Alex’s Hand — Hungarian Spa
Sometimes things takes a bit longer. Three years ago I found out about Alex's Hand and recommended their album in our Something For The Weekend blog. Two albums later, and we finally get the chance to do a full review of their ninth release. Although, it is an almost impossible task, because how do you describe their silly humour in music?
Located in Berlin, the band is led by Kellen Mills (basses) and Nic Barnes (drums) from Seattle who settled in Germany. Besides the usual rock ensemble which adds vocals, piano and guitars, a vibraphone player and a brass quartet round-up the band that sounds as quirky as Frank Zappa did is his brightest moments. The band's portfolio is rounded up by adding a good dose of Mr. Bungle influences and some of the brass-jazz from the sixties and even some jazz and contemporary classical music of that time.
On Hungarian Spa, Mills and Barnes seek to characterise various people they've met in Europe, and by that they have put together an eclectic musical range to experience in their various musical explorations. The quirkiness is incredible in this setting, and it's as humorous as it can get, without crossing the line to total silliness.
But this is not easy music! What you get to hear on the album is the highest possible musicianship, music in a quality that many people will find unlistenable, progger or not. But for everybody who is into Zappa's music and the like, quickly head over to their Bandcamp page and give it a try, you'll become addicted to it! All others: be prepared for something that might over-strain you.
Dyscordia — Delete / Rewrite
Dyscordia hail from Belgium, having come together at the turn of the decade known as the 10s. Their debut Twin Symbiosis dropped in 2013 and the follow-up, Words Of In Ruin, three years later. Now, after having written and recorded, then polished and re-recorded their third release, they are back in 2020 with Delete / Rewrite.
The album opens with the title track, which fairly sets the pace and tone for the rest. It is a quick-paced dose of melodic metal. Musically it reminds me of the likes of Iron Saviour with a dose of some Iron Maiden style galloping and drumming thrown in.
The rest continues in this sort of style, never stopping or slowing the pace. It is catchy and well written with enough melody to keep everyone happy. However, the downside of this is that the tracks blend into one another, making it difficult to tell which is which. Some passages also go on for slightly too long.
That does not mean it isn't enjoyable, or a bad album though. There are plenty of riffs to go around, as well as come rather epic-sounding vocal performances. Every musician is very accomplished and does a good job at bringing out the melodic nature of the band.
The album is a very good and well made piece of melodic metal, with harmonies coming from the guitars and vocals, riffs and licks being fired out left right and centre, but it does unfortunately suffer from the tracks all sounding relatively similar. If you're a fan of power metal like Iron Saviour, Hammerfall, Iron Maiden, or Symphony X you will probably enjoy these guys.
The Oneira — Inection
To begin a review of a band by spending the first paragraph talking about a completely different band, may seem disrespectful, but that is not my intention. If you bare with me, hopefully all will become clear.
Many years ago I read a brief description of a group, which referred to their sounding like Rush crossed with Saga and Pallas. So I took a chance and purchased their first two releases, Paradoxes and Flood. The band was Everon, and since first hearing these releases, they have been one of my favourite groups. As Everon's output was sparse, and presently it looks like no new releases are in the pipeline, I have followed the band members, Oliver Philipps and Christian Moos' production work from their SpaceLabs Studio. This is due to the stunning production work, which was always a highlight of any Everon release. This production work occasionally allowed Oliver Philipps to add small musical contributions to some releases.
One of the bands who have recorded previous albums at SpaceLabs is The Oneira, whose new album, Injection, I have the pleasure in now reviewing. The Oneira is the brainchild of Greek multi-instrumentalist Filippos Gougoumis, who has put together a multi-cultural progressive rock band. Their first two releases, Natural Presence and Hyperconscious, featured Oliver Philipps as guest singer and guitarist. The first two releases needed the inclusion of guest vocalists, as there was not a permanent singer to complete the band's line up. With the release of Injection, The Oneira have now added Manuel Ruscigno as singer. The line-up is complete.
Injection is a wonderfully immersive experience. This album, on a first listen, is seven rock songs with two instrumental tracks added. That is the first listen. I have at present listened to the album about ten times, and every time I discover something new. There is a great art in being able to compose a song which on first listen appears so simple, but in reality is constructed of differing layers, providing the listener with a new aural experience every time they listen to a song.
Oliver Rusing described the music of Karibow to me, as "music which never repeats itself", and here we have something similar. The Oneira's sound is very much like Karibow crossed with Everon. This similarity is most evident on Make My Day, were Manuel Ruscigno sounds so much like Oliver Rusing. This is helped in that the track sounds like a heavier version of Karibow. So, for me, I could not wish for anything more.
Filippos Gougoumis' guitar sound throughout the album is a mix of “not quite” heavy metal overdrive, but played with consummate skill and feeling. The keyboards of Gianpaolo “Banjo” Begnoni, add a great progressive-sounding support throughout, and sharing the lead sections with suitably melodic passages which add an extra dimension to The Oneira sound.
Then we get the drumming of Danilo “Sakko” Saccotelli, whose playing and rhythmic patterns are far from ordinary, and are reminiscent of the late, great Neil Peart. The album's instrumental tracks, Behind The Sun and thetitle track, allow the instrumentalists to shine, but never sacrificing the melody of the composition.
The opening song, Still Free To Chose, launches with a bright, uplifting keyboard riff, before the dense guitar sound of Filippos joins in. Then the song takes an unexpected turn, by delivering a laid back section, where Manuel's vocals prove he is an ideal addition to the band. The song steadily builds with an infectious hook-line, before all-too-soon the song ends. Multiple listens to this song will display how, within its just over four minutes length, it contains so many layered twists and turns.
While the band demonstrates immense compositional skill, the lyrical and vocal melodies are not ignored. They provide memorable hooklines, which you will find buzzing around your subconscious, almost drawing you to spin the CD again.
Then comes a complete surprise towards the end of Make My Day, were the distinct voice of Oliver Philipps adds some guest vocals, adding for me, that little bit of magical dust to help elevate this release to something special. I hope that The Oneira signing with Rockshots Records means that we will not have to wait six years before the band release their next album.
My first definite on my top ten of 2020. Anyone who likes the harder end of prog rock, then you need to give this a try. This injection will not cure Corona virus, but it's a pleasure which you should not let pass you by.
Fernando Perdomo — The Crimson Guitar
Fernando Perdomo is a producer, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has been labelled by the LA Weekly as “the millennial answer to Todd Rundgren”. He has released a multitude of albums under his own name, although his discography is somewhat confusing to say the least! In prog circles he is most well known for recording and performing with Dave Kerzner. Amongst his cross-genre output are three volumes of Out To Sea, containing some excellent instrumental prog.
The Crimson Guitar is a tribute to King Crimson with a slight difference. Perdomo first encountered Crimson while learning to play classical guitar as an 11-year-old. He purchased several discounted cassette tapes. As an exercise he experimented re-arranging some of the songs he heard on those tapes for solo guitar. These arrangements were stored away until 28 years later, when Perdomo decided to revisit and record them.
Firstly, they show that Perdomo was a precociously talented child, as the arrangements are quite stunning, capturing the essence of each song in a clear and relatively simple manner. As might be expected, some of the pieces are rather shorter than the original versions; parts are simply not susceptible for transcribing to a solo acoustic guitar. However, what is included is delightful, as is (presumably) his own composition Erudite Eyes.
Although a relatively short album, not much more than an EP really, the performances are worth hearing. I'm sure Mr. Fripp would approve.
Psychotic Waltz — The God-Shaped Void
California's Psychotic Waltz seem to have been on a bit of a break, this being their first release since 1996. Featuring Devon Graves on vocals and flute, Dan Rock on guitars and keys, Brian McAlpin on guitars, Ward Evans on bass and Norman Leggio on drums, the band play a highly guitar-driven brand of old school progressive metal in a similar vein to early Fates Warning. However a lot of the material here falls more into straight-up, mid-90s heavy metal territory, sounding much more along the lines of a proggier Nevermore or Iced Earth, albeit with more of a focus on sensible song structure and poetic lyrics.
I was first introduced to Devon Graves through Ayreon's The Human Equation, where he took a major role performing vocals. Through this I discovered his project at the time, Dead Soul Tribe, who I instantly fell in love with. Their music is actually very similar to what we find here, and if anyone reading this likes what they hear, I'd highly recommend checking out DST too, especially their first album. Devon has a particularly unique voice. It is instantly recognisable, he can be operatic at times, and at others straight up melodic hard rock, occasionally crooning soft melodies in a similar way to Tool's Maynard James Keenan. All of his styles can be heard throughout this album, and I must say he's never sounded better.
Opener Devils And Angels is a suitably epic statement for a band returning to the fold after a 24 year gap. The guitars growl with an old school vibe, the keyboards create an orchestral atmosphere and the vocals are haunting and harmonised. This is the sound of a band that have returned with intent. It almost sounds like they've never been away; something helped by the crisp sound of the album, provided by Jens Borgen, who was responsible for some of Haken's recordings. It's a fine balance between modern sensibility and a more traditional sound that makes the whole thing feel like it's taking you back to the early nineties heyday of prog-metal.
Stranded follows in a similar vein, eventually flowing into a beautifully dark chorus. Devon's vocals are magnificent here, playing off the guitar melodies as they carry each other through. There are some great guitar solos throughout the track, keeping up the old-school vibe. Things remain strong with Back To Black. Starting with a driving riff and some pummelling drumming, this one contains some of the album's heaviest sections and some real head-banging moments. At this point I was reminded a little of Megadeth, a band I probably haven't listened to in 15 years.
This album really makes you reminisce. Every time I've played it, I'm reminded of the kind of sounds and arrangements I used to listen to as a teenager.
Devon and co have done something incredible to get this album to sound the way it does. On the one hand it's clear, crisp and modern, but on the other, it takes you right back to albums you haven't listened to for years. No other band I can recall has done this quite as potently as Psychotic Waltz have here. This is further heard in the slower-paced Bad Men. There are some really catchy hooks and superb vocal melodies in this song, and Devon's morbid take on the modern world expressive as ever, his lyrics seem to stay stuck in your head even after the song has finished.
Acoustic guitar and vocals take us into The Fallen, where things slow down again. This is not as strong a track as what has come before, but features some solid heavier sections in the second half of the song. While the Spiders Spin on the other hand, is easily one of the album's highlights. Its epic opening leads into an incredible chorus, with more of Devon's heartfelt vocals; the lyrical themes dealing with addiction, self loathing and hopelesness. This song also contains one of the album's best guitar solos, a centrepiece of the song itself, before going back into the chorus once more.
The duo of Pull The String and Demystified are up next and unfortunately they don't quite maintain the album's incredibly high standards. Pull The String starts off confidently enough, but the chorus feels awkward and out of place. The song features a decent middle section, but the chorus just niggles at me, both musically and lyrically. Demystified is a better track overall, featuring some beautiful flute from Devon, but it suffers from the same cheesy chorus syndrome and somewhat takes the spark out of the album's momentum.
Sisters of the Dawn thankfully kicks the album back into high gear. This is another stunning track with some great melodies and driving rhythms. Devon's playful lyrics are some of the best here and carry the song wonderfully. Closer, In The Silence is also a very strong track and and brings the album to a haunting conclusion with more use of layered vocals, great melodies and some truly retro guitar work from Dan Rock and Brian McAlpin.
The version of the album that has been released in Europe also contains a bonus track, Season Of The Swarm, which is easily as strong as any of the material on the rest of the album.
For a band that have had 24 years between albums, this is a fantastic comeback. It's going to appeal to fans of progressive metal that can appreciate a more traditional way of songwriting. It's not perfect by any means, but the majority of the material here is very strong indeed. Psychotic Waltz should be extremely proud of what they have created, and I hope it won't be another 24 years until we hear another one.