Saturday, March 2, 2013

Top Albums of the Year 2009, Part 2: Others

Other Albums from 2009 Worth Listening To

IZZ The Darkened Room 

IZZ is a very good neo/heavy prog group much in the vein of PORCUPINE TREE and RIVERSIDE whose discography is just below that threshold of "top tier." Often very catchy (sometimes syrupy) melodies, tagged onto dark, heavy music performed buy very accomplished musicians. The guitarist and keyboardists, in particular, are quite masterful at their respective instruments. The Darkened Room is my favorite IZZ album. Great recording engineering and production.

Album highlights: 1. "Swallow Our Pride" (5:16) (8/10); the EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER-like classically-tinged 4. "Can't Feel the Earth, Part I" (4:39) (8/10); the female-vocal-laden, AYREON-like 6. "Can't Feel the Earth, Part II" (10:37) (9/10); 9. "23 Minutes of Tragedy" (7:00) (9/10), and; 10. "Can't Feel the Earth, Part III" (5:08) (9/10).

Four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.


One band for whom the term "sophomore slump" certainly applies as the promise shown in their very proggy debut album, 2006's How to Accept, remains unrealized. The band seems to have lost a little of its sense of direction, sense of identity, as the songs on this album seem to go in many directions
(quite often toward Chrissie's torch song leanings) and not really ever establishing a 'comfort zone.' Chrissie's vocals and stories often feel quite misaligned with the music playing out beneath.

Five star songs:  2. "'Acquatica'" (5:57) (9/10); the emotional, RIKKIE LEE JONES-like torch song, 5. "Trivial Pursuit" (7:13) which does jump into a nice jazz-fusion section in the second half (9/10); the excellent, 10. "Perpetual Twilight" (9:47) sounds as if it came from either a Freddy HUBBARD album from the 70s or JANE SIBERRY's 1989 classic 'live,' in-the-studio record, Bound By The Beauty. The frenetic sections are the best. (9/10)

Four star songs:  despite its cheesy start, the song 8. "Despierta" (7:55)--which is sung in Spanish--offers quite a fun and beautiful journey--especially with Chrissie's fluid, sensuous Spanish. A great language for her singing style (8.5/10); the absolutely gorgeous torch song vocal and music of 9. "Beauty Is Beast" (5:17) (8.5/10); 4. "Breathe Easy" (5:33) is an awesome piano-jazz lounge song in the DIANA KRALL or early BILLY JOEL tradition, but barely fits the prog bill (8.5/10); 6. "Into Pieces" (2:37) (8/10); despite some fiercely clever and well-performed music (what drumming!), the lyric/vocal of 7. "Spiritual Rats" (5:47) just doesn't fit, match, or work (8/10); 1. "Knock Knock (Disappear)" (5:57) seems to be trying to be a Turkish-Arabian Reggae song without ever really feeling like one. Too forced despite the fine displays of individual musicianship and the awesome instrumental section. (8/10), and; the incongruous, 3. "Make the Choice" (6:54) (7.5/10).

I call it a slump--mostly for its divergence from what one typically holds as "prog" roots--but this is still a collection of creative and often beautiful music that comes from a group of hihgly skilled, creative and committed musicians.

84.0 on the Fishscales = solid four stars; B; a highly recommended musical adventure.

CIRRUS BAY A Step into Elsewhere

I've just come into full awareness of this wonderful album of beautiful, uplifing music. As a real lover of female vocalists--and RENAISSANCE/ANNIE HASLAM in particular--this group comes as quite a refreshing reward. IONA, MOSTLY AUTUMN, THE GATHERING, PURE REASON REVOLUTION, and THE REASONING have all been teases. Hello world! This is CIRRUS BAY! Like previous reviewers, this group's excellent song structures and instrumentation choices remind me of a GENESIS-RENAISSANCE mix--or, rather, what might have been if Annie had been invited to step in once Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett had left Genesis. The song structures are very similar to the Wind and Wuthering and And Then There Were Three era--which produced beautiful music that was then diminished (IMO) by weak-to-weird-to-downright-awful lyrics. The songs (aside from the AYREON-sounding "Walking in Shadows") sound like collaborations and performances from TONY BANKS and MIKE RUTHERFORD.

1. "Serenity in a Nutshell" (13:12). The album begins with its best song, a near flawless epic. Crashing in with thick waves of heavy mellotron and bass pedals, the song suddenly transitions into a much more pastoral piece with acoustic guitar arppegios and recorder, before our stellar vocalist enters. And surprise:  There are two lovely voices harmonizing with each other (I wish they'd do more of this on the rest of the album for this is in fact one of the elements that makes this song stand so much higher above the others--as great as they are!) so many key and chord and tempo changes that all work--they all serve to suck the listener into prog bliss--like Ulysses strapped to the mast listening to the song of the Sirens. This may be the song they were singing/playing!!! I love the multiple guitar strumming and alternating acoustic and electric leads combining RENAISSANCE's "Can You Hear Me?" and end of "Cinema Show" between the 5:28 and 7:25 marks. Amazing! Then those amazing vocal harmonies! A masterpiece of progressive rock music for all times! (10/10)

2. "Out of the Cold" (5:48) begins with a definite Mike Rutherford electric guitar solo over some of Tony's finest chord progressions and organ playing. The vocals enter during a particularly straightforward "poppy" section before a Lamb Lies Down on Broadway organ bridge at the 2:15 mark brings me back to prog heaven. Love this organ sound! The Lamb similarities continue with the song's progression into a 30-second instrumental section beginning at the 3:10 mark. (Too bad it's not Phil's drumming! He was amazing!) Love the slide guitar and 12-string work--and mandolin strumming--just before the slowed-down outro. (8/10)

3. "The Exposure of Truth" (9:23) took the longest for me to like because of the many chord, key and tempo changes. Also, the vocals on this one felt a little less "stable"--i.e. because they are so isolated above the music there are times when my ear can't help but question her pitch accuracy. But then, I remember sometimes wondering the same thing about Annie H. in the earlier (less treated/filtered) Renaissance days. A great song of which Tony Banks should be quite proud! I love the (oh-so-rare) upbeat, "happy" feel of this (and many of this album's) song(s). (8/10)

4. "Walking in Shadows" (5:58) sounds so ARJEN LUCASSEN! Maybe the 'best song he never wrote'! An awesome song whose heaviness gives the album a little bit better 'fullness' or 'balance.' (8/10)

5. "The Secret Country" (3:33) sounds to me more like a 1970's collaboration between ANTHONY PHILLIPS (Private Parts and Pieces' "Tibetan Yak Music") and RICK WAKEMAN (Six Wives of Henry VIII). Great song except for the odd sounding 'lonely' electric guitar solo near the 2:45 mark. (8/10)

6. "Zenobia" (16:47) is definitely "One for the Vine, Part Two." And what a beautiful song was the first! This one does not shame or disparage the first. Some actual heart-wrenching chord changes--so beautiful! Love the single strums of the flanged acoustic guitar at the 4:40 mark, followed by the nylon string solo over marching piano and snare 5:35 to 6:20. Then: Woah! Steve Hackett tries to make an appearance, only to find himself confronted by a brief duel with Tony at the 7:20 mark--which is then interrupted by a brief vocal before everyone backs into true GENESIS support of a classic HACKETT solo at the from the 8:10 to 9:12 marks. 9:42 sees Tony's turn--AAAHHHH! I'm in GENESIS heaven! And with that angelic yet-sultry voice in the mix as well! I've died and gone to heaven! And the finale escalates into a truly Genesis-like melodramatic ending. (8/10)

I'm going to give this album five stars for its consistent level of beauty and for the gift of finally merging the sounds and styles of my two favorite 70s bands. Step into Elsewhere is so right! I will not hesitate to say that this is truly a masterpiece of Neo-Prog. (I apologize to Bill, Anisha, Sharra, Mark and Alex for all of the GENESIS and RENAISSANCE references/credits. Marvelous work you guys! More, please. LOTS more!)


Re-evaluation October, 2010.

Upon repeated listenings over the last few months, I have decided that my initial exuberance was a little over blown. The album lacks musically--in depth, variety, and complexity. The band will be interesting to follow to see how they 'mature.' Great sound, great instrumental choices, great music, great vocalist; their compositional skill needs more development--more risk-taking (better drumming and more sophisticated rhythmic choices). Adjusted down to four stars.

83.33 on the Fish scales.

AISLES In Sudden Walks

AISLES' second album, In Sudden Walks, is brilliant! It is symphonic, melodic, ethnic, emotional, well performed, well engineered and recorded, beautifully sung, and very fresh and new feeling--very much, I think, (like MAD CRAYON's beautiful Preda,) due to its ethnic influences. Three of the album's six songs clock in at around 10 minutes with a fourth at nearly 15--and all are of the highest caliber symphonic prog. Only one song--one of the shorts, "Revolution of Light" (4:41) (6/10)--falls short of the standard and feel set by the rest of the album.

I love "Mariachi"(9:59) (8/10)'s exploitation of the overt sexuality so typical of Latin American television. "Summer Fall" (9:56) (9/10) and "The Maiden" (9:30) (10/10) should, IMHO, be in everyone's playlist of classic prog epics. Their multi-layered instrumental interplay is so pervasive and playful, with so many twists and turns yet with equally as many returns to very catchy melodic hooks, while all the while threaded together by some great, almost mythic, lyrics sung in absolutely beautiful vocal performances. "Hawaii" (14:58) (8/10) is often pacifying, calming, dreamy, though it too has it's frequent tempo and mood changes. Overall, an incredibly enjoyable and engaging listening experience. Highly recommended!!

I quite agree with fellow reviewer Cesar Inca: this little gem was one that was sadly overlooked from among the 2009 harvest. But: It's not too late!

83.33 on the Fish scales = a very solid four star album and excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. Get it NOW!

DELIRIUM Il nome de vento

1. Intro (1:23) has a pastoral beginning with a flute, organ, and vocal soon joining in to introduce one of the repeated themes of the album. (9/10)

2. "Il Nome del Vento" (6:01) begins with a classical strings piece before it is joined by drums and oboe. Another one of the album's repeated themes is established before a vocal section begins. Very straightforward pop music except for the occasional brief codas/ interludes using classical instruments. The choral background vocals sound much like AYREON's female dominated vocals from "Isis and Osiris." The song has a very nicely balanced blend of rock, pop, and classical. I especially like the operatic soprano floating above the other vocals and instruments in the background of the last two minutes. (8/10)

3. "Verso il Naufragio" (6:35) is an instrumental that begins with some ominously held low synth chord over which a sax makes a brief intro, yields to mellotron, then comes back as the lead melody maker until 1:25 when piano and mellotron take over in a much more classical jazz theme. 2:15 sees the sax and electric guitar take over dual recitation of another main theme. 3:00 sees the entrance of some truly prog rock musical sounds and structures: minimoog solo followed by thumping guitar/bass chords. 4:30 sees the full band/orchestra return to the second main theme before giving way to a more subdued organ, sax, and jazzy cymbol section--very reminiscent of HENRY MANCINI's "Pink Panther Theme." (8/10)

4. "L'Acquario delle Stelle" (6:15) begins with a child-like/lullaby-like sequence of electric piano arpeggios over which some mediaeval flute/woodwinids play some very mediaeval-sounding themes. Very pretty--and even moreso when the strings and mellotron join in at the 1:30 mark. 2:30 sees solo piano and male voice using a very familiar melody (from "Il nome"). 3:35 adds orchestration and some very nice TODD RUNDGREN-like electric guitar soloing ini the background. 4:10 hammond organ, piano and full prog band takeover in a very pleasing section for its harmonic and chord structures. Vocal rejoins till 5:45 when spoken voice lets us slide into a soft outro  section with strings, mellotron and nature sounds. (9/10) (The sample is a shorter version edited for video.)

5. "Luci Lontane" (4:14) chirping birds and spacious piano chords begin this song before plaintive voice and jazzy soprano sax sing over strings orchestra. As emotional as 's voice becomes, he actually loses some of his strength and pitch control. 2:20 sees a transition into a very straightforward jazz-with-orchestration section over which the soprano sax solos. This then shifts at the 2:55 mark as some electric guitar power chords join in to accompany a more urgent sounding, if brief, vocal section. The power sounds very quickly disappear to leave the listener with a kind of slowed down mélange of the first and second sections. (6/10)

6. "Profeta Senza Profezie" (4:20) jazz piano and soprano sax start out a very jazz-oriented song. Sax continues soloing until the :48 mark when comes in to sing in a range an octave higher than his previous attempts. 1:40 sees a tempo and mood shift--more upeat--while retaining this jazz-feel. Nice acoustic guitar beginning at the 2:10 mark. The jazz chorus is a bit too but is followed by a very familiar tenor sax solo over mellotron and the rest of the acoustic band (It sounds like the end solo to PINK FLOYD's "Welcome to the Machine".) (7/10)

7. "Ogni Storia" (5:02) sees a return to a electric piano child lullaby theme--with crying bambino--which, when taken over by fretless bass and then synthesized keys and sax, sounds a lot like "Inch Worm." A more Canterbury sounding song develops until the vocal(s) begin, when it turns into a much more standard pop-rock song. (I like the "Great Gig in the Sky" female vocal screams beneath the electric guitar solo around the 3:15 mark). The finale ROBIN TROWER guitar solo palying over the rolling bass and blues drumming is a fun touch. (6/10)

8. "Note di Tempesta" (4:29) begins with a nearly "Psycho" AFTER CRYING strings theme before turning into a very straightforward R&B/lounge jazz song--it sounds very much like a song by ANDREW TILLISON/THE TANGENT. Very nice alternating and harmonically layered themes played between sax and guitar and flute & keyboard. EMERSON's "Lucky Man" synth takes over soloing at the 1:40 mark--nice segue. Then a ZAPPA-like guitar solo unfolds before the music sparses and sax and bass take turns soloing until the band returns to a collective recapitulation of some of the main themes from 3:38 till song's end (which actually ends with group laughter).  A very interesting song with some very nice structuring/layering.  (9/10)

9. "Dopo il Vento" (9:40) begins with a wooden flute (shakahachi?) sounding as if we're on a tropical Pacific island. At 1:30 the full band kicks in to play a jazz-rock theme before giving way to a slow synth solo while the background jazz-s along while joined by a strings orchestration. Full blown 'soft' jazz with alto sax soloing begins at the 2:41 mark. At 3:15 a brief repetition of the band's main theme precedes a very nice electric guitar solo over the orchestra-supported soft azz theme. An soft, melodic organ-supported flute section begins at the 4:10 mark and which then precedes the 5:15 beginning of a very pretty vocal and flute section--which is then joined/backed by some wonderfully lush orchestration around the 5:53 mark. Dreamy! Return to the jazzy mode at 6:50--now soloed over by a very IAN ANDERSON-like flute. 7:25 piano solo. We're in the beach-side jazz lounge! A softer JETHRO TULL sound. 8:05 sees the sudden entrance of synthesizer to duel with flute and strings. Electric guitar joins in beautifully at 9:00. Song breaks down very beautifully. Music doesn't get much more beautiful than this! (10/10) 

10. "Cuore Sacro" (6:49) begins with IAN ANDERSON's flute playing another familiar theme
which is then taken over by organ and full rock band (is this a rock opera? ANDREW LLOYD WEBER, perhaps?) All clears for a lovely lounge piano solo--repeating themes familiar from the last song in a kind of classical way. At 2:30 a pause precedes the subdued male voice joining the piano for a brief section before the band kicks into a pretty straightforward upbeat rock groove over which guitar, flute, and other woodwinds take turns declaring themselves--all with worthy and beautifully woven/ orchestrated melody lines. A crash of a gong at the 5:23 mark ends the momentary harmonic chaos, to allow return of voice, with piano, bass and flute accompaniment. (10/10)

11. "L'Aurora Boreale" (6:56) (bonus track) is a soft jazz instrumental which regurgitates in a very pleasant way many of the recurring themes from the album. Nice tenor sax/vocal scatting, acoustic guitar solo, congas, background synth strings, electric piano solo. The drums are mixed more forward while the flutes are presented as if in a distant echo chamber, for some reason--all to great effect. Nice song. Kind of ties everything together in a fresh sounding way. (9/10)

Obviously this album is all highlights the further you get into it. Granted, an affinity for the kind of soft-jazz/lounge side of progressive rock is helpful for getting into this album--as well as a tolerance for the lead singer's voice when he tries to reach--both dynamically and in pitch heights. Singing the more subdued, soft melody lines he is wonderful, amazing. Skill and maturity are quite obvious in these songs--especially in terms of composition. They really know how to deliver wonderful themes in layers and harmonically without being overwhelming, chaotic, or discordant. Very beautiful music.

82.73 on the Fish scales = An excellent addition to any prog lovers music collection.

KOTEBEL Ouroboros

Wonderful high-energy prog bordering on jazz-fusion from Barcelona's best. This album notes the loss of vocals (and, sadly, the amazing voice of CAROLINA PRIETO), but still manages to produce mind-blowing songs, sounds, and play. Bassist-extraordinaire Jaime PASCUAL is really on fire throughout! And the PLAZA family father-daughter keyboard team (Carlos and Adriana) is really stepping up their game. The only thing lacking, IMHO, is a little more melody to keep the listener engaged.


Agree with the comparisons to TOOL, THE MARS VOLTA (especially the voice of the singer), and, somewhat, PORCUPINE TREE, but would also add RIVERSIDE. An excellent album with some very fine composing and performances--heavy, subtle, creative and emotional. "Deadman" (9/10) and "NewDay" (8:21) (10/10) are classics in their own right, "Simple Boy" (8/10) and Goliath" (8/10) are great and exciting starters even though they sound a bit 'too familiar' (the TMV influence), "Set Fire to the Hive" (5/10) is my least favorite on the album--it's a bit over the top grungy for my tastes, "Umbra" (8/10) and "All I Know" (7/10) sound almost like amped up versions of 80's Aussie ICEHOUSE, "The Medicine" (6/10) and "Illumine" (7/10) are a bit too 'mainstream' metal, "Change" (9/10) is an awesome, powerful closer in the vein of the finest SABBATH, TOOL, BROTHER APE or RIVERSIDE has ever offered. This is definitely an excellent addition to any prog-lover's collection--especially if you're into the heavier, more-metallic side of prog. The only thing keeping me from proclaiming it a masterpiece is the many, many moments of over-familiarity. I think I'll let it percolate a little while longer before making my 'final' decision. Definitely worth checking out!

80.83 on the Fish scales = a ver solid four star album; a great addition to any prog lover's music collection.

KARDA ESTRA Weird Tales 

A collection of excellent, intricately composed and as usual well-performed and recorded songs based upon themes from Gothic literature. Composer and mastermind Richard Wileman has again ping-ponged from the more positive, upbeat moods of his previous album, The Last of the Libertine, to the darker, eerier timbres of this album--a pattern of his that even he recognizes and admits to. (The next studio album in the Karda Estra discography, the excellent New Worlds, is quite light and upbeat--in an unprecedented almost quirky, BURT BACHARACH kind of way.) Still, this is one of the most solid, mature, deep, and alluring albums KE has ever put together. Next to Eve this is the KE album to which I most listen--and a source of many profound listening experiences it has been! (Also a great one to play back-to-back with THE FUTURE KINGS OF ENGLAND's excellent 2011 release, Who Is This Who Is Coming?)

Four stars, highly recommended.


A good album of interesting, creative, and subtlely complex songs. A lot of variety here, too. What lacks is melody and sometimes 'meaningful development'--meaning that the songs don't always unfold in pleasing or 'sensible' ways.

1. “Kontrast” (3:57) is a slow developing, very symphonically constructed--but almost in a Minimalist way--song. I love the 'live in the studio' feeling of the recording. The song is a bit too repetitive for my tastes--despite the BUCK DHARMA (BLUE ÖYSTER CULT) guitar solo toward the end. (7/10)

2. “Sorterargatan 3” (9:49) is my favorite song on the album. It opens with a 'computer/keyboard' with bowed bass carring over from the previous song. Eventually a bluesy picked electric guitar takes over and,  a little later, a tandem piano. At 2:00 there is a shift in instrumentation and feel. This shift is fully transitioned by 2:55 with driving bass and drums and very melodic harmonized guitar and keyboard arpeggios. At 3:40 guitar and then electric piano go briefly Fripp "Discipline" on us. Return to previous section of guitar & key arpeggios and then some classic rock syncopated guitar strumming. At 5:32 there is a haunting, whirling synth chord held in the background for over a minute as the song develops and morphs over the top. At 6:45 some spacey effects accompany the plucking of a distorted guitar. Drums show off a bit within a military pattern. At 8:20 the guitars and keyboards simplify and repeat as mellotron and bass--and then 'recorder'-sounding synth--melody takes lead to bare-bones end. (9/10)

3. “Svenska Hjärtan” (3:01) begins with rather stereotypic Russian-sounding chord progression played on an old upright 'Old West' player piano before a distored eledtiric guitar joins. Symphonic percussion effects also join in. An eery 'alien'-sounding synth takes over to the end. (8/10)

4. “Fem Trappor” (6:32) begins with spacey-industrial synth play over cymbol work until 1:15 when bass joins in and together with the drums establish the beat. Guitars join in. At 2:57 enters main theme from the guitars. By 3:25 there is a melody shift with a "toy keyboard" playing. At 4:03 the main theme returns in a 'scratchier' form. 4:27 shifts to whole new rhythm and feel--old Pink Floyd/Syd Barrett era comes to mind. (7/10)

5. “Nattkift” (5:00) starts with an electric piano intro (sounds very late-70s AMBROSIA-like). At 1:08 bass chords and slow electric piano arpeggios are quickly joined by fast arpeggios from a distorted electric guitar. Then shifts to some very bluesy guitar work--very dissonant--almost like Allan HOLDSWORTH playing ROY BUCHANAN's guitar. At 3:19 a shift into an uptempo very standard blues-rock chord progression which is soon joined by guitar and ulilean pipes mirroring the solo. At 4:22 the song backs down to a bare bones electric piano arpeggios (They never left! Were just beneath all the other sound!) and then fade. (8/10)

6. “Berslagen” (10:29) begins with another dissonant blues guitar start (FRIPP Red Era). At 0:38 the main theme is introduced playing through three different key changes. At 1:58 the picked acoutic guitar holds the melody. At 2:48 a bizarre guitar solo begins--very KING CRIMSON-like though Crimson never played quite like this. At 3:50 all instruments exit except electric keyboard playing before a quick shift to "toy" piano arpeggios. At 4:55 it is joined by bass clef electric piano chords. 5:25 seees FRIPP-ish sustained guitar solo beginning over the top of the keyboard work. At 6:05 begins the true toy piano solo/arpeggia--both hands over tremolo picked e-string note of the guitar. Enter a harmonium or accordion. At 7:55 drums reintroduce the dissonant "discipline" and now BELEW solo. At 8:48 there is a return to the harmonized melodic groove. Part STEVE HILLAGE, part MIE OLDFIELD. Interesting song. (8/10)
7. “Innilegur?” (2:51) has Middle Eastern sounding acoustic "guitar" intro. (Perhaps a very old, dilapidated guitar?) At 1:35 it develops into more Western melodic picking. At 2:03  a synth and other guitar (bowed?) join in. A brief song. (7/10)

8. “Västarbron 05:30" (11:33) is my second favorite song from this album. It begins with a DOORS-y intro, bluesy bass/chord progression. At 1:20 the main melody is established on electric piano. At 2:25 a secondary melody enters, now accompanied by strummed acoustic guitar chord progression. Very NEIL YOUNG/CSN&Y-like. Guitar solo. At 4:20 the guitar and song sound more ALVIN LEE like with aggressive blues rock. Perhaps even BUDDY GUY. Guitar fades to background as organ and electric piano foundation return to forefront. Strings join in, but listen to that guitar shredding away far in the back left! A bit of a "Strawberry Fields Forever" feel to the swirling chaos and eeriness of the end--and that toy piano! (9/10)

78.5 on the Fish scales = four stars; highly recommended for the prog lover.


 I agree with snobb: full instrumental music must be very different, have great diversity and, yes, complexity (though melody is, IMHO, also important in order to 'hook' the listener). While CASPIAN does a fine--even great--job of creating classic post rock--with great production and performances, better than average melodies, and some interesting shifts in dynamics--the genre as a whole makes it rather difficult to make an entire album--expecially a long (more than 60 mins.) one--of intriguing, diverse, attention-grabbing songs. I rate CASPIAN's Tertia in the upper echelon of post rock/math rock albums I've heard--with MOGWAI, MONO, APPLESEED CAST RED SPAROWES, MASERATI, and THE MERCURY PROGRAM but not quite up there with my favorites: GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT's All Is Violent, All Is Bright or MY EDUCATION's Sunrise or GIFTS FROM ENOLA's Gifts from Enola or COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE's The Sirens Sound or DATURAH's Reveries. (ULVER's Shadows of the Sun I do not really consider a post rock/math rock album--I think it is mis-categorized.) Perhaps the 'EP' format is best for these post rock/math rock bands. Still, Caspian has put out a collection of very high quality if formatted songs--many with catchy melodies and twists. 

My favorites are: "Ghost of the Garden City" and "Epochs in Dmaj"--5 stars; " La Ceurva," "Vienna," and "Sycamore"--4 stars. 

The album over all is 3.5 stars: Good, but not essential for the general prog lover; excellent addition to any prog rock music collection for fans of the Post Rock/Math Rock sub-genre.

SUBSIGNAL Beautiful and Monstrous 

A very nice sounding album, well constructed and delivered, Beautiful & Monstrous just doesn't have enough fresh/newness to be considered more than a 3 star, Good, but not essential album. There are plenty of good songs, nice melodies, a very good lead singer, an interesting and creative keyboard player, and very nice engineering and production?but nothing really reaches out and grabs me, sucks me in, gets my adrenaline pumping or goosebumps bumping. The music often sounds like a cross between GEOFF DOWNES-TREVOR HORN era YES/ASIA and SAGA/STYX/KANSAS--none of which are my favorite music producers--they're all good, but not great; not my cup of tea. 

My favorite songs are "Walking with Ghosts" because of its 'HORN-DOWNES plays OCEANSIZE' sound; the pleasant, melodic "The Last Light of Summer;" the spacious, darkly mooded though too heavy for my tastes "Beautiful & Monstrous;" and "The Sea"--which reminds me of PORCUPINE TREE Fear of a Blank Planet" TEARS FOR FEARS The Hurting" and 21st Century (Christian) NEKTAR. 

Nice work, nice album. 3.5 stars.

MONO Hymn to the Immortal 

Some may describe this album as "more of the same" from Japanese Post Rock/Math Rock maestros, Mono, and while it is similar or continuous with my favorite Mono album, 2006's You Are There, the music is still fresh and unique enough--and the Mono approach to Post Rock/Math Rock so pleasurable--that I still can only give this album my highest recommendation. It's great--and very emotional--when given your undivided attention, but also very pleasant as beautiful background music.

Favorite selections:  the melodic "Silent Flight, Sleeping Dawn" (6:00) (9/10) and the spacious and delicate "Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)" (11:26) (9/10).

Four stars; a wonderful aural experience.


Another great collection of songs as compiled through the amazing efforts of Colossus Magazine and Musea Records, this time following hot on the heels of last year's Part I of the music inspired by and representing the telling of the story of Dante Alligheri's The Divine Comedy. Again, not my favorite Colossus/Musea production; that label belongs to 2005's Odyssey: The Greatest Tale, with 2003's Kalevala: A Finnish Progressive Rock Epic being second. Still, an awesome collection for an awesome undertaking. Thank you so much, Colossus and Musea! 

My favorites here include the contributions of:  FLAMBOROUGH HEAD, GROOVECTOR, MIST SEASON, NUOVA ERA, and WILLOWGLASS. 

4 stars:  An excellent addition to any prog lovers music collection! Really!

PINKROOM Psychosolstice

This was a surprising discovery, thanks to iTunes' "Listeners Also Bought" suggestion line. Kind of a mix of Porcupine Tree, Sylvan, tinyfish, and King Crimson, all on the heavy side. My favorites, of course, are the songs with more delicate, spacious and melodic parts like the CYNIC and FEN-like "Path of the Dying" (7:20) (9/10); the STEVEN WILSON-cum-KING CRIMSON-ish, "Quietus" (5:30) (8/10), and; the borderline smooth jazz instrumental, "2am" (6:26) (8/10). My favorite song on the album, though, is the polyrhythmic exercise, "Moodroom v.2" (4:36). I love the 'addition' of the trumpet, vocal samples, and cello to the otherwise KC "Discipline" clone. (10/10)

Four stars of, dare I say it, "excellent" heavy prog.(!)

RISHLOO Feathergun

This is an album labeled as "Crossover" while it is heavier and even more metallic than what "Crossover" connotes. There are some very clever guitar stylings and effects used herein. Vocalist "Drew" is quite talented and versatile. I find the unusual A-B-A-B-C-D and A-B-C-B-C-D song structures quite refreshing. Though there are weaknesses and areas that this band can improve, I do think this may be a modern day masterpiece of progressive music.

1. “Sissorlips” (5:49) starts the album out with one of the, IMHO, weaker songs on the album. Some clever guitar plaing and effects, but the 80s REO SPEEDWAGON "Roll with the Changes" vocals sound a bit too familiar . . . and dated. (6/10)

2. “Turning Sheep Into Goats” (3:54) contains some quite melodic guitar playing--not unlike U2's EDGE--with some nice STYX-like (Crystal Ball-Grand Illusion era) vocals plus harmonies. At 1:20 there is a shift to a MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN-style 'chorus', then quickly back to the A section; 2:40 chorus return of Maynard, this time sustained a bit before devolving into a beautiful echo-arpeggio guitar section to fade. Great vocal. (9/10)

3. “Systematomatic” (3:42) continues rather seamlessly from the previous song, but quickly develops into the heaviest, most metallic song on the album. At 2:08 there is a shift to an early 80s rock sound (QUEEN or CHEAP TRICK). At 3:00 there is a shift to a very dreamy, eery muted guitar and distant muted vocal section to fade. (7/10)

4. “River of Glass” (4:55) is Rishloo's THE MARS VOLTA song. It starts with a beautiful yet ominous intro till 1:12 when the hard rockin music and great TMV-like vocal cut in. 2:35 sees a TMV shift into eerie floating guitar with vocals until the heavy instruments enter. At 4:10 there is another quiet "eye in the hurricane" spell before havoc is returned to end. This one could've been extended to great effect. Amazing vocal performance! (8/10)

5. “Keyhole in the Sky” (5:14) begins with a familiar CYNIC/RADIOHEAD guitar sound accompanied by another REO SPEEDWAGON-like vocal until the second verse when the vocal tones relax. This is one of those moments when you realize you are hearing a truly extraordinary singer--versatile, emotional, with excellent lyrical delivery. It's like the band has an extra instrument--and a virtuoso performing it, too. 4:00 sees a weird decay into spacey guitar and carnival keyboard with 'trumpet' soloing to end. (8/10)

6. “Downhill” (8:13) begins with a touching, emotional guitar and, soon, equally plaintive voice, to 1:20 when the band joins in with some odd AC/DC-like standard rock riffs. Then, equally weird, is the album's only appearance of piano--here taking on an unaccompanied solo. Around 4:10 the band returns with a rather drastic shift as an awesome 3-note guitar arpeggio loops ad nauseum to the song's end (four minutes!) while the other instruments and vocals shift, develop and decay, morph all over the place over the top. (8/10)

7. “Feathergun in the Garden of the Sun” (5:18) begins with a 45-second JEFF BECK-like solo guitar intro. When the band enters it is with a TOOL/MAYNARD JAMES vengence. At 2:10 another guitar arpeggio loop appears--this one heavier. Drew's vocal final shows a weakness: in the higher registers. This song is just a bit too pointless--rage against the Shoegazers?--and a bit too sprawling and rambling. (6/10)

8. “Dreamcatcher” (0:54) is a pretty little interlude of floating guitar chords. ENO would like. (8/10)

9. “Diamond Eyes" (6:26) begins with another catchy EDGE-like guitar arpeggio loop with near immediate singing. At 0:45 there is a shift to 1:08 when an ALCEST/MY BLODDY VALENTINE-like sliding guitar strum appears. At 2:50 a space-echo guitar à la NEKTAR's ROYE ALBRIGHTON takes over--accompanied by a PINK FLOYD rolling bass line and some cymbol play. Joined by a tender, haunting vocal till 4:40 when it seems as if the band is trying to 'lift' the song into another, higher gear--to no avail--it's just a tease--until, finally, it all crescendos in the song's final 30 seconds. Awesome!! (9/10)

10. “Katsushika” (5:00) is an amazingly complexly constructed song--with a kind of DAVID BOWIE/ THE BEATLES feel to it--especially in terms of it's unpredictable melodic twists and turns. Keys and chords shift and change quite interestingly. U2/EDGE/RADIOHEAD-like guitar play throughout. Incredible song. Great vocal. (9/10)

11. “Weevil Bride” (8:51) is, IMHO, the weakest, most disjointed and uninspired song on the album. It starts off great--beautifully--like another THE MARS VOLTA song--but then it gets too heavy--and too meanderful--for its own good. Too DEVIN TOWNSENDish. (6/10)

Some stunning music here--playful guitar and powerful vocal performances.


I look forward to more from this band.

75.45 on the Fish scales = 3.5 stars; a nice album to try out.


IOEARTH's eponymously titled debut album is very likable and tremendously interesting for the total lack of predictability of its musical style from song to song. There are, in turns, strains and themes of chant, lounge, new age, jazz, trip-hop, hypno-trance, ethnic, space-synth, theatric, pop, and so much more! I find myself thinking of groups like ENIGMA, MINDFLOWER, ALAN PARSONS PROJECT, SYLVAN, IQ, FROST*, U2, SIMPLE MINDS, Hogarth-era MARILLIAN, VANGELIS, CHROMA KEY, XII ALFONSO, MIKE OLDFIELD, CAMEL, DAARGARD, DARK SANCTUARY, AYREON, ANNEKE VAN GEISBERG, DRUMS FROM SPACE, ELOY, HAWKWIND, during the course of a single song as well as the entire album.

1. "Introduction" uses whale sounds and Yanni piano/synth work to set up what becomes a very pretty MOSTLY AUTUMN or TARJA song--a rather auspicious start to a supposedly "progressive rock" album. Nice song. Simple. (7/10) 

2. "Storyteller" finds us shifting moods very drastically--not unlike Stéphane Desbiens albums--to an electric guitar rock ballad. Steve Vai anyone? (6/10)

3. "Eeee" begins with some ominous acoustic guitar and piano arpeggios over which a male voice(s?) sing what could pass for some Latin chants. But wait: At 1:25 some drums and heavy electric guitar/ bass chords intervene and even take over the song, pounding out a rhythm over which the male vocalist changes registers to sing his Latin chant in a falsetto (More "Climb Every Mountain" than Christian Vander). Interesting song. Could have come out of some post-Soviet Carpathian monastery. (6/10)

4. "Interlude #1" is a collection of industrial sounds before:

5. "Smoky Wood"--a very smooth song with trumpet lead that Lucan Arjean could well have written (Including the chorale of female background singers that sound very much like Anneke van Geisenberg.) Very catchy, groovy, and artistic song. (9/10)

6. Next we're off to some OAKENFOLD Ibiza rave in "Come with Me." Very ENIGMA-meets-IQ. Good electro-pop dance tune with a nice guitar solo somewhat reminiscent of John Mitchell followed by an amazingly brief section of background gospel singers à la "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and ending with some VANGELIS at Ibiza. (6/10)

7. "Opus Ii" is a two-minute interlude of space-synth noises which are joined by a repetitive acoustic guitar riff and ENIGMA fem vox, bass pedals, and marching snare drums. Nice effect. (7/10)

8. "Mountains Start to Fall" employs an intriquing combination of harp, bells, male and female choir "o's," string section playing some Far Eastern themes, over which a Rachel Jones (THE 
 REASONING)-sounding vocalist sings. The song develops nicely (8/10) and then bleeds into
9. "Loops" which continues much of the rhythms and sounds from "Mountains" while vocals give way to jazzy lead trumpet, electric guitars, and pulsing string à la "When the Levee Breaks." Awesome climax! (9/10)

10. "Symphony #1" sounds as if Mike Oldfield were commissioned to play/conduct Maurice Ravel's Hungarian Dances for a Greek dinner theater. Truly a theatric composition. (8/10) Followed then by

11. "Light and Shade" which is an up-tempo, mostly heavy Yes Zeppelin performance from Mabool Oldfield. (7/10)

12. "Intro Reprise" is straight out of a New Age GOVI album.

13. "Home" begins with glockespiel and a French movie feel--even when the soulful female voice starts pleading with us (PATRICIA KAAS-like) to take her home--followed by some siren-like crooning--before resorting to some singing not unlike the WITHIN TEMPTATION/NIGHTWISH/ THE GATHERING groups from Northern Europe. Decent song with some real power (in the singing). (8/10)

14. "The Creation" begins with a similar tempo as the previous song, but high-hat, string synths soon yield to another rock ballad for guitar soli--though with a bit of a tighter snare keeping standard time. Then--surprise! (But then what's one more surprise for this surprising album)--some woman chants in some Middle Eastern dialct before giving way to a guitar solo that is extremely reminiscent of some of REO SPEEDWAGON's Gary Richrath solo/sounds around the You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish-era. (6/10) 

15. "The Sun Is Going Down" begins with a simple electric piano chord riff before some trippy drumming and bass playing lay down the track's dominant rhythm. Then another somewhat falsetto-Gregorian monkish singing performance takes over despite the frequent interjection of accented whispers, foreign female and male spoken words. Actually a very cool song--very like a song from CHROMA KEY's Dead Air for Radios. (8/10)

16. "Interlude #2." Buddhist harmonic chants with keening woman. Cool. (7/10)

17. "Harmonix." Longest song on the album opens with a CHRIS SPHEERIS-like electric guitar solo over synths and piano. At 2:15 drums and bass join in at which time the guitarist's soloing moves into the fretboard's highest registers before giving way to/alternating with our Falsetto Gregorian monk. Powerful female vocal in the last minute. (8/10)

18. "Take Me" slows it down with a true ballad BRYAN ADAMS style. A female vocal yields to male (for the remainder of the song!) over piano, harp, synths, and some programmed percussion. 1:45 sees the rock pop element as the BRYAN ADAMS/KENNY LOGGINS comparisons become more evident. Nice pop tune/movie anthem. (5/10)

19. "Come With Me (Reprise)" Acoustic guitar and piano break down what had been a trip-hoppy Ibiza tune into a JONI MITCHELL plays with GOVI mood piece. Nice late night beach music. Female vocal enters with one minute remaining to C & W us to song's end. (4/10)

20. "Outro" closes out the album in a very theatric way by trying to replicate the sound of a full orchestra as if over the movie's closing credits. Fairly well accomplished; rather like ANTHONY PHILLIPS' grandiose keyboard pieces or VANGELIS' close to the Blade Runner soundtrack. (7/10)

Overall a very interesting and mostly pleasantly listenable music experience which deserves to be listened to--which will make as excellent an addition to any prog lover's collection as, say, a CHROMA KEY or XII ALFONSO album.


Canadians rule the world of quirk! (Quirk, Strangeness and Charm!) Miriodor's music is highly unpredictable--each and every turn is surprising and yet entertaining, and very engaging! Like YUGEN, PRESENT, UNIVERS ZERO and ART ZOYD these musicians are definitely virtuosi, unlike the artists on this list, Miriodor have much more of an open sense of humor on display in their music.  

Favorite songs: "La Roche (Meeting Point)" (9:17) and "Avanti" (8:18).

Solid four star effort.

EPICA Design Your Universe 

One of my step-daughter's favorite groups (she's a fem-fronted Goth and classical music/opera geek), this album was not as well received by her as their previous releases, 2007's The Divine Conspiracy and 2009's full orchestra- and choir-accompanied live album, The Classical Conspiracy. Though their music is a bit over the top drama metal for my tastes, I must admit that the compositions are quite clever and performed at quite a high level of musicianship. Plus, Simone Simons has quite an amazing voice. Were I young and needing to expell a lot of teen angst, Goth metal would be a great outlet, and there are none better in the sub-sub-genre than Epica.

Favorite songs: "Unleashed" (5:48) (9/10) and "Martyr of the Free World" (5:03) (8/10).

Four stars for highly accomplished, complex compositions and performances.

THE CHURCH Untitled #23

IL CASTELLO DI ATLANTE Capitolo 7 – Tra la Antiche mura

A great story (told in Italian) told in classic prog, classic Rock Progressivo Italiano style with some of the best sound, structures, and compositions throughout that I've heard from recent RPI artists. Some of this album's high points are even better than DELIRIUM's Il nomo del vento or IL BACIO DELLA MEDUSA's Discesa agl'inferi d'un giovane amante.

Solid four stars of great Italian (dramatic, operatic) prog.

THE DEAR HUNTER Act III: Life and Death 

A pleasant collection of more Beatles-like indie-pop-oriented prog all composed and organized to tell a six-album concept story concerning the life of a boy at the turn of the 20th Century. Though I have not been drawn in to much of the other Dear Hunter discography, this one is pretty engaging and not too dull or repetitive. To my ears this is a lot like MUSE and DOVES.

Favorite songs: "Life and Death" (5:46) (8/10), "The Tank" (4:39) (8/10), "What It Means to Be Alone" (4:50) (8/10).

3.5 stars rounded up for great production sound, creativity, and ambition.

Albums from Y2K that Are, IMHO, Over-rated

RIVERSIDE Anno Domini High Definition

Not even in the same league as Second Life Syndrome! This album is far too heavy, bordering on metal, and lacking the melodic appeal and accessibility of the previous near-masterpiece. It's as if Duda's other project, Lunatic Soul, is extracting the subtler, "prettier" side out of Riverside, leaving only the flash, show, and freneticism of this rather unexceptional, ordinary heavy rock. Everything is being played at a volume of eleven, at hyper-speed, with reckless abandon--as if the world were ending and they were racing toward it in a mind-numbing stupor. 

Not even "good" to my ears--for collectors only: 2 stars. Better luck next time (I hope the boys come up with an alternate plan in case the world doesn't end as quickly as they think it is.)


More bombastic prog-by-the-numbers from these kings of bombastic Neo Prog. Not my cup of tea. Not even close.

THE DECEMBERISTS The Hazards of Love 

 Another album that has taken me a LONG time to get to know in order to write a review of it--partly because I am not particularly attracted to this kind of music--let's call it the modern version of BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY. Great production, cool concept album, but boy do I get tired of feeling like I'm sitting round the campfire after the long day's work cattle ranching or prospecting under the hot sun. And, excuse me, but I was never, am not, a fan of JANIS JOPLIN. Plus I get very tired of that electric bluesy bass riff spouting off every four beats for four to six minutes ("Won't Want for Love," "The Wanting Comes in Waves," The Queen's Rebuke," etc.) By the way, call me crazy or something, but, isn't the music on this album just good ole standard rock and roll? 

My three favorite songs rely on sounding like classic rock proto-prog groups from the 1960s: "Prelude" (PROCUL HARUM), "The Hazards of Love 1" (TRAFFIC "John Barleycorn") and "Margaret in Captivity" (RENAISSANCE [and later, PEARL JAM]), and the others like JANIS and her HOLDING COMPANY. 

3 stars. Not my favorite album. Not one I particularly enjoy. I understand the 'goodness' of it. I just don't like this music.

IQ Frequency 

Though "Ryker Skies"(9:45) (10/10) is a great song--one of the best of the Naughties--Frequency as a whole displays nothing new except perfected, refined, even re-hashed IQ Neo-prog (which is, in itself, rehashed imitation of the melodic symphonic and crossover bands of the late 1970s). The album's much-raved-about prog epic, "The Province of the King"(13:42) (7/10) (as well as the album's other long song, "Stronger Than Friction" [10:32] [7/10]) is so familiar--textbook GENESIS/IQ. Too bad that Peter Nicholls' rather pleasant voice is always the same. Too bad that most of Neo-prog's good ideas have already been used. Too many times. (GENESIS were great, weren't they?!)

Four stars for great sound and performances; three stars because it's all been heard/done before.

LEPROUS Tall Poppy Syndrome 

 Like several other reviewers of this album, I'm quite surprised at the choice of sub-genre to which this album has been assigned; the "tech/extreme prog metal" label also kept me away from trying this album out earlier. The theatric nature of these songs and their performances reminds me of QUEEN, SAGA, KHATSATURJAN and a lot of RPI. While it does get quite heavy and uses some very common 'signature' sounds found in metal, I find it far less repellant or in-your-face as most metal music. My question with regards to all those who keep acclaiming the band's technical and performance wizardry is: Where? I find the drumming and especially the keyboards (especially piano and organ parts) to be quite simply constructed--very much like a Broadway musical--and their performances to be quite competent, even refreshing (for the metal/heavy prog scene), but, nothing more. The music leaves me blank, not numb but simply without emotion (though I do find myself laughing from time to time at the frequent use [over use?] of [melo-]dramatic musical clichés). As a matter of fact, the more times I listen to this album I find myself unable to shake the feeling that these guys are kind of soul-less; doing a great job of going through the motions of being prog metal artists but really not conveying much to the world. I enjoy the presence of melody and changing evolving structures, but, again, I am not a hearer of lyrics: vocals are yet another vehicle for musical presentation for me; a song (or album)'s 'message' is rarely of any particular value to me (other than how well the music supports the emotional message of those words). While I like the opera and Broadway, I am less inclined to choose this to listen to over either precisely because of the metal electric guitar rhythms. Should I wish to engage with a progressive rock theatrical production I will much rather turn to good ole Genesis or Yes, Queen or The Who, or the new Khatsaturjan or wonderful Musea Records/Colossus productions of the past decade.
      I love another reviewer's reference to the GARY NUMAN-like keyboard in the title song--(my favorite on the album).

3.5 stars.

NEMO Barbares 

Try as I might, this band just doesn't do it for me. The music is always a bit too aggressive, too oriented to abrasive guitar playing. As much as I love French, Nemo's vocals are often a bit too in your face.

1. "L.D.I." (9:41) is one of my favorite songs on the album, rarely going 'over the top' as the band is often prone to do. (8/10)

2. "19:59" (6:47) is solid but lacking the hooks to suck you in and bring you back. Also, it seems to behave like a horse or dog race around the track: the whole thing in one single-minded speed--which, over almost seven minutes, seems more to drag on and on without coming to any shift or successful resolution. Some nice guitar work in the fourth minute. (7/10)

3. "Le film de ma vie" (7:40) while kind of pretty (initial guitar parts and fairly melodic vocal presentation) the song again seems to go nowhere. The instrumental "B" part starting around the three minute mark is much more interesting, bordering on some almost-STEELY DAN sounds and feeling before winding down into a rather bizarre and lackluster synthesizer solo. Then the song shifts into a kind of African choral chant which then morphs into a pretty decent two-chord section supporting vocal and guitar solos. (8/10)

4. "L'armée des ombres" (10:05) begins with a heavy guitar-led intro before collapsing into a stark bass, drums and electric piano groove over which the singer does his thing. Very much like a mix of THE MARS VOLTA and early VAN HALEN. Development and change during the first six minutes are, however, quite lacking--especially in the rhythm section (there are plenty of changes among the solo instruments on the top). The 'bottom falls out' section that ensues with piano and bass pulsing a syncopated beat behind a distant bumping piano and way-foreward tinny electric guitar--which is then met by another different guitar in a THIN LIZZY-like duet--turns into more of a TMV song. I actually quite like the last four minutes. (7/10)

5. "Faux semblants" (8:04) is a refreshing pop-jazzy tune that reminds me of STEELY DAN, THE CRUSADERS and even a little MEET DANNY WILSON. At 4:20 it begins to sound a lot like a DEVIN TOWNSEND weave as we enter another choral "la-la-la-laah" section. The following synth solo over the electric  guitar power chords works (this time). I really like the bass work on this one, too. My favorite song on the album. (9/10)

The obligatoire prog epic, 6. "Barbares" (25:54), is just too long and seems, in the end, rather pointless. The first half is instrumental and then there is a very odd break at the 12:30 mark which then restarts with an almost-equally odd Celtic sound--which then turns very JETHRO TULL-ish (though I am again reminded more of the music of THIN LIZZY--if they had been prog- and epic-oriented). the delicate pianissimo section that begins at the 21-minute mark was what I thought was a completely different song (ELTON JOHN's "Funeral for a Friend" perhaps?), but then it revives some old theme (that I had quite forgotten) before going into a build-up to crescendo sound-fest that sounds mysteriously similar to a theme/section from HARMONIUM's "Depuis l'automne"). Maybe after five to ten listens this one would make coherent sense and win me over but the Nemo sound is just not enticing enough for me to want to try to achieve said intimacy.  


Nice jazz fusion with a bit of a Canterbury flavor from old ROBERT WYATT-devote Patrick Forgas and company. Nothing to write home about.

PHIDEAUX Number Seven

More sappy, over-produced Neo Prog from Mr. Phideaux. Just too over-the-top and monochromatic for me.

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