Album Reviews

Issue 2022-068

Compass — Theory Of Tides

Compass - Theory Of Tides
Mountains on the Moon (10:59), Searching for Answers (6:35), The Assayer (8:08), Once in a Lifetime (5:17), Laws of Nature Dialogue I: Fly to the Sun (7:36), Laws of Nature Dialogue II: God Only Knows (5:25), Laws of Nature Dialogue III: This Pendulum Swings (6:48), Theory of Tides (6:31)
Andy Read

I guess this should be sub-titled "old kids on a new block".

For the past 25 years guitarist/keyboard player Steve Newman has been steadily plying his melodic rock/AOR under the band name Newman. A few years ago he decided to step outside his comfort zone and create an album that encapsulated some of his influences from the world of progressive rock. The resulting album, Our Time on Earth was a near-perfect hybrid of melodic rock and modern progressive rock. It won near-perfect plaudits across the board, and easily landed among my top 10 albums of 2020.

This review of the follow-up album, Theory of Tides, could also be subtitled "If it ain't broke, then don't fix it". For Steve has wisely maintained the same line-up, with the impressive voice of Ben Green supported by bassist Dave Bartlett and drummer Toni Lakush. Compositionally, it again succeeds in delivering a precise hybrid of melodic hard rock and modern progressive rock.

Compass, promo photo

Theory Of Tides is a concept album based on the life, works, and inner turmoil of the famous astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei. As Steve explains: "It follows in the Compass tradition of creating mindscapes both musically and lyrically, taking the listener through a journey that encompasses Galileo's life."

This has not been an immediate hit for me. The melodies and the guitar/keyboard lines have taken quite a few spins to really sink in. But having given it the necessary time, I am really loving a lot of the music on this album. The first three songs and the closing title track are perfect examples of what a combination of these two genres can deliver. The three-part centre-piece, Laws of Nature, is enjoyable but less successful. Maybe the desire to tell a story has compromised the ability to deliver a great song?

However overall across these eight new songs, Compass again blends the compositional adventure and keyboard-led sound of It Bites, Mystery, Lifesigns, Spocks Beard, Enchant, Frost, Saga and Riverside, with the guitar-led melodic rock intent of Dare, Survivor, Journey, Winger and Ten. Fans whose tastes flutter between these two camps, should find much to enjoy here.

Desert Twelve — Desert Twelve

Desert Twelve - Desert Twelve
Your Cold Cold Desert Heart (11:20), The Keeper Of The Space Time Cage (4:59), Everyone Against (4:43), In The Air Tonight (4:58), Mother Simulacrum (5:36), Desert Kiss (3:29), Butterfly Snake (8:38)
Martin Burns

Desert Twelve formed in Piacenza in 2021, led by author, producer and guitarist Gabriele "Gaby" Finotti, founder of the hard and alternative rock band Misfatto, who have been active on the Italian rock scene since 1990. They have a Soundgarden type of sound.

This new project moves away from that and sees a mix of styles leading Desert Twelve into stoner, psychedelia and blues influenced heavy prog rock, with nods to hard/alt-rock in the melodies and guitars. The songs all have great melodies that are arranged to more-than-hold the interest of prog rock fans. Especially ones who like the amps turned up to 11.

The album bludgeons its way out of the speakers on the opening track, Your Cold Cold Desert Heart. Over eleven minutes, Desert Twelve move from intense riffing from Finotti, with roiling bass from Alex Viti (who also plays guitar on the album). A guitar solo introduces a psychedelic feel, and it breaks into an unaccompanied vocal section from singer Vittoria Ipri. She has a fine voice. Monster riffs return, before an acoustic section and a shift into windswept desert blues. You end up in a place you wouldn't have guessed from the initial chords. All this and a hummable, sing-along melody.

Desert Twelve, promo photo by Giancarlo-Losi

Things continue in a similar way. On the hard-edged psyche-blues of The Keeper Of The Space Time Cage drummer Gabriele Gnecchi pushes the beat along fiercely. There is a clever use of breathing space, and the male/female vocals are a delight. Everyone Against's chugging rhythm generates quite some tension that gets released by the full band flying in after a couple of minutes.

Next is a cover of the Phil Collins' hit In The Air Tonight. Although not as odd-ball as the best covers can be, it is very listenable with guitar chords taking over from the thump of the original's drums, and another great vocal from Vittoria Ipri who resembles 60s British singer Julie Driscoll of This Wheel's On Fire fame (Brian Auger And The Trinity's 1968 top ten hit).

There is more of a hard rock influence on Mother Simulacrum and Desert Kiss but neither are as predictable as that description would lead you to believe. The first of these two has an interesting mid-song change of pace, and the second has a commercial melody that carries quite a punch. The lengthier closer Butterfly Snake gets a little repetitive on the lyric front, but the surrounding arrangement of acoustic desert blues and sliding fretless bass grows in to a heavy psyche ending to keep it listenable.

This is a great self-titled debut from Desert Twelve that takes the psyche rock of Motorpsycho's recent Kingdom Of Oblivion album and mixes it with Sabbath riffs and Robin Trower-style intense blues. Investigate if that sounds like your sort of thing. It turns out that it is my thing!

David K Jones — Days in Corners

David K Jones - Days in Corners
Rescue Me (3:52), Crazy Rain (5:07), Don't Go (4:39), Footprints In The Sand (4:12), World Keeps Turning (4:03), As Good As It Gets (4:45), That Summer (4:37), Last Cigarette (4:29), Spin (4:10), No More Lullabies (4:49)
Martin Burns

It isn't often that I take a dislike to something on a first listen, but with this I had to battle with myself to listen to it again. So, I listened with as open ears as possible, until I found something with which to engage. I feel it is only fair to the artist to do this, a first listen dismissal would just be wrong, as some records take their time revealing themselves. Anyway, let me introduce this album.

David K Jones is a talented bass player who will be known to attentive album credit readers for working with Tim Bowness on the singer's solo projects and as a member of Plenty. He is also has a number of other projects on the go.

On his debut album, Days In Corners, he has enlisted his Plenty bandmate Brian Hulse on guitars, keyboards and programming, and Peter Goddard on vocals. The album is this trio's effort, with Hulse turning Jones' demos into fully-fledged songs. Various guests help along the way. The playing is excellent and Goddard's idiosyncratic, shy, hesitant vocal style I found difficult to warm to, but it did grow on me.

The music on Days In Corners has a 1980s electro-pop, prog-lite feel to them, and there's nothing wrong with that. The opener Rescue Me sets the template with Hulse's keyboards dominant, restrained guitar and lithe bass. Now here's the problem. For a lot of the album there are, frankly, weedy programmed drums that distract and annoy me. Surely a better-sounding drum program was available. There's no need to recreate the early 80s fledgling electronic programmed drums sound.

Things do improve on a few songs though. Henry Rogers, Mostly Autumn's drummer, guests on the up-tempo, jazzy Don't Go. His drums make all the difference. When an alternative, more full-bodied programmed drum sound is used on the good pop-prog of As Good As It Gets, and again on the ballad Last Cigarette, they show how good the songs are without the distraction.

The rest, in my book, is a waste of good material. Songs such as the mid 80s, floppy-fringed Crazy Rain that has a post-Vienna Ultravox feel to it, and World Keeps Turning which would fit right into a Tim Bowness album.

On repeat listens David K Jones' Days In Corners just demonstrates to me that 80% of the material deserves better. A missed opportunity.

Duo Review

Moon Letters — Thank You From The Future

Moon Letters - Thank You From The Future
Sudden Sun (4:19), The Hrossa (6:18), Mother River (4:32), Isolation And Foreboding (6:33), Child Of Tomorrow (5:27), Fate Of The Alacorn (7:06), Yesterday Is Gone (6:47)
Greg Cummins

I was keen to listen to this band's second album, as I have their debut which has received very good reviews. But having too much music and so little spare time, I can't admit to knowing the first album well enough to compare the two together. (I must address this later). This review will therefore concentrate on the strengths or otherwise of the follow-up, with no comparison to their debut.

The embryonic beginnings of this band emerged in the Seattle area following the unity of a number of members from other bands whose names I confess to not having heard of before. Some of these include Bone Cave Ballet and The Autumn Electric. The current line-up as of the date of this review is therefore John Allday (electric piano, organ, synthesizers, virtual orchestra, vocals, Mercurial chant), Mike Murphy (electric fretted and fretless bass, vocals, percussion, Earthen grumbles), Kelly Mynes (drums, percussion), Michael Trew (vocals, flute, 12-string electric guitar), Dave Webb (electric guitars, metal toolbox, shovel, primordial grunts).

(I notice from some Bandcamp info, the use of some additional "Moon Screeches" and "Barbaric Yawps" are also added to the mix. Perhaps there may be some truth to the rumour that the band might be called upon to create the soundtrack for Shrek 37 in 2038! With such a dynamic vocal gymnastics display as heard on this album, I'm pretty sure this possible bit of side work might pay big dividends! Go guys!)

Anyway, the band have certainly thrown their collective thoughts into a swirling miasma of sounds, melodies and patterns, and created a rather busy and hectic set of tunes to appeal to a novice listener. This is a heavy prog band, far removed from the more accessible style of music some better known neo-prog bands might produce. I guess you might say this is definitely aimed towards a more seasoned listener, although those with a penchant for adventurous and challenging music are certainly encouraged to have a crack at this very engaging album.

With so many new bands emerging after the pandemic lock-down, it stands to reason some will rise to the surface, others will fail miserably and some will hit a mid-level stride. Whatever level a band finds itself placed on, the public's response will reward them accordingly for their efforts, good or bad, following what has arguably been a very troubling number of years for any artistic minds to keep being creative.

I feel this band will find a position somewhere near the top, as this album reeks of clever and adventurous arrangements that will appeal to those who grew up on a diet of earlier prog luminaries such as Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant and even Van Der Graaf Generator. I have noticed references from other reviewers of influences from bands such as Rush and Dream Theater, although my ears don't detect any of that.

However, I am finding many similarities to many second-tier bands that sadly escaped the mainstream. By that I include early 70s American bands such as Ethos, Fireballet, Starcastle, Cathedral, Hands, Illuvatar, Happy The Man and even the somewhat eclectic Yezda Urfa. To confuse the reader even more, I might include a few references to some of the more recent progressive rock bands to keep it all up to date. These would include Enchant, Glass Hammer, Izz, Little Atlas, Resistor, Salem Hill, Spocks Beard and Illuvatar. Basically, if you have enjoyed any of the music from these previously mentioned bands, then Moon Letters might just tick enough boxes for you to feel comfortable and confident enough to dive right in.

With seven songs in the four to seven-minute range, the band have elected to avoid the use of any grandiose or epic tracks and concentrated on delivering a bevy of punchy but adventurous songs that highlight the deft use of guitars, keyboards and drums to perfection. Their lead vocalist is also very well-equipped with a decent set of pipes which is clearly demonstrated on a number of tracks including The Hrossa and Child Of Tomorrow where he showcases a more melancholic style, packed with emotion. The swirling organ and Mellotron (possibly sampled) along with the anthemic vocals towards the end of the second song is really haunting and creates a degree of originality that will mark this album as something a little better than just special.

Odd time signatures, multipart harmonies, dynamic bass and drums coalesce with some pretty technical and angular guitar and keyboard wizardry to really make the listener become fully absorbed with all that is going on. Extended synth runs throughout many of the songs remind me of many of the fore-mentioned bands who often used such a unique and versatile instrument to embellish their own sound. They do this continually throughout the album, and along with some punchy guitar flourishes which also dominate much of the music, these busy interludes just keep getting better with each listen.

The swirling organ, back-stopped with some stellar guitar throughout Fate Of The Alacorn really sounds impressive and makes a big impact. The majority of the other songs won't disappoint either, although I really took a liking to the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th and 7th songs. The band have managed to avoid creating another progressive rock album over-filled with predictable and simple metallic elements. Instead, they have cleverly filled those spaces with sufficient variety and theatrical motifs to keep me interested for ages to come.

This album really was a delight to review, as it is filled with original and inspiring songwriting, played by a handful of extremely talented guys who know their instruments backwards. The merging of the minds from their previous bands would have to be considered probably the best move they have made since 2019, as they have certainly hit a winner with this great album. Excellent effort guys! I wish the band much luck for the years ahead and will certainly be keen to review any future albums.

Jan Buddenberg

In 2019, Moon Letters' debut album Until They Feel The Sun made its way firmly to the top of my year list. To this day, I still visit this astounding symphonic prog-gem regularly, so to state that I was looking forward to their sophomore effort is an understatement. Actually, as soon as the unexpected promo arrived one fine Monday morning I dropped everything I was expecting to do and immersed myself into their heavenly world of prog, folk and pomp rock.

With the band still consisting of Michael Trew (vocals, flute), Kelly Mynes (drums), Mike Murphy (bass), John Allday (keys) and Dave Webb (guitars), the album again sounds deliciously 70s-inspired with a modern freshness that makes it irresistible. With folk influences taking a back seat in comparison to their debut, it's every bit as strong and stunning.

The album bursts open with the energetic and meticulously arranged Sudden Sun. The fantastical rhythmic dexterity of drums/bass on the one hand, rivalled by the virtuoso interplay of keys/guitar on the other, is breathtakingly compelling. Seizing melodies stand proud amidst the enormous layered and ever-changing complexities of composition.

This is a quality that the band excels at during the heavy-prog sections where they fuel their compositions with a tantalising interaction that shines radiantly with A.C.T brilliance and signature Gentle Giant refinement. There are elements reminiscent of Zon, Symphonic Slam, Rose, Jethro Tull and a multitude of bands referred to in my past review.

Triptych The Astral Projectionist (comprising The Hrossa, Mother River, and Isolation And Foreboding) follows suite in similar prog-combustible fashion. Creating tension and cheerful happiness at the same time, it is The Hrossa's seamless transitions from fragile and sensitively into vibrantly energetic prog, filled with Yes and (flute-absent) Jethro Tull that impresses the most. Grand in nature with flirtations of Saga from the guitar, while strong harmonies embrace the divine melodies. This inspired adventurous composition is nothing short of brilliant.

Mother River adds elements of blues, with a darker-shading of Yes, the magnificent Isolation And Foreboding then ups the proverbial ante in prog/pomp deliciousness. A majestic showcase, it brings an overwhelming, superbly proportioned interaction from all involved, while it soars through a variety of moods and atmospheres at high speed.

Waltzing along to open side two (vinyl please!), Child Of Tomorrow is a wonderful demonstration of Michael Trew's great voice which shows a beautiful growth in power, range and expressiveness. It shortly lifts off in enticing rock before it lands softly in reflective planes, before which a glorious touch of acoustic guitar firmly launches the song into full gear. It freely splashes around in a colourful oasis of enchanted symphonic prog, this whirlwind passage meets the likes of Kansas and Tull. Complementary visions of Metaphor and Netherworld shine through for me as well. What a joy!

To all this magical musicianship, the epic grandeur of Fate Of The Alacorn adds blazing synths and feelings of stature, which is strengthened by a divine touch of ethereal church organ and Webb's tantalising guitar play. Yesterday Is Gone then gets to round-off this fabulous album with pristine harmonies and melodies that keep on growing and giving. The contemplative lyrics express the album's theme of humanity's challenging (un)certainties. After a delicious symphonic strophe, it leads into an elated awakening mindful to Yes, with wonderful Squire-like bass lines. When the song is finally over, all that's left to say is that Moon Letters have done it again. And brilliantly at that!

For the moment I still favour their debut album, hence my rating. But ask me sometime in the future and this could just as well be the other way around. The sublime way in which Moon Letters craft and execute their highly contagious and eclectic compositions is very invigorating and unique in today's progressive universe, and I simply love them for it. With artwork that in a strange, thought-provoking way appeals to my heritage Thank You From The Future will be another solid entry in my top-list of this year and I highly recommend it to symphonic prog fans. Trying to keep it short I'll finish by quoting the one remark I wrote down several times in my notes, besides bloody brilliant: what an immense joy!

Narwhale — El Espacio Interior

Narwhale - El Espacio Interior
Nebulosa Barnard 33 (12:39), Los Anillos de Saturno (8:43), Océanos de Tiempo (6:44), Pantanos de Neptuno (4:44), Los Rojos Vientos de Marte (7:02)
Calum Gibson

Narwhale first breached the waters in 2016 when they were formed in Avilés, and brought their self-titled EP to the world the following year. What followed was Heart Of The Corpse Whale and then a further refining of their sound with their newest effort, El Espacio Interior (The Inner Space).

The opener, Nebulosa Barnard 33, is the longest track on the album, and certainly gets across the description of being “tender and cruel, delicate and monstrous” as described on their Bandcamp page. It crosses all those parts and more. Fernández does a fantastic job of bringing aggressive vocals, intermixed with more emotional ones, with the Spanish lyrics adding a flair to the story (unfortunately, I don't speak Spanish though).

Second track Los Anillos de Saturno begins with a dark tone, laden with ominous vibes. The croons and bass of Fernandez compliment the work of all three guitarists (Sanchez, Aparicio and M.H) while Puente drives the foreboding forward with his drumming. The song continues to build up the layers of trepidation, before sliding through the soft, almost Pink Floyd-styled solo and then falling into the heavier, almost confrontational ending.

Océanos de Tiempo is a bit livelier with a few more licks and leads weaving through, and a bit faster. This one feels more like a single than the others (and indeed it is the single), but doesn't let-up in keeping you gripped, especially in the latter part of the song when the solo comes in.

The instrumental where the band show off their writing skills is Pantanos de Neptuno. This to me is one of the few instrumentals that really sticks out to me. It isn't too long. It isn't all face-melting solos. It feels like a five minute jam session, which fits perfectly. It contemplates the album and continues letting the bass have a presence without being overbearing.

Finally, Los Rojos Vientos De Marte comes in to close the album. A mix of melancholy and portentous music and vocals come that brings us back to the original “tender and cruel” style. Both are combined seamlessly to push and pull at you and keep you locked into the song.

This is a solid album. Not overly heavy in a “metal” way, but the overall tone and feel is quite dark. Nothing too technical or over the top, just five well-crafted and well-rounded tracks that flow well, never throwing anything unexpected at you, but not being repetitive either. My only downside is that I sadly don't understand the lyrics as the whole album feels like an engaging story. Time to get some lessons.

I'm impressed and will be keeping an eye on these folks in the future. Now, let's see if they happen to be playing Barcelona in October. I'd recommend for fans of Pink Floyd's harder side, Riverside, Votum, Coma and similar harder prog rock bands.

The Samurai Of Prog — The Spaghetti Epic 4

The Samurai Of Prog - The Spaghetti Epic 4
Dead Or Alive (6:04), Mira Al Cuore (23:39), La Resa Dei Conti (20:10), Snakebite (8:07), The Fabulous Felipe And His Dancing Squirrels (3:07), High Noon (6:31)
Jan Buddenberg

Once upon a time, 2005 to 2009 to be precise, Musea records released three consecutive Colossus Project Spaghetti Epic albums, each under the watchful eye of Colossus' editor Marco Bernard. Inspired by "Spaghetti Westerns" (a cinematic wild west film originating from Italy and predominantly filmed in Spain), they featured a broad array of international bands who jointly delivered impressive artistic interpretations of iconic western films, and many of their subsequent characters.

Soon after these releases, Bernard (Shuker bass) would unite with Kimmo Pörsti (drums, percussion) and Steve Unruh to forge the trinity The Samurai Of Prog (TSoP), issuing an equally impressive infantry of releases over the past decade. With Unruh temporarily stepping down due to other obligations, it sees the other two now carry the torch with a fourth instalment in the Spaghetti Western series.

As with all of TSoP's releases, a large tribe of gifted musicians are also involved. Many of those have appeared on other albums with Mimmo Ferri (N.Ø.T.), who composed one of the album's epic suits Mira Al Cuore, actually dating back as far as the original Spaghetti albums. The other epic belongs to frequently returning associate Alessandro Di Benedetti (Inner Prospekt). Both are joined by familiar composing faces like Rafael Pacha (Snakebite), Marco Grieco (Dead Or Alive, High Noon) and David Myers (The Fabulous Felipe And His Dancing Squirrels). And as before, the attractive artwork is in the capable hands of Ed Unitsky.

Previous efforts within the TSoP universe have already spoken volumes in terms of musicality and imaginative attraction, a quality which made the conceptual storylines of the songs and albums come fully into their own. This time it's no different, for the music brilliantly conveys a time ruled by 'cowboys and Indians'. A special mention in this should be given to the detailed artwork by Unitsky which amplifies this experience on various occasions, as does Marco Grieco's penned introduction on the origin and evolution of Spaghetti Westerns.

An excellent example of this is La Resa Dei Conti (The Showdown), an Italian-sung suite that heralds the tale of a bank robbery. Its suspenseful opening with piano brings bags of atmosphere, and after delicate flute parts by Sara Traficante, this turns into an irresistible feeling of happiness. This passage alone creates the unforgettable imagery of the funny Italian westerns featuring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, an aspect cited by Grieco (although in a strange peculiar way I'm also personally reminded of the nostalgic Cocco Bill comics).

Beautifully sung by Stefano Galifi (Museo Rosenbach), whose voice expresses a fine narrative style, the composition continues with an uplifting spirit in a playful, variegated Canterbury feel, driven onwards by excellent bass play and lots of refined piano work from Di Benedetti. A touch of epic-ness then sees the composition settle in fairy-tale like surroundings with intricate play that slowly evolves into a minutely constructed movement with lush Camel and Genesis atmospheres. Highlighted by a wonderful solo from Marcel Singor (TSoP), whose guitar sound has a fresh Vai-esque shine to it, the song finally soars to finally enter heavenly realms of symphonic prog.

Another fine, albeit much shorter, example where the artwork enhances the music is David Myers' piano-piece The Fabulous Felipe And His Dancing Squirrels. As a stand-alone composition it doesn't impose a Western image or feel to me, but one glance at the booklet's drawings and it magically whips up images of Southern days gone by.

The brilliant scene-setting Dead Or Alive is in no need of gorgeous artwork, as the provocative title alone fires off many rounds of recognition. This becomes only stronger through an explicit variety of sound effects and cinematic atmospheres that instantly project memories of harmonica-driven movies; although surprisingly it's Marc Papeghin's trumpet that mainly creates these images.

This western atmosphere is even more tangible in the beautifully designed and spiritual Snakebite. Expecting a poor, lonesome cowboy to turn up at any minute, straw in mouth, this composition slowly glides into valleys of peaceful folk with Pacha on a multitude of instruments and a banjo that creates perfect authenticity. With flute-like sounds evoking a sun dance the song minutely changes pace and smoothly descends into tides of earthly serenity, awakened by Marc Papechin's trumpet. This sophisticated and elegant song could just as easily have been featured on a Guildmaster album.

The other suite Mira Al Cuore (Aim To The Heart) is where music and artwork becomes more than the sum of its parts. The killing suspense of Mira Al Cuore's atmospheric opening, shaped excellently by Tommaso Fichele's vocals, is instantly tangible and this characteristic only increases as the song gains pace and enters marvellous Kansas-inspired melodies that cook with a brooding PFM playfulness.

After lovely piano play with lush synths slightly reminiscent to Nuova Era the nature of the song enticingly turns to raw energetic atmospheres with a relentless amount of prog delights that harbours a likeness to Pavlov's Dog from ravishing violin play from Adam Diderrich. Sharing the symphonic deliciousness of Lift and many 70s Italian greats, the composition shows a divine sense of growing drama and loss, masterly portrayed by saddening vocals, saluting trumpets and a liturgical touch. A stunning guitar solo from Juhani Nusala sets of a final chase which tumbles down in prog exquisiteness. This astounding track, which also includes Beatrice Birardi on various percussive instruments, grabbed my attention at first draw, and the more I hear it the greater its reward gets.

The same applies to the album closer High Noon whose steam-train intro is nothing compared to the virtuous dexterity unleashed in the rest of the song. Played with pompous drive and excellent synth play from Grieco, it runs full steam on vivid prog-laden melodies, working its way towards the inevitable gunfight confrontation. This astonishing Grieco-written song promises a lot when TSoP go back to the future with their continuing effort Anthem To The Phoenix Star.

Over the past few years Bernard and Pörsti, in varying formations, have released many beautiful albums and this sequel to the spaghetti series is second to none. The way the music creates illuminating images of their counterpart movies is an absolute joy and one definitely worth experiencing for prog fans.

Overall those in favour of beautifully crafted (conceptual) progressive rock, especially those enjoying the Italian-styled variety, must simply add another fantastic album to their collection of exciting TSoP releases.

Album Reviews