Enine — Spiritus Natura
The vast wild peninsula of Kamchatka in north-eastern Russia is a dream location for anyone longing for vast areas of pristine wilderness with almost no human interference and thus ultimate loneliness. It is the reign of large predators like huge brown bears, sturdy lynxes and magnificent Steller's sea eagles. No wonder that this magnificent area has been a source of inspiration for many traditional tales during ancient times. One of these stories tells about the Enine, a mystic river running through the peninsula. I've looked it up on the map but a river with that name is nowhere to be found there. Yet a mighty river is running through that peninsula, and it is often very foggy, so maybe that has been the inspiration for that story. "Enine" is a Koryak word meaning "fog" and there is no possibility of telling Google Maps to use that ancient language.
Enine are an instrumental band from the Russian city of Vladimir which is located halfway between Moscow and Nizjni Novgorod. The band consists of Vladimir Mikhaylov (guitars, keyboards), Ilya Frolov (keyboards, slide guitar), Vladimir Nikonov (bass, jew's harp), Yurii Groiser (drums), Vladimir Kosygin (percussion, chants, 12-string guitar), Alexander Dyatlov (drums, percussion), Daria Nigavora (additional percussion), and Stanislav Tregubov (flute). The band released their debut The Great Silent in 2018 which was positively reviewed by my colleague Alan Weston. The band was a five piece then and have expanded to an eight piece for their sophomore album Spiritus Natura. Furthermore this expanded outfit was helped out by numerous other musical friends who provide additional instruments and wordless vocals, amongst which are members of Roz Vitalis, Bosphorus Night and Triptones. With so many musicians aboard the expectations for something special are set high.
Apart from originating in mid-Russia and being inspired by North-Eastern Russian culture, the band also states that they are heavily influenced by western instrumental acts like Klaus Schulze, Jean Michel Jarre and early psychedelic Pink Floyd. True as that may be, their music is far more concise and song-structured than the aforementioned keyboard artists. Additionally Enine have chosen to include traditional wordless chants in their music, as exemplified in Enine (Shaman's Dream), Between Two Worlds and Die Somnium. I understand that wish, and it sounds quite natural at first with chants being accompanied by fine percussion and electric guitar. With the addition of modern synth sounds and drums that natural atmosphere vanishes completely. Not bad at all, just a bit confusing.
Apart from the three songs featuring chants the music is largely dominated by the fluid and melodious keyboard and guitar playing by Mikhaylov in the style of nineties Mike Oldfield (especially The Songs Of Distant Earth-album) and first decade of this century (Voyager, Music Of The Spheres). The album starts with the title song which is nothing more than a short keys and guitar intro to next song Kanda. But the dominant style of music by Enine is best exemplified in Ayvel with its long guitar and synth parts, There Are Three Ways with clever subtle keyboard sounds (and a far too quick fade-out) and closing track Forgotten Trail, a rather mystic guitar soundscape. Songs like Kanda and Lost Seabird are slightly heavier, a bit more up-tempo and the latter even features very fine interplay between electric guitar, flute and synths. It enhances the variation on the record which is good.
Integrating ancient culture into modern-day music is commendable as long as it is done well. Enine certainly does that in their incorporation of ancient Russian chants, although I can only assume that these are genuine traditional. They fit the music and therefore illustrate the interest the band has in this culture. The rest of the album is very listenable, rather mellow but far from mediocre, let alone dull. I guess that the physical album will be hard to get for many, but fortunately fans of the aforementioned artists can lay their hands on this nice music digitally. Give it a try!
Kerry Livgren — The Resurrection Of Lazarus
As one of the founding members of legendary American progressive rock band, Kansas, it stands to reason that Kerry Livgren is being held in high esteem amongst the fans. He was such an integral part of that band, not just for his musicianship, but his songwriting skills were as good as any other member of the band. Kerry was a member of Kansas from 1972 until his departure in 1983 by which time, the band's music was in a serious state of decline. (I recall he returned to the fold in 2000 but that did not continue). This loss of interest in Kansas's music is mirrored by the majority of Kerry's solo albums which were not too highly regarded with the possible exception of his first album, Seeds Of Change from 1980.
There can be no escaping the fact that Kerry Livgren was highly motivated by his religious beliefs and which is often evident with many other Christian musicians. Neal Morse would have to be probably one of the most influential progressive rock musicians still finding a huge degree of popularity, despite these beliefs. His various projects have for many years been at the leading edge of tight and compelling progressive rock music which has gained universal popularity. There can be no denying anyone's right to find solace with religion and for music fans, it doesn't seem to affect the popularity or otherwise if the subject is constantly raised within each song or album. For some listeners, this can be a detrimental element to the music while for others, such as myself, it does not cause any concern. The basic issue for any listener however, has to be the accessibility and enjoyment of the music. Sadly, it seems, that many fans have abandoned Kerry's solo efforts as not fulfilling that essential requirement as none of his albums since his debut have rated that well on www.rateyourmusic.com.
The Resurrection Of Lazarus is an ambitious project including most of the world as the number of musicians in attendance is quite extraordinary. Although Kerry is credited with all instruments and orchestrations, some of his fellow bandmates have lent a hand to finish the project. Names such as, John Elefante, Phil Keaggy, Rich Williams, Robbie Steinhardt, Steve Walsh, and many others all assist vocally while Phil Ehart lends a hand on the drums. The list of back-up vocalists is also huge.
The album comprises five lengthy movements and is almost operatic in parts, while quite bombastic and far-reaching in others. This album could vaguely be likened to some of Alan Simon's various Excalibur projects although his music is far more accessible with shorter songs and less ambitious expectations. The major limitation for me on this outing has unfortunately been an almost universal lack of anything remotely memorable with the songs. Sure there are snippets of brilliance here and there but overall, I can't see myself playing this one too often, despite the excellent singing.
Bertrand Loreau — Let The Light Surround You
French composer Bertrand Loreau has released around 20 solo albums since 1993, some previously reviewed on our site. Besides a small amount in the Avant-Garde field these foremost find their origin in the electronic 'Berliner Schüle' universe. Let The Light Surround You falls into the latter category, although it slightly differs for Loreau drifts away from obvious cosmic resemblances and adds a touch of classical music, acoustic earthiness and delicate piano refinement to peaceful and warm embracing New Age inspired atmospheres.
The music on Let The Light Surround You is dedicated to Loreau's deceased mother. The often short, mutually divergent, emotive songs form a beautifully warm and attractive, multi-layered embodiment of music that's embellished by melodic beauty, serenity and an ever-present glow of emotional affection and love. This is instantly recognisable in opener Journey That Never Ends, where cosmic loneliness is comfortingly embraced by eternal flames of heart-warming melodies and twinkling synths, slowly weaving earthy spiritual tinted stars.
Caressingly touching upon lovely romanticism (Stairway To The Sky), classical elegance (Walking Hand In Hand) and delicately refinement with maternal mindfulness (Presence Of Love). Loreau furthermore adds elements of love and tenderness (You And Him) next to feelings of intimacy (Bright Black) and sadness (Light Tears), while melancholic candlelit violin movements highlight songs with enchanting classical chamber musical brightness.
Added acoustic refreshment and commodious clarinet-like movements (A Sound Is Born, Breath Of Life) distinguishes Loreau's sound further. While the slowly awakening warmth embedded within Sunrise On A Dull Day and the caring piano melodies of Him And You bring feelings of heavenly enlightenment.
In between these nicely short shaped emotions one finds two lengthier compositions. The first one, Crystal Sea, brings wonderful imaginary reflective journey that passes through peaceful oceanic constellations bristling with a sumptuous energetic Vangelis flow that wash ashore in endlessly seductive flute pleasantries. The second track, Lead You Through The Dream (co-written by Lambert Ringlage, owner of Spheric Music), travels into a different illusory realm in which cosmic grandeur is given intricate embodiment by clarinet and piano as hypnotic sequencers dictate the steady gracious flow of the music, ultimately touching down upon the likes of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream.
All things considered Let The Light Surround You is a beautiful personal homage and lovingly emotional album, which will appeal to fans of ambient electronic music.
Jeffrey Erik Mack — The Forgotten Earth
This is an album I took a chance on reviewing after reading the initial promo info supplied to DPRP. The reason for this decision was due to the promising descriptors supplied upon its release. I'll quote... "When you think of Progressive Rock music you might imagine overambitious chord progressions, pompous synthesizer noodling, and long, endless musical phrases that never seem to end. But, think again. Jeffrey Erik Mack's music is much deeper than that. In fact, it is the epitome of Prog with poetic storytelling through the medium of instrumental music". Additional comments include the following; The album is an amalgamation of progressive rock, fusion, new age and classically themed musical tales. Well said!
That seems to sum up what a lot of aspiring bands and artists want you to believe. So it is refreshing to find that those words are indeed sincere and quite frankly, right on the money. So what do we really find underneath all the promotional spin?
For starters, this is an all instrumental album which is fine with me so long as the fundamentals are all in place. This includes, originality, accessibility, replayability, memorable songs, melody, complex structures, instrumental dexterity and inspirational themes. Thankfully, these essentials are all pretty well evident right throughout this rather adventurous album.
Assisting Jeffrey Erik Mack (bass guitar, keyboards, and bass pedal synths) are Brett Stine (guitar), Gregg Olson (guitar), Kristian Terzic (synth and piano), Justin Lepard (cello), and Justin Klunk (tenor sax). While I would always opt for a human drummer, sometimes, and especially due to Covid, such luxuries might only be a real requirement for a very well establish act or for a live performance. Sadly, we have no such person on board but rest assured, the computer generated percussion are very well done, so, for most listeners, they may not even pick up this omission unless advised beforehand.
This is very much a keyboard lover's dream as the variety of excellent sounds, courtesy of the synths, piano and bass pedal synths are quite intricate and very well done. If you are familiar with the brand Name Nord, you will certainly appreciate the ability of said instrument to really punch the notes out in a gutsy and forthright manner. If you ever get the chance, they really are an excellent instrument to play and are filled with plenty of useful features and power.
Compositionally, Jeffrey has done an excellent job by ensuring there are plenty of meaty sections where the synths rip through the undergrowth like a wayward chainsaw while, seconds later, delicate and evocative piano pieces, allow you to really appreciate the splendour and subtlety of such a wonderful instrument. The two guitarists also really embellish those songs where they are allowed to shine in their own way so the melodic structural integrity is maintained throughout.
Despite there being two guitarists assisting, their involvement does not really overwhelm proceedings. It is still very much dominated by Jeffrey's excellent keyboard skills which feature on every song. I'm struggling to find any other similar sounding bands or artists, but perhaps we could include Bjorn Lynne, Jordan Rudess (when not playing at Mach 7), or a less frenetic version of those Japanese keyboard bad girls, such as Ars Nova.
The bass work on tracks such as Architect Of Existence is particularly good and is somewhat reminiscent of how some of Allan Holdsworth's album sound with its punchy bass undertones and general guitar overlays. More evidence of the Holdsworth style is also found on the excellent track, Sailing The Cosmic Ocean. Impressive stuff!
The album is somewhat lengthy at over 65 minutes duration and considering there are no vocals, you might wish for such inclusions to break things up a little. While this is not a major issue for me, purely instrumental albums often have an uphill battle by trying to convince the listener, everything is fine, sans vocals. For the most part, the album moves through its various phases without too much fuss and develops in a more natural and organic way. Nothing on here is forced, so your listening pleasure will certainly be enhanced when you replay a song to discover more subtlety than might have been evident before.
There are no real stand out tracks here but as they are all generally well composed, this long player is one that just keeps giving. I'm liking what I hear and really enjoy the general melodic nature of just about everything so if these ingredients match your own needs, this could be an album to consider. It is certainly well played by extremely talented musicians and comes with a strong recommendation.
Monnaie De Singe (MDS) — The Story Of Rose Ola Seks
There's a variety of ways in which an album attracts attention. Tagged references, artwork, participating musicians or 'rave' reviews from previous efforts is only a short list of examples, but in MDS's case it is the unsettling and tragically dark tale that dragged me in. Foremost for its suspense filled tale, that weaves fact and fiction into a storyline that would be a perfect plot for a thrilling Stephen King novelization, but also for its (small) relatedness to a personal grievous experience long ago.
The story of MDS's concept takes place in Norway and involves Rose Ola Seks who in 1993 lost her only son Elias (aged 12) to violent meningitis. This horrendous disease links directly into my own history, having survived it at the age of five and knowing full-well how terrifying and lethal this scarring illness can be. Thankfully this is where any resemblance with the tragic tale ends, for in Rose's reality she forges a pact with a devil and in a delusional state assassinates three people. Because of her actions she gets sentenced to a psychiatric hospital where on the 22nd of July 2011 a hellish M. Night Shyamalan like twist concludes the story as Rose witnesses a terrorist attack on TV that takes place on the Norwegian island Utøya. Has the demon kept his word?
Knowing this story, the artwork now makes perfect sense, as do all the matching gloomy atmospheres that are intricately woven within the compellingly shaped compositions. From icy cold movements surrounding the moment she commits her degrading deeds (Three Days In Hell) onto the hauntingly enforced excitement in From Utøya where musical optimism, insanity, satisfaction and lush New Wave synths meticulously colour the impact of her tragedy. Actually, the more you listen to this engaging record, the more these story-line arrangements fall into place that ultimately give depth, meaning and embodiment to the music.
Psychological tension is immediately palpable in the frosty opening sounds of Rose Øla Seks, and this psychedelic charge grows stronger as the album progresses and is only released when the last note has sounded. With a beautiful spectacle of shadow play and haunted guitar play amidst light Porcupine Tree influences, Rose Øla Seks is also an excellent introduction to vocalist Anne-Gaelle Rumin-Montil who cautiously reveals her calling card and makes Rose come alive through her versatile expressive vocals.
Her pronunciation and singing style are to me slightly reminiscent of Bjork and Sinead O'Conner, who are also capable of bending words so lyrics become unintelligible. To some this might have a negative effect as one does need the inlay to follow the words, but I find it adds a favourable abstruse dimension to the music. A fine example is when her sweet-like voice gives shivering emotional but mysterious shape to Rose's cold-blooded actions in Three Days In Hell, which contrasts beautiful with the received warmth from the song's restrained uplifting melodies and glowing bluesy guitar igniting Obrasqi's enlightenment.
D@rknet is a fine example of dynamically built-up alternative rock, driven onwards by strong driving bass lines from Eric Issertes and shimmering Porcupine Tree-vibes courtesy of Philippe Chavaroche's keys. The successive Evil possesses comparable vibes and edges into walls of Crystal Palace with excellent drumming by Eric Farges. Aggressive guitars by Christophe Laporte and J. Philippe Moncanis cut delightful razor-sharp atmospheres into the music.
In The Story Ends Here, a brilliant bass performance alongside tight drums gears up the melodies perfectly. Embraced by alarming synths and guitars the atmospheric musical diving into alternating levels of intensity which captures Rose's trial and schizophrenic locked-up state of mind beautifully. This submerging benefits the imprisoned atmospheric coldness of Elias as well, upscaling the album's psychedelic forest with The Cure-like guitar sounds, touches of electro-pop, and lovely loose blues inspired Pink Floyd-ian impressions. On the euphoric sounds of From Utøya, bursting with Gary Numan new-wave splashes, the album finally ends in a satisfyingly disturbing fashion.
When listened to fully immersed in headphone mode, the album's thoughtful concept gains more impact, as it adds complementary colour schemes that enhance the psychological atmosphere of the concept. More importantly, it brings out the music's ideal balance in instrumentation. On a final note, it's the implementation of elements such as post-rock, electro and neo-progressive rock, meeting the likes of Marillion, which has enabled MDS to create their own contemporary sound.
All of the above makes The Story Of Rose Ola Seks a pleasant discovery that is highly recommended for the modern prog lover.
Shrine Of August — Once Allegoric
Allow me to start the review saying that Shrine Of August is the super-prog name for a musical project, and I am biting my lips, as I write the review, sinking deeper into regret for not inventing it myself. Ah, yes, the sweet regret... It seems to be the important topic around which the lyrical concept of Once Allegoric is largely built.
More about that in a short while. First, some introduction. Steve Vanderperren is a drummer and main composer for Shrine of August. Over the years Steve used to be a drummer for a number of Belgian rock / metal bands including Corpus, Endtime Odyssey, Noisedriver, etc. Shrine is essentially his solo project, with Once Allegoric being the third installment, preceded by an EP Coatlicue (2019) and a full-scale release The Story of M (2017). The big difference between most solo projects on the scene nowadays and Shrine Of August (SOA) is that Steve avoids doing everything by himself and gives many musicians a chance to add their talents. The boiling cauldron of Belgian underground rock scene provided Steve with a lot of candidates, including his former bandmates from Endtime Odyssey (Tobias Vanderhenst (keys), Joeri Herregat (bass), Lio Meessen (vocals)), Corpus (Wouter De Coster (guitar), Toon Noppen (keys), Benno van Keulen (vocals)), etc. Unlike Ayreon, Shrine Of August does not really boast any guest stars, however metal fans may recognize Peter Theuwen from Thurisaz who did some great vocals on the closing track together with Dionisis Christodoulatos from Sorrowful Angels and Jorgen Munkeby from blackjazz exponents Shining (Nor) on saxophone.
Once Allegoric is definitely prog metal, with a good portion of alternative influences. Usually one would compare such music to Pain Of Salvation, however, I fail to find many similarities between the Swedes and SOA, and would rather draw analogies to no longer active Wolverine and to some extent Evergrey in their rock aspect, albeit with a sound more modern. Lyrically, Steve also dwells on the darker themes, speaking about confusion, regret and isolation in different aspects of human life, psychology and social communication. As Steve himself points out, Once Allegoric bears the flag of “prog-noir”.
While the sound and mix (good dynamic range, not overproduced, all aspects of the “scene” are safely brought to light) are something that SOA can be proud of. However, for me, the songs themselves often incorporate very familiar prog-metal puzzle-pieces and are not really harmonically interesting.
The Lure Of The Sea is the closest (despite some black-metal rasps) that SOA gets to the Dream Theater area, especially during the refrain “never a helping hand….”. One of the more interesting tunes here. The Regrets Pt. II, otherwise, features nice synth work over a heavy riff in the middle, but the rest is purely uninteresting metal muzak with nods to the groove subgenre. Desolate starts as a calmer song but stumbles with rather unpleasant out-of-tune vocals as the composition unravels.
Mor[t]ality is probably the pinnacle of Steve's compositional skills here, or subjectively the one tune that I loved the most, with a great build-up, interplay.
While not yet hitting the bullseye, Shrine Of August has enough potential to bring more interesting and heartfelt music to the audience. Recommended if you are into darker but not-too-heavy metal.