Colour Haze — Sacred
As a recently-curious convert to the psyche-rock sub-genre, please excuse me as I fumble around, exploring the different interpretations of this style. I once thought that psyche-rock all sounded pretty much the same; and started and ended with Hawkwind, The Doors and Pink Floyd.
But that became a quickly-obvious error. After being hooked by the groove-laden delights of modern psyche-rockers King Buffalo, I've discovered Elder, Black Mountain, All Them Witches and Odonata. All manage to incorporate very different sounds and influences. I have much still to learn and discover.
Which brings me onto my latest encounter. This time with one of the older names still active in the genre.
This year Colour Haze will celebrate a quarter of a century of wallowing in the vibes of their psyche-rock, that now spans an impressive back-catalogue of 14 albums. DPRP has reviewed five of these, starting back in 2006 with the band's eighth release, Tempel and ending with 2019's We Are.
I have to rely on previous reviews, but it seems that CH began life with more of a Sabbath influence before evolving into longer-form soundscapes with strong jam and jazz elements. They then developed further into drone-based stoner rock.
Well this must be the band's fourth phase, as it has few of the above references, preferring an exploration of psyche through a world-music lense.
There has been just one change in the line-up since the last album. Bassist Philipp Rasthofer has been succeeded by Mario Oberpucher. Guitarist Stefan Koglek now adds vocals to most of the tracks here, although it's done in the way that the voice is just another instrument. He will carry a melody for a passage or two in the song, but it is only one part of the whole. It is certainly far from the verse-chorus vocal contributions that one is more accustomed to.
However, Stefan's voice is not the strongest part of the band's sound. Sometimes it is just too far back in the mix as on Goldmine and See The Fools. The vocals do work when they carry a more distinctive melody as on Avatar and Ideologigi, but he is horribly out of tune on In All You Are.
Avatar is probably my favourite song. We open with a Spanish/South American vibe to the vocal before heading into stoner territory (Masters Of Reality). Then we head-off to North Africa with the hustle of a Moroccan market before returning to the original refrain. Nice.
The other aspect that doesn't work for me is the production quality. I know the tendency is to seek fuzz and distortion, especially amongst the heavier and darker psyche bands. For me the less than clear sound here makes it hard to concentrate and listen to the actual music. That's especially important as the compositions of Colour Haze are complex and ever-changing. Whilst many psyche-rock bands build to a groove and tend to sit within it until the end, almost every song here passes through five or six completely different ideas.
1.5 Degrees also contains a nice North African influence, whilst In All You Are incorporates an effective Canterbury-prog section amidst an almost pop-prog arrangement. The trance-like, heavy psyche and distorted guitar that shapes the hypnotic Turquoise is probably more what I was expecting in advance.
Anyway, I've enjoyed exploring another dimension to my psyche-rock adventure. Not everything works for me here but for those who like the sound of a more varied (proggy) style of psyche rock that gives equal room for moments of world music, stoner and heavy psyche, then you will want to give this a listen.
Cye — Strange Animal From The North
The website for the band opens with "Cye The Band - prog-rock made in Switzerland". Cye has been around for a long time. It was founded in 1978 by René Tecklenburg (keyboards) and Marko Heinemann (guitars). The band released an album called Tales in 1994. The Strange Animal From The North is their second album. You might conclude that Cye are not a very productive band.
On this latest album the drums are done by Billy Oden and the bass is handled by special guest Hans Neber. The album was recorded partly at their own homes and in their shed at Fehraltorf.
The album consists of four instrumental songs (named "movements") and they are numbered one, two, four and five. Maybe number three will end up as some bonus release; who can tell. These comprise lengthy instrumental parts (all the songs are around 10 minutes in length) that were probably created from jamming session and then over time crafted into separate compositions.
The album opening tune is a guitar melody that can easily be used to open the Eurovision song contest. Thankfully for diehard prog-heads this only lasts about thirty seconds and then the progressive music starts.
It is a neo-prog-like tune, with an easy guitar supported by keyboard that sounds like some old Marillion or the way Arena used to make them. Each song is divided into smaller parts and the changes are at times fluid but mostly not that subtle.
The centre part of the song is more fired up, especially the keyboards that get a lot of time upfront. Special guest bass player Hans Neber can be heard in the front of the mix at times. He surely does a fine job. The last part of the song features more guitar, ranging from solos to progressive rhythm guitar.
The first part of 2nd Movement has the guitar upfront, and it really sounds like an organized jamming piece. In the middle, the keyboards get a solo spot evolving into a sci-fi film score grande piece.
On the 4th Movement I notice the same thing happening: a jam session that has been crafted into a song. It is a very organic process to create a song through jamming with a lot of improvising, cutting things out that do not work and leaving the interesting bits in there. I do not know for sure if Cye work this way, but it sure sounds like that.
The 5th Movement starts with a slower pace with more atmospheric sounds. The second part suddenly becomes a lot faster, with many alternating instruments getting upfront. The song ends with the same melody as the album started with, and then it is finished.
Cye show they are good musicians that have been playing with each other for a long time. The sound is good and the music on the album is entertaining. What the album lacks is a piece or melody that really sticks out. There are some parts that are a nice find, but after a spin there is not much that makes this album an unforgettable experience. There are no bad parts on this album but also nothing that will make me want to play this album again and again.
Connection Theory — In Plain Sight
In 2021, Connection Theory presented themselves to the prog world with their self-titled debut EP. DPRP-colleague Thomas Otten wasn't very impressed but had to admit that the music, by the then couple Laura and Duncan Cooper, intrigued him in some way.
A year later the couple is no longer a couple, but intend to continue making music together, albeit that Duncan Cooper is definitely at the helm. On this album he takes care of all guitars, bass, keyboards, saxophones, flute, cello, violin and drum programming, whereas Laura features as lead and harmony vocalist on four songs. Her voice is soft and sweet, reminding me immediately of Heather Nova, whereas Duncan's voice made me think of Eric Woolfson (Alan Parsons Project) or Les Holroyd (Barclay James Harvest). Their voices blend very well.
This album contains five songs varying in length from just over five minutes to well over eleven minutes. The storyline of the songs deals with the birth and death of a star. Lyrics are not included in the CD set but can be found on their website. With only four songs containing lyrics, it is hard to consider this as a concept album, yet it is meant to be.
The album starts off strongly with the beautiful In Silence in which Laura's voice is the most prominent feature. The vocal melody is great; a bit mystic and that is just the right feeling for this song. Halfway there's a fine atmospheric guitar solo, also forming the coda, in which the music comes back to the central theme of the song. The lyrics are composed of extremely short sentences, apparently depicting "'something'" that watches its own origin, meanwhile calling upon a “Creator”. When just reading it flatly on the screen, it seems rather simple but in combination with the music it works remarkably well.
The same is true with Life On A Knife Edge. This has also very short lyrical lines that Duncan and Laura cleverly sing by alternating the lead vocals. The verses are again quiet and mystic. The chorus is supported by some heavy riffing which gives the song a somewhat threatening atmosphere. The singing is mellow though, and that contrast works well.
In Evil Twin the flute plays the dominant musical theme over pleasant guitar riffs in the first part. It's a slow song until the end of the nice guitar solo at the 3-minute mark when the pace rises. The vocals, again done by Duncan and Laura alternating harmony and lead, have a spooky mood that contrasts nicely with the uplifting mood of the music in the second half of the song. The lyrics are again sparse, calling upon non-answered feelings of brotherhood. They excel again in shortness but they're appropriate.
Tunnelling is an instrumental built around a very repetitive keyboard theme and drum pattern, over which several saxophones as well as other keyboards play different melodies. At 4-minutes into the song, the guitar takes over in a fine solo, backed by keys. A minute later the keys take their role back and lead the song back to the repetitiveness of the beginning. The song sounds like a jazzy amalgamation of Soft Machine, John Holden and early Alan Parsons' Project. Although it all works out fine, I found it the weakest song on the album, not the least because there's not much happening during its duration of almost 7 minutes.
The closing song, Last Day In The Sun, is the epic of the album featuring a long, keys-dominated intro with some supporting guitar riffs that slowly leads to the vocals that start after a beautiful acoustic guitar interlude. The music is quite haunting with a Mellotron building up the tension towards another guitar solo in the middle part. The heavy riffing at the end, followed by the spacey music slowly fading away, is fitting, although the threatening riffing could have lasted longer to give a greater dramatic effect. The short sentences describe the transition of the protagonist that feels that its end has come, as the relentless solar energy absorbs all it has.
Using programmed drums is often subject to harsh criticism, as it almost always seem to sound artificial. Yet it appeared not to be a problem at all on their debut EP, and it certainly isn't a problem on this album either. To my ears the drums sound fine and that is an achievement in itself. Duncan Cooper is a talent who seems to be well aware of the fact that "less" is very often "more".
Having listened to the debut EP, which didn't do much for me, I can only conclude that this second album is far better in every respect. The melodies are stronger, the instrumentation is more melodic and less experimental, and the variation in the songs and between the songs is greater. The longer lengths of the songs work out for the better, as it has enabled the band to explore a broader musical territory, which they have done well. I especially liked the clever use of the flute in Evil Twins and the saxophones (definitely not my favourite instrument) in the jazzy Tunnelling.
My main criticism is on the album's artwork. With an album telling the story of the birth and death of a star, I really don't see any logic behind their choice for an orange, in a orange background on the cover. The inside of the CD has a very beautiful picture of a sky full of stars, very straightforward but far more attractive than this cover. Assuming that many potential listeners may pick a real album because of the artwork, I think that the band deprives themselves the appreciation they deserve. For this is a really fine album with an ugly, out of place cover that will please fans of for instance Tears For Fears, early Porcupine Tree, John Holden and Comedy Of Errors.
Karma Rassa — Хмель (Khmel)
It is the first time that I have given attention to this band hailing from St. Petersburg, where they were founded in 2013. Khmel, which means "hop", is the band's fourth release and was "brewed in 2022 and bottled in 2023".
Prior to Khmel, Karma Rassa have released Music Into The World (2014), Talks To Innerself (2016), and Snova...Vesna Snova (2018); the latter one having been reviewed very positively on our site.
Information on the band in the web seems a bit scarce to me. What is available partially is in the Russian language and in Cyrillic script. From what I was able to find out, Karma Rassa's line-up is very stable and consists of Nagual (vocals, bass, acoustic guitars, Russian harp, keys programming), who wrote all the music, Naar (guitars), Idegen (guitars, sax) and Albe (drums).
Neither understanding nor speaking a word of the Russian language, I needed to rely on the band's information with respect to the lyrics of their music. On the internet, Karma Rassa are credited with saying that: "This work is dedicated to the endangered population of 'bees'. When we say 'bees', we mean all great persons who make true 'Honey of the Universe' - love."
This explanation offer me only riddles, hence I took it as an invitation to give my own thoughts about what they are trying to bring across (literally and figuratively) with their lyrics, including what 'hop' has to do with bees, besides being an improper plant for them.
Bees serve as a source of inspiration, represent an intriguing super-organism, and symbolize hard work ("as busy as a bee"), efficiency and organisation ("the ideal monarchy"), not to forget their extraordinary ecological importance. From a perishable natural substance, they create a durable good, hence their product is characterised by the principle of transformation.
Thus, I think that Karma Rassa want to centre the listeners' attention to the fact that people standing for these qualities and values are endangered in today's world and need explicit care and attention (but not to the extent that this care is well-meant, but futile, such as planting hop to attract bees). Well, I may be completely wrong, and perhaps the band just intended to be funny, but I cannot believe it is the case, since their music sounds way too serious for that. This brings us to the keyword.
In his review of Karma Rassa's previous release Vesna...Snova Vesna, my DPRP-colleague Jerry van Kooten characterised the band as playing a good mix of progressive rock and post-rock, with a tendency towards post-metal, having turned more progressive compared to their previous heavier orientation. Taking that line of reasoning, Khmel marks a return to the metal-oriented style of play. The music again is harder and louder on this release (in fact, bees also do their work noisily).
That means considerable guitar-orientation, and keyboards rather acting in the background (without sounding subdued, though). Riffing is rapid and repetitive (like the buzzing of the bees?). Song structures often are characterised by the guitar softly opening with a melody, which subsequently is repeated and transformed in a faster and heavier style. Solos just take place very occasionally.
I liked the way that the fast guitar riffing forms the base for slow and harmonious guitar and keyboard melodies. The opening track Telanemy, and the penultimate one The Unprecedentedness are most representative of that and consequently are my favourites on this release.
Something I found striking is the fact that guitar riffs sound very alike in many of the tracks, and melodies and hooks are played repetitively within the same song. Whilst this caused a slight wear and tear effect to my ears on the one side, it certainly emphasises the insistent nature of the music on the other. As if the message was drummed into the listeners' heads by this staccato-like riffing.
The slow, repetitive, emphatic, and sometimes anthem-like, deeply-voiced singing style underpins that impression. An admonishing raised forefinger latently seems to be present. All of this makes the music sound dense and compact, powerful, emotional, direct, accessible and (sometimes) melodic. A distinctive feature is an overall melancholic and subliminal, threatening atmosphere. I think this is owed to a strong coherence of the underlying lyrical content (the way I interpret it) and its musical implementation.
In terms of references, I found Karma Rassa's music difficult to pigeonhole (that itself is nothing negative). There are hints (but not more) of peers such as Devin Townsend, Pain Of Salvation, TesseracT, Votum, Soen, Katatonia, Riverside and Subterranean Masquerade.
I must admit that seldom have I heard more haunting prog-rock music. It is not the kind of stuff that leaves the listener with a big smile on his/her face, but rather thoughtful and contemplative. If this release really is about the issue of endangerment of bees (literally as well as figuratively), then Karma Rassa have managed to strengthen my awareness of the problem, without me understanding a single word of the lyrics. This speaks for how skilfully the theme has been implemented musically. A strong album, but one which requires some time to familiarise oneself with, and the listener's willingness to forego the support by the lyrics in evaluating the music (unless he/she understands the Russian language).
Matt Karpe — Decades: Faith No More In The 1990s
They are certainly not progressive rock nor progressive metal, but few can deny that this San Fransisco quintet have had a major influence on the shape of many genres of rock music. This is particularly evident in the way that, as the 80s churned into the 90s, they were the one band that dared to mix influences and styles that most had thought were incompatible.
I stumbled across them through a simple demo cassette that I found lying around whilst on a spell working for Kerrang! magazine in the summer of 1989. Their third album, The Real Thing had just been released and was unlike anything I'd ever heard before.
The initial tour through some of the UK's smaller venues, was followed by headline sets at some of the country's biggest concert halls such as the Hammersmith Odeon and the Astoria. I caught them three times: one of the two consecutive shows at London's old Marquee Club in July, and then a return in October at Portsmouth Polytechnic. Their show at Portsmouth stands as one of the top five concerts I have ever seen.
I eagerly awaited their next album, but my vinyl copy of Angel Dust remains in near-mint condition. It was certainly progressive but way too odd-ball for my 20-year-old tastes. Anyway by then another promo cassette lying around the Kerrang! office had allowed me to discover Dream Theater and the doors had opened for me into the world of true progressive metal.
It was my curiosity as to what I had missed (if anything) that drew me to this latest book in SonicBond's Decades series.
The author for this tome on Faith No More is Matt Karpe. This is his seventh book following guides to the American underground hard rock scene, two volumes on nu-metal and a pair in SonicBond's On Track series detailing the discographies of Korn and Tool. His easy-going style mixes plenty of facts with occasional personal views on the band's output. It is a comprehensive tour of their career.
The weird thing about the book is that the FNM timeline doesn't fit neatly into the 90s. The band's rise began with the release of their second album and tour in 1986. The Real Thing came out in 1989. They split in 1998 and reformed and then released their final album in 2015. Less than half of their albums were released in the 90s.
The book deals with that by actually covering the full story (and all the albums) from beginning to end. With an editor's hat on, this band/story would surely have been more fitting for the On Track series, with the added benefit for hardcore fans of being able to track down every album and every song (which this book does not attempt to do). Those who already have read the existing books covering the band's story, may not find too much additional info here?
That oddity aside, reading this book has given me a much better understanding of the band and its history. I never knew that Courtney Love was the band's first singer nor that guitarist Jim Martin began in a band with Metallica's bassist Cliff Burton. The song Surprise! You're Dead! came from a jamming session together.
The track-by-track run-throughs of each album in this book have also settled my curiosity over whether I have missed anything by ending my adventure with FNM after my first spinning of Angel Dust. While reading each chapter, I played the videos of the lead tracks for the following three albums. I think I shall continue to simply enjoy The Real Thing!
Mahogany Frog — Faust
Okay, this one is going to be really dark. Brace yourselves.
It is a common point among avant-gardists to derive influences from a pre-rock 'n' roll aesthetic and search for an alternative approach to their art. In this sense early 20th century German expressionism and particularly F.W. Murnau's cinematic legacy, had considerable influence on the seekers of new, uncharted territories.
The prog movement hasn't been untouched by this influence. The krautrock founding fathers Faust definitely derived their name from Murnau's silent film (rather than Goethe's drama). Also, the French RIO mastodons Art Zoyd presented their vision of a soundtrack to the film back in 1995, followed by many other avant-garde projects including Gatto Marte and Current 93.
Canadian electro-psych-rock band Mahogany Frog also joined the “Nosferatu” ship crew, if you know what I mean, by releasing their version of the OST in April 2022. Not often, usually once a year, I revisit this band's 2008 album DO5. So I can affirmatively state that this is a radical departure from their previous more rock-driven sound.
As of 2023, imagine Tangerine Dream doing a show with Swans, or Goblin hiring Trent Reznor to produce their next LP. The genre amalgam is equally rich and sombre: avant-garde, noise rock, doom metal, dark ambient, electronic music, even post-industrial. The cocktail should be enough to scare off 99.5% of music lovers, including your family members, colleagues and even friends from the prog-rock crowd. Did I mention that the band widely uses church organ sounds?
Here probably lies the greatest strength of the record: it maintains the integrity of mood using tools from different genres, that few have attempted to combine.
Plague I reminds me greatly of Goblin's Dawn Of The Dead, whilst Flying Carpet I possesses inarguable space rock overtones. Muhme Marthe travels to Brian Eno's territories, and Flying Carpet II: Sword Fight puts martial industrial rhythms into battle with krautrock psychedelic guitars.
This is not to say that there are no beautiful moments here. A Decision of the Flower is a soft and tender track, melancholy-inducing, revolving around clean guitar and vibraphone, and the Dirge sequence, although dark, is a melodic, solemn piece of doom rock.
I don't have a lot to criticise, apart from the fact that the music is incredibly elitist, compared only to an elitist concept of doing a soundtrack to Murnau's film. To appreciate the record, one needs to have a solid background of listening to other “unpleasant” artists, that shock their listeners, rather than entertain them.
However, if you like RIO, electronic music pioneers or Peter Hammill's The Fall Of The House Of Usher, or your CD collection is full of releases from the Third Mind and 4AD labels, then this is a good addition. If you, when reading this, itch in anticipation of getting the record and playing it alone at night, you probably need help.