Album Reviews

Issue 2024-038

Luz De Riada — Rizoma

Mexico
2024
55:32
Luz De Riada - Rizoma
Auromboros (5:54), Entropía (5:19), Raices (4:31), Atipica (7:03), Matanza De Chivos (4:35), Todos Por La Banqueta (4:54), La Bestia (5:45), La Danza Del Tlacololero (5:35), Ñuñoa (6:09), 1915 (5:47)
6
Martin Burns

Released after an eight-year gap, Rizoma, is Luz De Riada's new album. This Mexican quintet of Ramses Luna (saxophone, flute, vocals), Sergio Aldama (drums & percussion), Luis Nasser (bass) plus sound guy and I assume keyboards Edgar Arrellin plus a few additional guests, make quite a racket. A racket that is mainly instrumental but with some singing and spoken word passages.

Luz De Riada would fall into the catch-all Rock In Opposition style of prog with its changing rhythms, jazz but not-jazz touches, complex and unpredictable arrangements but here there is also a heavy dose of psychedelia and fusion grooves. Occasional passages don't hang together and seem less than the sum of their parts. But at other times some of the tunes work really well.

This is all displayed in one tune. La Danza Del Tlacololero opens with a discordant Avant neoclassical orchestral sound that gets blown away by a Weather Report like bass groove and sax. It then switches to a classical guitar section punctuated by stabs of synth and guitar before returning to the groove. Other tracks go down the Gong and Frank Zappa route of psyche craziness. And the final track ends sounding like a lost but mad Bond theme.

So if you have a tolerance for the odd then Luz De Riada's collection of consistently entertaining, even when it threatens to fall apart, melodic and unconventionally arranged tunes may be for you.

Parallels — Exodus

Sweden
2024-02
67:55
Parallels - Exodus
The Beginning (6:17), The Escape (5:54), You've Got To Run (6:04), One More Road (5:11), Fields Of Despair (6:52), How Can This Even Be? (5:24), Not Alone, Part 1 (8:51), Forgotten (4:11), Darkness (4:20), Sea Of Death (2:47), Say Hello (Solid Ground) (7:56), Not Alone, Part 2 (4:08)
8
Jerry van Kooten

Parallels are a new progressive rock band from Sweden. Unannounced, their debut album Exodus found its way to my mailbox. Unaccompanied by any kind of information, it was not easy to find some background on this band. Oh, a Facebook page! The account is called "musicforjob" and the page name is "TECmusic" — that made it a bit hard to find. No official website yet.

The music is rather worth some extra attention to information, I can tell you.

When you have no information or cannot find anything about experiences of the musicians, expectations are not set. And that is what caused a bit of a positive surprise.

I was reading the little information on the digipak while listening to the album the first time. Exodus is a concept album, and the scenic opening of the first track makes a lot of sense, containing a dialogue (in Ukrainian, apparently). From the album title and lyrics I now know this is a story about refugees of war in general and a couple being separated in particular. I assume the couple from the dialogue are the protagonists.

Musically, the songs go through several stages and styles, not revealing a single style that would have made a reviewer's job easier to tell you what to expect. But this complaint is a compliment in disguise, of course.

The overall feel is symphonic and melodic prog, with emotional guitar play. Camel came to mind several times, especially the parts with the Hammond sounds, and the sound reaches Pink Floyd atmospheres. But references from later times are clear as well. Some 1980s Pendragon and mainly IQ are possible influences. And I also hear some early Egdon Heath melodies. (It was funny to hear the very first three notes of the album resembling the first three notes on Egdon Heath's The Killing Silence.) Fans of bands like Silhouette should take a listen, too.

A few songs, like Say Hello (Solid Ground), have a catchy verse or chorus but also break away into proper prog areas. Some quieter songs are there for the more reflective or emotional parts of the story, but they are also placed well in the flow of the album to offer breathing space and never break the span of attention.

Maybe the band name is a reference to their broad collection of influences while not treading a single path?

A couple of songs, like The Escape or Fields Of Despair, have a lovely typical heavy neo-prog sound. Keyboard-driven melodies going wild, and the guitar joining in or taking over. Comedy Of Errors come to mind because of this, especially 1980s COE, but also the modern COE sound in the more symphonic parts. Especially The Escape could be a COE song. The playing never becomes flashy, all arrangements are very much focused on the emotional effect, while all the playing shows these guys are experienced musicians who know what they are doing. A few times some segments are in odd time signatures without giving it away immediately. The sound is kept organic. The melodic but still bluesy guitar plays a big role there (Pink Floyd reference, of course), but also the sensitive piano play in several songs.

The question remains how a mature album like this, blending this many influences into a sound of their own, is just a debut album. Where have these guys been? The arrangements are often intricate, bringing a lot of sounds and melodies. The production is excellent, bringing out everything and burying nothing. In that respect I had to think of my recent TumbleTown review.

Quite the surprise, to be honest, with unexpected things happening throughout the album. The music is very mature, the production is excellent. A captivating listen.

The Samurai Of Prog — A Quiet Town

various
2024
68:40
The Samurai Of Prog - A Quiet Town
Smile Forever (7:46), The Crime (5:41), The Priest (6:56), The Businessman (7:47), The Mayor (6:08), The Doctor (7:17), Dance Of Clues (3:04), The Solution (Part I) (11:56), The Solution (Part II) (7:12), The Report (4:48)
9
Jan Buddenberg

Over the past year and a half there have been many moments I felt the need to apply for a swimming refresher course to save me from fully drowning in the exceptional beauty of music on offer. This was also the case with Samurai Of Prog's most recent albums The Man In The Iron Mask and Anthem To The Phoenix Star which both ended high up in my year lists. Pen and registration form at the ready I can feel myself sink deeper and deeper again with the overwhelming and criminally brilliant A Quiet Town.

Complemented by the exquisite artwork by Ed Unitsky, A Quiet Town marks the second Samurai album to be exclusively written, in both concept and music, by Italian composing multi-instrumentalist Marco Grieco. They are once again accompanied by musical co-conspirators Marco Bernard (Shuker bass) and Kimmo Pörsti (drums), to which a list of allies (a.o. Steve Unruh, Marco Vincini, Peakfiddler, Tony Riverman, Juhani Nisula) and usual suspects mentioned later on is added. The concept this time around involves a fictitious murder story situated in a quiet Florida town near Gadsgen County.

This serenity is however merely superficial. Hidden deep beneath the seemingly peaceful community and their thriving soap factory exterior, a deceitful web of lies, blackmail, harassment, betrayal, misdemeanour, manipulation, power, and conniving intrigue is buried which would leave the deducting efforts of Perry Mason, Jessica Fletcher and Hercule Poirot in a puzzling pickle. Up to the detective, a friend of the strangled female victim whom he agreed to meet after the 11 o'clock church mass, to sort out the fact from the fiction and ultimately solve this mysterious crime.

Arriving just in time to find the strangely smiling lifeless body of his friend in the church confessional, Smile Forever starts of tranquilly with atmospheric harmonica and folk designs with fiddle, and then scampers into symphonic prog territories provided by lush synth arrangements and ethereal ecclesiastical chants. Thanks to Ron Alonso's (not instantly appealing) vocals, this imprints memories of Genesis. Bridging from theatrical prog into classical romanticism embraced by refined flute melodies from Luke Shingler, followed by a dramatic transition into swirling synths and majestic guitar play by Ben Craven that segues into returning melodies, this excellent opener ends overwhelmingly ceremonious with heavenly church organ.

After its folk opening guided by Olli Jakkola's flute, the instrumental The Crime goes on to firmly stretch the borders of Gadsgen County to its limits. First, with a fantastic, Grieco-patented, bombastic acceleration that drives melodies firmly into menacing rock which complemented by Juhani Nisula's soaring guitars and Unruh's fiercely rocking violin reminiscent of Jerry Goodman's The Flock, until perfectly gelling melodies and divine symphonies change the scenery to one of Kansas. And second, through the funeral march that follows before Nisula's magnificent melancholic guitar solo returns melodies back to the scene of the crime for a round of suspect interrogations.

Subdued in melody, the first suspicious character The Priest brings perfectly befitting strength of emotional vocals from Craven to which beautifully crafted passages in line of Samurai's fairytales, brings captivating enchantment. Following eeriness of towering synths and a sedate flow of Camel flute movements, this immaculately construed composition steadily intensifies in tension and drama to finally round off with a wonderful melancholic guitar solo by Craven.

It is The Businessman, full of suspense and most expressively personified by Unruh's vocals, that follows suit with all-round dynamic performances and perfect harmonious interplay. A mysterious classical movement brings asphyxiating enchantment when Tony Riverman's guitar grasps hold of its melodies. Going successfully for broke, this sublime indulgent symphonic prog composition finalises with another monumental solo by Riverman, after which Grieco turns his investigative attention towards The Mayor and The Doctor.

Out of these, The Mayor engagingly commands through disciplined rhythms and enticing synth and guitar-driven interplay. Ivan Santovito's impassioned vocal delivery and grandness in designs bring stature and progressive allure, supported by richness of synth virtuosity and masterful guitars. The Doctor gets to open up a cabinet of proggy treats that at first prescribes vaudevillian melodies bearing a close resemblance to A.C.T.'s Last Epic. A treatment of classical themes follows, opulent synth ecstasy, massively impressive vocals by Marco Vincini, and enslaving dosages of imposing guitar solos. All together effortlessly ensure full addictiveness.

Gathering all clues with a recapture of musical motifs and themes in form of Dance Of Clues, a piano interlude resembling Hitchcock and Mike Oldfield, Grieco then plays out his most arresting crime solving trump card in form of The Solution Part 1. A captivating experience so far this epic composition is of a totally different order all together and truly comes alive in the most fixating and masterful way imaginable thanks to the exceptional voice of Michael Trew.

Taking on all vocal parts, Trew's performance and emotional deliveries within this song are nothing short of phenomenal and IMHO his best vocal accomplishment on record thus far. In light of my appreciation for Moon Letters, this is no mean feat. Perpetually building in suspense with elements of folk, driving synth passages, overwhelming guitar solos and intensifying movements, this composition which reminds of me Genesis at times, simply has it all and becomes even more spectacular and greater when melodies magically turn towards Netherworld marvel in the song's astonishing and all-revealing Mystery finale.

Nearly all revealing that is, for the Jethro Tull and Genesis-styled The Solution - Part 2, with outstanding vocals by Andy Nixon, offers a delightfully repeated mixture of previously engaged styling. It most attractively exposes additional conspiring agendas. The Report is a sum-up that inspired upon Leroy Anderson's The Typewriter takes a jazz influenced detour to Dixieland for a final celebration of contagious prog melodies highlighted by resolute groovy interplay and swinging sax from Linus Kåse. A brilliant finale of a brilliant year-list album. Case closed!

A recent promo video shows Samurai Of Prog - featuring Marco Grieco to take on H.G. Wells' Timemachine next. If that effort comes anywhere near this exceptional "review killer" — a term borrowed from Kev Rowland which basically states an album to be so good in every aspect that it prevents me from listening to other albums under review — I, by prog, hope the actual device comes along with it...

Whom Gods Destroy — Insanium

various
2024
53:00
Whom Gods Destroy - Insanium
In the Name Of War (6:38), Over Again (5:01), The Decision (7:08), Crawl (6:36), Find My Way Back (5:46), Crucifier (4:43), Keeper of the Gate (4:54), Hypernova 158 (3:24), Insanium (8:37)
8
Andy Read

From the ashes of Sons Of Apollo we have a new heir in the hallowed halls of prog-metal supergroups.

Whom Gods Destroy, is the creation of keyboardist Derek Sherinian and guitarist Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal. Their aim is to build on the foundations that they laid as two of the key creators in Sons Of Apollo

They are joined in their mission by Croatian vocalist Dino Jelusick, and the potent rhythm section of Japanese bassist Yas Nomura and Brazilian drummer Bruno Valverde (Angra).

Bumblefoot explains how the band got started: "Derek and I began writing new music in 2020. Soon after, Dino joined, followed by Yas and Bruno. We'd share ideas, and each record parts, building and rebuilding songs. By June '23 the album was finished. The songs all went through a lot of changes, developing ... when it adds up, it's a mix of melody and intense heavy prog."

When describing the band's influences, Sherinian adds: "We cover a lot of ground stylistically, everything from Led Zeppelin, Meshuggah to Muse, to the most technical prog."

Whom Gods Destroy. Promo photo by Greg Vorobiov.

Their debut musical odyssey is entitled Insanium. Taken from the Latin word meaning insanity, it is a worthwhile moniker for these nine songs.

For almost an hour the listener is given barely an instant in which to catch their breath; often floundering to bring their own order to the chaos and intensity created by this quintet of fine musicians.

The first single, In The Name Of War, is a pretty good place to begin as it offers a good taste of this band's modus operandi (to coin another Latin term).

From the delicate classical piano that opens the album to the thunderously-grooved guitars, psychotic rhythm section and the assured vocals of Jelusick, this song is a masterclass in mixing complexity and technical prowess with absorbing melodies and groove.

I don't really need to, but I will state that the playing from Bumblefoot and Sherinian is off-the-charts in terms of creativity and ability. The songs hit just about the right balance between memorable melodies and extended instrumental work-outs. I am particularly impressed by Bruno Valverde, who never overplays yet delivers some great grooves and fills.

Singer Dino Jelusick (sometimes spelt Jelusić) first gained recognition in 2003 as the winner of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in Denmark (we all have to start somewhere). A slew of solo albums, popular YouTube videos and spells as backing singer with the likes of Whitesnake, Lords Of Black and the Trans Siberian Orchestra have developed his profile. He first impressed me with his Stone Leaders self-titled debut album in 2019. I enjoy his contributions again here, reminding me of a cross between Jorn Lande and Zachary Stevens.

On my first listens to his album, I thought of Insanium as a natural successor to the two prog-metal gems created by the band ARK that featured by Jorn Lande in the 1990s. However, the more time I have spent with this disc, the more I have appreciated the breadth of its influences.

Highlights for me are the intense opener In The Name Of War and the Dream Teater-esque Crawl. The latter has a wonderful groove and layering of the different instrumental themes. I also enjoy Keeper Of The Gate for its more straightforward, melodic, bluesy intent, with some nice Hammond sounds in the vein of Dio and Deep Purple.

Over Again repeats its main hook too main times (over and over again). I'm not a fan of instrumentals, and the flashy Hypernova 158 doesn't do anything to change that. Crucifier offers a thousand too many moments of vocal intensity.

The Deep Purple-esque Find My Way Back closes the first half in great balladic-style. This is a superb song that could truly bring this style of blues-marinaded heavy-prog/rock to a whole new generation. The guitar solo on this is sublime.

If I have one criticism of Dino, it is that he needs to strike a better balance between his full-on-in-yer-face-slightly-yelling voice and his bluesy, gentler approach as shown on the beautiful verses in The Decision. On this album there are too many of the former and too few of the latter.

Overall (with the above caveats) this is a wonderful debut that should more than please those who enjoyed Sons Of Apollo. If they can take these songs onto the road, I'm sure they will continue to build a fan-base for this timeless style of music.

The album is out now on the Inside Out label as a digital album, CD and gatefold 2LP. There is also a limited edition 2CD media-book. This comes with a bonus track, Requiem (4:58), and the entire album as an instrumental disc (57:56).

Album Reviews