Flitcraft — House At The Centre Of The Universe
Flitcraft have crash-landed onto the music world from Australia with their fast-paced brand of progressive rock. After breaking out the musical womb in 2020, they wasted no time in recording the debut Our Long Journey To The Middle, which revealed itself in 2022. Now, a little over a year later we have House At The Centre Of The Universe.
My first reaction was severe laughter, as my cat clearly was not expecting the presence of the first chords to wake her from her sleep. The laughter soon turned to sheer enjoyment. A tempo to rival most speed metal bands, and riffs that could have been written by Megadeth and melodies that Iron Maiden would be jealous of. The album has it all.
Through the album we get taste of prog in all forms - psychedelia, metal, old school, straight up hard rock and even bouts of stoner rock. The group flirt with all the styles, always enough to keep your attention, but never too much it gets boring. Riffs never stop, going from driving speed metal chugs to intricate stoner/beer swilling hard rock twists and intricate licks. Imagine taking Deep Purple, throwing a lot more beer at them and introducing them to thrash metal, and I would guess this is close to what the result would be. Bluesy at times, but filled with adrenalin. Don't listen to this while driving, it could get easy to get lost in the talk of Galactic Road Trips and breaking the speed limit...
All round — a superb album and great fun to listen to. One of my favourites of the year so far easily.
If you're a fan of Mastodon, Red Fang, Megadeth, or Thin Lizzy, I'd suggest you give a listen to these 3 chaps. I suspect they are going somewhere.
Legacy Pilots — Helix
As a child I once experienced the joy of standing in a cockpit next to the co-piloting seat on a holiday flight high above the clouds. This magical moment filled me with many feelings of excitement at the time and in hindsight probably explains my youthful fascination for aviation and space travel. Some 45 years later it would be great to experience those feelings again, but in light of cockpit restrictions these days that looks to be a thing of the past.
Translated to music, Legacy Pilots nowadays provides the perfect alternative. First off through anticipation building "cockpit" views shared on Facebook by Todd Sucherman and Legacy Pilots, aka close up videos that capture divine moments in the creative process leading up to the album. And secondly through the launched Helix itself which, after landing safely on my doorstep, as a direct extension to Legacy Pilots' magnificent third album The Penrose Triangle again provides a sensational prog flight that strongly awakens my inner feelings of excitement and satisfaction.
For this fourth flight navigator Frank Us (keyboards, guitars, vocals, bass) welcomes back most of his first class squad that accompanied him on The Penrose Triangle. Next to a star cast of Marco Minneman (The Aristocrats, Whatnot), Todd Sucherman (Styx, Alta Forma), John Mitchell (It Bites, Lonely Robot, Arena, Whatnot), Jake Livgren (Proto-Kaw), and Pete Trewavas (Transatlantic, Marillion) this involves Finally George, Carsten Rehder, and Lars Slowak with a guesting appearance by Steve Rothery (Marillion). In formation flying of the highest order they each go all out in bringing the wonderful construed compositions to life.
The album opens with two tracks co-written by Mitchell and Us, and after True Spirit's artificial intro the album's engaging pace in instantly secured with catchy melodies vibrating in a lush melodic neo-prog approach that reveals chemistry of Rush as well as a contemporary Frost* bite. Customised with infectiously groovy rhythms from Minneman and Slowak (bass), and an aerodynamic jazz passage featuring outstanding guitar work from Rehder, this pop orientated composition furthermore exhibits delightful memories of the mid 80s digital age from computerised vocal harmonies that circling around Mitchell's expressive vocals.
The Even Chance continues with gentle jazz melodies mindful of Toto. Captured in crystal clear and transparent production, it delivers a pristine harmonic symbioses of relaxed intricate play with sensitive bass and subtle warmth of guitars and percussion. Perfectly guided along by the comforting voice of Mitchell, it is especially Sucherman's amazing groovy precision here that impresses.
The same applies to his exemplary versatile drum patterns in the spiritedly driven opening of Sense Of Hope. Through pressure of synths and guitar sound, this lives and breathes Rush, and it is elevated by a touch of Confusion Field, courtesy of Lars Slowaks' vocal resemblance. It simultaneously expresses a modern Talk Talk pop attraction with a keyboard extravaganza that brings E.L.P. to mind.
Co-written by Us and Jake Livgren (nephew to Kerry Livgren of Kansas fame) and featuring Liza on background vocals, the amazing A Little Differently then drops smooth-as-silk jazz melodies packed with layers of seamless transitions and sensitive melodies that exhale a sense of Ambrosia. Closely followed by an undeniable sensation of Kansas through Livgren's passionately delivered soulful vocals. Can someone please persuade and convince him to record a solo album so his masterful singing and melodic range can be enjoyed for the duration of a whole (double) album!?
Things then get really electric with the eight consecutive parts of the re*sponse suite. After its Rush-styled cinematic opening, peaceful melodies provide sublime harmonies and emotionally touching vocals by Livgren. He reminds of a cross between Ted Leonard (Enchant) and Ambrosia's David Pack. A sublime solo from Rothery then gives the song a spiralling push towards a domino run that shines bright with iconic Genesis movements and big generated visions of Yes. This exquisite track continues to offer a richness in (anthemic) melodies shaped via thrilling instrumentation. In its final stage, it presents a reflective moment, embedded with worldly vibes that culminates in a high symphonic rise.
Colors & Light provides a perfectly placed jazzy resting point after that album highlight, with soft piano, illuminating synths, and Us' soothing vocals. But then we can welcome the brilliant instrumental So Nice To Be Here. In a no-holds-barred experience of keyboard wizardry, complemented by fantastic rhythmic propulsions from Trewavas and Minneman, alongside a fabulous solo from Rehder, this song has gallons of Tarkus blood running through its complex structural veins and brings a firm bow to E.L.P..
In the ravishingly Exploring My DNA, this bow is infinitely deeper and for prosperity's sake I hope the Skynet corporation has a large strand of DNA secured somewhere in their facilities, because the three parts that make up this triumphant composition are simply stated utterly brilliant. The song's mighty impressive opening statement of crawling Mellotron melodies that grow in intensity towards symphonic brightness with melancholic guitar by Us, is one of blinding beauty. Escape velocity is finally reached and the music in the second part (Second Impression) glides weightlessly onwards through classical melodies warmed by piano, sensitive gravitational bass and acoustic guitar.
The song's majestic finale is jump-started by Minneman. Droning hums of synths are set ablaze through shots of keys. A dazzling array of melodies brim with compelling energy. A high point on the album, as far as I'm concerned. It soars onwards, exhibiting pictures of Gerard, Deja Vu, Social Tension and Triumvirat, until the Legacy Pilots trinity (Us, Minneman, Trewavas) empty the tank with a brace-for-impact display of musical prowess and fantastical performances. The composition finally sky-glides in ambient atmospheres and horizons of classical piano.
These extraordinary instrumental minutes are worth the price of admission alone. Add to this the other phenomenal songs, played with stellar musicianship and captured in a modern, on-point production. The obvious conclusion is that Legacy Pilots have another winner on their hands. One that flashes "no-brainer" to fans and signals a genuine worthy addition for any self-respecting prog collection.
Helix is a truly remarkable album that grows with each refuelling and thoroughly entertains from its chilling artificial start onto its lively organic ending. Thankfully this time around it did arrive perfectly on time to compete for a place in my year list. And judging prematurely from a recently shared "cockpit image", a new runway seems to be clearing for take off. Domo arigato, I'm already excited!
Scott Meze — On Track... Nektar
Without exception, every On Track book published so far has been able to extract memories of days long gone by. This is also the case with the well-researched and engagingly written book by music critic, science fiction author and folk horror poet Scott Meze on Nektar, one of prog's most overlooked and underrated bands, who during prog-rock's golden year were denied their claim to fame. Not that I was aware of this denial. My earliest recollection of hearing Nektar dates back to approximately 1981/1982, when I was introduced to progressive rock and really started to take an interest in longer adventurous, preferably album-length compositions.
During this period, aged twelve, I accidentally discovered Nektar while shopping with my parents at Maxis, a unique (at the time) hypermarket/superstore carrying a wide range of products under one roof which allowed people to do all off their shopping needs. At a 1:1 chance rate you would find me at the music department while my mum tried on a new dress or my dad searched for a gardening tool replacement.
It was here, in the clearance sales department of all places, the completely mesmerising and beautiful artwork of A Tab In The Ocean caught my eye. Affordably priced at two guilders (1 Euro, nowadays) and a back cover that screamed "prog!" through its 16 minute side-length title track, I quickly begged for an advance on my allowance and took the album home. A buying decision that ranks high on my best-ever investments, for it delivered all the goods and has remained a solid favourite in my ever expanding collection.
The only "disappointment" I ever felt however was my late discovery, for as it turned out the band had already folded by then, so seeing them live was out of the question. Finding their albums also proved to be hard. The exquisite Man In The Moon, an AOR-infused album from 1980, and Magic Is A Child from 1977 were relatively easy. As was their iconic Remember The Future and their live LP More Live In New York which included the classic line up of Albrighton, Alan "Taff" Freeman (who recently passed away, by the way), Ron Howden, Derek "Mo" Moore, and visual artist Mick Brockett. The latter album made matters of getting to know everything about Nektar exceptionally worse, as it contained songs from albums we (which is me and my friend DPRP's Jerry van Kooten) previously didn't know about.
Over the next few years, their legacy thankfully neared completion and was successfully "finalised" when Jerry on a trip abroad to Germany managed to get hold of the double album Sounds Like This and the phenomenal Recycled. Aided by the involvement of Larry Fast of Synergy especially the latter surpassed all my visual and musical expectations and has since remained my favourite piece of music ever composed. From a Nektar point of view, a feeling very much shared by the equally impressed Meze, who gives this brilliant album all the love and superlative accolades it so rightfully deserves.
His loving appreciation for the classic Remember The Future and Journey To The Centre Of The Eye, whose conceptual story outlines and musical adventures are brilliantly captured and highlighted by his well-chosen words, also shines through. Together with an introduction chapter which brings very useful cultural insights towards the reasons behind Nektar's Germany based origins, and a subsequent eye-opening chapter in form of "In Search of Sight: Blindness and vision in the lyrics of Nektar", Meze is able to create a highly entertaining story with a wonderful red line that shows depth of analysis as an outcome.
As an avid Nektar fan/collector, however, I was immediately shocked to find that when I opened the book the table of contents missed out on 1973's Sounds Like This. Fortunately this turns out to be just an index mistake because from page 36 onwards this album, released in order to get older material out of the way, is discussed in detail. Meze retains this archaeological depth throughout the book with engaging worded stories and a perfect analysis of the music, although I would have liked some additional elaborations on the confusion years that followed the magic of Recycled. But we all know about Sonicbond's word limit by now.
True to fact and history in the chapters of 1977's Magic Is A Child, featuring a young Brooke Shields on its attractive cover, and 1980's Man In The Moon, the author addresses the circumstances and reasons behind the band's failed US adventure and the resulting line-up change, which saw Brockett leave the scene entirely, while Dave Nelson stepped into seven-league-boots left behind by a disillusioned Albrighton. Oddly enough, in these chapters he does mention all of Albrighton's musical undertakings during this period (Snowball, Quantum Jump, and Grand Alliance later on) but neglects to mention Moore's involvement in The Intergalactic Touring Band which included a cast of well-known names, including Larry Fast. This despite the fact that the projects song Silver Lady was played several times over by Nektar in 1977.
Many more interesting events took place during those days and maybe / hopefully Meze will put these into writing in a connective Decades volume. If possible, complemented by a chapter that covers the individual whereabouts of the various members in the two decades of inactivity that followed, until Nektar under full guidance of Albrighton returned for their fourth decade, with the 2001 release of The Prodigal Son and a subsequent full reunion show at Nearfest in 2002.
A short tour followed the NearFest reunion show, and this included a gig at the Mean Fiddler in London on the 17th of July 2003. For this, mine and Jerry's allowances were no longer in need of advances, and these two big Nektar fans travelled happily to London. More albums followed (Evolution, Book Of Days, Time Machine), accompanied by tours in ever-changing line-ups, all of which Meze thoughtfully and cohesively describes with honest evaluations. I know it was a studio album and should be included, but I do question the call behind the unnecessary full five-page coverage of the cover-songs that make up the uninspired A Spoonful Of Time from 2012, especially compared to the just about two pages for Man In The Moon, which in my (nostalgic) view is a far more interesting release.
Omitting the controversial Megolamania by the German based New Nektar, a latter-day members off-split, is a loyalty decision I do fully understand though. Any word written about this "bought-out-of-curiosity" waste-bin album is way too much effort, and it's indeed best to draw full attention to true Nektar instead, who after the passing of Roye Albrighton in 2016 regrouped in the USA and delivered a superb natural follow up to Recycled with The Other Side in 2020. Listen to Drifting's incarnated musical motifs and vocal melodies and I think you'll agree.
The next fifteen pages of the book, which as per usual is accompanied by 16 pages of colourful covers and miscellaneous pictures, then highlights the various studio recordings released besides the official legacy. This for instance includes the essential Collector's Corner release of The Boston Tapes from 1970, which was included as a bonus disc on multiple albums. It also includes a lengthy description of The Follies Of Rupert Treacle, a solo album by Albrighton released in 1998. In light of completion a fine decision, although it makes me wonder why Up Close, which captures Albrighton in both audio and video perform acoustic interpretations of various Nektar songs on his last ever performance, is denied this favour, save a bare mentioning. The same applies to the now only swiftly named posthumous 2017 release of Live In Bremen, which marks Albrighton's final Nektar appearance.
Those still unacquainted to Nektar need not worry too much about these admittedly die-hard findings and do best to follow Meze's entry points for collecting and discovering Nektar's true progressive nature as noted in the final chapter of his splendid book. Next to a tentative song suggestion of his own, he provides solid advice on which live albums to check out first, including the recently unearthed visual revelation of Sounds Like Swiss.... On a final note, he speaks out his hopes towards a definitive, all-encompassing box set that dismantles the minefield of bonus material, which Meze himself so adequately archives into the individual album chapters.
Chances are this won't happen soon, because Nektar are still touring in celebration of Remember The Future's 50th anniversary, and will then head off to the studio to record a new album. Until this anticipating promise actually turns into reality, I will "bee" happily revisiting my Nektar collection, which is another welcoming and rewarding side effect of the On Track series. Meze's devotedly informative take on Nektar, one of progressive rock's most progressive bands, is a highly recommendable effort worth adding to your collection.
Univertigo — Save Me From The Void
Univertigo were founded in 2014 by Anthony Delmas. In 2015, they released their debut EP Unreachable Dominion, and then 5 years of nothing until the rekease of the EP / mini album Blood Moon in 2021. I think they regard Save Me From The Void as their debut proper.
Listening to more instrumental music than with vocals, grunts are definitely a rarity in my collection. The clear vocals are very interesting, showing a diversity from cold metal singing to warm and deep mysterious.
Yes, this is heavy, thundering even. The riffing goes into math territories now and then, if you were wondering about the level of progressiveness. Several tracks have a layer of keyboards added that make the sound even heavier but also more melodic at the same time. Mesa is a good example, and it is probably my favourite track here. Think System Of A Down and then add a load of melodic layers. Blasts of Dream Theater are alternated with the heavy craziness from Devin Townsend.
The drums are so tight I wonder whether they are programmed. The credits on Bandcamp are limited to composers (mainly Delmas) and lyricists, but there is no info on musicians or whether that should be singular.
Even with the heavy and almost epic sections of Nidus, this is the breather. And you are going to need it when listening to this. Closer Octavia is a weird one having a lot of electronic sounds. Perhaps best as the album closer. Compared to the rest this is a cool-down.
A little too much grunting to my taste but everything in between is very good. The craziness combined with the melodic assault is working pretty well. This will be of interest to a lot of prog metal fans.