Apostle — Sky Above Me
Having started as Apostle Of Chaos, the band was not completely satisfied by their chosen name as it didn't reflect their musical style sufficiently. One quick glance at the cover of their 2019 release, What's Inside?, wouldn't exactly spark the impression that it contained neo-progressive rock, AOR, and classic rock, so an understandable decision to change it. Thereupon they decided to start afresh as Apostle and simultaneously went through a small line-up change by replacing their lead vocalist with Ryan Hanson and adding a keyboard player, Chris Allen.
The resulting new-found energy has resulted in Sky Above Me, which comprises of three reworked older songs and two new tracks. One aspect that immediately stands out, is the upscale in production which gives some of the seventies feel of their music a delicious freshness surrounded by a modern sound, as well as giving it sufficient power. The second favourable aspect is the implementation of a healthy dose of keyboards which compliments their older work beautifully.
This difference is best illustrated by the opening track, Reaper. The Uriah Heep-like melodies and catchy bombast is appealing and turns into excitement when guitar and keyboards intertwine to reveal a luscious late-seventies Rush atmosphere. The rhythm section of Marcus Murray (drums) and Shaun "Tin Tin" Ellis (bass) gives the song ample foundation, although it would have benefited by adding variety in some of its drum parts. Nevertheless a solid, rocking opener featuring thrilling guitars by Richard Lidster.
In Your Eyes shows another identity of Apostle as it glides through melodic rock and AOR, reminiscent to a smooth and faithful Journey. Incorporating some neo-progressive influences, the ear-friendly melodies flow by gently, guided by playful bass giving room for Hanson to present himself as a great vocalist. His voice is able to express more passion and emotion than his predecessor. Last Goodbye, the final reworked track, wears this marvellous transition as well, and even contains some hit potential. It slides in the softer side of rock with a superb melancholic guitar solo, which on the original version is somewhat mindful to Wishbone Ash, something now only slightly noticeable.
Surprisingly the new track, Fire Within, soars through rock 'n' roll with lots of piano parts, and even incorporates elements of pomp rock through its blazing keyboards. A catchy track that broadens Apostle's spectrum of play, which can equally be stated for Pale Blue Dot. Here the symphonic, atmospheric layers, surrounded by soft caresses of Rush, gives it a wonderful, spacious feel. Aided by the mellow and laid back neo-progressive structures, it drifts gracefully by on refined melodies, showing restrained interplay. On top of this, the gorgeous guitar solos ooze a perfect sense of melancholy which is delicious and brings to mind Pink Floyd and Higher Circles.
Apostle's "first" effort shows great potential and the band have certainly upped their game in the short-period since their previous instalment as Apostle Of Chaos. The individual quality of the musicians shines through beautifully and the variety of songs is considerable, both of which are definite pros.
However herein also lies my biggest concern. The eclectic mix of styles on the EP certainly has its charm and reminds me occasionally of Comedy Of Errors, but on basis of these five tracks I'm slightly at a loss as to what their next trajectory will be. Following their next steps is the only one way to find out I guess, which would be my advice anyway, for it's a rather enjoyable and recommendable effort.
Daal — Daecade
To commemorate Daal's 10th anniversary, Davide Guidoni (drums, percussion, noises and samplers) and Alfio Costa (Mellotron, Moog, piano, synth and samplers) have released a special compilation album in the form of Daecade, available in digital form and as a limited run of 300 vinyl copies. Featured on the album are eight intriguing compositions that capture Daal's take on cinematic soundscapes.
The hauntingly-ghoulish Voldemort opening of Dodecahedron Part 1 sets the obscure, atmospheric tone of the music instantly. Initially luscious sax and delicate percussion wades into a wondrous Mellotron-induced gloomy progressive rock mood; This slowly converges to an eerie, ambient passage that slowly invades your system, thereby illuminating highly suggestive pictures of darkness and suspense. Similarly Dodecahedron Part 2 permeates successively through its slight, experimental textures and mild melodies that glide into Grobschnitt-like Krautrock whilst soaring through divine guitar melodies transfering a spirited Gilmour (Pink Floyd) feel.
This becomes even more daunting in both Decalogue Of Darkness Part 3 and Decalogue Of Darkness Part 1 from Decalogue Of Darkness, my first encounter with Daal's music. Decalogue Of Darkness Part 3, a slightly more symphonic and quieter composition with intricate melodies and careful instrumentation, now surprisingly also projects comforting images of Grobschnitt's 1978 release Solar Music, marvellously showing the opulent layers of Daal's Music
Brain Melody, from their debut album Disorganicorigami invades the subconscious mind just as effectively, featuring some luscious saxophone. It creates a haunting and hypnotising mood, carried across smoothly through its mysterious atmosphere. Thankfully amongst all this oppressiveness Level 6666, from Destruktive Actions Affect Livings, gives some relief as it flows into a wonderous middle eastern atmosphere thanks to the splendid use of sitar that's alluring from start to finish.
Although Daal's music is predominantly instrumental it becomes even more breathtaking when divine vocal expressions are used, as showcased in the closing song Inside You. Surrounded by spine-chilling moving violins and impressive mellow melodies, the passionate vocals of Tirill Mohn (White Willow) breaths life into the refined composition by adding caressing sadness and soothing comfort, each giving way to warm feelings of admiration and love. The fragility and transience embedded in this touching composition depicts Daal's intense musical enclosures splendidly, ultimately ending side 2 of the album on a positive note.
The wholly-soothing closure of side two via Inside You is impressively surpassed by the majestic and cinematically overwhelming Daecade(nt), a deep, meaningful track ending side one and exclusively found on this album. It's an intense track where imagery, provoked through the delicate serene melodies, reflective ambient passages and the divine Pink Floyd-inspired melody becomes a highly emotional experience. This is even more intense if you listen whilst witnessing the surreal, yet authentic situations experienced at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in Bergamo, Italy (home of Daal) in the accompanying video.
Freshly seared in everyone's brain these images become frighteningly alive again. It makes this a perfect demonstration of intricate touching music filled with sorrow and sadness conversing with deeply moving, upsetting scenarios, embracing each other, thus both gaining strength and impact. The loneliness radiated by the music amplifies the emotional content of the video, whilst vice versa the disturbing scenes in the movie elevates the grief from the music. A tangible and most passionate tribute to those fighting and struggling for survival, and a true testament of Daal's finest hour.
Overall the selection of tracks on this superb compilation is a very good way to start exploring Daal's imaginative and inventive music. It gives a perfect summary of Daal's accomplishments so far, setting up for their more experimental soundscapes like Navels Falling Into A Living Origami, which has been excluded from the album. A good decision, that makes the album easily approachable in a general sense, but also better suited for those unacquainted with this band.
As a vinyl it works beautifully in light of the two magical highlights that are carefully placed at the end of each side, yet the overall cohesive nature makes the digital download just as enjoyable. I do however hope a CD version will be issued someday, as the captivating artwork of the album looks quite impressive and the title track deserves a proper release at least. A great compilation, worth exploring.
Notturno Concertante — Let Them Say
Read carefully, for I shall say this only once!
This Italian band was founded in 1984 and is commonly known (at least to me) for recording and performing music that takes its influences from the likes of Marillion and Pendragon. Yes, this is also the same Notturno Concertante that according to our own DPRP statements (see the review of Canzoni Allo Specchio) plays likeable and accessible neo-prog. And yes, on Let Them Say, their seventh effort, I can solemnly swear I hear absolutely nothing of the sort; apart from the likeability which has shifted from similar feelings of admiration into excitement and adventurous enjoyment.
It appears that in the last ten years (give or take) Notturno Concertante have made an exciting, rather rigorous u-turn, propelling them into the world of crossover prog and fusion. Responsible for this delightful change are founders Lucio Lazzaruolo (acoustic guitar, piano) and Raffaele Villanova (guitar, sampling), who together with new drummer Francesco Margherita and a string of Italian and international musicians have crafted a challenging album that stands out through its symbiosis of delicate instrumentation and an organic, harmonious and balanced sound.
A good example of this harmony can be found in Dei Miei Sospiri, one of the only two tracks featuring vocals in the form of some mesmerising, volatile chants. The uplifting beats and slight experimental vibe, reveals many layers and sophisticated structures, while spacious ambient and rumbling basslines add further depth in this well constructed composition.
Although being the complete opposite musically, the sadness of intonation and sensitive nature of the following piano interlude Darkness I Became, is equally touching and pristine. It's got a moving and elegant touch to it, which gives it a distinct lightness that brings it very close to minimal classical music, springing to mind Vladimir Horowitz.
The upbeat and tight drums, in combination with the positive vibes and slight experimental sidesteps in Fellow Travellers and Le Magnifiche Sorti (E Progressive), works wonderfully, whilst the open structure within these songs give plenty of room for lovely, intertwining melodies performed on different instruments such as the bouzouky in the latter. In a way I'm reminded of Esthema, as both these compositions have been carefully arranged and well thought-out, all the while maintaining a lively, improvisational character with an attention to detail.
Delicate Sabbath has a lovely worldly feel attached to it. Ignited by it's title, it projects images of a caravan of elephants slowly striding through the desert emphasized through the eastern Moroccan feel, seductive bass lines and delicious violin play. A mild play on this worldly feel is also apparent in Finis Terrae which harbours some tribal rhythms/beats surrounded by chanting vocals. Once virtuous percussion catches up with the rhythm, it slowly progresses into hypnotising and slightly neurotic textures, which sees a further dosage of enchanting, experimental violin play.
Precisely this type of violin play is what attracts me to this album, as brilliantly shown in tracks like Let Them Say and Handful Of Hopes. The organic and electronic nature of the compositions, in combination with the exquisite use of violin, gives rise to a feeling of experiencing Nash The Slash in a less electronic and experimental environment, which I actually prefer to his own style. The depth, refined melodies and multi-layered structures achieved through classical elements like cello and bright percussion, adds an adventurous aspect to the songs. For some inexplicable reason Eddie Jobson's Zinc also comes to mind in Handful Of Hopes.
This effective play, involving overlapping, layered structures can also be found in Lovers Second Leap, where the violin get a slight upper hand towards the electronics. As a hybrid form of FM and Nash The Slash it also sparks mild seductive thoughts of Jerry Goodman (Mahuvishnu Orchestra). The initial playful variety and mild experimentalism of Evidence Of Invisible gets a wondrous, ambient feel halfway through, and after a restrained mild guitar outburst it slowly intensifies into a delicate climax.
Some of the tracks have a slight jazzy feel to them, this is most apparent in the shortest highlight of the album, So Far Out. Here Notturno Concertante spice things up vividly with some fantastic jazz-rock-fusion, where the powerful change into an appetising bridge ignites thoughts of Semantic Saturation. Sadly this is all over to soon, for after some bombastic eruptions and delicious inserts of violin, the composition is abruptly over. This could have lasted me some more.
As a final remark I would like to state that Let Them Say lends itself perfectly to be heard with headphones on, as it reveals many extra sub-layers and intricate, inventive melodies underneath its vibrant surface. With every melody, rhythm and arrangement serving its purpose, and not a note overplayed, Notturno Concertante have created a cohesive landscape, which has considerable stretch for further, extensive exploration.
If I had my say, then future exploration down the So Far Out route would have my preference, but for now I can surely state that I'll be revisiting this album on a regular basis. A recommendable effort.
Shaman Elephant — Wide Awake But Still Asleep
Norway's Shaman Elephant hold an almost unique honour on the DPRP website bestowed upon them. This is that their debut album, Crystals, received not once but twice here, in separate reviews. (Note from the editor: that was planned as a Duo Review, but the first was published before the second was finished.) This split the opinions of the reviewers, so I was interested in what Shaman Elephant have produced with their sophomore album.
The promotional material suggests their song writing ability has matured, blending 60s and 70s psychedelia with prog rock. To be honest, this did not necessarily whet my appetite, as this is a genre I have tended to steer clear of, but with my reviewer's hat on I dived straight into Wide Awake But Still Asleep.
The opening and title track, presents the listener with an perfect demonstration of what to expect. The track builds slowly from a single bass note, before welcoming the other instruments to the party. It then transitions through a number of phases. What becomes immediately obvious, and for me is one of the highlights of the whole album, is the rhythm section. On my promo copy, the musicians are not named anywhere, so I can't name the drummer or bass player. They lay down the foundations for the majority of the tracks like the classic rhythm duos of the 60s and 70s, such as Glover & Paice, Mitchell & Redding, and Baker & Bruce. Without this solid foundation, Shaman Elephant would not be able to create the sound they do.
The imaginatively titled H.M.S Death, Rattle And Roll, slaps the listener in the face with its Doors-like opening salvo of big Hammond organ, laying down a fast trippy riff, before slowing down to provide a passage reminiscent of early Hawkwind. But then there is a passage which has an early feel of The Cult.
With the references to the bands of the early 70s you may begin to think this is just a nostalgia trip. This is not the case. The instrumental phases are not overlong, and the production from Enslaved drummer Iver Sandoy is remarkably clear. The vocals, which were criticised in one review of the original album, differ for each track, being produced to reflect the vibe of each song. Take Steely Dan, which has multiple layers of vocals which give a Beach Boys feel.
Ease Of Mind demonstrates something which could easily be overlooked when listening to Shaman Elephant, and that is the ability to compose a terrific song. This particular track should receive airplay, as it deserves to be a hit. It has hints of Coldplay, with some majestic keyboard fills supporting a laid-back song, whose vocals are pretty much perfect.
The longest song on the album is Traveller. Split into three parts, which for me are indistinguishable, it is a real rock-out. The mesmeric lead riff will become burned into your conscious by the time the last chords are heard. This track could easily become the modern-day successor to the classic Silver Machine, especially towards the end of the song, with its thumping bassline and jangly guitars, all building towards a satisfying climax, with its haunting Moog-like effects.
The album closer, Strange Illusions, has hints of The Beatles at the beginning with its harmony vocals, before treading a totally different path with the Hammond sound taking over. This at times could be early Deep Purple, even down to the gloriously-stretched vocals. This provides a fitting conclusion to an album which has taken me by surprise. I have given many listens to this album, and to fully appreciate what Shaman Elephant have produced will take me many more. I just hope anyone who decides to give the album a listen will be as surprised and enchanted as I have been.
For anyone looking for some great songs, which have a feel of the psychedelic bands of the 60s and 70s, but with modern production values, more than a nod to the classic prog sounds and the ability to write a catchy song, this is the album for you.
Ubi Maior — Bestie, Uomini E Dèi
Perhaps one of the classic tropes of progressive rock, and occasionally an area of some derision, is the element of theatrical story-telling. Genesis under Peter Gabriel in the early 1970s exemplified this style as a vehicle for exploring fantastical ideas and ancient mythology. By the end of the decade, Rush retired their approach having successfully pulled it through the punk and disco era. It briefly made a reappearance in the form of Marillion's Grendel a few years later but it has not really dared to show its (multi-headed) form since the passing of Ronnie James Dio.
Within the 21st century's evolution of the genre, it falls to Ubi Maior to convince us that it still has a place in a modern setting. Their latest album, Bestie, Uomini E Dèi, which translates as Beast, Men, and Gods should give you an indication of their intentions and what lies in store. Perhaps it's the escapism we need in darker times?
Coming at you in six long-form pieces, Ubi Maior have provided a collection of myths, from the ancient Greek King Admetus, to the noble beast of the Scottish waters, Nessie. All of it is wrapped up in a classic symphonic prog rock sound with a distinctive Italian flavour.
The opener Nero Notte (Pitch Black) does stand out from the stories elsewhere on the album in a more down-to-earth sense, as it deals with the story of Kasper Hauser, a mystery that revolves around the murder of a German youth who was said to have broken free from being incarcerated from the world since birth. More akin to the 'stranger' concepts used by Marillion on Brave and Steven Wilson's Hand.Cannot.Erase, there are theories of royal lineage and more that really could support an entire album on its own.
Musically it's accomplished guitar/synth fare which is balanced evenly across both key elements and backed by singer Mario Moi's booming vibrato, which has an operatic sensibility to it. Melodic and purposeful, the piece comes to a galloping climax.
A standout track comes in the form of the Deep Purple/Rainbow-tinted Misteri Di Tessaglia (Mysteries Of Thessaly) with its ominous central riff providing the backing for some well-realised violin passages.
Moi's vocal style, while versatile, gradually comes at you with the same intense projection. Whether this is a criticism or restriction is open to personal choice. It provides a direction for the music throughout the album, reaching epic proportions at the height of Wendigo with a pitch that only a scant few vocalists could possibly achieve. He also plays the violin and trumpet!
The subject matter of Nessie needs no explanation and sonically it opens well with a Tull-like rocking, folk charm which moves nicely into a more jazzy middle. The instrumental piece hangs together with skill and has plenty of mood, with a mix of some excellent neo-prog synth and old school keys from Gabriele Manzini.
With mermaids and minotaurs as the topics to complete the stories, Ubi Maior have defied the modern conventions for themes and have delivered elaborate stories and characters which fit an era that modern styles have chosen to ignore. The music is creatively worthy of the words and thankfully they have included a full English translation to help with your engagement. It's worth your immersion.
Vanishing Point — Dead Elysium
In a career that now spans over four decades, Australia's Vanishing Point have remained one of those bands often referred to as "hidden gems", largely due to their career being hindered by a very sporadic output.
Since their woeful debut album, In Thought way back in 1997, they initially issued a steady stream of prog-power metal albums from Tangled In Dream (2000), Embrace The Silence (2005) and The Fourth Season in 2007. The latter remains one of my all-time favourite discs from this genre.
There was then a seven-year gap until Distant Is The Sun and a six-year wait for this, their latest offering.
Singer Silvio Massaro reminds me of a less-groovy Jeff Scott Soto and has a similar knack for killer choruses. Without the crunching guitars and pounding drums and bass, a lot of these songs would be prime melodic rock/AOR material.
The thing that elevates Vanishing Point into a more prog-power category is the slightly extended track length which allows for extended solos and some subtle piano-led shifts in dynamics in most numbers.
The highlights bookend this album. The title track is one of the best songs this band had ever written; a perfect prog-power blend of mood, pace and hooks. The closing The Ocean combines a galloping pace, great hooks and some fabulous guitar riffs and soloing.
Elsewhere, there's nothing particularly original here and it follows a pretty photo-copy-esque verse-chorus-bridge-solo-chorus format. In the overall sound it varies little from their last two albums.
Dead Elysium is not as good as The Fourth Season but more enjoyable than Distant Is The Sun. Another solid release for fans of melodic prog-power metal who aren't seeking to challenge their listening too much.