Martin Eden — Sol
This time in the category of "now for something surprisingly different", we have Martin Eden. Vocalist of the newly-reformed Chandelier and author of the German-language-only novel Commander Pimmel - Eine Prog-Trash-Novela, Martin presents his debut solo album Sol.
I was actually expecting Chandelier to present their highly anticipated new album, in light of the various new songs already presented during their 2021 concert in Essen. However, various Covid-related reasons and long travelling distances between the individual band members, has caused some delays.
So in the meantime we have Sol. Issued as a limited CDr with surrealistic artwork ("Smoking giraffes surfing on melting polar bears II") made by Ingo Steinhäuẞer, the music is simply different, with a capitol D!
Originally, after purchasing two new toys in the form of the MIDI controllers Joué Play and Roli Lightpad, Eden set out to develop new musical ideas for Chandelier. However, as he went along, this thought slowly extinguished when his compositions started to drift light-years away from Chandelier's well-know neo-progressive roots and ventured into territories embraced by avant-garde and electronically-shaped ambient soundscapes. A most intriguing twist, with exceptional results, which I, for one, did not see coming.
The album starts off with the lengthy Mary, which opens in earthly avant-garde shaped atmospheres. This scenery shortly changes into intimate piano-guided melodies blessed by Eden's characteristic melancholic voice. Then the warmth of a synth heats the intricate melodies into those that glow with a faint glimpse of homely Chandelier. Surprisingly at this stage, signalled by experimental sounds, the composition takes a U-turn and floats into Eden's so-called "Progloops"; heavenly electronic atmospheres designed through layers of Mellotron and lovely synth patterns.
Soaring ever higher with increasing intensity and an enchanting calmness, this 15 minute movement expands into an ocean of galactic beauty that resonates with similar attraction to Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh's pioneering Krautrock. Simultaneously it manages to conjure up images of the album's name-giving phenomenon, with rays of imaginative flares in the form of experimental improvisations lighting up and irradiating the mesmerising melodies.
As beautifully constructed an entity Mary is, the album's overall joyous experience for me is thereafter nervously put to the test with the unsettling Consensus. This composition has the potential to divide many an enthusiast prog crowd with its unconventional avant-garde opening statement of improvisations, drilling onwards into a mysterious atmosphere. Once elements of bombast and a further indulgence of psychedelic experimentation enter this alienating soundscape, some formulated aspects of harmony and balance are to be found within the song's structure. But it takes effort to find this tenderness. Without any hesitation this short oddity is my least favourite part of the album.
I'd much rather get lost in the comforting surroundings of Le pays de la paix (The Land Of Peace), which is a lovely composition filled with beautiful, sparkling synth play. Partly due to Eden's soothing voice, it glides by with grace and the embrace of a French chanson. It gets a bit more experimental as the song progresses, with keyboard accents creating a Parisian feel, and it continues to demand attention during the layered vocal parts in which Eden voices several short textual repetitions where I am curiously enough reminded ever so slightly of Dutchman Ramses Shaffy's Zing, vecht, huil, bid, lach, werk en bewonder (Sing, Fight, Cry, Pray, Laugh, Work, and Admire).
Eden, himself no stranger to my native language considering the near-perfect Dutch letter that accompanied the CD, then once again surprises with the fourth and final composition, entitled De zachtmoedigheid van de tovenaar (The Magician's Meekness). More futuristic sounds, with an entrance that evokes thoughts of Vangelis and a relaxing feel that emulates an EM-artist like Robert Schroeder. This enchanting song glides past imaginary celestial orbs. Eden fully justifies his surname, as he paints intricate electronic melodies, over which experimental sounds add beautiful colourisation. A finishing touch of earthiness and piano finally makes the album come full circle to a peacefully-satisfying close.
Overall, Sol is a wonderful effort filled with beautiful electronic soundscapes, which on the one hand speaks to the imagination and on the other mesmerises through its refined melodies and atmospheres. Most certainly an album worth exploring and discovering for fans of progressive/electronic music and those leaning towards the approachable side of the avant-garde.
For Chandelier-fans and those admiring Eden's voice I have some minor reservations seeing that the vast majority of music is instrumental and, as mentioned before, challengingly different. Only a few sparse moments of musical overlap take place. However, when this memorable candlelight connection is lit, as for instance brilliantly in Mary and Le pays de la paix, the resulting flame is worth every penny.
Those interested should check out the 2CDr version as well, which adds a single edit of Le pays de la paix and two additional versions of Mary (Short Mary and Long Mary).
Epoch Of Chirality — Nucleosynthesis
Epoch Of Chirality is a solo project by Richard How. He is a multi-instrumentalist and a self-confessed sci-fi geek. The music of Epoch Of Chirality consists of progressive metal soundscapes straight out of a 1980s sci-fi film soundtrack.
Nucleosynthesis is an instrumental, progressive metal album but not the kind with fast solos or over the top technical trickery. The album has many elements and styles that are woven together with heavy guitar and keyboards as a solid factor throughout the album. With all the soundscapes and atmospheric and psychedelic instrumental songs, I can make a comparison with Monomyth.
Opener Dawn Of Chirality is a nice introduction to what this album is about. Starting with some sci-fi keyboard sounds, it gradually introduces extra instruments to the song. About halfway through the song, the ensemble is complete and then the trip starts. No complex and sudden changes but enough variety to make it an interesting journey.
The second song, Undercity Rising, made me frown a bit. The start leans towards techno music. I was waiting for the dance beat to kick in but thankfully they were heavy drums. The second part of the song makes up for the strange start.
Caravan To The Midnight Mountain has some eastern-sounding influences. In each song Richard How brings new elements, on Undercity Rising it was not to my liking but on Caravan To The Midnight Mountain I got my focus back. The song Boreal is a slower song with a solid keyboard foundation and many overlaying melodies.
Pyramid Cyborg sounds like Jean Michel Jarre but with some heavy guitars woven in. Each song brings something new while still keeping a coherent sound overall. And then on Maiden Voyage it sounds like jazz-fusion with a bit more alternating rhythms. The main part in this song consists of the strange keyboard melodies supported by heavy guitars.
After a freaky song like that, The Abyssal Fleet sounds like a short score from a fantasy movie. Not the most interesting piece but it is placed perfectly on the album between two songs that demand more attention. It is not as all over the place as Maiden Voyage, but Labyrinth has a lot of elements in it. On this song it is more back to the basic progressive metal elements.
Richard How has put a lot of ideas into this album but at the start of Paradox it feels like the bucket of ideas was empty. The start is not really to my liking. In the final part of the song he saves it a bit with some standard building blocks but this is certainly not the best track on the album. When I play this in future, the album stops after Labyrinth.
One-man band Epoch Of Chirality has produced a fine debut with Nucleosynthesis. Richard How has crafted this album from many ideas and many influences. It can best be described as atmospheric progressive metal with soundscapes from 80s sci-fi movies. No fast guitar solos or trickery but more focus on the keyboards. Still enough riffs and guitar solos are present on Nucleosynthesis for the metal-heads. Richard can be proud of the way he has put all these ideas and influences into a solid release.
Steve Hackett — Genesis Revisited: Seconds Out Live & More
On June 29, 1977 I took my lovely girlfriend to the Ahoy venue in Rotterdam, to the Dutch leg of the Wind And Wuthering tour. It was my first Genesis gig, and it has become my pinnacle in live concerts ever since. The sound, the lights (Varilights — back then top of the bill), the impeccable band playing, the inspiring set-list (including one of my personal favourites Inside And Out but unfortunately not including Ripples), Collins' unbelievable tambourine act and of course the enthusiastic company, made this concert the best I have ever witnessed. I became a lifetime fan of the band then, in spite of some below-par albums that would see the light of day in the eighties. Too bad it didn't work out with that girlfriend, but young guys make stupid mistakes.
Of course Seconds Out became a favourite live album, although I always found the mix too flat, thus missing much of the dynamics that I witnessed at that two-and-a-half-hour concert.
It was also because of those vivid memories of the Rotterdam gig that I decided not to attend the Dutch Steve Hackett gigs in Utrecht during his Second Out Live & More tour. I simply feared that Hackett and his band would never be able to reach the high level of playing that Genesis displayed in 1977. Or maybe it was simply my fear of loosing those lovely memories, that made me refrain from going. Reviewing this 2CD set has offered me the opportunity to judge whether I had made the right decision.
The concert was recorded in Manchester and, besides Mr Hackett on guitars and vocals, features long-time band members Roger King on keyboards, Rob Townsend on saxophones and flutes, and Nad Sylvan on vocals. The band is completed by Jonas Reingold (Flower Kings, Karmakanic, Kaipa) on bass, Craig Blundell (a.o. Pendragon, Lonely Robot) on drums, and Hackett's sister-in-law Amanda Lehmann guesting on guitar and lead vocals in Shadow Of The Hierophant, as usual at UK gigs.
As far as the set-list goes, there is of course hardly any surprises. The "more" part of the set consists of five tracks, starting off with the short instrumental opener Apollo, followed by a very fine rendition of Clocks. From his latest electric album Surrender Of Silence, the fierce Held In The Shadows with heavenly guitar soloing and a strong sax solo by Townsend, is absolutely awesome. I was less impressed by the rather chaotic The Devil's Cathedral, mainly because of the weak vocals by Nad Sylvan. His voice sounds rather hoarse this evening which doesn't help to make a good impression.
Between those two new songs comes Everyday, one of Hackett's most popular solo songs, to the great enthusiasm of the audience. Although Hackett misses some notes in the final solo. The last of the introductory songs is the fabulous Shadow Of The Hierophant which always gets a rousing rendition with angelic vocals by Lehmann, great flute playing by Townsend and subtle keys by King, followed by an enormous eruption by the full band. Reingold leads the way, with very fine bass-playing, while Blundell even succeeds in matching his predecessor Gary O'Toole in drumming fast and against the main melody during the long instrumental ending of this classic song.
These five songs have not always been played during the world tour. At several gigs, only the Seconds Out set-list was played. At other times, only two of these five songs were included. So those present at the Manchester gig had little to complain about!
When the well known Seconds Out set-list started, I hoped for surprises, for some small reworkings of some songs. The renditions during this tour slightly disappoint in that respect. The songs from the Collins' period such as Squonk, Robbery, Assault And Battery and Afterglow are played almost in the same way as Genesis did in the seventies. It is a further proof of the fact that Nad Sylvan, who definitely didn't have his best evening in Manchester, is more comfortable with the Gabriel-era songs.
Firth Of Fifth is played with the beautiful piano intro and outro, as Hackett has constantly done in the last two decades. This is in great contrast to Genesis, where Banks never wanted to do that version. The song with the greatest difference to the Genesis version is of course I Know What I Like, where Collins's famous tambourine act is replaced by a truly fantastic sax solo that makes this version musically superior. But I guess Townsend was less spectacular to watch than Collins, throwing and catching his flying tambourine!
The Lamb... and The Musical Box get the same shortened versions, while in Suppers Ready Hackett refrains from playing his extended guitar coda. The very fine and quite different version of The Cinema Show, featuring great flute playing, is followed by Aisle Of Plenty which Genesis didn't play on their tour back then (or at least they didn't in Rotterdam). It certainly feels very satisfying that this small song is added, augmented by the fact that the flute is the dominant instrument.
Dance On A Volcano is linked to Los Endos which is very logical as the main musical themes show a large overlap. But I have never liked the bridge, in the form of a short drum solo between these fine songs, nor the fact that Dance... is abridged for this. The Los Endos version is dynamic with great interplay between Townsend, King, Reingold, and Hackett and thus forms a satisfying end to this concert and album.
Having heard many of his recent live albums and having attended quite a few of his live gigs during the last ten years, I think that Hackett and his great band are incapable of doing a sub-par live concert. This set is thus again a very rewarding one. By the way, I would prefer the DVD version (not available for review) as it contains the official videos of four songs of his latest studio album.
However, there have now been many recent live albums revisiting Genesis albums (six in the past nine years - ed). Without clear variations in the live versions, it can start to feel over-complete. Hackett keeps the classic Genesis flame alive, which is fantastic, but releasing each (album) tour in its entirety can become superfluous.
Joe Macre — The Dream is Free
Joe Macre may not be the instantly recognisable name in the prog pantheon, however he is no newcomer, being involved as te bassist in a range of records with the classic US prog formation Crack The Sky since the 70s. His other notable collaborations include such names as Erikah Badu, Oliver Wakeman and King Friday. While CTS were known for developing their brand of harder prog, Macre's solo effort is quite distant from what the mainstay band was aimed at. The firmest connection with Crack The Sky would be the involvement of Joe's ex-bandmate Ricky Witkowski on the guitar, while everything else... well ... differs immensely.
Having said all that, I should also mention that The Dream Is Free is not really prog, it is rather something we could call “adult music” (not AOR!). The CD contains material that people with experience (and above average IQ) play, when not too eager to demonstrate their technical skills. Comparisons to the likes of Steve Thorne and Jump are justified. The thought which came to my mind upon the first couple of listens is that the mix is quite modern and not retro, as compared to the more conservative-sounding Crack The Sky. I would not be surprised if a millennial hipster, moderately influenced by the sound of the 80s, came up with a record like this; and that's a compliment to the freshness of The Dream. No surprise about the sound quality, since Joe is on the board of directors for SPARS (Society of Professional Audio Recording Services)!
The title track The Dream Is Free is also a nice opener, starting in a very familiar early 90s light neo-prog mood (think Jadis or Shadowland), with prominent bass-versus-keys interplay and funky guitar.
The following Tell Me and Ride Or Die sound a bit like Paul McCartney doing a side-project with the likes of Beck, leaving me largely unimpressed. The same can be said about the closing number Get Up, Crack Down.
Elsewhere, Drop Me Off At Rainbow slows the tempo but ultimately gains the overall pace for the album with a relaxed, major tone ballad. The quality only grows stronger from there, with the moody Life In The Theater, a darker, rainy-day track with vocoder vocals and oddly-sounding distorted guitars. The same ideas are also developed on the two more progressive compositions from the second half of the record: Tomorrow Is Today and The Dark Sky Sea, with roots in the pop-prog of the 80s. I love the bass work on both, very much in the melodic vein of Pete Trewavas!
Not a great or ground-breaking record, but Joe Macre has every reason to be proud of it as it offers good songs, good grooves, influences from many periods in music history, and the openness of an arranger's mind. It all makes the CD worthy to be checked by anyone who loves melodic pop-rock, done with grace rather than a desire to please the fans and be pleased commercially, so to say.
Motorpsycho — Ancient Astronauts
Trondheim's finest eclectic prog-rock individualists Motorpsycho are back with a new studio album, Ancient Astronauts. This is their 25th studio album, keeping up a recent rate of one a year.
We have just four tracks and a two-sides-of-vinyl running time, recorded live in the studio. Only a few overdubs and vocals were added later. This is an energetic addition to Motorpsycho's extensive and high-quality catalogue of studio albums. They have also returned to the trio line-up.
They open with gentle keyboard washes and Mellotron voices of The Ladder. The laid-back start gives way to their characteristic chugging, heavy-prog/psyche with the band on fire. They are obviously relishing the live-in-the-studio approach. On this, and two of the other tracks, the heavier elements are coming from Bent Sæther's bass. He establishes the melodies, and leads their development. Around the bass, flies Tomas Järmyr's heavy and subtle drums and Hans Magnus Ryan's lead guitar, keyboards, mandolin and violin. Bent also adds guitars and keyboards to the sound pallet. From the off, the band are totally in-sync as The Ladder becomes a headlong rush of blood to the head, with Hans Magnus delivering a powerful, grungy guitar solo.
In between this and the next is a pointless two-minutes of thumb-twiddling ambience. The skip-button fodder of The Flowers Of Awareness is a blessedly short interlude of screeching metallic sounds and whisper-y keyboards. But this can be forgiven as everything else is so monumentally good.
Things get back on track immediately with Mona Lisa / Azrael. Mona Lisa is a delicate waltz featuring Mellotron strings. The song has a melancholic edge, as well as a psychedelic humour to its lyric ('brains will do what brains will do'). More Mellotron and a pulsing bass, segues into the up-tempo Azrael. Constant changes in dynamics, intertwining guitars and another fine dirt-under-the-fingernails guitar solo make this a blast. Azrael picks up the Mona Lisa melody to round-off the two pieces brilliantly.
The icing on the cake is the long-form, prog-titled closing track Chariots Of The Sun - To Phaeton On The Occasion Of The Sunrise (Theme From An Imagined Movie). Over 22 minutes, this instrumental features an effortless linking of musical ideas. It opens with reverberant, psychedelic electric piano and synth films that becomes a gentle acoustic weird-folk. The tempo increases as drums and bass raise the power level. Hans Magnus' guitar brings emotion-laden chords that are earthy and intelligent. On the one hand, the drive and focus, and the mix of instruments with wordless vocals, give it an intellectual structure of which Robert Fripp would be proud. And on the other hand, it is also a banging, nearly out-of-control blast of progressive rock. It leaves live Hawkwind trailing behind, as it reaches a forceful crescendo before returning to the weird-folk with satisfying circularity.
Motorpsycho have released another in a line of great releases with Ancient Astronauts. It's live-in-the-studio feel gives it a variation from the other recent releases in terms of an edge-of-the-seat intensity. New to Motorpsycho? You can feel safe starting here, as they really don't do disappointment.
Motorpsycho on DPRP.net
Darryl Way — The Rock Artist's Progress
The Rock Artist's Progress is an album to accompany the novel of the same name by Charles Shorwell. An enhanced version of the novel features embedded links that lead to "musical illustrations" of compositions mentioned in the book, as well as links to the songs featured on the album in the novel which has been re-created and produced by Darryl Way. First up, I admit to not having read the entire novel. I did intend to, before writing this review, but I found it to be a very naive and underwhelming read. I had expected much more from a purported journalist.
With no information provided, I guess that everything on the album, except Steve Hogarth singing on Morpheus, is performed by Way. Although set in the late 1960s, the music doesn't actually portray the vibe of the time. At times, it approaches new-wave in style (Mods And Rockers) while a track such as Chaconne has more classical overtones as played by a rock band and is actually a fine piece of music. The only other instrumental on the album is Time Machine and these two pieces are easily the best.
The vocal pieces range from very good (the opening number Life is particularly good and Hogarth adds a shine to the otherwise quite ordinary Morpheus) to inexecrable (thankfully just the one song, Rosemary, which in my opinion is trite nonsense). The remaining songs are reasonably decent although won't trouble any future compilers of prog-rock anthologies. The possible exception is Traveller which does remind me of Mr. So & So and is an album highlight.
A few hits, a few more misses but at least the album is better than the book.