Album Reviews

Issue 2024-017

Everything Oscillating — The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

USA
2024
38:12
Everything Oscillating - The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
Ensorcelled, Again! (4:09), Future Dance II (1:55), Medusa Complex (3:16), Imagination / Mysterious Traveler (7:10), Does Anybody Remember Laughter? (3:46), Fright Cycle (5:54), The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Really Are (12:02)
9
Jan Buddenberg

The first thought that comes to mind from glancing at the logo and artwork is that Everything Oscillating are a dark occult thrash/doom metal band. Imagining for a moment I actually work in a record store this would surely be my first choice to allocate it under. However, looks can be very deceiving and The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are is the perfect example in never to judge the contents of a CD fully based on its cover. Always have a proper listen first.

With the upfront knowledge that Everything Oscillating is newly 2021 founded band featuring Kai Strandskov (drums, percussion) and Moon Letters members Dave Webb (guitars) and Mike Murphy (bass, keys) I did so without hesitation. The simple reason being that Moon Letters so far delivered two exceptional albums that both ended high in my year listings of 2019 and 2023, and I was anxious and eager to hear whether Everything Oscillating, a very apt chosen moniker in light of their always moving music, could rival this achievement. Spoiler alert: they do!

The album, also available on vinyl, is off to a flying start with Ensorcelled, Again!. Taking no prisoners this fast and furiously played melody galore song brings enthralling fusion visions of Steve Morse and Mastermind and instantly showcases the trinities incredible tightness and their outstanding musical chemistry. Impossible to resist motion myself thanks to the highly charged energetic melodies, this blistering opener relentlessly keeps on progging at breakneck velocity and following a brief resting point manages to soar even faster and higher. Webb's captivating guitar extravaganza leads into a spectacular passage of sublime executed virtuous complexities that shines bright with high intoxicating Moon Letters appeal.

Not letting go the short but ever so brilliant Future Dance II (can we have part one plus three to sixty soon, guys?) offers similar ingeniously construed musical prowess with excellence of groovy bass, inventive rhythms and baffling breaks all in full support of mind-boggling agility. Rousing back and forth in Medusa Complex between dynamic passages of combustible freakish fusion and odd timed complexities that alternates shredding supremacy with melodic raptures, it is in Imagination / Mysterious Traveler's first part Imagination where Everything Oscillating shift gear into sensitively played elegance with nice flowing melodies. It ultimately evolves into psychedelic laced eccentric experimentalism.

The second part, Mysterious Traveler, originally a Weather Report composition, continues with slicing hooks that haunt in a Lucas Lee-like way. A delicious groove is mixed with elements of funk, surrounded by shredding delight from Webb, from a distance brings memories of Ape Shifter. This transformation into the exuberant style of Everything Oscillating is in one word marvellous. Which also applies to the surprising Led Zeppelin cover Does Anybody Remember Laughter? where the phenomenal execution, memorable melodies and ravishing interplay effortlessly puts a grin of joyous contentment to my face.

The triumphant rush of Fright Cycle easily makes this grin last. It's a jubilant track with unchained sequences of fast-paced musical pyrotechnics injected with accentuating prog synths encircle a bluesy bridge.The stunning The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Really Are stretches it, impeded by physical limitations, into a smile from ear to ear.

Drifting off into a lengthy spacious ambient overture embraced by a royal resonating salute of seventies prime Rush, this heavenly song glides into a jazzy interlude shaped with beautiful restrained guitar and atmospheric synth that sparkle with Frank Marino. And then proceeds to evolve into a hypnotic passage of prog fusion where ritual percussion, organ and graceful guitar conjures up memories of Santana. This rhythm-based segment gradually builds momentum into more classic-oriented rock akin to Wishbone Ash. It spirals onward into a controlled cacophony of psychedelic space rock a la Hawkwind, and finally opens up in brightness of keys and a vivid return of alluring melodies that glistens with early Journey.

The moment this beautiful concluding song has ended I simply can't resist the urge to press play and experience the sublime musicality of this amazing album all over again. Highly contagious, eclectic and seriously invigorating I am sure this fantastic debut by Everything Oscillating will claim a place in my 2024 year list and I highly recommend it to fans of Moon Letters and those enjoying adventurously arranged prog fusion with prodigious interplay and astonishing guitar gymnastics.

If you have a chance to see them on tour than be sure to pay them a visit, for judged on visual evidence I'm confident you'll afterwards agree with my final remark: WHAT A RUSH!

Forgas Band Phenomena — Roue Libre

France
1997 / 2023
48:12
Forgas Band Phenomena - Roue Libre
Déclic (6:14), Sérum de Vérité (18:30), Roue Libre (23:28)
7
Sergey Nikulichev

Forgas Band Phenomena — Extra-Lucide

France
1999 / 2023
46:40
Forgas Band Phenomena - Extra-Lucide
Extra-Lucide (7:07), Rebirth (5:26), Pieuvre à la Pluie (19:26), Annie Réglisse (8:37), Villa Carmen (4:58)
8
Sergey Nikulichev

Cuneiform Records, somewhat in accordance with its archaeology-related name, continues to dig forgotten goodies from the sands of decades past – apart from giving birth to new releases, of course. Birdsongs of the Mezozoic, Art Zoyd and recently reviewed by yours truly Nebelnest are all a part of the rediscovered treasures by this Washington-based label. Cuneiform team is narrowly-acclaimed as endorsers of all things atonal, chaotic and avant-gard-ish, but there are, as well, happy exceptions for those who are allergic to Zeuhl or dodecaphonic experiments of the label's main roster. Patrick Forgas's legacy is one of such notable examples, and in 2024 Cuneiform is giving second birth to two records dating back to the beginning of the 90-ies.

Patrick Forgas is the French drummer, composer and leader of Forgas Band Phenomena. (Agree or not, there is something peculiar about French drummers taking the lead, n'est-ce pas, Monsieur Christian Vander?) His music usually rotates around jazz fusion and Canterbury sound, it is light but not exactly lightweight, with tons of saxophones, a nice doze of groove and eclectic approach to building of compositions. Thanks to DPRP and Roger's review I discovered the band back in 2013 and at least once a year I return to listen to their oeuvres, mostly with a sincere sense of enjoyment. It is not the first time I listen to Roue Libre (originally released in 1997) and Extra-Lucide (1999, respectively), but it is always good to refresh one's memory, given the opportunity. We, progheads, do love concept albums, and while there is no specific story behind the two albums, they are both inspired by the same image of Paris in the beginning of the previous century – a topic started by Patrick with his solo Art d'Echo in 1993, continuously inspiring him even until his most recent release L'Oreille Electrique in 2018.

If the open sources do not mislead me, Roue Libre is the first Forgas' release to originally appear on the Cosmos Music Label, and it features three tracks, including the relatively short opener Declic and a pair of mammoth jazz suites that follow. These two feature everything a fusion fan loves – soothing flutes, vibraphone parts, fine drumming, and of course wild mood shifts. I can't put my finger on it, but there is something really European to Forgas's approach to jazz fusion – quite unlike anything played by Weather Report or Mahavishnu Orchestra. The main soloing instruments are the saxophone, which bears the bulk of the, let's say, narrative, and electric guitar, which willingly joins sax in dialogue parts. The latter, played by Mathias Desmier, reminds me of Terje Rypdal's approach to the instrument and to some extent – Frank Gambale. I would love to say something about the flow of compositions here, but the truth is that the music has a tinge of abruptness about it (being abrupt never was a sin in jazz-fusion, right?). So even if there's a flow, it has something to do with river rapids rather than calm straights.

On both releases Patrick develops the same creative thread, but if Roue Libre features a more loose, jamming approach to music in the vein of such bands as Out of Focus, Extra-Lucide is focused, aggressive and playful. This slight change might have been caused by a change of bass player: Juan-Sebastien Jimenez has a more prominent role in the band's sound, his bass is precise, groovy and always audible, he is equally qualified in finger technique and slapping and has some great interaction with Patrick Forgas' own drum parts. It's a pity that he has never continued with the band, because the rhythm section on Extra-Lucide sounds nearly perfect. As for the contents of the album – the 19-minutes Pleuvre a la Pluie is the centerpiece of the album and a local “must” for everyone who loves long tracks. I, however, wgive my preferences to surrounding musical numbers, flamboyant title-track and calm closure on Villa Carmen. Compared to Roue Libre, Extra-Lucide is also more balanced in terms of instruments, everyone has a place to shine, so the album really feels like a homogenous orchestra effort, rather than a sax-guitar conversation accompanied by a ballroom band (nothing wrong with that either).

Comfortably residing in between jazz fusion and Canterbury music and originating from a rather exotic for these genres region, Forgas Band Phenomena have not probably been acclaimed enough for their music. This lamentable fact did some favor to them, on the other side, because they have clearly been doing what they like most, disregarding trends and fame. Both records are a solid body of work and are a great addition to any fusion collection.

Madder Mortem — Old Eyes, New Heart

Norway
2024
48:18
Madder Mortem - Old Eyes, New Heart
Coming from the Dark (4:53), On Guard (3:42), Master Tongue (4:47), The Head That Wears The Crown (4:25), Cold Hard Rain (6:58), Unity (3:50), Towers (4:43), Here And Now (4:29), Things I'll Never Do (6:38), Long Road (3:53)
9
Calum Gibson

Norway, a country that needs little introduction when it comes to heavy music, blessed the world back in the early 90s with Mystery Tribe who were around for a few years before evolving into Madder Mortem, with a well-received demo in 1997 and 1998, before their debut Mercury dropped in 1999. Now, nearly 6 years after their last album (Marrow – one of my favourite releases of 2018), they have returned with album number 8: Old Eyes, New Heart.

From the get go, I'm having a good time. The opening Coming From The Dark hits with a dark and heavy sound, complete with a stunning performance by Agnete Kirkevaag for the vocals. Menacing riffs perfectly compliment her almost ghoulish delivery. On Guard however slows things down with a groove and pace similar to Far From Home from the previous album. Although this time, it is enticing yet distrustful in its sound thanks to Agnete's vocals and the bluesy bass line courtesy of Tormod Langøien Moseng.

Master Tongue deals away with the slow vibe and fires straight into a rampant and aggressive turn of events. Building on the progressive and alternative side of their style, the track rises and falls through a superb mix of vocal harmonies, low bass and tremolo guitar work. Melodic and emotional, The Head That Wears The Crown comes next. This one starts with a gothic tinged melody, but steadily and subtly grows into an aggressive monster by the end, almost without you realising.

Cold Hard Rain follows on here as another slower piece. Although here, it is a lot more emotional and full of sorrow. It suits the title aptly. A spiritual successor to Master Tongue, Unity is another fast and energetic track, with more superb harmonies and some almost Dream Theater-like keyboard licks. The first single from the album is Towers – and what a single it is. Progressive, and a nice combination of more frantic guitar work, combined with more flowing vocals makes for a hard hitting and straightforward track, but equally a buffet of riffs.

Once again we have a softer track in Here And Now. Sounding almost a bit like some Scottish folk, it wouldn't look out of place alongside Amy MacDonald or Roddy Woomble at first before it switches the acoustic for distortion in another twist.

I find myself internally gutted by Things I'll Never Do, as it means the next track is the last. This one fully grabs the hostile feel of the earlier ones and throws it at you. Maintaining the assertive and dominating pace and boldness that we have heard previously, but turning it up in a polished and refined way. And so that means, sadly, we come to the end. Long Road is here to close it all off. Dispensing with metal, this is a soft, acoustic and calming track to slow us to the end. Although a track filled with sorrow and gloom, the final line delivers the reminder of light: "Maybe there's hope of peace at the end of the long slow road".

Madder Mortem have a perfect combination of alternative, melodic, raw and heavy, gothic and emotional styles all perfectly balanced to deliver a masterful work of art. If you're a fan of Opeth at any stage in their career, Arcturus, Borknagar, Enslaved or Oceans of Slumber then you would do well to have a listen to these folks.

Soen — Memorial

Sweden
2023
43:03
Soen - Memorial
Sincere (4:35) Unbreakable (4:12) Violence (3:56) Fortress (4:04) Hollowed (4:09) Memorial (4:38) Incendiary (4:34) Tragedian (3:41), Icon (4:11) Vitals (5:03)
8
Chris Rafferty

Soen are a five-piece Swedish prog metal band, initially formed in 2004 with the official formation announcement in 2010. Founding member Martin Lopez (ex Opeth drummer) describes Soen's music as "melodic, heavy and intricate". There is also a lot of darkness on this album. Memorial has a mixture of hard and heavy tracks, with a number of soft ballads with soaring lead guitar.

Memorial is Soen's sixth studio album and an excellent album it is, with plenty to write home about!

It is worth mentioning Soen's live album, Atlantis, which was released in 2022. It delivered a very successful semi-acoustic performance with an orchestra and backing vocals. This is a reminder of how successful Marillion have been by incorporating orchestral arrangement into their recording and performances in the Royal Albert Hall and other venues.

At the moment Soen are touring in Scandinavia and later in the year they will tour the States and Europe.

There is a suggestion that Soen are trying to put a more commercial skin on their music. There may be some credence in this. For example, three catchy singles have been released: Violence, Unbreakable, and Memorial. That said, challenging this is the view that their music is melodic, with heavy riffs exploring dark issues, doesn't really lend itself to a chase up the commercial charts!

Exploring a selection of tracks. The album opens with Sincere. This sets the album alight, a powerful anthemic track exploring the darker side. "You are the seeds that you plant, in shallowness we all drown". Unbreakable has a nice piano introduction which is probably the catchiest track on the album. “No existence can be faithless I need something to believe, outside the world is dark but we are cursing the sun”.

Violence and Fortress, kick in heavily with thumping rhythms, both released as singles. Hollowed is a shared vocal with Italian singer Elisa Toffoli. It is about a relationship going through breakdown, “are we strong enough to move on from this never ending loneliness”.

Memorial, the title track, adds to the darkness of the album. “When the war is part of you everyone you love will be abandoned”. Tragedian is another track that addresses relationship issues. While the final track is Vitals takes us nicely to a soft end.

Memorial is an excellent album that successfully follows up on their previous efforts. Although there is a lot of darkness and war on this album and I think it is fair to say a lot of the dark comes from the global military escalation that has occurred in recent times. The album incorporates, excellent vocals, melody, soaring lead guitar solos with heavy driven guitar riffs counterbalanced by softer ballads. I would encourage anyone to have a listen to Memorial, additionally an exploration of their back catalogue could prove fruitful.

The Universe By Ear — Sail Around The Sun – Tour Live

Switzerland
2023
73:30
The Universe By Ear - Sail Around The Sun – Tour Live
Waves (1:17), Salty River (incl. Monoliths) (6:16), Lie Alone (6:23), Idaho (6:00), High On The Hynek Scale (6:08), Ocean Clouds (4:38), Seven Pounds (6:43), Follow The Echo (5:38), Make It Look Like An Accident (3:39), Loudest Gorilla In The Cage (6:42), Sail Around The Sun (12:58), Something In The Water (12:08)
7
Ignacio Bernaola

Last year I had the opportunity to review The Universe By Ear's latest album, simply called III and just a year after I'm here with another release from this Swiss band. It is a live album this time, recordings of some shows the band played in 2022 / 2023 to present the aforementioned release in Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. It is titled Sail Around The Sun, as the opening song on III.

Before continuing I must confess I'm not the kind of guy that particularly enjoys live recordings. I really love live shows but there's something with live albums that I don't get. The sound quality is often worse than studio albums, and even when bands decide to play alternate versions of some songs, which is a good thing, I feel disappointed because I'm not there enjoying the show...

Coming back to this release, I have to say that the quality of the recording is actually quite good, but the best things here are the compositions themselves and the chosen setlist. Naturally, they play their latest album almost entirely, sadly leaving out the grungy Two Hour Drive, which I really like. Besides those songs the band is including songs from previous albums I and II. I had already listened to them while writing my last year review and after this last listening I have to say I prefer the more prog oriented side of The Universe By Ear.

Anyway, they don´t sound bad live and for example Follow The Echo gets more interesting than anticipated based on the studio version thanks to the extended intro. I think it would have been even better if they had revisited those old songs in a proggier style. As the reader may have noticed I clearly prefer their latest album.

One of the good things of this release is the way they combine the vocals which is not easy to do live. Some Alice In Chains doesn't hurt anyone I guess.

In short, this album is a good example of what The Universe By Ear has been so far. And as I said in my previous review, I expect way more of this band because the album III is very good. It'd be also great to see them live someday. Truly live.

Album Reviews