Edenya — Another Place
Two years ago Edenya made an excellent first impression on me with Silence, an album that excels in beautifully-designed, atmospheric, song-based progressive rock with artfully intertwined influences from folk, post-rock and ambient. The heavenly vocal performances of Elena (no surname given) on that album stood out to me and was one of the reasons I finished my review with the words that I was looking forward as to what lies in store from this incarnation of Edenya.
This future is now upon us with Another Place, although unfortunately not with Elena. Nor with Rémy, the other featured vocalist. Instead, founder Marco (guitars, keyboard, piano, programming), accompanied by Juliette Carradec (violin) and returning guest musician Julien Perdereau (drums, bass), has now acquired the services of Clélia Lenoble on lead/backing-vocals. She is a most excellent replacement and in a way may even be more fitting to the musical pathway that's undertaken on Another Place.
A demonstration of her vocal strength is instantly given in opener Impossible Meeting, a beautiful composition in which classic violin provides a beautifully transporting symphonic touch, and ethereal vocals light up the atmospheres. In Somewhere In My Dream, Marco then subsequently conjures up a song that extends the sounds of Silence. Lenoble's voice takes on a style similar to that heard on Silence showcasing reminders of Julienne Regan (All About Eve) and Anneke van Giersbergen, while her enchanting voice also adds an admirable dose of dreaminess from Enya. Fans of Realisea with a predilection for Marjolein de Greave's vocals might also be pleasantly surprised here.
The serene spatial atmosphere and beautifully melodies that shift more towards traditional folk in The Tree and I Hope are made for her to shine and come to life beautifully through her expressive vocals, guided by Marco's intricate accompaniment. Add to this the moving classical instrumental intermezzo of Garden, and an emotionally gripping final chord with Let Me Go in which melancholy, beautiful vocals and fine guitar melodies hold hands, then any Clannad or ambient-oriented All About Eve fans are well catered for.
The title track starts small with soothing vocal fairness from Lenoble. Then through great guitar work and a beautiful intensifying structure in which a symphonic laced post-rock passage is embedded, this track grows out to be one of the many artistic highlights on the album. Its ambient atmospheres and instrumental elaborations gently remind me of the sadly forever departed Obrasqi.
The Other Side opens in a delicate Barclay James Harvest feel with dreamy melodies sparkling with celtic flavourings, before it incorporates a surprising jazz part with conversations of saxophone and guitar. Then bold guitar work and drums elevate the composition into fierce enjoyable post-rock barrages.
The wonderful and diverse The Shelter adds a nice alternative rock edge to this, with beautiful harmonies, provided by Lenoble herself, and a sturdy middle part that thrives from drum/bass excellence and raw lashings of guitar. Complemented by peaceful atmospheres that evolve into emotive guitar parts with returning harmonising bliss from Lenoble, and a mighty crescendo that paints enticing pictures of All About Eve's rockier moments, this composition is a delightful treat.
The show-stopper of the album is Inside Your Walls. This begins up-tempo with tasty bass work and a chorus that shows elements of rock, whereafter the song takes on darker shadings once again reminiscent of Obrasqi. Journeying onwards on acoustic guitar to which angelic vocals, touching violin and elegance of piano bring enlightenment, another mountainous solo from Marco finally brings it home.
These last four songs are brilliant examples of Marco's songwriting strength and what attracts me to Edenya's music. If he continues to explore these engaging realms, preferably with Lenoble, I'm all for it. Should he, however, decide otherwise and take another pathway that navigates more towards the ambient-styled folk field, this has every danger of ending up as background music in my case. The gracious flow that incorporates both of these styles on Another Place is fully satisfying and keeps my rating towards Edenya's efforts firmly intact.
Highproject — Highproject
Common ingredients in an unusual combination. That's what I thought when I read the press info. Profiled as prog, it gave me more images of 1970s blues-based hard rock. But I also read about a singer who found his true voice singing metal. And then there was a cover of that famous Camel track. Of course, that was when Camel were in their more blues-based era, when Peter Bardens' input was bigger, but still very progressive.
Highproject (one word) are a relatively new Swedish band comprising some very experienced musicians.
The opening track takes its time to come in, and the song durations tell you the band are not in a rush. This is the most catchy track, having a Mostly Autumn or Blackmore's Night type of folk influence in the instrumentation and the chorus, but interlaced with both are some lovely progressive sections in the early Camel style and some Deep Purple-esque powerful breaks.
This song depicts an important element in the band's writing style, in that the songs contain many sections, showing all the band's influences. Everything has its place and time.
Robert Johansson Lind's vocals sometimes, in the subdued parts, remind me a bit of Dutch singer Han Uil in Tumbletown. The music offers Lind enough places where he can show what a voice he has, but he is never showing off.
Trust In Me is another good example where different styles like early 1970s prog, a folky acoustic part, and a neo-prog keyboard section can follow each other easily. Looking at the building blocks of Prime Time, even a short bit of just drums (Mikael Grönroos), then this the most progressive track. But when I listened to the songs in a different order, I could probably say this about the other tracks as well!
The Camel cover is performed truthfully to the original, and that was a little unexpected. The guitar has a sound of its own, so a small variation on the original, but for a cover version on a studio album, it is a little too respectful. In a live setting, it would be easier to feel the fire.
The recording sound is very clear and fresh, but I think the mix could have been a little less "clean" for this type of music, or at least to my ears. Having a "fatter" bass sound in the mix would have added to the atmosphere. But for a self-produced debut album this is an excellent start. The band is from a place just a couple of hours from where I live and I really hope I can get to see and hear them play live one day.
Progressive music, delivered with a knowledge of the blues and rock, really appeals to me. The heavy use of Hammond is especially enticing to my taste, and how keyboard player Anders Altzarfeldt and guitarist Bjarne Forsbom work together is simply gorgeous. Sometimes one is playing a ground layer for the other to solo, and sometimes playing double melodies. The way Highproject have managed to blend their influences and styles into these songs is just wonderful and touches a lot of buttons for me.
Initial Mass — Alluvium
At their core, Initial Mass is a heavy-prog/alt-rock trio that melds hard-hitting riffs, soaring vocals and a wide variety of arrangements to their musical endeavours. The Los Angeles-based group comprises Mark Baldwin (vocals/guitar), Kevin Robertson (drums), and Scott Smith (bass).
This is the first time DPRP has featured this band, but according to their biography, their debut album, 2016's Time & Measure, delivered a dark, moody and melodic journey of self-discovery. Initial Mass took a more elaborate and calculated approach on their sophomore release, the epic concept album Tidal Force. In 2019, the trio released Bending Light, a tightly-focused effort with less emphasis on thematic cohesion in favour of an unbridled rock assault.
Alluvium is their fourth release and is a concept album, portraying the life of one individual as a metaphor for the rise and fall of humankind. As the band tells it: "The main character starts his journey, young and ambitious, excited for his chance to make his mark. Quickly, he becomes more intent on his desire to take what he wants from the world. As he grows more powerful, he refutes the warnings of nature's conscience. Leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, he finds himself isolated in world that can no longer sustain life."
Sounds like a tale of our times? However, without a lyric sheet I'm going to struggle to follow the story, so will concentrate on the music.
Hadean's Fall is a promising place to begin, built on an interesting 80s Rush energy. It's one of my favourite songs here. It blends into a more atmospheric, neo-prog section with a female voice taking the lead. At first, I thought that this was a clever blend of styles and moods, but then realised it was two separate tracks. I prefer hearing it as one piece.
Built on aggressive riffing and hard-edged vocals, Out of the Mold is a stark contrast. The chorus is calmer but less effective. Horizon offers a big alt-rock riff, a stompy beat and a confident swagger. It needs a bigger hook, and is one dimensional when compared to what preceded it.
Wake is the first video and single and is a pretty good idea of what I was expecting from this band, based on its own description. It opens in the style of modern melodic prog bands such as Flying Colours and Frost. The keys offer a classic neo-prog refrain over a solid riff. It's all very bright-sounding. Then the mood alters thanks to an interesting, heavy, guitar-led instrumental section that shows ambition and variety. This blends into an acoustic-led bridge (Rush again) with a female voice; first calm but then taking a more forceful lead. Then we have a neo-prog keyboard-led instrumental section and a return to the opening refrain.
(I'd like to credit this mystery female singer but no credit is given to any guest musicians anywhere. I can only presume it is the same one that appears on the three tracks).
Calm Wind is a straightforward rocker, where grunge meets power-trio blues. It works well with the Cinderella meets Y&T meets Welcome To The Jungle hard rock of Believers. Initial Mass do this rock swagger rather well, but neither song veers from the verse-chorus-verse-solo format.
Memory continues the musical merry-go-round this time there is a distinct stoner vibe to the groove and vocal; think Masters of Reality or Soundgarden. We return to the 80s Rush vibe with the guitar for Drifting, whereas the laid-back vocal sections are of the American singer-songwriter tradition. Both are solid tracks, although very different.
The Calling takes the sort of prog-metal riff that American bands favoured in the late 90s (think Hourglass) but the vocal melody is slowed down and weak, which looses the positive impact of the instrumental. The vocals should have been completely reworked to give this song the impact it deserves.
A Crow In The Dark takes the groove of Dead Soul Tribe and mixes in some blues. The vocal is much better. I am concluding that Mark Baldwin's voice better suits this straightforward rockin' style. Again the song just deserves a bigger (more obvious) hook. The riff towards the end hits the spot. Vacant Throne adds in some effective keys (they should do this more often) and a more metallic tone to the guitar.
In Stone opens with acoustic guitar, and again blends in the (mystery) female singer to good effect. Then the heavy riffs return to take the song towards an over-extended, faded outro.
And that's my take on the 13 songs that Alluvium offers. After promising and starting off with an interesting blend of different styles to compliment the promise of a concept album, the album actually settles into a consistent hard-rocking offering of songs; none of which stray far from their basic formula.
Song-wise I actually enjoyed the album more, as it progressed, but those who seek more complexity in their music may hold a different view. Other than a few places where the vocals don't work for me, the performances are strong and the production and sound is excellent.
Footnote The album was apparently released by the Italian Luminiol Records in January but there was no exact date given in the promo pack, I can find no mention of the album or the band on the label's website and neither is it available from the band's Bandcamp page and barely a mention on their own website. I've added a link above to the band's YouTube channel where the whole album is streaming, and to Spotify where only the single is available. Where you can actually buy a copy, is less than clear.
Mike Keneally — The Thing That Knowledge Can't Eat
For any aspiring prog fan wanting to become familiar with the name Mike Keneally, will have a veritable smorgasbord of brilliant material from which to choose. With well over a dozen excellent studio albums to his credit, it becomes pretty obvious we are talking about a musician with an uncanny ability to create truly unique and inspiring material. Each song is entirely different to the one preceding it, to the extent that you would be justified in thinking the songs were all written by completely different people.
For those unfamiliar with Keneally, he has served time with Frank Zappa, replacing Steve Vai in 1987, as well as working with drummer, Nick D'Virgilio, Kevin Gilbert, Bryan Beller and James La Brie (Mullmuzzler). This album was a long time in the making, with much of the material written some time ago. However, the pandemic spoiled that party, so much of the material, especially the drumming, was added in each contributor's own home studio.
The opening track introduces some quirky piano-styled material that is very different to what I have heard before from Mike, and although it may not sit comfortably with a lot of people, there can be no denying the overall allure.
Both Sides Of The Street is a more traditional style of song and showcases Mike's singing at his best, underpinned by some nice acoustic guitar. It also reminds me of the beginning part of that excellent song by Mountain, called Theme For An Imaginary Western.
Celery has all the crunch factor you need with a heavier-sounding guitar and solid drumming, bass and plenty of meat on the bone.
Ack is a big band sound that I would presume pays homage to Akker Bilk, with its jazzy vibe permeating throughout the song. While somewhat dissonant in sound, it all gels together well with wailing guitar in the background and clever sax and drumming to add some punch.
Lana is a full-tilt attack on the senses with some dexterous, layered guitar and underlying motifs that I found really good. Big Hit Song, recalls some of the style that Uncle Frank used-to-perfection on many of his tell-tale songs.
This is an album that just keeps on giving, time and time again. Whenever I play this, I hear so many unique components that I had missed earlier. This really adds to the replay-ability factor by a large margin, making it a gem to keep for any style of mood one might be in. There are no really weak tracks here but with a lot of diversity and unique sounding songs, it's no wonder this has been on repeat play for so many days.
If you are new to the name Mike Keneally, this is as good a place as any to start. Other albums to also consider include Boil That Dust Speck Dry, Sluggo, Dancing With Myself, Wooden Smoke, Nonkertompf, Dog, Wine & Pickles, Wing Beat Fantastic, and Scambot.
Royal Hunt — Dystopia Part II
Whether it's a coincidence or not, I don't know. But the fact is that sometime after their 2001 concept-album The Mission, which is based upon Ray Bradbury's sci-fi classic The Martian Chronicles, I sort of lost track of Royal Hunt. And now my renewed acquaintance with their music also involves a Bradbury novel, namely his well-known 'Fahrenheit 451' from 1953, where the title refers to the ignition temperature of paper.
As to why I actually lost track of this band, I'm clueless, because symphonic power/prog-metal that shows character traits reminiscent to bands like Dream Theater, Darkwater, Seventh Wonder and the melodic side of Magnum are usually fine with me.
Repeated listens to Dystopia Part Two, sequel to their 2020 release Dystopia, makes clear that I need to get back on track again quickly, for founder/keyboardist/composer André Anderson and his companions DC Cooper (vocals), Jonas Larsen (guitar), Andreas HABO Johansson (drums) and Andreas Passmark (bass) have delivered a superb album.
With the participation of several guest singers that next to Kenny Lubcke, Alexandra Andersen and Mats Leven includes former Royal Hunt frontmen Mark Boals and Henrick Brockman, this second part continues Bradbury's dystopian science fiction story. It is a narrative in which suppression of critical thoughts and the banning of books, the latter meaningfully torched by fire fighters, are important themes. This alternate future was written by Bradbury as a reflection on the Second World War, but in view of cancel culture movements and recent literary censorships taking place with the books of Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming (James Bond), it comes fearfully close to our reality. Not forgetting Covid alienation, media control and other global disturbances that pour additional fuel onto this equation.
To reinforce the story a broad variety of mood-enhancing ambient sounds such as helicopters, sirens, gunshots, breaking glass and ominous thunder are implemented to great effect. During the preceding cinematic interlude that introduces The Key Of Insanity, the cadence of a passing train even manages to bring back memories of the 1966 screen adaptation, which is remarkable because it has been at least 23 years since I saw this intriguing film.
The strong Thorn In My Heart instantly means business with enticing bombastic prog-metal mindful to Royal Hunt's prime years. There are flashes of Kamelot and Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO) and bits that regularly remind me of Seventh Wonder and Darkwater. With strong vocal performances, although some guest vocals do require some adjustment on my part, and a versatile rhythm section that keeps the whole album in a dynamic stronghold, this song rumbles through many tempo changes at high speed.
The Key Of Insanity is song which adds further luscious characteristics of Savatage and Magnum. Always focused on melody, the epic Live Another Day successfully continues in a style slightly similar to Ivanhoe at times. This song is a brilliant illustration of the music's high level of accessibility, even though there's general complexity on offer.
Opening with classic violin The Purge then unleashes a marvellous utopian chase with unparalleled fireworks from guitar, pumping bass, divine orchestrations and ravishing synth soloing which will surely attract fans of TSO's heavier side.
Hit and Run, a ravishing symphonic odyssey that harbours a line-dance of contagious marching rhythms that enticingly carry on with blistering synth solos and astounding guitar parts, is an instant winner. The amazing The Thrill Of The Chase follows with an excellent vocal run from harmony vocals between the various guest singers, while the middle section features cracking guitar play, orchestral accentuations and displays a somewhat Kansas-esque vibe from violin strings. A combination which effortlessly grabs attention.
The heavily orchestrated and powerful ballad Left In The Wind subsequently washes bombast away with emotionally charged melodies and refined classical piano-play. In my mind this song's emotive chorus is ensured to be embraced by lighters should the band ever decide to perform this in a live setting. Finally it's the invigorating Resurrection F451 that rounds off this formidably crafted concept album with feelings of uplift and hope.
All of the above leads to the short conclusion that Dystopia Part II is a convincingly strong album that brings an exciting mixture of melodic-, progressive-, and power-metal. A sheer recommendable effort for the loyal Royal Hunt fan, and those in favour of (symphonic) progressive metal.
Both Dystopia albums are readily available as separate deluxe editions that include a DVD, extended artwork and additional goodies. Hopefully a similar sort of package that encompasses both albums will follow in nearby future. Until this moment arrives I'm off to find me a time machine to catch up with Royal Hunt's past.
The Tyromancers — Colors Through The Void
Progressive, psychedelic surf-rock with a jazzy touch. Really? A new and interesting mix of styles. Instrumental psych-rock is a shorter title, but doesn't do justice to what these guys bring to the table. The Tyromancers are a new French band formed by Lucas (bass), Léon (drums) and JB (guitar). First names only, but the press info mentions Jean-Baptiste LePoutre; I assume that is JB then.
Tyromancy, by the way, is the activity of finding divine messages in the fermentation of cheese. Excellent name for a psychedelic rock band, I'd say!
I've seen a lot of psychedelic releases come our way, and it's remarkable how many manage to make a sound-of-their-own by drawing in other styles.
The opening track, titled as if this is going to show you what this band is about, starts off really funky before the psych-surf kicks in. Funk is the solid foundation for this track, and the guitar is mostly riffing or plucking the funky melodies, and it varies a lot in ways to play them, including a soulful Jimi Hendrix-style.
When I felt the Jimi Hendrix reference, it occurred to me that the guitar is not letting things go now and then, like a fierce solo. The compositions seem to take precedence. Some parts can seem that they are longing for an extra melody, like vocals or keyboards or extra guitar.
Guilded Run is the most post-rock-nearing-post-metal track. Thunderous and fast, I love this. Now it is coming close to Russian Circles, although there are also sections that tend to drag a little. Here it is as if they are waiting for something more to happen; more variety or progressiveness in the songwriting.
Back to the funky surf style in The Golden Wheel, with more wah-wah-drenched plucking. At this point I begin to feel a bit jaded towards the jazzy-toned guitar. (Jazz does not play a part in my range of favourite flavours.) It does make clear how big of a role the bass and drums play in the music, and when I started to focus on the bass, I realised there is some great bass playing on this album.
For the last track it is back to the heavy stuff, after a long intro. The guitar playing remains mostly in the same style. They must like this style, and the wish to play psychedelic surf must be strong. There is more distorted riffing, adding to the range of sounds, and the length adds time for more variety. For these prog-favouring ears even for the heavy psychedelic styles, it comes a bit late.
For a proper-length album (considering good old vinyl but also the average attention span), we get four songs that basically show two different sides of the band, or styles. There is always the danger of ending up with an album with a split personality. It's a close shave with this one, since the styles are quite different. I really like tracks 2 and 4, while the other ones have a style that is further away from my taste, and these also tend to suffer from the need of an extra melody after the novelty of psychedelic surf music in this setting wears off. In the end, this is a good and interesting debut though, with good production and mix. I'll be watching what they do next.