Album Reviews

Issue 2022-057

CPP — Brushes & Paint

CPP - Brushes & Paint
Scar On My Soul (8:28), A Million Years (4:54), Higher Grounds (6:02), Living In A Dream (9:38), Roundabout Rendezvous (4:37), Home (5:05), Brushes & Paint (9:17)
Jan Buddenberg

We all have our fondnesses and weaknesses in life and I'll be the first... no wait... the 23rd to admit in having several. Before one gets the impression of having landed on the wrong DPRP page, rest assured I'll only address the ones involving music here, although one aspect involving CPP's discovery surfaced a multitude of happily cherished moments of days gone by that covers both aspects.

Those who have read some my of recent scribblings on Perfect Storm will know of my fondness towards the beautiful city of Groningen. But as the saying goes, "whatever happens in Groningen stays in Groningen". Apparently, this statement also applies to CPP. Details of their excellent 2021 release never really left this city either. I was made aware of Groningen's best kept prog secret by Perfect Storm's guitarist Gert-Jan Schurer (thanks!), so this is now about to change. Brushes & Paint plays strongly into one of my more commonly known weaknesses: engagingly attractive well-composed progressive music.

In a nutshell, the history of the band predates to the late 70's when Peter Everts (guitars, vocals) starts a long term collaboration with Coen Fischer (drums, backing vocals). Playing and writing in numerous bands, over the years the focus shifted towards studio production and sessions musicians. It was many moons later that they decide to team up with Peter Kooi (bass, keyboards) and form a new band entitled CPP. The resulting release is their February 2021 debut Brushes & Paint, only to be spotted on a variety of streaming services. For the purposes of this review the band kindly shared the album's digital files, thankfully!

The little of information shared on Facebook mentions their music to be influenced by Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Gentle Giant, Peter Gabriel and Kevin Gilbert. I don't really connect with the latter two, so I'll simply accept those. The reference towards GG is a long stretch. Musically I don't hear any resemblances. If they refer to the admittedly high level of detailed arrangements found in their songs then it's a warranted tag though. Wilson/PT I fully concur with and especially the second one is delightfully featured within many of their excellent compositions. Add neo-progressive rock similarities to Crystal Palace, Red Sand, RPWL, and influences of Pink Floyd/Roger Waters to this palette, and one is set for a pleasant, entertaining and exciting listening experience.

CPP: Coen Fischer, Peter Everts, and Peter Kooi. Yes, we got them take a promo photo! 😁

The album's first song Scar On My Soul is a fine illustration, opening with dark coloured atmospheric spacious calmness, surrounded by a modern crystalline sound that brings out the wonderful multilayered structures of the compositions. A great driving bass line and psychedelic elements give foundation for meticulous building, and it converges slowly in early Porcupine Tree fashion with moving guitars and twinkling key embellishments that guide the melodies onwards. With Everts' mellow voice expressing warmth and emotion, the composition then halfway down wades into an ocean of Pink Floyd refinement that breathes a stunning Gilmour likeness through the guitar solo. Fans of Waters and Gilmour will especially enjoy the concluding section, where the composition's intensity increases and steaming organ parts grace the epic melodies.

Preceded by the uptempo catchiness of Roundabout Rendezvous, where tasty key movements and a bluesy pop deliciousness incorporating lush organ bring some memories of Dire Straits, it's the song Home that will make these fans feel right at home once again. The well-constructed song expresses a drive that runs in blissful dynamics, mindful to PF's The Wall, accompanied by fine harmonies and excellent tightness in play. It keeps attention throughout and ends in a brilliant Gilmour-inspired solo.

The slow moving and restrained ballad A Million Years is a wonderful experience under headphones. This brings out the brightness of the band's detailed and intricate arrangements. It flows graciously by and is accompanied by a multitude of appetising synth flows. Gathering power and momentum in similar style as the album's opening track, it rounds off with embracing warmth and a spine-chilling solo by Everts. In personal favourite Higher Grounds, Everts surpasses this magical moment, when his marvellous playing elevates the neo-progressive atmospheres, mildly reminiscent of Eloy, into heavenly stratospheres of Prophet, one of UK's best kept prog secrets. Its peerless, phenomenal ending, where the band gets to showcase their musical maturity in conjunction with divine interplay and immaculate sense of melodic attractiveness, plays firmly into my likings and marks the album's pinnacle moment for me.

The mostly relaxed Living In A Dream is a great example towards the band's efforts in taking their time to fully develop their songs into convincingly well-crafted and richly decorated works of art. It is accommodated with nice vocal accomplishments and touches upon elegance of jazz after an initial flirt with pop-like funky grooviness. Slowly but surely it works its way towards an excellent melody-laden, uplifting finish that focuses on musical layering. Entertaining throughout, one hardly notices it's 9 minute length.

The album's title song is perhaps an even better and exciting example as it also holds a few surprises up its sleeve. One of which is the vivacious temperamental acoustic interlude that follows after its carefully constructed, extensive dreamy opening sequence. It changes towards brilliantly executed heavy prog with a fierce coating of Porcupine Tree riffs. In one word: amazing. Injected with synth solos, this final section is a perfect demonstration of CPP's strong individual play, as well as their solid songwriting credentials. A masterful ending to a strong album that shows consistency and appeal throughout.

As to why CPP chose for this seriously low profile when they released an album like this is beyond me. It's showing originality and it's sounding crisp and modern. It can easily stand alongside many of today's releases and comes highly recommended. Assuming the band reads this, here's the friendly but urgent advice to update their inactive website and make this excellent debut available on a larger scale like for instance Bandcamp. If not for me then at least for the many fans of modern styled progressive rock who are not yet aware of all the beautiful prog coming from our most northern capitol city. Let's make Groningen great some more!

Art Griffin's Sound Chaser — The Seven Ages Of Starlight

Art Griffin's Sound Chaser - The Seven Ages Of Starlight
Earthrise (2:24), Ride To Valhalla (5:02), Sorcerer’s Apprentice (6:06), Total Eclipse (4:15), JLP (8:25), Spanish Galleon (2:39), Seventh Wave (5:47), Chasing Sound (6:53), Mona Lisa Smile (4:06), Astronomy By Rail (2:48), Pulsar (8:13), All Of A Sudden It’s The End (5:59)
Edwin Roosjen

Art Griffin is a multi instrumentalist from Canada. His main instrument is bass guitar, but on The Seven Ages Of Starlight he also plays keyboards and guitar. Art started the band Art Griffin's Sound Chaser in 2012 and their debut album Visions From The Present was released in 2016. About the same time, Art Griffin started writing the songs for The Seven Ages Of Starlight.

In the meantime, Art also released a solo album called The Venus Variations in 2020. On that release, he was also helped by band members of Art Griffin's Sound Chaser, Kelly Kereliuk (guitar) and Victoria Yeh (electric violin). Kereliuk you might know as the guitar player for progressive metal band Lost Symphony. The line-up is completed with Steve Negus on drums, well-known for his work with Saga.

So many musical backgrounds come together under the guidance of Art Griffin. The music can be described as jazz/prog/rock fusion with ambient keyboard sounds and many melodies and solos. The album is filled with violin solos, for that special element a big plus in my book.

The Seven Ages Of Starlight is over an hour of instrumental music that ranges from complex jazzy compositions to ambient music that flows in a hypnotizing way. While his 2020 solo album The Venus Variations is a very nice album, it showed a more mellow approach. If you like a more challenging listen, then The Seven Ages Of Starlight will appeal more.

The album features some guest appearances. On Ride To Valhalla and JLP, Jamie Glaser plays the guitar. Glacer provides guitar work for popular television shows and also played with Bryan Adams and Jean-Luc Ponty. The song title JLP is probably an abbreviation for Jean-Luc Ponty, who must have been a big influence for Art Griffin. Check out the video for this song below. This is definitely the highlight of the album for me.

On Seventh Wave the band is joined by Michael Sadler (Saga) and Frank Wyatt (Happy The Man). Sadler provides some background vocals but the contribution of Frank Wyatt playing the Moog is more prominent. his solos alternate with the violin solos by Victoria Yeh and this is working very well.

Finally, for the last two song Pulsar and All Of A Sudden It's The End, Todd Sucherman (Styx) plays the drums.

So there is some variety in musicians, Art Griffin also put some smaller pieces in between just by himself with drum programming and machine noises. Spanish Galleon with classical guitar is a nice piece by Art.

I like the variation in The Seven Ages Of Starlight, diversity from the hypnotizing ambient music in Total Eclipse to the jazz fusion in Sorcerer's Apprentice and Mona Lisa Smile. And in every part there is the violin by Victoria Yeh, that really puts a special mark on this release.

If you are even somewhat into jazz/prog/fusion, then The Seven Ages Of Starlight is one to check out. Art Griffin was a new name to me but I for sure like this band. The album has some very interesting guest appearances but also by themselves without guests the Art Griffin's Sound Chaser for sure can pull it off on their own.

The Seven Ages Of Starlight is a diverse album with some ambient hypnotizing songs and songs that provide complexity. Complements to Art Griffin for creating this wonderful album.

Melanie Mau & Martin Schnella — Invoke The Ghosts

Melanie Mau & Martin Schnella - Invoke The Ghosts
Nur Ein Spiel (4:54), The Beast Is Lurking (4:19), Soulmate (5:29), Where's My Name (6:36), Of Witches And A Pure Heart (9:40), Calypso (5:08), Red Beard (4:55), Ein Stummer Schrei (8:00), Das Goldene Königreich (The Virgin Queen) (9:18), Wholeheartedly (3:33)
Greg Cummins

This album was yet another one that had been overlooked and which I had elected to review as I had never heard of the band before. Although Melanie & Martin have been predominantly known for performing a series of excellent acoustic versions of many popular progressive rock songs (by others), on this outing they are accompanied by a talented bunch of assistants who make quite an impression.

In this regard, we have Mathias Ruck helping out vocally on a few tracks, with Lars Lehmann on bass and Simon Schröder handling the percussive duties. In addition, we have a token appearance by Jens Kommnick playing uilleann pipes, whistles, cello and guitar on a few songs while none other than Steve Unruh assists with a violin piece on track 3. Sadly, there are no keyboards but considering the plethora of instruments that are otherwise used throughout the album, this omission is not really noticed too much.

Apart from a short a cappella section of the opening song which had me worried a little, my ears pricked up soon after when they were attacked with an amazing barrage of hammered guitar in much the same way you might hear the hammered dulcimer. This is an instrument I enjoy hearing, having played an Asian variant while holidaying in Bali many years ago. Martin is a very talented guitarist for someone so young and is able to add a lot of dimension to those songs where he also adds vocal harmonies when required. His style of playing is very percussive as he strums the strings quite forcefully but also reverts to a method of playing slightly reminiscent of Gordon Giltrap who has been a strong favourite of mine for many years.

Melanie also possesses a great voice with the material heard on this album suiting her voice perfectly. She is able to shift effortlessly from those softer acoustic pieces but raises the bar when needed on those tracks that are reinforced with Martin's punchier mode of playing. A check on their history reveals they have been playing together for many years, and it stands to reason they would perform together for so long as they certainly have a synergistic way of uniting their talents.

This album is replete with very good songwriting, strong lyrics, great vocals, especially with the multipart harmonies and stellar guitar playing from Martin. The variety of songwriting, musical dexterity by all on board, (particularly with the percussion) and the occasional embellishments, courtesy of the other guest musicians, all adds up to one of the most enjoyable albums I have heard this year.

While digging up additional information about their other live performances, it becomes evident they have a strong liking for many of the classic progressive rock bands and songs from the more formative years. Since 2015, they have tackled a slew of great band's music including Toto, Genesis, Kansas, Peter Gabriel, Yes, Kate Bush, Blind Guardian, Flying Colors, Queen, Journey, Police, Spock's Beard, Nightwish and Threshold to name a dozen or so. I guess if you want to make the public notice you and all you manage to do is replicate what every other aspiring band or artist hopes to achieve by playing very predictable and common types of boring songs, then you will probably not succeed. By playing such a great repertoire of other progressive rock band's music during their live performances, ensures someone will sit up and take notice. I know I certainly have after playing some of their other live material on You Tube.

All songs on this album are self-penned as I have not heard any of them before now, even by others, so I take my hat off to these guys for fulfilling what must surely be the aspiration of so many bands these days. This was yet another great album I feel privileged to hear and can't wait for their next chapter. They have made a special request to our website to alert the public that they produced the album themselves. This is a very creditable achievement as the production is so crisp and professional. They also ship their CDs worldwide so this gives you another opportunity to support a very talented bunch of great musicians who obviously love doing what they do.

Well done guys, love your work!

Snowman — In a Better Place

Snowman - In a Better Place
The Mysterious Vanishing of Elisa Lam (6:14), The Broken Man (3:59), A Storm Coming (10:38), Harbour of Sorry (6:32), Wherever You Are (4:35), To This Day (9:16), The Sound of Your Laughter (4:58), Gratitude (4:52)
Gerald Wandio

Readers of my reviews will know that I grouse a bit too often about bands whose promotional materials say something like "This band is for fans of bands X, Y, and Z." However, I've also been known to acknowledge those occasions when a list of influences is helpful, and this is one of those times. Snowman's debut album, In A Better Place, is, the band tells us, influenced by their favourite artists: Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Camel, and Opeth. Boy, is it ever.

But that's okay. One can hear, with very little difficulty, the influence of all those groups (Opeth perhaps least of all), but that's not to say that the band "sounds like" any of those others (in the way, for example, that early Marillion "sounded like" Genesis). Rather, the band members' love of those groups and the natural tendency to emulate that which one admires are what one hears in this or that song (as an example, the closing track, Gratitude, will make fans of the great Genesis song Ripple smile), whereas, throughout, the sound of Pedro Fernandes's guitar will please those (surely all of us?) who admire David Gilmour.

I ought to say a word about the makeup of this Portuguese band. I'll be honest: perhaps the five paragraphs of history provided in the promotional materials are excessive. Band members came, band members left, and the last man standing was the one who originated the project, Pedro Miguel Fernandes, who, along with playing guitar, has written the songs and sings them. His singing is fine - strong at most times, a bit shaky at others - and, as I've said, the guitar playing is delightful. But what about the songs?

They're good. They vary from song to song and within songs. Quiet passages alternate with (politely) crunchy guitar, and the production is surprisingly good, so that nuances can be clearly heard. Those nuances include flute, incidentally. This album features not one but two flautists! To give you a sense of the album's overall sound, I'll resort to the kind of comparison I've complained that I don't like. If, like me, you can't go a week without listening to Camel, or if you have a similar fondness for mid-period Porcupine Tree, this is the album for you.

I'll end with what's meant as a compliment, though it might not sound like one: there are no standout tracks on In A Better Place. That's a compliment because it also means there are no bad tracks. To press the compliment further, although the songs are varied the album hangs together very well indeed.

I dithered about knocking my 8 down to a 7 just because, frankly, this very good band (and I hope the current incarnation remains in place) deserves a stronger, more consistent vocalist. But, honestly, the album is predominantly instrumental anyway. Let's hope the lineup solidifies and we hear more from this truly promising group.

Solace Supplice — Liturgies Contemporaines

Solace Supplice - Liturgies Contemporaines
Le Tartuffe Exemplaire (5:11), Sunset Street (4:07), À Demi-Maux (4:04), Les Miradors (6:43), Cosmos Adultérin (4:00), Schizophrénie Paranoide (3:12), Au Cirque Des Âmes (4:08), En Guidant Les Hussards (4:18), Liturigies Contemporaines (3:49), Dans la Couche Du Diable (4:43), Marasmes Et Décadence (4:32)
Thomas Otten

Solace Supplice is the project of the French musicians and composers Eric Bouillette (vocals, backing vocals, guitar, keyboards, violin, arrangements, composition) and Anne-Claire Rallo (keyboards, bass, lyrics). Prog rock lovers might be familiar with these names due to both being founding members of Nine Skies, the music of which has been highly acclaimed especially with respect to their 2021-release 5.20 and the 2022 Special Edition of that release. Eric and Anne-Claire assume slightly different musical duties on this release compared to what they do with Nine Skies. Besides them, the band (or shall I call them "project") consists of Jimmi Pallagrosi (drums), Willow Beggs (bass on some tracks), and Laurent Benhamou of Nine Skies (saxophone on En Guidant Les Hussards). Alexandre Lamia, also a member of Nine Skies, was responsible for mixing and mastering. Liturgies Contemporaines is their first fully-fledged album, five songs of which, however, having been released on an eponymous EP back in 2020 already.

Both Eric and Anne-Claire are of French nationality but are based in England, a fact which leads me to assume that this may have caused them to choose a bilingual English/French name for their additional musical activities. Whilst this, of course, is just an assumption for my part, I also wondered why this band name consists of two (bilingual) antonyms ("supplice" meaning "torture, agony"). Trying to make up my mind on that, I got the impression that this approach is reflected in the lyrics of this release. Being a bit familiar with the French language allowed me to at least rudimentary capture the poetry inherent in these lyrics by Anne-Claire.

At the risk of my over-interpretation, I have the feeling that discrepancies seem to run like a lyrical thread through this album: between appearance and reality, desire and truth, ambition and capability, impression and what is behind it, human behaviour and its motivation. All of these are not just terms but also combinations which can be conflicting and opposed, just like antonyms. Le Tartuffe Exemplaire may serve as an example for my perception: Tartuffe, in the comedy by the French poet Molière, is a hypocrite pretending to be devout but in reality is nothing more than just an impostor. On Sunset Street and Au Cirque Des Âmes, things are not as they appear to be, whilst on Les Miradors, the soldier on the watchtower, who might be searching for glory and honor, is just a frightened tin soldier far away from his mother. Why am I dealing a bit more in detail with these lyrics? Because I believe lyrics and music are so closely intertwined here, with the former exercising a strong influence on the latter.

The content of the lyrics displaying an overall rather gloomy and melancholic atmosphere fully reflected in the music means that Liturgies Contemporaines is nothing for easy listening occasionally. Instead, it requires the listeners' unrivalled attention and needs some time to come to terms with. This fact becomes particularly evident in Eric's vocals, which come across in a rather narrative way, a bit difficult to get used to. With the vocals being as they are, it is up to the instruments to provide for harmonies and melodies. And that works, mainly due to the very efficient use of keyboards, which provide a good complement to the omnipresent, sometimes spacy, sometimes Gilmour'esque sounding guitars. Hence, every now and then, the thought crossed my mind about French peers Nemo (my favourite prog band from France), where Jean-Pierre Louveton plays a similar, important role, with Solace Supplice's music being less dramatic and complex, though.

Compared to Nine Skies in turn, the music on this release is less song-oriented and not as folky, but has stronger rock elements. Soloing both of keyboards and guitar occurs, but is not a key element of the music, and there often is a tasteful interplay between heavy, fast guitar riffs and dreamy, spherical sounding keyboards, especially on my favourite Les Miradors. The excellent production favourably brings out the accurate and delicate drumming of Jimmi Pallagrosi, the fluid bass lines of Anne-Claire Rallo and Willow Beggs, and the subtle alteration of harder and more gentle parts. All of this evokes bands such as Porcupine Tree, Ange, and The Cure, although Eric's singing style is quite unique and makes Solace Supplice's music difficult to pigeonhole.

Whilst I must admit that the music on Liturgies Contemporaines does not always fit 100% to my personally preferred style of progressive rock, Solace Supplice have delivered a strong album. The music on it perfectly reflects the poetry, but also the fairly gloomy atmosphere of the lyrics. Of the two musical activities of Eric and Anne-Claire, I prefer Nine Skies for its strong melodies. However, I fully appreciate the fact that these musicians can have two such different musical projects of related high musical standard running side by side, without mutual influences. Recommended to fans of the bands mentioned above, looking for dense, very well arranged and performed, guitar-oriented, varied, subtle music with a melancholic, slightly dramatic touch, and a narrative singing style. Be prepared to have repetitive listening for full appreciation.

Swords of Dis — Cor Mundum Crea In Me, Sanctum Ignis

Swords of Dis - Cor Mundum Crea In Me, Sanctum Ignis
The Great Suppurating Wound Of Dissension (6:24), Cor Mundum Crea In Me, Sanctum Ignis (8:48), Moonlight Illumes Thee (4:30), In The Fires Of Man, We Are Destroyed (3:43)
Calum Gibson

Sword of Dis are a group that have emerged from England back in 2009, with their first release being the well received Tides Of Malediction in 2013. With a line up of Richard and Alice Corvinus (plus Jonathan Collins for live shows), the couple have come back in 2022 with the latest EP Cor Mundum Crea In Me, Sanctum Ignis. Four tracks of what promises to be a bleak and doomy time.

The Great Suppurating Wound Of Dissension opens the EP with occult tones as a feeling of rituals comes over you. The drums plod through their part with insistent timing as the discordant guitars ease you into a sense of discomfort.

The title track wastes no time in throwing the blackened disorientation at you. Blast beats, tremolos harsh and evil vocals assault you from the start. The number treads a fine line between keeping the nihilistic feel of black metal, with the oppressive sense of despair from doom. Some interesting hooks are spread throughout, just enough to keep you interested with their disorientating nature.

Following this, Moonlight Illumes Thee enters with a gentle and atmospheric section, with soft vocals layered over the clean guitars, it flows gently into the distortion (while keeping the soft vocals). The clean and harsh vocals mix well to bring an almost blackgaze sound, albeit it on the heavier side of it.

Finally, In Fires Of Man, We Are Destroyed rounds the EP off with a slow and clean ease back to normality. Clean guitars and atmospheric sounds flow through and bring you back down to earth.

The EP is deliberately disharmonic, which increases the overall feel towards a well-done slice of blackened despair. The only issue I found with it is that it lacked “something”. What that something is, I'm not quite sure but there wasn't quite that zazz I was expecting. However, considering this is only the second release by the group, what they are missing may appear on the next release.

I'd recommend having a listen if you're a fan of Summoning, Cirith Ungol, Sojourner, Mirkwood or similar.

Album Reviews