Bengal — From Outer Space
Is prog inventive? Most of you, progheads, would assume “yes”, even if with some reservations. Is everything that is inventive, considered 'prog'? Probably, not. This is exactly the case with the Frenchmen from Bengal, coming into the limelight with their fourth album From Outer Space.
My initial impulse was to write something like: “Sorry, monsieurs, this has nothing in common with prog by far”. The first four songs have a very distinct alt-groove / punk vibe in the vein of Green Day or Franz Ferdinand. But then, after a couple of listens I had to acknowledge that From Outer Space, whilst staying in the same vein with the above-mentioned, does offer more genre dexterity and inventiveness.
But this is still not prog. This is a punk / alt record. As we all know, the relationship between punk and prog has always been far from ideal, with a few happy exceptions like Cardiacs and Mr. Bungle. But then there exist a number of inventive bands that never get any acknowledgement from the prog community, despite their forward-thinking approach, like for instance, Husker Du. Probably, the same can be said about Bengal.
From Outer Space provides images of retro-sci-fi dys-topias (u-topias) painted with a palette of punkish 2/2 rhythms, alternative-rock vocals (which I had trouble appreciating at first, but as the album unravelled, grew more comfortable), supported by keyboards and stadium-oriented arrangements (not quite like Devin Townsend's, but not far from him either).
Progheads would have a hard time sitting through the initial four or five tracks, but then reward follows in the second half, starting from the Pain Of Salvation / Faith No More-flavoured The Candy Of My Hosts going further Through The Distant Clouds. The latter is a great example of a song that does not have to be long to be good and multi-faceted.
The March Of The Colony Of Andromeda features a short and surprising 16-bit / retro keyboard solo. A Little Sound In The Infinity goes back to the mainstream, albeit in a good way, with a strong groove and chorus. Hypergalactic goes back to PoS / FNM with its swinging-from-hip-hop verse to the grandiose chorus and power chords.
If you are looking for bands that match (or follow) Yes, Gentle Giant or King Crimson in terms of intricacy and sublime beauty, skip this record. If you are loyal to attempts from mainstream-sounding bands at doing something creative, then give this album a chance, especially its second half.
For me as a listener, it's 6 points out of 10, but I am happy to add an extra DPRP-hat for the band's taste for adventure. Another album or two might bring Bengal to the forefront of the French rock scene.
Compassionizer — An Ambassador In Bonds
The second full-length release from Compassionizer, An Ambassador In Bonds, follows 2020's Caress Of Compassion. Compassionizer are an off-shoot from Roz Vitalis, sharing some personnel, and the collective are named after a 2007 album by Roz Vitalis.
The musical pallet on An Ambassador In Bonds includes bass clarinets, clarinets, trumpet, harpsichord and other keyboards, guitar and some instruments that I've never heard of before such as tbilat, rubab and doira (look them up if you're interested, I did). So, you can guess this is not your standard prog fare, but then again Roz Vitalis are also an individual-sounding group.
Compassionizer produce music that encompasses neo-classical, chamber art-prog, folk, world music, some avant-prog and ambient. This release is fully instrumental.
The opening track, Follow After Meekness, tells you all you need to know their individual sound-world. It has the delightfully-strange feel of medieval minstrels let-loose with a mix of electric and acoustic instruments on an eclectic folk/classical hybrid melody. Starting with harpsichord, then moving on with rich, warm clarinets, bass synth and tribal rhythms. It sounds like a classical chamber music version of Änglagård.
As An Ambassador In Bonds moves forward, Compassionizer add enough twists and turns to keep one's ears glued to the speakers. Organ and percussion illuminate the sunny melody of Different Sides Of Ascension. Gentle acoustic accents flow through Caress Of Compassion (Part 4)'s haunted folk, while the splendidly titled The Man That Sitteth Not In The Seat Of The Scornful has an early Soft Machine vibe.
On Hard-Won Humility, wah-wah guitar lines and slinky synth bass give way to a Michael Nyman-style coda of parping clarinets. The closing track, Bear Ye One Another's Burdens, starts like the soundtrack to an achingly hip late-1960s TV show before ending like a jazzy Prokoviev.
But it's not all good for me. The three-part title track has some issues. Part 1 is a drifting ambient meets avant-prog dissonance that just does nothing. Part 2 recovers my interest slightly with its fanfare for multi-tracked wind instruments and Part 3 descends from Mellotron and clarinets into screechy, bird-like noises. Not for me I'm afraid.
Overall, Compassionizer's An Ambassador in Bonds is an interesting listen in its Änglagård-meets-Gryphon-in-a-baroque-theme-park way.
ElisaDay — Auftakt
ElisaDay are a band who reside in Russia and are fronted by a very talented female vocalist, Lyubov Antropova, who reminds me of a number of the symphonic metal singers from the past few decades. Sabine Edelsbacher, (Edenbridge and Missa Mercuria), Tarja Turunen, and Anette Olzon (Nightwish) come to mind as their vocal styles are not too dissimilar, although Lyubov is not quite as operatic if push came to shove.
This four-track EP contains some fine examples of the band's talents particularly with the arrangements, clean vocals, (on the first three songs), powerful machine-gun drumming and stellar guitar work which feature in plentiful abundance. Ivan Kayzer appears to be the main composer, which stands to reason as the bombastic sound of the keyboards can be heard throughout and is a mainstay of the band's sound. Dmitry Popov (guitar) co-wrote two tracks while Denis Geyt plays bass and Evgenia Sitkina is the chief stick twirler.
Although this style of music has been done to death many times before, you have to give the Russians credit for trying to join the party, albeit well after the punch bowl has been drained. The first three tracks are definitely the best offered here. The final track, Hear Me features some growl vocals which find no favour with these ageing ears regrettably. I accept there are many fans of this style of singing but for me, it often spoils what could have been an enjoyable listen.
For that reason I am scoring this EP purely based on the first three songs only as they are very good in their own right. Additionally, the impact of the growler is so slight as to be almost insignificant, so fans of pure symphonic metal may still enjoy the majority of this E.P. and tolerate the cookie man when he does make a brief entrance halfway through the last song.
The band had released a previous E.P. in 2014 called Find The Answer and which seemed to be very well received from the symphonic metal circle, so kudos to the band for their perseverance in what is becoming an over-crowded music market. They also released another CD in 2017 called Never Be The Same which featured both vocal and instrumental versions of the same four songs.
Thankfully, the band have made samples of their music available through a large number of media outlets, so it should not pose any difficulty for anyone wanting to track down some new tunes. I recommend you do so, as you might find more than you expected. This is certainly a worthy effort, so I wish the band well in the future as our borders open up again and the fans may be treated to a live concert here or there.
Gájanas — Cihkkojuvvon
Coming from the top of Finland in the Inari-Utsjoki area, which is part of Sápmi (formerly known as Lapland), Gájanas or "Echo" is a band that describes themselves as playing Northern Sámi ethno-progressive music. They include elements of Sámi traditional music, especially in the vocals of Hildá Länsman, who is skilled at the local musical form known as joiks. This is seamlessly-incorporated into the guitar-led progressive rock to produce the foundation of Gájanas' style.
According to the Wiki entry on joiks, they are 'a characteristic feature of Sámi musical tradition…joiks are song-chants and are traditionally sung a cappella, usually sung slowly and deep in the throat with apparent emotional content of sorrow or anger'.
Gájanas are a quartet, and joining Hildá Länsman (vocals, joiks and frame drum) are Nicholas Francett (guitar, cello and vocals), his brother Kevin Francett (drums), and Erkki Feodoroff (bass). The songs, in the main, are written by Hildá and Nicholas and so the sound of the band is guitar focussed. Nicholas has an expressive style when he is soloing. The overall sound is driving prog-rock with, of course, the tradition of their homeland. Also, with the nicely laid out CD booklet they have provided English translations of the lyrics (also available on their website).
The opening track Almmi Dolat / Northern Lights is a delight with riffing guitar, more than ably supported by drums and bass, and topped by Hildá's extraordinarily-committed vocals. In the English-speaking world, I would say only Bent Knee's Courtney Swain, has a similar impact. The track has a great mix of loud and quiet sections and switches of tempo with a couple of good, if short, guitar solos.
There is a shamanistic, chanting element to the vocal line on Dollagaccat / Hooves Of Fire with the vocal swooping and diving. Gájanas also switch things around by featuring strident cello on Diamántadulvvit / Flood Of Diamonds and a floating guitar on the title track. There is a hint of pre-metal Porcupine Tree to the strummed electric guitar melody that opens Geažehis Áhpi / Endless Sea, and in the way that it builds in beautiful intensity. Here they also introduce Sami Kurppa's wonderful saxophone and programming that adds a widescreen ambience to this super track.
The album has a Radiohead-come-Roger Waters broodiness to it which is relieved with the final track. Vuolgge Muinna / Come With Me portrays a pop-prog funkiness that also features saxophone, but this time from Sami Sippola. Its a great way to end this journey to the far north.
Gájanas' Cihkkojuvvon is a terrific album of progressive rock that has been put through the blender of a strong folk-tradition that informs, rather than dominates the rock element, while the singing is hair-raisingly thrilling. Gájanas are a band to watch; adventurous with a strong melodicism and an individual and sure sense of musical direction. Go on take a step out of your comfort zone.
Stefano "Lupo" Galifi — Dei Ricordi, Un Museo
I don't think that you can write a review of a 2021 Stefano "Lupo" Galifi album without first going into the beginnings of his music career.
Stefano is the singer and one of the founders of the legendary Italian 70s progressive rock band Museo Rosenbach. Founded in 1971, they only released one album, the epochal Zarathustra, still considered as one of the masterpieces of Italian prog, before disbanding in 1974. In 1999, founding members Alberto Moreno and Giancarlo Golzi reformed Museo Rosenbach, which subsequently recorded the more commercially-oriented album Exit. In 2012, Stefano "Lupo" Galifi joined his co-founding members in a new line-up to release a remake of Zarathustra, plus a new "pure-prog" studio album called Barbarica (2013) and the live recording Live In Tokyo (2014). Museo Rosenbach was put to an end for good when Giancarlo Golzi sadly passed away in 2015.
Before having rejoined Museo Rosenbach, Stefano had founded Il Tempio Delle Clessidre (which I very much like) in 2006, but performs on their eponymous debut from 2010 only.
Just as the name Museo Rosenbach means that many prog fans might indulge in memories, it could also have persuaded Stefano to release his first solo album, half a century after starting with Museo Rosenbach. The album title Of Memories, A Museum hints at his intention to dust and rearrange some thoughts, wishes and memories hidden in various parts of his "personal museum", and to express them through music, with a view to raising these musical and lyrical considerations to a certain level of (public) awareness.
To fill these objectives, Stefano has taken advantage of the traditionally intense level of co-operation, and strong solidarity between prog band members in Italy, by gathering a group of renowned musicians active in various other bands and projects. Luca Scherani (keyboards), from La Coscienza Di Zeno, and Höstsonaten, is also responsible for major parts of the arrangements, Marcella Arganese (guitar), active with Ubi Maior among others, Gabriele Guidi Colombi (bass), working with La Coscienza Di Zeno, and Not A Good Sign, and Folco Fedele (drums) of Panther & C..
The album consists of an eponymous 27-minute suite in three parts placed at the beginning, the middle and the end of the track list plus a few tracks interspersed to form a coherent whole. Basically, all these songs could have appeared on an Il Tempio Delle Clessidre album as well.
I don't think it is necessary to make an in-depth description of the music of this release. It has a distinct label "RPI" on it, and the "packaging" fully reflects the contents. That means symphonic song structures, accessible and catchy melodies, without many twists and turns, sometimes having a melancholic, contemplative singer-songwriter touch. We have lush keyboards (Mellotron, Hammond, acoustic piano), a well-balanced interplay of guitars and keyboards, and the use of the Italian language for vocals. Speaking of which, Stefano's singing is phenomenal. Notwithstanding the possibilities offered by today's recording techniques, I got the impression that vocally, time seems to have passed him by without a trace. His voice still sounds strong, vivid, clear and dramatic. It is "mature" in a positive way, perfectly matching the character of the music.
Being pure RPI, the music not only reflects the bands of origin of the musicians performing here, but shows similarities with many past and present RPI bands from Italy, such as LogoS, Mangala Vallis, La Torre Dell'Alchimista, Barock Project, Narrow Pass, Nathan, La Maschera Di Cera, and Loccanda Delle Fate, to name just a few.
The music on this release does not seem to be at the highest end of the RPI spectrum in terms of depth, variety and complexity, however it combines a fresh and modern sound with a nostalgic feeling. In this way, it adequately symbolises the "golden age" of Italian prog that Stefano "Lupo" Galifi has himself been part of.
Whilst overall, this type of prog definitely is to my taste and this album offered a very pleasing listening experience, I did not like it equally from beginning to end. In some songs (Le Due Linee Gemelle and L'Amante), I found that the music somewhat diverts into sweetish pop realms and therefore sounds a bit too simplistic and predictable to my ears trimmed for prog-rock. However, for an aficionado of RPI like me, who is prepared to take the characteristics of this genre for granted and to put up with a certain musical kitsch here and there, this did not trouble an overall positive impression.
Dei Ricordi, Un Museo is recommended not only to listeners being fans of the bands mentioned above. Normally, they don't mind being presented with yet another release of RPI, the music of which might sound like having been heard many times before, but delivers exactly what one expects and appreciates. It can also serve as an easy-to-absorb introduction to this specific sub-genre of prog rock. I am curious what will happen next, now that Stefano "Lupo" Galifi has "rearranged his memories". I clearly would welcome a follow-up.
Ross Jennings — A Shadow Of My Future Life
Many listeners to progressive metal will have heard of the British band Haken, as they are one of the better examples of this sub-genre and one that enjoys a very strong following. One of the main reasons for such popularity is that their vocalist, Ross Jennings, has such a great voice, which helps to add strength to the band's appeal.
Although all songs on the album are self-penned, Ross has been ably assisted by a core group of assistants including Simen Sandnes (The Shining, Vola, Arkentype) on drums, Vikram Shankar (Redemption, Silent Skies, Lux Terminus) on keyboards and orchestral arrangements, plus prolific YouTuber and session-bass extraordinaire, Nathan Navarro (Devin Townsend).
For this outing, Ross has abandoned many of the metallic influences that he is normally surrounded by and released a more pop-oriented album full of very well-constructed and mature songs. You may have heard the track Words We Can't Unsay which was released earlier this year and I expect the number of radio-friendly songs to quickly increase as this album will definitely receive a lot more airplay.
Better Times kicks the album off with its slow, acoustic start but you quickly appreciate the multi-part harmonies that add some spice within the chorus. When the second song, Words We Can't Unsay began, I thought we were in for some George Michael as the bouncy start had me thinking "Wham". Thankfully, when the chorus kicks in, all fears are put to rest as this is when the song really shines and you realise why this track was lifted for airplay. There are also sections where you'd be thinking Jon Anderson was on board as a guest vocalist as the notes climb higher into the upper register.
While the beginning of the third track, Violet grates-a-little at the beginning, it quickly settles back into a more predictable style and also contains some great arrangements and multi-part harmonies. A clever lead guitar also embellishes the sound to help finish up with one of the better songs on the album.
Breakneck drumming opens proceedings for The Apologist but this was not a song that really grabbed me due to its slightly atonal structure.
Rocket Science is a very bouncy pop song that sounds straight out of the 80s and which has a pretty simple, commercial structure. Not my favourite song by a long-shot but in the grand scheme of things, I don't think that will matter too much.
Catcher In The Rye, Since That Day, Young At Heart, and Feelings are all excellent songs that drip maturity and relevance, while Third Degree reminded me slightly of John Denver's Calypso; that is no bad thing as it represents for me perhaps one of only a few songs of his that I can enjoy.
The remaining tracks simply help underpin what has encouraged Ross to engage in a musical model that he has hankered to do for many years, even to the point where he has openly admitted to not considering himself to be a metal vocalist. Mmmmm, maybe the record-buying public might think otherwise. I personally really enjoy his work with Haken as he transcends all that is good about being a quality vocalist while adding a convincing degree of aggression to those songs that require it.
Lifting some information from Ross' accompanying bio material, he cites that the album starts on the fringe of a country road, navigates indie pop, anthemic rock, power ballads and culminates in some epic prog. This is very much in evidence right throughout the album, and as an unapologetic fan of the 90s arena rock model from which he has been inspired, there can be no better reference.
I can see this album receiving very popular support from the public as it is filled with over a dozen very well crafted songs that will appeal to a very broad audience. Sure, it is poppy, commercial and is a major departure from what has made Haken so popular, but I'll be damned if I deny the man his right to fulfil his dream of becoming a more well-known and respected singer / songwriter that the wider public really need to hear. This is a very cleverly constructed album that I am sure will do well in all musical circles. Highly recommended.
Lord Helmet — Get Back To The Ship
Porcupine Tree, Berlin-era Bowie, Muse, Tool, post-punk and post-rock. Those are the influences cited by this newish band out of Los Angeles. I say 'band' but Lord Helmet consists solely of Adam Figura on drums and David Tomkins 'remainder'. This is their second album, following their 2019 debut Forget The End Of The World.
I've revisited their debut, and this eight-track opus is a big step up in terms of the song-writing, performances and production. Get Back To The Ship is a frenzied, intense, often-disorientating burst of heavy-alt-prog-rock.
Opener Phased Out impressed from a first listen. It is still my favourite with its fuzzy, driving guitar and darkly-hummable melody. Sure, there's a definite resemblance to Steven Wilson in the vocal department (tone, phrasing and production) but I have never found his music to be this heavy nor enjoyable. There are clear touches of stoner, doom, space-rock and psyche that Porcupine Tree have rarely, if ever, embraced. The rhythmic-drive is altogether more frenetic here. Yet it always remains controlled.
Nothing To See and You Will Be Gone follow in a similar manner, before Etched In Stone strips things back with a more open, alt-rock arrangement. Moth then descends with thudding riffs and throbbing bass, to ensure that normal service is swiftly re-assumed. The extended playing time of this and The Setting Sun allows the band to explore its progressive alter-ego with impressive results. These Eyes reminds me of a psyched-up Ghost on an adrenaline rush. There is a nice balance and flow to this album.
Lyrically this is far more interesting than the sci-fi cover theme suggests. "Get back to the ship" should be followed by "... and get me out of this hell-hole". You'd struggle to put the words "bright and uplifting" to any moment of these eight diatribes-on-life's-misery. As the band asks on The Setting Sun: "Will you dissolve completely when memories get buried alive?" or as they muse on Etched In Stone: "Do we begin and end alone?"
A powerful listen to all fans of intense, depressing, heavy-prog stuff. Now, off you fly and grab your own (digital) copy!
Marekvist — Solrenning
Emerging, if not downright exploding, from Kristiansand, a major town in southern Norway, Marekvist is a new rock octet with a very confident debut Solrenning. The word “solrenning” appropriately implies a sunrise, but of course a sunrise with a very Scandinavian touch to it.
Marekvist identify themselves as experimental folk music, but I'd dare to say that what these Norwegians play falls into much-much broader categories. Discarding all understatements, Solrenning is Scandinavian prog rock music (a term already much akin to RPI), in concentrated form. Apart from the really strong folk roots that many Scandinavian bands share (Ritual, Kerrs Pink, the mighty Änglagård etc.) their music also pays homage to the 70s Scandinavian bands. Fans of Trettioariga Kriget, Atlas, and Wigwam would enjoy the confident, vintage-sounding riffs, with some great grooves.
And connoisseurs of Scandinavian jazz would nod in approval of these musical soundscapes not unlike the more ambient disks from Terje Rypdal's legacy, or Sibelius' vast symphonies. Finally, Marekvist would not be out-of-place on the same stage as their extravagant compatriots Tusmorke or Swedish neighbours Agusa.
Marekvist's folkish part succeeds at passing between the “Scylla and Charybdis” of folk rock; between too upbeat beer-drinking feet-tapping songs and too buried-in-tradition music, that conservative ethno-orchestras sometimes overindulge in. The aim here (as I might vaguely guess) is not to recreate the music of yore, but to actually bring it onto modern ground and set it into the future.
Also, not every folk band employs two drummers, one of whom is also a traditional percussionist. So be sure, these guys do know how to rock and build complex rhythms.
Prog-heads would be surprised to learn that all these influences are packed very tightly into a 32-minute release, with not a single unnecessary moment, riff or improvisation. It is also largely instrumental. What is more surprising is that Solrenning actually feels like one monolithic piece of work, shifting between different styles easily and returning to them again whenever appropriate. So instead of exhausting me with too much material, Solrenning left me wanting more. Great debut!
Rhapsody of Fire — Glory For Salvation
As promised earlier this year with the release of their EP, Rhapsody of Fire are back with a new studio album, Glory For Salvation, and it absolutely slays.
The band masterfully balance their power metal side with their symphonic side. The guitar riffs are blistering, and co-founder and only remaining original member Alex Staropoli's killer keyboard riffs provide a sense of stability for a band that has undergone a fair bit of turnover in recent years. I gave a lengthy update on the band's line-up changes over recent years, including a brief overview of the current line-up, in my review of their I'll Be Your Hero EP from this summer, so I'll direct you to that for more info.
This new album carries on the Nephilim's Empire Saga begun on the previous release, The Eighth Mountain. With this sort of music, you're either a fan of the fantasy storytelling elements or you're not. The concept of the story focuses on redemption, as the hero fights for what is right. Staropoli, who wrote most of the music, also sees the album's theme as representing the development of an individual. The lyrics were written by vocalist Giacomo Voli.
The band does a really good job of bringing the story to life through the music. Voli's soaring vocals, along with the choir and vocal harmonies creates a cinematic, epic experience that is further elevated by the symphonic elements. Voli's voice is a little higher than original vocalist Fabio Lione, and he doesn't sing with quite as much grit. With that said, he still includes a little distortion in his voice when the music calls for it. Overall his vocal performance is quite stunning. I would love to be able to hear him sing live.
The crunching guitars from Roberto De Micheli are nicely complimented by booming drums from Paolo Marchesich and steady bass from Alessandro Sala. The band show they can go toe-to-toe with anyone in power or progressive metal.
There's a passage in The Kingdom Of Ice where the powerful double-bass drumming drives the chorus at blistering speed, and this is followed by some straightforward heavy metal riffing. Staropoli's keyboards fill the background, but the highlight for me is the guitar shredding on top of those driving drums. The next track, Glory For Salvation, doesn't waste any time bringing up the heat. The sound is big with a choir, more double-bass drumming, and a rising symphony. This is an album begging to be played loudly.
Even though the band can play at a really heavy level, they balance their heavier moments with quiet sections featuring baroque recorder and some other medieval-sounding instruments. Eternal Snow is essentially an interlude with the quieter music, and Voli providing a spoken word track to move the story forward. This moves seamlessly into Terial The Hawk, which builds gradually back into metal territory, but it retains those more medieval-sounding instruments. This song demonstrates both the light and the dark elements in Rhapsody of Fire's music. I mentioned in my review of the EP that those sounds remind me of Saltatio Mortis, and I'm glad Rhapsody of Fire included more of that style of music on this album. It sets them apart from others in the power metal genre. This particular track has an excellent vocal melody, with Voli and backing vocals creating a huge wall of singing.
At almost 11 minutes in length, Abyss Of Pain has time and space to grow. As such it has a lot of symphonic elements, at times sounding very cinematic. Don't worry though, for the metal comes roaring in about one minute forty-five seconds into the track. The song has a darker tone to it overall, even including some distorted vocals. There is also a mix of English and Italian lyrics. I really like that they include the two languages. It adds a sense of mystery to the music, helping to build the fantasy they've created in the album's concept. Infinitae Gloriae carries on in a similar fashion from Abyss Of Pain, with a slightly heavier edge.
Magic Signs could almost be called a ballad, although it isn't sappy at all. It has the slower elements of a ballad, along with some more emotional lyrics as the hero wrestles with past mistakes and fights with himself to learn and move forward.
The version of I'll Be Your Hero, which featured on the EP earlier this year, is better this time around offering an epic introduction with a soaring choir and a brief guitar solo before ripping into the song. This introduction really helps set the song within the album, and I think it elevates the song beyond what it was by itself.
Chains Of Destiny closes the album with a galloping drum beat worthy of Iron Maiden. In just under four minutes it encapsulates everything that's great about this record; the soaring vocals, the upbeat heavy metal, the symphonic and the folk edges.
Even though Rhapsody of Fire has undergone pretty dramatic line-up changes over the past several years, Alex Staropoli has led the band solidly through the turmoil. The band continues to make excellent music, showing others in the genre that they're still at the top of the power metal mountain. I highly recommend Glory For Salvation to metal fans new and old.
TDW — Fountains
By now everyone who says they love progressive rock should know Tom de Wit (TDW) but the reality is they don't, even when this album marks his seventh one under the TDW moniker. He has also been part of the project Dreamwalkers Inc, which he created, and contributed to different albums as guest musician. It's been less than a year since TDW released his previous effort called The Days The Clock Stopped, and he has had the time to write this new one and even write a superb mini epic for our DPRP 25th Anniversary.
Busy man as he is, I guess he won't stop here, and he will soon release new music, and this is good news because his albums are getting better and better. Fountains is no exception. And on top of that TDW is a real musician totally committed to his art. This album is a real proof of that. He's in touch with his fan-base to such an extent that he asked them for ideas for this new release, and he has more than fulfilled those desires. Six of the ten songs on Fountains were written based on the suggestions of fans. The rest were TDW's own ideas to tie everything together. Well, I love the idea, and I can confirm the result is brilliant, even though it'd be good to hear if the fans that gave their ideas agree. I think they will.
Talking about the album itself I have to say TDW has been joined again by Rich Gray, of Aeon Zen and Annihilator, on bass and Fabio Alessandrini, also from Annihilator, on drums. He also has many guests musicians that make the album more diverse and rich, specially the choir that provides some intense moments in a few songs.
The album starts in a powerful way delivering a strong melodic prog metal, and the bar keeps very high through all the remaining songs. Inner Enemy begins with some electronics before speedy riffs give way to great melodic choruses before Hope Song I puts some quiet moments on the table. There are some great combined vocal melodies here, and at this point I wonder which of the songs came from fans suggestions and which are TDW creations.
Not that I care, but just my curiosity because the album flows really well. Gratitude Song adds harsh vocals to the mix while Hunters Eyes brings back some nice choruses, with a beautiful touch of piano, flute and a nice guitar solo at the end. The hypnotic intro of Anthracite leads to powerful metal riffs and then TDW comes back with nice vocals in Another Choice Another Universe. This is a very good song that represents the wide variety of this album, and there's still more of it because Graveyard Boogie is varying but a straightforward prog metal song. No surprise since Mike Mills, from the great Toehider, is helping Tom in this song.
We have some crazy boogie before Traveller sticks again with some electronic parts and a very addictive chorus. I particularly love this song. Along with Hope Song II, it is the one that best represents the music and ideas in Fountains.
This last effort by TDW goes up a notch compared to The Days The Clock Stopped and should give Tom the credits he deserves. Besides, he has done it using a different formula based on fans suggestions, which makes it even more interesting. I can only recommend to the fans to keep contributing good ideas because I'm sure TDW will know how to turn them into great songs.