Cyklad — Reflect
Cyklad — Offline
Björn Sandström is a guitarist from Gävle, Sweden. He has played / plays in several other bands, most notably LostQ, and now has a solo project under the name of Cyklad. He must have been writing and recording for some time, since he released two full-length albums late last year. We're going to deal with these together in one review.
Sandström started writing the music on these albums after LostQ's The Gladiator in 2017. Apparently, the music didn't really fit the band's ideas, so he decided to turn it into a solo project. To be honest, there is still a big overlap with the music of LostQ. Although perhaps Cyklad sounds more like a project, as he has had a lot of help from several of his LostQ band members and several singers. It's a bit more diverse in sound, but it's clearer the songs are written primarily by one person. So we have a prog rock / metal project that recalls Ayreon's way of working, but a little more metal and a little less epic prog.
Different singers emphasise the solo project but also the importance of the story. The storyline has an important role. In many cases, the music really cools down or slows down for the vocal parts, which are also high the mix, especially on the Reflect album.
There is a great contrast between the different musical sections. Folk rock, symphonic rock, and intricate prog metal, bluesy guitar solos. Some of the longer songs go through a journey through all of those, like Save Me. It's a good balance between the quickly alternating sections and the longer ones, preventing it to become too technical. There are some lovely melodic sections there
Several tracks are sung by the excellent Mikael Thyberg - what a great voice he has. Sandström has chosen a nice range of vocalists. Even when multiple are combined, as in Underground People, this works pretty well.
The majestic prog-metal opening of Offline deserves a special mention. What a way to open an album. Heavier even in the vocal sections.
Offline seems a bit heavier overall, maybe more compact. But it is another collection of a large number of ideas, making a very progressive album. Different vocalists, again — male and female. All strong and fitting the songs they are on. Although released shortly after Reflect, I suspect the music was written later. Offline sounds more complete, more mature.
Beautiful artwork, by the way. Saida Krause Söderström for Reflect, but I can't see who painted Offline. Reflect was released on CD, but Offline is available on Bandcamp only. The CD booklet has all the credits for the music, playing, engineering, and artwork. But the digital releases lack that info. I have no clue on who is doing what on the second album. Even the track pages on Bandcamp don't show any info. (LostQ is also a bit of a mystery there. Although the four single releases from 2022 contain full lyrics and credits, the announced Eschaton EP that is supposedly combining those four singles is nowhere to be found as a unit.)
Some of the lyrical sections, where the music backs down, sound a little strained to me, as if too much focus was set on the lyrics. Maybe it's my slightly stronger preference for instrumental music that was triggered, but a few times the flow just felt a bit disrupted. But when you realise this also puts more focus on the vocals and storyline, this all does make sense. The result is an interesting mix of styles that offers a lot to be enjoyed by people who are into symphonic prog as well as prog metal.
Greyfox Agenda — One With The Sound
Over the past decades, I must have listened to hundreds and hundreds of prog albums containing thousands of songs. Sometimes, maybe every hundredth song, I come across one that immediately sweeps me away and much later still produces goosebumps, even though I may not have been listening to it for some time. What distinguishes these songs and makes them so remarkable for me, are catchy and accessible, ear worm-like melodies, hooks and choruses of vocals, guitars or keyboards. Riverside's Time Traveller, False Memory Archive by OAK, The Florentine by Big Big Train, Vanden Plas's Diabolica Comedia, and Parachutes by Moron Police are some examples of many.
Another example is Prime, the third song on Greyfox Agenda's full-length debut album One With The Sound. The man behind this project is Swedish multi-instrumentalist, producer, and composer Magnus Florin, previously active as vocalist, guitarist and songwriter in the progressive metal outfit Lava Engine. On this record, Magnus plays every instrument, acts as producer, and songwriter and is responsible for the artwork. On some occasions, he is supported by Thomas Ericsson aka Nimbus Broken on backing vocals.
This album is yet another demonstration of today's technical recording and producing possibilities, making the work of a single musician sound like the one of an entire band. There is a good balance between each instrument, with guitars being a bit more in the foreground. Magnus' vocals are not particularly spectacular, but fit nicely to the mood and atmosphere displayed in the respective song. Overall, I tent to classify Greyfox Agenda's music as neo-progressive rock with symphonic character, some AOR elements, and a scarcely but well-dosed use of heavy parts. Besides a bit of Coldplay, especially in the softer moments, and some Kansas, I hear neo-prog representatives such as Pendragon, IQ, Different Light, Comedy Of Errors, and Marillion.
The first three songs of the album are the strongest ones in my opinion. The album opens with The Agenda, the heaviest song on the release, melodic, compact, and varied, with strong guitar and synthesizer playing, expressing the artist's anger and sadness when being confronted with young people suffering from cancer, something which is "not the agenda".
The Loneliest Tree, the album's longest track, musically is divided into four parts flowing seamlessly into each other, starting softly with electronics and keyboards à la Coldplay, before becoming more neo-proggish with Steve Rothery-style guitar soloing, followed by an instrumental interlude a bit reminiscent of Kansas, and a closing again in a Coldplay vein.
Prime is an accessible rock/AOR song with some progressive character, an extremely (to my ears) catchy synthesizer hook and a goosebumps producing chorus (especially after the short guitar solo), causing this to belong to the type of songs mentioned in the beginning of my review.
I Become You emerged from a composition the artist pitched for a commercial, and which later was transformed to meet Magnus' musical style. He calls it "an odd bird, but now part of the Greyfox Agenda". I must admit I was not overly impressed by it.
A Silence Quite So Loud again is up-tempo, more energetic, and heavier, a bit comparable to the opener, also with respect to the anger expressed in its lyrics and the intensity the verse in the chorus is repeated. This song probably most closely resembles the music of Magnus' previous band Lava Engine. It nicely contrasts with the following track Dark Clouds Shall Be Gone, a soft ballad starting (and ending) with piano arpeggios influenced by Michael Nyman's playing in "The Piano", and again a melodic guitar solo à la Steve Rothery. It is the love song of the album.
The closing song Rise Of The Sunflower is a song for Ukraine. Heavy, intense, and compact, hymn-like with a bombastic chorus and strong melodies, it is an insistent, and emphatic testimony of the rising power of humanity and the will to live. Musically, it is not the strongest song on the album, but certainly the most important one given the message that Magnus wants to send out with it: no one will take away the sunflowers from Ukraine - literally and figuratively.
I don't know how the artist is marketing this album, and I hope that it might not somewhat be lost in the plethora of new progressive rock releases. That would be a pity, because although not really standing out for its originality, it definitely deserves to become known to a wider audience. It is full of catchy, easy to digest, melodic (neo) progressive rock with symphonic elements and a dose of progressive metal, well-played and produced, not too complex, but demanding enough to keep the listeners' attention throughout. I hope that Magnus will not let this release become a mayfly and that we will eventually hear a successor in the not-too-distant future.
Bob Neft — On The Edge Of Discovery
Bob is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter from Pittsburgh, PA. On his most recent EP there's quite a lot of synthesizers and heavy drums, forming the ground structure on which the songs are built. In the title-song he sums up the concept of the album: The search for truth, when truth is not to be found in the news or digital media. When I listen to the album, a dystopian future scenario like Bladerunner comes to mind.
In our day and age, we're moving through a major change. The vibrational density seems heavier and darker than ever, and time itself spirals at a speed where gravity and velocity are interlocking. The edge in the title refers to uncovering the wave spinning under that spiraling density. And perhaps - instead of falling off the edge and into darkness - we will be carried by that underlying flowing motion through a change that will dispel darkness. To start anew.
I like the sincerity in the way he sings. Jon Anderson is obviously an influence as well as Peter Gabriel. Sound-wise, this album is not unlike PG's fourth album. It has a similar claustrophobic unrest in the mix of synths and drums. In this way, the songs do feel somewhat crowded; like standing in an elevator with far too many people.
But there are songs that are less crammed, thus making it easier to breathe or listen. Earth Whispers is a nice song that makes me think of Crowded House somehow. Technofly is great with a flute-like melody and cool, elegant guitar parts. The Keeper is an interesting song with acoustic textures, that begins with deep breathy vocals. The mandolin is amazing. The vocals on the verses have more than a hint of Rush.
No Bees Buzz is an instrumental fusion kind of song with what sounds like Al Di Meola playing lead-guitar with Jan Hammer. But I assume it's all Bob Neft. Wow! Adrenaline is Neft at his most Gabriel-esque asking "What can I do?" A female voice completes and embellishes the question, singing "to make it better, to make it right". I love these voices. The writer and activist Charles Eisenstein use the phrase "what is mine to do?" when discussion this question. How can we participate in the turnaround, for what Eisenstein refers to as "the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible". Let us start with the smaller things, the everyday things; the helping hand, a friendly smile, to say yes instead of no, sharing and giving instead of craving. It's through the small things that greater things may happen. And it starts with me and you.