Issue 2023-030: Polish Prog Albums You May Have Missed, Part 2
Amaryllis — Inquietum Est Cor
How about an album inspired by early religious music, sung entirely in Latin, by a band who states their main influences are Rush and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Is that prog enough for you?
Polish outfit Amaryllis was formed around 2004 by Marek Domagała (guitars) and Ewa Domagała (vocals). The two of them worked out a musical concept where elements from rock, metal and medieval folk music were thrown into a compositional blender.
Amaryllis released an EP in 2006, before crafting material for Inquietum Est Cor, their full-length debut effort that was released in 2009. Of special interest in the remaining line-up is one Henryk Kasperczak who contributes lute, theorbo, saz, r'bab, bagpipes and bladder pipe!
Ewa has an impressive voice and range. With a lot of the vocals featuring harmonies, there is a certain gothic-rock sound, but from a more folksy start-point. The words being in Latin, there is a certain Italian elegance to add to the mix as well.
The album contains ten songs and ten short instrumental introductions / interludes. With two guitars, it's the metallic influences that share the compositions with the medieval elements. The keyboards bring in an occasional Polish neo-prog vibe. There is an occasional splash of jazz, and other sections that would delight the RIO fans. The sections led by the acoustic guitar are wonderful. Thankfully I do not hear the Frankie Goes To Hollywood influence at all! There is a bagpipe solo though!!
This unusual blend all works much better than I had expected. It certainly ticks the boxes for those who seek something original, inventive and complex. I certainly don't have anything that sounds quite like this in my collection. Sadly the band seems to have disappeared after this release. That's a shame, as I'd have like to have seen how Amaryllis would have developed their sound from here.
Collage — Over and Out
Along with After Crying from Hungary and compatriots Quidam, Collage (until recently) were one of those eastern European bands who disappeared in obscurity years ago and remained silent ever since. Well, they are back now! Trzy razy – wiwat!
Although the band's website is mysteriously silent about the Satellite years, I still prefer to think that both projects are different incarnations of the same creative thread, rooted in romantic, mystical and very intimate neo-prog, of the style that bands from Poland have mastered so perfectly over the years.
First, some quick quality-control for the fans. The duo of Szadkowski / Palczewski on the drums and keyboards accordingly? Check! Beautiful artwork from Beksinski? Check! Soaring guitars and elevated vocal delivery? Check again!
Having lost a charismatic vocalist Robert Amirian somewhere during the years past, the band found a replacement, first with Karol Wroblewski from Believe (no studio recordings though) and now with Bartosz Kossowicz from aforementioned Quidam, who sings here in a style very similar to Amirian, although his earlier-career delivery is also recognizable.
The opening titular Over And Out will probably please a lot of fans with its length and vastness; except myself. I have approached it several times and still consider it sub-par compared to earlier epics like In Your Eyes from Moonshine or Satellite's Evening Games. Rather abrupt, almost patchwork, change of moods, with a hardly traceable general line of the composition. This is actually my only disappointment, as the remaining material covers everything that I've missed since the last Satellite CD.
What About The Pain? is a dark neo-prog anthem featuring a children's choir and a very memorable chorus, that will stay in your head as long as it pleases, without asking you when to leave.
One Empty Hand carries the duties of the album's main hit with perfect grace. It is as brooding, luminescent and emotional as the artwork (check the lyric video, it fits the mood really well).
A Moment, A Feeling is the band's second and more successful attempt at epicness, where I just love the interplay between all the instruments, especially how the keys work together with bass lines.
Man In The Middle is actually Collage's guest star's “prime time”, with a lengthy, almost five-minute guitar solo featuring Steve Rothery. I am not sure if he plays it all by himself, or shares duties with the band's main axeman, Michał Kirmuć, but anyway this is probably his longest solo since This Strange Engine. It also hints at how diverse good neo-prog could actually be, as there's strikingly little in common between Rothery's main band and Collage.
I didn't have a lot of opportunity to listen to new music in 2022, but it is safe to assume that Over And Out is one of the best prog comebacks of the year, if not the best. Not only a return, but a return in great shape and with lots of ideas.
There was no replacement for you in the prog pantheon, esteemed sirs. Your throne awaits you!
Disperse — Journey Through The Hidden Gardens
Whilst Poland has a thriving neo-prog/crossover/art-rock scene and an equally successfully black/death-metal output, for some reason the more traditional style of progressive metal has won few recruits.
Of the handful of Polish bands to ever release such an album I've albums by Animations, Dianoya, Point Of View, PROGHMA-C, Anvision, Sandstone, Symphony, Blindead, Art Of Illusion. However, two albums stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The first effort from Division By Zero (also reviewed in this edition) and the debut opus by this band, Disperse. For those whose tastes hover around the lighter side of the prog-metal spectrum, then Journey Through The Hidden Gardens is an absolute gem.
Founded in Gmina Przeworsk, Poland in 2007, the first thing to note about the four musicians is their youth. They started the band when they were mostly 15 years old, and were still teenagers when this record was released. With that in mind, the compositional sophistication and the complex musicianship involved here is even more impressive.
What you have is an album that drifts freely between the poppier side of djent, the atmospheric side of neo-prog and the lighter shades of prog-metal. Disperse is often described as "prog-metal" but that should not be taken to suggest that this is filled with heaviness. The "metal" description is used because the guitar is the dominant instrument and its heavier moments are as weighty as the likes of Andromeda, Seventh Wonder and Circus Mawimus. However, there is a bright tone to most of the playing, and the riffage is kept to a minimum. John Petruci is an obvious influence for Jakub Żyteck. But this is no shred-fest, and overall his restrained playing is closer to Allan Holdsworth.
Parts of Spirit Of Age is probably the heaviest that Disperse get, but even those are balanced by a delightful jazzy ending. Indeed, it's the longer tracks, towards the end of the album, that possess the heaviest moments, where the added time allows more space for the guitar to explore its full repertoire.
The voice of Rafał Biernacki can also bring a melodic-metal force, but he more often utilises a melancholic, softer tone. His ambient use of the keyboards, also lightens the tone. He has an impressive ear for a good melody and hook-line.
Every time I spin this on my full music system, I am bathed in the perfectly-executed work of bassist Marcin Kicyk and drummer Przemysław Nycz. The bass tone is sublime, and Marcin hits some delicious grooves.
And that is the key to this album's success; it has melodies and groove that you remember for years.
The band released two further albums. These followed more of a djent direction, and so didn't appeal to me in the same way. Following a six-date Polish tour with Distorted Harmony at the end of 2018, Jakub quit the band and there has been no activity from Disperse since.
Jakub Żytecki has gone on to develop a successful solo career. Fans should check out his Nothing Lasts, Nothing's Lost album from 2019.
Singer Rafał Biernacki also has several releases under the Undefy banner. The most recent album, Promise, is available on Bandcamp.
Division By Zero — Tyranny Of Therapy
If I was to ever write a book on the history of progressive metal, this is one of those albums I would include under the heading of "classic albums from obscurity-ville".
All I possess is a CD-ROM promo that I received on its release in 2007. Yet each time I sit down and listen to Tyranny Of Therapy I remain incredulous that this album and this band has remained a name that barely registers with a Google search. (I'm still searching for my own copy of the full CD release, should anyone be wanting to pass theirs on to an appreciate home!)
Formed from the ashes of various Polish metal bands, DBZ released two EPs before signing to Insanity records for this, their debut album. The line-up is credited as vocalist Slawek Wierny, drummer Mariusz Pretkiewicz, Michal Wieczorek on bass, Leszek Trela on guitars and Robert Gajgier on keyboards.
The album consists of five songs and three intro pieces that seem to tie in with some sort of dark, storyline concept thing. I'm just so happy with the five songs, that I've preferred to keep any storyline out of it.
In a musical nutshell, what you have here is an expertly-crafted blend of aggressive riffing, ambient passages, melancholic neo-prog, tech-metal, death-metal and a hint of gothic rock. Each song passes through multiple themes and phases. At different times I'm reminded of Opeth, Andromeda, Riverside and a clutch of similar bands. But no single style dominates.
It is complex and dynamically rich. It is a perfect amalgamation of differing, yet complimentary styles. It is a genuine prog-metal extravaganza. Sixteen years later, it still provides a feast for my ears.
The bass work, the drumming and the multiple sounds of the guitar are all perfectly judged and placed. Slawek Wierny strikes a good balance between his use of harsh and clean vocals. The keyboards are used mainly to add a soothing layer and some additional textures. The flute sounds employed on Deadline Meeting are very effective, as is the piano on the closing Self Control.
I can't select a favourite track as this is one of those albums where all the pieces are added together to make a complete and totally satisfying whole. If there is ever an award for 'The Best Prog-Metal Album You Have Never Heard Of', then this is a definite contender. A true, hidden gem from the prog-metal underground.
Division By Zero split in 2013 after the release of their second album Independent Harmony in 2010. I do have a copy of that album. It is a credit-worthy collection of songs, crafted from a very similar mould, but I don't find it as compelling as this debut. The band reformed in 2018 and announced that they were recording new material, but nothing has so far appeared.
Millenium — Exist
Millenium is a Polish five-piece formation that released their debut eponymous album in 1998. Exist is their seventh studio effort.
When I came across this album in 2008, according to the descriptions on the internet I had the idea that this was their best album so far. Until then, I had been unaware of Millenium, shame on me!
This album contains four long compositions (all between 11 and 16 minutes) that sound very tasteful and contain lots of flowing, shifting moods and some surprising musical twists and turns. A good example of this is the final part of Embryo (first sparkling grand piano, then a catchy mid-tempo), a solo on the Warr guitar during the conclusion of Up & Down.
I also enjoy the flashy synthesizer solo in Rat Race and the sound of the vibraphone in the final track, Road To Infinity.
Millenium's sound is melodic, accessible and modern, but I also notice hints of early Pink Floyd because of the Gilmour-ian guitar work (loaded with emotion and very compelling) and the warm organ sound. The colouring by the guitar and keyboards is very tasteful, along with the emotional English vocals and the frequent changing atmospheres.
Millenium succeed in keeping my attention, despite the long-running time of the compositions. My highlight is the final song. First dreamy with acoustic rhythm guitar and melancholic vocals, then lots of flowing, shifting moods. Halfway through there is a wonderful part with orchestral keyboards and piano, then a splendid build-up to the final section with inspired vocals, a long and moving guitar solo (sounding between David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler), supported by lush organ and slow drum beats. This is Prog heaven!
I was pleasantly surprised to discover yet another Polish prog-rock band with a very melodic and tasteful album featuring lots of exciting work on guitar and synthesizer.
Millenium have so far released 17 studio albums and a number of live releases and box sets. Their most recent album, Tales Of Imaginary Movies, was released in 2022.
Mindfields — One
On their modern-sounding debut album, the Polish quintet of Mindfields starts with the alternating composition In This Life. This is a great song, from mellow with piano/strings and a tight mid-tempo rhythm with fiery guitar and lush organ, to a wonderful part with piano and orchestral keyboards and strong solos on guitar and synthesizer.
The album contains five songs lasting between five and eleven minutes. Three of these are followed by a short instrumental track featuring beautiful classical guitar (the final one also offers soaring keyboards). The other three compositions deliver lots of variety: a spacey intro, Jimi Hendrix-like wah-wah guitar, Floydian-inspired guitar runs and an exciting duel between guitar and synthesizer in Ready To Live
We have lots shifting moods and tasteful work on guitar and keyboards in Home, and a compelling final part with heavy guitar, lush organ and powerful drums beats in the highlight Nobody's Dream.
To me Mindfields sounded a very promising band, it is a shame that this was their only album.
Footnote: Very little is known about this five-piece, since they had no official website. We do know that Mindfields shared musicians with three other excellent Polish bands. Drummer Tomasz Paśko also played drums with Millenium (also in this edition). Guitarist Marcin Kruczek was with another fine neo-prog band Moonrise. Kruczek was also the guitarist with another Polish neo-prog band, Nemezis (also reviewed in this edition). Mindfields was therefore probably just an assembled one-off side project by artists belonging to these other Polish bands and their musician friends.
Nemezis — Nemezis
Nemezis was a Polish five-piece band that delivered wonderful neo-prog on its eponymous debut-CD. From mellow with twanging guitars, soaring synthesizers and warm female vocals, to compelling and bombastic with varied keyboards and beautiful (often Steve Rothery-like) guitar work, at many times I was carried away to Marillion's Fish era.
The band was originally started back in 1996, with a line-up that included guitarist Marcin Kruczek (later member of Mindfields). They recorded a handful of songs which were released on a sampler, and were busy recording their debut album when the band fell apart.
Some 12 years later, Kruczek decided to refresh and re-record the songs with a new band, consisting of Karolina Strużycka (vocals), Krzysztof Lepiarczyk (keyboards), Piotr Lipka (bass), Waldek Kowalski (drums, percussion), and himself on guitar. The final product was issued by the Lynx Music label in March 2008.
My highlights are the moving guitar solo in Unknown Tomorrow, the exciting interplay between a church-organ sound, guitar and drums in With No Return, a spectacular synthesizer solo in Somewhere In Time, and the long final piece The End. This stretches out to more than 12 minutes and succeeds in generating a lot of excitement.
It opens with a dreamy intro with warm vocals, piano and soaring keyboards. Then a wonderful part with intense orchestral keyboards, beautiful piano with longing vocals, sensitive guitar play in a slow rhythm, a mid-tempo section with propulsive drums, a long and harder-edged guitar solo (like Steve Rothery at his pinnacle) and a quite mellow conclusion with piano and again that excellent female voice.
This is highly recommended, especially to the neo-prog fans. Shame that we never heard from this band again.
Peter Pan — Days
This Polish quartet is a project by drummer Wojtek Szadowski, known from Collage and Satellite. The sound on their debut CD sounds like a heavy melodic rock with interesting progressive tendencies, in which the drummer (with his powerful and lush sound) and the guitarist (with his propulsive riffs and lots of fiery and biting solos somewhere between Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore and Joe Satriani) are omnipresent.
The vocals by Peter (who according to the back sleeve is very grateful to the inventor of beer) are strong, with frequent emotional undertones, from warm and dreamy to raw and expressive, especially in the final track Cold As Stone. Here there is a captivating combination of percussion and fiery guitar runs. The keyboards sound a bit on the background, but I enjoyed the tender grand piano work and some spectacular synthesizer solos.
My highlights on this CD are I Am The One (fiery and propulsive with a Red-period King Crimson-like rhythm-section and sensational work on guitar and keyboards), Flying Over Paradise (breathtaking, very varied guitar-play), Living On Your Own (spectacular duel between guitar and synthesizer) and the varied Island (from dreamy to compelling with a great grand finale featuring howling electric guitar and heavy drumming).
Overall this is an exciting album for the prog fans who are into more heavy-prog and who love heavy guitar work. There have been no other releases from this project.
Pinkroom — Psychosolstice
How many of you have had this happen?
I was at a music festival somewhere in Germany, when on a whim I bought an album. The cover intrigued me. I'd read a few positive reviews about the release. It sounded like it might be my sort of thing. Worth a gamble.
I put it in my bag and that's the last thing I remember about it.
Once home, I might have played it once. Possibly I thought that it needed more time than I had at that instant. Maybe I listened to the first few songs and I wasn't in the right mood. Maybe I put it onto a pile of CDs and never played it. Whatever happened, I forgot I had ever owned it. It sat untouched, unloved, among other bands beginning with P on my music shelves.
I might never have rediscovered Pinkroom unless I had flicked through that particular shelf in search for some Polish prog albums to include in this feature.
Pinkroom was a band put together by Mariusz Boniecki (guitars, vocals, keys, samples) and Marcin Kledzik (drums, percussion) shortly after leaving high school. On this album, the bass duties are credited to Kacper Ostrowski.
And overall this debut album is a pretty impressive effort; especially the first quartet of tracks.
If you're a fan of Porcupine Tree or many of the bands on the Kscope label, you should enjoy Psychosolstice. It's a little dark; very modern for its time. There are hints of that typical melancholic style of Polish neo-prog but composed with a very art-rock approach. It is mostly performed and produced masterfully.
Opener Path Of Dying Truth is the highlight. A simply wonderful track that blends modern and classic Polish prog through a range of different styles and dynamics that have been blended together seamlessly.
Buried Hopes and Dispersion employ a similar approach, each making a different impact by utilising instrumental bridges that contrast-yet-compliment the principal mood of each song. Quietus is all about the groove in a REM-meets-Believe fashion.
Mariusz's vocals hold a limited, lower-middle range. They aren't the strongest part of the band's sound, not helped by some awkward pronunciations and an over-use of processing and effects. I like the occasional use of the cello. This should be developed more in future.
After this, there are two instrumentals, whist both Stonegarden and Days Which Should Not Be employ a more discordant melodic approach that doesn't work so well. The balladic Recognized is too one-paced and predictable.
A second album, Unloved Toy followed two years after this release. However, the band appear to have had no more output since then.
Tale Of Diffusion — Adventures Of Mandorius (The Bird)
And now for something completely different.
Tale Of Diffusion was formed in 2002 by Bartek Florczak (guitars), Tomek Pawlikowski (bass) and Radek Malinowski (drums). The threesome had played together in another band. However, with the addition of Michal Szmidt (guitar), a new outfit was complete, and the band started working on their own material, releasing a first demo in 2006.
After honing their craft as a live act, including experiments with multimedia performances, their debut effort Adventures Of Mandorius (The Bird) was issued in 2009.
This quartet is one of the few that have taken a purely instrumental approach to neo-prog. What you have is a good mix of gentle atmospheres and more up-tempo, rockier sections led by the guitar. Guest musicians add the keyboards, but it's a certain Szymon Żmudzinski who makes this album a real treat for me, with his delightful contributions on the trumpet.
Overall it's a pretty mellow affair but beautifully played and composed. The 17-minute, multiphase Melody Man is my personal favourite (video here). The closest comparison I can make is a blend of Satellite, Lunatic Soul and Fren.
The band's website and social media page no longer exists, so I guess this is another addition to the long list of promising Polish prog bands who released one album and then disappeared.