Album Reviews

Issue 2024-018

Albion UK — Lakesongs Of Elbid

UK
2024
69:57
Albion UK - Lakesongs Of Elbid
The Lake Isle Of Innisfree (2:11), Arthurian Overture (9:35), Pagan Spirit (7:56), The Dream Of Rhonabwy (6:59), Llyn Cwm Llwch (3:26), Finding Avalon (7:18), Canens (Maya) (2:34), Barrett's Privateers - A Tribute To Stan Rogers (5:35), Black Lake (Llyn y Fan Fach) (4:18), Llyn y Fan Fawr (Sister Lake) (5:33), Silvaplana Rock (7:55), Camlann (6:28)
6
Owen Davies

Lakesongs Of Elbid's brand of folk metal will no doubt find great appeal amongst many prog fans. Bombastic riffs, powerful solos, sweet flavoured ballads, and hearty sing a longs all have a part to play. The Arthurian subject of the album is shrouded by flute-swirling mists and illuminated by the chugging; pulsating-throb of metal influenced guitar tones.

Albion are Joe Parrish-James - Vocals, guitar, flute, mandolin, programming, Jack Clark - Backing vocals, guitar, Peter Szypulski - Bass, Mikey Ciancio - Drums. Ollie Medlow - provides additional drums on Pagan Spirit and Silvaplana Rock, Rhiannon Parrish-James - provides backing vocals on Barrett's Privateers and Miguel Vargas - provides additional flute on tracks Pagan Spirit and The Dream Of Rhonabwy.

The band excels in the instrumental parts of the songs. Their impressively executed brand of subtly stroked and muscularly struck blacksmith-forged, folk metal is often appealing, if not particularly unique or novel. The instrumental interludes that break free in several of the tunes provide some genuinely exciting and satisfying moments.

However, there were times when the largely predictable structure inherent in many of the songs with an excessive use of repetitive choruses, sometimes took away from the favourable impression that the instrumental sections made. For example, the long-running, and instrumentally satisfying Pagan Spirit exemplifies many of the sleep-inducing pitfalls of squeezing a chorus line dry.

In this respect, some of the influences of Ian Anderson's songwriting, in utilizing choruses that stubbornly cling on and outstay their welcome in tunes like, Puer Ferox Adventus, and to a lesser extent Heavy Horses appear to have rubbed off on Parrish-James.

This is perhaps not surprising, as until recently Parrish-James has been the lead guitarist for Jethro Tull and his place has now been taken up within Tull by his fellow Albion colleague Jack Clark.

However, Lakesongs Of Elbid also exhibits examples of the positive influence that working alongside Anderson can bring. There are lots of glittering flute passages throughout the release. Several of the tunes contain a range of interesting musical traits, and explore some unexpected diversions.

I enjoyed Llyn Cwm Llwch. It is a well-constructed tune and its acoustic nature and layered orchestration work well together.

Throughout the release, there are many fine solos to enjoy. The ferocious intensity of the guitar solo in the raucous-riff laden, repetitive-rocker Finding Avalon is particularly impressive and the fluid solo in the wind-wrung crested-currents of Black Lake are equally satisfying.

The fluttering flute of the gentle and outstanding Canens (Maya) is beautifully crafted and toned. Canens is utterly captivating and is probably my favourite piece on the album. It offers a wonderful contrast to the brash bombastic power that is a key feature of many of the tunes, especially Arthurian Overture and Silvaplana Rock.

The well-chosen running order of the album, frequently alternates between the heavier and more whimsical tunes of the album. This helps to keep things relatively interesting, although the long duration of the release does not particularly help in this respect. A more concise album would in my view have been much more effective.

Camlann, was no doubt chosen as a calming way to end the album. It has a relaxing appeal and its ballad-like nature is mildly pleasing. However, despite its, lovely acoustic guitar opening, melodic vocals and delightful flute meanderings; its long duration, predictably repetitive chorus, and lyrical content all conspire, to create an ultimately disappointing conclusion to the album.

Nevertheless, I look forward to this bands next release, they have a lot of potential and I really enjoyed some aspects of the album. I would just like to see a more progressive and unique approach to the structure and style of much of the material.

Marek Arnold's Artrock Project — Marek Arnold's Artrock Project

Germany
2023
76:54
Marek Arnold's Artrock Project - Marek Arnold's Artrock Project
A Story Of Separation And Loss (I. Preview, II. No Place Like Arirang, III. Review) (16:23), Stay (8:27), A Time Of Mystery (4:00), Papillon (10:20), Come Away With Me (4:23), Cold Run (6:24), Berlin 2049 (I. Berlin, II. Rain Will Fall 1, III. Leave Well Enough Alone, IV. Rain Will Fall 2, V. Riding The Line, VI. Reason To Lie) (26:49)
10
Jan Buddenberg

The first time I became aware of Marek Arnold's name dates back to 2020 when he participated on Kimmo Pörsti's Wayfarer and Soul Secret's Blue Light Cage. Following these fine introductions he frequently appeared on albums by Lind and The Samurai Of Prog. Other than those projects I however have no real notion of his many other ventures with bands like Seven Steps To The Green Door, Toxic Smile, UPF, Flaming Row, and Damanek (to name but a few) with whom he over the years has co-written and produced over 60 albums. Let alone his virtuous expertise as a keyboard player. I must address this lack someday, although truth be told I have no clue when this might eventually happen for all I want to listen for the moment is Arnold's stunning solo debut!

Based loosely on a future Bladerunner universe and accompanied in performance by a massive all-star cast of guests that all serve the bigger picture (full listing here), Arnold in the beautifully designed booklet explains the seeds for his first solo album were effectively planted when, after an invitation by Uwe Treitinger, he composed the Artrock Festival Reichenbach "Hymn" Stay. A song enthusiastically responded upon by fans and radio stations.

Enchantingly sung by Melanie Mau, this praising reception is quite understandable. This exceptional song encompasses everything a symphonic prog rock devotee basically desires. An intricate piano opening surrounded by alluring sax that segues into a dynamic Kansas build-up. Gracious melodies alternating in mood and atmosphere followed by a divine acceleration into an instrumental passage that next to multiple spectacular guitar solos (Gary Chandler, Kalle Waller, Stephan Pankow, Marcella Arganese) features victorious violin (Steve Unruh). And a compelling finalisation of recurring opening melodies that round off this marvellously arranged composition. I imagine festival attendees to have an extremely hard time trying to actually leave when this song is played over the stereo.

They likely can't and don't want to anyway, as I also image the preceding A Story Of Separation And Loss to have them fully glued to their seats from excitement. It departs in Preview with crackling organics and futuristic ambient atmospheres. Part 2, No Place Like Arirang, instantly roars its engines with bombastic key-propelled Cast / Ayreon prog-metal and vigorous textures that energetically soar through dynamic choruses designed with great interplay and pompous synths. A relentless and thrillingly turbulent instrumental passage directed by stationary thriving rhythms then opens up a portal of fantastic solos that features in sequence synths (Arnold), sax (Arnold), violin (Unruh), shredding guitar (Martin Frankhänel) and classical piano by Sean Timms. With similar stenography-defying hyperdrive pace, the composition goes on to successfully fight gravity with vibrantly luxurious rhythmic propulsion and excellent bass work, fuelled by lush synth extravaganza. It ultimately gets airborne in Review as spacious atmospheres and serene vocal lines drift away into the far horizon.

Crafted only by wind instruments meticulously arranged and blown into life by Arnold, and soothing vocalisations by Manuel Schmid, A Time Of Mystery adds a beautiful and harmonious resting point. After this, Arnold hits his third home-run on the album with the magical Papillon in which Arno Menses of Subsignal steps up to the vocal plate. Perfectly cast, which essentially applies to all performing artists, his amazingly pure voice lifts this excellent song effortlessly to stratospheric heights. Refined piano and soothing sax melodies guide its graceful melodies. A few minutes into the song, all systems are once again set to go for another dynamic prog momentum highlighted by a streaming waterfall of shredding divinity and brightness of recurring groovy melodies in which everything gels and spells perfection. A concluding run of delightful saxophone, returning melodies and a flighty synth solo by Luca Di Gennaro (Soul Secret) finally ends this mesmerising album highlight.

The beautifully layered and graciously flowing ballad Come Away With Me slows down proceedings soothingly with sweetness of harmonies and beguiling vocals by Zeyna. The re-envisioned Toxic Smile composition Cold Run picks up pace again with renewed impressions of Cast thanks to its delightful flowing symphonic nature shaped by violin and cello. Fankhänel adds a blistering chase of guitar solos where especially the second one in fiery prog-metal style shiveringly sets me on goosebump fire.

Finally, there's the album's six-parted magnum opus Berlin 2049. This suite opens in grand futuristic Vangelis atmospheres and seamlessly flows into Rain Will Fall 2. This composition in memory of Rutger Hauer's Oscar-worthy performance also deserve a medal of sorts in light of its seductive sultry sax and ingeniously construed melodic impulses complemented by strong vocals from Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Camel).

Not letting go the spellbinding Leave Well Enough Alone proceeds with selective explosions of glorious speed metal and tantalising fierce solos by Derek Sherinian and Fankhänel. Rain Will Fall 2 comfortingly relieves the senses with warmth of melodies embraced by liquefied sax and heavenly vocals from Anne Trautman. After a harmonious instrumental excursion in Riding The Line, it is the wonderful Genesis testimonial of Reason To Lie that finally manoeuvres Arnold's breathtaking symphonic prog-rock journey onto its final destination.

With production values of the highest order the short overall conclusion after all the above excitement is that Arnold and his guests have truly outdone themselves. If there hadn't been a small six month hick-up in receiving the promo package, Arnold's Artrock Project would surely have secured a very high ranking on my year list. In layman's terms: if this stunning album isn't in your collection you're severely missing out on one of the best progressive releases of 2023! Quite possibly even for this decade for it's seriously brilliant!

Hermetic Science — Deliria: A Chronicle of 2020

USA
2023
42:37
Hermetic Science - Deliria: A Chronicle of 2020
Deliria I (Prelude-Main Theme) (2:46), Deliria II (Poison Seeds Parts One And Two) (6:25), Deliria III (The Mighty MAGA March Of Doom) (4:43), Deliria IV (The Great COVID-19 Rave Of 2020) (4:29), Deliria V (Kyrie Eleison) (1:21), Deliria VI (Armageddon Warm: Song For A Dying Planet) (6:54), Deliria VII (Minneapolis 05-25-20) (3:32), Deliria VIII (In The Dark Shadow Of The Big Lie) (10:37), Deliria IX (Agnus Dei-Main Theme Reprise) (1:51)
7
Jan Buddenberg

After a confident run of releases between 1997 and 2009 but then fifteen years of silence, Hermetic Science return with their fifth studio album Deliria: A Chronicle of 2020. An album which according to the band, who nowadays comprise out of founder/keyboardist Edward Macan, Jeffrey Ruiz (bass) and Travis Strong (drums), is by a small margin their darkest and heaviest album to date.

This being my introduction to Hermetic Science I simply have to take their word for it. Although for someone who likes to dwell in prog-metal surroundings on a frequent basis I find this heaviness to be fairly soft in comparison, even though the band cites 80's/90's metal as a source of inspiration. Not familiar with the also cited sources "60s hard bop" and "trance", I can fully relate though to the "horror film soundtrack motifs" as there is constant feeling of dark suspense and brooding tension palpable within the various cinematic styled compositions.

Divided into nine movements, the instrumental Deliria: A Chronicle of 2020 essentially is one extensive suite that refreshes one's memory of the surreal madness and mayhem that took place in the eventful year 2020. This obviously includes the world-affecting issues of Global Warming (Deliria VI) and the life-threatening arrival of Covid (Deliria IV). But also George Floyd's fatal arrest in Minneapolis (Deliria VII) and the false claims of presidential election steal (Deliria VIII) which led to the "Million MAGA March" protest (Deliria III).

Together with the lovely digi-pack that houses Paul Whitehead's apocalyptic cover art Armageddon Warm it therefore shouldn't come as a surprise that Deliria on a whole is a fairly dark and gloomy piece of music filled with many moving moments of tangible sadness.

Overture Deliria I stages this daunting past reality perfectly with classical piano themes and a tightly arranged fusion of vividly performed vintage ELP elements with sublime jazz interplay. Deliria II adds an elegant touch of chamber music and slowly builds into a sprightly circus of gently uplifting melodies blessed by a carousel of playful keys that stately round off in a finale of doomy chords.

Deliria III continues with formidable subtlety of instrumentation and a course of gradually advancing melodies full of mystery. A frightful stage which turns into a siege of delightful synth-driven prog akin to Gerard, Deja-Vu and Andrew Roussak in Deliria IV.

Effortlessly holding attention so far, Deliria VI then starts off my favourite half of the suite with a beautifully arranged sequence of recurring themes and compelling cinematic orientated motifs that shifts frequently in drama, intensity and atmosphere and firmly speaks to my imagination in a memorable Methexis / Kalaban fashion. Equally appealing is the exploration of new grounds in the adventurous high-wire act of Deliria VII that balances somewhere between Argent and Greenslade.

Before Deliria IX closes the book on 2020 with a recurring thread of themes, it is however album highlight Deliria VIII that impresses the most. Complemented by first-rate performances this grand overwhelming composition deserves full majestic "Magnum Opus" accolades in light of its captivating string of emotive passages and overall eclectic, musically challenging designs. A thought strengthened through its spooky resemblance around the two-minute mark to its excellent namesake Kansas counterpart.

Deliria: A Chronicle of 2020 marks a splendid return that will bring much joy and happiness to those who cherish classically influenced retro prog that bears resemblances to ELP, Ekseption, Triumvirat, Colloseum, Trace and several of the bands mentioned above. In light of all that's happening in the world these days I pray they won't wait too long to present a follow-up.

Ions — Counterintuitive

Czechia
2023
50:41
Ions - Counterintuitive
A Terrible Mistake (4:20), True Friendship (7:14), Faith (4:24), The Same As You (4:41), Constant Feelings (2:26), Out Of Sight (6:06), Split Character (6:42), Plinth Of Shame (2:02), Birds Of Reminiscence (8:09), Run (4:37)
9
Greg Cummins

Ions is yet another new progressive metal band to emerge from Europe when they released their self-titled debut album in 2019 and return now with their 2nd offering which sees the band breaking new ground in many areas. Although their new album was released in November 2023, it is only now that I have been sent a physical CD for review. The members of the band include Shorty Lago, Jakub Tirco, Milan Zolota, Jiri Horak, and Martin Pisko but regrettably, the accompanying CD booklet does not attribute which member plays which instrument.

The first thing I noticed about this band is the intensity of the sound that emanates from my speakers. Whilst the band engage in a number of softer / louder / melancholic / maniacal passages, it is the incredible degree of intensely busy sections that really make a difference. The heavy riffing and drums together create a chaotic and edgy vibe that is very hard to ignore and requires the listener to concentrate deeply to ensure nothing is lost in translation. The vocals are very forceful and whilst not overly melodic they just step back from delving into that growl vocal style that I admittedly don't really understand or enjoy. Let's just say the vocals, whilst strong and emotionally challenging are not the only element of this band's music you need to follow closely. Having said that, I do like the majority of what I am hearing, despite having a preference for more melodicism with my music. That preference was born out of my earlier record buying habits while listening to bands like Genesis, ELP, Rush, Yes, etc. Things have evolved since then and become less predictable, more modern sounding and with more dissonance. If your preferred flavour of prog follows on from those earlier bands, you'll need to move up the ladder a bit regarding the complexity of arrangements you can absorb. This album will definitely keep you on your toes.

The playing is extremely tight, very challenging, and exhibits a degree of professionalism that is not always found with bands that incorporate a little bit of Djent with their preferred style of music. The complex time shifts and ever-changing tempo of the music will require a tightening of your seat belt as the busy nature of these 10 remarkable tracks, simply don't let up for a second. The drummer is one of the best I have heard for a while and whilst he is no Mike Portnoy or Gavin Harrison, he has incredible control and ability, especially with his crisp snare and cymbal work that punctuates the heaviest riffs from the guitars and bass. In terms of similarities, I guess you could throw a few bands around which would include Soen, Leprous, Haken, Anathema, Caligula's Horse, Pattern Seeking Animals, and Tesseract to name a few. Their singer is not quite as gravelly as Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt whose cookie monster vocals you either love or hate but the music is often just as engaging.

Although the songs here represent the pinnacle of what modern progressive metal is all about these days, there are a few moments where the more melodic choruses really shine but understandably, they are often overwhelmed by the more intense and heavier passages that underpin the arrangements. Do the choruses get a little lost in the mix? Perhaps but let's say this situation simply requires you to keep listening more intently, lest you lose you way.

This is quite a remarkable album and makes a brave statement from a band who are proud to try and make a difference. Their sound is not quite among my most favourite styles, but I'll be damned if I would ever ask them to change their style just to appease my musical preferences. I like just about everything I hear and feel the band is destined for a much greater acceptance among global fans, once the word gets out. It's no wonder they have scored an impressive 3.83 / 5.00 on RateYourMusic.

Nice work guys!

The John Irvine Band — The Starships Are Gathering

UK
2024
47:35
The John Irvine Band - The Starships Are Gathering
All Systems Go! (5:07), The Archimedean Point (6:05), The Electrics Were Down (5:55), Lacus Temporis (10:52), Alien Interceptor (3:13), Baptism Of Fire: Gordian Knots (7:24), The Great Polyandrium In The Sky (5:28), The Starships Are Gathering (3:26)
7
Mark Hughes

Poet, author, classical guitarist, holder of a doctorate in classical composition, ex-lecturer, composer for theatre and pupil support assistant as well as releasing six albums in 13 years, there is no doubt that John Irvine keeps himself busy. All of his albums have been reviewed on DPRP, all of which have been highly rated. In keeping with the previous albums, The Starships Are Gathering features just Irvine on guitars, keyboards and bass, with Andrew Scott hitting the drums and cymbals as he did on 2023's Scanning The Dark Horizon.

The style continues to be influenced by the great fusion artists of the past although the music is not at all dated, having a very contemporary sound. Despite Irvine primarily being a guitarist, there is a greater use of keyboards on the current album, in fact it is not until halfway through opener All Systems, Go! that the first guitar can be clearly identified. Even the bass is courtesy of a synth. Thankfully, Irvine has not gone totally 1980s and kept real drums throughout, a wise decision as Scott more than holds his own infusing the album with some distinctive drum patterns that reminds the listener that he is a musician in his own right and not just there to serve the beat and be subservient to the name whose name is on the album sleeve!

There are a variety of synths sounds used across the eight tracks which provides variety to the overall feel. This is important as one feels that is the lead synth featured on the opening two tracks had persisted throughout it could have become rather testing; maybe the audio frequency of that synth is just one that grates with me! Although still present in The Electrics Were Down it is less prominent and the heavier arrangement provides contrast. The years of writing for theatre has obviously had an influence as there is a quite cinematic feel to much of the music, and it wouldn't surprise me if Irvine has ambitions to write soundtracks. And if he doesn't, maybe he should consider it!

There is a consistency to the music with pieces segueing into each other. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to know when one piece has finished and the next started. This is particularly the case with Lacus Temporus which could easily be a continuation of the preceding The Electrics Were Down. Not a major issue but maybe the sequencing of the album could have been looked at. I have to admit that by the time Alien Interceptor had wound its way down I had to stop myself from thinking that the album was far too deeply immersed in keyboards. My fault entirely as I had approached the album thinking that it would be more guitar focused. Instead of expecting Pat Metheney, it should have been Lyle Mays, or more pertinently Larry Fast. Once I had altered that expectation and mindset I began to appreciate the more for what it actually does contain and what it achieves. It also helped that The Great Polyandrium In The Sky is such a magnificent piece of music where everything just gels. I sincerely doubt that there will be a better piece of instrumental music released this year.

The album concludes with the contrasting title track, contrasting because there is a lot more guitar than keyboard! Another strong piece of music to bring the album to a fascinating conclusion. Another Irvine album that maintains the high standards set by his previous releases. He is a musician to be reckoned with.

Tempus Cucumis — Rêves

Belgium
2023
45:53
Tempus Cucumis - Rêves
8522 (4:01), Rêves 2 (3:47), It's All Right, The Sun Is Shining Today (4:43) Rêves 4 (3:59), Towards Nowhere (5:26), In A Bar Somewhere (6:38), Rêves 3 (4:38), Interbellum (5:15), Rêves 1 (5:26)
9
Martin Burns

Tempus Cucumis' seventh album, Rêves, meaning 'Dreams'. According to the duo the album 'explores dreams about what was, what is, what could have been and what could be'. This time around Jeroen De Brauwer (guitars, drums, bass and composition) and Lukas Huisman (keyboards and production) have almost gone down the fully instrumental route except one song. Recruiting help from guest vocalist,s one for the lead on one song, and another who provides wordless vocals.

So on Rêves, Jeroen has taken a step back from performing vocals, that I thought were problematic on their previous release The Story Of C And The Lowering Skies. The focus on the pairs instrumental and melodic skills have made this a much stronger and repeat listenable experience. The music on Rêves is a mix of detailed heavy-ish prog rock with a dollop of smart jazz fusion added for good measure.

The album opens gently with 8522's solo picked guitar that is soon joined by drums, bass and restrained keys. It increases in pace after a staccato bass break into a crisp, Allan Holdsworth style passionate fusion guitar solo. They follow on from this with variations on the style of this opener that give the album cohesion and a forward momentum.

Tempus Cucumis, promo photo

More heavy prog and jazz fusion, syncopated rhythms, and lovely piano runs fill Rêves 2 making you wonder how they fit so much into less than four minutes. There is an optimistic melody to the piano on It's All Right, The Sun Is Shining Today. It also has detailed guitar, bass and piano interplay that's a joy to listen to.

Jazz fusion propels the pulsing Rêves 4's mix of electric piano and hard guitar chords forward. Also, the fusion of Towards Nowhere dodges the funk for a rocking power glide through a corker of a synth solo. There is another keyboard highlight on the fast-paced Interbellum's heavy prog shapes and skittering snares.

The first of the guest vocalists, Jonas Veirman, makes an appearance on the sultry ballad of lost dreams of love, In a Bar Somewhere. Over a tick-tock electronic beat, brushed drums, piano and picked harmonic guitar lines they avoid the lounge jazz trap by having a fusion rock out.

The second vocalist, jazz singer Anne-Lien adds wordless vocals to the concluding track of the album Rêves 1. This moves from a Floyd like Echoes opening through mid-paced drums, elegant bass and piano with a lovely guitar solo. It is a delightfully fitting end to Rêves.

This new album from Tempus Cucumis is a joy to listen to and is a real step up from the previous release. I look forward to the next one with eager anticipation.

Album Reviews