Album Reviews

Issue 2022-042

Dimwind, Breaths — Seasons

Dimwind, Breaths - Seasons
Dimwind - Window Passed (15:38), Breaths - When Soft Voices Die (14:56)
Calum Gibson

Black-gaze solo experience Breaths and post-metal creators Dimwind have teamed up for this split EP. Having thoroughly enjoyed the last release from Breaths, and never one to shy away from some post-metal and hearing groups I've not come across before, could I honestly pass up this opportunity?

Dimwind open with the track Window Passed, with a dark spoken word about the insane damage that humanity has been doing to the planet and the potential bleak future feature that may bring. So already, as an advocate for climate safety and the slowing of humanities violence towards nature, I'm already enjoying this. Musically, it jumps into some hypnotic chugs that provide some atmosphere as the drums and bass work contribute to the depth and keep you moving throughout. The intensity continues to rise until you get drawn into vigorous bout of blast beats and blackgaze-esque riffs. After another short-spoken word section, harmonised leads weave in and out over some rolling drums then it evolves again into more riffs that build up an ever-increasing wall that you climb with the potency of the music before it calms and fades at the end like a “Breath” being released to start the next track (see what I did there?)

Breaths are here with a track entitled When Soft Voices Die. Some of you may recognise this as the title of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley (the husband of Mary Shelley) and indeed a take on the poem forms the opening verse. Ferocious, doom-bringing guitars separate this track from the previous one instantly, with what can only be described as a poisonous and angry tone. Screamed vocals rise over the top bringing the rage against the destruction of nature to the fore. The bridge laments how we “carry on as though we haven't dug our own graves” in an ominous passage of our own imminent and inevitable demise at the hands of our own actions before crushing back into the blackened doom to scream the frustration about how we have gone to far with our abuse of nature.

In terms of the music, this EP is a fantastic showcase of each musical group, their capabilities and styles. I know Dimwind are now firmly on my “to check out more of” list. An interesting and intensely atmospheric couple of tracks that cross styles and bring them together.

In terms of the message behind the lyrics and spoken pieces – I couldn't agree more, and it is a sobering and important reminder that unless things change shortly (some research suggests should have been in 2014 when the oceans passed the point of no return for temperature) – this world is done for.

Abel Fuentes — Tramp's Footprints: The History Of Supertramp

2021 (English edition)
Abel Fuentes - Tramp's Footprints: The History Of Supertramp
Héctor Gómez

First love never dies, or so they say. Well, Supertramp were my first musical romance, and we've stayed together ever since. At the age of 10, unearthing Even In The Quietest Moments from my uncle's vinyl collection, together with other gems such as Pink Floyd's The Wall or Mike Oldfield's Incantations, was a revelation. I remember vividly how Supertramp's iconic cover captured my imagination, and the instant appeal of the music put to wax, from the infectious hits to the elaborate deeper cuts.

Now, regulars at this site are surely acquainted with the term "terminally uncool"; indeed, Supertramp and being a fan of theirs must have been one of the most terminally uncool things on Earth for the best part of 25 years. Thankfully, the 21st century and its postmodern approach to culture and entertainment is likely put an end to many an aesthetic as well as cultural prejudice. However, countries such as Canada, France or Spain embraced the band's particular brand of "sophisto rock" - their words, not mine - from day one, and should they ever tour again - a highly unlikely prospect, as this book will help you realise - they would sell out arenas in the blink of an eye.

Cool or not, Supertramp were a phenomenon in the late 70s and early 80s, and a good half dozen of their hits remain staples of FM radio even today; but for such a household name, with album sales in the region of 70 million, frustratingly there is precious little information, or product for that matter. Virtually no DVDs, scant live releases, not many interviews, and barely no books... Well, actually there are a few of these, and Martin Melhuish's The Supertramp Book is very good, but it was published in 1986, so it is, should I say, rather incomplete.

That void is now proudly filled thanks to Abel Fuentes' magnificent Tramp's Footprints: The History of Supertramp, an exhaustive 750-page bible of all things Supertramp, from the band's inception in the late sixties to their aborted 2015 tour and beyond. The book's main asset, which is key to its credibility, is how close Abel is to band members, their friends, crew and producers, so what we get is first-hand, candid, unadulterated information. We get to learn the dynamics of the Roger Hodgson/Rick Davies creative axis in detail, the motivations behind John Helliwell's unlooked-for promotion to frontman, Dougie Thomson's driven personality and involvement with managerial duties, or how much laid-back drummer Bob Siebenberg loved surfing.

Obviously, the so-called "creative differences" and internal politics are always the meat and potatoes in any band's biography, and certainly Supertramp are representative in this regard, as their infamous spiritual side (Hodgson) vs. the down-to-earth (Davies) dichotomy, which would prove to be both a blessing and a curse for them, is on full display here, complete with antagonistic wives and all. Undoubtedly, one of the book's highlights is how it painstakingly conveys the disparate philosophies that made the band so distinctive. Hodgson comes across as assertive, vehement and somewhat individualistic, whereas Davies projects a more pragmatic and ironic persona. Even though the book goes to great lengths to portray all the individuals in painstaking detail, Davies' personality remains a bit of an enigma, but then again he's a notoriously shy and elusive individual, so this was to be reasonably expected.

On a more mundane note, and to quickly close the quibbles chapter, for such a profusely illustrated volume, the book would have benefited from having great looking, high-quality colour photographs; in a perfect world, future deluxe editions would take care of that.

So, as rock biographies go, this is as good as it gets. Needless to say, this should be compulsory reading for the devoted, but occasional listeners and those interested in the history of 20th century popular music will definitely find many things to like here. Put simply, this book had to be written. Very glad Abel did so brilliantly.

The Guildmaster — Liber De Dictis

The Guildmaster - Liber De Dictis
A Lo Hecho, Pecho (2:52), A Rey Muerto, Rey Puesto (4:55), Agora (6:24), Manos Frías, Corazón Caliente (5:42), Suruista Tehty Soitto (6:02), Agua Pasada No Mueve Molino (7:01), La Música Amansa A Las Fieras (5:15), Nea Polis (6:11), La Primavera, La Sangre Altera (4:23), El Perro Del Hortelano (4:46), Young Me, Old You (11:20), Suruista Tehty Soitto II (3:06)
Jan Buddenberg

Next to their busy schedule in The Samurai Of Prog (TSoP), their joint projects under the Bernard & Pörsti outfit, and their individual solo efforts, both Marco Bernard (Shuker bass) and Kimmo Pörsti (drums, percussion) have managed to find time to start a folk-prog project going by the name The Guildmaster.

Together with Rafael "play-it-all" Pacha (guitars, assorted instruments) and Ton Scherpenzeel (keys), alongside a handful of TSoP collaborators, this resulted in the 2021 release of The Knight And The Ghost. Meanwhile, the line-up has welcomed Alessandro Di Benedetti (Inner Prospekt, TSoP) as replacement for Scherpenzeel who shifted his focus towards Kayak's 50th anniversary and the subsequent final live tour.

Transporting one to the glory days of knights in shining armour and damsels in distress I needed time and effort to fathom the abundance of folky melodies on The Knight And The Ghost, which on first few exposures, are all played within similar medieval configurations. This view changed over time and loosely dictated my expectancy curve towards favouring Liber De Dictis. A view I could have avoided, as The Guildmaster's time machine materialised me in the delightful, approachable fields of Seventies inspired symphonic/progressive rock. While the modern day folk appeal of the compositions did exactly the same, sounding contemporary and fresh, but also embracing a nostalgia through its undeniable authenticity.

Opening song A Lo Hecho, Pecho instantly brings this folk awareness, and within its short runtime makes the outstanding still-life of Ed Unitsky's cover, who has gone beyond the call of duty with truly amazing artwork, come to life. The tune briefly touches upon Genesis and fairy tale inspired engaging melodies, twinkling with synth accents and wonderful floaty guitars. Continuing with crumhorns and a sad melancholy that paints a folksy gathering of people mourning the loss of a king. The subsequent A Rey Muerto, Rey Puesto reveals a delightful shift in its melodies when, after percussive expressions, majestic drums sets the song in swaying motion towards an excellent rejoicing atmosphere. Colouring the symphonic canvas with strongholds of Yes through Bernard's bass, while Di Bendetti rushes off into royal synth play. It marks a triumphant start to the album.

There are a few other instances where the medieval feel comes to the fore, the enchanting La Música Amansa A Las Fieras being such a moment. Here elements of virginal, a harpsichord like instrument, leads into a wonderful purring melody which smoothly and cautiously glides on Di Benedetti's warm voice through elegant prog into a chamber music like environment. Here, Pacha, who writes all the songs except where mentioned, adds Portuguese acoustic refinement while the minimalistic, conversational attractiveness of his playing, supported by the virginal, creates a Mediterranean image. The acoustic reprise Suruista Tehty Soitto II, a Pörsti composition arranged by Pacha, depicts the same intricate summery atmosphere with Pacha releasing his inner Steve Hackett, sensitively touching upon Hackett's Bay Of Kings album.

A frequent element is the spirited musical authenticity that dances around and within the compositions. In El Perro Del Hortelano you hear the four amigos accompanied by Carlos Espejo (voices, claps, Jaleo) bring a gathering of Spanish influences (Chacona, Folía, Soléa) with temperament and gusto. The song enticingly wanders off into beautiful landscapes of refreshing symphonic prog with delightful synth work and gracious guitars. The vibrant folk inspired melodies make it hard not to picture a hot Spanish night and folky entertainment that enhances the taste of one's Sangria garnished with a colourful umbrella and curly straw.

The strongest representation is found in Agora whose festive melodies ooze Greece from all its pores, and when played in a Greek restaurant will see waiters on red alert for the well-being of their plates. This composition also illustrates Liber De Dictis slightly different songsmithery approach, showcasing a greater balance of folk and prog compared to the more folk orientated The Knight And The Ghost. Composed by Marco Grieco (keyboards, accordion, claps) it starts with a touching vocal performance by Evangelina Kozoni over festive rhythmic melodies, and it comes fully alive when Grieco adds a swirling Sirtaki-dance synth solo, followed by an enchanting harp. A final section of luscious guitars from Pacha is spurred on by the violin, while Bernard and Pörsti dictate the increasing pace of the melodies. It sees me heading to my liquor cabinet in search of Ouzo or any other Greek aperitif.

The scenic nature of Nea Polis switches the beverage to appetising grape refreshments as festive Italian styled prog warms the folk movements. With Tomasso Fichele adding a passionate vocal delivery while castanets and tambourine (Beatrice Birani, Patrazia Grieco) enhance the progressive sightseeing tour as it passes through mountainous Moog and streams of guitar. This Marco Grieco penned composition ends in a beautiful pool of uplifting cheerfulness.

Working in the spirits world during my day job, La Primavera, La Sangre Altera, pushes my taste buds undeniably towards a dram of whisky. The fresh breeze of folk melodies involving Scottish bagpipes tickles them, although it turns out these pipes originate from Galacian folk music. Seamlessly gliding on Pörsti's percussive persuasiveness, this quenching song has waltzing synth movements by Di Benedetti and visits a short Canterbury styled E.L.P passage before it settles down in a satisfying folk atmosphere.

In Manos Frias, Corazón Caliente a similar Canterbury atmosphere reminiscent of Greenslade appears. This melange of flavours is highlighted by Pacha's Pied Piper whistling as the pristinely arranged music threads into woods of peaceful reflectiveness scented with the essence of Renaissance. It sings merrily onwards to an enchanting Jethro Tull inspired coda flirting/seducing with Elegy elegance. The family effort of Pörsti's composition Suruista Tehty Soitto, with Finnish lyrics by his wife Pirkko Pörsti and a soothing performance by his daughter Paula, borders on motherly assuring kindness. It rivals the aforementioned flute passages, and after an inspired Hackett-like solo and warm grand piano, the melodies reveals an Iona-like feel. The musical harmony felt throughout, especially in these two well-constructed songs, is excellent.

As a regular contributor to TSoP Di Benedetti gets to weigh in on the epic Young Me, Old You. This narrates the tale of a grandpa sharing his experience to comfort his grandson. The construction of the song is most admirable with the opening minutes revealing a beautiful simplicity that contrasts nicely with the melancholy drenched, weary voice of Daniel Fäldt. The touching finale reverses the musical structure into elegant maturity awakening heavenly Yes atmospheres. Fäldt's voice becomes sprightly and confident, and is equally brilliant. In the remaining passages of the song it circles between these dualities and brings a great guitar solo by Rubén Alvarez that is followed by fantastic flute from Sara Traficante, and an unprecedented energetic Genesis touch with the potent unchained melodies.

The glorious Agua Pasada No Mueve Molino, a song written by Jose Manuel Medina (Last Knight) surpasses this highlight by a whisker. With Medina joining in on keyboards this wonderful song initially expresses a calming but oppressive sadness. Surrounded by melancholy and via restrained playing and beguiling flute enchantments, receives its proverbial wings and flies off into startling symphonic Camel and Mandalaband shaped landscapes, to be greeted by splendid wavery guitars from Pacha. Soaring ever higher on ethereal choirs it levitates into a blue sky of stunningly attractive melodies that burst out of their shell with ideas. Elevated by an excelling Pacha, who once again greatly impresses as he covers the music in silky sheets of sensitive guitar. Drifting off into Vangelis bliss this magnificent composition could have lasted me an eternity, and raises my anticipation towards Medina's long awaited The Lords Of Wisdom trilogy.

Overall, Liber De Dictis bathes in an oasis of progressive folk luxury and keeps the recent run of marvellous releases within the TSoP world firmly streaming. The achieved symbioses between folk and prog is outstanding and has resulted in some exceptional compositions, this time balanced harmoniously by a diversity of folk splashes that evoke many a nostalgic memory within me.

On their own, these moments of nostalgia might be considered to far offshore from the progressive scene, but fully integrated on this release they show they belong just as much. For me, this historic value makes Liber De Dictis easier to dip into than The Knight And The Ghost. However, at the same time it challenges my decision about this year's summer holiday destination. Until I make up my mind I'll gladly board the album once again for a magical musical mini cruise. Olé!

The Hallucinant Telepherique — Call Of The Resonant Star

The Hallucinant Telepherique - Call Of The Resonant Star
No Third (4:21), Call Of The Resonant Star (12:02), Spider (5:00), The Unread Letter (4:54), Turn (6:48), Penumbra (4:17), Relearn (3:38)
Jerry van Kooten

Gino (lead guitar) and Sergio Montoya (drums, bass, keyboards, guitar) are two brothers from Texas, USA (originally from Peru), who are making music in different styles. Using different names for each type of output is keeping things clear for listeners. If you're interested, check out the names Zuni Doll (glam-rock) or Montoya (melodic garage rock).

With Sergio's background in both orchestral and jazz-fusion, you can imagine every output having at least some elements of everything. But with The Hallucinant Telepherique, the emphasis is on instrumental prog. Because of the name I was expecting more psychedelic music but that is not the case here.

This album was released late 2021 on streaming platforms, but for the vinyl release in April 2022, the band sent us a copy of the LP. Their first album, Absorbed By The Forest, was released in 2017 and the follow-up Comes To Mind from 2019 were also released on vinyl, and received a copy of those as well. I realise LPs are not for everyone, but I love vinyl. A proper physical product, and the sound of course.

Modern prog, that's the largest banner I could find to put this under. Progressive riffing with jazz-flavoured melodies result in a not overly complex fusion that reminds me of Dixie Dregs without the country influences.

Opener No Third is a good introduction to the whole album. It's kind of an overture as it contains elements of what is to come. It's a varied track which tells you something about the entire album.

The title track is a four-part composition. The first and third parts are short easier, dreamy sections with the other two full-blown prog tunes. Not epic in the typical meaning of the word, this band is not about just sounding big, it is about the compositions. And composition-wise it's something Dream Theater could do without going metal, and the combination with subtle vintage keyboard sounds makes it very interesting. While the jazz interludes bring a Yes feel to it, it's a bit unclassifiable like Van Der Graaf Generator.

Spider is the most jazzy tune, at least for the first half. The alternating guitar and keyboard solos definitely sway into clear prog territories.

In contrast, The Unread Letter is probably my favourite song. Probably because it is the heaviest, least jazzy tune, and triggers my brain by offering multi-layered sounds rather than complexity. Last track Relearn is coming close, having both that Dixie Dregs approach to composition and guitar play plus almost neo-prog-type keyboard soloing.

During a few more melodic sections, I was reminded of another US modern prog band called Royal Architect. I mean that as a musical reference, not the fact that we also received that album on LP. There's a bit of an overlap with the complex side of Kansas as well, mainly on the track Turn.

Reading other reviews I see references like Hatfield And The North and Camel as well. Although I didn't think of those when listening to the music right away, I do agree on that the atmosphere of the music has an overlap.

There's a lot to explore here, a great deal of variation, all wrapped in excellent production. The prog fan in me was sometimes waiting for some more keyboard-layered sections, but the variety speaks many tongues that will trigger many progressive rock fans' musical interest.

Soft Ffog — Soft Ffog

Soft Ffog - Soft Ffog
Chun Li (9:46), Zangief (8:48), Ken (7:44), Dhalsim (9:28)
Mark Hughes

Soft Ffog first got together for a performance at the 2016 Kongsberg Jazz Festival that was followed by sporadic gigs. As the four musicians, Tom Hasslan (guitar), Axel Skalstad (drums), Trond Frønes (bass) and Vegard Lien Bjerkan (keyboards), were members of other functioning groups, Soft Ffog remained an occasional side-project for its members. It allowed them to indulge in a heavier sound with nods towards the jazz-fusion sound of the 70s. The more gigs they played, the better their style developed but it wasn't until 2020 that band-leader Tom Hasslan had finalised the compositions that make up this debut album.

During lock-down, the compositions were given some finesse, and following the gradual relaxations in restrictions the four musicians entered the studios with producer and engineer Christian Engfelt.

Although Hasslan is credited as composer, there is freedom in the playing, with more than a suggestion of improvisation within each piece. In many respects this has more of a feeling of a live album than purely a studio creation. The music itself is top quality and keeps away from the overtly-jazz stereotypes, Dhalsim for example has frenzied guitar throughout most of its playing time and owes more to Ritchie Blackmore than Django Rheinhardt!

You can tell that the musicians are fine exponents of the jazz idiom from the way they give each other space to play. Even when Hasslan is manically soloing away, Frønes lays down a bass line that in itself is as complex as anything you are likely to hear in any prog band, yet it is never in competition with the guitar.

There are also elements of Pat Metheney in some of the playing, particularly when the keyboards and guitar are interacting, and it would be amiss of me to not mention King Crimson, whose early albums have also been tagged as laden with jazz inflections.

If you are into adventurous instrumental music but are put off by the 'jazz' word (their label, an offshoot of Karisma, is called Is It Jazz), then there is no need to be. This is a lot more accessible than, for instance, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and, despite the brevity of the album, there is more than enough going on to keep the brain engaged and the ears snapping.

Tempest — Going Home

Tempest - Going Home
Mrs. Preston's Favourite(4:56), Jolly Roger (5:09), Hjemreise (3:47), The Optimist (3:38), Systrarna (6:43), Shepherd's Daughter (4:19), Dark Lover (3:03), Devil And The Farmer (3:45), Dream Morris (3:27), Pal Sine Honer (Paul's Chickens) (4:31)
Greg Cummins

Tempest are yet another excellent band from the USA that fall within the progressive folk rock / celtic rock banner which sees them happily residing alongside other equally well known stalwarts of the industry. By that I am, of course, referring to Steeleye Span, Horslips, Planxty, Fairport Convention, Clannad, Malicorne, Magna Carta, etc., who had a huge presence from the 70s to the 80s. Also lesser known bands such as Silly Wizard, The Bothy Band, The Chieftains, Lunasa, Christy Moore (Planxty), Altan, Flook, Capercaillie, Solas and Nightnoise. All of these above-mentioned bands could be considered to have an influence (whether directly or indirectly) on the exceptional music that Tempest has become famous for producing.

Chief songsmith, Leif Sorbye (vocals, mandolin) has been at the helm since the band formed in 1988 but is capably assisted by long term drummer, Adolfo Lazo, Lee-Corby Wells (fiddle, vocals), Nikolay Georgiev (guitars) and Hugh Caley on bass. Robert Berry also guests on keyboards.

The opening track on this gem of an album, Mr's Preston's Favourite really kicks off proceedings perfectly as its bouncy and infectious rhythms and melodies will have you tapping along in no time. The Byrds' Roger McGuinn's Jolly Roger also gets a royal treatment as does The Optimist being an excellent fiddle and mandolin instrumental that oozes quality.

Hailing from Norway, Leif's nostalgic roots are showcased on a number of excellent songs from that region including, Hjemreise, Systrarna and Pal Sine Honer (Paul's Chickens). Similarly, The Devil And The Farmer is a traditional folk song from Great Britain. All the other tracks are also filled with sublime music and which will keep most fans hankering for more.

Tempest are a hardworking band that have released well over a dozen extremely well appreciated albums as well as having performed live on no less than 2,500 occasions. So it stands to reason the band is very popular in the California area, that being their main base. Of the ten or so albums I have of this band, it is comforting to report that their latest album is one of their best ever,s and one that will enjoy regular rotation in my study while sipping that odd glass or three of Shiraz.

Album Reviews