Eternity — Atmospheres
Eternity is the solo outlet for Jose Manuel Medina (Synthesizers, Organ, Piano, Drums & Orchestrations), known from Last Knight and his collaborations with amongst others Rafael Pacha, Kimmo Pörsti and The Samurai Of Prog. In my previous review to Eternity's album Machines I started off by stating that Search The Sky by F. Pohl & CM Kornbluth was my first contact with a Science Fiction universe, which led to many SF adventures afterwards.
The book itself is a satirical space opera story in which the main character visits many different adventurous planets, each with their own lively ecosystems, marvelling at inscrutable civilisations and strange societies. A melodramatic tale lifting off beyond the final frontiers of the galaxy, where the answer to the question at hand lies close to home. A very simplified summary of the book, where for me the first attraction lay in the imaginative journey travelling from one alien planet to the next. Whether it's a coincidence (or not) but Eternity's third offering Atmospheres involves exactly the same kind of wondrous story.
Where the adventures on Machines are staged in a bright futuristic city on a world where humanity has become fully dependent on robots, Atmospheres musical scenario takes free flight and explores the amazing journey from the far outskirts of the milky way, past spellbinding stellar constellations, breathtaking views, bright stars and amazing luminaries. A space opera leading all the way to Earth. At least that's the impression I get from the final track Atmospheres, an expressive cinematic soundscape in best Vangelis tradition incorporating dolphin and whale-like sounds that ignite nostalgic visions of the motion picture Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Both Origin Of Life and Genetic Engineering structurally touch somewhat upon Eternity's previous instalment Machines. In the former the cheerfully lullaby intro glides into an attractively restrained spring glow filled with warm sprinkles of light, whereas the latter's synth-wave guides intricate piano parts that shift into robotic mechanoid melodies, ultimately descending beautifully into an enchanting, almost romantic, piano movement hovering over electronic waves. Going further back Explorer gently brings to mind Vangeliana, where after a frivolous piano recital the soundscape slowly changes to reveal a symphonic movement including a gracious choir (The Somnus Symphony Orchestra and Choir) that gives way to a replenishing wave of Vangelis.
The chronological, and to some extent randomly enjoyable, start of the journey is however Outer Limits, which showcases the same magnificent Vangelis-appeal. The atmospheric epic opening, captured in a pristine spatial and clear production, glides from classical symphonies into grandeur sparkling movements. Alternating with playful variety it furthermore shows refined touches of uplifting Kraftwerk while the familiar melodies reflect Jean Michel Jarre and sometimes The Alan Parson's Project. It finishes with luscious dreamy melodies surrounded by spinning fireworks and heavenly ethereal vocals from Nanina. The operatic skills of Nanina in Interplanetary Opera bind the elegant synth-pop melodies together, giving it a kind of contemporary Didier Marouani feel.
In Discovery the overwhelming John Williams (Star Wars) inspired opening passage creates magnificent imaginary scenic depth, forging ominous pictures of a battlefield turned victorious. Near the end Medina achieves the direct opposite when the composition slowly glides into an Eden of serene tranquillity. This successful transformation can also be found in the dazzling astronomical views portrayed through Nebula, where the overwhelming opening heightens expectations, delivered through touching New Age colourings from synth waves that embrace the melodies with warmth and mesmerising dreamy enjoyment.
A nice distraction from the predominantly electronic soundscapes are the alto sax contributions from Juan Antonio Martinez in Distant Light and Voyager. The former flashes bright with bubbly noises, bells and Moog bass lines, and once tantalising synth waves fly into orbit the smooth emotive sax-play harbours alluring seductiveness. The latter is an engaging synth-pop induced composition where sultry sax spices up the many textures and swing inducing melodies that are incorporated within the composition. It's coda bustles with lovely synth effects while the electronic movements converse intricately with further enticing sax play.
Another great contribution is to be found in The Forbidden where echoes of Pink Floyd melt meticulously with the electrifying lead guitar parts of Jairo Carrandi, while the transition from upbeat rhythms into a spacious atmosphere is brilliantly done, intensified by the enchanting vocals. Beautiful attractive vocals also give life to Breath, a powerful, deeply versified cinematic composition that feels grandiose and vivacious, as well as intimate and small at the same time, while the church organ brings delightful accents of Gothic grandeur.
Dynamically warped forward by a disco beat, Hyperspace reveals many flashes as it breathes the nostalgic Eighties-era, beaming out earworm melodies recollecting fragmented thoughts of OMD, Ultravox and Giorgio Morioder. Once materialised out of hyperspace, guided by twinkling synth and piano, we gaze upon earth's sphere moulded in Ecosystem through bursting lively melodies that elegantly float around intricate movements and digitised computerisations. The entertaining journey finally ends in the aforementioned Atmospheres, rolling the albums end credits in a most satisfying way.
Overall Medina has once again successfully managed to create exciting, well-composed and intricate compositions which harbour an inventive array of melodies, atmospheric mood changes, overwhelming warmth and grandeur. A wealth of attractive diversified soundscapes that despite the albums extensive 78 minute length never tires and keeps a gracious catching flow throughout.
Those in favour of futuristic electronic music favouring artists like Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre, Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream are hereby invited to join and start their own Star Trekking across the universe as portrayed by Eternity. Engage!
Tim Hunter — The North Yorkshire Variations
Tim Hunter is a songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist based in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, UK. His webpage mentions he has three musical projects with two of them being prog rock oriented. The North Yorkshire Variations is released under the one called TimMusicWorld and it's the last one of several previous albums, all of them bringing to life the stories and legends of Yorkshire´s rich heritage.
According to the composer this album is his personal musical odyssey featuring the enchanting county of North Yorkshire and if you buy the CD version you can check the route on the map included. In fact I recommend approaching the album this way because each song is a chapter or a stop during the journey, and Tim has managed to somehow transmit his feelings in those different landscapes or places.
The booklet also has an explanation for each song/stage and I find it very interesting to find myself listening to this beautiful instrumental music while learning a bit of that part of England. No need to explain the songs one by one but the music here is very well executed, having many influences such as smooth jazz, blues, classical and more. All of them presented in different ways and they achieve a wide variety of moods depending of the stage you're looking at. So, this is a very pleasant album to enjoy while reading the explanations of the places in a quieter evening, or even better, travelling through those locations in person and discovering those lands.
There's only a couple of things I'm missing here that could make the album better, if I may... I find the songs too short. Not that I need long progressive epics but maybe more developments to have the time to enjoy them. The other thing that could benefit the album could be the transitions from one song/stage to another. If this is a journey I'd like to have something in between, not a full stop. Some kind of connections could have made this album much more cohesive and improve the journey atmosphere that Tim wants us to experience.
Anyway, as I said, The North Yorkshire Variations a very nice and interactive album that has left me wanting to travel to North Yorkshire and discover The Three Peaks, Bolton Abbey, and pass the heather moorland before arriving the coast to listen to the whales. And of course it'd be great to have Tim Hunter as a personal guide.
Kepler Ten — A New Kind Of Sideways
When I first discovered Kepler Ten back in 2017, I was not at all surprised to discover that the trio began life as a Rush tribute act, listening to any of their songs with that knowledge will make it quite obvious. In fact, Kepler Ten sound like a lot of other bands, at various points throughout this album I was reminded of pretty much every prog rock band that I've listened to since the late nineties. You could point this out until the cows come home, and as I've said before, it's NEVER a bad thing, as long as you can write good songs.
The Southampton based three piece consist of; James Durand on vocals, bass, bass pedals and keyboards, Steve Hales on drums and keyboards, and Alistair Bell on guitars and bass pedals. Bell is a name I thought I recognised, being a newcomer to the band, and he is indeed the long time guitarist of UK prog metal band Aeon Zen. As you'd expect from a former Rush tribute band, these guys are very capable of kicking out quite a racket, have huge production values and are all absolute masters of their chosen instruments. I remember listening to their debut and being particularly impressed with how huge that record sounded, this is still present with this new album, however the guitars themselves are dialed back just a little. This, I imagine, is simply down to the different playing styles of the old guitarist Richie Cahill and Alistair Bell, and while the style is certainly different, it is definitely a change for the better, the band now sound more modern, tighter and Alistair is able to churn out some monstrous guitar solo's throughout this albums playing time.
What Kepler Ten have done here is quite magnificent, and if there were any justice in the prog rock world, we would be seeing this band performing to entire arena's of fans by this time next year. Of course we all know that's just not the way it goes these days, but if this album had been released in the late eighties, I have no doubt these guys would be right up there alongside the likes of Rush, Yes and even more commercial bands like Iron Maiden. There were only two albums that came out in 2020 that were as good as this, and those were by Kansas and Pendragon, both long established acts with many, many classic albums. This album is Kepler Ten's first "classic". If i'd heard this before I wrote my top ten albums of the year it probably would have been a contender for the number one spot, it's that good.
What makes this album SO good, in my humble opinion, cannot be explained through a particular song, it's more about those little moments that you hear throughout a record, the kind of moments you don't hear very often anymore, but can be found on pretty much every Genesis album up until the late eighties. Those moments of such stellar song writing that you feel like you've heard that section before, except you haven't, it's just a really well written piece of music that is so well put together, it sounds welcoming to your brain. Kepler Ten have written an entire album full of those moments, and it's bloody spectacular.
It doesn't all reveal itself straight away though. The huge, anthemic style tracks such as, Falling Down, or Weaver, might hit the listener front and center with their catchy power prog assault, but it's the more intricate moments of some of the albums longer tracks that take longer to get under your skin, but ultimately make the whole album a very satisfying listen. Clarity, for example, starts off fairly mundane, plodding along with a basic clean guitar riff, but it soons opens up and expands into a fully blown, Threshold style, progressive metal epic. The bass and drums carry Durand's vocals perfectly through the verses, his vocals are somewhere around the Geoff Tate or Bruce Dickinson school of hard rock, but he has a softer touch as well, sounding emotional yet delivering every line with a certain power. Not one second of the tracks ten minute running time is wasted, the song evolves into Sound Of Contact style space rock towards the end before brining back the opening melodies once again.
These Few Words is the first proper example of what I mean by a future classic. The opening guitar riff is almost like something Bryan Adams might have done, as everything comes together perfectly, music and lyrics in harmony as the song progresses. It feels like every little sound during this song has been thought through and placed there for a very good reason, it doesn't hurt that the melodies are absolutely on point too. The title track is another instant classic for me, reminding me very much of The Visitor era Arena. The chorus is just beautiful and the song stays in your head long after listening. Icarus Eyes is more of a slow burner, but is just as good as the tracks that surround it. This track is more of a traditional progressive rock song, there are more acoustic guitars present and the whole track feels like a nod back to the past.
But it's the monumental closing track, One And The Same, that ultimately steals the show. Many bands these days like to write long songs for the sake of it, forgetting that it's also very important to keep a long song interesting. During this songs twenty minute running time, there is not one wasted second. The melodies throughout this entire song are mesmerizing, the songwriting is flawless, and the song works perfectly as a long piece without ever becoming boring, or meandering off on a tangent and getting unnecessarily noodly. Structurally the song reminds me of Frost's masterpiece, Milliontown, as the song does feel like it's been made up of shorter tracks, cleverly linked together, but this does nothing to take away the epic feel of this song.
I'm very sorry I didn't get to review this in time for the album of the year list, and I'm surprised I didn't see it in anyone else's, at least not among our own writers. This is a phenomenal album that may take a little while to grow on you, but will surely be worth it. Kepler Ten have written a future classic which has a much wider appeal than just the prog rock listeners. Absolutely recommended to everyone.
Millennium Trilogy Project — Act 1: The Trial
In first few years of the 2000's, Dutch band Ricocher created some big waves in the progressive rock press and fanbase. Their debut album Quest For The Heartland won rave reviews and Ricocher were voted best newcomer in England's Classic Rock Society annual awards in 2001. A further two albums were released, again to great praise from the press, and tours supporting Arena and solo dates around the world solidified Ricocher's ability as a great live band. After the release of the album Chains in 2005, Ricocher appeared to disappear. One of the main highlights of Ricocher's sound was the symphonic and bombastic keyboards of John van Heugten. Since the demise of Ricocher, John has continued writing music and 2020 at last sees the release of his new work under the title of the Millennium|Trilogy|Project.
This project is loosely based on the best-selling Millennium Trilogy of crime novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. In Act 1: The Trial the main character of this story is Brynn, who is being tried for crimes she has been accused of. The trial itself looks at Brynn's history, what lead her to where she is today, and whether she is actually guilty.
To carry this off, Van Heugten employs a number of singers to play the story's various characters. While the four main singers come from differing musical backgrounds, the obvious lack of diversity in the male and female characters voices is problematic as unless you are following the lyric booklet, otherwise it is easy to forget which character is supposed to be singing.
The choice and style in which Millennium Trilogy Project have written Act 1: The Trail may bring comparisons with his fellow Dutch musicians Ayreon and Magoria whose glossy musical productions are written in a similar manner. Then add to the mix, Egdon Heath, For Absent Friends, and Marathon, then you could say this is as close to classic Dutch Neo-Prog as you could wish.
John van Heugten's song writing shows a more mature approach that his material with Ricocher, and the melodies on display here give a slightly more commercial edge, and at times, when the pace picks up you can hear Saga and Arena influences, as well as a slight AOR edge. The production by Joss Mennen deserves a mention as this adds greatly to the final product.
Van Heugten surrounded himself with a mix of new and familiar musicians to help him complete his project. The familiar rhythm section of drummer Maikel van der Meer and bass player Niels Nijssen played with John in Ricocher, and the new is guitarist John Rovers, with the occasional saxophone of Marcel van der Loo completing the band. All musicians are allowed the opportunity to display their talents. Guitarist John Rovers displays some excellent playing, similar at times to John Mitchell.
If I have a criticism, it is that a number of the songs sound samey, this may be due to the writing. A number seem to begin in a similar way, with gentile keyboards, vocals come in before the rest of the band. Due to this, it is difficult to properly remember the tracks. I get the feeling that the album is incomplete. For a concept album there should be a big dramatic pay off at the end, and whether it is because there is the potential for this project to go further, that the listener has not been given that satisfying conclusion.
This is a good album and one which any fan of the major Dutch Neo-Prog bands mentioned will find plenty to enjoy, but as a concept album I am left feeling unsatisfied with the ending.
Tim Morse — The Archaeology Project: 2005 - 2020
Although he's released just three albums to date, in 2020 Californian multi-instrumentalist/singer Tim Morse decided to commemorate fifteen years as a recording artist. This compilation draws from all three albums - III (2018), Fasithscience (2012) and Transformation (2005). They were all positively reviewed by DPRP so hopefully this retrospective will bring his music to a wider audience.
Unfortunately, the CD packaging is pretty basic with a single sheet booklet giving no indication of the musicians involved. Some biographical notes would have also been welcome. Morse's CV does include the 1996 book Yesstories - a collection of interviews with members of Yes - and he's keyboardist with American tribute band Parallels. That does at least give some indication of his musical preferences which are scattered throughout this retrospective. The tracks have been remastered with a fairly even selection from each album and a few previously unreleased tracks including a Pink Floyd cover.
Following Guitar Etude 1 - a solo acoustic guitar exercise recorded in December 1970, the album kicks into gear properly with the lengthy Apocalyptic Visions. I gave a fairly detailed description of this song in my 2005 review of Transformation and it remains an entertaining slice of vintage prog with a myriad of twists, turns and moods. It's undoubtedly the highlight of this collection. The other long song Voyager is in a more 1980's prog-AOR vein, as is Rome than proceeds it. One can easily imagine Billy Sherwood performing Voyager and despite some fine guitar and piano, the midsection meanders a little. The inventive bass playing however is superb throughout.
In addition to the Yes, Kansas, Rush ELP and Tangerine Dream influences, Morse is clearly an avid Anthony Phillips fan. Adrift and Afterword with their melancholic vocals and rippling six and twelve-string guitars sound uncannily like the melodic acoustic style of the ex-Genesis guitarist. Afterword also boasts impressive keyboard arrangements in the style of Rick Wakeman.
Elsewhere, Morse proves that he has an ear for a catchy tune. 200 Yards, My Ally and The Marquis trade prog for a smooth pop vibe and although they might be a tad lightweight for some tastes they have an engaging charm and some nifty guitar and keyboard work. Very much in the American singer/songwriter territory of artists like Dean Friedman and Andrew Gold.
The penultimate track Dogs is a very worthy - albeit abridged - version of the Pink Floyd classic. Singer and guitarist Bret Bingham (who sounds not unlike Andy Tillison) does a passable impression of Roger Waters and the tasty sax solo is courtesy of Charley Langer. The double tracked guitars are excellent and Morse's synth solo is fitting as this cover is dedicated to the memory of Richard Wright.
Although I would have welcomed more in the way of prog rock, particularly Morse's longer compositions, this is, on reflection, a well rounded retrospective and a fitting showcase for his musical inspirations and talents.
Wobbler — Dwellers Of The Deep
Wobbler hail from Norway and features Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo on vocals and guitars, Marius Halleland on guitars and backing vocals, Lars Fredrik Frøislie on keyboards, Kristian Karl Hultgren on bass, and Martin Nordrum Kneppen on drums. This line-up has been stable for several years now which certainly helps them become a tight playing ensemble. And that they definitely are.
Wobblers' music has brought about many superlatives and rave reviews in many media. They succeeded to relive the seventies prog as no band has done before but they did it in their own original way which made them very credible. So when their fifth album entitled Dwellers Of The Deep arrived at DPRP.net, I didn't hesitate to pick that one, although I'm totally unfamiliar with their previous output. After all those compliments I simply wanted to hear them!
And I'm sorry to say that I'm not overly impressed.
This is really a fine band composed of exceptional musicians who can all play like hell. They surely know how to write epic songs, know how to come up with very different moods either between songs or within songs. The music on offer here is energetic and dynamic. Add to that the very fine packaging of this new album with lush green all over the place, reminiscent of their 2013 Rites At Dawn album cover and there seems to be nothing left to desire.
But to my ears there is.
The album presents us with four songs, ranging in length from just over four minutes to two suites well over 13 and exactly 19 minutes respectively. Opener By The Banks is a fine, dynamic epic with excellent harmony vocals and dominant bass notes all over the song. The sound and build-up of the song as well as the harmonies bring classic Yes to my mind, especially the Relayer album. It is a song full of different paces, a nice two-minute quiet part with just piano, vocals, bass and drums around the five minute mark and another attractive quiet part around 10 minutes with soft keys and flute. All in all this is a very strong opener that makes quite clear why Wobbler is seen as a band that succeeds in reliving Seventies prog.
Second song Five Rooms is another good example of that but somehow it does not appeal to me at all. The song start quietly after a minute or so. A very busy, very nervous rhythm starts on which the very busy, nervous vocals balance. And although there are some short quieter parts the overall mood dominated by the ongoing pumping bass line in the best Chris Squire tradition and many busy organ parts. The keys and guitar solo in the middle are just as busy and nervous as the rest. Sound and mood of the song reminds me a lot of Yes' Sound Chaser, one of the very few songs in the catalogue of that classic band to which I never return. It is all well played but it also gives me the nerves.
The acoustic guitar intro of Naiad Dreams comes as a very welcome resting point after all the dynamics of the former song. This shortest song is very quiet and relaxed, with a fine vocal melody and sparse instrumentation with keys (mellotron!), acoustic guitar and bass. I instantly liked it and the song has grown on me ever since. Think of Awaken or Turn Of The Century and you'll have a clue of what is song sounds like.
Last epic Merry Macabre (nice title!) is again very dynamic, very busy and especially in the first half, quite dark. Some parts sound like jazzrock, other parts are more musical-like and the middle part sounds like a jam. The screaming vocals in the middle don't make the song any better, but the end of the song is very strong. Yet it is a rather disjunct epic to my ears.
What this albums lacks for me is warmth and flowing melodies. It is excellent music that is very well played with good vocals and harmonies, very tight playing by the full band and the occasional short solo on organ, guitar or keys. But I don't feel emotionally touched by all these musical notes, with the exception of the beautiful ballad Naiad Dreams. The busyness, the nervous pace and the technical playing dominate the melodies too much and that makes it unattractive for me.
Does that mean this is a bad album? On the contrary, I think this is a fine album that will appeal to many who like the complex side of classic prog bands like Yes, Gentle Giant and King Crimson. The point is that I had suspected that I would get something different, something warmer, with more naturally flowing melodies in the Genesis and Camel vein. While I have to conclude that Wobbler's music just isn't that for me, give it a try yourself!