Album Reviews

Issue 2024-033

Artificial Language — Distant Glow

Artificial Language - Distant Glow
Two-Faced Star (3:58), Rain Follows (3:50), Stranded (4:22), House Of Hoarded Sands (4:25), Skinwalker (4:40)
Calum Gibson

Out of California comes Artificial Language. A prog metal group formed in 2015. Citing influences ranging from Between The Buried and Me to Danny Elfman, they have released two albums (The Observer (2017) and Now We Sleep (2019)), and now return with their latest EP, Distant Glow.

A short EP, with 5 songs and only 20 minutes long, Distant Glow serves as a snappy introduction to the band. The guitars are a maze of twiddly notes and intricate licks and leads, while the bass provides a healthy dose of thick punches. Through all this, the drum talents of Jeron Schapansky never let up, with a mass of technical fills and riffs.

Musically, it is definitely modern prog- metal — distorted guitars and staccato chords are entwined with flowing notes to deliver complex passages. To me, it sounds like what I had hoped Haken would be. Aggressive and full of melody, performed by some supremely talented musicians. Vocally, Shay Lewis brings a similar vibe that Jim Grey does with Caligula's Horse.

So essentially, a cross between those two groups gives a good idea. Vigorous, catchy, filled full of rapid-fire changes and twists, with a labyrinth of musicality running through. It doesn't let up for more than a moment from start to end.

An absolute for fans of modern prog like Leprous, Haken, Caligula's Horse and Voyager. And for those curious about the group — this is a perfect introduction.

Final Coil — The World We Inherited

Final Coil - The World We Inherited
The World We Inherited (3:32), Wires (4:26), Chemtrails (3:47), By Starlight (6:32), The Growing Shadows (5:04), Stay With Me (4:00), Purify (3:33), Out Of Sorts (3:20), Humanity (5:04), The End Of History (5:48)
Martin Burns

Final Coil's new album The World We Inherited is a stomping mix of progressive rock infused metal, alternative rock and synth-wave. It is melodic and repeat playable even though its overall concept is rather dark. It is a ten minutes into the future concept that examines the divisions and fears of a post-truth world of political extremism, conspiracy theories and climate change. It makes Orwell's 1984 seem somewhat lightweight!

This Leicester four-piece's sound here is punchy and features a bit less of the art-rock (though it's still there in the background) than on the only work in their extensive back catalogue that I have heard, 2022's Somnambulent II. The World We Inherited, in contrast, interweaves menacing guitar riffs with haunting piano and synths over a rock-solid and imaginative rhythm section, topped by great vocals.

The first two tracks are the most prog-metal-infused with intense guitars on the title track, and on Wires they howl away as if in distress. There are diamond sharp, sparkling riffs and swirling synths on Chemtrails. There is a pause for breath after the opening trio of songs as lovely keyboard pulses, piano and harmony vocals set things up for the big riff finale on By Starlight. Great stuff.

Other tracks have vibrant slide guitar, darkwave synths and on Purity some of the most chilling lyrics I've heard in a very long while. As Final Coil explore what may be or not be a public relations explanation to a final solution style victim.

Step this way
There's nothing left to fear
You strip away these clothes
And simply step in here

It could be the darkness is just my interpretation but that's the thing about this fine collection of songs listening in a lighter mood I may be convinced that its more hopeful. There is an intriguing ambiguity lyrically that balances the moody music.

If you miss the early Riverside sound then their British cousins Final Coil may just be the ticket.

PAKT — No Steps Left To Trace

69:08, 68:47
PAKT - No Steps Left To Trace
CD 1: No Steps Left To Trace, Part 1 (21:11), No Steps Left To Trace, Part 2 (15:34), On The Other Side, Part 1 (11:12), Wormhole (1:44), On The Other Side, Part 2 (9:29), Spontaneous Combustion (9:58)
CD 2 — PAKT Live: The Ghost Mills (9:21), NYC III (18:06), NYC IV (11:14), NYC V (7:32), Solar Myth (22:34)
Owen Davies

If long tracks where improvisation and the inventive exploration of motifs and themes fills you with glee and raises your goosebumps, then after experiencing PAKTs latest release, a slightly reflective smile might shape your lips. I doubt however that listeners will whistle along to it, all the way down the street.

The tunes that make up this lengthy release would almost certainly not pass any "old grey whistle test". Indeed, it is doubtful that they would even pass a "prog lovers whistle test".

For the casual listener, who might not be inclined to invest the time, or the effort to unpick the music, or who might not be receptive to music that is conspicuously devoid of accessible hooks, then much of No Steps Left to Trace will probably disappoint.

Most of the pieces of this album have a cerebral appeal rather than an emotional pull. Indeed, It is fascinating to follow the twists and turns of each musicians part and trying to anticipate which direction the piece will travel and where its destination ultimately might lie.

I guess that this is probably just the sort of thing which makes participation in PAKT so rewarding for each member of the band. They must have listened intently to each other, to achieve such a high level of interaction and improvisation across all the compositions that make up this release.

There are plenty of positive things to enjoy about this album; especially if you approach it without any preconceived ideas about what makes a good tune, or indeed about how music should be structured.

The playing is uniformly impressive. The production and sound quality of the album is excellent. Every player involved has a distinctive place in the mix. The album is progressive in its intent and extent and does not drape itself in a tightly fitting garment of accepted musical conventions or genre defining colours.

The album is divided into two sections. There is a studio release that is represented by the tracks on CD 1 and there are a collection of live recordings that are skilfully captured on CD2. However, the studio release is to all intents and purpose a live recording. The bands recorded it in a day on December 17, 2021 and the resulting product is relatively free of any overdubs or studio editing.

No Steps Left To Trace, Part 1 is a fine showcase for Percy Jones easily recognisable fretless bass tones. It is probably my favourite piece on the album. There are some fiery interjections along the way by guitarists Alex Skolnick and Tim Motzer.

The long duration of this release gives lots of time and space for the compositions to evolve and an opportunity for the musicians to explore several moods and a variety of tempos. Ambience and measured aggression all have important parts to play. On many occasions, you can almost sense the extreme concentration of the players.

The album is probably best experienced on a track-by-track basis. I certainly observed that this was by far the best way to digest and appreciate the music's subtleties and different tonal flavours that occur. I found little satisfaction in trying to play the whole of the album in one sitting. Exposure to one track at a time enabled me to fully value each piece. Consequently, I was not over faced with either the length of the release, or the type of challenging unrehearsed and totally improvised music that the band concoct and create

In tracks such as, On The Other Side droning effects are utilised to give a different texture and a sort of ambient dimension to their cornucopia of sounds. In fact, the band are very adept at using a variety of effects and loops. These are woven into the bands loosely spun tapestry to create a soothing or disturbing backdrop, or a pulsating embellishment when the need arises

The live tracks are probably more explosive. There are a several occasions when the playing has a muscular robustness that has the power and energy to complete a whole range of musical bench presses with gritty fixed limb determination.

The concluding composition Solar Myth has a combination of expressive guitar parts in its ferocious mid-section and what might be considered some avant episodes in its concluding passages.

The fast-paced upbeat part of Solar Myth is an excellent example of the musical empathy of the band. This track without doubt highlights the skill and energy that PAKT can exhibit when the individual improvised, parts express themselves, or mingle as one entity with a combined intent.

As might be expected, Solar Myth's ever-evolving peaks and dips, twisted passages and unusual creative forays did not conform to any type of whistle test, but they certainly did not fail to impress!

With that in mind, I think that I should practice my progressive music whistling skills, before listening to this album again.

Who knows, maybe, I might even be able to whistle along to No Steps Left To Trace one day!

Sleepmakeswaves — It's Here, But I Have No Names For It

Sleepmakeswaves - It's Here, But I Have No Names For It
All Hail Skull (4:46), Super Realm Park (5:11), Ritual Control (4:07), Black Paradise (4:46), Verdigris (3:31), Terror Future (4:56), It's Here, But I Have No Names For It (8:29), This Close Forever (4:44)
Mark Hughes

Australian band return with their sixth studio album released since their inception in 2006, although this release marks the band's first appearance in DPRP. The band, a trio, consists of bassist and keyboard player Alex Wilson, the only remaining original member; guitarist Otto Wicks-Green, who joined in 2009; and Tim Adderley, who has occupied the drum stool since 2011.

Although their output has not been extensive their consistent high quality makes them one of the post-rock bands whose releases I always anticipate and look forward to. It's Here, But I Have No Names For It has been no exception. Coming four years after These Are Not Your Dreams, a collection of three EPs released during 2020, the band sound like they are having immense fun and are pouring oodles of enthusiasm that defies 18 years of existence. There is an immediate freshness to the album with not a single moment of lethargy, this is an all out balls to the wall performance.

The opening All Hail Skull is a furious onslaught with layers of guitars blasting through the speakers, it is no surprise that when they tour they require a second guitarist (Lachlan Marks) to come close to replicating the studio recordings, even then one suspects that more than a few guitar lines would have to be sacrificed. Super Realm Park was the first single released from the album (if one can still call such non-physical, digitally released artifacts singles) and it is not hard to see why. A memorable hook and a quieter section in the second half of the song with Wilson's piano and bubbling synths to the fore make the piece memorable and somewhat different from the usual post-rock reliance on just guitars.

More deviations from the usual pattern of the genre is sound in Black Paradise with its acoustic guitar beginning and ending complete with real strings and yet another memorable hook that is a delight to the ears. Verdigris is a mid-album lull comprising largely of keyboards and is rather an anomaly but does give the listener time to breathe before the guitars come thundering back in on Terror Future. Despite the title, the piece is rather subtle with some great drumming by Adderley. Another surprise element is the inclusion of vocals on this track. They are nicely positioned in the mix and singer Wicks-Green has a rather sweet voice that blends well with the tone of the song.

The lengthy title track is seemingly an amalgamation of the different elements of the other pieces on the album all wrapped together in a unique, well-structured, well paced and overall delightful track. Hearing this piece alone would send me hurriedly seeking the whole album. But even this is probably topped by This Close Forever, which is a superb ending to the album. Although at 40 minutes It's Here, But I Have No Names For It is relatively short by the standards of some bands in the current era but there is more than enough great music included on this album to make it worth anyone's while.

Transatlantic — Live at Morsefest 2022: The Absolute Whirlwind

USA / Sweden / England
Transatlantic - Live at Morsefest 2022: The Absolute Whirlwind
CD 1: Into The Blue (24:28), In Held ('Twas) In I (16:46), Shine (7:53), We All Need Some Light (8:53)
CD 2: Overture / Whirlwind (9:24), The Wind Blew Them All Away (6:00), On The Prowl (7:16), A Man Can Feel (6:18), Out Of The Night (4:32), Rose Colored Glasses (7:57), Evermore (4:16), Set Us Free (4:48), Lay Down Your Life (5:00), Pieces of Heaven (2:09), Is It Really Happening? (9:12), Dancing With Eternal Glory / Whirlwind (Reprise) (12:45)
CD 3: Overture (9:10), Reaching For The Sky (5:37), Higher Than The Morning (5:10), The Darkness In The Light (5:15), Take Now My Soul (3:49), Bully (2:09), Rainbow Sky (3:52), Looking For The Light (3:52), The World We Used To Know (9:20)
CD 4: The Sun Comes Up Today (5:24), Love Made A Way (Prelude) (2:27), Owl Howl (6:52), Solitude (5:45), Belong (3:13), Lonesome Rebel (2:34), Can You Feel It (3:10), Looking For The Light (Reprise) (5:06), The Greatest Story Never Ends (3:43), Love Made A Way (7:31)
CD 5: Bridge Across Forever (6:44), The Final Medley (26:32)
Armin Rößler

Transatlantic should need no further introduction. The prog supergroup with Neal Morse (ex-Spock's Beard, The Neal Morse Band, Flying Colors), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings, Agents of Mercy, ex-Kaipa), Pete Trewavas (Marillion) and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, The Neal Morse Band, Flying Colors) scored seven, eight and nine points from the three DPRP reviewers in last year's Round Table Review for their most recent live album to date, The Final Flight – Live at L'Olympia. They also earn that average rating, exactly eight points, for this, their latest work, another live album. This is one of Transatlantic's oddities that you can either accept with shaking your head or a smile: although the band has only produced five studio albums in twenty-five years, Live at Morsefest 2022: The Absolute Whirlwind is already the seventh official live recording (all also released on DVD and/or Blu-ray). With five CDs, two Blu-rays and around four and a half hours of playing time, it also tops in terms of scope everything that has been done before, gigantic even for a band known for its gigantomania like Transatlantic.

Morsefest, which is organized annually by Neal Morse near Nashville, Tennessee, has been around since 2014. Morse has performed there as a solo artist, with his Neal Morse Band, with Spock's Beard and with Flying Colors, each documented in thick live packages with four or five CDs and two DVDs or Blu-rays. On April 29 and 30, 2022, Transatlantic did the honours for the first time and played two completely different sets on the two evenings. The first evening focused on the 2014 concept album The Whirlwind, the second on the current studio release The Absolute Universe (2021), supplemented in each case by material from the other three albums. Neal Morse (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Roine Stolt (vocals, guitar), Pete Trewavas (bass, vocals) and Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals) were once again supported by Ted Leonard (Spock's Beard, Pattern-Seeking Animals, Enchant) on vocals, guitar and keyboards as the "fifth Beatle", as it has been the case since KaLIVEoscope (2014). The band also for the very first time performed together with a choir (Debbie Bresee, Julie Harrison, Amy Pippin, and April Zachary) and a string quartet, consisting of Josee Weigand Klein (violin), Kristi Smith (violin), Claire Whitcomb (viola), and Gideon Klein (cello), plus percussionist Philip Martin, which makes the recording a good piece different from their previous releases. Neither the choir nor the strings set very big accents, but at least they occasionally bring new timbres into the songs and add something to the powerful overall sound in a beautiful way.

Transatlantic are one of the progressive rock bands that do not understand "progressive" in the sense of a further development of the genre, however original, but rather retrospectively make use of the legacy of the great groups of the seventies. As with the early Spock's Beard works and many of Neal Morse's records, Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant are the inspiration. In Roine Stolt the band has a second accomplished composer who draws his inspiration from a very similar pool. The fact that all the musicians appreciate the Beatles is also hard to miss in the overall sound. Transatlantic have always had a fondness for epic long tracks ("We've been playing for two hours, and we've only managed three songs," says Mike Portnoy on an earlier live recording), which give the four (five, if you add Leonard) outstanding musicians the opportunity to shine at length on their instruments.

The opener of the first evening, Into The Blue (originally on Kaleidoscope, 2014), is one of the best examples for this. The introduction may remind you of the Yes masterpiece Close To The Edge with its extensive instrumental part, it also thrives on Mike Portnoy's great drumming, for which Pete Trewavas lays a more than solid foundation with his bass. Highly listenable solos by Roine Stolt and Neal Morse follow. And the song becomes a roller-coaster ride: after the comparatively heavy start (by Transatlantic standards), things seem to calm down, there is a chorus that is perfect for singing along to, a funky section, the voices of Morse and Stolt alternating and then another long instrumental part in which all the musicians are allowed to shine. Grandiose, a prelude that whets the appetite for what is to come.

The second song is the first surprise: In Held ('Twas) In I, originally by Procol Harum (from the album Shine On Brightly, 1968), recorded as a cover version for the debut SMPTe (2000), is presented live by Transatlantic for the first time ever. As in the studio version, the multipart suite also thrills the live audience. After forty minutes of concert and all kinds of technically demanding performances by the musicians, there is time to take a breather. It's the ballads' turn: the always touching Shine (also from Kaleidoscope), which Neal Morse wrote about visiting a terminally ill friend who didn't need comforting himself, but on the contrary gave comfort to his visitors, and the beautiful We All Need Some Light (from SMPTe), which could have been a hit in a better world and is once again introduced by a short acoustic duel between Mr. Stolt and Mr. Morse.

This prepares the ground for the performance of the concept album The Whirlwind, which fills the entire second CD of this live recording with its twelve songs, all of which merge into one another. In terms of content, it is about the turbulence and uncertainties of life; musically, the tenor is comparatively slow and sustained, perhaps somewhat less complicated and complex than Into The Blue, but in its entirety it is beyond reproach. Even fifteen years after its original release, this is still a strong piece of music, superbly performed by the group and, thanks to the strings and choir, quite easily distinguishable from the earlier live recordings (Whirld Tour 2010 and More Never Is Enough).

The second major concept album The Absolute Universe opens the second Morsefest evening and fills CDs three and four. As on The Final Flight – Live At L'Olympia, the Ultimate Edition is played, which is a cross-section of the two different studio versions (the shorter The Breath Of Life version and the longer Forevermore version). Does the listener need this additional live version to be happy? Let's put it this way: it doesn't hurt. Transatlantic are once again in top form this evening and play their possibly farewell album in a rousing manner. Afterwards, a little break, provided by the ballad Bridge Across Forever (from the second album of the same name, 2001), mainly presented by Morse and the string quartet, does no harm. And then it's time to get down to business: The Final Medley touches on selected sections of the band's classics Duel With The Devil, My New World, All Of The Above, and Stranger In Your Soul. As much as one would have liked to hear each of these epic songs in their entirety, they are packed into the medley just as well.

In the end, there is nothing to complain about. This further live release has its purpose. It would be nice if the band could get back together in the studio at some point. But if this release really is their last, then it would be a farewell on a very high level.

And one final note: although Insideout Music only provided the audio data for this review, it would of course have been a sin not to take a look at the beautiful hardcover art-book, which also contains many photos worth seeing on thirty-six pages in LP format. And of course the two concert films, which provide an additional impression of the great joy with which Transatlantic play on stage. The New Life Fellowship Church in Cross Plains near Nashville is by no means a rock temple that would provide the perfect setting for these concerts. Nevertheless, there is a great atmosphere in the audience and the visual impressions round off this beautiful package very well.

Trifecta — The New Normal

Trifecta - The New Normal
Beck And Call (2:35), Dot Are You Wooing? (0:53), Stroboscopic Fennel (2:25), Just Feel It Karen (3:53), Sibling Rivalry (4:01), Ornamental Lettuce (2:15), Daddy Long Legs (4:07), What Are You Doing? (0:53), Stupid Pop Song (3:32), Crime Spree (3:07), Bach Stabber (2:07), Kleptocrat (2:35), Once Around The Sun With You (3:50), Chinese Fire Drill (3:29), Ouch! My OCD (1:17), Wake Up Call (3:46), Wacky Tobaccy (3:28), Canary In A Five And Dime (3:55), On The Spectrum (3:23)
Patrick McAfee

Trifecta began as an offshoot of the Steven Wilson Band and The New Normal is their sophomore release. Consisting of bassist Nick Beggs, keyboardist Adam Holzman and drummer Craig Blundell, the sheer technical skill on display is astounding. Appearances by Rush's Alex Lifeson and saxophonist Theo Travis adds to the high caliber of musicianship. The album's heavily instrumental mix of progressive rock, jazz fusion. funk and electronica is reminiscent of the genre melding output of 70s bands such as Brand X and Bruford.

There are some distinct differences between this album and its predecessor, Fragments. Courtesy of Beggs is an overlay of absurdist humor, much of which comes via spoken word dialogue on a few tracks. These moments are clever, but mostly distract from the more interesting musical accompaniment. Also, this album includes three straightforward, vocal-led tracks that work quite convincingly.

Ultimately though, it is the many diverse instrumental tracks that are most compelling. With song titles that often reflect the aforementioned humor, there is nothing comedic about the intricate performances. This is the work of some of the finest musicians in the business. Most importantly, the material entertains beyond the wonders of the virtuosity.

The band successfully captures the feel of improvisational fusion, but in an effectively structured compositional style. That focus and the compact length of the tracks secures the consistently captivating quality of the album. The New Normal is an impressive and welcomed return to the type of eclectic side project that was more common in prog's past.

Album Reviews