In the nineties, the Polish prog-rock scene slowly awakened with debut-albums by bands like Quidam (1996/1998), Collage (1990), Lizard (1997) and Abraxas (1996). By the turn of the century we were flooded by new Polish prog-rock bands. Since then, Poland has remained one of the leading sources of progressive music.
Sparked by the regular live appearances by Polish prog bands in The Netherlands, DPRP has closely followed this scene for many years. Our review archives already include most releases by the bigger names such as Riverside (and associated projects), Satellite, SBB, Quidam, Retrospective, Osada Vida, Votum, Amarok and After.
In this two-part feature, Andy Read and Erik Neuteboom dig into their record collections to bring you reviews of 20 Polish prog albums from other artists that we feel deserve a second-chance. In some cases they are releases by an established band that we missed the first time around. In other cases, the music is from a more obscure band that only ever released one or two albums.
Whatever the story, we hope there will be some new music for you to discover here.
Albion — Broken Hopes
I remember receiving a demo-tape from this band when I was working for a Dutch prog-rock magazine in the early nineties. The recording quality was a bit sloppy, but I liked the pleasant atmosphere, with strong hints from early Marillion. More than 15 years later I received this new album entitled Broken Hopes (2007). This is my second musical encounter with this band founded in Kraków in 1992. Albion had released three albums before this one: Survival Games (1994), Albion (1995) and Wabiąc Cienie in 2005.
After a short first track that contains Hitler's horrible voice, I notice again strong early Marillion echoes in the long and compelling second composition entitled The Place (almost 12 minutes). The guitar player sounds like the Polish twin-brother of Steve Rothery, and the synthesizer flights strongly evoke Mark Kelly. Halfway through, we can enjoy a raw guitar solo with lush organ, and in the final part a slow saxophone solo (this bit is obviously not early-Marillion inspired).
In the other seven songs the styles range from dreamy, to often compelling with wonderful female vocals, lots of howling guitar solos and now-and-then a flashy synthesizer solo (like in Angel) or bombastic eruptions as in Once Upon A Time and the strong This Is The Way Where We Go. the latter song has a beautiful final part with exciting guitar and keyboard work.
The final track evokes Mostly Autumn thanks to the initial twanging acoustic guitar with high-pitched vocals, then a moving atmosphere with fluent synthesizer runs and then a sensitive guitar solo to close. Simply wonderful!
For me this new musical meeting after many years was a very pleasant one. I like the modern and elaborate album with strong female vocals, outstanding guitar work and tasteful keyboards.
Three more albums followed this one, all with a couple of years in between. The official current status of the band is unknown, but their Facebook page shows photos of a gig in 2020. So who knows we will see another album soon?
Believe — Seven Widows
Founded in Warsaw in 2004, Believe is the project of Collage guitarist Mirek Gil, who together with Tomek Rozcki (vocals, guitars), Adam Milosz (keyboards, hidden harmonies), Przemas Zawadzki (bass), Vlodi Tafel (drums) and Satomi (violin) created a rather endearing form of neo-prog by mixing the often melancholic Polish style, as shown by Collage on their classic Moonshine album, with a harder edge and a heavy dose of the violin.
The result was two of my all-time favourite Polish neo-prog albums in the shape of the band's debut, Hope To See Another Day, and Yesterday Is A Friend which emerged two years later. The live DVD that followed is a wonderful summary of what this line-up was capable of.
Singer Tomek was replaced by Karol Wróblewski for the next three albums: This Bread Is Mine (2009), World Is Round (2011), and The Warmest Sun In Winter (2013). In turn, each of these albums lost my interest due to loss of the trademark sounds of the first two albums and incorporation of a more grungy, alt-rock flavour. By the last of these three albums, Satomi's lovely violin had been reduced to a bit-part role.
Exit Karol. Enter new singer Łukasz Ociepa for Seven Widows. This was album number six and the band's first foray into concept albums. Each song is a story of one widow parting with someone special. A set of seven sad songs, dealing with loss and pain. The tracks are numbered I through to VII. Mirek and Satomi are the only original members remaining. The line-up for this album is completed by Przemysław Zawadzki on bass and Robert Kubajek on drums.
By the time of its release, I had given up on this band. But in selecting albums for this feature, I gave it a first listen and quickly realised that my initial indifference was a mistake. Seven Widows is an impressive addition to the Believe discography.
What I noticed most, was the way in which for much of this album the instrumentation is sparse; some parts with just two or three instruments. Yet one's ears are kept engaged by all the (long) songs being made up of numerous sections and themes.
This is classy neo-prog/art-rock with melodies at the centre but where emotional vocals, tastefully-accessible arrangements and beautifully-placed solos are wrapped up by a crystal clear production. Some sections where the violin exchanges with the guitar, are quite stunning.
Łukasz Ociepa is remarkably similar to Tomek Różycki on the more melancholic parts of this album and here he is a perfect fit with the Believe sound. It is only when he has to force the vocals, in the more up-tempo sections, that he sounds strained and can lose his control.
But that small negative point is outweighed by the extended instrumental themes and the strength of the arrangements across this album. Basically this is Mirek Gil and Believe doing what Mirek Gil and Believe do best.
A few years ago there was talk of a new singer and of a new album being recorded, but there has been no recent news from the band, and at the time of writing their Facebook page is inactive. If this is their final album, then it is an impressive conclusion to this band's output.
Collage — Living In The Moonlight [DVD]
You can divide this DVD into three different parts. The first contains a concert from April 1996, recorded in the Polish city of Szczecin. It's a very energetic and enthusiastic performance. Collage plays so wonderfully, being melodic and harmonic with a full symphonic rock sound.
The eye-catcher is singer Robert Amirian. He looks like the archetypal hippie and has a fine voice and a convincing stage-presence. But second best is guitar player Krysiek Palczewski with his pleasant guitar sound, very flowing and harmonic, evoking Steve Rothery.
The keyboard work is beautiful and alternating; from tender piano play and sparkling runs, to warm strings and a lush, orchestral keyboard sound. The concert contains 12 songs, all very tasteful and professionally performed featuring fiery guitar and lush keyboards in The Blues, and especially great vocals, guitar and keyboards in the compelling In Your Eyes. I also enjoy the howling guitar licks in Basnie (from the band's wonderful debut album) and a heavy guitar-intro, bombastic keyboards and the excellent, very moving guitar solo in God.
For the second part we have the song God again, this time from a concert in Warsaw from March 1995 and then seven tracks from the legendary concert in The Dutch Pul in Uden (June 1995). Both are acceptable bootleg recordings. Next are four video-clips: Living in the Moonlight, Lovely Day, Heroes Cry and Midnight Flyer. The first two deliver beautiful live performances.
The final part of this DVD consists of a menu featuring interviews, a biography, discography and a photo- gallery.
If you like inspired neo-progressive rock delivered with plenty of emotion, then this is for you.
Grendel — The Helpless
Here's another Polish prog-rock band that only ever issued one album. Beware that based on the band's name you don't expect early Marillion inspired music!
This version of Grendel offers a warm, romantic, pretty laid-back sound on The Helpless. It alternates between dreamy and compelling, delivering pleasant and somewhat melancholic vocals. We have lots of sensitive guitar solos with howling runs too.
The band was formed in 2002 by guitarist/singer Sebastian Kowgier, keyboardist Ula Swider, bass player Czarek Swider and drummer Wojciech Bilinski. After gigs and a demo, it took them six long years to release their first full-length album in 2008.
Often Grendel reminds me of another Polish formation Quidam because of the romantic atmospheres. In Towards The Light the music turns into bombastic, and in Fade Memories we can enjoy the distinctive sound of the Fender Rhodes electric piano. The interplay with the guitar is wonderful. In these songs my attention slips away at some moments because of the too frequent mellow climates.
But the final track, Illusions, at almost 12 minutes in length features Grendel in its full splendour. First between mellow and bombastic, then a break with orchestral keyboards and howling guitar, and then many interesting parts with propulsive guitar-work, tender piano and again very moving guitar playing.
I am sure this wonderful debut album will please the many romantic symphomaniacs on this planet.
Hipgnosis — Sky Is The Limit
Hipgnosis was founded in 2004, and in 2006 the band released this debut album. On their website we can find an explanation about the sound on Sky Is The Limit that aims for a retro sound with two different sides in respect of the vocals; one is the gentle female side and the other is the rock male side.
When I listened to this album for the first time, I hadn't read this information, but I was astonished about the huge differences between these two styles of composition.
The first three songs (in fact side 1) are pretty ambient with soaring keyboards, a slow beat, all kinds of synthesizer sounds and wonderful, high-pitched female vocals. It mainly sounds like modern and accessible electronic-oriented music.
Then it's prog-metal in track four featuring fiery guitar-work, a thunderous rhythm-section and raw male vocals. The subtle colouring of the keyboards is due to a sound that I would like to describe as electronic gothic metal; adventurous and exciting.
Next we have the long and alternating highlight Ummadellic (Hipgnosis played Pink Floyd covers in the past). First there are distorted male vocals that sound rather desperate in a bit of an ominous atmosphere, then a strong build-up follows with lush organ and emotional vocals, culminating in a compelling grand finale with intense violin-Mellotron waves and finally a part with prog-metal. Again adventurous and exciting.
The final track sounds like 'side 1', delivering soaring keyboards, high-pitched female vocals, a slow beat and a wide range of synthesizer sounds.
I had to get used to Hipgnosis and their distinctive sound, but in the end I must conclude that this Polish formation succeeds in sounding progressive, and is another good example of the vivid Polish prog-rock/metal scene.
Hipgnosis has released a number of studio and live albums since this debut, plus an EP and several special editions. Their most recent album, Valley Of The Kings was released in 2021. They are due to head out on tour with Collage in May 2023.
Lebowski — Galactica
Lebowski is a quartet that released their first album in 2010. The well-titled Cinematic was crafted as a soundtrack for a non-existent film, inspired mostly by Polish films, and was well received by critics.
For some reason, it then took almost a decade for the band to release this follow-up album Galactica. The group's line-up remained the same: Marcin Grzegorczyk (guitars), Marcin Luczaj (piano, synths), Ryszard Łabul (bass) and Krzysztof Pakula (drums), with a host of guest musicians adding mandolin, flugel horn, clarinet and double bass.
The album is mostly just straightforward rhythms with little complexity, unexpectedness and experimentation to it. But there is a good amount of variety here, from heavier rock moments to some stylish jazz sections. I especially enjoyed the vocalising in the haunting Mirage Avenue, and Last King for the way it opens with a bit of guitar crunch before exploring a trilling flute sound.
The subtlety of Galactica may be off-putting to some. However, it flows assuredly and is never boring, always subtly changing the melody and mood. There is again a certain soundtrack quality overall. You can listen intently and follow the gentle changes, or simple enjoy this is accessible instrumental mood music. The production is stellar, as are all the performances
The band has been more active recently, releasing a post-covid single, Deus-ex-Machina, and as of February 2023 the band's Facebook page revealed that recording is taking place for their third studio album. If you missed it, fans should also check out the 2017 nine-song live album Lebowski Plays Lebowski.
Lion Shepherd — III
Hiraeth, the debut album from this band, impressed many for its freewheeling blend of progressive, world music, acoustic, psyche, rock, folk, ambient and blues. It made my list of top albums of 2015. A European tour in support of Riverside, held up great promise.
Sadly, while Hiraeth thrilled my ears, their second effort, Heat (2017) was a safer offering. I prefer to concentrate on the highlights such as Dream On but the largely predictable collection of songs must have put many fans off. At least that's the only reason I can forward as to why this, their third album seemed to get less attention than it deserves.
Perhaps III does not have quite the same number of highs as Hiraeth, but it does offer a very listenable set of songs, again focused on some middle-eastern roots, which together with its usual influences from other groups, achieves an invigorating mix.
Lion Shepherd is Kamil Haidar (vocals) and Mateusz Owczarek (electric and acoustic guitars, Irish bouzouki and oud). On this album drummer Maciej Gołyźniak joins the official line-up.
The production is remarkable. The guitar solos are great, and percussive beats and rhythms burst out of my speakers. The combination of Kamil's distinctive vocal delivery and Lion Shepherd's mix of world music, folk and rock stylings has created a truly unique sound.
The first song, Uninvited, is my absolute favourite. Along with the following track, Good Old Days, it follows a similar dynamic to that captured by Sully Erna on his Avalon album. The addition of Karolina Skrzyńska's gorgeous backing vocals here, reinforces the similarities. I'd love to hear her voice on more songs in the future.
Elsewhere, songs like What Went Wrong and Toxic reflect the neo-prog of fellow countrymen Believe and Satellite, especially through the lovely guitar work. Vulnerable relies more on the ethnic beats, but within a Riverside and Satellite emotive atmosphere. World on Fire goes back to the middle eastern groove and stomp. I find Fallen Tree more reflective.
The Kids Are Not All Right brings us strings, then very original verses, with splendid guitar melodies and big hook for the chorus. This could have made a single, reminding me of late-period Rush and again Sully Erna.
Nobody is one of several songs that takes its mark from the modern prog-rock of Anathema or Porcupine Tree but with that typical Polish melancholic groove, and yet more delicious guitar runs.
May You All Live In Fascinating Times takes everything that has preceded it, to create a song that sounds unlike anything that has preceded it. A rather clever way to close the album, I think.
As you may have guessed, I'm so glad that I gave Lion Shepherd a third chance. I will now go off and try out their 2020 EP Once The Dust Is Settled, which contains four more new songs and two concert recordings. According to the band's Facebook page, album number four was recorded and ready in 2022. Hopefully it will enable them to take another step forward.
Lizard — Tales From The Artichoke Wood
Founded in Bielsko-Biała, Poland in 1990, Lizard are one of the most consistent of the Polish prog bands. Despite releasing seven studio and five live albums, they have somehow managed to retain a low profile outside their home country. That's a shame, as based on the music on this album, there is much to discover and enjoy.
This is a concept album conjuring musical "impressions" of three painters, Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso; hence the multipart tracks Vincent, Salvador and Pablo. These are bookended by the two-part title track. I am struggling to see the link between the intriguing album title/cover, and the concept based on the three artists, but then I never studied art at school!
I did study music, so I do know that there is some really inventive stuff going on here. The band take their cues from fellow countrymen Collage, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, UK and King Crimson (the band's name directly refers to King Crimson's third album).
On this album the band's line-up was Damian Bydlinski (vocals, guitar), Krzysztof Maciejowski (keyboards, synth), Janusz Tanistra (bass) and Mariusz Szulakowski (percussion).
The quartet is clearly able to play many styles of music at a high level. There is a real diversity to the soundscapes created here, and that is one of the attractions of this record for me.
Those who enjoy accessible art-rock, with an insistent rhythm section that ably supports some intricate and complicated band interplay, should find much to enjoy on repeated listens. The vocal style is very varied. At times it's very soft, almost whispered, other times it's almost spoken. Then we have sections when the singing is quite forceful and a little strained and at others it can be rather theatrical. Thus, it may not be to everyone's taste.
This album was remixed and remastered and re-released on CD and cassette in 2021. The band have just previewed some music from their forthcoming album entitled Tonquebreaker which is due to be released sometime in 2023.
Loonypark — Egoist
The blossoming Polish scene of the noughties delivered another fine new band, this time the six-piece formation Loonypark. Their debut CD entitled Egoist consists of eight compositions.
Apart from the mediocre English vocals (next time in Polish please) by female singer Sabina, I enjoyed Loonypark's simply-structured but pleasant and modern (neo) prog-rock. The strong point in their music is the warm and tasteful colouring by the keyboards and guitar.
We have bombastic organ and propulsive guitar riffs, a howling guitar solo and a slow synthesizer solo in the compelling Time, with some lush keyboards (from an orchestral sound to flute-Mellotron) and powerful and sensitive guitar in the strongly built-up title track.
Elsewhere, I enjoy the fluent synthesizer solo and wah-wah guitar in Hope, a dreamy piano intro and a moving guitar solo in Hello and a splendid final part delivering fiery guitar runs and soaring keyboards in the final track The City. Simply beautiful.
Formed in Krakow, Poland in 2007, by Krzysztof Lepiarczyk (keys) and Jakub Grzeslo (drums), the line-up was soon completed by vocalist Sabina Godula-Zajac, guitarist Piotr Grodecki and bassist Piotr Lipka (both of whom had played with Krzysztof in Meteopata). The band have gone on to produce six albums, the most recent of which, The 7th Dew, was released in 2021.
Moonrise — The Lights Of A Distant Bay
This is a musical project by Polish multi-instrumentalist Kamil Konieczniak and singer Lukasz Galeziowskiejo (Millenium) who has that typical Polish melancholic undertone. However his vocal contributions are very limited on this album.
The sound of Moonrise is firmly rooted in the realm of neo-prog bands like IQ and Pendragon. The eight compositions are very tastefully arranged with some strong breaks, lots of flowing shifting moods, a pleasant variety, a beautiful and modern keyboard sound and splendid guitar work (from sensitive, fiery and howling runs to propulsive riffs).
My favourite moments on this CD are the intense guitar sound and soaring keyboards in the opener The Island, and the alternating Help Me I Can't Help Myself (intro with wonderful interplay between grand piano and mellow keyboards and then strong work on guitar and keyboards). Also of note is the exciting guitar play in In The Labyrinth Of The Dream, a spectacular break during Antidotum and a beautiful build-up with piano and keyboards to a compelling final part featuring howling guitar runs. Goosebumps!
I am sure this strong debut-album will please many neo-prog-heads. This project has continued to release three more albums, with Kamil being joined by different guest musicians. The most recent release was Travel Within in 2019.