Legendary prog-rockers Camel begin UK tour

Following the recent announcement that legendary prog-rock band Camel will bring their acclaimed live show to London’s Royal Albert Hall in Sept 2018, the band are happy to reveal that this will be preceded by an extensive run of UK tour dates.

During what will be a very special run of shows – performed by Andrew Latimer (guitar, flute, vocals), Colin Bass (bass guitar, vocals), Denis Clement (drums), Peter Jones (keyboards, vocals) – the band will be playing the entirety of their 1976 album “Moonmadness” plus plenty of other classic tracks. Upon release “Moonmadness” left its mark on the UK Top 20 albums chart, going on to become certified silver. In the Q & Mojo Classic Special Edition Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, the album was included in its list of the best “40 Cosmic Rock Albums” and voted no. 58 in the Top 100 Prog Albums of All Time by readers of ‘Prog’ magazine in 2014.

The full run of UK dates is as follows.

Fri 07 Sep 2018 Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK [buy tickets]
Sat 08 Sep 2018 Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle, UK [buy tickets]
Sun 09 Sep 2018 The Assembly, Leamington, UK [buy tickets]
Mon 10 Sep 2018 Friars Aylesbury at The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK [buy tickets]
Wed 12 Sep 2018 O2 Guildhall, Southampton, UK [buy tickets]
Thu 13 Sep 2018 Corn Exchange, Cambridge, UK [buy tickets]
Fri 14 Sep 2018 Birmingham Town Hall, Birmingham, UK [buy tickets]
Mon 17 Sep 2018  Royal Albert Hall, London, UK [buy tickets]

Listen to “Moonmadness” on Spotify HERE

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Verve Crystal – Humboldt Been (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

41m1Bl6EvUL._SS500There is something wonderfully glacial about Verve Crystal. The songs are wilfully unhurried seeming to ooze and crawl forward rather than be driven by anything more urgent and anyone who opens an album with an opus clocking in at just under twelve minutes has got to be applauded. So already loving the way Humboldt Been approaches music, I dived into this 5 track offering.

And, as I expected, it is an attitude which seems through the music too. Unrestrained by fad or fashion, there are all sorts of music being bent to the artistic will. Structureless post-rock meets wigged out psychedelia, cavernous echos meet avant-garde exploration, Doorsian dystopian blues meets prog rock shenanigans… and it is brilliant. Not just in its musical belligerence, its will to neither pander to or predict what the listener is looking for but in just how free form and untethered everything is.

There is little point in running through the individual songs as this is a suite of musical statements that merge and mingle and are best dealt with as a whole, in effect forming one continual musical piece and bordering on that much maligned form, the concept album. But perhaps rather than being a concept album this is instead an album of concepts, though what those concepts are really is anyone’s guess, which in itself is another wonderfully freeing aspect of the music.

Music to relax too, music to contemplate, music to get stoned too? Yes, it’s all of those. Big, cinematic, wide-screen? Tick all of those boxes too. Left-field, futuristically retro, offbeat and restless? Again, all of the above. In fact it is fascinating how something so free form and seemingly directionless fits into so many places, ticks so many boxes and jumps across so many genres and purposes. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you. Rules are bad!

Mothers release Pink from forth-coming album

mail-1“’Pink’ deals with the passage of time,” explains Mothers lead singer and songwriter Kristine Leschper of their new song from upcoming sophomore album Render Another Ugly Method, coming out September 7 on ANTI- Records. “It describes a series of memories within cars – cars of my childhood, recent past, and present – and subsequent feelings of childlike removal and helplessness. The video aims to reciprocate these three vignettes of idling, through limited actions and minimalist set design divided into three parts.”

Now based in Philadelphia, Mothers originated in Athens, Georgia where Leschper was attending printmaking school. In 2016 they released their debut album When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired to great critical acclaim. Named a Stereogum ‘Band To Watch’, Pitchfork’s review of the album compared Leschper to Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten while Noisey exclaimed that the record “is singer-songwriter prog rock for grown up emo kids.”

Continue reading “Mothers release Pink from forth-coming album”

Wild  –  Acid Hags (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a3638429872_16Sitting here in England writing about a band from Croatia not too long after my own country’s World Cup defeat to them, might cause some writers to look harshly on them through some sense of sport related, warped national pride. Well, with me, music has always been way more important than over paid prima donnas kicking a bag of wind about and get a weekly wage that is the equivalent to the cost of a new hospital wing. And anyway, how could you not love what Acid Hags do musically?

Acid Hags make instrumental music that wanders between rock muscle, blues interludes, prog-rock intricacies, off beat jazz infused post-rock and shimmering psychedelic textures. Yes, it is rock more than anything else but runs the complete gamut of sub-genres, eras and styles. It liberally mixes and matches themes and ideas, hops generic fences, gene splices the sound of one scene or era with another and pretty much sonically goes where it wants.

Instrumental music connects with the listener in a much different way than music that relies on lyrics, where the latter has the benefit of direct and obvious communication through words, the former must do so through the more fluid language of the music and the emotions, feelings and moods that it juggles. A much more challenging task, one requiring deftness, careful thought and an ear for interesting composition. Thankfully Acid Hags have these in no short supply. They also have no shortage of technical skill and it is this ability to build intense and infectious passages as easily as they lay down almost ambient atmospheres that is the reason they succeed where many lesser musicians have failed at the same task.

Misanthrope is a perfect example of the dynamic and diversity of the band, a hypnotic blend of chiming riffs and a bass line that moves between harmonising and marauding about being all broody and  menacingly and generally frightening the children, whilst Fungicide is a crazy and complex bundle of sound, sometimes songlike, other times just an intense workout, but engaging and challenging in either form.

At the other end of the spectrum, e.p. closer, Bon Appetite, cleverly uses space as an instrument alongside some off beat, off kilter and skittering soundscapes and Tanker is a slow burning combination of all of the above, taking its time to revel its mercurial nature and all the better for it. It’s also a collection of songs that drummers in particular and those interested in time signatures in general will love, as not only do they chose some pretty interesting beat structures for their songs, they also like to take a polyrhythmic approach, shifting timing and tempo as they go to create even more diversity.

Some might call it music made for other musicians and I’m sure that those with musical training will totally appreciate what Acid Hags have created on Wild. But it is also music for those with discerning musical tastes, those fed up with the 4/4 of the mainstream, those who want to be challenged, those who want to follow a band into exciting and fairly unexplored territory. As musical adventures go, this is great, why take the road well travelled when you can follow bands like this into new musical worlds…wait for me to grab my coat, I’m coming with you!

 

Ghosts – Mr Dog The Bear (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22308787_979491262205802_8608101021869377211_nYou can trust Mr Dog The Bear to take an unusual approach to releasing an album. Normally, as a reviewer, I receive an intangible link to the album’s on line home, if I’m lucky I get a physical version through the post. But Mr Dog The Bear has always been about music built around a visual aspect, cinematic and wide screen in its scope it has always felt more like a film score or a soundtrack than a conventional music release. Which is why, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, the new album arrived as a series of videos, as visual representations of the sonic emotions being created.

Previous releases have often felt like an ambient band testing deeper waters, gentle, understated and restrained but with glorious crescendos of music threaded through as they occasionally leave the safety of the shallows behind. Ghosts, however, is the sound of full immersion and opening salvo All These Constant Reminders draws a line of intent which is hard to ignore. Growing from familiar slow burning grace it eventually takes the listener to a place where dramatic post-rock walls of sound and exquisite symphonic sweeps are the norm.


And something else that they previously only toyed with but now forms an integral part of the sound is vocals, Wait being a more conventional pop-rock groover with classical undertones, Eleutheria a dark and brooding piece with modern indie vocal deliveries and Fireflies calls back to their earlier Cocteau Twins infused haze. Apostrophe combines the conventional wisdom of song structure with the left field thinking that we have come to expect, commercial enough to be popular, cultish enough to be cool and the title track is a slow, mercurial piano piece, the perfect contrast of space and intensity to wrap the album up.

Watching Mr Dog The Bear grow over the last few years has been a joy. They have been a band..project…collaboration…I still don’t really know what they are, that has subverted expectation at every turn and in their solitary and masked way made music for all the right reasons, that is, for their own sake. The results, of which this album is the perfect summation, show that you don’t have to follow fashion, advice, trend or zeitgeist, that the best and indeed the most original music is that which just naturally flows from the creative soul. A lesson more people could probably do with learning!

Malady premiere album taster Nurja Puoli

e8edb1ad-1ad6-47de-9eb6-c694a091ae54.jpgMalady have premiered their epic 23 minute single ‘Nurja Puoli’ of which they say, “Modern music consumption isn’t built for looking at trees or wandering through mazes. We live in a culture of straight lines and constant motion. Malady ask that you opt out, reclaim your time, and slow the fuck down for once. Trust me, it’s worth it.”

The track is taken from side 2 of Malady’s upcoming record ‘Toinen Toista’ that is due out via Svart Records on March 30th.

Malady’s eponymous debut album was a deserved underground hit, a beautifully realised piece of original Finnish progressive rock which had its roots very strongly in the sound of the early 70s and achieved cult approval. The second album from the quintet, ‘Toinen Toista’, out in March 2018, pushes their boundaries further than ever before.

Composed and arranged as a collaborative piece by the band, ‘Toinen Toista’ has layers upon layers that captivate and entrance you, permitting more details to be discovered with each listen. Their sound is glazed with the kind of home-grown syrupy finish only vintage Scandinavian Prog Rock can offer, but is combined with wondrous melodies that feel truly timeless. Lyricist and drummer for Malady, Juuso Jylhänlehto, has said “this album is open to many interpretations and laden with symbolism, but at its core lays the basic questions of being human and the transient nature of things.” These are subjects that have been explored since time immemorial, yet ones that continue to be reflected on in new ways by Malady.For those that take the pleasurable dive into deciphering the symbolism, queries, and complex melodies that make up Malady, the bands live displays will only intrigue you more as they are also due to set out on tour late Spring of 2018, so stay tuned.

Shadows In The Mind’s Eye –  L.HUNT (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

23319157_1526531737440360_2240410559550552270_nI have to admit that when you see the term Rock Opera or Concept Album in the notes for a review submission, I tend to clench my teeth and expect the worst. Maybe I grew up in the wrong time when such terms were linked to the likes of Rick Wakeman dressed as a wizard and putting historical productions together…on ice! So I girded by loins, thought of queen and country and went in….

Thankfully these are different times and Shadows…, is far removed from those days. Thankfully we live in a more enlightened, less pretentious time and whereas concept albums used to sound like the drug addled musings and flights of science fiction fancy found in the works of Michael Moorcock, L.HUNT offers something much more worthy. Shadows…, and the album it is from LifeWork: Passage One – The Question (okay that does sound like it should be on a Yes album) explore the concept of the human condition and madness and in these tough times of isolation and worry, anything which raises such awareness, no matter how conceptually driven, is to be applauded.

Musically it is fascinating too, a great snapshot of what you can expect from the complete work, rising from neo-classical confusion where gypsy violins wind through piano meanderings and skittering percussion whilst an imploring and emotional charged vocal takes centre stage. Crescendos and breakdowns create dynamics and tension, wailing guitars add to the chaos and in just three minutes they leave you drained. But they also leave you hooked and wanting to know more. Singles, if indeed we still call them that, used to be an advert for the full album and that is exactly what Shadows…, is, the perfect hook, a fantastic promotional piece and a beguiling track in its own right.

 

The Moral Crossing – AUTOBAHN (Reviewed by Thomas Haynes)

AUTOBAHN have created an ambitious album that comfortably sits beside the darker parts of Brian Jonestown Massacre with moments of purposeful hesitation that underpin the self-doubt and uncertainties inherent in understanding the moral crossing.
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Something dark and near biblical lies at the heart of AUTOBAHN’s post-rock progressive second L.P. ‘The Moral Crossing’

Leeds based post-rockers AUTOBAHN bring the industrial clatter and howl of their homestead into focus on ‘The Moral Crossing’, which developed organically while they built their own studio space under a disused bridge in Holbeck. Lead singer and principal songwriter, Craig Johnson taught himself how to record as the new studio and album were constructed, allowing the band to create the sound of melancholic, industrial romanticism they were after.

Johnson, along with guitarists Michael Pedel and Gavin Cobb, bassist Daniel Sleight, and drummer Liam Hilton create a sound akin to progressive rockers Secret Machines with a northern England twang that is part Joy Division-like melodic angst undercut with At The Drive In.

The album opener ‘Prologue’ slowly builds into ‘Obituary’, which is fast paced and reminiscent of The Longcut. The track ‘Futures’ then changes gears altogether with a bouncy synth loop more akin to the bands name sake featuring lyrics echoed throughout the song that can only be heard in whispers, letting the instruments do the talking.

Hilton’s big, distorted drums are something to admire on most of the tunes here and are put to good use on songs featuring violins and cellos, such as ‘Torment’ which starts with slow, mournful strings and is suddenly cut through by the pulsing drums as they take control along with a women speaking French, which all coalesces into something beautiful and haunting.

‘The Moral Crossing’ is almost biblical at times, both lyrically and with track titles such as ‘Execution/Rise’, which features a lovely build into a roaring finish, ‘Creation’ and ‘Fallen’. This effect is given more depth by the inclusion of gospel singers from the bands local church on both ‘Low/High’ and ‘Creation’.

AUTOBAHN have created an ambitious album that comfortably sits beside the darker moments of Brian Jonestown Massacre with moments of purposeful hesitation that underpin the self-doubt and uncertainties inherent in understanding the moral crossing.

The CIRCU5 comes to town: A chat with Steve Tilling

CIRCU5+-+Steve+Tilling+-+B&WAs his long-awaited CIRCU5 album lands with a satisfying thud, I secured a ringside seat with Steve Tilling to get the inside scoop. Steve has been a familiar face on Swindon stages, and those further afield over the years. So the obvious place to start is, why after all this time playing in other people’s bands did you want to put out your own album?

“I suppose I’ve always felt there was an album in me – maybe the timing was finally right,” he tells me over a pint in the quiet corner of a local pub. “I had been through a difficult time just before making the album. It became a cathartic and therapeutic process to hide away and finally link my ideas. And it was a challenge that helped me get my head together.”

And not content with just making an album, Steve set out to play all the instruments. “Most of what you hear on the album is me. Over the years of playing in bands and being around other musicians, I picked up enough skills to get something out of most instruments. But halfway through recording, I realised I couldn’t do everything myself. So I contacted friends and band mates past and present to see if they wanted to get involved.”

Continue reading “The CIRCU5 comes to town: A chat with Steve Tilling”

CIRCU5  – Steve Tilling (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

CIRCU5+panoramic.jpgNone other than Stephen Hawking once pointed out that for every equation he put in his books destined for the populist market, the potential audience was immediately cut in half. I fear that the word Progressive has the same effect on a rock music buying audience. But if the word conjures thoughts of keyboard playing wizards writing musicals about the formation of the League of Nation to be performed on roller skates, then CIRCU5 is just what you need to set the record straight.

It is an album with a progressive head but an alt-rock heart, more often found
in similar sonic territory to the likes of Foo Fighters and QOTSA, and whilst
the album does follow a narrative, it is less a concept album than an album of
concepts, ones which explore nurture vs. nature, dysfunction and relationships
in a poetic and literate way.

Multi-Instrumentalist Steve has spent five years putting this album together
with the help of a number of recognisable names such as Phil Spalding, Dave
Gregory, Johnny Warman and more and the result is a cerebral take on rock
music. One which plays both to the rock ‘n’ roll gallery love of the genres
basic, visceral and powerful requirements but also gratifyingly delivers
something new, intriguing and challenging from its lyrical depths and musical
textures with every play. Rock music with a PhD in psychology? Why not?

 

New Music of the Day – CCX: Miles Above the Baseline – I, Symptom

16684310_775792522568868_7570770905820870520_nThe mercurially named I, Symptom continue their singular quest to explore the point of impact between dystopian electronica and trashy post-punk forms. But whereas last time around Triple Exclamation Mark was a blend of urgent warped rock and driven, dance orientated sounds, this time they offer up a slow burning, trippy meander through the solar system and beyond, hypnotic and transcendent. It is built on the use of restraint and anticipation, woven from clinical modernity and old-school musicianship.

As always there is intelligent observation and poignant thought at the heart of the music, here wrestling with the idea that the physicality of leaving earth for space exploration may be the easy bit and it is that emotional attachment which is going to be the hard part to deal with.

This is the continuation of the Major Tom discussion which Bowie began with Space Oddity and which the likes of Elton John cheaply appropriated with Rocket Man as so many others have also tried to do. This is man against the vastness of space, Isaac Asimov as a modern day electro-symphony this is also the meeting of musical worlds, something I, Symptom does very well.

 

The Mothers Earth Experiment – The Mothers Earth Experiment (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

18485717_1302109889902920_6898810738426586778_nBefore we get down to the nitty-gritty of exploring the music too closely, right from the off the two things that scream out at me as I dip my toe in its sonic waters are the sheer eclecticism and the texturing of sounds. It’s the same feeling I get when I listen to Steely Dan’s Aja and there are more than a few similarities – the innate soulfulness, the progressive landscapes containing wonderfully accessible ideas, the execution of the musicians that somehow combines precision with a loose and often louche style. And simply the sheer scope of the territory being explored.

But this isn’t the seventies nor is it the West Coast. This is the 21st century and this is the West Midlands, which probably has a lot to do with the record’s often darker, more overcast and psychedelic vibe. Whereas with the aforementioned Aja you need to put on sun block just to listen to it, this has a more primal, edgy and ancient feel, even when grooving out on a sonorous jazz vibe or a funky shuffling beat.

This used to be called fusion music which normally meant either a rock band with ideas above its station or a bunch of jazz-hands dumbing down to find more lucrative markets. Thankfully this feels a million miles away from either but much more natural, just a collection of musicians conducting interesting genre-splicing experiments in hidden basements.

Pagan jazz? Psych-soul? Primal-funk? It doesn’t really matter what you call it as I doubt there will be enough bands who ever come close enough to these brilliant and mind bending sounds that we are going to need to think of a collective label. A genre of one? Why indeed not?

The Semi-Hollow – Les Robot (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1445398870_16I know I’m always searching for music that is pushing new boundaries, testing the limits, fusing disparate threads into new forms and making truly creative inroads towards new sonic pastures. Occasionally you find it in the fleeting corners of more conventional songs or as fillers on albums between more commercially viable options. And then you stumble across people such as Les Robot who just go for it with reckless abandon.

It takes a few plays; I’ll give you that. Firstly you get that WTF moment, the thought that this is madness, a suicide note to an unbalanced musician’s career. Then you try to work it out, piece together what is actually going on here, tease apart textures and layers to properly understand it. A post-mortem if you will. Then you start to appreciate it. Then you like it, but you are not sure why. Then you love it. Then you realise that this is a work of genius ….and often madness, but it’s pretty much the same thing, right?

I can’t give you labels, but then the best music sits beyond such pigeonholing anyway. Lets start with rock, it’s definitely rock, sometimes runaway, joyous, indulgent guitar rock, technically slick and easy to pin down. But more than often it goes way beyond that, it wanders around proggy soundscaping and structures, it blasts through industrial wastelands treading on broken glass and twisted metal, it offers classical interludes and dystopian soundscapes. Sometimes it does all of that within just one song!

I guess the art is not to be pinned down, to subvert expectation and if you thought that you pretty much knew what instrumental rock sounds like, by the time you have navigated the 5 twisting and mercurial tracks offered up here, the rule book will be a smouldering pile of ash, your pre-conceptions will be cowering in the corner and your mind will be truly broadened.

Headache Machine is an industrial slab of jagged edges and warped architecture whilst Oz takes more familiar routes though does so at breakneck speed. Bumble B Boogie often sounds like machines writing a progressive rock album, making musical choices that conform to some sort of cool, internal logic and Imp at times sounds like nothing less than the end of the world. But it is title-track and finale that sums up best how diverse and off the wall Les Robot’s thinking is as deft and delicate acoustic beauty are slowly subsumed by alien sounds and dystopian drama.

I like music that I can’t just hang a sound bite or label on, can’t kick into a well defined generic drawer, music that I didn’t see coming. Well, I didn’t see this coming. I feel like I have been run over by demon-possessed truck, experimented on by extra-terrestrials, have stood on the edge of the end of the universe itself, been attacked by cyborgs and had a music shop collapse on me. What a way to spend a morning. And the weird part is…I can’t wait to do it all again.

New Music of the Day – CLVIII : The Day That The World Breaks Down – Ayreon

image003THE SOURCE is an exciting new chapter in the Ayreon saga, with contributions from renowned vocalists like James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), and Russell Allen (Symphony X). The Source will be released on April 28 through Ayreon’s new label Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings.

                            

While Ayreon’s ‘Forever/Planet Y’ saga seemed to have reached its conclusion with the album 01011001, it’s clear that Arjen Lucassen’s creative muses had other plans. The new Ayreon album The Source revisits the Forever saga, adding a whole new chapter to Lucassen’s impressive body of work. With its top-flight cast of singers and musicians, compelling songs, overwhelming sound, and intriguing story, The Source offers everything that has gained Lucassen dedicated fans worldwide since he laid the foundations of Ayreon back in the mid-90’s.

 

 

The story of The Source is set six billion years in the past relative to Earth. It begins on Planet Alpha, a world in the Andromeda system where computer intelligence has far surpassed that of humanity.  Alpha is facing a massive global crisis, with ecological and political catastrophes threatening all human life. The Alphans (our human ancestors) try to save their planet by entrusting the global computer mainframe—The ‘Frame—to find a solution. Given total control of the planet, the ‘Frame reaches the logical conclusion that its creators are the cause of all the trouble. The only way to solve Alpha’s problems is to exterminate humanity. This leaves the Alphans no other option than to try and escape their horrific fate. But their escape comes at a terrible price. It’s the beginning of a story that contains everything that has made the Ayreon epics so endlessly fascinating all these years.

 

The international status of Ayreon enables Arjen Lucassen to write his characters with some of the most respected singers in rock in mind: James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried And Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), and Russell Allen (Symphony X). Special contributions were offered by guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion).

 

Just as on his previous albums, The Source has Arjen Lucassen playing a wide variety of instruments, while the inimitable Ed Warby (o.a. Elegy, Gorefest, Hail Of Bullets) once again masterfully handles the drums.

 

2017 will be a particularly exciting year for Ayreon fans thanks to a unique chance to actually see Ayreon live. Limited to three exclusive performances, “The Ayreon Universe” will take place in September in the prestigious 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland. This unprecedented live event features the best of twenty years of Ayreon music, brought to life by a top cast of musicians such as Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (Threshold), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen, and various others. The reclusive Arjen Lucassen himself is also expected to make a rare appearance on stage. The tickets for all concerts – 9000 in total – sold out within a day, proving once again that the Ayreon magic is still very much alive and kicking.

Rainbow’s End – Hollow Water (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

rainbows_end_cover16k_x16kStephen Hawking famously said in his introduction to A Brief History of Time, that he had been advised that every equation included in the text would halve the sales in the mainstream market. I feel the same about analogies in music reviews, better just to get on with the task at hand rather than beat around the bush too much. Like him though , I will allow myself just the one.

 

Although all musical works starts with the same empty canvas, it is what the artist choses to create there that allows people to label and package the results. And if the simplest pop music can be seen as a mere shopping list of ideas and rock music perhaps a bold but basic cartoon drawing, progressive rock, for want of a better initial label, is often an intricate landscape painting, one which deftly blends subtle pastoral hues yet also has space to play with the dramatic colours and stark contrasts of the tumbling skies above.

 

Hollow Water, a name that references the fluidity, spacious nature and energy of racing rivers, whirlpools and waterfalls, began life as an instrumental 2-piece consisting of Alan Cookson and Huw Roberts, but with the inception of Rainbow’s End a wider team was recruited to bring this concept album to life, one garnered from across the western world.

 

And if the term concept album conjures horrific musical flash backs to the genre’s past excesses, of keyboardists dressed as wizards or 3 day long bass solos, fear not, the one thing progressive music is good at is…well, progressing. And although Rainbow’s End retains all that is great about the genre, it is also a product of the here and now, of the contemporary music scene, music which looks to the future a lot more than it glances over its shoulder to yesterday’s glories.

 

And talking of looking forward, the narrative driving the album is a futuristic, sci-fi tale; three acquaintances looking for an ever-lasting rainbow, which takes them into parallel dimensions where the very laws of physics behave differently. Very quantum!

But is there anywhere new to take sci-fi themed progressive music? Well, it would seem that there is. Hollow Water have a way of retaining some of the established structures of the genre; long, fluid musical statements, that not so much eschew the verse-chorus structure but more stretch it out, building dynamic, atmosphere and anticipation along the way. And where as of old the penchant was for long, meaningless solos and passages that seemed to have little relevance to the rest of the song, the hand played here is one of melody and meandering musical subtexts that rather than wander off at tangents to the musical direction instead just take a scenic route to the same destination.

 

The execution of the music is excellent, that goes without saying, anyone with such ambition is hardly going to arrive at the task without the relevant tools, but it is the imagination and scope of the piece, the composition and energy levels that are maintained that are the real joy. To keep the listener enthralled across such as grand tale, to remain focused on the story whilst subverting musical expectation, switching styles and pace and to do all of that and find something new to say, somewhere new to take the genre, that is a real skill.

 

Progressive rock has followed many twists and turns over the decades, from the clichés of its early years which are sadly still a short hand for those not in the know, to jazz fusions and neo-prog reinventions to popularist pastiches and everything in-between. What makes Hollow Water’s corner so appealing is that they manage to offer all the familiar tenets of the genre whilst giving them a contemporary feel. A concept album with roots in the past, that feels very much of today and looks unashamedly towards the future. How great is that?

Choose Your Own Adventure – Middlenamekill (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

1600x1600srMiddlenamekill are a band waiting for a bigger stage. You can hear it in their music, music crafted for anthemic launch pads and stadium broadcasts – big songs looking for a big space to call home. Even when you watch the band in the small club environs that they currently ply their trade, it is easy to see the glint of something majestic, soaring and boundless at the heart of their music. But capturing that feeling on a studio recording is never an easy task.

Not easy, but not impossible either and they have done a great job in harnessing the sweeping grandeur of the music and tying it down to the recorded medium. An album forged of perfect musical collisions; angular guitars crashing through melodic backdrops, staccato patterns poised above more conventional musical safety nets and with the ability to exercise the full gamut of sharp dynamic expression from hammering riffs and ear-pleasing gang vocals to hushed atmospherics and understated interludes.

The great thing about the band, and therefore the album, is its ability to meander across genres without fully committing to any one and thereby keeping their musical fan base options open. Big rock swagger is tempered by mathy moments and some wonderfully experimental, prog like interludes, indie elements and choruses built from pure ear-wormery. The songs are clever enough to appeal to the more discerning rock fan and accessible enough to catch a more mainstream wave. If ever a band was designed for success in the stadium environment, Middlenamekill is it, there is still a long way to go but imagine the fun you could have watching them get there. Hold on it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

Her Halo – Teramaze (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

11219684_10153517784765281_1710479661361104455_nI have to admit that I am often put off of venturing into reviewing a record when it has the word metal in the genre description. Although as a younger man I was brought up on many of the classics of that genre, the metal world has moved on a long way since then and sadly left me behind. If not out of my comfort zone, I’m certainly no longer best equipped to review the stuff and what’s with the fact that there’s about 357 sub-genres of metal; would I know my Teutonic Thrash Metal from my Crust Punk? And try as I might I can’t find Djent on my road map of Wales. Put the word Progressive into the mix, however, and I’m on much safer territory. Progressive normally implies a tempering of the blind aggression and “more is more” approach, progressive implies melody, structure, dynamics and inventiveness, all things I can hang my reviewer’s hat on, and Teramaze has all that in spades.

Without abandoning the power and drive bestowed by the Gods of Metal, this is an album that has room to embrace some wonderfully tangential musical moves, piano balladry, sweet vocal harmonies, guitar solos built from sounds more reminiscent of a Pendragon album (remember them?) and brooding electronica.

The bands ethic seems to be to build the song only from what is required to hit its mark, just because you can shred like Steve Vai on his 10th espresso doesn’t mean you have to throw it in all the time, they don’t let such showpieces become their hall mark, they let them become their secret weapon, just one of many in a whole arsenal of musical munitions. And if a song has the desired effect from just the most straight forward of playing, with out needing to be forged of time signatures that you would actually need an extra leg to dance to, then that is the route they are happy to take.

This is an album of majesty, nothing less, the sound track to worlds colliding, hearts breaking and empires falling but also the sound of the intangible forces, emotions and introspection, the mighty and the minutiae, the complete spectrum of life and it proves that power and elegance, impact and eloquence are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Omni\One – Halo Tora (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

11222306_901156693255279_6635920733823731075_nIt takes a certain type of band to make music that is as expressive, emotive and engaging as the most eloquent of lyrics and create vocal deliveries what are as elegant and fluid as the instrumentation behind it. It takes a band like Halo Tori. When the age old argument of which is more important the words or the music rages around you, just play those throwing the same old clichés around this album, roles are reversed or at least interchangeable, music speaks and vocals soar, lyrics become half muted riffs and guitar lines become poetry.

Halo Tora are a band who seem to emerge from the dystopian wreckage of a catastrophic collision between very expressive rock genres. Alt-rock provides the power that drives the band, progressive rock the byzantine complexities and subtle changes that form the structure and post-rock the soaring soundscape that cocoons the songs. And as power is harnessed by beauty and wistful interludes balance aggressive workouts what emerges is an album that covers so many bases but still retains its integrity and identity. This is a band to watch out for.

Magnet – The Fierce and The Dead (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

11011887_10152971855155222_8687662636560725026_nI won’t dwell too long on the lead single Magnet in Your Face, we have already covered that ground, except to say that it makes for the perfect opening salvo to this record. Yes, I’m old, I still call them records. Perfect in that it introduces you to a band whose sound ricochets between the pent up aggression of the metal world, trippy experimentations, brooding atmospherics and the byzantine complexities of progressive rock. Yet throughout all of it’s twists and turns as a mission statement if only tells part of the story and what follows is nothing short of mesmerising.

It doesn’t even begin to hint at the violent undertones of Palm Trees, a song that begins in jaunty hypnotic spirals of music and ends in what sounds like the inner soundtrack of a raging serial killers mind. It doesn’t prepare you for the cinematic Part 6, which starts life as a score to images of deep space, colliding worlds and dying suns and resolves itself as a late night chill out track from the house band at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Spooky Action pushes their eclectic ways to the limit, jumping from a heavy gothic introduction through bright interludes, slowly building into ever denser textures and a raw and visceral crescendo.

One of the things that TFATD prove is that as important as great lyrics can be, when you get the music right that can also speak to you in the same way. Not through direct communication but through non-verbal avenues, emotion and musical colours, through a sort of acoustic body language and at times almost a feeling of your personal space being invaded and at it’s most extreme Magnet does feel like an unwanted presence that almost makes you recoil.

It is heavy but understands that density and strength comes from proper construction rather than just bulk. It is dark and brooding but without resorting to the schlock-shock of the current gothic scene or the easy root of melancholic machinations. Above all it is intelligent and conceptual but without the trappings that have often made progressive rock an easy target of ridicule. Whichever way you look at it and whichever part of the rock spectrum you prefer to stand in, The Fierce and The Dead is a band who are embracing the post-genre possibilities of the modern music paradigm and more than delivering the goods.

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