Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Fishscales' Highest Rated Albums of the 21st Century

1. BENT KNEE Shiny Eyed Babies (2014) - 100

2. ARNAUD BUKWALD La marmite cosmique No. 6 (2020) - 97.3

3. HOMUNCULUS RES Limiti all'eguaglianza della Parte con il Tutto (2013) * - 97.2

4. VANETA Antimemory (2016) * 97.14

5. BATTLESTATIONS Vixit (2017) 96.67

6. PROGHMA-C Bar-do Travel (2009) - 96.52 

7. UNAKA PRONG Salinity Now! (2018) 96.25

8. LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO La notte anche de griorno (2015) 96.0

8. SETNA Guérison (2013) - 96.0

8. PÄATOS Timeloss (2002) # - 96.0

11. MONOBODY Raytracing (2018) 95.88

12. ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF Dead Magic (2018) 95.71

13. THE AMAZING Gentle Stream (2011) - 95.67

14. WESERBERGLAND Am End Der Welt (2020) - 95.55

15. AIRBAG The Greatest Show on Earth (2013) - 95.52

16. MICE ON STILTS Hope for a Mourning (2016) - 95.0

17. FREQUENCY DRIFT Ghosts… (2011) - 95.0

18. BIG BIG TRAIN English Electric, Part One (2012) - 94.55

19. CORDE OBLIQUE A Hail of Bitter Almonds (2011) - 94.50 

20. FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE Not That City (2013) # - 94.50

21. ANATHEMA Falling Deeper (2011) - 94.44  

22. WESERBERGLAND Sehr Kosmish Ganz Progisch (2017) # 94.44

23. FAUN Renaissance  (2005) - 94.44

24. ULVER Shadows of the Sun (2007) - 94.44

25. TIRILL Said the Sun to the Moon (2019) - 94.44

26. METHEXIS Suiciety (2015) 94.40

27. GHOST MEDICINE Discontinuance (2016) * 94.29

28. DEMEN Nektyr (2018) * 94.29 

29. MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Part the Second (2009) - 94.28

30. MOTHER TURTLE II (2016) 94.17

31. IAMTHEMORNING Lighthouse (2016) - 94.17

32. THE GHOSTS OF JUPITER The Great Bright Horses (2016) 94.12

33. ANTOINE FAFARD Ad Perpetuum (2014) 94.0

34. ÄNGLAGÅRD Viljans Ôga (2012) - 94.0

35. KAYO DOT Choirs of the Eye (2003) # 94.0

36. CICADA Light Shining Through the Sea (2016) - 94.0

37. MIDLAKE Antiphon (2013) - 94.0

38. FAUN Eden (2011) 94.0 

39. LIZARD Master and M (2013) - 94.0

* denotes a band's debut album.
# denotes a debut album by a band of prog veterans.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Top Albums of the Year 2020, Part 1: The Masterpieces

My Favorite Albums of 2020
(In some semblance of order)

***Author's note:  Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. 

  The first list is merely a list consisting of a Top Twenty with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These are my favorite albums of the year, that is, the albums to which I have formed the greatest emotional attachments. 
The Reviews that follow are ordered according to my more 'objective' yet still personal judgment as to their quality, that is, the "best" albums of the year. Here I have tried to order the albums reviewed according to a metric determination (my own numerical rating system--which I call the "Fishscales") as to what are the "best" albums of the year from a more critical, qualitative, and quantitative viewpoint, that is, without as much emotional attachment as "My Favorite" albums. 

Despite a waning interest in remaining open to certain sub-genres of progressive rock music, and, verily, music in general, I have been able to listen to over 100 new releases from 2020.

According to my calculations, 2020 presents Prog World with three (3) "masterpieces," 11 "minor" masterpieces, and 41 other excellent "near-masterpiece" albums!  

The Rankings
 (My "Favorites")

1. MAGICK BROTHER & MYSTIC SISTER Magick Brother & Mystic Sister
2. PENDRAGON Love over Fear
3. THE RETICENT The Oubliette
4. THE LIGHT IN THE OCEAN The Pseudo-Scientific Study of Oceanic Neo-Cryptid Zoology
6. NEON HEART Neon Heart
7. ONCE AND FUTURE BAND Deleted Scenes
8. ARNAUD BUKWALD La marmite cosmique, no. 6
9. WESERBERGLAND Am Ende der Welt
10. ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF All Thoughts Fly

11. JOHN LUDI Mistakes Have Been Made
12. HOMUNCULUS RES Andiamo in giro di notte e ci consumiamo nel fuoco
13. ABEL GANZ The Life of the Honeybee and Other Moments of Clarity
14. VESPERO The Four Zoas
16. MARJANA SEMKINA Sleepwalking
18. JARGON The Fading Thought
19. MOTORPSYCHO The All Is One
20. JOHN HOLDEN Rise and Fall

21. HIBISCUS BISCUIT Reflections of Mine
22. UBI MAIOR Bestie, Uomini e Dèi
23. THE OCEAN Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic
24. PAT METHENY From This Place
25. KARFAGEN Principles and Theory of Spektra
26. CORDE OBLIQUE The Moon Is a Dry Bone
27. LOGOS Sadako e le mille gru di carta
28. MOURA Moura
29. THE BARDIC DEPTHS The Bardic Depths

Honorable Mentions:
OTEME Un Saluto alle Nuvole
DAVE BRONS Not All Who Wander Are Lost
SANGUINE HUM A Trace of Memory
FREN Where Do You Want Ghosts to Reside?
WOBBLER Dwellers of the Deep

The Reviews

Five Star Masterpieces
(Ratings of 100 to 93.34)

*****Album of the Year for 2020!****

1. ARNAUD BUKWALD La marmite cosmique No. 6

The most creative master of synthesizing old sounds and styles into knew and exciting (and often witty) compositions is back with yet another jaw-dropping adventure into sonic magic-making. I am continuously in awe of Arnaud's uncanny ability to replicate and/or adapt old sounds, styles, and riffs and then meld them into something totally new and fresh. It is truly an amazing gift.

Line-up / Musicians:
- A. Bukwald / vocals, arrangements
- Cherry Pob / vocals

1. "Contes lunaires" (22:14) orchestration and operatic vocals! Am I on the set of Camelot? And then the sly slide into Zeuhl with the pairing of Arnaud's bass voice with Cherry Pob's mezzo! Genius! But then, holy sh*t! At the end of the second minute, the music slips into jazz--a fusion of early Magma Zeuhl and Soft Machine Third Canterbury! Wow! this is an even better fusion than SETNA! At 4:22 comes another sudden shift--into a variation on "Slightly, All the Time"--using piano-based jazz combo with sax and vibes--and then that Canterburian funky saw-organ! At 6:45 Arnaud again turns, this time into pure chordal Zeuhl structure, using echoed flute as his lead to distract us. Acoustic guitar, piano and the wafting, lilting voice of Cherry Pob take over at 7:32. I am in awe! Arnaud, you have truly outdone yourself! This is Annie Haslem Renaissance/Mike & Sally Oldfield  territory. At 9:22 those acoustic guitars start to strum as Mellotron, cymbals, and "horns" join Cherry and synth-flutes. "Can You Hear Me?" 
     At 10:52 we shift back into Zeuhlish jazz--a slow pace that shows off the two vocalists (who possess a magical DEAD CAN DANCE Brendan Perry/Lisa Gerrard chemistry). Wow! The tears are streaming down my cheeks! (and this is the third time through the song!)
     At 13:33 we get a shift into some kind of mystical forest of glass and wind as vibes/marimba flutes and cymbals create this spacious soundscape before being joined by the odd, sometimes discordant strums of a zither. Definitely a dream interlude.
     At 15:35 we transition rather suddenly back into a more angular, DAVE STEWART-oriented style of Canterbury. While multiple instrument sounds used are straight out of the Canterbury lexicon, Arnaud cleverly brings in a few sounds that are on the fringes--though definitely from within the jazz fusion world. When the church organ begins mounting its ascending attack and the bass, drums, and bank of multiple vocals join in, we are in the realm of the gods--Prog Valhalla! Reverse-engineered guitar solos and then fades while the organ continues its slow, repetitive climb toward heaven. I think we've made it! Pure brilliance--from start to finish! Arnaud's finest hour! (44/45)

2. "Dynamogeny" (11:50) take an early Pink Floyd journey into psychedelia and throw in a little Procul Harum like-organ in the beginning and some upbeat 1940s (or -60s!) Eurojazz-pop, but then give it a metronomic yet-soulful Can-like penetrating Krautrock beat and you've got "Dynamogeny." What a trip! What a creative genius! (23/25)

Total Time 34:04

Those of you who have not give this master chameleon a chance, you are really missing out. There is true, rare genius happening here!

95.71 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a true masterpiece of eclectic or crossover progressive rock music from the 21st Century's master synthesizer of our favorite sounds from the past. Congratulations, Arnaud! You've truly outdone yourself! A truly astonishing display of composition and realization! 

The best album I've heard of 2020 (so far)!

2. WESERBERGLAND Am Ende der Welt

The vastly creative mind of Ketil Vestrum Einarsen and collaborators Matthias Olsson and Jacob Holm-Lupo are at it again. While their previous effort, 2017's masterful "update" of the Krautrock musical scene, Sehr Kosmiche, Ganz Progisch, this one is far more futuristic--employing extreme computer processing techniques in both the treatment and recording of the instrumental sounds captured here but also in the final rendering of said sound. While the album does have some similarities to Sehr Kosmiche, Ganz Progisch, but is definitely its own beast. The composition is intended to be singular but due to the limitations imposed by Bandcamp has been renderd into two "separate" entities. The music is, to my ears, some kind of modern classical music à la Karlheinz Stockhausen. If one has the opportunity to hear Jacob Holm-Lupo's "binaural" rendering of the music, you will definitely feel the distinctive "classical" component parts and musical styles being here "modernized"; the other version gives more of the impression of a linear assault on the brain. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ketil Vestrum Einarsen / computer
- Jørgen Mathisen / saxophone harmonics 
- Gaute Storsve / guitar 
- Jan Terje Augestad / treated piano 
- Maria Grigoryeva / strings 
- Molesome (Mattias Olsson) / turntables 

1. "Am Ende Der Welt" (Side A) (24:18) The way this starts--with a kind of experiment in modern recording techniques and wave-treatment effects of strings, horns, electric guitar, and piano, I thought I was in for something like a GODSPEED /YOU! BLACK EMPEROR song, but then the computer drum beats and other glitch noises begin. This is not the same music as that produced for the band's heavy-into-Krautrock 2017 debut album. It turns very experimental--a kind of cross between the primal "tribal" music of Yoshimi P-We and some the most "out there" music of Markus Pajakkala--all accompanied by the steady strings of the Kronos Quartet! The odd thing is, I really like this! Especially the Steve Reichian third, chamber first and fourth motifs and the drawn-out drone and experimental glitch dulcimer middle. Int he fifteenth minute, the cacophony of earlier sounds and layers climbs back into the soundscape, taking over with the insistence of a race car cruising through open country vistas. After the stark sparseness of that middle section, the return of craziness almost feels comforting, "normal" which I find very interesting; being a nature lover and city-hater, this is not what I would have expected my reaction to be. The scale back to the third Steve Reichian motif in the twentieth minute is equally fascinating for my bodymind's reaction to it: as if there are essential melodies being woven together here. I am blown away! What a ride! And now, after my third "trip" through "Side A" I think I'm in love! I am Pan, primal goat-man, looking for a place to sow my seed. Any place! Please! It's all so beautiful! (48/50)

2. "Am Ende Der Welt" (Side B) (18:20) And the party continues! (Apparently this was recorded as a single song that had to be split into two due to Bandcamp's restrictions.) This half opens with sustained horns and piano hits behind "alien radio static." Very cool. For some reason I'm reminded of the evocative warmth of MARK ISHAM soundtrack music being used for some moving like Contact. At 2:18 heavily-treated computer drums enter--adding more to the "alien" feeling than to the human emotional side. The droning horns and strings try to drown out the drums as a syncopated bass note (coming from the treated piano) becomes equally insistent. In the eighth minute the horns drop back revealing layers of electric guitar and synth that were playing there all along, hidden beneath the scream-squeal-and-bark cacophony going on up front. It's unnerving, it's beautiful; unsettling and calming all at once, depending on your "distance"--and it goes on for 12 minutes before showing any signs of letting up! At times I'm thinking I'm in the Scottish highlands, at others hearing a mother's lullaby, and others the vicious sounds of a pack of wolves in pursuit of and ripping apart their prey. Amazing!
     As it does let up in the 14th minute--various instrument tracks being removed or whatever--it becomes monomaniacal in an Ornette Coleman kind of way. Hard to believe that crazed sax was there the whole time!
     I think it genius--though I'm not sure I'd ever play this for easy listening background music. (38

Total Time 42:38

Now this is progressive rock! Ketil & Co. have definitely used all the tools to take there sound experiments into seldom-traveled territories. Bravo! Kudos! This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but you have to respect the vision and cajones it took to see this through from conception to release! I'm not sure which I prefer, the "standard" rendering that I first heard (three times) or the more humanely dissected soundstage of the "binaural" version. Both are worth the time for the different experiences. Compare and tell me which you prefer and why!

95.55 on the Fishscales = A/five stars. While I think this album release a masterpiece of truly progressive rock music, I extend this precautionary warning: THIS MUSIC IS NOT FOR THE WIMPY, LIGHT--OF-HEART, OR GUTLESS; it will take curiosity, patience, courage, and ann open-mind in order to appreciate this is not you, then I recommend staying far away. If you are at all curious about Ketil's intentions when creating this album, check out the excellent interview with him by Sander Roscoe Wolff at, Issue 104, August 14, 2019.

3. PENDRAGON Love over Fear

I have been really enjoying this album. Nick Barrett's songwriting is masterful--he knows how to write music that truly pleases the soul. His lyrics are also quite engaging, nostalgic, and even inspiring. And he may just be the pre-eminent guitar soloist of the latter half of the Progressive Rock era: like his predecessor in that spot, Dave Gilmour, his solos rarely fail to evoke astonishment, goosebumps, and/or blissful elation. They do here and they really have always done so. We are so fortunate for the talents of this supremely gifted musician. 
     One of the things that makes this album so enjoyable is the variety of song styles, the heart-centered place from which his lyrics and music seems to arise, the wonderful sound palette and sonic landscapes created herein, and what feels like perhaps the best array of truly astonishing vocal performances I've ever heard from Mr. Barrett--and this from a vocalist that I really never considered a "master" of that instrument.
     As it feels as if people have become tired of the song-by-song narration routine, I will eschew from said process. Suffice it to say that I feel that there are three perfect songs: 5."Soul and the Sea," 7. "Water," and 8. "Whirlwind";

four other masterpieces in 3. "Truth and Lies," 6. "Eternal Light," 9. "Who Really Are We?" and 10. "Afraid of Everything";

three very good songs in 1. "Everything," 2. "Starfish and the Moon," and 4. "360 Degrees";

and no songs worth skipping.

93.44 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a full blown masterpiece of progressive rock music--no small feat these 40 years after their formation. Would that other bands continually be able to not only reinvent but improve upon their back catalogue. Time after time, Pendragon have consistently been able to do this. Amazing.

The "Minor" Masterpieces
(Ratings of 93.33 to 90.0)

4. THE RETICENT The Oubliette

Working with the very important element of a very talented Maynard James Keenan clone for vocalist, the experimental metal music here draws from influences and styles far more widely varied than TOOL have ever aspired to. The musicianship is top notch; the "band"'s collaborative tightness incredibly well synchronized, with musical dynamics often shifting all over the place, heavy to soft, complex to austere, but not so chaotically as to wear on the listener. In fact, it all makes total sense in the context of the album's theme:  "an emotional journey into the 7 stages of Alzheimer's Disease."

Line-up / Musicians:
Chris Hathcock - drums, percussion, bass, rhtyhm guitar, vocals
James Nelson - guitar leads on 1, 3
Andrew Lovett - tenor sax on 2
Steven Wynn (Undrask) - addtional guttural vocals on 5
Amanda Caines - female vocals on 6, 7; voice acting on 2, 4, 5
Rei Haycraft - voice acting on 2, 4, 5, 7
Juston Green - voice acting on 2, 4, 5, 7 
Jordan High School Wind Ensemble - winds on 5, 7

1. "Stage 1: His Name is Henry" (9:46) with such a beautiful vocal opening, it's hard to believe this is going to be a metal album. The Maynard James Keenan similarities are quite pronounced in the forms used in the third minute alone. Very cool switch into melodic latin jazz at 3:30 is soon followed by austere piano-and-voice interlude. then we're back into the heavy prog. Great drumming! Great guitar and bass play. This guy can really do it all!  (18.25/20)

2. "Stage 2: The Captive" (6:00) solid metal music with 100% MJK vocal stylings within the first 90 seconds turning to death metal growls. Slowdown and saxophone solo over finger-picked electric guitar in third minute followed by stark piano and vocal. What an amazing voice! Great shift back to metal palette near the four-minute mark. Don't know why but I'm hearing some sounds and stylings familiar to me from the 1980s metal bands--Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Poison, Queensryche or someone. Then mixed with more Latin-like sounds & rhythms for the finale. (9.25/10)

3. "Stage 3: The Palliative Breath" (7:13) opens with Henry's daughter greeting a cheerful Henry but, sadly, not knowing who she is before the music begins. It's gently paced and beautifully set up with bass, and gently-picked electric guitar while Chris sings. By the fourth minute we've shifted gears a couple times and moved into the heavier stuff, but never full metal--this is more melodic like Def Leppard or modern atmospheric metal masters Karnivool. Great lyrics--especially in the chorus sections--with nice multi-voiced harmonic vocals. Beautiful song. Really captures the mood of Henry's unwitting, insidious mental retreat. (14/15)

4. "Stage 4: The Dream" (11:47) multiple elegant electric guitar lines follow the opening passage from an interview with a young British-accented family member of an Alzheimer's patient. When Chris' voice enters its with a dreamy, heavily-treated plaintive vocal. At 2:17 the full band kicks in as multiple voices sing a bank of vocalise "ahh"s. Such dignity in this music; it's truly astonishing. Then, at 4:45, we take a drastic turn down another street--this one an instrumental section that is based on staccato instrumental play and near-Latin odd-tempoed rhythms--but it's over within a minute--replaced by a synth-dreamy sequence with an angelic female vocalist urging Henry to "come with me." In the eighth minute, then we balloon out into full metal--though quite smooth and melodic (KARNIVOOL-like) soundscapes--while the emotional MJK voice performs his magic. Those sections of gorgeous multi-voiced background vocalise are so effective! And I LOVE how the vocals are dialoguing about Henry's destiny. What a composition! I am a mess--an absolute ball of tears! One of the most powerful songs of 2020! (24/25)

5. "Stage 5: The Nightmare" (12:14) pure aggression, as expressed through an early Maudlin of the Well-like death metal style that is later enhanced by "orchestra." At the 2:30 mark we burst out of the chamber lull with some full force prog metal. Quite theatric music (with full support of "orchestra") with a very powerful vocal performance à la Ian Kenny. At the five-minute mark we return to more aggressive death metal stylings as the vocals turn to growls, but then we return to Ian Kenny-like smoothness at 6:00. Great music with an awesome, albeit brief, lead guitar solo. Then the eighth minute gets really weird as multiple styles and tempos get mixed together as the chaos inside Henry grows. At 8:50 we return to the great themes of the seventh minute. I love this music--especially the multiple guitar and vocal work! Incredible!
     I have to admit, the music--and the odd and unexpected interludes--is so fitting for this (sad and horrific) stage of Alzheimer's. And sadly, "There is no way out." (23.25/25)

6. "Stage 6: The Oubliette" (10:38) "locked inside himself" and "wanting it to be totally over as quickly as possible." I can relate. With some eerie but so effective music to perfectly capture the goings-on both inside and outside the Alzheimer's patient at this advanced stage. With this music, I am strongly brought back to the powerful feelings of disorientation and isolation that Gabriel Lucas Riccio's 2013 album, Interior City provoke in me. (17.75/20)

7. "Stage 7: ___________" (6:10) over the sound of the pings and beeps of a fully-engaged hospital bed play the gorgeous and sad orchestral music with occasional vocal offerings sounding like a soloist from a boy's choir give three minutes of cinematic "closure" as Henry's huan life comes to an end. James Newton, John Williams, or John Barry couldn't have done it better. Sheer perfection--totally capturing all of the emotions of that event. This is then followed by a rain-soaked speech with regards of the future impact of this "dreaded disease"--numbers and statistics rendered in an echoed voice that sounds like Steven Spielberg (while I know that it's not). (10/10)

Total time: 65:48

Though musically this may not be offering much that is breathtakingly new or boundary-pushing, it is amazingly successful in its support of the original concept "an emotional journey into the 7 stages of Alzheimer's Disease." This is by my reckoning an album deserving of all the accolades and superlatives one might hear and certainly the best heavy prog/prog metal album I've heard from 2020 and the most refreshing musical rendering of a concept since The Gabriel Construct's 2013 masterpiece, Interior City (which this reminds me of) or Tune's 2011 release, Lucid Moments

93.20 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of human expression and a truly worthy and amazing addition to any prog lover's music collection. Folks: This is what prog, music, and art are all about! 

5. JARDON The Fading Thought

Another new band from Greece which guitarist extraordinaire Nikitas Kissonas adds his support. (I have to admit, that alone got me excited enough to check this album out.)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jargon / vocals, keyboards, piano
- Nikitas Kissonas / guitars
- Leonidas Petropoulos / bass
- Wil Bow / drums
- Kostas Karitzis / violin
- Stelios Papanastasis / viola
- Thodoris Mouzakitis / violin
- Aris Zervas / cello
- Lupe / additional vocals (7)

1. "The Film" (5:33) opens with beautiful grand piano playing in a soft, warm, romantic classical style. In the second minute Jargon's piano is joined by strings--most prominently a viola--and in the third minute cello. An absolutely gorgeous chamber song. At the 3:00 mark there is a slight shift as piano works back into the lead while high-register long-sustained violin notes provide the accompaniment until 3:57 when the rest of the strings joins in to create an absolutely stunning harmonic weave. Wow! What am I in for?! (10/10)

2. "In Search of the Invisible Thin Line" (4:53) piano and strings punctuated by rock band instruments to create a dramatic weave over which Jargon sings in a plaintive though restrained tenor. (I say "restrained" because I can tell he has much more power in reserves--which he begins to hint more at in the chorus.) After the second verse and chorus an instrumental passage ensues that is quite theatric in its arrangement and use of frequent punctuated "bridges" threaded within the otherwise smooth flow of the chamber composition. Such a refined composition! It's only shortfall is in the fact that Jargon never really lets go to reveal the full power of his voice (and, I must admit, the lack of any "breakout" moments for guitarist Nikitas Kissonas). (9/10)

3. "Dance of the Framed Words" (2:38) Theatric-cabaret-like instrumental dance interlude with some nice guitar fire in the second minute and beyond. Nikitas goes from from raunchy, slash style to screaming infinity guitar and then frantic Robert Fripp all in two minutes! (4.5/5)

4. "The Fading Thought" (7:17) There's a bit of QUEEN/LUCIFER'S FRIEND in the sound and stylings within this one before it goes to an instrumental section at 1:20. Nice guitar over the brooding piano-jazz foundation. When vocals return it's a powerful MATTHEW PARMENTER-like performance (especially in the choruses) over some very DISCIPLINE-like music. This is remarkable! One of the best songs I'ver heard from 2020! (14.75/15)

5. "Light" (3:54) piano and strings in a more uptempo chamber arrangement. Beautiful! (8.75/10)

6. "Time Is Running Out" (6:54) a classic art rock song base that sounds as if it comes from both 1970s QUEEN and PETER HAMMILL with several strong hints of BURT BACHARACH's orchestral charts. Jargon feels as if he's losing his momentum in the sixth minute but is saved by the instrumental finish. (13.75/15)

7. "How Can I?" (6:22) a more JOHN TOUT/RENAISSANCE-like classical bombast opening (with a "Mother Russia"-like chord base), pulls away for the entrance of Jargon's whispered vocal. In very short order, the song bursts forth into a heavy, more DISCIPLINE-like palette and feel as both Jargon and Nikitas let loose with impassioned vocals and emotional lead guitar performances, respectively. A quiet interlude in the fifth minute allows for some ominous That Joe Payne-like vocal theatrics (demonic laughing) and music before we break back into the full-scale sonic barrage for the finale. Wow! That went by so fast! Very powerful!
     During the third and fourth listens I was able to really appreciate all that the strings brings to support the power and emotion of this song. Astonishing! All that progressive rock music should aspire to. (9.5/10)

8. "The Last Temptation" (7:10) more beautiful cooperation between piano and strings opens this before giving way to a piano-only-supported low register vocal entrance. The second verse brings in the strings and while Jargon doubles his voice to sound like the lead vocalist from either PHIL LYNOTT (THIN LIZZY) or the 1980s band LOVERBOY. The choruses only reconfirm Jargon's Matthew Parmenter connection. The middle section surprises me a little with its continued repetition of the previous sections, but the choruses continue to help me avoid getting bored.
     At the 5:00 mark there is a pause and then launch into a very DISCIPLINE-like emphatic chorus. Then the song smooths out into a kind of traditional rock jam-outro with slow fade and rather sudden cut into the album's final song. (13.25/15)

9. "Window to the World" (4:54) probably my least favorite song on the album as it pounds its music and impassioned message of personal philosophy into my brain with little or no let up or mercy. (8.5/10)

Total Time 49:35

Wonderfully dramatic song constructs exploring the best combinations and permutations of classical piano and string quartet with bombastic prog rock instruments and styles. Though Discipline and Peter Hammill come to mind often, the music here stands amazingly well on its own--holds no debts or allegiances to anyone else. Plus, there is also an oft-present artistic flair more akin to Freddy Mercury and Queen.  

92.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of masterfully constructed progressive rock music--one of the best albums you'll hear from 2020! Jargon and his team are a revelation--they're genius!  

6. MAGICK BROTHER & MYSTIC SISTER Magick Brother & Mystic Sister

Delightful retro psychedelic funk bordering on Egg, Khan, and Caravan Canterbury Style music from this Spanish quartet. Bassist Xavi Sandoval sets up some very nice grooves for listeners to get hooked into while Eva Muntada's Burt Bacharach- and Northettes-like vocals an Maya Fernández's flutes lend their ethereal magic as well.

Line-up / Musicians: 
Eva Muntada: piano, synthesizers, organ, mellotron & vocals
Xavi Sandoval: bass & guitars
Marc Tena: drums & vocals
Maya Fernández: flute

1. "Utopia" (4:56) opens like SOFT MACHINE's "Slightly All the Time" before going its own direction with Eva's lovely vocalise tracks and Maya's swallow-like flute. I'm in heaven! At 2:25 the song switches gears as it moves into CARAVAN territory to support some awesome synth and fuzz-organ work. The final minute sees us being carried off into the floating world of GONG guitars. Wow! What a trip into yesteryear! Amazing song! (9.5/10)

2. "Waterforms" (4:06) opens with a funkiness that could come from a 1970s Black Exploitation film! Isaac, Curtis, or Marvin! Amazing! Drive that Caddy with that Detroit lean! When Eva's voice penetrates my consciousness, my bubble is burst and I am back in Europe--though with a definite 1970s-feeling 21st Century West Coast Psychedelic Funk (a la BRIAN ELLIS and STARVING DAUGHTERS). (9.25/10)

3. "The First Light" (2:24) early PINK FLOYD psychedelia. A little too imitative. (4.25/5)

4. "Yogi Tea" (5:16) like a Burt Bacharach lounge funk psychedelia! Great keys, bass, and flute interplay with perfect jazzy drum support. I love Marc's voice--and vocal! He sounds like a god! (Or like KHAN's Nick Greenwood!) West Coast Psychedelic Funk at its finest! One of my favorite songs of the year! (9.5/10)

5. "Arroyo del búho" (4:49) almost a Ravel/Satie/or Gordon Brothers flute & piano duet. (8.75/10)

6. "Echoes From The Clouds" (4:07) another song that brings back so many flower power melodies of the late 60s and early 1970s--from Sergio Mendez's Brazil '66 to Caravan and "MacArthur's Park." Great flute and bass play. (9/10)

7. "Movement 2" (2:39) except for the flutes, this could be straight from a BRIAN ELLIS album! Awesome three-part James Bond/Austin Powers-like film soundtrack. Great presence from the congas. Excellent flute play. (5/5)

8. "Love Scene" (3:32) another perfect soundtrack imitation from late 1960s/early 1970s psychedelic filmdom. Awesome Hammond work, Eva! (9/10)

9. "Instructions For Judgment Visions" (4:33) hippy flute folkpsych with GONG-like narration. (Or is it Eric Burden's WAR's "Spill That Wine"?) (8.75/10)

10. "Les Vampires" (6:40) Burt Bacharach-Brian Auger collaboration for a soundtrack to a B-movie horror flick? (9.25/10)

Total Time 43:02

91.39 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of retro-psychedelic prog. So wonderful to hear this gorgeous funk!

7. ONCE AND FUTURE BAND Deleted Scenes

A Crossover band that sounds like a cross between SANGUINE HUM, CHEER-ACCIDENT, THE CRUSADERS, STEELY DAN, TAME IMPALA, THE BEATLES, HARRY NILSSON, BEACH BOYS, and JANE'S ADDICTION. You may even hear some 10CC/GODLEY & CREME in here.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Joel Robinow / lead vocals, keyboards
- Raj Ojha / drums, recording engineer
- Raze Regal / guitars
- Eli Eckert / bass, backing vocals
- Danny T. Levin / horns, horn arrangements
- David Moyer / horns

1. "Andromeda" (4:06) JOHN LENNON and HARRY NILSSON both come to mind as I listen to this sophisticated/quirky pop song. Nice classic 1970s wind up and spit out in the final minute. (8.75/10)

2. "Automatic Air" (4:12) a beautiful, almost floating listening experience. (9.5/10) 

3. "Problem Addict" (5:03) another gorgeous song that reminds me of SANGUINE HUM only far more engaging and enjoyable. There's a little Tame Impala here, as well. (9.5/10)

4. "Several Bullets in My Head" (4:16) an upbeat instrumental sounding as if it came from some pop-jazz artist of the 1970s like Hubert Laws, The Crusaders/Joe Sample, or Steely Dan. I LOVE me some Fender Rhodes! (9/10)

5. "Freaks" (2:16) THE BEATLES/HARRY NILSSON and CHEER-ACCIDENT. (4.25/5)

6. "Mr. G" (3:25) a pure STEELY DAN opening. Turns more modern cheer-pop before going jazz pop at 1:40. (8.75/10)

7. "Deleted Scenes" (4:35) again a jazzed up SANGUINE HUM or CHEER-ACCIDENT comes to mind as I listen to funked up STEELY DAN-like songs these. (8.75/10)

8. "Airplane" (3:57) orientalized Ry Cooder-like acoustic sound palette backs Joel's confident lounge singing performance. At 2:00 things move into psychedelic pop realm reminding me of Robert James' WEST INDIAN GIRL or JANE'S ADDICTION/PORNO FOR PYROS. Interesting and beautiful but feels incomplete--like a snapshot: it leaves me wanting to know more. (8.75/10)

9. "The End and the Beginning" (9:06) dynamic and melodic, even cinematic, instrumental. Love the drumming and the DD Horns. Great theme/riffs after the slow down in the seventh minute. (18.75/20)

Total Length: 40:58

While lead vocalist Joel Robinow has a very pleasant, engaging voice (much more so than the lead vocalist of the band I most often compare them to, SANGUINE HUM's Joff Winks), and bass player Eli Eckert is often grabbing my attention, drummer Raj Ojha is for me the star of the show: he is quite the clever chameleon with this styles and techniques. Props to Joel for his keyboard mastery, as well.

91.32 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of crossover jazzy-pop music. I beg to wonder if every prog lover would enjoy adding this to their music collection, but I highly recommend that you check them out. On Bandcamp! 

8. SCARDUST Strangers

I'd never heard of this band before but, due to it's high marks from other reviewers and the presence of the AMAZING talents of vocalist Noa Grumann, I had to check it out. I am so glad I did! 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Noa Gruman / lead vocals
- Yoav Weinberg / drums
- Yadin Moyal / guitars
- Yanai Avnet / bass
- Itai Portugaly / keyboards
- Hellscore / choir
- Patty Gurdy / vocals (5)

1. "Overture for the Estranged" (6:34) brilliant and unusual "church choral" opening before tech/extreme metal takes over. For some reason I'm reminded of Canadians UneXpect--I think it's the chunky virtuosic Stick-like bass and frequent and unexpected twists and turns--though there is a Devy Townsend-like finish. (9.25/10)

2. "Break the Ice" (3:51) part QUEEN, part Broadway musical (Wicked and Frozen come to mind), Noa's vocals are all over the place--she's a one-person opera! Quite enjoyable and entertaining. Noa is even more impressive than I found her on the 2017 SOUL ENEMA masterpiece, Of Clans and Clones and Clowns. (9/10)

3. "Tantibus II" (3:39) again, Broadway musicals come to mind with the opening of this one--but then we get Noa's growl vocals )(one of the only women who, in my opinion, successfully present these). Great bass play.  (8.75/10)

4. "Stranger" (4:10) zig-zagging metal music establishes itself first before Noa's vocals belt it out. Though the vocals are fairly straightforward metal, there are some interesting musical espositions--particularly the piano in the midsection. There are a few instances where Noa's voice convinces me that she could do a pop ballad as well or better than just about anybody on the planet. (9/10)

5. "Concrete Cages" (7:21) folk instrumentation sets a rather "smooth" prog metal with melodic riffs and chorale lead and background vocals accompanying Noa's storytelling historiography. Nice interplay between keys and bass in fifth and sixth minute soli is followed by choral finish within which Noa scats impressively. Pretty cool song. (13.5/15)

6. "Over" (6:14) muted djent with choral "ho"s and Noa's growls, and prominent appearance of  Hammond organ. Transition into chest voice for the second half of the verse before choir and growl chorus. Very cool! Very militaristic. The music is full of twists and turns, with some great bass and guitar riffing in the third minute. I love the polyrhythmic passage that follows while the keys solo in an odd low whistle sound. The call and response between the two Noas (growl and chest voice) and the "Greek" "Hellscore" choir are awesome. Great almost rap/LINKIN PARK riff before choral finish. (9.25/10)

7. "Under" (4:13) torch singing jazz! I was privileged to hear a bit of this style from Noa on Of Clans and Clones and Clowns. The Broadway/Ray Charles gospel choir chorus is cool--and different (and totally unexpected). The spiritual slave-rebellion lyric seems quite in line with the music. Weird how the metal instrumentation can be almost rendered "normal"! (9/10)

8. "Huts" (3:26) some cool keyboard chord progressions anchor this prog metal song in some progginess. The Hellscore and children's choirs only take us back to the gospel feel of the previous song--but not so thoroughly. Nua's lead is so like that of something delivered by Prog Metal's female divas like Simone Simons or Floor Jansen that I think she deserves to be included in that esteemed company. (9.25/10)

9. "Gone" (4:43) great chord progression to open turns into something more like a standard classci rock song with metal instrumentation and awesome Alannah Miles/Lita Ford-like vocal. Nice melodies but really a pretty average. (8.75/10)

10. "Addicted" (5:29) back to UNEXPECT singing Broadway tunes. Perhpas not as wild and twisty-turny as UneXpect. Such a gorgeous voice when Noa goes into her head voice like she does in the beginning of the third minute. Hellscore Choir takes over and dominates the next 45 seconds before Noa rejoins. Again Noa hits some spine-chilling gorgeous notes and flurries in the fourth minute. (I think I'm in love!) Then lead guitar and piano take turns soloing over a kind of klezmer bass. Saw-synth takes the next solo before bass races to the finish to win first place! (9.25/10)

11. "Mist (3:22) gorgeous melodies, gently pacing, beuatiful singing by the amazing Noa Grumann and wonderful accents and embellishment from the use of the full choir, this is a great song--my favorite.  (10/10)

Total Time 53:02

Though prog metal has never been my favorite type of music, there is enough interest generated by Noa Grumann's exceptional talent and the preponderance of enjoyable melodies and diverse choral performances to keep this interesting and engaging, start to finish. 

91.30 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music; something to enjoy for even the most meek of prog lovers. Noa Grumann is a force. 


A wonderful surprise from Belgium:  Battlestations is not kaput! The band reincarnates to produce this Post Rock charmer.
1. "Silencer" (7:48) surprising Berlin School sequencing and lush strings "orchestration" over the first half is then replaced by a more industrial groove for the final three minutes. With Battlestation's usual heart-wrenching chord progressions . . . the "strings" and synth washes in the background are incredible. (13.75/15)

2. "Steeper Angles" (5:35is like an industrial ambient wash of Brian Eno's "and Julie with"--but then it goes all Blade Runner! Awesome! (9/10)

3. "Carbon" (5:10) sounds as if the first half of Genesis's song "Duchess" had been taken through a meat grinder and turned inside out--and then, in the second half of the song, it turns Gymnopedienne (+ meat grinder). Beautiful! (9.5/10)

4. "Relapse" (6:46) is a kind of play or variation on one of the beautiful motifs from Vixit. Considering its source material, this can never be a bad idea. (13/15)

5. "Wavering" (6:26) opens with an introductory section of more futuristic, Vangelis-like, industrial sounds (non-percussive). After the 90-second mark, this switches to a steadily-driving juggernaut of multiple threads woven together gorgeously. At the end of the fourth minute a harp-like arpeggio joins in just before a powerful trip-hoppy drum program takes us into outer space. Awesome keyboard work on all layers here. Song ends with central chord progression of synth washes slowly fading out. Excellent! Maybe my favorite song on this album. (10/10)

6. "L'abîme" (6:08) opens with a lot of "pond water"--music that sets up a mood, maybe an image, but doesn't seem to be going anywhere. (How does one do this?) It's not until the 2:30 mark that the camera begins a slow walk through the park. It's beautiful--even if my fever and dizziness is making everything shimmery and unsteady. "If you listen for long enough, you don't know whether what you're hearing is silence, or whether there's some kind of underlying sound, in the distance..." speaks the garbled gravelly voice as the song nears its end. The abysm. (8.5/10)

91.07 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of ambient Post Rock progressive rock music. 

10. THE LIGHT IN THE OCEAN The Pseudo-Scientific Study of Oceanic Neo-Cryptid Zoology

Oh man-oh man have you prog lovers got to hear this! Brilliant music with drop-dead gorgeous yet heavily-experimentally-treated sounds doing a kind of tongue-in-cheek sci-fi soundtrack.

Line-up / Musicians: 
Jared Emery
Jacob Ewert
Stephen Decker - violin (8)
Chris Frankhauser - harmonies (6, 8)
Michelle Zeto - voice (2)
Rusty Detty - voice (2)

1. "33-55-77" (3:49) opens with an awesome sound palette before kicking into structured heavy-rock voice-support. I'm reminded of both THE MERCURY TREE and MAUDLIN OF THE WELL. Another shift at 2:31 into MoTW with delicate microtonals. Dynamic, pitch-shifting electric guitar solo ensues over the top till end. Awesome start! (9.5/10)

2. "Beat Thief" (6:42) another great opening! Man these guys can play! Then sci-fi/spy dialogue between female and male agents over the top of some nicely woven support music. In the third minute the weave explores more of the treated piano capacities before everything slows down and "gets pretty." Interesting and very engaging spacious chord play between guitars, piano, bass, and drums ensues as the weave slowly rebuilds and picks up speed and momentum. I love this music! I'm sold! (9.5/10)

3. "Coffee Stains" (3:31) drums (hi-hat cymbal play) and deeply thrumming bass chords open this before guitars and voice join in. Not the greatest voice (or mix of the vocal track), but great atmospheric music. The bass replicating the main melody is killer! (9/10)

4. "HM&MLPHBWA" (3:01) almost too pretty of an opening for heavy or eclectic prog, the doubled up vocals are interesting. There's a cool UNAKA PRONG feel and sound here. Doubled up aggressive microtonal guitars (two tracks delivered to the two sides of my headphones) are cool. Then back the dreamy stuff for the end. (8.75/10)

5. "Biehn's Theme" (3:03) starts out rather standard modern metal fare but then adds a few interesting sounds and twists. (8.5/10)

6. "Memories Intact" (4:10) nice atmospheric sound palette for a fast-paced song. Then cover it with melodic, almost-poppy vocals and you have some nice ear candy. Bands like FROST*, INDUKTI, and KINO come to mind. (9/10)

7. "Sentimental Astronaut" (3:56) more great guitar chords/arpeggi with synth washes and deep-thrum bass notes and chords opens this one. Sounds a lot like PLINI, PAUL SPEER or MAUDLIN OF THE WELL. A very cool, engaging theme that is, in my opinion, only partially developed. (8.75/10)

8. "Hamilton Big Boys" (10:40) opens with a piano, violin and choral voice fabric while interesting DAIMON WAITKUS-like vocal sings over the top. At 2:10 things slow down and jazz-up a bit in a long bridge to a more electronic recapitulation of the main themes. Electric guitar and violin now compete for the melody carrier with the piano. At 4:33 there is a major shift into more PREFAB SPROUT territory--until the power chords and screaming metal vocals enter, that is. Cool instrumental passage in the sixth minute in support of the soloing violin, but then things amp back up again at the seven-minute mark for the strong PINK FAIRIES-like chorus. At 8:10 we come down again to a variation on the opening theme with arpeggios coming from picked guitar instead of piano while lead electric guitar wails away in the background. This last for the rest of the song as the music slowly fades over the final minute. Great song! (18.75/20)

Total Time 38:52

A very impressive album that captures some totally fresh sounds and variations on older styles. Definitely one to check out for yourselves--and a band (duo) that I'm going to keep an eye on! Kudos, Jared and Jacob! You've got a winning approach! I hope you can keep it going!

90.83 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of eclectic and innovative progressive rock music. 

11. UBI MAIOR Bestie, Uomini, e Dèi

The fourth album release from Italian band Ubi Maior since 2004, Bestie, Uomini e Dèi shows some very adept compositional and performance skills--which results in the best RPI album I've yet heard from 2020. As with the subject selections for each song, the compositions are varied and distinctive--rendered especially so by the astonishingly chameleonic range and creativity of singer Mario Moi. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Mario Moi / vocals, violin, trumpet
- Gabriele Manzini / keyboards, flute
- Marcella Arganese / electric & acoustic guitars
- Gianmaria Giardino / bass
- Alessandro di Caprio / drums

1. "Nero Notte" (6:12) great guitar and bass opening, then Neo Prog drums and keys enter to help establish the structural and melodic base before singer Mario Moi enters. Mario's voice is strong though a little warbly. Also, he sings this one with a kind of single note approach. The solid instrumental section that follows the opening vocal section begins with some nice violin before giving way to electric rock guitar. With the vocals I'm reminded of contemporary bands Syndone, Egonon, and La Maschera di Cena. (8.5/10)  

2. "Misteri di Tessaglia" (7:33) very straightforward gentle ballad format that uses an ascending four-chord progression for the first section. At 2:30 things stop and restart with a heavier, more proggy palette for an instrumental section of guitar, violin, and synth taking turns over a kind of JC Superstar theme. When the vocals return the song stays heavy and full-on prog. Now this is more like it! Great finish! (13.5/15)

3. "Wendigo" (7:54) Drums get us started before spacey-guitar, keys and bass join in. FRANCESCO CIAPICA-sounding voice enters to sing. Great instrumental sections in between vocal verses. Interesting slowed down but powerful, marching URIAH HEEP-like section begins at 4:10 but then switches into an odd time signature at 5:25 to sound more GENESIS-like. Mario's performance is quite animated and powerful despite few pitchy moments. Piano becomes more prominent over drums, bass, and synth washes at 7:00, eventually taking over for a solo finish. Great song! (14/15) 

4. "Nessie" (8:50) an instrumental kind of swings like a heavy INGRANAGGI DELLA VALLE song with strong organ foundation. At 1:52 a slower, more sensitive pastiche is laid for jazz and rock guitar soli. Trumpet joins in the solo celebration but with a consistent melody that makes it more part of the foundational weave. Fiery Hammond organ solo in the fifth minute before the electric violin takes a turn. Very nice, with each and every change and section feeling engaging and interesting. Electric guitars and various synths take turns exchanging war-like soli over the course of the next four minutes culminating in a guitar finish (and victory?). (18.5/20)

5. "Fabula Sirenis" (5:22) opens very smoothly with a slow full band fabric over which Mario sings with a beautifully sensitive vocal. At 1:25 the tempo picks up and a kind of GENESIS-like section transitions us to the 1:55 full-force drama for about 30 seconds before returning to the GENESIS motif for another vocal section. There is a similarity of this music and vocal performance to some of the early impassioned songs of LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO. Very well constructed and performed song. (9.25/10) 

6. "Bestie, Uomini E Dèi" (9:42) another heavy DEEP PURPLE-like organ-based thumping rocker over which Mario's more vulnerable, warbly voice sings. This one falls below the standards now set by the previous four songs as it is a little too simple and straightforward for the first three minutes. Even when the pace quickens, the even-beat ascending four chord progression is tiresome. Nice entry of church organ at 3:59 to support a creative electric guitar solo. A quiet acoustic guitar-supported section in the sixth minute falls a little flat--both musically and vocally--until the piano joins in, then Mario's vocalise gets interesting and emotionally powerful. Switch to slow, piano based bluesy PINK FLOYD section at the eight minute mark (made PF-ish for its Gilmour-like slide guitar soloing). Pretty.  (17.75/20)

Total Time 45:33

An album that upon first listen I had trouble connecting with, began to grow and grow on me with repeated listens. The compositional acumen of these guys is superb--as is their sense of melody. Skill levels are quite good all around (especially with the keyboard player) and very creative and refreshingly original, though I still room to grow. Now I have to go back and catch up on the band's previous three albums! 

90.55 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music of the RPI kind and my favorite RPI album of 2020!

12. MARJANA SEMKINA Sleepwalking

Beautiful vocal renderings of deeply personal and emotional songs--that's what we've come to expect from singer-songwriter Marjana Semkina--who is probably better known as the singer-front person of highly acclaimed folk/neoclassical prog band, IAMTHEMORNING--and that is exactly what we get with this album. Working with long-time iamthemorning collaborator, Vlad Avy, Marjana is also here supported, on her first solo album release, by the likes of pianist/multi-instrumentalist Grigoriy Losenkov, Nick Beggs, Craig Blundell, Jordan Rudess, and the strings ensemble from the St. Petersburg Orchestra "1703" while being produced by Avy, Losenkov, and Marjana, herself.

1. "Dark Matter" (3:15) (8.75/10)

2. "Am I Sleeping or Am I Dead" (4:27) (9.5/10)

3. "Turn Back Time" (4:08) opens with a weave of electric guitar and 12-string (or what? Celtic harp?) guitar arpeggi before bombastic entry of rock, acoustic, and orchestral instruments set up a powerful soundscape over which Marjana then sings. For my own tastes, I think Marjana's vocals could have been mixed slightly more forward or with slightly less compression and reverb, but that's just me. I want to hear the chanteuse! Otherwise, great song! (8.75/10)

4. "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" (3:02) beautifully presented picked acoustic guitars over which Marjana sings in a pitch perfect voice. Full chamber strings section joins in at the end of the first minute. 
Amazing work from the compositional perspective and Marjana's vocal performance and lyrical content are equal to the task. A top three song for me. (10/10)

5. "Invisible" (3:10) Marjana with computer glitch-electronica?! It could work! The edginess is interesting and quite effective. (8.75/10)

6. "Lost at Sea" (5:02) folk-like acoustic guitars woven with Marjana's voice. Man does this work! MARJANA: You need to be a folk singer! or at least sing in more folk/acoustic guitar songs. This is my favorite song on the album. This song and its performance brings me back to some of the great folk vocalists of the 1960s and 1970s. Wonderful! Maybe the best things I've heard since the "I Came Before the Water" pillars on Lighthouse. (10/10)

7. "Skin" (4:56) more great orchestra-accompanied music that Marjana's voice is mysteriously misfit--despite a beautiful and melodically engaging vocal performance. The two just don't match. (The effects and mix given to her voice don't fit the pristine chamber music.) Despite all this, it is still a powerful song. (9/10)

8. "How to Be Alone" (2:52) excellent theatric music over which Marjana's vocal seems to not fit.(8/10)

9. "Everything Burns" (3:18) orchestral introduction before ominous jazzy drums and strings launch the song while Marjana adds a bluesy influence over the top with her vocal. Powerful tension and awesome song arrangement. (9/10)

10. "Mermaid Song" (4:35) gorgeous strings arrangement opens this one before disappearing for Marjana's entrance at 0:30 mark. Gently arpeggiated electric piano pattern is her only support until the strings are slowly, gently re-introduced, eventually becoming an integral, immersive component to Marjana's vocal. Brilliant, compositionally! The echo effect on Marjana's vocal in the chorus sections adds a Kate Bush-like quality, which is cool, but, Marjana is not Kate Bush. I don't want Marjana to be a Kate Bush. (9/10)

11. "Still Life" (4:09) opens with a slow piano sounding like Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" but when Marjana enters we are given clear notice that this is not a copy of that song. Gorgeous mutli-voiced chorus harmonies. Strings present in lush support while pianist Grigoriy Losenkov shows off not inconsiderable his chops. (8.75/10)

90.45 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of gorgeously orchestrated and arranged compositions--heart-felt in the way that we've come to know all Marjana Semkina performances are.


What if SANTANA or THE ALLMAN BROTHERS played Zeuhl?!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Osmo Saarinen / Drums, Percussion, Vocals
- Roope Pelkonen / Keyboards, Effects
- Ville Sirviö / Lead Guitar, Voice, Effects
- Atte Kemppainen / Lead Vocals, Bass, Percussion, Guitar, Keyboards, Drums, Effects
- Tommi Ruotsalainen / Rhythm Guitar, Voice
- Nina Suokko, Ella Kärnä, Samuli Aihos, Henna Naukkarinen, Mari Pääkkönen / Choir

1. "Hanshin" (4:17) a true Zeuhl intro--complete with vocal narration! But then we shift into drive and pick up an ALLMAN BROTHERS feel for the next wild minute. That bass is moving a million miles an hour--and in a Disco cadence! Choir enters over the next ALLMAN BROTHERS section giving it a kind of STYX feel. Heavily effected synth-guitar solos in the fourth minute before we return to the AB motif to finish. (8.75/10)

2. "Dai Korönenn" (7:57) again, what if THE ALLMAN BROTHERS played MAGMA Zeuhl? The band plays very tightly. In the fifth minute, it moves into more of MOTORPSYCHO territory before subtly flowing into KOENJI HYAKKEI. I love the Klaus Blasquiz imitation in the seventh minute! Then it just gets crazy. (13.25/15)

3. "Helvet Sttroï II" (4:31) moving more into true Zeuhl territory, (even using a language very close to Kobaïan), the choir chants here are a little off but still have a very interesting echoed-staccato effect. (Intentional?) At the end of the third minute we move into a more spacious section that kind of lulls you into a safe place before wild, slashing synthesizer notes enter. (9/10)

4. "Willargh" (8:23) opening with a very pretty, slow, and pensive weave, the music gradually builds until at 1:40 we reach the transition point at which we move into a march-like cadence with male group chanting. This is followed by some rather sedate electric guitar riffing before we move back into the march-and-chant section again. After this the rhythm section moves almost into a Rasta beat while the fuzz guitar solos. A little interlude for a bass solo, and then we fly into the full-speed race to the end--with a slight delay and downshift before more ALLMAN BROTHERS influence begins to exert itself. Wow! (18/20)

5. "Zöbehr-Daï" (11:44) MOTORPSYCHO! At the 3:20 mark the guitars go into a kind of "Schindleria Præmaturus" riff while the rhythm section keeps up a jazzy foundation. A party-like cacophony enters during the sixth minute just to spice things up for a bit, but then we settle back into the Fish-like pattern until some voice samples throw everything off again. At 7:15 we shift into some Viking-like macho chanting before the music takes off at a sprint--as if running away from the Vikings. But, no! They're in pursuit, despite the laser shots from the soloing synth in the ninth minute and the loud power chord play from 8:45 to 9:15. A kind of JC Superstar lull precedes the blows of the start of the final battle at 10:00. (If that was a battle) it is quick and decisive as a heavenly choir of angelic voices seems to show the result before the brief high octane celebratory finish. (17.75/20)

6. "Wehr Mahrü" (5:37) captures amazingly well that menacing, frantic feel that underlies everything MAGMA seems to do. The slow build in the fourth minute is amazing! Hammond Organ solo before returning to the out of control pace and feel to finish. It's got me into a frenzy! Wow! What a ride! (10/10)

7. "Möa Orgata" (12:48) the CAMEL/SANTANA school of Zeuhl with the ZA! vocal choir! Awesome! Even throw in a little DICK DALE and ALLMAN BROTHERS sound/feel in the second half! (22.25/25)

8. "Hertz Kömatt" (5:56) crazy and frenzied in a Zappa-Captain Beefheart kind of way--especially the vocals. Wild and theatric. Not unlike the Eastern European-influenced work of HUMBLE GRUMBLE or FARMERS MARKET. (9/10)

Total Time 61:13

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of upbeat and frenetic guitar-dominant Zeuhl. Great vocal performances and use of choir and chants.


Instrumental songs performed on church organ that were inspired by a megalithic sculpture park in Bomarzo, Italia, called, "Sacro Bosco," "Parco dei Mostri" or the Gardens of Bomarzo. They were commissioned in the 16th Century by the Italian patron of the arts, Pier Francesco (styled "Vicino") Orsini to commemorate the death of his beloved wife.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Anna von Hausswolff / pipe organ
- Filip Leyman / organ sound design

North German Baroque Organ recorded with mobile equipment from Svenska Grammofon Studion.
Recorded in Örgryte New Church in Gothenburg, January 2020.

1. "Theatre of Nature" (6:00) opens like a conversation between several elementals. As the pattern becomes evident other less ordered, more chaotic sounds and themes are added, until the original rhythm begins to feel overwhelmed by the polyphony and polyrhythmics of all that is going on. It's brilliant! At the same time, when one steps back, one can see and feel the overlying cohesiveness and wholeness of the cacophony. A wonderful interpretation of the macrocosm of Nature. (9.25/10)

2. "Dolore di Orsini" (4:04) contrarily peaceful and soothing while also being deeply disturbing, even horrific. It's simple but very powerful. Anna channeling her inner Art Zoyd. (9/10)

3. "Sacro Bosco" (6:23) pulsing bass pedal play and wind-sweeping noise give it an industrial sound--something that would be fitting for the 1927 Fritz Lang silent movie, Metropolis. Seemingly-incidental notes and flourishes in the treble end eventually turn into full chords, even sustained, in the fifth and sixth minutes. The finish in the final minute is stark and powerful with only the pulsing bass pedal notes before the prolonged sound of decay carries us to the end. (9.5/10)

4. "Persefone" (7:08) breathy Andean-flute-like chords open this sounding quite appropriate for the Queen of the Underworld. Underlying church-processional-like chords join in, slowly adding to the melody, thickening the palette. The occasional addition of single notes effect major and surprising shifts in mood as the slow-building chords change and morph quite unexpectedly, quite spectacularly. 
     This is one of my favorite renderings I've ever heard of the spirit of this Olympian goddess after whom my daughter was named. Anna has managed to capture both the strife and sadness of this captive and yet fill it with the optimism and youthful exuberance that the Goddess of the Spring (and Rebirth) would naturally possess. (14.25/15)

5. "Entering" (2:10) I expect Anna is trying here to capture the flood of diverse emotions that wash over a person entering Count Orsini's garden of grieving. Nice. (4.5/5)

6. "All Thoughts Fly" (12:23) Anna using a minimalist approach á la Steve Reich & Phillip Glass in order to express the impression of the words on the upper lip of the huge Orcus statue in the Sacro Bosco gardens. It just doesn't work with the organ; I feel more muddled than flighty. Fail. Rated up for its effective use as pleasing, inoffensive background music. (19.5/25)

7. "Outside the Gate (for Bruna)" (5:23) gorgeous, emotional. For me, this music symbolizes the craziness that one is confronted with (especially in Y2K20) by the world outside of the Park of Monsters. My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

Total Time 43:31

I found myself thinking a lot of the 1997 ART ZOYD Häxan soundtrack album while listening to this album. The beauty Anna expresses while conveying such tension throughout is truly astonishing.

89.41 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; despite the failed experiment into the world of minimalism of the title song (and album's only epic), I consider this a masterpiece of human creativity--delivered to us by a master of artistic self-expression.