Doris Brendel and Lee Dunham — Pigs Might Fly
Pigs Might Fly is the new album by vocalist Doris Brendel and multi-instrumentalist Lee Dunham. This is their fifth release together and their previous release Mass Hysteria was reviewed on DPRP. Both names are new to me but when reading this review of their previous album I found out that Doris Brendel is well known for being background vocalist for Fish and almost provided background vocals for Pink Floyd. In the press release it is stated that she is the daughter of famed classical pianist Alfred Brendel. Together with Lee Dunham, session musician and member of Primary Slave, they now release their fifth album Pigs Might Fly. Just like on their previous album John Mitchell (Arena) did the mastering.
At first spin, Pigs Might Fly may appear to sound as a standard rock album. Opener Pigs Might Fly and Better The Devil You Know sound like some good solid rock songs with some keyboards added for a melodic and progressive touch. The next song Fight Fire With Fire might be a simple rock song with a simple chorus. But it is a well known fact that progressive rock music cannot be judged on a first spin. After a few spins you start to hear more and more in the music and the simple chorus of Fight Fire With Fire will nest itself in your mind. Doris has a powerful voice with a rough edge. Especially on the bluesy parts in the music, her voice fits right in. A good example of this is Good Deed Of The Day, a bluesy rock song. You can imagine yourself sitting in a smoke-filled blues cafe. After a few spins, these bluesy rock songs open up and display more interesting layers.
I really learny that if you judge Pigs Might Fly on a brief spin you will get the wrong idea of the album. Pigs Might Fly also has some songs for the genuine prog-head. The song Ghost starts a bit bluesy but most of this song has a lot more complex stuff than the previous songs. I Saw You has some slower parts but also has complex heavy stuff. For the very prog-minded listeners, these are the songs are a good start to explore this album.
Rock And A Hard Place is again more of a standard rocker and Rorschach is another slow bluesy rock song. Just like Fight Fire With Fire, the song Rorschach at first sounds a bit cheesy but after a while it sticks in your mind. Still Waters is a very gentle bluesy ballad, great song with some nice guitar solos. While Truth Needs No Colours is again more of a rocker, the album ends with the slow bluesy White Rose. Just like Still Waters, a splendid bluesy ballad.
Reading the DPRP review of their previous album Mass Hysteria, I found that I had a similar experiences with Pigs Might Fly as my colleague Stefan Hennig had with Mass Hysteria. Pigs Might Fly is also not an album I would normally choose from our reviews pipeline, but it is one of those surprises that make you feel really glad you did. Pigs Might Fly gets better with each spin, an effect that is very commonly experienced with progressive rock albums. First I thought it was a rock album with some keyboards, and a few spins later I felt it changed and I started noticing a lot of nice things coming to the surface. It is one of those albums where at some point each song can become your favourite on the album. This album introduced me to Doris Brendel and Lee Dunham and I enjoyed it very much. Good sounding progressive rock album with a lot of stuff to discover.
Renaissance — The Legacy Tour
Is there a better way for a singer to celebrate your birthday than performing in front of an enthusiastic audience, backed by a fine band and orchestra? For Annie Haslam, the only surviving member of the legendary 70s Renaissance line-up, the answer to that question was quite simply "No, there is not". For the celebration of her 75th birthday she returned to her beloved Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania together with the band she made famous. Renaissance has performed here numerous times and recorded two recent DVD releases there: the 2018 A Symphonic Journey and the 2021 50th Anniversary: Ashes Are Burning.
The core of her band has remained the same since the 2018 Symphonic Journey DVD, with Mark Lambert on guitar and backing vocals, Rave Tesar on keyboards and piano, George Langley on keyboards and backing vocals and Leo Traversa on bass guitar. For this gig, Frank Pagano returned as drummer for the first time since their 2016 tour. The Renaissance Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Chorale Society provided the additional musical background, bringing back to memory their legendary symphonic concerts in the Carnegie Hall in the seventies. The live double album of those three consecutive nights, Renaissance Live At The Carnegie Hall, still ranks amongst the all-time favourites of many prog aficionados.
When I started listening to the aptly named The Legacy Tour album, the main question I posed to myself was if this new release would match that famous classic album? To my astonishment I had to conclude that it does not even come close...
First the positive sides of this release. For this gig, Annie Haslam and the band choose to perform a collection of songs from the Renaissance back catalogue as well as from her solo career. The setlist of this 2 CD set is therefore one of its main assets. It includes seldom-heard live renditions of Black Flame from the Scheherazade album, of The Sisters and The Captive Heart, both from the often overlooked but brilliant Novella album, and of Day Of The Dreamer from the fantastic Song For All Seasons. In between, there are some songs from Haslam's solo albums that are rarely performed live as well as the title track of the most recent Renaissance studio album, Symphony Of Light.
The orchestrations of the first two songs of disc one, Carpets Of The Sun and Black Flame, are fantastic with soft trumpets, flutes and lush violins. The latter song gets a new long intro which suits this fine song very well. The Sisters is as symphonic and classical as it should be with fine tubular bells, subtle acoustic guitar and beautiful interplay between piano, choir and orchestra. Just after the middle section a really beautiful soft trumpet and flute section is played before the acoustic guitar starts to play the solo. The Captive Heart is solely Haslam with Tesar on piano and the band singing the background vocals, unfortunately a bit false. Yet this rendition of this beautiful song works quite well.
In these classic Renaissance songs, Haslam sings quite well although her performance sounds less convincing. Her voice has become remarkably thinner than on former live occasions. So it's remarkable that her vocals sound as great as ever in the epic and vocally difficult Symphony Of Light. It is one of the highlights, also because of the symphonic orchestral arrangements. Other highlights are the bombastic rendition of Day Of The Dreamer with its epic orchestral arrangement and closer Running Hard, simply a great song that cannot be spoilt.
Unfortunately, Haslam's vocals are below par in the rest of the songs, starting with Ananda that gets a nice Arabic musical treatment that contrasts with her shrieky vocals. In Blessing In Disguise, sung almost a cappella, with sparse orchestra and choir in the background, her voice isn't working well either. She sounds rather cold and shaky here, the complete opposite of the warm and easy voice we've come to cherish. Her performance reaches its low point in Celestine that is awkwardly sung and orchestrated. In Reaching Out and The Angels Cry she recovers a bit, but it doesn't help that all these solo songs are musically quite simple pop songs. They can't compete with the intricacies and subtleties of the epic Renaissance catalogue. Selecting these songs for this birthday gig may have been perfectly sensible from her perspective, and while it is nice to hear them in a live setting, they do not work out very well.
Another point of criticism is that the album doesn't flow nicely from song to song. The applause fades out quickly several times, so it is very clear that this double album doesn't contain the entire gig. With a duration of less than 77 minutes on two discs, there was ample room to include more tracks. Maybe the quality of other renditions were not good enough? Hearing these regular sudden breaks is annoying and takes away the feeling that you're part of the concert yourself. This often happens on live albums, but in this case the production hasn't even tried to mask the breaks.
Haslam's warm voice and wide range was always one of the important assets of Renaissance, together with the epic orchestrations. Now that her voice is showing her age, I found it difficult to listen to this live set. That's quite a shock as she has always been one of my favourite singers. Maybe she should accept that being 75 years old marks the moment to call it a day as far as live performances are concerned. This live set will then serve as a testimony of this legendary band which is unfortunate for they definitely deserved better.
Retreat From Moscow — Dreams, Myths And Machines
There's irony on so many levels that a person living in Moscow is supposed to make a review for the band Retreat From Moscow in the year AD 2023. I won't even start going through all these levels here, so let us rather focus instead on a very nice sophomore release, which the Welsh quartet made this year. As the press release has it, RFM actually started back in late 70s, but not much legacy survived from those blessed times, and the first real release saw light already in the 21st century (review by Thomas). There's even more irony, that so many bands, that actually came later than Retreat From Moscow, influenced how they are sounding now.
In case you wonder which shelf to place the record on, then my suggestion is to find a slot somewhere alongside Cosmograf, Lonely Robot, and Fish on Friday. Also Jadis-type neo-prog comes to mind - nonetheless, I cannot find any direct influences of other neo-prog Olympians, be it Marillion, Pendragon or IQ. There's not a lot of drama and bitter emotions here, on the contrary for most of time music has a soothing, dreamy taste to it and andante pace. Even the recognizable pseudo-Pallas helmet on the cover may slightly mislead the neo-prog lovers (I don't think that was done intentional, but couldn't help noticing the irony – damn, the irony again!).
The record opens with an upbeat, bright and airy Saving California — neither a complex nor heavy, but incredibly charming song, with nods to It Bites's sound. A perfect opener, more or less. The following Flowerbride could have been penned by John Mitchell, and the epic I Can Hear Your Calling is a WYSIWYG neo-prog – strong melodies, soaring guitar passages on synth “wings” and an overall nostalgic feel. There are moments to tap your feet, to plunge into dreaming state and to contemplate the unraveling of musical ideas along with the flow of composition.
The next two tracks, Windchill and Time Traveller, are both fine songs, however I feel after repeated listens that they somehow overlap each other's role on the album. Windchill is my preferred of these two, because of beautiful solo guitar work. Robin Armstrong from Cosmograf is guesting here. The Machine Stops is the longest one on the album, again firmly rooted in bright, “sunlit” sound and dynamic rhythm section. Note the nice flute parts played by John Harris (also on guitar and lead vocal) and guest solo on keyboards by Andy Tillison of The Tangent fame.
The following Assassin's Cloak together with Running Man are more straightforward rockers. This combination of only a couple of shorter, more dynamic tracks amidst the abundance of longer compositions brought rather unexpected comparisons to post-Brave New World Iron Maiden, because the approach to album-building is very, very similar here. And it is pure proghead's joy to listen to the second part of the closing DNA, featuring that intricate shift of accents and rhythm section flow.
Retreat From Moscow did some fine job on Dreams, Myths And Machines that will please a lot of fans. My usual complaint about long albums is that they are, well, long, or better to say – longer than required, and I often wouldn't mind cutting down 10 minutes of music to make the release more focused. But it is precisely that combination of relaxed, slightly unfocused approach and groove, that makes Dreams a notable successor to the first CD and one of possible fan-favorites this year.
This record has: Means for relaxation. Intelligent lyrics. Good old neo prog.
This record doesn't have: Any political context. Counteroffensive plans. Balalaikas.
Uncaved — Dogmatorraistes
Uncaved are a 5 piece prog death band that originate in Switzerland. Being but a few years old, they released 4 singles through 2021, all; of which now appear on the debut album Dogmatorraistes. So without further ado, let's dive in.
Nocturni Luminis opens off with a major focus of riffs and death metal. Think Death, but with a modern twist. Intense drumming and a cross between chugs and tremolos. It is heavy, and fast but with a sense of groove to it. Through Envy, they flick between technical lead bridges and heavy riffs to keep the attention. Tremolos and harsh vocals abound during The First Night. General "by-the-numbers" tech death, music work, but with the added flair of the dual growled and screamed vocals. Track number 4 is Permanent Repository and is a solid chunk of unapologetic prog death. Frantic riffs mix with unrepentant drums vocals filled with energy, while the structure ebbs and flows in all the right places to keep the song interesting. Next we have Throne which brings my first bit of disappointment - it is quite a bit more of the same we have heard, however the solos are stunning on this track, with an enjoyable bass solo from Burkard.
Scorner kicks off the second side with a frantic and thoroughly enjoyable assault of death metal and solos. Again, not breaking the mould or doing much different - but something on here just "clicks". Thus I Demand The Abolition Of God brings strong Deicide type vibes. The general riffs and lyrical content reminiscent of an amount of work they have done. Fat chugs and cries for "abolishing God" (just so you're clear on the content) are the main focus here.
Coming up the end of the album, La Propagande lets all hell break loose with and is probably the most aggressive track here. Potent and vigorous solos trade off with fiery drumming and fervent bass work to create a 6-minute chunk of hate. To bring in the closer, Ode is a short choral peace depicting Prometheus bringing fire to mankind. And finally, Lichtbringer ends the experience. A bit more of fairly standard tech/prog death, but definitely nothing to be ashamed of. Intricate guitar work twists around intensely catchy riffs and leads to create a solid and steady track and a suitable finish.
My general thoughts are the album is far from anything new. However, it is fun, and if the group can take what they did here and experiment more with the songwriting and sound to give it a more unique twist, they will be onto a winner. My only other criticism would be that the songs do sometimes drag on a bit with the same chugs, tremolos and harsh vocals. Maybe knock a minute or two off them. I'll be keeping an eye on these guys.
If old Gojira and Decapitated had a child that was raised by Alkaloid, I suspect it would sound similar to this.