Mikael Åkerfeldt — Clark (Soundtrack From The Netflix Series)
How does one start writing a review for such an ambitious project, especially when you consider there are 34 songs on this double long-player. To say this album took some time to absorb would be an understatement, but it was a project I was keen to tackle as I have been a mild fan of Mikael Akerfeldt's latter styles of music when he manages to keep the cookie monster restrained.
Opeth's masterpiece, Damnation, was my first exposure to the band many years ago and is a firm favourite as it contains nothing but brilliant songwriting and clean vocals. Growl vocals are one thing I simply have not been able to come to terms with, despite the brilliance in some basic songwriting you often find with many metal bands. Thankfully, there are no gruff vocals to be found here. In fact there are only a few tracks that contain any vocals at all, so the strength of the album must rely on the quality of the songwriting alone. Herein, lies the absolute strength of this rather unique but stunningly absorbing album.
My initial impressions were a little off-putting, but repeated plays of this album in smaller, bite-sized chunks has allowed me to immerse myself properly at a time when it suited my listening environments.
The first thing that makes a huge impression is how each song sounds so totally different to the next one. The styles of music cover everything from jazz, rock, progressive rock and tango, to indie pop, heavy metal and even a few ethnic influences here and there.
This soundtrack was composed by Mikael who was tasked with this project by Jonas Akerlund who was the director for the entire project. Some followers may recall the name, as he was the drummer for Bathory before they pulled up stumps in 2004 following the death of their main writer, Thomas Forsberg, from an untimely heart attack.
The diversity of material really makes you sit up and pay attention. I really can't recall a modern album with such a vast palette of musical ideas and concepts. Whether you consider those softer songs with plaintiff piano or keyboards, those bouncier, semi-indie pop tracks, the jazzier interludes or the quirky Vielleicht später, there is plenty to enjoy here.
A track by track descriptor would require me to cut down too many trees, so I'll keep the ink in my pen. There are quite a few stand-out tracks, however.
Måndag i Stockholm aims a salute directly to Black Sabbath as the riffs would have you thinking that Toni Iommi was on board, while Battle For Love features a really strong sound with dynamic vocals and guitar. Night Life includes the same type of drumming and keyboards you would find on Jan Hammer's excellent Miami Vice Theme while the thundering keyboards in Headfirst Into The Storm and Ballad Of The Libertine in G Minor feature some very nice anthemic melodies and brooding themes. Lost In San Marino has a riff and jazzy vibe similar to the one you would find on an album by Lee Ritneour, sans vocals.
Although not sounding derivative of anyone in particular, if you blended some variety from Mike Batt, Rupert Hine, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Jan Hammer or Pink Floyd, and mixed that up together, you still would not come close to finding the totality of influences or similarities. It simply is an album that must be heard in its totality to be appreciated. As it is unlikely you would hear too many songs lifted for airplay, your credit card might be called upon to satisfy your intrigue.
Tyler Kamen — Artichoke Pythagorum
Listening to the various albums that I have under review can be challenging sometimes. As there are only 24 hours in a day, diminishing to lesser hours when normal life and work obligations are taken into account, it leaves only a few hours a day to focus on evaluating music. Luckily I found a loophole, and pre-listen to a lot of music in my workspace, which effectively makes the shop that I work at, a one-of-a-kind liquor-store.
In order not to 'frighten' the costumer, some progressive genres are obviously avoided and only aired after closing hours. However, during the day one can listen to a fair share of progressive-related music. This will sometimes spike a reaction or conversation with a costumer, which in itself is a nice side effect, but it also tells me a lot about the music, just by the look on their faces.
The reason I mention this has a lot to do with Tyler Kamen's Artichoke Pythagorum, his sixth full-album release over a period of 18 months(!), four of which have been favourably reviewed on our site. This album frequently filled the airwaves of my shop and led to some unforgettable moments with people looking surprised or drop-dead amazed.
Not so much with Introduction which opens the album with elegant folk influences and a progressive sound reminiscent to 70s Yes, but all the more by the three compositions that follow this cheerful opening.
Stringbean starts out with a groovy swing and percussive vivacity much like Santana and Karthago, meanwhile shimmering with a psychedelic undertone. This part managed to raise some appreciative glances that altered into those of unexpected surprise once the song wanders through intoxicating musical outbursts with quirky sounds fresh out of a Disney/Pixar cartoon. Vibrantly mixing Frank Zappa with sunny elements of Klaatu this song brings a richness which is an absolute joy.
The two-part Gnome Village: Part 1 - King's Welcome and Gnome Village: Part 2 - Pumpkin Soup hits the still unaware customer with a tornado of ingenious musical complexities. It makes my inner lustful smile of outright joy grow ever bigger as the music jumps, runs and flies through a maze of jam-packed melodies that constantly shift in odd timings, masterful wacky rhythms and otherworldly familiarities.
Accommodating the questioned faces by explaining the album's concept, 'a psychedelic rock adventure about a village of vegetable gnomes whose garden is ravaged by dirt bugs which forces them to take on a quest to seek out a mysterious artichoke that grants eternal life at the edge of the forest', would probably only have led to more astonishment. Admittedly I have not had to do this yet, but the way in which Kamen draws his ravishingly executed fairy-tale into life does lead to similar feelings of breathtaking appraisal.
As the utopian world of the gnomes is overrun by their herbivorous enemy in Dirt Bugs, the blissful narrative changes perception with classical themes and folk-inspired melodies mindful to an Irish Riverdance in The Artichoke. Playful and with as many layers as the lovely bloom itself (introduced to me as a luscious eating variety by Jerry van Kooten's mother), its medieval vibe is furthermore inserted with a large dose of soothingly delicious melodies. When Jethro Tull-inspired rock slowly takes over and dips into sauces of artfully designed prog with intricate playing and beautiful guitar work, it's exquisite taste is proverbially tangible.
Vegetable Bandits adds a fiercely adventurous heavy prog flavour firmly rooted in the 70s. A sensational song and a brilliant example to Kamen's unique sense of melding seemingly impossible lyrics together with exceptional melodies, repeated several times over in other songs.
Striding energetically onwards through the woods with cheerful Tull-catchiness in Riddles Of Zezop McGregor, the gnomes' footsteps then touch down in The Island. Surrounded by breezes of airiness and comforting vocals it momentarily lapses in restrained jazzy melancholics and echoes of early Pink Floyd. Intermezzo signals the end of their quest. But not of Kamen's masterly and unbridled tale!
The dazzling array of cabaret and other highwire contraptions embedded within Flying Hippopotamus' irresistible trapezium structure is a joyous mind-boggling feast for the ears. Finally, Conclusion ends it all in a gentle strophe of Genesis.
All that's left for me to say after repeated listening to this exceptional album is that I completely concur with Jerry's statement made on Kamen's previous work: this is a heck of a roller-coaster album. How Kamen accomplishes all this in such a short time-frame, also in light of the overall pristine production, is beyond me. I'm sure glad and thankful he does.
To get acquainted with Kamen's music it doesn't really matter which album you choose from the ones described on DPRP, for each has his eclectic signature written all over it. That said, given the artistic growth over the past few albums, working your way back is probably the best route to take.
And for those happening to be visiting my shop on Wacky Wednesday, I'll gladly play it upon request just to see the facial expressions on your face.
Lobate Scarp — You Have It All
You Have It All is Lobate Scarp's second full-length studio album following their 2012 debut Time And Space. It expands the universe they previously build with their 2019 EP Spirals & Portals, thereby revisiting and freshly weaving the songs Nothing Wrong and Beautiful Light into today's symphonic journey. A journey destined to please many modern progressive rock fans who enjoy and cherish the sounds and music created by Spock's Beard, Transatlantic, Pattern Seeking Animals and Flying Colors.
Not the smallest of names to be compared to, but they all fit perfectly. This appealing array is complimented by a multitude of influences of other semi-greats, some of which I hold in equally high regard. Both musically and composition-wise it is all perfectly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable.
At the steering wheel is founder and main composer Adam Sears (lead vocals, synths, piano, organs), flanked by Andy Catt (bass, vocals) and Peter Matuchniak (guitar). Next to a string quartet featuring cello and violins and a long list of other participants, the album features some special guests. Starting out with Billy Sherwood (Yes) this includes Ryo Okumoto (Spock's Beard), Jimmy Keegan (3.2, Spock's Beard), Eric Moore (Suicidal Tendencies) and Jon Davison (Yes, ex-Mystery). The mix and co-production is from Rich Mouser (e.g. SB, Dilemma). This list will undoubtedly resonate to many within today's prog community.
The album is off to a flying start with Conduit. Recorded live in the studio, this song instantly attracts with some richly decorated jazz fusion and a fresh, tantalizing sound reminiscent to Dixie Dregs. Simultaneously the formidable interplay with lots of synths, guitars and organ brings mild visions of Mahavishnu Orchestra. Adding lush violin parts in best jazz-rock tradition, firmly with Jerry Goodman vibes, this soaring opener finally fades into spiritual atmospheres surrounded by mysteriousness.
Nothing Wrong does everything right as it gradually builds from these atmospheres into spooky sounds and suspenseful bass. In a similar compelling drive, Life-Line moves firmly about with versatile play and an immaculate melodic build up.
Especially noteworthy are the submissions of Keegan and Catt, who both leave their marvellous mark again in the broodingly dark and psychedelic Our Test Tube Universe. The various dynamic melodies, variations in structure and a tasteful amount of keyboard deliveries makes every single song perfectly enjoyable.
Sonically the album breathes a fine sense of nostalgia within a contemporary clear and warm sound. This sets the intricate, sensitive melodies of Beautiful Light perfectly aflame. Embedded with pristine harmonies and an elegance of enchanting movements, touching upon The Beatles and flying in formation with Yes in the divine spirited guitar parts, this gorgeous ballad will surely find an embracing heart from those who enjoy Transatlantic and efforts by Neal Morse.
The nostalgic element for instance comes to the fore in In the Night I and In the Night II, with both intermezzo's featuring a (drum)-sound that's directly imported from the 80s. The delightful musical universal display encountered in the remaining two epic compositions are further proof to this, touching upon familiar resonating melodies with seductive symphonic appeal. The lovely string quartet is a clear surplus value.
Divided into five sections album closer Flowing Through the Changes opens fresh and feels instantly epic from spectacular play and grand melodies before it descends into refined bass accompanied by subdued elegance and classical violins. Gently swaying to beautiful guitar in an oasis of tranquillity, meticulously propelled by enchanting instrumentation, a short impression of Pink Floyd passes by, before strings bend the flow into a magical movement of intertwining guitars, violins and synth.
A New Beginning (part III) brings feelings of uplifting lightness propelled by infectious melodies and symphonic elements. The apotheosis of the song (V - Dreams are Coming True) fully lives up to its expectation and has everything a symphonic prog fan could wish for and more. As far as I'm concerned album highlight You Have It All turns this up a notch or two.
The song is well and truly underway touching upon odd-time signatures and alternating fury with sensitive elegance, and rolls on perfectly with excellence in harmonic vocal colouring from Sears, Sherwood and Davison. Under constant guidance of bass and grand guitars its pace steadily increases with brilliant guitar escapades and memorable rhythmic drive to which the vibrant string quartet breaths more and more life. A truly inspirational instrumental segment follows, stunningly directed by a marvellous performance from Moore. Flashes of Kansas and Steve Morse follow and enticingly lead the continuously-giving melodies into Prog's seventh heaven with guitars and lush symphonies leading the way. Once the song ends, you have genuinely received it all.
In short, I'm convinced this album, when discovered, will end up high on many a prog-fan's year-list. With top-notch deliveries, excellent songs and a magnificent production, expertly given shape by gifted musicians, this is about as good as it can get for modern symphonic prog fans. A very recommendable effort. Those interested should hurry up and get hold of the limited edition CD-package for this incorporates the beautifully designed booklet that ensures you indeed have it all.
M'Z — La civilisation de la graine
Sometimes it's quite hard to get extra information on a project. The email with some background on this project was good, but it did take a while to find all the sites I wanted to include links to. The Facebook page is talking about Matziz, while the Bandcamp site mentions M'Z. I doubt this is helping people to find his music.
M'Z is a project by Mathieu Torres and this new album follows two albums and an EP under that moniker. His website lists about 10 projects he is in. Busy man. The main thing is that he is a composer.
In his own description, M'Z is "a project: Canterbury, progressive, Rock in Opposition, metal, electronica, space rock, noise, jazz, free-rock, ambient, psyche, heavy, punk, drum 'n bass".
You don't always get what you expect when writing reviews. From that description alone, I would not be very interested, since there are many things I don't particularly like. I have not taken the time to investigate to see the differences between all the projects or bands he is in, so I just hope he's dividing the influences and styles among them evenly.
It is unclear who is playing what. Someone is only mentioned for doing the cover, so do I have to assume it's Torres who's doing everything else. The focus is on guitar. Percussion sounds electronic. Synths are probably guitar-driven. Several sections have a good bass sound that is probably played on an actual bass.
But the music itself? Maybe I should have started with that, without reading any info at all. Within minutes, you know M'Z is an excellent guitar player. Fast, and playing with a variety of tones.
I am glad the number of influences and styles is a lot smaller than suggested by the description. Guitar-driven fusion with an electronic background and heavy outbursts. Yeah, that will do.
Torres portrays himself mainly as a composer, and you can hear it. This is a composer's album. From that point of view, I think this is a very good album. But musicality aside and with a focus on how the album is perceived by me, I have to say it feels a bit cold. While several of the guitar sections I like, a large part is following my expectations of jazz-fusion guitar music. There is a lot of head in here and not a lot of heart. That could still be to your liking, so don't let my being not-so-fond-of-fusion stand in the way of getting to know this album.
Style-wise, I had to think of Dutch band Whistler Courbois Whistler, who were in roughly the same musical field but with a lot more blues and variation in their play.
My suspicion that Torres does everything here is also a limiting factor in my opinion. I've noticed this with many one-man projects. There is one focus, the guitar in this case, and the rest follows, but never challenges. This results in too narrow a thinking. Sure, we have different ideas and different sections, but it's a bit too much of a focus on one thing (the guitar); making it too monotonous.
A track like Bureaucratie bémol has very nice sections in very different styles, with silly sound effects in between that ruin the flow and render the track an annoying one to listen to. If the silly bits were removed, it would be a very good track. Several songs end in a fade-out, which make those songs sound unfinished.
On the other hand there is an excellent production, with lots of nice and sometimes unexpected studio trickery. But moments where the multi-layered sounds are tickling the brain, like in La spiritualité marketing, are too few to my taste.
For me, the project would benefit from having more people involved. A band to challenge the writer, and to take the songs a step further and making them more diverse. A different, outside producer who will tell someone to think of something else. From a composer's perspective this is probably very interesting, as is the performance; The resulting album, is probably mostly for composers then.
The Prog Collective — Songs We Were Taught
Being the busy type of guy that Billy Sherwood is, he has gathered a humungously large and impressive assortment of strolling minstrels to help with his latest undertaking. This is the fourth instalment from The Prog Collective and after reading through some previous reviews for the group's earlier material, I thought I'd give this one a stab. Seeing that all the songs selected for this album are all family favourites and are about as universally well known as Corn Flakes, I'm somewhat relieved at not needing to spend inordinate amounts of time becoming familiar with each song. The only difference to be discussed, is the arrangements.
The musicians who contributed to this project are as diverse as the song selections themselves, as none of the tracks chosen for this album possess any really progressive rock traits. They do represent, however, probably some of the more memorable songs we all sang at parties or get-togethers with friends while indulging in a brown lemonade or three, while chortling together over the latest joke about whatever tickled one's fancy. Oh, the memories!
To give some credibility to the project, I guess we must salute those whose undeniable talents within the progressive rock community have caressed our ears for many decades while they were members of their respective bands. Check this out for a guest-list!
Track 1 - Jon Davison (vocals) and Geoff Downes (keyboards)
Track 2 - David Sancious (keyboards) and Billy Sherwood (guitar)
Track 3 - David Clayton-Thomas (vocals) and Steve Hillage (guitar)
Track 4 - Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal (guitar)
Track 5 - Roine Stolt (guitar) and Steve Morse (guitar)
Track 6 - Sonja Kristina (vocals) and Martin Barre (guitar)
Track 7 - Rod Argent (guitar) and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (guitar)
Track 8 - Rosalie Cunningham (vocals, guitar) and Patrick Moraz (keyboards)
Track 9 - Candice Night (vocals) and Dweezil Zappa (guitar)
Track 10 - Martin Turner (guitar) and Jerry Goodman (violin)
Being the softer, folkier types of songs that pervaded the airwaves while we were trying to come to terms with pimples, the opposite sex, and societal expectations, the original versions of these songs have always stood the test of time. They will have most baby boomers who are nearing or are in retirement, humming and singing along at the drop of a hat when friends gather together for some nostalgic period of reminiscing.
For the most part, it's not often that I really take a huge liking to tribute albums but considering the talent collected here, one might need to be respectful of the importance of what each of these good songs meant to each member of this collective. They do differ considerably from the originals, whether that is because some ageing voices (Sonja!) can't quite reach the notes as well as they might have done 40 or 50 years earlier or simply because production techniques have changed so much since.
At the end of the day, this is a tiny representation of the style and quality of the songwriting that was so evident when we were growing up and for that reason alone, we should be thankful for such originality and imagination. Unfortunately, I just can't see that happening so readily with much of the more "radio friendly" music that has pervaded the airwaves for the last two decades or so. The accessibility and infectious melodies are simply not there in such large numbers as there was in the 60s and 70s.
You all know these songs pretty well already so whether you can enjoy these interpretations as well as the originals, is a moot point. I did to a degree, but still prefer the older versions, as these interpretations seem a little uninspired.
Winter In Eden — Social Fake
Winter In Eden are a female-fronted symphonic rock band, founded in 2008 and hailing from the UK. Their recent album Social Fake is their fourth, following their 2014 effort Court Of Conscience which guested Damian Wilson as narrator. Seeing his involvement, I'm rather surprised that this is my first encounter with the band, for I usually follow his footsteps rather closely. The various 'Classic Rock Society Award' nominations ('Best New Band' (2012/2013), 'Best Live Act' (2013/2014) and 'Best Female Singer' (2012/2013/2014)) only adds to my amazement, continued by Social Fake itself which turns out to be an album of the highest order.
Before diving into the music, an honourable compliment has to be given towards the attractive artwork. The drawing of a dome that inhibits a lonely, decaying, semi-bionic wolf in a futuristic unnatural habitat, confronted by his angry, artificial reflection, is an assured contender for this year's artwork award. As an animal known for its social behaviour it is also a rather striking and confrontational image that brings conceptional strength to the album, and at the same time invites a closer look for clues, lyrical references or hidden messages. Is this pictured-predator a burdened descendent of the one shown approaching on Court Of Conscience?
This fine imagery is pursued musically, and signals a band that soars through a marvellous pack of well-written, powerful, compact compositions delivered with 'In for the kill' performances. In a full-on pristine production brimming with variety, symphonic details, just as many catchy melodies and compelling executions, this 39-minute album is a brilliant exhibition of what the band has to offer. And that's a lot!
Over the last eight years only one recent change in their line-up has occurred, and now sees newcomer Benji Lynch (guitars) accompanying long-time members Vicky Johnson (vocals), Steve Johnson (keys, orchestrations), Steve Hauxwell (drums) and Ian Heddle on bass. The result is the best album I've heard in this genre for years.
A blast-off into Social Fake's symphonic metal instantly brings proggy riffs and breaks-a-plenty which sets the pace of the album splendidly. Musically mindful to Delain on all fronts, it's a strong opening that showcases lovely melodies and yummy orchestrations. The carefully crafted bridge, designed by beautiful keyboard work and overtaken by dazzling guitar work, shows a delightful symphonic After Forever elegance.
The pleasantly attractive melodic voice of lyricist/vocalist Johnson reaches for the skies, gently shying away from stratospheric Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation) heights. It shows a more characteristic, dark rawness that shares a likeness to Marieke Bresseleers (Cygnus Atratus) and also touches upon Charlotte Wessels from the aforementioned Delain. All in all a perfect fit for the energetic music.
The excellent Never Let Go brings an oasis of keys and metallic riffs alongside a richness in arrangements and harmonies. Adding violin sounds, airiness of synth and beautiful harmonies, this song shows the magnitude of the band's accomplishments brilliantly. Out Of Touch is perfectly in-sync with my musical wishes when its bombastic opening builds tension, and powerful choirs and tightly operated rhythms highlight a refined sense of melody.
Passing catchy tempo-changes and another tension build up that leads to a bridge with beautiful ambient fairy tales enchantments, kept intricately small by vocals and piano, this excellent song marvellously shows Winter In Eden are all about creating beautiful narrative songs where each instrument brilliantly plays their part. The song's finale in which a children's choir chants its chorus about 'the real world' is an inspired and extremely effective touch that gives additional depth and allurement to the conceptual tale.
Weaving their previous album into play the futuristic intro of Critical Mass - Dear Diary, deepens this some more when the natural voice of a child is heard accompanied by a robotic entity. Provided with touching cello and refined saddening classical movements intertwined in the song's symphonies Critical Mass Part 2 - The Change then conjures a magical spell through its flawless transitions, percussive earthiness and lush piano play. I notice my feet are drumming along with the music in appreciation, which is always a good sign.
In integral alignment Critical Mass Part 3 - Rage bites into expressive menacing rock with sharpness of vocals by guest singer Alex Cooper which turns into a dynamic duet as Johnson gets to share leads.
After this highlight the only way is up, beginning with Down's fierce metal-caged melodies that ignite visions of Avantasia. Blind Acceptance continues this winning streak with darkened atmospheres and inventive prog values, spurred on by a tantalizing guitar solo and an appetizing coda swimming in symphonies. Thereupon the album reaches its finest hour (or 10 minutes) via the enchanting surroundings of Smiling Assassin.
Marvellously restrained this wonderful reflective song softly caresses Landmarq onto me due to its intricate piano play, while further on it adds mild folk outings amongst its symphonic greatness. Including emotional touches of violin, classical piano and harp that sparkles with divinity, this song surpasses many of Within Temptation's magnificence for me. Johnson's beguiling delivery, shimmering with dramatic fragility and sensitive emotion gives further majestic appeal.
The epic fairytale grandeur of Exclusive Invitation finally closes the album with soaring symphonies and a wealth of uplifting melodic melodies. It's a heavenly conclusion to this strong album.
This album is to me one of those cases where all the pieces of the female prog-metal puzzle fall exactly into the right places. Excellent song-smithery, exceptional performances, lush symphonies and compelling melodies to which the arrangements, vocals and instrumentation make all the difference. If you're a fan of Nightwish, Stream Of Passion, Delain and Epica, then Winter In Eden's Social Fake is a must-have album. Admittedly I'm not such a fan of this style, barring a few exceptions, so please feel free to add some points to my rating if you are. Overall a wonderful discovery from a band that I'll be keeping a close eye on.