Album Reviews

Issue 2021-050

Blank Manuskript — Himmelfahrt

Blank Manuskript - Himmelfahrt
Side A (Part 1 - Requiem, Part 2 - Dance of the Devils, Part 3 - The Underglow, Part 4 - Twilight Peak) (22:43), Side B (Part 1 - Twilight Peak, Part 2 - Celestial Spheres, Part 3 - Transition, Part 4 - Heaven) (21:28)
Ignacio Bernaola

I'm not going to excuse myself with the current corona situation; the truth is that this album has been a difficult one to review. Let me say a few thing about Blank Manuskript for those who haven't heard of this Austrian band, and then I will explain my experience with this great piece of music.

According to the band: "Our music is characterised by its sophisticated symphonic arrangements as well as extensive psychedelic improvisations, thus rocking our everyday listening habits". OK, all of this is true but there's more. It's not easy to find, but once you've found it, the reward is fantastic.

Himmelfahrt appears to be the band's fifth album after 2019's highly recommended Krasna Hora. They also got very good comments for their albums The Waiting Soldier and the Studio - Live Session at ORF RadioKulturhaus.

What about the new album then? Well, as I said it's not an easy one, even for those enjoying the more radical realms of art-rock. When I picked Himmelfahrt, I was expecting something different after listening to their previous effort, but this has exceeded all my expectations.

Initially this album was too much for me and I gave the album a poor score of 5. Stubborn as I am, I gave it another opportunity, and guess what, I started to discover some interesting things.

Himmelfahrt is divided into two sides, each containing four parts and lasting more than 20 minutes. After doing some research, I found very interesting things about the concept in the album since parts 1 and 2 of Side A and parts 3 and 4 of Side B are taken from the album The Four Riders Of The Apocalypse by Swedish prog band Dice (released in 1992). The last song of that album is called Death and consists of these four parts.

Quite an unusual approach but it works because the songs in the middle of the album fit very well among these old compositions. In fact Blank Manuskript does a great job interweaving Dice's songs with their own conceptual work on Dante's Divina Commedia. Musically the interesting parts come with Part 3 of Side A called The Underglow. What seemed to be a weird song on a first listen, ended being an interesting sequence of rhythms and instrumentations with a superb guitar solo in the middle section that gives way to a perfect trombone melody and a shouting finale.

After a second listening, my score had gone up to a 7, so I kept digging. Now it's the time for Twilight Peak, which works as a transition between Side A and B. More than 15 minutes of art rock at its best including a classic riff from AC/DC (and I'm not joking here). Then some Pink Floyd guitar and vocal passages, until everything explodes in a combination of flutes, trombone, organ and everything you can imagine.

Celestial Spheres is Part 2 of Side B and continues improving the whole piece. My only negative point here is that this song is too short and leaves you wanting more. As I said the last two songs closing the album bring the listener back to the beginning of Himmelfahrt making it a whole and very well assembled piece of music.

As one can guess my score kept going up after each listen and it's a 9 right now, so I can only recommend taking the time to discover this album. As Blank Manuskript says: "The result is a mind-blowing sonic journey through the underworld; from the hellish abyss into the celestial spheres of heaven. In the accustomed quality, the Austrian ArtRock ensemble celebrates the epic breadth and invites listeners to encounter the realm beyond the short-living, superficial radio format."

I couldn't agree more. So do yourself a favour and go to their Bandcamp site to check this magnificent album.

Blue Hour Ghosts — Due

Blue Hour Ghosts - Due
Walking Backwards (4:02), On Black Clouds (3:46), Dead in August (5:12), Damn Wrong (4:24), Shine (5:20), Fearless (4:00), Lower the Wires (3:57), Disheartened (4:28), Involved/Bored (3:53)
Calum Gibson

Out of the land of Italy, Blue Hour Ghosts have emerged from the ashes of melodic-death band Oblivion99. Their debut self-titled album was hailed by one website as “one of the best debut albums since a while in the melodic metal world”. Now the band have turned the dials up with the follow-up album, Due.

The album comes with an interesting sound that is like a cross between nu-metal and prog. Walking Back reminds me a lot of some of Coma's work on their second album. Immediately catchy and good fun, the album leads you in with its hooks and its mix of aggressive and softer melodies and riffs.

Half-way through we get the ballad of the album, which comes across as a well-written, if a bit predictable, track, with harmonies in all the right places to keep you singing along. However, the track did bring some the production qualities to my attention. Which then became more apparent on the rest of the album with further listens.

The music sounds like each bit is fighting for the attention of the listener, which unfortunately detracts from the catchy songs and general fun of the album. Shine for example is a good, solid melodic and melancholic rock track but unfortunately some of the hooks and licks get a bit lost in the mix.

Production values aside, the album is a good, solid melodic rock album. It has that sound of bands like Coma and Riverside, with the harmonies and catchiness of groups like Linkin Park and Anberlin. So all in all, a decent listen that the group should be proud of.

Stewart Clark — Let's Go There

Stewart Clark - Let's Go There
Almost 20/20 (6:37), Let's Go There (4:44), A Tree Has Fallen (3:29), When (3:19), I'm Scared Of Music (2:33), The Empty Page (4:43), How Much Fear? (6:31), When I Tell You I Care (1:52), Almost Got Away With It (2:31)
Patrick McAfee

The modern prog scene has a welcoming way of providing opportunity to talented musicians. Stewart Clark is a perfect example of this. He has played for many years in rock, pop and punk bands, without obtaining mainstream success or much notoriety. In 2019, at the age 60, he decided to release his first solo album, And Then There Was Me....

A prog fan since childhood, this entry into the genre was a long-time dream of his. His debut garnered good reviews and the attention of prog fans. Let's Go There, recorded during Covid-19 lockdown, expands further on his prog influences and aspirations.

The album opens with Almost 20/20, an impressive and mostly instrumental song about the pandemic and being in lockdown. Sombre subject matter indeed, but a testament to the conditions in which the album was made. Clark doesn't wallow in direness though, and there is an upbeat feel to the song and the album in general. It is not the most complex prog music that you will hear, but there is a strong focus on entertainingly-accessible melodies.

At times Clark has a bit of an Al Stewart quality to his voice, such as on the engaging title track. At other moments, his vocals are somewhat similar to say Yogi Lang from RPWL. The musical performances are splendid, the songs are catchy, and ultimately Let's Go There is an easily recommendable album. Running at a brisk 36 minutes, it also leaves the listener wanting more. His entry into progressive rock may have taken a while, but Stewart Clark is proving himself to be a welcome addition to the genre.

Now let's talk about that album cover. No, it is not the work of Roger Dean, but there is a connection. The painting was actually done by Clark's wife who is a student of the esteemed artist. Also, the lettering of Clark's name was provided by Dean. For any prog rock fan, the cover is inviting and the music contained within is certainly worth checking out.

Deadburger Factory — La Chiamata

Deadburger Factory - La Chiamata
Onoda Hiroo (4:37), Un incendio visto da lontano (5:06), La chiamata (5:44), Triptych (5:51), Tamburo sei pazzo (7:21), Manifesto Cannibale (9:07), Blu quasi trasparente (9:27)
Calum Gibson

Deadburger Factory from Italy have recently released their latest album La Chiamata, the follow-up to La Fiscica Delle Nuvole. Unfortunately, I am able to learn little else about them, due largely to my lack of knowledge on the Italian language. Never-the-less they have an interesting name and I do need to explore more than just the prog-metal in the world!

My first impressions are of being slightly confused by all the styles through the album, swiftly followed by being amazed at how they all fit together. The opening track Onoda Hiroo has a fairly punk, Britpop sound with elements of bands like The Clash or even some Kasabian vibes, while others feature almost tribal chanting.

There is a definite feel of the 70s with this music I feel. With the punkish elements, but also with some of the more “classic prog” sounds. The title track for example reminds me of some of King Crimson's work, while Tryptich sounds like it could have been lifted off an ELP tribute album (it is actually a cover of Mark Roach). Then you have the almost hypnotic, and also funky type of riffs and drumming throughout Manifest Cannibale.

The drumming is front and centre on most tracks, featuring double drums and providing an intensity, and the atmospheric, upbeat and chilled tempo to the album, rather than being just a part of the rhythm. Often working with the mix of vocal styles (whispered, shouted, deep and rumbling, sung) to create a sense of tightly-controlled chaos and atmospheres.

There is a lot of chaos, a lot of order and what I can only imagine is a lot of fun on this album. It is a curious one that kept me guessing all the way through. It isn't often an album leaves me with no idea what is coming next, but this one did with continually impressive results.

KDB3 — When It All Comes To Pass

KDB3 - When It All Comes To Pass
Sequenced Fairy Tails (10:08), When It All Comes To Pass (30:25)
Jan Buddenberg

Following the 2018 release I Fill My Days With Noise, multi-instrumentalist Doug Bowers returns to the scene with When It All Comes To Pass. Having turned his attention to his own project KDB3 since retiring as a dentist, he simultaneously operates a music recording ministry. This fourth effort was composed during the initial Covid pandemic stages and is a reaction to sudden changes in societal norms reflected from the artist's point of view, in which the crafting of the epic title track proved to be a purification of inner frustrations.

KDB3's efforts fall in the Christian progressive rock field, so probably a confession is in order as I'm not a fellow believer. Because of this, some of its meaningful lyrical content is simply lost to me. Although this doesn't effect my appreciation towards KDB3's newest effort, for his lyrics are well written, much like Kerry Livgren's (Kansas, AD) refined poetry, and not too overtly obvious towards his devotion, unlike for instance Neal Morse.

I should probably also mention that The Holiest One by Mastedon ranks high on my favourite song-list and Petra's Somebody Gonna Praise His Name sees me shout along to it vividly, but that's as far as Glory resides within me. This high adoration-level is only delicately audible in the latter stages of the eclectic title track.

I am however a firm believer in the healing powers and bonding elements of music, and linking this bond is the album's wonderful instrumental opening track Sequenced Fairy Tales, named upon a software synth patch hidden within Bowers' array of virtual keyboards. With the greatness of the artwork in mind, Bowers conveys his message beautifully as it lifts off into grand open spaces reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Higher Circles. The majestic tapestry of keyboards ignites further Eloy graciousness. It bows down slowly into lovely conversations of piano, while heavenly church organs bring-forth visions of Sunrise Auranaut's electronic soundscapes.

Expanding the composition's musical universe are some sensitive cello and violin play, acoustic guitar parts (Frank Williams), reigning synths and a medieval allure that ignites memories of Livgren's One Of Several Possible Musiks. The diversified sequence ends by soaring off into a tasty and dynamically versatile passageway of organ and guitar eruptions (Brian Workman), melting with inventive synth-waves. A grand opening statement.

Introduction, the first part of the eight-chaptered magnum opus When It All Comes To Pass, continues with playful melodies and rocking dynamics, where Bowers scatters keyboard tapestries mindful to Octavarium, whilst guitars from John Eargle add character. The multi-layered and symphonic accents furthermore bring an ELP likeness that slowly glides towards the minstrel-like folk prog of The Word.

Bowers' vocal range befits the scenery of catchy melodies, where acoustic refinement, precious synth/piano and moving Mellotron sounds are injected with appealing Jethro Tull flute accents to generate comfort and reassurance. The ominous atmosphere of The Warning intermezzo brings lovely visions of Rick Miller through it's spacious melodies and wondrous cello touches, followed by some inviting sparkling rock in Sanctified.

This superbly variegated song brings all kind of associations with neo-progressive rock, ranging from initial Anyone's Daughter's In Blau ramblings, into uplifting Shadowland melodic memories. This similarity is aided by Bowers' vocals which to me have the same confined feel as Clive Nolan's passionate offerings. A tasty synth solo and exciting guitar solo (Chuck Tidwell) results in tantalising Arena and Marillion vibes, while a funky bass leaves a wondrous 41Point9 impression, fading into the sightly orchestral new age-inspired Reiteration.

In the stately It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time folk atmospheres return, surrounded by court jester mysteriousness in a quirky Klaatu-ness way, levitating off into The Veil, where a pulsating, psychedelic opening breaths Hawkwind space-rock through its reminiscent riffs. Bowers' superfluous synth layers are divine, yet it's the part after the heartfelt coda that impresses through delicious 70s-inspired heavy rock, where Tidwell's fabulous solo is on fire! The melancholic closure through If Not For Grace, shaped by some intricate piano-play and sensitive expressions from Bowers voice, illuminates a welcome final statement of hope through its graceful melodies.

The solid executions and creative interaction between keyboards and guitars brings a lot of appreciation and joy, while the seamless transitions between the individual parts of When It All Comes To Pass show Bowers' growth as both a composer and arranger. One hardly notices the use of a drum computer, apart from its occasional 'non-complex' directness. This rhythmic simplicity does leave room for improvement, and real drum parts would gain additional depth and a broader variety to Bowers' adventurous compositions.

Also the balance and mix could sometimes benefit from a little bit more homogeneity, for now and again the music sounds astonishingly thin (AKA the Sunrise Auranaut reference). Despite these minor issues, this is a most satisfying album making me look forward to KDB3's next endeavour, which apparently has started already.

Long Tall J — 2020

UK / Netherlands
Long Tall J - 2020
Lockdown (5:42), Got A Loving Fire (4:09), Jeff Are You Beck? (5:27), But It Matters! (3:42), Wonders Of The World (4:30), White Lightning (3:44), Groovy (5:56), Life As It Is (7:21), Beat The Logic (3:08), The Thunberg Effect (5:55), Star (9:00)
Jan Buddenberg

In his daily life the Dutch musician Long Tall J (Jan Lievaart, LTJ) resides in London as a business aviation pilot. During his spare time he writes, records and produces prog rock in the confines of his home studio, which so far has resulted in an early 2020 release Albatros. With the pandemic freeing up Lievaart's flight-schedule, its follow up, 2020, was subsequently released in December of that same remarkable year.

LTJ's message, mentioned in the digi-pack and self-explanatory song-titles like The Thunberg Effect, is one of unification and positivity which on a few effective occasions shines through beautifully in his compositions. Playing almost every instrument on the album, his main asset is lovely attractive guitar work which brings warmth and great atmosphere to his elegantly foremost instrumental progressive/melodic rock styled compositions that also harbour New Age / Ambient passages. Besides these flourishes there are a few collaborations which brings completely different flavours to his music which would make Monthy Python astonishingly proud! I'll save the biggest surprise for last.

The album opens with the slowly advancing Lockdown where rocking guitar adds fuel to a simple beat, while slight New Age feelings emerge from a piano/splashing waves intermezzo that's greeted by short saxophone and Gregorian sounding chants. A thematic return brings the song full circle in a gracious beating atmosphere. Keeping the mild rocking ambience going smoothly is the alternative rock of Got A Lovely Feeling, one of three collaborations on the album. It's co-written and sung by Amariia who's expressive vocals remind me of Skunk Anansie, much like the rugged melodic approach of the song, which is tight and powerful, although slightly monotonous for my palate.

In Jeff Are You Beck? (hint, hint) LTJ displays his immaculate main instrument chops through some delicious solos and fluently melodic approaches, showing signs towards the obvious reference, while the seventies inspired heavy rock segments with superb shreds show light similarities to KONG. Dainty bass, a symphonic touch and Jazz fusion deliciousness ends the song in fine fashion.

Every composition has ample of variety and nice flowing ideas where occasional New Age/ metal touches in But It Matters! bring sensitive emotional elements of Xavier Boscher, while the jazzy surroundings and elegant keyboard twinkles in Wonders Of The World's gives variational depth in a Sunrise Auranaut way. The versatile grooving expectancy of Groovy in its turn shows beating resemblance to Lockdown and adds nice percussive elements to the mix, while the Irish Folk atmosphere created in Beat The Logic, featuring Emily V. on violin, brings delightful visions of a Riverdance exhibition caged within an effective framework of guitars.

The restrained ambient morning dew feelings of the preceding Life As It Is flies off halfway into lovely fusion filled instrumental rock, with some delightful organ ripples which nourish the flow of the composition effectively. Something similarly accomplished in the refined nature created by dreamy piano and synth in The Thunberg Effect, which travels through several moody atmospheres ranging from ominous doom to jazzy landscapes onto bright sunny seashores.

Star's epic Wishbone Ash-appeal works infectiously at first, with lovely melody-lines and restrained frivolities slowly gaining intensity and a soothing rocking intermezzo, yet its extensively prolonged minor mood demonstrates one of my reservations towards the album. There's lots of attention to adventurous variety in both play and compositions, where multi-layered complexness, arrangements and programmed rhythms brings ample of enjoyment, yet some of the compositions pass by in too slow a pace for my taste. I can't help but feel that sometimes they would have benefited from energetic up-tempo injections.

The startling odd one out White Lightning, written in collaboration with Stan Verbraak (Highway Chile, Helloise), certainly makes up for this in the most exciting combustible way imaginable, flaming my youthful admiration for vigorous rock instantly. In a straight forward early heavy metal styled rock composition LTJ reverses musical compass completely and soars mightily into hard rock where the vocal delivery by Verbraak induces seventies Judas Priest vengeance alongside Ronnie James Dio/Rainbow feelings. Slightly rough Angel AOR-touches brings additional catchy power, while LTJ's great drum efforts pay off brilliantly in combination with his axe-slaying.

According to his own statements, LTJ finds it refreshing for his listeners to have a bit of variation now and again. Whether this applies for the enticingly-different White Lightning is a matter of taste, but I for one couldn't agree more. His intention is well kept, and the overall diverseness, lovely melodic approaches and charmingly-arranged compositions emphasise this.

For me the album's strength lies in the first half of the songs, when the up-tempo efflorescences keep the flow of the album going beautifully, to descend in pace after Groovy. Overall a very good effort and I sincerely hope the LTJ-Verbraak cooperation will see a follow-up, as it holds many promises.

Majestic — Monument

Majestic - Monument
Resist On High (11:23), Silent Horizons (20:31), The Wastelands (14:49), Endless Ages (13:18), Legacy (16:25), Monument (24:19)
Jan Buddenberg

I'm part of the generation that grew up with cassettes and vinyl being the main source of physical music. Thinking back on the digitalisation process, although extremely handy when it comes to tapes, the introduction of CDs still leaves me feeling a bit sad. Obviously the quarter-sized CD-format and the supposed superior audio fidelity gained huge advantages, especially for those with small houses, yet the reduction in the physical attractiveness of the end-product still haunts my memories now and again.

I for instance still fondly remember unfolding Hawkwind's A Space Ritual into one giant poster for the first time, as well as my infinite obsession in trying to find minute details on beautiful album covers like Magnum's On A Storyteller's Night, something rendered useless in downsized CD replications. I also remember the excitement of taking the vinyl out of its inner cover and slowly descending the needle into the groove. Then, while the music slowly invaded my system, I would admire the precious cargo from all sides, simultaneously flicking with both hands through the lyric sheet and admiring the efforts and attention that had gone into the final product. The entry of inferior mp3s and today's lifeless streaming of music, has only enhanced this sense of loss.

The reason for this trip back in time is the limited CD-copy of this new album that was sent to DPRP by Majesty's mastermind Jeff Hamel. Receiving the CD is a wonderful gesture and heartily appreciated. Yet one glance at the Bandcamp version (thankfully received as well) reveals two further epic compositions and the perspective of two bonus tracks: a remake of the 2010 epic Clover Suite and Silent Horizons Reprise. A total of 60 minutes of additional music!

Next to Hamel (guitars, bass, keyboards), the album once again features Mike Kosacek on drums and the vocal talents of Jessica Rasche, Sarah Hamel, Thomas Niedermayer, Arnab Sengupta, Raphael Gazal, Liel Bar-Z and Eric Castiglia. The info is indecisive as to who sings which part, but rest-assured that each performer has a powerful and beautiful voice.

The album's opener Resist On High, shortest at a mere 11 minutes, instantly shows the immaculate interaction between the male and female voices, bringing alluring visions of Ayreon, although the atmospheric bombastic opening with tantalising metal riffs, sublime key decorations and tight space-rock elements brings it close to Lucassen's Star One escapades. The grandeur scope captured in the song glides ever so smoothly through jazzy alienating surroundings and mild psychedelics that reveals mild Porcupine Tree influences. The gradually intensifying powerful ending, empowered by massive riffs and delightful sparkling synth and Hammond organ conversations alongside frantic drums-eruptions that slowly converges into futuristic electronic ambient Hawkwind freshness, is equally alluring.

The symphonic magnificence portrayed in the subsequent opus Silent Horizons brings further greatness to Hamel's galaxy and feels spacious and translucent with enchanting female vocals mindful to Heather Findley (Mostly Autumn, ZIO). Incorporating a luscious Yes vibe from touching bass ripples it then glides ever so smoothly through atmospheres of Rush and Shadow Gallery, overflowing with mesmerising melodies after which it spirals into intoxicating prog metal with lush vibrantly floating synths that hover over tight melodies embedded with incentive keys. The successively graciously diversified overwhelming melodies then lift off through luscious stratospheres suspended by light echoes of Pink Floyd, thriving on Hamel's ambient guitar executions. The inviting and caressing Porcupine Tree styled melodies see another soothingly refined dreamy intense build up culminating into a fabulous emotive solo from Hamel. A gentle acoustic revisit in the BC-bonus Silent Horizons Reprise expands this realm with lovely harmonies and delicate arrangements where delightful AOR touches (Prophet) shine through.

The Wastelands, the first of the digital-only compositions, elevates the previous higher atmospheres with an ominous orchestral opening that slowly glides into delicious overwhelming symphonic progressive rock meeting the likes of Genesis. The divine vocal interaction that follows is just as impressive, with stand out male vocals. After a tantalising keyboard eruption, briskly surrounded by metal, it slides ever so gently into fully restrained PF/PT terrain carried onwards by gorgeous sensitive and emotional solos from Hamel. The highly variegated composition then smoothly slips into grandeur orchestral symphonies with luscious keys drifting off into an air of gracious Renaissance beauty.

Notwithstanding the superb attraction of the former songs it's the instrumental irresistible second digital BC-only track Endless Ages that gives Hamel's concept fantastic depth and interstellar flight. As the opening sequence glides through otherworldly atmospheres we enter futuristic Cygnus X-1 atmospheres embraced by Rush-elements, while complex structures combust into intoxicating forceful Hawkwind prog. Levitating with thunderous rhythms, fierce riffs, blasting keys and metallic Symphony X shreds that fly left and right at high speed, a short refuelling intermission follows, after which cargo-bay doors close again for a blistering adventurous joyride thriving on symphonic bliss and overpowering synth deliciousness. Spiralling down into fertile progressive landscapes the infectious melodies soar into expansive barren ambient wastelands, sliding smoothly onwards through symphonic gateways energised by gracious mysterious melodies that glide into rocky paths powered by brilliance of guitar that shifts menacing gear.

As flashes of Nektar arise the intensity increases, while melancholic melodies, pounding bass and thrusting dynamic rhythms propel this majestic eruption of ever growing repetitive riffs, shreds and sparkling synths inertly forward. At long last it culminates into an overpowering gravitational acceleration embraced by a frenzy of Mastermind climaxing metal deliriousness. A most excellent multi-layered exciting composition that makes me wonder what sort of divine fusing amplification could originate if Hamel were to collaborate with Matthias Ohlson (Octavarium, M.O.P.), detecting vibrant similarities and equally alluring exalting differences in the process.

The calming beautiful electronic ambient intro of Legacy, showing refined Tangerine Dream influences, soothingly follows as synths relieve and carefully constructed melodies flow into turmoil's of psychedelic Hawkwind over which Hamel excels with breathtaking E.L.P. explosions, keyboard tapestries and luscious synth waves. With Krautrock environments growing ever stronger it ends in the becalming soothing ambience of Earthly atmospheres with heavenly sounds from Hamel's guitar reminiscent to Journey's Neal Schon in the osculating coda.

Slowly the epic Monument signals it's time to go our separate ways with a piano interlude mindful to Saga, closely followed by a bombastic assault of grandeur overwhelming melodies dying down moments later into delicate ambient surroundings greeted by heavenly female vocals. Relentlessly revisiting the majestic thematic melodies encountered on previous moments the full cast of vocalists make their appearance with compelling and commanding performances blasting through groovy segments, dynamic movements and melodic passages, after which spacious electronic elements take control and Majestic's adventurous journey takes a back-seat. With a final radiant solar excursion bursting of Ayreon inventiveness and a great finish filled with driving melodies, surrounded by passionate vocal deliveries and spine chilling guitar-solos from Hamel, the song fades into more-ish symphonic oblivion thus ending a stunning embodiment of music.

The remake of the epic Clover Suite, although falling slightly out of this review, sees the same continuous 'edge of your seat' properties as encountered all throughout this adventurous and impressive album. Originally divided into four individual parts Hamel has rebuilt it into one extensive entity that flows minutely through an infinity of movements that challenges its listener with gorgeous melodies incorporating a divine amalgam of progressive rock, metal, space-rock and symphonic injections.

Overall, Majestic's majestic Monument is a remarkably monumental achievement (puns intended), which puts me in a predicament. For as much as I'd like to advise everyone to buy a physical copy to support Hamel (which I do), there's simply no other choice than to get the Bandcamp option as well. Not only do you get two superb bonuses that will keep you firmly occupied in your chair, it also includes two supreme tracks that outshine the mightily impressive CD-inclusions like a supernova. Especially in the case of the immaculate and astonishing Endless Ages which is a stunning example of Hamel's brilliant compositional skills and executions.

Actually there's only one truly fitting way to enjoy this marvellous release. Whether this will happen, even in light of today's vinyl revival, is unknown, yet every note and chord played on Monument screams for the full (double) vinyl treatment, including a lyric sheet, further amazing artwork, a making-of DVD and other miscellaneous gadgets, pictures, photos and illustrating novelties.

It's one of those albums you want to hold firmly in your hands after carefully un-boxing and admiring its luscious package, simultaneously cherishing its ravishing energy and marvellous imagery, as the needle soars through its breathtaking musical landscapes. I'm game, and I urge like-minded symphonic progressive metal fans to chip-in as well.

Qirsh — Aspera Tempora - Parte I

Qirsh - Aspera Tempora - Parte I
Rumors (17:51); Aer Gravis (6:42); Quel momento (6:17); Hurt (2:56); Anansi (3:02); Oremus (12:21); ... (8:44), Rumors Pt. 1 - Radio Edit (Bonus track) (6:35)
Sergey Nikulichev

One of the few wise things I did in 2015 was to heed Ignacio Bernaola's recommendation here on DPRP when I paid attention to the debut album of Italian band Qirsh, which I really liked. Their mixture of classic Italian prog, electronic music, pop, psychedelia and ethnic motives, sounded fresh and tailor-made in a good sense.

In 2020 Qirsh released their sophomore record Aspera Tempora - Parte I (The Hard Times), and the record does open a new development for the band. Almost gone are the pop and ethno elements of Sola Andata. Influences from all over our world are replaced by influences from outer space psychedelic music; now an integral, crucial part of the band's sound.

Contrastingly, while Sola Andata was telling stories about travelling over the world, Aspera is about being locked inside. No-no, the band is not going to tell the listener how many Netflix shows they have managed to watch. They are here to deliver a message of hope and about throwing away one's fears in these hectic times. What I love about Aspera Tempora's concept is that the booklet also serves as a part of this message. The pages are mostly black, except for the lyrics, and the only light from the outside comes through stained glass images. That is, I guess, quite in unison with many people's feelings ever since Spring 2020.

Fine with the message; what about the music?

Opener Rumors is a space-rock journey, driven by a simplistic, monotone but effective rhythm and chanting. One may think that 17 minutes is too much, but I prefer my trips to other dimensions to be long and dynamic, just like here.

Aer Gravis is a journey away from pleasant pastures of RPI to the stratosphere and further beyond the Oort cloud, and then back again to sympho grounds. Again, a simplistic drum pattern proves to be very effective in supporting the groove.

There is a dark-folk tone in Quel momento, with aggressive guitar strumming and overlaid, echoed vocals.

Anansi offers incredibly hellish sacrilege in any progger's eyes. A theme that has a potential of lasting 10-plus minutes is cut down to three minutes. A vast composition of humble size. A concentrate of epicness, lasting shorter than a Lady Gaga chart-hit. I love it!

Finally, Oremus is where Goblin meets ... well ... Goblin! Lots of organ, with a stubborn rhythm. Here things are stumbling a bit, to my taste.

Qirsh music may not be for everyone's ears. Qirsh's message is definitely universal. I had some doubts whether to recommend this album or not, but decided in favour of a higher rating. Qirsh is not your yet-another-RPI band. They are definitely good at avoiding clichés, and not satisfied with a 'play-it-safe” motto. All of this leaves me waiting for Aspera Tempora - Parte II!

Corrado Rustici — Interfulgent

Corrado Rustici - Interfulgent
Halo Drive (4:43), Night Of The Jackal (5:41), The Man From Yorkshire (Dedicated To A.H.) (3:59), Black Swan (3:56), Anna (4:44), Interfulgent (4:31), Khetwadi Lane (4:01), ZuZu Blues (4:28), The Waters Of Enceladus (4:52), G. On A Sunny Day (5:01)
Jan Buddenberg

Corrado Rustici is a name I'm not familiar with, which in light of his credentials is remarkable to say the least. As a founder of Cervello, releasing the album Melos in 1973, he joined members of Osanna to form the group Nova in 1976 and released two albums in the process, before the band relocated to London. After collaborations with renowned members of the progressive rock and jazz fusion scene (Narada Michael Walden, Phil Collins and others) they recorded their final album in New York in 1978.

Following this demise, Rustici began a long-lasting career as a very successful producer, which is probably the reason why his name doesn't ring a bell to me. The artists he's worked with aren't exactly my cup of whatsoever. There's no denying they are well known, for the long list on Wikipedia includes artists like Herbie Hancock, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Sister Sledge, Elton John, Dionne Warwick and Andrea Bocelli.

During his years as a producer Rustici released a solo album in 1995 (The Heartist) and followed through in 2006 with Deconstruction Of A Postmodern Musician which featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth (one of his inspirations) as a guest. He formed the jazz fusion group Corrado Rustici Trio in 2014, featuring keyboardist Peter-John Vettese (ex Jethro Tull) and drummer Steve Smith (Vital Information, Journey), and there was a reunion concert with Cervello in 2019. Interfulgent marks the return of Rustici's solo escapades.

Through the compositions on Interfulgent (literally meaning "shining through/among"), Rustici uses a unique guitar sound which is created by a signature pedal. Together with the electronic nature of the songs, featuring Alex Argento on keyboards, and the sophisticated framework of the rhythm section, this results in brightly-shining instrumental progressive jazz-infused soundscapes with a lovely New Age appeal, which he refers to as 'Transmodern'.

The electronic beat of Halo Drive immediately blasts from the skies with virtuous Jan Hammer-styled keyboard flourishes from Argento and incredibly technical guitar flashes by Rustici, shifting through scales and chords while the futuristic feel and spacious sound brings to mind Marcel Singor's efforts.

It sparkles with alluring freshness and a modernised 80s sound which is one of the clearest and shiniest productions I've encountered in recent years. Several moments later, the title track expresses the same radiant capacity, beating with life from Rustici's rhythmic fusion and creative sublimity on guitar, becoming his signature sound over the course of the album.

The pristine sonic environment adds breathtaking dimensions to the New Age-inspired composition The Man From Yorkshire (Dedicated To A.H.) where the brilliant jazzy executions bring visions of Holdsworth and Frank Gambale. It spices up the bombastic complexities of Black Swan as it graciously glides by with enrapturing melodies and lovely synths. The serenading ode to Anna, dancing perfectly with emotive guitar sounds and touching synth-waves, while G. On A Sunny Day gains warmth as it visits Vangelis/Eternity shores through classically-induced dreamy melodies, intricate piano and worldly spaciousness.

In Zuzu Blues Rustici brings a different colour palette to his smooth jazzy realm, amalgamating synthetic beats with world music and flamboyant Mediterranean guitar eruptions that invigorates a new kind of lustiness to his compositions.

Finally it's the transcending Night Of The Jackal, the album's single, which impresses most with its embracive, warm sound, electronic attractiveness and poppy sounds that seductively flirt with New Age and uplifting beats. Its careful and precious build-up, makes it the monolithic highlight of the album, emphasised by Rustici's jazzy flavourings that bring to mind the elegant subtleties of Jerry Goodman's On The Future Of Aviation.

Overall Interfulgent is collection of perfectly sounding and inventive progressive jazz-fusion compositions which will particularly delight fans of Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra). Rustici's name might be less familiar in comparison, yet his technical abilities and compositional strengths most certainly aren't. Together with the high level of arrangements and admirably embedded creative diverseness, captured in a sublime sound, Interfulgent makes for an effort well worth exploring.

Editorial Note: Whilst writing this review, Rustici has released a new song, The Singing Light, in memory of his brother Danilo Rustici. Every bit of this captivating song belongs to Interfulgent, sharing its embracive spirit and upbeat melancholic warmth. It is a beautifully-crafted song and a fitting accolade in honour of a loved one recently passed away due to complications from Covid-19.

Soniq Theater — Time And Space

Soniq Theater - Time And Space
The Time Machine (5:23), 500 Light Years From Home (4:54), Time Traveller (6:34), Space Time Continuum (5:24), The 5th Dimension (5:54), Jazz From Outer Space (4:26), The Cosmic Jungle (4:25), Spaceflight (6:03), Eternity's Breath (4:55)
Sergey Nikulichev

Time And Space is the 21st release by Soniq Theater, a project led single-handedly by keyboardist Alfred Mueller for 20-plus years. It obviously takes passion, commitment and maybe a good dose of cynicism to keep releasing music with so little publicity in return. Ironically, Soniq Theater's Time And Space sounds hotter and trendier now in 2021, than anyone (including yours truly) would have expected. With all the retro-wave-pop movement that has been hitting the indie-dance music charts recently, I wouldn't be surprised to see this record being praised by the new stars and fans of electronic music. No, of course, Soniq Theater has not mutated to dance-floor-warrior wannabes, but the sound of keyboards on many tracks is actually not that far from what the 2020 - 2021 retro-wave releases have to offer. Scatter a heap of dancing beats over these compositions, and Time And Space could be played at an Ibiza rave party.

Essentially, Time And Space is an electronic music album influenced by Tangerine Dream, Eloy, and Yanni. I think I have heard only a couple of Alfred's albums so far, and my prog rank card still holds a desperate D when it comes to JM Jarre and Tangerine Dream-influenced music. So this is a casual observer opinion.

Things start in a conservative way with The Time Machine; a bouncy, spacey track with some fusion flavour. Rocket Scientists / Eric Norlander's synth-based compositions immediately spring to mind. 500 Years from Home is a calmer, less stoned version of Ozric Tentacles' trips, while Time Traveller is gathering speed with those sweet retro-wave synths and thumping rhythm.

Jazz From Outer Space brings the fusion element back to the album map, and the closing Eternity's Breath is a relaxing new age track, paying homage to Schulze and post-Voyager Oldfield. All tracks are coherent, floating into one another, each bringing something new to the plate and not letting the listener get bored. Not much rock influence is present, so anyone looking for Yes / King Crimson influences would be disappointed. The closest prog influence I can find is the post-Colours Eloy albums.

This is no breakthrough album, but a nice space-themed record for any fan of retro-sounding space music. I'm gonna tell my niece that this is the new black from the Euro-charts.

Album Reviews