Arena — The Theory Of Molecular Inheritance
Arena's 2018 Double Vision album was reviewed by four contributors in a Round Table Review and was graced with high scores from all four. Their enthusiasm lured me back to this band that I had almost given up on after finding, to my ears, The Unquiet Sky very disappointing . After having heard Double Vision I could only conclude that I wholeheartedly agreed with my colleagues: that it was one of the better Arena albums, showing the band at a peak and pretty much comparable to their first three great albums.
Why its successor, studio album number ten The Theory Of Molecular Inheritance was overlooked here until now, I can only guess. I was given the album for my birthday last March, put it in the cd player and was instantly hooked to the songs. The main reason is Damian Wilson of Threshold, Headspace and Ayreon fame, amongst others. Damian Wilson's powerful and expressive voice is immediately recognizable and that lifts the music considerably. He is Arena's fifth singer, replacing Paul Manzi who left the band in a friendly way. For the rest the line-up of Mike Pointer (drums, percussion), Kylan Amos (bass), Clive Nolan (keys, piano) and John Mitchell (guitars) remained stable and that also pays off in very tight playing. All songs have been written by several members of the band in changing assemblies with Clive Nolan providing all lyrics.
And the lyrical theme of this album is quite special. The excellent booklet contains a short description of the theory of molecular inheritance by Luis Nasser, bass player in Mexican prog band Sonus Umbra who happens to be a theoretical physicist. The concise and well-written text explains that the theory has something to do with the crazy fact that quantum fields of a certain molecule can be entangled with another molecule elsewhere. That phenomenon can be interpreted as molecules of a deceased person will later on return in another living creature. Quite exciting of course, but it also goes completely above my comprehension. To use it as the leading theme for the lyrics of eleven prog songs is daring, to say the least. Yet, Clive Nolan did a great job.
The album contains ten mid-length songs and a sort of short interlude after the first three songs. There's no stand-out epic track like the more than twenty minutes The Legend Of Elijah Shade closer on the previous studio album. I didn't miss such an epic at all for there is more than enough to enjoy here.
To my ears, the songs are more varied and dynamic than on former Arena albums. Apart from the first steady rocky tune, most songs have a very fine alternation between quieter and heavier parts while all songs offer great catchy choruses. Most are midtempo except the ballad Twenty-One Grams that smoothly undulates along the leading vocal lines with rather quiet music and the acoustic Confession with just Wilson, piano and acoustic guitar.
There are numerous subtle keys and piano parts that mainly support the music but Nolan also has a fantastic Moog solo in Integration. The rhythm section is excellent in laying the fundament for the songs without being upfront. Mitchell shows his exceptional guitar qualities throughout the album, predominantly in the riffing, but he also shows it in quite a few right-in-your-face solos, such as in Field Of Sinners, Part Of You and Life Goes On. All together this is an album full of highly dynamic songs and great variation.
Apart from the daring lyrical theme and the fine amalgamation of songs the stunning bright artwork by David Wyatt is another fantastic asset of this album. The colour orange is widely yet subtly used, providing the slipcase package with a very artful profile. The accompanying booklet is of the same high designers quality and invites the buyer strongly to read the creative lyrics.
Rumours have it that Nolan has asked Wilson to become their singer already some years ago but their mutual obligations didn't match. Now the time has come that Arena can boast on his exceptional voice and power as part of their sound. It has resulted in a very fine album that I found even better than their former. Hopefully this line-up will stay together for a considerable time, so they can keep inspiring each other musically and creatively. This first Arena album with Damian Wilson on lead vocals surely tastes so good that it would be a big shame if it proved to be just a one-off occasion. Highly recommended!
Glen Brielle — Still
Glen Brielle is the name of the musical project of Hugh Carter whose name may be familiar to those who are familiar with the history of Scottish prog rockers Abel Ganz. Carter was a founder member of that particular group and played on three of the four albums they released between 1984 and 1994. In 1996 the band went 'on hiatus' (i.e. split up) for ten years before a chance encounter between the founding members Hew Montgomery and Hugh Carter saw the resumption of band activities, releasing a new album in 2008 following which Carter again left the group.
In 2016 Carter was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, which is usually a terminal diagnosis with a life expectancy of about six months. However, a new treatment that is effective against the particular strain of cancer that Carter has stabilised his disease for the time being. While all that was going on he managed to write and record his first solo album, Still.
One can dismiss any thoughts of similarities to Abel Ganz as the album is a very bucolic effort, enhanced by bird song on several tracks. Five of the eleven tracks are instrumental and are the highlights of the album. Dawn is credited to Carter and Fredrick Delius with Carter responsible for the dawn chorus of birdsong underpinned with synth strings at the start of the piece and Delius for the classical section serving as an overture to the album and successfully arranged for electronic strings and reeds by Alan Heartson. The two Cat pieces are very different with The Cat That Played With The Wind being a more discordant piece dominated by harmonica and The Cat That Walked By Herself by flute, with an ending that dips into Indian music utilising vocal and percussion samples. It also features an electric sitar which I believe Carter built himself. Moving On and Dusk both feature Carter playing classical guitar, keyboards and, in the case of the former track, a glockenspiel. This piece also features Fiona Cuthill on violin and Pippa Reid-Foster on harp. Both are quite lovely pieces of music.
Unfortunately, the remaining six tracks are the hardest to listen to. In all honesty I couldn't actually sit and listen to the whole album in one go. The lyrics are obviously very personal, but by insisting on singing himself he is hurting what in a lot of cases is quite pleasant music.
Thankful also features his daughter Bee on vocals and although her voice is easier on the ear it is obvious that she is untrained and inexperienced. There are some highlights, such as the Hammond organ, played by Jack Webb, on Crowsley Park Wood, in fact the instrumental section it is great! Heart Lies is probably the low point while Slumber Sweetly is another Southern Asian Bollywood special mixed with Western keyboards. Even though it is nearly 13 minutes long it does seem to pass quite quickly, which says a lot about how one's interest is maintained throughout. To that end it can be regarded as a successful endeavour.
Carter is a true multi-instrumentalist playing the majority of instruments on the album himself. And all things considered it would in my opinion be best if he stuck to what he is best at, being an instrumentalist.
Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius — Behind The Curtain - Live At Progstock
Confession time. How often do you find yourself reviewing a band that had remained unknown to you previously, yet you find their material to be so compellingly good, you want to discover everything about them.
Such is the issue with a band from America called Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius. I was sent a series of videos taken from a number of live venues across America, over a protracted period of time and have been asked to write my review based upon what I have experienced. This release, due out in May 2023, forms part of a 4 disc boxed set which includes 2 CDs, 1 DVD and I Blu-ray so it's a pretty compelling package, size-wise. Firstly, my initial concern was based upon the fact that it took over 3 nights to download all the content. The files were huge, would often fail to download completely and then required multiple attempts to complete the download. Despite these issues (which appear to be solved now DPRP have been sent the full product — Ed.), I must confess to being totally overwhelmed by what I saw and heard.
The band's main minstrel, Joe Deninzon is a multi talented musician who sings quite well, writes most of the band's material from what I could tell and is a mean electric violinist of extraordinary talent. Joe's weapon of choice is an Electric 7-String ”Viper” violin which has an amazing sound all of its own. He is supported by Michelangelo Quirinale (Guitar & Vocals), Paul Ranieri (Bass & Vocals), Jason Gianni (Drums & Vocals). They also team up with Rachel Flowers (Piano & Flute) and Alex Skolnick (Guitar) on a couple of songs.
As I did not have all the promotional material with me prior to listening to all the music, I have inadvertently played the various tracks in a different order to that which may have been intended if played using an original DVD, I will, however, try and give an example of what we are dealing with regarding the band and their music. From the artwork which finally found its way down under, I can determine that the contents of both the DVD and Blu-ray are exactly the same, albeit with differing levels of sonic and visual quality.
The song, The Prism, has a very catchy melody and being dominated by violin was a great starting point for me as it gives a clear indication of what to expect. The band play a very tight and well controlled version of progressive rock with clear insertions of jazz fusion at frequent points. They also embellish their sound with very confident multipart harmonies courtesy of their drummer, guitarist and Joe. This is very well demonstrated on The Missing Link, Release and One Foot In The Next World.
Deep, resonant, well slapped bass gets things underway for Take Your Medicine and really exemplifies how good their bass player is. Some fiery excursions from the guitar and violin also add some tension to the song. If you wanted to hear how good an Alembic bass sounds, Paul is your man. Their guitarist also plays with a very fluid style and often breaks out with some pyrotechnical wizardry from time to time, as is well witnessed on Release. Their drummer is also equally gifted and throws in plenty of excellent fills and triplets to reinforce his position as a premier musician.
The musical highlight without doubt was the extraordinary version of Spain, made famous by Chick Corea and Return To Forever. This featured Alex Skolnick as a guest guitarist along with Rachael Flowers, who despite being sight impaired, played the most compellingly perfect piano and flute sections you are likely to hear. You may also have come across Alex previously through some of his other bands, including The Alex Skolnick Trio, Savatage (1993-94) and Attention Deficit, featuring the legendary Michael Manring on bass. Whilst Alex's work with Savatage was centred around progressive metal, his other work is firmly rooted within the jazz-fusion genre where he seems more at ease.
Another highlight is the song, One Foot In The Next World as Joe utilises some type of emulator to create a very convincing sound that you would have sworn was made by an electric guitar.
While we are being treated to some pretty imaginative and catchy music, the band also feature a number of different videos appearing on the rear screen and include a stunningly diverse array of images and scenes, played during both concerts. This is particularly noticeable during the track Imposter. It needs to be seen to be believed. Joe also unleashes some incendiary violin to really take the song to another level.
The band also do a great deconstructed version of Hysteria by England's Muse, despite one reviewer from the UK giving it the thumbs down. I thought it was excellent but each to their own, I guess.
Alex rejoins as a guest for the song, Heavy Shtettle, this time using the electric guitar. However, it is their bass player who steals the limelight as he embarks on a stunningly clever burst of slapped bass underpinned by a short drum solo. If you wanted to demonstrate your virtuosity to an audience, then this is how it should be done. Great stuff!
As good as all this music was, I did not find that much variety from song to song as the overall style repeated its own formula more often than not. This is not a criticism per se as too many other bands can adopt an overwhelming reliance on the one instrument and which then creates too much repetition with the songs. Just listen to a series of albums by someone such as Jean Luc-Ponty, (huge fan however), for example, and you may detect a similar degree of sameness to the music. As a really avid fan of the keyboard family (particularly, synth, mellotron, organ, piano, harpsichord etc), I would always welcome their inclusion somewhere in the list of instruments used. Whether including any of these instruments would work for the band or not, I really can't say, but I must confess to feeling I was missing that special something to prevent this release being a perfect 10. Having said that, however, I have really enjoyed watching this band's various performances captured during a number of sessions that were to be featured on Progstock between 2019 and 2021 and know I will keep them on constant rotation within my usual musical mix.
Whilst I understand the majority of bands these days send out digital copies of their music to various reviewers around the world, due to spiralling costs, it does have its limitations. The inordinate amount of time I needed to spend on downloading everything would have been averted. More importantly, it makes it difficult to review the whole package and performance in its entirety. I was not able to impart that level of detail in this review that would ensure you were fully motivated to buy the whole package. (We welcome the physical product that was sent to us very much! Sent 6 weeks later, it was too late to be included in this review, but we're 100% sure our reviewer Greg is going to love it when we forward it to his address! — Ed.)
Having said that, I wholeheartedly embrace what the band have been hoping to achieve with their music as it's not often that you come across bands utilising the electric violin to such great effect. The synergy between these 4 outstanding players is really quite remarkable and helps to reinforce why this damned hobby of ours remains so compellingly addictive. This ticks so many more boxes than I can't count them without using an abacus.
This is a very fine set of songs and forming part of a larger package, means you will be up for a few more pesos compared to just a single disc release. After a few short spins on YouTube or your other media source of choice, you will discover plenty of excellent, gritty songs to familiarise yourself with the band's music. We have loads of very accessible songs that are instantly likeable, stunning musicianship, memorable tracks and melodies together with a formidable group of seasoned players who are at the top of their game. What's not to like!
After that, I suggest it is a lay down misère (a predicted easy victory in a card game — Ed.) before you need to reach for your wallet and make the purchase. It is also pleasing to see they have had all discs mastered by no lesser specialist than Dave Kerzner.
Accordingly, I give this a very high recommendation and as I have enjoyed hearing these performances consistently for over the past 2 weeks. Well done guys! I am very impressed with your efforts!
Dorian Shroom — Nothing Is Sacred
I am not going to have a discussion on whether the best music was produced in the 1970s, but the number of bands taking a lot of influence from that era means there are a lot of people thinking that that is the case.
Greek band Dorian Shroom are one of those. Listening to Got Me Rolling gives you an idea of how much they love bands from that era - Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Rainbow...
The bluesy background that is the foundation of all (mostly British-type) hard-rock, is present here throughout the album, and provides an emotional approach this band has towards their music. It is honest and heartfelt. But then there is a strong need to grow, to be different, making the result end up in progressive territories.
The opening screams Deep Purple with bluesy hard rock that has a bit of AC/DC riffing as well. The excellent vocals get a good display on this song. The composition is quite progressive - there is a lot going on, demanding several returns. And that description applies to many of the songs on offer here.
Unknown Love sticks out in that it's probably the most song-like track on the album. But still all that variety, little and big things happening. Closer S7eps is mostly a ballad type of song, but the last minute changes everything. Again! It's the mushrooms, I am sure, but I am loving this.
The mix of influences from each of the five musicians has resulted in a really progressive approach to hard rock, mixing several elements that I love very much. The album was made "D.I.Y." and they are proud to tell you that, but the production is nothing but great. What an unexpectedly diverse and great album, full of surprises and great musicianship.
Dreaming David K — Black Cat Metaphysics
Dreaming David K is David Kovacevic, operating with a band called Organic. Sometimes it's Organic, sometimes Dreaming David K and Organic, sometimes just Dreaming David K, and it's not consistent if you look at different artwork versions of releases. It's not very clear, so I feel free to stick to Dreaming David K. The website is also a bit of a mess, with unrelated quotes, info spread out, talk about digital download but only links to streaming services. I received the CD but what if I wanted to buy the FLAC files? May I suggest Bandcamp?
Availability of info and product aside, it is the music that counts, so let's take a look there.
Kovacevic is a very proficient keyboard player, and uses an array of different sounds. Some parts clearly show their love for 1970s bands like Greenslade and early Camel, while the overall feel of the whole album has a modern feel and often reminds me of Comedy Of Errors or Tamarisk. A massive emphasis on melody, obviously.
In several parts, there is some good interplay between keyboards and guitars. You can hear the experience in symphonic prog. It's not often that I hear brass used on a prog album where I can say I like it, but here it is! There is some tasteful use of the trumpet in a couple tracks. Multiple layers of keyboard sounds are everywhere.
Be it the longer tracks or the short ones, this album is loaded with bright melodies (Out Of The Darkness) and slightly darker tunes (Dragonhunter). In Multiverse Theory I found an unexpected reference, both in the science fiction storyline but also the music, to Inter Galactic Touring Band.
The more I listen to this album, the more I realise how I like the guitar playing. I must find out if he plays on other albums and hope there is a chance he can get a slightly bigger role next time. That solo in Man Make Mistakes really triggers the right bits in my ears/brain. Playing With Fire brings in a soulful and almost funky section, with bluesy guitar. The changes in moods and sounds make this an unexpectedly rich album.
The album is mostly instrumental. Some songs have just a few lines of lyrics. Although not a typical prog singer, Kovacevic has a pleasant and strong voice. But I have to admit that several lyrics and their rather childish rhyming schemes makes my toes curl. "Out of the darkness comes the light. Out of the shadows, burning bright"? "Mighty killer, you're a thriller"? I think most songs would work without lyrics but the vocals do add another element to the sound.
This is Kovacevic's third album. He wrote and apparently recorded a concept album in 1977 with some friends, but then it wasn't until 2020 he released his first album. I am going to check out the other two albums as well, ending this review with the recommendation to anyone interested in neo-prog to check this album out. Now I am a bit curious for that 1977 concept album...
Great Wide Nothing — Hymns for Hungry Spirits, Vol. II
Great Wide Nothing are a power trio from Atlantia, Georgia, USA, comprising Daniel Graham (bass, guitar, lead vocals), Dylan Porper (keyboards, guitars, vocals), and Jeff Matthews (drums). With a name like this I was expecting a darker musical style, so I was a little surprised by a more positive and at times even happy approach.
Fast-paced, not overly complex in general, highly melodic - if I didn't know these guys were from the USA, I would have guessed the UK, because of the neo-prog style that shines through in several sections. They call themselves a "progressive indie/alt/punk" band. That says a lot or not a lot at all. Prog from the 70s also comes through clearly, with traces of Rush and Saga, some Styx AOR touches.
By the way, the band name is a reference to the teaching of “emptiness” (Shunyata) in Zen Buddhism.
Only after hearing a big part of the album, I realised that Daniel Graham is credited for bass first, guitar second, and how that is saying something about the amount of guitars on the album. There is a lot of prominent and melodic bass playing. Porper takes the largest part of leading melodies on keys, both in melodic sections and in solos. But after a section of guitar in Inheritor (in a post-rock style - another thing I was not expecting!) I do think a bit more guitar would help in making the sound even wider.
Several songs twist and turn like Shadow Gallery. Verses and choruses are inclined to follow a simpler rock structure. But a song like Inheritor shows how they love their changes. The epic goes a lot of places too, from 2112 era Rush to modern-day Arena.
It's a real mix of American prog with a heavy dose of British prog. They will find fans among people who like IQ. The driving fast-pacing songs will appeal to Rush fans - especially the second track has a fair amount of Rush influences.
Graham's vocals are not so typical prog and that's a bit of a breath of fresh air. His voice combined with the neo-progressive elements in the music made me think of Mr. So & So. He's showing a great variety in the use of his vocal cords, especially in Viper.
The piano playing reminded me of Royal Architect, and is just one in a large array of synths sounds. I love the Hammond(-like) solo in the second track!
To Find The Light, Part Two is a continuation of a song that is on the band's previous album, Hymns For Hungry Spirits, Vol. I (at 6 minutes just a third of the length of part 2). Long instrumental sections varying in all kinds of aspects, and in a wide range. No need to explain more, if you like any of the names I mentioned before then you'll like this high-quality production of great songs. Time for me to check out their previous albums!