Enneade — Withered Flowers And Cinnamon
After a silence of 10 years, a time in which they never stopped performing and composing, Enneade have returned with their third album Withered Flowers And Cinnamon. Truth be told this is my first encounter with this French band and DPRP's second, with only their 2006 debut Remembrance featured among our pages.
Since their 2011 release Teardrops In Morning Dew, the band has kept their line-up firmly intact having only waved goodbye to co-founder/guitarist Ginès Jimenez. This means that next to founders Julien Fayolle (bass, upright bass, Chapman Stick, Moog Taurus, glockenspiel) and Georges-Marc Lavarenne (electric and acoustic guitars, Mellotron, backing vocals) one still finds the talents of Christophe Goulevitch (guitars), Christan Greven (vocals, keyboards) and Frédéric Lacousse (drums, percussions, marimba and xylophone).
Enneade are redefining their own eclectic prog-metal universe, in which keyboards take a more prominent role. The album comes packed in colourful and mood-enhancing artwork that perfectly suits the band's seasonal intent. Given their 10-year absence, the album's 37+ minute length is surprisingly short, but rest-assured they make every minute count. The overall result is a great album delightfully refrained from fillers.
Consuming the intricate banquet of the King Crimson-influenced tracks Tinkling Forks and Grand Buffet is wholly fulfilling. Both feature Kunio SU A (from Bi Kyo Ran, the "Japanese KC") on guitars, which gives an indication towards the complexities to be found within these songs. On Tinkling Forks, the band hands out a cutlery of glockenspiel, marimba and xylophone, mindful to a spoonful of Lazuli's live encores, before pouring a wonderfully complex dish of odd time-signatures and delicate melodies. It remains intricately small with playful xylophone and slowly building melodies that cut enchantingly through the atmosphere. It's the perfect appetiser for the meaty festivities of Grand Buffet.
This meticulously played composition adds lush folk vibrancy and a quirky sauce of KC meeting Frank Zappa, with a spicing of Ritual and a neurotic jig gravy. It serves up an extremely disciplined groove, surrounded by excellently-executed lively rhythms and strong vocals. Tickling many a taste-bud with a vagarious pop catchiness, it's a hearty course and musically lingering treat.
The same can be stated for the deliciously varied richness of opener A Foul Taste Of Freedom, where an a cappella opening leads into exemplary bass work and the brightness of acoustic guitars. Slowly intensifying melodies burst with expressive vocals once again, and reveal lush folk-themed melodies. This fluently played composition then gets to glide into the smoothness of atmospheric synths, by adding dexterous, propulsive play to the peculiar energetic rhythms, as dissonant guitars add KC flavourings. It gradually gears up towards a richly decorated prog-metal styled segment, in which the open structures of the song are met by fierce riffs and a pinch of Porcupine Tree psychedelics. Driving onwards on a road paved with KC bricks, Gentle Giant-like vocal harmonies and Pain Of Salvation likeable complexities, it finally drifts into acoustic refinement, and ultimately revisits folky atmospheres that develop into freely moving melodies that are bubbling with perseverance and vivacity.
The subsequent glaring sensation of Illumination adds a mesmerising Eloy luminescence to A Foul Taste Of Freedom's dark theme, through its atmospheric opening and two-drops-of-water guitar resembling the sound of Frank Bornemann. Alternating acoustic refinement with forceful prog-metal riffs, this composition fluently glides through light and shade. It gathers divine momentum in the captivating middle section, where synth movements and radiant guitar-play bring heat, both steadily fuelled by the band's versatile rhythm section. The adventurously-displayed chemistry between the musicians finally reaches its destination in a sunny and acoustically refined environment.
The album's delicious dessert, Autumn, opens with a peaceful and quietly restrained Pink Floyd-ian feel, embraced by elegant percussion and the soothing warmth of Mellotron. It is perfectly suited for fans of Porcupine Tree's early psychedelic years. The song slowly progresses through mellow, dark and moody atmospheres that evoke the nature of the song's implied season. It subtly changes scenery as a faster-paced passage of sensitive bass and guitars transitions it into lovely neo-prog environments, slightly reminiscent of Liaison.
Rippling onwards, it picks up the pace into attractive uptempo melodies filled with powerful complexity and a mild sense of cheerfulness. Olivier Sola's saxophone sprinkles a sensuous spirit that blossoms the song into expressive darkness. Together with the delightful Mellotron touches, it perfectly portrays feelings of transience, and after the delicate topping of jazz creaminess in the song's coda, one is left with a desire for cinnamon's culinary ally and the sweet taste of going-for-afters.
Overall, Enneade brilliantly show how to create inventive and well-written melodic songs that are cooked to perfection with ideas and exquisite interplay. Together with the flawless sound fidelity, pristine arrangements and outstanding performances Withered Flowers And Cinnamon leaves nothing to be desired and makes a first-rate very recommendable impression.
Musically there's quite an adventurous difference between each of the songs, so coherence is perhaps not as one might expect/like them to be, but this variety is part of the album's enjoyment and appeal for me. As such I can recommend it to many a prog(metal) adventurer of today. Hopefully it won't take the band another decade to come up with a follow-up, for Withered Flowers And Cinnamon's fine listening experience turns out to be a surprisingly well-rounded album with a scrumptious attraction for more.
Yet another new band for my ears, Enneade are a progressive rock / progressive metal band who hail from France and have offered their 3rd album for review. The band comprises five talented musicians who between them handle a decent variety of instruments including the obligatory guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, but have added a few extra, unexpected units into their arsenal. By this I am happy to see included, Mellotron, (a favourite instrument), glockenspiel, Chapman Stick, Moog Taurus, marimba and xylophone.
Their sound is busy and technically-engaging although their influences are many and varied. A Foul Taste Of Freedom kicks off proceedings with some acoustic guitar accompanied by decent drumming and keyboard embellishments here and there. The vocals that are more spoken than sung and may deter some people. The synth sections are nice enough while the vocals, when sung normally are quite well done. The crunch-factor shifts up a notch halfway through the song and continues for its remainder. This is one of the more dynamic songs on the album and is more reflective of what the band can really do.
The second track, Illumination will remind you of the crystalline sounds of either Anthony Phillips or a melodically-based piece from Genesis, only to direct you towards a more metallic and grittier edge that I found a little off-putting initially, but after repeated listens, made more natural sense. The juxtaposition from these softer and heavier sections however borders on being a bit severe, but it all fits together once you get the hang of what is going on.
Tinkling Forks is a quirky little number that features the marimba at the beginning but quickly moves into more familiar territory with guitar and scant vocals but doesn't really go anywhere or do much to add to the album's overall appeal. This is really the weakest song on the album and could really only be considered as a filler.
There is a more propulsive edge to Grand Buffet, which was slightly reminiscent of Adrien Belew's style with the tell-tale chucka chucka sound of the guitar. It includes a blistering guitar solo of very short duration, so why not make a more impressionable stance by extending it?
Autumn is the longest piece at over 12 minutes and takes us on a more worthwhile journey as it meanders through the song with a variety of instruments, including acoustic guitar, gentle percussion, some nice laid back bass work and a guest appearance by Olivier Sola on saxophone.
At the end of the day, the band have probably under-delivered on the material front as the album is definitely deficient of a song or two with the album clocking in at just a tad over 37 minutes. I find the ideal length of an album to be between 40 and 50 minutes or thereabouts; although there are exceptions of course. I guess 35 minutes of exceptional music is far more preferable than 50-60 minutes of drivel, no matter who the band is or how popular they were during their prime. Overall, this is a pretty decent effort but well below what is called for these days to really make the public sit up and take notice. Maybe the inclusion of another compelling song or two might have been enough to take this one over the line.
Arnaud Quevedo & Friends — Roan
Composer, guitarist and vocalist Arnaud Quevedo has gathered together a band of twelve Friends to create his second album Roam. His music and their arrangements have a definite progressive jazz, jazz-fusion feel to them but with a smattering of Canterbury-quirk as well. The music has an organic warmth due to the Friends playing, in the main, the kind of acoustic instruments associated with classical chamber ensembles.
On Raom there are a mix of songs (all sung in French) and instrumentals that have a great musicality to them. They are often very hummable but with interesting, sharp-edged twists and turns. Also, there are a number of short interludes separating the longer works.
The album opens with Aube's Morricone-like reverberant guitars and strings before taking it up a notch on Prologue's fierce kick of horns, guitars and the whole gamut of instrumentation available. It is a quality jazz-fusion song, with Arnaud sharing vocals with Emeline Merlande. This mix of male/female vox is used to good effect throughout the album.
One of the two longer pieces, where the band really excel, is up next. Musical box style tinkling percussion is joined by oboe (Olivia Gray), flute (Manuela Perissutti), clarinet (Louis Théveniau) and electric piano (Marin Michelat) that expands on the gorgeous melody. Emeline's vocal returns and Découverte becomes an orchestral pop-prog song of which North Sea Radio Orchestra would be proud. It also has some great sparring between the flutes and the sax (Julien Gomila).
After a lovely Debussy-like wind interlude, Arnaud and Friends explore their inner Cardiacs with the big-band workout of Féerie. Starting with solo trombone (Florent Hervier) and building from there into a short but big confection of a track. Its dual vocals shimmering from speaker to speaker adds more icing to this oddball but tasty cake.
There is a Canterbury vibe, think early Gong and Hatfield And The North, to the acoustic chamber pop-prog of Dépassement with its woozy winds, a synth solo and a stop-start rhythm. More synths bubble away on the short interlude, Nostalgie, that introduces the album's must-hear track. Ryoko opens with expansive progressive jazz with funky bass (Noé Russeil), electric piano and dark cello tones (Tifenn Trévinal). The full band and vocals come in after five minutes or so and it gets more intense with Arnaud's great guitar solo. A terrific track.
The instrumental Chrysalide has a looping drum pattern (Anthony Raynal) and a lovely oboe melody, supported by cello, violin and double bass (Axelle Blondel, Eva Tribolles) on its middle-Eastern harmonies. Gentle and gorgeous.
The final two tracks see the band in full flight with jazz-fusion and fret-burning guitar on Métamorphose, and going full Magma on Epilogue.
Arnaud Quevedo & Friends' Roan seems like it should be a challenging listen, and once or twice it is, but the arrangements and melodies are engaging and adventurous. Roan is an album bursting with ideas and energy that never flags. A great discovery.
Sound & Shape — Disaster Medicine
Sound & Shape is an alternative rock band from Nashville. They have released several albums over the years, starting in 2005. I have not heard the older material, so I am all fresh in this.
According to their own description, they place themselves "in the middle of the Venn diagram of The Smashing Pumpkins, Rush, King Crimson, Foo Fighters, King's X and Peter Gabriel". That sounds like alternative rock with a heavy dose of prog! Well, let's find out. But first I have to say I think the cover is beautiful!
Disaster Medicine is basically a rock and roll record loaded with riffs and licks. The songs sound like they have an origin that lies somewhere between The Beatles and Foo Fighters. The music has a groove that reminds me of Foo Fighters too; that thing that makes you unable to sit or stand still. But even within the limited time span, all songs have something that takes things further than your average verse-chorus structure.
The vocals are mid-range without screaming or going emo, and bring a melodic layer to the music; an extra melodic layer I should say. The guitar is not just for riffs, but also melodies, and good soloing. Around the chorus in Heirlooms, the riffing becomes almost post-rock, which is very nice.
Most songs have such a contrast between outbursts and down-tempo sections that prevent them from becoming sing-alongs or hit material. And I mean that as a compliment. It is a very good way to appeal to the parts of a prog-rock audience that also knows about stadium rock or hard rock, with that added modern and innovative side.
Sound & Shape are taking their influences seriously but also know where to take them in order to make something of their own. The dynamics are wonderful, the style consistent, good playing and singing, and a clear production too. Something to explore for the not-so-narrow-minded prog listeners.
Star People — Black Tie & Tales
Star People is a band I had never heard of before. The item under review is marketed as an unreleased, "lost" album from 20 years ago, plus an album of new, 2021 recordings. Finding information on the band was hard. All links lead to Hyperspace Records sites (home page, Facebook, SoundCloud) and the SoundCloud page speaks of the "Hyperspace Family Tree".
The info page for this album on the label's site is written in such a way that maybe this was set up by the same people who made Silhobbit, or with the same kind of humour. The names of the musicians have character names added. Is that for the story of the 2001 recording or both, or for their stage personas? No video to be found, not even on the Hyperspace YouTube channel. Discogs does not know them. MusicBrainz has the 1998 and 2000 albums that are also mentioned on the Hypserspace website. OK, there might finally be some truth to this? So far it still feels a bit like a joke.
Let's focus on just the music then.
So there's 20 years between the two albums, so I expected some differences. They were a lot bigger than expected.
Only one phrase in the press release reveals that the first half is the 2001 recording and the 2021 recording is added as a bonus disc. That first half has interesting compositions, but several elements do not appeal to me. The opening track, for example, has a nice drive, good heavy sections. The vocals come across as if the story was more important than the vocal lines. A long instrumental section has guitar and violin battle in a jazz/fusion way.
Twister is both annoying and silly. Songs like Marriage In Space and Move Nearer The Sun confirm I am listening to a musical more than anything else. And the narrator's voice is not a pleasant one. The narrator in Marriage In Space is better. Keyboards and guitar are very nice, but reminds me of Carptree in the sense that good elements together don't necessarily make good songs. Where several songs have a lot of variety, songs like A Trillion Miles To Hollywood are unexpectedly dull.
The Beatles cover at the end is good but besides being a bit heavier, adds nothing to the original.
But then there is that second half, or disc 2 if you have the CD set. More coherence, more focus on the songs, the feeling, the atmosphere. Opener Hot Blue Star sounds massive with a lot going on. I love the piano over the heavy riffs, bringing melancholy to an overall powerful song. Different singers all fit the narration here. And it turns nicely menacing in the middle instrumental part, with a short solo that is both bluesy and metal. Truly unexpected after disc 1!
Second track Twisted could be a reference to Twister, the second track on the first half, and probably shares the song structure, but it takes the menace from track 1 into destruction. A touch of fusion but progressive the way I like it.
Regal and No More Stars have violin again but more in a spacey kind of way. The narrator in Quantum is far from annoying and actually fits here, switching to singing for a verse too; nicely done. There's narration in several other songs and never is it out of place.
This is more heavy progressive space rock than the circus prog of the first half. I get flashes of 6:33 several times. Wild Granny also has elements I hear in Saga's Generation 13. The last track ends with an a-capella verse; more unexpected things!
If the band are to continue in the style of the second CD, I am very much looking forward to a next release. I do hope they take their presence and availability of information a bit more seriously. A mixed bag if you ever saw one, but clearly divided in two. A score of 4 and 8 for the two CDs respectively.
Thumos — The Course Of Empire
US post-metalers Thumos delivered their latest album The Course Of Empire not long after the EP The End Of Words and full-length albums Nothing Further Beyond from 2021 and The Republic from early 2022. My colleague Sergey Nikulichev reviewed two of them and rated the albums favourably, and his description was the reason for me to check them out. Thank you, Sergey!
For this album Thumos have partnered up with, in their words, "prog-electronic storyteller" Spaceseer, for a musical recreation of the Thomas Cole painting series The Course Of Empire, which "represents the cyclical nature of human civilisation". The band chose this content and a release date of the 4th of July as a commentary on the current state of the USA, which they think is below par, to say the least. (It got even worse, when before the official release but after the pre-release was available on Bandcamp, the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade, which provoked a little discussion on their Bandcamp page message stream. I'll try and not get political here, as this is still a music reviews website.)
I have no info on who Spaceseer are, but their website and Bandcamp page have examples that do not give me a clear idea of a musical style, to be honest. Lots of drones and effects; music not so much.
That combination did something with the music and it is up to your taste whether it makes it better or not. In general, the music sounds heavier and doomier, than what I got to know about Thumos. It fits the description of their inspiration for this album perfectly, of course.
The introduction and two interludes are in the Spaceseer style with a hint of Thumos. The other tracks are the other way around. But the drone influence is almost everywhere.
Arcadian (video below) is probably the heaviest track. It has what I like in this kind of music. The overwhelming power and complexity in layering the sounds, which have to be distorted and melodic, and the contrasts between build-up and climax / anti-climax.
Consummation is, in general, as heavy and fast as Arcadian and offers more of that overwhelming feeling, while the other songs are a bit slower (again in general since there is variety within the tracks of course).
When compared to the previous album, The Republic, the music is more distorted overall, which I guess has to be attributed to the Spaceseer input. And I have to say that is drowning out some elements that I like so much in this type of music.
While Thumos' music is always heavy, I could still distinguish, for example, the bass. On here, the bass is drowned, and even the drums can, in several places only be felt, but not truly heard as being drums. Of course, you could like that, I am just describing how I am experiencing this album. To my ears and taste, the overall sound, not just one song in particular, has become a bit same-y because of this. It's harder to distinguish the different elements and sections, because of the droning effect.
That sounds like harsh criticism, but there is still the majestic, doom, post-metal that Thumos are known for. It's not just doom (that would not interest me much), it's not just post-metal, it's a good mix with progressive elements. Most of what my colleague said still stands. If you love Thumos you will love this album as well. A great effort, but I think my taste will just steer me towards the previous album more, and keep a look-out to their next.