Katre — Behind The Resilience
Katre are a band dwelling in the land of post-metal, on the road that borders progressive rock. Although based in Berlin, Germany, it seems the members live in two, formerly three different countries.
My fellow team member Andy Read reviewed the band's first album Encounters. Let's see what the band have made of their second one.
The first track drags me right into the album. It comes thundering in, really. Post-metal in true Toundra feel. There are more sections like that such as the last section of the last track, but The Run is I think the best example. I cannot stop smiling because of how good that song sounds to me and makes me feel, hitting all the right buttons for my need for post-metal heaviness with progressive structures.
Musically it's quite diverse. There's a lot of metal riffing, or a heavy riff with wailing melodies, or a strong riff with guitar soloing. But that's just part of it, as most songs are a road trip through a changing landscape at dusk. Darkness is looming constantly, which is something I enjoy a lot in music. More subdued passages with delicate guitar picking can be found in several places as well. And everything fits the journey we're on.
With The Decision the music is taking a Russian Circles bend, but with more progressive structures. And they are driving with Pelican as well, in Looking For The Pearls, for example. I think many of you will also appreciate the Tool influences.
All instruments play an almost equal part in the songs, not just supporting the main melody. Listen to the drumming that is often demanding and adds substantially to the overall feel. The mix is crisp, while still leaving air (or more like a storm, at times). The keyboards are not used for solos, but for adding layers. The melancholic piano touches add to the mood and atmosphere and the overwhelming effect of several sections.
There is a story behind the songs on the album. They deal with the situation of refugees all over the world today. I have a bit of a problem following a storyline in instrumental music, in that while listening, I tend to forget about it. There's a reason I like listening to instrumental music. But the storyline does say something about the influences that drove the compositions, and about the people in the band taking in those influences.
According to the band, the core story is about a refugee family of five members, which could be of Arab, Kurdish, Afghan, or African origin. In doing so Katre aims to abstract from more concrete instances and present the refugee issue as a general systemic problem. The story as such, as well as the construction of songs, focus on the different phases of becoming and being a refugee.
I wouldn't be surprised if one or more of the musicians have experienced some of this themselves or up close. The music doesn't need it, but there's a feeling of listening to an honest and sincere piece of art. Emotion and intensity are most important here.
The sound of several sections and the variety between them made me think of Toundra's Vortex album, which I called one of the most important albums in post-metal. It takes a lot to be on the same spot as one of my favourite albums, but I have to admit Katre are on their way. I am going to follow their journey from now on. An impressive album!
Antti Martikainen — Carmina Gloria
It's rather embarrassing when you hear an artist for the first time, and then when you follow the info links you see that you're listening to his 20th album or something. That embarrassment is what I am dealing with here, hearing Antti Martikainen's latest album Carmina Gloria.
Reading up on his history, I am further amazed to find that those 20 albums have been produced in a matter of just eight years. Prolific or what? But is it any good? OK, let me focus on this new album here. His back catalogue is too large to do a comparison. And doing a comparison by listening to just a few samples would probably not do anyone or anything justice.
I remember when I really got into epic prog metal, quite a long time ago now. I think it started in 1994 (oh, just 27 years ago) when reviewing a demo tape by the Italian band Rhapsody. The heavy riffing, the soaring melodies, the fast solos, the structure being not too complex and therefore somewhat predictable (in short: the epic-ness) made it great music when travelling, working, or anything where you need an energy boost, but also when sitting at home with the headphones on.
The problem with the predictability of this style, became apparent with their second full-length album, being that my brain needed a little more surprises.
And since then my taste has shifted to other sub-genres. It was never gone, of course, as I've enjoyed listening to Sabaton when dozing off at work became a real possibility, or watching Savatage, Epica, and After Autumn perform live. I was expecting something like that experience now. But there was something with this album that really hit me.
I think it has to do with a few elements. Most important, to me at least, is that the music is mostly instrumental. To make instrumental music interesting, you need to bring an extra level of variety in composition and arrangements. My taste has shifted through the years, and I've found myself getting bored by more and more singers. Or maybe it's the way that vocal melodies are arranged, I don't know. Maybe it's not having to wait a whole verse for the next heavy bit? On this album, all songs are packed with epic melodies. Lots of variation is given by adding folky sections, and always symphonic.
There's another thing that really made a difference. I checked this by listening to that first Rhapsody album (which I still think is good). The compositions here seem to be written from a composer's point of view, instead of a metal band's. Martikainen is not a guitarist or a keyboard player or a drummer, he is a composer. I can imagine him focusing on all layers of a composition and the arrangements right from the beginning. Well, I don't know if he works that way, but where the effect seems to be a goal in bands like Rhapsody, Dragonforce, or Therion, here the effect seems a by-product of the arrangements.
Metal riffs (I think those are done by Francesco Mattei) and fast drum fills are a given in epic metal, driving the melodies to an overwhelming power. That's what I like in heavy music. I want to be drowned in sound, pushing the world out for a while. What is keeping it so interesting for the demanding 79 minutes here, is that the melodies are written and played with great diversity. There's a lot going on, naturally.
Folk instruments were to be expected, as folk is mentioned among Martikainen's influences. But it's not just a flute, it's oud, hurdy gurdy, gaita, gralla, tarota, duduk, and more. Martikainen works with computers, having spent a fortune on digitalised instruments. There's a cast of 11 musicians, and only after a while I noticed the drums are not from a physical instrument. Impressive, as I remember the sound of the drum machine was one of the things that put me off the first Magellan albums. A lot of time must have been put into the programming of this, making it sound natural. Orchestra and choirs are also "sample library based virtual instruments", as they are called.
Besides the folk instruments, horns, and vocals, there are two guitarists and a violin player. Lead guitarist Mikko Salovaara is excellent for this type of music.
My lack of introduction to Martikainen was probably part of the surprise that this album has taken me by. The realisation that there are still composers / bands within this genre, providing the same feeling but with a nice twist, was another. I will revisit some of the bands I listened to in the 1990s again and follow some more suggestions to newer bands.
If you like epic metal, you simply have to listen to some of Martikainen and see if it's to your liking. It's slightly different from other bands but I bet there is a big overlap with your taste.
Consider my lack of introduction gone, albeit with the man's latest album. I can work my way through his discography backwards. But first let me click the play button again for this album. There's more to be discovered.
The Omnific — Escapades
Firstly I have to say how much I love the cover of this album. Just the sort of image that draws one in to find out more, without generating too many pre-conceptions as to what will be in store when one presses "play".
The Omnific is made up of two bassists and a drummer. Not a combination commonly attempted, but through a long series of singles/EPs and mini albums this Australian trio has built a lot of respect over recent years (more than two million views on their Youtube channel). We covered their last EP, The Mind's Eye on our new releases blog last year.
No strangers to the live circuit, they have toured with Between The Buried And Me (Australian Tour), Cog (Sold Out Australian Tour), Intervals and Sithu Aye (European Tour), alongside several of their own headline Australian tours plus support slots with Ne Obliviscaris, Galactic Empire, Circles and others.
Escapades is their first full studio album and offers a comprehensive showcase for their highly original approach to composing and playing music.
Wax And Wane is an example of the more syncopated, djenty style to their repertoire. Antecedent is where the background soundscapes given by the programming, give a more atmospheric bent. To add a bit of variety, they even expand the line-up by inviting another bassist as a guest. Clay Gober of Polyphia makes it a trio of bassists in the track Antecedent.
As you can probably guess, the skills of all three musicians is off-the-charts, but there is a melody and a groove here that will make it of interest to more than gear nerds and bassists.
Giving an album like this a score is even more of a random indicator than normal. I can appreciate the talent, but two basses and a drummer doesn't generate a sound palette that I can enjoy for more than a curious couple of tracks. So I've hopefully given this a pretty factual description. If it sounds like your sort of thing, then sample a couple of the videos and that will give you a pretty good indication of whether this might be your album of the year.
St. Tropez — Icarus
When the re-issue of Icarus by St. Tropez arrived at DPRP headquarters I have to admit I wasn't expecting a progressive Italian band in light of the name's resemblance to Saint Tropez, a city close to the Italian border and located in the Côte d'Azur area of the French Mediterranean coast.
Upon hearing the music, any similarities towards Italian styled prog, apart from the obvious Italian lyrics, is also oceans away. As it turns out, the album has several other unexpected merits up its sleeve.
First a bit of history, starting around 1977. Out of the ashes of Celeste, a short-lived project under the name S.N.C. is formed, lead by Ciro Perrino. With a basic idea to build songs from an electronic background using mainly synthetic drums and rhythm generators and then add voices, loops and melodies this resulted in the rare live album of Assalto Alle Nuvole, recorded on the 15th of September 1977 and finally released on Mellow Records in 1994. Directly after this concert the band received an offer for a large-scale tour in France, which saw them set out to find funds and sponsors. To ensure a good sound performance, several band members even followed a course for aspiring sound engineers in Nice (France). Sadly, when every element of staging, repertoire and dreams of playing with Gong fell in to place, it all fell apart with the 'so-called' organiser having vanished from the scene.
Not being put off, Perrino gathered the members of the group, sharing his intentions of introducing an actual rhythm section to their sound, which marked the birth of St. Tropez. Joined by bass players Giorgio Battaglia (ex-Celeste) and Silvano Cecchini, drummers Francesco DiMasi (ex-Celeste), Enzo Cioffi, and Mimmo De Leo, Lady Mantide on vocals, and Alex Magazzino (guitars, bass, vocals) it is then that Perrino (various synths, eminent, Fender Rhodes e-piano, ARP Sequencer, drums, bass, flutes, vocals, percussions, marimba, glockenspiel and rhythm machines) sets out to record several demos. Although interest was shown, a publishing deal never came through and the album/songs were subsequently shelved.
With Perrino soon securing a recording deal for his first solo album Solare, St Tropez remained a small entry in the history books until the album's long overdue official release many years later in 1992. Inclusion of the album in the box-set Celeste: 1969 - 1977 The Complete Recordings from 2010 saw the album resurface briefly once again. Thankfully it's now widely available in several formats. The CD version adds Ecco Cosa Mi Prendel as a bonus track, while the Bandcamp and vinyl option add two additional out-takes in the form of Tu Sei Il Pianeta and Una Necessità Di Espandere.
As to be expected, these newly added bonus tracks sound somewhat thin in comparison to the fully developed songs enclosed on Icarus. Out of these, the quiet synth flows of Tu Sei Il Pianeta are reminiscent to the material included on Perrino's Solare, while Ecco Cosi Mi Prendel provides synth pop with some exceptionally fine keyboard executions amidst pretty basic rhythmic structures. The same can be stated for Una Necessità Di Espandere which inhibits a more playful character and adds a little quirkiness to the plate. Musically they differ from what's generally on offer on Icarus, yet the eclectic nature of the album makes sure they blend in somehow.
Considering the age of these recordings, the album sounds strikingly fresh and vibrant whilst showcasing a fairly adequate sonic depth. Whether this in an improved (remastered) sound in comparison to older releases is unknown to me but overall the captured organic atmosphere is great and radiates some extremely vivid summery breezes, most effectively in Bollito Misto.
This song's actual recording date coincides with my childhood, and it subconsciously transports me right back to scenes filled with sunny beaches and seaside resorts, where a carefree Louis De Funès joyously guards a beach of extremely happy female vocal melodies. The vocal harmonies and the cheerfulness of the song is rather irresistible and when lovely melodies from guitar wash ashore, the desire for ice-cream becomes overwhelming.
The opening song Noccioline, Caramelle, Gelati has the same appetising effect as it opens with birdlike sounds and synth waves on percussive elements that give impressions of rattling pulleys from boats afloat in a harbour. Becoming more lively as the song progresses, incorporating lush glockenspiel and a marvellous dusky atmosphere, it changes into dreamy synth atmospheres with spacious chants from Lady Mantide to converge into melodies that spark Eloy. Mantide's vocals ascend and descend at the right time. The melodies become more uptempo and bring some delightful Moog explorations from Perrino, while a versatile rhythm section giving airiness to the music.
Segnale Limpido, opening with similar summery uplifting attraction where nice flute details, beautiful vocal contrasts and a psychedelic atmosphere are embedded within dreamy melodies, presents slight timeline-irregularities in light of my notations. Where other reviews from the past mention Gong, Steve Hillage and Hatfield & The North, artists from the early seventies I'm for the most part unfamiliar with, the many loops and synth arrangements generate visions of early eighties Hawkwind. This obviously doesn't fit the time-frame of these recordings and maybe I'm suffering from brain freeze.
Midway through the composition takes an even more surprising twist and reveals mesmerising wobbly structures, glockenspiel, rhythmic propulsion and synth sequences alongside distorted guitars. This manages to project, at least to me, images of Twelfth Night during their early 1978/1979 instrumental phase. Sadly it's the only time this musical divinity is presented and it could have lasted me hours on end. I can only hope Perrino's vaults will one day turn up with more compositions that features this delightful musicality.
The epic Re Del Deserto brings a passionate vocal performance by Magazzino as it glides through funky melodies and blues-based structures. After this, accustoming to the female vocals take some real effort, if one succeeds at all. This point aside the composition is nicely developed. Hypnotic synth loops would give Hawkwind a run for their money and creepy haunting movements remind me of Astra's efforts several decades later.
This space-induced psychedelic and organically raw feel is also found in the blues-orientated and mildly pop-structured Il Laghetto Del Cigno, to which an excelling Minutolo adds marvellous lead parts. Suited with uptown funky vibes, Verdure Saltate shows equal appeal with lots of alterations and lively up-tempo melodies that make it feel like a complementary song to a fictitious movie. This playful excitement is continued in the ravishing Il Lato Sconosciuto, where spacious loops and psychedelic passages alternate and a wonderful 'vintage' atmosphere is created. The female vocals are once again an acquired taste, though.
The last two tracks show delightful lighter structures with lovely dreamy movements. In Nella Castata this leads to progressive rock melodies mindful to Eloy, with tasty bass play and tight drums that create a perfect platform for Perrino's transporting synth-wave explorations.
Opening in serenity with enchanting vocals and slow-building dreamy melodies, it is finally Icarus that receives proverbial wings from beautiful synth movements, gliding elegantly over perfectly restrained rhythmic guidance. Descending comfortably into an airy bridge and embraced by a soaring vocal highlight from Mantide, it's the gorgeous psychedelic guitar parts that elevate the song towards a marvellous finish, thus marking one of the album's highlights.
Why the album never got released all those many years ago is a mystery to me. I'm glad Perrino made the decision to re-release it. The music on display is quite intriguing, keeps on giving new details upon multiple encounters, shows lots of originality, and manages to be even ahead of its time on certain moments. The female vocals, when not used as beautiful chants, do take away some of the album's appeal, but these moments are rare. There's lots on offer, especially in the epic compositions that surprisingly melt electronic sounds, progressive rock and space rock together beautifully.
Musically, Icarus is a long flight from Perrino's previous involvement with Celeste and will likely appeal more to admirers of space rock and psychedelic progressive rock. Those fans can surely add a memorable gem to their collection. It wouldn't be out of place in an issue of DPRP's recently started Collectors Corner series. It was followed by its one-off successor La Compagnia Digitale, the final short-lived band project before Perrino successfully started his solo career. Personally I'm looking forward to this upcoming re-release and hope it can swirl some delicious sprinkles on top of my ice-cream.