Klone — Meanwhile
Klone began their days way back in 1995 as Sowat before settling on the new name before the turn of the millennium. Since then, they have released seven albums, starting with 2004's Duplicate right up to 2023's Meanwhile. I first discovered them in Glasgow, supporting fellow countrymen Gojira, but sadly have only ever found their second album All Seeing Eye anywhere. However, having kept up-to-date with what they are up to, I have been keen to hear their latest offerings.
Within Reach offers up a taste of what's to come, with thick, but gentle alt-rock musings to start off. As the pressure slowly grows drums start to get more intense, vocals more forceful and guitars begin to dial up the distortion. Next up, the dark and brooding Blink Of An Eye begins with Metzger on the keys as Ligner's brooding vocals grip you through the ascending overtones of the track. This sombre, rolling and soft but hard vibe continues through the lines in Bystander. Nearing half way, we come against Scarcity now. Again however, we are met with the building and growing sense that more is to come as the guitars, bass and vocals rise and fall. Elusive is more of the same, but does build a bit more than the previous track.
Apnea adds in some extra drum movements which does help to jazz up the track a bit and rekindle that initial spark of interest. The heavier guitar work intertwines perfectly over the keys. However, at the chugs that bring The Unknown into focus, the album sounds like it is starting to get closer to that tantalising crescendo. A bit heavier, yet still with that metal-but-not-metal sound, it's an accessible track and easily the best on the album. The trend is followed by Night And Day, which is an ideal way to describe the two halves of the album. The first is soft and brooding, while this half is heavier with more melody to it. Second to last track, Disobedience drives forward to the crescendo, heavier guitars, and even a few gruff vocal deliveries are resident here. Meanwhile, we come to the end of the album. A summary of all that has come before, the track is a fine example of where the band is musically. There are heavy passages, soft bridges, atmosphere and melody, accompanied by mountainous vocals that glide over the top.
A particular note with this album is how present the bass is, and how it is utilised as a full instrument rather than just to add some weight to the rhythm. The bass licks through-out are superb and really add a sense of movement to the album.
Unfortunately, the album is very samey. The tracks, while expertly written and performed, all meld into one almost. It is very much an album I will enjoy when the individual tracks come on, but not as a whole package. And unfortunately, it didn't quite grab me the same way my first experience did. However, the band still holds a special place for me, and after nearly 30 years not every album can have every track as a masterpiece.
I'd suggest for fans of the band, or those who enjoy Alter Bridge, Riverside or Caligula's Horse.
Rick Miller — Altered States
Rick Miller is yet another skilled multi-instrumentalist who has been at the wheel for many years and has released no less than 22 studio albums since 1983. Half of which have been reviewed on DPRP.net (search Rick Miller here). To say he has been prolific would be an understatement. The problem is however, that you have probably never heard of him.
Encompassing a trio of musical styles including symphonic rock, progressive new age and art rock, Rick is more than a match for anyone whose material falls within those genre parameters. One of the captivating elements of Rick's music is his use of breathy vocals and while it doesn't vary much from album to album or from song to song, it suits the music quite well. Guitars and keyboards are his weapons of choice, although he is often joined by a consort of fellow minstrels who add a plethora of instruments to help enrich the sound. In this instance we see the addition of accompanying instruments from a number of people who have been with Rick for many years. In this regard, we have, Sarah Young (flute), newcomer, Giulia Cacciavillian (flute), Mateusz Swoboda (cello), Barry Haggarty (guitar), Kane Miller (violin) and Will (drums & percussion). The willingness of these talented musicians to continue supporting Rick in his various endeavours would suggest they enjoy his creativity and ability to lead a team to continue delivering a quality product. He might also be a guy with whom it is easy to work.
Although I own about a dozen of Rick's CDs, mostly from his middle period, I believe these form the better proportion of his creative work. In that regard, I know what to expect and am rarely disappointed. It is hard not to notice the influence of Pink Floyd with many of Rick's songs as he utilises a slow and steady beginning with a gradual build up courtesy of either the guitar or keyboards in addition to some magical contributions from the flute, cello and violin. It all adds up to some very mellow and harmonious music that is very easy on the ears and will not require the listener to expend too much time becoming familiar with each song. Rick's music is also heavily influenced by The Moody Blues but for an even closer similarity, I would direct you to listen to David Minasian as their styles are quite complimentary without being a clone of each other.
Song highlights include Altered States which follows the Alan Parsons Project formula pretty closely. New Moon Prelude, Wolf Moon and The Trap, all feature gorgeous melodies throughout and are enhanced by some very tasty flute, cello, keyboards and Steve Hackett style guitar. The Trap could have been lifted directly from Steve's debut solo album called Voyage Of The Acolyte as it fits in so perfectly with that style. Borrowed Time has a hauntingly beautiful beginning with some anthemic choral singing and is all over too quickly but thankfully, the flute maintains the melody and keeps the music flowing for a few minutes longer. A Dream Within A Dream is also a pretty decent track. Due to the instantly likeable nature of many of Rick's songs, you could easily feel you had heard a particular song before, but I can assure you all the material on his new release is fresh and original.
There can be no escaping the issue of much of Rick's music starting to sound very similar to his previous albums. Altered States does fall down a little in that area as the strength of the best songs tends to be too easily lost amongst those of a lesser appeal. Make no mistake, Rick certainly knows how to write music that has a pretty wide level of appeal, but I believe his creative juices might be drying up a little. In this regard, you might find better value with his albums released between 2006 and 2015. That would include all albums from The End of Days to Breaking Point with The River Lethe being his highest-rated release. This is probably not Rick's best album by a long shot, but I am still glad to have it as it is one of those unpretentious gems that sounds so soothingly easy on the ears, especially under headphones. Nice work Rick!
Poly-Math — Zenith
There have been many occasions in my life when I have experienced copious amounts of cacophony. Recalling my years as a secondary school teacher; the thought of a class of pupils held in a steamy-shelled, grey-graffiti, condensation clasped classroom during a wet lunchtime break, still sends anxious adrenaline signals to my brain.
Similarly, proudly watching one of my sons perform as part of a large group of six-year-olds hitting triangles, shaking maracas, strumming ukuleles and striking hand drums, was yet another memorable, but delightful mind spinning, head filling, wardrobe of sounds.
I can now add to the list, the measured and inspiringly structured cacophony that Poly-Math create in their latest album. Zenith is the band's fourth release and is the first to feature a saxophonist. It will gain many admirers from listeners who wish to hear hard hitting instrumental music that lies just outside the box, yet displays enough recogniseable influences and traits to make it appealing to a variety of prog fans.
The members of the band that perform on Zenith are Joe Branton (bass), Tim Walters (guitar), Chris Woollison (drums), Josh Gesner (keyboards) & newest member Chris Olsen (sax). Poly-Math describe themselves as an experimental dark prog-math band from Brighton & London.
Certainly their music contains lots of heavy riffs and complex polyrhythms that bludgeon the senses and stimulate the mind. The muscular nature and pugnacious riffs that are dominant in much of the music had me reaching for comparisons with King Crimson. I was even reminded of Fripp's easily identifiable choice of tones during the excellent Proavus. The prominent use of the sax also found me recalling some aspects of the style of Van Der Graaf Generator.
The album begins in bellicose fashion and this sets the mood for much of what follows. The chunky guitar and insistent rhythms fashion a sort of latter-day King Crimson vibe. The sax yelps and yowls effectively to create a strident noise. It is apparent that the core of the tune is tightly spun, but the freer sections of the piece hint that the players have the freedom to innovate and improvise to complement the tunes dominant melody, motifs, and themes.
It is this freshness of approach that is one of the most endearing aspects of the bands art. Their music generates a great deal of muscle twitching excitement and the whole thing has a spontaneous air and an insistent presence that is not easily ignored.
Velociter must be an absolute beast to witness live. It's a tune where Woollison's powerful dexterity on the drums is very noticeable. Indeed, the rhythm section in this piece and throughout the whole album is very impressive. In the heavier sections of the tune Branton's bass sounds superb and offers a buoyant platform for the tune to journey raucously to its unusually abrupt and satisfying conclusion.
The sound quality of the album is for the most part excellent. Each instrument is clearly defined and has adequate space in the mix. On one or two occasions however, the uninhibited essence and impact of the music was lessened by a less demarcated sound in tunes like Charger, where the instruments in one portion of the tune briefly became a powerful but nevertheless amorphous mass of sound.
The positive things about Charger fully outweigh this minor niggle. It's a furious piece that has lots of different tones and textures. The sound effects that emerge as the piece charges towards its conclusion were somewhat akin to a muzzled songbird. They only added to the overall mystique and disturbing power of the piece. The subsequent electronic fade, pulsed to nothingness and signposted a way towards escape, tranquillity, and oblivion.
By the time I reached Mora, I must admit I was beginning to suffer from over exposure to the relentless raucous nature of the music. Although Canticum 11 does offer some changes in pace and melody as well as a skillful guitar solo, the overall impression that the album gives, is that the throttle is welded to an open position and that the roaring intensity of the band's accelerator pedal is fully engaged.
The gentler pace of Mora offered a brief pitstop and a chance to clear the head from the penetrating effect of the numerous riff-based sounds that precede it. There is no doubt, that this is probably my favourite piece on the album. The guitar tones of Walter's work perfectly in tandem with the expressive sax pitches and rolls. Even when the pace quickens, everything about Mora has a much greater melodic feel than some of the other pieces.
Whilst I enjoyed much of Zenith, it is an album that I will probably only play when I need music that penetrates the senses and is able to jolt me out my musical comfort zone. In this respect, the glorious cacophony that Poly-Math create in Zenith is both wonderful and disconcerting in equal measures.
Just like all great cacophonies, Zenith vaults through the sensory defences with ease and, of course, will not let go. Consequently, just like my recollections of the wet lunchtime, water pooled classroom, the experience of Zenith is rarely soothing, but is always memorable.
What else can I add, except try it for yourself and immerse yourself in its unrelenting grip!
Signs — Uchronia
When Signs' promo of Uchronia arrived it was the band name that rang a bell. Not a recent chime but one vaguely resonating from a distant past when I still aimed at collecting every demo tape I could lay my hands on. A sole surviving print-out shows that Signs were indeed part of this collection, totalling three demos (Chimera, Square Circles, Private Eyes) that amounted to approximately 90 minutes of music. This collection however didn't stand the test of time and fast-forward to 2023 I have no real recollection of Signs' taped efforts any more.
After a 2004 EP release Source Code, reviewed by DPRP at the time with extensive groundwork on their history, which passed me by unnoticed, the band finally choose to break up in 2008 for a variety of reasons. It's a mere decade later though the three founding members Marcel Faas (keyboards, synths, backing vocals), Ron van der Park (guitar) and Hans de Graaf (bass, vocals, taurus-pedals) reunite and accompanied by newby Louis Carlebur on drums. Together they set out to develop older unreleased tracks and write new ones with the intent of an ambitious concept album which reflects on humanity, alternate realities and changed societies. Due to several (some well known) interferences it takes them another four years to complete, until after a lifetime of 35 years their debut album Uchronia finally sees light of day.
Rooted in Eighties styled neo-prog, with influences from the seventies, the band expresses a solid dynamic sound with bombastic passages and wonderfully balanced play on Uchronia. De Graaf's formidable bass play, simultaneously singing with a hoarse voice reminiscent to Steef Broekhof (Last Son Of Eve), makes a big contribution here and makes impressions of Pallas and Yes regularly coming to the fore. Due to the Taurus pedals and his technical similarity with Geddy Lee, impressions of Rush are also added, which in turn is amplified by the striking guitar resemblance of van der Park to certain distinctive era in Rush's career.
The opening track Shadow Of The Lesser Gods is a marvellous example in that respect when after its atmospheric opening the song builds momentum and rolling bass lines and enticing riffs soar into heavenly Rush textures presented during their Hemispheres period. Equipped with a lot of pumping bass, this catchy song ends with an excellent coda designed by beautiful interplay of guitar and keys, somewhat mindful to Comedy Of Errors.
This convincing opener segues into Uchronia which opens in the best Pallas tradition with blasting bombast and atmospheric synths. Powered by a 50-piece choir repeatedly shouting "Divided We Stand! Together We Fall!" this song brings Signs heaviest hour when after irresistible rousing melodies surrounded with excellent harmonics the melodies explode in an apocalyptic realm of heavy fuelled rock spurred on by an unleashed aggressive van der Park. Entering calmer waters with wonderful keyboard work a return to the chorus and melodies complete the whole fittingly and a seamless transition into Zero Gravity follows.
This well-written song expresses a pompous drive and delightful riffs mindful to Rush, with harmonies igniting images of Yes. Soaring past a rousing synth passage and territories of aforementioned Rush, it midway through takes off into stratospheres of Pink Floyd with a magnificent guitar solo from van der Park and thematically return to its opening melodies. After additional ravishing interplay that sparkles with Saga delight an atmospheric passage finally brings relieving darkness with bass lines that script a distinct Marillion vibe.
Subsequently Cryogenic Jetlag fires off another round of cared for bombastic progressive rock with well-suited backing vocals and arrangements, spurred on halfway through excellent drumming and aggressive play. The exciting The Heretic follows and shows an excellent build-up, with plenty of bass in a pulsating leading role, while fine piano work and the acoustic approach supported by beautiful atmospheric synths provide moments of reflection. The late seventies Yes atmosphere perceptible in this song is very satisfying, and this satisfaction only gets bigger when de Graaf grabs hold by means of a stellar guitar solo and the song, after several dynamic stages, culminates in a grand finale embraced by returning vocal protests.
Saving the best for last. The challenging Nigredo concludes Signs' concept. Firstly, via inviting Pink Floyd inspired melancholic melodies that fly off into an impressive galaxy of complex and angular odd-time signatures gravitating with King Crimson attraction. Secondly, through its subsequent transition into spinning and whirling melodies chased by a fearsome force of funky bass which propels the composition into unprecedented heights as radiant key wizardry unfolds. And thirdly, when the inspired ecclesiastical passage that follows receives its blessing from an overwhelming majestic guitar solo and the Nigredo divine whirlwind finally dies down.
As stated on their website, which has all the details and lyrics to accompany the digital release, Signs reckons Uchronia to be their best recording made so far. Although I have no pristine recollection of their previous efforts I can certainly agree, for Uchronia is a highly entertaining album blessed by a thoughtful concept, clever adventurous songwriting and skilled mature performances, all captured in sound production values.
All this makes Uchronia a certified recommendation worth exploring for progressive rock enthusiasts, especially those with a preference towards the heavier bombastic side of the neo-progressive spectrum. With thoughts of a physical release, and a foreseeable future that includes the possibility of live performances, it leaves me only with one question: why on earth did I ever part ways with my tapes...?
John Van der Kiste — Decades: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band In The 1970s
A few years back, Manfred Mann declared in the now defunct Classic Rock Society magazine that he has never been given his due recognition as a keyboard pioneer. Like many keyboardists in the 1960s, he played the organ, but in the 1970s, along with contemporaries like Rick Wakeman, he adopted the Minimoog and similar to Jan Hammer of Mahavishnu Orchestra fame, he had a penchant for pitch bending. Throughout his career, he has specialised in cover versions, particularly songs by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, although these often bear little resemblance to the originals. When he crossed over from the pop single biased 1960s to the rock album defining 1970s, he carried with him a reputation for disposable chart hits. The Manfred Mann LPs had failed to find a niche and similarly, record sales in the 1970s were slow until 1976 when the single Blinded by the Light and the album The Roaring Silence charted worldwide.
All this and more is documented in this latest book from Sonicbond which chronicles the careers of the short-lived Manfred Mann Chapter Three at the beginning of the decade and Manfred Mann's Earth Band who, on and off, have endured to this day. Author John Van der Kiste has clearly done his homework, and he sets the scene with a brief bio and a summary of the Manfred Mann band's output in the 1960s. He also covers in some detail the post 1970s releases by the MMEB and related acts to round off the book.
Manfred Mann's Earth Band In The 1970s is an engaging read and the author's passion for his subject is clearly evident. He is a musician himself and is clearly familiar with time signatures and chord progressions, but he doesn't bombard the reader with musical jargon. He also displays an acute awareness of the music scene in any given era and remains mostly impartial when discussing genres. In my own book 1973 The Golden Year Of Progressive Rock published last year, I discuss the MMEB album Solar Fire in detail, and it's interesting to compare Van der Kiste's observations with my own.
Although this book is unlikely to spark a long overdue reappraisal of Manfred Mann's talents and his vast body of work, it does chart how he skillfully transcended the musical trends of the day; from R&B and jazz in the 1960s, to prog and heavy rock in the 1970s to synth-pop and anthemic rock in the 1980s.
Zopp — Dominion
Funny old thing, Music!
Just like a snake sheds a skin, tunes can peel away the years. As Amor Fati plays, a recurring memory re-emerges, its flavours colour my senses, the memory forms and its canvas paint's an old reality.
I stand fluff bearded, not yet muscular, but paunch free; Virgin Store, vinyl, bag-clutched, the horizon captured by the foam flecked waves of Swansea bay. A humming Northettes inspired melody softens and scrapes my senses. I smile and momentarily swap the salted air and barren sand-mud, with an imaginary whiff of the aroma of Kentish hops. A vivid vision of lofty West Front Cathedral towers and a languid vista of distant green flecked fields envelops everything.
For a moment, in time, Swansea was Canterbury and Canterbury was my life.
As Amor Fati ends, a recurring memory fades away.
Inspiring new thing, Music!
You have no doubt deduced by now, that the opening piece of Zopp's excellent new album wears its Canterbury influences proudly on its amply melodious sleeve. It is a wonderful piece where the wordless warblings of Sally Minnear and Caroline Joy Clarke recall the soothing style and wonderful tones of, Barbara Gaskin, Amanda Parsons, and Ann Rosenthal. When the keyboards and bass move to the fore in the final section of this short tune, the result is also equally uplifting.
Ryan Stevenson is the principal creative force behind Zopp. I had the pleasure of reviewing Zopp's first album in 2020. During Dominion, Stevenson is again, joined by, Andrea Moneta on drums and percussion. Several guests assist this principal duo. They provide the release with a much wider palette of sounds. As well as Minnear and Clarke, these include Jørgen Munkeby – Tenor Sax, Flute on Bushnell Keeler, Mike Benson – Tenor Sax on You, Rob Milne – Tenor Sax, Flute on Toxicity, Tomás Figueiredo – French Horn on Amor Fati and Joe Burns – Gong, Additional Cymbals.
Dominion signposts a natural progression and extension of many of Zopp's attributes that were in evidence in their debut. Much of the album continues to highlight Stevenson's appreciation of some of the stylistic and musical traits associated with bands such as, Egg, Hatfield And The North, and National Health.
However, Dominion is not merely a re-tread of that style. Whilst, it includes many recogniseable elements that fans of this sort of Canterbury flavoured music will no doubt massively appreciate; the whole package comes across as inventive and innovative. Stephenson adds his own vision and an extra contemporary element to this recogniseable mix and combines it with a wash of other prog influences. This creates a style that acknowledges the past, but also signposts and directs the listener to experience something that is fresh and enjoyably unique.
The introduction of vocals by Stevenson in several of the tunes has opened opportunities for a different way for Zopp's music to express itself. Consequently, some of the tunes in Dominion have memorable vocal catchphrases. These provide the album with a tangible sense of warmth and humanity. They also offer some accessible entry points and melodic hooks for listeners who might not usually enjoy the complexities that can be associated with instrumental prog music.
Stevenson's voice is pleasant and its place in the mix ensures that it does not dominate proceedings. There were occasions when his high register, vocal range, and intonations within some of You were somewhat reminiscent of Yes. However, during this track it is the tone of the voice and the melodic course it takes that has arguably more to offer than its lyrical content. Although, the repeated phrase 'with you' and lyrical statements within the tune such as, 'Do you want to talk about it?' create a memorable impression.
During, the epic and noteworthy Toxicity, vocal parts frequently act as a bridge between instrumental passages. However, they seamlessly interact and complement each other in a symbiotic manner and this helps the tune to expand and develop in an impressive fashion.
The album has satisfying sonic qualities; each instrument and subtle nuance can be clearly distinguished. The running order of the album works well and the sequence of tunes offers some fine contrasts in pace and mood. For example, the delightful languid tones of Wetiko Approaching complete withs its avant leanings is sandwiched between two relatively upbeat tunes.
Each tune on the album works well. Consequently, Dominion has many impressive highlights. Indeed, the albums overall amalgamation of several elements including classic prog, Canterbury complexity and occasional smatterings of fusion offers something that will probably satisfy a wide disparate audience of music aficionados.
I thoroughly enjoyed the up-tempo bubbling and boisterous nature of much of Bushnell Keeper. This purely instrumental tune is an enchanting piece which has many delightful elements, not least of which, is the excellent contribution by Jørgen Munkeby. His recurring sax led melody weaves deliciously in and out of the tune and provides a great contrast with the keyboards.
Although firmly rooted in a Canterbury style, Bushnell Keeper's playful melody had me reaching for comparisons with something Zappa might have composed during the Hot Rats, or Waka Jawaka era. I just love the way in which the sax returns in the piece's finale to wave goodbye; just like a passing friend, it clasps the chest in a heartfelt parting embrace.
What can I say about Stevenson's performance throughout the release? This composer and multi-instrumentalist's contribution is impressive to say the least. His input to the undoubted success of Dominion includes Hammond Organ, Mellotron, Hohner Pianet, Piano, Electric Pianos, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Bass Guitar, Vocals, Korg MS20, Synthesizers, Percussion, Flute, Field Recordings, Sound Design.
Words like brilliant, supremely talented, spring loudly from my mouth. With an inquisitive expression an earnest question is bounced and thrown around the room. How does a relatively young musician achieve this level of skill and competency across such a diverse range of instruments?
His keyboard playing is at the centre of much of what is excellent about the album. Whilst his choice of tones often emulates players such as Dave Stewart and to a lesser extent David Sinclair, there is so much more to his performance than that. On the rare occasions when the keyboard does not play a prominent role, Stevenson adds a range of textures and many flamboyant touches to embellish the music.
However, Stevenson's role as a bass player is also a critical component in Zopp's music. In conjunction with the busy and sensitive kit work of Moneta, the rhythm section drives the music in lots of exciting directions. There are many occasions when the bass plays a pivotal part. The buoyant bass parts of You resonate deeply with great aplomb.
The arrangements on the album are multi layered and contain a wide variety of textures and timbres. If I had one small constructive criticism to make, then there are some occasions when the arrangements, despite the warmth provided by the human voice can come across as a tad artificial, or mechanically layered. For example,there is a section in the largely bombastic Reality Tunnels where Stevenson throws a kitchen sink of instruments at his creation. This fashions a cluttered impression and the layers of instruments for once, take on an unnaturally sterile air.
I note that Stevenson is currently looking for players to perform his music in a live setting. I am sure that the introduction of several instrumentalists will ensure that all aspects of the music will be enhanced. No doubt the live band will exude an extra air of spontaneity that is arguably easier to achieve when players interact with each other as they perform.
Reassuring old thing Music! It is 1976 again!
Clutching the bed covers immersed in the tones of Alan Gowen's and Hugh Hopper's Two Rainbows Daily. The kaleidoscopic colours of the day gently fade to grey.
Exciting new thing Music! It is 2023 again!
Clasping the duvet swaddled in the tones of Uppmärksamhet, fond memories of Gowen's enchanting tones fill my head. With a wry smile the grey colours of the day recede, cast away by a rainbow burst, multicoloured sensory array.
For a moment, another place in time, no longer matters. I realise that my musical journey, was and still is, a large part of my life.