Antimatter — A Profusion Of Thought
Antimatter is a band that I have heard about, but I had never been tempted to delve into their earlier catalogue, until the opportunity arose to review their most recent album, A Profusion Of Thought.
Although the majority of the musical credits belongs to Mick Moss, he is ably supported by Liam Edwards on drums, Paul Thomas on sax and flute, Vardan Baghdasaryan on qamancha, (an Iranian bowed string instrument), and Irish C on vocal duties. Mick is responsible for acoustic and electric guitars, ebow, keyboards, programming, bass and vocals, in addition to writing all the material. A number of songs on the album were leftovers from previous albums and while not exactly cutting-floor rejects, they have been added to this release as they were deemed more appropriate for this outing.
Throughout the album, Antimatter explore different musical styles, including atmospheric ballads, brooding electronic rock, and even a touch of art-rock. The production on A Profusion Of Thought is rather sublime, with each song sounding rich and full, yet retaining a raw, live feel.
The album features 10 tracks that range from atmospheric ballads to heavy rock anthems, offering fans a rich and dynamic listening experience. In terms of style, the album sees the band exploring a range of musical genres, from post-rock and alternative metal, to more traditional acoustic rock with a hint of hard rock here and there. This diversity is a testament to the band's willingness to experiment a little and hone their ability to blend different elements into a cohesive whole.
The opening track, No Contact, begins with softly-strummed acoustic guitar, but then ramps up the adrenaline factor with a barrage of grungier guitar and a heavy-as-mud rhythm section to let you know this is not the time to lose concentration. The writing style that is evident on just about all the songs involves a soft beginning but then evolving with an enveloping wall of sound to fill the aural vacuum behind your ears. It does it with an obvious degree of regularity. I liken the first song (and others to follow) to that anthemic masterpiece by Porcupine Tree called Even Less off the Stupid Dream album from 1999. The song does not quite rise to that level of brilliance however, but sits comfortably a few notches below.
Besides the occasional reference to the type of above-mentioned song for which Porcupine Tree is well known, there are vague similarities with the Crash Test Dummies, in that their vocalist, Brad Roberts, possesses a slightly similar, deep and gritty voice. Brad's voice may be deeper and more resonant, especially on that album, but for some reason, I prefer it slightly more so than the raspy undertones that are evident here. That's not a criticism per se, as I find both albums possess that replay-ability factor that we all crave. Above all, however, Mick Moss is one of the better singers who can handle such melancholic material so well. The emotional impact he can bring to the table is quite remarkable; a strong testament to a talented singer when he knows he has hit a winning formula.
The remaining songs incorporate more of the softer, acoustic beginnings but then shift gear into a more predictable and well-regulated pattern of heavier and crunchier sections to drive the message home. The band is well known for creating a series of atmospheric and introspective songs that showcase both the warmth of the vocals, backed by some inspiring lyrics and general songwriting that delivers its message with zero fuss. The music is not remarkably progressive compared to many other bands but follows on from the success of previous albums.
The band have enjoyed considerable success during its 25-year career and have delivered eight consistently well rated albums. These have been eagerly snapped up by a cohort of admiring fans who seem to appreciate the delivery of a mature and well-rounded album every three years or so. Not having heard any of their earlier music, I am more than happy to delve into their back catalogue to discover more of what has made this band so popular. Who knows, I may have just discovered another favourite band.
Baris Dai — Ambient Conditions Pt.2
With Ambient Conditions Part 2, Turkish multi-instrumentalist Baris Dai, residing in Eindhoven (Netherlands), presents a follow-up to last year's Ambient Conditions Part 1 release. Just like that first EP, this second part contains three beautiful and exceptionally well-composed instrumental tracks in which Dai lets his guitar speak volumes, and interweaves elements of ambient, prog and metal into an engaging, rounded whole.
Leaning again towards the elegant, heavier side of the prog spectrum, this second EP resonates even brighter with images of Xavier Boscher. First of all through the concise compositions, which reveal a multitude of layers and finesse enriched by atmospheric diversity and thoughtful attention to details. And secondly, Dai never once loses focus towards melody and the individual narrative of the song in question. He glides with similar ease through attractively variegated movements with emotion, warmth and melancholy.
The opener, When Nature Wakes Up, picks up where part one left off and initially brings warming guitar chords in ambient atmospheres. These shortly awaken into gracious melodies backed up by rhythmic tightness and a solid foundation of bass. Gaining momentum and dynamic intensity, Dai wanders off into a field of attractive guitar-led melodies. There's an undeniable feel of upcoming spring which is marvellously enhanced by the beautiful sparkling bridge in which imaginary snowdrops sprout to life from recurring chiming bells. These bells furthermore provide a beautiful musical connection to the first EP.
After a majestic transition that twinkles with Neal Schon (Journey), the animated Vivid Green And Bird Singing then charges batteries to the brim with thrilling riffs and tantalising melodies drilled onwards by powerful rhythms. A midway change of pace into alarming terrestrial chirps brings a touch of inauspiciousness to the composition, after which Dai slowly picks up the pace again with splendid guitar melodies that resonate with a Steve Morse code.
The EP's finale, The Rebirth Is Complete, starts in mellow, ambient surroundings with mechanical drums lovingly nurtured into life by jazz-inspired guitar pickings. Nourished by bass and complemented by energetic and vibrant prog-metal, this song then comes to full bloom as Dai's Steve Vai and Joe Satriani-styled guitar extravaganza takes centre stage.
As with Ambient Conditions Part 1, Dai has once again been able to craft a trinity of beautiful harmonic compositions that flow as one individual rounded whole. When both EPs are played in sequence, the flow becomes even more impressive.
Next to a digital edition on Bandcamp, a physical version that incorporates both parts is available. My advice is to ensure a copy of this and thoroughly enjoy these two instalments in full glory, while Dai sets out to compose the next two parts of his own contemporary equivalent to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. I look forward with anticipation.
Leprous — Aphelion (Tour Edition)
Leprous' 2021 album Aphelion has been re-released by their record company, Inside Out Music, as a 2CD package with the second disc featuring live cuts taken from their 2022 European tour. The original album was not reviewed by DPRP.net, but I am more than happy to rectify that by listening to the Tour Edition. Not only that, but it is the first album by Leprous that I have heard. So as usual I'm late to this party but looking forward to it.
Leprous have been gaining good reviews here over several years, see the end of this review for links to them. I'm going to treat this is as an interconnected set of music, starting with the studio release that includes two bonus tracks (CD1).
As so many do, Leprous have moved from harsh vocals and full-on metal, into more progressive rock areas but still with that metallic sheen. Aphelion I think sees them move further into song-focused prog-rock with a commercial way with the melodies. Melodies that alleviate the dark and personal subject of Einar Solberg's lyrics. They continue to explore his mental-health struggles.
The aphelion is where an orbiting body is at its furthest point from its star. As far into the dark as it can go, but from that point onward it moves back towards the light. An apt metaphor.
This studio album has a dense, thick sound that has little air or space within it. There are no solos on the album and at times this wall-of-sound approach can make extended listening a bit of a chore. Aphelion works best for me in smaller doses. This also applies to the vocals throughout the album. Einar Solberg (lead vocals, synth) has a controlled and precise falsetto, but throughout the album he uses it almost to the exclusion of his other singing styles. When he briefly deploys harsh vocals on Nighttime Disguise, it comes as a relief.
The songs on Aphelion have earworm melodies that are well arranged in terms of loud-quiet dynamics but the dense laying of synths, two guitars, bass and drums, as well as a small string section, leave only the strong melodies to differentiate between the songs. The best songs have more individuality to them, such as the intense opener Running Low's Porcupine Tree feel. I like the slide guitar intro to All The Moments that channels the pomp of Styx in its chorus. There are electro-pop touches to Have You Ever?. The aforementioned Nighttime Disguise, made with fan feedback, has far more to it than most of the tracks here, and I suspect is more 'standard' Leprous fare.
So, I remain unfortunately unimpressed by Leprous' studio album Aphelion. The never-ending falsetto becomes wearing, and overall the album has the feel of a singer's solo album to me. I would give this on its own a cautious 6 out of 10.
However, things improve immediately with the two bonus tracks and the second CD of live material of tours Leprous undertook in 2022. The first bonus track is the compact electro-pop ballad A Prophecy To Trust, where the full range of Solberg's vocals make an appearance. This is followed by the first of the live tracks. Acquired Taste (Live 2021), from 2011's Bilateral, is a barnstormer. Moving from solo piano to great, churning riffs and a more varied vocal.
Moving onto the second CD, this contains a mix of tracks from different albums in Leprous' back catalogue as well as two tracks from Aphelion. These two tracks are far more successful in the live setting than in the studio. Both Out Of Here (Live At Motocultor 2022) and Nighttime Disguise (Live In Berlin 2022) let the air in and the live setting restrains Solberg's falsetto; making it a feature rather than the norm. The music is also more spacious, and I prefer these live versions.
The other tracks show what a phenomenal live outfit these guys are. From The Flame (Live At Motocultor 2022)'s guitars (Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Robin Ognedal) clash engagingly and the vocal line is pleasingly off-the-beat from Baard Kolstad's drums.
The heavier tracks anchored by Simen Daniel Børven's bass let the band fly, and there is not a bad track here. Even when the audience sings-along, it doesn't irritate. The highlight, amongst many it must be added, is the Pitfalls track The Sky Is Red (Live In Berlin 2022). Mellotron-like vocal chorus and strings give way to a delicious chug, with sparkling details throughout. It was with this set of live tracks that I finally began to get what Leprous were about.
The live set gets a recommended 8 out of 10 from me. If you already have the studio album, I think the bonus tracks and the live set make this worth thinking about. And as an overall package it might be a decent introduction to Leprous' music.
Neuschwanstein & Sonja Kristina — Alice In Wonderland
During their decade of existence (1971 - 1980), the German band Neuschwanstein released only one album: 1979's masterpiece Battlement. An astonishing album that makes the breathtaking sight of King Ludwig's II's magnificent castle in the Bavarian alps, which inspired the band's name, look ever so pale in comparison. Since my first encounter, dating back to approximately 1984 if memory serves me right, this amazing record has been a dear friend. It was one of my earliest desert island albums.
Often hailed as Genesis long-lost album, this gemstone of an album is a concatenation of glowing highlights that echoes early seventies progressive rock in the style of Genesis and Camel, with carefully crafted compositions that burst from melody and harmonic richness, amidst plenty of breaks and intricate instrumental developments. From a Gabriel-esque vocal point of view and a very Hackett-y guitar sound I can certainly relate to these obvious resemblances. Yet to me this album offers so much more.
I'll have to save that for another time, but if by chance you're not acquainted to this historic album then by all means take a break from reading after this sentence has ended, enjoy its full 48-minute glorious splendour here, and then return for the remainder of this review.
For many years, that 1979 sought-after album, comprising six phenomenal compositions, was believed to be the only material ever recorded by the band. Musea's 1992's much appreciated CD version suggested that additional recordings existed. First of all through the now also included Midsummer Day, a song originally intended as a promotional single to accompany the album but never used. And second, by song titles mentioned in the booklet that still awaited release.
First to see light of day in 2008, on another album released by Musea, was the band's musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland. A 40-minute suite musically inspired by Rick Wakeman's Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and Six Wives of Henry VIII and premiered in 1974 at a musical competition in Saarbrücken.
Musea's album contains a demo-version that was recorded live in the studio in April 1976, with a line-up of Klaus Mayer (flute, synths), Thomas Neuroth (piano, organ, synth), Rainer Zimmer (bass), Hans-Peter Schwarz (drums, percussion) and Roger Weiler on 6 and 12-string guitar and German narration. This turned out to be the only recording of this suite.
Several years later, this recording caught the ear of Daniel Earnshaw, who in his fondness to narrated prog made famous by the likes of Wakeman and Jeff Wayne sets out to make Neuschwanstein's unique musical interpretation more accessible to a mainstream audience. Convinced that this is the only narrated prog album not in English (apparently unaware of Anyone's Daughter's delightful prog-narrative Piktor's Verwandlungen), a simple remastering process and replacement of the "limiting" German language with a new English narration from Sonja Kristina (of Curved Air fame, naturally) should do the trick.
As so often, the simplest of plans turned out to be the hardest to accomplish. And so here too, because the master tape that was needed to offer the music free of narration to Kristina was found to be blank. It meant that only the 2008-reference tape was still available for further use. This had the disadvantage of vocals being fully integrated in the mix. In the end an AI driven software solution proved able to fully remove the vocals without damaging the backing tracks.
With adaptation kept to a minimum, and narration taken directly from the book itself, Kristina does a fine job at telling the story with an emphasis and a diversity of vocal styles that makes the extraordinary tales of Alice's encounter with the Mad Hatter, a White Rabbit and the scenes involving the mischievous Queen Of Hearts really come alive.
However, the main attraction of the album, regardless of the still present "wobbly" sound limitations, are the exciting musical explorations made by the band. In a way, I could just as easily have done without any narration at all, for the highly enjoyable performances within the separate chapters are capable of conveying Alice's storyline extremely well.
This starts with the atmospheric entrance of White Rabbit which glides smoothly into Gate To Wonderland's classical piano overture, narrated by Kristina, after which the lively music hops into a delightful Canterbury styled landscape mindful to Caravan and Greenslade. Frolicking with enchanting flute passages, lush synths and intricate instrumentation it tumbles into Pond Of Tears which adds a touch of Anyone's Daughter mysteriousness alongside contagiously waltzing flute melodies with vibrant classical notes.
Old Father's Song then adds the purest of magic with touches of Eloy from guitar while flute ignites visions of Focus. A dreamy symphonic movement reminiscent to Pink Floyd-meets-Camel subsequently makes you wish you were there at time of recording, especially when momentum is built and the song brings an overwhelming preview of what the band would eventually perfect on Battlement. Full of energy and dynamics, this magnificent coda brings additional images of Genesis and Jethro Tull before it enters dexterous jazz areas that lead it straight into the stunning Five O'Clock Tea.
After its classical piano intro, this marvellous composition soars through bags of exciting melodies infused with a refreshing blend of flavours from the likes of Yes, E.L.P, Camel and Wakeman, to which an excellent jazz-inspired passage serves up tasty cups of early Solution. This composition also exhibits the most sound-modifications, with Kristina opting for spoken words as opposed to the sung variant featured on the original version. A decision that works out well, although a singing vocal interpretation would also have been appreciated.
The stately Palace Of Wonderland brings a royal designed richness from synths and flute, which after a swirling jazz movement from tantalising keyboard extravaganza and medieval Harpsichord-minded melodies project strong visions of Wakeman to the fore. Following a cheery and peaceful middle section, in which melody excerpts can be traced that would be immortalised a few years later, this artfully crafted composition flows ever so smoothly onwards through an ever-changing musical decor with versatile synths, alluring flute and lovely melancholic guitar, resulting in harmonically painted Canterbury imagery.
The Court Of The Animals brings equal enchantment with fairy-tale touches of Grobschnitt, before it awakens abruptly in a passion play of flute and rock. Via uplifting marching melodies and a final statement of excellent guitar, it segues into Alice's Return. This short and delightful finale satisfyingly brings home Neuschwanstein's imaginative concept with a cheerful skip of melodies blessed by synth and flute.
Two years after Alice In Wonderland's demo-recordings, the band welcomed vocalist Frédéric Joos to their midst. But after recording the brilliant Battlement they sadly called it a day in the autumn of 1980. To complete the story the band made an unexpected return to the scene in 2016 with Fine Art. An album that fully deserves its title. But with Thomas Neuroth as the sole remaining member, it becomes a different story all together.
As far as Alice In Wonderland's story is concerned, I have no doubt this new English narration will appeal to a much wider audience. Although I still prefer the German version, I applaud Earnshaw and Kristina for their efforts to give this formidable piece of historic symphonic/progressive rock the renewed pedestal it so fully deserves.
Overall, if you're a fan of music made in the progressive seventies from the likes of Caravan, Camel, Focus, Genesis, Wakeman, Novalis, and Hoelderlin, then this is most certainly an album to pick up on. And if by chance your favourite musical instrument also involves the flute, then this is nothing other than an essential purchase.
Nola — Stranded
Clichés become clichés because they originally expressed someone's exact meaning in a satisfying way, and after that they're best avoided. But I'm going to use one as a general description of the songs on Nola's album Stranded: "Much of a muchness."
It's not that the nine songs don't sound different from each other; it's that they don't sound much different from each other. If the songs were good, that similarity might be okay. Unfortunately, and I'm sorry to say this, the songs really aren't very good.
Damn, what a disappointment, though. The first song, Scythe, comes blasting out of the gate with a guitar riff that sounds like something Dimebag from Pantera might have come up with. That is all the more so because the guitarist clearly uses some of Dime's effects, including a noise gate, to get that chopped-up sound in the main riff. For the first ten seconds of the song, I thought "This band is for me!" Then came the singing, and then came the other songs, most of which do not come blasting out of the gate as much. Almost every other song has a quiet intro before the chugging riffs come in. The worst offender is The Realm, whose quiet intro is augmented, or something, with speaking and singing (the singing courtesy of a female vocalist).
A bit of background, and I quote from the band's promo material: "Nola was founded in 2020 by three former members of the death-metal outfit Buried In Black." They believe that they have invented a new style of music that they call "post-progressive". I myself don't hear much of what I would consider progressive rock on this album, hence the "post", I guess. As I said at the outset, the songs aren't differentiated much from each other, but I'd call them slightly technical hard rock with occasional death-metal vocals in the background.
Right, the vocals. Again, I hate to have to be so blunt, but they're just not good. Most songs feature two or more voices singing lead (or one voice doubled), and the singing is not pleasant to the ear. (To my taste, the death-metal vocals that sometimes appear are the best.) The singing is not out of tune; it's just not enjoyable to listen to. I found it hard to get through this album even once, let alone the four times I figured I owed it. (Sometimes, an album that doesn't grab us on the first playing, will improve with repeated listening).
Too bad, guys from Nola. I'm not sure "post-progressive" music suits your talents (and I can at least say that the instrumental work is professional and skilful). I'd give this one a miss.
Unquiet Music Ltd — MEMEmusic
My initial thoughts on hearing Unquiet Music Ltd's MEMEmusic were "oh my gosh, this is as mad as a box of very upset amphibians". And on subsequent listens that opinion hasn't really changed. But I have some idea of how this weird avant-garde art-rock album was put together.
Far from just throwing something at the wall to see what sticks, there is artistry aplenty here. Unquiet Music Ltd's main-man, composer, singer, keyboardist Jean-Philippe Rossi claims that this is their most mainstream release. The project's previous release In The Name Of... (A Prayer For Our Times) was not well received by my colleague Stefan Hennig, who considered it a challenge to his idea of what music is.
This new one is better, if one takes it as part of the strand of Rock-In-Opposition music. I'm thinking of bands such as Henry Cow, Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, Poil and Art Bears. Unquiet Music Ltd shares their sense of adventurousness that often borders on barely-controlled chaos, and a distance from anything remotely mainstream, despite Rossi's claims.
The closest to the mainstream are the two vocal-driven pieces that channel and extend the ideas laid down by the American avant-artist Laurie Anderson. Meme fades in with two voices, one in each channel, singing, reciting a single word each in turn. It is compelling in its artistry, but not exactly enjoyable. And there is Towards The Edge where the vocals are supported by glitchy piano until six minutes in, when it becomes stuttery-funk courtesy of ex-Cardiacs bassist Jon Poole.
There is an avant art-pop feel to I Succumb's politically charged lyric, and it finds its way to a conventional structure by the end. An interesting journey.
Sometimes Love is a quiet ballad of electronic soundscapes with a string quintet coda that nods in the direction of late classical romanticism. There is an almost conventional song in I Do Remember The Feeling. This has nice trumpet flourishes, strings, and a touch of drum and bass in its aesthetic, but it is over-long and outstays its welcome. Tony Levin's upright bass lifts the fusion art-pop of Nemo Point.
The best two tracks have contemporary classical feels to them. Music (Is The Way Out) is where overlapping voices, fretless bass and synth organ meet a 16th Century motet. While the ghost of the Hungarian modernist composer György Ligeti haunts the microtonal choral voices of Lament. They loop and meld and come over like a companion to Ligiti's Requiem (as featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey film fans).
Unquiet Music Ltd's MEMEmusic is a mixed bag and an easier listen in small doses. It can be a chore over 75 minutes in one sitting. If you like the bands mentioned above and/or are a fan of BBC6 Music's The Freak Show then this may be of interest. If not, have a listen anyway and test your mettle.