Franck Carducci & Mary Reynaud — Naked
Franck Carducci fans are kept nicely warm these days. First, through the recently released CD The Answer Live which captures the spectacular performance of Frank and his fantastic squad from 10 September 2022 at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer. And second, by the totally unexpected and surprising Naked, where he and Mary Reynaud bring an unplugged, cross-selection of their oeuvre complemented by various new compositions.
Within the nine songs, Carducci and Reynaud shy away from the electrifying progressive rock Carducci normally brings. The result is excellent, with songs that stand up effortlessly in their stripped simplicity.
A marvellous example is the pure entertainment of Slave To Rock 'n Roll that follows the lovely uplifting folk atmospheres of Under The Fig Tree. This acoustic interpretation, in which they are assisted on vocals by Laura Cox, is every bit as appealing as its electrifying counterpart from The Answer.
S&M subsequently turns the heat up with steaming intimacies and embracing melodies, after which A Brief Tale Of Time brings the shortest of delights with beautiful harmonies that perfectly illustrate the chemistry between Carducci and Reynaud. An aspect also visible in the Bruce Springsteen cover Dancing In The Dark.
Passing French folk caresses in Demain je partirai, and the captivating enticements of fan favourite Alice's Eerie Dream from Oddity, the mesmerising prog inspired Magic Passerelle then brings melodies heated by Mellotron sounds and Reynaud's emotive voice. This highlight is soon surpassed by the excellent album closer Artificial Paradises which is at least of the same pristine beauty as the original version featured on Torn Apart.
Overall the lion's share of Naked is extremely suitable to be played live in small intimate venues. Ideally equipped with a lovely fireplace from which a crackling fire burns. Although having said that, knowing Carducci, there is an element of "danger" involved in this, and you might want to dress accordingly when attending. For the high doses of energy with which he and Reynaud charge a venue during their shows, it might become fiercely hot and might make you want to change into your birthday suit. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Emetropia — An Acoustic Endeavor
This Linköping-based symphonic metal band follow up their full-length debut, Equinox, with An Acoustic Endeavor. This four-track EP sees them showing their chops without relying on volume or drama, and also gives the listener new music, with only one old track radically reworked into an acoustic ballad.
Here Emetropia modernise Scandinavian folk music without losing the symphonic impetus, talhough it is on a smaller and more intimate scale. The songs take tales of kings, wars and people's place in nature. They spin a robust but delicate web of sound over these tracks.
Piano, acoustic guitars and skittering, restrained drums on A Gentle Breeze takes a Canterbury-style trot through a story of everyday woodland folk. With dual vocals, Lisa Wallenberg's strong voice with a hint of whimsey, contrasts with Liam Strand's care-worn bass tones. A lovely start.
Mandolin and Strand's bass voice introduce The First Flower Blooms. His organ playing adds dark folk colour, and it picks up the pace with Oscar Heikkinen's drums, before synth-strings join.
The re-worked track, The Old Gods – Requiem, has the rising power that Disney's songwriters do on songs in their animations (this is not a criticism but rather admiration). Unfortunately, it is all too brief.
The organ returns on the pacey Shifting Seasons, with acoustic guitars intertwining from Olle Renius and Jonatan Jakobsson.
So, Emetropia's An Acoustic Endeavor is a restrained jewel. It's many facets reveal themselves on repeated listens. This EP functions as a bonus for fans or a solid introduction for newcomers.
Magna Zero — All Must Go
Los Angeles-based Magna Zero released this, their debut EP All Must Go, in 2022, and they will soon be releasing their first full length album, The Great Nothing. This trio make quite a racket, mixing hard-edged psyche-rock with a garage-rock and punk feel.
The EP starts with the title track's psychedelic guitar reverberating, before rocking out with a cracking live feel to the production. The vocals, from bassist and keys man Jason Moore, are punky and rough, matching the brink-of-chaos energy displayed.
David Aubrey's drums kick-starts Endure with echoey keyboard washes and Chris DiCesare's sharp lead guitar tones. Moore uses a different drawling vocal style here, as the track builds well. Choppy guitars and an insistent presence push Walking To Nowhere at much more than walking pace, as it gets heavier using a space-rock groove. We Are All closes the EP in fine style, with its hummable melody and super lead bass.
Magna Zero's All Must Go is a fun listen. If you are fed up with bands that have a humourless-earnestness then Magna Zero are for you. A fun, energetic mix of kosmik, psyche and garage rock. I'm interested to see what they do in the longer format.
Peter Mergener — New Horizons
Peter Mergener's first achievement in the world of electronic music dates back to 1982, when he and Michael Wessier released three consecutive albums on Klaus Schulze's Innovative Communication label, host to many contemporary electronic pioneers such as Robert Schroeder, P'Cock, Popol Vuh and Schulze himself. Renaming themselves as Software sometime in 1984, they issued many other artful EM-inspired albums until in 1999 their partnership ended.
By that time Mergener's own solo career was well and truly underway. Judging from Mergener's website, New Horizons marks his 25th effort. It is the first one to be issued on Lambert Ringlage's Spheric Music label. A digital version of the album is available from Prudence, a sublabel of BSC Music.
On New Horizons Mergener brings a Berliner Schule-inspired space exploration experience, which after an authentic, voiced countdown of the U.S. Discovery Crew takes off with the excitement of a launch in Discovery. A subsequent feeling of suspense and growing vastness then strikes the imagination as the space journey smoothly gravitates into the spacious atmospheres of Spaceshuttle, followed by immaculate impressions of tranquil weightlessness in the peaceful EM-environments of Surroundings.
Temporarily docking in the Tangerine Dream-inspired realms of Kosmonaut, authentic fragments of Russian Kosmonauts are added, alongside appealing sequences and gently-gliding melodies. An elegant, pulsating beat, and a delicate entropic synth-flow provides glowing attractiveness. Heart Of Space ignites visions of gazing upon our mysterious universe while flares of synths and twinkling fireworks form dreamy images of deep space.
Mergener's narration then washes ashore on a peaceful oasis in Hycean Planet, before in New Horizons it finds proof of terrestrial existence as the crystalline plains slowly defrost into a utopian riverbed that bursts with animated signs of wildlife. Fizzing with positronic sounds in an upbeat lively flow reminiscent of JM. Jarre, Ignition then announces a brisk return voyage to report back to the Houston Mission Control of a successfully accomplished expedition.
This expertly crafted album is an ideal soundtrack to space exploration documentaries, simultaneously igniting images of movies like 'Passengers', 'Silent Running' and 'Wall-E'. It denotes a worthy effort for space-oriented EM fans and marks a welcome addition to Spheric Music's vastly expanding galaxy of releases that sits nicely next to efforts by Roger Universe, Eternity, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze.
Mönster — Life Science
I'm sure none of our regular readers have heard about Mönster. Firstly, because they only released their debut album last year, and secondly because they don't play progressive rock. So, why are we writing about their album Life Science here?
Firstly because they sent us the CD and we like CDs, and secondly because we have this Prog-Bites corner to include those albums that still have something that we think could be enjoyed by our more open-minded readers. If you are one of those, please keep reading.
Mönster are Henrik Nilsson on drums, Markus Wikman on bass, Olov Lundberg on vocals, guitar and keyboards, and Mikael Hänström on guitar. They define their music as a singular blend of dreamy rock, folk-tone poetry, echoes of classic British invasion orchestras and moody space psychedelia. Of course, I can't describe it better, so take that definition as the good one because that is the kind of music you will find on this album.
You can also add some americana, once you listen to the song On My Way. I have to mention the great voice of Olov Lundberg and how well it fits with this type of music, but also the retro-keyboard touches that transport you back to the 70s.
This is a very good debut album with no bad songs and no fillers. No radio hits either. One can find interesting things in every song, but the opener Bridges Of Glass, Skogens män and Particle Arts are my favourites. I could give Life Science a clear eight if this site wasn't a progressive rock page, but for now I will leave it as a Prog Bite, and I'm looking forward to their next album. I hope Mönster can find their inner prog soul and add some progressive rock to their broad range of influences, because they know how to manage them and the result could be very interesting.
Aksel Røed's Other Aspects — Do You Dream In Colours?
There is not really any progressive rock or a fusion side to this release, so I can't imagine it appealing to many of this site's readers. I will review this as what it is - a jazz record. I do listen to some jazz, with my tastes running to mainstream 1950s jazz artists such as Cannonball Adderley, Hank Mobley, Freddie Hubbard, Thelonius Monk and my favourite Horace Silver. I am no expert on jazz but if Aksel Røed's Other Aspects will forgive me, I will give my thoughts on Do You Dream In Colours?.
An eight-piece jazz band from Bergen, they are led by composer and tenor saxophonist Aksel Røed, who gathered his friends from other Norwegian jazz bands to play in Other Aspects. He encourages his troupe to think outside the box and embrace some free-improvisation. For me and many others I suspect, these are where the problems begin, if you are not a fan of the likes of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy or Albert Ayler.
With Do You Dream In Colours? they employ this free improvisation extensively, with some tracks working better than others. The less successful tracks tend to be front-loaded on this album, thus making it, for the less committed jazz fan, a difficult proposition. The opening track Goiserer Jodler/To Whom This May Concerne starts with a gospel, spiritual feel with a duet between a trumpet and tenor, beefed up when baritone sax enters. The full band join quietly, and then stabbing piano notes signal a move into free-form jazz. This short section is all squawks, dissonance and a seeming lack of any structure. This will lose many people and would have lost me if not for having to review it. They do manage to restart a recognisable, if disjointed, melody some minutes later, and it has the big band feel of Charles Mingus.
The next two tracks show some improvement. The blues edge to I Usually Paint By Myself is engaging, but it has a raucous, barely-controlled coda that feels out of place. The be-bopish groove of Bergen Is The Prettiest In Blue has engaging horns that sadly drift into power-noodling at the expense of melody.
The best two tracks close the album. There is a crackling groove to Moonshine Movement, with crescendos of unison horns and a strong melody that survives the odd squonk. The title track opens with a lovely trumpet melody and fabulous drum work. The tenor solo is terrific, as the melody is explored. The coda is a return to the slow, gospel-infused feel of the opening track. There is more to this band than just 'make a jazz noise here', but unfortunately it is rather hidden.
Given how much I admire the playing, even when I didn't enjoy it, I think it's fair to credit the musicians involved. So Aksel Røed's Other Aspects is Aksel Røed (tenor sax), Lyder Øvreås Røed (trumpet, flugelhorn), Andreas Hesselberg Hatzikiriakidis (trumpet), Lauritz Lyster Skeidsvoll (soprano and tenor sax), Michael Barnes (baritone sax, bass clarinet), Sigurd Steinkopf (drums), Sverre Sæbø (bass) and Isach Skeidsvoll (piano).
Aksel Røed's Other Aspects' When You Dream In Colours is an album of extremes. It will be hated and laughed at in equal measure by those who don't buy into the jazz thing. For those who do get the jazz thing, it is hard work, and only rewarding for less than half its running time. For me this is a missed opportunity, given the talent on display.
Shroud of Bereavement — A Beautiful Winter
Shroud of Bereavement is a group that has been around for a while, having formed back in 1995. It wasn't until 2007 that the first full-length album, Alone Beside Her, dropped to positive reviews. An EP, While We Mourn followed five years later. However, the group then entered a prolonged state or hibernation before emerging with this, their follow-up album A Beautiful Winter.
Canticle sets the pace with a gothic and operatic-infused chunk of melancholy. Slow, impactful and driven by heavy chords, but lead by gentle piano leads and vocal harmonies between the soaring Katie Bunting, and the mournful Dan Robinson. Following, we have Amber Skies: Shadows of my Becoming. Harsh vocals, blended with the hard and melodic guitar-work, creates an imposing and solid wall of frustrated despair. Taking a leaf out of Theater of Tragedy's book, Katie utilises the soprano vocals to great effect, showcasing the “gothic/romantic” sound that a lot of death doom is known for.
An Unfimiliar Embrace softens the air, after the crushing ending of the previous track. Here we have keys and strings to take your hand in a manner similar to a lot of Saturnus' offerings. The use of keys and violins fits perfectly within the song, and the middle break helps to hammer in the misery.
A cheery number by the name of Bury Me In Silence is what comes next. Heartbroken lyrics and tortured growls accompany the growing sound, as the music combines into a blanket of musical gloom and beauty while we climb into the chugging crescendo.
Many might think winter is a horrible time, but as the title of the album says, you can also get A Beautiful Winter. It is gentle and heavy due to the atmosphere and sorrowful sound set out by the pleading and forlorn vocals.
At 15 and a half minutes, Sorrow and Certainty forms next. A long song, it ebbs and flows through all the places you expect. Gentle, caressing strings and keys come in to kiss the blows of dashed hopes from the heavier parts, before you're brought to your knees again by the oppressive and depressing beauty of the music.
The closing two tracks appear to be edits of the second on the album, splitting it up into two parts that showcases the different elements of it.
Musically, I am astounded I haven't come across these folk before. They would be right at home in the various gothic/doom playlists I listen to frequently. Well, they have been added to my lists now.
Musically, I'm reminded of a lot of early Swallow The Sun and Draconian, but elements of Agalloch also pierce through during the acoustic passages. I highly recommend them for any fans of (as Swallow the Sun put it on their second album) “gloom, beauty and despair”.