Briand Boursin Rohr — The View Inside
Another striking example that it pays off to be a bit bold when selecting new releases for review. When I saw that this album was on the pipeline list, I picked it without ever having heard of these musicians before and with only one song available for streaming to find out beforehand if I can deal with this musical style by and large. What a good decision!
The View Inside is the outcome of a fruitful cooperation of French musicians Ludovic Briand (guitars, vocals), and Julien Boursin (keyboards) with American Matt Rohr (lyrics, production). All three of them have been out and about rock music-wise for more than 20 years, mostly having worked as session musicians with or as sound engineer for numerous renowned artists. Ludovic Briand recorded his first (an so far only) album called Afrodiziak, containing mostly instrumental jazz fusion guitar music, in 2013 (it's definitely worth listening to as well). He is also active with his band T2T (Tribute To Toto - more than just a hint at his musical ideals) since 2005. In creating this album, Briand Boursin Rohr were able to revert to a number of well reputed guest and session musicians, amongst them Simon Phillips, long-time drummer for Toto, Gregg Bissonette (drums), who worked with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani amongst others, as well as Serge Arese and Francois Gomez (bass), Nicolas Baudino (saxes), plus additional musicians on string and woodwind instruments. Composing and arranging the music and writing the story occurred over a time span of three years, a period which definitely was worth all the efforts.
The View Inside is a concept album about Walter, an orphan born with a strange ocular power. The 11 tracks describe his struggle from innocence through madness and ultimately transcendence. The touchy and emotional lyrics are accompanied with delicate artwork in the form of Gaetan Chrétien's photo collages illustrating the booklet that comes with the CD. The band has made Gaetan a permanent member and plans to integrate his visions in an upcoming live show based on the album. I look forward to eventually seeing this happen near my region, guys (Essen, Germany), and I wish you (and us) all the best to bridge the time until the resumption of live concerts in good health!
Looking at the list of musical references mentioned below, one is inclined not to pigeonhole BBR's music as progressive rock in a narrower sense of term, but rather as AOR. But their music is yet another reason for not being too dogmatic about what progressive rock should sound like. Don't expect long tracks with lengthy instrumental parts, ultra-complex arrangements or extensive soloing. Brian Boursin Rohr manage to do without all that, but nonetheless provide for a constant impression of high musical skill, especially with respect to the arrangements of their songs. Their music comes across soft, but intense, complex, but catchy, multi-layered, but coherent, melancholic, but fierce, dense, but elaborated - all of these being features which, concerning Briand Boursin Rohr's music, do not have to be mutually exclusive. Production and sound quality are top-notch.
Speaking about their musical influences/reminiscences. It does not happen that often that I come across a record which gives me that many opportunities for comparisons. Peter Gabriel meets Toto may be somewhat of a common denominator, but I sounded out the singing/songwriting of Bruce Hornsby and Gary Rafferty, the funky and groovy style of Simply Red, Level 42, and Earth, Wind & Fire, the jazzy-tingled elements of Steely Dan, neo-prog sounds à la Marillion, the symphonic prog of Alan Parson's Project and Procul Harum, snippets of film music by Ennio Morricone, and the melancholic music of bands/musicians such as Oak, and Peter Hammill. On The View Inside, the band exploits a diversity of musical territories to create music on the intersection of prog, pop, AOR, fusion, ambient, funk, soul, groove, and even rap and gospel. The threat in having such a wide variety of musical influences is to just string together various bits and pieces without forming something coherent and individual with a clearly recognisable own musical signature. Briand Boursin Rohr do not fall into this trap. On the contrary, due to their musical abilities, and their arranging and composing strengths, they manage to meticulously merge all these elements and to come up with their individual style, which hints at their sources of inspiration without simply copying them. Insofar, they achieved that musically, the whole is more than just the sum of its individual parts.
I am very much sold on this album, being a 100% prog rock aficionado. But my wife listened to it with enthusiasm as well, and she can't do much with prog rock. What I want to say with this is that this release has all the requirements to appeal to a wide variety of (prog) rock music lovers. And, what is even more fascinating, Briand Boursin Rohr do not even try nor pretend to be everybody's darling musically and to curry favour. They simply win you over with excellent musicianship and production, with captivating lyrics and beautiful artwork, with originality and individuality and with catchy and versatile music. For me, The View Inside is already earmarked for a prominent position on my top 10 list of most favourite albums this year.
Ghost On Mars — Lost Signals
Ghost on Mars have emerged from Italy, with the aim of bringing melancholy and metal traditions together. In their own words, the songs are inspired by sci-fi books, films and stories. Having formed back in 2018 by former members of Lykaion, Layra, and Overfall, they have come together to release their debut EP: Lost Signals.
From the opening of The Black Rose, the tone for the album is set. Melancholy, and melodic. It has a good pace to it, keeping it energetic but atmospheric. Particularly when combined with the soaring vocals and intricate tapping leads from the guitars. It flows well, with every track feeling like it is exactly where it should be. The use of the growls intermixed with clean harmonies also further helps emphasise the melancholy.
For a debut EP, it is very well produced and written. It is catchy, progressive, technical and atmospheric. The musicians all put in fantastic performances and show real promise. The only downside being it is only an EP and not a full length release!
The band sound like a mix of Katatonia and Riverside, but with a harder edge to them. The riffs and leads have a bit more “oomph” to them, giving them that nice dose of heaviness. But they still keep the prog metal sound and have woven it very well into the mix.
InMe — Jumpstart Hope
It's fair to say that rock and metal has struggled for identity since the end of the nineties with attempts to categorise and label bands as "post" metal or "post" grunge or the catch all "alternative" tag. InMe are such a group, however what defines them isn't actually the 21st century nomadic dilemma of which sub-genre of rock to place them, it is their own melodic, occasionally symphonic writing which is fresh, modern and doggedly determined to ignore trends and carve its own way twenty years on from their beginning.
Their latest offering sees the group abandoning the second part in their Trilogy plans as set out in their Dawn opener in 2015. Despite this and no apparent conceptual follow up, the heavy, hard-hitting songwriting on Jumpstart Hope is ambitious and lyrically deep and a masterclass of how to accomplish depth in a three to four minute song format. Opening strongly with the Muse influenced Blood Orange Lake, the band take their trademark technical riffage further with some deeper progressive elements. This newer sophistication suggests the fiery energy that provided some success with their early albums continues to evolve, all the while still retaining the earworm proficiency that characterises their songwriting.
There is still plenty of brutal precision and straight-ahead foot stomping present with the likes of The Next Song and the tight propulsive groove of I Swear however it is what follows afterwards that shows what InMe are capable of.
The gritty emotional balladry of Clear History is the angst filled, ascending heart of the album taking us through some of the key themes of loss, regret and overwhelming internal struggles. There is a blatant honesty which is nakedly painful in the "Dear John" lyric, "I wish I never was ever yours sincerely, you're clearly better off without this lesser half, yours dearly".
The slower midpoint pacing continues and provides the overall structure with an effortless ebb and flow with the Soundgarden tinted centrepiece of the album The Leopard. Potent and reflective, the darker tone is helped along by the vocal excellence of singer/guitarist Dave McPherson. From his raucous yells that occasionally compare to The Dear Hunter's Casey Crescenzo to a fragile high falsetto, McPherson's diverse performance throughout the album gives it weight and an almost joyous heartfelt intensity.
Jumpstart Hope is a turbulent, sometimes cathartic ride. As dark as the internal despair gets there are hints of salvation at the end of the rope. The acoustically tender Ancestry is stirring and offers hope in the final refrains of 'Come back ecstasy, come back elation, come back life, come back.'
The album does not sound like a band that have been around for a couple of decades at all. It has a condensed brutal beauty born out of damage which leaves you drained but rewarded by the end. The sense of determination to produce something that moves the band forward is palpable and regardless of where it sits in the metal genre, it is something to admire.
Late — The One And I
Slovakian prog metal band Late released their debut album, The One And I, back in January. The group was founded in 2012 by by guitarist Patrik Kovár and drummer Ján Hyža. Guitarist Michal Žiak and bassist Martin "Vaco" Vacula soon joined the band, but they all took a two year break to work on other projects before re-grouping in 2016 and working as an instrumental group before they found the right singer: Lukáš “Puky” Mikulský. That brings us to today with their first album, which happened to be recorded at a studio in Poland often used by Riverside.
With a heavy base built by the intricate drums and bass guitar, the album is thoroughly metal. The pounding drum opening of the first track, Schizophrenia, pays tribute to many of the greatest tracks in the history of metal. The heavy opening riff of the second track, Vessels, further lays that metal base. The prog metal time signature changes and complicated drumming are equally prevalent. When the band go into instrumental sections, I'm reminded of the freshness of early Dream Theater's instrumental passages. I hear that particularly in the second half of The Artificial And The Savior.
The drums elevate Late's sound to another level. The technical skill is evident from the opening notes of the album. Hyža's style is at home with both the traditional pounding heavy metal style and with the extremely intricate progressive style. The music overall sometimes touches on a post-metal sound, such as in parts of Paths, but it always returns to heavier passages. The drums seamlessly shift in style through those passages, as does the guitar. The guitars can change from crunching riffs to clean chords in very short order.
Vocally the album is mostly clean vocals, but Mikulský includes some growled vocals throughout. I really like those sections. He's really good at them, and it adds a heaviness to the music that his clean vocals don't. With that said, I think the mix of clean and distorted vocals is good, but they could probably include a little more distortion. I think the best use of his voice is demonstrated on Paths, which changes in musical style multiple times throughout the song.
The album artwork, created by Jeffrey Thelin, is quite strong, and it fits in a style similar to that of other younger European prog and prog metal bands that tend to have a "post-rock" element to them. That element is sparse on this album, but I can definitely hear it at points.
Prog metal fans should enjoy Late's debut album, but so should many other fans of progressive rock and post-metal. The band doesn't hold itself to any one particular sub-genre of rock or metal, which offers them a lot of flexibility going forward.
SoundDiary — Anamnesis - Letter In A Bottle
SoundDiary, originating from Vienna (Austria) were founded in 2007. After two previous releases, Inverse and A Book In your Hand, mainly available on the Austrian market, the band gradually changed their musical style towards more progressive songwriting and varied song structures and now release their most creative record up to date in form of the concept album Anamnesis - Letter In A Bottle.
The story is told in five adventurous compositions/acts, each divided into six segments, where recurring themes, multilayered diversifications and constant change of scenes aid the thoughtful concept beautifully. Responsible for the immaculate instrumentation are Stefan Pichlmann (keyboards, sampling), Merlin Hochmeier (bass), Clemens Langbauer (drums, percussion), and Hannes Pichlmann on vocals and guitar. The latter plays four essential roles in the story, that further features the vocal talents of Madeleine Prochaska and Madli Oras, while Norbert K. Hund as the radio announcer and Lilli Mariam Pichlmann in role of granddaughter add further variety.
The intriguing story addresses fictitious challenging aspects of everyday life told from different angles and perspectives, in which some passage are disturbingly easy to imagine. For instance the skin-crawling passage in The Incident Part II projects a striking irritating conversation between two lovers that might feel uncomfortably familiar. These kind of talkative excavations all add significant substance to the wondrous tale.
The musical atmosphere changes constantly, resulting in a sequence of highlights which becomes even brighter upon listening to the album on headphones. This way an infinite array of delicate arrangements, subtleties and intricate transitions give great character to the songs, making them come alive brilliantly.
This playful nature of the songs is immediately apparent from the beginning of Act I - Birth/A Unique Getaway as the tragic Pink Floyd inspired opening glides into a smooth Barclay James Harvest feel surrounded by smooth Neal Morse-like vocals. Flowing gently into a melancholic guitar solo the subdued atmosphere changes into slightly psychedelic progressive rock, where funky bass lines give dynamics and the openness of production adds a fresh breeze. Further variations and twinkling keys then set up for a perfect transition into groovy Rush ad libs where gorgeous keys are carried elegantly by a subtle melody. A minor adjustment to the female voices aside it converges to a delicious finish in Reprise.
Act II - Contact/The Man Outside continues with similar progressive ease where the excellent Spock's Beard inspired vocal lines are met by soft delicate instrumental Dream Theater touches, showcasing the perfect interaction of the musicians. A short piano recital and a burst into modern day synth pop with a Porcupine Tree vibe then culminates into a trip-worthy ending with distorted guitars.
This modern approach continues on Act III - Substitution/The Abandoned Dream where the lovely playful melodies are carried by heavy keys and rolling bass, while the drums supply a divine rhythm. Thematic returns, bombastic grooves and technical rhythm changes are then met by disturbing weirdness, closely followed by a hopeful euphoric state, changing into fragile man/female harmonies, all the while reminiscent to Sam Braun. A funky ending via a formidable slow build up and impressive underlying piano parts at long last finishes in an apotheoses of lively prog with an overwhelming guitar solo.
The lovely initial melody of Act IV - Isolation/The Answer Within, where the serene vocals of Prochaska's intertwine beautifully with Pichlmann, is dynamically taken over by keys and guitar towards a playful Gentle Giant/Spock's Beard interlude. Appetizing jazzy/funk details and a rhythmic A.C.T. swing then leads up to the dividing Page - Letters In A Bottle. Here the beautiful bridges and playful piano parts are heavenly, yet the dissonance evoked through the grand daughter vocals is a severe let down. The child's voice, and presumably Pichlmann's own daughter, is a nice touch to deepen the concept, yet the vocal inconsistency reverses the impact. The dynamic rhythms and tantalising keyboard solo in Lake Part II make you forget rather quickly though.
The sensitive Folk opening to ACT V - Requiem/An Inseparable Connection, lightly mindful of Transatlantic through its divine harmonies and delicate touches, gradually builds up in atmospheric intensity towards a state of transience, sublimely captured through the use of church bells and icy cold wind samples. The sweet long lasting finish of rousing bridges, thematic returns, lively keys and playful movements culminates perfectly in Contemporary Freedom as it revisits all facets one last time, before fading in a restful musical box epilogue that ends this fantastic musical voyage.
The extensive track listing might be a bit overwhelming at first, but once the story and the musical multitudes glide cohesively along, a beautifully constructed concept unfolds. Inclusion of the lyrics and adjacent explanation of the characters in the accompanying booklet is a definite pro and proves to be of perfect guidance. Further expertly executed dainty transitions and seamless passages merges the music into one enforcing piece of music, that's exciting from start to finish.
It seems there are a lot of concept albums released nowadays, making me wonder if this is becoming a modern trend (again), but if they have the same impact as this one I applaud every effort. This is a well crafted, refined and sophisticated album that ticks many boxes and is a sure contender for my year lists. Fans of Steve Wilson, Neal Morse (and related) and all of the above mentioned references will find much to their liking here. Highly recommended.
Thoughts Factory — Elements
Seven years is a long time. But it was worth the wait for Thoughts Factory's sophomore album Elements. Personal developments and in order to prosper had made it impossible for mastermind Sven Schornstein to focus much on creating his own music, until recently. But time also helped him to progress and mature musically. And when he got back into writing, his skills have become pretty reinforced and the band's new album really is a stunningly great piece. Yet, the long lost style of heavily riffing melodic German prog metal as we knew it from the nineties to zeroes suddenly slips back with this album and shines brighter than ever before.
The album's concept is based on a young man's emotional and rational struggle with today's political and societal matters while growing adult. It is material that creates much room for emotional expressions in all directions, which Sven and Markus Wittmann (guitars), the main shapers of compositions and arrangements, managed to fill pretty perfectly. Their influences of Dream Theater, Neal Morse, and Symphony X are pretty audible throughout the album, but the band has way much more on offer than just that, and they manage to blend the various styles they're capable of together pretty brilliantly. The finalising of the arrangements and production is a rather democratic process in the band and the outcome proves the experience which all five bring to the desk. It's not just how well they put the metal together, but also a pretty well done orchestration is woven in throughout the album and even has very wonderful own instrumental track in Frozen Planet.
Also, the band has gotten a great upgrade with Cornelius Wurth who adds a whole new level of vocal duties and also aids on guitar. Cornelius' experience in a rather successful Journey cover band, Journeye, helped them a lot in combining lyrics with great melodies and hooks also bringing in a rock momentum, which rounds up the whole album even better.
While Elements has all that is needed for a great metal album, namely heavy headbanger tracks, power ballads, thoughtful and emotional moments, it is the way in which every note has it's destiny and sits in its perfect place which makes it stand out. Even the delicate solos on the album are just as good as it can get to bring the story further. As hard as you might search, there are no 'look how good I am' solos in here.
A few minor glitches in the orchestration bother me, like the way the tubular bells are used and a few horns that became too cheesy for my ear, but still, it is done so much better than we know it from Vanden Plas or Symphony X for example. Sure, the orchestration will never meet the standard of the one of Koyaanisqatsy's, but not one ever will. Elements, in my opinion, is a genre defining album. No other album to this date marks so perfectly, what melodic German prog metal is, and it stands comparison with all other international metal acts in every way. It is recommended to all who grieve the loss of such bands as Dreamscape, Superior, Atmosfear, Sanvoisen, and it's also a must-have for fans of Dream Theater, Symphony X and the likes.