The Chronicles Of Father Robin — The Songs And Tales Of Airoea
The Chronicles Of Father Robin is a band from Norway comprised of members from Tusmorke, Wobbler, Jordsjo, and The Samuel Jackson Five. Being a fan of Jordsjo and Wobbler and to a lesser degree, Tusmorke, my ears pricked up when I discovered this release was up for review on the site. Being impressed with much of the material from those 2 main bands encouraged me to explore a little further before offering to review the album. I soon discovered the band had actually formed in 1993 and released a solitary E.P. called Twilight Fields in 2013. It has been a long decade since then for the band to offer up 6 new songs for this current album which is slated for release in September 2023.
The actual members of the band include Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, percussion, synth), Jon André Nilsen (bass, backing vocals), Henrik Harmer (drums, percussion, backing vocals, synth), Regin Meyer (Steel flute, Keys, piano), Thomas Hagen Kaldhol (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin), Aleksandra Morozova (backing vocals), Kristoffer Momrak (Steel flute, Minimoog, synth), Håkon Oftung / Solina strings, keys, organ, clavinet, synth), Martin Nordrum Kneppen (drums, percussion). Lars Fredrik Frøislie also guests by contributing keyboards, organ, clavinet, synth, Minimoog.
The inclusion of such an arsenal of great instruments from such a talented bunch of guys would suggest the contents of the album are going to be somewhat special. They certainly don't disappoint in that department as the band have concocted some very creative and engaging songs that showcase considerable talent from all on board.
While the opening track, Prologue is more of a throw-away song of brief duration, we are given a brief glimpse of what to expect with the next title track as it introduces us to Father Robin in a more acoustic environment. These 2 songs are only just over a minute's duration, so they hardly have time to develop into anything really meaningful.
Things really get underway with the 3rd track as it encompasses a proto prog type of approach that I felt was one of the strongest songs on the album. With swirling organs and abundant flute excursions, it really gives the album some impetus right from the get go. At almost 12 minutes, it really has time to fly off in various directions and yet return intact after an adventurous sojourn. The arrangements are also quite quirky and creative without sounding too clichéd. If you like the organ, then this song will be perfect.
The 4th song follows a more regular structure as it bounces along with a great punchy bass line accompanied by a simple riff often played acoustically. It is still replete with plenty of organ and keyboards in general however and covers a lot of territory in its 8 minutes duration. This is a very appealing type of instrumentation that the Scandinavians have become well known for as there are many bands from that region that utilise such a versatile instrument to perfection. Think Änglagård, Kerrs Pink, Landberk, Brighteye Brison, Dice, Groovector, White Willow, Isuldurs Bane, Anekdoten, Kaipa, Magic Pie, and The Samurai Of Prog to name a few.
The title of the 5th song, Twilight Fields ,would suggest more of a serene, or melancholic type of song, but it is far from that in its structure. Featuring many sections of quite angular music, bordering on being almost dissonant, it was probably my least favourite piece. At over 15 minutes in length, it also meant this dissonance began to grate a little. When melody is lost and replaced with less accessible sections, my inner system seems to want to shut that out and wait for something a little more approachable.
Thankfully, the final song, Unicorn addresses that and brings things back into a more structured style for the first part of the song but then unleashes yet more mayhem towards the end. The first part, however, is really good for these ageing ears.
A quick check of the bands website revealed a stunning 3 coloured LP boxed set of this project is being offered in very limited numbers and required some crowdfunding to get it all underway. If you feel this might be an album for your collection, you'll need to flash the plastic quite quickly as I would imagine this incredible looking boxed set will sell out soon.
Despite my slight aversion to anything too raucous or dissonant, I can certainly see this appealing to fans of King Crimson's Thrak era or similar. Despite the album featuring some contributions from Lars Fredrik Frøislie, the album is not as accessible as his 2023 release called Fire Fortellinger, which is a highly symphonic but adventurous affair that really made an impression. Obviously, fans of some of these previously mentioned bands will find a lot to enjoy here as I certainly did for probably 80% of its duration, hence my score of 8. Your mileage might vary, but I would certainly not hesitate to give this a reserved recommendation as I am sure many fans will lap this up. Interesting stuff guys! Well done.
Degrees Of Truth — Alchemists
I'll bet everyone reading this review — in fact, I'll bet this is true of every lover of music — has at least one "home" genre. By that I mean a genre of music (or a subgenre, or a sub-subgenre) pretty much every exponent of which seems good. I have several such genres, obviously including, for example, progressive metal, but my main one is plain old death metal. Sure, there are tens of thousands of death-metal bands in the world, and while many of them are very good and some of them are excellent, obviously most of them are just so-so. Yet I enjoy even the so-so ones, silently asking myself "What's not to like?"
Well, it happens that Degrees of Truth fit neatly into another of those sub-subgenres almost every exponent of which I like: female-fronted progressive rock/metal. You know — Leaves' Eyes, Nightwish, The Gathering, Lacuna Coil, and even, at a stretch, the poppy but still substantial Evanescence. While I prefer some such bands to others, I'm delighted to be able to ask that question of the Italian band Degrees of Truth and their new album Alchemists: what's not to like?
The band, formed in 2014 by songwriter and keyboardist Gianluca Parnasari, describes itself as "an italian female-fronted progressive symphonic metal band which fuse together dreamy and cinematic soundscapes with electronic music and, of course, metal music." (What's not to like?) The band has released several albums since its formation and has undergone a few changes of lineup, but this new album is very good indeed. New singer Claudia Beltrame has a truly gorgeous voice, perfectly suited to the band's style and songs, and indeed every other member of the band seems effortlessly proficient on his instrument, too.
Perhaps what I like best about the songs on this album is that they are fully formed pieces on their own that also work superbly together. I also really appreciate the degree of grandiosity in each song: just enough, not too much. I think I can understand the temptation for a band that describes itself as "symphonic metal" to go a bit too far over the top, but Degrees of Truth understand that sometimes a little less is actually a lot more. (I have to add in fairness that my comments apply to the music but not in all cases to the lyrics, which can occasionally seem a bit overreaching. But Beltrame manages to sell even those.)
Here's the thing: if the band is not stunningly original in its sound, it is nonetheless an excellent example of this kind of music and deserves to be spoken of alongside those better-known proponents I mentioned earlier. At the risk of trying your patience, I'll sum up with a final iteration of my question: what's not to like?
Heir To Madness — Nightflyers
Heir to Madness is the solo project of Jason Wiscarson, described as brooding and dark, and a mix of influences from Karnivool to Opeth and all manner of music in between. Prog, rock, metal and melancholy combine in the sophomoric album from Jason, released 15 years after his debut The Citadel.
We open with Ghost Cities to an instant cacophony of intricate and finely compatible drums and guitar work. Jason's vocals follow shortly after, sounding like they are doubled up for harmony. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to quite work and instead sound a bit out of tune with the rest. Which is a shame, as later on in the track, we get to hear his unedited cleans, and they are far smoother and accessible. Hard and fast rhythms and riffs are abundant on the album, mixed with softer verses and twisting bridges. The second number, Spit in my Third Eye showcases the Porcupine Tree influences, particular the early 2000s era. Bringing with it the quiet sections for verses, and a 3rd act that could easily be a B-Side Arriving Somewhere But Not Here. This pattern continues over the rest of the tracks, but with the music having a distinctly more Opeth-vibe to the heavy parts in areas. Little Deaths utilises the harmonised vocals again, although to a better end than the album opener did.
The album is a good body of work. There is catchy bits, sing along choruses, lamenting verses, crunchy bridges and riffs a plenty. But I can't help but feel it is missing something, that spark that will take it from a good album that doesn't stand out, to one that will grab the attention of listeners and not let them go until it is ingrained in their memory. It comes across almost as a tribute to Porcupine Tree and Opeth, which I think detracts from some of the creativity and skill in the work, unfortunately. The tracks as well, could easily have a minute or two shaved off most of them and not lose any impact. That isn't to say it is bad at all, it just doesn't hit the mark this time.
If you're a fan of Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Katatonia, Devin Townsend and similar "new prog" (despite them all being around for 20-30 years), then have a listen - It may not dominate your music library, but it should take a respectable place.
Schizo Fun Addict — Love Your Enemies
New Jersey-based sextet Schizo Fun Addict does deserve their share of praise, but before the “dessert” is served, they have my special award for the most misleading band name of 2023. Hitting the play button I was half-skeptically expecting a lot of out-of-tune saxophone, distortion, psychotic vocals and “mad circus” atmosphere of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Unexpect. Instead, Forever Before tiptoed to my ears with post-punkish rhythm, hazy guitar delay and soothing female vocals. Not exactly my idea of schizo fun, but I confess I did start to love my enemies a bit more then, as the album title suggests.
So, if it's not the avant metallers, then who serves an inspiration to the Addicts? I may be not accurate here, but the sources I hear are the indie / dreampop bands of the early 90-ies (Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine), modern take on the same sound from the likes of Beach House, 70-ies hippie folk psychedelia (notes of Jefferson Airplane) and prog-pop bands of the XXI century (The Opium Cartel). Also, I should mention traces of David Bowie's legacy.
After the intro song, pop extravaganza continues with High School High and Fate Chaser, the latter featuring an indie trademark “girl-boy” duo vocals, relaxed guitar strumming with, again trademark, clean / flanger effect.
Over the Hills and Far Away is a superb ethereal pop rendition of a Zep classic. That's how you do covers in XXI century! As soon as the Page / Plant –penned track ends, the album makes a twisting turn to the psychedelic pastures. Outrun takes you from the high school show to the countryside, with almost ethereal sounding vocals and warm percussion, and Hidden Melody together with Subway Lilies finalize this hippie trilogy of the album, while Meet Me In the Wind makes a rather somber conclusion to this otherwise sunny album.
After a couple of listens, I am still doubtful about the vocals: Jayne has a great timbre and fits the sound palette perfectly, but technically there's clearly a room for improvement, as if the vocals were recorded in haste or borrowed from a demo. I can tolerate slightly out-of-tune singing as long as it serves the purpose of delivering a live-show feel, but certainly there's a lot of people with other standards in the prog crowd.
Despite obvious psychedelic influences, Love Your Enemies still belongs to the indie pop / rock niche, rather than to prog, so I would hesitate to recommend the album universally. But should I write for Pitchfork (I know I shouldn't), my rating would be somewhat higher. It is sensual, short and fresh - like sex at a young age. Leaving you wanting some more of the same, equally.