The Ancestry Program — Of Silent Mammalia Part II
In my review of The Ancestry Program (TAP)'s previous album Mysticeti Ambassadors Part I, the first part of a double-album concept where baleen whales take it upon themselves to save our planet, I mentioned one shouldn't be surprised to find its successor in my end of year list of 2023. With a surpassed deadline, which in my case favourably pushed the album to a July release, it very much looks like smooth sailing for Of Silent Mammalia Part II to achieve just that. The one thing I didn't count on though was this year's murderous competition, which is as deadly as whale hunting used to be back in the 80s.
Nowadays consisting out of Ben Knabe (vocals, Lap Steel guitar), Mani Gruber (guitars, keys, backing vocals), Thomas Burlefinger (keys, guitar, backing vocals), Andy Lind (drums, keys, programming, backing vocals), plus newly added bassist Marco Osmajic and sixth member Mike Voglmeier (guitar, keys, backing vocals), TAP have once again risen to challenge and, complemented by various guest performances, have crafted a strong consolidating album that satisfies both lyrically and musically. Oh, and nowadays, we need to add the disclaimer they are not to be confused with their American namesakes T.A.P...
This time around, the band refrain from unfathomable epic lengthy beasts like Dark To Overcome (the opening of Mysticeti Ambassadors Part I) and instead opt for a richly varied collection of complex tiny monsters. Not so much for the atmospheric whaling entrance of Mysticeti Ambassadors... though, which in combination with vocal similarities expresses a touch too much Roger Waters for my liking. But all the more for the three brilliantly arranged and compelling tracks that follow.
In direct continuation to the adventurous songs that closed Part I, Path Of Inspiration brings multilayered funky complexity with warmth of organ and psychedelic saxophone (Tom Reinbrecht), until King Crimson dynamics guide to it a chorus that brings elements of mirth and elegance of piano. Captured in a crystal clear transparent production that brings out individual instruments perfectly. This modern prog affair furthermore brings a cherished 80s Talk Talk touch and swims past a multitude of atmospheres and excellent vocal harmonies, that at times manages to envision heavier Neal Morse/Transatlantic.
Pangreta's Box really opens TAP's inventive Pandora's box of prog treats. At first with slightly unsettling melodies that alternate feelings of tension and relief, and then a delicate touch of doom is added. This is followed by violins (Klaus Filser) and Cello (Emil Bekir), creating a sense of classical sinister suspense. A magnificent finale that thrives on brilliant all around interplay with excellent synth soloing and a blistering guitar solo, finally dies down so War Is Over can continue the festivities.
To me, the combination of indie-prog and Knabe's warm vocals in War Is Over initially brings contemporary images of Morgendust and later on City Boy when Knabe's charismatic voice meets Petra Amasreiter's violin. These imposing songs are followed by the lingering glow of Maria's Smile. Fans of RPWL and Pink Floyd will be well pleased with this splendid epic resting point. Ancestor puts the pedal to the metal, featuring Wolfgang Zenk on (solo)-guitar. Dipping into prog-metal complexities, igniting images of Devin Townsend and A.C.T., it's this song's fantastic interplay and grabbing melodies that hurdle into a delicious finale. Impressive and captivating.
This exciting amount of musical ingenuity is rivalled by Create Our Sins. Opening with delicately crafted and easily approachable uplifting melodies, this song brings a heavy segment spiced up by trumpet (Reinhard Greiner) and a genuinely complex arrangement, where metal, jazz, funk and Gentle Giant are merged with King Crimson. All together this builds into a savoury musical fulfilment, which for afters is soothingly cleansed by ...Of Silent Mammalia. A cheerful uplifting song that ends the album on a country note twinkling with IQ appeal.
The short overall conclusion from the above is that The Ancestry Program have again successfully served up a "progressive grower" in the truest sense of the phrase. Excelling in maturity of executions, arrangements and adventurous songwriting it shows a band fully on top of their game and absolutely living up to the expectations they so convincingly forged with predecessor Mysticeti Ambassadors Part I. And if they keep up this rising trajectory they may well be the ones steering our beloved genre to new heights soon. Can't wait to hear those results.
All in all, Of Silent Mammalia Part II for me, marks a solid runner-up for 2023 and comes highly recommend for prog enthusiasts to explore!
Orion — The End Of Suffering
Perhaps it's a sign of the times but over the past year or so my Facebook feed, which used to exist mostly out of posts from friends and music-related subjects, suffers from a growing overexposure in advertisements, (unrelated) FB suggestions and other irrelevant miscellaneous sponsored messages. If someone knows a solution on how to stop this form of nuisance, apart from the obvious FB step down, then please step up!
Mind you, I do want to leave sponsored messages on progressive rock and related genres open! Especially in light of a new discovery that has caught my eyes and ears which otherwise might have passed me by completely. Which would be a real shame, because Orion's The End Of Suffering is a masterful album and any form of advertisement to spread the word on this exceptionally well-crafted album is fully justified. Especially if heavy prog is to your liking.
The mastermind behind Orion is multi instrumentalist Ben Jones who, except the attractive artwork made by Thomas Ewerhard, has been solely crafting his concept debut The End Of Suffering over the past 20 years. Inspired by the books of spiritual leader/author Eckhart Tolle, specifically the international bestselling self-help book The Power Of Now: A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment, it tells the struggling story of finding awareness and enlightenment. The latter in Buddhism seen as the highest achievable spiritual state, referred to by Buddha himself as "The End Of Suffering".
Not taking into account the functional though curious Sample Medley that precedes the album on Bandcamp, Now (Instrumental) delivers a strong starting statement in which the important themes and melodies, revisited all throughout the album, pass the revue. Atmospheric, with an intricate ballet of peaceful piano, it comes to full maturity with bombast and stirring melodies designed by excellent tightness of drums and rousing guitar melodies that resonate with heavy rock.
All of this is thriving on symphonic elements and standout Rickenbacker bass, that give the infectious melodies a Chris Squire (Yes) vibe. Followed by impressions of Geddy Lee when synths in the background push the music towards a Rush sound. As a taster of things to come, this grand messenger of themes works brilliantly and impresses in spades. Also for its clear harmonious production values, seamless transitions and mature songwriting.
In The Beginning continues to impress with sturdy strums of acoustic guitar in spirit of classic The Who, with lively multilayered textures driven by rolling bass, versatile drumming and an irresistible relentless chorus. Visions of prog metal act Under The Sun emerge. A magical, to-die-for propulsion halfway down then warps the composition in an irresistibly compelling high gear which is followed by a blistering guitar solo that guides the melodies seamlessly into Tomorrow. Out Of Time offers flighty melancholic relief and elegant orchestrations, that breathes a timeless recycled Nektar feel.
Admirably, these songs successfully steer away from thematic and musical saturation. As does Out Of Time Pt 2, a song complemented by excellent marching drum patterns and exciting guitar soloing.
When The End Of Suffering monumentally rounds off Orion's concept with an intense climactic cycle of pounding rhythms, revisiting various themes from the album, I do however do feel slightly exhausted and have not been able to give in to my willing desire to experience the album all over again the minute it finished. Something that is now easily done, after extensive assessment at regular weekly intervals.
If I had to give a few points of improvement for Jones to keep things fresh and interesting for a next time, this would involve a slight focus towards more diversity in songwriting and a touch more attention to his vocal approach, because this next to showcased strength and expressive versatility is also somewhat subjected to monotonous deliveries at times.
That's however for the future to find out, some of which was just announced in the form of a three track EP titled Passing Through. For now though, I invite everyone with any interest in progressive rock to check out this highly recommendable, and remarkably fine-priced and fast-delivered album on Orion's Bandcamp site. Meanwhile, I'll suffer the monitoring of my Facebook feed for other exceptionally brilliant discoveries!
Path Of Ilya — Heterostasis
A Wikipedia interlude first. Besides the simple fact that “heterostasis” is a cool, undeniably “proggy” word, it actually has a meaning, and implies either a concept that people are naturally motivated to self-realization and personal growth, or, another concept, describing an imbalanced but nonetheless enduring inner world of a personality. It's not easy to tell which meaning was picked by the French instrumental trio Path Of Ilya, when they decided for a title of their sophomore album. But here it is, imbalanced indeed, vivid and definitely aiming at self-realization. Let's hope that Ilya, whoever he is, knows which path to take, but the start proved quite solid. All things considered, a power trio playing an amalgam of groove rock and fusion couldn't be a complete waste of time, right? Right, it indeed isn't.
Path of Ilya is surely not the first collective playing this sort of music, but the trio does actually live up to technical requirements behind fusion rock and hide a share of aces up their sleeves. The sources for inspiration are quite evident - King's X, Godsticks and the likes. For the groove part, and for the eclectic part I might not be 100% precise, but the names that came to my mind are Deluge Grandeur, Frank Zappa and the trio's own compatriots from Chromb!. The entire trio plays very well — no weak links at all. I was particularly impressed by the bass guitar phrasing of Andre Marques, who cements the sound scene and has enough space to develop his own ideas.
Now, what about the aforementioned aces in the sleeves? The best thing about Heterostasis is that the trio adds extra spices to each track, so that different compositions would be really discernible. Kleptocratic Joe features heavy riffs, tasty guitar phrases and incredibly groovy bass. Standard, punching, hardcore. Palitana Sarando starts off with an a capella section and Mediterranean strings before going to funky swings of rhythm section, which turns to be quite a tasty amalgam. The Stoned, The Stoner And The Stonest (marvelous title, monsieurs!) merges bluesy guitar licks and doom riffs, and by the track naturally flows into synth soloing at its end. Giboulees Ahurissantes shifts from instrumental ballad to epic building, albeit generally remaining the calmest track on the album.
Mambaroux is where Zappa meets reggae, very major-scale-oriented, witty and flirtatious utterance. Saltimbancos d'Amareleja, as the title suggests, takes the listener to the Hibernian peninsula with acoustic passages and percussion, and as if it's not enough already, the last track deals the fatal blow by fusing everything with electronic music turntables and echoes of hip-hop. I cannot say that it sounds unnatural, on the contrary, there's a dose of freshness to such approach.
Heterostasis is a fairly good record for anyone interested in non-avant-garde – but still experimental – music, bordering on eclectic side of prog. It has a slightly more digitalized sound that I commonly prefer, but this should not scare off the more adventurous listeners from trying this very independent-thinking project.
Trevor Rabin — Rio
Having dedicated the better part of the last three decades to composing film scores, Trevor Rabin's talents as a rock musician were missed. As a key architect in the 80's rebirth of Yes, his time in the band resulted in some of their biggest successes. Rio arrives thirty-four years after his last vocal-led solo album (Can't Look Away) and it is no overstatement to say that it was worth the wait.
The working title of the album was The Demographic Nightmare and that is justified by the number of musical styles contained in the finished product. That diversity heightens the overall progressive feel of the recording. Rabin has stated that there was no intent to make a bunch of Yes sounding songs and there are elements that you probably wouldn't find on a Yes album. That said, Big Mistakes, Push, Paradise,Thandi, Egoli and Toxic, are all gloriously reminiscent of the rock/prog/pop of Trevor's Yes years. It is an absolute joy to hear that unmistakable sound and style again.
The guitar work throughout the album is impeccable and amongst the best of his career. Trevor provides most of the instrumentation, but he is very ably supported on drums and percussion by long time collaborator Lou Molino, Vinnie Calaiuta and his son Ryan Rabin. Special mention must also go to the vocal harmonies. Tracks such as Paradise, Egoli Tumbleweed and These Tears offer vocal passages that are intricate and beautifully done.
The latter two tracks venture into new musical areas for Rabin. The first featuring impressive a capella vocals and the second, an impassioned ballad of lost love. Another quite different one is Goodbye, which employs an unexpected country and western vibe that works amazingly well. A love song and farewell letter to Africa, it is one of several tracks that harken back to his homeland. Though the album is generally upbeat, lyrically it touches on some serious subjects. None more so than on the compelling Oklahoma, where the emotional message is accentuated through some truly effective orchestration and a cinematic scope.
When writing reviews, I strive to keep my long time appreciation of some artists at bay. Due to my unbridled enthusiasm, I will forgo that this time. Rio is an absolute gift to any fan of Rabin and or 80's Yes. There is an undeniable nostalgia attached to the album, but ultimately, its extreme success is based on the excellent performances, the immaculate production and mostly, the strength of the material. It is a triumphant return by one of the great talents of progressive rock.