Lakeman — Progenitor EP
Lakeman are a Canadian quartet consisting of Josh Bissonette (guitar, bass, keys/synths, drums), Josh Pym (guitar, bass, keys/synths, vocals), Warryn Berry (guitar, keys/synths, drums), and Robert McLaren (guitar, bass, keys/synths, drums, vocals, fiddle, banjo). They specialise in long-form instrumental and genre-bending music.
As can be seen, all of the group are multi-instrumentalists, enabling a very dynamic approach to the music they create. Everything they produce is based around improvisation. Once they hit upon something appealing they will, collectively, adopt a more formal compositional approach based around the improvisation, using local myths and legends as inspiration.
Controversy over the cultural misappropriation of the Sylix first nations people's language surrounded their first composition, a 35-minute piece inspired by a mythical serpent creature of Lake Okanaga called N'ha-a-itk by the Sylix, resulting in the band renaming the track Self-Titled. However the controversy resulted in publicity, radio play and invitations to perform at various local and national festivals.
The Progenitor EP is the title of the band's second release, as during the writing of the material, three-quarters of the band became fathers for the first time. The music is best-described as post-rock, although with a greater fluidity and dynamic than much that is associated with that genre.
Powers Creek, inspired by the legend of a ghost reputed to be that of a father who died trying to find his missing daughter in a local area of the same name, certainly packs it all in during its nine minutes, with a short guitar riff repeating to link together a variety of sections which display the wide range of possibilities available to the band with its flexible instrument distribution.
25,000+ Hectares starts in a drone-like manner but soon erupts into a fast and heavy piece with syncopated bass and drums driving the beat, and chiming guitars and slashing cymbals raging over the top.
The final one and a half minutes sees a dampening of the ferocity, with ethereal, wind-like synths, distorted and sonorous bass and an occasional drum fill. The track is supposed to be an auditory interpretation of the annual forest fires in the Okanagan Valley, and one has to say that the initial section is somewhat redolent of the rage and destruction of such a phenomenon.
The founder of the city of Kelowna, Father Jean-Charles Pandosy, gives his surname for the final track. He must have been quite the character given that his own personal score is a convoluted mass of guitars, that is at times angry and aggressive, yet at others more contemplative and questioning.
Lakeman are certainly an interesting group who know how to mix big riffs into a sonic landscape and come away with intriguing and interesting results. In addition to the music, a video for each track has been created, and to round-off the audiovisual nature of the project each physical copy of the EP will be packaged in a unique sleeve created by a random pour of vinyl paint. Unfortunately, at the end of last year the band announced that they had just finished recording some new material that would probably constitute their last release. Grab it while you can.
The Last Innhouse — Skimming Stone
When you insert a new CD by an unknown artist in the player and that album begins with a fine hurdy-gurdy and banjo opening, you immediately realise: it's folk time! Maybe American, maybe English, maybe from somewhere else in the once global British realm but definitely folk.
But Skimming Stone, the debut album by The Last Innhouse that gave me that first impression, is not another folk album. The album features some blues, pop, prog and a bit of country. That amalgamation of styles makes perfect sense when you get to know the artists.
The Last Innhouse is the musical collaboration between Victoria Siddoway and Craig McDearmid, both from the UK but both also internationally orientated. Siddoway has been living in Australia for quite a long time, picking up many different kinds of music there. Meanwhile McDearmid played several musical establishments in the busy coastal town of Newcastle as well as in its surroundings. Upon meeting each other when Victoria returned to the UK, they discovered that their musical abilities and tastes complemented very well, leading to The Last Innhouse in 2011.
Last June this debut CD was released and has already met quite some acclaim. Apart from the two founders, the album features Grant Henderson on drums and production, Paul Gowland on saxophone, and Neil Mabon and Mick Burdon, both on bass. The album is rather short, with each of the ten tracks hardly reaching the four-minute mark.
The music is dominated by Siddoway's voice that reminds me very much of nowadays Heather Findlay, albeit that Siddoway's voice is less expressive and therefore in the end a bit boring. It sometimes sounds as if she didn't dare to give everything in her vocals. Somewhat more variation in strength or vocal range would be beneficial for their music.
As for the instrumentation, it is all well played and varied. But the album is also a bit unadventurous, maybe even predictable. The band is restrained in the playing, never really bursting out, except for that fine solo in the longest track. Personally I would have welcomed more of these kind of outbursts that grab your attention.
The separate songs range from folky (Love My Ghosts), to slow blues (Resurrection Day) via singer-songwriter (Daydream Field) and an up-tempo pop song with a very nice acoustic guitar solo (Deadman's Hand). There is a shredding guitar solo in The Ballad Of Lizzie & Rosetti. The latter is not only the longest track but also the one that the purists among the proggies will enjoy the most because of its different moods and fierce instrumentation. For the rest, the music is nice to listen to, but also a bit anonymous, not in the least because the album closes with the weakest song of all, the dull We Were Gone.
Overall I found this a rather disappointing album. It offers eclectic music but no song is remarkable or outstanding. The variation in music is nice but the album simply lacks highlights. And from a the point of view of prog, there is hardly anything that can bear that label. I think that The Last Innhouse would be wise to choose a clear direction for their music and develop their clear musical skills further, instead of trying to do as many styles as possible on one album.
Mindtech — Omnipresence
For a long time now, Norway has been a centre for the emergence of a lot of metal bands. From kicking off the black metal movement, to being a hotbed of prog or melodic metal, the country, and the others around it, have always played an important role. And it is from these lands that Mindtech have come forth. Their debut album Elements of Warfare was released back in 2013 and was followed by the Edge of the World EP in 2016. Now, four years later they have returned with their second full length album, Omnipresence.
From the moment that the Path Of Sages trilogy starts, the album's tone is firmly set in stone. Chugging riffs, lofty vocals that stir the emotions, epic soloing, and fast paced drumming all feature heavily on the album. The production is top notch, especially for a band of this size, and the musicianship is excellent.
These Are The Days comes in at the halfway point in the album to slow things down a bit. As a ballad it does the job very well. It features all the hallmarks of a good one: catchy riffs that get you nodding, vocal lines that are insistent that you should sing along, and of course the solos. However, that is also the downside. It doesn't do anything different or new.
And unfortunately, that is the case with the album. Overall it is a very, very good piece of work. Everything is very well written, the delivery is flawless, the production is grand. The songs are catchy and would go down well live. But it doesn't break any new ground or shake the scene up. However, considering this is only the band's second full length release, it does show considerable promise. It is a safe album and may well just be that they are finding their feet. There is no doubting the talent and skill of the band members.
It is a fairly standard power/prog metal album and would be an ideal introduction to the world of power prog to someone new to the style. I'd sit the band alongside the likes of Circus Maximus and Kamelot in terms of style. I look forward to seeing what they bring to the table next.
Oceanica — OneDark
Six years after the hiatus announced by UK prog-metallers Enochian Theory, the front man Benedict Harris-Hayes has published an album of his solo project Oceanica. At the beginning, his goal was to publish a completely self-produced EP, however Harris-Hayes noticed that he had enough material to extend the project to three albums. OneDark was published in October 2019 as the first instalment of this trilogy. Harris-Hayes informed his fans that OneDark will be followed by TwoLight and ThreeGrey; albums in varying styles.
OneDark is a rock/metal album, but it also includes songs with strong ambient, post-rock and even electronic vibes. In addition to the traditional rock and metal instruments, the usage of real-life sounds forms a narrative mood through the album. The songs are spread out to progressive rock, neo-prog, symphonic metal, gothic metal realms and you can hear resemblances to various acts such as Queensrÿche, Porcupine Tree, IQ, Lunatic Soul, HIM, and Sentenced.
Though the songs are decent individually, this makes the album lack a unified sound, causing OneDark to be perceived as a collection of songs, instead of an album. In an interview, Harris-Hayes mentions that during the past seven or eight years, he has written a lot of music that he would like to publish. It was this that led him to plan this trilogy. Maybe the songs in OneDark are the products of different times and events, and this may explain why the songs sound better individually than in an album context.
The non-uniform sound is not limited to the song styles, but also caused by the production. It feels like some tracks were rushed while recording, whilst others are flawless; similarly some tracks sound well-structured but some sound like a product of a jam session. Moreover, some tracks sound much fuller than the others, like they were mixed by a different engineer. If I don't take into account the songs with electronica and pop atmospheres, the general sound character of OneDark is similar to an early progressive metal sound. I would also like to add that the album on the streaming platforms sounds much better than the CD I received. When I listened to the album with headphones via streaming, I heard that the instruments are more balanced, and the vocals sit in the mix better, with an overall tighter sound. Maybe additional compression helped the final product come to life a bit.
In conclusion, OneDark is a compilation of songs in different styles written, recorded, engineered and produced by Benedict Harris-Hayes. It is not bad at all for a completely self-made product and it features some nice parts. However, it could be better with a bit of an extra care during post-production.
Sky Architect — Excavations Of The Mind [10th Anniversary Edition]
I will begin with a confession. While I have seen Sky Architect's releases and the positive reviews of the band, I have never actually heard anything by the band. Sky Architect releases have always caught my eye, due to their impressive artworks. This re-release is no exception. The album is adorned with the easily-recognisable painting style of Mark Wilkinson, whose previous clients include Marillion, Fish and Iron Maiden, to name but a few.
Taking into account I did not hear the original album, which was reviewed upon release by DPRP, I will be writing my review on the basis that this is the first time I have heard Sky Architect.
The band does not waste its efforts in gradually welcoming the listener, instead immediately presenting you with a 12-minute-plus song in the shape of Deep Chasm. From the outset, the band has a distinct sound, with jazz overtones, which are evident throughout the album. When they reach the vocal section, I was convinced I was listening to Pink Floyd. At this point I was sure I had heard the song before. When the band write vocal sections, they prove they have a distinct gift of writing catchy songs which will permeate the mind, and this is one of the downsides, that there are not more examples of such melodies and vocal lines.
This being the band's debut album, it exudes the feeling of youth and passion, but at times the desire to prove themselves as musicians comes before the craft of composition. This is especially the case during the album's longest track, Deep Chasm, where some of the musical changes feel as if they had been shoe-horned in. There are plenty of good musical ideas throughout, but at times it feels as if three albums worth of ideas have been packed into one. Even in prog, sometimes less is better. I will put this down to the excitement of youth, and hope the band have used this experience to be a bit more focused with their ideas.
Stand out musicians for me are the rhythm section, Guus van Mierlo on bass and drummer Christiaan Bruin. They lay down some impressively strong foundations for the guitar and keys to experiment over.
The bonus tracks consist of a demo, acoustic variant and a live version of The Gray Legend. For me, the live song shows were Sky Architect's real strength lies, which is performing their songs in front of an audience. The live track takes on a whole new life. If I get the opportunity to catch the band in a live environment, I will certainly make sure I take advantage.
This is a very good debut album, and one which has given me the impetuous to listen to more of the band.