Album Reviews

Issue 2023-044

Here at DPRP towers, we frequently receive some interesting albums that whilst not strictly "prog", would be of interest to many of our readers. We sometimes receive albums that have been released in previous years. Also, with so many albums submitted, it is not always possible to find a writer with the time to give every release our usual in-depth review.

So how best can we still bring you news of such releases?

This is an edition of Prog Bites. Each still has all the usual album information and links to samples and videos (where available), but the reviews are much shorter, and we do not award any score.

We hope you will find some great music that you think deserves further investigation.

Belling The Tiger — Creeds Are Dust When Your Mother Dies

Belling The Tiger - Creeds Are Dust When Your Mother Dies
A Noon Day Frenzy (6:56), Human Vessel (6:25), A Place In The Sun (7:49), A Place In The Sun (Streaming Mix) (6:46)
Jan Buddenberg

Last year Belling The Tiger's debut album Lost received a favourable review on DPRP's pages. The diversely-shaped compositions entrusted to the album showed a multitude of interesting musical ideas, delivered with a powerful drive and a unique 'unfathomable' sound which awakened a sense of very early Galahad due to its combination of emotional vocals and delightful guitar melodies embedded within their neo-progressive approach.

Since that release, Michael Allen Moore (guitars, keyboards), Danny Grimm (vocals), Andrew Harvey (bass) and Duane Harvey (drums, percussion) have witnessed the departure of Michael Johnstone and welcomed Ani Balalau (additional vocals, vocal synth), resulting in a more guitar-based sound that as before exhibits the band's unique and distinctly heavier (neo) prog style. This time around the sound brings resemblances towards Relayer, Tiles, Enchant and Rush.

Whether their recent support to YYNOT plays a part in this, I don't know, but the two versions of Place In The Sun leave an impression that inspirational sparks flew brightly during these events. Provided with infectious hooks and a delightful array of transitions, embraced by frequently surfacing vocal synths, this excellent composition resonates with a glow of Tiles. This transcends into feelings of Rush when a majestic guitar solo sets the composition aflame. A descent into psychedelic darkness concludes this highly enjoyable momentum.

In Human Vessel Moore, in excellent form throughout, delivers a fantastic opening melody with an undeniable Enchant influence, followed by a Steve Hogarth (Marillion) delivery from Grimm. Compelling from start to finish, the song meanders through many melodic twists and turns and shows a band that is capable of bringing moments of reflection to life through intricately-shaped atmospheres that breath refinement and finesse.

A Noon Day Frenzy ties in with the EP's thought-provoking artwork and curious title, and showcases an equally impressive build up. Alternating powerful passages with restrained moments, to which eerie, atmospheric vocals add depth, it is played vigorously with rousing instrumentation as if recorded live.

Overall Creeds Are Dust When Your Mother Dies is an excellent introduction to Belling The Tiger's wonderful world of prog. Hopefully they will follow a similar sort of trajectory as Galahad and become one of the pillars of American prog-rock. They certainly have the potential to do so, as this EP so obviously shows.

Big Time Quell — Hardman Ponytail

Big Time Quell - Hardman Ponytail
Introduction (3:51), Brotherly Love (2:08), The Killer Sneaks Away (1:29), Steve The Bad Guy (1:14), The Rage Of Tony Pale (3:15), Power Up! (Training Montage) (4:04), Now Or Never (Battle Interlude) (1:37), Tony Pale vs Steve The Bad Guy (1:28), Youngman Ponytail (3:56)
Jan Buddenberg

Big Time Quell hail from the Shetlands, an island archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean located north-east of Scotland's mainland, famous for its sheepdog and ponies. Consisting of Jamie Hatch (guitar/synth/vocals), Thomas Jones (guitar/synth/vocals), Chris Cope (bass) and Robert Balfour (drums/vocals) they have so far released a debut First Time Live As A Band (Live At Mareel) in 2015, followed by Greatest Hits in 2016, which spans a smorgasbord of genres that includes reggae, synth-rock and other forms of prog 'n roll.

With Hardman Ponytail they now present a 23-minute 'Rock-Opera' which narrates the truthful fictitious fate of former Midnight Jaguar star / TV Host Tony Pale, aka "Hardman Ponytail". A story told in nine adventurously-entertaining and skilfully-played parts, that bark up the right tree in a seamless fusion of rock, rap, funk, pop, metal, 80s synth, prog and many other genres.

Introduction sets up the imaginative country & western mood brilliantly, followed by dynamics that confidently stride into post-rock, after which a transition places the ongoing story of Brotherly Love in Moron Police-like surroundings with sparkling synths and intoxicating melodies.

Offering foot-stomping alternative math-rock with growling vocals and freaky synth weirdness in The Killer Sneaks Away, the subsequent Steve The Bad Guy then delivers funky lightness laced with rap, after which it changes into new-wave atmospheres drowned in (jazzy) psychedelics with outstanding guitar parts and vicious riffs that perfectly illustrate the angry topic of The Rage Of Tony Pale.

Power Up! (Training Montage) then works up a sweat with lush, anthemic synth-pop melodies that resonate with vivid pleasantries of Flame Dream and the indulgent 80s. This is a time-frame marvellously emphasised by the game electronics of Now Or Never (Battle Interlude) and the upbeat action of Beltane Fire-like drums that march into space-rock in Tony Pale vs Steve The Bad Guy. A fantastical turn of events with reincarnating snippets of themes and melodies in Youngman Ponytail finally rounds off this vibrant array of musical craftsmanship with great success.

All in all Hardman Ponytail is a joyous, eclectic, fun listen of perfect length that makes me look forward to their next endeavour. Join in and be part of the speculating revenge of Youngman Ponytail!

Coldbound — Skies Are Weeping

Coldbound - Skies Are Weeping
Skies are Weeping (6:38)
Calum Gibson

Coldbound is a progressive and symphonic group out of the land with the highest number of metal bands per number of residents. This new single is the first release since 2021's single Slumber of Decay, and 2018's album The Gale.

We open with a narration from Steve Stockton over some orchestration by Meiju Enho and saxophone work from Sakiri Mukko. Shortly after this, the chugging guitars and harsh vocals of Pauli Souka fall-in over purposeful drums, while doing a call-and-response style of verse delivery with guest vocalists Lindsay Schoolcraft and Sara Strommer

Around halfway we are lead to the (slightly inevitable for this style of music) slower and more mellow break. Here we have the guitars and synths engaging in a soulful and symphonic duel, before the powerful vocals of Lindsay and Sara come in.

The result is a melancholic but epic stream of music that crosses the bridge between the likes of Draconian and Epica, taking the best bits of both and combining it into what, in my opinion, should be one of the landmark songs of the symphonic/gothic metal genre.

Sadly this is only a single, but Coldbound is now another band on my list to look into, and another album to look forward to.

If you're a fan of Swallow The Sun, Shores of Null, Nightwish, Kamelot or any other gothic and symphonic band, then you are letting yourself down without hearing these folks.

Dark Side Bright Side — Dark Side Bright Side

Dark Side Bright Side - Dark Side Bright Side
Birth I (3:24), Nautilus (5:11), The Paradox Tree (5:44), Birth II (2:13), Proprioception (6:17), Aspro Mons (1:22), The Painter of Ghosts (5:16), Cenote (5:46), Firehead (4:39).
Andy Read

Dark Side Bright Side was founded by Italian guitarist and composer Marco Gennaro in 2019, and is an international modern progressive metal band based in Berlin. The rest of the band consists of fellow Italian Enrico Tiberi (vocals), Greek bassist Spyros Olivotos, Indian drummer Oshan Saxena and Russian guitarist Dimitrii Bukreev. It is unclear whether they all live in Germany or whether the music has been composed from a distance. But with talk of live shows, then I presume that it is the former.

Dark Side Bright Side describe their music as a blend of modern progressive metal, djent, and grunge, drawing inspiration from bands like Karnivool, Periphery, The Contortionist, Animals as Leaders, Plini, and Mastodon. I hear all of those references. Their debut album is a concept album, divided into two thematic blocks, exploring the creation of life, various life forms' survival methods, and the journey through illness, death, and grief.

The vocals are a mix of melodic clean and some growling rasps and a lot of death growls. The first two full songs (Nautilus and The Paradox Tree) offer a nice blend of the two vocal styles. The next two full songs (Proprioception and The Painter of Ghosts) veer towards extreme tech-death. Cenote again mixes the two, adding in a bit of lighter prog for good measure. Firehead is Mastodon-inspired art-rock.

There is a lot to absorb here. If you enjoy the more extreme style of vocals and guitar playing, if you don't mind the grungy style of guitar playing mixed with clean plucking of strings, and if you enjoy a broad dynamic range in your music, then this is worth checking out.

Frédéric L'Epée — 12 Pieces for Solo Electric Guitar

Frédéric L'Epée - 12 Pieces for Solo Electric Guitar
Etude N°1 for electric guitar (3:02), First Variation of the Etude N°1 for electric guitar (2:59), Second Variation of the Etude N°1 for electric guitar (3:03), Third Variation of the Etude N°1 for electric guitar (3:12), Descending (Etude N°6 for NST guitar) (2:10), Etude N°2 for electric guitar (4:07), A Short Story about Gravity (4:39), Etude N°4 for guitar - Intervals (2:36), Etude N°5 for NST guitar (2:53), Grave (4:54), Agonique (2:34), Twists and Turns (13:56), bonus track: En Suspension (4:07)
Jan Buddenberg

Frédéric L'Epée, known from Shylock, Philharmonie and Yang, returns after a period of four years with a new solo album entitled 12 Pieces for Solo Electric Guitar. From a musical point of view, the album foremost reminds me of his 2019 effort Campanologie which was based upon L'Epée's electric guitar quartet composition Etude Campanologique n°3. The difference being that these new studies address the different angles of his electric guitar technique as a soloist.

These new compositions are a wonderful demonstration of L'Epée's craftsmanship and artistic grace. Through a variety of applied techniques (string skipping, plectrum attack, intervals or special tunings) L'Epée shows that he is capable of crafting artfully-expressive études that each evoke and create different kinds of moods, atmospheres and feelings.

A fine demonstration of this are the first six contemporary études. Starting in a Robert Fripp way with Etude N°1 For Electric Guitar, which admittedly takes some getting used to on my part. The first variation calms this through L'Epée's lightness of touch and the song's sensitive, warm, jazzy structures. This comforting state is maintained in the second and third variation, after which Descending's lower scales brings quiet comfort and solace. Etude N°2 For Electric Guitar finally rounds off this peaceful phase of the album with a return to Fripp-like pickings and an elegant touch of melodic variation midway through.

In A Short Story About Gravity, Etude N°4 For Guitar - Intervals and Agonique, L'Epée shows a more minimalistic, ambient approach mindful to Steve Reich. Together with En Suspension, a bonus track of enchanting beauty, these intricate songs add a nice change of atmosphere and flow. They also add a welcoming contrast to the more experimental nature of Twists And Turns, a lengthy composition which through its variegated textural layerings of loops, aggressive chords and psychedelic undertones manages to captivate and alienate at the same time.

This composition also marks one of two occasions the music speaks firmly to the imagination like L'Epée's Campanologie effort did, this time envisioning cinematic images of Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. The other occasion surfaced in Grave when L'Epée's strumming and subsequent sadness buried me in emotional dejection and a tangible grievance of loss.

Overall, 12 Pieces for Solo Electric Guitar once again marks an intriguing listen and a fine achievement by L'Epée. For aspiring guitarists/musicians it's worth mentioning that full sheet music is available in print from L'Epée's website and comes with the first 50 Bandcamp downloads of the album.

Fall Of Episteme — The Utopia Suite

Fall Of Episteme - The Utopia Suite
The Utopia Suite (16:57), Living In Utopia (Radio Edit) (6:33)
Jan Buddenberg

After their fine 2019 self-titled debut album it has been fairly quiet around Fall of Episteme. This silence has now been broken with the release of this EP consisting of an eponymous title-track and its radio-edited mini-version.

It looks like the band has undergone a small line-up change because both singer Rune Nielsen and bassist Jan Juel aren't part of the recordings, although surprisingly Juel is actually pictured in the promotional photos. Regardless of this unclarity, which may find its origin in the recording period of the song (2018-2023), it soon becomes clear that they have had little-to-no effect on the EP's final outcome. For the remaining members Kent B. Eskildsen (guitars, bass, flute, keyboards, backing vocals), Rune B. Eskildsen (horn, trumpet, cornet, drums) and Flemming K. Pedersen (vocals, keyboards), aided by Christine H. Elkjær (cello) and Tina Søndergaard (backing vocals), pick right up where they left off.

As before they present a wonderfully crafted and diverse composition, in an upgraded production, that shows an attractive array of 80s-inspired neo-progressive rock with enjoyable melodies reminiscent of Comedy Of Errors, Saga, and a touch of Magnum.

The latter reveals itself in the final stages of the song, which is effectively the edited Living in Utopia part. Here melodic rock, solid vocals, hardrock-like riffs and lush synth-laden melodies are complemented by great guitar play to bring memories of FoE's own Punchline.

On its own, this abridged version works splendidly and indeed has a radio-friendliness. It works best though as the closing section of the excellent musical journey that leads up to it.

These initial ten instrumental minutes are actually when FoE show their full potential. First with an intricately created paradise of classical-inspired symphonic melodies designed by violin, cello and acoustic guitar mindful to recent Comedy of Errors efforts.

This is followed by a long passage linked by a chain of returning themes in which ethereal choirs and dynamic bombast bring impressions of Saga, after which alluring flute melodies and a chemistry between guitars and synth in combination with folk atmospheres yield Jethro Tull visions. This enchanting movement then takes flight with dreamy synths, embraced a refreshing breeze of graceful melodies, after which the music blissfully settles in the uniting surroundings of the concluding Living In Utopia.

Overall The Utopia Suite is a fine continuation of promise that this band expressed on their debut album and comes heartily recommended for neo-progressive rock fans who enjoy the authentic musical sounds of the 80s. Full album next please guys!

My Friend The Sun — The Orchestra Of Life

My Friend The Sun - The Orchestra Of Life
The Orchestra of Life (4:55), There is Only One Song (2:54), The Obstacles are The Path (4:02), W.O.W. (World of Wonders) (3:58)
Andy Read

My Friend The Sun is a collaboration between Norwegian musicians Ole Tom Torjussen and Eivind S. Johansen. Ole Tom has released several albums with the band Seven and Annette Gil. He plays keyboards, synths, bass, drums and percussion. Eivind was the songwriter and singer in the symphonic pop/rock band Kosmoratik. He has also released music as Revirstredet. Eivind does the singing and plays acoustic guitars, the oud and occasional keyboards.

With inspiration taken from progressive rock, acoustic and folk music, this is a debut EP of four easily-enjoyable, short compositions.

The title track is a gentle, Floydian introduction. Eivind has a soft, semi-spoken voice that suits the poetic lyrics. The string sounds towards the end work well.

For There Is Only One Song, we lean in a more folksy direction, with acoustic guitar and voice. It's a little short. I feel that the nice melody could have been developed into a second phase. The Obstacles Are The Path is also a bright, acoustic number, albeit with more of a singer-songwriter vibe. There is a hint too of a stripped-back Barclay James Harvest when the keys are used.

W.O.W. gives a nice circularity to the EP, closing things in a similar style to the opening track. It is probably the strongest song for me, as there are some extra layers of instruments and backing vocals to paint a fuller picture.

Souls Extolled — MMXXII

Souls Extolled - MMXXII
Sweet Glow (5:17), Ride of My Life (2:25), Acid Drop (3:52), This Time (4:10), Propaganda Song (2:29), Dancing in the Light (4:10), 1K Red Balloons (2:57), Fall Into Orbit (3:49), Never Like Before (3:51), Self-Mutilation (Won't Forget) (3:00), Just Dreams (3:37), Down to Go (3:46)
Ignacio Bernaola

It's the summer, but I'm still reviewing some albums from 2022! I have to apologise, but not being a professional reviewer makes it difficult to have every album we receive reviewed on time. On the other hand, not being a professional reviewer makes it easier to listen to a lot of music, without having to think about what to write; You can enjoy the music just for fun.

Anyway the time has come, and I have to join some words together to describe this eclectic album from Souls Extolled, a band from Austin, Texas. Zack Black, JP Ortiz and Andy Leonard have released their third album called MMXXII (2022 in roman numbers), and it has twelve songs, one per month.

And what can you expect from these guys? Just rock, and the kind of rock that you can only call rock. No sub-genre in particular, but many of them too. Sadly no progressive rock is found here but sometimes we prog-heads need something different that comes straight to our ears, don't we? Some 70s and 90s vibes but with the vocals sounding as if they were still living in the 80s and travelling from the UK.

A very interesting mixture, not having two similar songs. This makes the album a very enjoyable ride, from start to finish, and definitely one that you enjoy more without having to think about the right words for a progressive rock magazine. A very nice find that I will spin again for sure in those non-prog moments.

Album Reviews