A.C.T — Falling
With five excellent albums, a live recording together with four brilliant sounding E.P.s, A.C.T are certainly a convincing act to follow and enjoy since their debut album in 1999. And now with their fifth E.P. we are treated to a somewhat familiar sounding but equally entertaining suite of songs that have really hit another home run for me. I really do like this band and was amazed that I was the only reviewer to offer to give my thoughts on this latest release.
The feature that really strikes me about A.C.T is their ability to continually compose songs that are dripping with melodic hooks throughout, memorable lyrics and a liberal dose of quirky musicianship. As soon as the first track begins on this E.P., you know intuitively that you are listening to A.C.T as I can't think of too many bands that sound even remotely similar, particularly with their vocalist, as he has a unique sounding voice that is hard to mistake for anyone else's. Think David Surkamp from Pavlov's Dog for uniqueness.
I have often seen reviews that the band sounds like Dream Theater, but I don't really see that connection despite the band being able to rock out when needed. Certainly the arrangements suggest much complexity here and there but to suggest a likeness to the cream of progressive metal is probably stretching it a little. There are no blistering synth runs that Jordan Rudess might throw around and there are few drummers who can create as much carnage as Mike Portnoy (or Mike Mangini more recently). Similarly, there are few guitarists who can caress and slaughter the strings of a guitar in the same song as well as John Petrucci does. Your mileage may vary but as is often the case, to each their own I guess. We all hear what we want to hear, irrespective of the influence. What we will enjoy with this E.P. are well constructed songs, with memorable and catchy melodies that become earworms in no time and a professional attitude to their craft that I really respect.
What I often hear with A.C.T's music is a subtle blend of 10cc, Sparks, Supertramp, Queen, the quirkiness of Be Bop Deluxe, City Boy, Pavlov's Dog and even a faint nod to bands that have managed to maintain a high level of singular uniqueness to their music. I am not suggesting the following examples sound like A.C.T but I am referencing their ability to offer something that is often a lot more than the sum of the parts. In the same way that I can really dive into bands such as Fleet Foxes, Phideaux, Happy The Man and others, also gives me encouragement to absorb as much of A.C.T's music as possible. They are an invigorating sound to enjoy and really make you feel they have gone out of their way to make sure you are able to memorise a lot of the songs.
Although the message behind the song's lyrics all suggest we are heading for ultimate destruction, there's not really much to complain about with this offering as the songs follow a well acknowledged formula that has worked really well for the band for almost 25 years. If it ain't broke, don't fix it as they say.
Collectively, as is often the case with any output from this very consistent band, we still get to enjoy the intricacy of their arrangements along with a satisfying level of uniqueness that very few bands can emulate. Great work guys! You have scored yet another convincing winner!
Luciano Basso — To Tell
When we, reviewers, give a “recommended” review, it could be: - because we — obviously — like the music, or - because we think that a lot of fellow progheads would love the music
Here's the third case. Not very often, just sometimes, a reviewed album is a sort of vitamins for the ears, plainly speaking. Good for one's general musical taste. Neither did I fall immediately in love with Luciano Basso's release, nor do I think that this album is your next game-changing In Absentia or Second Life Syndrome, that is one step away from major recognition. But I suggest that you either add To Tell to your collection or simply pay attention and give it a couple of spins. More about “reasons why” below.
Classically-trained keyboardist Luciano Basso started his prog career in 1976, releasing Voci, a debut much in the vein of Le Orme and New Trolls with a variety of keys, woodwind and string instruments, but above some fabulous grand piano playing. As he moved forward with new releases, Basso concentrated specifically on grand piano playing, eventually drifting away from prog-rock territory to modern classical grounds. Basically To Tell is just Luciano Basso playing piano, with delicate and appropriate inputs from guest musicians. There's no Emerson-ian rock'n'roll audacity in his approach, on the contrary his main skills are phenomenal precision and aristocratic restraint. This restraint is somewhat reflected on the cover of the CD, however the tone of the record is much brighter and diverse, and I feel that this inconsistency is the unfortunate flaw of the release. Don't judge this music by the cover!
Any album that concentrates almost solely on piano playing, should prove itself well-composed and safeguard listeners from snoozing. It's up to you to decide where Basso succeeds here, but I suggest that he does. Danzando reminded me of Pluvius Aestivus by Pain of Salvation, and Luc-Art is a piece with dramatic main theme, somewhat reminiscent of Hans Zimmer's No Time for Caution from OST Interstellar, albeit less bombastic.
Free Fly 2 is probably the most heroic-sounding piece on the record, with a soaring violin and an almost heavy metal drive that would put a proud smile on Steve Harris's face. The title track ties up Basso's piano with both violin and flute, and parallels with Sunchild / Karfagen instrumentals would not be out of place. '76 is another highlight, airy, dreamy track, echoing influences of Québécois prog, which appear once again with the closing number Reverse.
The album is impeccably recorded, with a prominent feeling of presence in a chamber concert hall.
To Tell is definitely a prog record, but the one, where signature changes, time changes, bombast performance and concept approaches do not matter. It is prog stripped down to its very musical essence by a virtuoso and his mature compositions.
Funus — Mono
Funus have arrived here back in 2006, before releasing their first album, Adrift Alone back in 2016 through the effort of multi-instrumentalist Rueben Vermeulen. After a few singles in 2022, the follow-up record Mono has now landed on the shores to bring in their stylings of melancholic post/black metal.
We begin with the gentle minimal Gloom And Dusk. Slow acoustics wash over as the soft vocals and calm bass tucks you under a blanket of ethereal nostalgia. The heavens open soon after as rain pours out to welcome in Would You. Here we have a continuation of the opener, but around halfway the rhythm section kicks in, giving an almost Porcupine Tree feel to the music.
From Soul Faced is where the post/black metal comes into it, a recreation of the sound perfected by Deafheaven and Alcest, but with the vocals taking a bit more of a back seat, becoming an instrument of atmosphere instead. The halfway point gives us the soothing landing of Embracings Relived, a gentle look of serenity and loss rolled into one soundscape. Closing off the middle of the album, we are treated to Orb Of Inner Voices. Another rolling sound of acoustics with the dreamlike vocals of Rueben, quite similar to Neige from the aforementioned Alcest in parts, as it builds to a fuzz laden and guitar driven outro.
Never Heard strolls in for the penultimate number. The rockier side comes out here with some energetic drumming and celestial vocals flying over the accompanying riffs. Always teetering on the edge of going full blackgaze, but never quite going fully over. On Unknown Wings is sadly our door to the exit, but not without some rarefied guitarwork to bring that post/black wall of sound back.
The album hits the rights chords throughout, and is a solid one for the style. I can't help but feel (personally) that a bit more “punch” here and there, maybe a few blast beats and the occasional bit of harsh vocals for backing, and it would have gone from “a good solid album” to “an absolute stand out in the genre”. However, that is just my love for these riffs over blast beats.
I'd recommend for fans of the previous mentioned groups and Harakiri For The Sky, Anathema and Show Me A Dinosaur.
Ikarie — Arde
Ikarie are self-described as “doom/post-metal” and come from the city of Barcelona in Spain. Their debut album, Cuerpos En Sombra, was favourably looked upon by reviewers (including myself). So, considering I was gutted when the album came to its comclusion. Can Arde pick up where it ended?
Brooding and dark effects coupled with whispered vocals and discordant keys for Sacrificio as tension is built. Santa Sangre then lands like a hammer, heavily downtuned guitars and gruff vocals spread out for the impact. Slow, purposeful and methodical – the track follows a rhythm of contained and controlled rage. This rage turns to melancholy, but still with the edge of frustration for La Sed next. A sorrowful dirge of sludgy guitars and bass, and harsh growls full of angst. This one is a stand-out for me. 40 Dias offers a soothing hand as the short instrumental piece guides you into Sucros (Ciutat morta). The slowed down blast beats match the general feeling of being torn between despair and anger through the album, and mixed with a doom and blackgaze style of guitarwork it creates a sublime atmosphere.
The second half begins with Kanno Sugako, another brooding piece that builds the mood before Tomie levels the field with a crescendo that rises and stops. But the tension never leaves, it just gets quiet and lies under the surface before exploding in an almost oppressive bout of chugging guitars. The title track is a short instrumental, but nonetheless powerful piece. Featuring dark synths, but a voice-over proclaiming that the night needs to be taken back and made safe again from the current horrors many individuals force onto others in it. Titane II is another unrelenting payload of ten tonne chugs and paced lot heighten the rage and lamentation within the music and vocal delivery. The emotions and music builds without changing much, but with the drums increasing the overall sense of a coming end and increasing in its audio mass before the coda. Flores en el asfalto closes the album with haunting melody on the piano, rising and falling until the last note.
The album is similar in many respects to the debut, but there is something that edges it out very slightly ahead of its predecessor. They have set a high bar once before and beat it with Arde. Can part three of this trilogy repeat this feat?
It should be pointed out that this band was featured on the Antifascist Black Metal Network YouTube channel. In a genre that has long been plagued by extremist members spreading hate, a band that is openly antifascist is a welcome addition to the community.
Luca Scherani — Everything's Changing
Luca Scherani is an Italian multi-instrumentalist who has been at the keyboards for many years and has served time with bands such as La Conscienza di Zeno and Trama. As both of those bands have been a little quiet recently, Luca has elected to release his third official solo album with the assistance of a vast number of other musicians including the legendary Fabio Zuffante on bass, with others offering drums, viola, cello, trumpet, harp, violin, guitars and flute. Luca is responsible for keyboards, programming, vocoder, bouzouki, glockenspiel, flute, bass and guitars.
The album is predominantly instrumental with only three tracks featuring vocals. The final track, however, is a full-blown affair with operatic vocals to the extreme, courtesy of soprano singer, Chiara Bisso. It seems a little odd being added at the end as it just doesn't quite fit from my perspective. The songs are softly played for the most part and have an ethereal charm to them with swirling organs, keyboards and flutes often dancing between sections that involve the heavier artillery of drums, bass and guitars. That's not to suggest this contains anything too heavy or sludgy as the heavy equipment is kept well and truly in the background for the majority of the album. Anyone looking for some pyrotechnical wizzardry on the guitar for example will not find that here. Instead, you will appreciate a smorgasboard of keyboards all played to perfection by Luca and being ably assisted by his fellow minstrels who are all equal to the task.
Luca offers the listener an amalgam of musical styles that all blend together perfectly yet nothing sounds sterile or repeated, despite his weapon of choice being a goodly selection of keyboards. The songs all offer a degree of delicacy, intimacy and subtlety but above all they are very creative and imaginative. With so many pastoral sections being intermingled with neoclassical and symphonic passages right throughout the album, this is one of the nicest albums I have heard recently for a proper session under a decent set of headphones. A worthy glass or three of Shiraz along with some cheese and crackers will add to the appeal, although I am really tempted to give that bottle of Montepulchiano a nudge.
The music is always highly melodic and instantly likeable without being derivative of too many other influences. Some songs contain magnificently composed sections of some truly anthemic passages that will remind you of some of the softer music from the likes of PFM, Banco, Le Orme and others from the 70's. La ragione and Il cosmo come to mind here.
This album won't be for everyone in much the same way that UK band The Enid doesn't hit the right note with some listeners, but I'll be damned if I'll change my opinion. This is easily Luca's best album by a country mile. I am really enjoying this delightful diversion from what normally graces my stereo and look forward to more pleasures from such a talented team of Italians. Nice work!
Vass / Katsionis — Cynical Silence
After reviewing the debut album from Billy Vass and Bob Katsionis, I thought it only fair to offer to check out the latest addition to their catalogue with Cynical Silence being officially released in April this year.
The main difference between this album and the debut is that Ross Lagos has joined the team to provide the drumming while Billy continues with his very competent voice and Bob retains the role of bassist, keyboardist and guitarist.
With eight tracks averaging about five minutes in length, the band have thankfully kept things brief enough to let each song build but without them getting bogged down with any excessive proggishness. The songs are all generally melodic but rock out when necessary which is a good thing.
We have some definitive references to bands such as Fates Warning and to a lesser degree Dream Theater, but the predominant influence resides with the music paying homage to the 90's progressive metal decade which produced so many important bands and albums.
I can't see a lot of development over their previous effort however, as I have only detected a couple of songs that really made an impact on me. These two exceptions would be, Invisible Thread and My Island Is Home. Their sound is definitely full, pretty well-developed, and professionally played, yet I am just not hearing enough originality or songs I need to add to my Spotify playlist. Overall, this is a reasonably good album but certainly not a game changer for the band as we have heard a lot of this style of music before. I also noticed that its score on rateyourmusic.com was originally hovering around the low 3's yet at the time of writing this review that figure had dropped to 2.96 which is indicative of an album that has not really hit a home run with the record buying public. Can't really argue with mass opinion all coming to a similar conclusion on this one and despite what other reviews might suggest.