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Old 12-05-2009, 12:35 AM   #21 (permalink)
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Just from the songs you posted, that is seriously the best thing you've posted so far.
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Old 12-05-2009, 07:28 PM   #22 (permalink)
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1.

Ritual – The Hemulic Voluntary Band (2007)



1. The Hemulic Voluntary Band (4:53)
2. In The Wild (5:53)
3. Late In November (4:56)
4. The Groke (6:05)
5. Waiting By The Bridge (4:36)
6. A Dangerous Journey (26:33)


Armed to the teeth with manic creativity and the instrumental, vocal and conceptual chops to bring it all to life, Ritual's 4th studio album from 2007, The Hemulic Voluntary Band, could not have arrived on the scene in a more opportune decade, when most prog. bands seem strapped for ideas and cycle through the motions on each subsequent release. Chugging guitar, pounding piano and viola, basslines which snake and coil themselves into knotted shapes, and the unusual yet intriguing vocals of one Patrik Lundström all meet together as one whole to fishhook your auditory senses and reel you up into a new world.

This, my friends, is Ritual.

The assault begins abruptly with the Eastern-tinged title track, starting off with an intro that brings to mind groups such as Gentle Giant and individuals like Frank Zappa to mind before Lundstrom's vocals come in and transform the song into something anthemic. "We're ready to play!" he assures as the quirky bass & colorful keyboards nod to one another and duel. A real fun and knotty start to an album that only winds tighter the further along you go.




Track numero dos 'Into The Wild' once again breaks the mold with a drum and piano burst before mellowing and swelling wonderfully with the vocals at various points. At 2:45 however things take yet another turn by going into a sole, beautiful piano piece of all things up until the 3:50 mark where we are brought, after some nice distorted guitar soloing, back to the main theme.



What comes next is the first major highlight for me personally, a folk piece called 'Late In November' which reminds me of Yes crossed with Tim Buckley but with a touch of something else that is undoubtedly Ritual lodged somewhere within the proceedings. The fiddle and other traditional instruments are a nice touch also. 'The Groke', on the other hand, is a plodding dirge of a rock piece where the piano and Lundstrom's vocals have taken on airs on unmistakable menace, focusing in on the fear of mankind that nature has of us.

Still, my favorite track here is without a doubt one of the most entertaining proggy pieces of the last twenty years or so, 'Waiting By The Bridge'. The song is basically Scandinavian funk-meets-Yes masterstroke delivered in four minutes and thirty nine seconds, and its absolutely perfect in every way. The guitar and bass especially kick ass from the 2:33 mark onwards and should get anyone's feet tapping without much trouble.



But where would any self-respecting progressive rock album be without an "overblown, pointless and meandering" suite to close off the musical procession? Well, 'A Dangerous Journey' is certainly long at nearly half an hour in length, but contrary to expectations...its actually pretty damn cohesive and interesting through start to stop. For one thing, the multiple traditional folk instruments from 'Late In November' are melded to the more traditional crazy rock instruments from the last few tracks from the very start of the track, and it sounds absolutely KILLER coupled with this album's high production values. And within the first four minutes, Lundstrom literally blees his voice to octave registers you wouldn't believe, and the rest of the track follows this jaw-dropping opening section as naturally as could be. By the end of this, you will be tired...but happy & impressed as hell as hell could be.

So why is 'The Hemulic Voluntary Band' at #1 instead of Sigh, King Crimson or the Ozric Tentacles?

Well for one thing, the playing here is some of the most spirited and invigorating as I've encountered on albums within the genre - its almost as if Gentle Giant circa Octopus back in 1972 gained modern production values and crossed over with Jefferson Airplane instead of being all medieval. Secondly, Mr. Patrik Lundstrom is an extremely talented vocalist and lead guitarist; in terms of just his voice alone, I don't think I've heard anyone sound quite like him. And finally, the album is succinctly structured and painstakingly arranged on a pure songwriting level; everything contrasts but flows together, but not in the typical prog. "make everything one big track" way. There's just something different here.

So to close: In terms of sheer variety, musicianship and accessibility, Ritual are among the most cunning and attention-getting outfits you can find on the scene today. Essential modern progressive rock, perhaps even a landmark in modern music as a whole, and most definitely deserves to be heard by a much bigger audience than just fans of the genre: its a masterpiece for everyone who wants to hear good music played with joy, fervor and imagination.
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Old 12-05-2009, 08:34 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Got a link for that Mansun album? I'm having trouble finding it.
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Old 12-23-2009, 08:36 AM   #24 (permalink)
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I've checked'em all out and from the last four, the album that made the biggest impression on me so far was THRAK. What a sound from the old boys! Reminiscent of Red as you say (which is awesome), but still different. There's a strange power to the kind of sounds they make.
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Old 04-29-2010, 06:50 PM   #25 (permalink)
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0.

Big Big Train – The Underfall Yard (2009)



1. Evening Star (4:53)
2. Master James Of St. George (6:19)
3. Victorian Brickwork (12:33)
4. Last Train (6:28)
5. Winchester Diver (7:31)
6. The Underfall Yard (22:54)


To witness the transition of a band from being merely good at what they do to outclassing nearly all others in their genre in the space of a single release is truly a rare thing in music on the whole...much less progressive rock. For the last twenty some odd years after all, band after band have endlessly, and futilely, attempted to recreate the grandeur of early-to-mid 70's Genesis, starting with Marillion in the mid 80's...and even now continue to fail with each subsequent year that passes.

In the case of Big Big Train's late 2009 release The Underfall Yard, however, something interesting has occurred. Rather than merely aspiring to the heights of bands from the past, Big Big Train have opted toward a more interesting goal: refine and reinterpret what Gabriel and the rest did four decades ago in an attractive, deliciously produced package for people who are looking for something very proggy, very English, and most all very contemporary in its feel/approach.

"Did Big Big Train succeed?" you ask. You bet your ass they did!...

...and yet, another might inquire, what makes The Underfall Yard work where so many other bands and albums fail?

Part of it may have to do with the lineup: along with band founders Andy Poole and Gregory Spawton, a number of fantastic musicians were pulled in to join the project, least of which is THE Dave Gregory of XTC, who plays excellent lead guitar the whole album through and most of which an entire brass band, tubas and all.

The real toast of the town, however, is newcomer David Longdon on vocals. A gifted flautist who has been involved with a variety of different bands through the 80's and 90's, Longdon also possesses a splendid set of pipes that strike somewhere between Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel in range, yet somehow come off as more melodically pleasing than either one of them these days. Heck, the man was actually auditioned to replace Collins back in the late 90's when the drummer/frontman left Genesis behind. Curious!

Still, fantastic lineup or no, an album is nothing if the resulting material from said-lineup isn't up to snuff. Such is not the case here: the album's six tracks have a certain magic to them, leading the listener on a tour de force though different time periods in England's history centered around the creation. life and fall of the album's titular Underfall Cathedral whilst exploring themes of naturalism vs. industrial progress, the nature of time, and other lyrical hooplah that you may not give a shit about while you listen. However, they do add a nice element to the music if you pay attention!

And with that the album review itself: The Underfall Yard kicks off with an enigmatic little ditty called 'Evening Star', a piece that owes just as much of its delicious ambiance to post-rock as it does to Genesis and Gentle Giant. The drums and wordless choir vocals in particular are rather ear-catching, building up to an explosion midway through that leads into some dualing brass and acoustic guitar until it fades into-

"Master James, James, James, Jammmesss of St. George," sings Longdon with a swing to his swell in the opening section of track numero dos 'Master James of St. George', as good a start to a song as any I've heard. Bass guitar is hella prominent thoughout, leading us through an excerpt in the life of Master James, an architect who built many a castle back in the day. Lots of hooks abound here thanks to Longdon's magnificent delivery, but his wistful whistling near the end says far more than words can carry...and it's only going to get better from here on out.




'Victorian Brickwork' and 'Last Train' serve as something like a center cut to the grade-A steak that is The Underfall Yard: lots of soul-savoring flavor to the juicy meat with very little of the usual bland prog. fat. The former is an exercise in seeing how durned beautiful you can make a song in 12 minutes, culminating in one of the best moments in the whole record: a brass and guitar combined reprise of its main theme about ten minutes in. The latter track, on the other hand, is the catchiest on the album: an acoustic rocker with one hell of a refrain to boot. Both do the record a great deal of entertaining service.



Things take a noticeably darker turn with the advent of track five 'Winchester Diver', a claustrophobic mini-epic dealing with a botched rescue mission when the Underfall Cathedral collapses into the groundwater beneath its foundation, trapping many people inside and pulling them down in the dark and mud to die. Mournful guitar and flute, a vaguely menacing delivery from Longdon and a creepy industrial aesthetic about midway through do wonders in bringing the story to life. Wish I could say the same about God knows how many other concept albums out there!



And last but not least, there's the title track: a 22-minute sprawl that, funnily enough, is probably the best progressive rock song in the last two decades. The choruses are perfect, the themes are hummably memorable, the playing is excellent...hell, even the lyrics have their moments:

Roofless engine houses,
Distant hills like bookends,
frame electrical storms.
Moving out to sea,
away from England...

Those days have gone, those days...
Those days have gone,
Their names are lost,
The stories left untold.

Under an ordinary star
We are just moments of time.
It is the end of the line,
This place is worked out...


In the oft-ignored world of progressive rock, there are occasions when something emerges out of the woodwork which can appeal to even a genre's most die-hard detractors...and moreso than almost anything else this last decade, The Underfall Yard is such an album. It's potential was huge, it's concept was grand, and the result of Big Big Train's ambition is about as close to flawless as one can hope to find in a genre so muddled with slick generics at every corner. This is the Selling England By The Pound of the Noughties, an absolute monster that will be remembered in later years as a classic in it's niche...and perhaps beyond.
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Old 04-29-2010, 07:27 PM   #26 (permalink)
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I've been catching up on this thread you've got here...and Sigh is truly amazing. I like your other reviews too, but those guys are the ****. I have to slow down on your reviews, though, I think I have too much new music to get through now.
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Old 04-29-2010, 07:42 PM   #27 (permalink)
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Didn't mind that Big Big Train stuff! Very Porcupine Tree-esque.
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Old 05-08-2010, 04:22 PM   #28 (permalink)
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Wow this thread went to shit after I left, I remember all of these from like a month ago. Next random chance I get to be online I hope there are some more reviews in this thing... so, make it happen!
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Old 05-09-2010, 03:32 AM   #29 (permalink)
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Wow this thread went to shit after I left, I remember all of these from like a month ago. Next random chance I get to be online I hope there are some more reviews in this thing... so, make it happen!
Actually, the thread tagline claims it's a "ten album guide to modern progressive rock and metal" and it contains 11 reviews, so I'm not sure if Anteater intends to keep this going .. Although now that he's already gone over the originally intended ten, he could arguably just keep going.
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Old 05-10-2010, 01:15 PM   #30 (permalink)
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Thanks for reminding me about Frost, need to listen to the "Experiments in Mass Appeal" still. Think i will now
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