Album Reviews

Issue 2024-035

Alta Reign — Upon The Horizon

Alta Reign - Upon The Horizon
Reverent (Instrumental) (4:24), No Madness (5:45), Defy (4:21), Between The Eyes (4:41), 3's (5:40), Upon The Horizon (7:25), Tip Of My Tongue (5:13), Have No Fear (6:13), Animation (4:14) CD only bonus track: Beneath The Rose (7:43)
Jan Buddenberg

Alta Reign was founded in 2020 by renowned drummer/percussionist Jeff Plate (Savatage, TSO, Metal Church) and TSO colleague Jane Mangini (keyboards, vocals) and completed in line-up by Kevin McCarthy (bass, vocals), Tommy Cook (lead vocals, guitar), Zach Hamilton (lead vocals, additional keyboards) and Collin Holloway (lead vocals, additional guitar). Following their 2020 debut of Mother's Day they present their sophomore album Upon The Horizon.

Featuring a short list of guesting musicians that amongst others includes Savatage alumni Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli, names that no doubt will speak to the hearts of many a prog-metal fan, Upon The Horizon offers an adventurous eclectic mix of melodic rock, AOR, metal and prog that packs quite a punch and complemented by top-notch performances contains a multitude of comforting treats and exciting surprises.

This surprise element isn't so much apparent in Reverent, which in true TSO Christmas style opens proceedings with classical piano themes and elegantly flowing melodies, intensified by a delightful melodic guitar solo and lush orchestral elements, bring memories of Savatage's Dead Winter Dead opening statement back to life. More so in the show-starting showstopper No Madness. A superb composition which after a bombastic start with fierce metal riffs and catchy melodies, in which strength of harmonies brings a distinct stage production feel, reveals a well-balanced whole of exciting rock that with confident ease dives into a sparkling piano solo and attractive symphonies embraced by melodic guitar parts which in prog-metal spirit reflects the magnificence of Cairo and Cast.

Defy relentlessly continues with a powerful stampede of song-focussed heavy rock that first off brings Uriah Heep and Dio to mind, to which the iconic guitar melodies that follow the song's thrilling bridge of blasting Hammond add impressions of Queen. Even more eclectic registers are opened up in the mightily impressive Between The Eyes. Loaded with Bon Jovi pop, layers of harmonies and lush arrangements that once again excites in Hammond soloing, it thunders off into melodic heavy metal surroundings reminiscent of Saxon and Demon.

The catchy melodic 3's follows with refreshing musical ideas and excellence in harmonies to which delightful twin guitar parts are added. Plate brilliantly steps up to the plate (sorry, couldn't resist) in the song's coda. A second Demon connection firmly appeared on my reference radar thanks to the tight drum patterns of Upon The Horizon's intro which show a close resemblance to Demon's Blackheath. As the proggiest moment on the album, this marvellously fast-paced composition goes on to irresistibly attract with a delicious shredding solo — contrary to expectancy, one of the first on the album. The symphonic bridge is designed with classical piano that finally gets spurred on by dynamic interplay towards a finale of energetically driven recurring themes and galloping melodies that could have lasted me some more.

A battering ram of melodies and an in your face attitude, empowered by a hard hitting blast of powerful stage theatrics and lush synth extravaganza, there upon raises the adrenaline levels forcefully through the roof in Tip Of My Tongue. Something the triumphant Animation rivals with a thrilling amount of contagious energy, a compelling lesson in combustible Van Halen ferocity, spectacular rock 'n roll piano parts, surprising twists, a Roth-ian ad-lib, and a rampage of heavy rock with excellent Triumph-like guitar work.

Suitably placed between these animated tracks is the soothing resting point Have No Fear. It showcases timeless sensitive classic rock with and catchy choruses, to which Joe Clapp's steel guitar and Hillbilly banjo solo adds a delightful country feel. Instantly appealing from a captivating and mildly puzzling familiarity in sound and feel, I especially like the ingenious way in how these nostalgic memory pieces perfectly fall into place when under vocal guidance of Wendy Brown the song's melodies transform into a marvellous cowbell-free homage to Blue Oyster Cult.

Provided one purchases the CD (trust me you'll want to after this!) it all comes perfectly full circle in a "saving the ultimate best for last" approach with Beneath The Rose. As a divine symbioses between melodic Ten attraction and prime prog-metal Savatage perfection, this blinder of a tribute to the late Paul O'Neill (TSO) is simply stated one ongoing goosebumps galore of grand epic melodies laced with symphonic grace. Topped by bombastic passages thriving on astonishing six-string magic from both Caffery and Pitrelli, it creates goosebumps on top of my goosebumps. For Savatage fans who enjoy their "Plate" years this is as good as it gets and fully worth the price of admission alone.

Most appropriately captured in conciseness of words by Rat Pak Records as being "influenced by many, yet following no one", Alta Reign's Upon The Horizon overall marks a highly enjoyable and well-crafted album that I took an instant liking to. This likeness has consistently grown over the past few months to one of great admiration and I wholeheartedly recommend the album to fans of Savatage, TSO and those enjoying an inventive mixture of hard/melodic rock, metal and prog which at selected times meets the likes of All My Shadows, Royal Hunt, and several of the names mentioned within this review.

Ellipsis Quintet — Aristotle's Dilemma

Ellipsis Quintet - Aristotle's Dilemma
Forethought (0:47), Aristotle's Dilemma (5:29), The Φ Word (5:56), Σκοτεινό Νερό - Home Not (6:35), Nevma (4:03), Frission (4:58), Nardis (5:47), Milestones (5:25), Afterthought (0:48)
Owen Davies

When I listen to an album, I frequently ask myself three questions.

Does it hold my attention?
What is enjoyable about it?
Will I look forward to hearing to it again?

In response to these key considerations, Ellipsis Quintets Aristotle's Dilemma gripped me. I found its unusual mixture of styles agreeable and interesting. It's an album that I would spin again. That was a few months ago. Since then and after numerous plays, my opinion has not significantly changed.

Ellipsis Quintet are based in Austria. Aristotle's Dilemma is the bands second album. The trumpet and flugelhorn are important components in the bands fascinating mix of styles. The compositions of band leader Vasilis Nalbantis would probably appeal to anyone who enjoys jazz fusion and particularly bands such as Nucleus.

Their debut album Avoid The Void was very satisfying. On that album, there were a few occasions when some of the colours and flavours associated with Latin music came to the forefront. However, this influence is much less apparent in the band's latest release.

Aristotle's Dilemma is a much more visceral and harder hitting affair. It snaps and bites with considerable aggression. It has many face-gurning guitar riffs and foot stomping moments. Its frothing, bubbling fermenting largely instrumental broth is spiced with flavours of both metal and jazz. Consequently, it is less rooted in some of the styles, sounds , and conventions often associated with fusion than its predecessor.

The album consists of seven original compositions written by Nalbantis and interpretations of two well-known Miles Davis tunes, namely Nardis and Milestones. I particularly enjoyed the arrangement of Milestones. It retained the hip shaking elements of the original, but the Quintet's fast-paced rendition featuring some fine electric piano parts added an enjoyably different dimension and a contemporary jazz fusion air.

I thought that the Ellipsis Quintet's version was excellent. I am not sure that all Davis aficionados would agree, even though, the piece has become somewhat of a Jazz standard with many different interpretations attempted.

Similarly, the Quintet hit all the right areas in their outstanding version of Nardis. The electric bass tones which begin the piece are quite striking. All the parts of the tune work well together. Nalbantis' flugelhorn playing is very impressive. The quintets performance has lots of space. This enables the different instruments to express themselves. It also features a gorgeous piano break.

I enjoyed the Quintet's interpretation of this tune almost as much as Neil Ardley and The New Jazz Orchestra's well-known version. It featured in the NJO's outstanding Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe 1969 release and on that album Nardis highlighted Ian Carr on flugelhorn, Jack Bruce on acoustic bass and George Smith on tuba.

The version of the tune in Aristotle's Dilemma is equally satisfying and that is high praise indeed.

The seven original compositions of Aristotle's Dilemma have a seamless quality and the running order of the album works very well. Vocalist Afrodité Elizavet Radisz features on Σκοτεινό Νερό - Home Not.

Parts of Home Not provide the album with a plaintive flavour. However, in its later stages, its gentler passages are interspersed with stop / start rhythms and fiery guitar passages. Despite these aggressive forays, the piece offers an interesting contrast to the overall bombast, intensity, and beauty of tracks such as, The Φ Word, Nevma and Frission.

The album is bookended by two ambient soundscape pieces featuring trumpet, keys, and effects.

The funky riff that begins Aristotle's Dilemma reminded me of something Frank Zappa might have conjured up. Its fascinating mix of spaghetti western brass and chugging guitars had me enthralled.

I was impressed by The Φ Word. It had many unusual components. Its heavier moments almost channelled the vibrations offered by bands like Black Sabbath. Whilst its lighter moments were delightful. I just loved the way the brass melodies were mirrored by the clear toned guitar parts. The piece also features some surprisingly formed and unexpected piano embellishments.

The other pieces are equally engaging and each one contains notable elements.

Aristotle's Dilemma unusual mixture of styles and sounds certainly held my attention.

It was a stimulating and absorbing experience.
I really enjoyed it and I cannot wait to play it again!

Perilymph — Progressions Imaginaires

France / Germany
Perilymph - Progressions Imaginaires
Intro (1:33), Les yeux (6:48), Interlude 1 (2:36), Loin du bruit (6:32), Interlude 2 (1:59), Aventure (8:08), Interlude 3 (3:30), Un instant ou deux (6:27), Interlude 4 (1:13), Outro (2:32)
Andy Read

Any of you seeking some fresh and engaging psychedelic prog? Then the fourth album by this French combo should be of interest.

Perilymph began as a one-man project by Fabien de Menou, a French multi-instrumentalist living in Berlin. He recorded everything in his studio, except for the drums provided by his friend Fabian Sliwka. It wasn't until the third album (Tout en Haut, 2021) that Perilymph moved from Fabien's bedroom into a fuller band set-up.

Their latest offering has a trimmed-down list of contributors. Fabien plays most instruments, whilst his namesake remains on the drums. Tim Landgren is co-credited with guitars and synths, with saxophone by Can Winter. No credit is given for the vocals, but I presume it is Fabien also behind the microphone, as he was credited as the voice on the last release.

In recent years I have been exploring heavy-psyche through bands such as King Buffalo, All Them Witches and Elder. This album sits at the other, lighter end of the psyche spectrum. More for the fans of Pink Floyd than Hawkwind.

The album consists of four extended vocal songs, split up by four instrumental interludes. It is bookended by an intro and an outro.

Compared to Perilymph's previous album, this edges closer to the prog than the psyche. The four songs each have a very individual feel but are based around a conventional prog-rock structure. There is a wonderful blending of texture, groove and melody throughout. I find the interludes blend in wonderfully, giving it a feel of a concept album; one multipart song. The drumming is spot-on and the synths sprinkle just the right level of psyche-dust over it all. There is an occasional thrust of guitar but the overall mood is light and flighty, perfectly complemented by Fabien's smooth, layered vocal style.

I can't really find anything to fault here. It is an album that I will come back to frequently. A delightful discovery.

The album is co-released by the French label Six Tonnes De Chair and the Swiss label Stone Pixels. It is available via their Bandcamp page as a digital entity and in a gloriously psychy vinyl. Allez!

Kavus Torabi — The Banishing

Kavus Torabi - The Banishing
The Horizontal Man (5:04), Snake Humanis (3:29), Heart The Same (7:44), A Thousand Blazing Chariots (3:58), The Sweetest Demon (5:53), Push The Faders (3:55), Mountains Of Glass (7:51), Untethered (4:24)
Mark Hughes

No one can claim that Kavus Torabi is one for letting the grass grow beneath his feet what with a solo career, Gong, The Utopia Strong, The Holy Family (as Guappo now call themselves), collaborations with Richard Wileman and contributor to numerous other albums, many who are signed to his own Believers Roast label, he is certainly keeping busy. So much so that his previous musical centre of attention, the excellent Knifeworld, have been on hiatus since 2018.

The Banishing which takes its name from the fact that his family banished him from London, the centre of his musical universe for the past thirty years, after the Covid lockdown resulted in Torabi suffering some form of breakdown resulting in his departure from England's capital. The album was originally started almost as soon as Hip To The Drag, his debut solo album, was released in Spring 2020. Although subsequent events resulted in the original intent of, in Torabi's own words "making a record that was not as obviously personal and autobiographical as the first... a positive, uplifting album" being changed into more of a cathartic delve into trying to understand the tsunami of events that had beset him.

Despite all that has gone on, the album succeeds in being positive throughout, although maybe not so far as garnishing a label of uplifting. Things kick off with The Horizontal Man, a rather fluid and dreamy piece with hints of Syd Barrett solo minimalism. Snake Humanis features some marvellous twang guitar, something I have not heard on record for many a year. However, it is with Heart The Same that the album really kicks off. Drawing on the varied musical experiences he has been involved in for the past three decades, Torabi distills it all into nearly eight minutes of delight. The strength is in the simplicity of the piece, the continued repetition of the starting riff over the first three minutes or so; the ambient breakdown; the resumption of a broader palette with a more prominent bass; a reprise of the opening; ending with and instrumental section that promote clarity.

A Thousand Blazing Chariots is a tribute to his erstwhile band leader in the Cardiacs, the much missed Tim Smith. Don't expect a piece in the style of that most particular of bands though, but yes, there are quirky chord changes but the message is in the words. If there were to be a single released from the album then the strongest contender would have to be The Sweetest Demon. It may not be a pop song as such, but it is memorable in an intriguing manner and immensely listenable to. It is back to acoustic guitar for Push The Faders with added enveloping swathes of psychedelia and yet another great guitar sound on the solo.

Although Mountains Of Glass was inspired by "the most profoundly mystical and visionary experience", I found the first half of the piece to be a bit of a drag and overall have not yet to make any real connection with the song. Nice final guitar solo though. And so on to the final track, Untethered, and this one's a real doozie. A gem of a song that is the epitome of the Torabi songwriting oeuvre.

A high quality album by any standards and one that shows that Torabi is by no means spreading himself too thinly.

Triton Project — Messenger's Quest

Thailand / USA
Triton Project - Messenger's Quest
Messenger's Quest (9:19), The Key (5:55), Everdream (13:30), Beyond The Mazes (20:29), Lighthouse Of The World (28:12)
Andy Read

I've read some positive and some not-so-positive reviews of this album. My interest was initially piqued by the involvement of Sean Thompson. My reviews of his Odd Logic and Nothing In Writing projects will tell you how much I respect his vocal and guitar abilities.

However, I had been put-off by the length of the five songs. This is a weighty concept album that runs for more than an hour and a quarter. The final track nearly hits the half-hour mark on its own. Its predecessor clocks in at 20 minutes.

I have an appetite for complexity but nowadays, I prefer to stop after one good plate, rather than attempting a five-course all-you-can eat buffet.

However, the arrival of a promo, and a date with a long train journey across England, gave me no excuse not to at least give it a few good spins. And I am glad that I did. With reservations, it is an excellent, complex prog-metal album.

As far as I can see, Messenger's Quest is the debut effort from Triton Project. It is headed by Thai composer and keyboard maestro Tanpawat Suttipong. I was unaware of him previously, and presume this is his first work in this genre.

Sean Thompson is responsible for vocals, lyrics and guitars. Bassist Kieran Pope from the UK makes up the 'band'. No drummer is credited, so I guess that comes under 'programming'. It sounds fine to me.

Messenger's Quest is a story about the journey of a lone messenger entrusted with a crucial mission by the king. The task at hand is to deliver a message to a cold distant place. No lyric sheet came with the promo, so I am unable to comment on how the story unfolds.

The majority of the music is centred on Thompson's riffage and vocals. The keyboards bring more of a cinematic background to the pieces. There is some soloing, but the instrumental sections here are more about creating groove and atmosphere and complexity.

Transition after transition after transition. There are few, rather no, conventional song structures. Each of the 78 minutes is crammed with new ideas. Prog overload?

It is definitely metal. Dream Theater fans should enjoy this a lot. The meaty, deep, heavy guitar tones are the perfect contrast to the mostly flighty keys. There will be some appeal to fans of heavy-prog bands such as Ice Age. Some jazz-fusion elements are allowed to creep in from time to time.

What I miss are the hooks that characterise Sean's other output. Triton's progressive metal factory never pauses production long enough to leave room for a repeated chorus.

If you are the kind of prog-metal listener who is absorbed and content with the music side of things, you will love this. If you seek a bit of equilibrium between a story, some hooks, and complex music, then you might find this too heavy-handed and bloated.

This digital-only album is undoubtedly an impressive debut with some impressive moments and some impressive performances. I hope there is a follow-up. Just maybe bring in an outsider to undertake some restraint and editing to make it a little more digestible.

Ubermodo — So Very Far From Home

Ubermodo - So Very Far From Home
Warlock Of The Outer Planes (7:38), So Very Far From Home (9:52), Ice Dragons (7:18), The Vagabond Returns (6:16), Beyond The Bones Of Eden (9:32), Behold The Burning Sword (8:39)
Martin Burns

The one man and his drummer, studio based outfit Ubermodo have released their fourth album So Very Far From Home. It would get filed under the groove driven Psychedelic Space Rock section of your local record emporium, but it has the additional qualities of classic progressive rock (ELP, Genesis, Yes, Mike Oldfield) that make a cross-over to the Prog section. The additional prog-rock also moves this release from a good listen to a great one. It also has a soaring sense of adventure and avoids any retro clichés along the way.

Ubermodo is the space rock outlet for multi-instrumentalist Tim Lane whose sparky prog-folk album As Sure As The Sun Rises In The East I reviewed and still much enjoy. Tim Lane is also a member of Stealing The Fire whose 2020 album King Of Shadows was also reviewed here at DPRP.

On this new release he is joined by his friend and drummer Tim Dew who provides a solid and limber foundation for these instrumental space jaunts. They are driven variously by guitars and keyboards, that build layer upon layer of colour and melody. The opening track is a case in point. On Warlock Of The Outer Planes Tim states he wanted to see how far he could take a single riff. Aiming at, and hitting, a "trance-like repetition" often sharing the riff amongst various instruments it is entirely successful with an energy that never flags.

The title track is nicely book ended with the field recorded sounds of footsteps on a pebble beach. In between it moves from a quiet ambience of swirling synths and gentle piano to include organ dabs, bass and grooving drums before the guitar and synths solos carry this a long way.

Inspired by a "natural history YouTube video about narwhals", Ice Dragons is a keyboard led up-tempo romp with a cracking organ solo and a sense of fun. The inspiration for the middle eastern toned Beyond The Bones Of Eden is a section in Clive Barker's book Weaveworld that describes The Empty Quarter. Imagine if Fish Rising-era Steve Hillage had written Led Zeppelin's Kashmir then you would be close to how this super track sounds.

The closing track Behold The Burning Sword has overlapping reverberant guitar lines that powers along closing the album in fine style. So Very Far From Home as an album is well produced and mixed, so you discover more delights on repeated plays.

Its one of those albums where your favourite track tends to be the one you have just finished listening too. Ubermodo's So Very Far From Home is a consistently engaging, sprightly and adventurous listen. Check it out, prog-heads!

Album Reviews