Album Reviews

Issue 2022-006

The Legacy Pilots — The Penrose Triangle

Germany
2021
56:00
The Legacy Pilots - The Penrose Triangle
Better Days (4:55), Ghosts Of The Ocean (4:55), Heaven Must Know (5:50), Mad Kings (5:34), As Dominos Fall (6:19), Coast Cards (5:52), Shadowplay (5:08), A Change of Mind (10:11), A Compendium Of Life (9:39)
9
Jan Buddenberg

You instinctively know that you're in trouble when with each spin of an album you're gently reminded to do a "must-buy-more" on Bandcamp. This has happened with some regularity these past few years and The Penrose Triangle by Legacy Pilots is the most recent one that has massaged me into securing previous albums.

The reasons are plenty, one of which is that these are almost sold out, but the most significant one is the incredibly beautiful music that it captures. It hits all the right spots on many levels, some of which have already been described in Stefan Hennig's review of their second album Aviation.

In the same way as Stefan, I too had not heard of independent superconductor Frank Us (keys, guitars, lead and background vocals, bass). One glance at the other well-known participants quickly filled my inner sound-system with high anticipation. Flown in from around the globe are Marco Minneman (The Aristocrats, Whatnot), Todd Sucherman (Styx), John Mitchell (It Bites, Lonely Robot), Eric Gillette (NMB, Trytan), Jake Livgren (Proto-Kaw and nephew to Kerry Livgren of Kansas fame) and Pete Trewavas and Steve Rothery from Marillion; to name but a few.

And some of these musicians exceeded my expectations especially the stunning performance of Sucherman, who over the four tracks he's involved in, gives a level of warmth, feel, grooving subtlety and elegant precision that's simply amazing, especially in The Compendium Of Life.

Minneman's demanding contributions are not far behind, expressing more directness and showcasing a tightly administered drive. Top marks for Frank Us' clear vision, in choosing who plays what on which track.

The first two compositions are co-written by Us and Mitchell and the catchy pop melodies and a dash of uplifting New Wave, instantly targets towards It Bites. The crystalline sound splashes right out of the boxes and with the rhythmic tightness of Minneman and Lars Slowak (bass), one is fully embraced by a delicate summer breeze. Ghosts Of The Ocean then soars through a variety of carefully arranged symphonic atmospheres and is beautifully sung by Mitchell. With a wonderful solo by Rothery, this is precisely the sort of music that sees me going back for more.

A change of drummers to Sucherman sees a change of pace in Heaven Must Know, navigating in smooth jazz and featuring standout bass play and subdued instrumentation. A groovy middle section swings endlessly with twinkles of Genesis and Yes, before Rothery lays down a majestic solo in best Season's End tradition.

Coast Cards sees smooth operator Us firmly steer us into sultry jazz realms, whilst vocalist Liza adds an emotional performance reminiscent to Sade. Surrounded by soulful play and radiant flashes of Toto, the composition grows in intensity before finally lands in an oasis of emotive guitars.

In the entertaining mood-swinging variety of Shadowplay everyone from the squad gets their chance to shine their artistic flair, creating a colourful collage in the process. Sung by Finally George it fuses solid rock and sparkling keyboards into an excellent circling jazz/prog formation. As Dominos Fall generates equally impressive milestones in which symphonic layers of synth take a deep bow to Genesis and clear traces of honorary salutes are dropped to E.L.P..

The excellent Mad Kings is when things get electric, introducing pomp rock leanings and AOR divinities as the song manoeuvres gracefully through refrains and choruses under powerful guidance from Jake Livgren's compelling vocals. Fans of Styx, Kansas and AD will have no complaints whatsoever here. It's an absolute album highlight.

A Change Of Mind's atmospheric overture, reminiscent to Alan Parsons, gradually builds tension and momentum through funky play and refined guitar. The composition sails in infectious melodies and strong vocals, before gliding into planes of peaceful piano. Its climax crosses Transatlantic oceans of beauty.

The phenomenal instrumental A Compendium Of Life is so unbelievably attractive that there isn't enough ink in the world to do it justice. A wonderful journey around the world of prog in ten spectacular minutes. This immaculately comprehensive magical composition alone is worth the price of a flight ticket, but please don't take my enthusiastic word for it and check out the video to get a glimpse of its magnificence.

These past few years have been amazing for progressive rock, and we've been blessed with many memorable releases. Among those The Penrose Triangle is a truly remarkable journey. With every musician pulling out all the stops, it ticks many of my musically-desired boxes.

On a final note the release of The Penrose Triangle coincides with the 50th anniversary of ELP's Tarkus and to commemorate that masterpiece there's an Easter Egg somewhere to be found on the album. I'm obligated to say I haven't found it yet. All the more reason to refuel and take another flight with this gem of an album.

Andrew Roussak — Crossing The Line

Germany
2021
55:35
Andrew Roussak - Crossing The Line
Invisible Killer (9:21), Crossing The Line (7:26), Against The Tide (6:48), Nation For Sale (6:20), Daily Lies (6:35), Just One Life Is Not Enough (7:27), Suite En La Gavotte Et Six Doubles (11:08)
8
Jan Buddenberg

Russia-born Andrew Roussak, since 2001 residing in Germany, is a classically-trained pianist. With Crossing The Line he presents his fifth solo album. Some of his previous engagements involve prog-metal outfit Dorian Opera while other laurels include winning the German Pop and Rock Award as best keyboard player/instrumental-soloist in 2006 and winning an online competition carried out by The Tangent, contributing this part on their 2011 COMM release.

Over the years his influences have included artists like Keith Emerson, Jon Lord and Rick Wakeman. Virtuous patriarchs that he can rival on any given day as far as this new keyboard-dominated album is concerned. To take away any kind of doubt that keys are present, the artwork pictures Roussak standing behind his keyboards as the package unfolds, accompanied by the brightly visible word 'Hammond'. In short, lovers of this instrument can hereby send out invitations to like-minded friends and start getting their comfy chairs ready to enjoy an extravaganza of delightful escapades on said instrument.

And thankfully it's not all keys, for Roussak adds a few exciting elements to his adventurous compositions. This makes me a lucky man, for as much as I like to hear some E.L.P. once in while (mostly Tarkus) I'm often quickly strayed by too much key-indulgence. There are however a few exceptions to this 'rule' and in this arena Roussak shows delightful overlap with Triumvirat, Cairo (from USA) and Japanese heroes Gerard and their native side-kick Deja-Vu. Each of these are heavily inspired by Emerson and Co, whereby the American/Japanese varieties add many a twist, bombast and elements of heavy prog to their spectrum.

One has to take into account though, that these bands showed real teamwork and existed out of several very technical and skilled musicians, each adding their distinct versatility to the music and compositions. This is something surpassed by Roussak, for he actually handles/programs every single instrument himself, in the meantime showcasing his experience in arranging, recording, producing, mixing and mastering. An impressive achievement that pays off with an, at times, overwhelming and highly enjoyable, 70s-influenced album filled with rock and prog.

To get the least successful element out of the way before we get to all the tantalising stuff, a short addressing to Roussak's vocals is in order. These are solidly stable and adequately suitable for the music and the various atmospheres they breath within, yet their occasional monotonous and limited range might bring feelings of discomfort. However, flexed within these borders Roussak applies them to the fullest of his capacity and bends his vocal range somewhere between Janos Kabor of Omega (Invisible Killer) and Brad Love of Aviary (Just One Life Is Never Enough), while distinct impressions of Derek Shulman (Gentle Giant) arise in the odd-signature oasis of Daily Lies. Add to this vocal lines reminiscent to Ayreon choirs and perfectly arranged vocal harmonies sprinkled through the songs that feature vocals, and even this 'smallest' of instruments shows an infinite array of faces.

Musically there is plenty of variety. Opener Invisible Killer, dedicated to all hospital staff and volunteers who have stood in the front line of Covid-19, is a brilliant illustration.

Opening in symphonic atmospheres it quickly soars into pompous bombast and blistering play, after which carefully arranged layers of piano and keys lead into a vocal section and some elegant melodies, before the chorus introduces further pomp deliciousness. The song gains momentum when Roussak goes all-out on key-dominated prog, played with a sparkling frivolity and flair. Changing to a short classical piano recital, the composition adds a final blast of Deja-Vu (the band) before it memorably settles in synth fireworks.

The effective fluency of Roussak's compositions sees a great example in the subsequent instrumental Crossing The Line, which is structured along the same lines as the previously mentioned Japanese acts. Opening with classic melodies on piano, it bursts open into prog-pomp and incorporates elements of rock originating from solid guitar riffs and tight rhythmic drums. With upfront keys alternating to background symphonic melodies, the song manoeuvres through a series of tantalising passages surrounded by a vast gamma of synths.

With gushes of riffs and variety in vocals, Against The tide brings a light touch of Saga, while the musical constructions slowly take on epic forms that lean towards mild prog-metal as it slowly builds into a beautiful guitar passage. Again very varied, this song conceals a wealth of ideas and creativity, in which the message about freedom of speech and democracy is perfectly reflected by the different atmospheric moods and lyrics.

Intricately more complex, Nation For Sale then adds a short Alan Parsons touch and ups the ingenious ante as reflective parts are embraced by sensitive bass, and jazzy improvisations dive into a wealth of different key flourishes.

Daily Lies shows yet another side of Roussak's strong compositional skills and enters the aforementioned Gentle Giant realm. Just One Life Is Not Enough denotes Roussak's final self-penned composition. Through shards of Styx and pomp, it is another miniature roller-coaster ride through dynamic melodies and acoustic refinement.

Finally, it's Roussak's modernised version of Suite En La Gavotte Et Six Doubles, a song dating back to 1728 and originality written solely for harpsichord by Jean-Philippe Rameau. Divided into six parts Roussak manages to surprise with a franchise of excellent interpretations within each section. Special mention to the dizzying finale in which Roussak picks up the proverbial gloves one final time and delivers a big blow of rhythmic entanglements that burst at the seams with whirlwinds of modern prog oozing Deep Purple and TSO. A very satisfying finale to an outstanding record.

In conclusion Crossing The Lines knows no boundaries and lavishly expands and surpasses upon progressive greats likes of Emerson, Wakeman and contemporary artists like Erik Norlander and Jordan Rudess.

Those who have a thirst/craving/enthusiasm/fetish/lust/addiction (no need to take your pick) for astonishingly well-executed, eclectic music that thrives on keyboarding wizardry should definitely check this album out. A highly recommendable album and one that makes me look forward to Roussak's future endeavours.

Bart Schwertmann — Theater Of Grief

Netherlands
2021
40:57
Bart Schwertmann - Theater Of Grief
Panic Mode (3:43), Antelope (3:48), So Tired (3:59), Burning Down (3:47), There's A Place (4:37), Supernatural Forces (6:23), Rainbow (4:03), Can You Save Me (6:10), No One Else Can (4:36)
9
Greg Cummins

Anyone who has followed the excellent Dutch band, Kayak for the last few years might be familiar with the name, Bart Schwertmann who contributed so much to Kayak's Seventeen album (2018) together with their more recent release in 2021 called Out Of This World.

To say Bart has a strong voice is not doing the man any justice at all. We are talking about a singer with an excellent set of pipes and a delivery that could match the best in the business. Throughout this album, his dynamic range and depth-of-expression is something to really admire on the livelier songs, while the emotion he can display on those quieter tracks is also extremely pleasing to the ears.

Bart has been in the music industry for many years and began his progressive rock foray with his first band called Galaxy. Taking singing lessons at a young age and then developing that talent, has enabled him to be sought as a backing singer for many international artists. More recently he was engaged as the vocalist for The Samurai Of Prog's excellent release The Lady And The Lion.

While cogitating upon his next musical move, Bart was invited to audition as the lead singer with Kayak. That move has finally given them the best vocalist they have ever had.

Hearing this man sing with seven of his own self-penned songs, along with two co-written by fellow producer and musician Niels Lingbeek, has really been a treat as not many vocalists have as much penetration as Bart. His voice is crystal clear, deep, never faltering nor offering a hint that he won't reach the higher registers. He is without doubt one of the finest vocalists I have heard for many years and I am hard-pressed to think of anyone better from the more recent bands I listen to these days. Perhaps, Jean Pageau from Mystery could be considered on a par with Bart but there's nothing much to separate them really. Anyone lucky enough to have seen that band perform live in Zoetermeer, Netherlands in November 2018 will know what I mean. Possibly Jean Pageau might have the emotional edge while Bart has the power to ignite a bonfire.

Keeping things within the Kayak family, Bart is assisted by some of his fellow band mates: Ton Scherpenzeel, Kristoffer Gildenlow, Niels Lingbeek, Marcel Singor, and Hans Eijkenaar, each making various instrumental contributions on different tracks.

As soon as I started playing the first song, I knew I was in for a bit of a treat as I am a huge Kayak fan and appreciated his earlier efforts with those last two albums. Panic Mode is more of a song you might hear at a Bon Jovi concert with its crunchy guitar backdrop interspersed with Bart's powerful voice reigning supreme. While this song might be a bit heavier than what one expects from Kayak, this wish-list project has been on Bart's agenda since Covid hit the music industry, so it is great to see that this impressive body of work has finally seen the light of day.

So Tired features probably the most powerful vocals on the whole album. If truth be told, they almost overpower proceedings as it's a bit hard to distinguish some other instruments. The keyboards are held back in the mix and despite detecting a pretty good suite of notes, I am at a loss as to be able to determine exactly what brand of instrument is being used.

Burning Down is full of crunch from the guitars and is propelled perfectly by the bass and drums where both play in perfect unison. Insane organ and lead guitar bring to mind some heavier tracks by Uriah Heep and which pays respect to some original gods from the 70s.

Things are brought back to earth with There's A Place, for a short interval. It's on this song you can appreciate the multi-part harmonies a little better. Supernatural Forces has a quirky, sitar-infused intro and outro which gives a subtle, oriental feel to the song but it really opens up into a classic power / symphonic metal masterpiece that is probably one of the better songs on the album.

Rainbow is a simple ballad that showcases the emotive quality of Bart's voice. No One Else Can follows in a somewhat similar fashion and is the perfect song to close this rather special album.

There are several elements to this album that gather influences from much of the music Bart has been exposed to over his career. While mainly a stadium rock style of record, with a huge vocal presence, there are snippets of progressive rock here and there that do wonders for me, as that has always been my preferred style for more decades that I care to admit.

The songs are all really well composed, and while probably not as instantly accessible as more radio-friendly material can be, that is obviously not what Bart hopes to achieve with this project. He is cementing his name as a supreme vocalist with a huge variety of styles that simply shine on every track on this album. I just hope that Kayak manage to keep him as their vocalist for well into the future. He really is a brilliant singer and so deserving of all the accolades that may come his way. Well done!

Soup — Visions

Norway
2021
40:00
Soup - Visions
Burning Bridges (15:02), Crystalline (7:02) Skins Pt. 1 (1:18), Kingdom Of Color (9:11), Skins Pt. 2-3 (7:23)
6
Andy Read

"If Godspeed You! Black Emperor ventured into jazz, hired Richard Wright as producer and had it all mixed down to cassette by a stressed-out Brian Eno."

That's the self-description of this new offering from these Norwegian melancholies with a culinary title.

Whilst having very few of those attributes, the end result does manage to be as horrible as that description sounds. Visions has walked away with the trophy for my most disappointing album of 2021.

For those new to the band, Soup was founded in 2004 by Trondheim-based multi-instrumentalist Erlend Viken. The first album, Children Of E.L.B. was essentially a solo effort. A band was formed for live shows but the members parted ways in 2011.

I first came across Soup when I reviewed their impressive second album, The Beauty Of Our Youth in 2013. Four years later, they released Remedies (with its eye-catching cover). A live album (Live Cuts) followed the tour that followed.

Visions is clearly a stab at doing something a little different. Produced by the band themselves with the stated aim of "countering the ongoing battle for loudness and Hi-Fi", they describe the album as: "Melancholic, intimate and brutal."

For the most part, there remains a Scandie, Floydian melancholy from their previous albums. It is certainly intimate, in a minimalistic sense. "Brutal" is an adjective that one could use, but perhaps not in the sense that that band intended. I don't really hear much in the way of a Godspeed post-rock. Nothing is what I'd call jazz.

There are parts of some songs that hold interest, and I do still like the singer's voice. The problems lie in the cassette-quality production/mixing/mastering and the fact that the songs are little more than a pastiche of half-formed ideas; none of which voyage anywhere of interest.

The 15-minute opener is more of a series of stand-alone parts rather than the more difficult-to-deliver long-song format where ideas come and go, evolve and overlap. There is a weird distortion throughout (utilised elsewhere too) that makes it hard to listen to.

Crystalline is seven minutes of my life that I shall never get back. The same phrase is repeated over and over again amidst an orchestral blur of noise, distortion and fuzz. Skins Part 1 adds another 78 wasted seconds to that total. Just some twinkling and noodling on a piano.

Why Part 1 is separated from the other parts is unclear. sIt does not act as an intro to Kingdom Of Color, as that begins in a different vein. An acoustic guitar slowly builds over a repetitive pattern. Then it just stops for a few seconds, before a totally different acoustic guitar idea begins. More sways of orchestra follow (clearer this time) with flurries of flute. It carries on at the same tempo and rhythm until a twinkling piano ending.

Skins 2 is pretty much voice with some vaguely-interesting and differing instrumentation. But again it is one-paced and one-dimensional. Skins 3 is little more than a guitar solo over a Floydian ambience. And that is it.

Once again the band's long-time collaborator Lasse Hoile is behind the striking cover photo. The album has been released in two "exquisitely coloured" vinyl versions and a three-panel digi-sleeve. One version of the vinyl includes an extra 12", with extra songs. You can make up your own minds from the Soup Bandcamp page.

Various Artists — Animals Reimagined

various
2021
42:28
Various Artists - Animals Reimagined
Pigs On The Wing (Part 1) (1:53), Dogs (16:59), Pigs (Three Different Ones) (11:33), Sheep (10:24), Pigs On The Wing (Part 2) (1:38)
5
Calum Gibson

A band that needs little introduction, Pink Floyd have been a cornerstone of prog rock for many decades, with classic albums such as Wish You Were Here and Echoes among their many achievements. However, shortly after I started listening (thanks to my parents) as a young teen, I discovered their Animals album. It felt, to me, like the black sheep of their catalogue, but to me, it was also a standout for brilliance and really helped propel me into the more political and angrier side of prog (not to mention my love for 10+ minute songs).

This features a wide variety of talented musicians covering that very album. Anyway, for completists, here is the full list of artists appearing on each track. Firstly on Pigs On The Wing (Part 1) we have Nick van Eede (Cutting Crew) and Martin Barre (Jethro Tull). On Dogs there is Graham Bonnet (Rainbow), Vinnie Moore (UFO), Kasim Sulton (Utopia), Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), and Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson).

Then for Pigs (Three Different Ones) the line-up is James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Al Di Meola, Joe Bouchard (Blue Öyster Cult), Patrick Moraz (Yes, The Moody Blues), and Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra). For Sheep the cast is Arthur Brown, Rick Wakeman (Yes), Jan Akkerman (Focus), David J. (Bauhaus), and Carmine Appice (Cactus/Vanilla Fudge). Finally the team for Pigs On The Wing (Part 2) is Jon Davison (Yes), Albert Lee, and Billy Sherwood (Yes);

Certainly an impressive selection of artists. Let's see how these people tackle my favourite Floyd LP.

My first reaction is the production feels too clean, which unfortunately has taken some emotional side of Pigs On The Wing (Part 1) away. Nothing wrong with it in terms of technicality, but it sounds too clean for my taste.

From the intro, we leap into the story of the police force of the pigs (the album is a reference to Animal Farm and discusses social class). Dogs fares better than the opener but has the let-down of vocals (Graham Bonnet) not quite reaching the same standard as Gilmour and feeling a tad forced. The other issue here is that Jordan Rudess has stamped his mark for “fret wankery” keyboard solos. He is too fast for this sort of track and makes it sound more like a Dream Theater one than how it should be. Guitar-wise (Vinnie Moore) however, it feels like a good updating of Gilmour's. Not too manic, but smooth with a few nice new touches in it.

And now to decide if I still like LaBrie or not. Pigs (Three Different Ones) is my favourite track due to the anger and tension, without it being aggressive. It starts off well, retaining that sense of foreboding. Although, LaBrie's opening, sounds more like “bug mun, pug muhn”, but I've heard him do worse. From there on, he brings more control and largely does a good job, although many words are pronounced with gaps (“bro-ken”, “fuc-ked” etc). Guitar and bass-wise, Al Di Meola and Joe Bouchard do a good job of recreating the original sound and feel, with some added zazz thrown into the leads. Moraz adds some additional licks on the keys and shows up Rudess with his ability to add speed, without it being detrimental. Cobham as well keeps the pace and tautness of the track in place with his impeccable stick work.

Sheep tells the tale of the masses rising up and striking down their Pig like overlords with the use of karate. However, the second that Arthur Brown kicks in with the vocals, the song starts to fail. Musically all the rock elements are there, and it keeps close to the original. But vocally, Brown sadly lacks the intensity or speed or clarity for this. Carmine Appice is right at home with a track like this, happily keeping the energy going behind the drums, while Jan Akkerman shows off his jazz chops on the guitar. David J unfortunately feels a bit let down here as the original fares well with its bass lines, but it feels a bit lost in the mix on this one. Rick Wakeman however does a stellar job on the keys, bringing that old-school prog sound to complete the album.

And finally, part two of Pigs On The Wing. Sadly, this suffers the same issues as the opener with it all sounding too polished musically. However, Jon Davison does a wonderful job on the vocals and evens out the score for this.

The album is okay but not spectacular. It is largely let down I feel by the vocals on Sheep, but manages to clinch defeat from the jaws of victory. It is certainly interesting to listen to and hear the covers, but I would maybe pass on further listens. It has moments of brilliance, but more often than not it falls flat. Technically little wrong, but little right either.

Vienna Circle — Secrets Of The Rising Sun

UK
2021
44:12
Vienna Circle - Secrets Of The Rising Sun
Golden Sunset Roulette (10:04), Ghost Town Hideaway (2:21), Carnival (2:04), That Night (4:31), Rivers (3:03), Sunset Revolver (5:00), Fly Lady Fly (5:00), Secrets Of The Rising Sun (5:00), Canyons (7:09)
8
Martin Burns

Originally Vienna Circle was a duo consisting of brothers Jack and Paul Davis. This new album, Secrets Of The Rising Sun, sees the good-natured departure of Jack. So leaving all instrument duties and most vocals in Paul's more-than-capable hands. On this release he is joined by previous collaborators Alex Micklewright on drums, and Gemma Davis on additional vocals.

Vienna Circle's Secrets Of The Rising Sun is their third album following on from 2008's White Clouds and 2013's Silhoutte Moon, both of which received recommended ratings.

The change in line-up has modified Vienna Circle's approach slightly, to a more guitar-led, melodic neo-prog, that also has heavier sections. This is seen immediately with the opening track Golden Sunset Roulette, where a psychedelia-infused central song section, with Gemma Davis' vocals melding well with Paul's high tenor, is bookended by stuttering Hammond, guitar and punchy drums sections. The guitar playing leads the melody in the main, but other tones from the keyboards, especially Hammond organ, and bass end-up being equally important on subsequent listens.

Vienna Circle, promo photo

The album moves between short instrumental miniatures (short in prog terms anyway) and pop-prog songs with a 10cc-edge to them. Of the instrumentals there is a subtle Bach feel to Ghost Town Hideaway's Hammond and synth lines. A Spanish party setting infuses Carnival but still manages a nod to classic Genesis.

Rivers meanders in an engaging Floyd-ian way. The heaviness evident in the opening track makes a return on Sunset Revolver. This track flies along, taking the stuttering Hammond, guitar licks of the opener, and developing it brilliantly.

On the songs, Paul Davis has a way with an ear-worm melody, but he knows how to dress them in engaging arrangements, so they never outstay their welcome. There is the pop-prog gem That Night, with Gemma Davis' lovely vocal and some pin-point guitar. There is a Mostly Autumn feel to the more acoustic setting of Fly Lady Fly, and its guitar solo is terrific. The title track sees a move into a prog-blues that shows what would result if Robin Trower jammed with 10cc. The album closes with a gentle instrumental ballad that builds in intensity. A fine end to a good album.

Vienna Circle's Secrets Of The Rising Sun shares a sound world with the likes of Pendragon and John Mitchell's Lonely Robot project, as well as the bands mentioned in the review. Well worth checking out.

Album Reviews