Here at DPRP towers, we frequently receive some interesting albums that whilst not strictly "prog", would be of interest to many of our readers. We sometimes receive albums that have been released in previous years. Also, with so many albums submitted, it is not always possible to find a writer with the time to give every release our usual in-depth review.
So how best can we still bring you news of such releases?
This is an edition of Prog Bites. Each still has all the usual album information and links to samples and videos (where available), but the reviews are much shorter, and we do not award any score.
We hope you will find some great music that you think deserves further investigation.
All My Shadows — Eerie Monsters
Okay, this is one of the easiest reviews I shall write this year. All My Shadows is a new band started by Vanden Plas members Stephan Lill (guitarist) and Andy Kuntz (vocals).
"The idea of recording and releasing some rock songs is something I've been thinking about for a while. While composing, I kept coming up with songs that have the spirit of the 80s. As a big fan of bands from that era, like Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Dokken, the goal was to transport that classic music into the here and now," says Lill.
The original idea was to have different vocalists appear on the album. Lill brought in his musical partner Kuntz to write the lyrics and to demo the first four songs. Thus, it was immediately clear to both musicians that Kuntz was the man for the job. "Why look far and away for several good singers, if the perfect singer is already there?" Lill muses. The line-up is completed by Markus Teske (keyboards), Franky R (bass) and Andreas Lill on drums. Eerie Monsters has been released on Frontiers, the same label that hosts Vanden Plas.
The Phantoms Of The Dawn was the first single that I heard. Based on that, I was expecting something akin to Vanden Plas becoming a tribute band playing covers of 80s hard rock/AOR classics. This is a lovely bright slice of pompy, mid-paced hard rock. It is probably my favourite song but having spun the whole album several times, this track is the odd one out.
Vanden Plas has always worn its hard rock influences with pride. With Andy Kuntz's vocals being as distinctive as Don Dokken's, I sorta thought of them as a prog-metal version of Dokken. The VP songs are heavier and more complex, but with a Dokken-like sense of melody, pumped by memorable riffing.
A Boy Without Name showcases a heavy riff of which George Lynch would have been proud but with a groove and melody that could be from any VP album. Syrens has a bit of Queen, helped by a select use of piano. But again, it's a style that VP often utilise. Silent Waters is Vanden Plas with a few AOR/MHR motifs thrown into the mix. All My Eerie Monsters could have sat comfortably on any Vanden Plas album from the past two decades. The same for Devil's Ride. These are not the greatest songs to hold the Lill/Kuntz writing credits, but I enjoy all of them.
Farewell is a slushy, sloppy, sugary ballad with choir-backing that I never want to hear again. Lifeforms is more of a power ballad. Not in the realms of say Dokken's Alone Again, but politely-hummable.
Wolverinized is another favourite, with its confident Whitesnake swagger and a touch of Deep Purple grandiosity. The bridge borrows heavily from Vanden Plas' own Scarlet Flower Fields.
The main issue however is that Andy Kuntz has such a distinctive voice, that this is always going to sound like Vanden Plas. Maybe a different singer(s) might have been the better idea, but if you'd like a more-straightforward Vanden Plas album with an extra sprinkling of MHR and AOR motifs, then this is for you.
Animatone — Who Saw Us
For me, Hungary has always been a guaranteed source of not-famous-but-brilliant prog bands. Fusion-rock-metal bands like Mindflowers or Special Providence are the ones that consistently made my jaw drop with top-notch material. Since both aforementioned collectives have been silent since 2017, it is high time for new musicians to step in and keep the flame burning. That's where these heroes step into limelight.
Hailing from Hungary, Animatone is a duo of two axe-men, Zoltan and Bernat, who released their debut on the penultimate day of 2022. Besides guitar duties, they share responsibilities for bass, keyboards and programming.
Although the duo describes their music as “metal for jazzheads”, even this short demo shows a wider range of influence. The musicians are not afraid of using not-too-complicated and elegant mixolydian licks in the vein of Satriani and the classic rock tradition. On Who Saw Me they even do some voice sampling and employ club-dance rhythms. So it's not only jazz!
In general, their mode of musical thinking takes them away from pure shredding and close to John Petrucci in his Liquid Tension / solo guise (rather than his heavier DT approach) and Marco Sfogli. I especially like their combination of distorted and clean parts, with constant shifting between them, so that the compositions do not get dull and drag on forever.
Sound purists will note occasional loss of bass in the mix and usage of pre-programmed drums, which sound like e-drums usually do (rather lame). But this should not overshadow the fact that Who Saw Us is a result of a lot of talent and training. A short ride of catchy phrases, rhythm changes and creativity. A very nice start, indeed.
Johanna Lillvik — The Love Hate Syndrome
Swedish singer and performing artist Johanna Lillvik released her debut EP in 2017. I've never come across that mini album which received quite a few favourable reviews in many media. It will certainly have contributed to the decision to release this her debut full-length album. The description sent with the CD presented an eclectic artist that at last has decided to come forward, not only as a performer but also as a composer, writer and producer. Hats off to that idea, for this album is a very convincing proof of her multiple talents.
Lillvik plays piano and sings while she also wrote all the music and lyrics for the twelve songs here. She is quite a renowned performing singer, including a long stay with the famous Cirque Du Soleil. Her voice is powerful and expressive with a sound that is reminiscent to Heather Nova and a bit of Kate Bush. Her band consists of Kim Gunneriusson (guitars, drums, recording and cover artwork), Joakim Saarenpää (bass), Anders Vall (trumpet), Anders Lindahl (trombone), Jonathan Larsson (accordion) and Michael Carlsson (guitars). Lillvik's production of the twelve songs is fantastic. The musicians are very competent. The musical moods quite eclectic.
The album arrived in a cheap cardbox carton making my first impression far from favourable. The cover artwork will be a very serious contestant to win the global prize of “Ugliest Cover of the Year” (judge for yourself) and that's too bad. But of course it's the music that counts and that is quite special.
My main problem with this album is that apart from her pleasant voice, there is little if any consistency on this album. The strong opening trio of songs puts her firmly in the singer-songwriter category with a few hints of prog. Opener Hydra is a fine example of that combination with its pulsating piano theme, a gorgeous trumpet arrangement and very fine harmony singing using a full choir.
After this promising start, the album flows from musical (Ms Crusoe), cabaret (Modern Woman), punk-rock (Busted), through tropical cheerfulness with trumpets and accordion (Wolves, the relation between title and musical style goes beyond me) towards UB40-like reggae (Say What, Say Why), easy jazz (I've Been Burned), soft blues (Mothers Blues, the title says it all) and French chanson (Je Suis Charlie). We close with a little and attractive lullaby (Make Haste). Remarkably Lillvik proves more than capable of singing well in all these different styles, thus showing her multi-talent as a singer and performer. Yet to my ears the wide variation in styles, more or less kills the album.
The lyrics deserve special attention as Lillvik obviously has many personal thoughts to share and does so without hesitation. She writes about feelings that are totally disconnected from the mind. Either you love or you hate, either you cry or you laugh, there's no in-between. Listen for instance to the biting lines in Modern Woman or the more-than-clear lyrical content in Je Suis Charlie, and you know that she writes lyrics with a bite. Too bad the lyrics aren't included in the album package.
The description sent with the cd also states that “critics have twisted their heads trying to define the genre she plays, since she fearlessly moves across the borderlines of many”. I fully agree with that, but I'm afraid that from DPRP's point of view, in spite of this eclecticism, the album isn't very interesting as a prog album. For those who wish to tread new musical paths I can recommend it. It's special. It's intriguing. It's not really prog but definitely worth checking out for the more broad-minded. Just forget that cover!
Longheads — Mars Doesn't Feel Like Home Anymore
Let's face it. No record with a cover depicting an astronaut and a rocket-fueled ram skull can be entirely bad, right? If extra proof is required, the Londoners from Longheads will assuage your concerns. The Brit quartet plays dynamic, fuzzy and shaggy space-rock, that Hawkwind might have released if Omar Rodriguez-Lopez would step in and provide his guitar skills to Brock & Co.
Mars Doesn't Feel Like Home Anymore is a kraut-rock-influenced, flanger-worship effort of half-an-hour length and enough energy to take you from Mars to Deimos and back for a picnic holiday. The band's sound is pretty much retro-based and jam-centred. The compositions almost never fit in the verse-chorus structure, but there's plenty of the riff-strumming-solo shifts and Hawkwind-styled declamations, that space rock so frequently incorporates. Punk and stoner-rock motifs also find their way to the band's palette. Usually reviewers pick the longest track as their favourite, but mine is the rather short Glossolalia with a relaxed, almost reggae-psychedelia mood that builds up to the more aggressive, spacey landscape.
As a debut, full-scale release Mars doesn't disappoint. It dwells somewhere in the middle between conservative sound and youthful dynamism. It might have been a tiresome experience to listen to a one-hour album of similar-styled music, but 30 minutes is just enough to show Longheads' professionalism and dedication. Recommended for armchair journeys to the Red Planet with red wine and Stilton cheese.
Nubdug Ensemble / Amanda Chaudhary — Split EP
Over the past years one could set a calendar for a new album to be released around the turn of the year by Jason Berry's Nubdug Ensemble or associated artists like Amanda Chaudhary. This is also the case with this Split EP, which was released just prior to last year's festive season. This time both Nubdug Ensemble and Chaudhary make an appearance. Unlike previous years however, the EP is not to be seen as a full album, which they are each currently working on. It has been issued as a stand-alone collection of songs especially to meet the frequent demand for new material by fans.
This yearly release schedule, and the returning majority of participating Ensemble musicians, are about the only constants present within each musical universe. Although a musical red line within Berry's jazz-refined creations starts to take shape over time, awoken by shuffling melodies, energising musical uplifts and tangible vocal expressions that drowsily deal with one of life's every-day awakening challenges in 52 Pickup. A Chip And A Chair adds a delicate, free-styled jazz environment to this, with excellent bass lines and squeaks of clarinet which intricately balance out the harmoniously-crafted music.
Chaudhary's colourful kittenish gordian knot is however a completely different, unfathomably-eclectic affair. Sam Sam's Theme's piano-guided clarinet scales, to which intricate saxophone melodies and drum trapeziums add feelings of circus, manages to project embracing cinematic appeal of Laurel and Hardy's The Music Box. A few moments later For Luna alienates these images through its chiming avant-garde PSI trail that leaps far out into deep experimental space.
Merp Friend sails on home and sets its paw firmly in vibrant 70s atmospheres with scratches of guitar, posh keyboards and chic, funkadelic rhythms that masterly conjure up memories of iconic movies like Crime Busters and Who Finds A Friend, Finds A Treasure.
Divided into five and seven minutes each, the individual friendlies of Nubdug Ensemble and Chaudhary are on the short side, also in light of prog values. But added up Split EP contains a small treasure of idiosyncratic jazz-inspired musical ideas that strike the imagination, no matter how idiosyncratic this all may sound. See you in 9 months.
Osyron — Momentous
A quick mention for this Canadian band that will appeal to all lovers of harsh, militantly-aggressive metal with a progressive intent.
Hailing from Calgary, Alberta they have been consistently releasing music since their debut, Harbinger, came out in 2003.
For the most part, the songs veer towards progressive technical metal that remind me of the intensity and sound of Sanctuary or Communic but with a 50/50 mix of harsh and clean vocals. The harsh can be death-growl-like or more of a vicious, raspy shout. The clean vocals are really melodic with a nice touch of soul; almost melodic metal at times.
On top of this, the band offers certain tracks that take a lighter, almost balladic approach, and then a couple that veer off in a more eclectic direction. The best example of the latter is the epic-length title track. It opens with female vocals that could be from the middle east/Balkans. This evolves into strings and acoustic guitar in the vein of Sully Erna's solo material, then full hard rock, and then full folk-metal with the help of flute. The track switches again into technical prog-metal with growls and cleans; and that's just the first third of the song! We close with a return to the folksy style but this time with violin (fiddle?) and flute.
And for me that is the problem with an album that does over-egg its pudding by throwing everything at the veritable kitchen sink. The band needs a tighter style that it can call its own. Those who enjoy an album that covers almost every metallic base, may have an alternative view.
The production also needs to be more finely tuned. The slashy guitars and cymbal-heavy drums can become little more than a high-energy vibration (the promo is in MP3, so that probably doesn't help). Furthermore, a playing time of just under an hour can be too much for music with this intensity. Two fewer tracks and ten minutes less playing time would have made it more digestible.
Outer Space Experiment — Frequencies
Outer Space Experiment is an online-based project with three individuals, based in three countries but all with their roots in Bulgaria. The trio consists of Eric Castiglia (vocals, Italy), Zamm Kenoby (drums, France) and Todor Todorov (strings, Bulgaria). Their aim is "to bring some new ideas to the post-metal scene with a deep and irrelevant meaning for most people".
After the release of two singles last year, this is the debut album from OSE. While I can't hear that it's really treading much new ground, the performances are solid, and it's a varied and entertaining octet of compositions.
For the most part we are treading a path that mixes alt-rock and gothic-rock influences with metal and an occasional eastern European vibe. The latter influence is underlined by the constant use of spoken excerpts (I presume in Bulgarian) that bookend the songs.
Highlights for me are the two singles. My Own Universe has a restrained energy. It seeks to blend the syncopation of Tool with the swagger of the American blues-based hard rockers that populated MTV in the 80s/90s. The more experimental mid-section with string-sounds doesn't work so well. Homesick uses a similar recipe but with a stronger hook.
Deafness thrives on some impressive guitar work. Here it works well with the slightly gothic-rock tones and phrasing of Castiglia's vocals. The extended instrumental section works better here, mainly where the violin-esque guitar sounds reinforce the dark, pained pulse of this track. Varietal Seeds goes even more gothic with its darker vocal and its guitar tone from the archives of The Mission.
I'm not sure that this has a lot to offer those seeking a more complex or progressive form of rock/metal, but anyone who enjoys bands on the more alt-rock side of the genre (and can stomach occasional extreme vocals and the constant use of spoken samples) will find plenty to enjoy here.
Sendelica — One Man's Man
The landscapes and rural villages of Cardigan Bay and the Presili Mountains in west Wales make it one of my favourite parts of the UK. That is the home of (and until recently the inspiration for) an instrumental stoner/psyche-rock band by the name of Sendelica.
DPRP has reviewed four of their previous releases that have landed with abstractly-extended titles such as The Pavilion Of Magic And The Trials Of The Seven Surviving Elohim and The Satori In Elegance Of The Majestic Stonegazer.
Their last "sold-out" album, And Man Created God, investigated the relationship between man and religion. This time the band ponders when exactly man became Man? Fitting with the music, each side of the LP is presented as a side-long piece of music, pressed on wild-coloured vinyl, with printed inner sleeves, a fold out poster and a die-cut cover. That's just sooo pyschedelic! One version even has a jigsaw (but be quick, as at the time of writing just 9 of the 50-strong limited edition remained!) On the CD-version everything is on one disc but with the seven tracks (listed above) also merged into just four.
Musically this does what it says on the tin, blending the early psychedelic outings of Hawkwind, The Orb and Pink Floyd, with a consistent blend of doomy, stoner riffs and electronica. I'm guessing, but it sounds like a fair bit of this is the result of improvisation. The core band is Pete Bingham on guitars and electronics, Glenda Pescado on bass, Jack Jackson on drums, Lee Relfe on sax and Colin Consterdine on beats and synths. A couple of guests add synths and viola.
The opening track is probably my fave. Big, plodding, doomy riffs battle with bursts of sax, before evolving into a dreamy, soundtrack, spacey passage that sounds like the result of some improv'. The sax then becomes more squealy and the pace quickens once more, before a fuzzy electronic vibe closes off this phase.
Elsewhere, there is more of a soundtrack sense to the compositions. I like the elements where the sax features, but overall I prefer my psyche-rock to actually rock. The groove and melody of bands such as King Buffalo and Elder are more my tastes. This is more about creating ambient, rather than trance-like grooves. For those whose tastes lean to the ambient-psyche, then please investigate further.