Arch / Matheos - Winter Ethereal
I have been a huge fan of Dream Theater since picking up When Dream And Day Unite on its release day in 1989. So due to their connections with Dream Theater band members past and present, I was well aware of both John Arch and Jim Matheos. Having said that, I have never really delved to far into the Fates Warning discography to become deeply acquainted with either of these musicians. Perhaps the most I have heard by them is the demo John Arch made with Dream Theater and Jim Matheos' collaborations with Kevin Moore on the OSI releases.
On my first listen to Winter Ethereal, I thought I had come across an unreleased Bruce Dickinson solo album from the time he was co-writing with Roy Z. This is not a bad thing for me, as I think during this period, Bruce wrote some of his best songs.
The sound of the album is definitely progressive metal, and while very good, it fails to add anything new to the genre. That said, there is a great deal to like about the release, with many layered melodies within each song, excellent production and high quality musicianship.
Having only been supplied with basic MP3 tracks and no extra info at all (now here's some meagre promotion), it is difficult to pick out which of the guest musicians are playing on which track, therefore I can't comment on any individual performances. The guests on the recording reads like a who's who of the progressive metal scene and includes members of Fates Warning both past and present: Joey Vera, Bobby Jarzombek, Joe Dibiase and Mark Zonder, along with Sean Malone of Cynic and drummer Thomas Lang. Even with the lossy quality of the music files supplied, the quality of the production is evident throughout. Jim Matheos adds some exceptional guitar and at times reminds me of Tony Iommi due to the constant barrage of riffs he supplies throughout the album.
It is the first time I have heard John Bush since the Dream Theater demo, and his early Fates albums. What is extraordinary is that after his last album with Fates Warning, he disappeared from the music business almost completely for seventeen years. His voice on this release is far superior than on the 1986 release, Awaken The Guardian. He has a similar power in his voice as Bruce Dickinson, with a range akin to that of Geoff Tate. John credits the fact he has never smoked or drank which has contributed to him retaining such a high quality voice.
The only negative I have about John is the clichéd lyrics on some of the songs. I am assuming he wrote them as I have no song credits to confirm or deny this. Certain lyrics can't be clearly heard, due to the high range John sings in. Those I could pick out, occasionally sound like they had been discarded by Ronnie James Dio after a particularly dire writing session.
I have always found it hard to liken progressive metal bands to others within the genre, unless they have a unique characteristic such as Orphaned Land's eclectic mix of Eastern metal. Having said that, I will now contradict myself by attempting to provide a signpost as to what to expect.
Wanderlust has a guitar sound and melody lines that give a distinct Queensrÿche feel to the song before an ending section which has a Muse like feel. Track three, Solitary Man, has heavy riffing and a grandiose structure akin to the sound of Threshold. Wrath Of The Universe features furious double bass drumming underpinning a very melodic song reminiscent of Dragonforce. Having said that, the biggest influence never strays far from the technical metal that Fates Warning and Queensrÿche where responsible for creating in the early 1980s.
Songwriting and structure are strong throughout the album. This is not reminiscent of some one-off albums musicians often produce, where they get together for a week to write and record the whole disc. Listening to the nine compositions it feels like a great deal of time, effort and love has been spent providing the best songs that two very talented musicians can write for the listener.
So, if you have not recently experienced a high quality dose of classic progressive metal, delivered by two of the original innovators of the genre, then Winter Ethereal is what you have been looking for. Don't expect anything innovative. But if you decide to give this a try, you will be rewarded with probably one of the best progressive metal releases of the year so far.
Gintonic - Gintonic 3
Gintonic reside in Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain. Their third album is an enticing mixture of easy listening tunes, with enjoyable nods towards fusion, where the emphasis is on creating head nodding rhythms and tuneful melodies, rather than off-piste ramblings with time twitching tempos and virtuoso soloing.
Whilst Gintonic's band name, and the amiable music that they create, will probably not gain any accolades or awards for originality, it no doubt will gain plenty of admirers for the meticulous and skilful manner in which the group present and perform their art. The sound quality of the album is particularly impressive and this helps to give many of the tunes an extra boost, where the excellent instrumental interplay on display has a pristine quality that is readily apparent. This makes it easy to appreciate the albums many endearing characteristics and positive attributes.
The prominent instruments on this release are the flute of Mario Clavell Larrinaga and the excellent keyboards of Aurkene Núñez. The contributions by bassist Marcelo Hormaechea are also very satisfying. The deep-seated tones adopted by him provide an extra layer of sophistication to a number of tunes. Óscar Andollo completes the rhythm section and his drum kit spotlight in Hilvic is a showpiece for his proficient percussive skills.
Eight of the eleven tunes are instrumental. The other tunes feature the voice of Núñez. Her vocals are alluring and pleasant, but the song based tunes and honey sweet arrangements sit somewhat sourly and incongruously alongside some of the albums more adventurous compositions.
Over the course of the album, the band visits a range of styles and influences. These include passages of music and flowing arrangements which allude to the style of artists as varied as Satie, Focus, Herbie Mann and ELP.
The flute parts constructed and superbly delivered by Larrinaga are quite joyous and uplifting. He is equally skilled at making the silver tube soar in a richly floating melodic manner, as he is at pushing out a percussive overblown sound, full of expressive, breathy barking and ferocious fluttering. Some of his most evocative and melodic playing occurs in Sexy Glasses whilst some of his most aggressive blowing occurs in Déjalo Estar, bringing to mind strident flautists such as Harold McNair, Jeremy Steig and of course Ian Anderson.
Although many of the pieces such as Highway From Hell, Ustedes Y Nosotros and the Herbie Mann style, Latino trilling of El Juereño meander, surf and surge through waters that are regularly explored, the album also possesses an enviable freshness and is occasionally coloured with unexpected progressive tints. This is exemplified in pieces like Sexy Glasses and Lersundi where both the arranged and improvised elements are skilfully managed. This helps to create a number of tunes that are often accessible and ear friendly, but are also frequently gratifying and rewarding on an entirely different level.
Gintonic’s enjoyable release contains music that has the potential to connect, not only with prog fans, but also with a wider audience of music fans. There are times when the band’s unusual mix of middle of the road, easy listening tunes and unexpected prog rich interludes really work well.
If this album’s accessible nature tempts you to listen to it in a cursory manner, I advise you not to, for Gintonic 3 has many excellent and understated facets. These lie hidden, like a precious jewel wrapped in the pages of a popular novel, awaiting discovery and lurking just beneath the music’s easy natured and superficially inviting exterior. Nevertheless, it remains that the greatest strength of the album probably lies in the uncomplicated push and pull of its compositions.
The use of different flute based timbres and keyboard effects are in evidence throughout to emphasise the music’s enjoyable and often wide dynamic range. This provides a number of tunes with a gentle subtlety, or an appealing energy, that highlights the accomplished skills of all the band members.
Almu has a particularly beautiful melody. It is performed with gurgling finesse by the synthesiser and is embellished by a succession of bubbling bass solos. On other occasions in pieces such as the excellent Déjalo Estar, (which incidentally is based upon an idea by Jorge Iturmendi of Rufus) the tune swings and snarls with measured power and velvet-gloved aggression.
The beginning of KM 214 channels Satie's Gymnopédies but soon finds its own unique voice in a tune that has a delightful flute accompaniment and accordion interlude that will please easy listening audiences on land, sea and air and all points in between. By way of a rumbustious contrast, Toccata 8.11 explores territories often associated with ELP.
There are times when some of Gintonic 3 sounds trite and clichéd, but I like many things about the album. I will certainly return to Gintonic 3 from time to time, especially when I wish to hear something that is arguably not as demanding as many of the other instrumental albums in my collection.
If you want to hear an instrumental album with tints of fusion, lots of variety and is so easy on the ear, even an open-minded great-aunt might like some of it, look no further. Draw the curtains, pour yourself an iced glass, press play and immerse yourself in all that Gintonic’s tasteful mix can provide.
IZZ - Don't Panic
IZZ are a New York based prog band with an unusual line-up. One that features two drummers and four vocalists (two female, two male) all of whom take lead vocal duties. So along with guitar, keyboards and bass they produce an exceptional melodic take on modern symphonic prog-rock.
IZZ’s new album Don’t Panic is their ninth studio release. (Reviews on DPRP of eight previous albums can be found via this page.) Although this band has been going for over twenty years, other than hearing the odd track on internet radio and on samplers, this is the first album I have heard in its entirety. And blimey Charlie (as the kids say) on the strength of Don’t Panic I think I have been missing out.
Opening with the album’s title track, IZZ envelope you in their warm symphonic sound world. Don’t Panic has a density and a lightness of touch to its exemplary prog-pop. Instruments and voices switch to the foreground and recede in this superbly produced and mixed song. It has an insanely catchy chorus but remains complex over its relatively short running time. It hits the mark with its melding of Gentle Giant harmonic complexity, Pure Reason Revolution male-female vocal interplay and a melody that would make Todd Rundgren think he’d missed a trick. All in four and a half minutes or so.
The lyric and title references Douglas Adams’s wonderfully comic, humanist The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, as does the title of the second track and (spoiler alert!) the answer to life, the universe and everything: 42. However, I think IZZ are using references to Adams’ work rather than producing a full on concept album.
The album’s centrepiece is 42. At just under nineteen minutes long it never loses momentum. Structured around John Galgano’s bass guitar heroics, I can’t help but think of Chris Squire while listening to his playing. 42 balances long passages of fabulous but non-showboating playing. You get symphonic prog with jazzy touches from the twin drums of Brian Coralian and Greg DiMiceli and the guitar of Paul Bremner. Add to this the stabbing keyboard runs of Tom Galgano, it gives their music an individualism that more than separates them from their early influences. Part of that individualism are the four excellent and contrasting vocalists (Anmarie Byrnes, Laura Meade and the brothers John and Tom Galgano) with their superb harmonies and individual singing which kick 42 up a notch further. The complex rhythms of the two drummers support the melodic purposefulness of this terrific music. This is masterful prog.
But wait, IZZ aren’t done with us yet. After a Steve Hackett-echoing classical guitar interlude with Six String Theory the band change gear and blast into heavy prog territory with Moment Of Inertia. This instrumental shows that IZZ are prepared to stretch themselves. After a blissful classical piano opening the band thunder in with textures reminiscent of King Crimson doing heavy prog. Halfway through the band reach a pause and their delighted laughter fills the speakers with what they have achieved. They start up again with the album’s best synth solo from Tom G. The heaviness doesn’t seem out of place and I didn’t miss the vocals until it had finished. There’s a whole other musical career displayed on this track.
The closing track Age Of Stars returns to a sharp song based approach with the vocalists shining as their individual vocal lines intertwine. There is a snappy synth solo before the theme from the opener Don’t Panic returns to round the album off in fine style.
IZZ’s Don’t Panic is a remarkable work that, for once, I wish had an extra track or two given the quality on display. This is top-class progressive rock that steers well clear of lazy retroism while pushing at the boundaries of symphonic prog. With their new album Don’t Panic, IZZ have themselves at least one new fan (me). Time to investigate the previous eight releases.
Light - Light
This debut album by Light arrived directly after The Essential Claudio Delgift, a fresh, summery compilation disc involving multi-instrumentalist Claudio "C" Rodriquez (Delgift) of Light. Having enjoyed that album, I was anxious to hear his more progressive side. This time, within the working environment of a group where he provides guitars and vocals himself, Marian One supplies keyboards with a rhythm section of Leandro Biera and Francisco Carpentero on bass and drums respectively.
Delgift has written the vast majority of the music with only two tracks being a joint effort with One, The Deepest Roots and In Your Debt. Therefore it stands to reason that most of the album is almost a direct continuation of his solo ventures. A reassuring thought, for he has proven himself to be perfectly capable of writing engaging, bluesy melodic rock songs with a friendly summer twist to them.
The jazz-rock fusion influences (Dixie Dregs) have moved slightly into the background and are less apparent, making room for ample piano and keyboard passages and insertions adding a symphonic air to the music. The west-coast rock influences are more or less intact, still providing that warm, spontaneous Spirit feeling, especially in light of Delgift’s tuneful, tender yet amicable voice. The production, which is one of the downsides on The Essential Claudio Delgift, has been improved, resulting in a refreshing and uplifting sound, containing a relaxed atmosphere throughout. The greatest change and progressive aspect is quite possibly the guitar sound, now showing more influences from Steve Howe (Yes) in comparison to Delgift’s solo work.
This is instantly apparent in the instrumental The Deepest Roots which stays true to Delgift’s sound, containing a mellow, earthy intro, leading into melodic rock involving twinkling harp-like frolics on keys. Playful bass and solid drums support the engaging guitar work which evolves gradually into Yes meets seventies Rush, ultimately ending in superb Anima Mundi progressiveness, much like their album The Way.
A Blessing / A Curse shows promise with delicate touches of early seventies Yes and west-coast rock, where Delgift’s vocals carry the song forward. A playful tune, with some refined progressive complexities, ending with an abrupt solo by One, lighting a fire towards Styx. As Far As The Eyes Can See continues in much the same fashion, where the bluesy solo and vocals harmonise with spacious keys at the very end, leading into ambient surroundings.
Unexpectedly, my prog mind is playing tricks on me on Bonds, bringing back memories of underground British prog rock, refreshed by having just recently attended a Mellotronanism concert. It starts out very mid-seventies Rush-like, apparently a period highly favoured by Delgift, and then unexpectedly turns into a caressing, comforting Airbridge and Liaison affair. Taking the listener’s hand for a joyous instrumental ride, Continuum XX-XY starts out rocky with sparkling keys and gracious guitar and proves to be a short and sweet interlude, with a mild hard rock vibe. The Big Square follows in the footsteps of Randy California (Spirit) with soft AOR touches, luscious keyboard wizardry by One and flashes of Yes.
Opening in traditional Wishbone Ash style, Between What Is And What May Be changes midway to southern rock, with the playful piano turning into a very driven keyboard solo inspired by Roger Boyd (Head East). Returning to vibrant guitars, Light then surpass themselves with a gorgeously bombastic and graciously symphonic crescendo, making this easily the proggiest and most accomplished track on the album.
The easy, laid back symphonic atmosphere surrounding In Your Debt, an epic instrumental seasonal trip, flows from summery feelings that gather momentum in a harvest of warming Christmas chimes and bells. There are some lovely ideas and nicely done with a touch of Nektar through its exemplary, but comfortably executed bass work. The superfluous epilogue Coming Back Of Sorts is basically a short reprisal and flashes by in an instant, ending the album somewhat on a minor note.
On the whole the music feels warm, vibrant and most of all honest, though it lacks a certain amount of spice (oomph, if you will). Safety first seems to be the musical motto, but the unrestrained moments (Between What Is And What May Be for instance) make the album tastier.
In conclusion, Light have made a recommendable and appetising debut, with lovely melodic rock injected with smooth elements of seventies progressiveness. Like Delgift’s solo work, it’s a perfect accompaniment for summer parties so let the festivities commence! Here's to the second album, which Light have started working on already. Hopefully it will provide the perfect dessert and keep the flame burning into the party's late hours. Saludos!
Thirteen Of Everything - Our Own Sad Fate
A mere fourteen years after their debut Welcome, Humans, Thirteen Of Everything from Austin, Texas, return with their second album Our Own Sad Fate. All four members who appeared on the debut album, Mick Peters (Chapman stick, bass, acoustic guitar, vocals), Ted Thomas (drums, lead vocals), Joe Funk (guitars, synths) and Thad Miller (keyboards) contribute to the new album. Funk and Miller departed before the album was finished with the majority of the keyboards being played by Bruce McIntosh and some of the guitar work is handled by Brett Cosby. McIntosh's tenure in the group seems to have been for a limited engagement as the band are currently seeking a new keyboard player.
The album is full of some great music with intricate, syncopated arrangements, dramatic mood shifts and strong melodies throughout but is somewhat let down in the vocal department. Neither Thomas nor Peters possess a voice that is strong enough or characteristic enough to really hold and own the songs, which is a shame as some of the vocal arrangements, particularly on Life Is Change are pretty good.
Having said that, vocals contribute to a relatively small proportion of the album which allows the music to shine through. The three-part Dark Energy is largely instrumental with vocals only being present in the middle of the first part. The second and third parts both start with some very nice piano playing to which the rest of the band join in with a fair degree of aplomb; the drum sound is particularly good on part three.
Guest vocalist Rick Clark appears on Walk On Water but I don't think his style really suits the music all that well, particularly in the opening couple of minutes.
The instrumental West Texas is where the band excel, a fine piece of music with an interesting acoustic guitar sound that blends in well with the more menacing keyboards. An ominous undercurrent pervades now and then but the guitar keeps things in check. Plague starts well enough with just vocals and acoustic guitar, the limitations of Peters' voice not being evident in the quieter section. It’s obvious that this track was recorded at a different session from the other pieces as the overall sound is somewhat muddier, particularly the drums, which is unfortunate as they are rather upfront in the mix. Some interesting ideas, particularly in Funk's guitar playing, but I can't help feeling that the track sounds more like a demo of a work in progress rather than a complete and fully arranged song as it doesn't hang together all that well.
Our Own Sad Fate contains some promising moments from a bunch of skilled musicians. I wish them luck in finding a new keyboard player, you never know, they might come across one who has a superb set of vocal chords!
Weend'ô - You Need To Know Yourself
Weend'ô have returned to the fold with the remaster of their debut album You Need To Know Yourself. Originally released back in 2012, the album has been remastered and released on physical format for the first time. The album also contains two radio versions of two of the tracks.
The album is a fantastic mix of prog, metal and melodies, featuring intricate sections interspersed with softer passages. A range of influences are present here. While the Tool and Pink Floyd aspects may not be as apparent here as they are on Time Of Awakening (the second album), they are still present, as well as some Dream Theater and Iron Maiden sounding riffs and licks.
The album flows exceptionally well, with stunning performances from all members of the band. Experience and Dark Element are fantastic choices for singles, with the radio edits not losing too much punch by being shortened by roughly a minute each. However, that does not mean the album versions go on too long, both versions are fantastic.
Experience showcases the more melodic and softer side as it’s more of a ballad, while Dark Element brings in the heavier elements for a straight up prog metal track.
For a debut album, it is an incredible piece and really shows what the band can do. Personally, I would say it’s at least as good as Time Of Awakening, but just edges out in front. I am very much looking forward to their next offering.
If you’re a fan of Voyager, Dream Theater or Anathema, I’d give them a listen.