Album Reviews

Issue 2020-007

Here at DPRP towers, we frequently receive some interesting albums that whilst not strictly "prog", would be of interest to many of our readers. We sometimes receive albums that have been released in previous years. Also, with so many albums submitted, it is not always possible to find a writer with the time to give every release our usual in-depth review.

So how best can we still bring you news of such releases?

This is an edition of Prog Bites. Each still has all the usual album information and links to samples and videos (where available), but the reviews are much shorter, and we do not award any score.

We hope you will find some great music that you think deserves further investigation.

Here at DPRP towers, we frequently receive some interesting albums that whilst not strictly "prog", would be of interest to many of our readers. We sometimes receive albums that have been released in previous years. Also, with so many albums submitted, it is not always possible to find a writer with the time to give every release our usual in-depth review.

So how best can we still bring you news of such releases?

This is an edition of Prog Bites. Each still has all the usual album information and links to samples and videos (where available), but the reviews are much shorter, and we do not award any score.

We hope you will find some great music that you think deserves further investigation.

Blind Ego — Preaching To The Choir

Blind Ego - Preaching To The Choir
Massive (5:25), Preaching To The Choir (6:05), Burning Alive (5:14), Line In The Sand (4:08), Dark Paradise (5:14), In Exile (4:07), Heading For The Stars (5:34), Broken Land (4:43), The Pulse (8:39)
Martin Burns

Kalle Wallner is best known to prog fans as the W in RPWL. His other project, Blind Ego, is a beast of a different stripe that has evolved into a hard rock band with a classic rock line-up. Blind Ego's new release Preaching To The Choir is the project's fourth studio release and it is a fine album of crunchy rockin' riffs.

As with his other band, Kalle Wallner brings a set of hummable melodies that are wrapped in consistently interesting arrangements. Hard rock guitar riffs battle it out with each other, with swirling keys, and drums and bass that want to burst out of the hard rock jacket. The tension makes Preaching To The Choir consistently listenable. Also Blind Ego have a great vocalist in the shape of Scott Balaban, who has a soulful tinge to his powerful and controlled singing, and he avoids screaming or growly extremes.

At times Blind Ego move towards prog-metal territory (The Pulse) but at others they come across as a hard rock U2, with chiming guitar harmonies (Burning Alive). If only U2 were half as interesting as this.

Blind Ego's Preaching To The Choir has Kalle Wallner flexing his non-RPWL guitar muscles to produce a very listenable release of really good hard-rock.

Chickn — Bel Sprit

Chickn - Bel Sprit
Bel Sprit (4:49), Sweet Geneva (2:48), Infrared Panda Club (3:14), Candle Fly (2:44), Evening Primrose (3:06), She´ll Be Apples (4:13), Moon Underwater (3:35), Die To Make A Living - Reprise (5:38), Chickn Tribe - Slight Return (2:55)
Ignacio Bernaola

OK, so what's happening lately in Greece? So many good bands are arising these days and I must say it's great to discover music from those bands. Last year we had Mother Of Millions and Villagers Of Ioannina City releasing stunning albums and more bands doing great music.

Chickn are not new in the business but don't expect progressive rock this time. Maybe if you go to their previous releases Wowsers! and their self titled debut from 2016, you can find those progressive rock influences mixed with indie music, pop structures and psychedelic elements. This time they have gone further with their unique sound: more synthesizers, shorter songs and some surprises.

Nowadays progressive rock is ... progressing. We can find great albums not following the typical cliches of the genre, as I did last year with Moron Police and of course Cheeto´s Magazine. Well, you won't find that in Bel Sprit but instead you will enjoy a bunch of eclectic songs to have a good time to, performed by good musicians trying different things.

I'm not going to describe their sound because it's not easy but if you're an open minded prog-rock nerd, I think you can find this album interesting and maybe you can also start listening to Animal Collective. However if you're a prog-rock snob, well I'm sorry I made you read this!

Frequent Flyers — ∞ (Infinity)

Frequent Flyers - ∞ (Infinity)
Unnecessary (5:46), More Is Less (3:26), Cognitive Dissonance, Pt. 1 (6:33), Cognitive Dissonance, Pt. 2 (6:35), Myriad (5:57), Afro-Pandy (10:09)
Martin Burns

It is rare to find a string quartet as part of the line-up of a jazz-prog group. But for John Stewart's Frequent Flyers he chose to replace the sax, trumpet and piano line up, for which he originally wrote, with something less predictable. Stewart assembled the players on this album from fellow students who he had met at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain.

Though he sites Dream Theater, Transatlantic, Frank Zappa and Yes as influences, it is jazz-prog mavericks Snarky Puppy that seems to have had the most effect on this collection of six tracks. The music on Infinity leans more towards jazz, than prog, and it is really, really good jazz.

Stewart leads from the front on this exquisitely arranged set. He provides drums and most of the keyboards on Infinity, and with the help of bass, the string quartet and a piano soloist on a couple of tracks, they produce warm, organic jazz. It begins with the squelchy funk of the synth bass on Unnecessary, where as soon as the strings enter, you know something special is going on.

The string quartet are used both as soloists and as an ensemble, with melodies bouncing between the harmonic delights of the strings, and onto the bass and keyboards. The music touches on a diverse range of styles, from Klezmer-like folk on More Is Less, to a North African melody mixed with South American polyrhythms on Afro-Pandy. The use of piano (both Grand and Fender Rhodes) is terrific and adds to the range of colours here.

Frequent Flyers' Infinity is a corker of a subtle, sneak-up-on-you, jazz-prog album. If you like Snarky Puppy's Sylva or fancy hearing what Joe Zawinul would have done with a string quartet, then listen to this great release.

Hepcat Dilemma — Art Imitates Life

Hepcat Dilemma - Art Imitates Life
Cowboy Song (3:56), Countdown (3:04), The Chauffeur Will Have The Last Word (2:35), The Hepcat Motto (2:12), Night Of The Spiders (3:22), Persian Monkey Treatment (3:50), Sky Cycle (2:35), Blindsided In Aisle 12 (3:37), What Will Her Kiss Mean Tomorrow? (3:24)
Jan Buddenberg

There is no such thing as standard prog, and Art Imitates Life by Hepcat Dilemma is a perfect example of this. Seventeen years after their previous release, this sees the threesome of Chris Colpo (bass, vocals), Bob Loiselle (guitars, piano) and E. Hood (drums) unleash a punk rock-induced, psychedelic, complex, straight from the heart, virtuous-yet-relatively-accessible (proto-prog) noise record. Are you still with me after the punk part?

The nine energetic, vibrantly concise and disturbingly entertaining tracks have a feeling of The Dictators, with many psychedelic influences to be found. Cowboy Song for instance moves from slow bursts of atmospheric psychedelic Bevis Frond, through an intense build up, into an almost psychopathic Hawkwind. Countdown, a hypnotic mellow instrumental track, glides freely in similar fashion, whereas the freaky Persian Monkey Treatment, filled with rolling bass, playful drums and tight riffs, dives more into Spirit / The Doors darkness.

An essential part of the music is the direct or metaphorical confrontational lyrics, expressively thrown out by Colpo. His vocals range from down to earth, spoken phrases, up to euphoric hysteria and frantic maniacal cries, giving a unique sound to the complex nature of the compositions. A slight resemblance to Fee Waybill (The Tubes) comes to mind in What Will Her Kiss Mean Tomorrow, or a Frank Zappa touch in the violent The Chauffeur Will Have The Last Word.

Amidst all these complexities, 70s-inspired garage rockers The Hepcat Motto and Night Of The Spiders feature further variations, counter rhythms, psychedelics and weird, atonic guitars. And with noise rock prevailing in Sky Cycle, whilst Blindsided In Aisle 12 is favourably more melodic, a good half hour of unbridled rock has flown by in a haze.

Different, that's for sure. Prog? Well, The Ramones played 15 tracks in the same amount of time, so nine feels like progress doesn't it?

Joe Olnick Band — Iguana

Joe Olnick Band - Iguana
Sticky Floor Nightclub (4:13), Don's Theme (4:41), February 2nd (0:23), Misadventures In Hi-Fi (3:23), Why? (1:49), Hot Rocks (3:52)
Andy Read

Iguana is the seventh fusion album by this guitarist out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who has clocked in an impressive 10,000 hours of playing in jam bands. Joe Olnick also plays the sax, bass and works as a recording engineer. This record is performed by a trio, with Jamlie Aston adding bass and Stew Bradley behind the drum kit.

The cover, by comic book artist Ron Good, encapsulates the story which runs through the album, of Don, the misunderstood iguana, who after lots of struggles eventually gets his own Hot Rock to rest upon!

Three of the tracks here operate as pretty straight fusion, groove-laden workouts. Hot Rocks is the brighter and more enjoyable. Don's Theme is cooked to more of a gentle blues recipe. In fact it's pretty much all about the groove on this EP. The playing is never complex. The arrangements build and develop but never stray too far from the original motif. An easy listen and a good taster for those who may wish to explore more of Joe Olnick's work.

One Now Ago — No One's Listening

One Now Ago - No One's Listening
Open Your Mind (5:04), No One's Listening - Part 1 (5:32), Losing Touch (8:52), Peaceful Place (2:31), No One's Listening - Part 2 (5:58), A Day At Montségur (1:44), Part Of All (7:45), Tales From The Kupp (5:30), All Ways (6:51), No One's Listening - Part 3 (7:11)
Héctor Gómez

For every album launched with hype and fanfare by a "big" name, often met with either biased, uncritical adoration or unfair criticism borne out of frustation, there is a small independent release which causes no big waves nor stirs up passions but indeed gives the listener a pleasant enough aural experience.

No One's Listening by Philadelphia's One Now Ago is one such thing; nearly 60 minutes of engaging symphonic rock which manages to sound fresh, while referencing classic bands from back in the day. The first "modern" reference that springs to mind are Tiles and their trademark, punchy, riffy style, even if vintage keyboards are definitely more prominent here and Steve Carlisle's vocals are more Mark Trueack (Unitopia) than they are Tiles' Paul Rarick.

On the more vintage end of things, I believe the Gentle Giant influence is undeniable; look no further than on No One's Listening Part 2 multilayered vocals. Other highlights include extended tracks such as Losing Touch and Part Of All, showcasing some dynamic band interplay, as well as the instrumental piece, Tales From The Kupp, in which band members (particularly drummer Ritchie DeCarlo) get to flex their musical muscles.

So, no reinvention of the wheel here, but a good, solid slab of fairly standard rock tunes spiced up with some sophisticated, colourful arrangements (some nice flute flourishes here, some tasteful fretless bass there) and some clever ideas that add a welcome veneer of sophistication.

Ciro Perrino — Planets

1979 / 2019
Ciro Perrino - Planets
Mercury (5:09), Venus (4:20), Mars (4:02), Jupiter (3:06), Saturn (The Rings) (4:25), Saturn (The Planet) (6:31), Uranus (7:52), Neptune (4:07), Pluto (3:29)
Jan Buddenberg

Ciro Perrino (Celeste, Il Systema) released his first solo album Solare in 1979, shifting his progressive roots towards instrumental electronic music. Renamed to Planets, this debut can now be enjoyed in its full potential, where several artistic sacrifices made all those years ago, now stand corrected. It includes the official ninth track Neptune, which had to be omitted due to vinyl length and sound fidelity, as well as many dismissed essential background sounds. The originally desired artwork, which at the time was copyrighted by NASA and therefore not allowed, has been resolved too, albeit by sheer coincidence.

Newly remastered, the atmospheric electronic music, with a familiar feel to Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, has gained depth and exhales more spatiality than its original release, resulting in a peaceful journey amongst the planets. This album is best enjoyed with headphones to fully embrace the underlying vastness.

From the small, intricate melody lines in Mercure, we drift towards a spiritual Venus and pass the slightly psychedelic and mysterious Mars, filled with chattering alien sounds. The breathing, spacey soundscapes at the heart of the planet alignment glides into Zen atmosphere, as we briefly circle Jupiter and spiral towards the twinkling outer rings of Saturn (The Rings), both reminiscent to the earlier Space work of Didier Marouani.

Sumptuous Moog layers and adventurous electronic outbursts in Saturn (The Planet) and Uranus ignite images of P'Cock and the many chilling, icy cold synth moves and echo effects in Neptune lead up to Pluto's elliptical loops.

Unfortunately this style of advanced electronic music has been surpassed in the past 40 years, nowadays springing visions of Thai massages and Reform Tea parlours to my mind. Yet if one takes the time to embrace the atmospheric, relaxing nature of the imaginative compositions, then there's quite a lot to enjoy and discover.

Pyramids On Mars — Edge Of The Black

Pyramids On Mars - Edge Of The Black
Blood Moon (5:43), Nacht Waffen (6:57), Song Of Light (5:44), F-22 Raptor (5:54), The Ambassador (4:58), Mercury Magnetar (4:58), Arcturian Rain (4:39), Time To Believe (4:41), Arioso Lullaby (4:39), Whale Song (4:28)
Chris Haggstrom

Pyramids On Mars is the project of Canadian guitarist Kevin Estrella, who refers to himself as the "Satriani of the North". Estrella produced, engineered, and played all the instruments on this third release, Edge Of The Black. In addition to Joe Satriani, Estrella names Rush, Yngwie J. Malmsteen, and Baroque classical composers Bach and Vivaldi as influences.

Despite the self-given nickname, the tracks on Edge Of The Black are generally much heavier than Satriani's sound, and also don't have any of Satch's trademark melodic hooks. The focus on Estrella's songs is as much on the riffs as the solos. I can clearly hear his Rush influence in the chorus-pedal-driven rhythm guitar, which doesn't always leave enough sonic room for the lead guitar to be heard, resulting at times in a muddy-sounding production.

There's good variety in the song styles. The opening track, Blood Moon, features the unmistakable galloping rhythms and harmonising guitars of Iron Maiden. Arioso Lullaby harkens back to Pachelbel's Canon in D, overdubbed with layers of electric guitars, while Whale Song is, yes you guessed it, whale cries imitated via whammy bar, over oceanic keyboards and sound effects.

While Edge Of The Black has an occasional Yngwie-type neo-classical solo passage, and there are some reminders of classical influences in keyboard harpsichord samples, the best elements of this album remind me more of the crunchy, riff-laden playing of George Lynch or Zakk Wylde, than the fleet-fingered solo gymnastics of Satriani, Malmsteen, or Vai.

Oscar Salas — At This Time

Oscar Salas - At This Time
Tides (5:12), Full Spaces (4:32), Three Little Miracles (3:46), The Biggest Thing (5:23), At This Time (4:18)
Craig Goldsmith

Featuring a South American guitarist who attended a music conservatory aged 18 to learn classical theory and classical guitar, you would expect at least a smidgeon of some nylon string finger picking right? Wrong. This EP is very much middle of the road Satriani-style.

Like all new music, it takes time to bed-in and appreciate what there is on offer. Examples would be the tricky time signatures and pretty balladry on The Biggest Thing, finger-tapping on Full Spaces (check out the attached video), and the overall production. Sadly there are some let-downs, such as the almost painful fluffed notes during some arpeggiating on Three Little Miracles. Of course this may be a proxy for not recording with ridiculous numbers of studio takes; which is laudable, if true.

It's not on a par with Steve Vai, and I could do with less of the standard, crunchy rhythm background, but there is potential here for those who actually listen to instrumental guitar music for fun. Perhaps a peppering of his classical training would be in order next time. He does play a 7-string though, so already nearly 17% better than average.

Serpentyne — Angels Of The Night

Serpentyne - Angels Of The Night
Away From The World (4:30), Angel Of The Night (4:51), Lady Serpentyne (6:24), Follow Me (3:36), Lady Macbeth (5:01), Bring On The Storm (4:06), Aphrodite (4:17), Salvation (3:40), Seven Signs (3:44), Boudicca (5:03), The Call Of The Banshee (3:40)
Jan Buddenberg

This is the first outing on the recently founded label Hell Fairy Records, a division of Painted Bass Records which specialises in symphonic metal. As a successor to their 2016 release The Serpent's Kiss, it introduces female fronted symphonic metal in the mould of Nightwish and Within Temptation, mixed with folk and Celtic influences. All is encaged within a medieval atmosphere and lyrics inspired by historical and mythical lionesses such as Boudicca, Aphrodite, Medusa and Jeanne D'Arc.

Separating Serpentyne from the crowd is the frequent use of bagpipes and hurdy gurdy, giving them an edge towards contemporary bands, as immediately shown in the catchy Away From The World. Further symphonic arrangements compliment the perfectly balanced, uptempo instrumentation, over which the soprano vocals by bandleader Maggiebeth Sand soar high. Her amiable vocals work up to a point, yet in heavier tracks like Angel Of The Night and Lady Serpentyne she falls short due to the overpowering effect of the music.

Whether it be the versatile drum parts, solid bass foundations, complementary orchestrations or playful guitars, each instrument serves the song to the maximum, perfectly shown in the dynamic Follow Me and the Celtic folk prog of Bouddica. Aphrodite, enriched through successful vocal harmonies, and Salvation , flirting with a-capella and straight forward rock structures, burst with ideas and melodies, whilst feeling familiar.

The rockier and lesser symphonic metal approach of Bring On The Storm and Seven Signs, featuring Nigel Middleton on vocals, ensures variation, as does the aboriginal tribal feel of The Call Of The Banshee. It's the odd one out within Serpentyne's medieval context and an unsuspected ending to an otherwise nicely executed album. An engaging addition to the genre, with room left to grow.

Daria Shakhova — Fluoresense

Daria Shakhova - Fluoresense
Inspiration (4:06), Icebergs (3:27), Highest (6:05), Whiteness (3:48), Legend (3:58), Deepest (3:47), Aurora (7:12), Farewell (5:53)
Martin Burns

Daria Shakhova is a Siberian composer and musician (violin, piano, voice and guitar) based in Novosibirsk, Russia. Her new release Fluoresense is an instrumental concept album that follows the journey of a young traveller through Scandinavia's cold climes, to experience the northern lights and fulfil an old dream of his.

The eight tracks are all contemporary classical pieces written for piano and string quartet (two violins, viola and cello) and Daria works in the melodic mould of someone like Ludovico Einaudi, rather than the more repeating style of minimalist music. I will confess that of all the classical music, I like piano-led chamber music the best. Faure's piano quartets, quintets and his trio, being my absolute favourites.

Neo-classical piano is the dominant instrument on Fluoresense and Daria Shakhova has a way with a beautiful melody. The music here is just gorgeous. Using minimal arrangements, she leaves the tunes to carry the weight, which they do with ease. On Icebergs there is just solo piano, and on Whiteness Mark Pinigin's cello takes the lead, adding mystery with its deep sonority. Legend has a folk-like melody with violin sliding over plucked strings and the piano taking a back seat. But the centre-piece is Aurora. It is introduced by piano and a violin drone, before settling into a piano quartet mode, that expresses hope, joy and the little worries expressed by a gentle use of dissonance.

Daria Shakhova's Fluoresense is a contemporary classical work of almost overwhelming beauty. A terrific way to begin a year's reviewing.

Album Reviews