-deserved audience amongst metalheads everywhere.
Glass Frames - Madrugada
Glass Frames are a (perhaps be-spectacled) alt-rock band hailing from the home of grunge and post-punk, Seattle. They clearly have a lofty self-imposed remit, as one glance at their bio reveals with the statement: "Music that guides you to peer through the glass and see a new perspective. A safe, sacred place for all to contemplate the deeper questions of life. A window to view the world and connect with its inhabitants. A structure where expectations are subverted; anger becomes positivity, sadness transforms to freedom, darkness turns to hope." Another quote mentions that the frontman is "a Thom Yorke in the making." Serious claims indeed.
Having been pumped with positive expectations, sadly, Madrugada disappoints on most levels.
Heavy, moody sounds (like any other) should first be listened to in the right context. So it was only fitting to first spin these tracks at 5am, the early morning period of the day to which "madrugada" refers. Lizard Teeth kicks off too easily, too early and seems lazy; not given any development time for a band which also calls itself "modern progressive rock".
Paradox and Stucco and Silver continue in much the same vein, which makes me feel that I'm in a basement frat-party at a US high-school (not the fun kind with beer barrels and swimming pools, more the glass half-empty type with sallow kids, writing miserable poetry). There is tinny, distant guitar and over-use of an effects processor that cannot mask the playing deficiencies.
The vocals strain in a Thom Yorke direction but fall far short; lacking any punch. Most of the running list has similar time signatures and structure. Nothing deviates enough to catch the attention. At least Stucco and Silver presents us with a fluent, rolling bassline and a jangly guitar, sounding a little (refreshingly) Brit new-wave.
Another Series of Questions stops abruptly, without answering any of them. The title track is middling stuff without a hook, and After All has one of the worst lines of the year with: "It’s not enough to be beautiful, beautiful alone is pitiful”. Yawn. There seem to be some attempts to draw on Mercury Tree-style discordance, but it just seems like poor tuning instead. The final minute starts to get interesting, with some unison grungy fretboard-thumping, fading-out to a blessed relief that it is all over.
I've given Madrugada about 10 spins in different contexts, but the musical spaghetti thrown at the ceiling always fails to stick. Maybe with some maturity and better production they can improve on this but for now it's far from the wonderment of the genre to be found in bands such as Our Oceans, The Gathering, or Radiohead.
Kenner - 8Ball City
I've reached a certain point in life where the physical body can suffer from a lack of vitamins, more specifically the D variation. After the age of 50 one can get supplements for that situation, readily available and prescribed by the doctor; non-refundable naturally. Thanks to Kenner we can now proverbially downsize the dosage and use a far superior form of K-vitamin (K for Kenner), for 8Ball City proves to be a high-energy power-booster and a cheerful vibrant, refreshing, adventurous and downright joyous album.
Originating from Israël, having finished the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, Eitan Kenner moved to the United States to pursue a degree in jazz at Berkeley College. Whether he has yet succeeded at this is unclear, but judging from 8Ball City this shouldn't take long. With this versatile display of some delightful free jazz and sublime jazz/rock fusion, his doctorate should be around the corner. And although the music feels infinitely happy, giving Pharrell William's "Happy" a run for its money, the circumstances in which these tracks were written weren't the happiest of moments.
The loss of a relationship, the death of his much beloved grandfather and mental illness are not one's easiest situations or cherished emotions. But as often is the case, these turbulent events have brought out the best possible cure in the form of musical purity. It is quirky, with a lot of melodic twists, goofy passages, interludes and some outrageously hilarious nostalgia. Brilliantly-performed the music is fluent, bouncy, passionate and, most importantly, enjoyable.
This collection of instrumentals feature an array of skilled musicians, mostly belonging to the jazz scene, with Kenner capturing every essence of jazz meticulously, and injecting it with a healthy dose of prog. To name but a few of his influences (mentioned in the inlay of the artful digipack) are Herbie Hancock, Steps Ahead, Bach, Paul Simon, E.L.P., Gentle Giant and Dream Theater. Therefore expect vigorous complexities, deliciously alternating mood-swings, and some ingenious, excellent musicianship.
Now imagine as a starting point for this adventurous journey a melting pot containing a mixture of these artists and we're spinning our way to fantastical 8Ball City; a place born out of misery, having changed overnight to Happy-ville, where everyday is sunny and bright. A world where anything goes and is bound to happen, topped with the cream of joy and happiness. On the way, the coolest of drawings flash by, rich colourisations bedazzle and candified, imaginary liquorice crushes down softly on mankind. This is a "Wreck It Ralph" environment infected with an infinite melodic virus.
The modern nostalgia bit is best tasted in the sometimes weird, but all together sweet, interludes such as Play/Sad Mario and Press Play To Start. Titles with a direct spoiler alert, providing just the right amount of melancholic feelings from the game-changing eighties. Short tracks like Life (small), Behind The Trees and Weasel Pond are delicately sequenced to supply ideal resting points within this constantly morphing music.
We journey on a pathway paved with spectacular keyboard wizardry, climbing up and down endless ladders, whilst bass, drum and guitar gently clatter an unparalleled world of liquid fusion, emitting a comfortable seventies feel.
Gracefully it is not just keyboards. The beautiful blend featuring exemplary bass, virtuous guitar, intricate drums and swinging trumpets ignite visions of Flight (8Ball City and Skrunk), Ambrosia and some Yes as well. The well-crafted progressive world of Toy Soldiers, reminiscent of Corciolli and Jerry Goodman, blows fresh breezes of ambient, playful, symphonic landscapes; all-encompassed within a well constructed melody.
The refined, frisky Janelle shows some of the finest laid-back jazz, in which the beautiful Starbuck piano movements and unctuous solos portray a gorgeous, intertwining friendship. We seductively float on exotic streams, ever wondering how the writer's beautiful, loving friendship ever crashed course.
That's life I suppose, in which we go through many different stages, frights, excitements and complex emotions, graciously depicted in Life (Big). While melancholic Al Di Meola guitars gently weep, classical jazz smoothly caresses it, to gradually transform towards superb Pat Metheny structures.
The big symphonic finale, reflecting day to day highlights, gives some extra grandeur to this magnificent track. So, by the time the improvisational Done is done, you just want to reset the clock and start a new voyage.
A voyage I have been doing these past few weeks on a daily basis, whilst going to work each day, which takes me roundabout 30 minutes. Normally to the sounds of "Arbeidsvitaminen", but now these addictive shots of "work vitamins" are supplied by Kenner, with each dose giving more and more results. For with each turn, you discover something new, be it energising, befriending or heart-warming.
The only downside is the short length of the album, being just above the 33 minute mark, forcing me to be creatively inventive at driving to work, to make each journey last those extra minutes. To capture the album in one go, I'll gladly invest the extra time, even if this means taking additional detours or to casually socialise into traffic jams along the way. Sadly though, these extra miles aren't part of my expense reports. Such is life.
Panzerpappa - Summarisk Suite
Recollections of candyfloss lips, stained crystal pink, stitched temporarily shut by a cloying taste and glued by a sugar melt, rushed through the unlocked door of my memory.
The man running the coconut shy, his trousers uncomfortably lifted to his chest by a taut pair of weathered leather braces, squealed: "Roll Up roll up. Every lob will be a success, every throw is a winner, everybody will get a prize."
I threw. I missed, but it really did not matter anyway, because the rough-cut finger of the squealing man, indicated that Gerald, the gasping gold fish, was mine.
Some 57 years later, Panzerpappa’s Summerisk Suite provides an unexpected key to unlock the door to that memory. The album is a winner, in every respect. Every track contains a prize that is sure to offer a sonic treat and an interesting range of unusual delights. Many people who hear this excellent album, are sure to gain something positive. Every track is a winner!
Panzerpappa are from Norway and Summerisk Suite is the band's seventh studio album. Their last album, Pestrottedans, appeared in 2016. During the last few years, a number of live albums have also been released on the band's Bandcamp page, including 2018's A Trip to France and 2016's Pappa Xmas' Box of Avant Delight.
Panzerpappa create an inventive and flavoursome type of instrumental music that crosses genres and dips a toe (and sometimes a foot and even a leg) into te waters of both jazz and rock.
The band are not afraid to be raucous when required and are equally at home using twisted folk idioms when the need arises. The compositions can be melancholy, poignant and incredibly playful. In this respect, some of Frank Zappa’s anarchic and tongue-in-cheek use of song titles, odd metres and a plethora of smile-faced tunes is present in their discography.
This is self-evident in the happy, marching tones, the play-pen melodies and the challenging, leg-shaking motifs of the opener Algerisk Symfo. This piece is crammed with atmospheric synth and keyboard gurgles and guitar embellishments and wears an air of bouncy frivolity and skill sometimes associated with Egg and a number of other Canterbury-styled bands.
In many ways, Summarisk Suite is much more accessible than Pestrottedans whose sunny melodies, squally instrumental diversions, and thunder-clapped interludes made that release so memorable and satisfying.
Whilst Pestrottedans includes tracks such as its title track, which exhibits a unique rhythmic air and possesses the ‘avant chaos of a late night progressive dance club’, there is nothing in Summarisk Suite that pushes and stretches the boundaries, or scratches the senses quite as much.
This makes Summarisk Suite overall, a much more wholesome, nourishing and arguably conventional experience. In comparison to Pestrottedans and tracks such as Landsbysladder 3, Summarisk Suite might suffer from a deficit of avant diversions and unexpected variations. However, for the most part this characteristic is nullified by the gratifying quality of the compositions on offer.
The band consists of Steinar Børve (saxophone and keyboards), Trond Gjellum (drums and percussion), Anders Krabberød on bass and Chapman stick, Jarle G. Storløkken on guitars and accordion, and finally Torgeir Wergeland Sørbye on keyboards and trumpet.
All members of the band share responsibility for the arrangements and the compositions. This unity and togetherness shows in the way ithat the music is performed and presented.
One moment, Summarisk Suite is full of fresh exuberance and thigh-slapping motifs, the next, it is imaginatively misted by a number of plaintive melodies. These could have come straight from Jan Garbarek’s imaginary guidebook on how best to create atmospheric Nordic Jazz.
Summarisk Suite contains two particularly haunting tunes. The first three minutes of Belgerisk Impro is a masterclass in how to create an atmospheric piece. It is shrouded in postcard imagery of snow-patched mountain tops and sentinel pine trees, which form an honour-guard for a fish-laden fjord. Later the guitar explodes upon this tranquil scene in a manner redolent of Robert Fripp to create whipped-wind patterns that whisk and stir the now boiling waters, so that they splash and cover the trees with droplets of translucent joy.
The second, Sereill Ballade, is even more evocative during its earliest stages; although after about three minutes it changes course and develops in a much more upbeat manner. Once again, the tones chosen by guitarist Storløkken carry that same richness of tone, and operate in some of the similar higher frequency ranges often associated with Robert Fripp.
The playing of Storløkken is one of the album's many highlights. His fiery, rock-ready solo and embellishments in the final parts of Belgerisk Impro send jagged shards spinning in all directions to connect with all the right areas. His melodic solo and overall interaction in the strident and conventional jazz rocker Permutert Panzerrock is almost as impressive as the synthesiser flurries that prominently rise and fall during this classic fusion tune.
Spartansk Mambo No. 5 is generally an upbeat party-hat type of tune. It wears its melody with the confidence, and humour of someone sporting a multi-coloured ‘Papier-Mache’ cap at a black tie event.
The most satisfying tune on offer is probably Revidert Malist. It explores a variety of moods and emotions over the course of its nine-minute duration. It is both minimalist in its structure, and expansive in its execution. It is beautiful in its elegance during the swirling, heartfelt melody that is dominant, but is also impressively flamboyant, when the mood changes and the pace quickens around the seven-minute mark.
One of the most endearing characteristics about Panzerpappa’s art is that melody and memorable song structures are rarely discarded, or sacrificed and replaced, by dissonance and distortion. Nevertheless, the strength of the compositions and the proficiency of the musicians, gives Summarisk Suite all of the edge it needs. When dissonance or distortion does occur, it does so as a natural part of the tune, and therefore helps to reinforce and emphasise the melodic nature of the album as a whole.
In this respect, every track has a tuneful core and really is a winner.
Oh, by the way, in case you are wondering what happened to Gerald, it is quite tragic really; on the way home, the cheap fairground bag burst.
The rest as they say is history!
In contrast, the sonic prizes offered by Summerisk Suite really are a success, with no apparent or hidden weaknesses. In this respect, I am confident that my enjoyment of Summerisk Suite will last much longer than that brief encounter with poor old Gerald all those years ago.
Andrew Roussak - Storm Warning
There is much to inspire, and to be inspired by, on German keyboardist Andrew Roussak's fourth solo album Storm Warning. His impressive keyboard and Hammond organ skills are evident throughout the album and the varied styles of the compositions provide an interesting listen.
There are also some elements that grate. Some of the synth sounds are rather thin and whiny and Max Kottler's vocals miss the mark on some points in Left Alone Outside, and on at least one point are frankfully quiet dreadful. That is a shame as the acoustic guitar, the choir section and final guitar solo, by Oli Weislogel, are very nice.
The bulk of the album is instrumental, with only three pieces having vocals. Nadia Ayche completely steals the show in the rather lovely piano ballad Chasing Shadows, while Selina Wiadmann performs the vocalisations (no lyrics) in the Sunset in Valetta finale of Malta Sketches. Both of these pieces also contain guitar solos from Weislogel, the only other musician to appear on the album.
The album kicks off with the completely bizarre (in a good way) intro to Enter Code. Lots of weird synth sounds give the impression of someone trying desperately to start up a recalcitrant machine. Once up and running, a great piano figure is performed and then repeated on the Hammond, before breaking out into a full piece of dramatic music with wonderful organ and synth solos. Bringing Peace and Progress continues along a heavy path, with the well-programmed drums providing an energetic and forceful backdrop to the various synth solos. With plenty of twists and turns, this piece is modern prog at its best.
Regata Storica features a superb solo piano introduction, before other instruments are introduced. There is a bit of an ELP feel to the piece, although it actually doesn't sound like ELP; if that makes sense. Storm Warning manages to completely capture the feeling of an impending storm. The transitions between fierce and gentle sections keeps the listener on their toes. As per usual, a cover of a classical music composition is included, this time round it is a piece by 16th/17th century composer John Dowland, Can She Excuse My Wrongs?. The synthesised harpsichord sound is great, giving the piece a baroque feel. There is a hint of Gentle Giant about the vocal arrangement, but again it is just an impression of that famous band without lapsing into pastiche. Presumably the vocals are by Roussak himself, he is only credited with backing vocals on the album and no attribution for the lead is made. If it is Roussak, then he has a fine voice himself which makes one wonder why he didn't sing on Left Alone Outside?
The final suite, Malta Sketches, completes the album in fine style. Hola Beach Boogie sets things off at a frantic and heavy pace, with excellently programmed drums and multiple keyboard lines. 1565 starts on piano but is soon eclipsed by the synths and an excellent keyboard-generated guitar line, before seguing in to the grande finale of Sunset In Valetta. The transitions between the sections are perhaps a bit clunky but overall the piece is a triumph.
I have to admit, when I first played this album I really didn't get it and the thought of having to review it gave me some concerns. However, I now have no idea what my reservations were about. It is a completely enjoyable album that takes albums recorded (mostly) on keyboards alone, to another level. Nice work, Mr Roussak.
Spatialize - Beyond the Radar
Spatialize is a one-man project of Brit Neil Butler, who has sporadically produced albums over the past one and a half decades. Beyond The Radar is album number five.
Butler follows the big footsteps of the Ozric Tentacles by producing man-made electronica in the style of the trip sound of the early eighties. Unlike the Ozrics, he focuses on the endless possibilities of synth sounds and electronic patterns, neglecting the other influences from that era, such as world music and exotic scales.
The result is still very listenable, and the old trippy atmospheres kick in throughout the album. There is plenty of variety on the album and even though each track is unique and stands on its own, the album has a good, interesting arc which never ceases to entertain.
It is nothing new, mind you, but with a great backing band, which is himself on guitar and bass and "Buck Fearsome" on drums and a couple of guests, it is joy to listen to this kind of music.
Since the world has spun on, and the leaque of trip-users has moved on to other sonic dimensions, it is still great to have some people around who manage to re-invent this cool style.
Beyond The Radar has gotten a good space in my playlist of background music that has just enough power to distract from current workloads for just that one moment the brain needs for a healthy flow of concentration.