Aiming For Enrike — Music For Working Out
Out of Norway comes the duo known as Aiming For Enrike, who utilise one drum and a vast array of amps and pedals to create numerous loops and sound effects. Having previously released three albums before this, they have managed to evolve and perfect their sound over the years.
The album has an apt title. It keeps a steady pace and is instrumental. It has catchy rhythms and does not stop. It crosses the border between rock, electro, pop, and dance at times. But it is probably more akin to some of the heavier synth-wave bands that have recently seen a surge in popularity. Think of the likes of Perturbator and Gost.
The music itself has the right ebbs and flows that you would expect in music to keep you going during a workout. It rises for a while, getting heavier and noisier, with more effects and loops and leads flowing about, before easing back down for a more chilled, passages. The drums help keep the album marching along, while the bass and effect pedals help twist each track into something similar, but different to the previous. The album joins together as one single unit in effect, effortlessly evolving throughout with each track merging into the next.
As it is an instrumental electronic album, a lot of it is built around the pace and effects, so there is an amount of repetition. However, it is done in such a way that it doesn't detract from the overall sound and enjoyment.
All in all, a fairly decent album and definitely one I'll be putting into my workout playlist. If you're a fan of the recent explosion in synth-wave, especially the ones with a bit of a rock edge to them, like the aforementioned Perturbator and Gost, then I'd check these guys out.
Fall Of Episteme — Fall Of Episteme
Fall Of Episteme was officially founded in 2015 when bass player Søren Foged teams up with vocalist Rune Nielsen. Soon after drummer Rune Eskildsen and Kent Eskildsen (guitars) join and the band is eventually completed by the addition of Flemming Pedersen on keyboards. With three members (Foged, Kent Eskildsen and Pederson) having previously played together in Atlantis, a prog rock band from the 1980s, a significant bag of history is added to the bands existence.
Although Atlantis composed a long list of music, only a handful of tracks were released and much of their legacy remains unreleased to this day. Despite Foged's recent replacement by Jan Juel on bass, this more or less new incarnation gives them ample material to choose from and some of these newly interpreted classic compositions now finally see the light of day. The album also sees new originals, yet the coherent nature of the songs makes it impossible to recognise which songs are from which era.
This indetermination is aided further through the somewhat clinical, eighties-like production which from start to finish gives the music an authentic neo-progressive sympathetic Eighties-feel and atmosphere, instantly detectable in the opening song Love Will Stay. Here the uplifting, upfront sparkling keys and uptempo dynamic rock pushes one soundly into higher circles with flashes signalling a jumpy Pendragon (9:15 Live), while the vocals give it a smooth salving Comedy Of Errors feel. Transitioning into a slow moving bridge with further delicious keys and subdued guitars it gradually picks up pace with delicate keys twirling into the returning opening section, all the while supported by a foundation of blazing keyboards.
Did I mention keys yet? Thrown in for good measure in the uptempo parts, elevating them from standard to marvellous, this instrument shines fully bright in the many delicious piano movements and synth moments that are included in the playful tracks. Experience Oblige for instance sees delicate piano melodies, under guidance of sensitive bass work by Juel, slowly swirling into atmospheric seventies prog with a hint of Barclay James Harvest, especially through the gorgeous interaction of Mellotron-sounds, mellow structures and John Lees-like vocals by Nielsen. The synthy electronics and slow paced intricate melodies that follow all build up to a long seductively tasty guitar solo, and turns out to be one of the highlights of the album reminiscent to Saga, a reference regularly popping up through the abundant use of ... well: keyboards.
It's the epic Invisible Crusader that illustrates these delicious Saga (Images At Twilight) flashes most perfectly. Here the virtuous delicate intro on piano gradually fades into gorgeous intertwining guitar to yield a sublime Images feel. A brief, convincingly superb uptempo synth solo brings energy while the soothing varied changes into delightful piano sees a return into a charming Comedy Of Errors feel. Midway atmospheric electronics (P'Cock) then glides into soft Pallas territories, passionately sung by Nielsen, after which a tantalising melancholic key solo grips through its immaculate Saga-likeness. In light of the thematic return, variety and confident grandeur of its melodies it is a very accomplished, highly entertaining track. However it also shows one of the slighter weaknesses, for in some of the emotive vocal parts Nielsen sometimes slightly exceeds his vocal range.
Accelerator sees a different voice limitation through its dull chorus, but apart from that its tasty Rush/Chandelier inspired middle section on guitars, playful drumming and slightly more aggressive guitar/key interaction gives this semi-pomp-rocker a substantial likeability, setting up beautifully for the Saga/For Absent Friends influenced Punchline. Hampered by a lack of punch (forgive the pun), it's the familiar combination of catchy melodies, dynamic flow, and excellent melodic symphonic solos near the end that exceedingly gives one goosebumps.
The last track, Guiding Star is a refined touching ballad which surprises through use of Cello and in lesser extend Saxophone. For this track to work a different running order would have been more effective as I'm getting adrift in distraction while the album dims like a night candle. It's certainly has got its moments through some very tasty and powerful guitar/keys movements, but its mellow approach ends the album slightly in minor key.
And in a way Guiding Star, for me sums up the short list of shortcomings to this otherwise fine album. On the positive side the composition harbours many lovely, skilfully executed ideas and are blessed with a melancholy that gives way for admiration and enjoyment. Further passion and overall musical unity accomplished by Fall Of Episteme equally secures appreciation, yet on the down side the music feels reservedly safe and every once in a while I wouldn't have minded some fierce energetic peppery eruptions, cast in a warmer production.
On the other hand: I see myself standing in front of my CD collection and out of indecision turn towards the album quite regularly, for the attractive combination of nostalgia, neo-progressive rock and comforting healthy radiance of keys and melody that feels timelessly soothing. No groundbreaking release, but one that certainly has gained my interest to see what will develop. Secretly I hope that Invisible Crusader is one of their recent tunes of glory, as this composition shows great promise. Anyone having grown up with, or been touched by neo-progressive rock with a distinct preference towards the exciting sound of the eighties be sure to check it out.
John Holden — Rise And fall
Back in 2018 Cheshire based musician John Holden took the prog world by surprise with his debut entitled Capture light. That eclectic album was warmly welcomed in the scene, amongst others here at dprp.net where it got a very high rating by colleague John Wenlock Smith (see the review here). The enthusiastic reviews came as a nice surprise to Holden and inspired him to record the always difficult second album rather fast.
Rise And Fall saw the light of day last February and presents the listener with eight well-elaborated tracks. There was little reason to change things drastically so again the listener is treated on a varied mix of melodious songs, ranging from mellow ballads (The Golden Thread) through more masculine tracks (Dark Arts) to a little symphony (Leap Of Faith), all performed excellently by Holden and his vast array of well-known prog friends. Among the many guests featuring on the album we find, amongst many others, the legendary Jon Camp of Renaissance fame on bass, Peter Jones (Camel, Tiger Moth Tales) on vocals, flute and whistle, That Joe Payne (The Enid), Lauren Nolan, Jean Pageau (Mystery) and Sally Minnear (Celestial Fire) on vocals, Nick D'Virgilio (Big Big Train) on drums, Oliver Wakeman (Yes, Ayreon) on keys and Michel St-Pere (Mystery) on guitar. Vikram Shankar plays keys on almost all tracks and presents himself as a virtuoso on his instrument. Quite an impressive bunch of musical friends. The only let-down is that I have no idea where Holden plays himself. He credits himself playing keys, guitars, bass and programming but what he does and what others do is knowledge only he and his friends know. That is of course not a real problem if these people simply produce a really interesting album. And they do.
There are seven songs on the album ranging from almost 5 minutes to more than 10 minutes. The album starts with a beautiful slow orchestral soundscape, including a choir, led by a tingling piano theme that leads to soft vocals sung very well by Peter Jones. As a listener you immediately know that a prog album is to follow and that is exactly what this album is. For in this first 10-minutes epic, the orchestral and choral parts are blended creatively with soft acoustic guitars and mellow, sometimes almost minimalistic vocals, a folky theme on Irish flute, interesting time signature changes and classic piano. In spite of this great variety in moods and pace the song feels as an unity which makes it a very strong opener. And it also proves the talents of Holden as a composer and arranger. Lyrically it is also an interesting as it tells the story of a 11-century literate monk who dared to try to fly but hopelessly fails and is lame ever after. Holden obtained this inspiration from Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire.
The title song is sung by Jean Pageau and is abouth the way mankind can deals with his obsessions and addictions. It starts as a slow song but it develops into a more up-tempo affair with a very melodious guitar solo that flows into a keyboard solo towards the end until the vocal melody wraps it all up.
The Golden Thread, beautifully sung by Joe Payne and Lauren Nolan, is another slow song but this time it all ends with a symphonic orchestral outro. The combination of Payne and Nolan is a gem; their voices go together so well that you start to wonder why nobody has done this before. Oliver Wakeman plays the piano in this song. Piano is the leading instrument here. The lyrics are inspired by a pre-Raphaelite painting that in its place was based upon a poem hailing from that period of time. It is both a requiem and a love song which can be perfectly heard in this beautiful music. The orchestral arrangement by Shankar is nothing less than awesome. Dark Arts plumps in with a somewhat out-of-place spoken word followed by a fierce guitar intro reminding me instantly of Deep Purple during their more symphonic moments. It becomes a rocky song with a good chorus, a fine keys theme and heavenly bass plucking by Billy Sherwood. It is by far the heaviest track on the album but 'heavy' is relative here. The distraction in today's world brought about by social media and fake news, is the subject of the lyrics.
Heretic starts with soft vocals by Payne and Minnear over fine piano playing. The sound is a natural flowing conversation with some sparse instrumentation in the background during its first four minutes. The middle section is dominated by percussion and keys and leads the listener back towards the central complex vocal theme that introduces a really nice but far too short guitar solo. The outro of this very fine song is for the vocals again with some acoustic guitar which rounds up everything. Cleverly done and well elaborated. I was very surprised to learn that the lyrics deal with the heavy subject of cultural terrorism as employed by, for instance, ISIS in the Middle East. Although very relevant and interesting the lyrical content doesn't fit the rather mellow mood of the music, in my opinion. Not that I really care.
Sounds of a thunderstorm introduce After The Storm, a song of escape and hope in which violin, piano, guitar and vocals alternate in taking the lead. In spite of the beautiful intro this is the weakest track as I find the potential of the attractive melody is not fully exploited. I guess that an external producer would have been able to get more out of this song for although the production is quite wonderful throughout the album, here it misses some opportunities. The guitar solo and the middle section are not particularly exciting, they just wander off and that is a pity. It is absolutely not a bad song but my feeling is that it could have been much better.
The final track, Ancestors And Satellites, features again some excellent vocals, this time by all the vocalists mentioned, who all do a great job both solo and in harmony. Only now you can hear how well that all these different voices blend. The chorus is quite brilliant in all its simplicity while the violin and the bass demand their prominent role in the instrumentation. A violin is not credited so I assume the sound comes from a keyboard. The end section is a guitar solo by Michel St. Pere rounded off with orchestral keys and moody vocals singing the title of the album. The lyrics encapsulate both man's history and man's future in a philosophical way. It is a fantastic end of a wonderful album.
Probably the strongest assets of this fine album are the variety of the music, the excellent vocals and the daring combination of different styles within some of the songs. There are no obvious weaknesses besides my reservations about After The Storm. The spoken words in the intro of Dark Arts don't make much sense, but they last for less than 5 seconds so no bother.
Another asset is the really wonderful information in the booklet, all tastefully designed by John Holden himself. You'll not only get all lyrics and band member information but also extensive liner notes on the inspiration for each individual song. I can't applaud enough for that service, this is really a great way of taking your listeners seriously!
I enjoyed listening to this album immensely. The music is already attractive at a first listen but with every next spin it reveals more and more of the intricate melodies, arrangements and moods. Those who like the softer sides of Ayreon, The Gentle Storm, Mystery, Lee Abraham, or Magenta should give this album a try. It is written and performed by this talented artist who clearly loves what he creates. He deserves to be listened to.
M-Opus — Origins
M-Opus, a three piece prog rock band from Dublin, Ireland, have obviously spent a great deal of time and energy into delivering their second album (the first, Triptych was reviewed by DPRP). Origins, a double CD release, with a running time of 2¼ hours, has a story based around time travel set in the year 2187. The band describe Origins as a “cohesive, cinematic piece; a story that was as developed and plot-driven as a movie or novel, with strong, immediate music.” Any regular readers of my reviews will know I have a particular affinity for concept albums. When the opportunity to review this magnum opus presented itself, I jumped at the chance. When the album arrived, bedecked in a white cover and black image of an astronaut with Roman numerals disappearing into what appears to be a ruby red planet, I eagerly, and with great anticipation, placed to CD into my player. And you know what? I hated it.
Composing a review when having come across something I initially don't like, I try to look for positives to provide a guide for that other listeners might like and benefit from. But I had great trepidation about listening to the album again. I tried to understand what it was that I didn't like, and deliberated over it for many days, without again listening to the album. It appeared to be the production, mixed with the overwhelming volume of material the listener is presented with upon first listen. There is a total of 28 tracks to absorb, spread over more than 2 hours.
To try and better appreciate what was before me, I researched the band and their concept in more depth. This began by printing off the Origins script from the M-Opus website. When you see the length of this document you will understand why this could not be included into the packaging of the CD, as it would probably bankrupted the band. As a precautionary note for anyone who is thinking of printing off the script, make sure your printer is set to 2 sided printing, as the document is 39 pages long, which I found out too late. Reading the script in isolation enabled me to better understand what is a complex and far reaching story-line, as well as appreciating the characters in the story who are very well fleshed out. This is a real triumph of story writing, and I have never come across such depth of character in a concept album which is not based upon previously published literary works.
Returning to Origins, what now presented itself was an aural experience much in keeping with the bands intention. The characters became real, their trials and tribulations made you care about them, and what's more, the story has great humour throughout. Apologies in advance for any readers who are not familiar with Irish TV comedies, as I am going to reference some next. With the Irish accent of all the actors involved in Origins, the delivery of the comedic pieces reminds me of some of the great comedies I loved, such as Father Ted and Black Books, as well as the Irish comics like Dave Allen. Expect to laugh out loud, and be shocked by the frankness of the narrative. I began to become enchanted with what was now before me.
Now finally onto the bit which initially caused me concern, and the reason you are hopefully still reading this review, the music. I think my initial failure to comprehend Origins was due to me listening to it with a modern perspective. The next trick M-Opus have pulled is using the musical time machine to transport the listener back to 1978. (Their first album, Triptych, was set in 1975.) To properly understand what the intention was, I googled the singles charts of 1978, looking at the bands who were around then, the cloud of confusion well and truly began to lift. In the album charts at this time you had Kate Bush, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Steve Hillage, Steve Hackett, and Jethro Tull flying the flag for prog. Disco was finding its niche with the likes classic soundtracks like Saturday Night Fever and The Stud topping the charts. The shock of the punk movement had calmed, and we were left with the classic bands from the period such as The Stranglers, Ian Dury and Tom Robinson still selling well. We then had the metal early years with Van Halen, Rainbow and Meat Loaf pounding our ears. So the musical diversity of 1978 was vast. Not that M-Opus touched on all these genres, but the music included on Origins certainly has it roots embedded there.
To give you an idea of what you might expect on Origins, I'll try and describe what I now hear. Accidents Can Happen has the melody of Elvis Costello driven along by Chris Squire's over-driven Rickenbacker bass. Please Don't Let Me Go sounds like Genesis discovering their pop sensibilities. Perfect Day For A Fight has a keyboard intro like early Marillion before a chorus reminiscent of ELO at their best. Stella Bass delivers the vocals on Mr McKee, and helps to deliver a song much like a Mike Oldfield and Maggie Rilley composition. Never Giving Up On Your Love sound quintessentially English, so much so, you might think your listening to XTC. A big surprise for me was Armed Gods, possibly one of the albums slowest songs, where I think it is Colin Sullivan singing, and sounding like Geoff Tate singing on Bridge by Queensrÿche. The Queensrÿche connection does not end there. At the beginning of Troubled Minds, there is an announcement from a hospital PA, and I am sure this is the same as I Remember Now from Operation Mindcrime.
I could easily go on, but if this has not convinced you of the multiple levels Origins delivers it is surely enough to give this a chance. I will sum up by saying, there are as many hooks and catchy melodies on this one album as the top 40 album chart of any week in 1978. Or to put it as basic as the band themselves in the press release which accompanied the album, “it rocks like a motherf#@ker”.
Morgendust — Storm Will Come
The double feature of Morgendust and Realisea live at 't Blok, Nieuwerkerk Aan De Ijssel on the 16th of February was already a joyous get-together, meeting acquaintances whom I hadn't seen in a long time, but turned out to be surprisingly more rewarding with the entertaining delightful opening act Morgendust.
Labelling themselves as a modern 80's indie rock band, inspired by bands like Tears For Fears, Talk Talk and Pink Floyd (amongst others) they gave a convincing representation of their music. Already available a few months before on streaming services, this day simultaneously saw the release of their first EP in physical form, containing a further three bonus tracks to the six original ones.
Three of Morgendust's members were prior participants in PTS (vocalist/guitarist Marco de Haan, bass player Dario Pozderski, and guitarist Ron van Kruistum) and are now completed by "newbies" Job Noordmans (drums) and Iwan Blokzijl on keyboards. Shown by the evidence of Storm Will Come these truly gifted musicians each have learned the tricks of the trade, for the EP sees well constructed artful pop-induced compositions.
While the amicable live setting brought back memorable happy memories of For Absent Friends, these studio representations breath a slightly different atmosphere, bearing a warm dose of aforementioned Tears for Fears and Moonrise, where each song is more beautiful than the other.
The precious restrained nature of the songs is beautifully captured in the fragile All Right that's filled with sincere vulnerability, while the tangible melancholic sadness of All This Talk shines because of its purest simplicity. Both tracks are a true testimony to the "less is more" approach, elevated by the elegance of de Haan's lived-through emotive vocals expressions, bearing a suitable suave comfortable warmth.
Immaculate subdued instrumentation by the intricate rhythm section harmonises delicately with freshly sparkling key insertions in opener Storm Will Come, in which its slow atmospheric build up is intensified by wonderful careful whispers of van Kruistum on guitars. In Nameless these osculations add substantial depth once it soars into a sensitive U2-like solo, while it drives the smooth uptempo Kind Of Blues dynamically into The Cars environment.
The pensive reflectiveness of their life-lesson lyrics works wonders in Love Lost (Again), which comes further alive through vocal harmonies, tender background vocals and intricate arrangements. It does make you wonder why they opted to add the additional remixes. Although meticulously showing the timeless refinement of their music, the sorry loss of details is regrettable. The lively embrace of Storm Will Come consequently turns towards tried and tested synth-pop, while it transforms the atmospheric penetrating beauty of Anything into a senseless upbeat disco-pop song.
Besides playing a smashing version of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, they played several unreleased new songs at 't Blok. One of those tracks, Alien, a song about (the absence of) freedom, refugees, and fleeing, will officially see the light of day on the first of May. Structurally in line with Storm Will Come, it sees another impressive pop-induced song that showcases their perfect ability in crafting touching and engaging well-composed songs. It delivers a message, while superb instrumentation, great arrangements, and another superb finish by van Kruistum do the rest.
I for one hope they manage to enhance their sound even further by capturing the spontaneous energy portrayed at 't Blok. As it stands, Morgendust are a sure fine addition to today's Dutch music scene, definitely worth checking out.