Android Trio — Other Worlds
Android Trio are a jazz fusion band hailing from Washington D.C. Who cite a number of talented and extremely versatile influences amongst their more obvious connections to the past. The band comprises Max Kutner on guitars, Andrew Niven on percussion, while Eric Klerks handles all the basics. Being yet another band that have been constricted with their musical aspirations due to Covid, this doesn't appear to have had an adverse effect on the final result offered here. Their sound is really well controlled, the production of this, their second album is very crisp and the playing is tight.
Being all instrumental requires plenty of deft musicianship together with imaginative arrangements and these are to be found in abundance with this outing. I'm particularly impressed with Eric's aggressive and droning bass work on just about all tracks, as he punctuates each section of music with his clever style that is akin to the better works from Chris Squire. Similarly, guest keyboard player, Jonathon Sindelman, plays with a great degree of imagination and brings a huge level of variety to their overall sound. I am hearing all types of keyboards. Also there are some references to Pierre Moerlen of Gong fame, as the final track Quark, offers some tasty vibraphone courtesy of Gregg Bendian and which always goes down well for this ageing pair of ears.
One should also mention King Crimson as an influence as many of the tracks on this album drip with references to their Red album. The frenetic cacophony that made that album so popular will also force the listener to appreciate this music. Music that might otherwise sit outside their comfort zone. As guitarist, Max Kutner so perfectly puts it, Other Worlds is 'a wild ride'. I couldn't agree more.
Mike Keneally is also cited as a guest musician, co-producer, keyboardist and technical advisor and which helps explain why this albums sounds so good. This sounds great under the Sennheisers and is in good company if accompanied with an adequate quantity of ones favourite Shiraz. Much of the band's music can be easily traced to the Bill Bruford / Dave Stewart / Allan Holdsworth music academy, as the band bounce ideas and sounds around with such consummate ease. I am hearing a definite Earthworks / Bruford connection but it would be a bit of a stretch to liken this offering to the incredible songwriting as displayed on One Of A Kind which really is in a league of its own. Bruford's 2nd album should be in every jazz fusion collection but Other Worlds also deserves its place on the podium too. It does represent more than just a well constructed set of songs but a musical odyssey that many jazz fusion fans like to engage in. All the subtle nuances and influences unfold cohesively and convincingly, and I feel the exploratory sojourn to appreciate music like this is well worth the effort.
Ironically, the band first crossed paths down under in 2014 which is quite surprising as progressive rock is all but banned here, (well not really but you get my drift). They teamed up with the Magic Band and The Grandmothers of Invention for a series of performances which I am sure would have been well received by the audiences.
The band also claim Frank Zappa as an influence and which is hard to miss on the track, Serial Tune, as the trumpet intro gives the game away so convincingly. Despite being a huge Frank Zappa fan and owning just about everything he produced, for me, this track was probably my least favourite as the sound is very angular and a bit too discordant. But you should simply put that down to age as my own listening preferences have veered away from the more frenetic and chaotic sounds and happily migrated toward less demanding rhythmic patterns and styles. This also appeases the handbrake (Never heard a partner called this before! -- Ed.) who prefers simpler music with a more predictable set of routines. I draw the line at her playing Andre Rieu however, not that we have any of his music, thankfully.
The band cover a lot of territory with this album, so it is not one that will have you humming along after a single spin. This will require some dedicated time to fully absorb everything that is going on here but as is often the case with music that falls under this genre, repeated plays will definitely reward the listener with an adventure that just keeps giving. Even after 6 plays, I am hearing very subtle additional material and sounds that I missed previously. That must surely represent the epitome of good musicanship and clever compositional skills.
Having said that however, this is not an easy or comfortable listen as melodies and softer sections are pretty thin on the ground. You wouldn't play this album at a dinner party with your best friends unless they complained about your Filet Mignon and you wanted them to leave. This is too busy and frenetic for that and would probably harden the trifle into a cement like structure unless you added extra cream. Similarly, this should probably not be played while someone is enjoying a massage or a session of Reiki but for my ears and when I don't need to relax, this is the proverbial ticket to heaven. There is so much variety on offer here, it almost overwhelms you but if you are up to the challenge and enjoy a little discordant avant gard mayhem now and then, Other Worlds will easily take you there. A great effort guys!
Drifting Sun — Forsaken Innocence
Drifting Sun were founded in Chesham (UK) by two French natives Pat Sanders (keyboards), and Manu Sibona (bass) in the early nineties. The band produced two albums in 1996 and 1998, before splitting up. Some 15 years later, Pat Sanders reformed Drifting Sun and, in this second musical life, released several albums, all of them having been reviewed on our site. Forsaken Innocence is the band's seventh studio release with the last one Planet Junkie dating back to 2019.
What runs like a red thread through the entire releasing history is a perceived "transiency" concerning the line-up besides founding member Pat Sanders. Being the composer of the band's music and its main brain, he seemingly adopts a certain flexibility in working with high-calibre musicians capable of realizing his musical visions. This appears to be a coherent approach for a band considering themselves as a studio project.
Consequently, Pat Sanders again has gathered a number of distinguished multi-national musicians around him. Prog rock veteran John Jowitt (bass), from amongst others with Jadis, IQ, Frost*, Arena, Blind Ego. Then Greek native John Kosmidis, named Jargon on vocals, known from the bands Verbal Delirium and Ciccada. Frenchmen Jimmi Pallagrosi on drums has worked with Karnataka and Frank Carducci. Mathieu Spaeter (guitars) is also involved in certain Karfagen-projects with keyboard playerer Antony Kalugin. Guest musicians Ben Bell from Gandalf's Fist adds Hammond, whilst Eric Bouillette from French band Nine Skies plays violin on a few tracks. Gareth Cole, also active with Fractal Mirror, is responsible for additional guitar. Not unexpectedly, these bands referred to are a representative cross-section of Drifting Sun's main influencing factors.
According to Pat Sanders, "The album title Forsaken Innocence is a reference to the struggles we face when we try to re-find the innocence that has been buried within us from our childhood, and how we have to extract memories and emotions that we'd rather not remember, in a quest for finding such perceived 'goodness' back within ourselves." So far for the introduction, but what about the music?
I think it easily can be pigeonholed as neo-progressive rock, with small hints at prog-metal and a distinct symphonic element. It thus has the typical ingredients common to these musical styles: variety of keyboards, fierce drumming, sometimes dramatic vocals, changes of tempo, mood and atmosphere, with song structures borrowed from classical music. Clearly, Pat Sanders' keyboards are in the foreground, but he allows his fellow musicians enough liberties to contribute to the diversity of the music. As pars pro toto ("something taken as representing the whole" -- Ed.), John Jowitt's pounding, crisp, and fluid bass playing deserves a special mention.
The album opener King Of The Country embodies all these ingredients, and sets the standard for the rest of the album by being some kind of "executive summary" of the band's music. Very varied in terms of instruments used (great violin), timbres of Jordan's voice, alternating soft and harder moments, strong melodies, dramatic but also light and airy, with lots of symphonic elements. A strong starter. Insidious follows a more straightforward path. The synthesizer solo, followed by the transition from the ghostly wordless vocals to the heavy riffing in the middle section are superb and the song convinces with its catchy chorus and the overall simplicity. Dementium picks up the contemplative acoustic piano outro of the preceding track, before becoming more upbeat, with Ben Bells's slightly swinging Hammond playing in six-eight time (or are these triplets), and Pat Sanders' vivid piano chords. Jordan's vocals are particularly expressive in this track, which turns out to be more and more dramatic and cinematic as it evolves. Close to a mini rock-opera. New Dawn has a gentle, melancholic touch with emotional vocals, slow pace, melodic guitar solos, and great fretless bass playing underpinned by acoustic piano. Just the right track for the listeners to gather and concentrate themselves for what is to come thereafter.
The two-part title track certainly is the anchor piece of the album, clocking at almost 26 minutes, of which only the first seven minutes are with vocals, the rest, especially the whole of part 2, being entirely instrumental. It is an epic musical potpourri of recurring themes and variations, played with changing intensities and nuances, and differing instruments, often in the form of a guitar/keyboard dialogue. It requires repeat listening in order to unravel the various parts and to recognize a stringent song structure. This is by no means to the detriment of accessibility and catchiness, many of the hooks bearing earworm-symptoms. Nonetheless, here and there I got the impression that less would have been more, some parts being repeated a bit too often (especially the guitar hook around the 6-minutes mark, and the organ arpeggios around the 11-minutes mark in part 2), giving this track unnecessary length. The last three minutes of part 2, though, with the catchy repetitive multi-layered keyboards has a contrapuntal melody initiated by the piano, with other keyboards picking it up with increasing intensity, and the guitar following suit (bringing Mike Oldfield to my mind) fully make up for that and are the highlight of the album for me.
The short Time To Go gives the listeners the opportunity to catch their breath again and allows for a little reflection, before the bonus track Hand On Heart (not available on the CD edition) closes the album in a dynamic, dense, melodic neo-prog way.
Definitely falling under the category neo-prog, Drifting Sun's peers, besides the ones mentioned above, certainly include the "household" genre-founding names, but also bands which are representative of slightly different forms of neo-prog, such as Magenta, Sean Filkins, Sylvan, Citizen Cain, and Cyan.
I liked this release, because for me it is a well-balanced combination of melody, complexity, accessibility, and musicianship. It has drive and energy, is perfectly arranged and played, attention grabbing, and avoids any cheesiness. Definitely no re-invention of the neo-prog wheel, but solid, well-crafted music appealing to listeners who like any of the bands mentioned above. It just made it on my top-10-album-of-the-year-2021-list (despite fierce competition).
Eldritch — Eos
On the verge of 2022 and arriving just in time for the festive month, the year 2021 ends on a high with Eldritch's Eos. An unexpected high, for I truthfully lost touch with Eldritch many moons ago.
As it happens I witnessed the band during a concert long ago in Uden (Holland 1999), a tour in which they supported Pain Of Salvation and Threshold. The same tour as mentioned in the only other Eldritch review appearing on our site, for the album Portrait Of The Abyss Within. At the time the band had previously excelled with powerful Prog metal that incorporated elements of like-minded greats such as Symphony X and Dream Theater yet also showed a uniqueness in sound with sidesteps into electronics and prog rock. This came to full fruition when their collective chemistry aligned and created El Niño.
This phenomenal album showed immaculate interplay from guitars (Eugene Simone) and keys (Oleg Smirnoff), powerful expressive vocals (Terence Holler), infectiously melodic compact songs and a highly addictive energetic drive from a perfectly operating rhythm section. To this day I still rate El Niño's progressive tornado in the same class as for example VandenPlas's The God Thing, Threshold's Wounded Land and Symphony X's The Odyssey, all perfect illustrations of albums that have withstood the test of time and find an assuring rotation on my desert island.
As a newby to the band at the time, their convincing set rushed by and it only took a minute or two to secure their past legacy at the merch stand. Some three years later my declared love for Eldritch however froze with their aptly, yet sadly also very accurate titled, Reverse which saw the band storm in opposite direction by losing their delightful progressive touch, eliminating keyboards all together and primarily focus on trash metal. As a result, despite the quality of the compositions and the song's indisputable executions, Eldritch lost their identity for me. Afterwards only their 2008 live album Livequake, that partially celebrated the 10th anniversary of El Niño and featured a spirited one-off guesting performance by Smirnoff, proved to be of interest to me.
A long story short it's the return of Smirnoff's name that instantly attracted me towards Eldritch's 12th album Eos, and after having listened to the album for the first time I have to confess that I'm ecstatic to hear his return. It's as if a kind of magic or chemical essence has been sprinkled upon the band which mystically retrieved their 'Mojo', or whatever else you want to call it. The album rocks, grooves, excites, bursts from dynamics and drive, shows the same divine interplay as found on their early recordings, brings performances of the highest order, sounds tight as hell, feels fresh and contemporary, and 23 odd years after El Niño Holler's captivating matured performance still nails it, sounding powerful and versatile as before.
The album starts off with the short tension building intro of Dead Blossom which is more than adequately met by the excellent Failure Of Faith which instantly restores my Eldritch faith. Soaring into overwhelming power metal which ignites visions of Angra it grabs hold through its catchy melodies and blistering executions to which the rhythmic guidance, propulsion seems more befitting come to think of it, is bang on. Showing incredible tightness from Dario Lastrucci (bass, backing vocals) and Raffahell Dridge (drums) both guitarists (Simone and Rudj Ginanneschi) throw in powerful riffs and shredding luxury surrounded by tasty licks for very good measure.
What binds it all together beautifully for me, next to the relentless magnificence of the diversified composition, are Smirnoff's escapades on keys. He knows exactly when to hold back and add atmospheric refinements that enhance the song, or step shortly centre stage and add some delicious virtuosic touches. Especially noteworthy are his duels and soloing interactions with electrifying guitars, which are moments when the gates to prog-metal heaven open up and blissful rays of musical brilliance shine upon Eldritch's compositions, rewardingly radiating halfway down Failure Of Faith and many other passages that elevate the overall experience of the album.
The Cry Of A Nation demandingly continues their quest to entertain with majestically bashing rhythms, powerful performances and brightly comfortable familiar prog-metal elements, all encased by technically perfect executions, lush key insertions and a vast variety of catchy melodies to which Holler adds his clean vocals and sparse grunts. The many alterations found within this compositions, exploding halfway with odd counter rhythms, classical induced symphonies and bass eruptions, gives it a morish prog-metal appeal which is compellingly irresistible.
Two songs in (not counting the short intro) the adventurous musical journey has only just begun, and while I usually tend to go into every individual song I won't be doing that today, for I just want to listen and enjoy this album to the max as there is so much to cherish here.
OK, having just had my arm twisted, a few bits more then. As encountered on El Niño it all comes together beautifully, with many surprising twists, style variations and different elements. One such instance is Circles (see video) where synths, tightness of play and trashy riffs suitably swirl in unison and the dynamic structure of the song is flourished by Smirnoff's keys. Previsioning the song to be on a pathway to a standout passage of key/guitar interaction it surprisingly diverges into an excellent restrained bridge thriving from electronics, succulent bass and delicate piano play, ultimately still taking off suitably with mighty guitar deliveries.
No Obscurity takes a small step back in intensity and adds some Savatage feel with melancholy and emotion highlighted by symphonic insertions and instrumental Dream Theater magic, followed by the epic Sunken Dreams which is 11 minutes of prog galore adding grace and refinement amongst its various moods and alterations. The energetically fast paced The Awful Closure boldly pushes the envelop with metal riffs, atmospheric richness and tightness in arrangements, closely followed by the power metal drive of Fear Me which fizzes with synths and adds a lovely piano intermezzo and jazzy outro to the exciting melodies which minutes before enchanted with wondrously inspired interplay of Smirnoff and Simone.
Admittedly, some vocal lines in Fear Me don't play into the strength of Holler, which is equally applicable to the first few minutes of the album's sensitive ballad I Can't believe It. Its breakable reflective atmosphere reimburses a lot, if not everything, and it makes a nice resting point on the album which is otherwise firmly fixed at high speed. Eos' grandeur build up in subdued play, where stylish melodic guitar play gives way to sparkling synth waves as mild Queensryche and Dream Theater impressions emerge, is another solid example of the bands compositional skills. Finally it's Runaway, a Bon Jovi cover, which in its slightly altered state of arrangements inhibiting a memorable prog-metal/AOR approach, adds a very satisfying finish to a marvellously impressive album.
With pristine sound that unleashes the energy, individual performances and masterful executions to the fullest, Eos marks a standout progressive (power) metal record that's packed with hooks, ideas and tantalising moments. Fans of prog metal would do good to check this highly recommendable album out as there's a lot of musical splendour to experience.
As a runner-up to my year-list I will surrender pleasurably to its synths/guitar laden generosity and excellent compositions, meanwhile following the band from a closer perspective from now on. One day I'll probably dive into the band's recent past, although that might not be anytime soon for with every spin Eos reveals new insights and manages to grow closer to me, which from memory is the exact same way in which El Niño blew me away. Sublime stuff!
Elements Of A Dream — Cry Of The Subconscious
Of all places to discover some new progressive metal material, out steps this interesting band from Iran who have released their debut in November 2021, entitled Cry Of The Subconscious.
This is an all instrumental affair and while somewhat restricted by the small arsenal of instruments at their disposal, it must be said the compositions are quite thorough and certainly appealing enough for the cursory spin or six. Their main strength lies with the very talented guitarist, Mohsen Hakimizadeh, who has a very fluid style and uses this to form the backbone of each song. While he achieves this desirable quality at the expense of shredding, he is not without that talent as he lets go on a number of songs that require it. I often prefer that format with guitar players generally as I savour melody and structure over extreme pyrotechnics and excessive showboating if it's overdone. Sure, this can often be levelled at players such as Steve Vai and others but when you consider the talent and the overall ability to deliver the complete package, one can forgive such excesses from time to time. That's not to say I can't appreciate some extreme blasts from any six string slinger but to keep that under control and in perspective, to me, results in a more polished and balanced album. That is what makes this album work so well. It is well recorded, produced and sounds fresh and modern.
One issue I have and it is a minor one really, is that just as some songs begin, they fall short in the length department. As they tend to finish just as you were expecting some more to complete the whole picture. This is particularly evident in How It Began, Hope, and Dark Reverie. Additionally, the album is less than 30 minutes in length which would be a somewhat disappointing discovery if one expected and paid for a full album. Another 2 or 3 additional or even some longer songs would have put this problem to rest. But irrespective, I am for the most part enjoying what I am hearing.
I certainly encourage Mohsen to gather some equally talented additional musicians to form the basic structure of a more regimented band, encourage some additional input into the songwriting, (i.e. using keyboards, synthesizers, flutes, other ethnic instruments), and really give the listener something to cling to. There is an amazing degree of talent on show here so it seems a pity to not offer the whole shebang. I am fully aware of how difficult it can be to compose original material of a high quality and to have the public willingly engage with what is produced. Quite often with projects such as this, which for all intents and purposes could be called a quasi solo project, maintaining the quality, variety and musical dexterity, can be a challenge. For this reason I am all for soloists exploring the logistics of engaging with other composers, musicians and even vocalists to try and achieve something even more remarkable, original and sufficiently different, to distinguish it from so much other material that fails to impress. I can see major hurdles ahead for any musician from Iran who wishes to impress the west, but I really hope the public do climb on board with bands from unfamiliar countries such as this, because the rewards will definitely follow.
The limited promotional material I have to hand, also does not reveal exactly who plays what on this album, although mention is made of other members who joined briefly only to depart soon after due to creative differences. Based upon what I hear, we have an excellent guitarist together with the contribution of bass, drums and keyboards from unknown members. Perhaps sending an original review copy of the CD including liner notes would have included such information to help establish these crucial facts and recognise the contributions any other musicians may have made to this project.
Similarities should be fairly academic and being an album sans lyrics, many guitar gods come to mind. Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Lanvall (from Edenbridge), a less countrified Tommy Emmanuel, (particularly from his excellent Determination album from 1991) and Nick Johnston who I recently discovered amongst my usual online pursuits of new material.
While there is nothing really ground-breaking here, I must give credit to those on board who, despite many cultural differences between their country and the west, they have adopted the style more akin to what we expect from many American, Scandinavian and European guitar-based metal bands. In this regard, I recall being sent a CD many years ago for review from a band from Estonia and which literally blew my socks off. The band was called X-Panda (DPRP.net has reviewed this album here) and who released what was one of the best instrumental metal albums I had ever heard at the time. Nothing since has eclipsed that marvellous record, but I imagine that band would probably struggle to achieve even a modicum of success, considering the general apathy with many of the music buying public.
Similarly, getting the word out about an amazing new band from Estonia or Iran would be a major problem tragically, despite the abundance of talent. If confronted with this same obstacle, I would find this personally disheartening as a musician and am so glad I no longer play professionally. There are just way too many aspiring musicians whose talents never reach the public's ears so hopefully, if Covid begins to be eliminated globally, these guys could be and should be welcomed to a much wider audience.
This also goes to prove that being from a country so drastically diverse from our own from a cultural perspective does not mean they can't match it with the more well known and better established names in the industry. It would be somewhat difficult to imagine what difficulties any aspiring musicians must face if trying to encapsulate everything they seek to achieve if living in a country that may not have had a long history of musical influence and variety that we from the west expect to find. Having said that however, it is pleasing to note that the label that is releasing this album, Tough Records, has a small but growing list of bands under its wing and which it hopes to bring to the world stage. I certainly hope they achieve that aim, especially with this artist as the compositional skills and playing prowess are here in spades. Nice work!
Escape Samsara Cycle — The Awakening
Escape Samsara Cycle (ESC) is an alternative progressive-rock band from Quebec city, Canada. The band traces its history back to 2015 when singer/guitarist Maxime Lajeunesse started writing and crafting the sound of the first album A Soundtrack To Your Escape that came out in 2018.
After a few local gigs and some line-up changes, the band's second album has been created in a recording studio that the band built themselves. The line-up has been complted by Julien Adam (guitar), Mario Tremblay (bass) and Eric Vidal on drums. The Awakening is an unusual blend of post-rock and ambient, with the alt-rock sounds of the 90s.
The songs vary considerably throughout the album as the band have (mainly) chosen to present the two sides of their influences in separate songs; as opposed to combining them within each composition.
The first three songs stick largely within the post-rock and ambient category. The guitar work is the star, offering a gorgeous tone and flow. The third song has been correctly chosen for the band's first ever video. Visually it is well worth watching (link below) and it is my favourite song on the album.
We then have three songs that highlight different facets of the band's 90s alt-rock heritage. These Empty Memories blends punk and alt-rock with clear nods to U2, The Levellers (for the energy and vibe) and especially REM. Passenger's Seat stays with the REM sound but with some unexpected extreme screamo vocals at the end. To Shape My Own View Of Life is pop-rock with a happy beat.
The sandwich is completed by another two slices of savoury post-rock. The first is a slow, ambient instrumental, whilst the album closer aims at the epic. Discovery is in-effect a mirror of the album as a whole. It opens and closes with an extended exercise in (instrumental) post-rock, with the alt-rock influences drifting into the vocal mid-section. It doesn't quite have the interest to warrant its 12-minute running time.
There is a lyrical theme that ties the songs together. In the band's own words this seeks to "describe the eagerness to escape from the socio-cultural constructed behaviours that blind us from our own and real purpose as a human being. Each song represents a step in a journey towards this 'release/escape' process where the ego can finally dissolve and, as individuals, find our true nature."
The guitar work, especially on the post-rock numbers is my favourite aspect of this album. The vocals are at times a little too raw for my tastes; not always hitting the right notes.
There is certainly promise here, but at the moment it strikes me as being a work in progress; a band still seeking its own style and identity. Certainly for me, the post-rock sound works better and plays to their strengths as musicians. Presenting separate songs in two very different styles on the same album does not really work. Maybe integrating their alt-rock influences into the post-rock style would be more effective?
Dusan Jevtovic - Vasil Hadzimanov — Duo
I guess the questions are quite simple. Can an album where the principal instruments are keyboards and a guitar hold the attention? Can these instruments provide enough invention and innovation to make the arrangements exciting and memorable?
When musicians of the calibre of Jevtovic and Hadzimanov are involved, the answer to both questions are of course, underlined in gold and boldly etched in silver and is an undeniable and resounding Yes!
Over the years several albums which feature these outstanding musicians have received highly recommended reviews at DPRP. There's Jevtovic's Am I Walking Wrong? from 2013, No Answer from 2017, Live At Home from 2018, and last year's If You See Me; and we have 2019's Lines In Sand by Vasil Hadžimanov Band. However, Duo marks the first time the musicians have worked together as a pair without the benefit of other musicians to fulfil their artistic aspirations.
The album contains several tunes that successfully balance conflicting characteristics such as, elegance and harshness, or harmony and discordance. For some musicians the incorporation of these ingredients into a meaningful arrangement would perhaps be a precarious undertaking. However, Jevtovic and Hadzimanov are more than up for the challenge. Their impressive interplay and ability to harness and blend such disparate components gives the album an idiosyncratic style and an impressive dynamic range which works extremely well.
This unusual blend is essential to the album's undoubted success. Therefore, much of the album has a dramatic effect on the senses and has a long-lasting adhesive effect on the memory.
Delicately pressed ivory keys dress proceedings. They flow, froth and bubble and with a flowing finesse; enchanting meditative interludes majestically evolve, rest and pool. Imaginative sprints on the fret board race snare, stretch and strain in disturbing cycles of snarling distortion.
The duo's captivating use of contrast to emphasise a melody, or a musical phrase is a very significant feature of the release. Their performance frequently has an improvisational air. Consequently, the album has an exciting vitality and a clasping pull. Escalating textures twist, twine, swirl, and spiral in shifts of tempo and volume. Recurring phrases that uncoil, develop, and evolve are also significant.
How much of the music might be improvised and how much of it might be calculated, or carefully arranged is difficult to discern?
However, I can state with certainty that the yowling and yelping of Jevtovic's guitar has ample power to shake the settee and enough gut wobbling vigour to dislodge any accumulated dust.
Many aspects of this album will be appealing for those who have a penchant for progressive instrumental music. On one level, it is possible to enjoy it on a superficial level where beautiful melodies and outstanding guitar solos will leave a sweet and sour taste and a favourable impression. Despite the limited instrumentation, delve a little deeper and many complex layers unfurl to reveal themselves. It is my suspicion that this is an album that will have a long shelf life. Certainly, even after numerous plays I am still able to appreciate and discover something unique each time I hear it. Over time, my admiration and appreciation of Duo has significantly increased.
The tension that exists between harmony and distortion, or beauty and decay are easy to identify during the outstanding Olas de Anhelo. The way in which this tension is resolved by the skill set of the duo is simply magnificent. In this piece Hadzimanov's moving piano introduction and exquisite embellishments create a backdrop that evokes a feeling of relaxed opulence and splendour. When Jevtovic's guitar calls out in response the atmosphere palpably alters. Melodic phrasing and lush piano tones that possess an attractive sense of familiarity give way to a different sort of tunefulness and feeling of dark mystery. Evocative tones ripple the senses to compliment the swing of the piano to create an unfamiliar melodic soundscape, where accepted guidelines and conventional structures no longer appear to be the norm.
The impression that Duo is a fine example of contemporary progressive music is further reinforced by the strident stringed howls and recurring motifs of the simply outstanding Coming Back From Yesterday. It is probably my favourite piece on the album. In this piece Jevtovic's electric guitar is dominant, but it also contains a rhythmically strummed acoustic guitar part that gratifyingly connects different parts of the tune. It weaves expansive patterns which become locked in a colourful undercurrent of acoustic sounds.
This tune offers a mind-altering aural journey where murmuring feelings of menace and malevolence are scorched onto a puzzle chest of twisted riffs and rhythmic pulses. The main theme refuses to fade from your consciousness long after it has ended, in much the same way as food stubbornly adheres to a worn-out Teflon pan. In short Coming Back From Yesterday is just memorable and is simply great.
Several of the other pieces also contain standout moments, for example, Mente Pura crests along with all the drama of the rip and flow of a surge tide. Space Salchicha begins as an up tempo all action head, arm and leg shaking exercise. The piano interlude in the mid-point of the piece creates a moment of reflection before frenzy is restored and the jagged action begins once again. Carried By the Wind contains some synthesiser parts that briefly caused me to recall some tones associated with Alan Gowen.
Overall, Duo is a wonderful album. Its soundscape of many colours fits well, its power to stimulate the imagination, never fails. Overtime, I have found Duo to be a perfect accompaniment for meditative late night headphone sessions, illuminated by the glow of an open fire.
I guess the question is quite simple; would I recommend Duo to others?
The answer to this question is of course, underlined in bold and carefully etched in gold and is an undeniable and resounding
Keoma — Hypotheses
Keoma is a new band to me (and DPRP.net for that matter). A Finnish, female-fronted progressive metal band, who have released three EPS since 2010 and a full-length debut album in 2016. I say female-fronted as stating a fact, most definitely not trying to hint at a certain style or sub-genre known by that name, as Keoma might be different from what you expect.
After the instrumental intro track, Mirror Symmetry has a short intro itself before the heavy grunts come breaking down your door. It's not all grunts, the balance is quite OK, with the mostly melodic singing by singer Katri Hiovain taking 90% of the singing.
Going through this album took some effort, to be honest. With my penchant for instrumental music or at least long instrumental sections, the amount of lyrics became rather overwhelming. In fact, it is enormous. The album is telling a story, and if you don't count the intros to the songs, it takes half the album before there is more than 20 seconds of an instrumental section or something that could be called a solo.
The music behind the vocals is modern progressive rock and progressive metal. Good riffing, lots of breaks and changes. A good mix of metal and melodic parts. The rhythm section is very tight, guitars riff like proper metal riffing, often to support the rhythmic part of the music. The other guitar and the keyboards offer the melodic parts. Enough to fill a wide range of frequencies and make a wall of sound, but there's a lot of air as well. Some twists and breaks are sudden, some have a lighter approach and are smooth and therefore more accessible, like Within Temptation perhaps.
With the vocals being quite high in the mix, giving them even more importance, it appears everything in the production is designed to make you focus on the singing and lyrics. Almost everything is to support the vocals. Hiovain has quite a range - from the grunts to the higher regions and in control of all of them - impressive.
Music-wise I have to think of Jinjer but a little more progressive. Because of the vocals, maybe more Infected Rain, but less aggressive. It's all very well performed and produced, and the way the lyrics fit the music must have taken a lot of effort to fit and arrange.
Overall, it was really hard for me to pay attention to the music, however, since there is so much singing going on. My melodic mind is missing soloing and longer instrumental passages, but that is just not Keoma. So, too much vocals for me, but I am sure there are a lot of prog-metal fans out there who will love this.
Magma — Eskähl 2020
A band peaking well into its fourth decade of existence is a rare sight indeed, but that's exactly what Magma did in the first decade of the new millennium with two extraordinary albums, K.A. (2004) and the 30-years-in-the-making Ëmëhntëhtt-Rê (2009), as well as some truly unforgettable live shows; expect to be amazed by the might of their Mythes et Légendes concert series which documents this vibrant period. Unfortunately, the line-up featured in most of those recordings (the best this band has ever had, if you ask me) was not to last and the band has been on a cycle of diminishing returns since the release of their last truly memorable offering (pun intended), the beautiful Félicité Thösz (2012).
Don't get me wrong, both Slag Tanz (2015) and Zëss, le jour du néant (2019) have their moments, but they're no match for their live counterparts; as for the 2015 re-imagining of their classic Rïah Sahïltaak let's just say I've always found it rather unnecessary. All this brings us to Eskähl 2020, a portrait of the current iteration of this unique band. Sadly, James McGaw is no longer with us, although his big shoes are humbly (if proudly) filled by Rudy Blas (guitar). Even bigger shoes to fill are those of bassist extraordinaire Philippe "Bubu" Bussonet but, much as he does his best, Jimmy Top's skills are just not in the same league. Bussonet's sacking, as well as Benôit Alziary's (according to vocalist Stella Vander the band got tired of his vibraphone; really?) are still a mystery to me, and Magma isn't any better without them. Besides, even though drummer Christian Vander is still a force to be reckoned with, he's starting to show his age. He's 73 after all! As for Hervé Aknin... well, let's accept I'll never warm to his vocals; he's one of the weak links in a significantly vocally-oriented set, so the richness of the Feuillebois / Destefanis / Fisichella / Guarrato / Vander choral ensemble is probably the best feature of this release.
All things considered, Magma in any shape or form is almost always guarantee of a rewarding aural experience, so there's plenty to be enjoyed here. Highlights include a compact presentation of the Theusz Hamtaahk trilogy, which flows quite nicely and avoids some unnecessary repetition in places, as well as a punchy rendition of Üdü Ẁüdü's Tröller Tanz, but Kobaïa doesn't quite work and Michel Graillier's keyboard extravaganza Auroville feels a bit out of place here.
For those on the lookout of pure unadulterated live Magma I'd refer them to other more powerful entries in their illustrious catalog such as Alhambra Live 2009 or Triton Zünd Zëlëkt Live 2011. In Eskähl 2020 the band sounds tired and disjointed in spots, so this may not their best live recording by any stretch of the imagination, although it is indeed an interesting document of their current identity and a solid addition to any Magma completist's collection.
Momentum — Uit Het Leven Gegrepen
Momentum is a band hailing from Hoorn (The Netherlands), a town some 60 kilometres away from my home. Founded in 2019 by multi-instrumentalist Marc Schouten (vocals, guitar, bass, drums), he was soon joined by Raimon Schaap (lead guitar) and Fons Flotman (keys, samples, programming, vocals). Together they initiated recording sessions for demos which eventually led to thoughts of recording their debut album. Due to Covid interference and their own learning curve at executing the complete production process it took them two years to complete and independently release it.
Upon the band mentioning influences of progressive rock and leanings towards heavier dispositions of prog metal my interest was patriotically awakened. And challenged at the same time by a peculiar twist: all lyrics are in my native language (Dutch) which makes this a rather striking effort, as to the best of my knowledge this hasn't been done before very often. Sure enough there have been instances in the very distant past (Supersister), and more recently the 2011 compilation album Progwereld Presenteert Prog NL which did see PBII, Leap Day and several others sing one song of their catalogue in their native tongue for once, but as far as prog-rock goes that's about as far as it gets.
Adding a fresh dose of alternative rock with heavy elements of metal they cautiously envisioned memories of hard-rock group Vandale (of Geitenwollensokkenrockers fame) who also sang in my country's language, but the superb immersion of keys from Flotman shatters this thought completely (and many more facets of Momentum's music which I'll get into a bit later).
Maybe here is the right time to confess that I've never been a fan of the various Dutch singing acts from Holland. Or Belgium for that matter. By prog's grace only an occasional exposure is awarded and this merely only happens when I'm accompanied by my wife who always turns on radio station 100%NL whenever we travel together by car. A station that shies away from playing music that's generally on offer on Uit Het Leven Gegrepen.
The strange uniqueness about Momentum's release it why 100%NL actually shouldn't shy away from this! For besides some influences that are definitely of prog origin I detect some overlap with the musical sceneries from Holland, some more curious and appealing than others. I'll try to make sense of it all while my English spellchecker is going slightly mad in the process. Whoever said that life of a reviewer is easy?
Album title Uit Het Leven Gegrepen, an expression literally meaning Taken From Real Life, refers to the topics of the songs that deal with every day issues and struggles and addresses hopeless existence, straitjacket uniformity, loneliness, desolation, despair and the glimmerings of hope, compassion and persistence. One aspect of the lyrics that stands out is their directness in meaning and context, given ample character through Schouten's expressive rawly edged vocals. There are a few moments his voice strays somewhat in the process, but overall his passionate performance gets the message of the songs solidly across with tangible precision.
A striking example of this is illustrated by Fak!, which can hardly be misunderstood in any language. One can sense the cooped up frustration in Schouten's voice as he demandingly raps the lyrics of being involuntary enslaved to the system. These expressive vocals are preceded by an awakening alarm clock that ignites sparkling uplifting synths to which heavy guitar adds instant aggressive compelling atmospheres with powerful riffs. Enforced by structural complexity and bombast with lush keys its bridge brings a reflective passage that shows elements of Rush, while subsequently fierce guitars and chilling keys blast onwards into a delightful Savatage inspired prog metal coda.
Het Wisselkind (The Changeling) opens with an exciting Rush vibe as well, where superb guitars and rhythmic dynamics are embraced by tantalising synths that bring great layers and depth. The embedded alternative organic roughness of the composition harbours delicious upfront driving bass lines and a sparkling solo from Flotman. So fully submerged in Rush-mode my world then suddenly turns upside down as I'm torn apart by Schouten's vocal performance which brings associations with Thé Lau from The Scene.
Somehow, the well-written Een Leven (A Life) manages to resonate with Lau from a very different perspective. This is down to the great vocal interaction of Schouten and Flotman, the latter reminding me of Bram Vermeulen's voice. In conjunction with the lyrics, the way they are constructed and some of the melodies it's Flotman colouring vocals that make surprising images of Neerlands Hoop appear (a famous Dutch comedy duo by Freek de Jonge and Bram Vermeulen), which long ago included the aforementioned Lau on guitars and vocals.
Overall, there's a different approach to the music, manoeuvring in prog influenced fashion which doesn't apply to Neerlands Hoop. Opening with symphonic elements and piano it carefully builds tension, and after a great melancholic solo ravishingly accelerates into a spicy instrumental intermezzo that's carried sublimely by thriving leads from Schaap. Gaining additional momentum as the powerful dynamics of the song build to even higher levels, the music then soars into superb symphonic metal landscapes with an unleashed Schaap ending on a high as the song comes full circle in its coda.
Obviously some associations with Dutch artists would befall upon me. The short resting-point of De Tranen (The Tears) is a refined acoustical ballad in Stef Bos / BLØF style. The winsome straight-forward rocker Ga Je Mee? (Are You Coming Along?) did exactly the same. Initially, it projects De Dijk and De Raggende Mannen, courtesy of its demanding structure and powerful upfront performance, but a sudden twist that sees Schaap power up in schoolboy uniform and share some electrifying riffs and succulent playing made it all the more interesting. No obvious prog to be found here, still rather enjoyable nonetheless.
On a regular basis, Momentum tear the roof off and lay down some exquisite vibrantly energetic rock. A mighty example can be found in the gripping Bij De Keel (By The Throat), which opens with restrained melodies alternating with powerful choruses that sparkle with metal and Hammond organ. Once Schaap lets it rip, it transforms into an intense beast of elementary rock. It gets downright dirty as Flotman takes firm control on keys. Eenzaam Bestaan (Lonely Existence) explodes with tight riffs, uplifting rock and pompous keys on a foundation of rumbling energetic bass lines and pulsating drums, and sees Schouten add some feisty grunts.
These dynamic prog-metal fireworks work brilliantly. In the brooding Red Mij (Save Me), penetrating guitar and synths bring Walzwerk and, to lesser extent, Porcupine Tree resemblances. Preceded by the tension-building scenic instrumental Ouverture, this feeling had taken hold of me before in the excellent Als Ik Nu (If I Now). Equipped with firm guitars, solid rhythms and a rousing drive, their organic sound is already revealed here, while electronic vocals add some nice Neo-prog flirtations. Bursting with ideas, tantalising melodies and an explosive stadium-rock feel this song is extremely suitable for a live presentation on a tightly packed stage.
If they find a drummer (visit their website for applications!) then hopefully this will happen one day, although for the moment they remain a studio project. Here's however hoping a recruit will show up for closing track Morgen Komt Het Licht (Tomorrow The Light Comes) would be the perfect ending to their set (as it is on the album). Its careful opening thundering into a wall of intense guitars is overwhelming, and with layered keys surrounded by energetic melancholic playing and a passionate delivery by Schouten, it adds a wonderful finale to a fantastic debut album that manages to surprise on many levels.
Positively surprised, this fine debut provides many points of reference to build upon. In light of arrangements and production there is still some work to be done, although I do hope that improvements in this field will keep the much-appreciated organic side of their music intact. Musically it shows promise, originality and signs of uniqueness, some of which obviously imprinted by the native aspect of the lyrics which miraculously work and turn out to be an excellent fit.
If 100%NL decided to broadcast Momentum, which in light of the Dutch artists mentioned within this review could be the case (those who bear no recognition whatsoever to strangers to my spoken language), I would certainly tune in more often. Can't wait to see what happens when I slip the CD in my car stereo and go for a drive with my wife...
Shamblemaths — Shamblemaths 2
When an album evokes superficial comparisons with the style and work of artists as diverse as Änglagård, Van Der Graaf Generator and even briefly Jan Garbarek, you just know that overtime it is going to have many more interesting facets to discover and explore.
Shamblemath's self-titled debut album was one of my favourite releases of 2016. Their second album has taken five years to come to fruition.
And the wait has been well worth it!
The current line-up of Shamblemaths is Simen Å. Ellingsen (soprano/alto/tenor/baritone sax, guitar, vocals, recorder, sundry implements) and Ingvald A. Vassbø (drums, xylophone). The duo is assisted by several guest performers. Their input certainly helps to provide a shifting and varied palette of sounds. Ellingsen is the main composer.
When compared to the band's previous effort Shamblemaths 2 offers a different set of textures, tones and timbres, but is no less successful because of this. Their first release gained many plaudits. It is generally considered to be a fine example of modern prog. It drew upon several of the classic sounds and styles from the past that are often associated with this genre.
Over the course of that release, they channelled such diverse bands as VDGG, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Magma, ELP, Hatfield and the North and more modern influences such as Porcupine Tree. However, Shamblemaths unceremoniously shook these recognisable ingredients about. They threw them into a magical cauldron of spinning ideas to create something that in the end was familiar, but at the same time manged to sound totally unique.
Their second release is arguably even better; it certainly draws less narrowly from some traditional stylistic nuances of prog, but rather incorporates aspects that are truly unique, inventive and innovative to make it a truly progressive experience. In Shamblemaths 2 there are references to classical music, traditional tunes, prog, jazz and many other things that lurk coyly beneath the surface.
Overall, it is a darker and even more evocative than its predecessor. It is certainly much less accessible. Avant moments hold hands with crunchy riffs. With a squeezed flick of the wrist, muscular passages tighten the music's pulsating grip. Pastoral moments scented with the aroma of Nordic pine, coexist and contrast with cacophonous interludes that portray something akin to the chaos and pungent tang of aspects of urban life.
There are instances when the proceedings are extremely raucous. On these occasions, the music has a relentless caustic grip. Several tunes feature a burning mesh of instruments bound together and propelled by the low-end vibrations of a chest rippling bass. At times this unrelenting framework threatens to rattle the ear lobes a tad too much. Thankfully, torso shaking, mind-altering moments never outstay their welcome. Consequently, there are many contrasts of tempo, volume and style to balance things out.
Thunderous sections of blazing malevolence are resolved and are frequently contrasted with delicate passages which utilise the fragility and emotional pull of the human voice. The clever use of the female voice works well throughout the release and on occasions provides the twisted complexity of the music with accessible points of entry. In this respect, nowhere is this better illustrated than by Marianne Lønstad's rich vocal performance in the duo vocal parts of The River.
Similarly, the lengthy Lat Kvar Jordisk Skapning Teia suite provides many opportunities for a range of vocal styles to be utilised. These skilfully create an unforgettable atmosphere, or project an air of innocence, or extend the dynamic range of a section of the piece. They are frequently easy on the ear and are altogether simply enthralling.
The trembling ethereal vocal tones and extended range of Pita Samset in part 5 plays a vital role in that section of the suite. Anna Gaustad Nistad's contribution in Lat Kvar Jordisk Skapning Teia pts 6-8 is captivating. However, perhaps the most evocative vocals are provided by the mostly sparsely accompanied singing of fourteen-year-old Anna Gaustad Nistad in the first part of the suite, and by 6-year-old Eivor Å. Ellingsenin the last part of the suite.
All these different vocal styles and approaches complement the other instruments during the suite, to add an extra dimension. They are an integral part of the composition's overall and undoubted success. Apart from the use of female vocals, the suite is also memorable because of its sheer scope and ambition. It is probably the most impressive composition on the album and is an example of the large range of progressive ideas that Shamblemaths can bring to their art.
Much about Lat Kvar Jordisk Skapning Teia recalled the work of Änglagård; there were frequent intervals where light and shade had a part to play and the wonderful use of volume only served to emphasise how skilfully the band were able to alter the mood or direction of the piece.
The full bloodied passages were unforgiving and much of the mood shifting within the suite occurs as a result of Paolo Botta's array of keyboard sounds. Botta is perhaps best known for his work with Yugen. His contribution to the album and impact upon the atmosphere created cannot be overstated. Simen Å. Ellingsen's colourful use of soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones adds an extra set of tones with tints of menace and brushstrokes of beauty when the need arises.
However, to pick out a few performers would do a disservice to the others for all the instrumentalists involved make magnificent contributions.
Everything fits together well; the sound quality is excellent. The compositions have great depth and although there is no doubt that much of the album can present a challenge, it is nevertheless a rewarding experience. This is an album that will no doubt, continue to entertain and surprise for many years to come.
After listening to Shamblemaths 2 on numerous occasions I am not entirely certain whether it will fully appeal to everybody who enjoyed some familiar traits of their first album.
Shamblemaths 2 is frequently, hard hitting and is difficult to categorise. More than anything else, it is a bold and adventurous album that demands the listeners full attention. Therefore, if you want to experience something that evokes aspects of the unpredictable style of Änglagård, yet still has a unique cutting contemporary progressive edge, then look no further.
Shamblemaths 2 certainly fits the bill.