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Old 03-12-2017, 03:21 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Well, why not? It's not as if almost a hundred discographies in my main journal is enough for me, to say nothing of all the movies waiting to be reviewed, as well as all of my other journals. Let's do a special discography project for just progressive rock and progressive metal albums, shall we? And let's call it, oh I don't know...

Unlike the Great Discography Project, this will not take over my journal. I will do discographies as and when, in between other features, perhaps three albums at a time, perhaps not. I haven't quite decided. I'm unlikely to be taking suggestions for this one (you're unlikely be offering them, or even reading this anyway) so here is the list so far.

Artiste Name: Also Eden
Nationality: British
Timespan: 2006 -
Number of albums: 5
Notes: Differences as Light is actually an EP, but I'm including it as it was the first taste I had of this band.

Discography details:
About Time (2006)
It's Kind of You to Ask (2008)
Differences as Light (2010)
Think of the Children! (2011)
[REDACTED] (2013)


Artiste Name: Arena
Nationality: British
Timespan: 1995 -
Number of albums: 8
Notes: The review of Contagion[ will also take in the EPS Contagious and Contagium, as they are all meant to make up one unit.

Discography details:
Songs from the Lion's Cage (1995)
Pride (1996)
The Visitor (1998)
Immortal? (2000)
Contagion (2003)
Pepper's Ghost (2005)
The Seventh Degree of Separation (2011)
The Unquiet Sky (2015)


Artiste Name: Balance of Power
Nationality: British
Timespan: 1997 - 2003
Number of albums: 5
Notes:

Discography details:
When the World Falls Down (1997)
Book of Secrets (1998)
Ten More Tales of Grand Illusion (1999)
Perfect Balance (2001)
Heathen Machine (2003)


Artiste Name: Big Big Train
Nationality: British
Timespan: 1994 -
Number of albums: 10
Notes:

Discography details:
Goodbye to the Age of Steam (1994)
English Boy Wonders (1997)
Bard (2002)
Gathering Speed (2004)
The Difference Machine (2007)
The Underfall Yard (2009)
English Electric Part One (2012)
English Electric Part Two (2013)
Folklore (2016)
Grimspound: A Folklore Companion (2017)


Artiste Name: Edenbridge
Nationality: Austrian
Timespan: 2000 -
Number of albums: 9
Notes:

Discography details:
Sunrise in Eden (2000)
Arcana (2001)
Aphelion (2003)
Shine (2004)
The Grand Design (2006)
My Earth Dream (2008)
Solitaire (2010)
The Bonding (2013)
The Great Momentum (2017)


Artiste Name: Genesis
Nationality: British
Timespan: 1969 - 1997
Number of albums: 15
Notes:

Discography details:
From Genesis to Revelation (1969)
Trespass (1970)
Nursery Cryme (1971)
Foxtrot (1972)
Selling England by the Pound (1973)
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
A Trick of the Tail (1976)
Wind and Wuthering (1976)
... And Then There Were Three (1978)
Duke (1980)
Abacab (1981)
Genesis (1983)
Invisible Touch (1986)
We Can't Dance (1991)
Calling All Stations (1997)


Artiste Name: Jadis
Nationality: British
Timespan: 1989 -
Number of albums: 9
Notes:

Discography details:
Jadis (1989)
More Than Meets the Eye (1992)
Across the Water (1994)
Somersault (1997)
Understand (2000)
Fanatic (2003)
Photoplay (2006)
See Right Through You (2012)
No Fear of Looking Down (2016)


Artiste Name: Knight Area
Nationality: Dutch
Timespan: 2004 -
Number of albums: 5
Notes:

Discography details:
The Sun Also Rises (2004)
Under a New Sign (2007)
Realm of Shadows (2009)
Nine Paths (2011)
Hyperdrive (2014)


Artiste Name: Marillion
Nationality: British
Timespan: 1983 -
Number of albums: 18
Notes:

Discography details:
Script for a Jester's Tear (1983)
Fugazi (1984)
Misplaced Childhood (1985)
Clutching at Straws (1987)
Seasons End (1989)
Holidays in Eden (1991)
Brave (1994)
Afraid of Sunlight (1995)
This Strange Engine (1997)
Radiation (1998)
Marillion.com (1999)
Anoraknophobia (2001)
Marbles (2004)
Somewhere Else (2007)
Happiness is the Road (2008)
Less is More (2009)
Sounds That Can't Be Made (2012)
**** Everyone and Run (FEAR) (2016)


Artiste Name: Mostly Autumn
Nationality: British
Timespan: 1998 -
Number of albums: 12
Notes:

Discography details:
For All We Shared (1998)
The Spirit of Autumn Past (1999)
The Last Bright Light (2001)
Music Inspired by The Lord of the Rings (2001)
Passengers (2003)
Storms Over Still Water (2005)
Heart Full of Sky (2006)
Glass Shadows (2008)
Go Well Diamond Heart (2010)
The Ghost Moon Orchestra (2012)
Dressed in Voices (2014)
Sight of Day (2017)


Artiste Name: Mystery
Nationality: Canadian
Timespan: 1996 -
Number of albums: 6
Notes:

Discography details:
Theater of the mind (1996)
Destiny? (1998)
Beneath the Veil of Winter's Face (2007)
One Among the Living (2010)
The World is a Game (2012)
Delusion Rain (2015)


Artiste Name: Millenium
Nationality: Polish
Timespan: 1999 -
Number of albums: 12
Notes:

Discography details:
Millenium (1999)
Vocanda (2000)
Reincarnations (2002)
Deja Vu (2004)
Interdead (2005)
Numbers and Big Dreams of Mister Sunders (2006)
7 Years: Novelties, rarities .. and the best (2007)
Three Brothers' Epilogue (2008)
Exist (2008)
Puzzles (2011)
Ego (2013)
In Search of the Perfect Melody (2014)


Artiste Name: Pendragon
Nationality: British
Timespan: 1985 -
Number of albums: 10
Notes:

Discography details:
The Jewel (1985)
Kowtow (1988)
The World (1991)
The Window of Life (1993)
The Masquerade Overture (1996)
Not of This World (2001)
Believe (2005)
Pure (2008)
Passion (2011)
Men Who Climb Mountains (2014)



Artiste Name: Redemption
Nationality: American
Timespan: 2003 -
Number of albums: 6
Notes:

Discography details:
Redemption (2003)
The Fullness of Time (2005)
The Origins of Ruin (2007)
Snowfall on Judgment Day (2009)
This Mortal Coil (2011)
The Art of Loss (2016)


Artiste Name: RPWL
Nationality: German
Timespan: 2000 -
Number of albums: 11
Notes:

Discography details:
God Has Failed (2000)
Trying to Kiss the Sun (2002)
Stock (2003)
Worl Through My Eyes (2005)
9 (2007)
The RPWL Experience (2008)
The Gentle Art of Music (2010)
Beyond Man and Time (2012)
Wanted (2014)
RPWL Plays Pink Floyd (2015)
RPWL Plays Pink Floyd's “The Man and the Journey” (2016)


Artiste Name: Salem Hill
Nationality: American
Timespan: 1993 -
Number of albums: 11
Notes:

Discography details:
Salem Hill (1993)
Salem Hill II (1994)
Catatonia (1997)
The Robbery of Murder (1998)
Not Verybody's Gold (2000)
Different Worlds (2001)
Puppet Show (2003)
Be (2003)
Mimi's Magic Moment (2005)
Pennies in the Karma Jar (2010)
The Unseen Cord/Thicker Than Water (2015)


Artiste Name: Spock's Beard
Nationality: American
Timespan: 1995 -
Number of albums: 12
Notes:

Discography details:
The Light (1995)
Beware of Darkness (1996)
The Kindness of Strangers (1998)
Day for Night (1999)
V (2000)
Snow (2002)
Feel Euphoria (2003)
Octane (2004)
Spock's Beard (2006)
X (2010)
Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep (2013)
The Oblivion Particle (2015)


Artiste Name: Theocracy
Nationality: American
Timespan: 2003 -
Number of albums: 5
Notes:

Discography details:
Theocracy (2003)
Mirror of Souls (2008)
As the World Bleeds (2011)
Ghost Ship (2016)


Artiste Name: White Willow
Nationality: Norwegian
Timespan: 1995 -
Number of albums: 6
Notes:

Discography details:
Ignis Fatuus (1995)
Ex Tenebris (1998)
Sacrament (2000)
Storm Season (2004)
Signal to Noise (2006)
Terminal Twilight (2011)


Artiste Name: Within Temptation
Nationality: Dutch
Timespan: 1997 -
Number of albums: 6
Notes:

Discography details:
Enter (1997)
Mother Earth (2000)
The Silent force (2004)
The Heart of Everything (2007)
The Unforgiving (2011)
Hydra (2014)
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Old 03-13-2017, 09:22 PM   #22 (permalink)
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One word of warning – or caution, let's say – before we get under way. Unlike many of the artistes featured in The Great Discography Project in my main journal, many of whom I really don't care too much about, these artistes all matter to me. In my main journal I asked for suggestions, which I was happy to take and will certainly review, but many of those suggestions are for me to listen to bands I don't really have too much interest in hearing, so the reviews have been, shall we say, shorter than normal? Here though, I intend to mostly revert to my “old” style of reviewing, ie going deeper into the album than probably most people would prefer, but as the likelihood is that a very small percentage of you are even reading this, and that the few who are may share my interest in these artistes, I make no apologies for that.

With all that in mind, the band I wish to kick this off with are these guys:


When I first started getting into prog, particularly neo-prog, I would hear four bands mentioned in the one breath: Marillion, IQ, Pallas and Pendragon. Now whereas I became, as everyone knows, a huge fan of Marillion, I tried to get into IQ and failed (they will shortly be the subject of another feature of “Why Can't I Get Into...?”), loved Pallas's Arrive Alive but listened to none of their other albums, quite frankly I ignored Pendragon. It was only when I heard their 2005 release, Believe, that I realised what a fool I had been, as the album just blew me away. Still unwilling or unable to listen to albums purely for pleasure – I was reviewing so much that I couldn't take the time out, so if they weren't for review I had no chance to listen to them – and having downloaded their discography, I decided to load it into a shuffle playlist, and over the last maybe two years this is how I have come to know a lot, perhaps most of Pendragon's music. But until very recently, when I experienced their latest album, I had still not listened to one full album through, bar the above.

So it seems appropriate to start this new project off by doing just that. And as ever, we begin at the best place to begin, the beginning.


Album title: The Jewel
Artiste: Pendragon
Year: 1985
Label: Decca
Producer: Scott English
Chronological position: Debut album
Notes: Clive Nolan, who would become a permanent member of this band and also Arena, among others, only plays on the two bonus tracks included here at the end.
Lineup: Nick Barrett – Vocals, Guitar
Peter Gee: Bass
Rik Carter: Keyboards
Nigel Harris: Drums
Bonus tracks (if any): “Fly high fall far/Victims of life/Insomnia/Armageddon”

It's a bouncy start as we kick off with “Higher circles”, the keys of Rik Carter meshing with the measured percussion of Nigel Harris before the soon-to-be unmistakable voice of Nick Barrett comes in. It kind of reminds me in tempo terms of It Bites's “Calling all the heroes”, and in fairness it's a little weak as an opener. It's also not very long, just over three minutes as we move on to the equally brief “The pleasure of hope”, with much more of a punch and a sort of seventies Genesis feel to the keyboards. Carter would in fact leave after this album, to be replaced by Clive Nolan. This song immediately has more about it, I can't quite put my finger on it, but now we're listening to a band who are going to go places and make their mark in progressive rock as it began to enjoy a resurgence in the early eighties. Barrett's guitar comes more upfront and there's definitely teeth in this tune with some reasonably extended instrumentals, given the brevity of the song itself.

From here, the song lengths start to reflect more what you would expect from a prog band. The appropriately-titled “Leviathan” reminds me in places of Pallas's “Queen of the deep”, some nice Hammond going on there but again it's the guitar that's mostly carrying the song. Even with Nolan on board, this would turn out to be something of a trademark with Pendragon: where other prog, especially neo-prog bands tend to fall back on the extended keyboard solo too often, Pendragon use Barrett's guitar to its max, which is not to say there are not keyboard solos – of course there are, and Nolan is a keyboard wizard – but the band doesn't rely almost solely on the keys. Of course, a band is only as good, really, as its vocalist (if they're not an instrumental band of course) and Barrett delivers on all fronts. Though the production is a little weak here he will come into his own on later albums. Nice example of the kind of thing he was and is capable of with a sweet little introspective solo halfway through, sort of acoustic. The song itself is pretty uptempo and powerful, with some great piano runs from Carter.

The first real epic comes in “Alaska”, which runs for just shy of nine minutes and opens on a lovely soft guitar passage as Carter joins Barrett on some humming synth. The song itself is broken into two parts, the first being titled “At home with the Earth” and the second “Snowfall”, but I can't see where the break between the two is. It starts very laidback but powerful, not what I'd call a ballad but certainly not a rocker. I'm going to assume that it's here, after about five and a half minutes and a really nice solo that part two comes in and it speeds up on Carter's jumping synth, Harris's percussion leaping after him and in a few short moment the frets are burning too as Barrett joins in to complete a really powerful instrumental close out. Kind of odd that the second part should be called “Snowfall”: I would have expected that to be much softer, maybe piano or gentle acoustic guitar, but there you go. “Circus” opens on some really nice reflective guitar with percussion sort of sidling in, and I hear elements here of tracks that would surface twenty years later on Believe.

Super extended instrumental section around the midpoint, and while I have before, and will continue to accuse certain bands of unnecessary showoff-manship, technical wankery, call it what you will, with Pendragon the instrumental breaks always seem to be an integral part of the song, never there just to satisfy any musician's particular ego. A sort of Beatles/ELO style takes the song in the fourth minute before it heads off on another instrumental voyage that takes the track up to the last minute, with a hint of Alan Parsons Project thrown in for good measure. Thought it was going to fade there at the end but they pulled it out at the last moment. “Oh divineo” again rides on a sweet guitar line from Barrett which takes it more than a third of the way into the song before Carter's piano takes over and the vocal begins. Nice sort of ballady feel to it, though it does rock up later on , while “The black knight” has an expectedly medieval feel to it, with what I have to admit is a rather annoying guitar riff repeating through it, which is a pity as otherwise it's a really good song. There's a lot of power and passion in it, with a very Gilmouresque solo from Nick. This is also the first song to evidence what I'm afraid would become something of a recurring theme in Pendragon songs, where the same lines/verses are repeated twice or three times, leaving me somewhat puzzled, as they really can write good lyrics, but sometimes they seem to take the path of least resistance. This is not the best closer I've ever heard.

Track listing and ratings


Higher circles
The pleasure of hope
Leviathan

Alaska (i) At home with the Earth (ii) Snowfall
Circus

Oh divineo
The black night

Afterword:

The ratings for this album on Progarchives mark it overall as “Good, but not essential”, and I would have to agree. If I didn't already know how good Pendragon were going to get as the years went on, I would probably write this off as a poor debut and be unlikely to explore any further. It's certainly not the strongest I've seen a prog band come out of the gate, and the use of “The black knight” as the closing track, and also the fact that it is way overstretched at nearly ten minutes, does not help. Thankfully, soon enough they would begin to hone their songcraft, and while Rik Carter is a competent keyboardist, it would only be with the addition of Clive Nolan that Pendragon would start to become one of the real powerhouses of prog rock. For now, it's a bit of a stuttering start – not terrible by any means, but no revelation. Not yet anyway.

Ratings
As I know these albums and artiste well (most of them anyway) I'm going to be a lot harsher with my ratings than I would normally be. Usually I'll give a rating of three as a basic medium score – not great, not terrible, basically ok or maybe even good – while ratings of four and five are reserved for efforts which are much better. This will still be the case, but whereas I would usually balk at awarding a two or even a one, now I'll be doing it this way:
1: Absolutely terrible. Avoid like the plague
2: Decent but could be a whole lot better. Potential to be realised.
3: A good album but fails to meet my high standards, or what I know or think this artiste can achieve
4: A very good album, well above average. Essential listening
5: Top marks, perfect quality, the pinnacle of this band's catalogue. Nothing bad I can say about it.


On that basis, all I can award The Jewel, which rather fails to live up to its grandiose title, is
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Old 11-19-2020, 11:00 AM   #23 (permalink)
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Three years later, and not a day wiser, I'm back. Miss me? No? Then fuck you.
Lockdowns have been fun. We're currently in our second, due to go on into December. People don't learn. How surprising. And what have I been doing, you ask? You did ask, didn't you? I'm sure I heard someone say... no? Well again then, up yours. I'll tell you anyway.

Getting back into prog. Yes, I'm regressing, some would say but hey, I'm getting older so I got to do some things backwards! I prefer to say I'm "returning to my first love". What do you mean, she died ten years ago? dammit I KNEW I should have poked air holes in that box! Oh well. Anyway, I'm actually talking about music of course. And being a prog head (I said PROG, not...) I thought I might as well catch up with the latest prog releases. And being me, I went for the best of 2019, as ranked by

Yeah, I went through them all. Listened to every album (or most of them) at least three times, apart from some that just did not click. And here are my findings.

Note: if you look at the list now, you'll find it much different to how it was when I checked it out. This is because PA use an album rating system which is ongoing, so the higher an album is rated the higher it goes in the list, meaning others near the end of the list are moved down or even displaced entirely off the list. Basically the list is constantly updated and changing. If you want to check out the list as it currently stands, click here:

PA Top 100 Prog Albums 2019

To keep things simple, I'll update the OP here as I write about each album. Comments welcomed. Nazi GIFs allowed.


Oh yeah: if I'm back, they're back!



INDEX
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Old 11-19-2020, 11:42 AM   #24 (permalink)
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100.

Album title: A Tower of Clocks
Artist:This Winter Machine
Nationality: British (English)
Sub-genre: Neo-prog

This was the first one I listened to in the list, and it turned out to be the one that spurred me on to go ahead with this project, though for a while I couldn't really proceed, as I kept playing the damn thing! Oddly, other reviews have not been so kind, but I spent seven years here vainly trumpeting the music I like, pushing against the slings and arrows of outrageous musical fortune, defending my music and trying to show others what they were missing, what I saw in it that they did not, and I came to the eventual conclusion that it doesn't matter if others don't appreciate your music. If you like it, that's all that matters.

I was amazed to find this languishing at the very foot of the table (and a day or so later, using Prog Archives' rating system, it had been displaced by another album, pushed off the list entirely, so it was pure luck I heard of it) but then when I got nearer to the top I was pretty underwhelmed by some of the albums there, so it just shows you. Of course, it's all, as I say, based on reviewer ratings, and the more and higher ratings an album gets the higher it climbs the chart. Can't believe this wasn't higher.

I thought it quite brave that This Winter Machine, a band from the UK who were pushing out only their second album in a career spanning a mere four years (three at the time the list was compiled) would consider opening on an eight-minute plus instrumental, but that's prog for you, and "Herald" has all the hallmarks of great neo-prog. Warbling keyboards, intricate guitar passages, time signature changes, all that good stuff. A big, dramatic, orchestral-style opening gives you a real sense of portent and the first time I heard it, I was waiting for the vocals. They of course never come, as I found out soon enough. A clock begins ticking (geddit?) joined by chimes and then rippling piano slides in as the synth kind of fades out, Gary, sorry Mark Numan ushering us into the album on waves of keys before whining guitar from Graham Garbett and Scott Owens takes the tune.

We're now halfway into the piece and to be honest it hasn't really come to anything yet, but all that is due to change. Percussion kicks in thanks to Andy Milner and we're away. I like instrumentals, mostly, but I find the longer they are the harder it can be to keep them interesting. That's not an issue here, as This Winter Machine channel the best of Marillion, Yes and Pendragon to create their own nevertheless distinctive sound, and the result is a piece of music that, quite possibly, might have been spoiled by vocals, so it looks like they made the right call. Brave though, as I say.

Still, this is a band whose debut album, released in 2017, opened with a sixteen-minute suite, so I guess TWM are not exactly going for the pop single market! Compared to The Man Who Never Was, this album is shorter and snappier, with the longest track on it being the nine-minute closer "Carnivale", a minute shorter than the closer (but not, as I already said, the longest track) on their debut, "Fractured". It is, however, over ten minutes longer overall, with TMWNW coming in at shy of fifty minutes while ATOC runs for just over sixty.

After the epic opener we have two short tracks, "Flying" and "Spiral", both of which could have been released as singles, but I don't think were. The former quickly became one of my favourites, a soulful ballad which introduces us for the first time to the vocals of Al Winter (after whom, presumably, the band is named), led on the gentle keys of Numan, synth and piano meshing to form a beautiful backdrop to Winter's gentle voice. There's a gorgeous hook in the song, and I feel it could have been quite the hit had it been released, but as I say I don't think it was. One jarring thing is the sudden abrupt stops in the song near the end, then “Spiral” is a busier, more upbeat affair, again brought in on Numan's Mark Kellyesque romping keyboards, and it really ups the ante. The shortest song on the album, at just over two minutes, it's another instrumental (long instrumental, ballad, short instrumental? Taking some chances here guys) and leads into the seven-minute “Symmetry & Light” which almost continues the instrumental theme begun in “Spiral” and lets in some harder, almost progressive metal guitar from Owens and Garbett, though much of it reminds me of Genesis on their last outing but one, and the last with Phil Collins, We Can't Dance. Snippets, at times, too of It Bites.

I should also take a moment to speak about the artwork, courtesy of one Tom Roberts (no I don't know who he is either, but with work of this calibre I feel he'll never be short of commissions) which is a real prog rock album cover, reminiscent of seventies Genesis or Rush. That fox reminds me of a certain release from 1972 and the wings look like the owl off Rush's Fly by Night. Echoes, too, of certain album covers by Blind Guardian. Certainly leaves you in no doubt as to what to expect when the laser hits the CD. But back to the music, which is why we're here in the first place. Well, I am. I don't know about you. Maybe you're just here to read my flowing, overblown prose. Yeah. Well, you could do a lot worse than give this album a listen, I can tell you. So like I say, back to the music. Another sumptuous ballad in “Justified”, and yes, again it runs on the delicate piano lines of Mark Numan, who must surely be seen as an emerging talent in the admittedly crowded world of progressive rock keyboard players. I'm not saying he can stand beside a Clive Nolan or a Jordan Rudess, much less a Mark Kelly or (heaven forbid!) Tony Banks, but he's damn good.

The guitar lads are not forgotten here though, and add some really nice touches with some fine soloing, but it's the piano that makes the tune, that and the soft almost tortured vocal of Winter. “In Amber” sees the band continue in the same vein, another piano ballad, and if you don't like ballads, or pianos, or both, then this may not be the album for you, as though there is plenty of rocking out (prog style) and guitars, it's pretty replete with soft piano moments and yearning vocals. I, however, love all that stuff, so I'm in hog's heaven. “The Hunt” then has a vaguely folkish feeling, reminds me at times a little of Jethro Tull, a band I don't rate personally. It quickly punches up though into a slowburning rock cruncher, as I like to call them; one of those songs that kind of marches along with a sense of menace and determination. It does pick up speed later on though, and this rising power and energy informs “Delta” as the album heads towards its close.

Some very new-wave-ish keyboards here from (ahem) Numan, with the guitars really getting in on the act, growling along as Garbett and Owens exult in being let off the leash, while Winter himself does a very passable Gabriel as the song slows down on piano around the midpoint before the hook comes in, and it has been well worth waiting for, as Winter and Numan again show what a great team they can be almost on their own. Great flourishes added on the guitars, but the song here belongs to the two guys as Winter gives the vocal performance of the album. I'd probably have to choose, overall, this as my favourite from the album, though there's a lot to choose from, and it's not quite over yet.

One more supremely beautiful reflective ballad, this time for once driven on mostly the acoustic guitar of Scott Owens, some truly sumptuous synthesised flute from Numan and another fine vocal from Winter, on “When We Were Young”, the only caveat for me being a rather abrupt ending, then we hit the closer, which as mentioned, is the longest track, nine minutes and ten seconds of “Carnivale”, which, appropriately enough, opens on a carnival organ, reminding me of the best of The Dear Hunter before soft piano and crying guitar take the tune. Percussion kicks in and the whole thing ramps up on heavy guitar and synth, giving Winter a chance to really stretch his vocal chords. Rippling piano here reminiscent of “Raingods Dancing”, part of the suite “A Plague of Ghosts” from Fish's album, Raingods with Zippos. And speaking of Marillion, there's some very liberal borrowing from Steve Rothery and indeed Mark Kelly on Fugazi here in the sixth minute, before the whole thing comes to a very satisfying and powerful end.

Songs / Tracks Listing
1. Herald (8:48)
2. Flying (3:31)
3. Spiral (2:17)
4. Symmetry & Light (7:29)
5. Justified (4:39)
6. In Amber (3:57)
7. The Hunt (7:22)
8. Delta (8:26)
9. When We Were Young (5:16)
10. Carnivale (9:10)

Total Time 61:05
Line-up / Musicians
- Al Winter / vocals, producer
- Graham Garbett / electric & acoustic guitars, backing vocals
- Scott Owens / electric & acoustic guitars, backing vocals
- Mark Numan / keyboards, backing vocals
- Pete Priestley / bass, bass pedals
- Andy Milner / drums, percussion

I suppose it was inevitable that the top ten should be the usual suspects, the more well-known bands, the ones who have been doing it for years and consistently turn out great album after great album – your IQs, your Big Big Trains, your Devin Townsends and your Neal Morses – and I expect a band who have only been together for less than half a decade can't really expect to be climbing those dizzy heights, but still, I reckon this album deserved to be a lot higher than it was placed. The musicianship is superb, the songwriting excellent, the overall feel a mixture of seventies and modern prog, and I think if more people heard A Tower of Clocks they might rate this band more.

Still, it's early days yet. This is only as I say their second album, and while I haven't yet had a chance to sample the debut, I expect it to be just as good. This Winter Machine have set a very high bar for themselves, but I have no doubt that they will continue to reach it, and who knows, on future albums, even exceed it.

Rating: 9.5/10
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Old 11-23-2020, 07:20 PM   #25 (permalink)
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99.

Album title: Clocks That Tick (But Never Talk)
Artist: Grand Tour
Nationality: British (Scottish)
Sub-genre: Neo-prog


Is it a coincidence that the first two albums on the list both have clocks in the title? I guess so. They're certainly two very different albums by two very different bands. I'm aware of the work of Comedy of Errors, though I have to be honest and say I have never listened to a full album, and Grand Tour appear to have grown up out of that band, not from the ashes, as Comedy of Errors are still around, but as a kind of perhaps not side project in the vein of Pete Trewavas's Edison's Children or John Mitchell's various alter-ego bands (Kino, Frost*, Lonely Robot etc) but I don't know, project in tandem? Maybe this is why, despite being together for fifteen years, Grand Tour have released precisely two albums. In fact, when Comedy of Errors reformed in 2011 after a hiatus of nearly twenty years, they released an album called Disobey, followed two years later by Fanfare and Fantasy. All well and good. But in the year Grand Tour released their first album, Comedy of Errors also released their third, Spirit, following this up with House of the Mind in 2017.

So how that worked I don't know. You seem to have Comedy of Errors releasing an album in 2015 at the same time, roughly, as Grand Tour debuted their Heavy on the Beach. Guess they worked pretty hard, so like I say we can forgive them for only churning out the two (Grand Tour) albums in fifteen years, with the first only coming across ten years after they, um, formed. Right.

So, was it worth the wait? Well...

One thing I will say upfront about this album is that I did not like the vocals. Not one bit. There's something really odd about the vocal stylings of Joe Cairney, and while I can give the guy props for having been the driving force behind Comedy of Errors and obviously lasting through the neo-prog revival of the eighties led by bands like Marillion, Pallas and IQ, I just don't get his voice. I don't get it so much that for a long while I wasn't going to bother giving this a second spin. But if there's one thing my adventures with Black Metal, Death Metal and Doom Metal has taught me it's that just because the vocals may not be your cup of tea doesn't mean you should give up on the band. I've learned to appreciate superb shredding while ignoring or even laughing at high-pitched shrieks from a BM vocalist, or the low, animalistic gruntings that sometimes characterise Funeral Doom Metal. So where say five years ago I would have said if I don't like the vocals it doesn't matter how good the music is, I won't listen to it, I don't feel like that any more. Much.

So I was prepared to give Grand Tour a chance. Not, I hasten to add, that Cairney's vocals come close to a Steve Tucker or a Chuck Schuldiner, or even a Quorthon; I can listen to them without my ears bleeding or feeling like I should maybe bring the cat in before the neighbour's dog is let out. I just don't particularly like them, and unfortunately, in progressive rock, a good, melodious, mellifluous voice is often a real prerequisite. Even prog metal fails to benefit from indecipherable or unlistenable vocals. Threshold have had some great and very powerful vocalists (Damien Wilson, Andrew “Mac” McDermott (RIP), Glynn Morgan) but power is one thing, violence another. I can listen to Black Metal vocals or the growls on Doom Metal because the music complements them, sometimes even demands them. When you're singing about Satan (what a cool name for a Black metal band, huh?) you really need someone who sounds like they're screeching in pain, and you don't want to hear a soft crooner when he's growling about the bleakness of life and the absurdity of existence, do you?

But while both those sub-genres tend to focus more on the music (like Janszoon once helpfully advised me, think of the rough vocals as just another instrument) with the vocals either secondary or often almost superfluous, prog rock is all about the lyrics, and no matter how nice the music is – unless the band is instrumental, as some are – you need and want to be able to hear and make out the vocals. This is not in any way an issue with Grand Tour, but the fact that you can't as it were ignore the vocals and concentrate on the music – if you do, you lose a lot of the meaning of the songs – makes it imperative really to be able to enjoy the vox, and while I slowly warmed to Cairney, he would never be my favourite singer, in fact I have a hard time thinking of anyone in prog who I dislike more, in terms of vocals.

Anyway, now I've got that off my chest, let's get down to cases. Firstly, there are only seven tracks on this album. That might seem a problem, until you realise two (including the opener) run for over eleven minutes, two shade the ten-minute mark and nothing on this album falls below seven. So overall you're looking at an even longer runtime than the previous album, more than an hour in total. That's not too bad.

Now, as mentioned, the opener is over eleven minutes long. This isn't, as I said, a debut album but it is only Grand Tour's second, so I suppose given the fact that they could probably rely on their no doubt large and loyal fanbase from Comedy of Errors to support them, perhaps it's not as daring a move as our friends This Winter Machine, but it's still impressive. You'll probably be glad to know that it's not an instrumental. I'm not sure even I could take eleven minutes without vocals (though given what I said above, maybe that wouldn't be such a trial).



There is, however, a very slow and gradual fade-in, which makes you feel, for about a minute or more, that maybe you didn't hit the play button, or your headphones aren't plugged in. Eventually though you start to hear sounds, as we pass the two-minute mark (I kid you not!) and the vocals come in, kind of out of nowhere. I have no idea why they need such a long lead-in, making the song perhaps two or three minutes longer than it needs to be, but once it gets going the title track proves to have been worth waiting for. There are nice vocal harmonies in the style of maybe Lindisfarne, Fairport Convention or CSNY, and the song takes off at a nice lick by about the fourth minute. Again, I suppose GT can rely on their Comedy of Errors fans, but even so, I feel this has been something of a gamble. Most people, hearing nothing after a minute, might give up, either in frustration, impatience or bewilderment. Needless to say, I persevered, and was appropriately rewarded for it, and so will you be if you do likewise.

Good guitar work from Mike Spalding, sort of reminds me of the best of Twelfth Night's Andy Revell in places, and so far on this listen Cairney's voice doesn't seem to be grating on me as much as I remember. I do note though that he sounds distinctly foreign (German, Dutch, Finnish, something like that) and not at all like a Scot. He can certainly sing, to be fair. One thing I do find is that in a song of this length I struggle to find a hook, even a chorus. It's perhaps a little unstructured, reminding me of the weaker work of Polish proggers Millenium. Fades out as unobtrusively and unimpressively as it opened. Probably not the greatest way to kick off your album: compare this opener to the triumphant one from This Winter Machine. After this, sure, you're ready to hear more, but are you in two minds?

At just under seven and a half minutes, the next track is, believe it or not, the shortest on the album. “Don't Cry Now” seems to utilise some phasing on the vocals, whether that's an actual vocoder being used or just digital processing on the voices I don't know, but it gives a sort of alien feel to the opening of the song, which sounds like it could be a ballad. Is it too soon for a slow song? TWM certainly didn't seem to think so, though it can be a gamble, throwing one in so early in the album, especially after what came across as a somewhat disorganised opener. Hits into a kind of bluesy swing style half way through, and the song seems to follow the theme of “the show must go on”, the idea of an actor/singer feeling sad or upset but needing to complete the performance, with the warning “Don't cry now for the audience may be watching”. It's a better song, but for my money fails, so far, to lift the album from not quite mediocrity, but maybe banality. They'll need to try much harder.



“Back in the Zone” is another almost twelve-minute epic, with some nice keys from Hew Montgomery leading it in, and at least this time there's no faffing about with two to three minutes of ambient noise and sound effects as the song gets going quickly. There are echoes of Arena here, but I can't shake that folky feeling; it's definitely in the vocals, makes you expect to start hearing accordions and fiddles or something. It's a decent song, but again I must question the length. Does it need to run for twelve minutes? We're in minute seven now and I could see it quite happily ending here. I'd have to say it's stretched out beyond what it need to be. “The Panic” opens a little like “I Want to Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston (!) but quickly settles, after the odd percussive intro, down and becomes a, well, almost Duran Duran style song with squealing synths and a chakka-chakka-chakka drumbeat. Tres strange!

A third of the way into its slightly less than nine-minute run and no vocals yet, so I wonder if we're talking instrumental here? I really can't remember: I listened to this album a good deal the first time but it's been about two months since I heard it last and I've listened to a lot of prog albums since then. It's almost – though not quite – as if I'm hearing it for the first time again. But as we're now five minutes in and there's been no singing I think my original idea was correct. An instrumental, and quite an odd one for a prog rock album, very synthpop I feel. Not that it's bad, just unexpected, even to someone who has heard this album many times before. Maybe it wasn't that memorable, though I thought I remembered enjoying it. The next two are both in the ten-minute range, with “Shadow Walking” featuring a long, dramatic, marching instrumental intro which lasts for nearly two and a half minutes before Cairney comes in with the vocal. It seems to focus on the idea of a wasted life, hanging around doing nothing, perhaps pointing obliquely to street gangs and crime.

The hopelessness of a misspent youth come through in lines like “hanging out with faceless friends I've never seen before” and “crazy dreams when you find out life ain't all it seems”. Nice kind of vocal chorus going on there in the midpoint, perhaps a touch of paranoia (justified or not I can't say) and fear in the lyric. A very nice guitar solo then from Spalding, though I would have preferred it to have been longer, and it seems to be superseded then by violin and flute, though I see no credit for players of either so must assume Montgomery is synthesising these on his keyboard.

Seems the next track slipped in without my noticing, and “Game Over” I have to say really doesn't make any proper impression on me. It's not that it's a bad track, I just don't see anything special about it, and again it's far too long. I think the lyrical idea is grappling with conflating an addiction to video games with a broken or breaking-up love affair, but to my mind it's handled clumsily and does not come off. Nice soloing in the sixth or seventh minute, but other than that, not a whole lot to say about it. That leaves us with one before we end, and it's the ballad, “Slumber Sweetly”, and does at least close the album in style. Unfortunately, it can't paper over the cracks which have become more and more visible as I review this.


Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Clocks That Tick (But Never Talk) (11:41)
2. Don't Cry Now (7:27)
3. Back In The Zone (11:50)
4. The Panic (8:56)
5. Shadow Walking (10:14)
6. Game Over (9:48)
7. Slumber Sweetly (8:03)

Total time 67:59

Line-up / Musicians

- Joe Cairney / vocals

- Mark Spalding / guitar

- Hew Montgomery / keyboards

- Chris Radford / bass

- Bruce Levick / drums



I hesitate to keep comparing the two, but I can think of at least four songs I was humming (and able to hum, so able to remember) from A Tower of Clocks after I had finished it, whereas here there really isn't even one that stands out. It's odd really, because as I said I seemed to remember quite enjoying the album, but looking at it now for the first time through the cold dispassionate eye of the reviewer I can see its many flaws. As I mentioned, I'm not at all familiar with Comedy of Errors, but on the basis of this album I wouldn't be in any hurry to check them out.

It's not that it's a bad album at all, it's just it's merely okay, and for me, okay is generally not really good enough. It certainly pales beside This Winter Machine's effort, and if memory serves the one coming up next blows it away too. Perhaps it might be a little snide to say that there's more needed to make a decent prog rock album than a good pun in the title, but I do feel rather let down by this overall, and again, I'm surprised because I had relatively fond recent memories of it.

Rating: 7/10
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Old 12-15-2020, 08:11 PM   #26 (permalink)
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98

Album title: All This Will Be Yours
Artist: Bruce Soord
Nationality: British (English)
Sub-genre: Crossover


So who is Bruce Soord, when he's not bequeathing all his earthly possessions to his children? Well, he has something of a penchant for taking pointy fruits from people without their permission. That's right: he's the founder, vocalist and guitarist for proggers The Pineapple Thief, who have skillfully avoided the Fruit Police for over twenty years now, and so remain at large, having turned out thirteen albums to date. Although I have all of their albums lurking on my hard drive – in company with about 4,000 others which have yet to be listened to – I have never heard a single chord, never mind a song by these guys, so I can't speak to whether this, Soord's second (technically third, of which more in a moment) solo album sounds anything like his music from the band, but if it does, then I need to check out the thieving ones post haste, because this is really impressive.

I intimated there was some debate as to whether this is Soord's second or third solo album, and that's because back in 2013 he took his first flight solo in concert with Jonas Renske, known from Katatonia among others, so the album The Wisdom of Crowds could, in some quarters, be seen as his first solo effort, but technically his first solo, as in, completely on his own and released under only his name album wouldn't come till two years later. I guess it's not that important, but it does make it difficult to decide where in his short solo discography this album fits. That being as it may, it's a stunning achievement and quickly became one of my favourite albums of that year (even if I was listening to it this year for the first time) which makes it annoying that I found it languishing at the foot of the table again, and, like the two previous artists, it has now been removed completely. But hey, that's just a list, right?

Before I listened to this album I had no idea who Bruce Soord was; I think I checked him out halfway through or maybe afterwards, I can't remember. But it does mean that even had I known the work of The Pineapple Thief, I still went in without any expectations or pretensions. The fact that I was so taken with the album perhaps speaks to the idea Soord can woo fans and newcomers such as me alike.

It kicks off with a short track, which, given the ponderous epics (good and bad) which have opened the last two albums, comes as something of a relief. It's basic acoustic guitar in a low-key opening; reading a little further I see this album is to celebrate the birth of his third child, and also to decry the poverty and despair he sees or saw in his hometown of Yeovil (England), so the title is actually something of an ironic jest, a sarcastic dig at how bad the world is. I read that Soord recorded things like children screaming on buses going to school, the sound of the shuffling feet of addicts on the way to meet their pushers, police sirens and other local sounds, so as to form a backdrop to his emotional, soulful music here. This I did not know when I originally listened to it, and it certainly adds an extra, and very important and personal layer to the album.

“The Secrets I Know” is pretty much gone before you can really get to grips with it (there's a female vocal in there somewhere but I don't know who this is), barely a chance to appreciate the soft and yearning voice before we're on to “Our Gravest Threat Apart”, with some of those field recordings in the background adding a real sense of atmosphere, pathos and reality to the song. It's a little more upfront, a little more in your face, with sharp piano and tight percussion, the guitar this time electric I think (information on the album is not easy to come by, which is to say pretty much impossible) and though I don't know his band, the artist that comes to mind when I listen to this is Antimatter, where Mick Moss creates soundscapes out of loneliness and despair and somehow manages to shoot them through with threads of beauty, love and hope. The overarching theme through this song – and most of the album – is the refrain “there has to be another way.”

More acoustic then is “The Solitary Path of a Convicted Man”, very introspective and emotional, with for the first time a really nice guitar solo, some sort of howling vocal which works very well in the context of the song, and I think it's probably unlikely you're going to hear any ten-minute keyboard solos or songs about dragons (yeah yeah, cliche I know) on this album, nor indeed do I expect Bruce to rock out at any point. It's not by any means a standard prog record – it may not even qualify as prog at all: certainly not in terms of song length. The title track, up next, is the second longest at just over six minutes. Most prog bands are often only getting going at this point. But as I say, not an ordinary album.



There's almost a soft indie rock vibe to this, the vocal again restrained, the music firm but never overriding Soord's plaintive voice, and another good guitar solo here. I also detect certain elements of the darker side of a-ha here, though that might just be me. “Time Does Not Exist” quickly became one of my favourites on the album with its earworm hook, its gentle acoustic guitar and its almost country sensibility, some really nice piano too. There's a feeling of drama and urgency about the melody, quite epic in its way for such a short track, running a mere three minutes and change. Proof that you don't have to extend a song to twelve minutes to make it work – Grand Tour, I'm looking at you!

Slightly longer by about thirty seconds, “One Misstep” comes in as the heaviest track, if anything here can be so described, with punchy but hollow percussion, almost like military drums beating out a slow tattoo, rising synth complementing Soord's low, tortured vocal, then the longest track is the six-and-a-half minute “You Hear the Voices”, with an instant hook in the melody from the very start, a recurring piano line that is really hard to get out of your head, should you for some reason wish to. Soord's vocal here is almost inaudible at first, crooning low and muted against slick bass and guitar, the soft percussion a heartbeat ticking away in the background. But it's a slowburner, and increases in intensity and power as the track goes on, with certain elements of the bleakest of Depeche Mode in there too.



“Cut the Flowers” sounds like the sort of gardening tip you might get on the BBC in the afternoon, but in fact it refers to wreaths on graves, Soord channelling the best of Gilmour and the Edge at their most introspective, and again I can't help marking the comparison to Antimatter, especially on Planetary Confinement and Lights Out. The song veers from soft and bitter to tough and angry, but never loses its edge (sorry), and again Soord knows the old adage of less is more, this fine piece of music lasting for a mere four and a half minutes, to take us into the closer, which could be interpreted as a warning to a lover, but actually is a meditation on the inevitable exit we all have to perform from the stage of life, and is most likely directed to his children.

“One Day I Will Leave You” engages the slow, plodding blues of Nick Cave at his darkest, with a very philosophical acceptance of the end. Mostly carried on simple strummed acoustic guitar, it nevertheless manages to insert its own little insidious earworm into the melody, and you can't help but hum this paean to the Great Beyond as the album ends. Quite darkly clever really; no redemption, no changing the world, no advice, just a simple thought: “don't mourn my passing, I was always passing through.”

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Secrets I Know (2:24)

2. Our Gravest Threat Apart (4:14)

3. The Solitary Path of a Convicted Man (3:44)

4. All This Will Be Yours (6:04)

5. Time Does Not Exist (3:33)

6. One Misstep (4:00)

7. You Hear the Voices (6:54)

8. Cut the Flowers (4:35)

9. One Day I Will Leave You (5:17)



Total Time 40:45


This album is labelled under crossover prog, but to be honest, were it not for Bruce Soord being the head Pineapple, I really don't think this would be considered prog at all. That's in no way a criticism; I don't think it should be put down as a prog album. There's very little progressive rock about it: it's got no multi-part suites, no intricate solos – keyboard or other – and the lyrics are all very earthy and mundane, with none of the exuberance or even attempts to avoid the real world that can characterise other prog bands and albums. What you do get is a very mature, straight-forward, frank testament from a man who has seen the underbelly of society at first hand, and worries what kind of world his children will inherit.

It's not quite the grinning-deaths-head nihilism of a Tom Waits or a Nick Cave, but it's dark, introspective, challenging stuff. If you approach this album correctly (as I had not originally, not having read up on it) it should really make you think. It should also make you sad, angry, bitter, and maybe, just maybe, want to change things for the better. But if not, that's fine: I don't think Soord is setting out here to be any sort of a champion, nor sending out a clarion call to other shining knights. He's just shrugging, sighing and saying this is how it is. I wish it wasn't, but it is. Maybe all he wants us to do is look.

And listen.

Rating: 9/10
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Old 12-16-2020, 09:52 PM   #27 (permalink)
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97.


Album title: Storm Warning
Artist: Andrew Roussak
Nationality: Russian
Sub-genre: Symphonic Prog


These next three albums, be warned, did not impress me on first listen. I say first listen, because at the time that was all I gave them. Hey, I had a list of 100 to do and the ones I did like were getting like 3-5 listens, and I'm no spring chicken, so I hadn't time to waste on albums that didn't click with me pretty quickly. Besides, who would care? It's not like I was, you know, reviewing them or something.

Well, now I am.

So it's time to revisit them and see if they were as bad, or as poor as I thought first time out. It's also only fair (to who? Me? Oh no: nobody thinks about the poor reviewer, do they?) that I make sure I give every album on the list a listen and a review, though I can tell you now, some of these made what little hair I have left stand on end, and I may still fail to make it all the way through some of them. If that's the case I'll note it, but I'll do my best to try to persevere. For my public. What do you mean? Lots of people are reading. Well, some people. Well, one person. Maybe.

Anyway, let's get the obvious joke out of the way before we begin, shall we? Yes, his name is Roussak and he's Russian so I'm sure he has never before heard anyone call him Russkie. Do you feel better now? Can we proceed? I'm so glad.

Reading up on him, Andrew Roussak should be someone I want to hear. He's a classically-trained musician who has an abiding love of progressive rock and plays in a few bands, composes film scores and a whole lot more besides. He's won awards. Really. Well, it says here anyway. But I just remember when I played this originally, if I recall correctly, it wasn't that I hated it; I think I was just bored by it. Maybe I didn't give it a chance. Well, now I will. We'll see how it goes this time.

This is Roussak's second solo album, but like Mr. Soord in the last post we have a difference of opinion here. See, his first was released in 2008, entitled No Trespassing. Cool. But then he recorded Blue Intermezzo in 2010, but that's a classical piano album, with things like tangos and nocturnes and, yeah, intermezzos all over the place, and nothing other than him and a grand piano. Nothing wrong with that: I love classical as much as the next guy. But it certainly isn't prog. So can we consider Storm Warning his second solo album, if we're talking only prog? Or is it even prog, because as we found with the Pineapple Chief, well, even his second (or third, depending how you view it) solo album isn't actually prog, as such.

Such topics could be debated till the end of time, but we don't have that long so let's leave it to our robot descendants to squabble over what constitutes a Roussak solo album and just say this is not his debut, and leave it at that. There are vocals on this, and guitars, and what looks like some sort of suite at the end, so we'll tentatively label it prog, and after all, it is in the list. Mind you, so was Bruce, but enough of that. I think I remember being bored by track two or three, so let's see if I feel the same way now.

A lot of sound effects and technical foolery taking us into the first track, “Enter Code”, and for a moment it's too avant-garde/experimental for me, then Roussak comes in on the piano and it takes better shape. Bass cuts in and we're getting a real Alan Parsons vibe now, with warbly keyboard straight out of the Rick Wakeman playbook, growling then introspective guitars. I'm reliably informed Roussak plays all the instruments here – bar guitars on one or two songs. “Bringing Peace and Progress” is not, as you might expect, a ballad, but another rocker, driven on guitar and with the sound effects mostly of jets flying low overhead. It's a long track – though not the longest – at just over eight minutes, and it looks to be, like the opener, instrumental, so let's hope there's enough here to keep the interest, as instrumental can be, as I mentioned before, tedious and repetitive. It's certainly got great energy, that's for sure, some rippling piano passages before the guitar takes control again then it gets quite funky in the middle, but I'm still reserving judgement. I'm not by any means won over yet, and I can definitely see why I stopped listening the first time. “Left Alone Outside” does seem to be a slower track, riding on acoustic guitar and almost using elements of the old standard “Classical Gas” in parts of the melody, but then it kicks up and gets heavier and reminds me of my old friend Plankton, who can make a guitar do just about anything he wants it to.



This is the first track to feature vocals, and they come courtesy of one Max Kottler as the song slows back down. So is it a ballad or is it not? At this stage I can't say; the music seems to want to rock out but the vocal passages stick to slower lines. Confusing. This is also one of the three tracks on which Roussak hands guitar duties to others (or at least, the solos) and in this case it's Oli Weislogel who does the honours, and a very fine job he does of it too, even if it's pretty severely truncated. Kind of makes you wonder why he bothered. With a name like “Regata Storica” you probably know what to expect, and it's another instrumental, very much more in the classical mode than the progressive rock one, to my mind. Well, the opening part is, but then it goes back forty years to the heyday of prog rock with a wibbly wobbly keyboard extravaganza. Hmm. I feel Roussak's devotion to, almost adoration of Emerson and Wakeman is leading him here to also indulge in their seventies excesses, and for me it's pretty much a case more of showing off in a Yes/Dream Theater style than music I can actually enjoy.

At least there's some more singing on “Chasing Shadows”, this time from Nadia Ayche, who has a nice almost operatic voice and was, I believe, one of Roussak's vocal coaches. Um. I don't think he sings, does he? Why does he need a... well, maybe she's just a vocal coach he knows? Anyway it's a nice ballad, pretty stripped down with really only piano and voice, then the title track brings back in the sound effects (hell, it's called “Storm Warning” so I guess he couldn't resist throwing in a siren) and there's a real sense of panic and frenetic activity about the keyboard here, but I'm finding it to be basically more of the same, and there's not, so far, any track here I will remember when this is over. Some nice jazzy piano, yes, but it's all towards the same end and I don't get any real sense of cohesion from the album.

I would definitely expect a song titled “Can She Excuse My Wrongs” to be a ballad, but it begins with a very medieval sounding harpsichord thing, which I don't interpret as a good sign. Now it's kicking into another organ/Moog fest but yawn I'm so bored now. At least there's only one track left to go, even if it is ten minutes long. Oh look! There are some vocals at the end of “Can She Excuse ah I'm too bored to even write the whole title out”. It actually makes the song worse, if that's possible. Just completely pointless. Choral vocal harmonies right in the last minute? Why?



Well now we're onto the closer, which is that suite of which I spoke at the beginning. It all goes under the heading of “Malta Sketches” and opens with “Hola Beach Boogie” which is, well, a boogie on electric guitar - at least that's different, and lively. Then “1565” slows it all down on piano and synth, with Oli coming back in for a solo in part three, “Sunset in Valetta”, which also features a vocalist, this time Selina Waidmann, another vocal coach. Right. Like Oli on the other track, not sure why she bothered, as all she seems to do is croon some kind of vocalise. Oh well, at least it's over now.

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Enter Code (4:08)
2. Bringing Peace And Progress (8:02)
3. Left Alone Outside (7:30)
4. Regata Storica (6:02)
5. Chasing Shadows (4:37)
6. Storm Warning (5:41)
7. Can She Excuse My Wrongs (5:22)
8. Malta Sketches (10:15) :
- a. Hola Beach Boogie
- b. 1565
- c. Sunset in Valetta

Total time 51:37


See, usually I know, pretty much, whether an album is going to be worth my time or not. People talk about “growers”, but I've never really believed in that concept. If you're going to get into an album I personally hold the opinion that you'll hear something – you may not love it but you'll hear something that will encourage you to come back to it. A “grower”, to my understanding, is an album you don't like at first but “grow” to like, or even love. remember Frownland telling me after I had rejected his favourite Captain Beefheart album, that it took about forty listens to get into it. Who the hell has that sort of time, and who would want to waste such effort getting into something you clearly don't like?

So it was with Mr. Roussak. I knew from about track two that it wasn't necessarily terrible, but it was not for me. And so it has proved. It's a decent album, but not one I'd recommend because I don't see anything much in it to recommend. For me, it sits right alongside “poor” keyboard albums such as Derek Shernihan's Oceania or All Out by Don Airey. Just because they're good keysmen does not mean they make good solo records. I find a lot of keyboard-only albums can be very boring. I haven't listened to much of Wakeman's stuff, but I feel it could be a case of Sleepman in my case. I love keyboards, but I like them as support instruments, not up front a la Mister Ego himself, Keith of the Emersons.

So by all means listen to this if it's your thing. It's not a bad album, but for me it's just too staid and boring in terms of content, and it's been hard to write even this review without falling asleep at the keyboard. Ah, that's computer, not synthesiser.

Original decision vindicated.

Rating: 5/10
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Old 12-17-2020, 03:22 PM   #28 (permalink)
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96.

Album title: Spidermilk
Artist: The Mercury Tree
Nationality: American
Sub-genre: Heavy Prog


Fun (or not) fact: originally I thought the album title was the artist. Oh, Trollheart! You do make us smile! This was the album which more or less turned me against checking out future heavy prog albums, which may be its sin, or mine, or may be justified. I guess we'll see as we go through the list and check out albums I wasn't bothering with due to their being labelled as Heavy Prog. I do remember I didn't finish this and I really did not like what I heard, but again, we'll see how a listen to it with regard to actually reviewing it goes.

The Mercury Tree were formed in Portland, Oregon in 2004, but due to the many lineup changes that plague not only prog bands but most bands throughout their career, they seem never to have actually settled down to release an album until seven years later. Since then they've had five, of which this is the latest. They have some vague connection to Smashing Pumpkins – one of their drummers played with them, or something – but that's hardly relevant to this review. They're described as playing spaced-out shoegaze experimental and improvisational post-rock. Right.

The first thing I found, and it really annoyed me with this album was that the guitar was, presumably deliberately, out of tune, so as “I Am a Husk” begins I have already a sense of disorientation and an abiding dislike of this album. Other than the out-of-tune-ness the song isn't bad, but it's going to be hard to maintain my interest (if any) in the album if it all continues like this. I suppose I should be thankful for small mercies that there aren't any epics here: the longest track comes in at a shade over seven minutes. Even so, I can't say I'm particularly impressed by this and they're not making any friends here.

Okay, I see this is actually called a “17 note microtonal scale”, whatever that may be, rather than the music being out of tune, but it sounds the same to me as if everything is out of whack. I fully accept this is not incompetence or inexperience on the part of the band; it's all intentional. That doesn't make me feel much better. This microtonal nonsense continues (as I fear it may throughout the album) on “Vestments”, where it gets almost unbearable with a jazzy riff that just grates on my ears and sets my teeth on edge. I remember I definitely only lasted one track on this with the original listen, so I've already improved on that. How far I'll get this time is anybody's guess, but I don't expect to be finishing it. I have my thumb poised and ready over the button for the ejector seat.



It's very hard to write anything about this when it's so dissonant; the vocal is okay, but just okay, and the playing is fine I guess, but it's hard to concentrate on it when notes keep rising and falling and going all over the place, making it very difficult to get any sort of a handle on the music, which does seem to be broadly guitar-based – I have not yet, to my knowledge, heard any keyboards, but they could very well be in there for all I know. Or care. Yeah, apparently they are, not that you'd know it. Both of these tracks have been uptempo, brisk affairs that I could not hand on heart even call close to prog rock, but then maybe it's prog Jim, but not as we (or more specifically, I) know it. Or want to know it.

“Arc of an Ilk” is, where I think, I give up. There's piano I think, some sort of hollow bell sound, all microtonal or to me out of tune, a more falsetto vocal from Ben Spees, rippling guitar from Igliashon Jones and a steady percussive beat from the rhythm section but hell no this is where I bail. The only thing that's going through my mind as I listen to this is please, please for the love of Cthulhu and all the elder gods shut the hell up and go away!

Remember this?


Songs / Tracks Listing


1. I Am A Husk (4:48)
2. Vestments (4:39)
3. Arc Of An Ilk (6:35)
4. I'll Pay (6:22)
5. Interglacial (1:45)
6. Superposition Of Silhouettes (3:43)
7. Kept Man (3:15)
8. (Throw Up My) Hands (2:59)
9. Disremembered (7:07)
10. Brake For Genius (3:32)
11. Tides Of The Spine (4:33)


Total time 49:18

Line-up / Musicians

- Igliashon Jones / guitar

- Ben Spees / guitar, keyboards, vocals, mixing
- Oliver Campbell / bass
- Connor Reilly / drums

With:

- Tony Mowe / alto & baritone saxophones




I'm not crazy about the idea of not completing albums – seems a cheat somehow. But there's just no way I could subject myself to this for another forty-odd minutes, and I doubt I'd have anything good to say about the album were I to subject myself to such torture. So thanks, but no thanks.

Again, looks like my first instinct was correct and I should have left this well alone.

Rating: N/A
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Old 12-17-2020, 03:36 PM   #29 (permalink)
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95.

Album title: KRÁSNÁ HORA
Artist: Blank Manuskript
Nationality: Austrian
Sub-genre: Symphonic Prog


Formed in Salzburg in 2007, Blank Manuskript have a grandiose idea of themselves, describing their music thus:

Typical long songs ornamented with a high level of symphonic density and elaborate polyphonic structures as well as extended improvised sections lead their audience through an entire musical adventure. Their compositional approach seeks to combine all sorts of different styles and traditions needed to serve the initial concept of their works. Hence, the arrangements are carefully structured with complex rhythmical patterns and establish a sound-scape that can hardly be found in music nowadays. The lyrical elements are picturesque with a worked out mystic touch and though at a first glance arcane, they always address current social issues in an implicit way. As the music always follows the narrated concept, one might label it contemporary rock program music

(copied verbatim from Progarchives)

They seem to want to concentrate solely on concept albums, and have released four to date, with their first hitting the shelves a mere year after their formation, though there was a gap of five years between that and their second. The title of this album, apparently, refers to a village in the Czech Republic, where it was written, and means “beautiful mountain”. I'll look into the concept if I last the course; not much point in reading all about the plotline if I'm going to ditch the book after one chapter, I think you would agree?

In typical concept album style, we begin with the “Overture”, which features hard, pumping, snarling guitars and heavy percussion before thick organ marches sedately and majestically alongside the other instruments, slowly pulling us in. Suddenly the organ falls out and the guitars kick in hard and fast, then the organ comes back in, a much peppier, upbeat and frenetic sound this time, some pretty decent histrionics on the keys behind a cool bass line, and I assume this will all be instrumental? It's just short of seven minutes, slowing down at the halfway point to an almost Sabbathesque grind, the drums punching out about a beat every three seconds, very slow and measured. Some nice slow piano joining what could be cellos or violins perhaps, a fairly dramatic backdrop being created here. Not really any complaints so far. Can't remember what I thought when I heard this originally, but I can't believe this track put me off the album.

Oh, I was wrong about it being an instrumental. We have the vocals of Peter Baxrainer coming in now, with some nice vocal harmonies too from the other guys. It's pretty impressive; nice sax break from Jakob Aistleitner and into “Foetus” we go, with some distant mournful sounds, soft synth and some sort of strings, very low vocal coming in after the first minute of the six it runs for, perhaps the overall muted sound meant to signify how an unborn child might, theoretically, hear outside sounds? Or maybe it's the foetus itself trying to make itself heard. Either way, it's pretty effective. Sweet little piano motif going quietly there in the background, the bass creating a heartbeat (cliched but it works here) then the guitar growls in hard, punching through the tune, maybe to signify the moment of birth/labour? All guesses of course, but as the guitar gets louder and more chaotic, some serious shredding going on and the organ joining in till it all ends in the sound of a baby crying, I think we've got it.



Next up is the epic. I have no idea what “Achluphobia” is – oh right: research tells me it's fear of the dark. Well, this is a fifteen-minuter so expect a lot of changes and different expressions I guess. It starts very quiet and muted, guitar feedback and violins maybe, ambient sounds, a few hollow cymbal beats, no real music to speak of yet and we're two minutes in, but there's plenty of time of course. A sort of spooky synth line begins to slowly come through, reminds me of some of the work of Waits, then a softly strummed acoustic guitar, sound of a door opening I think, and we're in the fourth minute as the guitar more or less takes the piece, though very gently and gradually. Gives the impression (gives me the impression anyway) of someone walking slowly along, maybe hanging onto a wall as they go, feeling their way in the dark.

Guitar becomes more electric and a little more forceful, a lot of running up and down the fretboard as we reach the halfway point, and I would definitely say this is going to end up being an instrumental, but as on the other track I was proven wrong, and there is still over seven minutes to go, I won't take anything for granted. Still, a fifteen-minute instrumental is pushing it I feel. It's very evocative, very ambient and conjures up stunning images, and I was of course again wrong as here come the vocals. This is in the ninth minute, so it's maybe odd that it took so long but there's still plenty of the song left to go. Some fine guitar soloing now, taking us into the twelfth minute when the piano takes over, presumably to the end. Well, not quite: there's a vocal chorus, low and gentle, to take us there.

Not quite sure what to make of that. I would have said minimalist, but then there was the vocal part and the shredding, which stops me calling it ambient either. Interesting certainly, though it gave me the idea it was heading towards a big climax it never reached. It's followed by the much shorter “Pressure of Pride”, in fact the shortest on the album I think, at three and a half minutes. It sounds a little too jazzy for me, brass and flute in a sort of staccato dance, and I think I can say without fear of contradiction that this one is an instrumental. And I'm wrong again. Voices kind of shout in a chant against the music, which personally I feel doesn't work. “Shared Isolation”, while sort of an oxymoron, does dovetail in with our current lockdown situation, and although this was written before anyone knew what social distancing was or had heard of Covid anything, I can see how such a phrase could work. People looking out of their windows (metaphorically or literally) at other people looking out of theirs, unable to touch or really communicate.



It has again a very Waits/Beefheart thing going, with abrasive instruments and a sort of staccato beat before it settles down into a nice swirling keyboard passage with a metallish sort of groaning guitar and bells in the background, then the vocal comes in on the five-minute mark, and it's quite gentle and soothing. Gets a bit wild near the end though, and I think it's hard to get a handle on with so many changes, many of them abrupt and unexpected. Almost like it doesn't know what it wants to be. Could have been a good idea but I feel it somewhat missed the mark. Whether “Alone at the Institution” is meant to follow on from that or not I don't know, but I'm definitely getting the idea of too many ideas crammed, not into one album, but into every song. It's hard to work out what any one track is going to be like, and it's a little disorienting. I know the blurb says the band don't like to tie themselves down to one style or genre, but trying to be all things to all men fails here I believe.

The words improvisational and jamming certainly apply here, almost free-form to some extent, and here is where I believe Blank Manuskript snatch defeat from the possible jaws of victory. In trying to please everyone – including, or possibly only thinking of themselves – they're making this too inaccessible to your average music fan who knows what he or she likes or wants. Generally, proggers are known for being amenable to changes in time signatures, themes, styles and so on, but as a pretty diehard prog head this is too disjointed for even me. I get the feeling almost of too much fusion and not enough actual genre music, and it's too confusing. There are only two tracks left so for the sake of it I'll try to get through to the end, but that bailout button is looking mighty attractive right now.

Even though this is now six minutes into its nine-minute run, I've learned enough about this band not to assume it's an instrumental, and indeed once again those vocals come in with barely three minutes to go. Don't get it: you're either going to write an instrumental or a vocal song, but they seem to want to shoehorn everything in together on every track. At least they can't do this with the penultimate track, only three minutes long. “Silent Departure” does, I'm afraid, reflect my own desires and wishes at this point, and I wish it was the last track but it's not. It is, at least, a nice slow reflective ballad, without all the histrionics of pretty much most of the other tracks, though I'm sure we'll be back to that for the closer. Nice violin/cello work here, soft guitar, very relaxing. Enjoy it, because then we're into “The Last Journey”, where it all goes to hell again with a whole lot of different styles trying – and in my view, failing – to mesh. It's not the worst attempt to tie it all up at the end, but I kind of really don't care at this point.

Songs / Tracks Listing


1. Overture (6:49)
2. Foetus (6:10)
3. Achluphobia (15:35)
4. Pressure Of Pride (3:38)
5. Shared Isolation (9:55)
6. Alone At The Institution (9:21)
7. Silent Departure (3:37)
8. The Last Journey (8:34)


Total time 63:39

Line-up / Musicians

- Peter Baxrainer / acoustic, Classical & electric guitars, vocals
- Dominik Wallner / piano, electric piano, synthesizer, organ, clavinet, celesta, Mellotron, vocals
- Jakob Aistleitner / saxophone, guitar, bass, flute, glockenspiel, percussion, vocals
- Alfons Wohlmuth / bass, flute, bottles, vocals
- Jakob Sigl / drums, percussion, vocals

With:

- Antonia Sigl / viola
- Wolfgang Spannberger / samples


There's no question that there's good music on this, and I expect the concept, if explored, is probably very clever and deep, but the constant switching from one to the other to the other to the other and back drove me yellow bendy fruits and I just lost interest about halfway through. To be fair, there was a point where I thought, maybe I was wrong about this, but as it went on I realised that my initial assessment had been correct after all. Just not for me.

Rating: 6/10
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