Codespeaker — Codespeaker
Codespeaker have come from Edinburgh to bring their post-metal styling to the world. Having formed back in 2019, their first album (self-titled) has been released to be heard by the world. Having been described as similar in style to the likes of Cult Of Luna, Isis and Neurosis, the album promises a lot. But can it deliver?
Opener Carthage certainly sets the bar high. Dark and atmospheric to begin, before you are launched into a wall of sludgy guitars and gruff shouts from Greg Armstrong. Bass heavy with fuzzy guitars and discordant leads. The tone is set for the album. Dagon fires in on all cylinders with heavy, chugging grooves just oozing with a skill to rival their contemporaries. At number 3, we have a more atmospheric and mid-tempo track in Fraktur. A sense of unease is driven through by the clean guitars, interspersed with walls of lumbering doom, backed up by the relentless force of Jimmy Grace's drums.
A rolling intro brings us neatly to the cutting sound of Chartists. Choppy riffs fly out the speakers while Calum's (nice name) bass helps to add depth to it all. I'm reminded a lot of The Ocean Collective through this one (and the rest of the album actually), which is far from a bad thing. The halfway point gives Pyrrhic. Possibly the most melodic track so far, and easy to see why it was the lead single. Catchy, with a pounding barrier of noise to keep you rooted to the spot. Architeuthis gives us a nice look at the melodic work of Bob and Adam on the guitars through this short instrumental. This one is just a 2:39 minute showcase of riffs for them.
Vrodi keeps the theme of post/sludge metal going, but with the inclusion of clean vocals for the first half. I confess, the cleans didn't do much for me, however, the build up and change at 2:28 to an almost blackgaze sound more than made up for it for me. Driving in more melody before the harmonised shouts from the band and evolving into a post-hardcore sounding outro. Penultimate number, Oriflamme, dives headfirst and drags you right back to the crushing sounds from earlier. Riffs, forceful drums, enough bass to flatten a city, and vocals to topple mountains envelope you and keep the attention rooted to the closing stages.
Finally, we have Hiraeth to close it out. Starting off with a calamitous slap to snap you to attention for the final time. The harmonised bridge adds a certain “chef's kiss” touch of perfection before the final riff claims you and drags you out as it fades away.
In conclusion, I can't really find fault with this album. Perhaps the drums could sometimes be a bit louder in the mix, but that's all really. The album packs a punch heavier than Mon's Meg (a 20-inch cannon at Edinburgh Castle — Ed.) and is hopefully a sound they will continue to develop and grow. Now if they can just come and play in Inverness, that would be good for a weekend...
I'd recommend for fans of the previous mentioned groups, as well as Crown, Jumbo's Killcrane and Yob.
Flamborough Head — Jumping The Milestone
Over the years, many superb bands have fallen by the wayside while others, after maintaining a low profile, have made a welcome return. Jumping The Milestone is the seventh full-length studio album from Flamborough Head and their first in nearly ten years, following the excellent Lost In Time in 2013. I first came across the band ten years earlier with their impressive contribution to the Cyclops Sampler 5 2CD which also featured the likes of Mostly Autumn and Pineapple Thief. They formed in the early 1990s, taking their name from a coastal promontory located in my home county of Yorkshire. With one exception, their line-up has hardly changed from the third album One For The Crow in 2002. The distinctive cover artwork is by the same designer and musically, Jumping The Milestone continues the band's flair for melodic, female fronted prog.
Guitarist Eddie Mulder is no stranger to the DPRP with parallel careers as a solo artist and a member of Leap Day. Conspicuously absent from the previous album, Jumping The Milestone marks his return to Flamborough Head where he demonstrates he's equally adept on bass. His initial replacement on lead guitar Gert Pölkerman has since departed and he in turn has been replaced by Hans Spitzen. Keyboardist and Flamborough Head founding member Edo Spanninga is a regular contributor to Mulder's solo albums and together they also formed Trion. Like Spanninga, erstwhile drummer Koen Roozen has been with the band since their outset and singer and flute player Margriet Boomsma joined the band around the same time as Mulder in 2001.
Flamborough Head have always had a penchant for long songs and this album is no exception with just one track falling short of the eight-minute mark. Opener The Garden Shed sums up the album nicely, with a stately intro where flute and guitar sail on a lush wave of keyboard washes. Boomsma's distinctive, slightly accented vocal is accompanied by bird song and mellow acoustic guitar. The lengthy instrumental mid-section demonstrates Spitzen's precision guitar chops and throughout, the production is immaculate with each instrument ringing loud and clear.
The rest of the songs follow a similar pattern where the vocal melodies are punctuated by lengthy instrumental sections. Flute often plays the lead line with guitar and keyboards providing the embellishments and solos. Tomorrow Is Another Day has a folky, acoustic ambiance in contrast with Start Of A Nightmare which motors along at a lively pace with noodly synth and guitar sparring. The magisterial organ timbre during Fear Of Failure brings to mind Yes' Parallels while Walls Of Words features sublime Steve Hackett style guitar dynamics. The concluding title song is a mini-epic of sorts, boasting a haunting piano theme, evocative vocal and lush keyboard strings but the soaring guitar solo is undoubtedly the centerpiece.
As an album, Jumping The Milestone doesn't break any new ground where, wisely, Flamborough Head stick to what they do best, which is engaging songs embellished by melodic instrumental textures in the fine tradition of bands like Camel, Genesis, Renaissance and Marillion. Hans Spitzen is a fine addition to the line-up and here's hoping it won't be another ten long years before the next release.
The year 2022 has become quite a prolific year for Dutch prog bands. New albums were released by, amongst others, Knight Area (actually their last alas), Bart Schwertmann (singer of Kayak), Eddie Mulder, Timelock (their first in 14 years), Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One, Leap Day, Realisea and Us, all reviewed on this website. The year is aptly rounded off with the latest album by Frisian prog band Flamborough Head, one of the flagships of Dutch prog. And what a great way to end such a productive year!
Since their onset, Flamborough Head took mostly some three or four years to record a new album. Their previous album Lost In Time saw the light of day in 2013 so this time it has taken them nine years to complete Jumping The Milestone. Of course, the pandemic will have been one of the reasons, but I guess that the many successful side projects of several band members also took their toll. Fortunately they haven't forgotten this band.
The 2022 line-up of Flamborough Head has changed on two places compared to their former album. Eddie Mulder who stepped down before the former album was released, now plays bass guitar, replacing founding member Marcel Derix. On guitar, Hans Spitzen replaces Gert Polkerman who only stayed with the band for one album. Koen Roozen (drums), Edo Spanninga (keyboards) and Margriet Boomsma (lead vocals, flute, recorder) still form the core of the band.
In the accompanying information the band states that their inspiration comes from bands like Marillion, Pendragon, Camel and Arena. The latter I don't understand at all as I don't hear any similarities between them and Arena. Yet Flamborough Head has its own distinctive musical style based on three pillars. Firstly the extensive use of recorder and flute in combination with electric guitar characterize them well, as well as the unique typical vocals by Boomsma. She has a pleasant voice, not very expressive or powerful, but very fitting the music. Secondly, Flamborough Head has often opted for longer tracks and this album is no exception with only six tracks each clocking-in at eight minutes or more. And thirdly, this band is never in a hurry, their music is always at a low pace without sounding lazy.
The artwork is another characteristic feature of the band. Since their debut Unspoken Whisper the band makes use of the services of artist Theo Spaaij who has drawn a running figure jumping over a stone pole for this new one. Quite simple, very effective, very fitting and foremost very recognizably Flamborough Head.
The album opens strongly with The Garden Shed, a suite starting very calmly with soft keys, piano and recorder followed by bird sounds, electric guitar and the quiet vocals by Boomsma. The song gradually develops into a symphonic epic that succeeds fully in bringing about vivid memories of beautiful warm evenings spent in a green garden environment. The short recorder solo backed by the keys and piano is outstanding in creating exactly that mood. Throughout the song there are two short electric guitar solos while the song is kept together by subtle acoustic guitar pieces in combination with recorder. The only criticism may be that the song ends with a very conventional fadeout; it had deserved a better end. Very well done and therefore a strong opener of this new album.
Tomorrow Is Another Day opens with another fine recorder solo, this time backed by the full band. The overall musical mood is somewhat more uplifting and the pace is slightly higher than in the opening song. After the second verse and a short full band break, Spitzen gets his chance to excel his guitar skills in a extended solo for almost 1.5 minutes. The harmony vocals in the last chorus work well, as well as the return of the main musical theme, this time played on recorder and guitar, towards the end of this beautiful song.
With a sort of Vaudeville intro, Start Of A Nightmare seems to be a wholly different affair, but as soon as Spitzen comes in and the recorder joins him the mood changes completely and the band is back in their typical musical realm. The middle section is an instrumental part with a long recorder solo followed by a very fine acoustic guitar solo and an upfront bass solo, all connected by the keys. After that section the music becomes more threatening, the keyboards produce a sort of scream and Spitzen takes over with a very fine guitar bridge leading the way to the end section. As expected, the song tells the story of a girl's nightmare and doesn't provide a hopeful message; “... the nightmare is here to stay ...”.
In Fear Of Failure the pace is lowered again and the recorder is replaced by the flute. The organ is also quite prominent as well as the electric guitar, giving this song a more heavy prog edge that suits it well. The harmony vocals in the chorus strengthen the melody and the lead vocals. Around the 7:30 mark the Mellotron emerges to provide the song with a very nice symphonic coda with a distinctive Barclay James Harvest signature written all over it.
The twin song Walls of Words / Signs Misread is a more up-tempo affair with another strong vocal melody, lush keys backing the vocals and nice restrained guitar playing bringing Mark Knopfler in his heydays to the mind. I guess the double title was thought necessary because of the lowering of the pace after the break at four and a half minute after which a slow, recorder dominated section starts. Halfway the electric guitar and piano take over, the theme of the first section is picked up again and the music of before the break continues. Highly effective and beautifully done, although the rather short fade-out sounds a bit too short to my ears.
The title song is the longest of the album but also the least appealing. It starts with beautiful calm piano, soon to be accompanied by flute and bass after which the vocals start. The music is nice and melodic, but it lacks a climax, a break or a clear solo. It just floats and flows but never really takes off. It sounds as if the composers got lost in the melody and didn't succeed in finding that specific musical idea that would lift the song. It makes this long song a bit flat and therefore slightly disappointing which is aggravated by the rather sudden end of the song and thus of the album.
As always the case with Flamborough Head, the album is very well played and very melodic. The music is also a bit as expected from this excellent band and thus on the safe side of prog. Native English speakers may be slightly distracted by the Boomsma's "Dunglish", but I've heard far worse. For some the music may sound a bit too calm, for others a bit too civilized, but I only conclude that it is another very fine album full of beautiful melodic prog. That conclusion also leads to my hope that it won't take the band another nine years to record their next album!
Opus Arise — The Network
This is one earnest band. You can hear it in the music at every moment. And although The Network is an instrumental album, you can perceive the earnestness in the fact that, in the band's press kit, the meaning of every composition is explained in some detail. How much detail? Well, the description of the first composition, Inner Skepticism, begins thus: "The inner skepticism chord progression is DMi7(b5), G7(b9/#5), CMa9, DMi." See what I mean? Earnest.
Opus Arise is an ensemble from Vancouver, Canada, and a large one; the recording lineup for this album consists of nine musicians. As for the instrumentation, along with the usual guitar, drums, bass, and keyboards, this album also features violins, a viola, cellos, and a contrabass. AC/DC they ain't. But earnest they are.
How to describe what The Network sounds like? Well, we're told that this album is "For fans of Animals As Leaders, The Black Mages, Liquid Tension Experiment, Powerglove, Scale The Summit." But you know what band sprang first to my mind on my first listening? The wonderful Dragonforce. I still clearly recall when I heard that band's third album, Inhuman Rampage, with its extraordinary single Through The Fire And Flames. I remember thinking "How can anybody play so fast?" (and as a fan of Slayer, I'm accustomed to wickedly fast playing). Well, Dragonforce isn't a symphonic-metal band, but there's another reason I mention them.
That reason is this: Opus Arise, we're told, has performed five times at the Vancouver Retro Gaming Expo; and Dragonforce, as is widely known for having been influenced by the music of retro video games. I'm curious about why Opus Arise wouldn't recommend The Network to fans of Dragonforce. I wonder if it's that earnestness again. The band wants to be taken seriously on its own terms and perhaps prefers not to be thought of alongside a power-metal band. Perhaps.
Now for the big questions: what exactly does The Network sound like, and will you like it? The word other than "earnest" that comes to my mind is "busy". While the compositions are, to an extent, varied (including in time changes), there's not a lot of breathing room. After the very impressive (and very fast) Inner Skepticism blasts out of your speakers, there isn't a letup until the, sorry to say, unimpressive Digital Soundscape, and most of the compositions are simply crammed with instruments. I mean, the group has a lot of instruments to spare. Remember what Emperor Joseph II allegedly said to Mozart? "Too many notes, my dear boy." Listening to this album, I often feel that, yes, there are just too many notes.
I should say a word about the album's concept. But I don't think I will, and I'll tell you why. The story the album is meant to tell is complex and convoluted; that's okay, but the problem with programmatic music is that, while the music itself might well clearly tell the story in the mind of the composer, it isn't necessarily communicated through the music to the listener. Would I have known, without the extensive explanation of the story, that this was an album about a "cyberpunk-inspired world" involving "chord progressions that manipulate space and time"? Sorry, no. Do you ever come across a song whose lyrics are unclear until you see the video that tells the story? This is sort of the same thing.
Will you like it? Well, the album is impressively performed and produced, so, if you like very fast and earnest orchestral/progressive instrumental rock, you'll like it. I do, though frankly, I have found it a bit exhausting each time I've played it.
Pacha & Pörsti — Views From The Inner World
Sometimes it's relatively hard to keep up with the continuous stream of progressive releases. Within this ongoing flow, the amount of releases related to The Samurai Of Prog (TSoP) universe provides a soothing tidal wave every now and again, which ever since my discovery of their realm through Porsti's Wayfarer has so far provided me, and progressive rock fans in general, with many excellent efforts. Their most recent and magnificent Anthem To The Phoenix Star being a prime illustration of this.
Anthem... arrived at DPRP headquarters exactly at the same time as Pacha & Porsti's View From The Inner World, which created kind of a dilemma for which album to review first? Ultimately the choice, caused by the rather enjoyable The Spaghetti Epic 4, fell upon TSoP's album. Which presented another "problem", for tearing away from Anthem's brilliant musical gravitational pull proved to be quite challenging. As a result a slight delay was caused before Views From The Inner World got my fullest attention. Attention it most certainly deserves, for once again Pacha & Pörsti have delivered a beautifully crafted album.
Much like Pörsti's Wayfarer and Past & Present, the latter actually already suggested by Pörsti to be issued as a Pacha & Pörsti-album, which was humbly declined by Pacha, the album presents a wonderful conglomeration of genre-bending style-crossings inspired by seventies progressive rock with touches of folk, jazz, and other enticing forms of fusions.
As with the aforementioned solo albums and their joint The Guildmaster efforts, it takes a while for the instantly pleasant flow of well-composed music of Views From The Inner World to reveal its inner secrets. When this happens, its seemingly "treacherous" nature magically opens up to a genuinely treasure-rich musical adventure of progressive beauty. One that thematically explores "the great doubts of our human condition" and how we substantively and in togetherness push ourselves to "seek solutions in our inner world".
Following the short melody-rich introduction of Ventolera Prelude, which in fullness returns later on Watch The Stars, is an instantly captivating composition. Delivered with warmth of sound and worldly folk, enhanced by fine percussion, this seventies inspired composition reveals a marvellous depth of Genesis. This is on the one hand emphasized by John Wilkinson's vocal performance, which is the spitting image of Gabriel. And on the other hand by an excelling Pacha gets to express his immaculate sense of Hackett refinement. The songs, supported by Marco Bernard on Shuker bass, is gently waving up and down by beautiful interplay of guitar and keys, the latter in spirit of Tony Banks. A true delight for symphonic prog enthusiasts.
Jubilation does as exactly as promised. Cheerful melodies, once again Genesis-inspired, are being painted by vibrant, creatively restrained play. The hand of Pörsti, who composed the song, is clearly recognisable through the song's exquisite melodic richness. It glides enticingly through stages of funk, fusion and synth-laced prog, while his drumming efforts continuously drive the song onwards with ease. Featuring Jan-Olof Strandberg on bass and a unbridled showcase of Pacha's wealthy diversified guitar work, this song's could just as easily have been lifted from Wayfarer or Past And Present.
The successive Under A Cloudless Sky breathes a delicate folk-inspired The Guildmaster atmosphere. Elegance of acoustic guitars and merry melodies are melted into a unique interplay of prog and folk. It waltzes seamlessly in worlds of progressive rock, with especially Pacha leavinh a powerful impression through his versatility on a multitude of instruments that, next to astounding guitar play, includes violin and whistles. The song ends in wonderful soothing melodies that captivate from beginning to the end.
Pacha's Matkakuume is one of the more prog-oriented compositions, and fully meets the expectation as described in the message that accompanies the song in the booklet. Compelling through expressive guitars, beautiful synth melodies and dynamic interactive structures, the song wanders through refined tempo changes in a fusion of prog and jazz. Next to added refreshments of Genesis, this brings a tasty Jethro Tull touch. Once again, this demonstrates the high level of chemistry between the performing members Pacha, Pörsti, and Bernard.
This harmonically perfect appeal is also deeply embedded in Leap In The Dark and Alone Against Tomorrow, the two remaining songs featuring lyrics by Dan Schamber and vocals by Ariane Valdivié. Her angelic mesmerising voice creates a fairytale ambiance in both songs. The restrained Leap In The dark expresses a light folky feel. Alternating flute and warm guitar by Pacha, it effortlessly grabs attention, while a delicate touch of soprano sax from Olli Jaakkola adds a lovely element of diversity. Alone Against Tomorrow's more ballad-styled approach, with character traits of Quidam and Camel from flute and guitar respectively, is even more attractive and nothing short of amazing in terms of musical enrichment and enchanting enjoyment.
Shadows Of Lost Memories is a nice and soothing, intricate composition, with sensitive bass work and elements of acoustic ambient that satisfy me the most.
Of the two instrumental tracks, the oriental-tinged The Man Who Walked Home presents itself as an alluring alternative to the bolero, partly due to the frequently presented seductive soprano sax parts of Marek Arnold and the swinging jazz-inspired accompaniments of Pörsti, who massages it all in fluent shapes by means of excellent expressive percussion work. Composed by Pörsti, it is divided into four movements, in which everyone gets plenty of room to showcase their skills. The song furthermore features several superb solo moments in which Strandberg's escapades on fretless bass and in particular Ruben Alvarez's electrifying guitar-solo stand out.
Finally, the icing on the cake is the excellently flowing Ventolera. It serves up wonderful rhythmic and dynamically driven play, in which a multitude of challenging guitar, percussion and synth parts leads to a segment of acoustic intimate reflection. The following exquisite musical scenes reveal a movement of restrained ensemble play and moving jazz-inspired guitar. This masterly crafted song, coming full circle as the melodies finally return to its opening statement, is a sheer delight for those who adore the instrumental side of for instance Camel, Windchase, and Sebastian Hardie.
Accompanied by exquisitely designed artwork from Kimmo Heikkilä, Views From The Inner World brings another marvellous and well-balanced enrichment to TSoP's already enchantingly shaped universe. As with many other offerings from Pacha and Pörsti, the music keeps on giving and giving and comes highly recommended.
I look forward with anticipation as to what lies in store next. Upcoming releases by Marco Bernard, Rafael Pacha, TSoP-related albums by Carmine Capasso / Inner Prospekt, and those I'm not yet aware of. This could well be another little tidal wave of grand musical pleasantries. Deep inside I can't wait...
Six By Six — Six By Six
Over the years numerous new “super bands” have been presented, both in prog and in other musical styles. Such bands consisted of several renowned musicians who never played together before but decided to give it a try. Some were successful (Transatlantic), some failed to impress (GTR) and some came and went rather unnoticed. Most of the time, the “super” tag was primarily for marketing purposes, letting commercialism dominate over artistic creativity. Yet I have the impression that most artists have come to the conclusion that they have little if anything to gain from those type of marketeers since the high expectations they bring about can only be fulfilled by the artists' efforts, whether they want it or not.
New band Six By Six could have easily been hailed in as another “super” prog band since the trio consists of Ian Crichton (long time Saga guitarist), Robert Berry (renowned multi-instrumentalist playing with numerous prog artists as well as solo) and Nigel Glockler (long time drummer with metal band Saxon). But apart from mentioning their impressive individual musical experiences and talents, the tone of information about their new collaboration is very down to earth, very modest and therefore quite readable. The three decided to play together and record an album just because they thought that it seemed like a good idea. And right they were.
This debut is simply entitled Six By Six, is packed in a marvellous drawn cover depicting three elderly men driving an old school motorbike through a baobab forest while each is looking in a different direction. The music is a fresh-sounding, mixed bag of power house rock, AOR, heavy prog, and hints of metal. Those are not the subgenres I particularly like nor do I have a click with the bands these musicians are playing in. Yet I found this debut highly enjoyable to listen to.
Wondering why, I concluded that three main characteristics make this album attractive. First, these musicians seem aware of the fact that they have nothing to prove, which translates into an enthusiastic atmosphere in all songs. You can almost hear the fun they have had when recording this album (at least, I think I can hear it). Second, there are the fantastic vocals by Berry, who has a very pleasant powerful voice in the vein of Paul Rodgers (Bad Company) and Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple). And third, Crichton produces several very nice guitar solos of varied length that spice the songs considerably.
Many American prog bands mainly play the muscular side of prog and tend to forget that variation between powerful and heavy on one side and quieter moments on the other hand is what make a record attractive. Six By Six have understood that quite well and alternate powerful and energetic songs, such as the fantastic opener Yearning To Fly and the dynamic China, with the much quieter Reason To Feel Calm Again (the title says it all). That song also introduces the pipe-like guitar sound, very reminiscent of Big Country, that Crichton uses in several songs on this album. Other nice elements in the song are the driving beat of the drums as well as the change in pace halfway followed by a fierce guitar solo that is anything but calm.
After another pair of power rock songs a real resting point arrives in the form of the short acoustic Live Forever. The album is rounded off with four fine power tracks in which the acoustic guitar solo in Battle Of A Lifetime is the most remarkable feature. In the last song Save The Night Crichton gets all the room he needs for one of his trademark extended solos. Too bad the band decided to use a fade-out to close the album.
This debut is attractive for fans of compact melodic heavy rock songs that are the trademark of bands such as The Babys, Heart, Journey, Rush, and Flying Colors. It is very well produced and, of course, very well played. The music on this album sits comfortably between AOR, prog-metal, heavy prog and hard rock. It offers much in each of these subgenres but is also attractive in its own right. It is tight, it rocks, it's spicy, and very, very nice to listen to. So a good debut that leaves a taste for more! Maybe I should give Saga another try?