Daal — Daedalus
After their excellent 10th anniversary celebrating compilation album Daecade, both Alfio Costa (keyboards, noises) and Davide Guidoni (drums, percussion, keyboards, noises) have been busy with various projects. Guidoni joined Nodo Gordiano with whom he released two consecutive albums (Sonnar, H.E.X.), while Costa committed himself to his first solo album Frammenti and participated on Fufluns' Refusés. They now return with Daedalus, accompanied once again by Daal regulars Bobo Aiolfi (fretless bass) and Ettore Salati (guitars).
With the captivating artwork of Daecade still fresh in mind, which after receiving a pristine vinyl copy (thanks!) proves to be even more rewarding and enchantingly expressive in full glory, I was glad to see that Daedalus is likewise shrouded in mysterious deep purple art work.
I find this colour scheme a perfect fit to Daal's music, most precisely capturing the deeper layers of mystique found within their imaginative instrumental compositions. This feeling is strengthened by elements of associated colour symbolism like passion, inventiveness, originality, transformation, reflectiveness and creativity. Each hiding aplenty within the challenging and impressive cinematic soundscapes.
Although not a full concept album several of the album's compositions are themed on the mythical tales of Greek inventor and craftsman Daedalus. As designer of the labyrinth that once imprisoned the Minotaur he's also known as father to Icarus who according to legend upon escaping imprisonment alongside his father, in all his enthusiasm flew too close to the sun thus melting his wings which caused him to fall onto his death. A scene captured in the alternative artwork of the album's limited edition and songs like Painting Wings and Icarus Dream.
Out of these two Icarus Dream lifts off with compelling space-rock that resonates with a hypnotic Hawkwind-like vibrancy, embraced by psychedelic Porcupine Tree dynamics. It evolves into experimental tribal surroundings guided by excellent proficient rhythmic tightness from Guidoni, while a sensitive layer of bass underneath engaging synths from Costa provides levitation. Soaring into energetic rock and an airy ambient passage with gracious guitars it drifts ever higher on majestic Mellotron and refined jazz-inspired play, with constant increase of drama and intensity, before it finally ascends into thin ambient atmospheres, given wings by an ingenious stroke of humming Hammond organ.
Painting Wings picks up where Icarus Dream left off, drawing feelings of flight submerged in sadness and spaciousness from chilling Wurlitzer-like piano and attractive alienating melodies from what sounds like a singing saw. Transforming into epic shapes surrounded by heavy melancholy, the composition is set on fire by another spark of humming organ. It propels into a rousing cruise flight of stately play that breathes a steaming seventies rock atmosphere, fuming with a delightful mixture of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. The composition continues to revisit otherworldly atmospheres and maneuvers soothingly into ever thinner musical structures, before it finally gravitates into its inevitable descent. This feels highly rewarding and speaks volumes from a cinematic viewpoint.
Surprisingly, the scenario portrayed by the subsequent Labyrinth 66 doesn't connect as an imaginable movie-projection to me, but reminded me of the sci-fi novel Eden, written by Polish author Stanislaw Lem (best known for his masterwork Solaris). In the novel there's a section in which scientific explorers encounter a dome-shaped, factory-like, environment on planet Eden. Its meaning and purpose, though, remains elusive. A similar image formed during Labyrinth 66's opening sequence, where light industrial-like machine noises and gushing winds slowly gain in mystery and flow into a galaxy of sound effects.
Best enjoyed under headphones for spatial and psychedelic effect, Labyrinth 66's picture then changes scenes. Mellotron and piano settle into excellent jazzy play, followed by beautifully crafted dynamics and outstanding guitar work from Salati. Moving in waves, in the end the song makes its way in a meticulous unravelled maze of subtle jazz, with excellent bass and piano, while elegant percussion guides Salati's intricately shaped melodies onwards.
Minotaur's spacious, sinister, and disturbing soundscapes provides a beautiful diptych to this, provoking images of chilling vastness held captive in a damp mist. Pounding drums add angst in their attempt to escape the song's desolate boundaries. A parallel sort of defeat which oozes multitudes of sadness and sorrow, is captured in the atmospheric quietness of In My Time Of Shadow. Brimming with melancholy, this song grabs attention throughout. Beautifully designed understated play with excellent interplay shape the nature and message of the song's inclined tragedy.
The captivating two-pieced Journey Through The Spiral Mind, which bookends the regular album, are two additional prime examples of Daal's cinematic mastery. These showcase that they are now firmly in possession of Goblin's baton. The song's refined initial build-up instantly creates perceptions of a voyage into chilling cold caves. It slowly travels past a chamber shaped by earthy percussion, before bombastic phantasmagoria erects a wall of delightful Pink Floyd echoes. It subsequently fades into an oriental grotto, filled with percussive elements and guitars, digging ever deeper in a tense Krautrock psychedelic realm, reminiscent to Nektar's Journey To The Center Of The Eye.
The song is continuously driven by excellent guitars and organically resonating drums, with bluesy environments shaped by bass and piano. It all that leads into a cavern of wonderful vintage keyboard melodies, that shines bright as a diamond with Satali's marvellous instrumental explorations, kindling sparks of David Gilmour. The overwhelming characteristic cinematic film-noir grandiosity of part two adds epic-ness to this, with touches of E.L.P and Costa's own formidable Frammenti. Varying from grand to small and fragile, this part is again illuminated by beautiful Pink Floyd-like influences and lush keyboard work. Sumptuous melodies by all turn a lighter and less intense reflection, ending in a majestic minor mood.
Although providing a perfect conclusion to the album, my advice is to acquire the "need-to-have" limited edition, as this expands Daal's expressive world with the aforementioned Minotaur, Sunrise, and Moonrise. Each of them wonderful songs in their own right and in no way inferior to the material found elsewhere on the album.
Sunrise for instance awakes in illuminating ambient beauty and transcends this peaceful splendour by reassuringly adding sensitive play and beautiful keyboard passages that fully develop into melancholic warmth, while the composition bathes in melodies of carefully shaped intricate interplay. The beautifully layered dark-tinted shadow play of bass, percussion and ambient synths in Moonrise, transitioning to a lovely dynamic interlude with fluent guitars before the composition that at long last fade away into oblivion, finally presents a truly remarkable closing piece to this magnificent album.
Steadily warmed to Daal's instrumental prog over the last few years I rate this album to be their finest achievement so far. Several months of experiencing the album, Daedalus still manages to bring new visual expressions and widely appealing ever-changing musical views, and this aspect will probably stay that way for a long while.
Also responsible for this is the fact that the CD arrived in mid-summer, when inner temperatures and those of our sun reached meltdown degrees. Not the best situation to experience, listen and completely fathom and submerge yourself in Daal's music (although it does coincide beautifully with Icarus' tale...). The period blooming at the horizon is far more ideal to this, seeing their music thrives best when obscured by clouds of fog in a darkened autumnal heart of winter.
If so far you haven't checked out this very satisfying album out. Then in light of the right seasonal approach, now might just the perfect opportunity to do so. Especially if modern styled instrumental progressive rock inspired by the greats of the 70s sets you on fire. Well done guys, brilliant effort!
Out Ink — Less (Or, Do You Disapprove Of Holograms?)
Out Ink (often styled as "OUt iNK") are a UK band based in Sheffield. Their debut album was reviewed by Jan Buddenberg in 2018. Jan's thoughtful assessment of the band's art piqued my interest and I was delighted to have an opportunity to comment upon their latest release.
In many ways Less is a continuation of some of the band's traits identified by Jan, but I think it is fair to say that Less is probably more accessible, although given the nature and scope of the band's music that is relative. I think it is fair to say that this is an album that would not probably appeal to fans of classic bands such as Yes and Genesis However, Less shows an overall development of a few of the positive aspects of the bands style. Consequently, it is arguably a much more cohesive release.
The album begins with a ferocious riff that is both gritty and insistent. The piece then settles down into a melange of evolving sounds where the band are not afraid to present music that places considerable demands upon the listener. The main riff that is overlaid with screeching saxes and discordant guitar bursts has a King Crimson vibe. It is a satisfying piece and one that will appeal to listeners who wish to hear progressive music that sits outside the recognised stylistic parameters associated with prog.
Whilst Out Ink obviously draw upon some influences of jazz and fusion. For example, their spin-off bands under the Ink Beta moniker such as Ink Quartet and Ink Duo, ply their art by creating spontaneous and improvised performances. This edge of seat spontaneity is still a large part of what Less is about. It is difficult to discern what is written and what is improvised. However, it is this adventurous spirit that lies at the heart of much that is satisfying about this release.
Nevertheless, many other influences can be discerned.
I felt that much of the music within Less embodied the spirit of Zappa; unusual shifts of emphasis and time signatures abound. Immon was quite derivative of Zappa's style, the vocal delivery only served to reinforce this overall feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed this contemporary take on a style often associated with Frank.
Sober Dance possesses a psychedelic vibe reminiscent of early Soft Machine, Pink Floyd and Gong. The type of spacious, twisting groove created by Steve Hillage on albums such as Fish Rising and Motivation Radio were also recalled. It's an intriguing piece and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Harsh Noise continues to blur genre boundaries in a similar manner, although my overriding feeling is that this is an album that draws heavily upon the influences mentioned previously. However, this is perhaps doing the band a disservice as their art comes across as innovative and inventive. They certainly create a wonderful racket and are not afraid to positively challenge any listeners who might chance upon their art.
The album concludes with a wonderfully distorted guitar section and spacious atmospheric section that later morphs into a throbbing web of ethereal sounds which indeed as the name of the piece suggests creates a harsh noise where both disturbing discordance and sonic beauty coexist in a vortex of falling tumbling sounds.
Less is an album that rewards intense listener attention. As such I found that the music worked best when I listened to individual tracks with no distractions.
Starer — Remorse Defines Me
Starer is a one-man symphonic black metal project by Josh Hines. Started up in America in 2020, he has released 2 full length albums, and now his second EP Remorse Defines Me, released on the indie metal label Snow Wolf Records.
Opening track Five Minutes Before Dawn has a very black-gaze sound to it, but when the harsh screeches of the vocals come in, this evolves into a more distraught and straight up black metal sound. The harsh tones of the guitars with the elements of orchestral work in the background, weave you through what I would almost describe as some “black and roll” bridges, and despairing verses.
The shortest track on the EP, Coiled Around The Sun begins with a symphonic black apocalypse. Strings fill the background as the guitars and drums assault you with harsh noise. Along the lines of early Dimmu Borgir - think their For All Tid era, before they went a bit more commercial (if such a thing exists within this realm of music...).
The Flickering brings the same energy, but a bit more melancholic. Discordant music with an unrelenting onslaught of drums and atmospheric strings and synths pulling the melodic strings behind everything again.
I quite enjoyed this, almost sounds like a combination between early Alcest and Enslaved with a touch more black metal. The raw sound behind everything adds so much to it and really helps emphasise the overall feel. A nice mix for me, but not for the faint-hearted.
Time Dwellers — Novum Aurora
Hardly back down to earth after my introduction to Brända Ängar, I am smacked in the face with yet another new Swedish psychedelic prog band: Time Dwellers. Guitar player Martin Fairbanks (also background vocals) played in hard rock / doom band The Graviators. Kristofer Stjernquist (lead vocals, keyboards, rhythm guitar, bass, Mellotron) played with Fairbanks in stoner band Nymf. With Henrik Bergman on drums, percussion, and backing vocals, Time Dwellers have been active since 2018 and this is their debut album.
The lengthy opener starts in surprising neo-progressive style. Unexpected for the psychedelic sub-genre. The first part is dominated by keyboards and assisted by guitar. Chemical Alice and Tamarisk come to mind. The middle part starts off slower but grows and gives a first insight into the wonderful vocals of Stjernquist.
Track 2 is a weird one. Mostly acoustic and with a 1950s summer feel to it. It feels a bit out of place, perhaps since it's placed as the second track.
But with track 3 we're getting into territories I expected to go. And with expected territories I don't mean well-trodden paths. The right groove and riffing, multi-layered melodies, and progressive songwriting. Sudden breaks and changes in speed. A little Blue Öyster Cult in both melodies and atmosphere.
What's About To Happen... is a hint towards the musician's doom history. Dark and Black Sabbath-like but more progressive and adding a touch of post-rock, reminiscent of Solumn.
It leads into Sound Of The Apocalypse, a title which will definitely not paint a light picture. Musically it's a wonderful mix of many things, touching many areas, probably the most progressive track here.
Stjernquist's voice reminds me of Jan Hoving of (Bagheera and VanderBerg's MoonKings) when he goes into the higher ranges, but clearer and less bluesy. Fairbanks' guitar play is diverse in tone, adapting to the theme of the song or just setting it.
Surfing With Greta (Thunberg or Van Fleet?) is another wonderful mix of prog and psych. You Are The Sun is heavier again, harking back to old Deep Purple with excellent guitar work by Fairfield. A great example of how acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocal lines, and even bass playing all add melodic layers offering such a rich mix to dive into.
The albums grand finale, Tabular Bells has a slower build-up, almost Floyd-like, going towards a progressive post-rock middle section, growing further and heavier. What a trip...
Very progressive for a psychedelic album, very psychedelic for a prog album. Settling comfortably in between to offer us some music that will appeal to both camps. The band have already started recording their second album. Something to look out for!