Catchlight — Helios - Part One
Catchlight is a trio from the Lyon/Grenoble area in eastern France. They began around 2016 with a debut concept album called Amaryllis that was reissued two years later in a remastered digital deluxe edition.
I enjoyed Amaryllis, but on their sophomore effort, the band have taken several steps forward, in all aspects. Helios - Part One is another story-line-based sci-fi concept album; this time following the survivors of an AI-induced apocalypse, under the darkness of a thousand-year night.
After the opening scene-setter, Extinction juxtaposes its parts based around a slow, waltz beat with those that utilise a more Sabbath-esque riffage. A plaintive, chanted "Nothing Will Survive" is overlaid, to add further contrast.
Silent Ghosts similarly drifts back and forth between a heavy post-rock groove and more electronic atmospheres. Catchlight's mix of melancholy and poignancy coupled with the rich, dark riffage offers far more subtlety than the normal post-rock build-up/draw-down method of composition. Often the two elements run contigously here. A much more clever way to bring contrast to your music.
Insurrection was the first single and is a really good song. Closer in intensity to bands in the heavy prog genre; I love its stuttering riff mixed with calm vocals. Singer Sébastien Arnaud has improved greatly in-between albums. There is a subtle emotion to his voice, but he is also able to belt out more of a screamo-style when the music requires it. All of his lines have a memorable melodic sensibility.
This new release also brings a wonderful, and unusual use of electronics to the band's sound. Something that should set them apart in a crowded scene. Cyclops is my other favourite track, for its trance-like beat and samples that would not be out of place on a David Sylvan or latter-day Talk Talk album. The Talk Talk influence, especially on some of the bass runs, continues on Resurrection, which brings the album to a fine close.
It's not easy to offer obvious comparisons to the sound that Catchlight have developed on this album. The more melancholic elements will appeal to fans of Katatonia and Riverside; the heavier sections will attract those who enjoy bands similar to A Perfect Circle, Long Distance Calling and Phi. At times I am reminded of the sadly-departed American band In The Silence.
Helios - Part One is available on CD and digital on Bandcamp and other main digital sites. Build on some clever contrasts and memorable hooks, it is an album that has great crossover potential. Lovers of prog-metal, post-rock and heavy prog should all find something to enjoy here. I most certainly have. I look forward to Part Two.
Chronicles — The Forest
Chronicles is the brainchild of David Lyon (guitar, writer and programmer) who several years ago had an idea for a concept album. Over the years this slowly came to fruition, and with the addition of Wesley Berger (vocals), drummer Travis Orbin (ex-Periphery, The Darkest Hour) and Cameron McLellan (bass player, Protest The Hero), this idea has now fully blossomed.
Before mixing and mastering the final stages of the album, two stand-alone singles were released (Stakes and Uphold) alongside a cover of Journey's Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) (see a video here). This daring cover, one of Journey's iconic anthems, immediately sparked an interest, and with good reason, for with high-soaring pitch-perfect vocals they successfully recreated the melodic beauty and powerful musical display of the original version, whilst adding a personal prog-metal twist.
As such these were a good dress rehearsal to the conceptual The Forest, that turns out to be of a similar impressive quality, showing multiple progressive (speed) metal delicacies. The heavenly orchestral symphonic Synopsis starts the concept off peacefully, with pure, clear vocals by Berger, building slowly in tension, slightly reminiscent to the opening of Symphony X's The Odyssey. Then, while caressed gently by breezes of the early seventies Rush by the intro of Vanished, all of a sudden a tidal wave of dazzling progressive metal crashes upon its listener.
The talented Lyon is on top form, with a groundbreaking control that reduces Van Halen's Eruption to a fire cracker, diminishes Steve Morse's Tumeni Notes to child's play and feels like a flashy Steve Vai on steroids, blessed with John Petrucci's precision. An endless powerful stream of guitar unfolds with divine melodic metal outbursts, all within an oasis of arpeggios, licks, riffs and melodic solos.
Driven forward by virtuous drums and intertwining bass strides, the complexities fly-by whilst Berger, with dancing high-pitched vocals sounds like a mix of Ted Leonard (Enchant / Spock's Beard) and James LaBrie. His ability to switch vocals from high octaves to low grunts and screams almost instantly, adds an even stronger sense of diversity. The impeccable technical wizardry in Follow and The Road projects thoughts of Persefone, perfected in the full force Torment, encompassing a highly addictive Charlie Chaplin-twist.
The Realm drops down a gear and is packed with catchy choruses and melodic AOR, in combination with some engaging lighter metal, providing a soft breath of fresh air. Here the beautiful, clean, melodic vocals of Berger and the return of the symphonic elements and some deft ambient touches, proves to be a precursor to a contagious and seductive middle part of the album. The Moorish and powerful ballad Lost, filled with melodic traces of Neal Schon (Journey) is continued by the immaculate Through The Forest. Here a piano entrance, orchestral layers, and bombastic passages leave a marvellous Savatage impression, while the modern approach imposes one of Teramaze.
The brutal and playful nature of the enticing Sacrifice thunders by, to be followed by the towering Patriarch, filled with a delicious Dream Theater and Symphony X middle section, overwhelming bombastic symphonic insertions and a peaceful coda. At long last Alive delivers more unctuous melodic prog metal with technical infernos melting intricately with classical minimalism midway through the song. A passionate, emotive and overwhelming Circus Maximus interlude, with shades of Darkwater follows, finally descending in a heavenly closing.
This is a fully satisfying effort with a clear production, that is only in need of some slight tweaks to bring out its full vocal potential. It is bound to be one of my top prog metal releases of 2019 and highly recommended as such.
With Orbin and McLellan returning to their normal lives, Chronicles has now become an official band consisting of Lyon, Berger and Calvin Christ (bass). Apparently they exist as a young, aspiring internet-only band, but I wonder if this will remain like this, for this album has "ProgPower" written all over it and they are most certainly a band to watch from now on. Preferably in Europe!
Bruno Moscatiello / Kaoll — Brazilian Progressive Rock Soundtrack Vol.1
This is an impressive release from Masque Records. It combines two collections of material onto one disc. The first five tracks consist of a project written and created by Brazilian guitarist Bruno Moscatiello. Moscatiello is currently a member of Vitral and a founding member of Kaoll. The second half of the CD presents a remastered version of Kaoll's pleasing Sob Os Olhos De Eva album that featured in a 2017 DPRP review.
The combination of both projects works extremely well and creates a very enjoyable experience. The accompanying CD booklet is beautifully illustrated and has extensive notes. A magnificent comic book, illustrated by Renato Shimmi accompanies the album. The wonderful illustrations provide the whole package with an air of quality and originality. The story depicted, outlines the age-old struggle between freedom and oppression. Moscatiello's soundtrack depicts and explores the story. The blend of a variety of different media ensures that a diverse assortment of audiences and listeners may wish to gain a copy of this album.
The album features many important players in the current prog scene in Brazil and includes amongst others Eduardo Aguillar and Claudio Dantas (Vitral), and Saulo Battesini and Kleber Vogel from Kaizen.
The album begins brightly and atmospherically with the short O Acordo. This tune features keys and violin as the principal instruments, and it illustrates and sets a distinctive mood. The piece provides the album with a characteristic style. Over the course of the next four compositions, this idiosyncratic style is exploited and investigated further. In this respect, the album has a definite identifiable sound and style, which runs through the many linked themes that are explored.
The next piece, Batalha Dos Minotauros has a delightful introduction where Moscatiello's crisp acoustic guitar and howling electric guitar excels in a piece that in its early stages is set to a distinctive, cheek-clenching, marching beat. Later, the composition stretches out into territories that are more progressive. The extensive use of the violin, that is set against some delightful flamenco-styled acoustic playing and fiery, amplified fretwork, impresses in every respect. This mixture works superbly well and should have aficionados of symphonic-styled prog nodding with twinkle-eyed approval.
My favourite piece on the first section of the album is Rio De Lágrimas. Initially it has a mournful, atmospheric quality that is able to colour the imagination and stir the emotions. Stylistically, it contains many different moods, including some nods to Pink Floyd, but it also contains some rhythmic, folk-tinged colours more commonly associated with bands like Jethro Tull. Running through the whole piece however, is a certain identifiable hint of the vivid colours of Brazil.
The concluding track of Moscatiello's project, O Último Ato, also exhibits a range of influences. There are mixed-tempo parts that will mystify and confuse stereotypical disco dancers, there are orchestral parts that will have granny rolling her 'seen and heard it all' eyes in delight, and there are hard edged guitar breaks, that will more than satisfy the faded rocker that lurks within.
Brazilian Progressive Rock Soundtrack Vol.One is a very enjoyable album. The sound quality is excellent, the packaging is superb, the player's performances are impressive and the tunes are agreeably satisfying as well.
Overall, Moscatiello's project is a fine example of contemporary prog rock, and when it is combined with Kaoll's Sob Os Olhos De Eva, the whole experience becomes even more captivating and enchanting.
Stonefield — Mystic Stories
This Stonefield, not to be confused with the blues rock band consisting of four Australian sisters and a few other acts with the same name, were a melodic hard rock band from Switzerland, active between 1984 and 1991. They released one EP and an LP. These were later combined onto a single CD. All tracks on the album currently under review appear on these releases, but have been transferred from the original master tapes and remixed by guitarist Manuel Rodriguez. (The info link above is for Rodriguez's YouTube channel.)
Musically, it's hard rock with a focus on melody and a progressive attitude towards songwriting. The band started out in a more AOR style but, fortunately for our prog-minded ears, this changed by the time they recorded their EP. While the sound of the keyboards is often reminiscent of 1970s bands like Uriah Heep or Deep Purple, more modern blasts give a Magnum feeling. Not the most original music, but a good listen, and well-performed.
Vocalist Ebby Paduch's sound is in the direction of Jan Hoving (Bagheera, Vandenberg's MoonKings) and sometimes Ronnie James Dio. So maybe a Rainbow reference is in place as well, probably most audible in End Of Time and The Eyes Of The Dawn.
Apparently there were some reasons for parting ways with singer Paduch, but after a replacement was found, the rest of the band felt the magic had gone. A pity, as this band could have gone down well opening for any of the aforementioned bands and even make it big on their own.
While not the most original in songwriting, the performance does leave an impression. Slight deviations from what you think you know or expect and a live feel to the songs on a studio album make this something of a hidden gem within the genre.
I am not sure why the remaining four tracks were not used. Even if they had been taken from the CD release version and not been remixed; that would not have brought down the enjoyment and rating for this album. Rather it would have gained points for completeness' sake.
Tempus Fugit — The Dawn After The Storm (Extended & Remastered)
The Dawn After The Storm was originally released in 1999. It is now available in a remastered version complete with 21 minutes of never-before-released bonus material.
I was not familiar with the original album and therefore I had no preconceptions about what to expect. After a number of plays, some parts of the music has forcibly etched itself into my consciousness. The album is richly symphonic, is pleasantly easy on the ear and its melodic nature ensures that it is not difficult to assimilate. The band has a penchant for creating anthem-like motifs that are easy to become familiar with and often quite difficult to get out of your head.
The principle instrument is frequently André Mello's keyboards. Although, his contribution is often embellished by the fiery, sometimes metal-tinged riffing of guitarist Henrique Simoes. His playing in the epic The Dawn After The Storm manages to tread a delicate path between yelping, gruff excess and delicate, froth-laden, sustained tones. The Dawn After the Storm contains many of the ingredients that prog fans find so irresistible. Within its sub-nine minute running time, it manages to convey a variety of moods. Each movement has its own merits and characteristics, glued together by a common theme.
Something about this piece reminded me of Finch. I could not work out why, but then came to the tenuous conclusion that it was probably because of the manner in which the band steers between intensity and melody, and also because of the combination of the keyboard and guitar sound.
The original album is predominantly instrumental, but includes three pieces where vocals play a part. There are occasions when the band's style and approach walk a similar path to Camel. In this respect, Simoes' lyrical tones in tunes such as Never only serve to reinforce this impression. However, I generally found the songs a tad overblown, and wondered what the lyrics actually brought to the table.
The art of concise song-writing is arguably something that many prog bands are not particularly adept at and there are times during the band's trio of songs when I wished that they were less predictable and contained neither a guitar solo, nor an extended instrumental break; included by way of celebrating and displaying the so-called complexity of classic prog.
I really enjoyed the instrumental parts and the great synthesizer flourish at the conclusion of the suit, but struggled to see how it related to the overall song structure of the tune.
Why do songs by many prog bands often follow a cliched formula, where a long instrumental break becomes a predictable part of the format, rather than a progressive expression of creativity?
The last of the songs on the album, Discover, will no doubt have many prog fans clutching their hands in glee at the succession of smart instrumental breaks that follow a vocal section. For my part however, it all felt a bit bloated and a little bit tired. After all, there is nothing wrong with including a precise and even a relatively simplistic song within the prog format, in fact I can think of numerous examples in prog albums where such a contrast has a positive impact on the overall feel and diversity of the album.
In fairness, The Dawn After The Storm contains a beautiful acoustic piece that conjures up thoughts of Andalucian sunsets and soft sand footprints in the dusk. Prelúdio De Sevilla's evocative, flamenco-styled meanderings are delightful.
The release succeeds best when the band concentrate on long instrumental forays, and a number of the compositions on offer display this trait to great advantage. For example, Tocando Voce is simply a classic prog instrumental, which gives the band members an opportunity to display their skills. It has something for everyone, tranquil and manic sections played with considerable aplomb.
This impressive composition includes a number of lush, pastoral passages that had me pondering the fate of the lonely conifers that sit in my garden (Ed - I see what you did there Owen!). In contrast, the piece also has enough flailing aggression and bombast that it was easy to imagine what that picturesque image might become, if an environmentally friendless person, filled with visions of a concrete utopia, stumbled upon the scene. Charged with emotion, his red, knuckle-gripped hand tightly clasped upon a sap-dripping chainsaw. Before this scene played out, I was very grateful, that the music is able to travel so seamlessly from gusto, towards beauty and elegance.
My favourite piece on the album is O Dom De Voar. It is quite beautiful and the introduction of guest Marco Aureh gives the piece an elegant air and a softly crafted texture. The gentle interaction between the piano, flute and acoustic guitar in the arrangement has a majestic quality that is quite stunning.
Notwithstanding my feelings about the songs which feature on the album, there are many aspects of The Dawn After The Storm that I enjoy. The sound quality of the album is superb and the dedicated instrumental tunes are often outstanding.
Although there is little new nor novel about the band's approach to their art, there is something comforting about listening to a band that wears the influence of classic prog bands like Camel and Yes so predominantly. Their finely-crafted approach and ability to create a contrast between calmness and ferocity, and gusto and delicacy, also brings to mind some aspects of Genesis.
Tunes like the excellent bonus piece, The Last Day, are full of heartfelt emotion and enticing melodies that stick in the head long after any pungent aroma left by the album's trio of songs has decayed.
The other bonus piece, Daydream + the Dawn After The Storm Medley simply bounces along. This reinterpretation of two of the album's original compositions exhibits a newly-baked freshness and an enviable vitality. Although tightly arranged and composed, there is a loose, spacious approach to the band's playing in this live-in-the-studio recording. It certainly adds an extra dimension to the original piece and augers well for the future of the band.
For my part, try as I might, I cannot get the melody of The Dawn After The Storm out of my head. In desperation, I might investigate if the quirky, but relatively simple approach to songwriting of an obscure artist such as Momus is able to displace Tempus Fugit's wonderfully overblown, complex, yet memorable piece of music.
(Oh, in case you are wondering, it worked.)
Time Shift Accident — Chronosthesia
Fusion made in Germany is a pretty rare thing, but luckily this new quartet stirs up the German scene and brings a rather classic form of fusion to new heights. Each of the musicians, with rather eclectic tastes in music which ranges from jazz to rock, prog rock and prog metal, adds rather broad variety to what began as a jam band.
Bassist Michael Schetter (Relocator, Seven Steps To The Green Door) and drummer Paul Ettl shaped the band in the beginning, with guitarist Dave Mola (Effloresce) and funk keyboardist Günther W. Schmuck (Orquesta Mistica, Fred Drumski Trio, SHS Trio) joining later on. And what began as a jam, slowly matured into firm compositions, which surprise with stunning structures.
But what makes Chronosthesia so different is that is is a very melodic, yet entertaining form of fusion, with no place for show-offs. It's so refreshing to hear these four musicians performing their clever compositions without the need to show everybody what good virtuosos they are. So fusion with no shred, that's something new.
Style-wise I tend to locate the center of the band's sound at the shores of Romantic Warriors and the later solo careers of Al Di Meola and Chick Corea. But there is a whole lot more to their tunes. Influences of Toto, Dream Theater, early Saga, Neal Morse and Spock's Beard are quite prominent, and there are many more, way too many to mention. With this load of styles on their back, these four men have managed to put great tunes together.
Tons of great melodies are hunting each other out amidst the ongoing style and time signature changes to create broad musical landscapes. There are almost no solos! It is as if they haven't got the patience to give room to solos and want to bring their tunes to new experiments instead.
Because of this, listening to the album makes one rather breathless; being stunned throughout the album, always wondering what comes next. It feels like the album is finished in no time, and your brain is still wondering about what a bold piece of music you've just experienced. Not one note is wasted; every single one is true to the tune and because of that there is not one boring second in here.
A few minor flaws in the recording process are still audible, but Alex Argento has done a brilliant job in the mixing and mastering and the overall sound production is pretty great. Indeed some major productions have a much poorer sound than this great debut album.
Dave Mola has a bit of room to improve his guitar tones, especially the clean sound could use some treatment, but that's also a minor issue. What disappoints a little are Günther Schmuck's keyboard sounds. For the next set of recordings, his sound programmings should experience a big update, because the ones heard here are at "Casio-level". Schmuck's brilliant playing deserves much more than that! It's the only thing that belittles the listening experience, at least for those who value keyboard sounds highly. This distracts me at times and makes me score the album one point less. But I still recommend it to everybody, even those who usually believe that fusion equals wankery. Yes, especially those of you should give it a try!