Atertrip — The Wind Between
Atertrip are a quintet from Italy and The Wind Between is their first EP. Maybe I'm a bit naive but I would expect that a new band will proudly send their first outing accompanied by additional information about the album and band to whichever media that may be willing to give some attention. Yet this EP came as just a download of the five tracks, without any extra information on the band, their origin or their inspiration, nor on the making of the album or the art work. What a shame!
The band consists of Greta Salvalai (vocals), Tommaso Marchesini (guitars), Eleonora Ricci (keys), Federico Salvarani (bass), and Federico Bedostri (drums). They blend rock and blues with a tiny bit of metal and prog. There are hints to bands like Anathema, The Gathering, Delain and Neil Young (listen to the very nice instrumental Ghostwriter and you'll hear Mr Young jamming with Crazy Horse).
It all starts with From Here, a rather rocky affair built upon a fine guitar riff after a long intro. Spark is a slower song, with nice subtlety in the end section where a very nice guitar solo gently flows into beautiful piano playing.
Ghostwriter is an attractive instrumental and by far the best track of the album, with a moderate pace, different musical themes and a fine, wild guitar eruption at the end. Hidden Sights sounds like a lament, while Closure presents us with the only joint choruses of the album. Both short tracks are rather nice but don't stand out.
So the good things about this new band: the rhythm section is very good, giving the five tracks a firm and sometimes very original base. Ricci's keys are predominantly supportive and nowhere prevalent. The synth sounds are subtly audible in the background, with just the right tone throughout the five tracks. Marchesini's guitar is the most upfront instrument, but his riffing and soloing are always part of the music as a whole. There is no showing-off or over-pretentious technical playing, but just tight and careful guitar playing, which is appealing.
And that brings me to the down side of the music: the vocals. Salvalai's voice is special, to say the least. She sings a bit like Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks or Chrissie Hynde, but never comes even close to these ladies, except for sounding as broken as they sometimes did. Her voice sounds very uncertain in the opening track, is rather good in Spark, isn't capable of sounding angry where it should in Hidden Sights, and is simply not comfortable to listen to in closing track, Closure. Maybe others will find these kind of vocals attractive but I will stay away from this album because of the singing.
The potential of Atertrip is obvious but this debut is not convincing enough, in spite of the good audio production. Maybe another vocalist, or maybe vocals in a different key can help. And they certainly have to pay more attention to their own promotion, for this bare package is too insignificant to draw someone's attention to their work. And that is always a pity, no matter how good or bad that product is.
Glorious Wolf — Zodiac
Glorious Wolf is a studio project by the talented Ruud Dielen, who has thus far released two solo albums. The first one was published in 2002 as Dealen (Forgotten Tapes) (see review here), with a second issued in 2017 under the moniker of Glorious Wolf entitled Aquarius (see review here).
Zodiac, his newest endeavour continues under the Glorious Wolf banner and has been achieved within a relatively short time frame of two years.
A timespan extremely well spent, judging from by the noteworthy digi-pack filled with stunning artwork by Ed Unitsky, accountable for many of today's progressive rock covers (Silhouette, Unitopia, The Tangent to name but a few). The booklet harbours complimentary, imaginative drawings depicting the theme of the album and emphasises the thoughtful care and professionalism of Dielen towards this release.
Multi-instrumentalist Dielen plays all of the basic instruments himself (guitars, bass, synthesisers, programming) while several guest appearances adding significant contributions. Most notably Oscar Anema, who makes a mark as the focal point through his vocals. He is also co-responsible for the lyrics, that on occasion address the astrological subject of the album.
The combination of production by Dielen and mastering of Oscar Holleman, known from his work with Krezip, Within Temptation and Egdon Heath (Nebula), breathes a fresh sparkling of authentic late 90s/early 00s atmosphere. This is best shown in Close To The New World with its opening flowing towards sumptuous rock-orientated prog rock, with touches of Now by Nektar, an album from their reunion years during the aforementioned period. The sweet, melancholic guitar by Dielen and Anema's subtle yet aggressive vocals, weep in the same style as well, while some nicely executed keyboard sounds provide a comforting mood.
It's however the epic Constellations that most definitely gives out Dielen's neo-progressive calling card. The ambient, atmospheric opening hints at Anima Mundi, and Eloy's Oceans gradually glides through fluent bass lines towards Pink Floyd-inspired progressive rock, where the deep, dark vocals by Anema, balance between Roger Waters and Jim Morrison (The Doors) to add a mystical charm. Once the composition slowly takes off, it pulsates past images of Dark Side Of The Moon as we travel towards a galaxy of Animals, enhanced by the exciting, relaxed tenor sax solo of André van de Ven. The strong emotive David Gilmour-inspired solo by Dielen, leading into the re-occurring theme, finishes off this highly accomplished track.
And this Pink Floyd inspired format works miracles for Glorious Wolf, beautifully executed in tracks like Feelin' Blue and Aquarius (Seeding The Future). In Feelin' Blue Dielen's mesmerising guitar work interacts perfectly alongside a divine organ, while vocal harmonies sprinkle further traces of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here (the album). The accompanying fretless bass by Ab Boot, a delicious Mellotron and the subdued vocals of Anema compliment the mellow, blues-inspired composition, effectively creating what it says on the tin.
The instrumental bonus track Acquarius (Seeding The Future) flows freely with glimpses of King Crimson. Slightly more complex and surrounded by softly spoken words, it shows brilliant interactions between synth and guitars. Culminating in a gorgeous, enchanting solo by Dielen, this newly remastered version, originally on the first Glorious Wolf album, shows the compositional strength of Dielen most elegantly.
The Game as well as Poets encompass refined pop structures which, although executed confidently, to me are less successful efforts. The former is blessed by strong guitars, yet fails to impress because of its weaker attempt in vocals. In the latter, a cover of David Sylvain's When Poets Dreamed Of Angels, Dielen showcases intricate acoustical passages, where the earthly, folklike, contemporary influences add a smooth touch within the context of the album. Somehow, despite the energetic singer/songwriter styled vocals of Frans Verouden, the song doesn't come alive for me.
Questions, the second remastered bonus track from the first Glorious Wolf album flows in supreme laid back mode. Nicely executed, it shows the progress Dielen has made within his more recent compositions, that are evidently more adventurous and varied.
It is however the sheer penetrating beauty and serene simplicity of For You & I that proves to be the absolute highlight of the album to me. This song, a reworked version from Forgotten Tapes, sees Dielen opening every melancholic register via divine undulating emotive guitars, subtle drums, gentle bass caresses and keyboard accents, all converging into a breathtaking melancholic dream. The intricate keyboard passage halfway, creates a perfect resting point, setting up for another blissful wave of emotive guitars to round off this superb track.
This is a very accomplished and diverse album by Dielen. It showcases his skilled instrumentation, especially on guitars, and ongoing strength as a composer. The appealing nature of the music furthermore beholds many faces. The vocals, although not always successful, add depth to the thoughtful, broad spectrum of his compositions.
The endless river of ideas incorporating echoes of Pink Floyd is deeply fulfilling and once combined with a momentous symphonic crossover prog gem like For You & I makes me look forward to further developments in Dielen's career.
Kaleidoreal — Finally See Myself
Stop me if you've heard this one: a catchy single, a prog epic, and a moody ballad walk into a bar. OK, fine, that's not the setup for a punchline, but a description of the three tracks on Kaleidoreal's second release, a 32-minute EP named Finally See Myself.
The Swedish band's 2018 debut album, A Life Wasted, showed founder/songwriter/guitarist Lars Granat's ability to compose complex, extended prog songs, which range smoothly from accessible Neal Morse-styled pop/rock, to heavier prog-metal elements.
This follow-up is not the next true Kaleidoreal album, but an interim EP. According to Granat: "I really wanted to put out some sort of Kaleidoreal release this year, but since I don't want to rush the next full length album that I'm working on, it made sense to do a single and a couple of extra tracks."
The title track of the EP is clearly what Granat was referring to as "the single." It builds quickly to a chorus that evokes Paradise Theater-era Styx, in part due to the resemblance of Rikard Rynoson's bright tenor voice to that of Dennis DeYoung. I could easily see the band releasing a "radio edit" of this catchy earworm.
The nine-minute song takes some surprising detours, starting with an organ solo by guest Bill Hubauer from the Neal Morse Band. Next, a soft interlude of Beatles-esque vocals and quirky time changes, leads to a sampling of Granat's guitar abilities, with tasteful melodic soloing, fast-picking, and even two-handed tapping. The guitar section resolves into a melodic Brian May section, concluding with a piano/vocal ending a la Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Without the context of a longer album, though, the structure of the track feels just a bit disjointed and over the top.
Some Take To The Stars is an 18-minute prog epic and the heart of the EP. The heavier guitar and vocal elements from the debut album are back here, along with Granat's clever song development, which allows the many stylistic changes to feel natural. This longer piece feels over all too soon, and unlike the first track, the more grandiose elements towards the end don't feel like an undeserved victory lap. To be sure, the writing has a lot of Neal Morse influence, but it's done so convincingly that it doesn't come across as too derivative.
Closing the EP is Hopelessness, with just Rynoson's vocals over an electric piano. This track just did not work for me. The moody, downright depressing vocals are over-sung, below pitch on higher notes, and filled with over-used pop couplets like rain/pain, street/sleep, and late/weight.
While Finally See Myself isn't as satisfying a feast as the band's debut album, and the song development and vocal production in particular seem rushed, it's still a nice between-meal snack that whets my appetite for their next release. Anyone new to this group, especially fans of accessible prog pop/rock/metal like Kansas and Transatlantic, might be best heading for the 2018 album A Life Wasted, which better shows the group's range and potential. Hopefully we'll have a new full-length album from Kaleidoral to really sink our teeth into later this year.
Ruphus — Let Your Light Shine
After two excellent prog rock albums in the form of 1973's New Born Day and 1974's Ranshart, Norwegian band Ruphus underwent a change in musical direction on their 1976 album Let Your Light Shine. This was largely due to keyboardist Håkon Graf having started collaborating with guitarist Jon Eberson from Moose Loose, a band that Graf was to join in time for their second album Transition, released shortly after Let Your Light Shine.
Moose Loose were decidedly not prog, favouring a looser jazz-fusion style and it was this influence that Graf took to Ruphus. The other musicians in the band, Kjell Larsen (guitar), Alex Nilsen (bass) and Thor Bendiksen (drums) were not opposed to the change in musical direction. As the music was more instrumentally inclined, Gudny Aspaas, vocalist on the band's debut album, was invited back to add vocalisations to three tracks and sing on the title track; the only piece with lyrics.
Although possessing a fine set of vocal chords, to me the vocalisations on Sha Ba Wah and Brain Boogie are rather annoying and detract from the fine musicianship. Sha Ba Wah is the better of the two tracks, with some great keyboard and guitar work, while Brain Boogie is somewhat overlong and more meandering, and fails to really get started. It feels more like a very loose jam, being rather mundane in its approach and delivery.
Let Your Light Shine retains a rather more prog introduction, with an almost space-rock vibe, but lapses into a more languid flow quite rapidly. Bendiksen is the most energetic performer on the piece, providing interesting drum fills throughout. Aspaas puts in a good performance although her vocals are placed somewhat far back in the mix, tending to merge with the synths on the quieter sections.
With Nordlys and Grasse essentially being brief linking pieces, (the former offers a rather nice atmosphere, with the latter being non-descript guitar noodling), only two instrumentals remain. Corner is inoffensive music that hardly attracts any attention. In complete contrast Second Corner is an energetic workout that really sees the band stepping up a gear to deliver the highlight of the album.
The musical changes did find favour with West German audiences who took the band to heart when they managed to secure a few dates in that country when the album was released on the Brain label, and secured significant amounts of airplay. This resulted in a second series of live dates in West Germany in the autumn of 1976, playing to sold out venues. It was therefore not surprising that the band temporarily relocated to Germany to capitalise on their new-found popularity.
Although an obvious turning point for the band, speaking as a progressive rock fan, the album is a disappointment when compared with the first two albums. The switch to a jazzier sound meant abandoning the Hammond organ that had somewhat dominated the early material, resulting in a more lightweight sound. Having never been much of a jazz fan, a lot of the material on this album is, to me, uninspiring and almost insipid at times. The group never returned to their prog roots, releasing a further three albums over the next five years that remained focused on the jazz fusion direction originally adopted with this album. This is the point where I stopped being interested in the band.
Sonus Corona — Time Is Not On Your Side
Sonus Corona is a progressive metal band hailing from Turku in Finland. It started back in 2011, as a side project of Ari Lempinen (guitar, backing vocals) and Rasmus Raassina (drums), before growing into a fully-fledged band through the inclusion of Aki Niemi (bass) in 2012, with Harri Annala (lead guitar) and Timo Mustonen (lead vocals) joining in 2013. This quintet released a self-titled debut album in 2015 and the single The Refuge in 2017. Keyboards (not present on the first release) on this single were played by Esa Lempinen, who became a full band member soon after the release. Finally, Miika Erkkilä became the permanent bass player, having already assumed the live playing duties from Aki Niemi, since the spring of 2019.
On this, its sophomore album, Sonus Corona play a dynamic, varied, melodic and accessible form of progressive metal. Most of the songs are in the five to six minute range, allowing for song structures to reasonably build up and develop, but avoiding unnecessary length and complexity, and thus suggesting a strong degree of compactness. Hence, to me, the band sounds a bit like a slightly less-sophisticated version of Seventh Wonder, Threshold, Opeth (albeit not as dark and melancholic), and Aeon Zen.
Additionally, reminiscences of the work of peers such as Circus Maximus, Subsignal, and Kingcrow come to my mind; all of them being bands where the music shows a strong element of accessibility. Compared to its debut, which I briefly listened to, Time Is Not On Your Side is more mature, varied and smoothed (provided this expression can be used at all concerning a progressive metal album). The relatively strong presence of the keyboards adds depth and versatility to the music, mainly due to the range of instruments appearing (strings, synthesisers, piano and organ). The latter not occurring excessively in prog metal. Lyrically, Time Is Not On Your Side is about a struggle with declining sanity.
The album starts melodically with a swelling string chord and spacey synthesizer soloing, followed by mellow piano arpeggios, before the prog metal guitar riffing kicks in, accompanied by heavy organ sounds. This song very much reminds me of Vanden Plas (my favourite prog metal band), also because of its catchy melodies. A great starter!
I also like the (only) instrumental, Moment Of Reckoning, due to its varied sounds, Swing Of Sanity because of its gladness and humorous touch (at least musically), and the closing track Here, mainly for its great keyboard/guitar interplay and its elaborate song structure. For me, it is the song with the most progressive elements on the album.
With about every seventh to eighth prog rock album I listen to being a progressive metal release, I must confess that I am not enough into this musical style to call myself a prog metal aficionado. However, for someone like me, this album, due to its accessibility and melody, was fairly easy listening (in a positive way) and perfect to better familiarise and to intensify my relationship with this genre. In this sense, I would recommend it to both the prog rock lover, looking to whet his/her appetite, as well as to the heavy metal fan seeking proggy elements in order to flavour his/her musical taste.