Acute Mind — Under The Empty Sky
Ten years go Acute Mind came from out of nowhere and produced a self-titled debut that instantly became one of my favourite albums of that year. Since then, living their lives has rather got in the way of making music. But finally album number two has arrived, and it is likely to again feature in my end of year list.
The majority of the line-up has remained in place with Marek Majewski again on vocals and guitar alongside Arek Piskorek on bass and second guitarist Paweł Ciuraj. The new recruits are Piotr Włodarczyk (keys) and drummer Artur Jasiński. As a result the sound is a natural successor to that found on their debut.
Musically the band sits in what some would call crossover prog. It is a less heavy and more varied disk than the debut. The groove that reminded me of Fair to Midland on the debut has disappeared. There are some heavy sections, but more lighter, even balladic tracks, with overall a brighter guitar tone. I certainly would not term any track, nor the riffing, as metallic.
All of the songs have a great melodic character. The songs are again direct and to the point, albeit with no shortage of little details to reward repeat listens.
Singer Marek Majewski is certainly one of the better Polish singers. With barely a hint of accent, he has developed a richer tone and depth to his voice in the past decade, possibly helped by singing on two albums (The After Effect and Particles) by fellow Polish progsters Osada Vida. The production too is far more professional and I love the cover.
Across the nine songs particular moments bring to mind Arena, Wolverine, The Pineapple Thief, Abigails Ghost, Votum, Satellite, Believe and of course Riverside. My favourite song is the up-tempo opener. The album is a little ballad-heavy in the middle for my tastes, and the rapping on the closing song is either brave or foolish depending on your tolerance of that sort of thing. (It is a track that I shall never intentionally play again.)
Overall, not quite as strong a set of songs as the debut but still good enough to be a recommended listen for anyone who enjoyed Acute Mind's debut album and for those of you who enjoy prog-lite crossover rock.
Glasswork — Metabolé
Glasswork's new release Metabolé finds the Spaniards exploring a less-heavy terrain than on their previous album, 2017's Fear And Trembling. Here they embrace a neo-prog take on classic prog, with some symphonic elements wrapped in an occasional sheen of metal. On Metabolé there is an equal balance between guitars and keyboards. And there is flute, and guest appearances of clarinet, sax and female vocals.
The songs on Metabolé weave intricate but easily accessible melodies, held together with classy arrangements and a great sense of purpose. The opening track Blackspot, starts as an acoustic ballad which gives way to layers of Jose Galvez's guitars and Cezar Rodríguez's keyboards. The track builds dynamically rather than just by increasing the pace. Its lovely melody leaves you wanting more from the off, and more is exactly what you get as Metabolé proceeds.
A hooky melody pulls you into Tales From The Cave, and its examination of Plato's parable of the cave, current social media and its relation to reality and truth. It has sustained harmonic guitar lines and whirling flute from the keys man. Drummer Miguel Angel Rey's great lead vocals have a tinge of Peter Gabriel to them.
But things change around on Metabolé as they return to their heavier, previous style with grinding guitars and electric piano on The Decision. There is a Riverside-like mix of cracking Hammond organ, guitars, and Fernando Domínguez's elastic bass playing on One Dimensional Man.
The songs on Metabolé are interspersed with short instrumental pieces. Glasswork also add in extra instrumentation on a couple of tracks. On The Beatles-style melody of A Song For Grace they add the warm clarinet of Jesús Sánchez, who also adds sax to Solitude.
There are hints of Pink Floyd on For Everyone And For No One but Glasswork mix it up with buzzing synths and Hammond and a staccato section.
The band, however, save the best for last with the title track. It moves from a classical piano and a vocal from Laura Martinez (who also added vocals to Solitude) before the full band kick in. There is a Rick Wakeman-ish synth solo and more flute. Here Glasswork let their collective hair down and go for it.
Glasswork's Metabolé is a smashing album of prog that channels the classics to great effect. Not much more to say, except "Go listen".
Lucid Planet — Lucid Planet II
Spoiler alert: This album is one of best of the year. I recommend you stop reading this review and go directly to Lucid Planet's website to order your copy. I'm not joking.
Ok, for those not willing to follow my advice straight away, then here are my thoughts about this impressive second album by Australia's Lucid Planet.
The band defines itself as a progressive, psychedelic outfit combining influences of psychedelic bass music with djent, tribal and progressive rock, producing a divergent sound that fuses genres. I can't agree more with the description. Many elements, instruments, styles, structures and everything fits perfectly, producing a "kaleidoscopic experience".
The band consists of Michael Box (guitar, website and visuals), Darcy Rank (production, guitar and synth) and Luke Turner (vocals and bass). Of course they have a bunch of collaborators on drums and percussion, backing vocals, didgeridoo (yes, a didgeridoo), flutes and violin that provides the album with a special atmosphere. The lyrics are also interesting, in which Lucid Planet compares planet Earth with a human body; not being one single life but billions of living cells that need to collaborate in order to survive and keep the host alive.
Now is the time when I take out my shield to protect myself from the Tool fan-base but I truly believe this is the album that Tool should have released instead of Fear Inoculum. Of course we don't have Danny Carey playing impossible figures here or Maynard James Keenan's mysterious vocals but the whole of Lucid Planet II is a great example of a different and not easy album but one that is magnificently cohesive; like Tool achieved with Lateralus. Having said this I encourage those Tool fans to take their time to discover all the layers that this album has to offer because with each listen one can find new elements.
Lucid Planet's debut album was released in 2015 and it was a good presentation letter, obtaining nice reviews among some alternative rock forums and blogs. What we have here is much better, in all respects.
The band has evolved and have boosted the best they had, with better sound and production, with all the instruments contributing perfectly, not only to the songs but the overall ambience in the album. The journey starts with the longest song, Anamnesis that has been chosen to be the presentation single.
It is a powerful starter that indicates that this album is going to be different. The band takes its time to transport the listener where they want, while they keep developing tribal sounds with great rhythm and nice backing female vocals. The song keeps progressing, giving way to Entrancement in which the hypnotic sounds, produced by flutes and electronica, transport the listener to an imaginary and magical place.
This song really captivates and puts you in the mood for the next long song called Organic Hard Drive. This is a great title for a truly organic song. Didgeridoo and some grunge vocals à la Alice in Chains to start? Yes. The soft interlude and a surprise after some hypnotic drumming. I'm not going to describe it and it was not what I was expecting for the last part of the song. But I love it!
Need some calm now? Offer goes next, and again is a very original song progressing from soft guitar, to a great guitar solo towards the end, with some reggae moments in the middle section. Great vocals here, and again the didgeridoo at the end keeps the listener inside the tribal atmosphere.
On The Way includes female vocals this time but quickly shows a great bass and drum rhythm. The great progressive rock continues with Digital Ritual, with which Lucid Planet faces the end of the album with two of the longest tracks.
Face The Sun comes first and the tribal drumming gives way to a very interesting mixture of sounds, before rocking hard in front of some violin melodies. The band is good at introducing softer parts that have the listener waiting, so that is what they do again, with some flutes this time. Zenith closes the album and it could be considered the most traditional song, until the fascinating and, at this stage, Lucid Planet´s typical sounds appear. It leaves the listener wanting more.
So, if you have arrived at this paragraph then you have realised that I really like this album. It's fresh, different, interesting, with many things to discover amid some very well-executed structures. I'm not giving a 10 because the band has such potential, that I'm sure they are going to improve and surprise again with their next album (and I won't be allowed to give them an 11). In my opinion Lucid Planet has reached the next level, and this second album is a clear contender for my album of the year. As I said at the beginning, go check the website and buy this album if you don't want to miss an amazing piece of music.
Snowdrops — Volutes
I first became aware of the Ondes Martenot virtuoso Christine Ott with her solo album Chimères (Pour Ondes Martenot) that was released earlier this year. It did take a while for the beauties of that recording to sink in with me. This release also required some repeat listens for it to gel too.
Christine Ott also performs with Mathieu Gabry (piano, Mellotron. Korg MS2000) in the duo Snowdrops. On their new album, Volutes, the duo has enlisted the help of viola virtuoso Anne-Irène Kempf.
For those not familiar with the Ondes Martenot, it is an early 20th century forerunner of the synthesizer. It has a wide tonal range but is often identified with ethereal, otherworldly sounds. It is the better-sounding second cousin of the more familiar Theramin.
Snowdrops produce a sound that is best described as contemporary classical music. On Volutes there are no digressions into the avant-garde, nor is there a reliance on the pulsing, repetition of minimalism (Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, etc.). Rather, it sits alongside the work of the contemporary classical and soundtrack composer Max Richter.
The music on Volutes consists of atmospheric, almost ambient, widescreen soundscapes that sometimes induce chills. It is unapologetically beautiful. The melodies unfurl in an unhurried manner, like delicate flowers opening to the first touch of the morning sun. The mix of grand piano, Ondes Martenot, Mellotron, synth and viola used throughout, reaches an intoxicating highpoint in the 13-minute Odysseus, as it moves through darkness to light.
If you can imagine someone arranging some of Tangerine Dream's floatier material from the early Virgin Records era, for Snowdrops' line-up of instrumentation. Then this is what you sort of get on Volutes but that's me struggling to find a comparison as a guide for our readers. I find myself struggling to capture the evolving beauty of this music in words.
I can imagine a prog-metal fan will consider this release utterly wet, where everything sounds very similar in tone and pace. And I agree it is not for all, especially the ambient-phobic. But for those prog fans who enjoy the long-established connection between classical music and prog (see Geoff Feakes' seven part investigation of this connection starting here) then this is worth investigating.
Snowdrops' music will also appeal to those who like esoteric electronica or the ambient edges of prog and would like to dip their toes into exquisite contemporary classical music. Like those sub-genres, this is music that requires and deserves a quiet concentration for its many rewards to become clear.
I think Snowdrops Volutes is a gorgeous release. It may not be prog by most people's definition, but it shares with prog an adventurous spirit and a dedication to its own sound-world. It sounds like nothing else I have heard before and it is fantastic music.
Turdetans — Suite Of Dreams
Turdetans hails from Alcalá de Guadaira near Seville in the beautiful Spanish province of Andalucia. The trio consists of Juan Manuel Pinto on lead vocals, Francisco Gongora on guitars and Jose Luis Portillo on bass, drums and keyboards. The latter is responsible for almost all the songwriting, as well as the production of this debut album. They don't see themselves as a live band and therefore prefer to be called a musical project. But then we hardly have any 'live' bands left in these dark Covid days.
Suite Of Dreams is a concept album comprised of 12 tracks dealing with the world of dreams. I think it is a daring enterprise to release a concept album as a debut. And if you dare to do such a thing, then you'd better be sure that it is up to standard, to prevent critics writing an easy, negative judgement. While certainly not all is good on this record, they pass that test.
The album opens with the very weak Prologue (Lullaby). Musically it is fine, although not very special. But for a completely unclear reason, Juan Luis takes on the lead vocals in this track and that was a really big mistake. He just can't sing, and has a nasty trembling voice.
Maybe some listeners would decide that they may have heard enough after this opener but they would be making a big mistake, for things improve rapidly. Insomnia is a fine, melodious instrumental with fine Camel-esque guitar playing. I think that a Mr. Latimer has been a big inspiration for these guys. It flows fluently into Lucid Dream, a nice, small song with a driving guitar riff over very lush keyboards that sound very much like a flute (mr. Latimer again?).
The mood changes quite drastically with I Will Be There that rocks harder. The chorus and the following guitar solos are appealing, reminding me of Pendragon or Lee Abraham. That can't be said of the verses, that sound a bit constrained. Yet it is a nice song that flows nicely into Parasomnia. Thi is a real highlight with an excellent guitar melody and flute-like keys that build a very layered and therefore attractive instrumental. The double bass drum is quite upfront, which I don't like that much but this piece is so strong that it isn't spoilt by that at all. Another asset of this song is the clever musical break that is the intro to Rapid Eye Movement, again an instrumental, but this time more key-driven. These two songs form a perfect musical pair and show the high potential of Turdetans.
Then it goes terribly wrong. Friends I opens nicely with a fine vocal melody over flute keys and hi-hats but also features some spoken words further on that are very hard to digest because of the Spanish accent. Combined with the chaotic singing that follows, after which they lose themselves in some guitar shredding, this song is a failure. I'll skip it from now on. It is the ultimate low point of the album.
Remarkably, Friends II is an instrumental piece that easily matches the earlier high points of the album. With its flowing guitar work, some heavy riffing, and an even heavier guitar solo, this is prog heaven! And throughout this fine song, there is the typical Spanish hand-clapping and castanets playing that give it a real flamenco feeling. Really cleverly done and without doubt another highlight.
5th December is primarily a vocal piece with some acoustic guitar and bass in the background. Given the moderate quality of the singing thus far, Juan Manuel shows in this song convincingly that he can hold a song vocally. It forms again a very fitting pair with Thousands Of Angels that has also well-sung vocals with those nice flute-like keys backing them.
A whole different affair is Born Again. It's a fantastic, energetic instrumental piece of music with great guitar and keys interplay, based upon a stomping rhythm section. A very strong piece that is followed by another highlight, the closing track Wake Me Up. The acoustic guitar opens this ballad, and it has a good vocal melody that suits Pinto's voice well. The song marks the moment that the storyteller awakes from his dream. The very varied music illustrates the different moods he then experiences very well. The chorus is excellent, although the vocal melody has a really difficult note that is sung well.
The album comes with three bonus tracks, credited as 'radio edits' but hardly being edits at all, as they are almost similar in length to the album versions. I think we could have done without them for their added value is limited. But these are nice songs to listen to, so just consider them as real bonuses.
The artwork of the album is foremost blueish and well-crafted with all lyrics and project information printed in the booklet. It shows the dedication with which the three musicians present themselves here.
I found it rather difficult to score this album properly. To me they sound like the Spanish peers of classic Eloy. They have created a nice debut album with some really good prog moments. The very clever integration of the Spanish castanets into their music is excellent, as is the natural flow of the song cycle as a whole. But on the other hand their vocals are just not up to the required standard, while the English pronunciation is sometimes pretty awkward, mimicking quite well the late Frank Bornemann. And the opening song is a real low.
Yet to release a concept album as a debut, to let the tracks flow so fluently into each other, to be able to blend moments of metal and folk on one record without producing an inconsistent album, and to provoke memories of classic bands like Camel and Caravan says enough of the quality of their music.
Turdetans is a promising project and it can only be hoped that they remain inspired and develop further. This courageous project shows their potential and therefore deserves a positive rating. Enjoy it fully and skip the minor drawbacks.