Amplifier — Hologram
The press release accompanying this new album from prog-psyche rockers Amplifier, states that their approach has changed from a jam-based development of songs, to one that uses the studio as more of an instrument. And it should be noted the production here is terrific. This is turn has led to a 'less is more approach'. Not that you would realise this from the psychedelic wall of sound that Sel Balamir (vocals, guitar, bass) and Matt Brobin (drums) create, especially on the first two tracks.
The album whacks straight-in with a grungy wall of sound as guitars, bass and drums fire away on Two Way Mirror's take on early Soundgarden (I always thought they were the most accomplished of the band's labelled "grunge"). But Amplifier soon move on when Balamir's vocals come in and the melody takes a psyche-turn.
Balamir's superb use of effects pedals produces different keyboard-like sounds on Sweet Perfume as it pares back the sound to end with acoustic instruments. Balamir also varies his vocal throughout the track. At one point, when he drawls 'You've been living on a cliché', he goes all Liam Gallagher!
Psyche-tinged guitar effects pedals produce a widescreen soundscape to introduce the title track. They grow into an open swirl of guitars and drums that takes its time in developing, but all the better for that. Tundra is gentler, with a Motorpsycho feel. After an acoustic start, Let Me Drive closes with a terrific, grinding riff. Amplifier close this short but great album with Gargantuan (Part 1), another fabulous workout.
The two musicians who make up Amplifier are exemplary. Matt Brobin matches the likes of Gavin Harrison, whilst Sel Balamir can out-Fripp Robert Fripp in what he can do with loops and effect pedals. Amplifier are a band that are inventing their own genre as they cut through any notion of genre straitjackets so beloved of music reviewers. The bands mentioned above are just a guide.
Do not be put off by the notion that Hologram is some sort of stop-gap as the pair work on a full-length release to be titled Gargantuan to hopefully see the light of day by the end of this year. On the evidence of Hologram it will have to be something special to match this release.
Greybeard — Dark Age
Greybeard began in Calgary in the mid-2000s, and swiftly released a series of EPs and singles before their first album, Oracle dropped in 2020. Album number 2, Dark Age, has now landed on the airwaves, complete with a short graphic novel written by frontman Ross Anderson. The story details a post-apocalyptic wasteland and a man trying to feed and water his family, as they journey to the Blue Waters of Salvation.
We are greeted by the cataclysmic opener of Boreal Decimation; a full onslaught of intense drums and harsh vocals detailing the destruction of society, backed up by equally aggressive riffs. Following this short opening, we are greeted by the atomic blast of Light From 1,000 Suns. A grooving intro, opens the doors to blast beats and lyrics detailing the end of times. Riffs are aplenty in this number as we vision the world melting, like your face does after the blistering solo.
Barren is just as heavy but strikes a more “evil” and foreboding tone as the black-metal influences shine through in the delivery. Vultures tells the tale of the family crossing the desert and searching for water as they make their way to shelter in the hills. Musically, it is tense, agitated and on an edge, successfully recreating how the family must feel.
The midway point introduces the semi-ballad of Beneath. Amanda Bourdon takes the main vocal duties with Ross following in for the choruses. Verse-wise we are drawn in with atmospheric melodies over melancholic cleans, while the chorus and solo bring in the emotional distortion and solos, coupled with the harsh vocals.
For the second half, we are introduced to the tight and restless sounds of Terra Umbra. Heavy, grooving and laden with catchy leads and enough riffs to put any of modern metal's big groups to shame. I almost imagine this would be what Megadeth may sound like if Dave Mustaine stuck to drink and drugs and started listening to Emperor.
The bleak outlook of 1,000 Years Of Night details the darkness that next blankets the world in the story. Chugging, blackened death abounds here, reminding you that the story is not a joyful one, but a strained one that can only have one outcome. Hall Of The Gods continues this bleak theme, with an almost blackened punk vibe; picture Lemmy, but in corpse paint rasping about laying the family down to rest after death.
The album closer and title track Dark Age, kicks off with a distinctly Opeth vibe before it mixes some dark and brooding lyrics about the “mother's last gasp”. Sprinkle on a few shredding solos, bake in the oven at “ominous clean bridge” and serve over a fateful outro of blast beats, riffs and licks.
This is a superb album, covering many areas of black, doom and groove metal. I'd highly recommend for fans of groups like Insomnium, Enslaved, Beelzebubs and earlier Opeth.
David Paton — Magic - The David Paton Story
So how does a book written by a pop star who was once a member of The Bay City Rollers end up being reviewed on a prog site? Well there is plenty of justification when said pop star is David Paton, whose biggest success came with the band Pilot in the early 1970s. But hang on, were the hit singles from that band's first two albums, (Magic and January), not both as far removed from the prog scene of the time as one can imagine? No arguments there, although I do confess to being a fan of the band and there is no denying that they wrote some great songs with Paton having a wonderful ear for a memorable melody and harmony vocals.
No, we are more interested in Paton's session work, which has been considerable over the years. In 1977, alongside a complete reunion of Pilot (who had split the previous year largely down to greedy managers causing friction in the band) he and the rest of Pilot got involved in the first Alan Parsons Project album Tales Of Mystery And Imagination: Edgar Allen Poe.
As an aside, Paton to his credit, doesn't mention the managers by name ('to protect their identity' so he says) but refers to them as 'Dim' and 'Thick'. As the identities of these individuals, Nick and Tim Heath (although I am not sure which one is Thick and which is Dim) is clear from the band's Wikipedia entry, perhaps they would have preferred to be called by their own names rather than the sobriquets!
Paton went on to appear on all but the final APP album, singing lead vocals on four songs throughout his tenure with the band (What Goes Up… from Pyramid, I'd Rather Be A Man from Eve, Children Of The Moon from Eye In The Sky and Let's Talk About Me from Vulture Culture). During the recording of the second APP album, I Robert, Paton was introduced to Paul McCartney who asked him to contribute his Scottish vocals to a song he was working on in a neighbouring studio at Abbey Road. It was, of course Mull Of Kintyre, although it has to be said that Paton's contributions are not clearly differentiated.
Shortly after the first APP album, Paton was asked to play bass on the debut album by a new female artist signed to EMI, a certain Kate Bush. He played on the first two Bush albums (The Kick Inside and Lionheart) and would have been on the third album, Never For Ever if it had not been for the fact that he had just started recording a solo album as part of a new solo deal he had signed for EMI. The label refused to reschedule the already booked studio time.
A pity, as appearing on the latest Kate Bush albums would have been far better for his career than the disappointing solo single that emerged to little fanfare and even smaller sales, resulting in the album being shelved. Paton is man-enough to admit he was ill-prepared for that, and should have spent longer writing new material to give the album greater structure. Still, he did recommend John Giblin to Bush, starting a musical relationship that persists to this day.
Interestingly, the two sides of the EMI single were released on a 2003 album called The Search, although it is not clear if the whole album is the one that EMI had rejected 23 years earlier, as it is not mentioned in the book, apart from being listed in the appendix as one of albums he has appeared on.
Paton remained a much sought-after session musician and the list of musicians requesting his services was impressive to say the least. Chris De Burgh (on his most proggy album, Crusader), Chris Rea (on his eponymously named fourth album), Jimmy Page (on the second and third Death Wish soundtracks) and Camel (The Single Factor, Stationary Traveller and later on, Dust And Dreams).
In 1984, he was back signed to EMI Records as part of Keats. Initially an idea by Eric Woolfson to have the core APP musicians Paton, Ian Bairson and Stuart Elliott alongside Peter Bardens and Colin Blunstone. The resulting album fitted into the sound of bands such as Asia and Boston but didn't catch the public's attention, despite being a wonderful album. Shame that the band fizzled out after the one album and never performed live.
Still, the next step on Paton's career was playing with The Elton John Band at Live Aid and then on the album Leather Jackets and subsequent world tour, and live album followed by the Reg Strike Back album, following which Elton took a year off. This freed up Paton to start a musical relationship with Rick Wakeman. This was originally just going to be a track or two, but Wakeman was so impressed that he wanted Paton to get more involved. It is a measure of Paton as a man-of-his-word when shortly after a Wakeman tour had been set up, he turned aside an invitation from Elton John to play at his comeback gig, a decision that I think that Paton, who largely does not seem to harbour many regrets, now rues (particularly as he intimates that Wakeman was pretty parsimonious). Sessions continued with Richard Thompson and the soundtrack album Sweet Talker, before Paton once again joined a band, one with a stronger progressive background.
The band was the one backing Fish on his second album Internal Exile. I wonder if that came about as a reciprocal recommendation from John Giblin, who had played on Fish's first solo album? If it did, I doubt Paton thanks him much, as despite appearing on two studio albums and no less than five live albums with Fish, Paton has very little to say about the singer or his time with the band. Seems the singer was a bit of an egoist and initially insisted that the band play behind a semi-transparent curtain, and was not at all pleased when the band objected. The curtain eventually came down.
The book also omits any mention of the death of Pilot co-founder and keyboard player Billy Lyall, which is rather strange considering he was instrumental in the group's formation. But on the whole, the book is more a tale of the musical experiences of Paton and not an autobiography per se, so as the two's relationship had floundered, and they were no longer in contact, it is perhaps understandable.
As a summary of a life in music, the book fulfils what it sets out to achieve, and is written in a free-flowing manner that is easy to read. There are several amusing anecdotes along the way, with the tale of Paton singing Magic to an audience of nurses while having a camera inserted into his urethra being one that he can hopefully dine-out on for many more years to come.
Robeone — Dream Suite
Have you ever heard of The Bob Moog Foundation? It is a North Carolina-based non-profit organisation, whose aim is to preserve the legacy of the legendary keyboard innovator, keep the flame burning and support musicians, beginners and fans of the instrument. It is also a small musical label, releasing music by Moog-inspired artists like Joel Chadabe, James Bailey and Robeone.
Behind this very Italian-sounding pseudonym hides Robert Schindler, a talented keyboardist with a line of solo albums since 2018. If a guitar brand like Epiphone or PRS would have released an album, you could fairly expect an unstoppable shred-fest by some home-grown virtuoso. Things turn way more interesting here, because Dream Suite is not about how many notes-a-minute Robert can hit; neither is it about exploring the borders of a Moog synth's capabilities. Moog is not the only focus of the record, as Robert uses a wide variety of black-and-white-button boards, from Korg to Mellotron, all of them with a purpose.
The opener, Hollow, is not hollow by any means, nodding to Renaissance music and solo works by Eric Norlander, whilst absolutely screaming for a painting by Rodney Matthews for an adequate image representation. All That Razz adds fusion elements to the picture, with light-hearted rhythms and almost frolicsome phrases. This track also features an extensive dialogue between Robert's keyboards and guest solo guitar (tasting more Mahavishnu than Return To Forever).
The story continues with Levels, a calm, relaxed number, which serves as an interlude to the following small suite M is for Moog, with its retro-futuristic, Kraftwerk-meets-Kubrick concept. It is a bit too abstract for my tastes, especially for something lasting seven-plus minutes.
Contrary to your expectations, Jazzmorphis is not an ill-hearted attempt to make an afro-cover of Finnish melodic doomsters. The track presents a beautiful amalgam of prog-tinged violin parts, ethnic rhythms, synths and piano (think Eddie Jobson jamming with Joe Zawinul). After three listens, it firmly established itself as my favourite on the record.
And then, the prima donna of the show, the 20-plus minute fractal synth extravaganza of Dream Suite, covering multiple styles from the Hans Zimmer / Vangelis soundtrack tradition, to 70s Moog experiments, to trance psychedelia in the vein of Ozric Tentacles, and many, many patterns in-between.
During the photo session Robert Schindler wears a Keith Emerson shirt. However ,I can't help thinking that stylistically he is slightly closer to Rick Wakeman, if you squint at the 70s legacy “compass”. Wakeman's career had many highs and lows, and this record revives memories of the more successful releases of the Yes wizard.
Robeone clearly favours versatility and accurate phrasing over Emerson's flamboyant rock aggression. A Lake-Palmer rhythm section would have an easy time here. In all honesty, there is not much rock or groove on this release, although the prog influences are obvious. It is interesting that Robeone cites Emerson, Jon Lord and Brian Auger as his major sources of inspiration, all of these used the Hammond organ way more often than Kurzweil or Moog, which plays a crucial for this project's sound. There's no contradiction or flaw in that of course, just a brush-stroke to Robeone's musical credo.
Keyboard solo records have long been out of the focus of prog-heads, and probably for a bit too long. Dream Suite is not likely to change this trend, but just as the Bob Moog Foundation, it maintains the flag high on the ground.
Various Artists — Songs For An Angel – Tribute To Eric Bouillette (Volume 1)
Multi-instrumentalist Eric Bouillette, originally from Nice, but more recently based in the UK, sadly died in the late summer of 2022. he was best known for playing with many bands and for making guest appearances with such names as Nine Skies, The Room, art-rock band Solace Supplice, Imaginaerium (with Clive Nolan), Nova Cascade and Drifting Sun. Many of these band's recordings have been favourably reviewed here on DPRP.net.
Unusually, for a tribute album, this first volume of Songs For An Angel contains mainly original material, rather than cover versions. Overall, due to the high regard in which Eric Bouillette was held by these artists, the songs are of a melancholy bent; displaying a sadness at his passing.
Eric does appear on two of the songs. First with his own composition, Toy Town, recorded with Freddy Scott. This is a nice slice of neo-prog, acoustic guitar-based with delightful electric guitar soundscapes and slide highlights. Then one of Eric's violin solos is re-purposed on Howard Sinclair's heartfelt tribute The Angels Will Lay Down Their Harps.
All the songs here are good, and are, in the main, neo-prog with dashes of pop and other influences. The best of these include the synth-driven, art-rock, neo-prog of BDD's Dream For The Future. All tinkling keys to begin with, it has some great guitar riffs joining later.
The similarly synth-based The Chrysdoll Project's Pour L'éternité has a pop-prog basis and features some lovely sax. There is a classy classic rock ballad by Ruby Dawn, the anthemic Heavens Angels. There is the short prog triumph of Solace's Dans La Couche Du Diable, that moves from a grand piano opening, through keys, some superb bass, the guitars making full use of dynamic contrasts, and great guitar and synth solos that make me want to investigate this band further.
A couple of pieces make use of classical influences. The Einaudi-like solo piano of Andsee's When The Night Comes (Silent Hell) is gorgeous and there is an arrangement of Ave Maria for choir, coupled with a church organ fugue, on Nicolas de Renty's Fugue Pour Notre-Dame Du Saint Rosaire. But looking at the album notes, the track only features Selin Atalay (sopranos) and everything else is played and sung by Nicolas de Renty. I looked it up, so I could credit the choir, but it turns out to be a duo on top-form both vocally and in the studio.
The rest of the tracks are worth a listen but as with many of these kind of albums they vary a little, and how much you like them depends on the artist involved. Having said that there is nothing here I dislike and there are some great tracks.
If I have a complaint it is that the overall air of justified melancholy is a little overpowering. It is obvious that all the artists here are reacting to the profound shock of losing their friend.
I'm hoping that Volume 2 of Songs For An Angel – Tribute To Eric Bouillette will have some upbeat celebrations of Eric's life to make the tributes complete.
Michal Wojtas — Lore
Michal Wojtas is a composer, producer, singer and multi-instrumentalist. He is the founder of Amarok who have had most of their releases reviewed on DPRP.net from the 2003 release Mujer Luna till the latest Storm, and a live review of their concert in Zoetermeer 2023.
Now, Michal has released his first full-length solo album, Lore. This album creates its own take on the kinds of mythology you find in Celtic, Slavic and Nordic traditions. It is inspired by these mythologies and the sound-worlds that their folk music inhabits. However, it has been modernised with field recordings, drones, electronics and a whole bag of ambient leanings.
Creepy, whispered voices, choirs and tribal-style drumming put you deep in the forest; damp and dark. The earthy rhythms are forceful but never forced, as it carries along imaginative folk melodies. The sort that worm their way into your subconscious. You find yourself humming them in quiet moments, and it leaves you wondering why they haunt you.
The instrumentation and sound is vibrant and organic. Wojtas uses synthesizers and samples sympathetically, alongside acoustic guitar, whistle and cello. He also plays the percussion. He is joined by Sebastian Wieladek on kora, hurdy gurdy, lyra, duduk and shawm. Kornel Poplawski plays violins on a number of tracks, further widening the sound palette.
Michal Wojtas' Lore works as a cohesive and coherent whole, creating a widescreen soundtrack full of terrific tunes, imaginative arrangements and a production that has a sense of purpose and integrity. The ambient and drone elements do not slow or distract from the forward momentum of this release. This haunted prog-folk will not be for everyone, but this one of those albums that gets under the skin after a few plays.
This is not an album that "rocks", however, if you have a soft spot for the likes of Norway's Wardruna, then this may be for you.