Ben L. Connor — On Track: Pearl Jam
I guess that no introduction is needed for Pearl Jam, even though we are talking about them on a progressive rock website. Being one of the greatest bands of the last 30 years, I can easily recommend this book for anyone who loves good music.
The book does a good job revisiting each song and gives some interesting information on each one, alongside some personal notes from the author. It makes the reader want to go back and listen to Pearl Jam again, so I guess it fulfils its purpose.
In my case I started to lose interest in the band after they released the album Binaural in 2000 but this book has made me check their latest albums from a different perspective; so thanks Ben L. Connor. The book also includes some nice photos of the band showing how it has evolved from its early grunge years, to the more arena rock band status they have now. Besides, it also mentions the superb debut (and only) album by Temple Of The Dog and some information about extra songs recorded by the band and side projects by Pearl Jam members.
This is a very interesting book and a very easy-read. It has only one thing that could make it better: the layout and margins, and also some footers and headers.
LVTVM — Irrational Numbers
Me, I like the sound of bass guitar. If you do as well, then you may want to check out this band, which has two bassists. On every track, each bass performs a different function. In fact, although the band also has a drummer and someone who plays "analog keys" (synthesizers), the bassists do a lot of the heavy and the light lifting.
Here's the thing: this Italian band has almost no web presence, and their promotional materials are in Italian. In a way, it's refreshing to come to an album knowing nothing about the band with no list of "sounds like" or influences to deal with. I can assess it purely on what is on the record. So, what we have are five instrumental pieces, performed with skill and precision by the two bassists (Carlo Belucci and Isacco Bellini), the keyboardist (Matteo Borselli), and the drummer (Alessandro Marchionni).
What do the compositions sound like? Well, when I say they're performed with precision, I'm largely referring to the number of time changes in each piece, executed flawlessly. Whether that's a good or a bad thing depends on whether you prefer "degree-of-difficulty music" or "melodic music". If it's the former, you'll find things to enjoy here. But if it's the latter, you'll likely be disappointed.
The pieces are not unpleasant to listen to, but they're not songs (and I say that not only because there are no vocals). Even though they're not terribly long (the longest is 6:52, which is, now that I think about it, pretty long), they meander this way and that and suddenly end.
The best of the lot is the album opener, Holzwege, but I think it's the best largely by virtue of being the first. You'll be grabbed by the band's unique sound on this relatively short piece. However you may well be disappointed as you listen to the rest of the compositions, because there isn't a lot of variety among them. The band has a sound all its own, but it needs to stretch out a bit. Complex instrumentals with two basses and the synthesizer carrying whatever local melodies there are, can hold one's interest for only so long.
So if you really like the sound of skilled musicians playing complex music (and with an unusual line-up of instruments), then you may enjoy this short album. I however think that melody is crucial, even in complex compositions (Yes could always write a great melody!).
Joe Matera — The Lone Runner
Australian multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter Joe Matera, author of the favourably reviewed book Backstage Pass, is musically best-known for his guitar-driven pop-rock style. For this EP, Matera decided to explore a different aspect of his spectrum and has composed four short instrumental songs that reflect his ambient / new-age side. Easy listening songs that, according to Matera, evoke the spirit of contemporary electronic masters such as Massive Attack and The Orb.
As these acts are completely out of my musical viewing field, I'll simply have to take his word for it as far as these references go. To me these beautifully crafted and relaxing songs remind me slightly of a mixture that includes Frédéric L'Épée and Corrado Rustici. A combination, which thanks to Matera's refined guitar technique and lively ambient atmospheres, results in various refreshing moments perfectly suited for reflection and soothing relaxation.
Stylish simplicity is the key to capturing serene, morning-dew atmospheres. This is set in becalming motion when Gravity lifts off with elegant guitar notes guided by a smooth, relaxed beat.The Lone Runner adds a comfortable, acoustically-driven pace to this as it strolls along gently on a breath of autumnal warmth.
The subsequent Chasing Leaves is a nicely executed atmospheric extension of this, with colourful acoustic melodies and soothing guitar parts heated by electronic glows. The scenically-decorated After The Rain brings a final wave of melancholic melodies, elegantly guided by the smoothness of piano.
Venturing well into prog's outer frontiers, The Lone Runner manages to bring some lovely touches throughout its short, but enjoyable running time. It's a fine demonstration of Matera's artistic versatility that is worth checking out for fans of new-age and ambient music.
Relayer — Waiting
Relayer were founded in the early 90s and consist of John Sahagian (lead vocals, keyboards), Tim LaRoi (guitars), Tom Burke (bass, vocals) and Bill Kiser (drums, vocals). It has been a stable line-up during the past 25 years.
Waiting is the seventh release of Relayer. I have loosely followed them since I bought their 1996-album The Teething Fashion.
So far, Relayer have been characterised by a melodic, accessible, guitar-driven, song-oriented, symphonic style with elements of (neo) prog, AOR and hard rock and rather short songs (by prog-standards).
The album cover on this release, a seedling on a dead tree stump, might hint at some kind of rebirth; from dead wood, something new can come to life. Whilst this might be a dared interpretation on my part, some sort of reinvention (not to call it rebirth) is apparent to my ears, especially if I compare Waiting with its immediate predecessor Broken Branches, released just one year ago.
And I must admit, this is not a development that I have been waiting for. Whilst the characteristics mentioned above still appear here and there, the prog-orientation seems to have been replaced by AOR and especially hard rock elements, whilst keyboards have been further lost in importance. Relayer occasionally still remind me the 80s sound of Styx (especially on the opening track and on No Breakthrough), Foreigner, Magnum, Toto (but with significantly fewer refinements). This also brings names such as REO Speedwagon and Loverboy to my mind, which I never have associated with prog so far.
The only exception for me is the track Better In This World, coincidentally the longest on this album, which comes closest to what prog is made of in my mind. There are variations in dynamics, harmonies and mood, some catchy guitar-riffing, an intense use of keyboards (especially the very melodic piano-outro), some varied vocals and strong melodies. This is reminiscent to 80s-period Kansas to some extent.
If only all the other songs were in the same vain. However, it takes more than one swallow to make a summer, and elsewhere this release did not produce a long-lasting impression with me. That means, I will just let this album pass me by and wait for what the band will deliver next; hopefully something more prog-oriented.
Seventh Station — Heal The Unhealed
Those who enjoy the more avant-garde fringes of the prog-metal spectrum, should investigate this second album from Slovenian-based five-piece Seventh Station.
Led by Israeli guitarist Dmitri Alperovich and Turkish keyboardist Eren Başbuğ, this is a complex, multi-cultural fusing of progressive metal with contemporary classical music and the avant-garde.
Lyrically and musically Heal The Unhealed is a personal reflection on Alperovich's complex childhood. Born in Minsk, he spent his childhood in the Soviet Union, then hid his youth in Israel, before finally moving to Slovenia. "I went through a lot of different circumstances and the processes of adaptation for each," he explains.
These experiences, and the psychological states they brought, are voiced through different characters and different tracks.
Singer Davidavi Dolev utilises everything from spoken word, whispers, harsh barks, clean, theatrical and some heavily-processed sections. The musicianship takes the word 'complex' to another level. There are also a lot of extended spoken-word excerpts in (I presume) Russian, Slovene and Hebrew.
The bi-polar daughter of a holiday bro-romance between Dream Theater and Frank Zappa, this album is too much of an experimental/artistic challenge for my tastes. It reminds me of a more chaotic version of Heyoka's Mirror, whose debut album The Uninvited King I reviewed last year. I come to the same conclusion: A brave album for brave listeners.
Svalinn's Rift — Unpenitent Era
Out of Hungary, we have Svalinn's Rift, a three-piece black metal outfit who have landed with their debut EP. It opens with the short but venomous Damp with Sleet where discordant guitars form the backdrop for the putrid vocals, reminiscent of the early days of the black metal movement.
Ice Waves and the Primordial Giant follows the theme of winter names, and has a bit more to it, despite being shorter. It flows slightly better, and for my money the whole song is well crafted, with more cohesion to what the instruments are doing.
Daybreak Is Here, Today We Go To Battle, leans a bit more into the “grim and frostbitten north” vibe of bands such as Immortal and Mayhem, but with an edge that has more thought to it. Finally, we come to Forgotten Feelings from Runes. This is more melodic to begin with; gentler and harmonious almost. Definitely the best track, full of tremolos and melody (as far as you can get, in raw black metal).
Despite being a short EP, I liked it and feel it showcases talent. Some of the melodies and chord progressions remind me of the likes of Pillorian and Agalloch (particularly their Faustian Echoes EP), and similar to a fairly raw Panopticon in places too. My only criticism would be about some of the levels in the recording. Sometimes the instruments get a bit lost within each other and the high notes sound out too obviously. Maybe a second guitarist (or tracking a simple rhythm guitar) could help give it a punchier sound. However. for a debut release, it is a very good piece in this often repetitive genre.
I'd recommend for fans of black metal in general, particularly if you like the more recent era of raw black metal.