About:Blank — Anthology Of A Cave
About:Blank were formed in 2012 in Bologna by Marco Venturelli (vocals) and Enrico Scorzoni (bass guitar), and soon thereafter joined by Alessandro Ambrosio (guitars) and Raul Zannoni (drums). Its first years were characterised by rehearsal room existence and occasional live performances, before Francesco Maziotti (guitars) joined in 2015, causing the band to move one step forward and to record the self-produced album Random Rock, which saw the light of day in 2017. The band increased the degree of its life presence and decided to undergo a change in musical direction. Whilst Random Rock apparently had been rather hard rock-oriented (I don't know that album). About:Blank, according to its own assessment, thereafter shifted to post-metal/post-rock with progressive metal and progressive rock influences.
Anthology Of A Cave can be considered as a concept album, whereby the "cave" figuratively stands for the human soul. The protagonist, in the attempt to explore this "cave", is confronted with all kinds of spiritual abysses, such as greed, human cruelty, dullness, selfishness, and envy. Just like literally descending into a cave can sometimes be a frightening and disturbing experience. Consequently, the overall mood and sentiment lyrically are fairly gloomy, an atmosphere that the music to some extent reflects. I must admit, though, that I had slight difficulties coming to terms with the lyrics of this release. The sometimes scarce use of definite articles, the phrasing and the nuances make the language occasionally look and sound untypical to my "non native speaker's, but nonetheless used to the English language"- eyes and ears. However, in principle, in valuing a release, most of the times I attach a higher importance to the music than to the lyrics. And the former, in my opinion, is so exciting that it clearly outweighs the meaning of the latter.
About:Blank is progressive rock from Italy, but it doesn't play the symphonic, lyrical prog rock common to many of its RPI peers. What I found quite unique about its music is the abundant use of acoustic guitars and the way they mesh with their electric counterparts. Most of the songs follow the same pattern insofar as they start acoustically, the riffing then being picked up by electric guitars, transformed, processed and enwoven. The songs Orpheo (my favourite) and The Cave are the most striking examples of this song structuring approach. The song structures being quite similar, however, does not mean that the music is monotonous and uniform. On the contrary, the acoustic/electric interplay provide for a decent degree of variedness, elegance, dramatics, complexity and atmosphere.
The line-up mentions two guitarists, but no official keyboarder, although keyboards (mainly synthesizer and piano) are audible on various occasions (particularly in Orpheo, Mirror Mountain and The Cave), as well as some spacy electronics (Before It Was Done). According to an information by the band, all the electronics (including the keys) were composed and digitally played/added by Alessandro Ambrosio. In any case, the music overall remains rather guitar-oriented, and especially the harder parts remind me of bands like Rush and Sieges Even.
Sung tracks alternate with short instrumental ones, the latter ones showing some reminiscences of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree. Marco Venturelli's voice, which sometimes appears to be doubled, ranges from melancholic Lou Reed style, whispers, to fierceness and occasional growls. I don't feel that there is any predominant musical influence. Besides the bands already mentioned, there is a bit of Riverside, Tool, Opeth, Moongarden, A Perfect Circle, The Police and lots of About:Blank.
A few words on the final track One More, which is not part of the lyrical concept, but rather has a bonus track character, and which, with its Papa Roach, The Offspring, and Billy Talent influences also musically differs from the rest of the album. Apparently, it is composed and played by/together with members of chummy Bologna-based bands, which supported About:Blank in the past and which it wanted to give the opportunity to be present and make themselves heard on its release.
According to its own statement, About:Blank wanted to explore a new musical approach and sound with Anthology O A Cave. In my opinion, this test was successful, as the outcome is very promising. Therefore, I can recommend this release to prog rock/prog metal lovers of the peers mentioned above and to the ones looking for an inventive blend of acoustic and harder musical elements. Comments by the band concerning the (instrumental) track A Place For Time hint at the protagonist's journey to the cave not being over yet, but that it will be resumed in full strength after some rest. I look forward to that rest being over sooner than later and to a continuation in the musical direction embarked upon with this release, and I would have nothing against some Italian lyrics here and there and the permanent presence of a keyboarder.
Godsticks — Inescapable
I must confess, when I receive an album to review from a band that I haven't heard of I don't check their history or discography. I simply push play and listen to the music. That's what I did when I received Godsticks last effort, called Inescapable and somehow it sounded familiar from the very beginning. I guess it was because of that grungy sounds but moreover because of the voice from singer Darran Charles sounding quite similar to Chris Cornell in several songs of the album. The thing is I enjoyed the whole album although I wasn't much impressed. I could end this review right know but I have time so let me explain a few thing more so as new listeners can decide if they want to check out this band, or not.
Let's start with what they say in their press statement. They say they mix heavy rock, progressive and alternative metal with a dynamic range of angular riffs. Ok, agree with all of that except for the progressive part. Maybe it's me but one thing is for sure Godsticks is not what you call a progressive rock band. They also say vocals have suffered the biggest change on this album. Well I hadn't listened to their previous albums so this is the point where I search for them and check some of their previous albums that we reviewed. There are great reviews to discover for Godsticks and their evolution through these years you can find via DPRP Search.
After these readings and having also listened to those albums I can confirm the vocals have suffered a big change and for good in my opinion. More emotion and higher registers as you can hear in three of the best song of the album; grunge oriented Victim, the beautiful Surrender and the softer one called Breathe. Apart from the vocals the listener will realize that Godsticks sound has also changed, having original progressive elements in Spiral Vendetta and in The Envisange Conundrum and moving into more alternative metal sounds as in their previous works from 2015 and 2017 called Emergence and Faced With Rage. Inescapable follows this progression and feels more like an alternative metal-rock album and I don't know why but I'm seeing this type of progression from several bands lately. No surprises if you look into the Kscope catalogue, their record label.
So, I come to the end of this short review with the feeling of having said nothing new about Godsticks but that's also what happens with this album. It's a good album with a few good songs but at this point I only can bring back my partner Edwin Roosjen´s final opinion: it introduced me to a good band with very good music. Inescapable has some fine moments, and it's technically very well played, produced and mixed. But it never grabbed me enough to come back to it after a few listenings. The good thing is I discovered very good progressive rock albums from the band that I will listen to again and let's hope they can find that way again in the future and rescue those progressive rock elements and mix them with the good vocals here. So as I said before now it's your turn to corroborate what I said and decide for yourselves.
Obsidian Tide — Pillars Of Creation
Hailing from Israel, Obsidian Tide are a three piece progressive metal band consisting of Oz Avneya on guitars and clean vocals, Shachar Bieber on bass and harsh vocals and Erez Nadler on drums and programming. They had made somewhat of a name for themselves with an impressive debut EP entitled Debris, in 2015, gaining a fair amount of rave reviews and the band were labelled as an act to keep an eye on in the future.
My attention was first brought to this full length follow up after it was featured in YouTube channel CoverKillerNation's top albums of 2019, where it placed close to the top 20 and was one of the few artists I'd never heard of, throughout the top 50 mentioned. The band fall comfortably into a category of prog metal with a bunch of notable influences that can be heard clearly. If you're a fan of Opeth, Cynic, Scar Symmetry, Orphaned Land or even Symphony X, you'll feel right at home here. The band members play their parts exceptionally and with a great degree of skill. The record is full of sweeping guitar solo's, huge riffs, clinical drumming and about a 60/40 mix of clean to harsh vocals. The album was produced by the band themselves along with Jamie King, who has worked with Between The Buried And Me, among other prog metal giants.
Pillars Of Creation is a concept album, an album about a man who goes on a search for enlightenment. Throughout his journey he runs into various stories and unveils horrible truths, eventually leading him to follow his conscience. Unfortunately I didn't have a copy of the lyrics, but you can get the jist of most of it just from listening along.
The opening, and also title track, drops you straight in at the deep end of this bands' huge sound with its pummelling opening riff and quick fire changes between heavy and more subdued sections. Unlike a lot of prog metal I've heard lately, this is very much a guitar and rhythm driven affair, the keyboards are sparse and rarely feature a lead role, not that this takes anything away from the power of this trio.
An almost tribal drum sound takes us into Seven, the bass in this track harks back to 80's tech-death, reminding me of bands such as Atheist. It's a backbone of a powerful track that has some very impressive guitar riffs and a jazzy solo section that almost sounds improvised, it's a great track that flows brilliantly throughout its almost seven minute run time. The clean and harsh vocals play off against each other here in a way that's not distracting. I often find generic growls to take away focus from the music, but here they are simply a vessel to carry the lyrics, and I'll let them off for that, as the growls themselves are definitely nothing special, but they don't detract from the music either.
King Of The New Realm starts with a melancholic intro but leads into an absolutely superb riff, the song then kicks off in fabulous style. This is one of those tracks that I could see going across incredibly well live, it has everything. The drums carry the guitars and the aggressive vocals again work well here, Avneya's guitar work is razor sharp, before the song moves calmly into a beautiful piano section which becomes unexpectedly jazzy.
Portent Of Betrayal could have easily been lifted from Deliverance era Opeth, it sounds so much like the Swedes that I had to check what I was actually listening to. I'm not going to hold this against them though, despite these guys wearing their influences clearly on their sleeves, they do a very good job of sounding just as good as their peers, and having the song writing skills to back up this somewhat unoriginal approach. As this band are still in their early days, I think it's okay to give them time to make whatever they want and sound like whoever they want, hoping they'll grow and find their own sound further down the road.
The rest of the album follows a similar path, and while there is very little that really stands out, but there are not many complaints either. Everything about this album is flawlessly articulated, but it just comes across as unsurprising and predictable. There is nothing inherently bad in any of the material here, but I found it difficult to find points to really peak my attention, and even after multiple listens, no track stood out over another, especially in the second half of the record.
So is this album for you? If you like any kind of progressive music in the heavier vien, I'd say give it a shot. I see no reason to mark this album any lower than I have just because it's not particularly original, because Obsidian Tide do a very good job at sounding like a lot of other bands. Oz Avneya's guitar work is easily the standout feature of this release, his riffs are clinical and well constructed, he clearly has a vision that I feel isn't quite fully realised yet. I would expect that the next release from these guys is going to be outstanding, as for this album, it's a very well put together piece of work, it may sound a lot like many other bands you know, but the high production values just let them get away with it, just.
Udo Pannekeet — Electric Regions
For the last four years or so, Udo Pannekeet has been the bass player in Dutch prog stalwarts Focus who have seen a renewed interest in their activity, particularly on the back of their most recent album Focus 11. Before that, he had two solo pieces on the 2017 Focus Family Album and in 2013 produced and released a solo jazz improvisation album called On.
Partly because of his increased activity with Focus, the Electric Regions album has been some five years in the making. The lengthy title piece (with the added Part One!) originally took form in the summer of 2015 but technical considerations as to how all the brass parts would be recorded meant the piece was left languishing for several years. It wasn't until the spring of 2018 when Pannekeet teamed up with drummer Marcel Seriese that the piece was taken out of hibernation, updated, rearranged and recording commenced. I suspect that being a member of Focus brought him into contact with a wider range of musicians which has been drawn upon to work on the album. These include keyboardist Rein Godefroy, guitarists Jelle Roozenburg, Martijn van Iterson, Eef Albers, Menno Gootjes, and Tim Langedijk, trombonist Ilja Reijngoud, trumpeter Jan van Duikeren, saxophonists Nils van Halften (who also plays bass clarinet) and Tom Beek, flautist Remco de Landmeter, vibraphone player Rene ten Cate, and percussionist Jos de Haas. Pannekeet himself plays bass, synth-bass, and synths, adds vocals and also acted as drum programmer.
My immediate thought on hearing the album was of Pat Metheny as there is a certain lightness of touch, a jazziness and some stellar playing not least of all by Pannekeet himself. However, he does not hog the limelight as other players are allowed to shine. Check out the drums throughout Integration Yes and the closing piano solo on that same piece. The brass is not overwhelming and interjects at appropriate times to add colours and extra dimensions to the pieces. Little Nura is of a similar style to the composers contributions to The Focus Family Album where the bass provides the main, and glorious melody.
Oldest piece on the album is The Antibes Situation which was written almost 16 years ago. The development of Pannekeet as a composer can be heard from listening to this piece which relies somewhat too much on the synth bass and is perhaps not as refined as the other pieces. The final track Cocon Cocon leans more into jazz aspects than the other pieces but the enticing wind playing and piano/synth interjections move things along nicely.
For me, notably not a great jazz or jazz rock enthusiast, it is the first three tracks that were the strength of the album. Considering that is over 75% of the album that's not half bad particularly as the other two tracks are far from being stinkers and I certainly wouldn't switch off Cocon Cocon simply because the playing is so good. Overall Electric Regions is an accomplished release that may encourage people to listen to something a bit outside their more habitual favourites.
Marjana Semkina — Sleepwalking
The alluring voice and presence of Marjana Semkina, one half of iamthemorning, follows the route of her musical partner Gleb Kolyadin by releasing a solo album, Sleepwalking. Described by Semkina herself as "songs about drowning and pain" as might be expected the results are exquisitely lush and are a complete complement to the music produced by the duo that brought her to prominence. However, that is not to say the album is an iamthemorning album in all but name, despite what casual perusal of the album credits may suggest with pianist Grigoriy Losenkov listed as playing on five of the tracks. In fact, Losenkov's piano playing is not all that prominent having more of a supportive role on the pieces he plays on. It is not until Still Life, the last track of the album, that the piano, beautifully played by Jordan Rudess, takes a lead role.
The musical stars of the album are no doubt the St.Petersburg Orchestra "1703" and Losenkov's gorgeous string arrangements. This is no better displayed than on Ars Longa Vita Brevis where sonorous cello underpins weeping violins in an achingly beautiful composition. The acoustic guitar contributions from iamthemorning associate Vlad Avy are something else that cannot be overlooked having an important contribution to such songs as Dark Matter and, particularly, Lost At Sea.
The up tempo Turn Back Time is a hit single if ever there was one, the soaring vocals given a more forceful backing by drummer Craig Blundell and bassist Nick Beggs who hold their own against the orchestra. This famous prog duo also appear on Skin whose beginning is reminiscent of something from the XTC Apple Venus Vol 1 album. Chorus excepting, the orchestra has a less prominent role on this track with Losenkov providing the key accompaniment. Needless to say the subtle bass lines from Beggs are top drawer. Only two other songs, How To Be Alone and Everything Burns, feature drums and bass, played by Svetlana Shumkova and Grigoriy Losenkov, respectively. Of these two tracks, Everything Burns is to my mind the most interesting with the plaintive string opening giving way to a relatively stark arrangement of cello and solo violin snaking over the bass that pushes the song along and the steady, simple drum pattern holding down the beat.
Mermaid Song holds the key to the whole album for me. Largely orchestral for the most part, the protagonist of the song is slowly immersed in water and faces understandable fear as her lungs are filled with water. But once fully submerged the tempo changes and brings the song to a crescendo with some high-impact drumming from the orchestra's percussionist bringing the song to a fine conclusion.
One might have noticed that thus far no mention has been made of the album's star. Well anyone who has heard anything by iamthemorning will know perfectly well that Semkina has a simply gorgeous voice and could sing the phone book and still draw an appreciative audience. Throughout the album her performance is faultless, delivering exactly what is necessary for each song and imbuing each piece with heart, soul and passion. Overall Sleepwalking may have echoes of the iamthemorning soundscape but the execution is all Semkina's own.