Album Reviews

Issue 2022-036

Galaxy — Runaway Men

Galaxy - Runaway Men
Answers (6:09), Look Into My Eyes (6:15), Never The Same (5:12), In Her Head (6:39), Lady Of Fire (5:47), Talk To Me (5:08), Gallery Play (5:07), Runaway Man (7:57)
Jan Buddenberg

On behalf of DPRP's prog-police department I hereby declare that a criminally good album has been gathering dust for reasons unknown in a home studio for the duration of almost 25 years. Much to the pleasure of our internal office of intense enjoyment (me), and owing a huge debt of gratitude to the splendid care-taking investigative efforts of David van Hartingsveldt (head of Shaded Moon Entertainment), justice has now been served and this magnificent and highly rewarding album is finally released from its imprisonment.

Obviously my unbridled enthusiasm needs further substantiation, so read on as I unfold the evidence, starting off with a line-up of facts.

Galaxy's history starts in 1983 in the north of The Netherlands (Groningen) when at the age of 13 and a half, Nils Offers (drums) plus 11-year-old (!) Ard Offers (keys and vocals) created the band with guitarist Erik Hoekstra and bass player Johan Bakker. Recording several demo-tapes, the band welcomed Bart Schwertmann (Kayak, The Samurai Of Prog) as Bakker's replacement in 1987, and in 1991 released the EP Back To The Storm to some critical acclaim, most notably in Sym-Info (nowadays Io Pages) and the metal-orientated magazine Aardschok. In 1992 original guitarist Hoekstra was replaced by Niels Lingbeek and this steady line-up recorded an untitled album in a studio built in the backyard of the Offers' family home in 1997.

This collection of songs was never released and the band folded shortly after, with each member going their own separate way. Nils Offers played in several bands and finally retired from the music business in 2015, while both Lingbeek and Ard Offers turned professional and toured the music circuit in a variety of (cover) bands. Offers ultimately resurfaced in Perfect Storm, whose 2021 release No Air received splendid reviews.

Schwertmann went on to win the 1999 edition of The Soundmixshow, a predecessor to the Idols and Holland's Got Talent formats, and currently fronts Kayak, while his first solo effort Theatre Of Grief was recently released.

It was this effort that reunited him with Ard Offers and Lingbeek, the latter in the role of producer. Somewhere in the process, the rough mixes of Galaxy's unpublished effort got into the hands of Van Hartingsveldt, who subsequently made a plea to rescue the album. With Lingbeek forensically turning every stone of his studio upside down in order to find the recordings, Galaxy's newborn Runaway Men, a recently opted title referencing the members' wanderings, is finally here. And what a beautiful baby it is!

Exceptionally well-preserved, the music sounds as if it was recorded yesterday, and exhibits a fresh openness which sounds wonderfully contemporary. This also applies to the delightful music, which is an exciting mixture of melodic rock, AOR and neo-prog. The evenly-matched musicians complement each other brilliantly.

A strong demonstration of this is the entertaining instrumental Gallery Play where everyone gets their moment to shine. Soaring through ravishing melodies thriving on organ, synths and guitar, smooth bass shortly takes centre stage. Once met by excellent, dynamic drumming it ultimately spirals into outstanding play where Lingbeek's performance is ace, and Nils Offers holds it all together in meticulously grooving tightness.

His drumming style, embedded with formidable subtlety, rhythmic tightness and lightness of touch, shows technical similarities towards Neil Peart's approach, although the vigorously-catchy entrance of Never The Same inclines me to add Gary McCracken (Max Webster, Wrabit) to this equation. Surrounded by an AOR-oozing vibrancy, this track rocks like a cradle from beginning to end, with a brilliant lead role of bass in its intricately guided bridge.

The marvellous opener Answers expresses a lovely neo-progressive flow reminiscent to Landmarq. It is beautifully embraced by synths that in combination with the song structure, signals an impressively appealing Rush vibe. With solid harmonies, a 'finger-licking-ly' great keyboard solo and a sprinting finale of symphonic prog, mild visions of Marathon are ignited. This superb opening track leads perfectly into the exquisite Look Into My Eyes.

This composition's symphonic approach with lush dynamics and superb leads from keys and guitar, keeps the album's early momentum firmly in grip and hears Schwertmann reveal his calling card with a compelling performance.

The closing song to side one (seeing that the album is also available on vinyl), is the intricate ballad In Her Head which brings acoustic-driven melodic rock/AOR, mindful of Tyketto. The captured majestic similarity to Queensryche's 'one hit wonder' (you do the math), a monumental epic bridge embedded with symphonic elements and emotive guitar solo gliding into whispered words, drowns the listener in glorious memories of those golden days.

On 'side two' if you will, this becomes even more overwhelming, with every song revealing a jackpot of fantastic treats.

The powerful melodic rock of Lady Of Fire is simply irresistible, driven onwards by a tantalising riff straight out of Queensryche's Empire textbook, while Offers laces the memorable melodies with many symphonic elements. This wonderful composition ticks all of my boxes.

As an example of Galaxy's song-smithery, I imagined it hard to surpass, yet dreams come true with the subsequent Talk To Me, which shoots an arrow of heavenly Shotgun Symphony divinity into my heart. Powerful and instantly grabbing on a first encounter, it offers a driving attitude slightly reminiscent to Shy's Brave The Storm. This "somebody, pinch me please" highlight flows like nothing before and shows a band on top of their game.

All of these songs act as a blueprint of the musical world I adore, and the epic finale in Runaway Man is no different. Anyone wondering what it took/takes to win a national vocal competition should definitely listen to Schwertmann's performance in this emotive semi-ballad. His passionate delivery and emotional depth are first class, and together with the oasis of touching melodies and symphonic embellishments reminiscent to early Enchant, this song's warm embrace becomes a deeply satisfying affair.

Why this stunning album was never released is far beyond me. Every composition is a home-run in its own right and the band's potential and individual talent continuously oozes across the 48 gob-smacking minutes, where the band wears their influences with pride, yet successfully create their own sound.

To state that I'm pleasantly surprised is an obvious understatement, for frankly this must-have album has 'Album Of The Year Contender' written all over it. But please don't take my enthusiastic word for it, find out for yourself and grab your limited copy before it's too late. Meanwhile, I hereby notify that I signed a search warrant for uncovering the other no-longer available items, while a motion towards the possibility of a reunion is also filed, just in case. Stranger things have happened lately...

Grandval — Eau | Feu

Grandval - Eau | Feu
Ferimur (1:40), Les Jours Innocents (5:18), Il Neige Encore (5:34), Heinrich (Un Monde Bien Étrange) (9:55), Érables Et Chênes (8:31), Aqua Et Igni (7:42), Fin De Partie (6:35)
Jan Buddenberg

Eau | Feu (Water / Fire) is the concluding part to Grandval's "trilogy of elements", which started in 2016 with À Ciel Ouvert (Open Skies) and in 2020 continued with Descende Sur Terre (Descend to Earth). Behind the wheel one still finds Henri Vaugrand on vocals, bass, guitars, e-bow, keys, sampling and programming, now expanded with Olivier Bonneau as a steady band member (keys, bass pedals, guitars, harmonies). Both are assisted by Nemo/JPL musicians Jean Baptiste Itier (drums) and Jean Pierre Louveton (guitars, harmonies), while Élodie Saugues on harmony vocals completes the list of participants.

Lyrically, the songs address a variety of topics, involving psychological aspects around recent exile issues including loneliness, climate change and the migrants in hope for a better future. With lyrics in French, still not my speciality, I'll gladly take the band's word for it. The fact that some song titles are even in Latin, which is even rustier in my case, doesn't make it easy to get into the concept.

You can add to these language problems, the slightly distracting overture Ferimur, which misses out on its lyrics but with a length of merely two minutes, fails to take me on an instant journey. It doesn't make for an easy start.

Rest-assured that the music that follows makes up for these minor personal shortcomings, for with Louveton and Itier on-board, it shares a favourable likeness to JPL. The embedded, delicate pop approach brings a lovely Anabiose appeal. The pop-styled opening with tight drum work from Itier and lovely synth sounds in Les Jours Innocent, composed by Bonneau, is therefore instantly attractive. Vaugrand's 'chansonnier' vocal style perfectly befits the music. With fine interplay and strong guitar melodies, it glides smoothly onwards as it passes a beautiful synth solo and fades away satisfyingly into the distance.

The becalming nature of Il Neige Encore is surrounded by tasty Mellotron which brings a delightful Barclay James Harvest atmosphere. It smoulders onwards through a bed of melancholy. The beautiful, wavy guitar work, in combination with the organ, fuels the fire excellently at the end of the song. Some parts within this song also manage to bring some memories of recent Anyone's Daughter efforts, a reference which sees a delightful reprise in the groovy and laid back opening of Érables Et Chênes. This is an album highlight which brings a lovely electronic sound mindful to AD's Neue Sterne. With psychedelic elements, dexterous drumming throughout from Itier, a delightful jazz-orientated passage and gorgeous atmospheric guitars, this second composition by Bonneau is one of the most variegated and interesting songs on the album.

Adding brooding darkness in cautiously rippling psychedelic atmospheres, Aqua Et Igni brings lively 80s Yes sparks. The song gathers momentum through lovely synths and a short-but-ever-so-sweet passage where Louveton gets to let-it-rip, is another highlight. As the song fades in enchanting beauty through refined vocal harmonisation, this part also indicates to me what I would have liked to hear more of: Rock!

The two remaining tracks emphasise this feeling. Fin De Partie's excellent structural build-up splashes lovely melodies floating on keys reminiscent to BJH and Pink Floyd. It alternates this with sublime explosive passages that burst with energy and outstanding furious rock. The magical way in which this song works towards its crescendo, is once again one of those moments where the album leaves me breathless.

Heinrich (Un Monde Bien Étrange) whose Harmonium-like pleasantness and mild Rush modesty brings elegantly designed melodies in which especially bass and keys are very appealing, has a similar exciting and intoxicating passage. The acceleration of pace, as the song enters its ravishing finale, enticingly releasing every single instrumental hand-brake, is simply superb and especially a feast for fans of JPL/Nemo.

Despite my own detachment with the conceptual aspect of the album, this growing album shows a lot of appeal through it's many ideas, solid performances and blending of styles. I'd like a bit more meat on my bones in terms of rock, but altogether this is a fine and recommendable effort which will please fans of JPL and other contemporary French progressive acts. Those interested shouldn't forget to check out Grandval's cover of J'aime L'Ennui from the late Christophe, which was released months prior to this album and is not available elsewhere.

Iris Divine — Mercurial

Iris Divine - Mercurial
Bitter Bride (5:03), Silver Tongued Lie (4:19), Thirteen (7:09), Sapphire (3:49), Death by Consensus (5:30), Negative Seed (4:57), Breaking the Paradigm (5:16), Mercurial (3:38)
Andy Read

This is the fourth album from this progressive metal trio out of Virginia, and it should continue to enhance their reputation for consistently-delivering weighty slabs of melodic ambition.

While Convergence (2011) was a solid starting point, both Karma Sown and The Static And The Noise easily warranted a place in my list of favourite albums of their respective years. Mercurial will follow a similar path.

Singer/guitarist Navid Rashid and bassist Brian Dobbs continue to provide a consistent core to the band. Scott Manley is a newer arrival on drums. Whilst the last two albums shared a very similar template, Mercurial brings more experimental and alt-rock motifs to the Iris Divine sound-palette. Part traditional progressive metal especially Redemption and Fates Warning, and part crossover with hints of Tool, Kings X and Wheel. The overall sound is refreshingly original.

We open with one of the most aggressive songs, Bitter Bride, followed by one of the most melodic in Silver Tongues Lie. This has something of Rush about its vibe, albeit with an intriguing, off-piste keyboard diversion towards the end. It is a shame that it fades out, instead of using the guitar solo to draw its own conclusion.

The groove-soaked Thirteen is one of my favourite songs. The keyboards are used effectively to add different textures. The layered vocals and harmonies again offer a different timbre that reminds me of Fates Warning and Evergrey. The instrumental section halfway through, takes the song through several styles. Very clever.

Iris Divine, promo photo

Sapphire is the most direct song and first single. It has a happy heart, wrapped around an 80s aor/melodic rock melody and a groove from somewhere in the Kings X back catalogue. But again there are several instrumental diversions that add interest.

The intense instrumental Death by Consensus has the best riff that Redemption never created, whilst Negative Seed returns to the aggressive stance of the opening track. I'm not a fan of the quasi-rap style of vocals used here. My least favourite song.

Thankfully we end with two winners. The eastern motifs used on both Breaking the Paradigm and Mercurial are a perfect fit. The first is pretty aggressive but the melodic hook lightens it considerably. I'm reminded of Mordred here at times. The guitar, bass and drum work is especially outstanding on this complex arrangement.

With its slowly-building opening, I have rescheduled Mercurial as my opening track, even though its Led Zeppelin/Kingdom Come groove is somewhat a-typical. Maybe a bit more of this groove on the next album? It really works well, although again the fade-out is a disappointing way to close the album.

While previous Iris Divine albums have been a little hard to get hold of for European fans, Mercurial will be released worldwide on the Dutch-based Layered Reality label on 20th May 2022.

If you seek intelligent, sophisticated and heavy progressive music, with a firm ear for melodic hooks, then you'll need to look hard for a better album this (or any other) year.

Mitchell Manburg — Laplace Residence

Mitchell Manburg - Laplace Residence
I-5 And In The Skies (3:57), At What Cost (3:37), Headlights (3:35), Laplace Resonance (7:01)
Owen Davies

This mini album was created during a time of isolation following the solitude of the Covid pandemic. The opening track and concluding track are instrumentals and highlight some undoubted strengths of Manburg's work. The lyrics in the other two tunes reflect-upon Manburg's depression and confusion amidst the uncertainty during quarantine. As a result much of the lyrical content emits a heartfelt piquancy that can reach out and clutch the emotions.

For example, Headlights shines a penetrating light upon Manburg's feelings of disbelief and acceptance of some of the consequences of the pandemic:

It's not like it's really happening
Wait another day, it'll all just fade away

Elsewhere, the poetic lyrics of At What Cost offers a series of pithy questions to reflect upon

What is the cost of your teenage years?
How much for your hopes and your dreams?
What is the cost of having none?

Apart from its vast array of questions, this tune is notable for its upright bass parts that are elegantly played by Nick Ornelas.

A few the release's tunes are plumed and dressed by attractive, finger-style guitar parts. These show the influence of artists such as John Fahey.

The opening section of I-5 And In The Skies includes some delightful playing. The title track offers a change in mood and direction, as it includes ambient elements that swish, pulse and drone. These delightfully compliment the sustained, effect-driven guitar tones that provide an ethereal soundscape to the piece. The title piece is undoubtedly the most interesting composition on offer and I enjoyed many aspects of its lush soundscape.

However, I must admit that after hearing this release on more than a few occasions, my attention began to wither and wane. The title track attempted to explore new territories, but was unable to totally break free from its overall feeling of predictability. Similarly, the blues influences and repetitive chorus of Headlights failed to raise my expectations or my goosebumps, and unfortunately the narrative style and plethora of questions posed in At What Cost quickly became a source of irritation.

Although the songs contained some noticeable hooks, unfortunately they did not linger long in the memory. In the end, it was the sweet strum, and the pleasant pluck of Manburg's acoustic guitar parts that left a favourable and much less transient impression.

This album is available as a free download on the artist's web page and I hope that readers will find something about it they might enjoy. Nevertheless, I feel that if I wanted to listen to something inventive produced by a singer/songwriter during Covid lockdown times, then a spin of Momus' intriguing Ten-foot Hut from his Vivid album would ultimately be much more rewarding.

Marillion — An Hour Before It’s Dark

Marillion - An Hour Before It’s Dark
Be Hard on Yourself (9:28), Reprogram the Gene (7:02), Only A Kiss (0:39), Murder Machines (4:21), The Crow And The Nightingale (6:35), Sierra Leone (10:54), Care (15:15), Murder Machines 12” remix (6:28)
Theo Verstrael

After an extended and clever marketing campaign lasting almost half a year in which two tracks were revealed, new songs were played during sporadic live gigs, an album title contest was held, and free London cab rides were issued for those who recognised the artwork, the twentieth Marillion studio album has arrived.

An intriguing title enhanced by the striking artwork of the cover: on a very dark grey background a circle of multicoloured lines is shown with the album title and the artist subtly tucked-away in the corner. Deceivingly simple, intricate, above all arty and alas not very functional; the album title and artist are hardly readable!

But the cover does exactly what it was designed for, namely attracting attention. The rest of the 24-page (!) booklet is very informative and well-designed, with all lyrics written out, pictures that support the lyrical content of the songs, and song-to-song information on the musicians that can be heard. A really good example of how to give service to all those 'old-fashioned' CD buyers!

But all these marketing and promotional actions would be futile if the music sucked. With the innovative and successful F E A R (Fuck Everyone And Run) album as predecessor, the band has laid the bar very high for themselves. Yet this new one turns out to be a very convincing release; partly because the same successful approach as on F E A R has been followed, and partly because the band has developed more than enough new elements to merit this album in its own right. As usual all the music was written collectively by Ian Mosley, Pete Trewavas, Mark Kelly, Steve Rothery, and Steve Hogarth, with the latter supplying the lyrics. Michael Hunter assisted the band in the production and the arrangements, a cooperation that has already lasted for many years.

The 'standard' album, offers seven tracks ranging in length between 0:39 to 15:15, supplemented with a bonus track. Some tracks are divided into different parts, although the music flows completely naturally between each.

The shortest real track, Only A Kiss, is however an incomprehensibly-short affair. It could have served very well as an intro for Murder Machines (in fact, it does so) or even as an outro for Reprogram The Gene, but it is a stand-alone track and that doesn't make any sense at all. What the rationale behind that decision was, remains a complete mystery to me. The other thing I don't understand is why the 12” version of Murder Machines starts after a silence of more than five minutes and is glued to the last part of Care.

However, both issues have not hampered my enjoyment of this album at all. The album starts convincingly with the multipart Be Hard On Yourself with a quiet, choir opening and a wide keys arrangement before Hogarth takes over the lead vocals. His singing is fierce, trying to convince the listener to take responsibility for their own life instead of letting their ears hang towards others. A very relevant theme in these threatening times, in which non-democratic powers seem to grow stronger and stronger each day.

The intensity of the music in part I The Tear In The Big Picture reminded me of If My Heart Would Run Uphill from the Anoraknophobia album while the music in Lost For Luxury is more plaintive, slowly building towards the reflective You Can Learn that has some reminiscences with Brave. The energy in the song is great. The title of the album is the last line of the lyrics, and before you realise it, the more than nine minutes are over. A very good way to start an album.

Reprogram The Gene is more up-tempo with music driven to speed by the pumping bass and drums during the Invincible part. Rothery has a first solo after two minutes and Hogarth's singing is emotional and fierce. The second part, Trouble-free Life, is very quiet, with Kelly's keys carrying the soft vocals. The third part is primarily a very fine, uplifting reworking of the central theme dominated by Rothery's heavenly guitar playing.

A great song and great lyrics dealing with how we human beings mistreat the only planet that can sustain our very existence. Referring to the courage of Greta Thunberg, Hogarth and his friends make a very clear statement, summarised in the last line of the lyrics: “Let's all be friends of the Earth”. Reading the biting remarks in the liner notes on the current UK Prime Minister and the Brexit, make it also very clear where Marillion stands in the nowadays world (Editors note: at the time of editing, this refers to Boris Johnson but by the time this is published it could be anyone!)

Murder Machines deals with the impossibility of hugging your loved ones during the recent pandemic and what that brings about as a human being. It's another up-tempo song with very fine and fierce guitar playing by Rothery. This song is not divided into sections but that is mainly because the intro was taken away from the song. The chorus is very catchy, and although the lyrics are slightly repetitive, the interplay between the music and the vocals works so very well here that it doesn't irritate at all. The guitar solo backed by heavenly keys is moody and passionate and brings this haunting song to an end that comes a bit too soon.

An a cappella choir followed by beautiful piano opens The Crow And The Nightingale. This is a slow ballad dominated by Kelly's keys. The overall mood is melancholic, stately, but not sombre and that is perfectly fitting the lyrical theme of this song. It's Hogarth's homage to Leonard Cohen, one of his musical heroes, and I'm sure that Canadian will love it. The musical melody is subtly changing throughout the song. The playing is atmospheric and slowly builds towards a climax in the form of another of those awesome Rothery solos, introduced this time by Kelly's keys and supported by a beautiful choir. A really moving and heartfelt song. Without doubt one of the highlights on the album.

Lyrically the contrast with the next song, Sierra Leone, could hardly be bigger. It deals with the horrible conditions of children working in the diamond industries of one of the poorest countries in the world.

The song builds up very slowly until halfway through the third part when Hogarth's singing starts to become more emotional, almost angry. These emotions perfectly fit the haunting lyrics and should have lasted longer but instead the band becomes rather quiet again, with just piano and keys and subtle bass supporting the vocals in Blue Warm Air. Halfway the guitar comes in for another sensitive solo. The final part, More Than Treasure, builds upon that solo and adds another one leading towards the soft vocal outro, making this song a perfect showcase for the empathy they have with the subject. A beautiful song.

The final song, Care, starts with the funky part Maintenance Drugs with fine drums, bass and drone sounds backing the verses, this time reminding me of This Is The Twenty-first Century from, again, the Anoraknophobia album. The chorus is completely different though, with delicious guitar behind addictive vocal lines. The part bearing the album title is a rather quiet vocal affair, with soft drumming and a wide keys arrangement, slowly enhancing the haunting atmosphere in the song. That is elaborated on further in the third part, Every Cell, with a beautiful long guitar solo before the last part, Angels On Earth, reveals the real meaning behind the song: a true and heartfelt tribute to those who stood in the front during the pandemic, all the nurses and medics that didn't stop taking care of us.

Again Marillion shows how much they feel to be part of nowadays society and to comment on certain developments in that society. But this time not angry, as in F E A R, but with love and empathy. The guitar solo that forms the outro of the song is fantastic. The recurrence of some lyrics from Murder Machines is very cleverly done. This song is the second highlight of this album for me.

The 12” version of Murder Machines is foremost a slightly heavier version, with a very prominent role for Ian Mosley's drumming which is a very good thing. It is more dynamic than the studio version and has a longer instrumental middle part. A nice addition but implementing almost five minutes between the last studio track and this 12” version is far too long, especially since you can't skip to this 12” version independently.

As with most of the recent Marillion albums this is again a slow-burner. At first listen the songs seem to be much alike, seguing effortlessly from part-to-part and having more or less the same tempo. But that is just on a first glance. Many spins later, the different characteristics of the individual songs have presented themselves, and they are very well written and performed; varied, moody, dynamic, sometimes quite emotional and very attractive. The long campaign to launch this album was well worth the investment. It's another great album in the still-growing Marillion songbook. They don't have to prove themselves, but they did.

Vola — Live From The Pool

Vola - Live From The Pool
24 Light-Years (5:22), Alien Shivers (4:17), Head Mounted Sideways (5:45), Straight Lines (4:23), Ruby Pool (4:32), Owls (5:57), These Black Claws (5:55), Gutter Moon (October Session) (3:03), Ghosts (4:05), Smartfriend (4:16), Whaler (5:44), Inside Your Fur (5:38), Stray The Skies (4:17)
Chris Rafferty

The Covid pandemic has unleashed the creativity of many bands in their search for ways of staying in touch with their fan-base. The response from Vola has not been left wanting. In terms of originality, the streaming of a live concert in a disused swimming pool stands out. The concert was filmed in an abandoned military complex in North Zealand, near Copenhagen using five cameras and a drone. The output of which has been captured in Live From The Pool, containing 13 tracks with a mixture of material from their first three studio albums.

Vola are a four-piece band from Denmark and Sweden, formed in 2006. Except for the recruitment of Adam Janzi on drums in 2017, the line-up has been stable since 2009. The other members are Asger Mygind (vocals and guitars), Martin Werner on keyboards and Nicolai Mogensen on bass.

Their first three albums have achieved critical acclaim, and recognition has come in the form of gigs supporting Katatonia and Anathema. They have also toured with Haken, performed a couple of gigs with Dream Theater, and they have just been touring with Devin Townsend.

Their music is difficult to categorise. I believe the suggestion that they are a mixture of Meshuggah, Rammstein and Pink Floyd comes close to describing them. One thing that is clear, is that Vola have developed a unique sound incorporating the use of keyboards and synths. It is strong on melody, at times atmospheric, combining soft passages and with heavy guitar riffs from their down-tuned seven-string guitar and five-string bass.

The vocals are for the most part soft; some may argue that their catchy melodies are pop music-influenced. Interestingly, the track These Black Claws is a collaboration with rap duo Shahmen, this I feel is indicative of the musical ambitions they are fermenting. The use of hip-hop, pop and rap gives me a feeling that with Live From The Pool they have reached a crossroads in their career.

Inmazes, their first studio album, was released in 2016. Lyrically, it tries to “capture this feeling of not being able to fully experience happiness, how is this struggle visualised in your own mind, and how do your surroundings react to the behaviour caused by it”. Inner demons and mental turmoil.

Their second album Applause of a Distant Crowd was released in 2018. Vocalist, Asger Mygind says that this album is lighter than their first, while developing a greater use of the electronics. Thematically, they move on to dealing with relationships.

Witness was released in 2021 and is the album that stands out. It is also ambitious, in that the concept is one of witnessing the difficulties that human-kind experiences.

Live From The Pool offers five tracks off Witness, three off Inmazes and five from Applause ....

First up, is 24 Light-Years. Originally on Witness it explores the theme of relationships: “I could leave this house but I won't, there is an echo that seems to live on”. It is musically soft, ethereal even, and is dominated by the keyboards and synth.

Alien Slivers is followed by what I consider to be the best track on the album, Head Mounted Sideways. It is a metaphor for looking away, exploring the decay of civilisation and a world built on a lack of morality. Musically, it is very heavy. Straight Lines, also originally on Witness is equally heavy. This is about “being unable to escape, running low on straight lines”.

Ruby Pools is a surprise; a soft melody with a nice guitar solo. Owls is one of the weaker tracks, making way for These Black Claws. This is ambitious; a heady mix of hip-hop, rap, metal and djent guitar. It is one of the outstanding tracks.

Gutter Moon, is an acoustic piece, slowed down considerably from the original. Ghosts, Smartfriend and Whaler, which are all from Applause are good tracks, making way for the end of the concert.

The final track is Stray the Skies which could be mistaken for The Porcupine Tree. That said, it is a strong finish to the album.

Overall, Live from the Pool is a very good album. The only criticism is that at times, Vola have veered into synth-pop where they would not be out of place on a Nik Kershaw or Human League 1980s, floppy-hair special. Being serious, it must be acknowledged that there is enough quality here to more than compensate for this minor indiscretion of exposing themselves to pop.

Their music is a mixture of soft, melodic beauty, counter-balanced by raw metal. Their greater use of electronica, pop melody and the experiment with rap are indications that Vola may expand their musical style and may not always belong to the progressive metal genre

Album Reviews