Andras Atlason — Atlantis
The number of prog artists hailing from the Faroe Islands is very limited, from Brazil somewhat more. So an artist who can claim to combine these two far away regions in his music sounds quite exciting, at least on paper. That is augmented by his announcement to blend art rock and folk music with a touch of jazz and progressive metal on his new album Atlantis. Using rather uncommon instruments like a Greek (!) bouzouki, oboes and cello makes a prog's fan curiosity rise to high peaks. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt whether many prog fans will be attracted by this album by Faroe artist Andras Atlason whose identity is split between those Nordic islands (his father was born there) and Brazil (the birth country of his mother). For his music bears above all many characteristics of soft jazz, some bossa nova and musicals, whereas I find it extremely hard to categorize it as prog, let alone prog-metal.
Atlason wrote the music for all songs and arranged, produced and mixed the music himself. He also took care of playing bass guitar, keyboards and piano, and he did all lead vocals. His baritone voice is warm and pleasant to listen to, makes you think of opera but also has a very limited reach which makes his vocals rather predictable. More variation in the vocals would have suited the music better. Musically he is assisted by Manuel Domenech (oboe), Flávio Coimbra (drums and percussion), Tatsuro Murakami (guitars), Bettina Jucksch (violin), Estela de Castro (cello) and Dumindu Dassanayaka (flute) in varying combinations.
Atlason has invested much in this album and that alone makes it worthwhile to check it out. For instance half of the twelve songs featured on the album are based upon Nordic language poems while the other half has lyrics in the Portuguese language. It's a good thing that he integrates those cultural outings in his music and that he sings in these two very different languages, but most listeners won't be able to understand at all what is sung. But as long as the music is attractive that's only a minor disadvantage.
The album starts promising with the title track, also the longest track. The song starts without an intro with dramatic singing backed by beautiful oboe and piano. The music is attractive, featuring lush orchestral arrangements, fine electric piano playing and several breaks leading the way to the end section. It is a short suite that I'd expect in a modern musical. Oboe and electric piano also feature in the beautiful Ismália, this time combined with violin. The melody is more poppy and less musical-like. Havið sang has a very attractive chorus melody that really invites to sing along. The use of violin is very tasteful throughout this song, providing the song with a fine folky mood. The short guitar solo towards the end part gives the music just that spicy feeling that makes it stand out from the rest.
After these three songs the music becomes very slow, vocal dominated and almost lazy. None of the remaining songs stand out, to my ears they sound all a bit the same. There are hardly if any musical breaks nor much dynamics nor significant changes in moods. The instrumentation is jazzy, sometimes romantic (Ismália, Hitt Hvíta Liðið), some a bit more rocky (Nos Portões de Atlântida) but most of the time too sophisticated to really excite. The playing is nice, the production is good, the sound is clear but the music doesn't ignite a spark.
The album comes with twelve nice lithographs in either black-and-white or with one of two additional colours, depicting the lyrics of the songs. I assume he has made those drawings himself but the information sent with the files doesn't give a clue. With most of the potential listeners being unable to grab the lyrics providing these lithographs is a clever yet laborious way of indicating what the songs are about.
All in all I admire Atlason's dedication to bridging far outlying cultures and his desire to connect folk literature with modern-day music. I gave the album several spins and in spite of the three quite nice songs at the beginning this album isn't my cup of tea. I think this isn't a prog album but should be filed under jazz, maybe singer-songwriter or, even better, world music. The quality of the music is without doubt, the integrity of his idea to integrate these cultures is admirable. Therefore, I sincerely hope that this album will reach many interested people and that those people will give it a serious listen but my guess is that there won't be many proggers among them.
Caravaggio — Caravaggio
Caravaggio are a group formed by Vittorio Ballerio (vocals), and Fabio Troiani (guitars, mandolin, bouzouki). Both musicians had been part of the Italian prog metal band Adramelch, who released 4 albums between 1987 and 2015, the last one Opus having been reviewed on our site. When it became obvious that Adramelch had reached its limits, because of musical differences amongst the band members, various line-up changes, and an ongoing struggle to get a widespread recognition, the band decided to split up shortly after the release of Opus. Fabio and Vittorio decided to continue with another project and teamed up with Marco Melloni (bass) and Alessio Del Ben (drums) to form a new band. They chose the name of the Milan-based (such as the band) Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi (1571 - 1610), named Caravaggio after his parents' hometown in Lombardy. The eponymous release is Caravaggio's debut.
A decent number of guest musicians, amongst them Courtney Swain from Bent Knee plus a few others on vocals, Antonio Zambrini on flute, Nadia Marenco, Mauro Poeda, and Carmine Turilli respectively on accordion, and Massimo Mescia on piano, make very valuable contributions to one or the other song. No "official" keyboard player is listed in the line-up, and in fact, keyboards are limited to some discreet (sampled?) sounds here and there in the background.
All the music and the lyrics are by Fabio Troiani, except for Fix You, which is a (worthy) cover of Coldplay's fantastic song from their 2005 X&Y album.
The painter Caravaggio was known for working with strong contrasts between shadow and light in his paintings, a technique unknown at the time, which produced very dramatic effects in his paintings. His (relatively short) life also was characterized by drama, as well as turbulence, rebellion, violence, but also fame, and fascination. I think that the band Caravaggio voluntarily put up with the biography of their eponym echo in their music to some extent.
In an interview, Caravaggio describe their music as "Mediterranean prog rock". They admit that this description "does not enlighten any clear ideas", but it illustrates one element of Caravaggio's music: it is difficult to pigeonhole. Besides prog, I found elements of alternative, indie, AOR, and hard rock. Drawing comparisons with Vittorio's and Fabio's former band Adramelch, the sound on this release definitely is less prog metal. On the other hand, it also does not remind one of the classical RPI style, being less symphonic, melodic, and singing-songwriting-influenced than the music played by many Italian peers. This does not mean that the music can do without emotional moments, though, which are particularly evident in my favourite track Guernica (dedicated to a member of the resistance who fought in Spain an in France and died there). The "classical" prog rock keyboards such as Hammond, mellotron, piano, and synthesizer play a very subordinate role. Instead, the use of the accordion as underlying and solo instrument is something that Caravaggio can claim as style-defining element for themselves. A good example is the oriental-sounding solo on Before My Eyes. I also found the guitar playing as being very versatile, and varied, with a good interplay of acoustic and electric parts. Consequently, the music sometimes reminds me of other guitar-oriented prog bands such as Sieges Even.
I must admit I put off this review a bit. Procrastination was the name of the game. I think that this is owing to the fact that I was kind of strange to this release right from the start. Listening repeatedly to and dealing intensively with this album thereafter made Caravaggio's music just slightly more accessible to me. This album has entailed some challenges on me to separate subjective from objective impressions, something I find very difficult with respect to music.
I tried to come to terms with this by asking myself some questions. Is this album individual, and original? Yes, especially the frequent use of the accordion provides for a considerable degree of originality - the "Mediterranean sound", as the band calls it. Is it varied? Yes, due to the frequent changes of mood, rhythm, and tempo, the way the guitars come into play, and the versatility of the rhythm section. Is it challenging to listen to? Yes, as the songs are not so straightforward to be accessible right from the beginning, it requires intensive care to familiarize with.
Is it of excellent quality? Yes, the production is flawless, the musical abilities of Caravaggio are undisputed, and the CD comes in a digipak format with a booklet containing the lyrics and beautiful artwork by the Italian artist Gianfranco Ferlazzo. Does the music reflect the painter Caravaggio's life to some extent? Yes, especially with respect to the dramatic, melancholic elements inherent in the music, the variedness, the unexpected moments, but also the sometimes hard to find song structures and the difficulty of pigeonholing. Is the music catchy, melodic, and accessible? To my ears, just occasionally.
Do I like this album? Well, there are quite a few other ones that I prefer. The quintessence of these many affirmative answers to the (objectively asked) questions can only be that this release should be valued positively and considered as strong despite a reviewer not having been able to fully make friends with it. I hope that this will be the case with its successor. Recommended to fans of original sounding prog with that little extra (use of accordion), of varied music which requires patience to have it grow upon someone.
Invest some time and form your own opinion - the affection for music is such a subjective matter.
Desbot — Pass Of Change
With Pass of Change New Zealand trio Desbot makes its full-length debut, citing Mogwai, Isis and Planning For Burial as their major influences. April 2020 saw the band release an acclaimed demo Occult Tapes, and it took more than two years to give shape to new ideas. “More than anything, the central theme of Pass Of Change relates to our process; it's essentially a lockdown album that we wrote in isolation”, says the band on their web-page.
One does not have to be well-versed in indie music to recognize all the trademarks of post-rock sound on Pass of Change: minor harmonies, delayed effects against a 4/4 rhythm structure, quasi-apocalyptic sonic imagery. More attentive listeners (and disciplined press-release readers) will sooner or later realize that the band lacks an axeman, and guitar duties are distributed between the keyboard rack and bass guitar, the latter doing a lot of competent riffing, which gives distinct space rock flavor to the material. It is precisely the lack of the six-string instrument. This fact in perticular makes me question the band's alleged echoes of post-metal icons like Isis. My ears testify that Desbot should rather be named a derivative of God Is An Astronaut, Kokomo or Collapse Under The Empire, in other words belonging to the groovier and, if you permit, poppier league of genre. Yes, a certain amount of heaviness is present in the sound, but not to the extent that one could expect from post-metal worshippers. The overall flavor is slightly metallic, but not really influenced by hardcore that Aaron Turner worked upon to shape Isis's ideas.
The title track, dynamic, straight-to-the-point Youth and the closing, more experimental The Wind And Rain are the tracks I liked the most. On the contrary, ideas laid in the groundwork for Eclipsed and Crying Eyes sound already too simple and predictable for me.
Pass of Change does not really bring anything new on the already abundant post-rock table, but instead it is good at reminding you - why you hate post-rock – same simplistic rhythms, patterns and harmonic moves as overused and stained with someone else's fingerprints as a pirate map.
Why you love post-rock – easy-graspable atmosphere, OST-type grandiosity and ever-present sense of yearning
That the genre itself is currently in crisis and long past its glory days. The bulk of new releases fail to rise above being another brick in the wall-of-sound.
None of the above is a reproach to the musicians, who did what they could, and quite competently on their skill level. It is the current sorry state of the niche music. Not a bad work per se, but mostly recommended to fans, hungry for more of the same sound.
Dramanduhr — Tramohr
Today, we come across Dramanduhr from Italy, singing in a made up language referred to as “Dahrmonium”. Having formed back in 2020, Dramanduhr has brought forth their first album to us all. A concept story about the fictional the god – named Dramanduhr – who causes sexual energy and unexpressed violence to emerge from the unconscious.
Kicking off the entertainment for the night is their namesake. A mix of hard rock and heavy metal. The chanting, almost orchestral and operatic vocals give the track an occultist feel. Suitable for the lyrics Following this, we have the first track recorded Ixaltirud. Dark and foreboding music guitars and discordant keys accompany the almost biblical sounding vocals.
Harkening back to the early ere of black metal, when clean vocals were sometimes employed, see early Dimmu Borgir for example, we are brought into this style through both Ixtratarrastràh and Tàhn Stun Karràh, with the latter providing some almost pop sensibilities similar to Ghost, but not quite as “black metal for Disney fans” (as some metalheads describe them. I myself am a fan, but I know what they mean…). Rounding off the first side is Anassihn Tharek This one, while retaining the same sound as the previous tracks, and similar music, is distinctly more catchy. But no less apocalyptic sounding vocally. It just comes together slightly better
Side two begins with the folky number of Tàh Loh Rehn Kilt. More chilled but bringing in a sense of melancholy with it. This changes swiftly when the heavy and oppressive sound of Tèhr Ick Tarramàh reminds you this is a story of a particularly primal god. Pagan black metal sings through the guitars with an altogether evil and “the end is nigh” type sound flowing through the speakers. Rahm Deh Rahm follows, bringing you towards the final act, with elements of “black 'n' roll” seeping in at points.
The final session now dawns with a choir of vocals to signal the conclusion is imminent. Musically, it isn't dissimilar to the previous tracks, but the vocals do soar a bit more throughout for the culmination of this unholy mass. And now, we have the title track. It begins with some more folk and harmonised vocals over clean guitars, but then the curtain comes in. A culmination of the sounds previously heard, it brings you back down for the end of the album.
My only criticism really would be that most of the tracks all sound very similar. There isn't a vast deviation from the riffing and drums. Still a good album, but hopefully there will be a bit more variety with the follow-up (which I am looking forward to). But aside from that, quite enjoyable. I'd recommend for fans of older black metal, but mixed with more conventional music. Not quite as extreme as some older styles, it still retains a definite vibe of apocalypse and biblical retribution and occult nature.
Eddie Mulder — Signature
Signature is the seventh solo album from the wonderful Eddie Mulder, the Dutch guitarist and bassist whose playing has graced albums from the likes of Trion, Flamborough Head and Leap Day. His recording career stretches back 34 years to the time when an unrecognisable Mulder released a couple of singles on the Mercury label with the pop act Avenue. The current album. a mixture of acoustic and electric instrumentals, features contributions from Colin Bass (Camel) and Peter Stel (Nice Beaver) on bass, Gert van Engerlenburg (Leap Day), Henk Stel (Leap Day, Nice Beaver), Rafal Paluszek (Osada Vida) and Ton Scherpenzeel (Kayak, Camel) on keyboards and, Albert Schoonbeck (Pink Faces) on drums (although Peter Stel does hit the skins and forms the complete rhythm section on Seahaven). Many of these musicians also appeared on Mulder's excellent last solo album Blind Hunter.
Seven of the 13 compositions were written by Mulder, three are credited to the Leap Day trio of Mulder, van Engerlenburg and Henk Stel, two are by Mulder and H Stel and the final number by H Stel alone. Only one of the tracks, Winter Solstice 2021, is a purely solo piece, a lovely acoustic guitar number that, to my ears, contains elements of English Folk music. The two compositions featuring Ton Scherpenzeel are both duets although on Late At Night '22 the keyboards play quite a subservient role to the guitar and the prominent percussion. Scherpenzeel's presence is heard more on Summer's End, particularly his piano playing, giving a very Pat Metheny feel to the piece. Although the credits state that Stel's Gravity, only features guitar and keyboards, there is a prominent bass throughout which one presumes is the work of Mulder. It is the most uncharacteristic number on the album, no doubt because Mulder had no part in the writing. It is also the track I least preferred despite a nice electric guitar solo.
The only other track without drums is Enigma which is well worth the price of the album all by itself and shows what a potent musical duo Mulder and Henk Stel are. However, it is the rockier numbers that feature a full band of guitars, bass, drums and keyboards that excel. The title track Signature is a full on rocker with prog overtones; Moods is more keyboard led and harks back to a more 1970s style of writing while album closer Balanced is more laid back but with great playing and melodies throughout. Interestingly it is these three numbers that were written by the Leap Day trio! Of the remaining three full band tracks Seahaven starts quite sedately and then blossoms into an elegantly crafted and evocative piece culminating in the cries of seagulls, No Return is a delightfully crafted composition with guitar and keyboard providing alternating solos and The Flow is as good as anything Pat Metheny produced in his heyday (seriously!).
Of the two remaining tracks, Empty Woods starts with the sound of what, one presumes, is the creaking of old trees in the titular woods but reminds me more of the sound of an old sailing ship, but maybe that is influenced by the seagulls of Seahaven! Much more atmospheric than the other pieces on the album, it doesn't really get going but does provide an interesting contrast, particularly to the bright and jaunty Old Places on which Mulder delivers one of his characteristic and impressive solos.
One cannot really go wrong with an Eddie Mulder solo album. Consistently high in quality irrespective of if it is just him and an acoustic guitar or in collaboration with other musicians. Instrumental music is for some unfathomable reason never as popular as vocal music, maybe there is an atavistic need to all join in on the chorus or something. However, it is worth breaking out of such habits every now and again and checking out what instrumental music has to offer. After all, hundreds of years of classical music can't be entirely redundant!
Privative Alpha — 21 Grams
In 1907, Duncan MacDougall, a physician from Haverhill, Massachusetts theorised that souls have physical weight. In his attempt to measure this through the mass loss of a human at the precise moment of his earthly departure, his conclusions led to the popularised assumption that the weight of the soul equals that of 21 grams. made into a film in 2003 as a psychological drama starring Sean Penn, it is now Privative Alpha that casts this "knowledge" into musical form with the conceptual 21 Grams.
Architect behind Privative Alpha's concept is guitarist Daniele Ferro, who composed and arranged the music on 21 Grams. Aiding him in the process of bringing his stories to life, one finds individual contributions by PJ Abba and Simone Campete on keys, Sonia Miceli on bass and backing vocals, and Maurizio De Palo on drums. They are accompanied by seven vocalists who deliver diverse vocal expressions. They each bring a unique character to the various tales and songs that follow on the album.
These stories comprise subjects like love, hate, longing, fear, anger, loss, and loneliness, as seen and experienced from the perspective of the person who's about to leave his/her physical presence behind. Many of these tales, some more than others, provoke moments of personal reflection, especially in conjunction with the talkative artwork that accompanies the various compositions. In addition to this, Ferro has thought carefully about his concept through his broad interpretable lyrics and the widespread variety of musical approaches captured on the album. Aspects that deepen his joyful experience successfully.
Within his musical endeavours, songs like Soldier (Too Far From Home) and Son (Silence Between Us), featuring Andrea Garbarini and Davide Crisafulli on vocals respectively, present a heavier prog-metal approach with feisty and aggressively outstanding guitar work, that perfectly reflects the former's battlefield burden, and the latter's pent-up feeling of frustration and anger.
Featuring lush organ and interspersed with great flowing melodies and dynamic virtuous interplay, Soldier sees a tantalizing bridge passage on immaculate intertwining guitar and synths (Abba) which brings images of Dreamscape and Pentesilea Road, to which Son adds excellent piano refinement that perfectly holds it own in between the brilliant energetic driving prog metal surroundings. Together with its symphonic touch and relentless pace this well-composed song is among my favourites of the album.
Outcast (Blame The Fool) takes a more restrained approach and expresses a darker atmosphere that floats somewhere between melodic rock and prog, with elements of metal shining through. Luca Cristiani's strong voice perfectly portrays the emotions embedded in the song. Halfway down, this composition gains magnificent momentum as lush symphonic embellishment are draped over excellence of piano. Dynamic melodies enticingly converge towards a majestic solo by Ferro that drowns one in a sea of joy.
Surprisingly, in Wife (Reunification)'s subsequent saga, the combination of Francesca Moratta's bluesy female voice adding body and soul to the song, and the sensitive melodies driven by Ferro's touching guitar, initially shows associations with Heart. After an excellent build-up in intensity and warmth through accompanying synths and guitar, the song subtly changes towards an AOR gem that shines with images of Journey, as Ferro faithfully touches into his inner sense of Neal Schon.
Mother (A New flower) shows a similar beautiful song-smithery effort by Ferro, with intimate sweetness, restrained acoustic play, and a jazzy pop-like embrace. It is laced with symphonies, intricate piano, and a soothing performance by Cristina Di Bartolo. There is an equally impressive build-up, and it incorporates an emotive guitar eruption which is to die for.
Saving the best for last, Priest (Soulfly) initially shares a vision of Zio, provoked by vocal harmony greatness, followed by glowing melancholic melodies. Passionate vocals from Ivan Gallici slowly merge into more prog-metal surroundings. The enticing riff by Ferro thereafter (a revisit of the Schon-like flavours) makes the engaging melodies escape towards a zenith of marvellous interplay that shines brightly with heavenly Dream Theater virtuosity and an AOR freshness, courtesy from twinkling keys and Ferro's masterly guitar work, which I confess to find highly contagious.
This also applies to the concluding Immobilised (Make Her Fly), the storyline of which depicts the longing transformation from stagnant imprisonment into infinite freedom, affectively hitting home through its symbolising artwork. Designed with a flight of beautiful structures, this powerful emotive ballad provides a beautiful ending to the album, with star roles for vocalist K, who shows a captivating resemblance to LaBrie, and Ferro, who transcends with a beautiful transporting solo.
Since the enclosed lyrics not completely representing the ones actually sung, and an occasional (non-disturbing) accent noticed within the excellent vocal performances, 21 Grams falls 2 grams short of perfection for me. That said, it does mark a thoroughly enjoyable effort, that brings quality musicianship, fine production values, exceptionally well-crafted compositions, and a great concept, which leaves room for additional tales and further musical elaborations. Worth investigating!