The Cyberiam — Forging Nations Live
The spirit of Christmas is definitely close as the arrival of this CD to review, it is almost as if all my musical wishes had been answered slightly early. What is puzzling to me is why the music press are not shouting from the highest peak, that the next great Prog super group has appeared. The Cyberiam are that damn good. Their songwriting ability combined with their musical ability, should have these four guys being hailed as the future of progressive music for the general public. They have everything needed to break down the prejudice of the public and music press display when the words prog rock are mentioned.
What makes The Cyberiam different from other bands? Lets start with the band themselves. Singer and guitarist Keith Semple is someone I would never have envisioned talking about in the relation to prog music. Keith used to be part of the TV created boy band One True Voice, who were formed from public vote on the UK TV series Popstars: The Rivals. This is the same show that was responsible for the creation of Girls Aloud. With Girls Aloud winning this competition, One True Voice quickly disbanded. Irishman Keith then relocating to Chicago where he soon joined 7th Heaven, a band who supported the likes of Bon Jovi at Soldier Field, playing to audiences of thousands. (If you search out the video online Keith performs this concert proudly wearing Dream Theater t-shirt and sweatbands).
Semple then went to appear on the 2010 version of American Idol were he was disqualified for not having the correct visa to perform on the show. 2015 saw Keith making to the last 24 on USA's The Voice. So with credentials like this it is surprising that such a talented vocalist is now fronting a prog rock band. But it's not just Keith's voice that graces The Cyberiam, he is also a frustratingly talented guitar player, oh, and a decent songwriter as well.
Keith is only one component of the jigsaw that makes the band so special. Keyboard player and composer Frank Lucas, a classically educated piano player who has studied with Jordan Rudess since 1994, and has appeared regularly on Jordan's Youtube page. And he appears to be a very nice guy as well. Then we have the rhythm section. Drummer Tommy Murray is an ambassador for numerous drum manufacturers which confirms his drumming credentials. He auditioned for the Blue Man Group, but was rejected for being to tall. Undeterred he took acting lessons and has appeared in Chicago PD and Chicago Fire. Last, but certainly not least we have bass player and vocalist Brian Kovacs, who is also a radio DJ, voice over artist and member of numerous bands including Libido Funk Circus, an over-the-top tribute band performing '70's disco classics. He also sports some credible facial hear.
So, taking these four individuals, what happens when you put them together? You get some of the best modern heavy neo-prog you could wish for. They create their own unique sound, but the influences strongly centre around Dream Theater, Tool, and the magic ingredient, Rush.
What compounds the talent that comprises The Cyberiam is that their music is complex and melodic, and Forging Nations Live displays the talent in a live environment. For me this is the first time I have heard the band, but even listening to them live first just compounds what a great band they are. With the advent of the tools for home recording make it so much easier for people to produce music, the ability to re-produce it in a live setting is limited, especially with the current pandemic. But looking at The Cyberiam's website, it is the live environment these four talents excel in. This is why you need to be aware of the history of the band members so you can understand their musical background.
Highlight of the album is a live representation of their last studio release, the 21 minute epic, The Butterfly Effect. Having read the limited reviews available for this release, I find it funny that no one appears to have picked up on the obvious nod to the band's biggest influence mid-way through the song. If you can't find it, watch the included live video of the song, the band even appear to recreate the onstage pose made famous by their influence. The whole track itself is made up of five individual parts and is a marvellous piece of work.
There are six other tracks included. The opener, Alice In Afterland, is a great way of letting any unsuspecting audience know what The Cyberiam are all about. Complex heavy rhythms with melodic vocal passages and stunning songwriting.
The Fall was the single from the debut album and demonstrates their ability to write tunes with commerciality and has a feel of Porcupine Tree (when they wrote good songs), mixed with a feel of mid-period Rush. Keith's voice is in the higher register, so this reinforces the Rush comparison. The instrumental section will have you thinking of Geddy Lee's bass playing as well. Brian Kovacs' bass tone along with his playing is magical, not just on this song but throughout the album. He takes any opportunity to fill out spaces with runs and fills which will have any Geddy Lee fan in raptures.
The pre-recorded intro opening to Nostalgia will give you clues to their influences. The song is reminiscent of Dream Theater's early ability to compose ballads or slower song which demonstrated they were not just about the heavier end. The chorus has a neo-prog feel, similar to IQ when Paul Menel was a member.
The album closer, Don't Blink, shows the band don't take themselves too seriously. This is a tribute to their favourite time traveller, Doctor Who.
I am really struggling to express how good I think The Cyberiam are. They are so modern, but have the ability to appeal to a mainstream audience. They will hopefully become recognised as the new pioneers of prog. They feel at times what Muse were when they became recognised. The difference with The Cyberiam is that they are obvious about who their real influences are, they never hide it. But they build upon what has gone before, and are beginning to redefine it into a package that will appeal to a whole new audience.
Without a doubt, my number one album of the year, thanks guys for an amazing early Christmas present.
Eloy Fritsch — Moment In Paradise
Eloy Fritsch is the main composer and keyboard player of the Brazilian prog band Apocalypse, who celebrate their 37th(!) birthday this year. Besides this he has a fruitful solo-career where the recent Moment In Paradise denotes his fourteenth effort. All his experience can most definitely be heard on this elegant and engaging album, making me wonder why I never heard of either one of his endeavours before. For his songwriting, flawless executions and production skills are without doubt of the highest order.
One of the reasons as to why he remained unknown to me is the fact that most of his solo efforts focus on new age and electronic music, which is a musical area I have hardly touched upon. Notice the past tense here, for Moment In Paradise is a marvellous array of compositions that flows beautifully from start to finish, that equally delightful touches upon new age and delicately added symphonic prog and epic soundscapes.
First up it's High Places, a scrumptious steamy jazz inspired cocktail divided into four segments that each palpitate refinement, frivolous piano and keyboard play. With an extremely inspired, highly versatile, rhythm section giving the compositions backbone and delightful multi-layeredness. It radiates the feeling of sitting in a comforting Chesterfield in your favourite lounge bar, sipping a complementary drink whilst listening to an exciting jazz-trio swinging away on mesmerising melodies that unconsciously sees me tapping along in admiration. Strangely sometimes memories of early Argent shine through, while the electronic touches, spacious electronics and classical themes give further depth and variety to the music. I suspect the bass and drums are programmed, although one hardly notices this.
The dreamy title track Moment In Paradise shows a completely different approach. Initially gliding on delicate piano notes, symphonic layers slowly take over to reveal a scenic soundscape filled with epic movements that alternate with fragile moments and classical melodies, oozing the overwhelming feel of Vangelis and José Manuel Medina's Eternity. A perfect translation of the beautiful enchanting artwork into moving emotive melodies.
The brilliant Silver Dream ups the ante, pushing me deeper into my Chesterfield igniting divine deja-vu images of E.L.P., Gerard, Triumvirat and Rick Wakeman, just to give a few examples. The infectiously energetic composition glides through many differing sparkling atmospheres showcasing Fritsch's golden, gracious, warp-speed skills on keys, enhanced by an appreciative simulated guitar segment and an overall high technical Tarkus-like feel. A pompous and bombastic keyboard lover's delight.
The sensitive and intimate recital of Blue Eyes Reflected Over The Ocean and lovely romanticism of Gently Touch The Sky show the complete indulgent opposite, breathing sophistication, elegance and breakable warmth. Showcasing again another side of Fritsch's wide-stretched musicality and inspiration. A variety matched by the uplifting synth rock of Running To The Sea and funky playfulness of Vanishing Point, where the quiet fade out is both soothing and peaceful. And while Funny Moments glides from rock 'n roll into jazz and tuneful R&B. Drone Attack adds flavourings of Gentle Giant and crispy clean spaciousness, dominated by tantalising synth parts.
Recapitulating, Fritsch has delivered a joyous album showcasing a broad variety of styles and intricate play, all masterfully done and executed. Soothing and relaxing on the one hand, as well as exciting and virtuously detailed on the other. The occasional euphoric symphonic anthem feel and jazzy vibrancy of several compositions certifies that I'll take a journey through Fritsch' past. And future, for apparently a new album (Cosmic Light) will see light of day soon.
Anyone devoted to instrumental symphonic keyboard orientated music, surrounded by splashes of retro prog and new age that meets the likes of Rick Wakeman, Tomita, Eternity and Kitaro should certainly give this a listen. For me the jazzy improvisations and talented musicianship embedded within the music gives it just that extra dimension, resulting in a refreshing effort that sparkles with wonderful visionary melodies and mild sensations of caressing familiarity.
Karda Estra — Idols In The Flesh
It has been three years since the last Karda Estra release, Infernal Spheres, during which time Richard Wileman, the man behind the Karda Estra name, has released three albums under his own name. This latest installment, the 17th album released since 1998, come hot of the heels of the third of the 'solo' albums Arcana. Actually it is rather a misnomer to call the albums released under his own name as solo recordings as they invariable include more musicians than the Karda Estra releases, as is the case with Idols In The Flesh where with the exception of some minimalist vocals on the final track by Amy Fry, everything is written, performed, produced and designed by Wileman.
The album is based around a four-part suite from which the album takes its name. If you have never heard anything by Karda Estra then they are rather difficult to describe. A mixture of ethereal and gothic (in the true sense of the word) instrumental music that is at times avant garde but with plenty of melodies and always exceptional performances. Idols In The Flesh maintains that form with Part 1 being akin to cinematic music slightly reminiscent of the early Tangerine Dream film scores.
Part 2 introduces classical guitar and organ to create a more musical (as opposed to atmospheric) piece and Part 3 takes up the themes and style of the first part but with different instrumentation. The effect of what sounds like piano strings being strummed is particularly nice. The final part features the (here's that word again) ethereal voice of Amy Fry adding a degree of somberness to proceedings. Elements of the previous three parts are echoed throughout the rest of the piece.
Prior to the concluding part of the title track are two other pieces, The Unhappy Breed and Church Of Flesh. The former track starts off very much like a continuation of Idols In The Flesh with the first minute being a soundscape after which a solo piano picks out a melody before being joined by guitar, keyboards and a sole cymbal. Following three minutes of delightful musical interplay the final minute is a resumption of the tracks opening soundscape. Church Of Flesh is performed entirely on keyboards and again we are taken into a the world of the horror/mystery soundtrack.
An absorbing, intriguing and immersive album that, despite my references to soundtracks, stands up to repeated listenings. A fine addition to the Karda Estra catalogue.
Richard Wileman — Arcana
Richard Wileman, the multi-instrumentalist behind Karda Estra follows up his 2019 EP Cabal Of A Thousand Souls with his third full-length album released under his own name, although it sees a deepening collaboration with saxophonist and vocalist Amy Fry who has featured on his previous releases. The more acoustic nature of the "solo" releases continues making Arcana a somewhat more, for want of a better word, commercial prospect than the latest, recently issued, Karda Estra album Idols In The Flesh.
The other distinguishing factor of the Wileman releases is the presence of vocals on nine of the 13 tracks. Six of the tracks, including all four instrumentals, are named after major Arcana (trump) cards in the Tarot, hence the album's name. Two of the instrumentals do contain vocalisations with Fry appearing on the eerie The Hanged Man and both Wileman and Fry harmonising on the Wheel Of Fortune which would not have sounded out of place on a Dead Can Dance album. The styles of the other two instrumentals, The Fool and The Devil, take their cue from their names, with the former being a rather jaunty but disjointed piece mixing the light-heartedness of a jester with the somewhat deeper layers that drive the foolish knave. Whilst the latter track is a darker and more ominous piece whose motive you can never quite be sure of. Of the other two Tarot-titled songs, The Star is beautifully sung by Fry. She also layers alto sax over Wileman's acoustic guitar on The Sun And The Moon and lifts a couple of the choruses with sprightly backing vocals.
Five of the remaining seven songs are duets, with Fry and Wileman's voices meshing together very well. There are some great juxtapositions between song titles and song content:Night Of The Living Doll, a horror tale of the dead returning to earth is a jolly little ditty whereas You Are My Song is the creepiest love song ever to have been written. Pilot holds more promise in its upbeat love declarations, even if that love may only last for an evening. The best vocal blending comes on the rather depressingly titled How I Ended It All, yet once again the song is the complete opposite of a depressing dirge. the final song on the CD, Crafted From Wood is a sort of cover version, even though Wileman was one of the composers. The song originally appeared on the 2008 album Earth Born by Spirits Burning although the title and lyrics are really the only thing the two versions have in common. Even if you are the most ardent Hawkwind/Gong fan, members of whom are also included in the songwriting credits, you'd have a hard time denying that the superior version is included on this album.
Much as the songs already mentioned are delightful in their own rights, it is the remaining two tracks that really make the album for me, both of which mainly feature Wileman. Opening song Seed Sown, Mind Blown, is a dose of lazy psychedelia and After London is an almost perfect three minutes, where the acoustic guitar basis of the song is complemented by a shining electric guitar part.
Amy Fry is the ideal foil for Wileman and together they form a compelling combination that needs to be heard. Arcana is a delight from start to finish.
Xeno — Sojourn
Hailing from The Netherlands, Xeno have been making waves in the scene since their formation in 2008. Having graced the stage along side bands such as Voivod and Carach Angren and more. Their first album Atlas Construct was very well received, and the band are back with their second album: Sojourn.
There are many influences through out this album, weaving their way through the fabric of each song. The band themselves state their main inspiration comes from the likes of Porcupine Tree, Opeth and Lamb of God amongst others. These influences become more apparent the further in you go. In Stasis lures you in with some jazzy and light, atmospheric moments before Dusk brings in the heavy guns. Harsh vocals, ethereal riffing and a Devin Townsend type feel to it.
The keys and clean vocals through the album help lend it a melodic sound, when coupled with the more djent riffs, it shows off the band's influences and channelling of the likes of Tesseract or Periphery.
The production is clear, with every note being clearly heard, and the heavy sections compliment the lighter and more melodic ones well. The use of keys to create atmospheres and textures in the songs helps to bolster the already melodic parts, while keeping the heavy, more death metal influenced, parts fast and impactful.
However, I would say some of the songs perhaps go on slightly too long, and the album could have maybe done with either shorter tracks, or a couple less. However, that is not to say there is anything bad about them. Everything is very well written and if you are a fan of the melodic djent sound of the aforementioned bands, then I would recommend picking this up, you will enjoy it.