BOW — City Race
Fancy a trip down memory lane with the bands that left their mark on the world of heaviness such as Testament, Pantera, Anthrax, Slayer, Annihilator, Meshuggah and Metallica? Then take a look at BOW; a project created by Dutch musician Martijn Balsters.
Martijn is well known in prog-metal circles as singer/guitarist for The Dust Connection, Forever Times and Silent Chambers and for guest appearances on a string of albums, including Maiden United and the superb Into The Open debut in 2020. He has also been part of the organising team for the ProgPower Europe festival for many years. This project has been a long-time dream of Martijn. It took shape during the pandemic confinements, and just kept growing thanks to guest performances by Rich Gray (Annihilator, Aeon Zen), Robin Kok (The Monolith Deathcult), Tim Verheijden (Lucifericon) and Sander Heerings (The Dust Connection, Into The Open).
When I spoke to Martijn at this year's ProgPower he humbly offered this album as a bit of a pet project; something he had to get out of his system and wasn't too bothered if too many people ever heard it. That would be a shame, as the songs and performances are top quality throughout. Martijn's vocals really suit this style of metal and I just love the guitar soloing and riffage on tracks such as Insomniac or the Seek And Destroy blast of The Terminal. The alternating grooves of Black Dog Liberation work a treat.
Sure, the prog quotient is missing (hence just a mini review) but for fans of classic heavy metal with a strong thrash influence, there is much to enjoy here.
Dead Air Poetry — Tomorrow
This Koblenz art-rock band was founded in 2017. Tomorrow is their second album, following 2019's Reflections In Between. The quartet is made up of Ben (bass, vocals), Dirk (drums), Eva (vocals) and Holger (vocals, guitar).
Listening to this well-produced album, it becomes clear that each member brings their own influences into the band. The result is a unique collection of multi-part songs, set within a narrative context. This is prime-time art-rock with lots of breaks and changes in groove, mood and rhythm.
But the defining element is the male-vocal polyphonic singing, which means it is a highly idiosyncratic listen; one that requires a good few spins before the melodies and textures properly reveal themselves. The vocals will not be for all tastes but they do tie the whole thing together, along with the wonderful threads given by the measured guitar playing of Holger. One of the more unique art-rock albums that I have come across and well worth investigating if you are a fan of the genre and of polyphonic singing.
Denomination — They Burn As One
“A Russian, a Croat, a Greek and two Germans meet over a beer ..."
What starts out as a bad joke is actually a good description of the birth-hour of Denomination in Germany during 2020, with a mix of love for the “old school Swedish death metal” of the likes of Entombed and Dismember, as well as punk and grind. Being a fan of the pioneering sound of the SDM scene, largely due to the “buzzsaw” sound of the Boss HM-2 guitar pedal, this sounds like my thing.
The album is short. At little over 32 minutes long, I've heard EPs longer than that, but I digress. After the short intro, This Is Resurrection fires up the saw and fully launches it at you. I'm hooked from the first rev of the undeniably filthy bass and guitars and the almost putrid vocals of Oliver Heil. Bugs doesn't stop at all, driving in on all cylinders as Anton Tischenko sets a pace that doesn't let you stop. If any track was going to show their influences clearly, this is it. It could easily have come from the mid-90s scene.
The whole album is just an unrelenting barrage of drums and bass coupled with the heavy and down-tuned guitars. Never stopping the assault, it keeps going from the opening sounds of Intro until the closing of Outro. Slow Decay stands out as my favourite track, (also the longest). There is a bit more melody and some more building on the riffs. Der Mensch über alles brings to me the feeling of intensity of Unleashed on their Where No Life Dwells album. Short, fast and brutal. Conscious Mind does the same, albeit it with the force of a sledgehammer.
Having had a spin through their Where Life Ends EP as well, this album is a good progression. The raw energy is still there, but the production is better, making for a much crisper, yet no less crusty death metal sound. My one criticism would be that some of the tracks do sound a bit same-y. Maybe it is because they are all so short that there isn't much time to fully develop the music. I never was hugely into songs shorter than four minutes really. However, it doesn't take anything away from the sheer energy and decomposing sound the group makes. Maybe, after this, I should have a deeper look into the world of death-grind.
Well, there is no prog to be found here. If you like the death metal of the mid 90s, then you are missing out without this album. Think Bloodbath, but with a bit more punk/grind to it and a bit rawer for a contemporary comparison. If you don't like that style of music, chances are this isn't for you. Meanwhile, I'm going to listen again and turn this up loud.
Matt Karpe — On Track... Tool
I have to thank SonicBond Publishing because this book has made me check again Tool's most recent album Fear Inoculum, which I abandoned three years ago after listening to it several times. The bad thing is that that album still doesn't click with me. I must admit I'm not the perfect fan of the band but I do have their 2001 album Lateralus among my all time favourites. Just discovered them with the great Aenima in 1996 when my younger brother played it really loud on Saturday mornings I wasn't expecting that weird alternative band would become one of the most important progressive metal bands ever.
This very interesting book goes way back and explains in detail the early days of Tool and one can realise that it wasn't a regular band from the very beginning.
Matt Karpe has done great research delving into the band member's lives before forming Tool. After reading those stories, the reader can join the dots and understand how Tool's universe has become what it is nowadays and maybe throw some light on all the visual art and enigmatic theories they use in each album.
The book goes song by song through their entire catalogue, even the early recordings, and also explains many of the side projects of each member, including my favourite, A Perfect Circle, whose album Mer de Noms is also among my top albums of all time.
If you love Tool you can't miss this book because you will enjoy the stories behind each song. If you are not a fan I can only recommend that you also read this because I'm sure you will find yourself listening to their entire discography just as I did while reading the book and discovering many nuances that you may missed if you "only" listened to their music.
I don't know if or when we will ever have another Tool album. It could take another 13 years, so I will keep trying my best with Fear Inoculum. In fact, I'm starting to enjoy it a bit but let's hope they also keep evolving and Matt Karpe can write an extra chapter of this interesting book.
Louison — Magnetic Feel
After spending many years in the USA, recording a variety of prog-inspired jazz/post-Canterbury neo-classical fusion albums, which involved amongst others a collaboration with Eitan Kenner, French-born multi-instrumentalist Louis 'Louison' de Mieulle (all instruments) recently returned to his homeland. Through Magnetic Feel he presents his first full electronic solo album.
Aided by Casimir Liberski (extra synth production and solos) Louison paraphrases the style of the album as "cyberprog". Given the eclectic nature of the diverse soundscapes, this is an apt description, although the unbridled sonic adventure captured on Magnetic Feel resonates predominantly with a delightful distinct 80's feel to me. This is for instance perfectly illustrated by the futuristic, funky synth pop movements of opener Triangular Prologue, which envisions immaculate images of Harald Faltermeyer.
Immediately complying with the album's sci-fi artwork this song holds attention excellently through its playfulness and a galaxy of vibrant sounds and sequences that provide a beautiful layering in the music. This composition also introduces some of the recurring themes, as mentioned in its accompanying subtitle, which in Conservation Of Energy Pt.2 visits a lovely inventive pulsating framework of Moog bass and electronic voicing elements, the latter bringing shards of Kraftwerk to light.
Surprisingly it's the energetic Conservation Of Energy Pt.1 that brings delightful 70's inspired Canadian FM textures with a hint of Nash the Slash experimentalism and prog-influenced cinematic warmth. The subsequent The Big Freeze adds an oppressive vacuum to this through drones, radiating noises, blimps and spatial bombast that conjures up cinematic atmospheres of Bladerunner.
Another fine cinematic experience is presented in the epic The Big Galactic Rondo which envisions to me an adventurous promenade in an elusive city that fizzes with a vast variety of life.
The album also takes a deep dive into the avant-garde with Electron-Positron Annihilation, which harbours an extremely effective machine-like complexity that excels in dexterous rhythmic design, and dips ever so gently into spiritualism through the electronically voiced Human Epilogue. The album finally reaches its final destination in The Big Dip. This song beautifully transforms Louison's artfully created multi-verse into an enchanting world of beauty and peace and marks a satisfying conclusion to the album's narrative.
Overall Magnetic Feel expresses a beautiful, engaging attraction through its well-crafted, highly detailed and intricately arranged compositions and comes highly recommended for connoisseurs of electronic music.
Mystery — 1992 - The Lost Tapes EP
Since their beginnings in 1986, Mystery took ten years to record a full-length debut album with 1996's Theatre Of The Mind. It turned out to be the start of a slow but steady rise in the world of prog where they are now one of the more well-known and loved bands, at least in The Netherlands.
This year they celebrated a 30-year recording jubilee, as back in 1992 they released 500 copies of a four-song EP. It failed to make much of an impression back then, so it disappeared in the vaults of the record company and was lost for many years. Recently the multi-track recordings were found, restored and completely remixed by founder Michel St. Pere. Instead of enhancing the tapes making use of current day technology the band states in the accompanying information that “special attention was taken to preserve the recording as it was recorded back in 1992”. A wise decision, being is respectful to the original craftsmanship of the band. This re-recording is again released in a limited number of 500 copies.
Back in 1992 Mystery consisted of Michel St. Pere (guitars), Gary Savoie (vocals), Benoit Dupuis (keyboards), Richard Addison (bass guitar) and Stephane Perreault (drums). On their debut album Michel Painchaud played classical and acoustic guitars but he hadn't joined the band yet when this EP was recorded. The EP is dedicated to their former drummer Perreault who sadly died in 2005.
For those who are familiar with the early Mystery albums this will be more than a pleasant discovery. The first three songs bear every trademark of the prog-lite style that the band had in their starting years. Good vocal melodies, catchy choruses, the occasional short guitar solo, all accompanied by very fine keys, a mellow bass and restrained drums, and recorded and produced very well. Savoie has a pleasantly clear voice, the harmony vocals sound great, the instrumentation is tasteful. Yet the music still lacks adventure, spice, surprises. Think of the mellow side of Toto, Styx or Alan Parsons Project and you'll pretty close. Not bad at all for a first recording attempt, undertaken way back in the eighties. The fine ballad In My Dreams would also feature on their debut album in a slightly different version.
The fourth song, Cinderella, offers more prog. The opening section is suddenly quite dynamic with very fine interplay between St. Pere's guitar riffing and Dupuis' keys, while the bass and drum playing is energetic. The vocals are less dominant than in the former songs, the instrumental parts take up more time and already illustrate the talents of St. Pere as a composer. In the middle section of the song, a fine, soft keys part introduces one of the heavenly guitar solos St. Pere has become famous for. This is a fine song that wouldn't sound strange in their present day catalogue.
As a whole the music on offer here is more high-calibre pop than prog, apart from Cinderella. For Mystery fans adding this to your collection is a no-brainer. For those not familiar with the band, I would recommend to start elsewhere.
Oddtomatic — Cryptic Messages
Although released last year, Oddtomatic (I like the name!) apparently found out about DPRP only recently. Sending a physical CD with extra information is good promotion and so we should pay attention to that, even if it's an older release.
Oddtomatic are a relatively new band from Finland. New in the sense that this is their debut release. Pekka Ojasalo, playing guitars and keyboards, is responsible for the compositions (bar the intro and outro).
Ragbag is like an overture, in that it displays almost all of the aspects of this band. Highly melodic pop/prog with guitar, piano, keyboards and flute as the melodic instruments. Camel is probably the most obvious reference here. Hypertramp is fuller and heavier in sound, and several sections here bring thoughts of Supertramp.
Never getting too complex or too heavy, but the variety (on a compositional level) will put a smile on a lot of prog-heads. The fact that it's all-instrumental is not noticable. The mood goes from melancholic to happy, and almost constantly emotional. In terms of atmosphere, I can also see that this could be very interesting for fans of Realisea or modern-day Marillion.
The production is excellent. A longer album would have been a lot more expensive, and for a self-produced debut album the band are hoping this is long enough. Well, to get a good impression it's enough, but I hope they have their eyes set on a full-length album. I suspect it will make quite an impact.
In a time where my focus has shifted towards heavier and more psychedelic rock and metal, reviewing Cryptic Messages was a breath of fresh air. Not overwhelming, but still demanding attention and definitely no background music.