Akenathon — Como Hormigas
Ten years after their first release, Peregrino, Akenathon have returned with their sophomore album Como Hormigas. Between both releases, the band has seen many line-up changes. Thus gradually their original song-structured style has shifted towards a loosened, improvised style incorporating many influences ranging from hard rock, psychedelic rock, prog and krautrock.
Since 2017 the band has consisted of founder Aníbal Acuaro (guitars, vocals), Guillermo Rocca (drums, vocals) and Pablo Oilio (bass, vocals), and in this short timespan these talented musicians have obviously spent a lot of time rehearsing and playing together, for they sound amazingly tight.
If I had to identify one standout feature, then Acuaro's performance is the one, for it elevates every single track, and he most exquisitely demonstrates how to play guitar with passion, emotion, melancholy and gusto, as well as being refined, and technically-amazing. The rhythm section adapts most-actively to this and greets it with flexibility and precision, knowing when to rock or restrain, which is excellent. They interact minutely with the thrilling guitar parts of Acuaro, which are a lot, resulting in natural, free-floating compositions where the improvisational character is matched in unity.
The complexities contained within the music often breathe King Crimson, giving all of the compositions great depth and an exciting, adventurous feel. Next to this element, Akenathon show their versatility and virtuosity by blending rock-genres into one organic entity, as brilliantly shown in opener Como Hormigas. This atmospheric opening signals a spacious Astra (The Weirding) meets Eloy, which through the excellent retro/vintage production gains desirable edginess. Progressing into up-tempo rock with psychedelic insertions, it flows towards powerful melodic rock that meets the like of Medina Azahara, also in light of the Argentinian expressive vocals (sounding very Spanish to my ears).
Irresistible Tic shows an immensely disciplined band delivering spontaneous, fierce rock amidst complex melodies and slight psychedelics, and slowly the thought arises as to whether the band have recorded some of the compositions in a live-setting and put them straight onto disc. This feeling is especially present in Vanka, which begins bluesy, shifts to jazzy and then soars into infectious krautrock mindful to Nektar's Sounds Like This, with stellar guitar work by Acuaro.
Similarly, in Punta Del Diablo and Vuelos, the only other track featuring vocals, Acuaro's extravagant work is mightily impressive, morphing from freestyle jazz into howling Eddie Van Halen eruptions and fruitful Fripp-ertronics, surrounded by delightful rhythmic improvisations. These joyous and spontaneous acrobatics are also embedded to great success in Sopa De Heuso and Zumac. Both tracks are likewise hardened by infectious grooves from the rhythm section, managing to flow sovereign through luscious atmospheres.
The album is completed by the wonderful, initially ambient-sounding Enigmas, which slowly converges via dissonant guitar-sounds into mellow melodies that ultimately groove into infectious rock with a delightful jazz swing. It is another well crafted composition that keeps the rocking pace of the album convincingly going.
Never once did I notice the absence of vocals within the predominantly instrumental music, for Acuaro's talkative guitar style speaks volumes in itself, never let down by the equally conversational rhythm section. The perfect balance is achieved by harmonic passages intertwining with discordant movements, incorporating feelings of anguish, loneliness, betrayal and hope is. It results in an expressive and constantly beguiling landscape. An alluring scenery which hopefully doesn't take them ten years to recreate again, for this album is a rather joyous and energetic trip, worth exploring.
Chaos Over Cosmos — The Ultimate Multiverse
Chaos Over Cosmos is an interesting musical duo. Formed by two individuals, vocalist Joshua Ratcliff from Australia and guitarist Rafal Bowman from Poland with several EPs and now two full-length albums. However, the interesting thing is that this acts as a great showcase as to how modern technology can be used for music. The two have never met. Everything is done online. Through this utilisation of modern technology, the two have crafted some finely tuned melodic progressive death metal.
Cascading Darkness is an absolute sledgehammer of technicality and riffs. The drums are relentless, and the riffs fly at you left, right and centre, barely leaving you time to catch your breath before the next lot comes in. It is pure prog metal insanity and I love it.
Electronic, almost Perturbator sounds are sprinkled through the album, such as at the intro to One Hundred, which fits perfectly. A lot of the music has that melodic, atmospheric, and electronic sort of sound (despite being prog metal). This lends an accessible feel to it which helps it stand apart from other progressive death metal bands.
Machine-gun drumming and face-melting solos, complete with a huge dose of tapping, harsh screams and soulful cleans. The album has it all. All carefully packaged together by two people who have never been in the same room together.
Together the two have created a fast and heavy-hitting, yet melodic and catchy sound that should appeal to any fan of progressive melodic death metal.
If you're a fan of Devin Townsend, Persefone, Symphony X or bands such as Be'lakor or Insomnium I'd recommend giving these guys a listen.
DarWin — A Frozen War
Following closely in the footprints of his debut release Origin Of Species, comes a second release, A Frozen War. After being spoilt with a debut double album, I'm unsure as to how to refer to DarWin 2, as it only contains five tracks. Is it an album, or is it an EP? Vinyl connoisseurs are treated to a double vinyl album also containing reworked tracks, but us less-fortunate mortals who have made the decision to stick with CDs, are limited to only the five new songs.
The lack of music in no way diminishes the quality of what is on offer. In fact, the opening track Nightmare Of My Dreams, is probably seven minutes of the best music I have heard this year. It takes so many twists and turns, but never does the listener lose focus. From the surprising hook-line, to the luxurious orchestration and everywhere in between, this particular track is an absolute tour-de-force of musicianship and songwriting.
DarWin and his partner in crime Simon Phillips make a songwriting team which deserves to be extremely proud of what they have created. The other collaborators add their own particular magic. I have been aware of Matt Bissonette's bass playing credentials for many years, but I was not aware of how good a voice he has, and cannot imagine anyone else taking the vocal lead for a DarWin project.
Also adding his immense talent to the latest recording is Billy Sheehan, whose unique tone and playing is easily identified on the two tracks he appears on. DarWin himself is obviously influenced by the likes of Petrucci, Vai, and Satriani. Fortunately for the listener, DarWin does not try to emulate the speed of these three particular guitar players, but he has learnt from them how to riff with the best as well as how to compose meaningful guitar interludes. Never is the melody of the song compromised for unnecessary displays of excessive virtuosity.
Future History (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM9cMtwqDJM) features Greg Howe providing additional guitar licks to another well-written song with strong melodies that will not take many listens before it begins to burn itself into you conscious.
Eternal Life has an almost country feel to it. It features a glorious chorus, interspersed with laid back verses, before kicking into life with a barnstorming guitar solo. The vocal harmonies towards the end provide a gospel edge, before the instruments disappear in an organic way.
A Frozen War is a track not for the feint-hearted. It transitions through many different phases, and will again have you hooked in a manner you will not come across very often. The vocal harmonies here are reminiscent of Yes at their magical best. This particular song is a tribute to the amazing songwriting skill of DarWin and Simon Phillips. I don't know where DarWin was before his debut album, but would be very interested in his previous work, which, even with the internet, is shrouded in mystery.
The final track, Another Year, features a female lead vocal which has some thoroughly ethereal moments, with yet another wonderful chorus. Due to having received the album prior to release, it comes without credits. I therefore cannot give credit to the lady who adds the extra dimension to this particular song.
I cannot find fault in this release, and it even improves on DarWin's incredible debut, something I would have thought difficult prior to receiving this album. If I were pushed, the only down-side (apart from the vinyl tracks not being available on CD), is that 5 tracks is far too short, but the amazing quality here more than makes up for this.
This year's top 10 list is going to be very difficult to decide upon, but that just goes to prove what a great year for music 2020 has been, taking into account what the world has been going through.
Odd Times — A Journey In The Desert
A progressive-minded power trio from Canada but quite different from its better-known, countrymen predecessors.
Following the release of two singles, this is an independently-produced debut by this band out of Montreal. It bases its sound on extended, guitar-focused compositions. The music is not technically-complex but every track has an ever-changing foundation of rhythms and dynamics. The set includes two ambitious, multi-part suites. To boost its prog credentials it is also a concept album, following a character as he journeys into "desert lands".
Although cited as a traditional power trio with a bassist, drummer and guitar/vocalist, the credits state that the bassist and drummer only appear on some of the tracks. I am unsure where the drums and (quiet) bass comes from for the others?
Guitarist and singer Etienne Fournier thus appears to be the only ever-present contributor. He has a fairly standard mid-range vocal and for the most part he keeps within his comfort zone. The guitar is rather one-dimensional in terms of its sound and style. The bass is hidden in the mix (at least listening to the promo mp3 files). I'd like the drumming to be far more adventurous and varied.
The main problem I have with this band/album is that I feel they are trying to be something (a progressive metal band) that they are not. The two tracks where their sound works the best, are Eternal Zenith and Path to the City. Both concentrate on the solid power trio riffing and guitar leads, with a drive and aggression that reminds me of the best moments from the likes of Budgie and Diamond Head. With no keyboards and with the drums and bass making limited contributions, there is nowhere near enough depth of sound or compositional skill to warrant the interest of a progressive metal audience. When they do veer into different musical styles, as on the Offspring-inspired Back Home or the quirky prog rock of Oasis, it just sounds wrong.
As for the concept, it simply does not translate into the music. The idea is a nice one; following someone's journey across difficult lands where they encounter different cultures, and have to work through physical and mental challenges. Greek prog metal band Fragile Vastness executed this idea superbly on their 2006 double concept album, A Tribute to Life, evoking a myriad of musical styles as their doomed character spends his final days travelling around the world. I get none of that from the tracks here. It's all power trio guitar, bass and drums. Not a single Arabian or Texan motif to be heard. Perhaps their character is only on a day-stroll across Canada's Okanagan Desert, as opposed to the sand-filled expanses of Africa or the states that I had envisaged?
Anyway, to say that I have enjoyed this album would be a big fib. I hope the band chooses to develop its repertoire based on the traditional power trio format. If it wants to become a prog-metal band, then I'm afraid it needs to remodel its line-up.
Priory Of Sion — Priory Of Sion
Dear readers of the DPRP, I tend to assume that the majority of those of you who have come across the name Priory Of Sion before might have done so as readers of Dan Brown's thrilling novels, rather than as prog rock aficionados.
In The Da Vinci Code, the author describes The Priory Of Sion as a real organisation having been founded in 1099 A.D. The organisation was said to have included illustrious personalities such as Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Nostradamus, Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo and Claude Debussy as Grand Masters. Well, if one is to give credence to other (at least equally reliable sources), then The Priory Of Sion appears to have been a fraternal organisation founded by the Frenchman Pierre Plantard in 1956 in an (at last failed) attempt to create a neo-chivalric order. Everything that went with it in the decades thereafter, all the myths, legends and assumptions which developed and all the "facts" created subsequently, turned out to be what nowadays would probably be classified as "fake news".
Be that as it may, this band has chosen this as its name and as the title of its first release. And that is absolutely real and by no means a hoax.
The "musical version" of Priory Of Sion is the project of Sunderland-based guitarist Adam Ironside. Having released three solo albums under his own name (also worth listening to), he intended to musically evolve towards less guitar, solo-driven music; something that he felt to be more adaptable to a live environment.
Initially conceived as another solo album, it turned out during the composing and recording process in late 2019/early 2020 that his music was heading into a different direction, one that required a full band for live performances. Consequently, he gathered talented musicians around him, whom he had been working with before, namely Adam Ashbridge (guitars), Steven Grant (keyboards), Joe Reid (drums), and Josh Fascia (bass) plus guest guitarists Sophie Burrell and Kieran Johnston on the track Quarantine.
Although the band effort is recognisable in their music, it becomes audible all over the place that this instrumental progressive metal album was entirely written by a guitarist. According to the band's information, this release musically explores "some of the many wonders, horrors and tragedies of the human experience and the world around us". The epic Jonestown for example, is eponymous for the remote settlement in Guyana founded by the Peoples Temple, all of whose inhabitants died in 1978 in what initially was assumed to be a mass suicide, but later rather considered as a mass murder.
As I said, this is a guitarist's album. Keyboards are present, especially in the opener Welcome To The Priory, and in The Grand Qabaal, but except for the title track, they remain as an underlying feature for the complex and powerful guitar riffing. Apart from a few sampled recordings, the release is completely instrumental.
The band mention Dream Theater and Teramaze as their main sources of inspiration. However, those are peers featuring vocals, something that I found missing a bit on this release as an instrument to provide for melody and harmony. I would therefore add Liquid Tension Experiment to the list of comparable bands, but Priory Of Sion's music is a reminiscent to the work of Yngwie Malmsteen (the opening track Welcome To The Priory could have featured on one of his early albums), Steve Vai, and Tony MacAlpine.
As intended by Adam Ironside, guitar soloing does not play the predominant role (again an exception being Quarantine), the focus rather being on complex sequences of guitar riffing, runs and arpeggios. The Solar Temple and particularly the epic Jonestown are the best examples of that. Especially the latter one, with its constant staccato guitar riffing, firing like shots from a machine-gun (perhaps that is intentional) that does becomes a bit hard to digest. For me, it is a bit of a downer that something that I have always liked with progressive metal, those goose-bump producing choruses, hooks, melodies and harmonies, miss out a bit on this release. The exception is The Grand Qabaal; my favourite track on the album.
In principle, when I listen to progressive rock, I have two sorts of requirements. I would like to be impressed by the musical abilities of the band and the diversity of their music. But I would also like to be touched by the beauty of the melodies and the catchiness of the harmonies. I admit, these are quite exalted expectations, and not many albums are able to fulfil both of them in equal measure. For an album to be perfect in my view, both elements have got to be well-balanced (amongst others).
Priory Of Sion's first release clearly is biased towards the first requirement. Their excellent musicianship has my admiration and my full respect, but my emotions were addressed just occasionally whilst listening to it. This is of course a subjective impression, and should not prevent lovers of power, guitar-driven instrumental progressive metal from giving this album a more benevolent consideration.
Silius — Worship to Extinction
2013 was the year that guitarist Haui decided to form Silius in Austria, to bring a vision of old school thrash metal into the world. Having been constant players on the live circuit, and after releasing DEMOn in 2015, they went from strength-to-strength with appearances at Wacken Open Air, Metal Days and as support for bands such as Biohazard and Obituary. 2017 brought their debut album, Hell Awakening to the world and now they have released their second effort, Worship To Extinction
My initial impression of the album based on the from album opener Worship, was that I had stepped back to the early 90s and into an old Exodus or Obituary gig. It is fast, thrashy and heavy. The band have the anger required to write this kind of metal, and they do it well. Matthias Thurner brings the added power with his snarling vocals, while the rest of the band members bring both the technical and expected thrashyness and occasional elements of groove. Horrorscopes reminds me of a mix of modern-era Slayer (think World Painted Blood but angrier) and Reinventing the Steel-era Pantera.
There is some fairly catchy and groovy riffs on the album, and for a thrash album it hits the nail on the head very well. But an amount of it sounds almost like a band still trying to find their sound; one that is still relying a lot on their influences. Abonimate is a perfect example of this, the song sounds like it is on the verge of being their own, but almost afraid to let go of the influence of Megadeth and Pantera.
For me personally, I feel a number of the songs have a bit too much of a similar sound, or go on slightly too long. However, thrash does work better as just fast-paced riff-fests, so while it is a negative for me, it would likely be a positive for a bigger thrash or groove fan than myself. So while I may not listen to this album often, it will crop up on my playlist and is enjoyable. However, I think this is better suited to my more thrash-loving friends.
If you're a fan old school thrash from the 80s and 90s, and enjoy the sounds of the bands I've mentioned, absolutely check these guys out.
The Wheel Workers — Debut
Here is another lockdown discovery for you to enjoy. The Wheel Workers is a Texas-based 'underground indie music collective' that has been releasing music across two decades, thanks to the contributions of more than 15 collaborating members.
Led by Steven Higginbotham (and first known as The Wheel Works) they were born in Austin, where the first few years of the new millennium were spent living together, recording music that featured violin and keyboards along with traditional rock instruments.
After their 2003 debut album, the band significantly broadened its horizons on 2004's How to Fly a Washing Machine, an album composed entirely of radical post-rockish improvisations recorded in the band's studio/living space.
After a four-year hiatus, they re-emerged in Houston in 2010, from where they have released four albums: Unite (2012), Past to Present (2013), Citizens (2015), and Post-Truth (2018).
The Wheel Workers is a new name to DPRP and possibly a new name for many of our European readers. This is a re-issue of their "lost" debut album from 2003 plus six bonus tracks from a 2004 live performance on a long-running Austin radio station.
Lead singer Steven Higginbotham explains the rationale for revisiting it now. "The original had always been a source of dissatisfaction for the band, as it turned out too trebbly and thin, and was never digitally distributed online. So I asked long-time producer and close friend Dan Workman to try his hand at a remaster."
And the band was thrilled with the results: “It was so much better, I nearly cried,” Steven recalls, adding that “the new master sounds like album we actually intended to make.”
Their 2003 debut album was certainly a clever balance, tightrope-walking between catchy alt-indie rock and introspective ambient alt-pop ballads. There are a few simply stunning tracks to enjoy.
Opener Mystic Rust is probably the highlight for its joyful melancholy and playful harmonies, with a violin adding the perfect tension and release. The live version that closes this revisited version is even better, where it is rolled into Tracing Lines, a restrained folk romp with accordian that could be from a Sunday afternoon stroll with The Oyster Band or The Levellers.
The dreamily vulnerable Dangerously High and the minimalistic ebb and flow that caresses the shores of Personal Strangers, are beguiling.
On the opening half of the album, I am reminded at different points of the Flaming Lips, Porcupine Tree / Blackfield, InFictions and Bruce Soord's solo work. But at all times this offers its own style, one that straddles the fields of art-rock, alt pop and the avant-garde.
Having been composed 18 years ago, for its time there is plenty of innovation going on. By no means does this album rest comfortably with any one style or sound. They throw the odd curve ball too. Stella's Surreal Sirkus is full on avant-prog, as is 3.3 but in a less strident way. The concluding Simple is lovely with its harmonica, and some harmonies that mimic Simon and Garfunkel.
The second half of the album does not each the same highs as the first, and the three non-album live tracks don't strike me as exceptional either. However this is a very enjoyable album, that with the opening track alone is well worth exploring for those who like their prog on the softer, more ambient side, but with and edge given by the constant visiting new sound combinations.
Wytch Hazel — III: Pentecost
Witch Hazel: a north American shrub with powerful healing properties.
Pentecost (also known as Whitsun): the 50th day after Easter Sunday, being a festive day, initially to celebrate the harvest, and then to mark the descent of the Holy Spirit unto the apostles.
These simplified definitions are enough to make a few predictions on the style of music to be found on this, the third album from a quartet out of Lancashire, UK. It's gonna be retro and a bit folksy? It's gonna have a religious, spiritual, historical twist? If so, then I may well enjoy it.
Whereas their first two releases were heavy on the folky, medieval vibes, their third effort sees Wytch Hazel go full-blown retro hard rock, with clear touches of NWOBHM riffage. Pentecost offers a steady stream of time-warped, hands-in-the-air rock anthems with no fillers. Ask ten fans to state their favourite track, and the chances that they will each select a different one, are pretty high.
My favourites alternate between the anthemic Dry Bones and the more complex and darker Reap The Harvest.
Elsewhere, I Am Redeemed opens with a galloping Thin Lizzy riff before evolving into a clutch of melodies and moods from early-period Magnum. A lovely The Doors-style keyboard solo is one of the many details which lift this album out of the predictable.
The plucked intros to Archangel and Reap The Harvest recall Fleetwood Mac. The blend of some folky styles and a bit of blues recall Uriah Heep and Jethro Tull. The NWOBHMM riffage mirrors the style of fellow retro rockers Hällas. Archangel goes off into Ghost territory, with a wonderful Gary Moore or Ten chorus, and a delightful acoustic guitar-led bridge.
The guitar tone and the style of vocals give an overall bright feel to the album. With the clear religious intent behind the lyrics, I'm even tempted to call it "positive". The ordering of the tracks gives it a varied and wonderful flow. With its clever use of cello, Sonata offers a nice half-time pause, as does the balladic The Crown. It is nothing ground-breaking. Just a really enjoyable, well-crafted listen.
As I write, this album us sitting on top of the folk-rock, the hard rock, the NWOBHM, and the heavy metal best-sellers lists on Bandcamp (and second on the prog-rock category). So if it is word-of-mouth recommendations that guide your purchases, then this is well worth checking out.