Brood Of Hatred — The Golden Age
Brood Of Hatred is a one-man Tunisian act founded back in 2010. Having began with no specific boundaries, the music is now firmly rooted in the death metal styling, but with a heavy atmosphere of melodic, dark and atmospheric sounds. Having began with the New Order of Intelligence EP back in 2012, Muhammed Mêlki has now released his third full-length entitled The Golden Age.
From the start, we are hit by a tense and chaotic, yet incredibly tight set of works. While not progressive in the same way Opeth is, the music is bridging between clean and harsh vocals like Enslaved, and with songs as long and winding as Be'lakor. The music sounds akin to a combination of all three. The relentless pace and technicality, the unconventional passages and chords, a discordant yet melodic atmosphere and the deep guttural growled vocals, is backed up by intense drumming.
This generates a powerful atmosphere of brooding-inevitability as the tracks continue their unstoppable path. With a few drops here and there, to mellow out from the relentless sonic assault with some clean bridges, the songs quickly resume the ferocious journey.
Overall, there is an underlying sense of unease and doom through the frantic riffing and machine gun-double bass drumming, rounded-off by a deep and dark tone to the guitars. The vocals come across as pent-up and angry, with a dash of despair for taste too.
I initially was expecting something a lot more straight-up death metal sounding, based on the name Brood of Hatred and the album's short length. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find an interesting and inventive take on progressive death that hits the ground running from the first notes, and doesn't stop until the end.
I'd recommend this for fans of Opeth, Be'lakor, Akercocke and (early) Gojira or for those who always wondered what the chaos of early 90s death metal would sound like with some better production.
Mental Fracture — Disaccord
Three years ago during a stroll on my algorithmically-generated Facebook timeline I encountered Mental Fracture due to a consistent sponsored message. Normally I neglect this sort of messages, but for once I decided to check it out based on the title of a new prog-rock album by a band from Israel. A decision I never regretted, although the promise of an album was a bit premature for it turned out the band had only just released their EP The Mind's Desire.
This surprising EP convinced through its originality, great musicianship, a delightful vintage feel and eclectic, adventurous compositions. It showed a band with a huge potential.
Now several years later their independently-released debut record Disaccord, revolving around 'the concepts of cognitive dissonance and the games we play with ourselves to cope with it', sees the band take the next leap in their evolution and fully deliver on their promise.
Still consisting of Ori Mazuz (keyboards, vocals), Yogev Shpilman (guitars), Philip Tzukerman (bass), and Hai Maller (drums), Disaccord brilliantly shows that they haven't lost any of their (technical) touch. The overall chemistry, spontaneity, energy, enthusiasm and unbridled joy in playing, simply oozes off the plate and makes this album a musical joy. From the opening overture, sounding epic in scope with a dash of Dream Theater subtlety, up to the dying seconds of Heart Of Stone the band presents a marvellous journey through exciting landscapes that keep on giving.
A marvellous panorama is offered by the magnificent Clockwork which after an atmospheric opening delves into heavy prog/metal and builds on groovy funkiness and odd time signatures, occasionally reminiscent to Pain Of Salvation. Empowered by profound playfulness, pumping bass and exciting executions, one is surrounded by aggressive vocal expressions from Mazuz who simultaneously adds some deliciously luscious Hammond organ to the fire. It suddenly twists and turns from these contagious prog-metal atmospheres into carriages of swing-jazz, before seconds later it raptures into country with Mazuz shuffling away on piano. Throwing guitar scales, rhythmic propulsion and compelling melodies into the proverbial boiler, it steams in full blaze to its rewarding destination thriving on majestic bass-play in its coda.
On the previous effort, one would find minutely-woven Oriental influences within the compositions. Although still present, these influences have now mostly given way to a different kind of oriental flavour. A delicate sort of amalgamated all-spice that is beautifully illustrated by the magnificent Inception Of Fear.
At this stage the infectious rock gets delightfully heavy with tasty riffs and a Hammond organ adding a Deep Purple touch, while a galore of counter-rhythms and sudden alternations gives expressions of a band operating in their perfect element. This song is a marvelling revelation of the first order and a highlight of the record. It convincingly ends with powerful vocals from Mazuz, who throughout the song impresses with his vocal versatility.
The divine instrumental Disaccord keeps the pace of the album brilliantly going and heightens festivities with a rash of Rush textures and some delightful jazzy-play from Shpilman. Frivolously flying into altitudes of A.C.T. overdrive, the melodic piece then enters an intricate weightlessness to which immaculate bass lines and exciting synth weirdness add gravity.
The same radiant dexterity, paralleling the technical finesse of Dream Theater, is palpable throughout the record. In the wonderfully-varied Hello it says hi to the funk influences of Red Hot Chili Peppers alongside seventies-inspired AOR reminiscent to Aviary. The song descends briefly into serene calmness and then lifts off again via a magnificent guitar solo before it finally enters into a coda where grabbing complexities invite quirky dance routines in the best A.C.T. style.
The playful Queen impression of Concrete Wall shifts the attraction to a galloping of poppy environments and a longing for 70s-inspired melodies. Goodbye Forever achieves much the same as it soars through a richness of waltzing melodies and buoyantly splashes through moments of intimacy, emotion, loss and pain, voiced by a tuneful Mazuz who gets to share his inner Freddie Mercury formidably. Summer Dies adds delicious funkiness and a diversity of gleaming atmospheres as it cruises with agile flexibility through rumbling bass, intricate piano parts and elegant symphonic elements.
By the time Heart Of Stone arrives my prog (metal)-heart has melted into one of admiration and endless joy. This incredibly playful song takes on increasingly grandiose forms, meanwhile sharing plenty of heart warming passionate performances. With a graciously touching solo from Shpilman and a throbbing musical build up into heavy-prog mindful to Moon Letters it enters an oasis of minutely-arranged melodies pulsating with Dream Theater finesse and offers a magnificent finale.
Disaccord is a marvellous work of art and in terms of a debut, this is as good as it can get. It's an album destined to compete for a place in my year-end list and one which will give me great joy, entertainment and satisfaction for years to come.
So without further ado do yourself a favour and check out the album on their Bandcamp site, preferably on a Friday in order to show them full support if you decide to acquire the album. Be warned though for there's every chance you might, especially if you're a heavy orientated prog(metal) fan who made it to the end of this review and shares an affinity to the bands referenced. Off you go!
Timelock — Sygn Yn
One of the much sought-after CDs from SI Music that I still own is the 1992 Louise Brooks album by Dutch neo-prog outfit Timelock. I was lured to the band because the title track of that album was one of the highlights of the first SI Music Sampler and I highly enjoyed their rather straightforward neo-prog. They fitted very well amongst other fine Dutch neo-prog bands such as For Absent Friends, Like Wendy, Wings Of Steel and Differences.
But the unfortunate demise of the SI Music label made it a lot more difficult for those bands to release further albums and many of them soon called it a day. Long have I thought that Timelock were among those long-lost acts, until they suddenly released the four track EP Stay Awake in 2021 that met good reviews. For DPRP colleague Stefan Hennig, that EP “served as a great reintroduction to Timelock” and gained much optimism about the forthcoming album. This year saw the release of that new album entitled Sygn Yn (whatever that may mean), their first studio album since 2008's Buildings. They have also announced plans to do a promotional tour and to release another album.
The band have expanded to a eight-piece, although founding members Ruud Stoker (lead and backing vocals) and Julian Driessen (keyboards and synthesizers) still form the core. For this album they have hired the services of Martin Hendriks (lead and rhythm guitars), Arjen van den Bosch (orchestral keyboards), David Guurink (bass) and Rob Boshuijzen (drums). On Everlasting Eline Ossevoort has contributed additional vocals, while Nino Thomas did some (very acceptable) grunts on The Devils Hour. For me the addition of Coby van Oorschot and Laura Eradus on backing vocals is the real asset; they add much more variation in tone and emotion to the vocals because they sound so different from Stoker's rather inexpressive voice. And that is exactly what was needed to lift this album above the average.
The six songs display a wide variety of musical styles but the album is a real entity. Opener Moving Landscapes is an energetic, rocking track with driving bass and drums and a good chorus that immediately shows the value of the backing vocals. It has hints of early Pendragon as well as of recent Dilemma. The guitar solo towards the end has a fine Rush-feeling, while the keyboards made me think of Camel. The lyrics appeal for mankind to take responsibility for their own lives.
The a cappella opening lines of Stay Awake are quite Bangles-like, which means good-sounding but very poppy female lead vocals. It quickly develops into a keys-dominated pop song with hints of A-HA and Duran Duran. When the break comes in at 3:40 the song gets more prog momentum. Some fine interplay between drums, keys, harmony vocals and guitar the song brings to a satisfying, rocky end. Lyrically the listener is called upon his own choice to try to seek the best in life, although there is much to fear. The track featured in a shorter version on their 2021 EP.
Everlasting is a slow track with Mellotron-like keys in the background supporting of the very fine vocal melody in which Stoker is supported by special guest Ossevoort. Their voices blend very well. The long instrumental part starting at the five-minute mark is a subtle continuation of the musical theme, led by orchestral keys and some piano with the addition of some dreamy vocals in the background. It really flows nicely towards the fade-out in which clear synth notes feature. The lyrics deal with somebody's feelings about losing a loved one; the melancholic mood of the song suits this theme well.
March-like drumming and fine electric guitar soloing introduce The Devils Hour, an up-tempo, energetic rock song dominated by the electric guitar. Lyrically the listener is seduced to accept the seemingly-inevitable evil that is getting stronger and stronger in today's world; not a very optimistic view and alas all too realistic in these strange and violent times. After a really nice synth break, with a very attractive theme, church bells can be heard followed by some decent grunts and great harmony singing. They introduce the final fierce and fast, electric guitar solo in which Hendriks shows his big talents; for my taste it should have lasted for at least a couple of minutes more.
Heart Of Mine is a slow love ballad with a tropical touch. The vocal melody is really beautiful and sung very well by Stoker with excellent vocal support by Van Oorschot and Eradus. Halfway through there is a good musical break with electric guitar and soft-sounding synth-induced trumpets, giving this track a very tasty Caribbean feel. The following guitar solo is an effective bridge towards the last chorus in which the trumpets re-emerge. Simply a great song.
The closing epic, the 19-minute The Great Cover-Up Story is divided into six parts in the best Supper's Ready tradition. It is dedicated to "all politically oppressed people” which tells all about the lyrical content. The song flows from the soft, orchestral opening, through several piano-dominated verses, leading to a fine vocal outburst around the five-minute mark. There is a very fine Ennio Morricone-like middle part before the song really gains speed with a very alluring synth motive over fine guitar soloing.
The quiet verses return, before sounds of shooting introduce a small musical theme on synths that reappears several times during his second part War Of The Words. That theme is so attractive that I started to wonder whether I had heard it before. It'll immediately stick into your mind!
Part three Revolution is the most angry-sounding but the music and the vocals remain melodic. The Glimpse is a short synth workout before the orchestral synths take over the music and the tempo slows down in Footprints In The Sand. The merging of Stoker's voice with the two background vocalists is again excellent here and adds much depth to the music. The song ends with a really beautiful orchestral finale that is maybe a bit too short. In spite of the great differences between the parts, this epic is very coherent and very strong; an epic the band can be very proud of.
While the cover is a mysterious Blue-man figure, the well-designed booklet itself is dominated by the colour red, including the band photo in the middle. All lyrics, as well as the other album information are printed out in bright, white lettering with a good eye for detail. It illustrates the level of attention the band have given to their output.
With this album, Timelock have firmly re-established their position in the (Dutch) prog scene. It is a very convincing and varied album that shows what this band is capable of. They have managed to find a splendid solution for strengthening the lead vocals, the weakest part of their music until now. Stoker is a good singer but his voice is rather uniform. With the addition of the two female background vocalists the vocals have become a really strong part of their sound. The use of the orchestral arrangements is another very good choice, especially in the way that it augments the musical quality of the epic track.
This is a great album which is easily their most coherent, most adventurous and most varied album to date. Timelock is back or, maybe more correct, has never ceased to exist; and that is good news!
Time's Forgotten — Shelter
I am delighted to introduce to you Time's Forgotten. A progressive rock/metal band from Costa Rica that has somehow managed to release three albums since 2004, without coming to my attention. Following the last of these albums, The Book Of Lost Words in 2012, they decided that they needed a break and decided to go on hiatus.
Appropriately refreshed, they reunited in 2019 and started work on this, their fourth studio album. The line-up has remained largely unchanged with founder, keyboardist, guitarist and backing singer Juan Pablo Calvo sharing the songwriting with Ari Lotringer, the band's lead guitarist. They are ably supported by Jorge Sobrado on drums, and bassist Gonzalo Trejos.
There has however been a radical change in the vocal department, with the band deciding to shift from a male to a female singer. Former vocalist Francisco Longhi was replaced by newcomer Priscilla Ruiz.
In recent years I have increasingly favoured female-fronted progressive rock and metal bands. I find the female voice is often able to bring more versatility, a wider dynamic and greater power and emotion to the mix. Ruiz has all of those elements in her vocal tool-kit and a few extra tricks too.
In the more sultry, folky moments she reminds me of Judith Rijnveld from Kingfisher Sky. There's plenty of power and soul that veers the sound towards Acolyte's Morgan-Leigh Brown. For the more metallic moments Ruiz can bring a bit of grit to the power, recalling Beatriz Albert of the Spanish band Ebony Ark or Diana Serra from Aghora. The more melodic pop-rock moments reflect Trope's impressive front-woman Diana Studenberg.
As a result, Ruiz's performance adds the icing, the fresh fruit, the chocolate and the candles to an already very tasty gateau.
Having taken the time to listen to some songs from their previous albums, it is clear that Times Forgotten have used their break to take their songwriting to another level. Added to the vocal performance by Ruiz, this album should move them from non-league hopefuls, to premier league contenders.
All but one of the eight main songs are essential ear-candy, and after spinning this constantly for a few weeks, I do have quite a few favourites.
City comes in three distinct phrases. After the delicate opening and the alt-rock filling, the final layer is built around a brooding riff. Cycle exists around a stunningly-memorable guitar motif. Here the style sits somewhere between the first album of Kingfisher Sky and the more crossover leanings of Trope.
Anyone reading this and looking for some new names for a music festival or tour should check out the band's live credentials with the on-stage versions of Cycle and City. This is no studio project for sure!
Defiant is the heaviest, most metallic number, reminding me often of Ebony Ark, whilst the weight is maintained with Accident of Evolution; a beastly instrumental.
The one song I don't connect with is Ascension. But instead of fading away, as many albums do after an impressive start, Times Forgotten have saved their strongest material until the end of the album.
Outsider starts heavy before evolving into an unusual groove built on a gorgeously-fluctuating guitar motif. A delightfully fresh vocal melody then takes the spotlight, before a soul-like, bluesy guitar and vocal section, before the original guitar lick fades back in.
The song Moments Of Clarity has been correctly selected as the main video (see below). It possesses another delectable guitar motif, fabulous keys, clever harmonies and another fluctuating groove. This is very close to the style that Acolyte perfected last year on Entropy. This will be one of my favourite songs of 2022.
The Road Home has such a slow, slow build-up that the musical crescendo stretches through the entire track. The conclusion is tremendous. The separate 'outro' is wholly unnecessary.
I can say that this is my favourite album of the year so far. All fans of heavy-prog/progressive-metal should at least give this a try. It will appeal to those who seek music that is able to incorporate a wide variety of styles; yet without becoming too eccentric or artsy or self-indulgent. Fans of any of the bands mentioned above should find something to their tastes. Equally, those who enjoy modern progressive metal bands such as Leprous, Vola, Haken and Caligula's Horse should check this out.
Vass / Katsionis — Ethical Dilemma
Bob Katsionis is a name many fans of progressive metal will know as he has contributed significantly to a number of well known Greek metal acts including Firewind and Nightfall. In addition, he has released a number of excellent solo albums, a number of which I have and enjoy to this day.
On this outing however, he has teamed up with American throat warbler Billy Vass who possesses an amazing four-octave range. Some may have become familiar with his work with Terra Incognito and Rhodium, (both from Greece), although it seems these bands are not so well-known amongst the rateyourmusic.com family. The songwriting has been credited to Bob, Billy was responsible for the lyrics, while Telis Kafkas handles the bass, and Bill De Benedetto plays drums.
Ethical Dilemma features artists who are really at the top of their game. The songwriting throughout the album is pretty strong and is replete with plenty of power chords and crunch that seems to pay homage to the 90s melodic / power metal sound. Certainly, the stand-out feature I could not ignore is the incendiary voice that Billy Vass has, and as I have not heard any of music before now, it's hard not to be impressed with his amazing range.
Having said that, I feel a little let down as he dominates so much of the music that there only a few sections where Bob Katsionis is allowed to demonstrate his extraordinary talents on the keyboards. Although Bob is also a formidable guitarist, I prefer his keyboard pyrotechnics on his solo albums where his talents really shine through.
It is only on the fourth song, Dreamscream, where Bob finally lets rip with an all-blazing synth solo that blasts through the stratosphere. It is exactly this type of synth work that hits all the right buttons for me and keeps me fully engaged. While the first three tracks have their own degree of merit, the lack of any blistering synth fills seems a slightly sad omission as it is Bob's ability to really deliver some crunchy ivory morsels, that keeps me coming back for more.
Similarly, the synth work on the following track, Echoes In Paradise is also exceptional. My mathematical abilities however, reveal that only 25% of the album feature Bob at his best as a keyboard player. While his guitar work is above reproach, I feel too much emphasis has been directed towards showcasing Billy Vass and his voice to the world.
While there is nothing really ground-breaking here, what is evident right from the get go, is the dynamic cohesion between these two. The overarching unison throughout the eight songs is hard to ignore and would have most fans convinced these guys have been performing together for decades.
The production here is also of a very high quality and allows you to become fully absorbed by all the crispness on offer. The album is, however, quite short at only a tad over 36 minutes and may have been better served with the addition of another song or two to complete a pretty good package.
There is a definite connection to other bands such as Fates Warning and Queensrÿche but each listener will hear a different influence somewhere along the way.
Am I impressed with this latest offering? For the most part, yes, but with the few caveats mentioned earlier. A few more sections featuring keyboards would have moved my score up a notch but don't let my preferences overrule your own expectations. This is still excellent music, played by a team of very professional people and is likely to appeal to a pretty wide style of audience that enjoys a slab of melodic / power metal.
Vast Conduit — Always Be There
The debut album by Vast Conduit Always Be There, sees Enchant's keyboard player Bill Jenkins rounding up a few of his compatriots from previous bands (the more prog-metal orientated Thought Chamber), as well as some fresh faces for this new project. However, this new venture has more of a neo-prog feel in the songs, and a fusion feel to the instrumentals that fans of Thought Chamber would expect.
The concept is about building parent-child relationships and how vital they are to our happiness. The album opens with both feet planted firmly in neo-prog territory but with a fusion twist. For me the undoubted star of this collection of tunes is ex-Thought Chamber bassist Jeff Plant. Barrier moves from piano and some lovely Kansas-like violin (Jim Hurley) through slower passages and faster ones with a good synth solo and a increase in electric guitar from another ex-Thought Chamber member Michael Harris.
The opener sets the template for the songs on Always Be There and, as melodic and well-arranged as they are, I find that Friel's vocals don't engage me on an emotional or musical level, especially on the first set of songs. When the band get to Odessa things improve a bit for me as he finds a different register. Later on the album, with the addition of backing vocals, things also improve. It may be that he is a bit forward in the mix, but I don't know. I think it's me, not the vocalist I'm afraid. But have a listen for yourself and make your own mind up.
Things are altogether better for me with the fusion-drenched instrumentals that appear throughout this release. Guitar, keys and bass all channel that 70s fusion vibe, with Will Jenkins' drums delicate and powerful. Have a listen to the cracking Philly Etymology with the floating trumpet lines of guest Tom Abraira or the violin-led Of A Feather. These were much more to my liking.
So, a mixed bag for me. Some songs work. The pop-prog of 500 Miles and the Mystery-like Early Eclipse, as well as the previously mentioned Odessa. But overall I prefer the instrumentals. All I can say is approach with an open mind and feel free to disagree with me on the vocal thing.