Antimatter — Black Market Enlightenment
Antimatter is in effect the solo project of Mick Moss, originally in collaboration with Anathema's old bassist, Duncan Patterson. Tracing its beginnings back in 1998, the pair released three albums in the following seven years, before Patterson left, leaving Moss to be the sole member. Supported by a cast of guest and touring musicians, Moss has continued, releasing four additional studio albums under the Antimatter banner.
This album, Black Market Enlightenment is the seventh and most recent studio release. It first came out in 2018. It has just be made available for the first time in a double vinyl format by Oskar Records in three different colours and with three bonus tracks.
I confess that I am not experienced in the more acoustic Moss/Patterson era, but the tracks from various albums after that have shown in my Spotify playlists, so I was keen to hear more.
Black Market Enlightenment begins with a melancholic, almost dark wave, mixed with rock sound, with synths subtly adding layers to the opener The Third Arm and building up to the final, powerful crescendo. Wish I Was Here continues the style with an introspective look at drug use set to an atmospheric backdrop of soft, minor chords interspersed with jarring distortion. Sanctification brings in a heavier sound with a powerful wall of dark guitars and drumming and superb saxophone work from Paul Thomas and kamancha from Vardan Baghdasaryan.
Side two opens with This Is Not Utopia, a much more prog rock one than we have had so far, with some groove through the drums and melodic vocals soaring over the synths and keys. A straight-up piece of prog rock goodness with an almost Tool-like vibe throughout.
Partners In Crime comes next, with a shift in style to a more gothic rock sound similar to some of Paradise Lost when they went through their One Second and Host phase. This is brought back down to a dark-wave/electronic sound for Liquid Light as it closes out this side.
The final side of standard tracks then draws you in with Between The Atoms, another heavy and huge-sounding rock number. Going through every style Moss can within its near-nine-minute run-time. Existential follows and is another one that reminds me of Tool, if they weren't so pretentious. And finally, the closer What Do You Want Me To Do. This one is an acoustic one to wind the despair and loss down into a short and gentle ending.
The bonus track Volte Face is a curious, brooding minimalistic piece, with just slow atmospherics and a dark and repetitive voice over. The other two bonuses are acoustic versions of previous tracks. All interesting (the acoustics are fantastic reworkings), but don't particularly change the album.
The album was a bit rockier than I was expecting, so that was a pleasant surprise. A dark, sometimes gothic, sometimes sorrowful and cavernous affair, I thoroughly enjoyed this album. If you're a fan of the bands mentioned earlier, or the likes of Riverside, Lunatic Soul and Katatonia then Antimatter are a must for your collection.
Bubblemath — Turf Ascension
For those not familiar with this band, they have been around for many years (since 1995 in fact) and fall firmly within the avant-prog, progressive rock, experimental rock banner. Their debut album, Such Fine Particles Of The Universe was released in 2002 and was filled with a dozen shorter tracks with much less complexity than we see on their latest offering. It took another 15 years before the band released their second album, Edit Peptide, and thankfully, only 5 years to come up with their third. This only contains four longer tracks, ranging from the 10-minute mark, to the major song at almost 18 minutes.
The band comprises Jonathan G. Smith (vocals, guitar), Blake Albinson (guitar), Kai Esbensen (keyboards, vocals), Jay Burritt (bass) and James Flagg (drums, vocals). To say each musician is highly talented would be a gross understatement but special mention should be made of their drummer, who not only keeps time so well but reinforces the songs with an amazing degree of imagination and originality.
The immediate thing that becomes very overt about this band is the incredible level of complexity that surrounds the listener across this album. Whether that is caused by the extraordinary syncopation from the drummer or the shifting time signatures from both the guitar and keyboards or simply the fact that the band is trying to squeeze a ridiculous amount of information into a small allocation of time, it doesn't really matter. You will often be left dumbfounded trying to work out how so much technical skill and complexity can be interwoven so effortlessly into four intriguing songs. Lyrically, the band also deliver, as the messages contained within each song are pertinent, up to date and quite intriguing.
There seems to be a stronger shift towards more stylistic applications as one would find on a Gentle Giant, King Crimson or Robert Fripp album, while the underlying complexity levels remind me of bands such as Finneus Gauge, Echolyn or Land Of Chocolate. The lengthier approach to these songs also reminds me slightly of the incredible album released by Salem Hill called Mimi's Magic Moment, inasmuch that the time durations follow a similar pattern. Having said that, Salem Hill also have a much more accessible and melodic structure to their music.
Bubblemath's music could never really be considered highly melodic in the same way as a traditional symphonic rock or neo-prog band, but the attention to detail and amazing chops require the listener to sit up and take notice, lest some crucial musical information is lost in the ether.
I am also slightly reminded of some other bands' music including Azigza, Hamadryad and Garden Wall. This is very busy and chaotic music, tied together with some amazingly intricate and complex arrangements that really leave you inspired to keep discovering more music along similar lines. This album is probably the band's best effort to date, so potential listeners should have no hesitation in giving this album a try if the style suits you.
Nodo Gordiano — H.E.X.
Since joining DPRP, several of my musical receptors and senses have altered, and thus widened my view and appetite towards prog-scenes that I never took an interest in previously. Much of this relates to music that takes (serious) "getting into". These albums don't share their properties right away and are often far-away from the regular neo-prog, prog-metal and symphonic prog that I tended to listen to.
Such records dwell in a mixture of realms that show experimental, avant-garde, electronic and ambient appeal, topped off by (if lucky) an embracing King Crimson charm; thus making the music even more unfathomable at times.
I'd like to think this intriguing learning-curve started with the 2019 efforts by Daal and B-Rain, the latter a solo album from Daal's Davide Guidoni. Since then, quite a few "otherworldly" albums have graced the insides of my CD-player and subsequently broadened my horizons. Amongst those, Nodo Gordiano's fifth album, Sonnar, recently shared its lovely melodies and atmospheric soundscapes, accompanied by a fair amount of King Crimson-influenced entanglements.
Rather unexpectedly, as their previous album took almost seven years to complete, Nodo Gordiano have returned with their sixth album H.E.X (Hic Erant Xoana) in December 2021. According to the promotional lines accompanying the album, they are trying "to condense and push to extremes the stylistic and expressive characteristics of the previous five albums, proposing a work that opens up new perspectives in the future creative activity".
Based upon and inspired by the timeless contents of the Book Of Changes, this has resulted in an album that brings together a pair of gargantuan and cinematic instrumental suites, each clocking in at precisely 26 minutes. Founder Andrea De Luca (synths, sampler, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, devices) and the aforementioned Davide Guidoni (keys, sampler, acoustic/electronic percussions, artwork), are aided by Filippo Brilli on tenor, baritone, alto and soprano saxes.
Both compositions are preceded by their individual I-Ching characters, each depicted within the artwork where Heng (hexagram 32) graces the front cover while Kou (hexagram 44) is featured on the back. As to their exact meaning and interpretation, I'm relatively clutching at straws. This Mysticeti only grows upon further exploration. An interpreted translation of H.E.X. into Here Were Gods certainly adds to this mysteriousness, especially in light of the suggestive artwork which shows contours of a male and female Xoana (a primitive god carved in wood) on each side. The compelling musical complexities sustain this thematic mystification.
The first suite, composed by De Luca, in short explores the concept of duration, and depicts the complexity and synchronicity of existential paths, suspended between duration, fragment, contrast and simultaneity. Defying all expectations created for me with their previous effort, it opens with refreshing sounds of streaming water as sequencers gulf into a cosmic pond of Tangerine Dream / Klaus Schulze. Waves of crashing sax and drums, fizzing with funky bass and jazzy raptures then lift the composition in a geyser of psychedelics, before it smooths out into Pink Floyd atmospheres that ripple into an eerie and threatening flow which ebbs with a distinct Hawkwind feel.
Shaped by an unleashed Guidoni it then swells into a KC-like universe while an entropic sax moves freely amidst the melody. The song takes on an increasingly menacing form, preceded by firm bass attacks. Propelled by a maze of haunting complexity and fixating guitar work, the song subsequently plunges down into an ocean of serenity that approaches mysterious Eastern and worldly atmospheres, drawn by percussion and synth.
Effortlessly holding attention, expecting a lurking eruption at any given moment, the song floats on in perfect Zen lighting before the bass adds intensity and the song descends into an entropy of fierce riffs and disciplined executions interspersed with unbridled sax parts. This intense and highly attention-demanding section is the heaviest part of the song, in which more labyrinthine structures unfold and jazz influences slowly work their way towards the Japanese Dojo, equivalent of KC's court. Creating emotions of fear and desertion, this part of the composition gives you almost no time to recover. The wonderful, long coda in which synths create wonderful inner peace, comes just in time.
This muscular psychedelic track gets a haunted sequel in the spine-chilling and more experimental second suite Kou. Written by Guidoni this dives into the experience of encounter and relationship in its various moments, transporting to a dreamlike collective realm that ends in a shattered and reabsorbed individual experience. A more complete description, which also expands upon Heng, is to be found here.
As it happens, Kou directly translates into "cold" in my native language, a translation that's spot-on in light of the song's experience. It is able to give one the creeps and shivers like those I encountered on Lucas Lee's chillingly perfect Síndrome de Estocolmo. This remorseless suite also brings affectionate memories of Guidoni's own B-Rain album as it melts away between damping grandeur and refined, icy realities.
Upon approach the song's opening fountain of airiness is instantly frozen by impending synths that depict feelings of abandonment and loneliness and stays chilled until percussion and synth slowly warm the soundscapes towards imaginary liquefied shards of mist. The immense build-up with overpowering bass that follows is overwhelming, just like the unwieldy tempo at which the song moves, and with excellent sax working it wonders this results in an expressively attractive passage.
Steaming and extremely minute the majestic song creeps on, after which the music enters a psychedelic fog that feels colder by the minute, due to its Avant Garde electronic interpretation whose experimental nature shows a mild likeness to Daal's Navels Falling Into A Living Origami. Gaining in cinematic Eastern magnitude as Mellotron choirs invade the soundscape this part of the song grabs hold very effectively and under constant tension the song finally works its way towards a mesmerising coda in which beautiful percussion and guitar provide a soothing relief and thankful tranquillity.
Where Sonnar showed some potential to be played in the background for enjoyment, that certainly doesn't apply to H.E.X.. It simply seeks and demands full attention throughout in order to capture the many hidden layers within the music. Heng, although more complex in nature, is the easiest song to listen to for the open-minded KC-orientated prog enthusiast. I on the other hand find myself strangely attracted to Kou's unsettling entity, whose haunting psychology tends to crawl under my skin and then won't let go.
All in all H.E.X. is an exceptionally composed and executed piece of art whose boundless scope has certainly opened up a lot of creative gateways for future collaborations between Luca and Guidoni. Hopefully this will once again include a participation by Natalia Suvorina, as I do slightly miss her ethereal contributions which so beautifully graced and elevated Sonnar. Regardless of this personal preference, the challenging H.E.X. is a strong and commendable work that's worth exploring over and over and over.
Spiritraiser — Ciklos
The Helsinki-based Spiritraiser is a band proudly presenting themselves as "melting elements of rock and ambient into sonic pleasure for you to enjoy". Ciklos is a truly remarkable album.
Remarkable in the way its impact immediately grabbed my attention and made me procure the band's debut album Inspiral even before the album had made its first complete round. More remarkable is the basis on which this quick acquisition was enforced. For where I usually receive directions towards references, tags or other points as to why I'm enjoying it so much, this time I came up fairly empty at first go. And second, third and thirteenth!
Sure enough the magnificent, energetic music involves prog, metal and post-rock with occasional leanings towards ambient. A combination that satisfies my every need and expectancy towards highly-enjoyable, energising music. A remarkable sound which somehow resonates deep within and makes me want to dive straight back into the album the moment that its bewitching hour has finished.
Aided by Olli Kari on occasional percussion and Olli Äkräs on piano in Mountain, the ones responsible for this spellbinding experience are Jules Näveri (vocals), Uula Korhonen (guitar), Kristian Merilahti (drums and programming) and Anssi Ruotanen (bass). Each of these members have previously ventured in various bands going by the names of Profane Omen, Rootbrain, Enemy Of The Sun, Sleep Of Monsters, and Fone. Together they have created Ciklos, a visionary album focused on renewal, energy and positive-thinking that defies rules in genres and operates in a galaxy of musical worlds that they feel perfectly comfortable with.
The outstanding opening song Artificial Light is a clear and perfect illustration, opening with a superb The Cyberiam-like vibe that moments later slides into restrained melodic metal melodies laced with ambient synths and delightfully-appealing guitars. Taking hold through Näveri's expressive voice, the composition continues soothingly by delivering absorbing melodies with a stronghold of guitars from Korhonen before it enticingly erects a concrete wall of post-rock magnificence.
This early momentum is effortlessly maintained in Invisible Enemy which inserts impressive tribal percussions to Spiritraiser's endearing sound and touches upon Queensrÿche elements in light of the guitar and warm production values.
Glory gets to fully justify its title. Expressing extremely catchy melodies and fabulous ambient synths that circle the various atmospheres of the song. This song is elevated by an astounding solo in the song's instrumental section which resonates strong Rush vibes.
The dynamics continue in Stream, enforcing energetic melodic metal and post-rock with a strong alternative U2 edge from the bass, to which the tuneful rawness of Näveri's voice and the overwhelming propulsive waves in the song's choruses, creates visions of a Live (the band) atmosphere. The song's relentless pace is kept going in the ravishing Quipo which adds acoustic Tyketto elegance amidst its everlasting melodic grip.
The atmospheric, ambient sunbeams of the semi-ballad Sirens follows. Providing a shiny resting point on the album it's back to business with the aggressive psychedelics of Fearism where excellent guitar leads ultimately fade into peaceful tribal atmospherics.
Virgin Soil takes it right down with relaxed atmospheres and psychedelic accents slightly reminiscent to Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree. On the wings of growing melancholic intensity this diverse composition acts a superb entrance for Ciklos' highlight The Wrong Giants.
Hitting all the right notes, this composition merges all of their individual strengths and instrumental prowess into one. In doing so the band has been able to create an amazing composition that passionately manoeuvres through blissful ambient and smouldering metal, while embracing the immaculate delights of Queensrÿche.
This momentum turns into an anthemic high with Mountain, whose touching atmosphere of desolation and loneliness shares a likeness to a restrained Dream Theater meets Course Of Fate. Focussed on building atmospheres, it moves elegantly onwards with refinement of piano play from Olli Äkräs and gains memorable strength in the song's inevitable and deeply satisfying uplifting Klone-like apotheosis. The compelling post-rock inspired melodies create an astonishing finale to an equally astonishing and remarkable album.
A few months in, this album still keeps on growing and slowly but surely nestles itself comfortably in my album of the year list. The band's unbridled song-smithery is excellent, as are their harmonious performances, ravishing melodies and individual deliveries. Hopefully Progpower Europe will invite them on stage soon, for I reckon this to be a fiercely-blasting experience live.
Until that day comes, I'll cherish this album. If any combination of the bands mentioned within this review tickle your taste buds, then you might want to share in this cherishing, for Ciklos is a truly remarkable album.