Album Reviews

Issue 2023-031

After Erik Neuteboom's 5-part series on Prog Andaluz (links at the end of this article), we continue the series in the regular Album Reviews category whenever we have a few reviews of new albums in that special sub-genre. Here, DPRP's Jan Buddenberg has four additions for you to explore.

Arábiga — Amores y desengaños

Arábiga - Amores y desengaños
Sueños de un sultán (5:04), Desespero (4:28), Una vida por vivir (4:23), Rumbo al sur (4:30), Frente a frente (4:24), Enamorando (4.49), La danza del amor (4:07), ¿Donde vas? (4:06), Tengo que ser sincero (4:26), Dejando media vida atrás (5:46), El día que dijimos no (4:33), ¡Cuanto hemos cambiado! (4:12)
Jan Buddenberg

Arábiga are from Lucena (Córdoba, Spain) and evolved out of Serafad, who in 2000 released an album titled La Calle Del Olvidoded. After an eponymous debut in 2008 and Retazos de Vida from 2012, Amores Y Desengaños (Loves And Disappointments) is their third offering. And one that instantly stands out because of its marvellously designed digipak which comes in DVD size and shows attractive artwork with well-cared for graphics and attention to details. All of which I gather to involve the various subjects addressed on the album, but my knowledge of the Andalusian dialect, and Spanish for that matter, is fairly limited to know this for a fact. One thing I know for sure though is that this album seriously rocks!

Consisting out of José Pino (keyboards), Mario J. Alcantara (lead vocals, rhythm guitar and lead guitar), both also involved in Serafad, and a muscular rhythm section of Raul Torrico (bass) and Juan Antonio Muñoz (drums), the band brings a highly appealing combination of catchy dynamic melodic rock with elements of "Prog Andaluz". Envision temperamental Medina Azahara injected with a proggy aphrodisiac of Magnum, bound together in a driving hard rock/metal casing laced with lush (orchestrating) keyboards and numerous tantalising guitar solos. Then you're halfway there.

The wonderful instrumental Enamorando that ends the "Amores"-section, opening in oriental atmospheres with hand claps and acoustic flamenco guitar played by Miguel Aguilera, is a fine illustration of this. Burning with passion the various moving guitar parts and enticing symphonic synth movements, tied in strings of engagingly gracious melodies that also incorporates refinement of piano, fires up memories of Triana, but at the same time manages to ignited long cherished prog metal memories of Andante Concitato by Bagheera.

A fitting example to the Medina Azahara/Magnum couple is Desespero which opens with sparkling synths and expresses an irresistible melodic rock drive that throbs with unmatched catchiness. This infectiousness is present in all compositions, but nowhere near as strong as presented here, and every time this song comes along it hears me stumble along vocally in my best Andalusian. The preceding Sueños De Un Sultán is a captivating composition which will instantly warm the hearts of Prog Andaluz fans through characteristic vocals and delightful oriental keyboards spurred on by lively drum parts. Together these songs provide a strong opening to the album. A strength the band maintains throughout.

The energetically charged Una Vida Por Vivir shows a similar infectious appeal, with a starring role for Alcántara. His wonderful fireworks evoke memories of extravaganza as experienced in Stars by Hear 'N Aid. The remaining "love" songs Rumbo Al Sur and Frente A Frente keep this fiery momentum perfectly in place. Each show relentless drives and an exciting melodic approach, spiced play and many delightful synth insertions, topped off by powerful harmonizing vocals in Frente A Frente.

The heavier "Desengaños" part of the album compels even more. It starts off extremely well with La Danza Del Amor which melts my heart through its feisty approach of blazing synths and shredding guitar work, guided all the way through with muscular rhythmic tightness and an overpowering sing-along chorus. This highlight is followed at breakneck speed by the furious ¿ Donde Vas ? and the spicy synth-peppered rocker Tengo Que Ser Sincero. The following Dejando Media Vida Atrás brings great satisfaction by showcasing a slightly more subdued character with beautiful piano arrangements.

Not letting go, the joyously contagious rocker El Día Que Dijimos No follows suit, after which the soothing ballad ¡ Cuanto Hemos Cambiado ! brings a touching and emotive finale, glowing with epic touches of melancholy and beautiful harmony vocals between Alcantara and guest vocalist Araceli Flores.

All in all, Amores y Desengaños marks a great and welcome return to the stage. It truly rocks from start to finish. Fans of melodic rock who like their prog symphonic and rock hard simply need to check this highly recommendable effort out. For those with a love towards a heavier Prog Andaluz style, this is good as it gets and definitely worth pursuing. Satisfaction guaranteed!

Randy Lopez — Apocalipsis?

Randy Lopez - Apocalipsis?
Señales en el cielo (4:19), Apocalipsis (5:35), Mi barrio ya no es mi barrio (4:27), Navajas de cartón (3:47), Pasado, presente y futuro (4:44), Maldición (5:25), ¿Quién mueve los hilos del mundo? (3:57), Un mundo sin amor (5:50), Espinas y rosas (3:42)
Jan Buddenberg

Randy Lopez has been walking the Andalusian Prog world for quite some time now. After his first steps in the seventies with bands like Expresión and Marrakesh, he was involved with Mezquita and in 1984 joined the legendary Medina Azahara. Fast-forward to more recent times he's been participating in various other projects or bands, like on Onza's Paradigma album from 2007, until in 2013 he launched his solo career.

Recorded in challenging times during 2020 and 2021 Apocalypsis? marks his fourth solo effort, this time a conceptual album directly reflecting on the world we live in and how this will come to pass if we don't change our ways. In light of today's alienating circumstances an almost true reality, strikingly captured in the album's prophetic artwork in which a glimmer of hope can still be discerned in the distance.

Musically Lopez (bass, vocals and keyboards) taps from the melodic veins of Medina Azahara and Triana with passionately performed temperamental heavy prog bursting at the seams with delicious Prog Andaluz. On the one hand through his authentic wailing voice, which admittedly takes some getting used to on my part, and on the other hand through the Arabesque-inspired melodies that pop up at times after the instantly appealing rocking opener Señales En El Cielo. In terms of solidity and reference, comparisons can be made with bands like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, while the doom inspired riffs in Pasado, presente y futuro sheds light Black Sabbath resemblances.

Musically all excellent, a standout feature is the lively captured playing pleasure of Lopez and his companions which splashes off the record. A first highlight in this is the almighty Apocalipsis. In addition to epic-sounding melodies, a lot of variety and melodic guitar work can be heard before this eclectic song takes an unexpected turn and plunges into a metal-inspired cataclysm of dazzling organ work and splitting guitar work that culminates in a world reminiscent of symphonic Tantra/Artnat strangeness.

In Mi barrio ya no es mi barrio and Navajas de cartón, the latter a Lopez-penned Medina Azahara composition from 1986, Lopez gallops unabated with contagious melodic rock and bombastic melodies that brim with energy and elements of Rainbow and Magnum respectively. On Pasado, presente y futuro he is aided by Ángel Ruíz (Storm) and Roscka López (Mezquita), and tones down his fury a notch to bring wonderful jazzy piano work and a steaming synth solo in the song's bridge.

Thundering tirelessly onwards as if chased by the four angels of the apocalypse, the excellent Maldición follows with sparks of heavy pomp rock. And then ¿Quién mueve los hilos del mundo? effortlessly keeps momentum going, through its tenacious drive and melodic complexities thriving on excellent organ play. A subsequent touch of classical influences in Un mundo sin amor brings short relief in the midst of all this fiery spectacle, before tantalising synths and shredding guitars pick up pace again and a heavy blast of lively Prog Andaluz reigns supreme. Closing track Espinas y rosas finally provides a beautiful catchy finale with engaging intricate melodies and a positive message captured in vibrant and uplifting rock 'n roll that invites for a sing-along.

Overall, Apocalipsis? exudes musical maturity and experience. Together with skilled performances and thrillingly expressed passionate deliveries, this makes a solid and strong album that shows an engaging appeal for fans of well-written, seventies-inspired heavy (prog) rock. Fans of Prog Andaluz, novice or advanced, are perfectly well-catered for by Lopez and would do good to discover this album before it's too late...

Onza — V - Divergencia y convergencia

Onza - V - Divergencia y convergencia
Divergencia y convergencia (6:21), Lado negativo (6:44), Nostalgia (5:06), Recuerdos (4:24), El tercero en discordia (8:36), La campana de cristal (8:06)
Jan Buddenberg

Hailing from Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, the origins of Onza go all the way back to 1989. During those early years the band made quite a name for themselves in the area and supported Pendragon on their first tour in Spain. Since then, the band has recorded four albums (Reino rocoso, Zona crepuscular, Paradigma, and Error de sistema) in ever-changing line-ups, where the only constant is the presence of Jaime Padilla (guitars, vocals).

On Onza's fifth effort, he's joined once again by David Navarro (drums, backing vocals), Alejandro Pérez (keyboards), and Javier Salmerón (bass, backing vocals). Each of them have played a significant part in one of the band's previous line-ups, but as far as I can tell they have never recorded as one unity.

A stand-out feature on Divergencia y convergencia is the beautiful open and lively transparent sound of the recordings. It gives the album a refreshing modern character and ensures that the many subtleties and intimate arrangements embedded within the engaging variegated melody-laden songs come to the fore. At the same time it provides a warm glow that fits soothingly to the sensitive bass approach of Salmerón and Navarro's strong rhythmic play, and overall serves the dynamics of the well-crafted songs perfectly well.

Comprising six compositions, equally divided between Padilla and Pérez, the bands musical style can be described as a fusion of jazz and eighties-inspired neo-progressive rock interwoven with subtle elements of Prog Andaluz. In that respect, instrumental opener Divergencia y convergencia is immediately a striking example and a bull's eye moment, which shows a band gliding with ease through many atmospheric moments with formidable interplay. It immediately evokes images of Jadis and Camel, due to the wonderful guitar sound of Padilla. Designed with wonderful jazz-inspired play in which touches of flamenco can be heard, it's the subsequent graceful synth loops, enticing fluid musical executions and Padilla's guitar sound that then provides a touching moment of nostalgia, imprinting Pendragon's heyday at time of their masterful The Jewel.

Lado negativo expresses the same positive joy and chemistry in play with oriental accents, beautiful interpretations of synths and excellent dreamy guitar work from Padilla. Just like opener Divergencia y convergencia, this song effortlessly captures attention, this time through Padilla's engaging melodic voice, strong harmonizing vocals in its chorus and a delicate touch of Pink Floyd in the melancholic oriented middle section.

The varied Nostalgia shows similar appeal and entices through its pop-influenced uptempo drive and fantastic interplay, complemented by richness of jazz-fusion and sparkling synths. An exhilarating centrepiece provides melodic luxuries and instrumental enchantment. The subsequent Recuerdos adds an acoustic emotive touch to this with divinity from cello and violin and expressed melancholy, with again wonderful interplay after an extremely beautiful transition.

And then magic strikes twice! First off with the glittering El tercero en discordia. After a beautiful, atmospheric opening, surrounded by oriental flute, glides with comforting ease through passages that alternate dynamic play and subdued melodies. All the while a twinkling Pendragon likeness shines through from energizing synths-swirls. When Padilla's mighty impressive enchanting guitar work then slowly conjures up heartwarming memories of Liaison's A Tale Of You (a song from the exquisite 1985 compilation Fire In Harmony), I couldn't be more pleased.

The album's second magical moment is La Campana De Cristal. It envisions that same, personally much cherished, period in time. Next to radiant performances throughout, this time Padilla takes this swirling dynamic composition to unprecedented heights with guitar refinements that show an astonishing resemblance to Nick Barrett of aforementioned Pendragon. Soaring into an ambient spacious bridge halfway through, the song slowly builds up into a Prog Andaluz momentum as flutes appear, joined by an outstanding run of spirited executions with mesmerising fireworks from both synths and guitar.

I hope this line-up will continue to deliver albums as captivating and pleasing as this one, although a recent concert still shows only three participating members. So maybe a change has happened already. This doesn't take away anything from this highly enjoyable gem of an album which has plenty on offer for neo-progressive rock fans to enjoy and treasure. Whether this be in preferred physical form or as a novelty USB suited for adapting to newer audio reproduction systems. Either way you can't go wrong.

Sherish — Escampa

Sherish - Escampa
Escampa (4:56), Colores (4:10), Volviste (4:40), El Mendigo Del Parque (4:46), Conquistando El Miedo (7:00), Contra Viento Y Marea (7:57), Escampa (versión confinamiento) (3:07)
Jan Buddenberg

In his review of Sherish's 2017 debut album El Candíl, my colleague Erik Neuteboom was bang on the money with his midway statement that "This is some spectacular Prog Andaluz". Their recently released second album Escampa indeed is, and I can't wait to get hold of this debut album for listening to Escampa provides a desperate craving for more.

Sherish, consisting out of Alberto Ramírez (vocals, drums), Juanma Rodríguez (keys), Juan A. Ramírez (guitar) and Diego Fernández (bass), certainly don't waste any time and get straight to the point with opener Escampa. Following an atmospheric entrance of classical-inspired romantics, this composition quicky bursts into dynamically played heavy Prog Andaluz, embraced by touches of flamenco, which reminds of Medina Azahara meets Magnum and slightly leans towards prog-metal enforced through ravishing guitar play.

Oozing passion, emotion and temperament, this varied composition brims with energy and catchy melodies. Beautiful symphonic elements provide a wonderful Arabesque atmosphere, rousing guitar work and a versatile rhythm section claim impressive lead role. Vocally supported by Manuel Martínez and Manuel Ibáñez of Medina Azahara, and Jésus Melli, this delightfully bombastic song is over before you know it.

That Sherish are capable of writing challenging, entertaining and infectiously eclectic songs is perfectly demonstrated by the subsequent Colores. In addition to an irresistible earworm chorus that one sings/hums along to after first exposure, this song excels in formidable propulsive interplay. Synths add a multiverse of Arabesque flavours and guitars add melodic attraction. After a surprising twist from a rap by Samuray King, a blistering synth solo and temperamentally expressed harmonizing vocals provide a memorable conclusion to this striking Prog Andaluz example.

In very close shave, El mendigo del parque ups the sing-along ante and compels through its outstanding tight drumming, refreshing keyboard playing, flashy guitar melodies and surprising counter rhythms. Complemented by very accessible vocals, beautiful choirs and a lush amalgamation of highly entertaining vibrant melodies, this song represents an undeniable invitation for singing (and dancing) and I gather this song to go down a storm in a live setting.

Featuring Manuel Reyes (ex-Medina Azahara) on drums and José Ant. Fernández Mariscal on mandolin, the preceding Volviste brings delightful classical influences and waltzing melodies. Swaying gracefully past symphonic and Andalusian influences, this concisely crafted composition fully captivates, especially when it enters a rousing passage of stunning guitar work and energising dynamics that ends most satisfyingly in a firm up-tempo passage decorated with lavishly swirling synths and elegant bombast.

Even more satisfying is the exquisite Contra viento y marea, which starts off intricately with restrained play but soon after soars into playful heavy prog. Initially somewhat reminiscent to Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, this vision slowly changes towards Mental Fracture in terms of inventiveness, joy in play and eclecticism, which I find an utmost joy. Without a moment's rest this highly contagious, brilliantly executed composition keeps on giving and giving. You hear the band effortlessly slay through enticing synth-laced melodies with marvelling bass and tantalising interplay, spurred on by excellent drums and pyrotechnics from guitar. A short breather in form of a dreamy synth intermezzo embraced by touches of jazz then brilliantly sets the song up for a thrilling finale with amazing soloing and formidable tightness in execution.

Conquistando el miedo shows the same creative calibre, and next to virtuous synths by Paco Roscka (Mezquita) and soothing Arabesque flavours, brings playful melodies mindful to aforementioned Mental Fracture with excellence in harmonising/duetting vocals from Ramírez and Pilar Tejada. Her voice adds a beautiful dimension to Sherish's music and I hope she returns in future for more. As would be my wish in light of the final three minutes of this sublime composition! The breathtaking heavy prog, jazzy refinements and symphonic delights, topped off by a marvellous guitar solo from Miguel Galán (ex Medina Azahara), could have lasted me a lot longer...

Something which applies to the album as well. Even extended by Escampa (versión confinamiento) - a beautifully stripped-down version of Escampa where guitar, vocals and synths bring a beautiful interpretation - the length of this fantastic record falls fairly short. In light of what's on offer you won't hear me complain though, far from it. So without hesitation I can firmly recommend this highly entertaining album which is an essential purchase for Prog Andaluz fans and definitely worth checking out for those in favour of refreshing adventurous heavy prog.

One thing I know for sure is that when I ever get the chance to see the band perform live, the perfect opportunity to hear these exciting songs come fully into their own, I imagine I'll be among the first on the front row to shout "We Want More! We Want More! Por Favor!"

Album Reviews