Blind Tendril — α (alpha)
Born in Thessaloniki, Greece back in 2006 and reincarnated in Devon, England a few years ago, this anglo-Greek quartet features Dimitris Samaras (vocals and guitar), Jonny Menary (guitar), Rob Ellis (bass) and Cameron Eadie on drums. Their debut album α (alpha) features 11 tracks.
The stomping riff that opens Dead Tree reminds me of Green Carnation, before the vocals give more of a Katatonia vibe. The hook is strong, whilst the instrumental break from the mid-point is inventive and adds a fitting eastern flavour. There are bits here that should appeal to anyone who enjoys stoner, psyche, grunge and alt-metal with a melancholic, folky edge and just a little hint of indie.
And that is the template employed on the ten tracks that follow. The focus is on a groove and swagger that blends Soundgarden, Faith No More and Amorphis with fuzzy guitars and distorted filters to the fore. However there is something a little more thoughtful and inspired at work here.
What this quartet have set out to do, is to integrate and create a feast of sounds, instruments and techniques from a wider sonic and world palette. Thelevi shakers, tambourines, bongos, cowbells, hand twist drums, acoustic guitars, piano and synths come together, enhancing the character of each track, offering a unique labyrinth of sounds and colours. The extended playing time of four of these tracks, allows the band to stretch-out their compositional skills to good effect.
On top of this, Dimitris Samaras employs a wide variety of vocal elements from harmonies and polyphonic vocal techniques, to heavier, raspy male vocals and ethereal female vocals. The multi-talented Björn Strid (Soilwork, The Night Flight Orchestra) adds yet another style on Hanging By A Thread.
A word of praise also for the fabulous cover image and the superb packaging for the 6-panel CD version. The fact that each one ordered comes in fully-recycled packaging is a move that I hope more bands will follow. Leading by example. Small steps, and all that!!
The weakness is in the song-writing. In short, this album needs more tracks like the previously praised opener, the I-can't-get-this-melody-out-of-my-head Νόστος (Nóstos), the freewheeling Hanging By A Thread and my favourite track, the Tool-esque Σώμα (Sóma). While I can admire the ambition in the blending of styles elsewhere, the songs don't stick in my head, despite repeat listens. The album would benefit from being about 15 minutes and two songs lighter.
That aside, this is a more-than-impressive debut album that heralds much promise for a bright future ahead. One to watch.
Breaths — Though Life Has Turned Out Nothing Like I Imagined, It Is Far Better Than I Could Have Dreamt
Breaths is a one-man project from Richmond, VA, combining elements of doom, black and assorted “gaze” and “post” elements of metal. Having released Lined In Silver in early 2021, he has returned less than a year later to bring Though Life… to us all. As the mere mention of doom and black metal in the same sentence gets me buzzing, I was eager for this one.
The instant The Elders kicks in I am in love. Heavy, yet melodic and not overbearing, riffs and drums cut through with anguished screams, sounding a bit like if Aoria mixed with Alcest. Considering everything (all mixing, recording, instruments, writing etc) is done by Jason Roberts, this is already an impressive feat. The Patriarch brings in a slightly more “dreampop” side, with lighter notes and ethereal cleans over the top. Reminding me again of Alcest, but in their Shelter era. But still maintains that shoegaze side to it, until the doomy (almost djent) crushing riff comes in towards the end.
The halfway point of The Tormented lives up to its name. Heavy and discordant riffs mixed with painful cleans and pained screams backed by a solid rhythm of purposeful and almost frantic drumming bringing it all together. The black metal influences really come to the fore in The Empty, with chugging rhythms and uneasy tremolos throughout creating a sense of dream and despair.
And then we come to the penultimate track, The Matriarch. Here we see the culmination of the black-gaze and proggy elements coming together in melody and emotions. Heavy, but soft and emotional in all the right places.
I admit, The Wayward caught me off guard with its electronic drums and poppy but depressing sound. But like the lyrics, going from happily nostalgic to the painful memories, the music matches this. Heavier guitars kick in with angry and hurt screams and cleans to get all the emotions out.
If I had to describe the music, I would probably class it as black-gaze. But it is much more than that, with the elements of doom and post-hardcore in it as well. It really mixes things up in an interesting and delicious way. For the black-gaze genre, I'd say this one will be a classic in it's time.
If you like Alcest, Deafheaven, CROWN or Aoria then absolutely listen to this and check out the previous album as well.
Daniel Gauthier — Altitude 16425
Daniel Gauthier is a Canadian musician whose name I have seen before, but I can't recall the connection to any of his music. That issue has been put to rest as I now have two of his releases to review. The album under review is supposed to be his most symphonic so let's see what lies beneath.
Accompanying Daniel (acoustic & electric guitars, bass, keyboards, vocals) is Bruno Dubé (drums & percussion) with Sabrina Tardif and Carole-Anne Lavoie (backing vocals). For the most part the music on his most recent album is relatively soft and melodically symphonic but there are only a few sections where the tempo increases to any degree. That can quickly be detected on the 4th track, Derriere le masque where I was slightly reminded of the opening song on PFM's Chocolate Kings album. That quickly came to a halt when the song totally changed direction so all similarities were lost from then on.
I must confess that the French language is not my favourite as I often find the accents and inflections in the male voice can be somewhat overemphasized compared to what we hear down under. That said, I own a few albums whose vocalists sing in that tongue, (Dan Ar Braz, Vital Duo, Malicorne, Shylock, Atoll, Ange, Pulsar, XII Alfonso, Sandrose, Asia Minor, Cafeine, Carpe Diem, Mona Lisa, Seven Reizh, Nemo along with many French Canadian singers and bands). I don't seem to have too many issues enjoying the music from these other artists but find this album slightly underwhelming. Possibly it's male French singing in general as the female vocalists on this album certainly add considerable weight and variety to what is being presented. Daniel's voice while not totally unpleasant, is certainly not that strong which becomes evident on some tracks.
Musically, everything is firmly in place and the compositions are of a pretty high standard but for some reason, nothing seems to be really sticking for me. The songs contain plenty of variety so that is not the issue. I can only put it down to there being too few memorable moments among the 7 tracks compiled here. The softer sections are probably too soft while when some crunch is called for, it is only very brief and not all that engaging or dynamic. Some reviewers of Daniel's music have suggested an influence from Yes but I can really only detect that slightly on the few tracks where the bass guitar predominates. There are also a few references to Steve Howe's symbolic style of playing, but they are also too few to make a big impact. The bass playing, however, is very well done and forms some of the best components of the album.
Highlights for me however, have been the nice bass work on L'elevation but that is somewhat offset by a needless but thankfully short drum solo towards the end of the song. Being a former drummer, I could always find an excuse to throw in a decent drum solo where appropriate but that would be limited to live performances only. Additionally, the keyboards sound pretty convincing and faithfully add dimensions to what Daniel is trying to impart with this album's underlying message. Apart from the female vocalists, who I prefer to Daniel's voice, this is a decent album in parts but a bit patchy in others. There have been so many other excellent 2021 albums that have benefited from being carefully crafted during the lock-down, and they are the albums I would prefer to hear. Despite the few sections that are creative enough to pique one's interest, this is not an album I would come back to all that often.
Daniel Gauthier — Someone
This is another album released by Daniel in 2021. He has obviously been busy during the Covid lock-down. This benefit (if such a thing could exist in what would otherwise be a global catastrophe), certainly seems to have enabled musicians and bands in general to hone their skills.
As with his previous album, Daniel plays acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards, and vocals, while being assisted by Bruno Dubé (drums and percussion) along with Sabrina Tardif and Carole-Anne Lavoie (backing vocals).
Daniel's other album from 2021 was a more symphonic rock style of album while this one concentrates more on an acoustic approach. That's not to say there are not elements of his preferred style present here, but it is definitely less conspicuous.
Someone gets things underway and possesses a pleasant and dreamy acoustic beginning and moves into slightly heavier territory when the drums join in mid way through.
The track, All Around exemplifies what a good bass player Daniel is as he moves effortlessly along the fret-board and adds plenty of meat where needed. The bass guitar is also probably Daniel's biggest musical asset as he shines more on this instrument compared to the guitar or keyboards. His skill-set is certainly not found wanting on any of the albums under review but I feel his vocals are not his biggest strength.
The song 1700 Days is probably my favourite as it possesses a warm and embracing sound that leaves you inspired. The floating sound of the keyboards really adds a very agreeable element to the song. The Awakening allows Daniel to throw some decent keyboards into the mix along with some more tasty bass work. This creates one of the better instrumental songs on the album.
This One's For Carl features some decent finger picked guitar which reminds slightly of Adrian Legg, Tommy Emmanuel or even Gordon Giltrap although it is not quite as engaging or memorable. The song Winter Days is certainly a great song but is let down by inadequate vocals that just don't leave enough impact.
The track Calm Down also suffers from rather weak vocals from Daniel as he strains to reach the notes even though he is not singing loudly or under pressure. The remainder of the tracks are all decent but no better than the ones mentioned earlier.
If I was forced to make a comparison to any other bands or artists it would be based upon this being a much lighter version of any mentioned below. This would include Anthony Phillips, Sandrose, Jeremy, Barclay James Harvest or even Blackfield but sadly none of the songs here can match the underlying strength or general appeal of the others. They certainly could, however, achieve that status with a different singer.
Overall, this is not a bad album by any means. Musically, it holds up quite well, it is sufficiently imaginative, has plenty of variety but does suffer from slightly inferior vocals. I really wanted to rate this album higher as it contains many soft and ethereal elements that I find very comforting. The warm and spacey feel of the keyboards and the subtle incursions from Daniel's guitar often make for some very nice dreamy atmospheres.
If I was as good a song-writer as Daniel, I would concentrate on crafting the very best songs I possibly could and engage a different, English-speaking vocalist to really drive the message home. There is plenty of talent on show here yet a few small issues prevent a decent album from becoming an essential album. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Daniel as he has been involved in the music industry for many years and probably deserves recognition for all the effort he has made so far. Keep at it!
Isobar — Isobar II
When I first saw the band's name within the list of albums to be reviewed, I dug into their back catalogue to hear their debut from 2020. That album received some seriously positive feedback and good reviews from many sources. Armed with that preliminary bit of musical information I was happy to volunteer to review their latest offering. And what a pleasure it has been.
Isobar emerged from the ashes of Metaphor, a progressive rock outfit from America who released a number of quality albums in 2000 and 2004 but which never really ignited any major level of interest from music fans.
The band consists of Jim Anderson (bass), Malcolm Smith (guitars), Marc Spooner (keyboards), and legendary drummer from White Willow and Änglagård, Mattias Olsson. They are assisted by Evan Weiss (trumpet) and Ben Bohorquez (saxophone) on tracks 2, 3, and 8.
The opening song, features some excellent synth work but gives little hint at what is to follow. Being an all instrumental affair, one hopes to find some imaginative song-writing and to the band's credit, there is plenty to come. The palette of sonic textures and time shifts are exemplary and help to showcase exactly how good this band is. Moving from gentle piano excursions to blazing synthesizer sections all within a few minutes is what we, progressive rock fans, relate to quite easily. So it comes as no surprise that Isobar II is filled with a cornucopia of musical pastiches that reinforce the quality of musicianship found on their debut and which has carried through to the follow-up.
It has been said they have a pretty unique sound. It would be hard to disagree as they shift things around so effortlessly and with so much precision. Underlying mellotron and organ play counterpoint to the guitars and drums in a really well coordinated manner. This album would have taken some considerable time to construct as the differences between songs is so diverse and compelling. The plethora of keyboard sounds being exploited is really amazing and gives the album so much depth.
Isobar II is not a difficult listen as it is not overrun with too many discordant sections. In fact it flows quite serenely in more parts than it raises the ambient room temperature. The tracks, The Suppressor Of The Archives and The Impaler Of Distortions are particularly melodic and flow with an abundance of serenity from the lush use of Mellotron and keyboards in general.
If progressive instrumental jazz fusion, with keyboards dominating, is your thing, I can highly recommend this excellent slab of sonic brilliance. It just keeps delivering each time you play it. This is a perfect example of an album that benefits from not featuring any vocals as it allows the music to speak on its own terms. I have reviewed far too many albums over the years that feature weak singers who strain to reach certain notes. Thankfully, the symphony of sounds so resplendent throughout this album allow the listener to enjoy the diversity that accompanies the stellar song-writing exhibited here. I think the debut contains slightly stronger material compared to the follow-up but there really is only a marginal difference separating them. This really was a privilege to review this excellent album. Well done guys!
PRP — No Pristine Rubbery Perception
PRP is a side project of the Finnish prog band Grus Paridae and consists of multi-instrumentalists Rami Turtiainen and Petteri Kurki. Both musicians are accountable for vocals, guitars, synths and drums/percussion and programming, while Kurki can also be found on bass. Having written several songs which they considered to be too heavy and psychedelic for inclusion on Grus Paridae's efforts they initially released these tracks as a single. Which was well received by fans so they subsequently decided to record the loosely themed, and curiously titled, No Pristine Rubbery Perception.
Subdivided in four individual parts it is the flexibly related Rubber Hands which acts as the album's common thread, opening atmospherically in Pt. 0 – Prelude Of The Distant Past with a gloomy sense of desolation and dreamy echoes of Pink Floyd loneliness. Briskly awakened Rubber Hands then sets the album's overall psychedelic moody tension by dynamically propelling into mild psychedelic slant and "heavier" Porcupine Tree atmospheres. Thriving on fine riffs and excellent guitar playing, encircled by wonderful floaty synths and succulent bass, the composition also reveals a delightful Seventies vibe that fuels rocking visions of Prins Obi.
Rubber Hands Pt. III – The Sea Of Streets initially revisits the same psychedelic surroundings with a lush late-sixties Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd feel, while light Ayreon impressions are disclosed as vocals and electronic ambient glides smoothly into beautiful exciting guitar work. Subsequently, Rubber Hands, Pt. II – Days adds a lighter illuminating atmosphere to this, sounding spacious and tranquil with shards of Eloy. Its subdued nature in which dual vocals and alluring guitars add refinement, is further broadened by twinkling synth accents.
It's these atmospheric synth accents that creates depth and brings richness to the variegated compositions. Most excellently in the exquisite Exp where jazz lounges enchantingly converge into classical symphonies that are embraced by psychedelic inducing distorted vocal transformations, gliding through darkness and light with elegance and ease. A similar play in textural shades can be found in No which is surrounded by delicate arrangements and alternating levels of melodic intensities and a touch of New Wave that brings shimmering constellations of Confusion Field.
With the instrumental It's Never Always extending the eclectic melancholic dusky mood in an mildly uplifting manner by inserting acoustic reflectiveness embraced by piano and blues. It is the bonus track SunSon that finally hypnotizes with spooky spacious electronics. Drowning in a musical oasis of seventies psychedelica as secretive melodies culminate in a finale of uplifting rhythms and great guitar play it ends the album in satisfying fashion.
Overall No Pristine Rubbery Perception has turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining album that grows with each spin. Within its short timespan it shows lots of ideas, creativity and inventive musicality and as such is certainly worth checking out for fans of early Porcupine Tree with a sense of psychedelic adventure.