25 Yard Screamer — Nemesis
First impressions can be very influential but can also prove totally wrong. My first impression of the new album by 25 Yard Screamer, their ninth since their inception back in 2002 and their fourth for Rob Reed's (Magenta) White Knight Records, was "death metal". The use of the sombre grey-blue colours in the three-part digipack, the kneeling knight on the front cover, the threatening drawings of strong waves splashing on dark rocks, all radiated "metal"! How wrong that proved!
Hailing from the beautiful region of South Wales, 25 Yard Screamer is nowadays still the same core trio as when they started, consisting of Nick James on vocals and guitars, Matt Clarke on bass and Donal Owen on drums. They have been playing together in this band for more than twenty years which is quite an achievement in itself. Since 2023 Tom Bennett has joined them playing keyboards. All music was written by Clarke and James while the latter also wrote all lyrics, which unfortunately are not included in the set.
In spite of their regular releases, four of which have been reviewed on this site, I had not heard their music before. Being well acquainted with Magenta and other projects Rob Reed is involved in his connection with this band made me curious to what was on offer here. As said the first impression wasn't immediately appealing (I really don't like death metal) but on hearing the album that changed quickly. This album presents slow rock songs in the vein of Porcupine Tree, Gazpacho, Anathema and the likes and will certainly appeal to fans of these bands. All songs are slow in pace, a bit sombre in tone yet quite melodious with excellent stately vocals by James. His voice as strong and clear while his rather stately manner of singing reminds me strongly of Gazpacho's Jan Henrik Ohme.
The songs on Nemesis are mostly based on the guitar, sometimes using heavy riffs (Adrift, Incident, Giving Away My Last Secret), sometimes subtle acoustic snare picking (Gravity) and in others using deceivingly simple guitar themes (Incident, Fragility Of Angels). The keys supply the background, hardly ever taking the lead role except in Incidence where guitars are absent while the tight rhythm section keeps it all together without standing out.
A good example of their musical approach is the very strong opener Adrift. Starting with the quiet sounds of in-coming tide over which the electric guitar starts playing a rather simple but effective theme. James' vocals are very slow and stately, singing some really long notes. After two minutes the full band comes in lead by fierce riffing guitar, giving the song a more heavy taste during the choruses. Around four minutes the keys take over in the quiet middle part with soft singing, acoustic guitar, a soft bass and restrained drumming. The vocals return to the long notes of the beginning, now supported by the full band and leading to a very nice guitar solo which doesn't sound difficult but fits the melody perfectly. In the end section of this great song the heavy riffing with fine vocals return to round off. A very convincing opener that surely makes you want to consume more.
As if to show their musical diversity Incidence is different from the opening song in almost every respect. A calm piano supported by keys introduces the quiet vocal melody that develops nicely during the song. Guitar, bass and drums are completely absent and not missed at all. Just a little but beautiful song.
In Incident the central theme is played by guitar with lush keys in the background. The vocal melody builds upon the former song until the middle section when a fine collection of heavy guitar riffs break down the quiet atmosphere of the song until then. Their sound is very much like Porcupine Tree during their In Absentia period and that is certainly meant as a compliment!
The Vibrations Of Speech is mainly instrumental with some soft words spoken by Abby James (wife or sister?) over a background of soft electric guitar and keys. The second half of the song is somewhat heavier with some riffs, louder keys and a loud guitar solo alternating with the keys in some sort of conversation. Beautifully done.
The pace goes up in Eye To I which also features fine slide guitar playing by John Davies and some singing in the higher regions by James. Another fitting guitar solo closes off this song after which Gravity, the most accessible song on the album, takes the listener back to quiet acoustic guitar playing, soft background singing and soft keys. Drums and bass come in after three minutes and take this rather simple song towards the end with some 'wah-wah' playing on the guitar. Although this is a welcome resting point on the album, the musical development in this song is too minimal, making it the weakest song of the album.
Breathe is almost entirely instrumental but during the final minutes some vocals appear. It is a nice but rather inconspicuous song. That almost also characterizes Giving Away My Last Secret, a slightly more up-tempo song, until after two minutes a really great guitar solo lifts this song to a considerably higher level. The heavy mood holds on until four minutes in after which the guitar starts playing a quiet solo over dreamy background vocals. The fade-out is a bit cheap.
The opener song is probably the strongest song of this album, yet closer Fragility Of Angels is certainly second best. James' stately singing returns here, but again it fits the music well. His strong voice is just very pleasant to listen to and is very well mixed in the forefront. You can feel the tension build up which explodes around the three-and-half minute in the best guitar solo I've heard in years. Heavenly wah-wah effects leading towards some impressive fast and high notes leading towards the last vocals that round off this album in a majestic way.
All in all I find this is a very fine album that hopefully will arouse much well-deserved attention in their music. It is a convincing progrock album, slow but varied, very well played and sung with good melodies, varied instrumentation, a great production and an attractive packages. Yet there is also reason for some slight criticism. Firstly it is too bad that they've decided not to include the lyrics of the songs, nor making them easily available on their bandcamp page. It makes it hard to detect the lyrical meaning of the songs. As a consequence the album title remains thus a complete mystery which could easily have been solved. Maybe it is also a good idea to vary more in the pace of the songs next time. That they can rock the boat can be heard in Giving Away My Last Secret and that certainly tastes for more. It didn't refrain me from a high rating for this may have been a slow-burner, it was a really good one! I'll check out their former albums for sure, meanwhile enjoying Nemesis thoroughly.
Avkrvst — The Approbation
Scandinavia has long been a rich source of prog rock / metal bands. The recent release of the debut album from Avkrvst is testimony to this. Pronounced Awkrust, they are a five piece from Norway and have just released The Approbation comprises seven tracks with 49 minutes of playing.
The seed for the formation Avkrvst was sown during the childhood of Martin Utby and Simon Bergseth. Aged 7 years, born one month apart, they committed to each other that they would form a band. They have delivered on their commitment 22 years later! Making it a family affair, both their fathers had a weekend band, and it is quite possible that the paternal influence dictated the direction that Avkrvst took.
The lineup is as follows: Simon Bergseth – bass guitar and vocals, Martin Utby – drums and synth, Øystein Aadland – bass and keyboards, guitarist Edvard Seim, and keyboard player Auver Gaaren.
The signing of Avkrvst to InsideOutMusic is significant because of the seriously good company they find themselves in: Devin Townsend, Spock's Beard, Transatlantic and Dream Theatre to name but a few. InsideOutMusic's impact on the prog genre has been significant.
Recording of this album took place in an isolated cabin in deep dark rural Norway, giving the album its bleak sound. Simon and Martin initiated the recording process and were later joined by the other three members. Simon works as a mixing engineer and brought a portable recording unit to the cabin.
The Approbation is a concept album, bringing together all the elements of an excellent prog rock / metal band. Quite a difficult album, alternating time signatures and complicated riffs throughout, with a broad range of instruments, from Mellotron to twelve-string guitars. Avkrvst's music unashamedly draws on Opeth, Porcupine Tree and at a stretch Neil Morse.
Most of the writing and recording took place in a winter cabin over 6 weekends, passing the time by drinking beer and homemade liquor made from potato. I'm not a nutritionist, but I know the potato is the base ingredient for Irish Poteen, which is the equivalent of Moonshine, but it doesn't appear to have had any negative interference with the creative process!
It is in Alvdal where the artist and writer Kjell Aukrust lived. Although he passed in 2002, his creativity and heartwarming stories are still held in the hearts of Norwegians. Alvdal is a municipality in the valley Østerdalen, which is also the name of the first track, a short instrumental, leading nicely into the second track, The Pale Moon. This track introduces the dark, helpless, despairing character who is central to the story. "This is where all light comes to die..." It starts with a staccato guitar, softening and concluding with growls.
The first single is Isolation. It incorporates alternative time driven guitars while "searching for a meaning". Track four, The Great White River is melodic prog rock mixing acoustic guitars, piano, while incorporating death metal growls.
Arcane Clouds is the second single, the band refer to this as "the anthem of forsaken hope. An inner voice trying to convince you to fight back and keep your head above water, while the ghosts are hunting you down."
Anodyne and The Approbation are the two final epic tracks and the two strongest tracks on the album. Both are 10 minutes plus, alternating between heavy and light. Anodyne segues into The Approbation. Both tracks are seasoned and polished closing the album on a high.
This is a very good album, well produced and successful in exploring a dark concept. Given the band's capability, I find it difficult to see why they use considerable Opeth and Porcupine Tree influences. From interviews, they don't seem too concerned about the criticism. Is it possible Avkrvst are merely positioning themselves for their next release, where they will settle down and demonstrate their own ability?
Eloy — Echoes From The Past
In the seventies, for someone who was interested in progressive rock, especially in Germany, Eloy was a band you couldn't get around. I had just begun to make my first acquaintance with this style of music. I didn't even know it was called "progressive rock". I bought Eloy's LPs with great regularity for several years, until they somehow slowly disappeared from my radar. So I was a little surprised that they recently released this, their 20th studio album, and the final one of a trilogy dedicated to the life and the tragical death of Jeanne d'Arc. The first two albums of that trilogy, The Vision, The Sword And The Pyre (in two parts, issued in 2107 and 2019 respectively), tell her story from birth to her execution. Echoes From The Past looks at her retrospectively, and lyrically deals with impressions, and reminiscences coming from Jean de Metz, a French nobleman said to have played an important role in Jeanne d'Arc's life.
Eloy were founded in Hannover (Hanover, in English) in 1969 and named after a fantasy people in H.G. Well's novel Time Machine. During their long-lasting musical career, the band went through numerous ups and downs, dissolution, reformations with changing band members, different creative phases and creative breaks of varying duration. The only stable (and stabilising) factor, the person keeping the Eloy-flame burning since their beginning, is founder Frank Bornemann, responsible for guitars, vocals, composing and producing. On this album, the band, besides Frank, consists of Klaus-Peter Matziol (bass), Steve Mann (keyboards), and Stephan Emig (drums, percussion).
The band released their first, eponymous album in 1971, and kept a busy output thereafter, increasing their fan-base in Germany, but also abroad. Their most successful period certainly was the second half of the seventies, until the early eighties. But despite their success, Eloy have always seemed a band that polarised gans. Whilst being loved by a growing number of fans, some other prog enthusiasts and especially the media in the form of the relevant music magazines, turned up their noses, saying that the music sounded too simplistic, the arrangements too uninspiring, and Frank Bornemann's vocals not melodic enough. I remember that even in my prog "microcosmos", I had controversial discussions with prog-loving friends about this band. Today, irrespective of whether their music appeals to me unreservedly, I feel respectful to the fact that musicians are able to stay true to their style for over 50 years under not always favourable circumstances.
Even if Eloy occasionally have set slightly different priorities during their recording career, their music overall, and also on Echoes From The Past is characterised by an emphasis on sometimes gloomy moods and atmosphere, rather than on technicality and the display of the individual musicians' abilities. We hear powerful guitars, orchestral, and sometime symphonic arrangements, pulsating rhythms, spacy sounding keyboards. Add to that Frank Bornemann's, let's face it, iconic singing style, albeit more reminiscent of speaking than singing, and with a narrow range. There is melody within the songs, not driven by the vocals but rather by guitars and even more by the keyboards. However, to my ears, his vocals being as they are comes a bit at the expense of catchiness and accessibility. I did not get any goosebumps whilst listening.
The music is devoid of any gimmickry, and sounds dense, compact, sometimes dramatic, powerful, serious and mature. This is all reflecting the band's experience.
Interesting to hear also is how a band can do almost without soloing. The keyboards are a little more generous in that department than the guitar. The arrangements are fairly similar throughout the entire album, each song basically starts with a spacy Pink Floyd-ian intro, after which the guitars kick in with staccato-like riffs. I did not detect a particularly stand-out song, either positive or negative. Primus inter pares to me is The Pyre, due to its dramatic atmosphere, its spacy sections, and its changing moods, whilst Farewell is the one which I like most, because Frank Bornemann deviates from his usual singing style to become emotional, melancholic, and melodic.
I have always found Eloy's music quite unique, and the fact that I can't think of many bands to compare them with is a rather positive sign. Some references are Hanover-based peers Jane, Nektar, Hawkwind to some extent, and maybe Pallas. I am struggling for more names.
What's next for Eloy? The attempt to find an answer raises further questions and gives room for speculation. The Jeanne d'Arc theme has certainly been worked through. The last track is called Farewell — only directed to Jeanne, or does it also apply to Eloy's future? Their website is called "Eloy Legacy". What about playing on stage? Live activities have been scarce to non-existent in the past years. The way Eloy act and exist right now — are they a band or a project? Is Frank Bornemann willing and able to keep the Eloy-flame burning? He himself is the one who knows this best.
Without knowing the full range of albums Eloy released between 1990 and 2017, I think that Echoes From The Past musically ties in with the (strong) albums from the second half of the seventies, true to the motto "Where Eloy is on it, (traditional) Eloy is also in it". That's why die-hard fans of the band will appreciate this album, and those who always were unable to do anything with Eloy will stay away from it for the same reason. Anyone not being familiar with their music and not wanting to go back in time more than 45 years should give Echoes From The Past a serious consideration. Coincidentally having found a vinyl reissue of their 1971 album just a few weeks ago, I think I'll buy their latest LP as well. It will somehow round off my long-standing relationship with that band.
Fluctus Quadratum — The First Wave
Hailing from England, Fluctus Quadratum have released an EP that caught my eye several weeks ago. Being touted as a synth-led progressive rock band, I was naturally curious to see what magic these musicians might unleash upon me. I am pleased to say, they have for the most part, achieved that aim.
The band consists of Jopheus Burtonshaw (keyboards, acoustic guitar, arrangements, mixing, mastering) Curtis Adamcyzk (vocals, lyrics), Alan Trower (guitar), Mark Piercy (bass guitar), Rick Burtonshaw (drums) and Debbie Burtonshaw (lyrics and back-up vocals).
Clocking in at almost 36 minutes, the band have managed to release a lengthy EP that is only a few minutes short of a different LP that I criticised recently for being too short. Considering previous bands from the 70s might have delivered a few songs totalling less than 10 minutes in duration, this is a great achievement because in the space of only three songs, you get an instinctive idea of exactly how good a future album might sound. I for one, certainly can't wait for the album to appear and look forward to the opportunity to review it.
The opening song gave me the slightest initial hint of an Australian band called Flowers, (eventually becoming Icehouse with Iva Davies). Their opening song also began with the brooding sound of the keyboards and set the scene perfectly for what was to follow. Fluctus Quadratum have done the same and done it very well as the accompanying guitar riff, quickly becomes a hypnotic earworm in no time.
Acquiescence brings some delightful synthesizer passages to the fore while shortly after the lead guitar will caress the ears in a way that David Gilmour does so often. Gentle piano follows with soft vocals until the songs builds with strength until its timely climax.
Thankfully, there is no actual crunch from the guitars as they have managed to finesse that instrument perfectly to only enhance the sound rather than creating a predictable wall of sound that is used far too often by other bands. Lead breaks are very emotive, melodically constructed and really well played. They flow so effortlessly and are perfectly accentuated by some truly stunning keyboard wizardry from Jopheus who is an amazing young player in his own right.
I have detected the band have managed to score themselves a number of live gigs already so anyone attending one of their performances will have no doubt enjoyed the clever use of stage costumes used so well by Uncle Peter from Genesis
The band claim Pink Floyd, Marillion and Steve Wilson as influences and that fact becomes quite apparent after only a few minutes of playing the disc. I also hear snippets from an older English band called Druid and Canadian band, Red Sand, regarding the atmospheric lead breaks as all these bands utilise this instrument to take you on that magic journey and back again, song after song.
With only three songs to review, it seems superfluous to give you a blow-by-blow description but let me assure the readers, this is going to be a band to watch in the future. If they can release future albums with the same level of quality as found on their debut EP., they are assured of success. I am being fully enchanted by the mesmerising sounds of the piano, synths and overall majesty of such an appealing release, I can only suggest you do likewise as you may not find anything as instantly accessible as this EP.
A really great effort guys! I look forward to hearing the album soon.