Aura — Reincarnations
Aura is a progressive rock band from Sweden that I had never heard of before listening to this new album. According to their website they released a couple of albums back in 1983 and 1984 before taking a good break until 2000 when they started playing music again. However, it was not until 2012 that they released their first album of this second stage called Observations. Since then, they have made quite a lot of music that I feel definitely needs more attention.
Not to be confused with the Italian prog-rock band with the same name, this second-phase of the Swedish Aura has released: Relations (2016), Reflections (2018), Reactions (2019), Imaginations (2020), and Reincarnations, released last year.
It's interesting how they name their albums, but more interesting is the music and the structure of the albums. The current line-up is: Lennie A on vocals, keyboards, guitars and sounds, Joacim A. S. on vocals and guitars, Conny E. on bass, background vocals and acoustic guitar, and Ned K. on drums and percussion.
After this brief introduction, it's time to talk about this album Reincarnations. It's something I wasn't expecting but ended up being very interesting. This album has a clear religious thematic and all the mystery surrounding that topic such as reincarnation. But don't expect some Neal Morse lyrics here because, according to the band, you will find some repulsive texts here if you are deeply religious. Or some exciting and challenging ones if you want to look from another angle. In fact, Aura is mixing classic religious concepts with current situations and problems such as vaccines, Wall Street, TV shows, politics and more.
Musically, they define themselves as a progressive rock band. I can agree, but add some Beatles similarities and some well-produced vintage sounds. We don't have long compositions here, as the longest one is only five minutes. Instead, we have interesting compositions with catchy melodies that area totally pop-oriented in the vein of the old pop bands, plus some orchestration with epic movements and even folk parts.
I'm not going to describe each song because I always prefer the listeners to discover them by themselves but, please, don't let the first semi-doom song condition your expectation!
I recommend this album even though I wasn't really impressed with my first spin. However, as reviewers do, I have given it some time, and I'm glad of that. It's a winner if you listen carefully. The production here is good. And the retro vibe fits wonderfully with the theme, so the experience is complete.
I'm now listening to their previous albums, and I have to say I have discovered a very interesting band. They are also going to release a new album this year called Hallucinations so I hope they start receiving the attention they deserve. I have only one complaint, and I encourage the band to explain this: what does the drum kit mean on the album cover? I think I'm missing something.
Heterochrome — From The Ashes
Out from Iran, Heterochrome have come forth. Formed and spearheaded by the two minds of Mohammadreza (Arash) Rezaei and Mida, the pair were joined by Mohammad Mirboland, Armin Afzali and Amir Taghavi to complete the group in time for their debut album Melencholia in 2017. Now, five years later they have emerged with the follow-up, From The Ashes.
From the start of For Tomorrow something has me gripped. From the soft intro, to the melodic distortion, the music just sounds “right”. With vocals sung in their native tongue, the track pulls you in with the hooks and melodies, and firmly roots you to the spot for the following numbers.
Badbadak comes in next, with a slightly heavier feel and lyrics transitioning between English and Iranian. These, with the harsher sound, create an overall feeling of melancholy and urgency; creating a bit of a meatier track. More grooving prog-lines come in for Rage Against The People for a rough, but elegant showcase of a more mellow side, while still retaining some aggression and heartbreak after the bridge.
The only instrumental on the album, WOTB, was written shortly after Arash left Iran in 2020. This one fully sits along the lines of modern prog, where flowing synths and guitar-leads weave between an ever-present and intriguing bass, as the track evolves through emotions. With a seamless move to The Bearing, we then learn some history behind the struggles Mida faced as a non-binary lesbian in Iran. The track, while not being the heaviest I have heard, still feels weighty and angry, while also getting across the sense of struggle.
Transition reflects the movement from the side A through to Side B of the album, with Times Up bringing a raw sense of loss and sadness into the fold.
For the final trio of tracks, an expectant riff builds up Evil Within before the twin-vocal attack comes in to up-the-aggression. This again soon twists into a soft and bright bridge accompanied by Mida's ethereal vocals.
Sargardan brings us closer to the end with an ominous and dark sound. It really brings in the alt-metal vibes as it builds and builds until we reach The Outlaw. A driving piece that brings out the big guns with the riffs, licks, leads and drums. At times sounding almost like what Iron Maiden could be, if they hadn't gone down the self-indulgent route. All in all, I call this a success
The album is fantastic. For me, it hits every part it needs to. A superb mix of emotions and areas of heavy and light music, with an expert mix of the vocals from both Arash and Mida. Having read the document detailing each song, the album hits the mark even more, thanks to the stories behind the writing.
I'd definitely recommend this for any fans of Orphaned Land, Tijad, North Of South and Anathema.
Nine Skies — 5:20 (Special Edition)
Nine Skies seemed to hit the ground running when they first began in 2017 as they quickly developed a reasonably strong following after the release of their debut album, Return Home. Their second album, Sweetheart Grips enabled the band to adopt even more fans, yet it was the excellent 5:20 album that made the world sit up and really take notice, including here on DPRP.net when the original album was reviewed last year.
One thing that struck me when I first heard this album late last year was the infectiously melodic nature of the songs. Softly-struck percussion, gently-strummed guitars, embellished with suitable keyboard accompaniment and a smattering of other instruments including violin, sax and cello, emphasise the point that this is a more acoustic journey than one might have been expecting. It is also far more pastoral in structure, as there are no aggressive or upbeat sections that force the listener to take cover. This is the ideal album to savour when in a pensive mood where you are desirous of fully absorbing the lyrical messages contained within, while enjoying that obligatory glass of shiraz. It is also a journey that will be greatly enhanced under headphones. The subtle nuances can be felt, heard and appreciated far more when doing so.
It is an album filled with lyrical sensitivity and emotional messages that tug at the heartstrings on a regular basis. The emotive singing, the mellow and somewhat melancholic nature of the songs might sound like a more introverted musical trip, but it is far more than that. Just listening to Porcelain Hill, which features the sublime vocal talents of Damien Wilson, creates one of the most dynamic yet emotive songs I have heard from him for years. It is a stunning song, made all the better for his inclusion. When you add a few tracks by the likes of Steve Hackett, John Hackett on flute and others, you realise their inclusion as guest musicians helps to reinforce this as a subtle, yet lush adventure that is sure to please for many years to come.
Turning to the additional tracks in this 'special edition', we have three orchestral versions being Burn My Brain and Catharsis (taken from Sweetheart Grips) and Return Home (from the debut), while the last 2 are new livestream renditions from 5:20.
While similarities might be a bit harder to pinpoint, I found Nine Skies, especially on this album, as appealing as bands such as Maneige, Vital Duo, Phideaux and others that adopt a more lush approach to music such as The Enid. While none of these bands sounds like Nine Skies per se, their general stylistic differences to the more mainstream and predictable approach of other bands, makes them stand-out a little better.
The first three additions are mournful elegies that feature the strings in abundance, and while probably not as immediately striking, their different treatment from the original songs is a pleasant departure. Brooding and melancholic in style, they give the music a totally cinematographic effect that is both captivating and enchanting.
For me however, the best tracks on this version are the two vocal variations of Wilderness and Porcelain Hill. The former features a stronger presence of guitar, with a more pretentious sound, while the vocal variety with Porcelain Hill simply makes for yet another good reason to keep hearing this wonderful song. I guess I would like the track no matter how differently it was sung.
Whether you opt for this special edition is a moot point, as some may have different expectations than others. For my own needs I would have been just as happy with the basic edition while still appreciating the stylistic differences found on the later version.
This is certainly an excellent album that is more than worthy of your attention no matter which version you prefer so I guess it just comes down to what your budget can accommodate. Recommended!
ORRA (ΩЯRA) — Unbounded
The debut album from this band out of Athens leaves plenty of room for improvement.
I guess the band is seeking to create a form of traditional prog-metal that dips into the avant-garde with a theatrical bend. But the effort is a failure owing to the lack of any coherent songwriting and some sub-par performances. The recording is of demo quality with a very thin, tinny sound that lacks the low-end needed for a real metal sensation.
The band appears to be based around Peter V. Pierrakeas on guitars and keyboards and the silly-name "Minornoiser" on bass. For Unbounded, the drummer, William V. Baldo, and the singer, Vasilis Axiotis, are listed merely as "additional musicians". Musically, Power Of Omens and Warning-era Queensryche could be influences. The singer has a vague resemblance to Geoff Tate but without the soul, groove, range and melodic sense.
The album is bookended by two three-part epics. In reality, they could be 20- or 30-part epics, as the dynamics and motifs chop and change at will. It's just noise in an ever-changing cacophony of time-signatures.
Where there may be some hope is when Orra focus on a single riff and vocal style within a power-metal framework. The Revenant is half a decent track in the vein of Crimson Glory, although the second half of the song is ruined by spoken word sections that don't fit, and junior school drumming. Time holds the best vocal section and looks like it could be a decent ballad until it just goes on and on and on at the same dull pace. Ditto for In Pulse, although here the singer is really struggling to stay in tune; not helped by some horrible, squeaky harmonies and brass band backing sounds.
In the early career of Uriah Heep, a Rolling Stone reviewer once infamously wrote that: “If this group makes it I'll have to commit suicide. From the first note, you know you don't want to hear any more.” I could never be so blunt, but listening to this has been on a par with the hour I once spent at a French accordion festival!
The Pineapple Thief — Give It Back (Rewired)
I recall being sent a CD of one of The Pineapple Thief's earlier albums which I reviewed for a different website many years ago and remarked at how laid back and somewhat lacklustre the songs were. That album was called Variations On A Dream and suffered from possessing too little variety between the songs.
Thankfully, the reworked versions of some of the band's better material appearing on their latest album does not suffer from this aspect. The changes in tempo between songs, shifts effortlessly from one style of heaviness to another but without losing direction or purpose. There are also many divergent subtleties between the tracks that keep the listener engaged and wanting to hear more.
I feel one of the defining moments for the band has been the inclusion of Gavin Harrison as their drummer in 2016. He has given the band an amazing amount of vitality in much the same way he did when he joined Porcupine Tree in 2002. When Steven Wilson placed Porcupine Tree into a semi-permanent hiatus years ago, it was only natural that Gavin would accept Bruce Soord's invitation to join his band. He is the perfect fit and brings a wealth of talent, technical ability, imagination and downright brilliance to just about any song he participates in. As a former professional drummer, one can only look upon Gavin's impressive curriculum vitae and regrettably accept the inevitable reality. If only! To my ears, he is one of the finest and most inspiring drummers one could ever aspire to emulate, but at my age, there is no hope.
The band's latest album offers a handful of reworked versions lifted from each of their earlier releases including All The Wars (2012), Little Man (2006), 10 Stories Down (2005), and Tightly Unwound (2008). Whether you prefer the earlier versions or some of these later ones, is really a moot point as a large degree of personal preference will always enter the equation. For my money, I am certainly enjoying far more of the impetus and drive that one can discover with these newer versions. Perhaps it's Gavin's ability to add so many dexterous fills and triplets that appeal to me or simply the fact that the band works though all the gears, compared to rarely getting out of park with some of their earlier, laid back albums.
It's somewhat ironic that the band share the same initials as Porcupine Tree, as their sound is quite similar in parts although there are also the obligatory nods in the direction of Radiohead whose sound they also emulate from time to time. I don't have a problem with this issue, as both bands stand well on their own for originality and ability, although I am definitely a stronger supporter of Steven Wilson's work over a very long period.
The Pineapple Thief have been around for 23 years, during which time they have released a number of excellent albums from their catalogue of 15 studio records. Whilst this may not be their highest-rated offering to date, it is still replete with great versions of some of their more popular songs. Potential fans who wanted to give the band a try for the first time, might find this album a good place to start.
Prefers to Hide in the Dark — Boundless Eternity, Hereafter Torment
The intriguingly-named Prefers To Hide In The Dark is a new progressive rock band that aims to cultivate large-scale concept pieces structured around vocal harmonies and hypnotic rhythms.
Songwriter Paul Samber (Mucous Lavender, Salted Wounds) and vocalist Rob Poston (Concordat, Kolobus) explain further: "We assembled the project around a passion for understated, thought-provoking mood-pieces. The band straddles both contemporary prog, through heavy guitars and complex poly-rhythm, and earlier psychedelic rock with extended jamming and experimental improvisation."
Drummer Diane Galen (Chasmhead, Radio Eroticism) was recruited to inject a rhythmic edge, with Sam Higgins (Kyros, Great Manta) rounding-off the sound on bass.
The intriguingly-titled Boundless Eternity, Hereafter Torment is a 40-minute concept album in four movements. It is a slowly-revealing listen; one that capably meets the band's stated ambitions. Boundless is a gently-rolling opener with a likeable, repetitive refrain and groove. Their admitted love for Gazpacho (the band, not the soup) can be heard here. In sharp contrast, Eternity is its jaggedly-challenging follower. More Haken in style, with contrasting rhythms and an experimental edge.
The problem that I have with this album, lies in the vocal department. Poston doesn't have the strongest, fullest voice, but it does fit the gentler-flowing segments of the album, as in the opener. However, when in Hereafter the composition becomes more adventurous, his voice does not rise to the challenge. In the first half of this song he is horribly out of tune, meaning that I find it hard to make it to the more experimental second part that features Adam Heaton on trumpet.
Torment mirrors the opener with a strong, slowly-evolving first part. It looses me, as it seeks to become more adventurous in the middle section. A brighter ending, closes the album. Again the vocal harmonies do not work for me here.
A single, Torn, released before the album is also available from their Bandcamp page. This is a shortened version of Torment, consisting of the pleasant first part of the song.
So as a starting point this shows promise, but if this band is to grow then it needs to work in the style where the vocalist is comfortable, and build on the likeable opening track and the first part of the closing track. Anyhow, they have already begun work on the sophomore record. Worth keeping an eye on.