Issue 2020-087: Progtober 2020, Day 17 — Nordic Special


October 2020 sees the 25th anniversary of DPRP.

A quarter of a century of uninterrupted reviews, interviews and features across the progressive genre is quite some landmark. To celebrate the occasion, we shall publish one review edition every single day during this month - 31 editions!

Welcome to Progtober!

In addition to our usual in-depth, independent reviews, our team has compiled a collection of interviews, artist features and several of our ever-popular Duo and Round Table Reviews. Over 40 different albums will be covered.

As ever, thank you to all our readers for your ongoing support, as well as all the artists and labels who create the music we love, and not forgetting the hundreds of people who have written and contributed to this website over the past 25 years.


Pinnacle Point — Symphony Of Mind

Pinnacle Point - Symphony Of Mind
Country of Origin
Denmark
Year of Release
2020
Time
61:00
Ascent To The Point (3:19), So Alive (6:58) Weight Of The World (4:11) Hero (6:32), Never Surrender (4:40), In The Wake Of Hope (6:03), Shadows Of Peace (6:11), Beyond (5:18), Nothing At All (5:29), Prodigal (5:47), Symphony Of Mind (7:03), Dangerous Times (5:04)

It needs to be said from the beginning; there is no doubt of the clear mirroring to Kansas in the soul of Pinnacle Point. After their 2017 debut Winds of Change, the band have returned with the same polished, melodic rock sound that draws the listener back to the primary decade of REO Speedwagon, Journey, Asia and Foreigner. In truth, there is nothing wrong with that. A few moments into the new album and this becomes incontrovertible.

Singer Jerome Mazza is clearly blessed with a voice that is uncannily similar to Steve Walsh, and on their second outing, Symphony of Mind his demonstrable ability is matched with a superb, rocking, symphonic-classical sound that is a Kansas trademark, manifestly underlined with the rather brilliant Valeria Pozharitskaya on violin.

The progressive elements are pronounced, yet light, and used to great effect throughout, especially in the sublime keys from John F Rogers. But the striking truth of this band is their clear ability to pen stadium-sized, catchy numbers that are rich in production.

The opening tracks, So Alive and the standout Weight Of The World, have pedigree written all over them, conjuring bouncy, stage-based videos from the early days of MTV. The breakout moments of interplay between Rogers and Torben Enevoldsen on guitar in the middle of So Alive evoke those 80s rock stylings that are few and far between these days, yet always command an intensity and excitement from the audience.

Mark Prator (drums), Jerome Mazza (vocals), Jim Morris (Morrisound Recording Studios). Photo courtesy official website.

The studs and leather of the opening riff from Weight Of The World harks back to Judas Priest's glory days, matched with a harmonic chorus that is so radio-friendly it's a crime that it will no doubt miss that opportunity in the 21st century.

Hero in contrast presents as more of a rocking, folk-flavoured sound that fizzes with infectious energy, all coupled with a soaring, epic backbone, and marching-style drums, and vocals in the rafters.

Elsewhere, Never Surrender returns to the memorable, hit-single format, gifted with the ability to embed itself in your head after one play. Earworm choruses flagrantly pepper almost every track.

Pozharitskaya shines to great effect in her agile, pacy weaving throughout the song In The Wake Of Hope. Succinctly, there are plenty of areas where the band as a whole have the opportunity to stretch their legs into progressive spaces, yet it never wallows or feels baggy, as Massa brings everything to a neat close.

Finishing off the hour is the grandeur of the title track, which is sprinkled with Roine Stolt songwriting chops in the guitar passages that ascend with blissful pomp.

There are no weak areas on this album, that is packed full of refinement and spirit. Never mind the references to Kansas and others, the best thing to do is to simply grab hold of this and appreciate it for what it is; a tightly focused, rocking good experience. It will almost certainly gain appreciative nods from your (doubtless) long-suffering partner, long-resigned to your unique prog musical tastes. An alluring triumph of an album.

Kimmo Pörsti — Wayfarer

Kimmo Pörsti - Wayfarer
Country of Origin
Finland
Year of Release
2020
Time
72:53
Arrival (3:00), Heaven’s Gate (6:15), Creer, Crecer (4:55), Connection Lost (5:29), Morning Mist (4:42), Thunkit (6:22), Wayfarer (4:54), Cruz Del Sur (Southern Cross) (10:19), Witch Watch (6:51), This Day Is Yours (5:51), Heavy Winter (3:29), Icy Storm (5:28), Mika (5:18)

Kimmo Pörsti is well known from his involvement with The Samurai Of Prog (TSoP) and recently released a spin-off album with fellow TSoP member Marco Bernard entitled Gulliver.

This featured a wide range of guest musicians and external composers, which proves to be a successful formula. Never changing a winning team must have been on Pórsti's mind, as in a similar vein he has launched his second solo album Wayfarer; a follow-up to Maahinen Ihmeellinen Iltapäivä from 1997. A small departure from this path is the absence of Ed Unitsky's artistic presentations which are now supplied by Nele Diel. He's been able to add a nice, refreshingly-mystical atmosphere to the concept album through his beautiful illustrations that guide the music along nicely.

Usually when a band undertakes a concept album, most of the music will stay within the confinements of their style and genre, breathing a well-known and appreciative atmosphere. These "rules" do not apply here as the music captured on Wayfarer sees Pörsti (drums, keyboards, bass, guitars) use an infinite array of styles and incorporate endless influences that result in a conglomeration of genre-binding style-crossings. This is a great asset, gaining diversity and yielding a wonderful base for a musical fairytale that's inspired by seventies progressive rock, and touches genres such as folk, jazz, soul, classical music and heart-warming elements of R&B.

This deeply fulfilling musical journey unfolds with the appropriately-titled Arrival, where the slight Alan Parsons feel and fairytale opening carefully builds tension and heightens expectancy, delivered instantly in the delightfully-seductive Heaven's Gate. Written by Jose Manuel Medina (Last Knight, Eternity), the epic track glides through several atmospheres, surrounded by superb symphonic orchestrations, alternating with enchanting guitars and marching beats on top of twinkling keys and alluring violin play. Its refined melodies give it a grandeur that furthermore breathes the sophistication of Mandalaband, another of Medina's involvements.

Kimmo Pörsti. Photo by Yrjö Vaivila, used by kind permission.

Both Creer, Crecer and Cruz Del Sur have previously featured on a Colossus tribute album, and make their reappearance in a slightly-reworked form. Each of the tracks are sung in Spanish by Ridrigo Godoy, also responsible for the delicious fireworks on guitar, yet both ooze a heavenly 70s Italian prog feel, mindful to PFM, especially through the tantalising Moog outbursts prominently found in both tracks. These give it a modern Nuova Era feel as well. In the former, the expressive, touching vocals work very well, while the vocals in the latter require some getting used to. Once settled, both tracks fit splendidly, gliding through a variety of progressive landscapes, cautiously guided by excellent instrumentation.

Connection Lost brings a happier side of folk, with strident Camel flute melodies and a delicate bridge leading into Riverdance prog, which in turn glides back and forward through acoustic and electric guitar orientated folky atmospheres. The laid-back and mellow Morning Mist adds comforting variety and sees precious vocals from Jenny Darren, giving it a light Renaissance touch. Her performance in the ballad Icy Storm tops this, with her emotional vocal in perfect alignment with the moving violins and musical melancholies.

She also appears in Wayfarer which is as fragile a song as they come. A beautifully-restrained composition where Darren's soulful, jazzy voice ignites images of Diana Ross, adding depth and intricacy to the song and storyline.

It also proves to be a perfect resting point after the exquisite Thunkit, which is an absolute highlight on the album. Full of energy and a bursting, summery vibe it is an oasis of refined interplay between guitars (Dave Bainbridge and Jari Riitala) and keys (again Bainbridge), spurred-on by virtuous drumming from Pörsti. In full swing, it flows through divine movements reminiscent to The Flower Kings and Journey in their pre-Perry, jazz-rock influenced period. A majestic track where everything gels and holds an irresistible charm.

This same type of charm, although this has to be seen from a different perspective, can be sensed by the melancholic vibes I get from Witch Watch. The jazzy intonation, through it's alluring saxophone melodies, is great, but it's the piano parts, the smoothly-natural shifts and the low-key drum part interactions that provoke precious memories of Fats Domino, and magically takes me right back to 1980 and his Sleeping On The Job era, encouraged by Riitala's playful bass parts. A wonderful feeling.

Kimmo Pörsti. Photo by Pirkko Pörsti, used by kind permission.

Despite all these fine moments there are some minor, less successful aspects. Heavy Winter sees some nicely executed drums, tasty synth and fine guitars, but doesn't really lift off, while This Day Is Yours looses smoothness through Kev Moore's forced vocal contributions. Even some of the album's clear fidelity gets lost in this song, although this doesn't affect the joyous satisfaction received from the strong clarinet and guitar parts. Once the story ends, via the peaceful sounds of Mika, these slight mis-steps are soon forgotten.

The album is for most-parts instrumental, which is something you hardly notice as the vocal-guided tracks are carefully placed in-between. Another aspect you hardly notice is the easiness in which the switch from Spanish to English lyrics and vice-versa happens in a most natural way. It emphasises the strength of the compositions and their ravishing ability to attract.

I have no doubt Wayfarer will find its way into the hearts of many progressive rock fans and obvious devotees of The Samurai Of Prog world. Being relatively unknown to the TSoP-realm, I have my work cut out once again, for this effort shows delightful creative and inventive appeal where the great melodic storytelling easily sees me going for afters. A strong and recommendable album, perfectly capable of capturing one's imagination.

Windom End — Perspective Views

Windom End - Perspective Views
Country of Origin
Sweden
Year of Release
2020
Time
49:13, 25:19 (bonus disc)
The Dream (10:58), Starless Sky (8:07), Walk This Way (7:23), Within The Shadows (2:49), Revolution (9:24), Ghost Of The Past (10:22)
For Better Ways (bonus disc): Equality (11:45), Differently Alike (7:26), Found Home (6:08)

Besides the many things that Sweden has to offer (beautiful cities, splendid nature, an exemplary social system, literature, amongst others), the country also stands out for its progressive rock music scene, having given birth to and still providing the progrock community with many outstanding bands over the past decades up to now.

According to my differentiation, which makes no claim to be the correct one, prog rock from Sweden roughly falls into three categories concerning the bands' music.

The classic/retro-prog, played by bands such as The Flower Kings, Beardfish, Moon Safari, and Kaipa. The gloomy and melodramatic symphonic prog known from Anglagard, Opeth, Andekdoten and All Traps On Earth. And prog-metal à la Seventh Wonder, Pain Of Salvation, Evergrey and Wolverine.

What seems to be somewhat under-represented in this classification is a distinct neo-prog, more common in other parts of the (prog rock) world, especially in the UK and The Netherlands. This impression is caused by a certain releasing absence in the past ten years from Swedish bands that used to be active in this musical field, namely Galleon, Agents Of Mercy, Twin Age and Introitus (although their latest one is from 2019). Consequently, it was with a certain degree of satisfaction that I realised the appearance of a newcomer, apparently having committed itself to revitalising this musical genre in Sweden.

Windom End hail from Falun in the Swedish province of Dalarnas. They consist of Mikael Arvidsson (lead and background vocals, acoustic and electric guitars), Pierre Stam (bass and acoustic guitar, keyboards, background vocals), Tomas Nystroem (acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards), and drummer Tobias Lundgren, who was with Moon Safari until 2015. Additional keyboards are provided by Erik Goeransson.

Although initial contacts among the members and song writing date back to 2007, the band has been active with this line-up for about three years. The recording of this album took place between July 2018 and October 2019. As they opted for a Japanese record label, the release as reviewed here came out in Japan in April 2020 with the bonus CD. I don't know exactly what is envisaged for the European market. In terms of playing time, both Perspective Views and For Better Times would have fitted onto one CD, and musically, there is no difference between the two.

Windom End. Official promo pic courtesy of artist/label.

The music is neo-prog with symphonic elements and flirts with prog-metal on occasions. Thus, not surprisingly, all the characteristics inherent in this musical style are present on this release: catchy and easy-to-listen-to harmonies, melodic guitar and keyboard solos, a balanced relationship between guitars and keyboards, an abundant use of synthesizer wall of sounds, crisp bass lines and fluid drumming. Particularly worth mentioning are Mikael Arvidsson's expressive vocals, the meticulous arrangements, the distinct song-writing and a high-quality production. With most of the tracks being in the seven to eleven minutes range, there is enough room for the songs to build up, without becoming uniform.

Song structures and patterns do not vary extensively, therefore it is difficult to single-out a particular track. I found Walk This Way and Ghosts Of The Past to be the most varied ones, with great guitar and synthesizer soloing.

Found Home falls off a bit, as according to my ears, it sounds slightly too smooth and shallow. Speaking about variety, listening to both CDs from beginning to end, I had some difficulties to keep my attention entirely focussed. Whilst all being powerful songs, the vitality of the songs, inherent in the variation of harder and softer moments and existing twists and turns, sometimes misses out a bit. The variety of keyboards used, concentrating on synthesizers not sounding very vintage (I did not hear any piano and only some organ, mostly in Starless Sky and Walk This Way), adds to this impression.

However, criticising the band for all these things would be like blaming neo-prog for its characteristics. Neo-prog lovers will take these facts for granted anyway, whilst newcomers to progressive rock will find it easier to familiarise with this musical style, due to the accessibility of the music on this release. Hence, there is no reason for not giving Windom End's album a serious try.

It is appropriate to draw comparisons with the icons of Windom End's musical genre, such as IQ, Jadis and especially Pendragon, whose more recent releases incorporate some harder elements as well. Locally speaking, Galleon show the strongest resemblances for me, but I also realised similarities with the works of Dutch bands Knight Area, Leap Day, and Flamborough Head as well as with Belgian peers Mindgames.

No, Windom End certainly do not reinvent progressive rock. But in terms of Scandinavian and especially Swedish prog, they fill a gap that has been left in the past ten years by the releasing scarcity of Swedish bands known for this musical genre.

Perspective Views definitely is a very promising, appetite-whetting debut, recommended to lovers of neo-prog with a slightly harder edge here and there. Well done, folks from Windom End!