Feeling Of Presence — Of Lost Illusion
Feeling Of Presence is an instrumental prog side-project of Frequency Drift's main man Andreas Hack. From his own description, this is "instrumental rock for the wide screen". Expect some ambience and some epic-ness. It seems that these days a lot of instrumental music comes with post-rock, and there's a heavy dose of that here. Or more to the point, it's exactly that.
The excellent production plus mastering by Eroc deserves a special mention. From the delicate, to the overwhelming fullness, this is great headphone material. For me the perfect environment to enjoy this, is a room with not too much light, and seated the right distance and at the right angle to the loudspeakers.
The musical style is based more on classic post-rock (if there is such a thing?) than for example the sounds of Long Distance Calling, but it's heavier and most certainly darker than Maybeshewill. This is their darker brother, perhaps! Where the piano comes in, there's also that lovely melancholy that bands like Mono know so well.
That last bit is emphasised when the e-harp comes in on the title track. Oh, such beautiful sadness! Goosebumps!
Unfortunately, the track Fluorescent Detail is plodding away for too long a while, to my taste at least, until the last minute. The more modern, but less organic approach could be to your liking, of course, but it dragged me out of a comfortable drowsiness. The final track starts off that way, so I was a little worried about how the album would be closed-off. Thankfully it gradually grows into what I like best about this album and is probably the heaviest part of the album, before a bit of cooling-down at the end brings you back into the real world.
A relatively short release, according to modern standards, but it does not outstay its welcome, like many 70-minute albums do. With the one track being a bit of a slightly disturbing intermezzo (in my listening experience) the overall result still is an emotionally loaded cinematic feature that I don't mind hearing/feeling many more times.
Inner Prospekt — Canvas One
Inner Prospekt, a project where composer and Mad Crayon member Alessandro Di Benedetti (keyboards, piano, percussions, vocals) gathers all his unrestricted musical ideas, came to my attention after having recently reviewed two albums out of the The Samurai Of Prog universe. Both The Lady And The Lion And Other Grimm Tales Part 1 and The Guildmaster's The Knight And The Ghost featured outstanding compositions by Di Benedetti (the latter's title track and the former's White Queen for instance), which warranted some inquisitive research on my part.
Having arrived late for the TSoP realm, which is slowly taking shape thanks to Kimmo Pörsti and my first encounter with his 2020 effort Wayfarer, it seems like I'm late to the party once again, for Canvas One and Canvas Two are preceded by no less than eight other Inner Prospekt albums (and two free compilations on Bandcamp). Mad Crayon's band efforts by Di Bendetti extends this by four. So there is plenty to discover if both of these fresh canvasses appeal to my taste.
My 'Progometer' signals that they most certainly do.
Besides the already mentioned TSoP compositions, both albums feature various (original) interpretations of many TSOP songs which have been featured on their albums from Tori No Kaze onwards. This obviously makes Inner Prospekt of great interest to those journeying such symphonic prog shores. Likewise Di Bendetti collaborates with many talented musicians, each adding their own colourings to these beautifully arranged and pleasantly flowing albums.
Canvas One's classical opening statement of Anime D'Inverno (a new version of TSoP's Zero) takes a slight adjustment on my part, as it incorporates a large dose of opera which is something I've never really become accustomed to over the years. The immaculate, gracious flow of sensitive piano, harp twinkles, seductive flute passage, beautifully-carved fairytale-like symphonies and operatic vocals gliding into a luscious synth solo mindful to Genesis (Tony Banks is one of Di Bendetti's influences) leaves nothing to be desired, much like its delicious symphonic ending, which thanks to Daniela Di Pasquale's divine vocal contribution turns out to be heavenly.
Punto Di Non Ritorno's epic symphonies, bringing flirtations with Kansas and bristling with playfulness and initial Mandalaband allure, is equally mesmerising. Fine bass lines, Mellotron and uplifting electrifying synths thrive on ravishing melodies with PFM atmospheres from the flute, while mild images form of Renaissance as orchestral symphonies merge with piano and then tastefully glide into luxurious keys. There's no turning back when the wondrous symphonic exploration enters a menacing atmospheric bridge that, while surrounded by shapely vocals, slowly intensifies and dips into an excellent ripping guitar solo. The conclusive bass slowly enforces a firm foundation for lovely, summery keys sparking with Modern-Rock Ensemble freshness to end this musical adventure in great style.
A totally different colour scheme is to be found in the short, sensitive intricacies of piano and flute in L'Error and the beautiful, fragile, atmospheric finale of From Her Side which harbours touching vocals from Anne Jasmine over caressing piano parts and classical movements. Another diversion is the seductive jazzy sultriness of Sometime, which sees a small reprisal in The Endless Turnaround. Highlighted by excellent virtuous piano and lovely restrained instrumental play, it brings distinct pictures of Amy Winehouse, although for some reason I'm picturing beguiling images of Jessica Rabbit!
In alignment with TSoP, who display a broad variety of influences and assimilate delightful 70s and 80s progressive heritages in their music, Inner Prospekt exhibits a broad and adventurous musical variety.
A magical illustration of this and personal highlight of Canvas One is the excellent The Land Of Fools. It flows from diversified stages of Yes and The Flower Kings incorporating ethereal choirs, tantalising keys and great harmonies, into a seamless transition of delicious keyboard-driven progressive excess that melts into mild acoustic Genesis simplicity. It then stirs towards a classical passage that grows into a tumbling oasis of synths, after which driving bass play and an epic guitar solo creates a marvellous Transatlantic atmosphere which glides into a valley of Jethro Tull-ian rest, ultimately ending with a superb melancholic solo by Mad Crayon guitarist Federico Tetti.
The contemporary, poppy approaches in Going Down Under and Evening Dust bring memories of Mandoki Soulmates to the fore, instigated by Di Benedetti's vocals that lie in the same range as Leslie Mandoki. Although in the upbeat and funky environment of Going Down Under, some Ian Anderson similarities float to the surface as well. Both compositions are meticulously arranged. Luxuriant keys bring Genesis in the former, while the latter's gentle friendliness, lovely complimenting timbres and uplifting melodies paint vibrant progressive rainbows.
The digital Bandcamp equivalent of the album comes with two bonus tracks. In the beautiful Evening Dust (Unplugged) the vocal interaction between Di Benedetti and Nicole Carino comes better in its own, yet I do prefer the original plugged version. The concluding Down Deep (Orchestral Rendering) brushing along on classical piano, harp and acoustic guitars as it slowly shifts into light symphonies to end in stately majesty. It marks a touching finish to an excellent record.
Canvas One is a marvellous collection of adventurous progressive and symphonic compositions with creatively inventive crossovers into other genres that makes for an excellent listen. Di Benedetti, with the aid of many gifted musicians (see Bandcamp link for a full list) holds his own, and the resulting album is a strong and recommendable one, perfectly capable of capturing one's imagination. Especially if you're a fans of The Samurai Of Prog, which inclines you'll have to check out its successor Canvas Two even more. To increase the festive spirit there's a complimentary instrumental version to be enjoyed.
Inner Prospekt — Canvas Two
After my reasoning, explained in Inner Prospekt's Canvas One (see review above), it should be no surprise that it was Canvas Two that initially sparked my interest in the musical projects of Alessandro Di Benedetti. This album holds two of my favourite The Samurai Of Prog compositions. As it turns out, Canvas Two includes four tracks previously found on various TSoP efforts, which makes this album rather essential for their fans.
Contrary to the relatively large gathering of musicians found on Canvas One, here Di Benedetti (keyboards, vocals, drums) is assisted by a smaller group of musicians: Rafael Pacha (12 strings guitar, electric guitar), Federico Tetti (Mad Crayon, electric guitars), Carmine Capasso (electric guitars), Giovanni Maucieri (drums on Abby's Escape) and Giuseppe Militello (Sax). Some are already well known from their involvement in TSoP, establishing another gateway to this infinite universe.
This smaller core of participants ensures that Di Bendetti's instrumental skills, besides his already brilliant and impressively inspired keyboard work, stands out even more. His exemplary arrangement qualities, something also found in abundance on Canvas One, manage to shine brighter as well, although the eclectic nature of the album has been trimmed down slightly. Not to worry though, for the progressive rock fanatic provisioned with a sweet tooth in Genesis, receives plenty. Given Di Benedetti's admiration of Tony Banks that shouldn't be surprising.
The album opens with Glimpse which is featured on TSoP's The Lady And The Lion as Into The Woods. It's got the same uplifting feel and atmosphere, although it is more jazz and symphonic orientated and reduced its folky feel. As on TSoP's effort, it serves as a perfect entrance for over an hour's worth of adventurous progressive music.
White Skies, a mirror image to The Lady And The Lion's A Queen's Wish, frees itself from its theatrical approach courtesy to Di Benedetti's vocals which changes its fairy-tale atmosphere in comparison to TSoP's version completely. Despite the absence of interactive expressive female vocals as a counterpart, (one of the highlights of TSoP's enchanting rendition), it's still a poignant musical story embraced by a lighter feel and more direct keyboard parts. This gives it a gentler Genesis appeal as well as flashes of Rick Wakeman.
In similar vain The Knight And The Ghost by The Guildmaster loosens some of its folk feel, while alternative musical colourings that sound like cello enhance it, touching upon Rick Miller's atmospheric escapades. Tuneful male vocals, as opposed to the gorgeous female ones in TSoP's version sadly means the beautifully composed song loses its Renaissance charm. Yet the formidable synth work, attention to details and the amplified Genesis feel, thanks to Di Benedetti's vocal resemblance to Peter Gabriel, yields an equally marvellous piece of music.
The final TSoP song is King Of Spades. Here saxophone over acoustic guitars denotes a slight diversification which takes a little while to get used to in light of the just experienced centrepiece Soul Of Hundred Lives. But the way it changes into tightly arranged jazzy deliciousness, in which a playful piano and a superb solo in best Hackett tradition unfolds, is just ace. The sultry sax melodies in the bonus track Queen Of Clubs on the other hand feels perfectly in place, cautiously manoeuvring with jazzy shades on the intricate and peacefully quiet interplay of light percussion and acoustically progressive rhythms.
Both Why Me? and Abby's Escape twinkle with seventies inspired Genesis freshness and display a gallery of sequential movements where subdued playing, classical passages and symphonic musical synth outbursts create wonderful melodies that constantly fuel these songs tension arcs, where touching violin in the former and beautifully intertwining vocal harmonisations and fragile piano play in the latter bring delicious enchanting elements.
Piece de resistance, Tour de Force or so you will the album's Magnum Opus is the aforementioned epic Soul Of Hundred Lives which shows as many different progressive elements as there are Rembrandt van Rijn self-portraits. Its haunting opening slowly increases in intensity and reveals an exciting and expressive narrative of gorgeous violin that's driven onwards by bass and percussion, while multi-layered finesse, sophisticated melodic familiarities and tasty keys bring memories of Genesis while flexible musical maturity ignites Mandoki Soulmates evoked by Di Benedetti's voice. Well arranged and carefully crafted it brushes through shards of Porcupine Tree synths while machineries of Pink Floyd shine through before it shifts into playful crispiness emitting mild Argent scenes. Psychedelic frames, groovy rhythms and flamboyant symphonies laced with liquorice synth embellishments, which will excitingly tickle the palates of those in favour of symphonic prog, follow before it momentarily returns on percussion for a thematic provided reprise. Nearing artistic fulfilment it steadily flows into a complementary strophe that dashes off in a final mighty run on guitar surrounded by funky rhythms and embracing, playful and luscious melodies.
At the risk of repeating myself, I can only conclude that Canvas Two is just as excellent, entertaining and adventurously progressive as Canvas One. Both albums fit seamlessly together and capture De Bendetti's versatility as a musician beautifully, simultaneously showing his eye for compositional angles and skilful arrangements. Not a generous Genesis adept myself, I marginally lean in preference towards Canvas One, but this could just as easily be the other way around on any given day, for each album holds its own distinctive charm.
With work on Canvas Three finished from a compositional point of view, featuring songs of upcoming Guildmaster/TSoP albums, and the foresight of a more electronic and darker album by De Benedetti, the future looks to be becoming effectively busy when it comes to TSoP-related albums. In light of these fine achievements, there's only one conclusion possible: the more the merrier!
Mourning Knight — Mourning Knight
Early in the 90s, I cluelessly went to a record fair in my home town (something I still did once or twice a year thereafter, until the pandemic put these events to a temporary halt) and came across a small sales booth where a guy sold CDs of bands I had never heard of before, with mystical looking covers, long tracks and plenty of keyboards in the line-up.
Not only did I learn there that the music he was selling is called progressive rock, I also found out that most of the stuff I had been listening to and loved since the mid-70s belongs to the same genre. Plus, I discovered that there were entities that specialised in the distribution and production of progressive rock records, such as France's Musea, and Greg Walker's Syn-Phonic. After that, it was all up to me and my wallet.
Why am I telling this anecdote? Because listening to the eponymous debut of Winchester County (north of New York City) -based band Mourning Knight was like travelling back 30 years to that record fair, where I bought, amongst others, CDs by Cathedral, Lift, Mithrandir, Yezda Urfa, and Kalaban. All of these are US bands which could have been godparents for the music on this release and which presumably have had an influencing role to some extent.
Mourning Knight nowadays consist of Jason Brower (drums, keyboards, vocals, bass), and Norme Dodge (guitars, bass). The duo is supported by Alisa Amor on vocals on the track Seance On A Wet Afternoon. It started as a solo project of Jason Brower in the mid-90s with a view of setting some of his poems to music. Recording of the songs originally took place then, apparently with limited technical means. As Jason Brower states: “The material is heavily influenced by the atmospheres and musical soundscapes of the progressive seventies. Passion, drama, and a sense of the cinematic are brought together with lyrics that convey the darker, melancholy side of life.”
Consequently, although encouraged several times by fellow artists to rewrite his music entirely and to produce it using today's technical opportunities, he opted for "just" improving and reworking the originals by adding Mellotron and involving Norme Dodge on guitars and Alisa Amor on additional vocals. His objective was to prevail as much of the atmosphere, mood, and spirit of the original demos. Hence, the sound quality is not top-notch by today's technical standards and requirements, but displays a certain nostalgic charm. This is reflected in the artwork chosen for the cover, which is the still life "Vanitas" by Flemish 17th century painter Adriaen van Utrecht.
Mourning Knight's music is of a retro, symphonic, mid-tempo style. Vintage-sounding keyboards are in the foreground, especially the Mellotron. Vocals do not seem to play a key role. I found them to be a bit dull and subdued, although this probably is owing to the mixing and the overall sound quality of the production. The complexity stays at a relatively moderate level throughout, but the music never sounds boring and simple.
I liked the melodics and the melancholy inherent in some arrangements. The wall of sound from the Mellotron provides for a strong symphonic character, making the music sound smooth, as it sort of polishes away many of the rough edges, and thus prevents them from showing up. I leave it up to the listener to assess that, I personally prefer more musical "lumps and bumps".
The opener Seance On A Wet Afternoon in my opinion is the strongest track on the album, being varied, dynamic, with multi-layered keyboard arrangements, catchy solos, especially the question/answer duet in the middle section with two different synthesizer settings, and a hymn-like, lengthy outro. The song reminds me a bit of early-period Genesis.
The two shorter songs, Playing The Fool and The Blindman's Window, are fairly similar in nature and structure, both rather being ballads, romantic and lyrical, very symphonic, evoking Barclay James Harvest (especially the Mellotron-drenched, melodic Playing The Fool), as well as Moody Blues, but also some of the work of Italian prog rock masters PFM.
Blood Of Martyrs starts upbeat with acoustic guitar and harpsichord, before turning more aggressive, mysterious, experimental, and dark towards the three-minute mark, venturing into King Crimson territory. This is the only track with some twists and turns, breaks, changes of tempo and atmosphere, with a dramatic and cinematic feel in the middle section and a bit haunting towards the end, reminiscent of the Italian band Goblin. Inside This Wonderland scores with strong melodies, again a bit like Moody Blues and BJH, solemn and melancholic, with a bombastic and a hymn-like ending. It is a strong finale.
I recommend this release to everyone looking for accessible, relaxing, retro-sounding, keyboard-driven prog, not being averse to nostalgic feelings, and being interested to (re)discover the music of some of the bands mentioned above. Being willing to accept the fact that the sound quality is what it is, certainly helps but is no prerequisite in my opinion. I think the sound is part of Mourning Knight's musical concept and approach, and perfectly matches the retro style and is well-suited to immerse oneself in the atmosphere and the spirit of 70s music.
Single Celled Organism — Percipio Ergo Sum
One man neo-prog meets art-rock project, Single Celled Organism is the brainchild of drummer and multi-instrumentalist Jens Lueck. Percipio Ergo Sum is the follow-up to the debut release, 2017's Splinter In The Eye. In terms of the concept of the new release, it continues the story of a girl raised in total isolation from humankind, as a morally-dubious experiment in personality development by a psychiatrist.
As Percipio Ergo Sum (I Perceive therefore I Am) opens, the girl comes into the world to find it devastated by a bio-weapon attack. This is all neatly explained on Single Celled Organism's website and the lyrics, also available, allow you to follow the story with ease. Now I thought, as you probably do, that you need to hear the previous album first. But actually this album is, other than the concept, an impressive stand-alone release.
The music that Single Celled Organism produce is in a similar style to RPWL, IQ, Pendragon and Cosmograf with nods to some of the 70s classic prog. But Jens Lueck does have an individual voice and the bands mentioned are really just a guide. He enlists a number of additional musicians to flesh out his vision and adeptly uses sound effects and snippets of narration to draw the listen into his song-based collage.
The album opens gently with She's Awake, with Jens' partner Isgaard Marke voicing the protagonist. It is a good introduction to Single Celled Organism's sound-world. This expands on The Final Door's mix of Camel-like guitar from Johnny Beck, a great synth solo and a melody that Stephen Wilson would be proud of.
Jens has a good voice with an interesting high register that does not rely on a forced falsetto. He uses this sparingly and to great effect on the art-rock of I'd Like To See.
Percipio Ergo Sum is an album that for me gets stronger as it goes on. There is a heavier feel to the cracking Save Me From Dreaming with its winning mix of Jens and Isgaard's vocals and more of Johnny Beck's guitars. This continues with I'm Not Human.
On Hey You, not a cover of the Pink Floyd song incidentally, he engages his string-playing guests to create what he calls a string orchestra simulation, which gives different colours and tones to this track, as well as on the ballad Humble. It is also used on the best track here, Entanglement Runs Off. It is the most complexly-arranged song on the album. It felt a little messy on a first listen but it grows in stature, with never a dull moment on repeat listens.
Single Celled Organism's Percipio Ergo Sum has a great deal of finesse and passion in its song-focussed prog. An arty take on a dystopian story, full of contrast and melodies that deserve to be heard.