Aether — Aether
Established at the end of 2021 in Milan, this four-piece jazz-ambient group have now released their self-titled debut. They take influences from the North European jazz school that is epitomised by the kind of releases you get on the ECM label. Artists such as Terje Rypdal, Eberhard Weber and so on. They decided to stay away from mainstream jazz and would rather incorporate ambient and progressive rock into their sound, especially in the use of synthesizers and electronics.
So far so good. What you get with Aether is an abundance of ambient instrumentals with a bit of progressive synth work and some jazz-rock and fusion. Unfortunately, the album is front-loaded with a meandering set of ambient pieces that go precisely nowhere for me. There are odd moments on interest and beauty here and there. Radiance drifts along until Andrea Serino's jazzy Fender Rhodes runs arrive but fail to counterbalance the gentle blandness of the tune. Thin Air has some languid guitar from Andrea Ferrari, but it is all a bit polite. Less polite is the distorted guitar and the synth solos on Pressure and as a result it is one of the better tracks.
Things improve with the introduction of jazz-fusion elements towards the end of the album. Drummer Matteo Ravelli gets to hit the skins rather that the cymbals prevalent throughout, and bassist Andrea Grumelli lets out his funkier side. These three tracks manage to throw off the shackles of ambience. Moving Away, Crimson Fondant and This Bubble I'm Floating In all have much better melodies and arrangements, with building synths, Hammond organ, Rhodes, and fine guitar work.
Aether's debut is very much a mixed bag. I find the ambient and electronic tracks, though short, almost interminable. The album is superbly played and recorded and has an ECM style cover but as with a lot of ECM's output it really does depend on the melodies, and I feel Aether's are blandly safe in the main. It is an album that needs more fire.
By the way, this Aether is not to be confused with the Polish melodic death metal band or the Brazilian prog band of the same name.
Big Red Fire Truck — Trouble In Paradise
Hard rocking outfit Big Red Fire Truck hail from Sydney (Australia) where time apparently froze when neon signs, Miami Vice, glam rock, (heavy) metal inspired melodic rock and AOR where still the fashion of the day. Those strictly into prog therefore may possibly want to inspect another part of the city, but personally I would surely like to pay a visit to this distinct 80s inspired Eden because Trouble In Paradise offers an exceptionally great time reminding of an age when bands like Tyketto, Damn Yankees and Van Halen ruled supreme.
After an initial signal of Walk The Wire smoothness through polished synth waves in opener Neon Sunset, it is Trouble In Paradise's sum-up of AOR structures, infectious melodies, instrumental prowess and powerful dynamic drive that shows all ingredients for pure melodic entertainment are perfectly in place. Performed with shining vigour, heart and utmost confidence, just as it should be with this type of music.
Catchy as hell, seriously on fire and rushing dynamically past excellent fast shredding flashy guitar solos, superb harmonies, contagious tunes and great lead vocals it is Love Bites that delivers a strong sense and feel of Roth-era Van Halen, while Miami Skies some time later twinkles with fluorescent energy of contemporary acts like H.E.A.T and Eclipse. Add to this the surprising EP closer Hot Summer Nights, which sublimely does look back at nostalgia of Boston in a The Darkness setting, and it can't get much better for the heavy orientated melodic rock / AOR enthusiast.
Yet they do, for the ravishingly fast paced and furiously executed Psychotropic Thunder offers a brilliant heavy bombastic treat with a daringly attractive Street Legal appeal which provides a magnificent highlight to this high-potential oozing, overly convincing bundle of highly charged energetic songs. Excellent stuff for which I gladly raise my glass of Cuba Libre in appreciation.
Trouble In Paradise offers a solid, prog-free punchy cocktail of 80s inspired heavy party rock fully worth exploring for fans of the genre.
Jason Blake — Subsequent Ruins
Chicago-based Warr guitarist Jason Blake has an impressive solo discography, but with Subsequent Ruins he only makes his debut on DPRP. His main band Aziola Cry was reviewed by my colleagues more than once, being compared to such tech-prog acts as Gordian Knot, Tool and King Crimson. On the instrumental Subsequent Ruins Jason is joined by the almighty Mr. Marco Minnemann on the drum stool, and the two gentlemen do some decent job, complementing each other's skills during a 40-minutes show of hands.
The album sees Jason shifting to a slightly mellower, more atmospheric sound than in Aziola Cry. Here his arranger's approach is less hysterical than Tool, more melodic than Gordian Knot and tonally quite different from Fripp's experiments. Music here made me think of a cross between Tesseract and Canvas Solaris during their later stage, with some touches of grunge. I have already stressed the melodic side of the release, but this it should not overshadow the fact that Ruins rock hard when needed and have their decent share of groove.
Follow I is a good example of Jason's more atmospheric leanings. Almost doom-y, ringing riffs provide a sinister tone, not too far from Katatonia's somber pastures and naturally flow into False Streets of Entanglement , a number picking up precisely where the previous one ended and slightly gathering pace from there on.
A 10 minutes ending epic A Bleak Outcome is the pinnacle of groove here. At times, between the riffs, I was half-expecting Layne Staley to step to the mic and mutter something depressive about life in provincial North America.
Confident, technical, dark and urbanistic – that's what Subsequent Ruins are about.
Neolia — Neolia
A large number of prog groups have emerged from Israel over the years, such as Soul Enema and Orphaned Land. Now, joining the halls of these bands we have Neolia who bring their debut, self-titled album, to the world this year (2023). At just shy of an hour and a quarter long, it is certainly ambitious for a debut release. So let's see how the group handle this daunting task.
Album opener The Shed is a grooving prog jam, with guitars that wave through the rhythm as the vocals cut through. Here and there we can hear snippets that cross over into the Dream Theater style of chorus, before finishing on an aggressive note. Your Prophecy however straddles many styles, from metalcore, to some emo/post hardcore elements while throwing in a solid dose of metal tinged prog to mix it up. But as soon as you think that is all they can throw at you, some frantic (yet somehow smooth) jazzy bridges enter and exit, and we are back into the hardcore and alt-rock territory again.
The simple way to sum up the album is unpredictable, and teetering on the fine line between chaos and order. The riffs contort and twist in heavy, thrashing bursts of energy before giving way to more chilled bass lines and jazzy drums, next there will be a completely unexpected (but perfectly executed) twist into a dark and ominous passage complete with harsh vocals mingling with gentle cleans. This however is a double-edged sword - the skill and craftsmanship in making something so batshit crazy but so perfectly well-formed is outstanding, but it also has the effect of sounding too chaotic at times. For some, that may be perfect, others - such as myself - it is one you can look at an appreciate the talent, but would maybe pass by.
I'm not sure how I feel about this record to be honest. It sounds to me what fans of the Mars Volta have always described them like. And, for my sins, I never managed to get into them. The record is very well produced, well recorded and the group are extremely tight and controlled. So there is absolutely no fault there and the talent itself to switch styles so easily is incredible. I did however, find myself occasionally asking "is there much longer left?" on a few songs, so for myself personally, I think I would have shaved around 20 minutes off.