Album Reviews

Issue 2023-047

Aton Five — Aton Five

Aton Five - Aton Five
Alienation (8:32), Naked Void (8:32), Clepsydra (3:23), Danse Macabre (8:00), Lethe (22:01)
Jerry van Kooten

About five years after their full-length debut, Solarstagia, Aton Five have released their follow-up. A lot has happened with the band — line-up changes, near-breaking up — which they all overcame. A compilation of remixed and live tracks was called Childhood's End, which was already a hint towards how the band were feeling: like they had really grown as a group in such a way that they feel they have finally found their own identity. And therefore, this new album is eponymous.

But since I liked the previous releases (EP, full-length debut, live album, compilation album), what about that identity? What has changed? And do I still like it?

I heard that something had changed from the moment I started listening to the album. It is like the centre of gravity has shifted from psychedelic rock towards progressive rock. All the elements are still there, but it is like they have brought it more together around a clearer epicentre.

Having recently reviewed Hackberry's latest album Breathing Space, I was in the mood for some more prog and psych overlap and was really looking forward to hear the new Aton Five album. And there are some similarities.

Both are instrumental progressive rock / metal bands. This is the second full-length studio album after an EP for both bands. And with Aton Five shifting their emphasis from more psychedelic to more modern progressive, they clearly belong in the same field as Hackberry. Different players with different backgrounds, though. But still, same field. Same wonderful field.

Alienation opens the album and is definitely a warm welcome getting to know the grown-up Aton Five. No alienation from what you know here. Within minutes, you're drawn into heavy prog with elements of 1970s hard rock and psychedelic rock. Very melodic solos on guitar and keyboards alternate with excellent riffing and tons of breaks and changes. I especially like the tribal drum sound driving the intro with guitar soloing over a keyboard tapestry, into a Rush-influenced section with keyboards dominating the melodies, aided more by the bass melodies (yes) than the guitar riffs. Excellent sound!

Main track Lethe is a tour de force. Two heavy sections of 8 minutes with a quieter middle section with haunting guitars. Here the only voice on the album is heard, reciting a John Keats poem called Ode On Melancholy. You should not be surprised that that fits the mood of the song, or the whole album for that matter. The start of the last section uses some of the same themes as the opening section to get you back into the flow, but then a completely different treatment follows, loaded with great melodies and fierce soloing.

All tracks have sections that drag or push you from soaring guitar lines to storming riffs, and always that interplay between melodic instrumentation tickling the brain with bits of unexpected information that makes prog interesting. Groovy hard rock, alternating guitar and keyboard melodies on a very tight rhythm layer. They know how to build a song, take you on a journey. Awesome album, guys. Hope to be able to see and hear you play live one day. Going to be amazing.

The Cry — The Cry

The Cry - The Cry
Fire Of Love (21:17), In My Mind (2:18), Chorus Alpha (9:09), Mindset (5:38), Evergreen (7:14), Seven Days (4:52), Ouverture Coda (5:24)
Martin Burns

So how does the phrase "improvised music" strike you? Does it make your heart sing with anticipation? Or does it sink with the thought of self-indulgent unstructured noodling constantly in search of a certain something?

I tend, though experience, to fall into the latter camp. So, when I read the press notes for, the Snowdrops and Theodore Wild Ride duo of Christine Ott and Mathieu Gabry's new project, and saw that The Cry was based on improvisations my hopes were not high. The music on the self-titled debut moves away from the contemporary classical meets ambient of their other works into electronica, kosmische synths and light touches of jazz.

New to their fold, making The Cry a trio, is Pierre-Loïc Le Bliguet on drums and percussion. Also, Christine Ott moves away, not far admittedly, from her beloved Ondes Martenot and piano to include electronic effects and, on the opening track, just a Korg MS20 analogue synthesiser. Mathieu Gabry plays a Roland Juno-6, fx, Clavia Nord Stage analogue synth and piano. These three musicians came together on November 29th, 2022, for one day to play and record these improvised pieces at Downtown Studios in Strasbourg. The Cry is edited and mixed from that day's experimentation.

Now, enough of the preamble, what about the music? As a fan of Snowdrops and Theodore Wild Ride, I was initially resistant to the change of emphasis here but on repeat plays, and turning up the volume, it began to make more sense to me. This is especially so with the twenty-minute opening track Fire Of Love. Inspired by a viewing of a film of the same name, a few days before recording, about volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft.

The Cry, promo photo by Noé Maetz

The music on Fire Of Love sees Ott moving away from her comfort zone by improvising with the warm sounds of the Korg synth. Gabry joins on piano and Le Bliguet provides restrained, precise jazzy floor toms and cymbal work. It moves through various sections, evolving in a stately way, building in intensity and atmosphere. Spooky synth lines, gentle percussion rise and piano rise and fall creating a fascinating abstract prog sound, that is reminiscent of the Tangerine Dream album Zeit's second, third and fourth tracks.

This is followed by the most jazz track which does not feature Ott at all. Gabry's piano and the drums are reminiscent of Hiromi's work. Shame it's so short. Longer and far less focussed is Chorus Alpha where the Ondes floats above gentle snare work in its ethereal way, but its first half suffers from ambient drift it does improve in the later half with additional synths and effects.

Bass synth and piano lead Mindset into waves of synths. Similarly, Evergreen takes a similar structure set apart by its walking rhythm before some of the sound effects distract the ear from what else is going on. Better and more engaging is the languorous jazz, Ondes and piano of Seven Days. Spiralling synth pulses introduce Ouverture Coda which along with the opening track may bookend a variable album in fine style.

Sometimes it is hard to believe this is just the work of three musicians when it's at its most atmospherically dense. Those in search of hummable tunes will be disappointed but, as in contemporary classical music, there are plenty of short melodic nuggets. It would have been exciting to hear the drummer take a more forceful role, but he seems reticent to provide any rhythmic authority on these pieces, tending instead to follow along with the ambient drift. Nothing is ever quite as unsettling as the cover image which would have made this more interesting.

To return to my original enquiry about improvisations. I find that The Cry's self-titled debut to be a mixed bag that provides ammunition for both sides of the argument. On the whole though I will return to half of the pieces here, but not as often as I return to other releases by this team.

Dead End Finland — Victory

Dead End Finland - Victory
Northern Winds (4:43), Wounded And Bleeding (4:12), Heavy Rain (4:58), Beyond The Distance (3:51), In The Dark (4:12), Kaamos (1:52), Up So High, Down So Low (4:52), Delusions Of Grandeur (4:07), Bound To Be Reborn (4:25), Wrath Of God (4:23)
Calum Gibson

Dead End Finland have arrived, unsurprisingly, from Finland — one of the homes of melodic death metal. With the beginning back in 2007 as Dead End, they changed their name in 2010 before dropping Stain Of Disgrace in 2011. Through the years, several other albums and singles have arrived until we come to this point: Victory, the 5th album.

Northern Winds kicks us off, and I am slightly surprised. The chugs were there, but almost trance-like synth licks caught me off guard. Vocally there is elements of Amorphis flowing between the growls and cleans. Wounded And Bleeding is less on the industrial side, and leans more heavily into the catchy, melodic choruses but still packs a punch.

Track 3, Heavy Rain flies in like a storm, with major Battlelore vibes to it. Epic vocals ride the waves created twin attack of the guitar work and synths to forge a track that would be right at home on one of Metal Hammer's Battle Metal CDs. No less powerful is Beyond The Distance as it brings in more of that catchy harmony that their countrymen are so famous for. Heavy and atmospheric with the vocals, it manages to create a melancholic sound that tugs at the emotions, while still keeping the tempo going. The halfway mark gives us In The Dark, where foundation rich in the various styles of the band lie together in unison. Industrial sparks twist in between the duality that exists in melodic death metal and the synths sprinkle themselves on top to add that chef's kiss of effect to the whole package.

Side two starts with the short instrumental of Kaamos. Gentle, and soothing, it eases us into the emotive sound of Up So High, Down So Low. A slower pace than we have met so far, this one sits in the "ballad" section of the album. The harmonies with the vocals take centre stage here, building the song through dark and hopeful sounds as we drive towards the crescendo. Delusions of Grandeur takes us into a sound that could easily have come from the Reroute To Remain era of In Flames. Penultimate number, Bound To Be Reborn continues that theme of almost pop tinged melodic death metal. A chugging chorus with catchy vocals seals the deal on this track. Wrath of Godd ends the album with another dose of industrio-melodic death metal. Picture Lords Of The Lost, but less Eurovision and PVC, more long hair and denim.

If I had one criticism, it would be the album does sound very formulaic. Every track is wonderful in and of itself, but in the whole of the album they can merge together a bit and get lost together. But, it manages to entertain. If they can mix the pattern up a bit on album number 6 then that would likely take them from damn good, to bloody brilliant.

Absolutely one for fans of the 00-06 In Flames, Amorphis, Battlelore, Dark Tranquility and Lords Of The Lost.

Karfagen — Passage To The Forest Of Mysterious

58:41 / 57:22
Karfagen - Passage To The Forest Of Mysterious
CD 1: Kingfisher And Dragonfly (Part 4) (3:01), Mysterious Forest (Part 1) – World In A Grain Of Sand (14:03), Mysterious Forest (Part 2) – The Ominous Ride (4:21), To Those Who Dwell In Realms Of Day (2:18), Birds Of Passage And The Enchanted Forest (19:02), Through The Whispers Of The Wind (1:38), Mysterious Forest (Part 3) – World In A Grain Of Sand – reprise (4:15); bonus track: Birds Of Passage And The Enchanted Forest (Single) (9:59)
CD 2: Birds Part 1 (22:08), Birds Piano Intermezzo (1:14), Birds Part 2 (7:09), Birds part 3 (18:40); bonus tracks: The Day Is Done (4:48), Birds Short Introduction (3:19)
Jan Buddenberg

Sometimes I (literally) arrive late at the party. Also with Karfagen, who were a great unknown to me until I witnessed the last part of their concert at the recently held Progdreams festival at 'De Boerderij' where they played alongside Milennium and Solstice. Stepping straight into the magnificent symphonic landscapes of The Invisible Line, a Sunchild composition as it turns out, it soon dawned on me that I had a situation on my hands. Especially when afterwards one small glance at the merchandise desk revealed approximately 20 albums to choose from. Where to begin?

Thankfully Antony Kalugin, mastermind behind Karfagen, Sunchild and Hoggwash, came to the rescue and offered his help by presenting me his latest effort Passage To The Forest Of Mysterious. A decision gladly accepted, although it presented a problematic outcome for after numerous dips and trips in the oceanic depths of the well-crafted symphonic music, I now constantly hear the whispering voice of Fish bubble up in the back of my head with a nostalgically resonating "problems, problems, problems, PROBLEMS!". Simply because Karfagen's 14th effort is one of captivating beauty.

Album opener Kingfisher And Dragonfly (part 4) offers transporting melodies and intricate designs. It is the fourth instalment of a composition divided over various previous albums. My ticked are best illustrated by the two Mysterious Forest parts that follow.

Especially in Mysterious Forest (Part 1) — World In A Grain Of Sand, Karfagen's world of adventures truly takes form via idyllic realms that border close to the edges of Yes and The Flower kings. Beautiful harmonies and interplay are graced with subtlety that stride into slightly darker atmospheres when Yan Vedaman's sax enters the scene. Melodies slowly intensify. A lengthy instrumental passage flourishes with melodic images of Genesis and Camel and then continues with Kalugin's tantalising synth passages which add a glow of Lifesigns.

When bombast is sprinkled with a dreamy sense of restrained Kalaban jazz, the meticulously arranged composition gains altitude of the highest order. This phenomenal track rounds off with symphonic melodies and a sparkle of Saga.

Mysterious Forest (Part 2) – The Ominous Ride is everything the tour it mentions to be. Mild expressions of imminent danger come to live through jazz melodies with an Argent glimmer, followed by gorgeous piano play. When melodies intensify and we get astonishing solos on guitar and keys, we reach symphonic delight. Imagine the smiling joy of a child who has just experienced his first ever kiddy ride, multiply this by ten, and that about covers the excitement these two momentous compositions bring.

In between the calming To Those Who Dwell In Realms Of Day and the folk-inspired Through The Whispers Of The Wind, it is Birds Of Passage And The Enchanted Forest which offers a second magnificent suite, in which Yes, Genesis, and the Flower Kings meet Anima Mundi. This suite is also presented in an abridged single version as a bonus track at the end of the album. It opens quietly with recurring themes, when Karfagen's magical world of adventures returns. Accompanied by soothing vocals and playful movements bursting with key wizardry midway, it then transports into fairy-tale folk atmospheres, graced with mid-seventies Genesis and stunning escapades on guitar.

This segment could have lasted me a lifetime, but we leave the forest with a bombastic eruption of cacophony sax. Then, classical melodies complemented by violin (Maria Baranovska) take over, and a combination of Canterbury melodies that include basson (Oleksandr Pastuchov) and flute (Elena Kushchïï) concluded this amazing composition.

Mysterious Forest (Part 3) – World In A Grain Of Sand – reprise finally brings comfort especially to Jon Anderson fans who love to submerge in elegantly crafted Floyd-ian atmospheres, with lush decorations on guitar, dreamy synths, Anderson-like vocals by Tim Sobolev, and spices of sultry sax.

Normally at this stage I recommend everyone to check the album out, which indeed you should. Yet the limited edition generously provided by Kalugin comprises a second disc in form of Birds. This totally reworked instrumental version of his Birds Of Passage album continues the just encountered landscapes most generously and features many of the same musicians, including the not-yet-mentioned Konstantin Ionenko and Viktor Syrotin on bass and drums respectively, and Mathieu Spaeter as provider of the electrifying guitar parts.

As with the main CD, the Birds suite offers an uplifting composition that showcases delightful interplay and returning themes, with constantly changing atmospheres and moods to illustrate and capture, so to speak, the different species of our feathered friends. Birds Part 1 is painted by lush draperies of frisky synths and is given wings through the immaculately versatile rhythm section recalling Yes. The guitar draws up images of a snow goose filled countryside mindful to Camel.

This wonderful composition soars with flying ease and compelling comfort through jazzy and symphonic landscapes, coloured by E.L.P. and The Flower Kings. Melodies stand proud amidst a dazzling array of musical diversity. A dreamy passage elevates the flamboyant melodies reminiscent to the unique beauty of Anyone's Daughter. This moment is recaptured in the first bonus track The Day Is Done, which shows a resemblance to AD, through Tim Sobolev's vocal and guitar melodies.

After Birds Piano Intermezzo, a delicately constructed classical piano interlude, Birds Part 2 is an equally impressive engagement of swirling and swaying melodies. Provided with an overwhelming aviary of transitions, this composition once again delivers an extraordinary harmonious prog expedition dashing through classical themes and vivid melodies with jazz elements where especially the guitars captivate.

Birds Part 3 brings acoustic ambient atmospheres with excellent nylon acoustics from Alexsandr Pastuchov in the spirit of Rafael Pacha or Steve Hackett. It gives birth to a peaceful build-up of classical melodies and flute, after which it is transformed several times. From heavenly melodies into those of earthly world music, with tribal percussion. Then another realm of symphonic delight featuring outstanding guitar and mesmerising dreamy melodies. And ultimately it circles away onto a blissful horizon buzzing with fading sounds of libel.

Provided with an additional abbreviated musical summary (Birds Short Introduction) and fantastical artwork from paintings by Igor Sokolskiy, this instrumental bonus disc exhibits the same attraction as Passage To The Forest Mysterious and deserves a high recommendation on its own as well. All this makes the here reviewed limited package simply a must-have for fans of Karfagen and a mandatory listen to those whose interest lies in favour of symphonic prog, The Worm Ouroboros, Modern Rock Ensemble and the various names mentioned earlier on.

In the meantime, Kalugin released another instrumental director's cut (Dragon Island), updated his Bandcamp site with a wealth of goodies, and issued a vinyl version of Sunchild's album Exotic Creatures And A Stolen Dream which was released early this year. In anticipation, I meanwhile have opened a savings account for when Karfagen return to Alphen aan den Rijn on the 13th of October, as the only solution to my problems is further delightful indulgence. Something my florist happily agrees on.

Album Reviews