Album Reviews

Issue 2022-019

Burntfield — Impermanence

Burntfield - Impermanence
Empty Dream (3:31), Back Again (3:46), Trust In You (3:25), Something Real (3:48), The Light (5:34), Thank You For Everything (3:03), Impermanence (9:10), Everything Will Change (3:47)
Andy Read

Burntfield was formed by guitarist-singer-songwriter Juho Myllylä in Helsinki in 2012. Their debut album, Hereafter, was released four years ago. Since then Juho (vocals, guitars) has moved to Amsterdam where he has been joined in Burntfield by bassist Maarten Vos and drummer Steven Favier.

Impermanence consists of eight compact and delicately-crafted songs, that in the words of the band "explore the fragility of existence, the way in which our worlds can turn from gold to grey between the inhaling and exhaling of a breath."

In moving countries, Juho seems to have left the hard rock and AOR influences evident on the debut album back in Finland. With only two of the eight songs passing the four-minute mark, the arrangements can never be called adventurous, nor complex. This is medium-paced, easy-listening rock with gentle, progressive influences. I'm tempted to call this pop-rock but there is maturity to the songwriting that brings me back to the likes of Midnight Oil, Alan Parsons Project, Downes Braid Association, and label-mates Naryan. It does have a very States-side feel, especially the one-two hit of the upbeat Trust In You followed by the balladic Something Real, with its effective male/female vocals.

There is a lovely variety and flow to the songs and a plethora of little details that emerge on repeat listens. Juho's smooth mid-range voice matches the easily-accessible music perfectly. Empty Dream opens things up with a great, catchy hookline, whilst The Light is my favourite song. The extended length here allows the guitar to shine and the dynamics to shift around a bit more. As it passes the nine-minute mark, the title track has plenty to offer fans of Frost and Lifesigns. Overall, a very enjoyable second outing with Burntfield.

Ghost Toast — Shade Without Colour

Ghost Toast - Shade Without Colour
Get Rid Of (6:00), Leaders (6:51), Chasing Time (12:18), Let Me Be No Nearer (7:14), Acceptance (5:37), Deliberate Disguises (4:54), Reaper Man (9:20), Whimper (8:15), Rejtekböl (6:49)
Martin Burns

Ghost Toast have had variable reviews for two of their previous releases here at These were 2017's Out Of This World and 2020's Shape Without Form. Their new fifth release Shade Without Colour is intended as a companion piece to the 2020 release, and both albums take their titles from T.S. Elliot's elusive poem The Hollow Men.

In 2020, László Papp left the band, who recruited a new drummer Zoltán Cserős. His contributions push this instrumental, heavy, prog-rock music forward. His drumming from the off is commanding, precise, brutally energetic and delicate by turns. Laying the foundation for Ghost Toast's signature, melodic, heavy riffing as well as supporting their left turns into folk-inspired art-rock.

Ghost Toast mix in keyboards, sound effects and well-chosen spoken words that emphasise the dystopian side of things, which fits in with themes from Elliot's The Hollow Men.

They kick off with some sinus-clearing, thumping metal on Get Rid Of, which along with Deliberate Disguises, provide the album's most metallic pieces. Things get less monolithic and more subtly interesting with Leaders' piano and choral voices that introduce a middle-eastern feel that grows to an engaging, guitar-driven conclusion.

The longest track Chasing Time sees Ghost Toast exploring celtic-like guitar drones and cello in the intro, moving on to intertwining guitar leads, tempo changes and quiet/loud dynamics that vie for the best track here. The art-rock side of Ghost Toast comes into play with a folk-like melody, led by the cello on Let Me Be No Nearer. It mixes in electronica and sound effects with the heavier guitars and an ethereal female chorus.

The smart mix of art-rock and heavy prog continues on Reaper Man lovely keyboards and synths along with a terrific guitar solo. They kick-up prog-metal riffing on Whimper but still leave space for whirling Hawkwind-like synth, and more cello. It uses quotes from The Hollow Men in its spoken-word ending that gives the album a pleasing circularity.

However, there is a further track that has a different character from the rest of Shade Without Color's sound world. Rejtekböl has a slowly-evolving, rotating rhythm and sees the band exploring post-rock build-and-release. This feels like an out-of-place bonus track tagged onto the end.

There is a lot on Ghost Toast's Shade Without Color to appreciate and enjoy. I find the melodic riffing and its switching of sounds to be enthralling. I think Ghost Toast have the chance of greatness if they carry on down this path.

IO Earth — IO Earth Acoustic: Vol. 1

IO Earth - IO Earth Acoustic: Vol. 1
Aura (6:44), Streets (6:35), Take Me (6:46), Mountains (5:33), Move as One (4:23), Truth (2:41), Fade to Grey (7:03), Promise (2:15), Home (3:40), Oh Lala (2:57)
Andy Read

Since their 2009 self-titled debut, Birmingham-based IO Earth have built a solid reputation for their often-eclectic take on high-energy, modern progressive rock. Four studio albums have followed to a warm critical reception: Moments (2012), New World (2015), Solitude (2018), and Aura (2020). I've seen them live on three occasions, and have always had a good time.

Founder member Dave Cureton states that it has always been in the plan for IO Earth to release an acoustic album. The Covid lockdowns finally provided an opportunity to make it happen.

The album consists of five re-worked songs from the IO Earth back catalogue, revisiting fan favourites such as Take Me and Home from the debut album. The other half is new material, consisting of two piano solo pieces by Adam Gough, two acoustic guitar-based pieces, and a song called Streets, which with its striking video (see below) is inspired by the events of the past two years.

IO Earth Acoustic: Vol. 1 showcases a whole new side of this band. This is far-removed from the complexities of their prog mode. These ten songs are introspective, understated and emotive with very personal lyrics. The arrangements touch on folk (with the male/female vocals and violin on Aura), singer-songwriter (with the simple vocal and piano of Fade To Grey) and quite a lot of smooth, lounge-bar jazz (via the fabulous Streets and Take Me).

The restrained use of trumpet and saxophone on four tracks is sublime, but it's the performance of singer Rosanna Lefevre that elevates the seven vocal tracks to a higher level. The stripped-back, acoustic platform really offers a fantastic showcase for her beautiful voice.

Existing fans should be wary that this album does show a very different side of the band. For the 'old' songs, this is not merely an acoustic reworking. Each has been taken back to the bare melody, and then lightly rebuilt. You'd be hard-pressed to recognise them. Home has become a frisky doo-wop number, complete with funky jazz-sax! If you thrive only on prog-complexity and rocking beats, then this may not be for you.

What this is, is a delightfully honest set of acoustic-based music; perfect for the emerging spring!

And there is plenty of life set to emerge this year in the IO Earth garden. Dave Cureton has just released his first solo album, State of Mind, and a new IO Earth album is scheduled to follow later this year. The band has also just announced the return of singer Linda Odinsen to the band.

Stephen Palmer — Decades: Tangerine Dream In The 1970s

Stephen Palmer - Decades: Tangerine Dream In The 1970s
Martin Burns

With a back catalogue of over one hundred albums (not counting compilations and fan releases), Stephen Palmer's focus on Tangerine Dream's most influential and artistically exciting decade is a good move. This joins a number of other books in the Decade series from Sonicbond Publishing.

Stephen Palmer is a British writer of science fiction and steam-punk, and he knows his way around a page with great turns of phrase. Decades: Tangerine Dream In The 1970s looks at each album released by the band in chronological order, as well as referencing gigs and changes during this period (technological, artistic and in personnel). It is bookended by short chapters on the origins of Tangerine Dream and what happened as they moved into the digital age (1980s onwards).

He also places the band firmly in a time and cultural space, arguing that Tangerine Dream were a European phenomenon trying to escape the influence of American culture. In this, he explores the connections and differences between Tangerine Dream and other German bands of the time. He argues, convincingly, that it is in the exploration of the then-newly-available analogue synthesisers, and Tangerine Dream's grasping of that technology, that led them to create such ground-breaking records; records that sounded like no one else at the time.

Palmer examines each album released in this period, and some that were recorded in the 70s but not issued until much later. So, for the likes of classics such as Phaedra, Rubycon, Force Majeure and others, you get a detailed description and analysis of each of the album's tracks. However, while this is powered by a deep love for the music, he is not uncritical where he feels he needs to be. He even manages to argue me into appreciating the slow, cosmic scale of the album Zeit; an album that had previously left me somewhat bamboozled.

Palmer has also done some original research by interviewing ex-members of Tangerine Dream exclusively for this Decades release, as well as using previously available resources for well-focussed quotations and anecdotes.

If you think Tangerine Dream are all about pre-set digital sequencers, then you will find yourself disabused of that notion where their 70s output is concerned. Palmer gives you the picture of musicians struggling to create something original in innovative ways, and succeeding in producing, at the time, music like no other. Oh, and there are guitar solos too.

Stephen Palmer's superbly written and excellently researched Decades: Tangerine Dream In The 1970s, is a must for any Tangerine Dream fan, as well as being a terrific resource of where to start if you are curious about them but feel daunted by the sheer volume of their back catalogue.

Procosmian Fannyfiddlers — Astonishing Tales Of Cod And Plankton

Procosmian Fannyfiddlers - Astonishing Tales Of Cod And Plankton
Dental Breakdown (7:53), Lady Dung (6:08), Rage For Boredom (4:45), Frill (5:06), Jaundice Sailor (5:19), In Search Of Competence (3:33), Still... You Turn Me Off (3:26), Rimming The Ancient Mariner (9:53)
Greg Cummins

This is yet another Scandinavian band that has managed to find part of its catalogue in my collection during the past few decades. This is because the Scandinavians have delivered some of the best and more consistent progressive rock music, since forever. I currently have Rolling Court Massacre, The Horse From Hell, and Interference Number 9 but have not really given any of their albums a thorough workout. Until now that is. Under consideration is the band's 11th studio album.

One of the first things to notice with this band's music is that it is quite eclectic and contains many sections that, while not totally discordant, can sound a little unusual. This is often due to some sections being played in a minor key when you least expect it. The underlying strength however, lies with the Mellotron, which features throughout many of their albums. This adds a deeply-seated and atmospheric basis from which the songs can grow and develop.

To really appreciate this band, you'd need to accept it is quirky, eclectic and chaotic, with humorous and sometimes irreverent lyrics. It seems the band don't take themselves too seriously, despite there being plenty of exceptionally talented people in the line-up. Maybe they are more serious than we are led to believe because the music certainly grows on you quite quickly. It encompasses influences from psych, folk, avant, prog and jazz and includes lengthy sections with really engaging flute plus excellent female vocalists who bring plenty of melody to the table. Accordion, trombone and crisp drumming are also excellent features found throughout the album.

Checking the ratings for this band's music on reveals they have a high degree of acceptance within the prog community as the average score for their first 10 studio albums stands at an impressive 3.72 / 5.00. For a comparison, Genesis scored 3.39 / 5.00 with their 15 studio albums, which is a little disappointing but understandable when you factor in a smattering of inferior albums.

If I was asked to suggest any similarities, I'd go out on a limb and propose Samla Mammmas Manna, a more discordant version of Curved Air, possibly Gong (with female singers), and Ensemble Nimbus (vaguely). From a more folky perspective, you could include bands such as Mellow Candle and Spirogyra, while the impressive Mellotron invokes slight memories of bands such as Earth And Fire.

It is also a prerequisite that you need to read the lyrics that accompany the CD, as they are quite insane but will give you plenty of reasons to enjoy a chortle or two. (Now there's a word you don't hear too often). The album also contains some truly strange band names and song titles, to say the least.

To really do the band justice, I probably need to replay some of their earlier albums and possibly track-down some others. I see that some of my fellow contributors can't relate that easily to this band, and I believe it probably involves the band's less-than-acceptable level of filth or depravity with the lyrics. I personally enjoy quite a lot of smutty jokes but less so with my music; Frank Zappa excepted. That man could do no wrong in my book and despite not discovering just how brilliant he was until the 80s, he still remains a firm favourite today.

Musically, this is quite an engaging album, replete with decent melodies and stellar musicianship. The somewhat awkward issue with the lyrics is a subject that has not affected me as much as it may have done with others, but each to their own I guess. Also of interest is that Rhys Marsh co-produced the album which helps to finally reinforce the fact that the band may have finally agreed to release music that has some sonic credibility. Previous albums were often criticised for having inferior sound quality, but that does not apply here. Everything sounds pretty fine for me. As mentioned elsewhere around prog music circles, basic information about this band is rarer than rocking horse poo, so finding it may take some effort.

The Samurai Of Prog — Omnibus 2: The Middle Years

72:52, 75:27, 74:47, 72:08
The Samurai Of Prog - Omnibus 2: The Middle Years
CD 1 - On We Sail: On We Sail (6:21), Elements Of Life (7:54), Theodora (5:55), Ascension (5:19), Ghost Written (9:40), The Perfect Black (9:30), Growing Up (5:42), Over Again (4:06), Tigers (10:34); bonus tracks: The Iron Mask (2:34), Pentahedron (5:09)
CD 2 - Archivarium: Keep The Ball Rolling (6:07), Ahead Of Fortune (5:16), La Oscuridad (9:50), Cristalli (5:24), Elitropia (4:56), The Sleeping Lover (8:32), From This Window (10:37), Ice (9:41), Predawn (4:04); bonus Track: White Skies (10:49)
CD 3 - Tori No Kaze: A Tear In The Sunset (8:07), Fair Play (2:34), Zero (7:40), The Never Ending Line (4:55), Au Contraire (5:07), Reality (9:24), The Bicycle Ride (4:36), Castle Blue Dream (7:38), The Spirits Around Us (5:59), Nausicaä E I Custodi Della Vita (5:48), Think Green (6:30), La Magia È La Realtà (6:20)
CD 4 - Beyond The Wardrobe: Another Time (6:22), Dear Amadeus (8:52), King Of Spades (5:54), Forset Rondo (5:50), Jester’s Dance (6:47), Kabane (7:33), Marigold (2:33), Brandenburg Gate (4:24), Washing The Clouds (7:29); bonus tracks: Killing Hopes (8:18), Take Me Down (7:57)
Jan Buddenberg

Presently, The Samurai Of Prog are running on full steam. With the excellent fairytale albums The Lady And The Lion and The White Snake still fresh in my mind, several projects have already been announced for 2022. In fact Bernard & Pörsti's Robinson Crusoe is already smiling at me as I write this review, with a high probability that another will arrive before this review is published.

The more the merrier I'd say, but let's not get ahead of ourselves and give attention first to this Omnibus 2: The Middle Years. It contains the four consecutively released TSoP albums On We Sail, Archivarium, Tori No Kaze and Beyond The Wardrobe plus five bonus tracks of new material lasting over 35 minutes.

For anyone who has missed out on these offerings, which includes me apart from my acquaintance with Beyond The Wardrobe, here's the perfect opportunity to catch up and travel, comfortably seated in a first class carriage that serves an all-inclusive banquet of tasteful prog festivities; all for the admission price of a Railrunner ticket (the Dutch bargain of unlimited daily train travel for children).

This new box-set follows Omnibus: The Early Years, which was released in 2018, covering the band's first three albums plus a fourth disc of bonus material.

The artwork is again safely in the hands of the ever-impressive Ed Unitsky, complemented by an extensive 32-page booklet which omits lyrics, but handsomely gathers all the necessary details and pictures on participants, composers and other miscellaneous info. With separate reproductions of the original digi-packs, it is a pristine package.

Mentioning the vast scope of musicians included on Omnibus 2 is likely to drown in extensive name-dropping, so I gladly refer to my colleague Mark Hughes' reviews of each individual album, in order to get a clear perspective as to who's involved.

Instead, I'll delve briefly into highlights, which is difficult enough in itself as lows are completely absent and the albums are replete with highs, as well as address the differences. The latter only in terms of new songs, for apart from a few implemented equalizing aspects done by Pörsti, the box-set contains essentially (almost) the same recordings as the original issues.

On We Sail dates back to 2017 and sees TSoP return to strength after having gone through Unruh's health scare and tragic loss of several TSoP contributors. Opening strongly with Kerry Shacklett's On We Sail, this eclectic album gushes immaculately through classical symphonies, imaginary movie soundtracks and folky atmospheres and reveals a brilliant Renaissance buoyancy in Theodora through Michelle Young's enchanting vocals.

Extending the album, one finds the bonus track The Iron Mask, which represents an excerpt of Bernard-Lacagnina-Pörsti's forthcoming album going by the same name. It features classic influences and theatrical textures, with superb guitar work throughout from Marcel Singor. The playful Pentrahedron showcases a variety of lush melodies inhibiting Scottish bravado and seductive key/violin interaction that effortlessly holds attention.

The second instalment, Archivarium, compiles older 'Colossus' compositions with (at the time) new songs and a Camel cover. Wallowing past spherically amalgamations of Kansas and Jethro Tull, circling in an E.L.P frenzy in Keep The Ball Rolling, the album soars by. Before you know it, it lands in neo-progressive IQ atmospheres, thanks to Unruh's performance in the excellent From This Window. In between, there is a wonderfully new mix of the darkly coloured and diversified La Oscuridad, whose typical Italian prog-style contrasts beautifully with its Spanish lyrics. It now features gorgeous vocal performances by Ariane Valdiviè and Marcelo Ezcurra.

Standout track is the aforementioned cover Ice, capable to defrost the coldest (non)-prog-lover through its heart-melting melodies, Mark Arnold's seductively flowing sax-lines, and fantastic violin play, reminiscent of Eddie Jobson, that sublimates the song into magical stratospheres of UK. Omitting Heroes does sadden my completist's heart a bit, but you won't hear me complain, for White Skies, featured on The Lady And The Lion as A Queen's Wish, is a marvellous substitute. Merging naturally with the preceding Predawn, it stays close to the original Inner Prospekt version and adds a very welcoming third dimension to the track.

Inspired by the animated works of Hayao Miyazaka, it's the box-set's third album Toki No Kaze that expands TSoP's rich musical world even further. Included as it was issued in 2019, it paints a vibrant and brightly coloured symphonic fairytale universe. If 'Manga-prog' didn't exist before, this might as well be considered to be its birth. Opening expressively cinematic with the menacing A Tear In The Sunset, the album touches firm base with elegant symphonic elements in Alessandro Di Benedetti's infinitely gliding Zero. It brings a wonderful reflective moment with touching emotive vocals in the subsequent calm and caressive The Never Ending Line. This album alone is simply worth the price of admission.

The recent Beyond The Wardrobe completes this immaculate set. Flowing beautifully through a prosperous forest of progressive rock influences, it opens in jazzy The Flower Kings environments that energise into tantalising Jethro Tull-inspired rock in the adventurous tale of Another Time.

To heighten the prog festivities, two additional bonus tracks are included. Take Me Down pulls one enticingly into fields of mid-seventies Genesis, emphasised by John Wilkinson's Gabriel resemblance, Singor's ironclad guitar-work, and some lush, symphonic keyboard elements from composer Di Benedetti. The delightfully promising Killing Hopes adds alluring epic symphonic prog movements, next to pristine, flowing violin play. The latter is to be included in Bernard-Grieco-Pörsti's forthcoming album Anthem To The Phoenix Star. Based on this version and the already previewed title track, there's no doubt in my mind that TSoP will push their limits and reach for the sky once again.

With on-top-of-their-game executions, some incredible songwriting, and a deeply versified musical richness, there's bound to be something for everybody's taste here (apart from prog-metal). That makes this impressive box-set, clocking in at roundabout five hours, a serious prize for novices and progressive rock fans in general. Those who own the originals need to chip in as well, for they can add a fulfilling 35 minutes of unreleased material to their collection.

So considering its limited run, there's only one thing left to say: those in search of progressive satisfaction must take action!

Album Reviews