Big Hogg — Pageant Of Beasts
Since I started writing reviews for the DPRP, I have always believed that doing this is more than just picking a CD from the shelf or clicking on the required elements on your favourite music streaming portal, and listening. In fact, I consider it as elementary to develop some kind of relationship with the band's music, comparable to how it works when making new acquaintances and maintaining existing ones.
With respect to the new acquaintances, there are some you don't bother with again, or even dislike meeting in the first place, whilst others are tempting and are interesting or fascinating you. Existing ones may vary in intensity over time, are submitted to challenges and hard times, and need to be constantly cultivated. In any case, for what I call the musical relationships (and for the human ones too), it needs, amongst others, to take a clear stance towards them, as well as curiosity, tolerance, patience, and the willingness to invest emotions, time, and dedication.
Concerning the relationship with the album Pageant Of Beasts by the Glasgow-based Big Hogg, which I had never heard of before, curiosity, patience and some degree of tolerance were among the qualities which were required from my side.
Pageant Of Beasts is the band's third release, following the eponymous debut in 2015 and the successor Gargoyles in 2017, reviewed on this site. I was wondering what the band's name means but found out nothing more than "Hogg" is a metonymic occupational name for either a swineherd or a shepherd.
The sextet consists of Justin Lumsden (guitar, vocals), Sophie Sexon (flute, vocals), Ross McCrae (trombone, piano), Richard Merchant (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn), Nick Gaughan (drums, percussions, synthesizers, backing vocals), and Martin Beer (bass, double bass, autoharp), who joined the band prior to this album. There are also several guest musicians acting on vocals, and additional brass instruments on specific tracks.
Quoting the press release from the band's record label: "Pageant Of Beasts is perhaps the first 'true' Big Hogg album, being almost entirely planned, written and arranged by the whole group, and also self-engineered and produced...", the writing responsibilities mainly having laid on Justin Lumsden on the two preceding albums. Comparing those with this one, I found Pageant Of Beasts to be slightly more melodic and accessible. Inherent in all three of them is the preference for compact, short and sweet pieces of music with sometimes funny-sounding titles and a focus on the use of brass instruments. And that brings us to the music on this release.
Framed by a brass a cappella intro and outro below one minute each, Big Hogg offer an additional ten songs, ranging from 1:12 to 5:24. They are dense and compact, complex, but not complicated, varied, enigmatic, and thus not necessarily accessible upon the first listening. Sometimes sounding intimate, never boring. A comprehensive blend of musical styles.
I'd cautiously classify this music as Canterbury sound, but we also find elements of jazz-rock, fusion, funk, and late 60s/early 70s psychedelic. It is garnished with soul-inspired male and female vocals and some blues-sounding guitar here and there. Everything comes across with a certain degree of eccentricity inherent in the Canterbury genre.
The key characteristics are the predominant role of the brass instruments, both solo and as background, complex bass lines, distinct rhythmics, and a perfect interplay of guitar and brass. Keyboards do not play a major role but are used very efficiently to add depth and variety to the sound. None of the pieces really sound exactly like the other, and there is no idling on this record. The only track I struggled with is the short Bouffant Tail, as it reminds me of Magma, a band which so far I have avoided entering into a musical relationship with.
Speaking of references: of course, we have the usual suspects of the Canterbury scene, such as Caravan (which has less brass, though), Hatfield & The North, and Henry Cow, but also more jazz-rock-oriented Canterbury bands such as Soft Machine, Matching Mole, and Robert Wyatt, plus Snarky Puppy (especially on All Alone Stone, my favourite track). The extensive use of brass instruments also evokes early Chicago.
The funky passages on Man Overboard bring Earth, Wind & Fire to my mind, Smoking Again even has a Beatles- feel. Willow's Song reminds me of the jazzrock-era of the Norwegian band Ruphus, whilst Red Rum, with its beautiful trumpet solo and its acoustical sounding bass, is rather jazzy. And I cannot deny a certain Frank Zappa influence and reminiscence (although that is another musical relationship I could not make friends with).
Now what about my musical relationship with Big Hogg's Pageant Of Beasts? So far, my connections with Canterbury were fleeting ones (not much more than Caravan and Argos), which I was not averse to deepen, though. However, it required me some patience to familiarise myself with Big Hogg's musical style, and the necessity to accept the fact that prog, such as performed by Big Hogg, is not always catchy and accessible right from the first listening. It requires an investment of time and tolerance.
To wrap it up, my relationship is characterised by respect for the variety of the music, and for the abilities of the band. Hence, it is a rational, not an emotional one. This, however, does not keep me from recommending this release, not only to fans of the Canterbury part of prog rock, but to everyone looking for varied, rhythmical, brass-driven, jazz-rock-influenced, challenging music, and being prepared to invest a bit of time and patience to make a friendship.
Paradigm Blue — Transist
The Raleigh, North Carolina based prog-rock power trio Paradigm Blue have, after a gap of 20 years, released their second album Transist. They originally formed in the late 1990s, releasing their debut Liquid Eyes in 2001 to little fanfare, before taking a long hiatus starting in 2004. They eventually returned, giving us this new and expansive release.
Paradigm Blue have the classic prog trio line-up, with Juan Mantilla (electric and acoustic guitars), Ruben Moreno (bass guitar, vocals, keyboards) and Steve Laur (drums and percussion).
Now, this line-up of instruments should be tweaking any self-respecting prog fan's prog senses. As Paradigm Blue acknowledge Rush as an influence, those prog-senses would be correct. But they are not the only influences that this talented band have made their own. Their melodic take on prog-rock has elements of Dream Theater, Spock's Beard and Transatlantic. But the strong song-writing makes them stand apart from their influences, subsuming them into their melodic attack.
There is a science fiction concept running throughout Transist. Taking in themes of blind optimism and pragmatism (The Difference Engine ), a young woman's determination to fly faster than light (Bravo Sierra) and in the form of a 60-minute space opera (The Möbius Trip) an inspired love letter to Rush's Cygnus X-1 and its sequel Hemispheres. So, if you will, it continues the saga of the good ship Rocinante.
The album begins with the three-track suite The Difference Engine. The music here a prog-metal-meets-an-AOR melodic sensibility, full of rolling classic rock riffs and synth solos. It immediately brings out how good a voice Ruben Moreno has. His voice lifts this entire release, and sparks as much as the terrific musicianship.
After the opening suite, a stronger prog-rog feel comes into the music as the classic rock elements take a back seat. Bravo Sierra has a touch of hard-rock, and the organ solo sets it apart from the Rush keyboard model. Then on the instrumental Perihelion the keys are taken over by special guest Derek Sherinian (Sons of Apollo, Black Country Communion) giving the tune a great sequence of evolving moods.
The opening five tracks though are but appetisers before the full main course of The Möbius Trip's journey though the prog universe. Over nine servings you get to tuck into a heavy prog instrumental (I. Revelation) that lets you know you are not earthbound anymore. Its a cracker of a tune, featuring synth over thunderous guitar, set to a chugging rhythm and grinding riffs.
Looking at just one section will give an overall feel for this epic. With V. Solar Sails Paradigm Blue use an arched structure that goes from a classical piano opening, to electronica supporting the vocal line alone, through to guitar and synth duets, a dash of distorted organ, before retuning to classical piano and synth strings. It has a melody that lodges and sticks, and this one track will let you know exactly what Paradigm Blue are about.
Throughout The Möbius Trip there are subtle nods to Rush. A drum fill here, a lead bass line there and the lead guitar suddenly emerging from its support role effortlessly. Paradigm Blue have set themselves a high bar with The Möbius Trip, one that they clear with ease.
Paradigm Blue's Transist tells a complicated story, in a clear way, especially with the help of the lyrics which can be accessed on their website. The production is top-notch, with a clarity and directness that repays multiple listens. Transist takes the Rush torch and runs with it in some interesting and individual ways. This is how you take your influences, and expand and redefine them into something all your own.
Salva — A Thousand Ways To Disappear
Salva from Sweden are a new band to me. I knew nothing about them at all when asking to review their latest album. To be totally frank, I was actually dreading the first listen. I have recently struggled being enthused by a lot of the new music I have recently heard, with the very odd exception. The cover of A Thousand Ways To Disappear didn't fill me with a great deal of hope, with its pictures of bleak-looking Metropolises reminiscent of a society under Orwellian rule. So, the CD lay around for a few weeks, until eventually I had a rare (at present) long road trip for work purposes. I took the opportunity to play the CD.
With only the first few notes of Stars Aligned, I was pleasantly surprised. Big metallic riffs, mixed with a composition that reminds me of early Threshold, in places delivering enough to provoke a short period of headbanging. A great opener to draw the listener in.
Singer and band leader Per Malmberg has a voice which may deter some listeners, but with this being prog, we are able to transcend the veneer and see what lies beneath. If you persevere, you will hopefully find a voice that is melodic, never over-stretches, and is crystal clear in its delivery. Every word is clear, and tells a story with great affect.
Second track, Feeding The Flame is doused in analogue keyboards, with an almost 60s feel, and the chorus reminds me very much of The Doors.
Then we get to the epic A New God, which takes many transitions, including a symphonic metal section that would not be out of place on a Rhapsody album. The changing phases transition neatly, and though demonstrating a number of musical styles, all seem relevant with their particular place within the song.
Sadly, it is at this point, that the quality appears to disappear, the remaining four songs lack the drama of the first part of the album. They are not bad songs, but the preceding three songs are so good, I find myself flipping back to the start of the disc.
Salva are a band I will keep an eye out for, as they have great talent. This is underpinned by the fact they have been signed to Rob Reed and Will Mackie's White Knight Record label since 2011. A number of Salva's albums have been reviewed on the DPRP pages over the years: Thirst, Sigh Of Bones, and 2018's Off The Deep End. If you wish to find more on Salva's history, I recommend you read these, as they include all the information you will need, without going to the lengths of rewriting it for this review.
A mixed bag of an album, but the good pros outweigh the negatives and I would still recommend you give this album a try.
Devin Townsend — Galactic Quarantine
Despite having achieved a substantial portion of my "bucket list", there is a gaping hole, that being I have never seen Devin Townsend in the flesh. I had hoped to see him on the Empath tour but a pesky little virus scuppered that. But lo, Devin is not one to let it lie, and has been keeping the drooling fans satisfied with his quarantine output, a.k.a. "The Devolution Series".
As usual, he never fails to nail most aspects of his performance, delivering bushels of charisma, trademark humility, and a right ear-bashing he unashamedly refers to as "hevy devy". Most impressive is the technical feat of coalescing the musicians (Diego Tejeda - keyboards, Wes Hauch - guitar, Samus Paulicelli - drums, Liam Wison - base) over the interweb, with a space-age backdrop and not a scintilla of missed-synch. They're all on the money from the outset, and although really this could be seen as a live-in-the-studio effort, there is still a splash of his characteristic witty banter. With some imagination, you could persuade yourself that you are actually there in person, despite the lack of a female choir on Spirits will Collide.
Now, Devin has a large discography to pluck from, and it would be tempting to have gone for just the solo project material which has elevated his fan base so much. But, the curveball-pitch is the smattering of early super-heavy Strapping Young Lad tracks, right from the outset with the speaker-challenging Velvet Kevorkian and All Hail The New Flesh. Cover your children's ears indeed.
More SYL appears later in the set, with Almost Again and Detox, which follows the fabulously uplifting crowd-pleaser Kingdom as a closer.
Some won't get this stuff, but his vocal gymnastics really are a beauty to behold. If you haven't already, then DPRP readers may enjoy opera singer Elizabeth Zharoff's, aka "the charismatic voice", critique of Kingdom at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6p9mwA3OCg.
There was a point a few years ago when it looked like Devin would be on hiatus forever, afflicted as he is with that scourge of many a genius, bipolar disorder. But thankfully all appears alive-and-kicking in the world of HevyDevy.
The Wring² — Project Cipher
The creative mind behind The Wring is guitar player and songwriter Don Dewulf. Other members are Thomas Lang on drums (worked with Paul Gilbert, Robert Fripp, Glenn Hughes and John Wetton) and Marc Bonilla on vocals (worked with Glenn Hughes and Keith Emerson). For Project Cipher the band is referred to as The Wring². With new drummer Thomas Lang, new vocalist Marc Bonilla, and original Wring bass player Jason Henrie sharing duties with Bryan Beller (The Aristocrats), this was a new project.
The song Dissension features a guest appearance, the guitar solo is played by Jason Sadites. Each musician probably recorded their parts from their own home studio as can clearly be seen in the video. Project Cipher is the second album, first album The Wring was released in 2017.
The Wring plays progressive metal influenced by Rush, Opeth, Fates Warning and Dream Theater but without keyboards. The music leans heavily on the technical stuff, many time changes which are familiar to the progressive metal scene. At times we have some more easily-digestible metal/rock songs but never close to commercial-sounding music.
Opener The Light immediately shows that on the technical side, all is more than fine, with many time changes and complex parts. The Sorceress is easier to digest; still technical, but packaged in a standard metal song.
The song Cipher is described as: "A combination homage to Rush's YYZ and Mastodon's March Of The Fire Ants". It is the only instrumental song and it indeed has some influences from the songs mentioned. But if it was not mentioned, I doubt I would have noticed these songs as a main influence.
Steelier is faster and more aggressive, with a nice guitar solo by Jason Sadites. Dissension is slower and a nice groovy rock song, being one of the easier songs to grasp. By now I have noticed that Don Dewulf writes progressive metal but he tries to touch all the boundaries with other rock styles. Dose is something completely different again; light, funky, jazzy guitar rock. Touch sounds again different. The first things that come to mind when hearing the start of the song are Sammy Hagar / Chickenfoot.
The Wring is a very interesting band for people who like progressive metal without the keyboards. Although the music is very much progressive metal, there is a variation of styles on this album. For an album with seven songs, the variation might be a bit too much, as after several spins I still cannot fully determine which path the band is taking.
Don Dewulf has created a very good sounding album with Project Cipher with a variety of styles within the range of progressive metal.